The other day I saw Carl Th. Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932). As an artist I enjoy cinema at different levels. So I need to see a film several times in order to satisfy my needs. While I sketched out the dark sign above the inn of dark victory with a palm frond it struck me that spiky leaves are echoed in the title. still-2
It may be deliberate or it may be that I am reading into it more than necessary. What I want to stress here is that cinema is a mongrel muse where the best traditions of theater,architecture,photography music,costume all find its home. Besides art it is required production values are kept at its highest standard as well as production costs are kept within the limits.
As an artist I am concerned say with a composition of particular frame as shown in the first still. In cinema or a motion picture it is unnecessary interruption. In fact it is deadly to hold up the flow of sequences in order to admire a certain camera angle and chiaroscuro from any specific point. In that fluidity of camera, emotions of a viewer are carried over and art of cinema makes certain sacrifices of several arts in order to keep the integrity of the cinema. The art of cinema is, in short, not sum of individual arts in its natural spontaneity but reined in for the overall art of cinema.
Thus the voice over is not human speech but voice suitably modulated by mechanical means to give the viewers a lucid understanding of what is going on. The sets are props which are only simulated to keep reality as much as needed for the moment. Coming back to compositions of each frame it is totally unnecessary. The still is for publicity and not for the main event. In short there is an exclusion principle where art mixed and matched have it all as a total package and for individual art it is only incidental.
Archive for the ‘Italian films’ Category
A couple of days ago my wife and I watched La Règle of Jeu(1939). Yesterday was the International Women’s day and I thought two actresses from this memorable classic need to be remembered . The first actress took the role of Genevieve de Marras the mistress of the Marquis of La Coliniere and the second played the lead role of Christine ‘l’etrangere’ wife of the Marquis.
The actress Mila Parély, of her true name Olga Colette Peszynska, died 16 January 2012 at the 94 years age, in Vichy, where she lived since about fifty years.
Of Polish origin, the actress born in Paris on October 7, 1917, had made her beginnings on the boards in 1932 and left it for love. At the 40 years age she became nurse to devote her life for her husband, the racing driver Scottish Thomas Mathieson, victim of a road accident.
In the mid 1930s Nora Gregor married the vice chancellor of Austria, fascist politician Prince Ernst Ruediger von Starhemberg, with whom she had a son, Heinrich (1934–1997). Falling foul with the Nazi regime in 1938, the Starhembergs emigrated to France through Switzerland, and her husband joined the Free French forces; cut off from their money and eighty family estates, they were supported for a period by Starhemberg’s close friend Friedrich Mandl, the Austrian armaments magnate. In 1942, the Starhembergs moved to Argentina.
Reportedly depressed since the beginning of her South American exile, Gregor committed suicide in Viña del Mar, Chile.
Rest in Peace and in grateful remembrance of making our lives a little sweeter.
The tale of the Blue Beard is nothing new. Remember the Arabian nights? King Shahryar was one but the Thousands and one Night tales surrounding his heinous crime detract us from it. Days of king of kings behaving badly are gone. In a dog eat dog world of capitalism it is all profits that make man horny. Lately we read how one pizza company torched a rival company for a larger profit margin. Killing for money is the sign of the times. Insider trader from Goldman Sachs or from Citibank we have men who forget themselves by the lure of gold. Less luckier ones need make do with francs and centimes. There is so much in life so beautiful, acme of perfection and ultimate in Nature’s simplicity. These are all free and yet how many do you think turn man on or make him laugh at comedy of life? These days profits make him laugh as never before.
During the WWI there was a French man Henri Désiré Landru who lost his Gallic humor for once. To be precise whenever he proposed matrimony through classified ads. In such brutal world of centimes and euros what humor one might find except of the blackest hue? Of course he lost his head in the end. Monsieur Verdoux was released in 1947 even this day sounds black and is in keeping with the bleak future capitalism bodes for you and me.
With this comedy of murders Charles Chaplin signaled his definite break with the Tramp persona. Chaplin then wrote, directed, and starred in Monsieur Verdoux himself. The real facts are not clear but the credits give Orson Wells as the source for the idea. It is an outstanding film the Chaplinesque genius rather clouded by irrelevant particulars that have no bearing on the film. There was a paternity suit against him which he won and of course for the American Right who were sharpening their knives for another wave of Red Scare he was like a red flag. Naturally the film bombed at the box office, his first financial loss.
