Archive for The Late Show: The Late Films Blogathon

Untaken

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 5, 2016 by dcairns

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I can recall my New york chum Jaime Christley, years and years ago before I’d actually met him, expressing dissatisfaction with Bunuel’s penultimate opus, THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY, arguing that with its endless parade of French stars, it resembles a gallic TOWERING INFERNO. I suggested instead that THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is the Bunuel film closer to the Irwin Allen-John Guillerman group jeopardy nonsense — a bunch of rich people in evening dress attend a swank party and are mysteriously unable to leave.

At any rate, I rather like PHANTOM, preferring it to the follow-up, THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE, which I really think would be pretty desultory had not Bunuel fired poor Maria Schneider and happened upon the bold idea of replacing her with two unalike actors, who alternate throughout at random. It’s a terrific trick: you know he’s doing it, but it’s really hard to concentrate on the constant substitution, since the continuity of narrative and mise-en-scene keeps telling our subconscious that it’s positively the same dame.

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While OBJECT has a great story idea and a great casting gimmick, PHANTOM, like DISCRETE CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE before it, has a ton of ideas and a ton of gimmicks, many of them brilliant. It lacks the unifying conceit of its predecessor, it’s true (friends try to have dinner; fail) but the way it weaves its fragmented sketches together, and the way some of them return for encores, I find dazzling. Another skeptical friend dismisses it as “slow Monty Python,” but the leisurely pace for me is part of the charm, contributing to the deadpan effect. Skits unfold pedantically, as if nothing odd were happening at all.

The missing child scenario is probably the best — every parents’ nightmare gets played out perfectly straight, save for one rogue element — the missing child is right there all the time. Characters can see and talk to her, and she talks right back. But they still believe she#s missing. Bunuel and his co-scenarist. Jean-Claude Carriere, play this stuff out as naturally as possible, with just the one alteration to the norm which makes the whole ritual of questioning teachers and putting out an All Points Bulletin completely nonsensical.

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Best of all is the unexpected pay-off several sequences later when the detective attempts to explain how the child has been recovered. “This ought to be good,” we think, awaiting the impossible explanation. But some loud extraneous noise drowns the guy out as he reaches the crucial portion (after an incongruous opening about the inhabitants of a small town being awoken by a deafening blast). It reminds me of Leo G. Carroll’s spy plot exposition in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, which Hitchcock wisely smothered in aircraft sound to save the audience having to listen to some boring information. Information is not drama.

In Bunuel’s version, we really want to hear the explanation, which seems set to be very dramatic indeed, so it’s hilarious when he frustrates us. Like the hot-and-cold temptress of THAT OBSCURE OBJECT, the film keeps teasing us with narrative resolutions, then crosses its legs tightly when we get close to satisfaction.

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The Last Battle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on December 1, 2016 by dcairns

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Thanks to Reveletor60 for supplying me with a subtitled copy of Abel Gance’s not-even-final-film AUSTERLITZ — so this edition of The Late Show: The Late Movies Blogathon can begin with an edition of The Forgotten on that august subject. Click here.

I’ve been really lazy and haven’t chased anyone up to contribute this year. Still, I hope there will be entries. Use the comments section to announce them, or send me texts and I’ll publish here.

[Cold, Felliniesque wind whistles through…]

 

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…