Archive for Jean Seberg

Otto Smash

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2022 by dcairns

BONJOUR TRISTESSE is beautiful, odd, trashy at times — it perfectly captures the feeling if an endless summer, but brackets its lustrous Saint-Tropez Technicolor with monochrome scenes in Paris that make it all too clear the idyll is doomed. Preminger only mixed colour with b&w this one time, but it seems appropriate to his perversity that he used monochrome for the present tense. Of course it makes a clear emotional point about the joy having drained from our young protagonist’s life (and suits the particular looks of St Tropez and Paris) but of course it doesn’t withstand a literal-minded interpretation, and at the same time it’s too obvious to sublimate into symbolism.

Somewhat random side-note — just stumbled upon the fact that, while filming the Great Fire of London for FOREVER AMBER, Otto nearly incinerated Linda Darnell, eerily anticipating her eventual tragic fate by some years. It was a piece of collapsing set that did it, or nearly. And I thought, My God, Otto had form, because he nearly burned Jean Seberg to death making JOAN OF ARC, and did in fact take her eyebrows off. It may be unfair to blame him wholly, since a director is somewhat at the mercy of what the pyrotechnics people say is safe, but on the other hand, fish stinks from the head, and a director is quite able to say “That sounds kinda risky,” or “I’d like some more safety measures in place.” Otto instead follows in the tradition of his fellow Viennese Fritz Lang, who came close to creating Brigitte Helm on METROPOLIS.

There’s a smouldering death here, too, but off-screen, represented by a great black smoke signal against the azure Mediterranean sky, produced by car crash (see also ANGEL FACE), and anticipating Otto’s own accident when he was struck down and badly injured by a car (I imagine the driver’s astonishment at Mr. Freeze suddenly impacting his windscreen).

We’re in the world of Françoise Sagan, based on the novel she published at nineteen. Her youth seems to grant her a strong insight into the thought processes of teenage Cecile (Jean Seberg), with the slight disadvantage that everyone else behaves like an adolescent too. The one real adult, supposedly, Deborah Kerr’s character, is as extreme as everyone else, really, just in a different direction.

I wonder what the shoot was like? I mean, it looks like heaven: Paris and the Côte d’Azur (with Otto now starting his later shoot-it-all-on-location phase), attractive people, and David Niven on hand to stop Otto getting too beastly — Niv had stood up to Michael Curtiz (“Vhere is your script?” “I don’t need it.” “Run and get it!” “YOU fucking run and get it.”) and knew that all bullies are cowards. (It’s possible that everybody’s a coward, and bullies have just discovered a peculiarly extrovert way of handling it. It [a] works for them and [b] makes the world a more hideous place.)

The movie is a fashion show (Givenchy, Hermès, Cartier), and an art show, and a parade of beautiful, rich, foolish people we shouldn’t have any sympathy for and mostly don’t. But I found I still felt for Seberg’s spoilt brat a little, perhaps because Seberg herself was so tragic. Otto was determined to make her a star — she’d been roasted for JOAN OF ARC and the American critics wouldn’t accept her as French here either, as if it mattered. You accept she’s Niven’s daughter even though he’s English playing French. And if they’re French, what is the heavily-accented Mylene Demongeot? Doesn’t matter.

Critical hostility to Seberg was probably mostly about her flat Iowan accent, which Austrian Otto was perhaps not sensitive to — she can seem bad even when she’s emotionally on point — I remember her being wooden in THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, which came after this. Efforts to deaden the accent add layers of self-consciousness to someone whose charm ought to be in their naturalness. This is the movie where it all kind of fits.

Niven is very fine also, in a role with uncomfortable echoes of his own life — not the creepy Elektra complex stuff, the idea of the playboy who finally tries to settle down, only for fate to knife him in the back. Deborah Kerr seems like the kind of woman who could reform him. And here’s Martita Hunt, maybe the only actor to appear for Otto in the forties, fifties and sixties?

BONJOUR TRISTESSE stars Sister Clodagh; Squadron Leader Peter Carter; St. Joan of Arc; Milady de Winter; Lieutenant Joyce; Georgette Aubin; Mr. Silence; Miss Havisham; Lord Desham; Jackson’s Doxy; Sir Hugo Baskerville; Adrian Baskerville; and the Fiddler on the Roof.

