Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chabrol's Le Boucher (1970)

I recently caught back up with Claude Chabrol’s 1970 feature Le Boucher (The Butcher), a film often considered among the great directors finest but one that has never been one of my favorites. While I still wouldn’t rank the film among my desert island Chabrol flics, it is still very obviously the work of a master in his prime and I find that my appreciation for it has grown since my first viewing about a decade ago.
Le Boucher is a remarkably stark and cold film that is less a murder mystery and more of a celebration of Chabrol’s unbelievably composed and skilled camerawork. The plot, from a screenplay and story by Chabrol, is a relatively simple one. A teacher named Helene, played by the wonderful Stephane Audran, meets and begins to get involved with a local butcher named Popaul, Jean Yanne in an absolutely chilling performance, in the midst of a series of murders being committed in their small French community.
The identity of the murderer is more than easy to figure out so the film doesn’t really work as a murder mystery, but I don’t think Chabrol was aiming for that. Instead he is more interested in a compelling and rather obsessive character study of two people who have in very distinct ways lost themselves.

As played by the unnerving Audren, there is something wrong with Helene that isn’t immediately apparent. She lives alone in a small flat surrounded by her favorite paintings and little gifts from her children at school. When we first meet her she is composed and laughing but something is damaged in her. Halfway through the film we find that she was hurt in a relationship years before and has placed herself in self contained exile essentially cut off from the world.
Similarly the butcher Popaul has also been damaged, first by a cold and abusive father and then by many years in the war. As inhabited by Yanne, our title character is a haunted and angry soul who is going through life looking in from the outside (something Chabrol shows wonderfully by placing him looking through windows and glass doors throughout the film). One feels that Popaul was once a good man but, unlike Helene, he has given up completely on the world and has slipped too far into his own isolated existence.

Chabrol’s film is possibly one of the loneliest I have ever seen. With the exception of a party sequence at the beginning and the scenes with the children, the film is made up entirely of characters alone in the frame or separated by some sort of invisible barrier. Even when Helene and Popaul do begin to get close there is always a distance between them. One remarkable moment has Popaul attempting to break the barrier by asking what Helene would do if he kissed her. She responds, “Nothing…but I would prefer you didn’t.”
The film’s strongest moments come in the several long, and rather astonishing, long one shots with Audran and Yanne talking together. At times tender but always with a slight sinister edge, these scenes typify everything that makes Chabrol one of the most intelligent and well organized directors on the planet. I was particularly floored this time by an early conversation that takes place in one shot as the two are walking through the town. Centered in the frame, with the town’s rustic and quant state surrounding them, the sequence is a model on how to do a long and meditative take. It also doesn’t hurt that Chabrol has two absolute masters at the art of body language at his disposal, with both Audran and Yanne seemingly able to communicate the most serious of matters without saying a word.

Chabrol was at the top of his game in 1970. He had just wrapped up three of his finest films, Les Biches (1968), This Man Must Die (1969) and La Femme Infidele (1969), and Le Boucher is looked upon by many as one of if not his greatest production. While I prefer both Les Biches and its follow-up, La Rupture (1970) I must say that this recent reviewing finally showed me what all the fuss was about. I focused away from then rather slight mystery and honed into Chabrol’s directorial choices and was continually surprised and at times quite blown away.
Le Boucher is one of the most economical productions Chabrol has ever delivered, and I don’t necessarily mean in cost. His shots are so meticulously chosen and composed that I would find it hard to believe much was left on the cutting room floor. I, of course, could be wrong but there is almost something mathematical feeling about the precision that Chabrol displays here, as if a mistaken close up or wrong move by one of the actors would throw the whole film off. Pauline Kael called it a perfect film in her original 1970 review and I don’t think she was far off.
Along with Audran, Chabrol fans will recognize several names that often pop up in his films. The creepy minimalist score is courtesy of Pierre Jansen and his music is so identifiable with many of Chabrol’s greatest films that I sometimes have trouble imagining them apart. The master director is also joined by his frequent cinematographer Jean Rabier, who gives this film a wonderfully sun drenched but iced over look, and editor Jacques Gaillard. Nearly all of the small cast had worked and would continue to work with the great director after, or not at all.
Le Boucher is still not among my favorite Chabrol films. I find it’s coldness nearly overwhelming and have felt almost relief when it ends each time I have watched it. It is an absolutely brilliant film, but one of the most oppressive Chabrol ever shot. I suspect my admiration will continue to grow for it, although I think it will have to be awhile before I visit with it again.
The film is out her on DVD from Pathfinder as a stand alone disc or as part of their Claude Chabrol Collection. The disc is disappointing with an overly digitized picture and rather drab and jittery transfer. Extras include the trailer and a disappointing commentary track from two screenwriters not connected to the film or period. It plays widescreen on my player but I have read the disc is authored incorrectly and will only play fullscreen on others. I have heard the Region 2 disc offers a superior transfer but I don’t have it, so can’t say for sure.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Marion Cotillard In Psycho

