Archive for The Monk

Quote of the Day: Werewolf By Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2008 by dcairns

This is from Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris, an epic and perverse gothic novel. Aymar has come to Paris in search of his nephew, Bertrand, an uncontrollable werewolf, whom he plans to stop at all costs. But Aymar gets caught up in the Paris Commune and its brutal suppression:

“The Commune shot fifty-seven from the prison of La Roquette. Versailles retaliated with nineteen hundred. To that comparison add this one: The whole famous Reign of Terror in fifteen months guillotined 2,596 aristos. The Versaillists executed 20,000 commoners before their firing squads in one week. Do these figures represent the comparative efficiency of guillotine and modern rifle, or the comparative cruelty of upper and lower class mobs?

“Bertrand, it now seemed to Aymar, was but a mild case. What was a werewolf who had killed a couple of prostitutes, who had dug up a few corpses, compared with these bands of tigers slashing at each other with daily increasing ferocity? ‘And there’ll be worse,’ he said, and again he had that marvelous rising of the heart. Instead of thousands, future ages will kill millions. It will go on, the figures will rise and the process will accelerate! Hurrah for the race of werewolves!”

~ Guy Endore, 1934.

Rather a terrific piece of pulp nastiness, with weird philosophical undertones. I’d compare it to Matthew Lewis’ anti-clerical masterpiece The Monk. Endore wants to have his cake and eat it, though, and his defence of witch-burning is frankly offensive, although it’s hard to know how seriously he means it.

Endore wrote in Hollywood, contributing to Tod Browning’s THE DEVIL DOLL and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, Karl Freund’s MAD LOVE, and the goofy Karloff-Lugosi THE RAVEN, which I wrote about here. And then, when he was still alive in 1961, Hammer films used his werewolf classic (which predates Henry Hull in WEREWOLF OF LONDON, Lon Chaney Jnr in THE WOLFMAN, and the Holocaust) as the basis for Terence Fisher’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, scripted by John Elder, perhaps Britain’s worst screenwriter
Wait, isn’t that his mother? Who dies in childbirth? Publicity stills can be SO IMAGINATIVE.
The film was initiated to make use of Spanish sets built for an Inquisition romp that had been nixed by the censor. Instead of doing the logical thing and turning to The Monk (too anti-Catholic), Elder took Endore’s story and transposed it from the historical background which is so central to it. While he could certainly have found equally bloody events in Spanish history, I guess he was forbidden to do so. But I can’t forgive the systematic ripping out of all of Endore’s best conceits. The author is purposely ambiguous right to the end about Bertrand’s lycanthropy. Does he really transform into a wolf, or only imagine it due to his uncontrollable cannibalistic impulses? And while Endore starts with a horrific account of a man entombed alive in an oubliette, Elder has his equivalent character locked in a jail, where he still has sympathetic human contact, yet somehow loses the power of speech. The chap goes mad and rapes an INSANELY busty wench and as a result, Oliver Reed is born with werewolfism. I always found that a pathetically stupid idea, and it’s a gross distortion of the book.
Even a slightly silly novel like Werewolf of Paris has a certain dignity in its perversity, and it deserves a more sympathetic adaptation. It’s not great literature or anything, but there are enough ideas in it for ten movies — all of them better than CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

Moreau does Mirbeau

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2008 by dcairns

Jeanne of the angels

So, before I head off for an actual meeting with an actual exec producer, some semi-baked thoughts on Bunuel’s DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, adapted from Octave Mirbeau’s novel, which I re-saw as part of the Jeanne Moreau retrospective. Actually, I was arguably seeing it for the first time, since my V.H.S. experience was not wide-screen. Bunuel can’t have made many ‘Scope films, but he seems perfectly at home in the wide format. And is there anything more beautiful than black-and-white wide-screen? Maybe it’s just the rarity, since wide-screen came into existence parallel with the dying days of black-and-white so there are relatively few films made in both (although THE BAT WHISPERS is an almost-unique 1930s wide-screen experiment, and the occasional film like THE ELEPHANT MAN has united monochrome and ‘Scope).

