Archive for Jean Cocteau

Pg. 17

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2020 by dcairns

picture-1

“Lance, there’s nothing so pleasing to most tastes as a good mouthful of molasses. But not too thick. You hate this setup enough to make the story sing. And tears and ink will make any story jump.” Carl placed a paternal arm about his charge. “What do you say, boy? Give Papa some nice molasses — a couple columns of it.”

*

It would be unfair to compare Cocteau with the monolithic classical writers of the twentieth century; for them writing was a profession, while Cocteau wanted only to be himself and say what he felt. He showed childish delight when he was elected to the Academie Francaise but it would be more appropriate to see him as an academy of one.

*

Next day, now look, the picture shows

How lank and lean Augustus grows!

Yet, though he feels so week and ill,

The naughty fellow cries out still —

“Nor any soup, for me I say:

O take the nasty soup away;

I won’t have any soup to-day.”

*

Meanwhile, the disease thus wonderfully generated betrayed more terrible symptoms. Fever and delirium terminated in lethargic slumber, which in the course of two hours, gave place to death. Yet not till insupportable exhalations and crawling putrefaction had driven from his chamber and the house every one whom their duty did not detain.

*

Dick Watchett liked Mr. Rabb, as did all juniors who came in contact with him. The midshipmen adored him. And indeed he was a likeable person, with his crisp hearty voice, his clean mind, and his courteous manner with the young or the poor — the best type of Englishman.

*

With a suitcase full of clothes and underwear in my hand and an indomitable will in my heart, I set out for Vienna. I too hoped to wrest from fate what my father had accomplished fifty years before; I too hoped to become “something” — but in no case a civil servant.

*

Obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) such as these are recognised in humans and are also found in the domesticated species where, according to some sources, cats are more heavily represented than dogs. In the treatment of such cases behaviourists follow the developments in the human field where the environmental and managemental stress factors, which are contributing to the condition, are removed as far as possible. Medical treatment is also available and its effectiveness seems to be influenced by the presence of conflicts as well as by the time during which the OCD has been apparent. As yet knowledge about the causes and successful treatment of these cases is limited, and so the pooling of expertise within an organisation such as the APBC is invaluable.

picture-3

*

Me again. I thought that, if I selected seven paragraphs of moderate size from the page sevens of a more or less random selection of books, the passages would begin to talk to one another and perhaps even form a narrative. I was right! I didn’t expect it to be so grimly topical, though.

The extracts come from The Dark Page, by Samuel Fuller; Cocteau’s World, by Jean Cocteau, introduced by Margaret Crosland; Struwwelpeter, by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann; Wieland, by Charles Brockden Brown; In Hazard, by Richard Hughes; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer (the narrator of this section is Hitler); and finally Why Does My Cat…? by Sarah Heath.

picture-5

Forbidden Divas: ‘Allo, Sailor!

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2018 by dcairns

David Melville Wingrove returns to consider another movie star who is both deep scarlet and beyond the pale ~

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

‘Allo, Sailor!

 

“My mother taught me there are two fragile things

– a staircase and a reputation.”

–          Maria Montez, Hans le Marin

In my distant and long-ago youth, one of my favourite films was The Moon in the Gutter (1983) – Jean-Jacques Beineix’s disastrous but hyper-poetic follow-up to his international hit Diva (1981). Set in a hallucinatory night world on and around the docks of Marseilles, it tells the tale of a poor chump (Gérard Depardieu) in thrall to an exotic and glamorous dream girl (Nastassja Kinski) but finding comfort with an earthy hooker (Victoria Abril). I saw this film over and over in its (admittedly sparse) theatrical showings. Its cinéma du look visuals, its swooning Gabriel Yared soundtrack, its invitation to “Try Another World” – emblazoned on a billboard above Nastassja, pouting provocatively in her bright red sports car – are etched on my subconscious to this day. It is, most likely, a truly terrible film.

I do not love The Moon in the Gutter any less now I know it is, essentially, a remake of a forgotten French film noir of the 40s. Hans le Marin (1948) is the tale of a poor chump (Jean-Pierre Aumont) who arrives in Marseilles on shore leave from an American merchant vessel. (His name is Eric and he is originally French Canadian; that is the script-writer’s novel way of explaining why a Yankee sailor speaks in fluent French throughout the movie.) He goes to a bar called the Kit-Cat Club and falls under the spell of a glamorous and exotic hooker named Dolores. She is played by camp B-movie legend Maria Montez, best known for such absurd Technicolor extravaganzas as White Savage (1943) or Gypsy Wildcat (1944) or, of course, the immortal Cobra Woman (1944). She sleeps with him and sets him up to be beaten up and robbed by a pair of thugs – one of whom is the noted French character actor Marcel Dalio. In the best masochistic film noir tradition, Eric responds by having her name tattooed onto his forearm.