The new issue of Vanity Fair has an absolute gorgeous photo feature of modern day stars recreating classic Alfred Hitchcock scenes. If you can tear your eyes away from Naomi Watts as Marnie (and trust me, it is not an easy thing to do), the real show stopper is Marion Cotillard channeling Janet Leigh in Psycho. The magazine is currently available at newsstands and all of the pictures are quite striking.

Jean-Luc Godard's Top Ten Lists

Anyone who has Godard On Godard will have seen these before but I just noticed they were online so here is a link to the top ten lists Jean-Luc Godard submitted to Cahiers du Cinema throughout the sixties.
I haven't yet been able to locate Godard actually writing on Dishonored, my overlooked classic of the week, but if you scroll down on this link you can see where he named it the 10th greatest American sound film ever made on a list from December of 1963.
I always really enjoy looking at these lists to remind myself of how many great American films there are that rarely get mentioned anymore and how important classic Hollywood was to Godard in the early part of his career. Some of my favorite choices that pop up on some of lists that might prove surprising are Joshua Logan's Bus Stop (1956), Otto Preminger's Saint Joan (1957), Billy Wilder's Irma La Douce (1963), Howard Hawks Man's Favorite Sport (1964, and Robert Mulligan's Love With The Proper Stranger (1964). All wonderful American films that are so often ignored...also the fact that Godard ranks Man's Favorite Sport above Antonioni's Red Desert on the 1964 list always reminds of what a complete bad ass he is...give the lists a look if you haven't seen them. They are fascinating.

This Moves Me

Totally unrelated to film or music, but I wanted to post a link to this article concerning the discovery of a photograph of the one true love Anne Frank wrote of in her diaries. Seeing and reading this really hit me emotionally so I thought I would share for anyone who hadn't seen the news report on it.

My Look At Brando's One Eyed Jacks At Amplifier

My long and revamped look at Marlon Brando's One Eyed Jacks has been published over at Amplifier for anyone who might be interested in giving it a look. Comments over there are always appreciated and it was a real pleasure revisiting Brando's influential and masterful film. My fingers are still crossed for a decent DVD release of it sometime soon, as it is currently still in public domain hell.

Ang Lee's The Ice Storm To Finally Get Some Due

Perhaps a bit of old news for some, but I was thrilled yesterday to find out that Criterion is releasing a 2 DVD set of Ang Lee's The Ice Storm in March.
I first saw Lee's film during its rather brief theatrical showing back in 97 and it immediately became one of my favorite films of that decade. My love for it has only grown in the past ten years and I am really glad that Criterion is putting it back out in such an impressive collection.
It streets on March 18th and includes a commentary from Lee, a documentary featuring the extraordinary cast, deleted scenes, an interview with original novelist Rick Moody and more. The Ice Storm was criminally ignored by a lot of people back in 97 and it has had a spotty release history on home video since, so this is a very welcome release.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shelby Lynne's Just A Little Lovin'

Just wanted to take the opportunity to give a huge recommendation to the new album by Shelby Lynne, which just got a four star review in the newest Mojo. Inspired by the work of Dusty Springfield, and featuring nine songs originally performed by her, Lynne’s Just A Little Lovin’ is a really remarkable recording and one of the most refreshingly subtle and low key I have heard in a long time.
I rarely buy modern music anymore, but I always make an exception for Virginia born Lynne, a performer who in the past decade has proven herself as one of the most original and brave American artists on the scene. This new album continues to push away the over-production that plagued some of her earlier records and, along with Phil Ramone and Al Schmitt, she has crafted one of the most quietly seductive albums I have heard in years. You would have to go to go all the way back to some of Frank Sinatra’s legendary recordings with Antonio Carlos Jobim to find a more resoundingly hushed album.

