Archive for Jacques Prevert

Heaven at Either End

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2018 by dcairns

Fiona declares these to be cinema’s best sunglasses.

Thursday’s other screenings:

The one film in the John Stahl series we didn’t see was WHEN TOMORROW COMES, which has a cast of our favourite people… we’ll see it post-Bologna and report back.

The Marcello Pagliero season passed me by, except that I wasn’t about to miss LES AMANTS DE BRASMORTS since it was billed as a misty, melancholic drama about the lives of barge workers. It’s my view that you can’t make a bad film on a barge. You may not do it. This one was very fine, apart from a slightly confused happy ending. Barge movies, like films noir, are generally stronger when they turn out bleakly, though even when they don’t, they sort of do, because your lovers’ reconciliation is, after all, being staged on a fucking barge.

Friday started at the more civilized hour of 9.30 am with the stone-cold masterpiece that is LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, screened in a vintage (sixties) Technicolor print. In sert the words lustrous, lambent and amber into the following paragraph at random. Leon Shamroy’s cinematography didn’t look as intensely-coloured here as it has on home viewings, but the size, the audience response and the atmosphere added to the movie’s power.

That movie filled our whole morning, meaning, for example, that we couldn’t see Boorman’s LEO THE LAST, which also a very beautiful show, with the richest assortment of browns I’ve ever seen. I bet the big-screen experience would have been wonderful, even if the movie itself has problems. It shows why Marcello Mastroianni was never a big star in English-language films.

Then we bumped into Angela Allen, John Huston’s favourite continuity girl, and had lunch with her, where she was fabulously indiscreet. I’d first inveigled my way into her confidence last year, and was thrilled to meet her again. But I won’t dish the dirt. Angela was planning on seeing LIGHTS OUT OF EUROPE, newly restored by MOMA, a 1940 documentary by Herbert Klein, partially shot by a young photographer named Douglas Slocombe. Alas, Slocombe passed away at 104 before he could see this magnificent restoration of his first movie.

We’d been thinking of seeing Rene Clair’s LES DEUX TIMIDES, which has been very well received, but we switched to the Klein film to hang out with Angela, and couldn’t regret it. Extraordinary footage, gather by Slocombe in hazardous conditions — he’d gone to Danzig in 1939 to film conditions, and was there when the Nazis invaded, getting out by the skin of his teeth. Had he not done so, somebody else would have had to shoot IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, THE SERVANT, THE MUSIC LOVERS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

The movie screened with Joris Ivens’ LA SEINE A RECONTRE PARIS, scripted by Prevert. I now have to see everything Ivens ever made. I was impressed, let’s say.

Then we saw Bette Davis’ assistant giving an interview and plugging her new book, which we’re told Bette commanded her to write. Well, better write it then. What took you so long? One wouldn’t want Bette’s shade performing a vengeful haunting, would one? Well, maybe just a little.

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Fiona ran out of juice at this point and hit the hay, or what passes for hay at our modest pensione. I went on to Buster Keaton’s THE SCARECROW and GO WEST, with music from Neil Brand (piano) and Frank Bockius (percussion, slide whistle et al). While the day’s final show was highly emotional and had a magnificent score, it was this screening that brought a tear to my eye. There’s a lot of discussion about whether GO WEST is chaplinesque sentiment or a parody thereof. I think it’s something different from either — Keaton invites you to laugh sympathetically at his character’s misfortunes, and the whole first act is misfortunes. It’s closer to what Harold Lloyd does with THE FRESHMAN. He doesn’t stop the comedy in order to aim for tears, as Chaplin will (with lightning-fast transitions of tone). When Keaton, bilked of everything he owns, sits down next to a dog, and tentatively pats its head, and the dog turns tail and walks off, we’re meant to laugh, not cry.

The emotional whammy, which had never happened to me on previous screenings, came when Keaton finally makes a friend, Brown Eyes the cow. By playing this moment TRIUMPHANTLY, Brand and Bockius unleashed all the sorrow of the previous scenes which Keaton had suppressed. It took me by surprise, which is always a good way to disarm. I blinked away a manly tear, stinging with sun-block.

Then I was off to the Teatro Communale — pictured — Bologna’s epic opera house — for SEVENTH HEAVEN, likely to remain the highlight of this fest. A great silent movie in a new, Foxphorescent restoration and an orchestra playing Timothy Brock’s new score and a spectacular setting and the company of Meredith Brody and Gary Meyer are a hard combination to beat. I hope to say more about this experience, but right now words fail me, as they must always do when the subject is a Frank Borzage masterpiece.

 

Titling at windmills

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 11, 2008 by dcairns

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I’ve always loved the titles in French films of the ’30s and ’40s. Partly because I like the films, I suppose — the appearance of the titles signifies that I’m about to see a French film of this era, and I start to feel good, and that feeling gets associated with the titles. But also, they ARE lovely titles. They have a pleasing heterogenous set of styles, and always give the impression of being uniquely hand crafted, and having a real existence as physical objects.

