Archive for Jean Dreville

Two-dimensional chess

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2021 by dcairns

Raymond Bernard’s original THE CHESS PLAYER beats Jean Dreville’s remake hands-down, even though the remake has Conrad Veidt and is ace. It’s not because, unlike Dreville, Bernard understands the left-to-right rule and can apply it. But many of the bits of the remake that are faithful to the original but don’t quite work, like the intercutting of two climaxes, work like gangbusters in RB’s silent.

Veidt is a great uncanny presence for Dreville, but Bernard has Pierre Blanchar and Pierre Batcheff, a cheekbones-and-chin combo that could kill at a distance. Plus the creepy Charles Dullin, far less ingratiating than Veidt but very effective in his stealth sympathy. And Édith Jéhanne, very lovely and more interesting than in her other big film, Pabst’s THE LOVE OF JEANNE NEY.

As in the later LES MISERABLES, Bernard breaks out the hand-held camera for his battle scenes, a technique that seems to have been part of the French cinematic pallette — see also LA MERVELLEUSE VIE DE JEAN D’ARC — only to be forgotten until Welles reinvented it for CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT.

Almost certainly the best film about automata and Polish independence.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 13, 2020 by dcairns

One of Conrad Veidt’s relatively few French films, LE JOUER D’ECHECS (THE CHESS PLAYER, aka THE DEVIL IS AN EMPRESS, 1938) is a remake of a Raymond Bernard original which, disgracefully, I’ve yet to see. I would rather see it on the big screen but I don’t know when THAT’S likely to happen.

I owe the director, Jean Dréville, an unpaid debt, since big chunks of his groundbreaking behind-the-scenes documentary AUTOUR DE L’ARGENT are used in NATAN.

As feature director, he has good and bad points. Bits of this films are spectacularly overdirected in the best possible way, with the camera rushing up to people, repeatedly, like Sam Raimi’s happy dog, and all the stuff with Veidt’s mechanical men (as we all know from THIEF OF BAGDAD, he was a very skilled autonomist, a regular Coppelius or Dr. Phibes) is wonderfully uncanny.

Dréville then, was touched with genius, and his documenting of L’Herbier’s financial crisis epic L’ARGENT confirms this. But this was his tenth film, and you’d think by this time he’d have learned about eyelines. But not only do his closeups not match, so that his distinguished cast (Françoise Rosay and Gaston Modot also appear) seem to be continually staring off into space rather than at one another, but he arbitrarily intercuts, say, a profile of Veidt and a full-face view of Rosay, gaining nothing but visual chaos from the experiment.

Where was la script-girl?

However, despite the headslapping moments which are frequent, there are enough genuine whoahs — and I don’t think they’re all slavish copies of Bernard’s original —  to make me keen to try more of his rather flamboyant cinema.

But I should see the Raymond Bernard first.



Radio Edit

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on November 13, 2012 by dcairns

An anti-semitic vision of Radio London from the WWII Vichy animated propaganda film NIMBUS LIBERE.

Eoin our editor turned in what he calls a “radio edit” of the NATAN film — interviews spliced together to tell the story in big chunks of talk, with nothing to look at (apart from yapping faces). It was over three hours long. But the good news is that it told the story, apart from a few bits we need to create with VO and archive footage and other techniques. I fly back to Edinburgh for the weekend and return Tuesday morning, at which point we’ll be looking at Eoin’s reduction of the footage to around 100 minutes — he’s FAST, this guy. And he’s already incorporating some of the visuals — newsreels, movie clips, tests, and our own material. The final film will be a kind of collage, where we’ll rarely be looking at any one interviewee for long.

The really interesting material I don’t want to talk about yet.

One of our great discoveries was Jean Dreville’s AUTOUR DE L’ARGENT, a making-of film depicting the creation of Marcel L’Herbier’s L’ARGENT, filmed in Natan’s Joinville studio. It’s not a Natan production, but it shows his huge cinema empire in operation during his heyday, just before he purchased Pathe, and affords glimpses of several collaborators, including L’Herbier himself who would make three films for Pathe-Natan.

My co-director Paul Duane struck a deal with L’Herbier’s grand-daughter to use a chunk of this footage, and since the actual Pathe-Natan films are so expensive (despite fairly generous discounts), it’s a real life-saver.