Going on the hunt for his attackers, Eric accidentally kills one of them and is forced to seek refuge in a gypsy encampment. There he finds solace with an earthy wench named Tania (Lilli Palmer) who tells fortunes by breaking a raw egg into a glass. (I swear I am not making this up.) He is still prey, of course, to his overpowering obsession with Dolores. His quest to recover and reclaim her will lead him deeper and deeper into Marseilles and its squalid nocturnal depths. (In fact, Wicked City was the film’s title when it surfaced – albeit briefly and badly dubbed – in English-speaking markets.)  His is not so much a case of amour fou as amour of a downright bloody fool. It is obvious to any spectator over the age of twelve that Dolores is completely and consummately rotten. As in her psychedelic Technicolor epics, Maria Montez is in the business of hunting down hunky and half-naked men and turning them into live human sacrifices. Judging from her wardrobe, it is a highly remunerative profession.

 

Her first appearance, perched on a high bar stool in the Kit-Cat Club, is possibly her most dazzling and iconic screen moment. Her camp followers will protest loudly that her infamous ‘cobra dance’ in Cobra Woman is a display of diva excess that has no rivals. The one drawback is that Maria Montez emphatically could not dance. She does, however, show a remarkable flair for sitting on top of a stool. Up until that point, Eric has been dancing and flirting with one of the other girls. He glances over casually at the far side of the bar and his face, abruptly, turns to stone. We get a close-up of a pair of long and shapely legs, rising gracefully and sinuously out of a pair of elegant black evening shoes. The camera rises slowly to reveal two rounded knees, crossed one over the other, emerging from the black velvet folds of a skirt. A gleaming black leather handbag is perched on top of them. A hand, heavy with bracelets of rhinestone and silver, strokes the bag with its long, sharp varnished nails. Whoever these hands belong to is ignoring – and triumphantly – Marlene Dietrich’s rule that “Dark nail polish is vulgar.”

The camera does not pause, but goes on travelling upwards. It moves more slowly perhaps – tantalisingly, almost imperceptibly – as it reveals a voluptuous torso in a tight black bodice studded with sequins, which wink and glitter in the too-bright light of the bar. A rhinestone necklace glows, like a circlet of cold fire, about the base of the neck. The face above it seems cut off, almost disembodied, afloat in a magic space all of its own. It is the face of Maria Montez – dark, sultry, magnificent. She is staring insolently back across the bar at Eric. The smile that plays about her lips is the smile of a hungry cat that has already dined off one bird and is searching idly for another one to round off her meal. Slowly, she draws a cigarette out of her handbag. With a cool nod, she gives her permission for the strange man to walk across the room and light it for her. Eagerly and walking as if under hypnosis, he does so. His entire fate is sealed in that moment. The rest of Hans le Marin is as tragic and inevitable as Euripides. No matter if the dialogue is not quite the same calibre.

This whole film, in fact, was something of a family affair. Montez and Aumont were married at the time. They had relocated back to France after her career in Hollywood began to fade and his, unfortunately, never really began. Their co-starring vehicle at MGM, Siren of Atlantis (1948), was a legendary fiasco commemorated by Gore Vidal in his satirical novel Myron, a follow-up to the more famous Myra Breckinridge. Their first outing as an acting duo in Europe, Hans le Marin was scripted by Aumont himself and directed by his brother François Villiers. In style, the film is an intriguing mix of the pre-World War II poetic realism of Julien Duvivier or Marcel Carné and the newly fashionable Neo-Realism of Roberto Rossellini or Vittorio de Sica. It goes without saying that Villiers never became a big-name international auteur. Yet there are many worse-made films that were not directed by a member of the star’s immediate family.

