Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Like a perfect counterweight, the higher On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) rises in my estimation, the lower its immediate successor, Diamonds Are Forever (1971), descends. Why?

 

Glad you asked…

 

  • Guy Hamilton. Back in ’65, having done as much as anyone to get the franchise off to a successful start with Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963), returning director Terence Young had been placed in the strange position of trying to make Thunderball equal or outdo Hamilton’s Goldfinger (1964), which in many ways formed the template for the rest of the series. Now, after the upheaval of OHMSS, Hamilton himself was brought back to try to replicate his monster hit, and their intent is sometimes all too transparent. Stay tuned.
  • Richard Maibaum. Not faulting him per se, since I consider him one of the bedrocks of the series, and we’ll never know just who contributed what. But if I remember my 007 lore correctly, he was behind the early concept of making the villain Goldfinger’s brother (see what I mean?), played again by Gert Frobe. As Professor Flynn would say, “Ofah.”
  • Tom Mankiewicz. If a single one of these bullets deserves the appellation “Strike One,” this is it. Much as I’ve always lamented the jokiness that increasingly infected the series during the Roger Moore-era decline, I’m obliged to admit that it didn’t start there, and Mankiewicz is widely regarded as its source, so for that alone may he be burned in effigy.
  • Sean Connery. Heresy? Look, I am second to none in my affection for Connery and my conviction that, in his prime, he was the definitive Bond. Back in ’71, it was the biggest possible deal that Sean was back in harness, even if in recent years I have reversed my contention that OHMSS would have been the ultimate Bond movie had he starred in it. (Somewhat paradoxically, although I think Lazenby was underrated, I also think it’s best that he did only one…but that’s a story for another day.) However, “in his prime” is the operative phrase, so I’ll come right out and say this: HE’S TOO OLD to be a credible Bond. No, at 41 by the time of the film’s release, he was hardly decrepit, but people age differently, and even in those five years between Dr. No and You Only Live Twice (1967), he’d been starting to show signs of wear and tear. We won’t even talk about Never Say Never Again (1983).
  • Jill St. John. Well, she’s occasionally droll, and admittedly decorative, and…that’s about it. Granted, following Emma Freakin’ Peel as the lead Bond Girl is beyond tough, but as Tiffany Case, she brings very little to the craps table besides that well-filled purple bikini (aptly, my favorite color).
  • Charles Gray. Listen, he was brilliant in The Devil Rides Out (1968), and a welcome presence in countless other films, but St. John’s predicament was a walk in the park compared to his, ostensibly playing the same character as the hands-on and superbly formidable Telly Savalas in OHMSS. “Science was never my strong suit,” Blofeld says, a bizarre claim for a chap who, when last seen, was a specialist of global standing in the field of allergies. Suffice it to say that at one point ol’ Ernst actually appears in drag (and he’s no Caitlin Jenner), presumably one more thing to lay at the doorstep of Mankiewicz.
  • Lana Wood. Yeah, okay, she was Natalie’s sister; so what? As Plenty O’Toole (“Named after your father perhaps?”—oh, Tom, you wag), she just adds to the Bond-Girl Vacuum.
  • Jimmy Dean. I initially went the obvious route and wrote, “Dude, go back to making sausages,” but as the film progressed, I realized I was being somewhat unfair. True, he stands out like a sore thumb in a Bond movie, yet he’s also a welcome breath of fresh air, enlivening things late in the game. His role of Willard Whyte (allowing for the charming pun of “The Whyte House”) was obviously inspired by Howard Hughes. Yet did you know that Hughes was a good friend of Bond producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli’s, and not only smoothed the production’s way on his home turf in Vegas, but also appeared in a dream of Cubby’s that inspired a major plot twist? Read my Cinema Retro article!
  • Bruce Cabot. WTF? Almost 40 years earlier, Cabot had played the—for lack of a better term—juvenile lead in the original King Kong (1933). Admittedly, he doesn’t actually do anything wrong as Whyte’s treacherous right-hand man, Bert Saxby (“Tell him he’s fired”). But still…WTF?
  • Putter Smith/Bruce Glover. I’d like to say as little about these two as possible. It’s true that hitmen Wint and Kidd were gay in Ian Fleming’s novel (only some of which made its way into the movie, naturlich). But while some—you know who you are—find these onscreen caricatures amusing, I find them hateful and offensive in the extreme. And, by the way, I don’t think a scorpion’s sting will make you drop dead immediately like that.
  • Norman Burton. Like Cabot, he doesn’t do anything wrong per se, but of all the many actors to play Bond’s CIA pal, Felix Leiter, he is almost certainly the least interesting. This guy makes Goldfinger’s avuncular Cec Linder (who played Dr. Roney in the original BBC version of Nigel Kneale‘s Quatermass and the Pit, if you can believe it) look positively charismatic in comparison.
