Archive for La Ronde

Red Face, Blue Pencil

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2017 by dcairns

Marvelous Mary brought me back a present from her travels: a 1949 Penguin Film Review. This series, edited by Roger Manvell, was a bit like John Boorman’s late lamented Projections — it looks like a paperback book but behaves like a magazine. It provided a smart look at the film industry from a practitioner rather than a critical viewpoint, and probably helped prepare a lot of future filmmakers for getting into the studios before they started closing down…

This one has, besides writing from the obnoxious Harry Watt and the lovely Eric Ambler, an interesting piece by one A.T.L. Watkins, secretary of the BBFC (then the British Board of Film Censors, now Classification, though they still censor a bit). It’s very readable and cogent, a useful primer, and ably expresses a lot of the horrible assumptions underlying censorship in Britain.

Censorship is only news when it makes a mistake. The fact that the British Board of Film Censors has been viewing films at the rate of 3,000 a year for many years is a matter of indifference to the majority of cinema-goers. And rightly so. The effect of a good censorship should not be noticed. The result of its work lies on the cutting-room floor of the studios, and though the trade may be all too aware of this, the cinema public, which sees only the completed and apparently untouched film, is happily ignorant. Indeed, they might reasonably be pardoned for wondering why censorship is needed. They well might ask, “Who is this censor? Why should he take upon himself the duty of saying what I should and should not see? What does he mean by “should not”? Because I may suffer harm? Well, if I am in that danger, isn’t he in his examining theatre? What is there in his mental equipment that enables him to emerge unscathed from seeing things I’m not allowed to? Surely intelligent adults may be allowed to look after themselves in these matters?”

You see? Already we’ve had beautiful phrases like “examining theatre” (do/did such places really exist? With a sign on the door? I am thrilled to hope so) and “mental equipment.” A.T.L. goes on ~

The answer is that intelligent adults could be. But the world is not made up of intelligent adults, any more than it is made up of morally balanced individuals. The cinema public in particular represents all ages and all stages of mental and moral development. And while an intelligent adult audience might be relied upon to reject bad taste and to remain undisturbed by immoral influences, he would be an optimist who would expect such qualities of resistance in the average patrons of the local Odeon or Granada. Bearing in mind the mixed audience which attends the ordinary cinema, imagine what would be the result if no obstacle were placed in the way of films which misrepresent moral values, condone cruelty, debase marriage and the home or mock at religion. Does anyone believe that such films would have no ill-effect, particularly on the young people who represent such a large percentage of the thirty million weekly cinema-goers?

Now we’re getting somewhere. (Plus, I never thought of “Granada” as an archetypal cinema name, but apparently it was.)

British censorship has always been about class (“Is Lady Chatterley’s Lover a book you would be happy for your wife or servants to read?”), fear of the underprivileged, and fear of the young. The specific traits we fear they may acquire from movies has evolved over the years, but that’s where the anxiety was located. Nice middle-class viewers could watch anything that was out there, and the censors DID, with no apparent ill effects, but you couldn’t trust the hoi polloi. (Or those outside London: in 1950, Ophuls’ LA RONDE was passed for the metropolis but barred from the provinces.) Books were always far less censored than films, because it was assumed readers were a bit more educated than movie audiences.

Note that at this time, all films released in Britain were open to all ages. Certification was merely advisory. I know at one point there was an “H” certificate for horror films, but it didn’t last, and I don’t know if kids could still go. I know they DID…

A.T.L.’s assumptions about what qualities his readership will be united in condemning are hilarious: “misrepresent moral values” assumes an absolute set of immovable laws, “debase marriage and the home” is something I have a hard job visualising any film doing; “mock at religion” is something I’d certainly commend as a valuable service, tracing its honourable history back to Voltaire, and of course by “religion” A.T.L. means Christianity. “Condone cruelty” does seem like a pernicious one, but certain forms of cruelty have always been staples of entertainment, especially in comedy. But maybe that’s merely exploiting rather than condoning. And, interestingly, cinema at it’s most uncensored has rarely gone in for condoning serious cruelty. The vilest Italian concentration camp movie of the ’70s still makes a show of being on the side of the victims. This only seems hypocritical because they exploit their suffering so blatantly.

