Saturday 21 May 2016

Alexandre Astruc (1923-2016) - Supercinephile Barrie Pattison recalls an encounter with the man himself

Back in the sixties, when I was a repeater visitor to those conferences the French film societies organised outside Paris, the nouvelle vague directors were a regular attraction. Alexandre Astruc showed up several times. The phrase “camera stylo” never figured in discussions.  They put through not only his big pictures, like the admirable Une Vie (France, 1957) and  La Proie pour l’ombre (France, 1961) but his more modest TV work the 1964 Poe adaptation Le puits et le pendule, an impressively staged costume piece with Maurice Ronet. 

They ran it again with Astruc fronting the show and someone (who was actually there taking a break from some other UN event) told him he thought it was monstrous boring. That lit the fuse and Astruc, who I suspect was having a hard time elsewhere, launched into a polemic about the virtues of “commercial” cinema and film snobs who would go into ecstasies about “le western” but were snidey to the neighbourhood kids who turned out to see those same cowboy pictures. I felt I was in sympathy.

I could see where he was coming from. They’d just done a Raoul Walsh retrospective where the organisers has given equal status to then trendy Band of Angels (USA, 1957) and The Revolt of Mamie Stover (USA, 1956) as they did to The Man I Love (USA, 1947) and Objective Burma (USA, 1945). That puzzled the heck out of the stagiaires who were watching the forties films for the first time with great enthusiasm but couldn’t see anything to the draggy ‘scope fifties films.

It’s kind of sad that the incident is my most vivid memory of Astruc, an accomplished film maker who left behind a string of superior theatrical features and TV movies - and his  Les Mauvaises rencontres (France, 1955) one of the two French movies I could never follow, and I note with approval, he didn’t like either.

Astruc was a great example of the period where watching and making movies were both a pleasure to the people involved, probably the peak of the cinema experience. I regret his passing.

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