“Von Clausewitz said that war is the logical extension of diplomacy; Monsieur Verdoux feels that murder is the logical extension of business.” Verdoux (Chaplin), a mild-mannered family man of pre-war France, has hit upon a novel method of supporting his loved ones. He periodically heads out of town, assumes an alias, marries a foolish, wealthy woman, then murders her for the insurance money. He does this thirteen times with success, but wife #14, brassy Martha Raye, proves impossible to kill (nor does she ever suspect what Verdoux has in mind for her). A subplot develops when Verdoux, planning to test a new poison, chooses streetwalker Marilyn Nash as his guinea pig. She tells him so sad a life story that Verdoux takes pity on her, gives her some money, and sends her on her way. Years later, the widowed and impoverished Verdoux meets Nash once more; now she is the mistress of a munitions magnate. This ironic twist sets the stage for the finale, when Verdoux, finally arrested for his crimes and on trial for his life, gently argues in his own defense that he is an “amateur” by comparison to those profiteers who build weapons for war. “It’s all business. One murder makes a villain. Millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify…” Sentenced to death, Verdoux remains calmly philosophical to the end. As the condemned man walks to the guillotine, a priest prays for God to have mercy on Verdoux’s soul. “Why not?” replies Verdoux jauntily. “After all, it belongs to him.”
It is a classic performance by Mr. Chaplin, dapper and silver-haired, and he is fitly supported by a good cast, headed by Martha Raye. Miss Raye, as the most obnoxious and indestructible of the wives, is howlingly funny.
You shouldn’t miss “Monsieur Verdoux.”(NY Times-Bosley Crowther-july 4,1964)
The Prosecutor: Never, never in the history of jurisprudence have such terrifying deeds been brought to light. Gentlemen of the jury, you have before you a cruel and cynical monster. Look at him!
[all heads turn to face Verdoux, who turns around himself to look behind]
The Prosecutor: Observe him, gentlemen. This man, who has brains, if he had decent instincts, could have made an honest living. And yet, he preferred to rob and murder unsuspecting women. In fact, he made a business of it. I do not ask for vengeance, but for the protection of society. For this mass killer, I demand the extreme penalty: that he be put to death on the guillotine. The State rests its case.
Judge: Monsieur Verdoux, you have been found guilty. Have you anything to say before sentence is passed upon you?
Henri Verdoux: Oui, monsieur, I have. However remiss the prosecutor has been in complimenting me, he at least admits that I have brains. Thank you, Monsieur, I have. And for thirty-five years I used them honestly. After that, nobody wanted them. So I was forced to go into business for myself. As for being a mass killer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown unsuspecting women and little children to pieces? And done it very scientifically? As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison. However, I do not wish to lose my temper, because very shortly, I shall lose my head. Nevertheless, upon leaving this spark of earthly existence, I have this to say: I shall see you all… very soon… very soon.
and here is a gem:“I love women” Monsieur Verdoux says “but I don’t admire them at all”.
Chaplin was subjected to unusually hostile treatment by the press while promoting the opening of the film, and some boycotts took place during its short run. At one press conference to promote the film, Chaplin made his speech, then invited questions from the press with the words “Proceed with the butchering”.
*In 1964, Chaplin allowed Verdoux to be re-released along with several Chaplin films to play at the New York Plaza as part of a Chaplin film festival. The film was not only the biggest hit of the entire festival, but it broke box-office records for the Plaza.(wikipedia)
running time-124 min, black and white,USA
The above still shows Renoir’s style to give spatial depth by which the interaction of characters add to the drama. Free grouping in space ( simultaeneously foreground and background groups or single character in relaton to the others). Such staging allows interaction between foreground and actions on the background. In this scene where Octave brings airmen Jurieu for the weekend at La Coliniere there is a painful silence. The guests are aware of the gossip linking the dashing airman to the Marquise who bravely tries to explain her part in making Jurieu a national hero. In the backdrop we see the nervous Marquis Robert who knows the truth and is apprehensive if his wife would be able to pull it off.
Camera by continuously tracking, panning, re-framing allows Renoir to compose the shots in terms of time and movement. Renoir and Bunuel are two directors that I can think of who prefers mid-shots to close-ups. Closeups and point-of-view shots are rare.
By way of preface Marcel Carne’s Les Enfants du Paradis (1946) is about theater. From the first repeated three knocks where the curtain goes up we are given to look into the lives of certain personages who are caught up in the currents where their lives entangle with the rest. Most of these are living on the edge- criminals, actors, prostitutes and beggars. The title ‘children of paradise’ clearly indicates they are the stars and their lives are as fascinating and rich whether they for the price of two centimes wish to be the purveyors of lives unfolding before them or boo the actors off the stage if annoyed. Theater within a theater as a form helps us to examine reality and wish fulfillment as relevant to people regardless of class or wealth. What they get to see at Theatre des Funambules may be stock Italian comic characters, fantastic props and situations but they can still hitch their humdrum lives to it.
