Archive for April 14th, 2008

If one war did break its pod
And cast poison seeds abroad:

If one word did from wounds lick
Clean of sting; restore the sick;

If clamor of factions set
One man to say,‘no’ to hate;

If one man had full measure
Of his worth to bestow in ‘nother

If in such free give and take,
With love clean his thirst slake-

Why, the earth would need invent
Something new for idlers hell-bent.


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Les Enfants du Paradis

1945, 3hrs 15m, France, Black and White

This tragic tale ‘is a tribute to the theatre’. Partly because it is based upon the lives of Frederick Lemâitre and Baptiste Debureau, at the beginning of their careers as well as Jean-François Lacenaire, who was a well known dandy in about the ‘Boulevard du Crime’ ( because in those days about 1840 people were getting murdered there. It also represents the French popular theatre of the nineteenth century). Partly because of the children of the gods are the actors.( the play on the word- ‘gods’ means the theatrical gallery in French as well as English- is deliberate, of course.) Yes, these children are the actors: Marcel Carné during an interview has admitted so much.
The Children of the gods is a tragic tale and it tells of a woman Garance( played by Arletty) who is loved by four men: the only one whose love she fully returns, she loses, finds again and loses forever. Meanwhile the teeming life of the children of the gods goes on; her one true love (Jean-Louis Barrault) becomes the most celebrated mime of his day; the strolling player( Pierre Brasseur) for whom she is just another conquest until he finds that she is more, goes on to become the greatest actor of the time; “ the icy count to whom she gives her love but not her heart is complimented by the fiery criminal whose pride will not let him beg for her, and whose final act gratuit brings about an ironic resolution of the struggle when it is too late for everybody concerned.” Bernard Levin, Times Newspapers Ltd,1980

It is for the cinema what Balzac and Victor Hugo were for literature in the XIX century; not only French, but the world’s. A colossal masterpiece whose truth and beauty are timeless, and the movies does not date at all: even the flamboyant performance of Brasseur doesn’t seem grotesque; instead it jells well with the surrealistic touch of the mime in his white maskface as he desperately struggles through the white clad carnival crowd to reach which is carrying Garance away from him forever. That powerful ending, desolation among gaiety,the hearbreak in counterpoint with the carefree, separation in the midst of unity shall remain long after the movie is over.
1995 was the centennial of the invention of movies. In Stockholm the event was celebrated, inter alia, by showing ‘Les enfants du paradis’ free of charge on the French National Day. It was presented as the best French movie ever made.
Les enfants du paradis is the masterpiece of the duo Carné-Prévert. Marcel Carné began shooting in 1943, when Paris was still occupied. Many members of the French Resistance found cameo roles in order to avoid detection.

Les Enfants du Paradis centres around the ill-fated love between Baptiste, a theater mime, and Garance who is forced to enter the protection of Count Eduard when she is implicated falsely in a crime committed by Lacenaire. In the intervening years of separation, both Garance and Baptiste become involved in loveless relationships with the Count and Nathalie, respectively. Baptiste is the father of a son. Returning to Paris, Garance finds that Baptiste has become a famous mime actor. Nathalie sends her child to foil their meeting, but Baptiste and Garance manage one night together. Lacenaire murders Edouard. In the last scenes, Garance is returning to Eduard’s hotel and disaster; even as Baptiste follows her carriage through crowds of merrymakers she has the look of one who is lost.
The film boasts a picaresque squalor drawn from the time in which it was set, highlighting the tenacious romance at its core. Children of Paradise has a melancholy feeling both authentic and immediate, a romance with moments of pure magic.”
-Robert Lane
I have seen this movie so many times and it remains for me the epitome of classic cinema. A big budget movie for the time it was filmed to me it marks the happy amalgam of poetry and truth on celluloid.
There are a few unforgettable characters of which I shall mention a few: *Lacenaire, a cuthroat who writes comedies on the side and has no compunction to shed blood and the latter’s assistant ‘mon pauvre’ Avril. The scene at the Turkish bath where the count meets his end shall leave a shudder: the close-up and the grimace of ‘mon pauvre’ Avril I can still recall. (The murder of Edouard by Lacenaire can also be taken as a rebellion of the resentful lower classes against the upper classes: the image of the fallen, dead hand with the valuable ring is significant.)
(* Based on real life, Lacenaire was executed in 1836. His memoirs, which were written while he awaited execution, are published in English translation.)
Jericho, the old clothes man moves through the film like the shadow of death (he is at the elbow of the mime, still haunting ,amid the crowd in that final scene.) is as powerful as the blind beggar who knows what goes on about him. Robert Le Vigan was originally cast as Jericho but he disappeared at the Liberation when he was suspected of having collaborated, and the part was taken over by Pierre Renoir.
This movie undoubtedly is a vehicle for Arletty whose grave, classic beauty and expressive eyes give the movie an undefinable aura. Never did she excel herself as in Les Enfants du Paradis. (She was imprisoned in 1945 for having had a wartime liaison with a German officer during the occupation of France. In this she was not unusual, as many French women behaved in this manner during World War II. She seems to have later commented on the experience, “My heart is French but my ass is international.”)

