Archive for Mademoiselle

The ’68 Comeback Special: Days of Matthew

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2014 by dcairns

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Video stores, those vanished pleasure palaces of yesteryear, used to be good places for picking up bits of conversation, Alan Bennett snippets of amateur movie analysis from the citizenry. I well recall a young fellow handling a VHS of the Christian Slater flick KUFFS and asking his friend, “This any good?”

“It’s alright.”

“Much action?”

“Uh.” A thoughtful pause, and then, helpfully, “He talks to the camera.” As if that were a form of action, or a decent, if weird, substitute for it.

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Several actors were talking to the camera in Cannes films of ’68, and one might guess the influence overall was Michael Caine in ALFIE, whose complicity with the audience makes him a kind of Richard III of shagging. But for several reasons I think the key influence on Witold Leszczynski’s ZYWOT MATEUSZA (DAYS OF MATTHEW) might be THE KNACK…AND HOW TO GET IT (1965) which predates the Lewis Gilbert picaresque bonkathon in having Michael Crawford briefly monologue at us. THE KNACK won the big prize in Cannes that year and so would have been widely seen by foreign filmmakers.

Matthew lives with his sister in an isolated house by a lake in the countryside. He seems to be either a little simple-minded or a little schizophrenically detached — more of a holy innocent than a clinical case one can connect to any actual condition. Like Crawford, his soliloquies are directed out, into the audience, but not consciously at them, so they feel more internal than Michael Caine’s smirking asides. Franciszek Pieczka is sometimes a little too cute in his intimacy with us, but nothing like as bad as his main competitor in the direct-address stakes at Cannes that year, Barry Evans of HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH, a bloke who will long live in infamy.

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Rather than a lot of plot, the film drifts through stunning gray-on-gray misty landscapes as we become more aware of our hero’s instability — he is overly impressed by a heron, is traumatized by a nearby tree’s destruction by lightning (he thinks it signifies that his sister will die or leave him), and is socially awkward around bikini-clad lovelies. These jiggling swimmers are the film’s least credible characters, seemingly invented to show how Matthew doesn’t know how to get to first base even with the most available, seemingly vapid and underclad females. It’s like putting Jerry Lewis in a scene with Monroe: sit back and watch the fireworks implode up the fumbling pyrotechnician’s sleeve.

But this isn’t the film’s point of comparison to THE KNACK. It’s vastly more melancholic, solemn and ethereal (though I always feel the Lester film has an autumnal sadness tucked away somewhere). But it does share some camera movements. Lester doesn’t normally move the camera. Probably less than Bresson. He told me he regards it as showing off. But THE KNACK is like his RASHOMON — he probably had the grips lay out track about five times. There’s a particularly striking moment when Rita Tushingham addresses the lens, not as a soliloquy, but as if it were sexual predator Ray Brooks’ POV. And the camera tracks right into a claustrophobic closeup of her — then cuts back to its starting point and does it again. Three times. It’s a disconcerting effect that throws the whole scene into a conflicted, uncertain state of unreality. Because if this is Brooks’ POV, he is either walking up to her or her isn’t, and if he is, he’s certainly not teleporting back to his starting point.

NOBODY has copied this sequence, that I know of, though Skolimowski’s student film EROTYK, made five years earlier, has something a little similar. Maybe it’s a Polish thing — Leszczynski doesn’t tie it to POV, but he repeatedly tracks straight forward in a scene, then cuts back to where he began. And he shares with Lester a love of the planimetric, architectural view.

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For some reason, he never really tracks in the forest scenes, though — a missed opportunity.

Even the photography resembles David Watkin’s work for Lester, and especially on Tony Richardson’s MADEMOISELLE.

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With its perfectly-composed shots, pervasive melancholia, music by Arcangelo Corelli (which sometimes the protagonist seems to be able to hear along with us, as if the woods were wired with loudspeakers nailed to trees like birdhouses) and haunting, allusive narrative sense (a dream sequence, weird silences and hums, lost time), this comes close to being a masterpiece — maybe it is. I was wary of the ending. As the film neared the 80 minute mark, with little narrative in play, I suspected that Matthew would either do himself a mischief or do it to someone else — characters like him typically do in movies, though in real life this isn’t actually that common. It’s the sane, normal-IQ people you have to watch out for. Sure enough, things don’t end well. It’s portrayed poetically rather than horrifically, and just bypasses the dangerous area of romanticizing this kind of tragedy.

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One of the most beautiful films of its year, and quite unknown.

Meanwhile — NATAN, part 2, over at Mostly Film.

Mad Mad Mad Mademoiselle

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on February 22, 2008 by dcairns

Lessons in Love 

‘MADEMOISELLE was the most beautiful black-and-white film I have ever, ever seen. It was staggering. […] It’s black-and-white ‘scope and they were using different stocks which had different flare factors and different qualities of the way the blacks and greys played for each scene. You were choosing stock to make something look great. It was very experimental and it was quite wonderful and it is not a distinguished film.’

~ Richard Lester talking to Steven Soderbergh about Tony Richardson and Jean Genet’s MADEMOISELLE.

