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Friday, 9 April 2021

CINEMA REBORN - Countdown - Opening Film - David Hare writes on DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (George Marshall, USA, 1939) - Thursday 29 April at 6.30 pm


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George Marshall was born December 29, 1891 in Chicago and died February 17 1975 in Los Angeles.  His may not be a household name in auteurist circles these days but he landed in Hollywood close to the dawn of cinema, and made his first one reel short, Across the Rio Grandein 1916. His beginnings in the movies are almost accidental, like a number of other men (and a few women) who drifted into the business during and after The Great War with seemingly nowhere else to go.

 

George Marshall (left)


Marshall’s career then took a not atypical course for those directors whose careers ran parallel with the growth of the burgeoning studio system, and after beginning with one and two reel independent comedy shorts, he drifted into the best of the comedy production outfits, the Hal Roach studio where he honed his directorial skills with Laurel and Hardy and Fatty Arbuckle movies. Over the next few decades he shifted across the studio system from Fox to Universal to Paramount and then back again. His work, like so many journeyman directors itself covers and even defines a representative spectrum of genre based American cinema. To me his specialities were two (of the three) greatest American modes, the western and comedy. His early training in shorts and then feature length action pictures gave him a mastery of control and high-precision script-shaping to concentrate and expand the narrative to pace and stage the material to maximum dramatic effect. Among his very best films are also some of the best pictures of their respective genres. 

Destry Rides Again is one of the earliest major American western feature films. The Ghost Breakers, made when he moved to Paramount the following year in 1940, is the best Bob Hope comedy, with support from Paulette Godard and may be his most entertaining film. Its appeal as pure entertainment is mysteriously timeless.  His post-war 1946 The Blue Dahlia again at Paramount is the best of the Alan Ladd Noirs.  By the time his career was winding up in the mid sixties he was hooked into the big 1962 Cinerama project, How the West was Wonwhich would be the first feature film made in that cumbersome ultra-widescreen three camera process. Henry Hathaway and Ford were the other directors in the holy trinity, with Hathaway as wrangler for the project. Ford directed the two sublime Civil War sequences, and Marshall had been assigned to the “Railway” segment as the picture’s big action specialist. The rumour mill has it that by now Marshall was unwell for much of the shooting and, like Ford, he completely loathed the three camera process with its limitations of fixed focal lenses and technical intricacies which created ludicrous limitations on staging and blocking of the actors. In any case Hathaway ended up directing most if not all of Marshall’s assigned material but generously left him the screen credit. 



Destry Rides Again
 made in early 1939 was a project from producer Joe Pasternak, one of the great Hollywood “system” producers with a hard eye for talent and innovation.  The screenplay was heavily adapted from a Max Brand novel and with it Pasternak intended to rescue Marlene Dietrich from the obscurity of the “Box Office Poison” status she had labored under after her last two Paramount films with Sternberg in 1934 and 35. It’s one of several films that seals Marshall’s reputation as a key director of the reborn western and a master of narrative control and precision, especially here in Destry in balancing the limited doses of light hearted self parody of old Western stereotypes with quite sudden turns to deadly serious dramatic intentions.   The film’s relentless juggling of tone is almost shocking now to modern audiences who are more accustomed to the one dimensional mood plays of so many contemporary movies.  

Thus a convergence of high period Studio system talent, notably Pasternak as producer, Marshall as master director of multiple genres (including the musical numbers composed by Friedrich Hollaender for Dietrich in the picture) and the sheer tonal sophistication of the screenplay mark Destry as a both an innovator and a “classic” 

To understand Marshall further I think is to understand Destry itself, and its place in the magic firmament year of 1939, so beloved of cinephiles. This was the year the Depression was well and truly over, the “Big Four” studios (Paramount, Fox, Warners and MGM) had all pulled back from bankruptcy and technically the talking picture was at its technical and artistic peak. Among the cinephile games to play is the dreaded “1939 lists”so here goes. Internationally 1939 yielded Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu, Mizoguchi’s Zangiku Monogatari/Tale of the Last Chrysanthemum, Korda’s The Four Feathers, Carne’s Quai des Brumes, Ophuls’ Sans Lendemainand Duvivier’s La Fin du Jour.   In the USA the list is seemingly endless and includes Ford’s Stagecoach, Lubitsch’s Ninotchka, Cukor’s Zaza, Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings, Leisen’s (sublime) Midnight, McCarey’s Love Affair, Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties and Marshall’s Destry Rides Again