Kick starting with an aching rendering of “Just A Little Lovin” and closing with a lovely “How Can I Be Sure”, the album is absolutely the ‘minor masterpiece’ that Fred Dellar calls it in the new Mojo. If it lacks the urgency of past work like My Name Is Shelby Lynne, then it at least makes up for it in sheer soulfulness and when she sings Bacharach’s “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and ‘The Look Of Love” it is among the best things this fiery individualist has ever released.
The album, which by the way was recorded at Capitol’s legendary Studio A where Sinatra layed down many of his finest tracks, also includes one Lynne original, the marvelous “Pretend” which captures the soul fused period of the late sixties absolutely perfectly.
I suspect I will only buy a handful of new CD releases this year. I have no doubt Lynne’s newest will remain one of the finest. For more info on Shelby, please visit her official site linked above…and for more reviews of the new album, check Metacritic here. Also, if you have never had a chance to see Lynne live, make sure you do so if you get a chance as she puts on a magnificently rough and tumble show.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Screenshot 101: Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill

Nancy Allen is followed in an empty subway in these shots

from one of my favorite scenes of all time.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Falling In Love Again (This Weeks Poll)

Recently I realized that in the year or so since I started Moon In The Gutter I had failed to write about any film pre 1950 and I must admit, I was a little ashamed. So to rectify that, later this week I will be focusing on one of my favorite classic Hollywood films starring Marlene Dietrich and directed by Josef Von Sternberg. Even though no less than Jean-Luc Godard called Dishonored (1931) one of the ten greatest films ever made, it has since fallen out of favor and is currently not available in the United States. I will be writing on the film this week and I invite everyone to participate in my poll based on the amazing collaboration between Marlene and Josef that is posted just to the right.
I realize this poll marks a change from Moon In The Gutter's regular time frame so I realize it might get fewer votes. However with Harry Moseby Confidential opened I hope to be focusing more and more here on pre 1970 films, so I hope all will cast a vote and continue to show some much appreciated support. Thanks and I hope the poll proves as interesting as my past ones.

Why I Don't Go To The Track Or Play The Lottery

Okay, so I know my Oscar predictions absolutely blew, but hey how awesome was it to see Tilda Swinton win for Michael Clayton? Made my night and it made the rest of what seemed to be a very short broadcast all the sweeter. So congrats to Tilda, the masterminds behind Once, Diablo and every other independent minded person who won tonight...well done.

Mickey Rourke Poll Results

I am happy to report that this weeks Mickey Rourke poll turned out to be the most popular one I have hosted. Special thanks to LaShane who provided a link to it at her fabulous Mickey Rourke Walls and to my fellow Mickey fans who stopped by. So, to quote the man himself in Barfly, “Here’s to all my friends!”

Here are the results and thanks again to everyone who took the time to cast a vote…I want to also add that I am stunned SPUN got so many votes but I think it is great that some of his more recent films ranked so highly. This also reminds me that JOHNNY HANDSOME, HOMEBOY and EUREKA all need to be more readily available for people to enjoy…

2. SIN CITY (44)
4. BARFLY (37)
5. DINER (36)
8. SPUN (25)
10. HOMEBOY (14)
12. NINE ½ WEEKS (13)
15. DOMINO (10)
18. EUREKA (6)

I will be starting a new poll later today…thanks again for all the votes and support.

Overlooked Classics: The Pope Of Greenwich Village (1984)

"It's a perfect film."
-Johnny Depp-

"There's a whole bunch of guys who are movie stars today that can't hold Eric's Goddamn jock-strap, you know, but for other reason's Eric's doing other stuff. So what makes that? We're talking about politics, we're talking about luck, we're talking about a whole bunch of bullshit that has nothing to do with acting...whatever happened to him where he's on the bench these days is a Goddamn shame cause a lot of these guys running around now making twenty million dollars a movie can't do shit next to him."
-Mickey Rourke a few years back discussing co-star Eric Roberts and I think, in a very profound way, himself.-

"He hunched his shoulders higher, thrust his hands deep into his overcoat pockets, and leaned further into the wind."
-The last lines in Vincent Patrick's novel, The Pope Of Greenwich Village-

Charlie always just misses. He’s charismatic, likeable and smart but just past his thirtieth year things still aren’t working out for him. He’s just lost another job thanks to his inept thieving cousin Paulie whom he can’t cut loose from, his girlfriend is pregnant and his ex-wife is draining the life out of him with alimony and unpaid parking bills. All he wants to do is move upstate and buy his own place, but he belongs to New York City and he just can’t seem to ever get over.

