Archive for Georges Franju

The Little Theatre of Georges Franju

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2020 by dcairns

Georges Franju finished his long career making short features for French TV, of which the last, appropriately enough, is THE LAST MELODRAMA, scripted by his actor friend Pierre Brasseur, the mad surgeon in EYES WITHOUT A FACE, and featuring the essential Edith Scob from that film. It deals with a touring theatre troupe, an extended family,

At first, the film seems flat and lifeless. The major stylistic element is the zoom lens, jerked around for crude reframings. But the conjunction of theatre and “real life” (which, as we all know, is less real than theatre) in Brasseur’s script begins to allow Franju opportunities to flex his stiff imaginative muscles. Scob, dining al fresco with the troupers, goes into a monologue from La Dame aux Camélias, and Franju shoots her against the painted backdrop of the little theatre-wagon, fades up piano music, and intermingles life and art.

The film is played contemporary, late seventies, though it seems barely credible that such a set of strolling players could exist in the age of punk (or, in the case of France, slightly gone-to-seed hippies) and Brasseur’s memories of such a scene surely date from the late twenties. But let’s agree not to care about that. The elderly often appear chronologically adrift to the not-yet-elderly, so we consider this a benefit we’re getting from the unusual treat of having a sixty-seven-year-old director (and Franju at 67 looked a bit like the animatronic zombie-skeletons in LIFEFORCE, so we should really think 87). This Billy Pilgrimesque unstuckness may also be why everyone except the wee boy seems to be playing a character of a different age from their actual one.

The film begins with an iris-out, so Georges isn’t exactly trying to be with-it. The iris is echoed a bit later, too:

The company make a last-minute switch from La Dame aux Camélias to Les Miserables, due to Grabo having just played CAMILLE on TV. The boy is dragged up as Cosette and evokes the kid in KILL, BABY, KILL!

The archaic world of the troupers is disturbed by a startlingly camp biker gang, anticipating THE NINTH CONFIGURATION by a year. Maybe old George has his finger on the pulse after all… or he has his finger on where the pulse would be, if there was in fact a pulse. The gang leader, in his vinyl bolero jacket, is hardly a wild angel. “What are you rebelling against?” “Je ne sais quoi.”

The trouble with the gags is they have too much screen time. In Fellini’s ROMA, the bike gang at the finish get basically nothing to do except ride their bikes loudly through the nocturnal streets, representing for the director the fact that “Rome is now full of people with whom I have nothing whatever in common.” Franju and Brasseur are even more gen-gapped (Brasseur, in fact, had been dead seven years), which means they’re not in a position to write lines or extract performances suited to these characters.

Old-stager Raymond Bussières brings the authenticity of his years to the role of the most senior thesp, and gives mt favourite of the uneven performance. Even he is acting at a whole different pitch and pace to those around him, but I think they should have adjusted to him, not the other way around. Mostly, Franju seems to be satisfied with whatever anyone does.

Oh, and then Juliette Mills turns up and burns the theatre down. The stage in flames does make a fitting pyre for Franju, even though he has another eight years to live. Reminds me of the burning screen in Nick Ray’s demented-swan-song, THE JANITOR. That, and the image of a man killed for real by a blank-firing gun (his heart) are the grace notes.

I’m glad I saw this but it illustrates more the weaknesses of late work than the strengths. It’s hard to say whether the bigger problem is the old director or the dead writer. As with MANK, having a screenwriter you can’t interrogate without using a planchette, and whom you admire too much to rewrite behind his dead back, is a bit of a millstone.

Fair Weather

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2019 by dcairns

First full day in Bologna and we scored four out of four.

While our friends Nicola and Donald were viewing PEPE LE MOKO — can’t go wrong there — we took a chance on Franju’s NOTRE DAME, CATHEDRAL DE PARIS. I happen to think Franju’s short documentaries are even better than his features, which are of course frequently great. But he’s uneven — half the shorts are dullish, half are inspired cinematic poetry of the highest order. This was a good one, we thought, and in widescreen and colour! Of course, as Meredith Brody remarked afterwards, it played entirely differently under the present circs. I watched it with my jaw hanging open at the magnificent framing and a tear in my eye at the poignancy.

Afterwards, two half-empty plastic sacks of plaster in a corner of the Cinema Modernissimo, still in mid-restoration but opened as a pop-up for the festival, made me see a couple of weatherbeaten stone saints, and I realised I was seeing with Franju’s eyes, the eyes of a surrealist and a visionary poet. I wondered how long that would last. Then I emerged into the rain-slicked streets of Bologna and my eyes became those of a mere tourist again.

Henry King’s STATE FAIR is a masterpiece — a great piece of writing, particularly (a small army of ink-stained wretches laboured to convert Philip Strong’s Stong’s novel to a screen play). The subject of a week-long fair combines with a theme of impermanence, and a romantic scene is undercut with the image of a billboard advertisement for the fair peeling in the rain — to reveal THE END underneath.

Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres are a lovely couple, and so are her parents, Will Rogers and Louise Dresser. Sally Eilers, admired in BAD GIRL last year, is seductive. Norman Foster is the same charmless lump he appeared as in all his youthful movies, but he’s perfectly cast (and I love his “comeback” in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND). A nubile Victor Jory plays a barker.

Terrific long tracking shots from King, and elaborate rear-projection shots of the fair, with some funny touches like two dialogue scenes between hogs, shot and cut just like regular conversations. Subtitles, however, were not provided.

John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE, newly restored, looked magnificent — you can see a tiny crumb of charcoal flake from Lautrec’s pencil, and you can see the peeling edge of a prosthetic chin stuck to a dancer. I was struck by the strange similarity of the female characters’ faces — not an actual resemblance, just a sense that they had something in common. Then I realised that they all had lips Lautrec might have drawn.

This film is better than we’ve all thought.

Script supervisor Angela Allen, 90, was on hand to reminisce and answer questions.

We gathered in the Piazza Maggiore to see MIRACLE IN MILAN but the rain, forecast to end an hour before, was getting heavy. I might have braved it, but the womenfolk dragged me to the safety of the Cinema Jolly to see Felix E. Feist’s THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, which was a really clever and slick B-noir, with Lee J. Cobb underplaying for the only time in his life, while John Dall as his brother projected every nuance from his face in letters a mile high.

It was produced by Jack Warner’s son and had a character named Quimby in it who was much as you’d expect.

More tomorrow!

Shadowmen!

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , on December 8, 2017 by dcairns

Tim Concannon runs maybe the world’s best film podcast, Music for Movies — so I’m honoured to have him contribute to The Late Show: The Late Movies Blogathon, even if I’m a day late linking to his piece, which deals with NUITS ROUGES, the last work of sepulchral overlord Georges Franju, a deeply crazy modernisation of Feuillade’s master-criminal/superhero oeuvre.

Enjoy in good health!