Archive for Pierre Colombier

The Monday Intertitle: Loose Lip Synch

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2014 by dcairns


There’s a lot to enjoy in Alain Resnais’s PAS SUR LAS BOUCHE (I’m slowly familiarising myself with his post-sixties career, aided by the fact that Fiona seems to enjoy all of them, despite never having cottoned to MARIENBAD.) In fact, what is there NOT to enjoy in it? But most enjoyable of all may be Lambert Wilson (above, right).

Lambert is playing Mr. Eric Thompson (NOT Emma Thompson’s dad, the one who re-voiced The Magic Roundabout for the BBC), an American in Paris, and with his exquise comic timing he is partaking in a proud French tradition — the unconvincing American. For while his attempts to speak French clumsily and with an American intonation are quite good, they’re not exactly believable, and that adds to their hilarity.

The first French talkie was LES TROIS MASQUES (1929), a Pathe-Natan shot at Pinewood by special arrangement with John Maxwell, the Scottish lawyer-turned-exhibitor-turned-producer who had been working with Alfred Hitchock. Pathe head Bernard Natan seems to have gotten along well with Scots — his TV company was co-founded with John Logie Baird. But LES TROIS MASQUES is a dreadful film, stilted and static in the manner associated with the worst of early talkies. It’s as if British reserve somehow soaked into the celluloid and stifled any Gallic joie de vivre.


Much, much better is CHIQUÉ, a forty-five minute comedy set in a Montmartre dive and exploiting that old joke about the American tourist who doesn’t realize the apache dance is an act. Adrien Lamy plays the American, who says things like “Pas Anglais! Amurrican I am!” He’s wonderfully, hilariously awful. The film is everything its predecessor is not — fluid, rhythmic, pacy, atmospheric, alive. Pierre Colombier directed it, and went on to make Pathe-Natan’s best comedies.

Another early precedent for Lambert’s perf must be the 1931 film version of the same operetta, co-directed by Nicolas Rimsky, who also plays Thompson. A Russian playing an American in France — I assume he’s enjoyable, but I haven’t tracked down the film.

My faulty memory tells me there are other examples of Frenchmen playing Americans, also Brits playing Americans, and also Americans who aren’t actors playing Americans, but I can’t seem to put a name to them. Let me know if you think of any!


Everything in the Resnais film is in quotes — a theatrical piece from a bygone age performed, archly, on artificial sets by artistes who disappear by slow dissolve each time they start to exit a scene, with a sound midway between applause and a batting of wings. Such artifice courts sterility, but in Resnais’s hands it’s both funny, the way it would have been on stage in 1925, and something else — a scientific experiment in temporal bilocation, perhaps.

House of Health

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on November 7, 2012 by dcairns

Work on our documentary about Bernard Natan, legendary French film producer, continues.

Our intrepid editor has turned the paper edit into an actual rough assembly in record time, so our next task is to look at it and try to clarify the story and trim it down — it’s currently well over two hours and consists solely of talking heads. We’re not making SHOAH here. Once we have a better grasp of the ordering of the material we can start thinking about the acres of more visually interesting stuff, including those few clips of Natan’s films we can afford, and all the footage we gathered of the relevant places in Paris where Natan’s life unfolded.

Raimu – Ces messieurs de la Santé by RioBravo

Today’s Pathe-Natan recommendation is one you probably can’t see — CES MESSIEURS DE LA SANTÉ is a comedy starring Raimu, who’s mostly known in the Anglophone world for the Pagnol trilogy. But this one is a lot less shouty, more suave. The title puns on the idea of health — santé — which is also the name used for prisons — les maisons de la santé. Raimu plays a crooked financier who escapes prison by drugging the warden and becomes night watchman at a tiny bra shop. Using his business acumen and nose for shady dealings, he makes himself indispensable there and eventually turns the establishment into a gigantic department store — explored by director Pierre Colombier in a wonderfully sinuous and apparently endless tracking shot.

The pleasures of the film are mainly verbal, however, and the ’30s French isn’t easy, even for our two benshi translators David Wingrove and Rolland Man. However, visual treats include Raimu’s dazzling streamline moderne office which he acquires when at the height of his powers, which comes complete with a rotating steel and glass desk and colossal bank vault door, which swings open to reveal — a fully-stocked bar.

The film is at once an amoral celebration of financial shenanigans, and a satiric tweaking of the bourgeoisie, since Raimu’s hosts are slowly seduced by his corrupt ways until their original scruples have disintegrated like so much nitrate stock, swept away by a flood of filthy lucre (among other things, he’s smuggling arms hidden among their support garments). The jocular attitude to high finance and fraud did not go unremarked in the press a few years later when Bernard Natan was arrested for defrauding his own company. In fact, the following poster seems to indicate that the movie, made in 1933, was re-released in ’34 to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the Stavisky affair, which had just broken in the papers —

Our film may not have the heavyweight research to clear Natan’s name on this charge (he confessed to part of it, though we can’t know under what circumstances) but we can certainly show the bias and prejudice which surrounded his trial, and the way a relatively small embezzlement was absurdly inflated in the press to try to top Stavisky’s scandalous schemes.


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 25, 2012 by dcairns

Hang onto your hats ~

His Best Client from David Cairns on Vimeo.

Doesn’t matter if you can’t speak French. Me neither. What matters is that Rene Lefevre (he of the decadent eyebrows) is presenting his wife (Elvire Popescu) as his mother, the better to boost sales of his new miracle beauty treatment. He can shave years off a woman’s life, with a simple lie!

The film is SA MEILLEURE CLIENTE (His Best Client), a 1932 Pathe-Natan production directed by house favourite Pierre Colombier. One of the specialities of the studio was rascally comedies about duplicitous con artists — a bitter irony is to be found in the eventual fate of Bernard Natan himself, convicted of fraud and handed over to the Nazis.

What a spectacular sequence this is — full of startling images that tiptoe around hilarity to belly-flop into creepy grotesquerie. There’s a Busby Berkeley parallel to be had, I feel — an eeriness amid elaborately staged art deco spectacle, choreography and dehumanization marching in step, nudity as architecture, costume as fetishwear, our own eyebrows rising by irresistible increments until they vanish ‘neath our brims.

Hang onto those hats!