Archive for Henry V

The Monday Intertitle: And Then the Phantoms

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2013 by dcairns


As part of my research for the blogathon, I watched Alain Resnais’ most recent film (but not his last — he already has another on the way), VOUS N’AVEZ ENCORE RIEN VU aka YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET! — in which a group of actors (the creamy cream of the French acting establishment playing versions of themselves) gather in a secluded and stylised theatrical mansion to hear the last will and testament of a director who had worked with all of them in various productions of the Oresteia (this is based on a play by Anouilh). As the will is delivered by the dead man himself via a film, and the assemblage is then shown film of a new production of the play that unites them, which they then begin to interact with in various impossible ways, I was reminded of two wildly different films — THE CAT AND THE CANARY for the plot device and specifically the Radley Metzger ’70s version for its playful Pirandellian approach to the screen within the screen (at one point an aged retainer in Metzger’s flick dodders behind the screen only to appear, in perfect directional continuity, ON the screen in a younger incarnation. When this youthful image passes out of the edge of frame, the real-life older model takes his place, back in reality.) — and it’s nice if Resnais is referencing Metzger because Metzger was certainly influenced by MARIENBAD — and Olivier’s HENRY V, which seems to function as much as a commentary on the theatre-going experience as it does an adaptation of the play itself. For the first half hour or more we are amused but somewhat distracted by the fact that Resnais is showing a play with the roles played by a series of different actors, and in settings that vary from the actual screening room where the actors are gathered, other rooms nearby which MAY be part of the same building, and locations or CGI environments illustrating the places in the play.

But after a while this ceases to distract and despite all the apparent alienation devices, the story is quite involving. And indeed the emotional pull of the scenes is strangely increased, particularly when they’re performed by actors too old for the characters they play. Because we get not only the emotion of the scene but a kind of nostalgia (in a good, unsentimental sense) for the youth they once possessed and the feelings they must have originally brought to the roles. Or maybe it’s just that old actors are better than young actors.

Except that the character of Death is played by only one actor, Mathieu Amalric, and he’s not that old but he’s electrifying. His trenchcoat made me think of the figure of Fate in Carne and Prevert’s LES PORTES DE LA NUIT.


But there’s another movie reference too, and it’s certainly intentional. As he’s setting up the plot, which he does in a bare-bones way, cheerfully acknowledging the artifice, Resnais uses a couple of intertitles, including this one (above). “When they passed through the gate, the phantoms came to meet them.”

Which is a paraphrase of one from NOSFERATU ~


The translation of that we used to read was something like “And when Hutter crossed the bridge, the phantoms came forth to meet him.”

But the subtitles provided now that we can see the original German-language title card say something like “the uncanny faces came out” or the “spectral images came out” — but I’m guessing Resnais is familiar with the same translation as me.

You can read it at 18:12.

This talk of phantoms refers to vampires in the Murnau film but to memories and movie images in the Resnais. Which feeds into my growing suspicion that phantoms and memories and movie images are all different manifestations of the same, misunderstood phenomenon…


Spanking Don Giovanni

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , on May 17, 2008 by dcairns

Don G

I haven’t gotten my hands on the enticing 2-disc DVD of Joe Losey’s DON GIOVANNI yet, but I’m working on it. Meanwhile there are lots of bits on YouTube:

I’m a complete foetus when it comes to opera. Julien Temple’s childhood impression of “some fat bird freaking out in a foreign language,” strikes me as a bit strong, though — I would say I’m sympathetic to the IDEA of opera but I’ve simply had too little experience of it to judge.

The unique problem of the filmed opera is a fascinating one though. Losey’s film, shot on real locations, has to find a balance between the stylised and potentially unnatural approach of sung dialogue, and the palpable reality of the environments. It reminds me of Olivier’s reasoning behind shooting HENRY V on stylised sets: “I felt the audience might very well think, if we did it on location, ‘Well, that’s a field and that’s a house and that’s a horse — why’s everybody talking so funny?'” Creating a theatrical world is one way to facilitate theatrical performances.

But not the only way — the musical wasn’t immediately killed off by Donen and Kelly filming sequences of ON THE TOWN on location — though arguably the slow creep of realistic settings coincides with the musical’s decline. The sound stage may be the music-film’s most natural home.

The thing that bother’s me most in this clip, though, and this is quite literally a half-arsed view since I haven’t seen the movie, is that bit with the naked girl (ah, some of you hadn’t watched the clip but I bet you will now). Two men recline on the bed where she’s asleep, but she doesn’t rouse from her (post-coital)slumbers. One of them cops a feel, and she doesn’t even twitch. Perhaps she’s drunk. Then the other slaps his hand away, effectively spanking her backside, and she STILL doesn’t react. Is she DEAD?

The danger of shoving naked girls into operas seems to me to be that in a situation like this they tend to get used as props. An ordinary extra can be given bits of business and brought to life as a character in a scene, and they are generally eager to contribute to this process. Because extras are actors. But this nude is probably a model, and if the director doesn’t tell her to react, she won’t. The result can be sexist in a way that simple nudity, even gratuitous nudity, isn’t.

Nevertheless, friends rave about Losey’s DON G so I’m psyched to see it.