  • Bernard Lee. Make no mistake, I love the guy, even if the movies increasingly depicted M as having a rod up his ass that was less present in Fleming. But as written here, he’s more than a little insensitive about demanding “a little plain, solid work” out of a 007 who’s recently been trying to avenge his wife’s murder. More on that in just a moment.
  • Desmond Llewelyn. Q comes off the best of the three series regulars in this installment, although that’s setting the bar pretty low. He’s understandably miffed when Bond abruptly hangs up on him, but charmingly modest about his voicebox gizmo (“an amusing little notion,” I believe he calls it), and the slot-machine bit with Tiffany is fun.
  • Leonard Barr. Come on. This guy was a punchline on The Odd Couple (“Tell us about your career, Slugger”), and he turns up in a Bond movie? Yeah, we know the real reason is that he was Las Vegas Rat Pack member Dean Martin’s uncle. The insult comedy of Shady Tree (one of whose “Acorns” is supposedly an uncredited Valerie Perrine; you can’t prove it by me, but then again, who cares?) makes Don Rickles look warm and fuzzy, although it does give me the opportunity for this observation: how perfect is it that this inexcusably—yes, I’ll use the word—schleppy film’s primary location is Vegas, a byword for flashy, empty, sleazy spectacle? They reportedly didn’t even need any extra lighting for the nighttime scenes, including that tiresome demolition-derby-style car chase, which was probably inspired by the stock-car race in OHMSS and, alas, endlessly aped in subsequent entries. That said, I’ve never outgrown my 8-year-old’s fondness for the lunacy, if you’ll pardon the pun, of the moon-buggy chase, especially seeing 007 on the mocked-up lunar surface.
  • Lois Maxwell. Same deal as with Lee, but far worse. Moneypenny was last seen weeping at James’s wedding. Now, when asked if she wants anything from Holland, she requests a diamond ring…from the guy who was widowed minutes after the ceremony. SERIOUSLY?????
  • Joe Robinson. Had to look up the name of the guy who played ill-fated smuggler Peter Franks, which tells you what a nonentity he was. But it’s the character, or rather the circumstances surrounding his death, that makes my blood boil. After Bond, posing as Franks, kills the guy and switches their i.d.’s to preserve his masquerade, Case says, “My God! You just killed James Bond!” Acknowledging Bond as a household word, that not only is an irksome little bit of metatextuality (exacerbated, not surprisingly, in the dire A View to a Kill [1985]), but also completely subverts the whole idea of a spy, whose very essence is anonymity. Duh.
  • Laurence Naismith. Again, nothing against him personally; in fact, I’m fond of him in Ray Harryhausen‘s Jason and the Argonauts (1963)—as the eponymous Argos—and elsewhere. But the establishing scene of his lecture about diamonds epitomizes what I was saying about this film as a Goldfinger wannabe, shamelessly copying that film’s lecture on gold by Colonel Smithers (Richard Vernon), right down to M’s petulance regarding the sherry.
  • Marc Lawrence. Another guy I’m not faulting personally. He was a welcome heavy in endless films, and Barbara Shelley told me he was a good friend when they were working together in Italy in the 1950s. (“He always played gangsters; as, although very kind, he looked like a gangster.”) But it says something when that guy has two of the best lines in a Bond picture: “I got a brudder” and “I didn’t know there was a pool down there.”
  • Ed Bishop. Actually, I always liked his bit as Klaus Hergersheimer, the poor schlepp from Section G who’s checking radiation shields, which also gives Joseph Furst one of the film’s best lines (to Bond) as Dr. Metz: “Will you please leave, you irritating man?” And how cool is it that the star of UFO is in a Bond movie?
  • Roy Hollis. Again, had to look up the name of the uncredited guy who plays the Sheriff (and, per the IMDb, does so again as a Louisiana counterpart in Live and Let Die [1973]). Sure, he’s tiresome. But I swear to God, he reminds me of Robert Aldrich every time…
  • Lola Larson/Trina Parks. Am I a sexist if I dislike seeing Bond get his ass kicked by the biracial Olga Korbut twins, Bambi and Thumper? (Poor Walt.) If so, I apologize, but in my defense, I get even more annoyed when—after throwing 007 into the pool—these two suddenly become as formidable as low-voltage jellyfish when subjected to…a dunking.
  • Shane Rimmer. Not a slam but a salute. Has any other actor played as many different roles in the series, culminating in the sub commander in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)?
  • John Barry. Anybody who seriously thinks I’m gonna criticize John Barry should just get the hell out of here right now. And in fact, I think his theme song (sung by Shirley Bassey, as was “Goldfinger.” Get it?) is one of the best. But it reminds me to mention that I think Maurice Binder phoned it in with a somewhat perfunctory credit sequence. Barry’s faux Vegas cues seem suitable, sometimes getting stuck in my head like Velcro, and his original “007 Theme” (introduced in FRWL) makes a welcome return appearance; at least once he also does that neat John Barry trick of hybridizing the title tune with “The James Bond Theme.”
  • Ken Adam. The justly celebrated Bond production designer neither distinguishes nor embarrasses himself with this one. Whyte’s penthouse is fine, but the sunken central scale-model bit dates back to—you guessed it—Goldfinger, and the setting of the climax is…an oil rig. Yes, it’s a very handsome oil rig, but at the end of the day, it’s…an oil rig.