I was fifteen the first time I saw Stuart Rosenberg’s 1984 feature The Pope Of Greenwich Village starring Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts and Daryl Hannah. I have always suspected that it meant the same thing to me in the eighties that films like Midnight Cowboy might have meant to someone in the sixties or Mean Streets in the seventies. There was something about it that spiritually hit me hard and I must admit that twenty years later in my life, Rosenberg’s film has lost none of its power for me. Nearing a quarter of a century mark since its debut in the Summer of 1984, The Pope Of Greenwich Village continues to remain on the real buried treasures of modern American cinema to those who haven’t seen it, and a real special one to people like me who are still in love with it.

The film got its start as a really excellent novel by Family Business author Vincent Patrick. With its sharp characterizations, witty and real sounding dialogue, Patrick’s book still reads like a breath of much needed fresh air. Patrick’s novel earned a solid cult audience when it was first released in 1979 and he was quickly commissioned by MGM to crack out a screenplay, his first, which he did in the early part of the eighties.
With a solid script in hand, the studio set out on finding a director who could match the writer’s tough but sweetly nostalgic lament for two guys in the village who always seem to be on the losing end of life. The studio decided that the film could be something special and they hired on a person who was in 1983 probably the most controversial director in America, Michael Cimino.
The talented Cimino had stunned audiences with his multiple Academy Award winning The Deer Hunter in 1978 but had fallen out of grace big time with the disastrously received (but still masterful) Heaven’s Gate in 1980. The Pope Of Greenwich Village was to mark Cimino’s return to the director’s chair and in 1983 he began directing the smaller scaled film for MGM. Fairly quickly though things began to feel wrong and it became apparent that Michael Cimino’s epic vision wasn’t the best choice for Patrick’s more intimate script and he was fired from the production. Cimino, Rourke and MGM would continue their partnership though on the epic crime thriller Year Of The Dragon, which would go into production right after The Pope Of Greenwich Village wrapped.

After Cimino’s dismissal, MGM decided to bring in a seemingly unlikely veteran director who was known for bringing in productions under budget and on time for them and things for the troubled film magically began to work out for them.
Born in 1927, Emmy award winning director Stuart Rosenberg got his start like a lot of his peers in television productions of the fifties. He thrived in little screen crime dramas like The Untouchables and Naked City and finally got a shot to direct his first big screen production, none other than the Oscar winning Paul Newman film, Cool Hand Luke in 1967. Rosenberg was ignored unjustly by the Academy for his solid and inventive direction of Cool Hand Luke but he was honored with a well-deserved Director’s Guild Award, which marked him as a favorite among his peers. He would follow up Cool Hand Luke with the delightful The April Fools in 1967 and would continue to work steady throughout the seventies on films like The Laughing Policeman (1973) and The Amityville Horror (1979). The Pope Of Greenwich Village would mark itself as the last noteworthy project of Rosenberg’s career. He would spend the majority of the rest of his life teaching film to young students, including Requiem For A Dream auteur Darren Aronofsky, and he passed away in March of 2007.

Most of the cast and crew of The Pope Of Greenwich Village were already firmly in place when Rosenberg came on board. Prolific John Bailey, who had done such memorable work with Paul Schrader on American Gigolo (1980) and Cat People (1982), was on board as cinematographer and popular composer Dave Grusin had already started on his score. Rosenberg did bring on his Amityville Horror editor Robert Brown to work with him though and the production kicked back into gear in the late part of 83.
The cast assembled for Rosenberg in front of the camera was simply inspiring. Everywhere you look in The Pope Of Greenwich Village you will spot a familiar face of a much loved character actor. Everyone from Val Avery to Burt Young to M. Emmet Walsh to Tony Musante to a scene stealing Geraldine Page show up. The film is like a Valentine’s Day card to some of the best character actors in the business. For the starring roles the studio had brought together three of the most talented and striking looking actors of their generation for Rosenberg and they all deliver near career best performances in the film.

Athletic and magnetic Daryl Hannah was on quite a role in the mid eighties with films like Blade Runner (1982), Summer Lovers (1982) and Splash (1984) already on her resume and she is really splendid as the love interest in The Pope Of Greenwich Village. The part is actually one of the most under-written in Patrick’s script but Hannah manages to inject a lot of heart and emotion into it and makes the most out of her handful of scenes.

