My Gleanings

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Late (1958) Truffaut article on literary adaptation.

This article by François Truffaut for the book Cinéma et roman : éléments d'appréciation /[realised under the direction de Georges-Albert Astre ; with the co-operation of Claude Gautier and Michel Mourlet]. Paris 1958 is an interesting companion to A Certain Tendency of French Cinema.

Literary Adaptation to Cinema

To oppose fidelity to the letter against fidelity to the spirit seems to me to misstate the fundamental problem of adaptation. If, indeed, there is any problem.

No rule is possible; every case is particular. All knocks are permitted, save for the low blow; in other words, betrayal of the letter or of the spirit is tolerable if the filmmaker interests himself in on or the other and if he succeeds in doing
1) the same thing
2) the same thing, but better
3) something else, but better.
Not admissible are dulling down, shrinking down or sweetening down.

The most celebrated French adaptors are Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost whose every cinematic work ends in commercial success; their crime is simply one of transforming the adapted novels into theatrical pieces by the skillful ploy of "equivalent" situations, of the tightening of dramatic structure, and of excessive simplification. I am astounded that no theatrical producer has foreseen that he could make a fortune by confiding to Aurenche and Bost the adaptation of any spectacle mounted on stage, foreign plays or French, classical or modern, whatever, expressible by dialogue alone.

Film is something else: mise en scene.The only valid adaptation is adaptation of metteur en scene, that is to say based on the reconversion of literary ideas into terms of mise en scene.

The situation is somewhat different in America, for example, where the screenwriters, the adaptors and the dialogue writers are not failed novelists, but intellectuals at the service of the spectacle, that is to say, most adept at the exercise of the mind which allows them to think in images, visually.

Adapting East of Eden, Aurenche and Bost would have written 18 scenes while the film is comprised of six or seven very long scenes. They would have lost a quarter of the film introducing the characters, while Kazan establishes them for us in the middle of the action. they never would have given James Dean the opportunity to dance amid the nascent beans because it is a scene a) silent and b) useless.

Aurenche and Bost's worst adaptation is Le Diable au corps.At the beginning of the novel, Radiguet relates the memory which, on the eve of the war, struck him most deeply. The death of a madwoman who was on the roof of a house, her fall through a glass porch roof amidst a mob of the curious when firefighters attempted to seize her. "If I stress an incident such as this, it is that more than anything else, it explains that strange period of the war and how more than the picturesque, the poetry of things strikes me."
In their adaptation, Aurenche and Bost, forever make a sacrifice of the poetic for the picturesque; carving up the chronological recounting of Radiguet, they saddle us, between several flashbacks, with a grotesque burial, that of Martha, which, by a vicious revision, they have coincide with the celebrated November 11 armistice. Thus, the novel experiences a sham improvement, embroidery as scandalous as the truncated biographies in Paris-Match, for example, where, in order to "make well", the rewriteman employs himself in having the death of one genius coincide with the birth of another who twenty years to the day later will have a complimentary revelation to that which oriented the career of the first, while walking down a lane bordered by chestnut trees,exactly where Victor Hugo for the first time had had the idea for La Légende des Siècles at the precise moment when the dying great-grandmother of Minou Drouet saw the ghost of Socrates on the wall of her bedroom telling her: in life there is music.
In Radiguet's novel, François having become Martha's lover, cheats on her with one of his friends, a Swedish woman, whom he invites to lunch without telling her that Martha is out. Their follows on the part of François an act of date-rape and Radiguet ends, "I sensed how culpable my conduct was by moral standards. For, doubtless, the circumstances had made Svea seem so sterling. Other than in Martha's bedroom, would I have desired her so?"
Aurenche and Bost by eliminating this episode in their adaptation diminish the character of François by softening him; such that the woman in the audience identify with Martha, they would feel a certain humiliation watching this scene which their sympathy for François/Gérard Philipe will not withstand. From a certain point of view, their own, Aurenche and Bost were right: this scene, in the film that they wrote and that Claude Autant-Lara directed with great effect will film, will not "do". But why won't it do? Because their process is to transform a novel of morality, or to put it more exactly, the novel of a moralist into boulevard theater.
The novel is written in the first person, with the hindsight of a few years. "I am going to earn many reproaches, but what of it? Is it my fault that I was twelve years old when the war broke out?" It is this hindsight, this distance, which allows Radiguet to pass moral judgement on immoral deeds. By eliminating the "I" of the narrator, Aurenche and Bost, "objectify" the narration and rather than adapt a novel titled Le Diable au corps, they bring to the screen a recap of anecdotes and other minor events included in the novel. Radiguet and François are one. Aurenche and Bost coldly kill Radiguet off. substituting for him and, pulling with their own large hands the strings of, a puppet named François held upright. Le Diable au corps becomes some kind of tale of this adventure told by adults, which it might have been had it been written by the parents of François, the mother of Martha, the concierge or the nosy neighbors -- the listeners.