photo (1)

 

…here’s my Mom, doing what she loves best.

She turned 84 on the Fourth of July.  We had celebrated the Sunday before with a screening of Lawrence of Arabia (the first time for her and Madame BOF, both of whom loved it), part of Film Forum’s Alec Guinness centennial tribute, and a lovely dinner of paella for me and tapas for the ladies at Café Espanol, one of my old hangouts from when the Movie Knights and I worked a block away at Penguin USA.

 

Goodbye

I’m so glad I posted that photo.  We lost Rex a little while ago.

I had just submitted my latest post for Marvel University, and was checking my e-mail with my right hand while cradling a snoozing Rexy on my left arm—a familiar sight.  Suddenly, he jumped up with a bewildered look, as if to say, “Where the heck am I?,” as though he’d woken up from a bad dream, turned around, gasped a couple of times, and that was it.

He died two years to the day after his original nominal foster mother, Diane.  He outlived his expected lifespan by about five months, must have been relieved to spend his last couple of weeks not lugging that big tumor around, clearly felt little if any pain, and literally died in a loving embrace.  We should all be so lucky.

None of which is any consolation in the short run to a devastated Loreen.  It’s only now, after about an hour, that I’ve been able to bring myself to put him down.  I just kept him cradled in my arms, absurdly petting him, because somehow if I was still holding him, he would just be sleeping, but if I put him down, he would be really and truly dead.

We’ve got tickets to Cabaret for tonight.  Can’t wait.

Goodbye, little guy.  I loved you more than I ever thought possible.  I’m crying too hard to write any more.  Thank you all for your prayers and support.

Bradley out.

Peacable Kingdom

With Rex recovering from the removal of a benign mammary tumor (he’s having his stitches out on Monday), it seemed like as good a time as any to upload this photo…

 

1495959_10152508117063858_459121577_o

 

It was taken at the tail-end (ha ha) of the Christmastime 2013 visit by my daughter, Alexandra, with my son-in-law-elect, Thomas, and his sister, Jocelyn.  That’s Rexy—the most common of whose countless Madame BOF-ascribed sobriquets is Doodley Day—on my left shoulder, natch, with our nut-job ex-feral, Sally, sprawled on my right arm and poor Mina‘s surviving sister, Lucy, tucked into my right hip…

A Chronological Subjective Journey Through His Oeuvre,

Punctuated with Excerpts from Truffaut by Truffaut*

  • Baisers Volés (Stolen Kisses, 1968)
  • La Sirène du Mississippi (Mississippi Mermaid, 1969)
  • L’Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child, 1970)

Once again, we begin with the latest installment of Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical cycle about Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), to which it must have been a relief to return after reportedly clashing with his leading man or (now former) cinematographer on his last three features; Raoul Coutard’s replacement, Denys Clerval, would shoot his next film as well.  Truffaut collaborated on the script with Claude de Givray, who was an assistant director on Les Mistons and his co-writer on several projects he did not direct, and Bernard Revon, both of whom would re-up with Doinel for Bed and Board.  By the way, I must sheepishly admit to only recently realizing that the woman Antoine encounters in the street with her husband, Albert Tazzi (Jean-François Adam), is Colette, who is uncredited, unidentified by name in the film, and played by the returning Marie-France Pisier at a far younger age than I would know her from Chanel Solitaire.

The fact that this is my longtime favorite among Truffaut’s work, an Oscar and Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign-Language Film, makes it difficult for me to write about with any kind of objectivity.  I believe it was the second one I ever saw—courtesy of a college course—after a library screening of Fahrenheit 451 back in the pre-VCR era, as my love for science fiction far predated my interest in the French New Wave (or, more precisely, in Truffaut, since Godard et al. have never had a similar effect on me).  Typical of the cycle, it is not plot-heavy, but has three predominant narrative threads:  Antoine’s hilariously inept search for gainful employment, most notably with the Blady detective agency; his wooing of Christine Darbon (Claude Jade) and, as with Colette, warm relationship with her father, Lucien (Daniel Ceccaldi from The Soft Skin), and mother (Claire Duhamel); and his obsession with Mme. Fabienne Tabard (Delphine Seyrig).

Perhaps inevitably, the film’s original soundtrack—Antoine Duhamel’s first of four consecutive scores for Truffaut—is overshadowed by its signature tune, “Que reste-t-il de nos amours? [What remains of our love?],” which you just know I’m firing up repeatedly on YouTube as I write this, although misting up makes it a little hard to see the keyboard.  Legendary singer-songwriter Charles Trenet’s 1942 hit, from whose lyrics Truffaut took his highly appropriate title, was popularized Stateside in 1957 by Keely Smith, retitled “I Wish You Love” with new lyrics, while I know at least one reader will perk up significantly when he learns, as I just did, that according to Wikipedia, “His romantic ballad ‘La Mer’ was reworked by Bobby Darin into the million-selling smash ‘Beyond the Sea.’”  I’m a man of many nicknames, but the Pavlovian opening of my tear ducts in response to this film and song epitomizes my Maudlin Man moniker.

They are not exactly tears of joy, because I now know that Antoine and Christine’s marriage is a rocky one that will ultimately end in divorce thanks to Antoine’s infidelity, and while he can be quite charming, I would never hold him up as an admirable character; Madame BOF finds him completely insufferable and, having dutifully sat through and hated this film, vowed never to watch another Doinel.  They are not exactly tears of sorrow, because this is easily Truffaut’s most lighthearted film to date, one that I mistakenly thought for years was more representative of his oeuvre, with the quirky, humorous touches that characterize his work.  I cry over the simple, girl-next-door beauty of Jade—who for me represents a quintessential Frenchwoman in the best possible way, with whom I fall hopelessly in love every time I watch this picture—and over little touches like her taking his hand in a nightclub, or his silent proposal with a bottle-opener “ring.”

