Archive for Julien Duvivier

UN FILM DE ?????

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2019 by dcairns

Duvivier’s LA FETE A HENRIETTE has a neat premise and plays neat tricks, as its two screenwriters run through alternate possibilities for their romantic story. But the basic dynamic never satisfied me: the director sees the film as a light, charming, Rene Clair confection set on Bastille Day (Clair had in fact already made that film, as LE QUATORZE JUILLET, with Annabella in the ’30s). His writer keeps trying to turn it into a sexy melodrama full of underwear and killings. We see the alternative versions played out before us.

But it made me wonder why on earth the director keeps this writer around, since he hates all his ideas. And although we’re meant to sympathise with him, the writer’s bawdy caper with its Dutch tilts and lingerie looks a lot more fun. A more interesting dynamic might have been to give the power to the character with bad ideas, so we see a potentially sweet movie being wrecked.

George Axelrod and Richard Quine’s remake, PARIS… WHEN IT SIZZLES (most sources omit the ellipsis but it’s there in the title sequence) explodes the original concept in a number of ways. There’s only one writer, and he’s at war with himself, which is already more interesting. He has a stenographer with whom a romance blooms as the script is, falteringly, shaped. The real-life relationship merges with the characters in the film, with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden playing the leads in both “reality” and the film-within-the-film, which is called THE GIRL WHO STOLE THE EIFFEL TOWER and, unlike nearly all such meta-movies (the dire-looking MEET PAMELA in DAY FOR NIGHT being the prime example), actually looks like it might be diverting — in fact, it looks very much like HOW TO STEAL A MILLION. Fluffy, pointless, enjoyably diverting.

It even has Mel Ferrer changing from Jekyll to Hyde, as was his wont.

The mixing of reality and fantasy allows Axelrod and Quine to set up a lot of fun running gags, as the fictional avatars of our protagonist plagiarise their lines from real life, and get them stolen right back. Though it’s stuffed with pointless excess, both to parody gaudy Hollywood confections and to become one, it also has a narrative and manages to explain its impossible title quite neatly (there’s a film-within-the-film-within-the-film, you see, and it’s also called THE GIRL WHO STOLE THE EIFFEL TOWER — which, obviously, ought to have been the title of PARIS… WHEN IT SIZZLES too, and then we wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not to include the ellipsis — and the FWTFWTF gets stolen, so…).

A startling throwaway moment. This is 1964, people!

This leads us to Tony Curtis. While Marlene and Mel have uncredited cameos, Tony’s bit is actually quite substantial. When the real Audrey tells the real Bill that she has a date with an actor on Bastille Day, Holden gives his disgusted impression of the profession, summing up the Brando school of thespian as a bunch of preening slobs. He then begins his script with Audrey’s meta-character being dumped by her date, played by Curtis as an absurd, eye-lash fluttering, pouting, pose-striking, slouching Brando parody. Only also French. But with Tony Curtis’s Bronx accent.

As the plot progresses, though, Holden decides that the Curtis character is really an undercover cop. His boss, Gregoire “Coco” Aslan, keeps referring to him by his cover name rather than his real one, then scathingly tells him that really he’s just “second policeman.” So the gag becomes Tony Curtis, movie star, gamely allowing himself to play a humiliated bit actor in a nameless role. But there’s more! Maurice/Philippe (Tony) actually gets, probably, the biggest character/s arc of the movie. And reminds us of his astonishing comic skills.

Give this one a try! As a Parisian romp with Audrey, it ought to be frothy and charming, but it’s slightly too bitter, too Tashlinesque-zany, and salacious and shambling to be what, by rights, it ought to be aspiring to be. It’s too much like a Deluxe Color nervous breakdown. But, as such, it’s very interesting and often very funny.