In reading Balzac or Stendhal, we become deeply moved by the unforeseen and unforeseeable behavior of such-and-such character who suddenly becomes sublime, rising to a grandness of soul which makes him seem superior to the narrator to the point that we forget that he was invented by Balzac or Stehdhal. There is no chance of this happening to us watching the films of Aurenche and Bost who can create in the best of cases Bouvard and Péchucet (La Traversée de Paris) but definitely never either Madame de Mortsauf or La Sanseverina.

In conclusion, the problem of adaptation is a false problem. No recipe or magic formula, only the success of the film counts which is tied exclusively to the personality of the director. Had Jean Seberg not been so admirably directed by Otto Preminger in Bonjour Tristesse, had the same script been filmed without changing a comma, with the same camera set-ups, by Jean Delannoy, with Annie Girardot or Annie Doat, it would have been correct to write that the adaptation was poor.

Thus, there are neither good nor bad adaptations - more there are neither good nor bad films. There are only auteurs of films and their politique which is necessarily irreproachable.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pierre-William Glenn

Much is made of Bertrand Tavernier's enlistment of Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost as collaborators on his first film The Clockmaker of St. Paul. Commentators attempt to make this a deliberate act of rebellion on Tavernier's part against the "New Wave" directed at François Truffaut. One important detail though which does not come in for notice is Tavernier's choice of cinematographer for that film. He recruited Pierre-William Glenn a young cinematographer who was beginning to attract attention for his skilled use of Hand-held cameras to fill that position. That cameraman was François Truffaut's back-up cinematographer in the 1970s - when Nestor Almendros was not available Truffaut went with Glenn. Before working with Tavernier, Glenn had worked with Truffaut on Une belle fille comme moi (1972) and La Nuit américaine (Day for Night) (1973).

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Christian-Jaque, Jean Devaivre, René Wheeler thumbnails

These are three more of the thumbnail critiques form the May 1957 "Situation of French Cinema" special issue of Cahiers du Cinema.


Were talent measured by productivity, he would be king; by the length of tracking shots, he would be emperor; by receipts, he would be the Pope. Unfortunately, his ambitions are more short-term. His best films (L'Enfer des anges, Les Disparus de Saint-Agil, L'Assassinat du Père Noël) today seem forced. Martine Carol deserves better than Lucrèce Borgia, Nana, and Madame DuBarry. Fanfan la Tulipe is competent, but somewhat warped and dry on a second viewing. Trying his hand at "generosity", he tripped over Si tous les gars du monde. From a commercial point of view, his success can not be questioned and his films open foreign markets to French productions. With his wife Martine, he made a triumphant tour of the world, an excellent pair of ambassadors for French cinema.It needs such. But it also needs to be rigorous with this likable and intelligent man who, for the moment, leaves cinema with only two or three morsels of anthology (the tracking shot of the song of the "p'tit cordonnier" and the horse in the mist in Sortilèges, the battle scenes from D'homme à hommes). He has defined "director", thusly, "A one-man band who while playing all his instruments must avoid cacophony." Has he avoided that in any one of his films?

Jean Devaivre
In light of the contretemps Bertrand Tavernier-Cahiers du Cinema that surrounded that release of Tavernier's Laissez-passer in 2002 which told the story of the war-time exploits of this director and also screenwriter Jean Aurenche, it is interesting to see what was written in Cahiers in 1957 about Devaivre. This thumbnail is reputed to have been written by Claude Chabrol. Devaivre directed two films in the Caroline, cherie series.

One-time editor who began his career with the second Le Roi des reaquilleurs, he possesses a remarkable sense of rhythm and his La Dame d'onze heure can be considered excellent. He was ambitious with La ferme des sept péchés, a commercial failure but a highly respectable film. Then, he specialized in uninteresting carolinades. He is returning after a long silence to the detective story.