Dishonorably discharged from the army for being chronically AWOL, Antoine fulfills a vow that he will avail himself of a prostitute at a certain hour, then takes and loses a job as a hotel night clerk after being used as an unwitting pawn in a divorce scam by a representative of the Blady Agency, which soon hires him.  After various misadventures, he is assigned to be a “periscope,” working undercover as a stock boy when shoe-store owner Georges Tabard (Mich[a]el Lonsdale) hires the firm to find out why his staff detests him.  It says something about my love for this film that it transcends a reflexive aversion to Lonsdale, who set a new low for Bond villains as Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979)—although I grew to respect him in films like Frankenheimer’s Ronin (1998)—and to Seyrig, the star of the late Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) but, for me, a grim reminder of her bisexual vampire in the nasty Daughters of Darkness (1971), and a far distant second to Jade.

Antoine’s personal and professional fortunes are constantly intertwined.  It is through his work at the store that he meets and becomes fixated on Fabienne, and when asked while checking in to describe her, he rhapsodizes to such a degree that he is curtly told, “What we want is a report, not a declaration of love!”  His conflicted feelings about the women in his life manifest themselves in a strange scene—which I won’t even attempt to explain—where Antoine stares into the mirror while repeating their names and his over and over.  After he sends her a love letter, Fabienne appears at his apartment for a never-to-be-repeated tryst to get it out of both their systems, but because of the surveillance, Antoine must admit the meeting and is fired again.  Finally, when he becomes a TV repairman, Christine (who had resisted when he “stole a kiss” from her in her parents’ cellar) disables their set as a pretext to summon him, and the two are next seen sleeping in bed together.

Truffaut shot the movie while embroiled in the controversy over the firing of the Cinémathèque Française’s Henri Langlois (to whom it is dedicated).  “When my films are finished, I realize that they are always sadder than I would have liked.  This one…I wanted to be funny.  I don’t know if it is, but in any case we ourselves had fun making it.  When I began to make films…I thought at first that there were funny things and sad things.  Then I tried to pass abruptly from a sad thing to a funny thing.  Today what strikes me as most interesting is to work in such a way that the same thing can be funny and sad all at once.  That is one of the reasons why I asked Charles Trenet’s authorization to use [his lyric] as the title…I think Trenet is the one who has found the truest poetical equilibrium, who has best managed to mingle gravity and frivolity in his songs.  Stolen Kisses is quite simply a film that hopes to resemble a song,” as he wrote in the press book.

I hadn’t realized that Truffaut’s two Cornell Woolrich adaptations were made with only one film in between, and although the fatalistic nature of the second (whose title seems more appropriate in French, La Sirène du Mississippi, given the sinister connotations of “siren”) makes it not too surprising that—according to New York Magazine critic David Edelstein’s TCM introduction—it was his biggest financial failure, I think it deserved better.  The first of his features on which Truffaut had sole screenwriting credit, it updates Woolrich’s 1880 New Orleans setting to the contemporary French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, to which the ship Mississippi brings a woman (Catherine Deneuve) claiming to be Julie Roussel, the mail-order bride of Louis Mahé (Jean-Paul Belmondo, whom I have loathed since seeing Breathless).  She doesn’t match the photo that Julie had sent him, but Louis clearly falls for her at first sight and marries her anyway.

She says she sent a photo of a neighbor to ensure that Louis did not marry her for her looks, while he wrote that he was the foreman and not the owner of a cigarette factory, because he did not want to be married for his money.  After “Julie” cleans out his bank accounts and disappears, Berthe Roussel (Nelly Borgeaud) arrives, and we learn that her sister was murdered aboard the ship by Richard (Roland Thénot), who later abandoned accomplice Marion Vergano, so they hire private detective Comolli (Michel Bouquet, like Lonsdale an alumnus of The Bride Wore Black) to find the impostor.  In France, Louis spots Marion in some news footage—precisely paralleling the source novel for Vertigo—locates and confronts her, but is unable to kill her; Louis shoots Comolli when he gets too close and refuses to take a bribe, and the couple’s peripatetic future as fugitives seems bleak, despite Louis forgiving Marion for trying to poison him and her declaration of love.

I’d only seen this once before, and that almost certainly in the 1999 “Tout Truffaut” retrospective at the recently redeemed Film Forum, yet it seemed surprisingly familiar.  It’s true that at various times I have also read the 1947 source novel, Waltz into Darkness (I was honored to be asked to weigh in on whether Viking Penguin, where I was then employed, should reissue it, which they did), and seen the 2001 remake, Michael Cristofer’s Original Sin, notorious for its steamy scenes between Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie—talk about something for everyone—but I think there’s more to it than that, perhaps something distinctively Woolrichian.  His future biographer, Francis M. Nevins, Jr., wrote in Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers that “love dies while the lovers go on living, and [he] excels at showing the corrosion of a relationship between two people,” plus the theme of imposture recurs in his oft-filmed I Married a Dead Man (1948).

“I read [the novel] when I was doing the adaptation of The Bride Wore Black,” Truffaut told Le Monde in 1969.  “At that time, I actually read everything [he] wrote in order to steep myself in his work and to keep as close as possible to the novel, despite the unfaithfulness necessary in films.  I like to know thoroughly any writer whose book I transpose to the screen [as he had with Goodis and Bradbury]….My final screenplay was less an adaptation in the traditional sense than a choice of scenes.  With this film, I was finally able to realize every director’s dream:  to shoot in chronological order a chronological story that represents an itinerary….[The] shooting began on Réunion Island, continued in Nice, Antibes, Aix-en-Provence, Lyons, to finish in the snow near Grenoble.  The fact of respecting the chronology permitted me to ‘build’ the couple with precision….The Mermaid is above all else the tale of a degradation through love, of a passion.”