Chimp Tango in Paris

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2019 by dcairns

After his let’s-give-Yves-Montant-a-hard-time trilogy of Z, L’AVEAU and ETAT DE SIEGE, and SECTION SPECIALE which, unbelievably to me, was criticised for being “caricatured” in its portrayal of collaboration (a certain level of cartooning seems permissable in a film with dozens of characters and a complex set of circumstances to convey), Costa-Gavras took a short break from political issues in 1979 and made the strange and haunting CLAIR DE FEMME (which translates as WOMAN LIGHT which is a terrible title, but the French version seems fine so let’s sue that), in which… Yves Montand has a hard time.

C-G insists that the personal is political but you would be struggling to find even passing references to the events of the seventies, and the film doesn’t seek to deeply investigate or question gender relations, which is the topic at hand I guess. Or maybe it does? But it’s still a very interesting piece, and part of its allure is the mystery of what drew the filmmaker to it.

I would characterise the film as a screwball tragedy — maybe PETULIA would be a good reference, but that film IS overtly political and has a bitterness that’s absent here. Montand keeps trying to fly out of Paris to Caracas or anywhere at all, as soon as possible, but then he keeps wandering out of the airport, missing his flight, and traipsing around Paris. The narrative is all meet-cutes and everybody’s a philosopher, which is why I see it as screwball. Plus the dialogue is epigramatic and the situations faintly absurd. A bereaved father speaks only gibberish, like he’s from Belugistan, Plus our leads evidently don’t worry about money: Romy Schneider pays Montand’s cab fare and doesn’t want paid back. Ever taken a cab from Charles de Gaulle?

The source is a novel by Romain Gary, who wrote WHITE DOG, and indeed one character (the spendid Romolo Valli) is a dog-trainer. He has a night-club act, described by Montand as “unspeakably horrible,” in which a chimpanzee tangos with a poodle, but he’s a nice, distracted, lonely man, dying of heart disease and worried about what will become of his animals. He’s not like Jules Berry in LE JOUR SE LEVE, my only other reference for Parisian dog-handlers. That movie may in fact be a reference, with its open-all-night narrative, elaborate, poetic dialogue… plus Montand himself is a link to Marcel Carne. With the face of a disappointed horse, God love him.

This damn film is weird, melancholic, funny-ish (Roberto Benigni plays a bar-man, but someone has sat on his head and got him to act proper) and disturbingly prophetic. When Gary wrote his book about a man whose wife is suiciding, his own ex-wife, Jean Seberg, was still alive. When Costa-Gavras made the film, Montand was not a widower yet, and Romy Schneider, whose character has lost a child in a tragic accident, had not yet lost a child in a tragic accident. Everything about the story and everything in the acting is so heartbreaking I assumed all those things had already happened and everyone was drawing on them and it was all a bit near the knuckle. Now it’s just distressing that they could do the emotions and yet they were still to have the emotions.

It’s about being bereaved and in love in Paris while wearing a raincoat, so it’s LAST TANGO without the misogyny.

This film deserves to be seen — I couldn’t look away and I couldn’t decide if it WORKED — the appeal of screwball has a strong flavour of “if only life were like this” so overlaying it on tragic events always creates a strange disconnect, a frustrating sense or irreality that never obtrudes when the subject is comic. But with some films, NOT WORKING is part of the charm, maybe even part of what makes them work.

Forbidden Divas: An Orgy in an Angel’s Bed

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on May 29, 2019 by dcairns

David Wingrove returns with more forbidden divadom, and a late film to boot! We love late films here at Shadowplay

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

An Orgy in an Angel’s Bed

“Remember, darling, don’t be like me. Have the game – but avoid the name!”

–          Honor Blackman to Jean Seberg, Moment to Moment

It is midnight and a hot and wild mistral is rising on the Côte d’Azur. The twisted shadows of palm trees blow frantically, back and forth, on the white marble facade of the Casino. In the garden of a luxurious seaside villa, dead leaves drift across the courtyard, loose tiles rattle on the roof and the wind blows a shutter open and then shut, open and then shut…as we see, through the window, into a kitchen. The lights are on. The body of a young and handsome man in naval uniform is lying sprawled on the floor, with a gunshot wound in his chest. The front door to the house opens and an elegantly dressed woman runs out into the night. Just a moment later, another woman – younger and dressed in a red bathrobe, the colour of fresh blood – appears in the doorway and calls after her. “Daphne!” she cries. “You must help me!” She is a respectable American wife and mother and she has the dead body of a stranger in her house. Or does she? It seems as if nothing in Moment to Moment (1966) is ever exactly what it looks like.

