Archive for Les Aventures Extraordinaire d’Adele Blanc-Sec

The Sunday Intertitle: Night at the Museum

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2012 by dcairns

Bloody hell, he is, too! He’s Rene Navarre, alias Fantomas, here cast as “Chantecoq, King of Detectives”.

“I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.”

(I’d love to see a movie with the King of Detectives vs the King of the Beatniks from THE HYPNOTIC EYE.)

Just as M. Vidocq turned from crime to detection, proving that it takes a thief to catch a thief, so Navarre has converted from being the terrorist master of disguise, to cop monarch Chantecoq.

BELPHEGOR, a four part serial from 1927, is a little slow-moving by the standard of these things, with much time spent on various characters’ domestic arrangements rather than running around the Louvre firing pistols at ghosts (in the inspirationally-named  Room of Barbarian Gods). But it has atmosphere, romance, and lovely art deco rooms. The hero’s wallpaper is thrilling, and if you run a bar code scanner over it you’ll find out what it cost.

Veteran director Henri Desfontaines’ four-part serial has a funereal pace for a thriller, but striking compositional sense and art direction. The effect is exactly as dreamlike as we Feuillade fans might wish it to be. There’s the masked phantom of the title, a sinister hunchback in Dickensian muttonchops, disguises, escapes, a historical flashback, and an unusual example of product placement. The story was originally serialized in Le Petit Parisian newspaper, and the hapless hero is himself a reporter for that organ. Instead of merely placing the product in the story, the publisher placed the story in the product too, creating a potentially infinite reality regression of the kind you get when you stand between two mirrors. Vertiginous.

Since there are four episodes, each nearly an hour, but only about half an hour’s worth of plot, interesting padding is devised. Random characters at various times see Belphegor, the Phantom of the Louvre, even when he isn’t there. In episode one he appears inside a loudspeaker broadcasting news of his criminous exploits, and also superimposed over a newspaper article. He’s clearly less a man than a media-spread terror meme, like Bin Laden.

BELPHEGOR later became a sixties TV show with Juliette Greco (acclaimed) a comic strip, an animated series, and a Sophie Marceau mess — it’s also a major influence on Luc Besson’s intermittently forgivable LES AVENTURES EXTRAORDINAIRE D’ADELE BLANC-SEC.

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Arc Light

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2012 by dcairns

For my thoughts on Dreyer’s PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, read this old piece. But for a review of the OTHER 1920s Joan film, the one contemporary audiences flocked to in preference, see this week’s edition of The Forgotten, the first in a short series celebrating the productions of Pathe-Natan, a short-lived incarnation of the French film company Pathe…

Can you treat a production company as an auteur? Certainly, if you give any credence to the genius of the system. (And, sure, the system can be idiotic at times, but so can the most respected geniuses.)

While on the subject of Joan of Arc and idiocy, I feel it’s not too late to say that Luc Besson’s JOAN OF ARC is an awful, awful piece of work, so putrid that it’s a source of wonder to me that people to this day do not point, and laugh, and hurl tiny stinging pellets of owl-shit at Besson when he appears in public. The reason for my distaste is not the director’s girlfriend, Milla Jojobabitch, who I think is perfectly adequate given the kind of Joan she’s been asked to play. My dislike is based on one scene — one of the foulest messes ever splashed upon a screen.

Besson invents for Joan a sister murdered by the English, in best BRAVEHEART manner (OK, it wasn’t William Wallace’s sister, but you get my drift — apparently a movie hero needs to be motivated by a thirst for personal revenge, not patriotism or religion). Said sister is not only murdered but raped, and in that order. And Besson sees fit to throw in a bit of comedy relief at the same time.

Said sister is actually skewered by a broadsword, nailed to a wall behind which Joan is hiding (so Besson can shoot the bloody blade emerging inches from Joan’s horrified face, of course). Then the murderer has his way with the corpse. Then he turns to two companions, resting at the kitchen table, and says something along the lines of “Who wants to go next?”