So the year 1939 itself has much to do with what makes Destry a landmark picture in the Hollywood studio system. Prior to 1939, the western had been jointly invented by the Americans and the French, the latter in great part by the surrealist filmmaker Jean Durand in the first decades of the 20th century.  After the arrival of the early sound film, notwithstanding Raoul Walsh’s fascinating early widescreen talkie for Fox in 1930, The Big Trail, the genre fell out of favour for a variety of reasons, and ended up relegated usually to the “B” units of mostly second string studios who churned them out, serial-style for filler.  During the decade it remained for King Vidor, with The Texas Rangers in 1936, and de Mille with The Plainsman from the same year to take the genre seriously enough to reboot it, giving their movies leading actor casts and crews, including Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie for Vidor, and Gary Cooper with Jean Arthur for de Mille. 

Both these movies re-opened the door to the western as a major American genre. And so it was in 1939 that two major directors made two key westerns which altered the direction of both their own careers and the future of the genre itself. Ford, first with his staggering, metaphysical morality play made in homage to Murnau, Stagecoach which finally revealed John Wayne as a star performer, and Marshall’s Destry Rides Again which not only re-established the immense range and appeal of the form, but also broke Dietrich’s deadly ”Box Office Poison” curse.  Destry, like Stagecoach was so commercially successful it broke BO records for Universal that year, and catapulted Dietrich back into the Hollywood system.

Watching it today in this gorgeous 35mm to 4K restoration from Universal, I hope you find Destry Rides Again as irresistible an entertainment as I do. 

On Hitchcock - Ken Mogg contemplates the film set in our colony - UNDER CAPRICORN (1949) considerations


This film … is the story of a face, that of Ingrid Bergman.

-      Eric Rohmer & Claude Chabrol, Hitchcock

‘I’ve done him wicked wrong, so many, many times.  Wrong to love him, wrong to marry him.  I was my brother’s murderer, and he paid for it.’  She halted.  ‘No children.’

-      Lady Henrietta Flusky, in Helen Simpson, Under Capricorn

 

There is much to remark in this lovely 1949 Alfred Hitchcock film set in colonial Australia in 1831 – it is full of incident.  Most such incidents come from the novel and, if anything, Hitchcock and his Canadian adapter, Hume Cronyn, have respected them a little too uncritically.  The film’s scenarist was the Scottish playwright James Bridie.  It’s likely that both director and collaborators felt themselves insufficiently on top of their material to make many changes, a standpoint that never suited Hitchcock.  Nonetheless, though the film was a commercial flop, it was well-received in Australia.1  One can see why.  The film’s evocation of the penal colony of New South Wales, utilising location–paintings (with matted-in movement) and convincing street sets, is first-rate: the Art Director was Thomas Morahan working with a team of six assistants, including two ‘draughtsmen’.  Historical research was also painstaking.  I recall reading a publicity squib in some popular magazine that proudly affirmed that ‘there are no cobwebs on the wine bottles in Under Capricorn’ because the spider that spins such things had not yet been introduced to Australia.  The film’s researchers gave special attention to visual matters.  The design of Samson Flusky’s residence outside Sydney, ‘Minyago Yugilla’/‘Why weepest Thou?’, where he lives with his alcoholic wife, Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), scheming housemaid Milly (Margaret Leighton), and staff, has a wide turreted front resembling work by Francis Greenway (1777-1837), the most important architect in the young convict colony: Greenway was himself an ex-convict, like both Flusky (Joseph Cotten) and Milly in the film. The panoramic views of Sydney and its harbor we see at the start of the film seem based on oils done by Conrad Martens (1801-78) - in the style of Claude Lorraine and J.M.W. Turner - painted soon after he arrived in the colony in 1835. 


Joseph Cotten as Samson Flusky
             

“…on a moviola…”

For my part, I have only pleasant memories of my first encounter with Hitchcock’s film.  I had learnt that a 16mm television print existed, held by the ABC at its then headquarters in Gore Hill, Sydney.  Some kind people arranged that I might view the print after hours on a moviola.  So, one night, high in the ABC’s tower block, with the lights of Sydney twinkling on several sides, I sat down to treat myself to this ‘new’ (to me) Hitchcock, a historical re-creation of early Sydney itself.  The experience felt almost mystical, and the colour print was superb!  I don’t recall many particulars of that viewing, but no doubt Jack Cardiff’s cinematograhy and the emotive score by Richard Addinsell were strong factors in why I was so moved.  Not to mention that the film felt so different from your run-of-the-mill Hitchcock – whatever that is – even allowing for Hitchcock’s incredible ability to create the unexpected from film to film.  The fact that top French critics saw Under Capricorn  as a masterpiece suddenly seemed to me very palpable and self-evidently right!  