As the loveable fuck up Paulie, young Eric Roberts provides another bit of proof that he was one of the great actors to come out of the eighties. One year past his monstrous and legendary turn as the crazed Paul Snider in Bob Fosse’s Star 80 (1983) and just a year or so from garnering an Oscar nomination for Runaway Train (1985), Roberts is at his absolute peak in The Pope Of Greenwich Village. As Paulie he is electric, funny, frustrating and finally downright touching. Along with the two films I just mentioned, The Pope Of Greenwich Village contains the best work that the talented but troubled Roberts ever gave.
The absolute key to the film though was the casting of the struggling Charlie. Even though he is actually billed second in the film, Mickey Rourke is the clear star and lead of the production and in my idea of a perfect world he would have been sainted for his work in it.
Twenty eight year old Mickey Rourke was on absolute fire in 1984. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t had a major hit yet or wasn’t even a household name, nearly every critic and fan was laying down odds that this guy was the rightful heir to Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Searing, intense and beautiful, Rourke had just floored many people with his triple shot of Body Heat (1981), Diner (1982) and Rumble Fish (1983) and it looked like he was getting ready to absolutely explode. Watching him today in The Pope Of Greenwich Village, I still feel the same way I do when I see Brando in On The Waterfront or Pacino in Serpico. It is that performance that comes in every great actors career, when everything falls into place and there is something nearly sacred in their work. I’ll take Mickey’s relatively un-acclaimed work as Charlie in The Pope Of Greenwich Village over almost any Oscar winning work you care to name…he was my guy back in the mid eighties and he is still my guy today.
With a terrific crew and beyond noteworthy cast in place, Rosenberg picked up where Cimino had left off (what exactly Cimino filmed remains a point of contention) and delivered a film that MGM was excited about in the early part of 1984. Shot on location in New York and featuring some truly magnificent production design by Paul Sylbert, The Pope Of Greenwich Village expertly tells the tale of two cousins living in The Village in the early part of the eighties who think they have come across a score that is going to finally get them over in their lives. Problem is the place they rip off happens to be owned by infamous Mob boss Bed Bug Eddie, a guy known as ‘The Pope Of Greenwich Village’ whose hobby is shipping parts of people who rip him off to their family members.
The big complaint I have read over the years about The Pope Of Greenwich Village is that it is essentially Mean Streets Lite. I have never bought into that though as while the two do concern some of the same plot points, thematically they are totally different beasts. While it is true that The Pope Of Greenwich Village doesn’t contain the rough and cynical edge of Mean Streets, it is also true that Scorsese’s film doesn’t contain the wit and heart of Rosenberg’s film. I don’t see any point in comparing the two, but it still happens to this day.

It is that heart that becomes the biggest asset to The Pope Of Greenwich Village. You really care about these two guys and want them to succeed. The film works best in the scenes between Rourke and Roberts, as they feel so unbelievable honest and natural. When I watch these two guys together, I can’t imagine they are reciting learned dialogue or are surrounded by a film crew. There is such an organic quality about this film and the relationship between Charlie and Paulie, I can actually still picture them in the city shuffling around arm and arm joking and planning out another dream that will probably no doubt not come true for them.

Honestly everything about the film works for me, even the side plot of the cop on the take and his mother that once seemed to slow the film down now seems poignant and necessary. With Grusin’s French Horn driven score (Damn it has this soundtrack ever been released anywhere?) and Rosenberg’s lovely rendering of a New York that is disappearing, The Pope Of Greenwich Village is one of the most alive and heartfelt American films of the eighties. I still can’t hear Sinatra’s majestic Summer Wind or see a photograph of The World Trade Center without thinking of this film and getting more than a little choked up because of it.
The film was released with quite a bit of hype in that summer of 84 and under-performed everywhere. Not even making its budget back, it disappeared from American movie houses before the summer was even over. It did okay in Europe and finally became a small hit on Home Video in the eighties and nineties. Everyone was ignored for his or her work in the film save Geraldine Page who snagged an Oscar nomination for her brief but memorable appearance.

For most film fans, I guess The Pope Of Greenwich Village remains just a little film form the eighties that is mostly forgotten. For some of us though who came of age with it, The Pope Of Greenwich Village remains one of the definitive and classic films of our lives. I have seen a lot of films that are greater than Stuart Rosenberg’s The Pope Of Greenwich Village, but there are few that have meant more to me. Whenever I feel like life is beating me down, I close my eyes and think about the moment when Mickey Rouke announces to Bed Bug Eddie, “I’m the Pope Of Greenwich Village now” and then, just like Mickey, I smile and I realize everything will be all right.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oscar Picks

Despite the fact that 2007 was one of the best years for American film in quite a while, I am oddly unexcited about the Oscars this year. I will of course watch them and will hopefully enjoy them, but I just can’t get into it right now for some reason.
Anyway, for whatever it’s worth…here are my predictions for who will win in some of the major categories and who I wish would take home the prizes. Enjoy and laugh at me Monday on the ones I miss…and yes, MICHAEL CLAYTON was far and away my favorite film of 2007 but I think it only has a real shot at one award, for its screenplay.






