Archive for Jules et Jim

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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Euphoria #23

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2008 by dcairns
run fat boy run 
Danny Carr, Shadowplay informant, offered a plethora of marvellous suggestions for our regular Euphoria section, all of them gold-plated cinematic pulse-pounders. He climaxes, metaphorically speaking, with this un-toppable offering:
“Or actually the infectiously brakes-off and anything goes first few minutes of Jules et Jim. has a movie ever been more fun?”
There’s quite a lot to be said about this sequence, but let’s start with Scorsese’s “I had never seen anything so exhilerating” and take it from there.
(No subtitles on this clip: go learn French)
 
Truffaut’s big innovation is to throw together what looks at times like a random selection of out-takes. Organising principles are provided by Georges Delerue’s ebullient bombast on the soundtrack, which the images cut to, and by an ilustrative approach, some of the time: we see the actors as their credits come up, some of the images seem to relate to some of the technical credits. What has been gloriously abandoned is narrative sense: that can come later. I don’t think anybody else had started doing this at the time, although maybe it was happening in T.V. The device certainly became a mainstay of television credits a little later:
Scorsese’s adulation is worth returning to because, though maybe it’s just my imagination, I’m posi-sure (as Dan Dare would say) that the J&J opening had some kind of effect on Scorsese’s approach to GOODFELLAS. Jeanne Moreau’s voice-over on black screen (stolen by me for my short CLARIMONDE), followed by that boisterous theme, seems to be distantly echoed in the Scorsese flick by Ray Liotta’s first V.O., “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” mopving into a freeze frame, with “From Rags to Riches” blasting in on the soundtrack a couple frames later.
 
Scorsese’s use of an unusually FAST V.O. also ties his work to Truffaut’s. Since Scorsese’s major influence on GOODFELLAS was the abrupt cutting seen in movie trailers, it’s natural that he’d have thought of Truffaut, since that’s kind of what this title sequence is: a trailer for the movie we’re about to see.
Another filmmaker who sometimes starts his films with a trailer is Richard Lester, much on my mind at present as I’m teaching a class about him on Friday (plus, he was nice enough to contribute some funds towards the aforementioned CLARIMONDE). Lester, A Truffaut fan, begins A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM with a piece-to-camera by Zero Mostel which climaxes in a fast-cut musical montage of scenes from the upcoming movie. And Harold Pinter’s unproduced screenplay for Lester’s proposed film of Joseph Conrad’s VICTORY, begins like so:
A boat becalmed, far out to sea. The mast slowly sways. Heat haze. Red sun. 
Gulls encircle the boat, screeching. 
Screeching violins. A ladies’ orchestra. Bare arms. White dresses. Crimson sashes. 
A wall of foliage. Bamboo spears pierce the foliage, quiver, stay pointed. 
Camera pans up to see, through leaves, impassive native faces. 
An island. Moonlight. Silence. 
Figures of men seen at a distance at the door of a low, thatched house. The door is kicked open. The sound reverberates in the night. Explosion of shrieking birds. 
Driving rain. Leashed, barking dogs leading men with rifles through jungle. 
One of the men suddenly turns in panic, raises gun to shoot. 
Champagne corks popping. Two men standing on a jetty. Champagne is poured into glasses. In background a freighter leaving. Natives waving, cheering. The freighter whistles. 
A cylinder gramophone playing in a room. Rosalia Chalier singing. 
Moonlight. 
A girl’s figure in a sarong passes, carrying a bowl of water. 
In background a mosquito net canopy over bed. A man’s body on the bed. 
The girl parts the netting, places the bowl on the bed, kneels on the bed, looks down at the man. 
The gramophone hissing. 
A creek. Night. Crackle of fire. Two figures seated in foreground. 
Fire burning. 
Beyond the fire two Venezuelan Indians poking long knives into fish. They eat. 
The two foreground figures remain still. 
One of these raises a hand and wipes it on a silken handkerchief. 
High up on a hillside two figures in the grass. Bright sunlight. 

A girl’s stifled scream.

*

I love how Pinter writes the opening montage, breaking every rule of screenwriting and format. The fragmented, snappy sentences are also quite close stylistically to Carl Mayer’s work for Murnau…

More on screenwriting soon!