Friday 31 March 2017

Simenon on DVD - A new occasional series prompted by sighting of the second screen Maigret, LE CHIEN JAUNE

Editor's note: Beginning a new series of occasional posts devoted to DVDs based on the novels of Georges Simenon. There are dozens to choose from including many very obscure titles.

This is done entirely on a whim and in the hope that any contributions will cause others to send in anything of relevance no matter how short, or indeed no matter how long, this strand is intended to put on the record something that probably is already on the record in more and better organised detail. So...random curiosity and enthusiasm being the lifeblood of the blogger, this is the start, a film,  a copy of which came into my hands on the fateful day March 30, 2017....

Meanwhile, the pictorial element can be commenced with what I think will probably be the only Australian contribution to the forthcoming parade. As a matter of interest the film, a co-production, had only modest success in Australia. Pike and Cooper's history advises that the distributor held the film back. However, released under the title Le Passager clandestin,  its first run attracted 1,776, 374 paid admissions in France. 

Le Chien Jaune  (Credits from the copy of the film) Une Réalisation de Jean Tarride, Directeurs de Production Robert Petit, André Pfeiffer, Chef Opérateur Toporkoff, Décors Scognamilo.

Adapté d'après Le Chien Jaune, published by Fayard, 1931.

Cast: Abel Tarride (Commissaire Maigret), Rosine Derean (Emma), Rolla Norman (Leon), (Robert) Le Vigan (Dr Michoux), Henley, Gildes, Lepers, Jean Gobet, Azais, Paul Clerget, Fred Marche, Jane Lory, Sylvette Fillacier.

France, 1932, 69 minutes.

Rene Chateau is France's big boy of DVD as it was of VHS. Dozens of ancient, popular titles have been issued, all in bare bones editions without subtitles or extras. The art work on the cover of the company's titles is usually the original poster for the film, a nice touch but cheap to do. The company ranges far and wide and no doubt has contact with French rights holders at all levels though its output seems to be made up of films produced by independent production companies.  The image and sound quality of the movies they publish is variable.
Such is the case with Le Chien Jaune. It comes with a warning that though the film has been restored there are still elements that are not up to scratch due to the exigencies of time. Fair enough. What we get is a film with a lot of very crisp black and white photography by a Chef Operator designated on the credits only as "Toporkoff". It's hard to know whether all the framing is due to the DoP, particularly the shots which cut into the actors' heads. Maybe the material they used for the restoration wasn't even as quite good as might be.

The second Maigret is a well-dressed portly, jowly figure, constantly smoking a pipe, who arrives in what the cover slick tells us is Concarneau, a fishing port in Brittany. (He was beaten to the screen by Pierre Renoir in his brother Jean's La Nuit du Carrefour  which went out on 15 April 1932, just a couple of months before La Chien Jaune's  debut on 29 June 1932.)

The old fashioned  feel of Concarneau is conveyed mostly by the women in the movie who all wear a traditional Breton garb including a bonnet over tightly pulled back hair. The women go to church unaccompanied by their men. 

Abel Tarride, the first screen Maigret
Commissaire Maigret arrives by train accompanied by young, bouncy bag carrier/bright spark Inspecteur Leroy. He's investigating a murder which was accompanied by the sighting of a huge yellow dog. 
Much of the tale takes place in the bar of a hotel where Maigret and Leroy settle down for a couple of days. The story follows up on some suspicious types and the presence of the dog is mysterious until it gets shot as well. Margret spends much time pondering and assuring people that he's on the case. Suspicion falls on Dr Michoux, a mysteriously slippery character living in the hotel but who also has a grand chateau down near the water.

You'll have to forgive my lack of ability to delve deep into the reasons whereby the killer is unmasked and just what exactly he had done and why? Definitely a movie for which, in the final revelation, some help was needed. Subtitles would have surely added a lot more pourquoi for this French language deficient.

The dog is killed. He is tended by a woman in traditional Breton costume
The Tarride family got on to Simenon and Maigret early. Abel, the father, apparently making his film debut at age 67 after a career on the stage, looks the part. He works under the direction off his son Jean. Jean was an actor and director though the near dozen films he made contain no highlights for the national filmography.

(Robert) Le Vigan as Dr Michoux
The atmospherics are modest and Jean Tarride’s mise-en-scene is still heavily gripped by the lumbering quality of early sound film. The location shooting in Concarneau is perfunctory. Most of the action is confined to a series of studio sets – the bar, an interior on a boat, inside a pharmacy and best of all from viewpoint of demonstrating Toporkoff’s skills, a rooftop sequence involving shadow, a couple of sources of light and a skyline over the port. 

