Archive for Gregoire Aslan

UN FILM DE ?????

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2019 by dcairns

Duvivier’s LA FETE A HENRIETTE has a neat premise and plays neat tricks, as its two screenwriters run through alternate possibilities for their romantic story. But the basic dynamic never satisfied me: the director sees the film as a light, charming, Rene Clair confection set on Bastille Day (Clair had in fact already made that film, as LE QUATORZE JUILLET, with Annabella in the ’30s). His writer keeps trying to turn it into a sexy melodrama full of underwear and killings. We see the alternative versions played out before us.

But it made me wonder why on earth the director keeps this writer around, since he hates all his ideas. And although we’re meant to sympathise with him, the writer’s bawdy caper with its Dutch tilts and lingerie looks a lot more fun. A more interesting dynamic might have been to give the power to the character with bad ideas, so we see a potentially sweet movie being wrecked.

George Axelrod and Richard Quine’s remake, PARIS… WHEN IT SIZZLES (most sources omit the ellipsis but it’s there in the title sequence) explodes the original concept in a number of ways. There’s only one writer, and he’s at war with himself, which is already more interesting. He has a stenographer with whom a romance blooms as the script is, falteringly, shaped. The real-life relationship merges with the characters in the film, with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden playing the leads in both “reality” and the film-within-the-film, which is called THE GIRL WHO STOLE THE EIFFEL TOWER and, unlike nearly all such meta-movies (the dire-looking MEET PAMELA in DAY FOR NIGHT being the prime example), actually looks like it might be diverting — in fact, it looks very much like HOW TO STEAL A MILLION. Fluffy, pointless, enjoyably diverting.

It even has Mel Ferrer changing from Jekyll to Hyde, as was his wont.

The mixing of reality and fantasy allows Axelrod and Quine to set up a lot of fun running gags, as the fictional avatars of our protagonist plagiarise their lines from real life, and get them stolen right back. Though it’s stuffed with pointless excess, both to parody gaudy Hollywood confections and to become one, it also has a narrative and manages to explain its impossible title quite neatly (there’s a film-within-the-film-within-the-film, you see, and it’s also called THE GIRL WHO STOLE THE EIFFEL TOWER — which, obviously, ought to have been the title of PARIS… WHEN IT SIZZLES too, and then we wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not to include the ellipsis — and the FWTFWTF gets stolen, so…).

A startling throwaway moment. This is 1964, people!

This leads us to Tony Curtis. While Marlene and Mel have uncredited cameos, Tony’s bit is actually quite substantial. When the real Audrey tells the real Bill that she has a date with an actor on Bastille Day, Holden gives his disgusted impression of the profession, summing up the Brando school of thespian as a bunch of preening slobs. He then begins his script with Audrey’s meta-character being dumped by her date, played by Curtis as an absurd, eye-lash fluttering, pouting, pose-striking, slouching Brando parody. Only also French. But with Tony Curtis’s Bronx accent.

As the plot progresses, though, Holden decides that the Curtis character is really an undercover cop. His boss, Gregoire “Coco” Aslan, keeps referring to him by his cover name rather than his real one, then scathingly tells him that really he’s just “second policeman.” So the gag becomes Tony Curtis, movie star, gamely allowing himself to play a humiliated bit actor in a nameless role. But there’s more! Maurice/Philippe (Tony) actually gets, probably, the biggest character/s arc of the movie. And reminds us of his astonishing comic skills.

Give this one a try! As a Parisian romp with Audrey, it ought to be frothy and charming, but it’s slightly too bitter, too Tashlinesque-zany, and salacious and shambling to be what, by rights, it ought to be aspiring to be. It’s too much like a Deluxe Color nervous breakdown. But, as such, it’s very interesting and often very funny.

Squint

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , on March 4, 2014 by dcairns

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Enjoyed OUR MAN IN HAVANA, which has some glorious writing and playing and looks absolutely gorgeous, yet oddly the weak point is Carol Reed’s direction — not a very weak point, since in fact much of it is excellent. But he’s devised a system for tilting the camera within a shot, disguised during a track or pan, so we start out even, balanced, and end up canted, askew. This development of his THIRD MAN style oddly does not integrate the dutch angles into the action more smoothly — it makes them pop out more. THE THIRD MAN manages to make its flamboyant visual style seem pretty natural, partly just by using squint angles so often they almost outnumber the straight ones — also, the vast majority of them are POV shots or are positioned like POVs. OMIH manages to make the diagonals work in widescreen, but it doesn’t manage to make them feel logical in the same way.

Reed also reuses a shot of Alec Guinness firing a gun during a climactic scene, in a way that makes no spatial sense and creates a distracting confusion. I don’t know what happened there.

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Production designer Syd Cain smuggles his name onto this Buck Rogers type newspaper strip (click to enlarge).

But Reed does regularly serve up delicious performance moments and has assembled a rather astonishingly far-flung cast who gel beautifully, in defiance of all sense: Guinness, Noel Coward, Ralph Richardson all seem like they would fit naturally in the same film. But then you have to add Burl Ives, Ernie Kovacs, Maureen O’Hara (waitaminute…), John Le Mesurier, Rachel Roberts, Gregoire Aslan, Ferdy Maine… Reed manages to gather Obi Wan Kenobi, the King of Brobdignag and Count Von Krolock together in the same men’s room. The moment where Coward invites Guinness to visit the gents with him, for purposes of espionage, is a bit of an eye-popper.