Michael Wilding as Charles Adare


Possibly the original audiences and reviewers couldn’t grasp where the film was heading: one English review complained that you had to wait until the last reel before there were any thrills.  That’s maybe true, but the underlying theme of ‘rehabilitation’ is powerful enough. If Lady Hattie needs rehabilitating from her alcoholism, caused by too heavy a burden of guilt – probably less for accidentally killing her brother than for having brought her husband into disrepute as the alleged murderer, and possibly for her inability to perform as a wife and give him children – Flusky himself, with his stable boy background, can barely unlearn his class-inculcated ‘inferiority’ in order to take pride in his real achievement - far exceeding what Society knows. (‘Society’ is a major target of Under Capricorn’s scorn.)  Into this sorry situation enters the Hon. Charles Adare (Michael Wilding), a young man2newly arrived from Ireland, whose own reputation as a ne’er-do-well had determined his departure for Australia.  Charles’s rehabilitation during the course of the film is no less complicated than that of Lady Hattie and her husband.  Entering into danger – he finds himself falling in love with Hattie – he must finally detach himself and return home, but only after a noble act of defying the law for the sake of both Fluskys.  In consequence, he ‘grows up’ with a new inner strength and his own scepticism towards Society.  The Attorney-General, Mr Corrigon, tries to intervene (telling the Governor, ‘Your Excellency, it isn’t as simple as that!’) but the Governor (Cecil Parker), hitherto the film’s figure of fun, won’t be drawn – we may infer that he, too, has attained a new level of humanity.  Indeed, a villain of the film, after the murderous Milly, is Corrigon, the mouthpiece of a blind Law.  (There are echoes of the film’s position in later Hitchcock movies, such as Marnie, where Marnie scoffs at the word ‘legal’, and the weight of the movie is solidly behind her.) 


Ingrid Bergman as Lady Henrietta

“…between husband and wife…”

The source of Under Capricorn’s considerable pathos  is the ‘great gulf fixed’ between husband and wife, who have always loved each other.  Who, or what, can remove it?  Ironically, it proves to be Milly’s scheming and the outsider Charles’s role as a catalyst. ‘The Lord moves in mysterious ways’ as Milly says, using another Biblical phrase.  This, too, is a beautiful concept, in which everyone has a God-given role whether they know it, and acknowledge it, or not.  But as I say, it isn’t particularly cinematic. Before the denouement, Flusky complains that events seem to go ‘on and on and on’, and the shape of the film rather bears him out – unfortunately.  Milly thinks she knows God’s plan.  After she is found out, she defends herself by saying, ‘I know the Lord’s way when I see it’, and claims that she couldn’t just stand by and let Flusky ‘sacrifice’ himself.  These days, we might interpret that to mean that she considers him sex-starved, and feels the same way herself.  The film, though, invites a less-blunt reading.  Further, it carries a strong criticism of Milly’s presumption that prompts her to slowly poison Lady Hattie so that she may have Flusky herself.  In this, the film comes close to echoing the lesson of Rope (1948) in which Rupert denounces its two ‘thrill-killers’ by asking rhetorically, ‘Did you think you were God?’ 

At times, in watching Under Capricorn, it does feel like the audience is simply required to be entranced by Ingrid Bergman’s face.  Not quite your usual Hitchcock movie - no thrills until the last reel!  Of course, that’s a facile yardstick in this case.  I know of no other film quite like this one: a sui generis example of a work that sets its own rules for appreciating its many moods.  And undoubtedly it has scenes that work beautifully in their own way.  True, Helen Simpson’s novel provides most of them. For example, the scene in which Adare makes a ‘mirror impromptu’ from the glass of a verandah door by holding his dark jacket behind it, so that Hattie may appreciate her still radiant beauty, comes from early in the novel (Book One, x).  His dashing gesture marks him as the film’s young hero who has what it takes to redeem him from Society’s estimation of him.  Similarly, shortly afterwards, watched by Flusky, he shinnies up a tree to reach Hattie’s room in which she has locked herself because she despairs at her drunken condition (cf. Book One, xi).  Michael Wilding is equal to the demands of his role.3  Even the pay-off to this scene, in which Milly arrives and finds the door locked – making Adare look compromised – comes from the novel.  None of these incidents, and several others, are particularly Hitchcockian, something which seems to have disappointed the film’s original audiences.4

“…the bare feet of Lady Hattie…’