Will Win: RUBY DEE





Friday, February 22, 2008

Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue To Finally Get Reissued

I am absolutely thrilled to see that one of the greatest albums of the seventies is finally getting reissued as a special double disc edition. Dennis Wilson's majestic, quite stunning and long out of print Pacific Ocean Blue album will be re-released by Sony Legacy editions in May and will include the original album remastered plus a bonus disc featuring songs from his never released follow-up album, Bamboo.
For more information on this long awaited release please visit this link. For anyone who has never heard this album, or hasn't heard it in awhile, I can't recommend an upcoming release higher.

Recently at Harry Moseby Confidential

I am continuing to add exclusive material to Harry Moseby Confidential on an almost daily basis. For those interested, this past week I posted a long article about Lamont Johnson's Lipstick and also a photo tribute to its star, Margaux Hemingway. I also posted a tribute to talented character actor Dave Groh who passed away last week.
Thanks to all who have been visiting and commenting at Moseby Confidential.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Screenshots 101: Mickey Rourke In Diner

When asked if he prefers Sinatra or Mathis, Mickey Rourke responds "Presley" in Barry Levinson's Diner (1982).

Luc Besson's Angel-A

I really wanted to love Luc Besson’s Angel-A. So much so that my disappointment in it stung harder than any other film I can think of recently that let me down. Perhaps my expectations weren’t fair as I must admit that I wanted so much to fall in love with this film in the way I did with Besson’s past works like Subway and Leon…unfortunately that just isn’t the case here for me.

Angel-A is actually a few years old at this point but the American DVD is fairly recent. Released in France right before Christmas in 2005, the film marked the first time Besson had filled a director’s chair since 1999’s highly undervalued The Messenger.
Angel-A is a weird and stylish mix of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, Patrice Leconte’s The Girl On The Bridge and Leos Carax’s Lovers On The Bridge in a slim ninety minute package that contains little of what made those three films so special.

Starring two of modern cinema’s most distinct faces, Jamel Debbouze and Rie Rasmussen and photographed quite well in black and white by award winning Thierry Arbogast, Angel-A feels strangely lethargic and is far removed from the stylistic hyperkinetic triumphs of Besson’s early career. Angel-A feels like the work of a tired man, which it very well may have been as Besson’s role as a producer has been astonishingly prolific in the past decade.
Not only feeling like the work of an exhausted artist, and I do believe Besson is an artist and one of modern cinema’s great stylists, it also has the unfortunate feel of someone not fully engaged with his own material. Certainly the borrowing of scenes and elements from three very distinctive films doesn’t help, but Angel-A just feels under-developed. There are a lot of great ideas here but once you get past how great looking the film is, there just isn’t much left.

Angel-A concerns an ex-con named Andre (played well by the extraordinary Debbouze) who is on the run in Paris as he is in debt to several well known and vicious loan-sharks. While trying to kill himself by jumping off the bridge he is surprised to find a tall and beautiful young woman (Rasmussen) doing the same. After jumping in to save her, she promises to help him in whatever way she can and it soon becomes apparent that the woman hadn’t just fallen from the bridge but literally the sky.
Besson’s film is extremely silly but doesn’t have a lot of humor to it. Wim Wender’s Wings Of Desire and Faraway So Close handled the idea of a guardian angel with so much care and style that it is unfortunate that Besson’s script is so tired and clichéd. The film only works in fits and spells with finally little pay off, with the last scene being one of the most predictable and tired the once exciting Besson has ever delivered.
I really don’t mean to be too hard on Angel-A. As I said there is much to admire. The two lead actors are really fine in their parts and in a couple of scenes, specifically a scene in front of a bathroom mirror, their relationship becomes quite moving.

Debbouze, who was so good in Jeunet’s Amelie just a few years before this, has one of the most incredible faces in all of modern cinema and he gives a really nice performance here. Rasmussen, whom I hadn’t seen since her striking turn in DePalma’s Femme Fatale, is even better and she seems to be really relishing the role. A talented and extremely charismatic actor, Rasmussen is currently working on her feature length directorial debut and has also just published a book of her artwork…I see great things for her and she is the best part of Angel-A.