René Wheeler
This writer-director was also a character in Tavernier's Laissez-passer. He was old friend whom Jean Aurenche sees reduced to selling shoelaces on the curb and whom Aurenche presses into service as a co-writer.

Inconsistent screenwriter, inconsistent director. Premières armes lacks neither courage nor originality, but nevertheless it is an unsteady, irritating, conventional film. But Châteaux en Espagne is a beautiful, unsung work. Everything there is unique, the realism, the dark poetry, the respect for language, the contentiousness of the play of the actors. This is "la minute de verité", it is also one of those rare films romanesque. . . and modern. Uneasy temperament, knowing full well where facility begins and ends, and gifted only for difficult and thankless works, Wheeler would need a complete freedom to be an "auteur of films": our Zinnemann.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sacha Guitry and the" young turks"

Axel Madsen on page 132 of his William Wyler: the authorized biography describes A Certain Tendency of French Cinema as
". . .an attack on a segment of French Cinema dominated (in Truffaut's view) by a tradition of verbal tyranny. The target was the well-upholstered, literary, well-acted, carefully motivated films usually scripted by the Prévert brothers, Jacques and Pierre, Michel Audiard, Pierre Bost, Jean Aurenche, and the more illustrious Sacha Guitry. In France, the connection between the cinema and the intelligentsia had always been close. (Jean Cocteau, André Malraux, Marcel Pagnol) Against this "Tradition of Quality", Truffaut listed Jean Renoir, Max Ophuls, Robert Bresson, Jacques Becker, and Jacques Tati as authentic auteurs."
This is so typical of what is written about that period in French film criticism. It is incredible how many mis-statements one can pack into so few words. But let me try to correct a few of them.

Truffaut in that article identifies "the core of the Tradition of Quality" as residing in the work of "Jean Aurenche et Pierre Bost, Jacques Sigurd, Henri Jeanson (recent work), Robert Scipion, Roland Laudenbach, etc..." No Michel Audiard, no frère Prévert, no Sacha Guitry. Not only are not not listed but toward Jacques and Pierre Prévert and of Sacha Guitry, so-called "young turks" seemed to have cast a respectful glance.

The December issues of Cahiers in that era were generally "special issues" and in 1965 the December issue was dedicated to Marcel Pagnol and Sacha Guitry.
The introduction to the spread honoring both film/theater legends reads
"To pay homage to Sacha Guitry and Marcel Pagnol, as two genuine filmmakers, and nothing less, does not go without paradox and challenge. The paradox applies obviously since both men are men of the theater before, pre-eminently, before being filmmakers. And more so, since they consider cinema as an intermediary, an intermediary at the service of the global art of drama. Thus, they are filmmakers a little bit in spite of themselves. What is admirable is that while taking cinema as nothing more than a medium, at a time when everyone had eyes only for the image and looked for the specificity of cinema only in the plastic, they served it as much through their films which begin precisely where theater ends. The exemplary is that passing beyond rules, conventions and techniques, they have invented a new language (and there lies the challenge) where the New Wave, as much as they do in the Americans, Renoir and Cocteau, should find its reason to be." (page 22-23 my translation)