Likewise, film students studying Hitchcock may have difficulty in knowing what to make of Under Capricorn.  That was all the more reason why I enjoyed teaching it!5  Some of its stylistic coups could be easily demonstrated.  Early in the film, Adare accepts an invitation to dine at Flusky’s house with most of the bigwigs of the colony.  All of them, however, arrive without their wives, making lame excuses like, ‘I’m sorry, my wife was detained at the last moment’.  Eventually, Flusky summons them to a long dining table where they seat themselves at their appointed places.  Quickly aware that there is a space vacant between each guest (where the wives had been anticipated to sit!), Flusky is equal to the occasion and in a gruff voice instructs the guests, ‘We needn’t sit here like a row of milestones!  Move down to this end of the table.’  Note that, as yet, the audience hasn’t been told the exact reason for the wives’ absence, nor for why Lady Hattie herself is also absent.  It will be dramatically disclosed in a moment.  Since the guests arrived in the dining room, Hitchcock’s camera has been following the action in a single take, i.e., devoid of cuts.  The re-seating of the guests prompts the camera to slowly sweep from the far end of the table to its head, until it stops on Flusky in close-up.  The low babble of conversation suddenly ceases, and the sound of scraping chairs is heard – and now, finally, there’s a cut, showing the bare feet of Lady Hattie (below) who has entered the room behind her husband in order to place her hands on his shoulders.  ‘Please be seated, gentlemen!’ she tells them.



What Donald Spoto called Hitchcock’s genius is surely encapsulated in this remarkable sequence which incorporates so much –coordinating visuals and sound and motion and, eventually, a cut - into a seamless whole that makes the film’s central point about Lady Hattie’s need for rehabilitation.  A Hitchcock screenwriter once expressed his astonishment at how the director could discuss the outlines of a scene or succession of scenes one day, and return the next with everything fully blocked out, down to the smallest detail. It only remained for the humbled screenwriter to add dialogue!

“….holding an audience in suspense…”

Nor did Hitchcock ever forget – seemingly – what had worked in a previous film (his own or someone else’s) and seek to improve on it.  This was another sort of creative challenge that he welcomed, like the challenge of carrying a film in his head or the challenge of holding an audience in suspense. Michael Walker (‘Hitchcock’s Motifs’, 2005) reminds his readers of the considerable emphasis on keys in Notorious (1946), a motif which is then extended in Under Capricorn where it expresses the ‘power of the keys’ wielded by the ruthless Milly.  She wears them hanging from her waist, ‘like a badge of office’ as Walker puts it, and is extremely reluctant to turn them over to the true mistress of the house, Lady Hattie.  At one point, she even threatens to use them as a literal weapon against Hattie, who has finally understood what Milly is up to: feeding Hattie’s alcoholism and scheming to have Flusky herself.  When a humiliated Milly shapes to hit Hattie with the keys, Flusky intervenes, and tears them from her grasp.  In Walker’s words, ‘This robs Milly of her symbolic power; defeated, she flees downstairs and out of the film’.



But, as indicated, there are several further twists before the film’s resolution, involving Adare’s wounding by Flusky and then Adare’s flirting with the facts, to save Flusky from the gallows and frustrate Corrigon (though the Governor senses that something is amiss, saying, ‘I’ll have you know I don’t believe a word of it!’).  Note, though, that scenarist/playwright James Bridie had a reputation for writing weak Third Acts, which probably wasn’t helped by his work on Under Capricorn.  On the other hand, some of the film’s extended  monologues are absolutely wonderful, and notably the one where Hattie tells Adare the film’s backstory: how she and Flusky had eloped to Gretna Green and how her brother Dermott had followed her there and was about to shoot Flusky, so that Hattie seized his pistol and shot him instead.  If Hitchcock was bound to make one ‘picture of people talking’ – just to show that it could be done with a master filmmaker helming it – Under Capricorn proved both of his points: a top director could still make something of such an exercise, with his master-touch constantly evident, and yet there’s something depleted about such a talkie form passed off as ‘the movies’.

Nonetheless, my love and admiration for Hitchcock’s filmmaking was certainly not diminished after I watched Under Capricorn; nor, reader, should yours!

Notes

1.  Howard Maxford, The A-Z of Hitchcock (2002), p. 271.  I might add that Alma Hitchcock was heartbroken by the generally cool reception the film received on its initial release – she saw how fine a movie it is.        

2.  In the novel, Adare is ‘only twenty’.  See Book Two, vi.

3.  An appreciative Hitchcock would cast Wilding in his next film, Stage Fright, as the capable young Detective Inspector Wilfred Smith, aka ‘Ordinary’ Smith (because of his surname) .

