Archive for Romy Schneider

Otto Complete

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2015 by dcairns

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Revisiting an old favourite — it’s Otto Preminger Week, Slight Reprise.

I think it was Guy Budziak who sent me a DVD of Otto Preminger’s THE CARDINAL some years back — thanks, Guy! — I immediately watched and drooled over the magnificent Saul Bass title sequence, then put it away, meaning to watch the rest later. Having finally done so, the main benefit received is probably that it got me to finally start reading Chris Fujiwara’s Preminger study, The World and His Double. The movie does embody a lot of the positive AND negative things about the Preminger style and personality.

Fujiwara cites plenty of testimony from concerned parties that Preminger mercilessly mistreated his leading man, Tom Tryon, eventually driving him to quit acting altogether. (Preminger felt Tryon should thank him for his subsequent successful career as a novelist.) Tryon’s own account is harrowing and heartbreaking — but I’m surprised that co-star John Huston’s version isn’t included. Huston claims he noticed Tryon was looking nervous and suggested that Otto might try soothing his star rather than berating him. Otto approached the trembling thespian from behind and bellowed “RELAAAAX!” in his ear.

It probably isn’t true, but poetically it is clearly COMPLETELY true.

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The perfect match of pillars and font (typographic, not baptismal)

The film also got me looking up Catholic history to see if the movie was fair and accurate. It’s not too shabby. Preminger apparently added all the stuff about the Austrian Anschluss, which the source novel didn’t deal with. The film shows faithfully how the church in Austria initially welcomed Nazi annexation, only turning against it when the Nazis started repressive measures against Catholics. But the movie can’t find room to show how Pope Pius XII pursued policies of appeasement and neutrality, decrying war crimes in generic terms while refusing to be specific. However, we do get to see some prime chickenshit religiose humbug in a sequence dealing with segregation in Georgia. When Ossie Davis comes to Rome to report his church being burned by the clan, the Italian cardinal berates him for his inflammatory behaviour in protesting that a Catholic school wouldn’t teach black children.

The fact that Tryon’s character stays with the church after this almost makes him a difficult character to respect, although in fairness he travels to Georgia and tries to help out. His biggest problem as a lead character is that he allows his sister to die — she’s pregnant, the doctor needs to sacrifice the baby’s life to save her, and Tryon refuses. Even Preminger knew this was a character flaw: whatever the law of the church says, as fellow humans in the audience we demand that Tryon’s character save his sister. No movie star could really play that part — the kind of characters movie stars play would somehow resolve things — or God would help out with a miracle and the sister would live.

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Tryon flanked by Lynley Mk II (right) and Dorothy Gish (left).

In a really creepy piece of filmmaking, Preminger casts the same actress, the lovely Carol Lynley, as both sister and grown-up niece (the movie’s story covers decades, and it seems like it too). It’s as if an act of cinematic metempsychosis has resulted in the mother literally living on in her daughter, so that the priest’s act of murder is erased. As Fujiwara observes, Preminger directs this sequence with so little conviction that the apparent intended meaning is substantially undercut.

Weirdness alternates with dullness. For the first twenty minutes, the script (Robert Dozier plus uncredited Gore Vidal and Ring Lardner — neither of whom knew the other was at work on the same project until a chance meeting exposed the farce) is content to offer no actual drama at all, just uncomfortable actors exchanging information, plus bits of ritual and music and nice location shooting. Then Cecil Kellaway brings in a little conflict, playing an avuncular rotter in a dog collar, whose sins are so petty, venial and squalid that it’s surprising Otto got the OK from the church, especially after his rows with the Catholic Legion Of Decency (CLOD, I call them) on previous movies.

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And then we get John Huston, and things get MUCH better. Also Burgess Meredith, at whose deathbed Huston has a moment that actually really moved me — not an emotion I expected to get from a Huston performance, though I often enjoy him.

Cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who restrains his usual Deluxe Color glorious excesses, was apparently quite smitten with Romy Schneider… one can well believe it.