The Wild Child marked Truffaut’s first return to black and white since The Soft Skin, and the start of a long collaboration with Nestor Almendros, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), who would shoot the majority of his remaining films.  It is rare among his work in being based directly on fact—specifically, Dr. Jean Itard’s memoir Victor de l’Aveyron—rather than adapted from a literary source or, as in the case of The Soft Skin, merely inspired by actual events.  After reading a 1966 Le Monde review of a thesis by Lucien Malson, Truffaut considered Victor “the clearest and most instructive example” of a child growing up in isolation without any human contact, “studied at length and minutely by…Itard, who became interested in the boy immediately after his capture by hunters in the middle of a forest in the summer of 1798,” he wrote in an article on the making of the film for L’Avant-Scène du Cinéma.

Truffaut noted that in crafting the screenplay with Jean Gruault (a veteran of Jules and Jim who has a small role as “Visitor at Institute”), “the main difficulty was in transposing a text actually consisting of two reports [by] Itard.  The first, dated 1801, was probably intended for the Académie de Médecine; the second, written in 1806, was designed to convince the Ministry of the Interior to renew the pension of Madame Guérin,” the housekeeper in whose care, as the film does not tell us, “Victor lived to the age of forty…doing little jobs and living in peace.”  To solve the problem, “we imagined that Dr. Itard, instead of writing these reports, had kept a daily diary.  This gives the story the allure of a personal chronicle and preserves the author’s style, which is simultaneously scientific, philosophical, moralistic, humanistic, in turns lyrical and familiar.”  He steeped himself in the reports, which is hardly surprising in light of his decision to play Itard.

Unlike Orson Welles, whom he greatly admired, Truffaut only occasionally starred in his own work, and rarely acted outside it—Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) being the notable exception—although he was a talented actor; he cast himself out of practicality rather than vanity.  “It seemed to me that the essential job in this film was not to manage the action but to concern oneself with the child.  I therefore wanted to…deal with him myself and thus avoid going through an intermediary….I would have been saying all day to some gentleman:  ‘Now take the child, make him do that, lead him there,’ and that was what I wanted to do on my own….From the day I decided to play Itard the film took on for me a truly complete and definitive raison d’être.  From this experience I don’t retain the impression of having played a role, but simply of having directed the film ‘in front of’ the camera and not ‘behind,’ as usual.”

Truffaut abandoned the idea of finding someone like a young Nureyev to play Victor, “because the little dancers I saw were really just too sweet.  [So] I went to the opposite idea, which was to go back a little to The Mischief Makers…where I directed five boys from Nîmes, of whom one or two really had something savage about them….I should have liked to find a little boy along those lines.  I sent my assistant to watch when school let out, at Arles, Nîmes, Marseilles, etc.  It was in a street in Montpellier that she noticed, questioned, and photographed among others a little gypsy boy, Jean-Pierre Cargol.”  His performance is so extraordinary that it’s a shame his only other credit was Geoffrey Reeve’s now-obscure Alistair MacLean adaptation Caravan to Vaccares (1974).  As Truffaut told Radio-Canada in 1971, “for the first time, I identified with the adult, the father, so much so that when the editing was finished I dedicated [it] to Jean-Pierre Léaud…”

The simple but absorbing narrative follows Victor—believed to have been left for dead in the forest seven or eight years earlier, at the age of three or four—as he is transferred to the Institute for Deaf-Mutes in Paris, where he is exhibited like a freak, and then fortunately comes to the attention of Itard (1774-1838), who is researching deafness and takes charge of the boy in his own house near Paris.  Although Victor was never able to speak, Itard demonstrated that he was neither deaf nor retarded, and the film effectively depicts both his education and the bond of affection that grows among him, Itard, and the good-hearted Madame Guérin (Françoise Seigner).  Eschewing an original score, Truffaut had Duhamel arrange and conduct the Vivaldi Concerto in C Major for Mandolin and Strings that was later popularized in Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), which coincidentally garnered Almendros another Oscar nomination.

Addendum:  I see Film Forum will begin repeating its “Tout Truffaut” festival on March 28.  Coincidence?

To be continued.

Back to Part II.

*Text and documents compiled by Dominique Rabourdin; translated from the French by Robert Erich Wolf (New York: Abrams, 1987).

INSITE for Sore Eyes

Whenever I think about the International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts, I remark upon the fact that INSITE (also the title of their handsome quarterly journal)—among the very few fan societies devoted to a single motion picture—would not, indeed literally could not, have existed without the late Richard Matheson.  Although the 1980 film it celebrates was of necessity a collaborative effort, and INSITE joyfully recognizes the contributions of all involved, both the screenplay and the 1975 novel upon which it was based, originally published as Bid Time Return, sprang from the mind of one man.  So it’s no surprise that the lead story in the First Quarter 2013 issue of INSITE (Vol. 24 #1) is a loving tribute to Matheson, his career, and his passing, complete with a smiling cover photo in full period regalia from his cameo as the “Astonished Man.”