Two Enormous, Highly-Paid Heads

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2019 by dcairns

Hadn’t seen PARIS… WHEN IT SIZZLES before — a student who was an Audrey Hepburn obsessive said she didn’t like it, but I should’ve known better than to trust her. It’s a mixed bag but pretty interesting. The film it — very loosely — remakes — Julien Duvivier’s LA FETE A HENRIETTE — doesn’t quite work, arguably, but the narrative tricks are fun. Same here, but this one’s more interesting to me because of the confessional side. Screenwriter George Axelrod was an alcoholic and he seems to be grappling with that, and some deep self-loathing, through the medium of a chic, charming, vulgar, silly romantic comedy.

It is in fact hard to imagine Audrey being in a film as glossily lecherous as this, which may be a sound and understandable reason for my former student having disliked it.

William Holden plays the boozy screenwriter and Audrey his muse, so there are echoes of SUNSET BLVD — what if Joe Gillis made it to the top, got his pool, and STILL wasn’t happy? Turned into THE LOST WEEKEND’s Don Birnam, in fact? With enough moolah to keep the booze flowing forever…

Add in the tortured Richard Quine as director, the alcoholic Holden as star, Audrey at her skinniest, and you have a surprisingly sour aftertaste, but this doesn’t ruin the pleasure for me, though it certainly complicates it.

When Holden burns the script he’s been working on all through the movie, because now that he’s found love he’s going to quit the sauce and write a better one, it’s joyous, exhilarating, satisfying — and supremely unconvincing. And I think that’s intentional on Axelrod’s part. The old Hollywood switch on a switch — give the public what they want but wink at the intelligentsia — we know better than this, don’t we?

The Sunday Intertitle: Who’s Storing the Mind?

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2019 by dcairns

On the ruins, The Future was being built.

To Bo’ness Hippodrome, and enough intertitles to last a month of Sundays!

By the time I rocked up in that sleepy townlet, I’d already missed a lot of high-quality stuff, including Lois Weber’s THE BLOT and Harold Lloyd’s THE FRESHMAN, and lunch at the beloved Ivy, but my first film on Saturday was a beaut — Julien Duvivier’s updated Zola adaptation AU BONHEUR DES DAMES (later done by The Beeb as The Paradise, relocated from Paris to the more glamorous locale of Durham).

Pamela Hutchinson of Silent London remarked, “If you wanted to show someone what silent cinema could be like, you could just show them that, because it’s got everything!” A late silent — 1930 — maybe France’s last? (Bernard Natan produced the first French talkie the same year) — you can see the studio it was shot in being demolished in the film — it heaps up radical techniques around you, from German expressionistic angles to Russian montage to French impressionist delirium — slow motion, split screen, multiple exposures… plus powerful use of more traditional bits of film language like close-ups:

Dita Parlo (a name surely made for the talkies) is our guileless ingenue, and Nadia Sibirskaïa (MENILMONTANT) provides haunting support, with the Galleries Lafayette in a major starring role also. The film contrasts the plight of the small shop with the booming, all-consuming department store — nominally, we’re meant to sympathise with the small business, but the film values photogenics, and can’t help being seduced by the glamour of large-scale retail.

The ending is a bit of a problem — though sort of faithful to the novel’s outcome, it plays like “How many of our themes can we betray in four minutes?” One can’t imagine it ever having felt satisfying to anyone, even the makers — did Duvivier have more than the usual amount of trouble with endings? (See also LA BELLE EQUIPE… but my beloved LA FIN DU JOUR is perfection.)

Particularly fine accompaniment by Stephen Horne & Frank Bockius, on a day that also included John Sweeney & Bockius scoring Chinese martial arts romp THE RED HEROINE, Sweeney again on Dreyer’s THE PARSON’S WIDOW (magnificent, more on that later) and Günter Buchwald & Bockius adding creepshow atmospherics to THE CAT AND THE CANARY, to which I provided sleeve notes.

HippFest has been going since last Saturday but this was my first day, and a damned good one. Back today (Sunday) with Fiona for Laurel & Hardy, MOULIN ROUGE, Lawrence Napper lecturing on working women in silent film, and the grand gala finale of HINDLE WAKES.