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The movie was make-up supremo Dick Smith’s first credit, and he had to age Tryon throughout the movie. He was apparently a last-minute replacement for the great Maurice Seiderman (CITIZEN KANE), who quarrelled with Preminger and, as a parting gesture, ran his electric razor in a line right up the back of Tryon’s head. Poor Tryon, he got the worst of every encounter. Poor Smith, he had to spend months gluing little bits of hair to the back of Tryon’s scalp.

Fujiwara is probably right to regard this as major Preminger, but he does note the difficulties it presents — Tom Tryon is sort of right for it, but does not provide a strong centre.

Dwight MacDonald wrote of Preminger, “A great showman who has never bothered to learn anything about making a movie,” which is totally off-base. But he added, hilariously, “… no one is more skilled at giving the appearance of dealing with large, controversial themes in a bold way, without making the tactical error of doing so.” In a sense, he has Preminger cold, but a more sympathetic reading — that the former lawyer was always inclined to view a problem from both sides, if at all possible — is equally valid. When dramatic weakness or oppressive censorship impacts on this approach, the result can be dullness, as in several long sequences of THE CARDINAL. When Preminger is able to pilot a strong script through the cultural hazards, the results are striking.

French Farce

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting, Radio, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2014 by dcairns

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Things done –

Pere Lachaise Cemetery – people kept asking me if I knew where Jim Morrison was, but I was avoiding him. Also Edith Piaf. The only famous person I met was Ticky Holgado, whose terrifying sepulchre, depicted above, evokes the awe and horror of death better than any of the more tasteful tombs.

Charcuterie. With two ex-students: one is working as a nanny and being bitten all over by small children while pursuing her documentary career, the other was attending a fantastique film fest (but they weren’t showing LET US PREY so I’m safe).

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Coffee at the Hotel du Nord, from the film of the same name, avec Phoebe Green, who sometimes appears in these pages as La Faustin, and who was our translator on NATAN. You can’t get a view of the hotel through the bridge as Marcel Carne manages in his film — having rebuilt the whole neighbourhood in the studio he could shuffle things around, lose a few trees, and arrange things to the camera’s advantage.

Lunch at the Cinematheque – boeuf bourgignon where I bought many postcards, also some awesome KING KONG flipbooks. It’s quite something to have Kong waving his arms about in the palm of your hand.

There’s a lovely Truffaut exhibition on just now, with letters and photos and other souvenirs – not the Jeanne Moreau letters, she’s sitting on those – and it was a chance to nod sadly at the image of Marie Dubois, one of our recent departures for realms unknown. Truffaut ought to feature in the Late Movies Blogathon, come to think of it – I have a soft spot for VIVEMENT DIMANCHE! And THE GREEN ROOM is one of the most apt late films of all.

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Truffaut’s boyhood notebook — LE CORBEAU, he recorded later, was the first film he saw twice. But what caught my eye, of course, was the Pathe-Natan LE MISERABLES, which must have been on its post-war re-release, hopefully with the Jewish names restored to the credits which were removed under the Nazis.

St. Sulpice, a large church featuring some impenetrably dark works by Delacroix.

Many many bookshops, where my inability to read French prevented me from making many an extravagant purchase, like the giant book of stereoscopic images of diabolical tableaux – little dioramas with miniature imps and demons frozen in the act of cavorting with pitchforks and other accoutrements — co-authored by Brian May of Queen. The kind of book one SHOULD own. But I couldn’t walk away from the little pamphlet by Samson Raphaelson, his memoir of working with Lubitsch. It was only four euros, and reading the first few sentences I was pleased to discover that my schoolboy French did not leave me wholly in the dark. Actually, I need to modify the expression “schoolboy French” lest I be seen to traduce the educational system. Some qualifier like “concussed schoolboy French” or “sleeping schoolboy French” gives you a better idea.

