Archive for Jacques Tati

The Comedy of Terrorists

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2015 by dcairns

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JOY OF LIVING/CHE GIOIA VIVERE (1961) is an oddity in the René Clément canon — a comedy, a genre he rarely dabbled in, apart from his early short with Jacques Tati, SOIGNE TON GAUCHE and an early feature with Noel-Noel, LE PERE TRANQUILLE — an Italian film, though Clement was open to co-productions throughout his career, shooting THE WALLS OF MALAPAGA/BEYOND THE GATES in Italy in 1949 and THIS ANGRY AGE in Thailand (and Cinecitta) in 1957 — a period movie that’s NOT set during the French occupation, but just after WWI in Rome.

(Side-note: though Clément and Truffaut were vocal in their disgust for one another’s work, the rambunctious title sequence here feels like it may have influenced JULES ET JIM’s, though it’s not as chaotic — whereas Truffaut basically grabbed the trim-bin and emptied the off-cut footage into his movie — leading to what Scorsese called ” the most exhilerating thing I’d ever seen” — Clément can’t help but stick to some kind of narrative sequence. His approach is less bold but more skilled, which is the relationship between old and new waves in a nutshell.)

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Alain Delon, the director’s most frequent leading man, plays Ulysse, a glib and plausible young man who accepts a job from the fascists, searching for a printing press that’s been churning out anarchist leaflets. But when he finds the place, he falls in lust with the daughter of the lead anarchist, played by the extraordinary-looking German actress Barbara Lass, whose eyes are bigger than Barbara Steele’s, wider apart that Gene Tierney’s, and seem constantly on the verge of breaking loose from her head altogether to pursue independent destinies. She’s an actual flesh-and-blood Margaret Keane painting, and she somehow makes it work. Maybe because she projects a human sweetness, which tames the uncanny Na’avi qualities of her funhouse countenance. At any rate, when she and Delon are on the screen together, in Henri Decae’s exquisite framings (they needed a wide screen for those eyes), there’s almost too much beauty to take in.

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As in THE WALLS OF MALAPAGA, Clement is as obsessed with crumbling architecture as he is with plot or character, and the Piranisian tableaux of this film are to die for. And it’s pretty funny ~

Food fight! from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The period setting and frankly astonishing scale of the enterprise (Clement’s two Oscar wins obviously equipped him to command considerable resources — he blows up the Arch of Constantine!) connect this movie with romps like THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES and THE GREAT RACE, but it’s more controlled than those, even if it doesn’t have a linear chase plot to focus it. And, oddly, Clement proves better at organizing visual gags than his colleagues — a food-fight between anarchists and fascists is particularly impressive. And there’s just enough seriousness underlying the hi-jinks — Delon’s character is sufficiently deceitful that we worry he might go blackshirt at any moment if a pretty enough girl shows up on the other side — the dark days ahead for Italy hover low on the distant horizon — the film’s affection for the family of anarchists, partly justified by their being so irrelevant to the match of history, is somehow reconciled with a horror of bomb-throwing and acts of terror. The genuinely gripping climax has fascist stooges planting bombs around a huge public exposition (with balloon ascensions, roads paved with German helmets, and the first pre-fab house as part of the attractions) while Delon scoots around after them, gathering up the infernal devices in a perambulator. A man pushing a pram is slightly comic, a stunningly handsome man pushing a pram while in fear of being imminently smithereened is really very funny indeed.

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A piece of espionage worthy of Pynchon — illicit communication lines in prison, running through the plumbing system!

The film stops capering just long enough for a chilling exchange between Delon and his old school friend, now a committed fascist, who warns him, “You’ll be persecuted for the rest of your life.” Delon replies with the brilliant, and unanswerable “And you’ll be a persecutor for the rest of yours.”

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Have you got yours?

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , on November 8, 2014 by dcairns

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My complimentary Complete Tati box set arrived from Criterion! I promptly exploded it all over our crumbling floor and took a photo.

I have a little essay in the booklet, in the august company of James Quandt, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Kristin Ross. This may not be the chunkiest booklet I’ve ever featured in, but thanks to the art of David Merveille, it’s the one that feels most like an actual BOOK. Gorgeous. Tati’s longterm relationship with graphic artists like Lagrange and Etaix makes this the perfect way to go, design-wise. David Merveille is here.

The Complete Jacques Tati [Blu-ray]

Order yours! The distressed floorboards are not included, but you will be one giant step closer to being able to mock up the above image in your own home.

The essay can be read at Criterion’s website, here,  if you’re not into the whole buying thing, but you would be missing unbelievably beautiful transfers of some of the most unbelievably beautiful films ever made, and some terrific extras. After reading the booklet in the bath — to my relief, the essay seemed to hold up, and I wasn’t saying the same stuff as everyone else — I looked at the openings of all three versions of JOUR DE FETE. Definitely the right choice to lead with the original b&w release. There’s a lovely doc about the restoration of the Thomson Colour version, though, a scientific-cinematic detective story. The negative appeared to be black & white, but somewhere in its photochemical makeup was the information to produce colour prints. A nice bit of filmmaking: when the detective finally manages to project a single frame with the colours of 1949 magically recovered, we faintly hear Jean Yatove’s unforgettable theme tune wafting in the distance…

My Tati video essay is here. An earlier Tati essay I did for Criterion is here. And if you’re not sick of the sound of me on this subject yet, I have a piece on Tati’s collaboration with painter-designer Jacques Lagrange in the new Sight & Sound. Voila!

Steel and Glass

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 30, 2014 by dcairns

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I have written a little essay for Criterion’s magisterial Complete Jacques Tati box set, recommended as the ideal Christmas present for a discerning cinephile, if you have the means. But I have also made a video piece for Criterion’s website, along with editor Timo Langer and online editor Stephen Horne, to whom thanks are due.

You can view the thing free, gratis and for nothing, here. I’m quietly chuffed with it.

Also, look around at all the other nice goodies on offer. The magnificent box set can be grabbed at the link below.

The Complete Jacques Tati [Blu-ray]