But, it may be said, no director would make such films. The answer is that, even with a censorship, he occasionally tries to. And if the Censor so much as nods in his direction, a storm breaks. Angry members of the public reach for their pens. Responsible public bodies demand an inquiry into the methods of censorship. The Board has no right or desire to resent criticism when a mistake is made, but from the letters which from time to time reach the office, it might be inferred that some of the critics never visit a cinema and have little or no knowledge of how censorship works. Though the best censorship may be the one that works with due reticence, not seeking advertisement or expecting commendation, it must rely for its success on public support and co-operation. For this reason it may be useful in this short article to clear up one or two of the commoner misconceptions.

And he goes on to attempt to do so… Let me know if you’d like to hear more from this stuffy fellow with the quaint prose style, and I can type up the rest of his essay, with my own notes.


Thinking in the round

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by dcairns

Watching LA RONDE again with an audience of one student (at this time of year they tend to be busy on shoots — but Joachim wrapped one project and came along to the screening the same evening, bless him: “I can go to the pub anytime.”) — struck as always by new details I didn’t remember seeing before.

When Simone Signoret rotates into view she’s standing under a little lamppost — an unlikely accoutrement for a carousel, but an apt one for a carousal.

Of all the guys in the film, Serge Reggiani may be the luckiest, getting to score with both Simones, Signoret and Simon, and he’s certainly the least grateful lover.

Always loved the scene where Walbrook leads Simone Simon through time, by walking in between sets, but this time I started wondering about the avenue of movie lights they pass — where does it lead? To other scenes in this movie, or to other movies altogether?

There’s something of an irony in Fernand Gravey playing Danielle Darrieux’s husband, since he was moonlighting as a resistance fighter during the war, spreading terror by night and shooting LA NUIT FANTASTIQUE by day, whereas Danielle’s record was slightly more spotty — she went on a goodwill tour of Germany (with Clouzot’s girlfriend) and got condemned to death by the Resistance for her troubles (a sentence which was later commuted to “Oh alright then we’ll let you off this time”). Her story seems to have been that she was trying to secure the freedom of her boyfriend, Porfirio Rubiroso, from the Gestapo. She succeeded, and being an international playboy he subsequently dumped her.

(Porfirio Rubirosa… How to explain the romantic appeal of this dashing Dominican diplomat? You know those long pepper grinders you get in Italian restaurants? Those are, unofficially, known as rubirosas. Think about it.)

I’m struck once again by the final exchanges between Gerard Philippe and Simone Signoret — what’s going on here? There’s a suggestion that she reminds him of someone, and she may in fact BE the person he’s reminded of, although he probably doesn’t realize it. And perhaps he was the young soldier who set her out on her strange path, sleeping with soldiers for free? But it’s all quite mysterioso and allusive. I watch the scene again when I get home, using the extended cut of the film that abruptly surfaced on Australian TV, without warning. The scene is longer but seems, if anything, more mysterious than before.

Plus there’s this great Walter Sickert-NIGHT OF THE HUNTER composition.

Most of the added scenes in the extended version involves Walbrook, but Jean-Louis Barrault’s whole section is a fair bit longer too. This includes an amazing transition from Barrault’s scene with the “grisette” (Odette Joyeux) to his scene with the actress (Isa Miranda). In a post-coital scene in Barrault’s split-level bachelor pad (fin-de-siecle version) Joyeux asks Barrault to put out the candles. Then a voice echoes out, “Yes, put out the candles!” Barrault looks up, and discovers that his apartment has no ceiling, and that he has Anton Walbrook looking down at him from a lighting rig. He does as he’s told, and Walbrook swivels the spotlight off Barrault and onto an entirely new scene, the theatre, where Miranda is taking her curtain calls. Walbrook announces the new scene, “The poet and the actress,” (which sounds like the set-up to a smutty joke, and almost is).