And the two guys turn to each other in a synchronized double-take, eyebrows raised. The comedy style is out of John Landis, and to say it sits somewhat awkwardly in the overall tone of the scene is a bit like saying a fart gag during the Auschwitz shower scene in SCHINDLER’S LIST might have seemed a bit out-of-keeping. I was really annoyed by the double-takes in THE EXTRAORDINARILY PROTRACTED TITLE OF ADELE BLANC-SEC, mainly because they always tried to force a laugh from the audience when nothing funny had actually happened, but possibly because the acrid tang of his JOAN was still in my mental nostrils.

So I dunno. If you live anywhere near Besson, or find yourself in Cannes when he’s got a film playing, maybe you need to make sure you have some owl pellets in your side pocket or purse. I’m just saying.

Fortunately, nothing as bad as the Besson atrocity happens in Marco de Gastyne’s LA VIE MERVEILLEUSE DE JEANNE D’ARC. Although, ouch:

“Non, je ne regrette rien…”

Silly Putty

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2011 by dcairns

I guess, in the great scheme of appalling Luc Besson films, LES AVENTURES EXTRAORDINAIRES D’ADELE BLANC-SEC is pretty inoffensive — great swathes of it are even good fun. Any movie turning a pterodactyl and an Egyptian mummy loose in Belle Epoque Paris had better be fun, if it’s going to be anything.

Adding to the pleasures are exquisite design and photography, mostly excellent special effects (but that din-riding scene — oh dear), and Louise Bougoin, who can talk as fast as Lee Tracy and look prettier doing it. The story, such as it is, cobbles together several comic strips by the great Jacques Tardi, including the one about the pterodactyl, which seems to have been inspired by this Max Klinger print —

It’s even the same aspect ratio as Besson’s film.

In turn probably inspired by the ending of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s THE LOST  WORLD, a coda transformed out of all proportion in such movie versions as bother to nod to it at all…

Tardi’s titles, as well as his stories, are shorter.

Why, given all that’s in the movie’s favour, do I still find it intensely annoying? Maybe because Besson is so lazy — anyone can fold together a bunch of bande dessinees, if he doesn’t care about logic or structure. Everybody else has worked extremely hard to make this film as handsome as it is, but Besson’s contribution to the script feels like it probably took him a week. Furthermore, he still has that dreadful habit of encouraging his actors to do comedy double-takes at the end of scenes, which would be fine if he’d actually bothered to insert anything comedic for them to react to. Still, it beats the comedy double-take enacted in THE MESSENGER, where two English soldiers exchange a comedy glance when invited to participate in the violation of Joan of Arc’s sister’s corpse. That may be the precise moment Besson condemned his immortal soul to Hell, without possibility of reprieve.

There IS a lot of comedy in the film, some of it funny (genuinely terrific joke about the Louvre), some of it laborious or grotesque. An endless sequence of the heroine trying to bust a mad scientist out of jail fizzles out, having occupied our protagonist for much of the film’s “second act” — the time would have been more entertainingly spent watching her shop for her disguises at the boutique of M. Hubert Balls. I’ve just been looking at Andre Hunebelle’s deplorable sixties FANTOMAS films, and they make the same mistake of making the detective a moron, to show off how hip and cool they are — despite the fact that this makes his role in the story useless, a tiresome drag on the narrative progress which would be immeasurably faster and more entertaining with a smart man pushing it ahead. But Besson doesn’t do smart.

As some kind of substitute for wit, he serves up the expected accelerated-motion vooshes through CG fotoscapes, and bullet-time slomo when, with plodding literality, a bullet is fired. Well, “cliché” is a French word.

It’s not clear to me why, with the whole world to play with, Besson had Adele traipse to Egypt, thus reprising chunks of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and his own THE FIFTH ELEMENT, but I will admit to being charmed by his mummies, authentically skinny, leathery specimens taking good advantage of the possibilities of CGI. The Spielberg connection is deepened by his habit of plastering his male actors in prosthetics to turn them into grotesquely veined and liver-spotted, over-detailed versions of Tardi caricatures. This is what Spielberg’s TINTIN is going to look like, only burped out of a computer instead of a latex mould, complete with the four endings, each worse than the one before.

There’s enough going on here, some of it amusing, for you to get some pleasure if you’re habitually less irritated by Besson than I am — for instance, if you like the capering in THE FIFTH ELEMENT and don’t mind it stealing the ending of MOONRAKER (FFS), you’ll probably have a ball. Something about the anti-Bresson just gets on my wick, is all.