Thursday 30 March 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare rediscovers the magic of Antonioni in Criterion's 4K edition of BLOW UP

(Click to enlarge)
A row of chalk painted, wordless mimics looks past the audience to David Hemmings ("Thomas") off screen who is about to join their pantomime of reality in the next shot after glimpsing what might or might not have been in reality a killing, early on in Antonioni's majestic first English language feature, Blow Up from 1966.

Criterion and Warner MTI have remastered the film in 4K from a new inter-positive of the original Eastman (Metro) color 35mm negative and in the process they've made reparation for twenty plus years of very badly skewed color timed and poorly printed video and broadcast reissues since the first run. First release prints were razor sharp with gorgeous fine grain and pristine color balance, with Antonioni himself going to the trouble of spray painting trees and grass and objects like the red London Public Telephone booths to particular shades of green and red to perfectly balance the color compositions.

Antonioni's attention to the expressive elements of color is perhaps less subtle here than it is in Red Desert (Italy, 1964), but the clarity of Blow Up's color is very much in character with the strongly linear narrative which is then very consciously designed to stop abruptly midway in the film. This then leaves Thomas free to question his own alienation after the early glimpse of potential mystery, and in the process Antonioni formally inverts the ideas in the ending of L'Eclisse (Italy, 1962), his outright masterpiece, in which the camera becomes the last silent witness to a narrative and characters who have disappeared in a now dead landscape with a short montage that suggest, like Chris Marker that the world may have ended.

In Blow Up Antonioni brings back the troupe of mimes who have been spotted briefly twice before and shows them enacting a mimed game of tennis in the park for the finale, in the spot where Thomas had previously witnessed or perhaps not witnessed a death. Thus the wide shot above, with Thomas only visible in the next shot.

Then the picture ends with the notion that the "reality" of the exposition which leads Thomas nowhere is being played out with the actors in the film enacting a mime to vivify a landscape that was previously hinting at death, or, like the final montage of L'Eclisse, a landscape actually devoid of life. So, the gaze, his gaze, the actors' gaze, our gaze is what creates the life and the narrative, if any.

Vanessa Redgrave
The new Criterion and 4K exemplarily returns the film to its original visual glory, with not a trace of the ugly gray undercoat that seemed to permeate the old PAL and NTSC DVD's. It also restores the film to its original aspect ratio of 1.85, which was Antonioni's preferred AR after L'Avventura (Italy, 1960), in which he fell in love with the widescreen frame and its expressive potential.

One of the greatest films of the director, and of all cinema.

Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemmings

Wednesday 29 March 2017

French Film Festival (8) - Barrie Pattison is much amused by the new Danny Boon movie RADIN!/PENNY PINCHER

Radin!/Penny Pincher makes a welcome break from the solemn material the French Film Event has been delivering.

In the womb, baby Dany Boon hears his mum berate his dad for buying useless items. Grown, he becomes congenital tight wad Dany, living in a Jacques Tati cul de sac where the neighbours graffiti hate messages about him on the fencing. He outrages the super market queue doing his own calculations on the discount coupons, uses his banker as a therapist and plays violin in the orchestra where he avoids going away present collections.

His date with fetching cellist Arné turns into a disaster when her digestion won’t tolerate the ethnic meal he has set up against overdue teaching fees and he is faced with a fish restaurant  bill (he orders individual whelks) until he sets off their sprinkler system.

Abruptly Dany finds his life disrupted by the arrival of daughter (cut price condom) Noémie Schmidt. This gets us into a new set of routines - red Post It warnings on all the appliances when she rents a room with an air bed from him, housing the neighbour evicted over his revolving mortgage along with his tribe of kids and setting a new record as first violin on the charity performance of "The Four Seasons".

Schmidt believed her mum’s story that Dany was supporting a Mexican orphanage and spreads this, making Dany a local hero and putting him in the position of writing a cheque for a benefit where he has become the guest speaker.

However all is not what it seems and we get the welcome sunny double switch ending.

Boon is totally in his element and handling by Polar thriller specialist Cavayé is precise – superior, like the performances of an unfamiliar cast.

Flawless feel good entertainment. Put me down now for Raid dingue the next Dany Boon.