The issue includes a wealth of Matheson family photos and heartfelt reminiscences from INSITE President/Editor Jo Addie, who kindly solicited my modest contribution; founder Bill Shepard, whose book The Somewhere in Time Story: Behind the Scenes of the Making of the Cult Romantic Fantasy Motion Picture Jo revised for the 25th anniversary of the film’s release; and its respective producer and director, Stephen Simon (aka Deutsch) and Jeannot Szwarc.  The only sour note for me, through no fault of INSITE, is that the MSN obit (reprinted with those from USA Today and The Los Angeles Times) perpetuates the myth that Richard appeared as a senator in The Godfather Part II.  I presume that canard, which I have long sought to eradicate, sprang from the fact that Roger Corman, for whom Richard wrote several scripts, did have such an uncredited cameo and/or that X-Files creator Chris Carter paid homage to his Night Stalker influences with the character of “Senator Richard Matheson” (Raymond J. Barry).

In a bittersweet juxtaposition, the remainder of the issue is devoted to an event that epitomizes Matheson’s enduring legacy:  the world premiere of the Somewhere in Time musical at the Portland (Oregon) Center Stage on May 31, 2013, which his final illness prevented him from attending.  Produced by Tony Award-winning Broadway veteran Ken Davenport, who joined in the INSITE tributes, the show has music by Doug Katsaros and lyrics by Amanda Yesnowitz, and was a longstanding dream of Richard’s; before granting them the theatrical rights in 2006, he had pursued his own script version, with songs written by Duel composer Billy Goldenberg and lyricist Harry Shannon.  The show is apparently based as much upon the novel as on the film, and although the consensus seems to be that it needs a somewhat stronger score, we can hope it moves toward Richard’s cherished hope of a Broadway production.

Profuse thanks to Jo, as always, for her support and generosity.

A Chronological Subjective Journey Through His Oeuvre,

Punctuated with Excerpts from Truffaut by Truffaut*

  • Antoine et Colette (Antoine and Colette, 1962)
  • La Peau Douce (The Soft Skin, 1964)
  • Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
  • La Mariée Etait en Noir (The Bride Wore Black, 1967)

Truffaut returned to his cinematic alter ego, Antoine Doinel, with Antoine and Colette, the first segment of the anthology film L’Amour à Vingt Ans (Love at Twenty), also containing episodes directed by Italy’s Renzo Rossellini (son of Roberto, whose assistant Truffaut had once been), Japan’s Shintarō Ishihara, Germany’s Marcel Ophüls, and Poland’s Andrzej Wajda.  In 1971, he told Radio-Canada’s Aline Desjardins, “there was a private thing happened, a sentimental episode that ended badly, that I filmed later in Love at Twenty….[Y]ou see Antoine Doinel falling in love with a young girl he meets at the Jeunesses Musicales [young people’s concerts], trying to push his way into her life by force…We can say that that story was really lived; it wasn’t the Jeunesses Musicales but, obviously, the Cinémathèque, and the whole thing finally led me to go off into the army” (which we will see Antoine leaving at the start of Stolen Kisses).

Narration tells us that following his escape in The 400 Blows, Antoine “was caught and placed in another center under stricter surveillance [where] a young psychologist…took an interest in his case, and he was finally released on probation”; now 17—the film’s title notwithstanding—and working for a record company, he has “finally realized his adolescent dream:  to live on his own, earn his own keep, and depend only on himself.”  Then, into this “solitary, independent life” comes Colette (Marie-France Pisier, eulogized here when she drowned in her swimming pool at 66 in 2011), with whom he is understandably smitten when he first sees her while attending a concert with his friend René (Patrick Auffay, recreating a role seen in flashback).  Despite taking a room directly across from her and being “adopted” by her mother (Rosy Varte) and stepfather (François Darbon), Antoine glumly watches as Colette dates Albert Tazzi (Jean-François Adam).

“I don’t like my films, except for the sketch in Love at Twenty,” which was heavily improvised, as Truffaut later told Cinéma 67.  He had initially been reluctant to revisit Antoine, for fear of seeming to take advantage of the success of The 400 Blows, but “since then I’ve learned that you should never give up an idea for such exterior and secondary reasons as reasons of outward appearances.  You have to do exactly and intensely whatever you really want to do….I did it in a carefree moment:  Jules and Jim had just come out and had been very well received, which was why I went to work on Love at Twenty in a really cheerful mood.”  Yet “when [it] was finished, we realized that it was a melancholy film, sometimes even desperate,” he wrote in the press book, noting that the producer, Pierre Roustang, “not only gave me a free hand but also proposed that I make the choice, with him, of the young foreign directors who would do the other stories.”

The credits of The Soft Skin, a news-inspired original screenplay about the tragic affair between Pierre Lachenay (Jean Desailly) and Nicole (Françoise Dorléac), contain the names of two key collaborators:  Georges Delerue, a prolific Oscar-winner for A Little Romance (1979) who scored about half of his work, from Shoot the Piano Player on, and Jean-Louis Richard.  The latter had had an uncredited role as a café customer in Jules and Jim, and would appear in several other Truffaut films but, more important, served as his co-writer on not only all three features covered here but also the Jeanne Moreau vehicle Mata-Hari (aka Mata Hari, Agent H21, 1964), which Richard directed and Truffaut co-produced.  In fact, they had already been working together on adapting the late Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953), with many delays accounting for a two-year gap between Jules and Jim and The Soft Skin, as Truffaut related to Guy Allombert in 1963.