I would finally give Angel-A a slight recommendation if just for its look and leads in the film. It is definitely one of the most disappointing films Besson has ever directed and with his Arthur series apparently obsessing him, it looks like it will be his final non-children’s film for awhile. The American DVD of it contains a fairly sharp transfer, which is flawed by some odd subtitling mistakes and an okay 25 minute documentary. I will revisit the film some day and perhaps my opinion will grow for it, but it will be a while as my first viewing left me down right depressed and more than a little disheartened.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Screenshot 101: Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust

Robert Kerman wonders who the real cannibals are...frankly, I have been wondering the same thing lately.

Walerian Borowczyk's L’Armoire

Shot in the late part of 1978 for inclusion in the erotic Anthology film Private Collections (1979), Borowczyk’s L’Armoire is admittedly one of his minor works but is a pleasing and important addition to his wonderful filmography none the less.
Adapted from a short story by Guy de Maupassant and featuring lovely Marie-Catherine Conti and handsome Yves-Marie Maurin, Borowczyk’s short film centers on a lonely upper class gentleman (Maurin) in the late part of the 19th century who, unable to sleep, wanders out into the Paris night to find a prostitute (Conti) for company. After meeting up with one and escorting her back to her house where they make love, he realizes that all is not what it seems with the young woman who he has been trying to shape into a certain warped ideal he has of what he wants her to be.
There is much to admire in this, one of Borowczyk’s slimmest works. His photography is as usual quite stunning and his noted obsessive detailing of antiquities and the human form is well on display here. The film is surprisingly slight on the sex and nudity factor, especially when compared to the works offered up by Just Jaeckin and Shuji Terayama for the same film, but this is clearly the work of Borowczyk from the beautifully lonely opening shots of Maurin smoking a cigar to the final frenzied images of the backstage calamities of a Parisian burlesque show. Even at his most minor, Walerian Borowczyk was clearly one of the key auteurs of the second half of the twentieth century and L'Armoire is a fine part of that legacy.
L’Armoire has much more in common with Borowczyk’s films like Blanche and The Story Of Sin rather than the angry and bruising Behind Convent Walls that had just proceeded it. There is something down right tender throughout L'Armoire but like many of Borowczyk’s films, their is a certain heartbreaking poignancy underneath even its lightest moments.
Borowczyk’s contribution to Private Collections is less about sex and more about people’s needs to throw their own obsessions and desires on to other people they come across. The film is at its best when our nameless lead seems incapable of understanding exactly who it is he is spending the night with and what her situation is. Instead he quietly demands that she conform to his own opinion of who he wants her to be. When this dream is shattered at the end by a certain discovery in her closet, he seems to realize he has to choose between the isolation and loneliness of his own false life or finally wake up and accept reality in order to save himself.
If L’Armoire stylistically recalls the painterly period work he did on a film like Blanche, thematically it is much more connected to the masterful La Marge, with its look at what begins as a soulless exchange between a prostitute and a john but becomes something much more. L’Armoire also continues Borowczyk's preoccupation with voyeurism, seen here in a wonderful visual motif that he would repeat throughout his entire career of someone peering through a keyhole at something the audience can’t see. For Borowczyk, even more interesting than the watched is the watcher and L’Armoire plays into this idea wonderfully well.

The look of the film, courtesy of Borowczyk and Director of Photography Noel Very is absolutely mesmerizing. The shots and photography of the film are so perfect and fresh that at times it feels like the brilliantly alive colors the two are painting with might start to suddenly drip off the screen. Like all of Borowczyk’s period based works, L’Armoire is an absolute visual masterpiece.
Borowczyk’s short film finally works as a sad but not hopeless little mediation on a life in denial, as many of his best films did. The final moments in the film suggest though that perhaps our nameless lead character has discovered that it is this denial of reality that has been holding him back. L’Armoire, in these last shots, actually becomes one of Borowczyk’s more hopeful pieces, or at the very least one of his most humane.

Private Collections is available on a absolutely beautiful DVD courtesy of Severin. Extras include the original trailer and an entertaining interview with Jaeckin on his section. It is a really fine disc that I highly recommend, and while I really admire all three short films, L’Armoire is the absolute highlight of it for me.

