Archive for Serge Daney

The McCarey Treatment

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2018 by dcairns

Revisiting Leo McCarey for an upcoming project. MY FAVORITE WIFE recombines so many of the successful elements of THE AWFUL TRUTH it’s practically a remake, or else a dream-sequel. Like the earlier film, it ends at a mountain cottage, modeled on the one McCarey owned for real, but just before filming began, McCarey was driving back from that cottage at night at ninety miles an hour (drink may have been taken, a hypothesis strengthened by the presence of Gene Fowler in the passenger seat) when he collided with another vehicle. The accounts don’t bother to relate what happened to the non-famous collidee, but McCarey was thrown 126 feet from his tumbling vehicle, suffering serious injuries, and Fowler was pronounced dead at the scene — only to surprise everyone by coming round in the ambulance.

So McCarey was chairbound during production of MFW, leaving Garson Kanin to take over most of the direction, with McCarey supervising as best he could. Kanin is usually blamed for the film not being quite as good as the incomparable THE AWFUL TRUTH, though he could be a very good director of comedy (BACHELOR MOTHER is terrif). I’d rather blame McCarey not being in top form, for obvious reasons.

The movie begins with Grant attempting to declare one wife dead so he can marry another — Gail Patrick, screwball comedy’s perennial other woman. There’s a marvelously tetchy judge, played by Granville Bates — Peter Bogdanovich would recycle the character as Liam Dunn in WHAT’S UP, DOC?* McCarey is using his own experience as an unsuccessful lawyer here, but he reports that Patrick, who had studied law, also helped.

Then Irene Dunne turns up as the not-dead wife. Basically, she’s Ulysses, come to slay his wife’s suitors. McCarey emphasises this by having her show up in drag, as a Portuguese fisherman, and having the family dog be the only one to immediately recognise her. This being a screwball, she doesn’t physically slaughter Gail Patrick, she just bamboozles her and produces a series of confusions and impersonations, including an embarrassing southerner routine self-plagiarised from THE AWFUL TRUTH.

Reacting to the sight of one’s children after seven years’ separation is a tough task for any actor. The divine Irene overdoes it a bit. In the unfinished remake, SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE, Marilyn Monroe tries to underplay, but just manages to look as if she wants to have sex with her children.

Grant’s first sight of Dunne is one of the great double-takes of the forties. In Japanese tradition, by the way, if you get a partially occluded view of a dead loved one (as in Miike’s AUDITION), it means said departed one has unfinished business, which Dunne certainly do, I mean does.

The scenario keeps ringing the changes on Grant’s failure to inform his new wife about his late wife, cunningly devising situations where he can make the worst possible decision. But the sit. can’t keep generating com. all by itself forever, and so a new romantic rival is introduced, health fanatic Randolph Scott, who it turns out has spent the seven years of Irene’s supposed death on an island with her, shipwrecked and alone. Calling each other Adam and Eve, continuing the mythic theme. This, deliciously, allows Grant to obsess over Scott, supposedly with jealousy, but with a double entendre for anyone aware of the Hollywood lore about this cohabiting pair. A tiny phantasmal homunculus of Scott torments Grant’s imagination from a trapeze. Scott’s physique makes Grant break out in a sweat.

Grant’s character, by the way, is Nick Arden, the surname suggesting Shakespeare’s forest in AS YOU LIKE IT where names and jobs and genders become comically fluid. The first name comes into play in the movie’s final mythic reference ~

*Bogdanovich would also borrow some of McCarey’s reminiscences about his lawyering days for the opening of NICKELODEON. And he seems to have borrowed large parts of Serge Daney & Louis Scorecki’s interview in Cahiers du Cinema for his own McCarey interview in his magnificent book Who the Devil Made It? It seems likely that Bogdanovich met McCarey and got the anecdotes about the early parts of his life on tape, but McCarey’s rapidly failing health prevented him from going on. At any rate, many of the longer answers in Bogdanovich’s piece are word-for-word the same as those in the earlier interview, a remarkable feat of memory for a dying man.

 

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Extreme Prejudice

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2008 by dcairns

Kapo 

There’s a famous and well-respected article by Serge Daney called The Tracking Shot in Kapo, in which he discusses a movie about concentration camps by the great Gillo Pontecorvo. The article centres on a tracking shot where Pontecorvo’s camera moves in on a slain woman. Daney quotes a review by nouvelle vague filmmaker and critic Jacques Rivette: “the man who decides at this moment to make a forward tracking shot to reframe the dead body – carefully positioning the raised hand in the corner of the final framing – this man is worthy of the most profound contempt.”

Daney then defines his conception of cinema by agreeing with the above sentiment — even though he hasn’t seen the film.

This might seem like an odd kind of criticism, but it has a certain kind of legitimacy. I’ve been known to moan about a 9:11 documentary called THE FALLING MAN, in which the filmmakers have put sad music in the background over interviews with grieving relatives of terror attack victims, to make it emotional. The people I tell nod: they agree with me in principle, though of course they’d be entitled to feel differently if they saw the film and found it worked/was not offensive in actuality.

Of course, actually writing a review of a film one hasn’t seen is another matter. In The Guardian newspaper, Andrew Pulver reviewed Rivette’s own CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, with the capsule summary, “…documents in exhaustive detail the relationship between the eponymous women. Dialogue is minimal and events, such as they are, are propelled by a whimsicality characteristic of its era.” It’s pretty obvious from this that he simply missed all the dialogue by SKIPPING OUT some time during the first half hour. The cheeky blighter! (Thanks to Comrade K. for spotting this.)