Jacques Bontemps writing of Guitry in that issue wrote,
"It does not elude me that the fact of dedicating this special issue to Sacha Guitry and Marcel Pagnol will assume much an aspect of a provocation, or a paradox at the very least. If, with the latter, it is a case of one of the greatest auteurs in French cinema, the case of the first named is more complex. The object of a strong admiration previously at Cahiers, and more recently, but more rapturously, in cinephile circles, Guitry remains somewhat (and there where, next to reason, lucidity dwells) more yet than rejected, unrecognized. Unrecognized due in great part to a work itself literary and, let's agree here, a lot more legitimately,dismissed with the double label of "Parisian wit" and "boulevard theater". (again, it is convenient to ask ourselves on the legitimacy of the pejorative tone which freely coincides with the use of these expressions. But such is not our intention.) Thus, the filmmaker is accused of participating in a wit and a theatrical genre globally despised. He participates exactly a great deal too much in order not to find himself by that quiet elsewhere." (page 103 my translation)
But, in cinema, Guitry had no patrimony. Without doubt, this is why he did it so well. Going completely against the grain, being naively content to film his own plays, he found himself an innovator and he remains one. While others wore themselves out exhausting all the possibilities of a new invention while being, in fact,unheedful of its profound mission, some, among them, Guitry and Pagnol , lost interest in its workings and placed themselves well within the cinematic in order to land on both feet on the bend of a secret road."(page 103 my translation)
Almost ten years earlier, not long before his film Si Paris nous était conté. This film was roundly panned by virtually the whole Paris critical establishment. The February 1956 noted the release of the film in its "released last month in Paris" section in the back of the issue with a short negative note and in that month's conseil des dix, the film earned 8 bullets - from both older Cahiers regulars like Bazin or non-Cahiers critics like Jean de Baroncelli and Henri Agel. Only Jacques Rivette and the producer Pierre Braunberger dissented and both only abstained. That might might have been the end of it except that in the next issue -March 1956- there was published a review of the film written by François Truffaut. that review was introduced with this editor's note,
"No one here is being taken in, but there is to be found one advocate of this film where Paris was forgotten. His name is François Truffaut. To this lone wolf, this outsider, let's give the floor."
(page 52 my translation)
Truffaut wrote,
"But a critic who possesses the qualities - verve, cult of the master, fantasy, imagination and fluency - of Sacha Guitry would be unthinkable."
"Let's be serious, the daily critics to whom I am tied by feelings confraternal can not at the same time reject Astruc for being primarily a technician and Guitry for flouting technique . . . In any History of Cinema worthy of that name, Sacha Guitry would, with no reservations, find a place in the chapter, "Auteurs of Films", his name alongside that of Cocteau and Malraux and then of Bresson, Astruc, Gance, Ophuls and Renoir. French cinema would be diminished if some of these titles which I will conclude by enumerating were expunged.
Ceux de chez nous
Le Nouveau testament
Le Roman d'un tricheur
Faisons un rêve
Ils étaient neuf célibataires
La Poisin
Si Paris nous était conté."
Cahiers du Cinema March 1956 page 53 my translation

continues on "The Prévert brothers and the 'young turks'"

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The Prevert brothers and the 'young turks'

this post is continued from Sacha Guitry and the 'young turks'
Madsen's reference to "films usually scripted by the Prévert brothers, Jacques and Pierre" leaves one with the impression that they were writing partners in all their endeavors. The truth was, of course, that Jacques was the writer and Pierre was a film director. In fact, by the IMDb, they shared the writing credit only three times; twice, in films which Pierre directed and once, Souvenirs perdus, for a sketch in a film that was directed by Christian-Jaque. Jacques also wrote the screenplay for Pierre's film L’Affaire est dans le sac in the early 1930s.
Considering Pierre Prévert, the May 1957 "Situation of French Cinema" issue of Cahiers du Cinema carried this thumbnail critique of him.
"Has played an important role in the career of his brother and thus in the evolution of French cinema. Should also have been the point-man for a new comic cinema, a promise of all his films. The failure of Voyage-surprise marked an ending, although this charming, poetic and awkward film should have been a starting point." (page 62 my translation)
It also should be noted that in 1957, Pierre Prévert had not been active as a director for 10 years and still he was considered at Cahiers as part of the ''situation" of French cinema. Only three of the directors they considered had not been active for more that three years and Pierre was the longest inactive director in the group.

As for Jacques Prévert, well there are these young turk testimonials to him.

From François Truffaut (and in A Certain Tendency of French Cinema),
“Considering the monotony and steadfast baseness of the scripts of today, one finds oneself thinking back to the scripts of Jacques Prevert. He believes in the devil and thus in God. And if most of his characters have been by this lone whim made guilty of all of the sins of creation, space is left always for a couple, a new Adam and Eve, on whom as the film ends, the story is going to recommence.” (my translation)
In 1956, in a review of
Marcel Carné's Le pays d'où je viens which scripted by Marcel Archard and Jacques Emmanuel, Truffaut bemoans the fact that Carné can not again find a screenwriter of Jacques Prévert's calibre, describing Prévert as,
“...a man capable of inventing a story mixing four or five simultaneous incidents with twelve quite active characters who lose each other and find each other again according to a perfect dramatic construction.” (my translation)

Eric Rohmer from Rediscovering America Dec 1955 writing of having seen Quai des brumes when it was first released,
“Marcel Carné’s film unveiled the brilliance of a poetry that I had not known to be within the powers of the seventh art.”

