Sunday 20 December 2015

Defending Cinephilia (8) - Max Berghouse offers some kind thoughts

Julien Duvivier
1. For most of my life I have been subject to greater or lesser obloquy from fellow film enthusiasts, most of whom I consider to be at the very least as intelligent, sensitive and committed to cinema as am I, for my respect for the oeuvre of Julien Duvivier. To put him on the same pedestal as say Renoir or Carne was a sign at the very least of my contrariness (and I must concede there is something of that in my personality) and a consistent strain in my personality to regard extremely highly the "diligent professional" – which M. Duvivier certainly was, over the "artist". So it was with unbounded enthusiasm that I embarked upon a critical review of all of this Master' s work under both the generous encouragement and astute editing of Geoffrey Gardner. I have had the opportunity of reviewing many films I've seen before, even though years in the past and bringing to them hopefully a more mature and critical understanding as well as viewing films I had not seen before and all with the tolerable certainty that Geoffrey would publish what I wanted to write.

I feel enormously satisfied that a wider audience might come to, even if not a great affection for this Master, a greater respect and understanding of his work, and indeed his life as it unfolds through his work.

William Randolph Hearst
2. As to the power of cinema itself, there is simply no better example of the way in which cinema can give us "truth", even when this is objectively unverifiable, was one Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, USA, 1941). Nearly everyone takes the view that his progenitor in real life, William Randolph Hearst was, like Kane, a deeply and fundamentally unhappy man. That's not so: despite the normal human vicissitudes of life, Hearst was very happy. Pretty obviously, if you have loads of money, you have every reason to be happy! Yet even historians writing about Hearst, have to make very clear that the cinema image is incorrect. If cinema did not possess this power to create images in our minds, which are very difficult to shake, this would not be necessary.

In my own viewing life, I recently saw Springfield Rifle (AndrĂ© de Toth, USA, 1952), starring Gary Cooper, a film which was released before my time but which I must have originally seen in the early 1960s as part of my exploration of the director who had at last been getting some consistent work. The director fascinated me because between films – and that was often a long period of time, he made his living from an orange orchard. The Springfield rifle of the title is substantially irrelevant to the plot, and indeed is not a "rifle" at all. It is a "carbine" or a rifle with a short barrel, customarily used by cavalryman. In fact this "rifle" was not invented nor used until after the Civil War itself (and this is the setting of the film). As relevant, the rifle is the Springfield rifle, "trapdoor model", probably Allin (after the designer), Mark One although as the rifle was produced over 30 years, it could be a later model.

The rifle is a breech loading single shot weapon and is now produced in replica for those Americans who love Civil War re-creations. The almost universally use rifle of the Civil War, on both sides, was one of several variants of a muzzle loader. Yet for years after watching the film I was convinced that all subsequent films about the Civil War which featured such muzzle loaders, were inaccurate, because they did not feature the Springfield rifle which had so powerfully embedded itself in my consciousness.

Such is the power of cinema.

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