Archive for Woo

Euphoria #3

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on January 1, 2008 by dcairns


This is the third installment of our highly scientific experiment to identify and catalogue those little bits of film which produce detectable satori-like states in the viewer. (Publication delayed by problems with MeTube.)

Regular reader, and blogger extraordinaire, David Ehrenstein, writes:

“I’d love to see “Isn’t It Romantic?” from “Love Me Tonight,” and “Pass That Peace Pipe” from “Good News” (1947)”

I’ve never seen GOOD NEWS but it’s now on my list to see, it sounds amazing. If anybody has a copy spare, let me know. Can never have too much bliss.

But LOVE ME TONIGHT has long been a favourite. I got into Rouben Mamoulian’s work by way of his wild DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE of 1932 and then of course I wanted all his films to be as crazy and experimental. Only LOVE ME TONIGHT achieves that (in fact, it’s even CRAZIER) although the rest are generally very good films, and a few are hailed as classics.

This scene shows a complete synthesis of all the elements of film-making, with song and narrative leading the way and everything else in support. It’s hard to imagine this film beginning on the page since so much of it can only be appreciated in its final form on the screen. I guess somebody must have trusted Mamoulian’s vision, and the screenwriters, songwriters and director must have shared a total understanding of what they were about. That rarely happens nowadays.

Here we see a song spreading through Paris and out into the countryside like a virus, or like one of Richard Dawkins’ idea-organisms which he calls memes.  Some of the verses are priceless, as when a songwriter sings about what a nice tune it is, and how he’d like to write it down and give it lyrics, and he then sings the musical notes it’s composed of. The way the song spreads across the nation is quickly hilarious, and all the variations are both amusing and musically delightful.

To dip a toe into the dubious waters of hyperbole, I once heard Tarantino say of a scene in John Woo’s THE KILLER, “You could watch twenty years of American movies and not see something so imaginative!” That’s kind of what I feel about this scene (and nearly all the other scenes in this movie) — you could string Tarantino and Woo’s entire back catalogues together, and throw in Rodriguez for good measure, and not even hope to come up with anything that could hold a candle to this. And that’s not even a knock (I will get around to knocking those guys sometime): there are very few filmmakers who could ever come close to this for wit and innovation, and probably none who could sustain it for more than a few films.


Of course, Maurice Chevalier is an unusual entertainer and some find him hard to take. A glance at his newsreel appearance, apologising for his wartime antics (entertaining the troops is OK, but German troops?) is enough to make one see how his nudge-nudge manner can slip over into something sinister and oleaginous. But there’s something else there: an improbable charm and a colossal, irrepressable musical-comedy talent.

I was surprised and pleased to discover recently, showing this film, and some Lubitsch, to students, that they seemed to quickly warm to him and enjoy his slightly grotesque, tongue-in-cheek, ebullient cheek (Which reminds me, I’ve been meaning to blog all about the role of CHEEK in cinema). He’s a small bundle of lumpy French manhood crammed to bulging with bonhomie and badinage and there certainly ought to be a place for this in our hearts and on our iPods. I have “Girls Girls Girls” from THE MERRY WIDOW on my MP3 Player and it only takes one verse to put a spring in my step as I am suffused with M. Chevalier’s appalling gallic miasma. Let’s spread the word and make 2008 the Year of the Boulevardier!