Jean-Luc Godard from a roundtable discussion Hiroshima, notre amour published in Cahiers in July 1959 comparing Quai des brumes and Le Jour se léve to Jean Renoir's La Regle de jeu,
“Both of Carné’s films are very, very important. But nowadays they are a tiny bit less important than Renoir’s film.”

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Two Truffaut Notes

Two interesting notes from Eugene Walz François Truffaut:a guide to references and resources.
speaking about the rumor that Truffaut had appeared in René Clément's film
Le Château de verre in 1950. "Though both Godard and Truffaut visited the set of the film for a half day, only Godard was "recruited at the last minute as an extra", by their friend Pierre Kast who was assisting the director. Godard and Jacques Rivette appear very briefly in the film but not Truffaut." (page 289)
Speaking about The 400 Blows: "Truffaut appears fleetingly in the rotor, the spinning carnival ride. Truffaut got on the ride to reassure the nervous Léaud." (note 1491 page 288)

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cahiers and the Tradtion of Quality May 1957

In the May 1957 "Situation of French Cinema" special issue of Cahiers du Cinema an article featured sixty French directors with a capsule chronology and filmography and a thumbnail critique for each one. These thumbnails were written by Charles Bitsch, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Donoil-Valcroze, Claude de Givray, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Lachenay, Louis Marcorelles and Luc Moullet. The presence of “Robert Lachenay” in this group reveals the participation of François Truffaut.

Yves Allegret

Dédée d'Anvers, Une si jolie petite plage, Manèges and Les Orgueilleux form a coherent whole with a progression towards a mastery of style and a world-vision, questionable as it be. This noir suite denounces injustice and social hypocrisy, greed, the corrupting power of money, the loneliness of those who do not play the game and the impossibility of love. Praiseworthy concerns, but mingles with an indulgence for the that is shown, No matter, the undertaking was viable, strewn with robust scenes, taken from uncompromising ethnological documents on man who is referred to as civilized but who is in the twentieth century savage. Then came three failures. Even should this remain the state of things, Yves Allégret deserves a paragraph in the history of cinema, but no more than that.

Marcel Carné

Gamboling not without some awkwardness in a private world of the most formal poetry (Les Visiteurs du soir, Juliette ou La clef des songes) but asserting a consistent taste for recreating the atmosphere of an epoque (Drôle de drame, and Les Enfants du paradis which so enchanted the Anglo-Saxon spectators). Carné is quite himself only as a populist. He has frequented all the little bistros of the Republic, of the faubourg Saint Martin or of Boulogne-Billancourt, the dance halls and the furnished townhouses. His Parisien films have the “back-to-work” sourness of the day after a holiday when it is necessary to return to work. He remains quite strictly tied to a social period -- the Popular Front. Carné lived his golden age at the core of one of the most perfect teams of French cinema -- Prevert, Trauner, Jaubert and Gabin. friends quarrel intensely and do good work together. Today Carné must defend by himself a prestigious reputation, but he is still the good artisan whom we knew before 1939. Mad lover of impeccable work, tending towards a formalism a little too dried out that he perhaps inherited from his master, Jacques Feyder.

Claude Autant-Lara

For many producers, he is the surest of the prominent directors. this blessing constrains him to subjects less demanding and less personal than he might want (but he pressed Marguerite de la nuit, one of his poorer films), Censorship has also played him some dirty tricks. For these two reasons, the ensemble of his work, careful, intelligent, and skillful does not avoid a certain classicism which poorly fits this auteur - passionate, mettlesome, explosive, quarrelsome and “committed”, but also aesthetic and sentimental. For this reason, one must wonder if, with the march of time, Diable au corps and Le Blé en herbe will still scandalize the right-thinking. Our wager: these films will pass for romantic - which perhaps they are - which certainly Le rouge et le Noir is, despite that the accent is placed there on social rather than psychological drama. By contrast, La Traversée de Paris, represents in his body of work, the ideal convergence of the ambitions of the auteur and public success. If the fashion of judging the world there is more out of the 1930s - an epoque where the judgment of an Autant-Lara or an Aurenche is set - than of 1957, if thus this fashion of judgment was then more revealing than today, it is less that Autant-Lara has preserved the spirit of his youth for which he should be reproached than to the time-lags and contradictions of production. He is attracted to stories of adolescent love but his “children who love” remain, in general, rather theoretic. And that is why the bitter and always revolting of Lara is better accommodated by a pitiless analysis of disagreeable characters such as those of La Traversée de Paris.