Mirrormask

I was inclined to agree with the above after my first viewing — that was a fuzzy VHS pan-and-scan but the film was still clearly gorgeous. Now I’ve seen the DVD I think the film IS distinguished. It’s a study in the psychopathology of evil (feminine and masculine varieties) and almost stands as a companion to Clouzot’s LE CORBEAU — except it’s defiantly NOT a thriller. In both films a sleepy French village is decimated by random, insane attacks (poison pen letters in the Clouzot, arson, flooding and poisoning in the Richardson). In both films the mob seeks convenient scapegoats based on passion and prejudice rather than reasoning.

But the textures and sounds of Richardson’s films are wholly unique. The late David Watkin’s photography is seductive and icy and erotic and oneiric. Jeanne Moreau’s mesmeric performance is placed under a microscope, and the Panavision lenses practically drool over the man she lusts after. Kevin Connor’s sound montage replaces music score with the chirrups and lowings of rural life, creating a strange, floaty time-scape almost wholly devoid of narrative tension but lambent with unfocused menace and desire.

Sleeping Beauty

The peculiar psychopathology uncovered through a somewhat somnambular narrative and a long flashback sequence is positively Ballardian — a series of mental associations formed at a moment of passionate intensity have set Moreau’s schoolmarm on a path of destruction, assuaging her sexual frustration with meaningless acts of cruelty (for which she must put on her high heels and make-up). It’s verging on misogyny, though I’m sure we can think of numerous films where male characters act in an equally vicious fashion due to thwarted desire.

Watkin and Richardson delight in cramming their characters into the farthest corners of the frame.

Lake Placid

Jeanne of the Angels

Peeping Tom

‘MADEMOISELLE was ludicrous, made worse by the fact that Franju had been deprived of the chance of filming Genet’s original with Anouk Aimée.’ ~ David Thomson.

While admitting that the prospect of a Franju version is enticing, unless Richardson actually stepped in and squashed that production, I can’t see he’s to blame for making his own version. And I find the film rather alluring, and certainly not ludicrous — although it’s utterly devoid of humour, which can certainly be risky. 

No humour, no music, so I SHOULDN’T like this film, and the fact that I do must be highly significant.

Very Much Alive.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2007 by dcairns

 Very much dead.

There’s a longstanding joke among my film quiz colleagues, involving stalwart member Simon Carr, who has a tendency to pronounce celebrities dead, based only on the evidence that they’re on the elderly side.

First it was Glenn Ford. Now, Glenn Ford really IS dead, although as a believer in reincarnation he may be back among us by now*, but at the time Simon first raised the subject, Mr. 1950s Masculinity was still “very much alive”, to quote Johnny Depp’s Ed Wood.

Next up was Richard Widmark. ‘He MUST be dead,’ insisted Simon**, looking more and more like a young Ian Bannen. But he wasn’t, and he still isn’t, and this is a source of rejoicing in these wintry times, with grim death gargling up at us from the gutters, as Joel McCrea says in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS.

'Tis the season to be jolly.

93 today! A Birthday he shares with my big brother Sean, who is perhaps less venerable but no less dear to me. Happy birthday, fellahs!

Widmark gave us the cackling psychopath par excellence in KISS OF DEATH, using his own laugh,and he played the sweatiest lead role ever, outside a jungle pic, in NIGHT AND THE CITY. I gifted the Criterion DVD to a friend who didn’t like noir (“It all seems to be men in hats double-crossing each other,”) and now it’s his personal STAR WARS type obsession, a film about only the darkest and most corrupt things that’s perversely life-affirming and exhilarating to watch. Widmark’s Harry Fabian is a big part of this, a dreamer who so badly wants to Be A Success, and seems haunted by some inner premonition of miserable failure.

Another great thrill with this film is the British setting. Sure, Widmark and Gene Tierney talking about “quid” and “Man-chest-er” is distracting at first, but only for ONE SCENE. Then we’re into an evocative pulpy world perfectly transposed to post-war London. It’s either the best American British film or the best British American film.

Oh, and let’s not forget Googie Withers.

Widmark is smart and tough in real life too. I like this story from the shooting of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, the last Hammer horror film and a better movie than you’d think.

Widmark appears and asks cameraman David Watkin, “Where’s my key light?”

Now, Watkin comes from documentaries and doesn’t do things the traditional way. He’s a brilliant, innovative cinematographer, responsible for the look of THE KNACK, MADEMOISELLE, THE DEVILS, CATCH 22 and HELP! but he comes from a world very different from Widmark’s classical Hollywood experience.

“Well, the thing is, I don’t really work with a key light, Richard.”

“Well, I don’t really work without one,” says Widmark, and walks off the set.

I’m on Watkin’s side, of course, but I’m not telling this story to put Widmark down, I think it’s a rather suave come-back line.

On the subject of Dead Or Not, a few years back filmmaker and writer Mark Cousins made a wager on £10 with Sean Connery, as they disagreed about whether Leni Riefenstahl was still numbered among the living. Mark was right: though pushing 100, dear old Leni was still marching on, kept alive by the power of evil.

Although he won the bet, as far as I know Mark still hasn’t collected his tenner from the stingy Scotsman, who may actually be avoiding moving back here to his homeland for fear of having to part with the cash.

I'm not paying!

*Glenn Ford felt that his lifelong affinity with horses suggested he’d been an equestrian in a previous life. Possibly a Mongolian plainsman.

Or possibly not.