“I had bought the rights during the euphoria of The 400 Blows success.  I did not manage to make that film in France:  I had to have color, as the subject called for.  On the other hand, I couldn’t have a female star:  I had two women’s roles and I didn’t want one to be more important than the other.  Nor, in a science fiction film, could I have a foreign accent.  I didn’t want a known actress and, with only one name actor—I had thought of Charles Aznavour and of [Jean-Paul] Belmondo—and a subject that was a little baffling, I wasn’t able to make the film, the first European science fiction film.  I then had some good luck in my misery (the rights cost me really a lot, and we had done three scripts…), I found an American producer who bought everything, script, rights to the novel, and who signed a contract with me to make the film the next year in New York.  So before making [that one] I wanted to do a film in France, whence The Soft Skin.”

An iconoclast to the end, I am as puzzled by the failure of The Soft Skin—which Truffaut called “a flop”—as I am by the popularity of Jules and Jim, and it’s interesting that a director notorious for bedding most of his leading ladies (his marriage to Madeleine Morgenstern, who bore him two daughters, lasted only from 1957 to ’65) made two successive features in which affairs lead to death.  He accurately and succinctly described The Soft Skin as “the story, highly detailed, of an adultery,” set in motion when publisher Pierre sees Nicole, an air hostess, en route to a lecture in Lisbon.  “From that moment on, everything he does is the worst.  He goes off on a trip [to Rheims], he takes her with him, he puts her up in that second-class hotel, he makes gaffes all the way…That character pleased me, as an emotional person and as a man who, every time he encounters a difficulty, chooses the worst solution.  He’s a blunderer,” Truffaut told Cinéma 67.

Pierre’s portrayal was doubtless made no more sympathetic by a reportedly rocky relationship with Desailly, and they never worked together again, but Truffaut was delighted with Dorléac (the older sister of his future leading lady, Catherine Deneuve), who died in a car crash at 25 in 1967.  “What interests me most,” Truffaut said in another 1963 interview, “is the character of the betrayed woman [Franca (Nelly Benedetti)]:  she is always made the unattractive character, but here she will be considered in the most anticonventional way possible…”  Having depicted the affair in clinical detail, he creates Hitchcockian suspense by cross-cutting between the Lachenays as events draw toward their conclusion; Pierre tells Nicole of his separation, learns that she wants to end the affair, and—at the behest of Franca’s friend Odile (Paule Emanuele)—calls to suggest a reconciliation, barely missing Franca as she heads for the restaurant with a rifle and shoots him.

As it turned out, the divisive Fahrenheit—one of my favorite Truffaut films, despite being loathed by many a fellow Bradbury fan—was made not in America but in England, where usual suspects Delerue and Raoul Coutard, a veteran of Breathless who shot all of his other films from Piano Player through The Bride Wore Black, were replaced by Bernard Herrmann and Nicolas Roeg, respectively.  The former, whose credits included Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941), Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), The Twilight Zone, and four of the late Ray Harryhausen’s films, is best known for his work with Hitchcock, one of the all-time great director/composer collaborations.  Roeg had photographed Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death (1964), while his wildly eclectic directorial career encompassed Walkabout (1971), which ranks very high in my personal pantheon, and Don’t Look Now (1973).

This was also Truffaut’s first film in English and in color, as well as his only foray into the genre where Godard had recently dabbled with Alphaville, and the disparate takes (which, surprisingly, Madame BOF loves) these pioneers of the French New Wave had on SF are fascinating indeed.  For his leading man, Truffaut ultimately turned to the known quantity of Oskar Werner from Jules and Jim, whom I first got to like in this film and Martin Ritt’s great John le Carré adaptation, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965); he also solved the problem of balancing the two women’s roles by casting Julie Christie, the lovely future star of Don’t Look Now, in both of them.  Werner is Guy Montag, whose job as an ironically named Fireman is to burn books in an unspecified future where they are banned—the title refers to the temperature at which book paper burns—with Christie as his spoiled, vacuous wife, Linda, and the young woman who introduces him to those forbidden literary joys, Clarisse.

When I interviewed Bradbury for Outré, he called this “a terrible mistake.  There’s supposed to be a 16-year-old girl…who lives on the same street with Montag…You’ve got Julie Christie playing her character, which is all wrong, because she’s too old.  You want to have a naive, sappy girl who teaches Montag more about books than he can teach himself.  The irony and the beauty of it is that this…lovely little dumb-smart girl…becomes his teacher, and he begins to wake up to what he’s been doing.”  Deeply shaken when a woman (Bee Duffell, so memorable in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975) immolates herself rather than be separated from her books, Montag reads a passage from a novel to Linda and her “zombie” friends, upsetting them, and sees Clarisse—now a fugitive—share the Book Woman’s fate in a vivid dream sequence that is an obvious visual and musical homage to the 1958 Hitchcock/Herrmann masterpiece, Vertigo.