Carlo Rim
As “Carlo” does rhyme with “bravo”, let us regret not being able to applaud his work. L’ Armoire volante, in taking us to cloud nine, was not a “signed Levitan”. The sketch film La Gourmandise left us dreaming of enchanting tomorrows: one must not feel disenchanted. If René Clair’s fault is not allowing himself to be guided by his instinct, Carlo Rim, by contrast, would gain by more self-analysis and better self-control: the crudities would be prevented from becoming vulgarities, the bawdiness from becoming obscenity, and the jokes from becoming oafish. His comic style makes him a cabaret artist-filmmaker who came too late to mise-en-scene. As with Franju and Roquier, the pre-war climate would have been more propitious to the fostering of his talent. The young cinephiles prefer “Admiral” Carbonnaux to this montmartrois, Carlo Rim.

André Cayatte

After nine average films where only the skillfulness of Le Chanteur inconnu stands the test of time, he made the last of the great Jacques Prevert films Les Amants de Vérone, a work confused and often irritating but more often moving in its tragic and poetic expression of destiny. Would he be the new Carné? No, his reputation and celebrity since, and (including Justice est faite) rests on four “thesis” (whatever that means) films: distinguished, demanding, skillful and often courageous and which, legal pleas rather than works of art, defy esthetic judgment and the “crtitique ofbeautés”. He defends his ideas as one defends one’s clients, speaking to the gallery. Here, a series of techniques and gestures which might have a polemic value but which are not relevant to the art of film. Oeil pour Oeil, shot entirely on location and without any thesis will be awfully revealing. He speaks primarily for himself.

René Clair

A complete film auteur who, form the silent era has brought to French cinema intelligence, finesse, humor, and an intellectualism a bit dry but smiling and in good taste. He was very nearly hobbled by the “talkie” but he quickly understood that his style, inherited from the French “primitives” could easily adapt to this additional frill. Quatorze Juillet marks a high point. What follows appears more labored, but “quality” remains. His four post-war films demonstrate an evolution but betray a certain difficulty in finding subjects and end with Les Grandes manoeuvres, a finely chiseled and melancholy work. Porte des Lilas is announced as a more unusual film with finer turns. In whatever manner that his career continues, he has created a cinematographic universe which is his own, a universe rigorous and not shorn of fantasy, thanks to which he remains one of the greatest film-makers.

René Clément

To call him the greatest French director would be a gratuitous compliment, if one did not imply that Renoir or Bresson are greater because they are more auteurs. All the more so as he as proven in Monsieur Ripois that his talent could flourish without the help of Aurenche and Bost and as he is now, with Irvin Shaw, the author of the adaptation of Un barrage contre la Pacifique whose mastery and quality we can logically presume. More than everything else, beyond their scenarists, all Clément’s films - including his only failure Le Château de verre- manifest a continuous philosophy which is well the doing of their director. His characters are all prisoners of historical or geographical conditions or, more simply of themselves and it is their desperate battle to break through the bars and vanquish their solitude. Battles, doomed to failure or derision, which he paints for us with a meticulous and lucid realism which broaches at once both cruelty and lyricism. He is more than the obstinate architect of proud buildings constructed in tailored stone, more than a majestic director of actors, more than the master of a rigorous style, he is also -- in the proportion that one can measure living artists -- the “film genius”.

Henri-Georges Clouzot

At the age of seven, he wrote a play whose protagonist rid himself of his wife by putting nails in her soup. The story of his life reveals him to be stubborn, clear-sighted, concerned to express the “hard face” of existence. This is a “film auteur”. “I do not believe,” he says, “in a director who is not his own writer.“ He loves his metier. “I am most of all physical, but my greatest pleasure in directing a film, is the shooting, the editing.” He depicts situation with no concern for the judgments of society, but he puts himself in danger of taking the bite from his films by targeting too great a number of spectators. “I work for the Gaumont-Palace,” he proclaims. But we know so well that his concerns, his obsessions -- perversion, true cruelty -- are not compatible with the wants of the great public. Thus, how Clouzot is careful of self-censorship. Furthermore, he knows where he is going and why, in his gallery of monsters, he puts great emphasis on the revolting, the sadistic, the subversive, the executioner. By subtraction, he little-by-little reveals, with the sharpness of a photographic negative, the dazzling image of pure innocence and of selfless friendship.