4. I might also mention such other incidents from the novel as: (1) the amusing scene in which Flusky’s three cooks compete to please him, serving up eggs in varying degrees of runniness (cf. Book One, xvi); and (2) the Governor’s Ball, where an uninvited Flusky arrives and embarrasses Lady Hattie who has been escorted there by Adare (cf. Book Two, i).  Likewise, the film makes use of motifs from the novel, such as (1)  Lady Hattie’s resumed embroidery, a sign that her rehabilitation has begun under Adare’s tutelage (cf. Book One, ix); and (2) the tune that Adare frequently whistles to encourage her progress, namely, the nursery rhyme ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May’.  Granted, this isn’t quite the same thing as the tune in the novel which had been played by the mischievous band to farewell the unpopular previous Governor, ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ - and which is heard again among parts of the crowd when the new Governor arrives (Book One, iii). In the film, some wag calls out ‘Sing us a song, governor!” and he murmurs to Adare “Not a very warm welcome!’ 

5.  I felt bound to offer my best pointers, as the ABC had made their print available to us, no doubt unofficially.  I suspect that the print was due to be shortly returned overseas – I’m not sure where.  For a while, there was doubt about the film’s ownership.  Nowadays, I note that there are some good DVDs and a Blu-Ray of Under Capricorn listed online, one including a commentary by a film historian and with footage of remarks by Claude Chabrol

********************

Editor's Note: This is the seventh essay by Hitchcock scholar Ken Mogg to have been published on Film Alert 101.

The other essays can be found if you click on these links.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Streaming - John Baxter contemplates the British rendition of WWII in GLORIOUS 39 (Stephen Poliakoff, 2009) and THEIR FINEST (Lone Scherfig, 2016)


BLOOD, TOIL, TEARS, SWEAT AND CELLULOID.

            In August 1939, at the height of an idyllic summer, the glitterati of high society and show business converged on Cannes for the first Cinema Festival of Free Nations, a response to the previous year’s Venice Film Festival, a showcase for the fascist Italy of Benito Mussolini.  A record 1386 passengers had arrived in France on the liner Normandie , among them Edward G. Robinson, Gary Cooper, Norma Shearer, Bob Hope, Charles Boyer, Tyrone Power and his new wife Annabella, all headed for the festival. 

            A lavish gala preceded the opening. On the Croisette, to the music of five orchestras, guests danced under the stars or watched a show hosted by France’s most popular comedian, Fernandel. But a sudden squall interrupted the fireworks that ended the fete. Icy air rushing off the Mediterranean, accompanied by flashes of lightning, sent celebrities fleeing to their hotels.  Most slept serenely, unaware that Hitler’s panzerswere invading Poland. They woke to find Europe at war,  and the festival to celebrate “the cinema of free nations” indefinitely postponed.

            No movie has ever included this moment of jarring disjunction in the history of Europe and the world, with its implicit sense of nature and humanity shatteringly at odds; the Pathetic Fallacy at its most vivid. Hollywood has exploited the announcement of Pearl Harbour to the point of cliché but the start of war in Europe never inspired the same the dramatic attention.  Perhaps European film-makers would have followed Hollywood had the Polish invasion led, like Pearl Harbour, to immediate conflict rather than to the so-called “Phoney War” as Europe waited apprehensively to see what Hitler would do when the snows thawed. 


Arthur Lowe (3rd from left), John Le Mesurier (4th)
Dad's Army

            Traditionally, British films and television have mined the period for laughs, a scandalous concept for American media, and, apparently, its audience, to judge from the thunderous flop of Steven Spielberg’s 1941. Contrast the continued success in Britain, from 1968 to 1977, of BBC TV’s Dad’s Army, which showed Britain’s class distinctions replicated in a contingent of bumbling amateur National Guard soldiers.  Its animated titles set the tone,  depicting Britain as a yapping puppy keeping the Nazis at bay.

            Recently, however, some films have taken a more serious view. As well as Dunkirk and the various Winston Churchill biopics, Simon Stone’s The Dig  and Steven Poliakoff’s Glorious 39  chose to deal with this moment of historical free-fall, and, in their case, using the same geographical location, though in a very different manner. 


Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, The Dig

            In a key scene from the former,  Ralph Fiennes’ truculent East Anglian archaeologist glares resentfully at Spitfires roaring overhead, an omen that war in the present will delay work on a project measured in millenia. Glorious 39  makes a similar point with a glamorous dinner party where, under a marquee on a perfect lawn amid the ruins of stately Walsingham Abbey,  politicians debate  appeasing Hitler.  

