Archive for Fritz Lang

Otto Smash

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2022 by dcairns

BONJOUR TRISTESSE is beautiful, odd, trashy at times — it perfectly captures the feeling if an endless summer, but brackets its lustrous Saint-Tropez Technicolor with monochrome scenes in Paris that make it all too clear the idyll is doomed. Preminger only mixed colour with b&w this one time, but it seems appropriate to his perversity that he used monochrome for the present tense. Of course it makes a clear emotional point about the joy having drained from our young protagonist’s life (and suits the particular looks of St Tropez and Paris) but of course it doesn’t withstand a literal-minded interpretation, and at the same time it’s too obvious to sublimate into symbolism.

Somewhat random side-note — just stumbled upon the fact that, while filming the Great Fire of London for FOREVER AMBER, Otto nearly incinerated Linda Darnell, eerily anticipating her eventual tragic fate by some years. It was a piece of collapsing set that did it, or nearly. And I thought, My God, Otto had form, because he nearly burned Jean Seberg to death making JOAN OF ARC, and did in fact take her eyebrows off. It may be unfair to blame him wholly, since a director is somewhat at the mercy of what the pyrotechnics people say is safe, but on the other hand, fish stinks from the head, and a director is quite able to say “That sounds kinda risky,” or “I’d like some more safety measures in place.” Otto instead follows in the tradition of his fellow Viennese Fritz Lang, who came close to creating Brigitte Helm on METROPOLIS.

There’s a smouldering death here, too, but off-screen, represented by a great black smoke signal against the azure Mediterranean sky, produced by car crash (see also ANGEL FACE), and anticipating Otto’s own accident when he was struck down and badly injured by a car (I imagine the driver’s astonishment at Mr. Freeze suddenly impacting his windscreen).

We’re in the world of Françoise Sagan, based on the novel she published at nineteen. Her youth seems to grant her a strong insight into the thought processes of teenage Cecile (Jean Seberg), with the slight disadvantage that everyone else behaves like an adolescent too. The one real adult, supposedly, Deborah Kerr’s character, is as extreme as everyone else, really, just in a different direction.

I wonder what the shoot was like? I mean, it looks like heaven: Paris and the Côte d’Azur (with Otto now starting his later shoot-it-all-on-location phase), attractive people, and David Niven on hand to stop Otto getting too beastly — Niv had stood up to Michael Curtiz (“Vhere is your script?” “I don’t need it.” “Run and get it!” “YOU fucking run and get it.”) and knew that all bullies are cowards. (It’s possible that everybody’s a coward, and bullies have just discovered a peculiarly extrovert way of handling it. It [a] works for them and [b] makes the world a more hideous place.)

The movie is a fashion show (Givenchy, Hermès, Cartier), and an art show, and a parade of beautiful, rich, foolish people we shouldn’t have any sympathy for and mostly don’t. But I found I still felt for Seberg’s spoilt brat a little, perhaps because Seberg herself was so tragic. Otto was determined to make her a star — she’d been roasted for JOAN OF ARC and the American critics wouldn’t accept her as French here either, as if it mattered. You accept she’s Niven’s daughter even though he’s English playing French. And if they’re French, what is the heavily-accented Mylene Demongeot? Doesn’t matter.

Critical hostility to Seberg was probably mostly about her flat Iowan accent, which Austrian Otto was perhaps not sensitive to — she can seem bad even when she’s emotionally on point — I remember her being wooden in THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, which came after this. Efforts to deaden the accent add layers of self-consciousness to someone whose charm ought to be in their naturalness. This is the movie where it all kind of fits.

Niven is very fine also, in a role with uncomfortable echoes of his own life — not the creepy Elektra complex stuff, the idea of the playboy who finally tries to settle down, only for fate to knife him in the back. Deborah Kerr seems like the kind of woman who could reform him. And here’s Martita Hunt, maybe the only actor to appear for Otto in the forties, fifties and sixties?

BONJOUR TRISTESSE stars Sister Clodagh; Squadron Leader Peter Carter; St. Joan of Arc; Milady de Winter; Lieutenant Joyce; Georgette Aubin; Mr. Silence; Miss Havisham; Lord Desham; Jackson’s Doxy; Sir Hugo Baskerville; Adrian Baskerville; and the Fiddler on the Roof.

Fritz’s ripples

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 7, 2021 by dcairns

Sylvia Sydney and Henry Fonda in YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE and Debra Paget and Paul Hubschmid in THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR, both directed by Fritz Lang, twenty-two years and a continent apart. Ripples in a pond are also a signature image in SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR.

Lang liked to jokingly refer to his Indian epic as Indienschnulzen — India-tearjerker, and also referred to the two parts as DER TIGER VON DEXTROPUR — the corn-sugar tiger and DAS KINDISCHE GRABMAL — the Childish Tomb. But the films serve as summations of his imagery, as seen above.

Pay no attention to that Mabuse behind the curtain

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on November 30, 2021 by dcairns

I half-jokingly pondered the other day if Professor Baum, the Mabuse substitute in THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE, was named after L. Frank Baum, but, you know, the more I think about it…

Oz gets everywhere. Mabuse appears as a big floating head at one point in DER SPIELER — of course the Victor Fleming MGM film hadn’t been made yet (it’s only six years in the future, but feels like a whole other eon of filmmaking) — but the Baum book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, existed, and when Dorothy and her friends visit the wizard in that, he appears differently to each of them. Shades of RASHOMON. But Dorothy sees him as a giant head.

Baum is surrounded by heads in his study — African masks and actual deformed skulls, some of unusual size.

And of course, there’s a man behind the curtain. That’s what Baum is, effectively. The petty human disguising himself as a big head. Oh, but Baum is also a partial anagram of Mabuse. Probably that’s it. He’s an Alucardian alias. But any good character name ought to have at least two possible rationales behind it.

Still, interested to hear if any Mabuseians out there in the dark can see any more possible connections, apart from the flying monkeys of course.