Archive for Franju

Study War No More

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by dcairns

My favourite documentaries are those by Georges Franju and Alain Resnais, and I wonder if the one influenced the other?

Resnais’ epic TOUT LES MEMOIRES DU MONDE, about the National Library of France, seen as a giant hive-mind, a paper brain, a prison for ideas, has a visual splendour that anticipates the prowling camera of MARIENBAD. The use of moving camera, broken by sudden and percussive static shots, seems to have a lot in common with Franju’s HOTEL DES INVALIDES, which I’ve just managed to see.

Both films profile a building/institution in Paris, and deploy omniscient narration and the aforementioned camera style. In addition, both have strident and aggressive scores, which makes more obvious sense in the case of Franju’s portrayal of a military museum and nursing home for disabled veterans. The discordant, martial sound of Resnais’ library is a feature students often point to with puzzlement when I share the movie with them. I think it works marvelously with the epic tone the movie takes, in which impressive statistics are piled upon outrageously enormous and heavy metaphors. It’s a film which deploys sheer bigness as an idea.

The Franju is shorter and maybe less ambitious, but still poetic and thought-provoking. As with LES SANG DES BETES, knowing that he’s got some strong stuff to come, the director seems to delight in beginning in as dull a fashion as possible, profiling the building’s exterior from every angle, and following the flights of pigeons overhead (Franju does love his birdlife). The crippled and disfigured former soldiers will come later, but they’re used sparingly and, I think, respectfully.

A choir of young voices greets us after we’ve toured the museum and church (slogan: “Heaven lies in the shadow of swords.”) “What’s that?” asks a girl as a column of schoolchildren are marched past.”

Her boyfriend replies, “It’s just the children, drilling.”

Grunge

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2010 by dcairns

Werewolf in mid-transformation.

The grotty, post-dubbed, low-res seediness of WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMITORY and ATOM AGE VAMPIRE kind of wear on you. Both films started out continental (German and Italian) and with classier titles: LYCANTHROPUS and SEDDOK. I like SEDDOK enormously as a title, for the same inexplicable reason I like Michael Powell’s quota quickie RYNOX — nonsense words with a manly sound to them!

In fact, according to the IMDb, what Denis Gifford calls SEDDOK was released as SEDDOK, L’EREDE DI SATANA. It’s a knock-off of Franju’s rather more poetic EYES WITHOUT A FACE, which was revamped in Spain by Jesus Franco as THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF. In the low rent Italian version, a go-go dancer suffers facial mutilation in an unconvincing car accident and agrees to experimental treatment by a couple of obviously dodgy medicos. Soon, everyone is lap-dissolving into scabby, unkempt “vampires.”

(If Freda could make THE HORRIBLE DR HITCHCOCK and Franco coughed out THE AWFUL DR ORLOFF, what other titles remain unused? THE FRANGIBLE DR FRANKENSTEIN? THE TERRIBLE DR TERWILLIKER?)

This is a product of the post-war years when Italian horror was briefly science-fictional, following the atomic and space-age concerns of American movies. Soon, the Gothic would assert itself, a surprising development for that place and era, only to be largely superseded by the cod-psychological mayhem of the giallo.

Poor Sergio Fantoni! From Visconti’s SENSO to SEDDOK.

Both these films look like they might have modest virtues (even if LYCANTHROPUS deploys an unpromising whodunnit approach to werewolfery) — SEDDOK in particular has plenty of interesting, expressive camera angles — shots which really tell the story, and shots which are just decoratively beautiful or atmospheric. And the killer’s raincoat made me think of DON’T LOOK NOW. But the poor quality public domain copies, dubbed and probably rescored, do the films no favours. Maybe I’d revisit them if better editions appeared.

Chalk off another two titles in my quest to See Reptilicus and Die!

Black Forest Gateau

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by dcairns

Or do I mean “chateau”?

Duvivier time! LA CHAMBRE ARDENTE — THE BURNING COURT — from a novel by John Dickson Carr, master of the locked room mystery — has very little reputation, and it doesn’t quite gel in a plot-character-theme way, but it has some set-piece scenes that are as fine as anything in JD’s oeuvre (French for egg) — a misty nocturnal exhumation; an open casket funeral with guests waltzing round the deceased; an arboreal chase scene. Working with usual collaborator Charles Spaak, JD unpicks much of Carr’s plotting, and the impossible crime at the story’s centre (a figure in period dress is seen administering a fatal glass of eggnog before vanishing through a wall) is actually pretty easy to guess a solution to — but the film’s ending is still a dark surprise. A few characters do seem to be cut adrift by the narrative reworking, with a bland pipe-smoking hero particularly useless to the story.

The film this most resembles is Franju’s PLEINS FEUX SUR L’ASSASSIN, with its ancient country house setting, historical murder backstory, hints of the supernatural. Duvivier even has regular Franju collab Edith Scob on hand, lending her masklike beauty to the eerie going-on, along with the glamorous Nadja Tiller and the always-welcome spannerlike face of Helena Manson, a nasty nurse in Clouzot’s LE CORBEAU.

Curious parties are recommended to Carr’s The Hollow Man AKA The Three Coffins, which features two impossible crimes, one of which has a dazzlingly brilliant solution, and also a chapter in which overweight ‘tec Dr. Gideon Fell lays out all the possible solutions to the locked-room genre, simultaneously thrusting the answers to the mysteries at hand under our noses, and whisking them away before we figure things out.

Here are some of Carr’s crimes –

In The Hollow Man, witnesses in a snowy street hear a cry of “The next bullet is for you!” followed by a gunshot. Turning, they find a man slain in the middle of the road, a pistol lying some distance from the body. Nobody else is around, and no footprints except the victim’s are found in the snow, yet examination shows he was shot at extremely close range…

In The Sleeping Sphinx, I think it is, a crypt is found where tremendously heavy coffins have been moved about at random, and no footprints mar the smooth sand on the floor. This mystery has little to do with any crime, but it’s fun.

There’s one in which a curse predicts that a man will be stabbed with an awl. He turns up dead, a small round puncture wound in his body, no visible weapon, and he’s in a locked room with only a metal grille offer any access to the outside world, and the grille is too high for the victim to have reached…

In The Judas Window, a luckless hero is found unconscious with a dead man who’s been impaled through the chest by a crossbow bolt, seemingly from a high angle. Locked room. No accessible windows, hidden doors or usable chimney. Although the title is a clue.

Can you find the solutions? Everything is as I’ve told you, pretty much, with no secret entrances or supernatural gimmicks.

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