My New Toy

Over the weekend my girlfriend was nice enough to give me a DVD adaptor for my computer that allows me to create my own DVD screencaps for all of my online activities. I have been wanting to do something like this for awhile and am glad I am finally going to be able to give it a go. Hopefully my posts will be a bit more visually interesting from here on out because of this new addition.
I am excited that you will all be seeing a lot more exclusive shots here at Moon In The Gutter as well as my other spots. I am also experimenting with a Flikr account as well in order to share even more and will provide a link as soon as it contains more than a few photos.
I am still getting used to capturing and such and the above shot of Candice Rialson in Hollywood Boulevard is my first one. I hope everyone enjoys the future caps and that they prove visually pleasing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Snapshots Of My Memories Of Alain Robbe-Grillet

My first contact with the works of Alain Robbe-Grillet came ironically enough when I discovered the infamous Golden Turkey Awards book by the Medved Brothers, in which they voted Last Year At Marienbad one of the fifty worst films ever made. I was 11 or 12 and I still remember the feeling just the photos from the film gave me and even at that early age I knew that there was no way the film belonged in any ‘worst of’ book.
The film was impossible to see for a teenager in the eighties while living in Newburgh, Indiana but one fateful day I did stumble across the screenplay in my favorite local used bookshop, the Book Broker. For just fifty cents I was granted my first entry into the world of Alain Robbe-Grillet and, like anyone who has been moved by it, I haven’t been the same since.
I didn’t want to completely spoil the film so I just read bits and pieces and stared longingly at the many photographs of Delphine Seyrig, who resembled Marlene Dietrich if she had been from another planet. The thing that I remember being most struck by in that printed screenplay was how different it felt to others I had seen. Robbe-Grillet’s writing was so vivid and so cinematic that I could literally see the film on the page. It was, and remains, quite a remarkable achievement. Certainly I don’t want to undervalue the work of director Alain Resnais, but Last Year At Marienbad is as much the work of Robbe-Grillet as it is the famed directors.
I finally did get to see Last Year At Marienbad via a lousy VHS copy in my late teens and I was as blown away as I hoped I would be. The film’s manipulation of time and questioning of memory remains one of my favorites, and I still think it is among the ten or so best films of the sixties, which is no small feat.

I first began discovering the novels of Robbe-Grillet when I came to college in the early nineties. I still remember vividly finding copies of The Voyeur and The Erasers in a run down Lexington bookstore in a dollar bin. I began devouring the works and felt like I had discovered some new literary portal. These didn’t feel like anything else I had ever read. It was like Robbe-Grillet tapped into some hidden language with his endless descriptions of the loneliest architecture and his uncanny ability to isolate memories. My favorite of all of his written works is actually a relatively minor one, a collection called Snapshots, which seemed to crystallize everything I loved about his work in a very slim and concise volume. I also adored some of the collaborative works Grillet did, specifically the two books that he worked on with photographer David Hamilton.
I was aware that Robbe-Grillet had himself become a filmmaker through a couple of French film history volumes I had but didn’t really get a chance to read about his work until I purchased the massively important Tombs and Cahill book, Immoral Tales, in the mid nineties. The chapter on Robbe-Grillet gave me the same feeling I had had so many years earlier when I first read about Last Year At Marienbad. I quickly set out on the near hopeless task of tracking down these elusive films that had mysterious and beguiling titles like Eden and After and Slow Slidings Of Pleasure.
I began to get scatterings of his collected film work throughout the late nineties thanks to Craig Ledbetter’s European Trash Cinema. The prints were atrocious for the most part and just watchable at best, but the pleasures and sometimes genius of the films were apparent no matter the print quality. I grew especially fond of his first film The Immortal and the two later ones I mentioned above. His movies, like his books, seem to contain an authentic magic…a furious blend of creation and eroticism that is rarely seen in film.

Discovering both the literary and film works of Alain Robbe-Grillet was of massive importance to me. In the period in my life when I did write a lot of fiction I attempted, sometimes unconsciously, to emulate his style to little or limited success. I have no doubt that if I would have chosen to follow my early dreams of becoming a film director, I would have done the same in that medium.
I am very sorry to realize that Alain Robbe-Grillet, who never stopped working, is no longer with us. To cap this off with a cliché though, his work will indeed live forever. I suspect we will soon start to see some reissuing of his out of print work here in the States and perhaps finally get some quality DVDS of his major film work as well. I am frankly envious of any young person in the future who is lucky enough to stumble upon the magnificent works of this major artist. I wish I could discovery it all again for myself…