Archive for Napoleon

The Sunday Intertitle: The Judex Files: Going Underground

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 27, 2016 by dcairns

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The Late Show — The Late Movies blogathon — starts on Thursday December 1st and I am woefully unprepared as, probably, are you. But let’s get stuck into it. I do have a light teaching week this time so the opportunity to watch a bunch of swan songs and write about them exists. All submissions to this, the galaxy’s smallest and most valedictory blogathon, will be merrily accepted.

The call goes out for a subtitled of even dubbed edition of Abel Gance’s last gasp, THE BATTLE OF AUSTERLITZ. This had UK TV screenings and even a VHS release, so I’m mildly hopeful there could be a version I could watch and understand [those Frenchies talk FAST!]

Still reeling from NAPOLEON — Edinburghers get a shot at seeing it at Filmhouse this month, and should not miss it.

Now read on…

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JUDEX, episode 8, continues at a slower pace than the hectic opening episodes, but interest does not decline. As Judex takes his mother to meet the object of her vengeance, the crooked banker Favraux, we get the best, most spectacular views yet of J’s mountain lair, the Chateau-Rouge and its surrounding scenery, and a few location interiors achieved by virtue of natural light and the big holes in the building that let it in. Something I haven’t said enough about is Feuillade’s exquisite use of real interiors, which have to be applied sparingly because of the atmospheric but decidedly shadowy atmosphere they produce. Visually, these scenes are always a highlight of any given episode.

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Favraux is observed in his cell via Judex’s craft moving mirror arrangement, a kind of panopticon-periscope, a poseable Judas Window. What it reveals is grim: Fravraux has grown a beard. Also, he’s lost his marbles. This basically manifests as an infantile state of distraction and incomprehension. Everybody decides this is taking revenge a bit too far.

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Paris: Morales, the jailbird son of trusty old Kerjean, visits the fiendish Diana Monti (Musidora) to call it quits with her evil schemes. Foolish young John Lithgow lookalike! Soon, Musidora has worked her womanish charms and he’s back in the fold of vipers, if vipers can be said to have a fold. I’m no herpetologist, as anyone will tell you.

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Morales leads a band of brigands to chloroform and abduct Favraux from his cell (the guy’s options have not been good for some time now, but kidnapped from prison is a new low). But the joke’s on them, since Favraux has been removed from solitary confinement to speed his recovery (sound therapeutic practice) and the man they snatch is old Kerjean, who just happened to have bedded down for a quick snooze in the place of punishment, as you do. Musidora now plots to murder the poor  old duffer.

But private eye Cocantin has been keeping an eye on Monti, and we get a brisk action sequence involving jalopies, pistols and blue tinting. Musidora loses a valued accomplice, and Kerjean is rescued — it’s all been one of those meaningless-running-about bits that serials delight in. A true action sequence should leave us in a different position than when we started, but since a series has to spin its plot out for quite a long time, and has to keep throwing out fights and chases and abductions, you often get elaborate plots and struggles which mainly result in a restoration of the status quo. it’s a weakness, but one that serial lovers must learn to indulge.

To be continued…

Napster

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 25, 2016 by dcairns

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Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON gives us five-and-a-half hours on France’s smartest, bravest, sexiest, tallest man.

I’m not sure if star Albert Dieudonné was actually tall — in one of two shots there are other actors who out-heighten him. But more often, Gance gives him screen prominence that makes him seem to tower over his surroundings, and his bony, sharp features and slender frame create an impression more of tallness than its opposite. Basically, nothing about him really evokes the historical figure he impersonates, but like Chaplin, Napoleon can be reduced to a hat and a stance, and so anybody can stand in for him.

Dieudonné’s great advantage is his intensity, which he seems to carry with him at all times and which makes itself felt even if he just sits there. You believe he must be a military genius because of his presence and how Gance frames him. Kubrick believed Jack Nicholson would make a good Napoleon because he felt intelligence was the one quality that can’t be acted. I’m not sure that’s true. If the actor is bright enough to understand something, they can play the person who invented it. While there are certainly cases like Denise Richardson playing a nuclear physicist which seem to insult OUR intelligence, for the most part, a moderately sentient thespian can play a brainbox by hard work. John Huston was ultimately impressed by the way Montgomery Clift convinced us in FREUD that he was having original thoughts, when in fact the poor man’s brain was basically burned out. What convinces us of genius is the one quality Nicholson and Dieudonné both share — that mysterious quality called presence.

 

The Art of War

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 22, 2016 by dcairns

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I feel like I’m cautiously circling NAPOLEON, nibbling off tiny bits here and there. Like a man with a scary cake.

Kubrick was pretty dismissive of the film in The Film Director as Superstar – “as far as story and performance goes it’s a very crude picture.” He praises the filmmaking more in the Michel Ciment book, but still says it’s disastrous as a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte. It feels like when Kubrick watched films for research he still approached them like an audience member looking to be entertained, not as a filmmaker looking at craft. Arthur C. Clarke got him to watch THINGS TO COME in prep for 2001 and Kubes’ reaction was “I’m never watching a movie you recommend again!” I would have thought the film would have been diverting on technical grounds, at least.

My theory relates to animated maps. Kubrick seems to have been particularly keen on rendering Napoleon’s genius as a strategist, which is why he needed 40,000 extras to play the various armies, but also why he wanted to be able to show figures on a map, large troop movements in a kind of stylised time-lapse. So I can see why he would have been appalled by Abel Gance’s rather different approach.

Albert Dieudonne as Napoleon looks at a map…

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And his eyes BLINK ON AND OFF. And we see flashes, diagrams, sums, arcane symbols, superimposed war footage. A sort of blipvert montage of a brainstorm, suggesting that Napoleon is producing cogitations we mere mortals couldn’t possibly hope to understand, and which we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about. This black magic approach seeks to convince us of Bonaparte’s genius by baffling us with bullshit, whereas for Kubrick the whole challenge was to explain, to render comprehensible to us so we can grasp just how clever the Frenchman was.

I can agree that Kubrick’s explicatory approach, if that’s the result you’re after, was superior. But then, he never made the film, did he?