Archive for Virna Lisi

All About “Eve”

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2008 by dcairns

“It’s Losey’s film maudit,” explained David Wingrove to a skeptic after the film fest screening of EVE (1962). “It’ll have to get in line!” I said. If I’d set it within an hour of David’s statement this might have qualified as repartee. Anyhow, I do think the film is probably more highly regarded than BOOM and SECRET CEREMONY, though both of those have devoted sexy weird admirers.

“A cheap, tawdry melodrama,” is how Jeanne Moreau described the producers’ cut, in which the notorious Hakim Brothers sheared about an hour off the film’s running time. Given that the film is adapted from a James Hadley Chase novel, I bet that’s exactly what they were hoping for. Given that the piece is replete with adultery, fraud, lavish parties, gambling, the movie biz, suicide, and Jeanne Moreau savaging Stanley Baker with a whip, if it attains the status of cheap, tawdry and melodramatic, shouldn’t we regard that as a sign of success?

“Not conceited, just accurate,” is how Stanley Baker assesses his high opinion of his ability to please women. It’s such a dazzling display of sexual arrogance that, coupled with his frequent appearances in a dinner jacket, I found myself imagining Baker as James Bond. Sex, crime, exotic locations, sadism, drinking and gambling, it’s all there. EVE’s wild Michel Legrand jazz score is even more dynamic than the Bond theme. With the scenes in Venice, the specific Bond story would be CASINO ROYALE, the one where 007 is bested by a woman.

“All women, six to sixty,”he remarks later, explaining to his rich wife-to-be (the beautiful Lisi) his tendency to stray. That seems like the kind of statement most of us would have to follow with “I mean, er, that didn’t come out right, uh…” but Baker lets it stand. It’s a movie that boldly jettisons conventional notions of audience sympathy — Baker and Moreau are both fascinating monsters, and while Lisi is theoretically sympathetic, there isn’t enough of her in the film for that to matter and anyway her character pales next to the arrogant yet insecure Baker and the heartless Moreau.

When James Villiers’ agent-turned-wife wonders about only getting ten per cent of a man, he retorts happily, “That’s all there is.” Certainly her gaydar must be faulty for her to have stumbled into such a love match. Everything that comes out of the great Villiers’ mouth in this film is pure gold. He’s the comedy relief amid the angst and humiliation, the one character who is never fazed by anything. But let’s get this straight — Stanley Baker has written a book about a lusty Welsh coal miner? And they got JAMES VILLIERS to write the screenplay? With a part for VIRNA LISI? I’m having trouble picturing the resulting movie, which wisely the filmmakers withhold from us. Although I guess the result might have looked a little like EVE.

“I wonder if they’ll bump into Marcello and Anita from LA DOLCE VITA,” whispered David, as Stanley and Jeanne roamed Rome after dark. Later, Stan rides a funeral barge on the Venetian Grand Canal and I wondered if he’d pass Julie Christie going the other way. Perhaps because the cities are so ancient, the film seems unusually haunted by other movies, past and present. Also by guest stars — Peggy Guggenheim, Vittorio De Sica and Losey himself waft by.

“Moreau at her most forcefully, ferally seductive — her frequent disrobings, dramatic departures and solitary sulks, all appropriately backed by a repeated Billie Holliday motif,” says Edinburgh Film Fest director Hannah McGill in the programme, and it’s true. We can tell she’s fickle because she has one cat for her Rome apartment and another in Venice. Shocking. Some — but certainly not all — of La Moreau’s unmotivated cruelty may be down to the film being so hacked about. This “definitive restoration” is still missing some scenes described by Losey, so it’s actually NOBODY’S preferred cut, just the longest version anybody’s been able to assemble, with occasional burnt-in subtitles in Swedish or Finnish attesting to the print’s scattered origins.

“God made Adam from a woman’s rib,” sings Tony Middleton on the soundtrack, lyrics written by Losey with screenwriter Evan Jones (MODESTY BLAISE). This may just be Losey’s jazziest movie of all, what with the incessant Billie Holliday refrain (the people in this film may be rich, but they apparently only own the same two records each). I’m starting to wonder if a sloey movie can truly EXIST without jazz. It certainly seems like a factor whose importance has been underrated in his work.

“It’s a failed art movie,” says John Waters of BOOM, and when an art movie fails, it fails by failing to be art. Is EVE art? Is this shot art? —

It’s beautiful, it made me gasp and grin, and it’s also rather crude and vulgar, particularly in a film named after the lady in the Masaccio on the left. Can art be lurid and overripe? Can a cheap, tawdry melodrama be art? I sure hope so.

EVE was screened in Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Jeanne Moreau retrospective.

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