Now, since I need to see a movie, obviously, and I need a movie I have a chance of understanding, preferably, I have been drawn to the Cinema Desperado, whose Romy Schneider season is featuring WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT. I’ve never actually seen the whole thing. TV versions were always pan-and-scanned and just TOO SMALL to allow Richard Williams’ elaborate titles to be enjoyed… the documentary series Hollywood UK more or less accused this film of ruining British cinema, since it led to the excesses of CASINO ROYALE and the belief that throwing enough gaily coloured, fashionable shit at the screen would be enough to attract and keep an audience. And I have a complex, mostly abusive relationship with the works of Clive Donner, though it’s never been entirely clear whether it’s abusing me or I’m abusing it. Here goes nothing…

(Typed at 17:41 in a café with no internet.)

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Later – well that was highly enjoyable. Can’t remember the last 35mm projection I saw – probably THE BOFORS GUN at EIFF. The cinema belongs to Jean-Pierre Mocky and shows all his films, a different one every day.

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The film is a hot mess, as expected, but there are very funny, silly bits, and some clever bits too. The editing is all over the place – continuity is appalling, but that is sometimes evidence of a cutter following the rhythms, or creating them, and saying the hell with making stuff match. But there are clear signs of whole sequences having been moved about on a whim (probably that of increasingly erratic producer Charles K. Feldman), characters show up out of the blue (not Ursula Andress, who does so literally, as a deliberate gag, but people like the bomb-throwing anarchist, who the script must have intended to set up earlier as Paula Prentiss’s boyfriend), and Paula Prentiss’s early scenes appear to have been set upon with a meat cleaver – the conversations have been hacked into nonsensical soundbites, set-ups for gags that never come or punchlines to gags never set up.

Fortunately, Peter O’Toole is usually able to find his way through a scene if it’s allowed to proceed in sequence, dragging co-stars behind him, and Peter Sellers augments the best lines of Woody Allen’s script with nonsense of his own (therapist Fritz Fassbender curses upon soaking his thighs with petrol: “Geschplund!” A straight Goon Show quote if ever there was one).

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It’s a shame about the messiness because feckless dithering in the control room is the last thing a tight farce needs, and there’s some evidence that Allen had constructed such a farce. The idea is a sound one – a shameless philanderer decides to get married and be faithful, and suddenly he’s besieged by beautiful women. Capucine’s nymphomaniac Mrs. LeFevre is possibly the funniest actor in the film, despite not getting any actual jokes. She just has beautiful timing and emphasis, and makes the other actors funnier in turn (Sellers: “You look ravishing in zat whistle”). The colossal beach whore from EIGHT AND A HALF, dressed as a Valkyrie, is also good value.

The whole cast gets assembled for a climax at a country hotel, with a rampant Andress in dropping into O’Toole’s lap from the heavens (“I yam a paris-chew-diss!”), stripping off her aviatrix jumpsuit to reveal a seductress jumpsuit underneath, then ditching that too. Oddly, despite the crummy continuity, Andress running through the hotel in her undies always has her undies disarrayed the same way from shot to shot, left butt cheek bulging out.

Disappointingly, after scene after scene of stunningly beautiful, chic Parisian sets by Richard Sylbert, the hotel is mostly a dowdy location, and rather than giving us a satisfactory conclusion there’s mere chaos, and O’Toole getting nagged by his new bride at the fade-out. Still, as she accuses him of looking at another woman (Francoise Hardy!), O’Toole enunciates acidly: “I *had* to look at her, she was *speaking* to me. I Turned in the Direction of the Sound.”

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So illusion.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 15, 2008 by dcairns
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Awhile back I posted some vague thoughts about 10.30 PM SUMMER, a 1966 Jules Dassin film written by Marguerite Duras which I love, although nobody else ever had much positive to say about it. To my delight, the YouTube clip I put up attracted a very unusual response — Isabel Maria Perez Garcon, who appeared in the film, aged 7, as the daughter of Peter Finch and Melina Mercouri, and who had never seen the film since it had never been released in Spain, got in touch asking if I could provide her with a copy.
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I could!
Being nothing if not mercenary, I did require her to answer a few questions, however. Isabel kepy apologising for her English and I kept assuring her that it added character and was a good thing.
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Thanks for answer me. I am very happy for your offer. If your copy is in french with no subtitles, don’t worry. We played two versions, one in english and one in french.
 
