Archive for Renoir

Fifty Shades of Maigret

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2023 by dcairns

Continental Films, the German company based in Paris at the time of the Occupation, which was sort of in command of the whole French film industry, produced four Georges Simenon adaptations, comprising Henri Decoin’s classic LES INCONNUS DANS LA MAISON, starring Raimu, and three Maigret films, directed by Richard Pottier, Maurice Tourneur, and Richard Poittier again.

I’ve just lately watched the Poittier entries — PICPUS and LES CAVES DU MAJESTIC. I saw the Tourneur, CECILE EST MORT!, but I can’t recall a thing about it except it was great. Time to revisit.

In all three films, Miagret is Albert Prejean and his sidekick Lucas is a fellow called Andre Gabriello. The writers adapting Simenon differ, and this seems to make a big difference. (Simenon wanted to work for Continental and adapt his own works, which may tell you something about him — most of the people who did work at the studio had no choice.) Simenon like Prejean’s performance as his hero, but there was initially some concern that Prejean, primarily a light comic, was too young and too lightweight to play the dour plodder, but audiences embraced him — the only two previous Maigrets, who appeared the same year, were Harry Baur and Pierre Renoir, working for Duvivier and Jean Renoir, who were much closer in age and temperament, though Baur, like later three-time-Maigret Gabin, was a bit more explosive than the character in the books.

The strange thing is, Prejean IS too lightweight, but the films solve that by bending the character to fit — this Maigret is many times more whimsical, flippant, and cheeky than the novels’ version and, like Benoit Blanc, he’s also a celebrity detective (which is not a thing). It’s as if it was felt that taking a famous fictional sleuth and putting him on the screen just naturally required that his fame needed to be acknowledged by the supporting cast. WE’VE all heard of Maigret, so why wouldn’t the populace in the films.

PICPUS is written by the fascinating Jean-Paul Le Chanois (a Jewish communist resistance member working for a German film company) who later became a hate figure for the nouvelle vague as a director of the cinema du papa school, but it needs to be noted that Henri-Georges Clouzot was head of the script department at Continental, and the humour smacks of his playfulness, black comedy and grotesquerie in, say, L’ASSASSIN HABITE… AU 21, and even LE CORBEAU. Fiona became convinced of this.

The plot in this one is insanely convoluted, and then magically boils down to a simple confrontation with very little summary required. A nice job of screenwriting.

There’s a crazy sequence where we’re suddenly at the Last of the Mohicans Archery Club and everybody’s wearing an Indian headdress — it’s interesting that Maurice Tourneur, who directed (co-directed, really) MOHICANS in Hollywood, was around, and would make the sequel. But he doesn’t seem to have ever been attached to this one — I now have a copy of Christine Leteux’s book Continental Films, which produces the receipts.

By the time of LES CAVES DU MAJESTIC, the last Continental production as the occupation ended, scripted this time by the great Charles Spaak, the comedic tone has been modified a bit to allow more emotion, and Prejean’s Maigret has reintegrated the character’s original interest in psychology and humanity — his interest in why is greater than who. But this had been blended with Prejean’s light persona, so that Maigret can say he’s forgotten all about the murder he’s supposed to solve, because he’s more concerned with the human fallout.

This is the film whose shooting is documented in Tavernier’s underrated LAISSEZ-PASSER — Spaak completed the film in prison after being arrested, and this partly explains why there’s so much talk about food in the film — the writer was starving and couldn’t think of anything else. But the film’s concentration on the theme of paternity becomes even more moving when you know that Spaak’s wife, pregnant with their first child, had also been arrested. They got out OK in the end.

Poittier’s more interesting than I had somehow assumed — he throws in a splitscreen shot in PICPUS (as Lucas briefs Maigret on a murder, we see the discovery of the body played out in a little box) and an impressive sequence shot in CAVES.

It’s curious — I tend to rate movie Maigrets on their resemblance to the literary figure, but Prejean’s portrayal demands to be judged differently, on the basis of how successful his warping of the role is. And it’s extremely successful, on its own terms.

All the facts here come from Leteux’s book and Tavernier’s film. Some of the speculations are mine.

Vex and Silence

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2022 by dcairns

OK, so Gillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities delivered two stunningly bad takes on Lovecraft yesterday, all sound and fury, signifying more sound and fury. Within minutes I could tell each one was going to be leaden. Pickman’s Model buried the story in irrelevant self-mutilations and was among Lovecraft’s least filmable works anyway — even Nyarlathotep would do better as basis for a scenario — since it’s about unbelievably horrible paintings. Imagine – some poor commercial artist had to try to produce paintings so repulsive they warp the mind of the onlooker.

Now, admittedly, Albert Lewin’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY managed to come up with a rotting portrait equal to Wilde’s conception, or near enough. But what Lovecraft seems to be requiring is beyond even that.

While Pickman’s Model falls into all the inadequacies the story’s nameless narrator credited himself with, in his strained attempts to mimic Pickman’s morbid style, and adds grotesquely amplified squelching sounds in a last-ditch effort to gross us out, Dreams in the Witch House starts out at peak volume and proceeds further and further over the top as it goes on. Actually, it starts with the Shostakovich waltz from EYES WIDE SHUT, thereby proving that the filmmakers have no interest in being original.