Before narrating a great scene I shall quote the dialogue between two actors who have had their first taste of emoting before the footlights. Both have been preparing their lives for this break and they have the satisfaction that they did rather well.
Baptiste the mime speaks about the gods who crowd nightly to see their performers, thus:
Yes they understand every thing.They are poor people, but I am like them. I love them. I know them well. Their live are small, but they have big dreams…”
As an actor a mime he duly acknowledges he owes his art to them. Unless he hobnobs with them in their natural haunts and see life as performed by them in their unguarded moments he would be lost.
This explains why he stepped out mysteriously in the night causing the other actor to describe him ‘a real alley cat, Monsieur Baptiste!’
Baptiste’s solitary walk takes him to the scene with Fil de Soie the blind beggar beautifully essayed by Gaston Modot.
The beggar wonders why he is walking on tiptoe. Baptiste has no money to give him but he walks just the same he wants to see everything. Soon the mime and the beggar warm up to each other. The beggar shall treat him that night. They go to the next door, to the seedy ‘Robin Roundbreast’. The beggar says,’You who like to learn things, this’ll amuse you.’
Soon we see the blind beggar is as much surprised what happens there as the mime. The beggar who considered the street as his beat learns a few lessons he never thought possible. Even in low haunts life springs surprises for those have ‘eyes’ to see. The scene where Baptiste realizes the beggar is not really blind is beautifully shown.
Close shot of Baptiste still stupefied with astonishment. Then shot of both of them, Baptiste three quarters back view. The waiter brings two glasses and a bottle.
The beggar says,” You can’t believe your eyes, can you, actor? Smiling.But it is very simple. Outside I am blind…incurable and in here I am cured.. It is a miracle isn’t it?” There is another great acting when the Old clothes man approaches them. Fil de Soie as if by reflex turns away from the mime not to compromise his companion. The beggar then finds that he need not have worried. Jericho knows the actor and they have no love lost between them.
The two scenes at the Robin Redbreast is a key to understand the core value of the film. Art of theater and of course film, is enriched by life. Rich or poor is besides the point.
(ack:classic film scripts/pub:Lorrimer publishing Ltd.,-1968)Baptiste
The Third Man-1949
Here I shall give three scenes which stay on mind.
The American pulp writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) has come to bombed-out, post-war Vienna on the invitation of his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) but is told of his death under most mysterious circumstances. One night, Martins becomes aware of a figure in a doorway on the opposite side of the apartment of Lime’s girlfriend Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli). He spots her cat meow loudly. The animal rubs itself at the feet of the silent, motionless figure in the shadows of a doorway. Harry can see the big shoes of the figure picked out by slanting light. A mystery figure and he defiantly calls out to the figure to come out and reveal himself. Then, Holly momentarily and suddenly sees Harry, the ‘third man’ himself.
A light from an upstairs window briefly illuminates the figure’s face, shining straight across the street. The sight of the teasing, smiling face of his friend staring back at him packs a punch in the somber mood of the film. It lights up briefly Holly’s confused mind at a loss to explain the sudden demise of his friend. Amazed to see Harry still alive the viewer is given jab into sides hinting he being alive could only mean there is something evil in the air. Holly is startled and then the light is extinguished. Before Holly can reach his friend, a car approaches and blocks his path. The figure makes off and vanishes to the sound of retreating footsteps in the dark. Holly finds the doorway empty by the time he crosses the street.
Another scene that stays in my mind is the meeting of Lime and Holly atop a Ferris wheel above the Russian sector. In the light of the day, Lime emerges and greets Holly with a bemused look: “Hello, old man, how are you?” They both ride high above the ground on the ferris wheel that is still operating in the midst of the dark city – it is the last ride of Holly’s symbolic childhood. As they rise higher in the car which they have all to themselves, Harry shows how uncaring he can be about Anna’s predicament after betraying her to the Russians: “What can I do, old man? I’m dead, aren’t I?” Harry explains how he doesn’t wish to be a hero:
What did you want me to do? Be reasonable. You didn’t expect me to give myself up…’It’s a far, far better thing that I do.’ The old limelight. The fall of the curtain. Oh, Holly, you and I aren’t heroes. The world doesn’t make any heroes outside of your stories.
Holly confronts Harry with his disgust at his racketeering and corruption (the light side exposing the dark side) and how he has already informed the police and Anna about Harry’s charade and disappearance. Harry claims immunity in the neutral zones of Vienna. Knowing of his cynical dealings on the black market, Holly asks if he has ever seen any of his victims – children who populate the hospital wards [in a city and amusement park desolate of playful, happy children]. Harry looks contemptuously down from the ferris wheel at the scuttling mortals below, cheerfully calling the people unrecognizable “dots” from the height of the ride:
Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. (He opens the door to the car.) Look down there. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man, free of income tax. The only way you can save money nowadays.