            The Top People’s Norfolk of Glorious 39, with its National Trust settings and full-dress intrigue, contrasted with the shabby gentility and mud-caked boots of The Dig, might be  a rebuke to the Dad’s Army  vision of a Brave Little Britain united in defiance of the Hun. Implicit is the reminder that the country’s survival in World War II was, as the Duke of Wellington said of Waterloo, “a damn close-run thing.” 


Eddie Redmayne, Charlie Cox, David Tennant,
Glorious 39

            If the model for Dad’s Army was Ealing comedy, Poliakoff burgles Hitchcock. Glorious 39  uses many  of Hitch’s favourite tropes; suave villains who offer poison with a smile; families unmasked as cold-blooded killers; a lone character nervously exploring some surrealistically sinister location, in this casea slaughterhouse for domestic pets killed off on government advice rather than see them crazed by the bombing. The yapping puppy of Dad’s Army becomes scores of dead Fidos and Kitties bagged in white cloth that dangle around the heroine (Romola Garai) as she discovers among them the corpse, also shrouded and hanging, of her lover (Charlie Cox). 


Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy, Their Finest

            The ubiquitous Bill Nighy adds his urbane presence as a genial politician to Glorious 39. Dad’s Army  had his equivalent in John le Mesurier’s long-suffering foil to pompous commanding officer (Arthur Lowe), also his boss at the bank in which both work. Nighy again adds his implied stamp of approval to another recent exercise in reconstruction: Their Finest, byDanish director Lone Scherfig, which also uses the early days of war in Britain to riff on changing roles of class and gender, and the clash of historical far-sightedness with present pragmatism. 

            The project to make a romantic comedy about Dunkirk sweeps up an innocent Welsh woman adrift in London (Gemma Arterton), a cynical screenwriter (Sam Claflin), a fussy movie actor (Nighy), a snappy Eve Arden-type lesbian named Phyl (Rachel Stirling) and a miscellany of Whitehall bureaucrats, European displaced persons and movie gypsies. Gaby Chiappe’s screenplay from Lissa Evans’ novel embraces, unabashed, a variant of the Dad’s Army/Ealing formula, turning away from questions of history to the practical problems of how to sit out a bombing raid in the Underground or convincing housewives to grow carrots. 

            Nighy, Eddie Marsan and Helen McCrory collaborate convincingly as the ageing actor, his Polish agent and the latter’s sexually alert sister, who inherits the agency (and Nighy) when the former is blown to pieces in an air raid. The film extracts Grand Guignol humour from Nighy trying to identify the dismembered remains of Marsan, and from Arterton who, laughing at having mistaking shop window dummies for corpses after a bombing raid, turns away, only to stumble over the real thing. At such times, the weightier questions of history and heritage seem remote. 

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

On Blu-ray - David Hare welcomes a 'cracker restoration' of a little known film by French master Jean Gremillon L'ÉTRANGE MONSIEUR VICTOR (France, 1938)


Screens from a new 4K restoration released by Pathé/Gaumont of Grémillon’s 1938 very strange indeed L'Étrange Monsieur Victor.


First screen (above) is Gremillon regular and most beloved comédienne, Madeleine Renaud. Last two screens are the ubiquitous Raimu playing Victor, and the other major female part, played by Viviane Romance.

 

I have not really watched this in full since the early 2000s when Ken Wallin and I attended one of Barrett Hodsdon's marathon French rep history 16mm screenings in Sydney which included Gueule d'Amour, continued with Les Quatre Saisons d'André Masson and ended with Victor

 

Raimu, L'Étrange Monsieur Victor

I was so disshevelled and shattered after Gueule, one of those staggering discoveries you are completely gutted and overwhelmed by on very first viewing that I couldn't stay long into Victor.


Indeed, Ken later confided he also had a few difficulties with it. What is it exactly, we wondered? A Comédie Noire? A melodrama with Grémillion-esque undertones of melancholoy "otherness" sabotaged by the broadness of Raimu's performance? A failure? What were we missing?

 

Viviane Romance,L'Étrange Monsieur Victor

The new restoration is a cracker, taken from original nitrate elements including the O-neg and probably a fine grain positive. The credits look ominously ragged and dark but give way, with one dissolve to an absolutely flawless image quality. I'm still watching it in bits and pieces and I have to say the vastly superior quality of this transfer to the old French Embassy 16mm dupey, ragged copy is immensely helpful in keeping ones’ eyes on the screen. 