Jean Delannoy

More than festival awards, his films have most often known success with the public, and, as much evidence confirms it, have “touched” the spectators. A paradoxical situation, since, what critics in general have mostly reproached him -- who has given us this definition “cinema is a movement of the heart” -- for the coldness of his narration and the dryness of his direction, despite a sureness of technique and a copiousness of craft. Academicism, a superficial exploitation of great literary or social problems, say the most severe. Is this only a pre-judgment? Well a critic as perceptive and little inclined to vehemence as Pierre Lephoron came to this conclusion which we will make our own: “One would have to believe that the director of Marie-Antoinette reine de France tends toward an art that he is incapable of attaining, that his ambitions, as noble as they are, lead him and his finished work astray.”

Julien Duvivier

Some tell you that today’s Duvivier is not worthy of yesterday’s Duvivier and rate L’Affaire Maurizius by wailing for Pépé le Moko. One could respond by burning Un carnet de bal in the name of Sous le ciel de Paris. In fact, Duvivier’s career is like a temperature chart with spiked highs and vertiginous slumps that, when led back to a happy medium witnesses an enviable warmth. If it it is rare that his films make rapt, it is rarer that his films make bored. His taste for a certain style of the baroque, culminating with La Fête à Henriette make him the champion of the unexpected, often guileful, sometimes aggravating. Constructed in stucco rather than cut in marble, his structures are not those that last but perishables are not the lest of foodstuffs.

Jean Grémillon

Since 1953, Jean Grémillon has not directed a feature film. However, Remorques, Lumière d'été and Le 6 juin à l'aube suffice to assure him renown. But, from one who, after the Liberation was considered the most complete French director: better still, it was hoped, above all, that his culture and his moderation would undoubtedly permit him to fill the delicate role of giving our screen that social conscience that it still lacks. But the imperatives of production decided otherwise and Grémillon’s character did the rest. These half-solutions didn’t suit him which his last three films illustrate, yet though that L’Amour d'une femme deserved a better reception.

Henri Decoin

A little out-of-fashion with his silk scarf in his open-collar shirt. But what of it! Directors who are indulged by history shoot what they want, when they want, where they want. And since long ago, Henri Decoin is one among them. He shoots anything, anywhere, with anyone, but not anyway, however. Decoin spurs integrity to all way to reflection on the subjects offered to him. Light-hearted, some twenty years ago, when his heart beat for Danielle Darrieux, his name now weighs heavily in the arguments of producers. For Henri knows, without panache, to adapt himself to all genres, all styles. Why reproach him for this facility? it permits him to be the darling child of the distributors. What says it better?

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thumnbails May '57 Cahiers du Cinema

These three thumbnail critiques are translated from the May 1957 "Situation of French Cinema" issue of Cahiers du Cinema.

Pierre Prévert:
Jacques Prévert's younger brother, a director who sometimes collaborated with his older brother. Most of the directors considered by Cahiers in that 1957 issue had been active in since 1954. Pierre Prévert had not directed a feature film since 1947 and was the longest inactive director for Cahiers to consider.

"Has played an important role in the career of his brother and thus in the evolution of French cinema. Should also have been the point-man for a new comic cinema, a promise of all his films. The failure of Voyage-surprise marked an ending, although this charming, poetic and awkward film should have been a starting point." page 62

Alex Joffé
Alex Joffé was a successful French director of the 1950s whose advice François Truffaut sought out early in his career. Joffé appears early in "Shoot the Piano Player" as the passer-by who helps Chico (Albert Rémy) up when he runs into the pole. It is sometimes said that Truffaut especially wanted Joffé to play the part because Joffé physically resembled Jean Renoir.

"Joffé is at once a poet and a realist. His work is based principally on two theories, change of scenery (a Paris bus in the middle of the boondocks, a villager alone in Paris) and the case of conscience in professional wrongdoing (Lettre ouverte and Les Assassins du dimanche). His subjects brush up against melodrama but are farces. The greatest reproach which one can make of him is of being poorly aware of the art of ellipse so dear to Lubitsch. But in the final account Joffé is a Max Sennett as seen by Labiche." page 58

Marcel L'Herbier:
Marcel L'Herbier is one of France's legendary avant-garde directors of the silent era who did not fare well in the sound era. He is also remembered for his founding of the Film school IDHEC which is now known as FEMIS.