For those who care about little known news or of the background: The real Baptiste, the mime was brought to trial for homicide. During his days of success over the impersonation of a rag-and- bones man, one day he was as usual taking the air along with his wife on a boulevard of Paris; one man stepped forward and hurled abuses at him and his wife. The mild mannered mime lost control and killed him. The court after a protracted trial acquitted him but he never played that role on stage again.

compiler: benny

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Casablanca could have been a B picture.
After George Raft turned down the lead role (- he also turned down the Maltese Falcon ) Warner Brothers thought of Ronald Reagan. But no Casablanca became Humphrey Bogart’s film, under the direction of Michael Curtiz. (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Sea Wolf) In fact Curtiz was the third director to be considered.
Ann Sheridan and Hedy Lamarr had been in consideration for the part given to Ingrid Bergman. “As Time Goes By”, beautifully rendered by Dooley Wilson, might have been sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Lena Horne. Max Steiner, who composed the film’s score, asked the studio to leave the song out of the movie. Throughout these other changes, the script, based on the as yet unstaged play Everyone Comes to Ricks, was being redrafted continuously.
If I remember correctly scenes were shot, with action and characters in ubiquitous shadows owing to budget constraints but as luck would have it but much of the atmospherics hang thereby.

Good luck trailed the finished movie. It opened on Thanksgiving Day, 1942 , not long after the Allies had landed at Casablanca. Two months later Roosevelt and Churchill met in Casablanca to plan joint strategy for the rest of World War II, effectively giving the film free worldwide publicity.

So, from inauspicious beginnings and many false starts came the most quoted, most revived, most homaged and very possibly the best film ever produced by the Hollywood studio system.
The final version of the plot has American Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a world-weary nightclub owner in Casablanca, taking care of some stolen letters of transit for the thief and possible murderer Ugarte (Peter Lorre).

I stick my neck out for nobody.

At this stage of the war, Casablanca is neutral and still policed by the free French, headed by the Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains).

I’m only a poor corrupt official.

The city has become a transit stop for refugees from the German advance into Europe. The refugees all hope to get passage to the free city of Lisbon and from there to America, hence the high value placed on letters of transit.

Rick finds out that his ex-lover, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who jilted him 18 months before, has arrived in Casablanca with her husband, the resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

Rick remembers how he and Ilsa parted in Paris, just before the Germans marched in.

Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.

Sam has a history of anti-fascist activities, he must leave Paris. She does not make their date at the train station but sends a cryptic note instead.

Now in Casablanca, the Nazis, in the person of Major Heirich Strasser (Conrad Veidt), are on Victor’s case. Ilsa comes to Rick to plead for the letters of transit that will get her and her husband out of Casablanca so Victor can continue his struggle against the fascists. Rick is bitter at first.

Tell me, who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo or were there others in between? Or aren’t you the kind that tells?

The old flame is rekindled and Rick realises he can use the papers for Ilsa and himself.

Here’s looking at you kid.

Casablanca is loved for many reasons – the chemistry between Bogart and Bergman; a great script, multi-layered with subtext; vivid characters and background; subtle acting from the whole cast; a memorable song, memorably sung; romance thwarted by duty; great dialogue and much quoted/misquoted one-liners. Nobody ever actually says, “Play it again Sam”.

Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’

Interestingly, Dooley Wilson, who played Sam, could not in fact play the piano.

At the airport, the triangle is complete. Rick, Ilsa and Victor are all in time to catch the Lisbon flight. But there are still only papers for two.

Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.

At this point the Nazis intervene again. It’s up to Renault, the prefect of police, to sort out the ensuing mess.

Major Strasse has been shot. [long pause] Round up the usual suspects

So Rick can now have Ilsa, but will he? Together,

We’ll always have Paris.
The ending was frequently rewritten and ultimately avoided the obvious. “Happy ever after” was not the mood of the free world in 1942. Yet the ending still reverberates down the years, even through times of peace and prosperity. Secretly, we all want to be as in love, and as noble, as Rick and Ilsa.

Here is two cents worth of destiny in the affairs of men and women. Had Regan played the part it might have changed the course of both cinema and world history. Politics would have been the last thing on the film actor in B-movies. Of course, ‘Casablanca’ means ‘White House’ – creepy. US of A might never have had Star Wars (the military programme, not the movie).

Nuts and bolts of the production:

Director: Michael Curtiz
Rick Blaine: Humphrey Bogart
Ilsa Laszlo: Ingrid Bergman
Victor Laszlo: Paul Hereid
Captain Louis Renault: Claude Rains
Senor Ferrari: Sydney Greenstreet
Major Heirich Strasser: Conrad Veidt
Sam: Dooley Wilson
Academy Awards
Won (3)
* Best Picture
* Best Director
* Best Screenplay


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