In the spirit partly of Daney and partly of Pulver, I thought it might be interesting to write about a few of the many films I haven’t seen and don’t like. I’m not condoning this practice at all, I just want to see what will happen and who I offend.

(Note: I found it so depressing trying to find images from these films to illustrate them that I just gave up and went for some attractive images of general angst, which kind of show how I feel when I think about these movies.)

 unwell

1) 9 SONGS. It’s hard to pick a Michael Winterbottom film that sums up the spectacular lack of appeal his work has for me, there are so many contenders. A COCK AND BULL STORY passed the time, but in retrospect I rather felt it had STOLEN the time. I quite enjoyed 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE for the smart script and playing, but for a film about the record industry it had no clue how to put across a song.

So I think it’s a safe bet I wouldn’t like this 2004 tale of shagging and concert-going, especially as I hate hate hate everything else I’ve seen by the man I call Michael Autumnbottom (I call him that because it’s the only way I can discuss him without feeling a bit depressed). In particular JUDE where they slaughter a pig for Dramatic Effect and attempt to capture a JULES ET JIM feeling elsewhere by the simple procedure of ripping off whole sequences from JULES ET JIM.

Based on what I have seen, Autumnbottom is one of the most visually insensitive directors working — constantly! — in the UK today. I just want him to stop.

glum

2) The remake of FUNNY GAMES. I walked out of the original around half an hour in. Haneke seems to approve of this, he says, “Those who walk out don’t need the film.” I think he is confusing NEED and LIKE.

He thinks he’s proving that we shouldn’t enjoy violent films by making a violent film that is supposed to be impossible to enjoy. But I like many violent films, I just don’t like films that are supposed to be impossible to enjoy. “Enjoy” may be the wrong word: I watch THE BLOOD OF THE ANIMALS in awestruck horror, Alan Clarke’s ELEPHANT imparts a terrible dread, COME AND SEE is like being punched in the heart. But there is some form of pleasure and beauty there still. Haneke’s film could achieve this beauty through its ideas, but the ideas are too painfully thick-headed and lumpen.

Some will argue that the film isn’t violent at all because (most of) the violence is offscreen, but adding up drops of blood is a ridiculous way to measure violence. The film is an endless parade of convincingly fear, suffering and cruelty, intended to teach us that we shouldn’t enjoy such things. I know that already. I only enjoy them when they’re faked, and when they are part of a film that is enjoyable in other ways.

As Maurice Chevalier says in LE SILENCE EST D’OR, “Some people think it is the director’s job to give the audience a hard time.”

not keen

3) LOVE, ACTUALLY. Isn’t the title reason enough? It’s like being lectured by a smug public-schoolboy before it even starts. Yet here we have a film which I suspect wants me to have a good time. I can’t fault it for that, the instinct is a generous one. But any film which has Hugh Grant as a loveable Blair-like UK prime minister is going to fail with me unless it has an interactive element that allows me to climb up into the screen and bloodily hatchet him to bits (and it’s not due to a particular dislike of the actor). Maybe Richard Curtis should write a romcom about Adolf and Eva next. FUHRER WEDDING AND A FUNERAL? Sorry, sorry.

Apart from that, I adore romantic comedies, just not too many recent ones.

quailing

4) I’m not too keen on most contemporary cinema from my own country (Scotland) but unlike the admirable forthright Ms Smith I’m somewhat afraid of alienating all my peers and the funding bodies who support them. And as these films constitute the film culture I’m stuck in, they’re of more interest to me than any old depressing, flat, unimaginitive cinema I might find elsewhere in the world. So I don’t rule out the possibility that I’ll take a look at even the most miserable of miserabilist Scottish cinema… at some point. But it’s rather disheartening if the only thing that draws one to one’s own national cinema is purposes of RESEARCH.

So, anything by Lynn Ramsey.

iffy

5) And I’m tempted to add, anything by Ken Loach, although I actually enjoyed RIFF-RAFF up to a point (it had funny bits) and HIDDEN AGENDA up to a point (though falsely pitched as a thriller, it was certainly an intriguing conspiracy story). But I can’t see anything making me choose to see LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD or RAINING STONES or most of the others. I tried to watch NAVIGATORS because I do feel strongly about the damage done to Britain’s rail services by rampant capitalism. But I didn’t make it past the titles. Loach, like Mike Leigh, is really not too strong on using music. My mate Lawrie used to say that a score can’t really add anything to a realist film, all it can do is detract from the realism, and while I’d be willing to admit the possibility of exceptions to this dictum, I find nothing in Loach and Leigh’s work to disprove it.

he died gargling

And I remember Billy Wilder’s preference for making a film at the Ritz Hotel Paris rather than down a coal mine. “What am I gonna do down there? I don’t leave the cinema elated…”

Of course, I agree that films should reflect social realities and enlighten as well as elate. I just don’t think that’s enough, or even a very good starting point. An entertaining film has more chance of being subversive, and therefore effective, than a piece of straight propoganda. Reflecting a fresh bit of society will bolster a strong film, but it will drag a dull one down into the depths of worthiness.

“Lacking a particular inclination, we all decide whether a film is worth seeing based at least on some minimal hearsay, because nobody can see everything.” ~ Peter Henne.

Yes, but what we must NEVER do is mouth off about the films we haven’t seen.

oops