 

The whole show is so obviously late 30s' Grem post Gueulewith a screenplay by Charles Spaak, music by Roland Manuel, and all but the Toulon exteriors shot at the Templehof UFA studio in Berlin, as wasGueule d'Amour with production design by Otto Hunte and Willy Schiller (from UfA, viz. Metropolis) as indeed was Renoir'sLa Bête Humaine which was originally begun as a project for and by Grem himself. Renoir saw an opportunity and with Gabin, who was then at his peak popularity Grem was basically shafted from his own project. 

 

I am still struggling with what it is the film is actually doing, as the scenario, and especially Victor's characterization seem totally at odds with mood and atmosphere here. The shooting and lighting and production design are so overwhelmingly pre-30s German Expressionist you wonder if Grem is essentially dabbling in a short resurrection of that great Weimar period of German cinema, before Hitler, the Occupation the Holocaust and the War. 

 

Maybe one day I'll work it out. 

 

In the meantime you can order it from Amazon France, and it comes with English (and French HOH) subs for the feature, but alas not for the very critical extras.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

CINEMA REBORN 2021 - 29 April - 2 May - The all info leaflet is now in the racks at the Randwick Ritz

Here's the leaflet with all info about films, dates, times, bookings plus links to the comprehensive program notes on the Cinema Reborn website  There you'll find some splendid reviews and essays by Russell Edwards, Mark Thomas, Bruce Hodsdon, Adrian Danks, David Hare, Philip Batty, Susan Potter, Jane Mills, Helen Goritsas, Margot Nash, Rod Bishop and Graham Shirley. 

Pick up a copy of the leaflet at the Randwick Ritz. (Or Click to enlarge and print it out yourself. REMEMBER IT FOLDS TWICE, if you want to get the full effect.)


Sunday, 4 April 2021

CINEMA REBORN 29 April - 2 May - WHO WILL BE DOING THE INTRODUCTIONS TO EACH PROGRAM?


So folks….time to let you know who is doing the honours introducing each of the programs at this year’s Cinema Reborn,  29 April – 2 May at the splendid Art Deco Randwick Ritz.

 

DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (Thursday 29 April at 6.30 pm)

Directed by George Marshall with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, USA, 1939

For full program notes by David Hare and Adrian Danks click here

For tickets click here 

 


Introduced by C J Johnson
President of the Film Critics Circle of Australia. He is the film and TV critic for Nightlifeon ABC Radio, a contributor to FilmInk and Metro Magazine among others, and Head Lecturer in Screen Storytelling at Sydney Film School.

 

LE AMICHE (Friday 30 April at 6.30 pm)

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, with Eleonora Rossi Drago and Valentina Cortese, Italy, 1955

For full program notes by Jane Mills click here

For tickets click here

 

John McDonald anJane Mills

Introduced by Jane MillsHonorary Associate Professor at UNSW, Associate Editor of the Cultural and Film Studies journals, Metro; Screen Education and Metro, Series Editor of Australian Screen Classics, a member of the Sydney Film Festival Advisory Panel and a guest programmer for the Antenna Documentary Festival.

 

AIMLESS BULLET (Saturday 1 May at 11.00 am)

Directed by Yu Hyun-mok, with Kim Jin-Kyu and Choi Mu-Ryong, South Korea, 1961

For full  program notes by Russell Edwards click here

For tickets click here  

 

Introduced by Russell Edwards - Film critic and teacher of Asian Cinemas at RMIT University in Melbourne. Russell was the founding Reviews Editor at Empire (Australia) (2001-2003); covered film festivals for international trade publication Variety (2003-2012); was President of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (2004-2006) and acted as an advisor to the Busan International Film Festival (2012-2020). Russell has also made short films, notably THE AGREEMENT (2007), which played at several international film festivals including Sydney, Edinburgh and Vladivostok. 

 

THREE IN ONE (Saturday 1 May at 1.00 pm)

Directed by Cecil Holmes with Jock Levy and Leonard Teale, Australia, 1955)

For full program notes by Graham Shirley and Adrian Danks click here

For tickets click here

 

Introduced by Graham ShirleyAustralian film director, scriptwriter, interviewer, archival researcher, curatorauthor best known for his work in the area of Australian film history. He was one of the original class of the Australian Film Television and Radio School and is the co-author of Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, a classic history of the Australian film industry. He has also made a number of documentaries.