Altogether more agreeable to me is DAUGHTER OF HORROR, the film playing in the movie theatre in THE BLOB (version originale) and its director-approved first cut, DEMENTIA. John Parker’s not-quite-a-feature (well, I guess it’s around the same runtime as SHERLOCK JR…)

DEMENTIA is completely wordless, apart from the printed text of the credits. DAUGHTER OF HORROR had a hammy voiceover added, spoken by Ed McMahon, thereby subtract (in part) the film’s USP. The narration just makes everything more obvious, and the story of a man-killing sex worker already has a somewhat rote symbolism to it. The imagery and George Antheil’s score (with vocals by Marni Nixon) provide all the exposition we need.

As a wordless film I thought it sort of less interesting than Ray Milland’s THE SAFECRACKER Russell Rouse’s THE THIEF. In DEMENTIA, we see people talking but we don’t hear them — the suggestion is we’re never close enough. In the Rouse film, nobody talks to him and he’s party to no conversations, and the sense of loneliness created is quite striking. DEMENTIA could have done with that. But the absence of dialogue takes it closer to dream, which is the goal.

Possibly the only movie whose origin lies in a dream recounted by the director’s secretary — John Parker went on to cast Adrienne Barrett in the movie, which seems only fair: It’s your nightmare, now live it.

You could group the film with oddities like ERASERHEAD, SPIDER BABY, CARNIVAL OF SOULS, NIGHT TIDE. Outsider art that’s horror-movie adjacent without quite committing itself — more disturbing because less definable. If the opening scenes, where Barrett walks through a skid row hellscape of varying forms of male oppression towards women, have some of the hectoring obviousness of a commercial, it’s nonetheless all strikingly shot: Parker is determined not to allow a flat or ordinary image into his movie. It’s all expressionist gloom and cartoony forced angles, with continuity and naturalistic behaviour alike sacrificed to the jazzy morbidity.

Packing visual pleasure into every frame, the film nevertheless feels like one of those nightmares where you’re running without making progress — the 56 minutes never seems to end, until of course it does. But that seems entirely appropriate, even if it’s not a sensation you could call enjoyable. When a sleazy guy throws a dress at Barrett and all at once she’s wearing it, we seem to have entered the visual language of, not the horror film or noir (the Venice, California locations prefigure TOUCH OF EVIL) but the musical, and the film’s unending vibe aligns with those distended Gene Kelly ballet sequences which threaten to overflow the movies they’re part of.

The ensuing nightclub scene made me think of SIMON OF THE DESERT, that other underweight surrealist fever dream, and its new York conclusion — are they dancing the Radioactive Flesh? And is that Shelly Berman? It is!

SIMON is it — the perfect double feature pairing for DEMENTIA. When the money ran out, Bunuel’s producer considered showing SIMON with Renoir’s PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE. No. (Great though the Renoir is.) This is the one. Am I too late with that blinding insight?

The Wrong Films

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2019 by dcairns

A strange day of interventions by fate — we panted up the road to see THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH, a Henry King late silent with Kevin Brownlow intro and Vilma Banky, Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper in the leads — but I got the cinema wrong and when the lights dimmed, Renoir’s TONI appeared on the screen in a new restoration. My only regret was missing the RARER film. I hadn’t seen the Renoir before and of course it’s very fine, though none of the cast seemed able to reach the upper pitches of emotion the script demands. At one point Toni insists his wife stop screaming, when she’s been doing nothing of the kind.

But what an ending!

Then I thought we’d better get coffee so I didn’t pick the wrong cinema again, and when we got back from it, UNDER CAPRICORN was completely packed out. So we went up the road to the Lumiere and saw LA MASCHERA E IL VOLTO, a 1919 Augusto Genina film which turned out to be a splendid Italian comedy anticipating aspects of DIVORCE: ITALIAN STYLE in its jet-black approach to the comic possibilities of uxoricide. A husband who has expressed approval of Othello’s honorable way of resolving marital difficulties is undone when he discovers his wife has strayed. He can’t bring himself to actually strangle her, but he orders her to leave the country so he can tell everyone he DID kill her — so he can be a feared murderer rather than a pathetic cuckold. Things go awry when he hires for his defense lawyer his wife’s lover. A great line: “The ridiculous always seeks out those who are afraid of it.”

Then we split up — Fiona & Nicola going to see a noir double bill of THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE and THE THREAT, but succumbing to heat and sleep deprivation during the second — me going to see the brilliantly restored MEMPHIS BELLE, introduced by director William Wyler’s daughter Catherine, along with THE COLD BLUE, a new documentary made by Erik Nelson from Wyler’s rediscovered rushes, and then having a couple of Aperol Spritzes.

The immediacy gained by MEMPHIS BELLE’s colour photography now that you can actually see the B-17 pilot’s five O’clock shadow in a long shot — it’s that pin-sharp — really makes a difference in a you-are-there kind of way. Everything Peter Jackson promised and failed to deliver with his crappy colorization is authentically provided here.

We all met up for MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, which a mistake in the programme COULD have caused us to miss. As it was we had to bolt our dinner. But it was worth it. “I have never seen reds so red or blacks so black!” Fiona exclaimed. A very new 4K restoration which made this handsome, eccentric, alternately campy and poetic film glow.

“The Fall of the Blouse of Asher,” Nicola christened it. Which nails the campery aspect, but it has this compelling comic-book Bergman side to it too. Corman’s direction, Roeg’s photography, David Lee’s score, and the best ensemble cast Corman ever assembled outside of ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE. Very nice, very nice indeed.