Archive for Jonathan Rosenbaum

The tapestry of “Love Me Tonight”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2008 by dcairns

Over at his excellent blog/online archive, Jonathan Rosenbaum offers some typically savvy thoughts on Rouben Mamoulian’s LOVE ME TONIGHT, and its place in the musical genre as a whole. I wish I’d peeked at this before screening the film, with introduction, at Screen Academy Scotland last week. While J-Ro’s analysis suggests dual roles for musicals, as vehicles for specialist song-and-dance performers, and as metaphysical transformations of the workaday world, my discussion of the film with students focussed on the film’s unusual weave of narrative threads.

Thread#1: Maurice (Maurice Chevalier), a tailor, must travel from Paris to a chateau to force a defaulting creditor to pay for the extensive wardrobe he has ordered. This is our hero’s quest, but he starts to forget it as soon as he meets Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald) at the chateau. There are several hints that the neglected storyline is going to be picked up again and resolved, but it never actually is.

Thread#2: Maurice’s wooing of Jeanette. This is accomplished through various comic songs, which suddenly turn more serious when it looks like he’s going to succeed. Maurice realises that a love affair between a tailor and a princess is going to meet with opposition. Jeanette doesn’t, because she doesn’t know he;s a tailor yet.

Along with the two plots (there’s a rich supporting cast of delightful one-joke characters, particularly a man-mad Myrna Loy, but none of them can really be said to have their own sub-plot), there are apparently two themes.

Theme #1: The goal of romantic conquest. It’s laid out in the second song, the incredible Isn’t it Romantic? As Maurice sings about his hopes to marry, he paints a picture of wife as combined domestic drudge and sex toy. The song is picked up by a variety of other characters in an incredible sustained sequence where we follow the song-meme’s journey across country to the chateau, where Jeanette brings it to its conclusion by singing of the handsome prince who will become her chivalrous slave. So the film sets up a conflict, a Lubitschian battle of the sexes in which both man and woman want a relationship, but on their own terms. This theme ceases to be relevant when Maurice wins over Jeanette, and the couple stop sparring and begin to cooperate. Neither one is imposing the kind of dominance over the other that they sang about earlier, although Chevalier is allowed a kind of superiority in the decision-making process (it’s 1932, after all). So this theme grinds to a halt just as the second one suddenly takes over, in a kind of relay.

Theme #2: class. This has been set up in the fight over Maurice’s unpaid bills: the Vicomte has exercised a typically aristocratic arrogance in commissioning things he can’t pay for, and expects to get away with it. Maurice announces that he’ll be “a one-man French revolution” and demand payment in person. But this plotline is abandoned halfway through, and the class theme transfers itself, in a daring mid-air transfer, to the romance. What will happen when Jeanette realises she’s pledged her love to a commoner?

What this all suggests to me is a relaxed and organic approach to story, where the writers (Samuel Hoffenstein, Waldemar Young & George Marion Jnr, along with Rogers and Hart and Mamoulian himself) had a pretty free approach to structure and probably allowed the story to shape itself somewhat as it went along. It’s not neat, but it’s always lively. If the life fades, they inject more. Perhaps the film is so bursting with ideas and energy because of the chaos of so many creative talents given a free hand. It’s one of the hardest films to imagine as a screenplay at all, since although it’s bursting with snappy lines and narrative movement, it also makes full use of cinematic ideas that would be apt to appear flat or even incomprehensible on the page. Slow-motion and accelerated motion, split screen and montage are not just devices here, they’re gags or plot points.

Perhaps the lesson for writers is to absorb the principles of structure and then ignore them, let them gently guide the imagination without straitjacketing it, as so often seems to be the case in modern screenplays.

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Where’s the love? On the ground.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on August 6, 2008 by dcairns

The smashed Cupid who, possibly, gives LOVE ON THE GROUND its name.

Jacques Rivette’s LOVE ON THE GROUND has little reputation, even among diehard Rivetteheads. But I just wanted to say, for the record, that I enjoyed it.

A theatre production at a big strange house, with a phantom room/wing, in the sub-suburban outskirts of a weirdly depopulated Paris, with sexual intrigue, conspiracy and magic in the air — the set-up is so classically Rivettian that maybe the film suffers by comparison with other movies, movies I perhaps haven’t seen (even after PARIS BELONGS TO US, CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, DUELLE, LA BELLE NOISEUSE, SECRET DEFENCE and THE STORY OF MARIE AND JULIEN, I still feel like a novice). But this movie has something that the others didn’t have for me, an active hook that seizes the attention, albeit gently, in scene one, and continues to draw you through the first act. There were no scenes whose major active question was “Why is this in the film?” or “What’s going on?” or “Huh?” which I sometimes get with Rivette.

Wha-who-wha-whuh?

So — either I’m slowly getting used to Rivette and starting to appreciate and even understand him more (although, I should stress, I rather enjoy NOT understanding him), and this is causing me to rate this movie higher than it deserves, or I’m not temperamentally a perfect match for him, and so I respond more to one of his lesser, but more linear, works. A third option, that I’ve spotted strengths in the film that top-ranking Rivetters (B. Kite, D. Ehrenstein, J-Ro) have missed, strikes me as pretty unlikely.

Note — B. Kite, the living lodestone of New York, points out that he has only seen the short version of this film, and doesn’t like to divide Rivette into these major and minor categories anyway.

Who needs people-removing software when you’ve got EMPTY ROOMS?

So, I resolve to blunder blindly on through Rivette’s mysterious theatre-worlds, just as his characters are doomed to do, cheered by the prospect that maybe the films are starting to reveal their secrets to me, or at least define them, and that I have lots more films to see (and he’s still making them, at eighty!) and that all the Rivettes I’ve seen so far (Well, maybe not SECRET DEFENCE?) seem set to reward more deeply on repeat viewings…

J-Lo

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on July 25, 2008 by dcairns

BLIND DATE with Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger. No, wait, that’s wrong. Surely that’s wrong.

My new article on J-Lo, by which I mean Joseph Losey, is up at Moving Image Source. It’s meant to accompany this complete retrospective, but in a fit of madness, I based it all around one scene in his late ’50s potboiler BLIND DATE, starring Hardy Krüger and Stanley Baker.

And J-Ro, by which I mean movie colossus Jonathan Rosenbaum, was nice enough to add a helpful semi-correction to my last piece there, the Clarkicle. (They wouldn’t let me call it the Clarkicle, though. Not that I actually asked, but they wouldn’t let me.)

And my previous Losey-themed bit of waffle is still HERE.

I wonder how many more links I can cram into one post without setting the Internet on fire?

Anyhow, THIS ONE is the new Losey article.