Archive for Julien Duvivier

The Atlantic Ocean was something, then

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2020 by dcairns

I have a strange history of not watching Louis Malle & John Guare’s ATLANTIC CITY — or, as the print used in my rather poorly-transferred DVD inexplicably calls itself, ATLANTIC CITY, USA. I think I’ve started watching it twice… once was probably on BBC2’s Film Club in the eighties, or around then. I think the way the movie doesn’t insist that it’s heading anywhere (though it is), and doesn’t seem to care if you’re watching, allowed me to drift off. But those are now qualities I value highly, and bits of it certainly stayed with me. In the last few months I picked up both the DVD, and the book Malle on Malle, secondhand, so it was clearly time.

I really enjoyed it last night. It reminded me a lot of the later TROUBLE IN MIND, from Alan Rudolph, only staged against a documentary backdrop (urban renewal in the titular city, with the crew rushing from site to site to catch demolitions in the background of its scenes, rather than attempting to transform a modern city into a place of near future/alternate reality possibilities. Both movies seem to enjoy an Altman influence, direct in the case of Rudolph, maybe just more zeitgeisty in Malle’s case, but actually stronger — a network narrative of interconnected characters whose paths criss-cross — crime — jazz — Americana.

Burt Lancaster always seems like a dreamer to me — you sense immortal longings. This is what led him, in real life, to make movies with European arthouse guys. His character here is a bullshitter, dreaming up a “romantic” past as a boardwalk gangster. His longings are for a past that never was: aspiration turned inside out into nostalgia. Circumstances finally allow him, in a crazy and ironic way, to play the hero in his own life. Burt gets several of the all-time great closeups. With Burt, the dreaminess perfectly counterbalances the acrobaticism, slightly in abeyance here. But he still has that precision of movement that makes you think of his athletic grace. Each gesture is powerful yet delicate, like a martial artist crossed with an assembly line robot and taught to dance.

Susan Sarandon is also really good. There are awkward old guy and young girl moments to get across, but Burt is still, in Fiona’s view, a viable leading man in his late sixties, and the script is so good, and of course Sarandon is not into Burt the way he’s into her… the voyeuristic element reminded me of Duvivier’s PANIQUE (and its remake, MONSIEUR HIRE, made nine years after AC) which is a possible influence since Malle seems more open to ’40s French cinema than the Cahiers mob (I can’t seem to refer to them collectively without making them sound like gangsters), who had a few favourites but mostly saw that school as an old guard to be replaced — by them.

All Sarandon’s early roles seem to be about her breasts, which is a bit embarrassing now because spectacular talents like hers are more unusual than spectacular breasts like hers. There’s generally a pathetic excuse, like the spilled wine in THE HUNGER that makes it absolutely necessary for her to become topless. Here she works in an oyster bar and spends her evenings rubbing lemon juice on herself at the window to eradicate the fishy smell. “How does she manage to get oyster on her ARMS? or her TITS?” asked Fiona.

Oh, and of course we were delighted to spot Wallace Shawn, poised to slip the script of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE to his director, and the exploding head guy from SCANNERS (the movie was made with Canadian tax shelter money). The guy, Louis Del Grande, proves he’s no one-tricky pony by playing a guy whose head does NOT explode. Although I admit we were waiting for it to happen.

ATLANTIC CITY, USA stars the Swede; Janet Weiss; Linda Loman; Inspector Ginko; Eden; Lizard; Lt. Bert Samuels; Quentin Hapsburg; Gold Leader; Dr. Bill Michaels; Vizzini; Felix Leiter; and First Scanner.

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?