I always enjoy this film up until the ending, but this time I was determined to get something positive from the ending as well. I failed. I always get sucked into seeing the film as a detective thriller, which it definitely functions as from the time of the murder onwards — a country house detective thriller, in fact. Of course, the real point is the satirical dissection of French society, and this is terrifically enjoyable. Bunuel’s houseful are all enjoyably strange, and while many people wouldn’t regard the film as surreal at all, there are aberrant moments like the secret chemistry lab belonging to the mistress of the house, where she presumably “minces among bad vats and jeroboams, spinneys of murdering herbs, and prepares to compound […] a venomous porridge” for her husband. Michel Piccoli (with hair! on his head!) is the husband, a pitch-perfect portrait of baffled idiot virility, a surging pillar of testosterone reduced to the infantile by his hormonal geyser.

Neighbors

Moreau is part bitch-goddess, part warm and humane heroine, depending on who she’s dealing with. She seems to live by a version of Raymond Durgnat’s Proletarian Ten Commandments — “Thou shalt not strive too hard, or jump through more hoops than you have to. Thou shalt not offer to take another person’s place, or help out unless you’re not paid to do it … blood transfusions aren’t paid for. Thou shalt not expect good treatment. Thou shalt always look for the catch, for what the other person gets out of it. Thou shalt contemplate defeat, but not change yourself to avoid it. Thou must become accustomed to always being out-talked and made to look a fool and put in the wrong … but Thou shall not be moved … Oh, and don’t be downhearted.” And she becomes the detective heroine, which is exciting.

Eve

Except — and I can’t really call this a spoiler, but look away if you’re worried — she doesn’t catch the killer. The film seems explicitly to identify him at the moment the crime is committed, but since the horrific act itself is literally unshowable, his guilt isn’t 100% certain. At a certain point, one begins to doubt if Moreau has set her sights on the right man, and a conventional thriller would have allowed us to jump ahead and suspect Piccoli, only to produce a third, surprise suspect as the guilty party, someone we had dismissed. This being Bunuel, I would then expect some turnaround that leaves the guilty unpunished and the innocent “getting it in the neck”, to use Joe Orton’s description. The ending we get produces no such twists, allowing a happy ending for the killer but transferring the political subtext from the background, where it has been simmering away very effectively, to the foreground, where it seems rather crude and programmatic. The crash of thunder at the end seems particularly unfortunate, especially as Bunuel’s mastery of surprising sound juxtapositions has been very much in evidence: a screeching flock of unseen schoolchildren, a loud passing train where no train can be seen, and sounds that recur, linking apparently unconnected scenes.

I thought of Bunuel and Carriere’s script for THE MONK, eventually filmed by other hands, which likewise avoids the ending dictated by genre but is actually less startling than the “conventional” punishment meted out in Matthew Lewis’ gloriously excessive Gothic novel. Maybe it’s possible to be too clever with these things. I guess the all-round happiness of the ending — with the fascists on the march — comes closest to THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ, which has an absurdly upbeat ending I’m very fond of.

If Jean-Claude Carriere’s script-work with Bunuel, on their first collaboration, doesn’t quite satisfy me, his performance as the village priest is hysterical. I wanted more of him. I wanted him to have his own series of films, dispensing awful, cynical advise to his parishioners in exchange for funds for repairing the church roof. He seems about to advise the mistress of the house on how to satisfy her husband without the painful and abhorrent business of penetration, when the alarm is raised and he’s reduced to uselessly attempting to kick down an oaken door (“Damn it!”) — the lady’s father has dropped dead in his locked bedroom while fetishizing a pair of patent-leather shoes, demonstrating that John Carradine’s advice to his sons — “Never do anything you wouldn’t be caught dead doing” — is not always so easy to follow.

The Island of Dr Moreau

When a character says “I’ve got my reasons,” I was of course reminded of Renoir. So I must watch his version of DIARY, which stars Paulette Goddard and is knocking about the house somewhere. Otherwise this is like a kinky GOSFORD PARK — no bad thing.