If only Hans le Marin were better known, it might help to put paid to the idiotic notion that Maria Montez was possibly the worst actress in the history of movies. Her persona was flamboyant, to put it mildly, and an obscure Puerto Rican drag queen made something of a name in the 60s by performing in underground movies under the pseudonym of ‘Mario Montez.’ But her performance in Hans le Marin is sultry and hypnotic and about as finely nuanced as a portrayal of pure and unadulterated evil can possibly be. We can understand all too well why Jean Cocteau sought her to play the Princess of Death in Orphée (1950). Montez died tragically young in 1951 and Orphée would have been the ideal capstone to her career. We can only lament that she demanded too high a fee. Hans le Marin even lets her hint at a softer side. When she lures the hero back to her lair, we see keeps two white doves in a cage and cares for them with far greater tenderness than she ever shows to any of her men.

So was Maria Montez truly as bad an actress as film historians claim? I know a simple yet highly effective way to dismiss that charge. Just try to picture Meryl Streep playing her role in Hans le Marin or any of her other films. Talent is as talent does. And whatever it may have been, Maria Montez did it with a vengeance.

David Melville

Director’s Cut

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 10, 2016 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2016-12-10-10h48m00s902

When I first heard about Lucio Fulci’s CAT IN THE BRAIN it was something to do with it having been banned in Britain, which always makes things sound enticing. The description suggested that the movie, in which Fulci plays himself, a director of horror movies undergoing a breakdown in which he’s losing the ability to distinguish between fact and bloody fiction, used highlights from many of Fulci’s previous movies in order to ramp up the gore quotient. This sounded both cheap and nasty, but also oddly meta. It sounded like the last gasp of the giallo, and it was pretty close to being Fulci’s last film (but the tireless Dr. F. managed a couple more, and was set to make WAX MASK when he died).

But the movie doesn’t actually cannibalize the Fulci back catalogue for its gratuitous bloodletting — to give credit where it’s due, pretty much all the unnecessary bloodletting has been staged especially for this movie. Still, by casting himself as stocky, nervous leading man, Fulci is attempting some kind of career summation, making this his TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS, only with considerably more arterial spurt (when Cocteau gets a spear through his nice V-neck sweater, there’s no leakage of the Blood of a Poet).

vlcsnap-2016-12-10-10h49m19s491

Much of the time, Fulci seems to be playing Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME game — “If violent movies made us violent, THIS is what the world would be like.” But Fulci is not smart like Cronenberg. It’s interesting that he was a doctor, because (a) “Dr. Fulci will see you now” is not reassuring and (b) his films are routinely preposterous about psychology, behaviour, basic cause and effect — they seem to have made by an idiot who’s good with the camera. Now, you can be smart enough to get a degree and still be an idiot when it comes to creating believable characters. Fulci seems to be one of those smart-dumb guys. I don’t accept that the people in his films are ridiculous because he doesn’t care — if you’re able to appreciate good characterisation at all, it would just KILL you to write such crappy dialogue and action for the people in your movie.

vlcsnap-2016-12-10-10h48m13s759

I really hate this asshole.

The neurotic Fulci on-camera seeks the help of a shrink, who hypnotises him and sets about framing him for some murders he’s committing, just because. So this is an unusual giallo where we know the killer but we don’t quite know how serious our director’s derangement is. Now, Fulci was a comedy director before he got into horror, and maybe the stupid, ugly way he portrays the world has something to do with the lowbrow world of Italian sex comedy (I haven’t much of this genre, but I’m imagining it to be a bit like British sex comedy but with slightly more attractive photography and girls — Edwige Fenech trumps Sue Lloyd — in other worlds, depressing). All the women seem to have stepped out of bad pornos. Fulci sexualises them without bothering to cast particularly attractive girls, get performances out of them, or photograph them in a flattering way.

Some earlier Fulci gialli might muster a passable misogyny defense by virtue of their all-pervasive misanthropy, something the genre seems to thrive on (I would love a good theory as to why this element seems so central). Here, the violence towards women, not so much gleeful as laborious and plodding (“Don’t enjoy it anymore. Bad for me,” narrates Fulci, talking about smoking but probably meaning cinema), served up to us with a disapproving scowl, seems to have no meaning at all.

We’re left with the stocky, ill-at-ease director (more dyspeptic than psychotic) trudging from bloodbath to bloodbath, depressed by his own films and this metafictional take on them, and enthused only by his white Mercedes, which he films parking at Cinecitta with great care and attention, for what feels like minutes on end. I think he must have been very fond of that car.

vlcsnap-2016-12-10-10h49m57s176

The ending is almost quite good. But as Fulci, saved from madness, evil hypnotists, the long arm of the law, and movie-making, sails off into the sunset, he still doesn’t look very happy.