Archive for J’Accuse

Ben is in Fur

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2021 by dcairns

Has anyone out there seen Polanski’s latest and, it seems, intended to be final film, variously known as J’ACCUSE and AN OFFICER AND A SPY? Is it any good? I’m contemplating just buying the damn thing but I’m wary, only because I thought BASED ON A TRUE STORY was an absolute snooze.

And I also watched A THERAPY, essentially an extended ad for Prada starring Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter, and that was a bore — not even a crashing one, more just a muffled thud sort of affair — even though the basic concept of a therapist getting distracted from a tedious client by her supposedly enticing coat is, on paper, a reasonably amusing one. It even echoes the fetishism of THE TENANT and VENUS IN FUR. And I admire some of Polanski’s other bitty films, like his CHACUN SA CINEMA short which is just a stupid joke but is very well told, and it’s certainly one of the best in that rather clunky series.

A THERAPY actually makes me cross because I assume Polanski and his actors were paid insane amounts of money to do it. And while the actors and production designer do creditable work, Polanski does… nothing at all. I mean, you might think, for the king’s ransom he’s presumably getting (because I don’t think he should do such a project unless the money is absurd, since I assume he’s not desperate), you might think I say again, that he might consider maybe moving the camera? or doing something creative, something that perhaps a TV soap hack might not think of?

I suppose it perhaps comes down to Polanski’s artistic integrity, which is definitely, stubbornly THERE — he may have looked at the material and decided that this blandly efficient, unimaginative decoupage was the correct approach for the material, regardless of how dull the effect would be. In which case, I suppose, we should admire his rigour. But I would suggest you do it from a distance and not actually waste time watching the thing.

A THERAPY stars Gandhi and Mrs.Bucket.

Mud and Blood

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2012 by dcairns

WOODEN CROSSES (CROIX DES BOIS) still impresses. Raymond Bernard’s big WWI film — the French equivalent of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT — has many of the expected elements, but quite a few unexpected ones.

There are the double exposures that show phantom soldiers trudging off to heaven, which seem to have been a staple of WWI cinema since Gance’s J’ACCUSE (see also ALL QUIET, or Rowland V Lee’s BARBED WIRE), but they’re really the only obvious element of sentimentality. The battles are colossal, easily matching anything in Hollywood films on the subject, and with the explosions going off in the sky, they surpass PATHS OF GLORY in sense of scale and spectacle.

But the more surprising elements make all the difference. Bernard, as in his enormous LES MISERABLES, lets the camera run handheld through the action, evoking the panic, flurry and chaos of battle, not only long before SAVING PRIVATE RYAN but long before the WWII documentaries of John Huston which inspired that look. There must surely be WWI footage with a similar look, but I haven’t seen it. The stuff you see in war docs from that era always looks very stable. It would be amazing if Bernard latched onto the effect purely as a stylistic choice, rather than to mimic documentaries.

The narrative is extremely loose, driven by a series of situations, some short (picking the lice out of uniforms), some protracted (the anxious wait as Germans dig under the trench to plant a mine and blow everybody to blazes — they can’t leave unless ordered) which butt up against one another without the usual cartilaginous connections. And the ending is so devastatingly horrible you can’t quite believe it. The simplicity of ALL QUIET’s famous ending comes with poetic melancholy, but that’s largely obscured here by the sheer grueling brutality. Bernard’s intent is to make the audience actually feel gutshot. Strong stuff.

Eclipse Series 4: Raymond Bernard (Wooden Crosses / Les Miserables) (The Criterion Collection)

The Sunday Intertitle: “He said the title!”

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , on October 9, 2011 by dcairns

ALWAYS say this — when a character in a film says the title of the film, declare “He said the title!” Even if it’s the title of another film.

Abel Gance’s 1919 J’ACCUSE is an unusual case, a silent movie where the title is constantly appearing, either as chapter headings or as lines of printed dialogue. Some of these instances are very beautiful.

The blood-dripping main title. “I stand here, not as the accused, but as the accuser, of capitalism, dripping with blood!” John McLean.

The live-action, flesh and blood title, composed of French soldiers.

The supertitle.

A human intertitle, this time with a heavy s&m flavour. The movie does seem to draw upon propaganda posters for its imagery of imperiled maidenhood, despite its pacifist intentions.

Episode titles in gothic script…

The return of the human bondage font, this time with added Ophelia-esque illustration.

The do-it-yourself intertitle.

It sounds better in French.

The film, of course, is tremendously impressive in its immediacy (the war had barely finished; Gance uses actual battle documentary in his story) and power. But I did find it a bit incoherent. The central trio of characters (a poet and a brute in love with the same woman) didn’t seem to illuminate the “anti-war message,” if that’s what it was. Most anti-war films aren’t really that at all — to properly assess them, it’s necessary to figure out what they’re really up to. Here, I wasn’t sure — the recurring cries of “J’Accuse!” begged a number of questions — who is being accused, and of what?

At the film’s end, this does finally coalesce into an accusation against the French citizenry — against the audience — that they enjoyed themselves while the soldiers were suffering. Not the biggest lesson I’d have drawn from the war, but Gance was a soldier for real and one can imagine it being close to his heart.

I kept waiting for the parade of dead soldiers, remembering a clip from Kevin Brownlow’s UNIVERSAL HORROR doc (leave it to Kev to shoehorn in a bit of Gance!) in which real war veterans with disfigured faces advance upon the camera. But that clip comes from Gance’s sound remake, made on the brink of WWII. The similar scene in this film lacks the scarred faces, but has some remarkable imagery and effects shots nonetheless.