They reach the very top of their ride on a child-oriented attraction, and for a few ominous moments [in a very different kind of amusement-thrill ride], Harry threatens Holly. He contemplates executing his uncooperative friend and making him one of the “dots” below because he is the only one with living proof of his existence: “There’s no proof against me, besides you.” Harry suggests that he could easily shoot him – a bullet hole in a corpse that had fallen from so high up in the wheel would not be found. Holly wraps his arm around a door frame and clutches it for protection:
Holly (looking out the window): I should be pretty easy to get rid of.
Harry: Pretty easy.
Holly: I wouldn’t be too sure.
Harry: I carry a gun. You don’t think they’d look for a bullet wound after you hit that ground.
But Holly counters the threat by mentioning that the police are already on his trail – they have dug up the corpse and discovered it wasn’t him but Harbin. Harry is startled that the body of his cohort has been disinterred and his voice suddenly drops. As the car starts its journey downward, Lime closes the door, discards his deadly plan to dispose of Holly, and then compares himself to governments:
Harry: Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs – it’s the same thing. They have their five-year plans, so have I.
Holly: You used to believe in God.
Harry: Oh, I still do believe in God, old man. I believe in God and Mercy and all that. But the dead are happier dead. They don’t miss much here, poor devils. (He traces Anna’s name and the image of a heart with an arrow through it on the window of the car.) What do you believe in? Oh if you ever get Anna out of this mess, be kind to her. You’ll find she’s worth it.
When they reach the end of their ride and exit the ferris wheel on the ground, Lime offers his boyhood pal a partnership in his illicit business:
Holly, I’d like to cut you in, old man. There’s nobody left in Vienna I can really trust, and we’ve always done everything together. When you make up your mind, send me a message – I’ll meet you any place, any time, and when we do meet old man, it’s you I want to see, not the police. Remember that, won’t ya? Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Remember what the fellow says:
Then, he smugly delivers his famous and cynical monologue ad libbed by Welles and exactly in line with the whole mood of the film. The amoral Lime cynically justifies his black market criminal activities by recognizing that despite appearances, good and evil (black and white, peace and war, up and down, etc.) are complementary concepts. He puts his thesis in historical context:
In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long, Holly.
The final closing sequence of the film is just as memorable: Holly leans on a cart and waits on the tree-lined cemetery road for Lime’s former lover Anna as she leaves Harry’s second funeral on foot. Off in the distance, she is walking and approaching toward him, first a dot, then a shadow, and then a full figure – in an extremely long-held stationary shot. As he seeks in vain for any response from her, she stoically ignores him and continues by, passing him without paying any attention – without a pause, a look, a word, or a gesture. Holly follows her with his eyes, but she stares impassively ahead, walking out of his life. He lights a cigarette as the film fades to black.
The primary conflict in his films battle between sexual attraction and the particular state of being of individuals as part of society. An individual has a social position that pulls him in a certain way whereas his sexual attractions might direct him in another. Forbidden Paradise,Cluny Brown,
The Love Parade, Merry Widow and the Student Prince.
In films like Marriage Circle,Lady Windermere’s Fan,So This is Paris,One HourWith You,Angels the character felt their marriages and desires coming in conflict. In Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be political beliefs pull one way,passion another. In Trouble in Paradise the thief finds his vocation coming in the way of desire.
He simply handled the explosive subject of sex in such ironic and clever ways to take all the passion out of it and turn sex as in the matter of intellect. He could in his silent films convey while shooting of two persons in the same room how they felt for one another with the agency of inanimate articles buttons,mirrors, gloves or hats. Whereas in his sexual comedy he made the sound track and the picture work in opposition. In The Love Parade Maurice Chevalier tells a risque anecdote-if the camera stays outside a window and reveals him telling about an incident that we cannot hear we make up in imagination the words he must be saying. In Merry Widow we see Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald at a cafe table and the camera doesn’t stray below the table and is above the table cover and on them. Only MacDonalds,’Stop that’,and ‘Don’t do that’ inform us what is going on beneath the table. What we cannot see is left for us to imagine. In the film Angel Lubitsch conveys the essential yet delicate information that the Grand Duchess’ ‘salon’ is merely an euphemism for brothel. He doesn’t show customers or girls working there but he manages to treat an explosive subject without unduly drawing attention to it. He flouted the silly Hollywood Code whenever necessary. Lubitsch showed that sex was merely one kind of an activity between the extreme views advocated by Hollywood: sex destroys or Sex is nonexistent.