It’s a dumbfoundingly wonderful transition. The rest of the extended sequences are very welcome, but not to the same level of awesomeness, although there’s another shot of the intersticial space-time-continuum between sets, with Walbrook sweeping off into it in his opera cape, and a scene between Walbrook and Barrault in the snow outside the love nest he’s rented with Miranda, where both actors’ exhalations are visible in the cold air — Ophuls must have filmed in an ice-house, if not on location (my money’s on the former).

The reason for this long cut is apparently as follows — it was Ophuls preferred edit, but a preview audience reacted badly, so he pared it down to the version familiar to us. Following a quirky logic of his own, he didn’t much trim the opening scenes, saving his most severe cuts for late in the picture, effectively moving the scene of Barrault and Miranda’s consummation back from the countryside to her dressing room in the process. While many of Walbrook’s appearances were shortened (there’s some more business with him as a head waiter), the more extreme verfremdungseffekt moments, such as Walbrook censoring one steamy love scene by editing the film, were preserved in essence if not in length. Now Marcel Ophuls has done his best to suppress this alternative director’s cut, which I guess is his version of protecting his father’s legacy, but I can’t say I understand his logic (he’s also barred the German version of LOLA MONTES).

Even with the additional material, the film doesn’t quite have an end shot, surprisingly. There’s a cluttered frame incorporating theatre, street and movie studio all in one image, which is a nice idea but doesn’t quite come off compositionally, and then a freeze-frame of the idle carousel, which looks like something from the end credits of a US TV show. But so what? As Sidney Lumet put it, “Nothing has to be perfect,” and in a film as downright SUBLIME as LA RONDE, perfection might actually be a vulgarity.

Congruence #2: Entrances

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2009 by dcairns





A kind Shadowplayer sent me a copy of Thorold Dickinson’s SECRET PEOPLE, which features the first major performance by Audrey Hepburn, so always gets a sort of footnote position in the history books, but deserves better. A rather downbeat tale of terrorism and espionage, it stars Valentina Cortese as Hepburn’s big sister, lured into an assassination plot by her lover, Serge Reggiani. The film has an unusual narrative, perhaps not entirely successful in its jumps and re-starts, but intriguing to watch. The biggest narrative surprise is when the bomb plot is set in motion, and Dickinson then cuts to the aftermath. Reggiani, like the audience, is desperate to know what happened.

Cortese. standing at the window of her London flat, begins to tell him.

As she talks, she moves left —

— and walks into the flashback she just started to narrate.

It’s a startling transition, and all the more striking when you imagine how it must have been shot. Dickinson would have had the bedroom set constructed next to the terrace where the party is unfolding, a dreamlike conjunction of entirely separate places.

There are a few uses of this kind of technique elsewhere in cinema. Dickinson might conceivably have been influenced by the moment in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP where Roger Livesey swims back in time forty years in a single continuous shot. But it just occurred to me that he would have made a point of seeing LA RONDE, since it stars Anton Walbrook, directed by Dickinson in two of his best perfs (GASLIGHT, THE QUEEN OF SPADES). And in the five-minute opening shot of LA RONDE, Walbrook walks from a nocturnal Viennese street onto a theatre stage somehow erected in the midst of it, back onto the street, which then becomes a movie studio, then a street again, then daylight, then night again…


And then there’s this moment in THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, where the Baron begins to narrate his tall tale from the stage of a theatre. He speaks of the Turkish court and its seraglio. Gilliam cuts to an actor playing the Great Turk being shepherded onto the stage —

But as he enters, we find it’s a real Turkish harem, and the actor is now therefor a real Great Turk. We’re inside Munchausen’s tale, having not just moved back in time, but into a slightly more slippery form of reality, the lie-truth of a Munchausen memory, and again we’ve done it without a cut or dissolve.

The effect, like the film, is somewhat Felliniesque, but Gilliam’s trick  shot does feel akin to Dickinson’s, and it’s thus interesting to note that both SECRET PEOPLE and MUNCHAUSEN feature Valentina Cortese, who for Gilliam plays the Queen of the Moon (a giantess with a detachable head). Did Gilliam check out some of her earlier work and get inspired?


Thanks to Susan VandenBergh for SECRET PEOPLE.

UK shoppers: The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (20th Anniversary Edition) [DVD] [1988]