"Dedicated his life to the seventh art. The place which he holds today owes more, undoubtedly, to his many activities on behalf of film than to his bountiful cinematic work which belong to the past. Worried about vulgarizing "the intelligence of film" especially among the young who are precisely those who are ignorant of his work - apart maybe from L'Honorable Catherine -, he has travelled a long itinerary, beginning in the avant-garde (Villa Destin, Don Juan et Faust, L'Inhumaine) which merits better than find termination in Les Derniers jours de Pompei or Le Père de mademoiselle. But he has some projects for television where he does not lose hope of finding again the "innocence of El Dorado"." page 60

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Reception of Jacques Demy's "Lola" at Cahiers du Cinema

Much like Breathless, Jacques Demy's first feature Lola was not reviewed in the Les Films section of Cahiers du Cinema. For the main - Sommaire - section of the March 1961 issue, François Weyergans contributed a seven page article Lola au pays des hommes which considered Demy and his film. Reviews in the Les Films section of Cahiers generally ran two or three pages. Weyergans wrote,

"There is still a lot to say, but also there is nothing left to say. Let's hope that a lot of hogwash does not dog this fragile work. That they do not reproach Jacques Demy for having dedicated his work to Ophuls: in that, he takes part in the modern movement which sees Stravinsky reinvent Pergolese, Picasso Velazquez, and even earlier Mozart "borrow" from Handel. Demy and Cocteau: I find in the diary of the making of Belle notes which suit Lola. "the characters do not live, but live a life retold; a mood which corresponds more to feelings than to facts." "Lola is a film as beautiful, as fictional, as true, as ephemeral, as graceful as the wings of a butterfly."

In the conseil des dix
4 stars -- Henri Agel (Etudes cinématographiques), Jean Domarchi (Cahiers de Cinema), Pierre Marcabru (Arts/Combat) 3 stars -- Michel Aubriant (Paris-Presse), Jean de Baroncelli (Le Monde), Morvan Lebesque (Arts), Jacques Rivette (Cahiers du Cinema), Eric Rohmer (Cahiers du Cinema)
2 stars -- Claude Mauriac (Le Figaro), Georges Sadoul (Les Lettres françaises)

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Godard vs Truffaut resource-wise

Recently, while doing some research. I was struck by the contrast between the François Truffaut volume and the Jean-Luc Godard volume of the G K Hall "Guide to References and Resources". The Francois Truffaut volume in that series was published in 1982. It lists 61 pages of articles about Truffaut and 81 pages of articles by Truffaut. The Jean-Luc Godard volume was published 3 years earlier in 1979. It lists 241 pages of articles about Godard but only 24 pages of articles by Godard.

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Michel Ciment on Jean-Luc Godard in 1993

In the Jan/Feb 63 issue of Film Comment, Patrick McGilligan wrote an article noting the 40th anniversary of Positif. In that article there is this quote from longtime Positif contributor and editor Michel Ciment.

"Godard was better appreciated abroad than in France because we were too close to the sociological aspects of Godard's films, too partisan, too involved. I think Positif attacked Godard [as a filmmaker] because we were blind to his cinematic qualities, and because we were too sensitive to the politics of the man. If you have a certain distance, perhaps, you are more capable of objectivity"

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Eric Rohmer on Jean-Luc Godard

The April 1989 issue of Avant-Scene Cinema featured Jean-Luc Godard's film Passion. Reprinted in that issue was a quote from Eric Rohmer which had originally been printed in Cinematographie in December of 1983. Rohmer was quoted as saying,

"{I continue to like what he does while noting the degree that it does differ from what I myself do. It seems so astonishing to think that we had once been able to work together." (page 95)

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"The Bernanos Letter"

I would like to remind readers here that I have written a long report "The Bernanos Letter" dealing with the controversy surrounding the writing of A Certain Tendancy of French Cinema which I published as a stand-alone blog.
The charge has been made that François Truffaut duped the screenwriter Pierre Bost into lending him the unproduced screenplay for "Diary of a country Priest" and then flamed him with it when he wrote the article
A Certain Tendancy of French Cinema.
I examine that charge taking into account one piece of evidence which never seems to be considered, the letter which Georges Bernanos had written in 1947 explaining his reasons for refusing to allow that screenplay to be produced.
"The Bernanos Letter"

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