LE CORBEAU (Saturday 1 May at 3.30 pm)

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, with Pierre Fresnay and Ginette Leclerc, France, 1943)

For full  program notes by Mark Thomas click here

For tickets click here

 

Introduced by John McDonald– Art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, and film critic for the Australian Financial Review. A former Head of Australian Art at the National Gallery of Australia, he is the author of The Art of Australia: Exploration to Federation (2006), among other publications. His most recent piece is an essay for Klaus Littmann’s book, Tree Connections(Hatje Cantz, forthcoming). John writes for magazines and journals both at home and abroad. He has lectured widely on art and cinema, and acted as curator for a range of exhibitions, the most significant being Federation: Australian Art & Society, 1901-2000 at the NGA.

 

THE LEOPARD (Saturday 1 May at 5.45 pm)

Directed by Luchino Visconti, With Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale Italy, 1955

For full program notes by Rod Bishop click here

For tickets click here

 


Introduced by David Stratton– Director of the Sydney Film Festival 1966-1983. In 1980, his first book, “The Last New Wave”, about the New Australian Cinema, was published. Feature Film Consultant to SBS (Special Broadcasting Service. Presented The Movie Show,  in partnership with film critic Margaret Pomeranz first on SBS and later on the ABC with the final broadcast going to air in December 2014. In 1990, a second book, The Avocado Plantation, was published about Australian cinema in the 1980s, and in 2008 Stratton’s autobiography, I Peed on Fellini, was published.  In 2018, 101 Marvellous Movies You May Have Missed, was published. My Favourite Movies will be published in November 2021. Since 1988, Stratton has lectured on film history as part of the Continuing Education programme at the University of Sydney.  In 2017 a documentary, DAVID STRATTON: A CINEMATIC LIFE was released in selected cinemas.  It also screened at the Cannes Film Festival and at film festivals in the U.K., Greece, Israel – and on NZ television.  The TV version of the documentary, DAVID STRATTON’S STORIES OF AUSTRALIAN CINEMA, was later aired on ABC TV and on the BBC.

 

THE JUNIPER TREE + SHADOW PANIC  (Sunday 2 May at 11.00 am)

The Juniper Tree directed by Nietzchka Keene, with Björk Guðmundsdóttir and Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir, USA, 1989

Shadow Panic  directed by Margot Nash with Robin Laurie, Rose Wanganeen and Kaarin Fairfax, Australia, 1989

For full program notes by Helen Goritsas and Margot Nash click here

For tickets click here

 


Introduced by Margot Nash– Filmmaker and a Visiting Fellow in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. Her credits include the experimental shorts We Aim To Please (1976) and Shadow Panic (1989), the feature dramas Vacant Possession (1994) and Call Me Mum (2005)and the personal essay documentary The Silences (2015).https://www.margotnash.com

 

FILIBUS  (Sunday 2 May at 2.00 pm)

Directed by Mario Roncoroni, With Valeria Creti and Cristina Ruspoli,Italy, 1915

For full program notes by Susan Potter click here

For tickets click here

 

Introduced by Susan PotterSenior Lecturer in Film Studies in the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney. She's the author of the award-winning book Queer Timing: The Emergence of Lesbian Sexuality in Early Cinema, and General Secretary of the Screen Studies Association of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand (SSAAANZ)

 

FOUR FILMS FROM THE CENTRAL AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL MEDIA ASSOCIATION  (Sunday 2 May at 4.00pm)

Directed by Danielle MacLean, David Tranter, Dena Curtis and Warwick Thornton Australia 1988, 2007, 2010 and 2005

For full program notes by Philip Batty click here

For tickets click here

 

Introduced by Anusha DurayAcquisitions Manager for National Indigenous Television (NITV), as well as a skilled producer. She was the Executive Producer for the new series The Whole Table that premiered this year and Producer of The Wake an interactive film installation which is due to premiere later this year. She is a recipient of the Chief Executive Women in Leadership Scholarship. Anusha is a current member of Screen Australia’s Gender Matters Taskforce, The Oceanian TV Symposium and The Aboriginal Women’s Consultation Network. 

 

CRISS CROSS  (Sunday 2 May at 4.00pm)

Directed by Robert Siodmak,  With Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo, USA, 1949 

For full program notes by Bruce Hodsdon click here

For tickets click here

 


Introduced by Kiki FungProgramme Consultant for Hong Kong International Film Festival and Advisor for The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ School of Film & Television. She was former Head Programmer for Brisbane International Film Festival and Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, and has guest-curated for the Brisbane Festival and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Before moving to Australia in 2010, she served at the Hong Kong Film Archive for seven years in areas of publication editing, venue management and program co-ordination during which she also assisted in editing a number of publications on Hong Kong Cinema.