Montag helps Clarisse find and destroy a list of like-minded people, and before she leaves to join a group that memorizes volumes for posterity, he relates his plan to plant books in the homes of his fellow Firemen and denounce them, destroying the system from within.  Linda denounces Montag, whose next call turns out to be his own house, and after incinerating the Captain (Cyril Cusack), he joins the Book People, watching on television as an anonymous man is hunted down and killed in his place.  Said Bradbury, “the special effects…were really bad, the men flying through the air [as they seek Montag like black bees]—completely unbelievable.  The best part of the film is the last reel…It’s magical, it’s beautiful, it’s moving.  I cry every time I see it, because it’s a combination of cinematography, atmosphere, music—[a] terrific score—and acting, and everything in that last reel is perfection.  So the film ends with incredible beauty…”

Truffaut wrote that “my first aim was to bring out the qualities of visual invention in [the] novel.  My second aim was to attempt this dosage:  to film fantastic things as if they were everyday, everyday things as if they were fantastic, and to mingle one with the other.”  Roeg’s ravishing palette, naturally heavy on reds and oranges, combines with the art direction of Syd Cain—a key contributor to the James Bond series—to create a look that eschews rapidly dating futurism for a kind of “retro-futurism,” anticipating Michael Radford’s 1984 (1984).  The one overtly futuristic setting was an exterior of a French monorail shot near Orléans, but Truffaut uses devices such as slow- and reverse-motion to increase the film’s otherworldly feeling; in one delightfully bizarre shot, while Montag and Clarisse visit the school from which she has been ominously dismissed, his colleague Fabian (Anton Diffring)—who constantly spies on him—observes, unseen, in drag.

Truffaut and Werner (who, ironically, died two days after him in 1984) became bitterly divided over the interpretation of Montag; Werner replaced Terence Stamp when the latter dropped out at the eleventh hour, concerned that Christie’s dual role would overshadow his own, and unlike Diffring—seen in my favorite film, Where Eagles Dare (1968)—he was not dubbed, despite his heavily accented English.  Truffaut was back on literal and metaphorical home turf with his next project, shooting in France and adapting another noir novel with familiar faces behind (Richard, Coutard) and in front of (Moreau, Brialy) the camera.  The fact that Rear Window (1954) was also based on the work of noir legend Cornell Woolrich, who published The Bride Wore Black under his pen name of William Irish, is one aspect that makes this perhaps his most Hitchcockian work, as is carrying over Herrmann from Fahrenheit 451 in their second and final collaboration.

The film is basically a quintet of set pieces in each of which the title character, Julie Kohler, kills a man, making sure he knows her identity, e.g., she pushes Bliss (Claude Rich) from his balcony during a party when he tries to retrieve her windblown scarf; lures Coral (Michel Bouquet) to a rendezvous where she poisons him; and leaves Rene Morane (Michel Lonsdale) to suffocate in a sealed closet while his son, Cookie (Christophe Bruno), slumbers upstairs.  Flashbacks gradually reveal that she is avenging the death of her childhood sweetheart, David (Serge Rousseau), shot dead on the church steps after their wedding as the five fooled around with a loaded rifle across the street.  The film addresses neither how Julie tracks down the men—strangers drawn together on a single occasion, sharing only a predilection for guns and women (the latter ultimately their undoing), who fled, never to meet again—nor whether David’s accidental killing justifies theirs.

Julie clearly has her own idea of justice, leading her to call the police and clear Cookie’s teacher, Miss Becker (the striking Alexandra Stewart), as whom she posed, by providing details only the killer could know.  I don’t know how, or even if, the novel tackles any of these questions, yet in a sense, it doesn’t matter; we don’t turn to Cornell Woolrich for rigorous logic but for his fever-dream imagination and style, and Truffaut himself, obviously interested more in the effect than in explanations, begins to play with our expectations as Julie’s next target, Delvaux (Daniel Boulanger), is suddenly arrested for unrelated crimes, so she turns to the last on her list, artist Fergus (Charles Denner).  When she begins posing for him as the bow-wielding huntress (how apt!) Diana, we suspect how he will meet his end, yet for the first time, she seems hesitant after Fergus, anticipating Denner’s role as Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women, avows his amour.

I’ve now forgotten the exact sequence of events, but it is around this point that Truffaut uses maximum cinematic sleight of hand, misdirecting us with a subplot about how Fergus’s friend Corey (Brialy) remembers seeing Julie at Bliss’s party and tries to identify her.  Having watched in step-by-step detail as she dispatched each of her previous victims, we are genuinely surprised when Truffaut abruptly cuts back to Fergus lying dead with an arrow protruding from his body, and even more so when the seemingly relentless avenger leaves an incriminating mural of herself on the wall, which along with her attending the artist’s funeral leads to her arrest and confession, albeit without explanation.  But—as first-time viewer Madame BOF quickly deduced—it is all a means to an end, and as Julie, with knife concealed, delivers meals to inmates of the same prison where Delvaux is confined, we await the inevitable off-screen shriek as she finishes her mission.

Asked by Le Monde in 1968 if Hitchcock had influenced the film, Truffaut said, “Certainly for the construction of the story because, unlike the novel, we give the solution of the enigma well before the end [as in Hitch’s Vertigo]….Contrariwise, the desire to make the characters speak of everything else but the intrigue itself is decidedly not very Hitchcockian and more characteristic of a European turn of mind.”  In 1978, he called it “the only one I regret having made…I wanted to offer…Moreau something like none of her other films, but it was badly thought out.  That was a film to which color did an enormous lot of harm.  [A permanent rift with Coutard reportedly left Moreau sometimes directing the actors.]  The theme is lacking in interest:  to make excuses for an idealistic vengeance, that really shocks me….One should not avenge oneself, vengeance is not noble.  One betrays something in oneself when one glorifies that,” as he opined to L’Express.

To be continued.

Back to Part I.

*Text and documents compiled by Dominique Rabourdin; translated from the French by Robert Erich Wolf (New York: Abrams, 1987).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 32 other followers