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Showing posts with label La Belle et La Bête. Show all posts
Showing posts with label La Belle et La Bête. Show all posts

Monday, 7 August 2017

Maudie - or Maudit ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

7 August

Some observations, partly by Tweet, about Maudie (2016)

You are determined to put a stain on this family name !
Aunt Ida

This film, however based in reality, could only work on the level of parable -
and it unnecessarily laboured even that
Jacob Apsley

Some film-references :

* Being There (1979)

* Big Eyes (2014)

* Caravaggio (1986)

* Forrest Gump (1994)

* La belle et la bête (1946)

* Mr. Turner (2014)

* New York Stories (1989)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 15 November 2014

In my Father's house, there are many rooms

This is a review of Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

13 November

This is a Cambridge Film Consortium review of Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919) as performed at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse) with live solo piano accompaniment by John Sweeney

If you missed it, the film is to be shown again on Sunday 16 November at 1.00 p.m.

Trish Shiel, of Cambridge Film Consortium, introduced the event, telling us that it was being projected from a 35mm print and that, to add in an English translation of the inter-titles (which are in Swedish), manual dual projection was being used - stressing that The Arts is one of a few cinemas equipped to mount such a performance.

She also said a few words about the film, its history, and its director, male lead and co-writer, Victor Sjöström, who later worked with Ingmar Bergman (who remarked of the film Where did Sjöström get the idea of composing these incredible sequences, these remarkable, exciting scenes ?). That said, nothing prepared for the pleasure of learning who played the principal female role of Brita (on whom, more below...) :

The title of Ingmarssönerna (1919) has been translated as Sons of Ingmar, but they are more like 'descendants' than sons : suffice to say that it reveals little to say that, in thought if not in reality (whatever reality is, when one can feel oneself to be part of a line of men who have occupied the same land for centuries), Young Ingmar goes to meet his father, Old Ingmar, with a dilemma.

And, before he gets there, we have visuals of a ladder up to heaven (and down from that ladder) that give us all the evocations from Jacob's ladder to Jack's Beanstalk to The Tower of Babel. Quite a quaint sort of heaven, however, where only the directly ascending, male relatives are there (and, from what follows, they are unaware of what befalls those still alive) ?

Be that as it may, Young gets Old to come into a side-room and tells him a whole story, where the inter-titles, from time to time, remind us with an icon that this is still in heaven and still telling the background to the dilemma...

A risky stratagem for a film, one might think, to rely on the patience of the audience with such a lengthy narration, and which is hardly a strength of the structure here any more than it is, celebratedly, in Anne Brontë's novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Yet, after the decision that is pressing on Young Ingmar has been explained, and when omens have been interpreted as guiding his way, the film distinctly picks up in energy and emotional pull, as the core story that was within that daring flashback now unfolds.

Harriet Bosse, playing in Strindberg (apparently in To Damascus)

Perhaps naively, we may imagine that, because film was in its relative infancy, a dramatic approach to contextualizing our mixed motives and feelings in life through this medium was necessarily novel. Put this in context, though, and this film's Harriet Bosse (as Brita) was, briefly, August Strindberg's third wife, and Strindberg wrote the roles of Eleonora in Easter (1901) and Agnes in A Dream Play (1902) for her (amongst others), the latter of which alone shows the psychological depth of theatre at the time :

Although Dream Play was not to be performed until 1907, that is a clear decade before the present film, so we can guess that Sjöström and Selma Lagerlöf - of whose novel Jerusalem this film adapts the first part (and Karin Ingmarsdotter (1920) the conclusion) - would have known some of Strindberg's significant plays, which date to when Lagerlöf was writing her work.

Though it is true to remark, say, that the preoccupations at the time of the United Artists, from Mary Pickford to D. W. Griffiths, were very different from that here**, one only needs to delve into an overview such as Francine Stock's In Glorious Technicolor: A Century of Film and How it has Shaped Us to realize that, just because these films now look old (physically, they are), we need not imagine their makers to be unknowing - any more than we should imagine that our grandparents knew nothing about sex.

Without giving away the main story, there are so many reminders here of other works. For the subject-matter, though it has its particularities, is universal :

* Schumann's last acts outside the locked door of the asylum

* Cocteau's La Belle et La Bête*** (1946)

* Shakespearean pairs such as Much Ado About Nothing's Beatrice and Benedick

* Even Chaucer's long-suffering Griselda**** (in The Clerk's Tale)

In the screening, what made the impact was the subtlety of Bosse's expressiveness, the action going on in the eyes and the look of her face (when not, very demonstrably, throwing herself on her pillow, or the ground), and one need only reach back in time to what she might have been like on the stage. Now, though, one is haunted by Sjöström's long-jawed face, and, in the context of the film, he is having himself be La Bête, with a largely down-turned, hangdog mouth, until he finds out who he is.

Which is where the story closes, not concerned with the expected resolution, but with a reverie of the kind that James Thurber gave us for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), when we gained a name for that type of character / behaviour :

Since this is just the first part of the story (seemingly re-made, according to Amazon®, in Jerusalem (1996)), though it stands complete in itself (despite the puzzling absorption in Ingmar's being elsewhere), one might detect a hook here, from Sjöström, for Karin Ingmarsdotter...

In introducing the screening for those unfamiliar with silent film, Trish Sheil had rightly pointed out that the painting of the scene in the accompaniment is part of what makes such films different - as is knowing that it is the accompanist's skill to give that portrayal whilst keep pace with the unfolding of the film.

