Sunday 20 September 2020

The American critics on Jean-Pierre Melville - Quotes from David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson, Roger Ebert and Manohla Dargis

Jean-Pierre Melville (centre) with the stars of Red Circle
Francois Perier, Andre Bourvil, Yves Montand, Alain Delon

The notes that follow are very short extracts of the published writings of a number of  America's greatest critics. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's notes come from a short essay headed "New Independent Directors" which appeared in the third edition of their monumental Film History - An Introduction. The late, American critic Roger Ebert had a great admiration for Jean -Pierre Melville as evidenced by a couple of seriously enthusiastic quotes taken from Ebert's still going (under other contributors) website. Manohla Dargis's note comes from the New York Times in 2006 when Melville's Army of the Shadows  was finally released in the USA.

Roger Duchesne, Bob Le Flambeur

Bordwell and Thompson write:
"Melville gained most fame for such dry laconic gangster films as Bob Le Flambeur (1955),  Le Doulos  (1962), Le Deuxieme Souffle (1966) and Le Samurai (1967). Expressionless men in trenchcoats and snap-brim hats stalk through gray streets to meet in piano bars....The films teem with bravura techniques - hand held camerawork, long takes and available light shooting....Many of his films are tributes to American cinema and he brought to French film some of the audacious energy of Hollywood B pictures. If Renoir fathered the New Wave, Melville was its godfather."
Yves Montand, Le Cercle Rouge

Roger Ebert writes: 
Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973), born Grumbach, changed his name in admiration of Herman Melville; he was a major 1950s French director who had an important influence on the New Wave. Unable to break into the French studio system after the war, Melville was a pioneering independent who shot on location, had to suspend productions to raise more money to buy film stock, paid poorly and yet under these conditions made his two great first films, "Les Enfants Terribles" (1950) and "Bob le Flambeur" (1956). Yet as Truffaut, Godard and their fellow Wavers swept American art houses, his films were late to be discovered. Since his work has been restored on DVD, he's finding an enthusiastic new following...

As one of his films after another is rediscovered, Melville is moving into the ranks of the greatest directors. He was not much honored in his lifetime. We now know from his gangster film "Bob le Flambeur" (1955) that he was an early father of the New Wave -- before Godard, Truffaut, Malle. He used actual locations, dolly shots with a camera mounted on a bicycle, unknown actors and unrehearsed street scenes, everyday incidents instead of heightened "Le Cercle Rouge" (1970), he showed police and gangsters who know how a man must win the respect of those few others who understand the code. His films, with their precision of image and movement, are startlingly beautiful.

Lino Ventura, Army of Shadows

Manohla Dargis writes on ARMY OF SHADOWS:

Nearly 40 years after Cahiers du cinĂ©ma gave it the big thumbs-down, Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Army of Shadows” (1969) is topping some American Top 10 lists this year, and for good reason. It’s a thrilling story about a handful of French Resistance fighters that also happens to be a masterpiece. (New York Times)

David Thomson writes on BOB LE FLAMBEUR

This is Jean-Pierre Melville making one of the pictures that inspired the New Wave…The atmosphere of Pigalle at dawn is matchless, and this love of the city helps explain what keeps Bob floating.



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