A quite absurdly enjoyable slice of high-flown melodramatic tosh, Moment to Moment was the last film ever made by the Hollywood veteran Mervyn LeRoy. A director whose work ranged from the gangster machismo of Little Caesar (1930) to the sword-and-sandal religiosity of Quo Vadis (1951) and from the high-toned soap opera of Waterloo Bridge (1940) to the gaudy theatrical camp of Gypsy (1962) he was a man without pretension to artistry or art. At no point in his very long career did he appear to know anything except how to make a good movie. It is doubtful that he ever made a masterpiece, yet equally doubtful that he ever made a bore. The auteur critics at Cahiers du Cinéma may have thrived on pitting directors (yay!) against producers (boo!) but Mervyn LeRoy made nonsense of their whole theory by working just as happily as one or as the other. The most famous film produced by LeRoy, The Wizard of Oz (1939) is as watchable, as nonsensical and as devoid of anything resembling a personal style as any of the films he directed. Moment to Moment is recognisably his work in that it might have been made by damn near anyone. But it just so happens Mervyn LeRoy did it better.

That beautiful but overwrought lady with the corpse on her hands is played by the Hollywood starlet turned French New Wave icon Jean Seberg. She looks unfailingly exquisite in her Yves Saint-Laurent wardrobe – which bears a more than passing resemblance to the clothes he would design for Catherine Deneuve a year later in Belle de Jour (1967). Alas, she is never exquisite enough to mask the fact that she is simply the wrong kind of actress for this kind of film. A movie as florid and overblown as Moment to Moment calls for the sort of bravura emoting that Lana Turner or Susan Hayward could do in her sleep. Yet any good performance by Jean Seberg was very much the opposite, stripping away all hint of theatrical artifice to expose the raw and naked soul underneath. In films like Bonjour Tristesse(1958) or Lilith (1964) or Birds Come to Die in Peru (1968) her acting has an uncanny and almost feral quality. But in a conventional (albeit superbly staged) melodrama like Moment to Moment, she just looks awkward and confused. This is as dire a piece of miscasting as it might be to put Liv Ullmann on Dynasty. It makes an audience feel reluctant even to award points for effort.

Her co-star – that other woman Jean runs out of the house and shouts after – makes a far better show of herself. Cast as the flamboyant dipso nympho next door, Honor Blackman has the knack that only a very few actors have of making all her lines sound elegant, sophisticated and witty – even when most of them are actually quite plain. “I shall never look old bricks in the face again,” she purrs when someone suggests a jaunt to an archaeological site. “They are starting to look like mirrors!” It is the sort of line that Noël Coward might have pencilled out in a dress rehearsal, but Blackman plays it as though it were vintage Oscar Wilde. Her character is a divorcee whose parties are the scandal of the Riviera. But the name of her villa – ah, the irony! – is Le Lit de l’Ange, which translates as “the angel’s bed.” Yet neither she nor Jean seems to have much luck at luring angels into her bed. The best that poor Jean can do, while her achingly dull husband is flying all over Europe being important, is start a hesitant romance with a handsome but disturbed American sailor.

Do you remember that dead body I was telling you about? Well, that’s him. Or rather, that is a young actor named Sean Garrison whose first and only starring role this was. We can easily guess at his value to the United States Navy. He is so wooden there is no doubt he would stay afloat for hours, even if the rest of the fleet were to sink with all hands. He meets Jean while he is painting by the docks – a picture, not a flagpole – and promptly makes his move. She is feeling lonely and neglected with her husband out of town. She takes him to an outdoor restaurant called La Colombe d’Or, where white doves fly up into the sky and turn a bilious yellow in the setting sun. He says the sight is “breathtaking” but that is not quite the word I would use. They dance to what must be the fortieth (or fiftieth) rendering so far of the Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer theme tune. Then they go back to her villa, where The Inevitable inevitably happens. It seems, alas, to be Inevitable only that once. Later Jean tells Sean she is a respectably married woman and how could he possibly, etc. He turns violent, she grabs a gun. In a twist of which M C Escher might be proud, Moment to Moment spirals neatly back to the place where it all started.

The plot grows seriously convoluted after that. The actors seem to understand it even less than the audience, which is saying a lot. In the interest of not spoiling the suspense, I will reveal only that Sean Garrison is meant to be alive in some scenes and dead in others. But I do hope nobody ever sits me down and asks me to point out which is which.

David Melville