-For some reason the English version hasn’t been released in America, just the French one with English subtitles! Anyhow, I have a French copy. I’ll burn a disc and if you give me an address I’ll post it as soon as I can.

I would be enchanted to answer your questions about my work in this film. Then I was seven years old, but I remember many things of those days. Only there is a problem, my english is not very good, but I hope that I apologize.
 
-That’s OK. I can edit it and fix it for my blog, if you prefer, but I don’t mind leaving it as it is. It proves you’re real!
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Thanks for your kindness. I look forward to the DVD, makes me so ilusion!
Of course you can ask everything you want, I try to answer them all, as best as I can.
Now you have a friend in spain for what you need.
I’m sorry, I can’t express myself better, just hope it can understand. You can edit it and fix it or not, as you prefer.
Well, here is the interview.
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-Was this your first film? How did you get the part?
Yes, this was my first film, but I worked in TV since 4 years old.
When Jules Dassin arrived in Spain looking for a girl for the character of Judith,
 my agent got me an interview with Mr. Dassin and had to like my way of being,
 because I was the chosen
The three lead actors, Finch, Mercouri and Schneider, are an interesting team.
What are your memories of them?
Of course, they were very interesting. I remember with a special affection for Melina and Peter.
They were very affectionate with me. Peter played continuously with me, he was a man of great tenderness.
Melina to think that I am listening her personal voice saying: BRAVO ISABEL, BRAVO.
Always, when we finished a take, repeating the same thing: BRAVO ISABEL, BRAVO.
Also she was very affectionate, very warm, very mediterranean.
And finally Romy, she was a very reserved woman, very introverted.  She did not speak much with me,
but I remember an anecdote: I had very thirsty and we were about to shoot a scene,
while Dassin gave the typical orders: camera, shooting, action; I said in a low voice that had thirst.
My father was next to the operator, but he don’t  brought me water for not stop work.
Romy was then angered, herself stopped the shooting and immediately brought me water.
Another day we were filming a scene in which Romy and I are lying on a mattress on the floor,
when a flag of which are used to sift the light of the foci fell on us, It  just grazing me a bit in the head,
 but it fell on Romy’s nose, causing a tremendous bleeding and a huge swelling who kept away from
the shooting for several days.
The person who interests me most is the director, Jules Dassin. How did you get on with him?
Mr. Dassin, as I called him it was very nice, very affectionate too,
 he and Melina, his wife,care and pamper me a lot. I spoke with he in English.
The producer put me a particular teacher, she helped prepare the English text
and accompanied me to the filming.
Jules Dassin was a man of great personality. I was absolutely fascinated by those
huge blue eyes and hair that stirred up completely white
-I suppose the reason you never got to see the film at the time is that it’s quite adult. The plot involves adultery, etc. How much did you understand about the story when you were making it?
Though obviously with seven years old had not been able to see the movie, the real reason is that the movie
never came out in Spain. At that time, for censorship and in democracy … I don’t know why.
In that moment I just knew the argument was coming from an English family holiday to spain with a friend
and my mother” was helping a murderer escape. I  never read the script, I just studied my part,
so I did not know the full story.
Any other memories of shooting the film?
I remember the terrible cold that we spent during the filming, because though the story is
in summer, we filming in January. The production’s car came to pick me at 6:30 A.m.
and we were going to the shooting, which was often quite distant from Madrid.
 I loved the smell of makeup in the early morning, have my own caravan to relax in the outdoor filming
my assistant and my own dual lights.
That was a world very different from the TV that was the only one who knew so far and I liked a lot
Thank you again for everything, from heart.

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“I like your English, even if it has faults. It’s individual!”

   You have a great sense of humor.