Overall, though, the film impresses because its surface lustre and drolery combine with a tight plot with a strong theme — the theme that everybody running society is principly concerned with a series of arse-covering exercises, and they are honoured not for results produced but for successful buttock concealment. On top of that, largely through Burl Ives’ magnificent characterisation, the film has access to an emotional depth not usually associated with satire. Its range is as wide as it could ever be.

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More dutch tilts shortly!

Sound and Fury

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2008 by dcairns

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Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, filmed by Ken Hughes.

Yes! Ken Hughes films Philip Yordan’s Macbeth-as-an-Amurrican-gangster epic, in which lumpen Paul Douglas as the titular JOE MACBETH rises to the position of kingpin in a version of the New York mafia recreated on a small scale in England. The British version of America always seems like a cheap-ass solution, or at least it does when it’s obvious. Here we get reasonable but small sets, and a few obvious stock shots to broaden out the scope. What really gives it away is the cast.

Douglas and Ruth Roman (as Lily Macbeth) are the sort of affordable American stars who could be tempted over for a British film (Douglas had appeared in the minor classic THE MAGGIE a year earlier). The supporting cast is made up of a mixture of Americans abroad (Bonar Colleano, who’s very good here as a cheeky combo of Fleance and Macduff; beetle-browed Robert Arden of MR ARKADIN fame — both these guys appeared in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH) and those Brits who could muster a convincing yank accent. I’m inclined to think the following scene will be amusing to British movie fans:

After watching THE ATOMIC MAN, in which Charles Hawtrey intrudes like a music hall apparition, I’m beginning to suspect that Ken Hughes liked having Carry On film stars pop up and wreck his ambiance just for the hell of it.

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Also prominent in this scene is Ruth Roman. She does make a terrific Lady Mac, I take back anything bad I may have said about her. I think this kind of role maybe suits her better than the more tame parts I’ve seen her in. Her biggest problem is creating any kind of heat with the doughy Douglas, who’s good at freaking out, sweating and shaking his jowls as if he’s trying to physically detach them from his face and make them fly off and stick to the walls, but his baggy, Lon Chaney Jnr. appearance is a little unhelpful in more tender moments.

R.R. plays it fierce in the early scenes, and the snappy, snippy relationship reminds me of Douglas’ marriage in LETTER TO THREE WIVES. This is an unusual version of the play in that the Macbeths actually grow closer together. As a femme fatale, seducing her husband into murder, Roman, “the nicotine-stained goddess of the denim pantsuit” (here clad in revealing gowns) is very effective — Mrs. Mac uses sex as a weapon.

As one reared on Jon Finch in the Polanski version, I had trouble imagining how Douglas and Roman could have reached the age they’re at without previously showing the ferocious ambition that overtakes them. A straight rendering of the play would offer us a supernatural catalyst, whereas here, Roman’s fortune-telling friend is an insufficient motivation. Stripping the play of the uncanny does do it quite a bit of damage. Without the prophecies about Birnam Wood and “no man of woman born”, the climax loses it’s plot twists, although Yordan arguably improves on Shakespeare by bringing Macbeth and wife to their doom together.

The femme fatale scenes make me think that a straight noir approach would work better than a gangster one. For one thing, the underworld vibe is utterly generic, with Hughes concentrating his attention on creating a viable N.Y.C. in Pinewood or wherever, so that he has no opportunity to create the specific details that make a film like SCARFACE or THE PUBLIC ENEMY so memorable. And killing a kingpin lacks the moral outrage of killing a king: murder is a commonplace in Joe Macbeth’s world, so there’s a loss of dramatic force there too.

The best bits:

1) A distant bell tolls each time a kingpin dies. When Douglas has offed his boss (Gregoire Aslan, a surprisingly gallic mafiosa), the bell is accompanied by shrieking birds, and the killer’s moral torment is reminiscent of Sydney Chaplin’s downfall in Hughes’ CONFESSION.

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2) A completely unShakespearean character, Big Dutch, an oyster-munching vulgarian played by Harry Green, who has no reason to be in the film really, but frees everyone from the need to do a paint-by-numbers Shakespeare-goes-gangster movie. His grotesque, slobbering scenes are weirdly pointless but hypnotically repellent, focusing on the act of EATING to the exclusion of all else. “What an attractive man,” remarked Fiona, dryly. Accompanied by his food taster and two weird-looking blond girlfriends, Green’s ebullient schtick is almost Lynchian in its unashamed status as gratuitous cameo grotesque. Slurp!

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3) Bonar Colleano’s reaction to the death of his family. This always seems a near-impossible scene to play. How do you act a thing like that? Hughes holds on the speaker’s face for ages, with Colleano’s suffering hidden except as mirrored in the guy’s reactions. Then he does cut to B.C. and holds on him for ages too. And Colleano pulls it off. This guy got plenty of work as a stock American in the U.K. but either got stuck with some Brit screenwriter’s idea of what a yank should be, or played nationality-neutral roles (as in the fine DANCE HALL) where his American accent raised unanswerable questions. A shame.

4) Angus (Walter Crisham). A problematic role in the play. If memory serves, Polanski and Tynan made him a traitor, just to give him something to do. Ken Campbell speculated that the seemingly pointless role was just an opportunity for Shakespeare to do a walk-on (“Cos he always liked to be in ‘is own stuff, like Hitchcock,”). Here he’s the butler at the mansion house which passes from one kingpin to another, and his willingness to serve whomever’s in charge, coupled with his revealing just how often the place changes hands, is a nice warning of how short Macbeth’s reign will be.

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Mac.