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Not many people know this, but in fact all of these titles were indeed constructed by teams of trained artisans, and they had to be built at least forty feet high so that they could fill a cinema screen. Oftentimes, the cost of constructing a film’s main title would be equal to the above-the-line costs of production. Rumour has it that when Jean Renoir had trouble raising finance for one film (I think it was THE CRIME OF M. LANGE), he sneakily commissioned a title, and by the time the producers at Films Oberon discovered this, it was cheaper to make the film than otherwise. certainly, they needed to make a film that fit the title, and Jacques Prevert’s script was the only one that resembled it.

In an extreme case, Billy Wilder’s first film, MAUVAIS GRAINE, a micro-budget production, the title cost four times the rest of the budget. Marc Allegret made himself unpopular by insisting that the titles of ENTRÉE DES ARTISTES be completely redone after an accent grave was placed over the third E of ENTRÉE instead of the second.

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Sadly, many of these gigantic pieces of lettering were destroyed during WWII, or have since decayed due to unstable materials. Famously, the main title of Pagnol and Allegret’s FANNY was sculpted from coagulated jam, which had already begun to attract flies when the first release prints of the movie were being made.

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During the period of German occupation, the once-proud French titling industry was scaled back, as wood was needed for construction of coffins for the Eastern front. Film-makers reached an unsatisfactory compromise, making smaller titles and filming them from closer up. There was also a fashion for shorter titles, since fewer letters meant less timber had to be used. Hence titles like LE CORBEAU were looked on with more approval by producers than long-winded stuff like DROLE DE DRAME OU L’ETRANGE AVENTURE DU DOCTEUR MOLYNEUX. Marcel Carné was only able to get permission for the lengthy four-word title LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS by promising to use the same title on two different films.

FIN.

Bizarre, Bizarre

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2008 by dcairns

A Fever Dream Double Feature.

Being as MILLION DOLLAR LEGS stars W.C. Fields as the president of a tiny Ruritanian country, there’s an obvious temptation to pair it with DUCK SOUP, which stars Groucho Marx as etc etc. But that might do a disservice to MDL, which can’t compete on the laugh-count with the unstoppable comic juggernaut of DS.

Instead I propose Marcel Carné’s DROLE DE DRAME (A.K.A. BIZARRE, BIZARRE) which has approximately the same demented whimsy and unsettled forward momentum, pitching one aberrant situation after another at the punchy audience until end titles set in. Both films are premised on the idea of government, police, and all human institutions being fundamentally cock-eyed and probably malevolent, but do so without anger but with instead a shrug, wink and surreptitious extrusion of the tongue at authority. Neither film gets that many belly laughs, but both score heavily on peculiarity and brimming reserve of absurd ideas.

W.C. Fields is prez of Klopstokia because he can arm-wrestle any man to a stand-still. His nearest rival, Hugh “woo-woo” Herbert (who somehow manfully restrains himself from saying “woo-woo” at all in this film) is plotting against him with the aid of the entire cabinet and a spy, Ben Turpin, who remains a silent comedian throughout, popping up in various disguises and hiding places, his pupils aiming across each other at opposite edges of the screen. Jack Oakie, that large, shiny, alternately simpering and beaming fellow, is a brush salesman smitten with Fields’ daughter, who seeks to win pop’s approval by solving the nation’s financial crisis. This entails entering the Olympics, a promising plan since everybody in the country is a superhuman athlete (also, all the women are called Angela). The Hugh sans “woo-woo” plots to sabotage the team using Mata Machree, the Swedish siren, whom no man can resist.

The story is by Joseph Mankiewicz, and mines levels of silliness not to be found in any of his later films as auteur. There is also uncredited throughput by Ben Hecht, who certainly did have an antic side, and credited scripting by Nicholas T. Barrows, a man with a substantial Keystone Studios pedigree, and Henry Myers, who would later co-write DESTRY RIDES AGAIN. The result is much as you might expect if you stirred all those authorial voices into a soup.

It’s not exactly hilarious but it’s consistently amusing, and frequently eye-popping. Should be seen (to be believed) and luckily can be seen as it’s in the superb and essential W.C. Fields DVD box set, along with the truly great Fields films and plenty of other oddities.

A year or so ago there was virtually no Fields commercially available. Now virtually all of it is. And some people will say there’s no such thing as progress, as the planet slowly boils to a crisp.

DROLE DE DRAME, made before Carné and Prevert’s, like, immortal classics,  is one I need to revisit as I can barely recall the specifics of it (I first saw it on faded VHS with illegible subtitles, and have yet to check out my shiny new DVD). I know that Michel Simon plays an expert on the mimesis of the mimosa. Jean-Pierre Barrault plays a bicycling madman. Louis Jouvet plays the Bishop of Bedford in a kilt. My favourite moment is when Simon, who’s suspected of murder, returns to his home in a false beard, worried that the police may be tearing the place apart. They ARE, but not in the way he expected: they’re just MUCKING ABOUT like little kids, pushing each other around on a drinks trolley, etc. Delightful.