In his inspiringly colourful accompaniment, John Sweeney (who gave us Hitchock's Blackmail at Cambridge Film Festival (#CamFF) 2012) organized himself around themes for the various moods and evocations of the film, from anxiety to tenderness, or to depict energetic behaviour as against reflectiveness - and, likewise, using unsettling rumbles alongside bell-tones (the high and low registers of the keyboard).

Sweeney had a very warm round of applause at the close, and had provided us with an excellently enjoyable musical experience to match the emotional range of the film.

And now there is a follow-up piece about the effect of inter-titles in the film...


* Which, thanks to marketing manager Jack Toye's Tweet from the second screening, looks frighteningly complicated :

** With, for example, Pickford continuing to play the role of a young girl / woman when she was very much older - just as, here, Bosse and Victor Sjöström are too old to be taken literally for Brita and Young Ingmar (Bosse was 41 at the time of the film's release).

*** In Young Ingmar, a similarly gruff and hidebound figure, desiring wisdom, but finding himself locked in by duty, and Birta, against her will, in the equivalent of La Bête's domain : even requesting Birta's hand, his vacillating nature intervenes, and his heart is never quite in it.

**** The magnanimity of You'll have to forgive me for all the pain that I have caused you, Ingmar and I wanted to ask your forgiveness, although also the exposed feeling of O, dear God, I will be saved of nothing ?, when he insists on reading her letter.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Funnily enough, no Ginsberg in the entire film ! - or is there ?

This is a review of Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

5 June (5 May 2015, Tweet embedded)

This is a review of Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro) (2004)

A non-exhaustive of some key-words and principal themes in response to the screening of Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro) (2004) last night in Picturehouse Cinemas’ (@picturehouses’) We [heart] Miyazaki retrospective :

* Hieronymous Bosch (c. 1450–1516) – paintings of his, such as The Garden of Earthly Delights or The Temptation of St Anthony, for The Castle itself

* Prometheus stealing fire from the gods – when Sophie, in the most florid location, sees back to a younger Howl (equally the third Harry Potter book, with the time-turner, and Harry mistaking his own Patronus

* Light / fight / fire / fireside / hearth

* Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books – for the sense of compassion for one’s foes, and for the notion that Howl, as warned by Calcifer, may not be able to change back, if he persists

* Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales – the topos of the loathly lady in ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’

* So, also, Cocteau’s gorgeous La Belle et La Bête (Beauty and The Beast) (1946) (and one is beggared by the existence, according to IMDb, of a new take on the story !) - in Sophie’s loving Howl unconditionally, but failing to see her beauty, only his

* Sophie / Granny and Howl / Monster Howl have a connection across time and space - just as with Chihiro / Sen and Haku / Dragon Haku in Spirited Away (2001)

* Abundant flowers – also a feature of Spirited Away, and, more poignantly and sparingly so, The Wind Rises (2013)

* The alpine feel of the non-urban scenery – this could be Austria, or, as @jackabuss sees it, Snowdonia

* Contrasted with the slimy horribleness of the oozing men, made sinisterly jaunty by straw boaters or top hats

* The magical contract that binds someone to another – familiar from J. K. Rowling’s Dobby, but also Spirited Away

* The warfare and war-mongering – a link to that Narnia notion of doors into other worlds that @jackabuss also located, not least since The Pevensey Four have been evacuated on account of The Blitz

To be continued…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 10 January 2014

Power in his clenched-up fist, held aloft

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

9 January

This review of The Phantom of The Opera (originally 1925, but revised in 1929) was of a special screening, with a world premiere solo harp score written and played by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry, at the Pathology Museum at St Bart’s Hospital on Wednesday 8 January 2014, the first of four such screenings put on there through Silent London (@silentlondon) (with a complimentary portion of freshly popped popcorn, and a Hendrick's gin (with tonic, if required)

Declaration of interest : Trust me that I am being impartial, though Elizabeth-Jane and I are friends (as a consequence of having met at Bath Film Festival). However, this means that I cannot – because it does not sound right – adopt my usual approach and call her Baldry…

To-night’s introduction to the film, by Pamela Hutchinson from Silent London, made clear that it had had a chequered history, not liked by the first audience that saw it, re-made by adding some comic elements (and still not liked), before getting to what we have now, with a grand scene at the Paris Opéra, which pays homage to Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ (in fact, with an empty threat), in what we were told was an early type of two-part Technicolor. Predicting it where it was going was not easy, with films such as The Third Man (1946) having given certain expectations of underground chases with water, whereas, as referred, the Poe mention suggested a false trail.

What it does meditate on approaches, but veers away from, the subject of Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête (1946), whether love can redeem all and make physical disfigurement beautiful (with the singer Christine Daaé (Mary Philbin) as a healing Christ-figure), for then an index-card pins down exactly who The Phantom (Lon Chaney) is : something that only the force and energy of the mob (not exactly storming La Bastille, but almost), not the not-so-organized official means (which the very end of the film quite forgets about), can address. Roughnesses such as these may owe their existence to that troubled production history (and, doubtless, many have written much about its genesis), as, for example, this issue of continuity : when The Phantom goes off with one of his displayed pair of schnorkels (the need for two seems fanciful), then returns, deed done, and dons a hat, he is not wearing his mask, but, when, hat on, he is at the organ, he is wearing it.

The jauntiness of a man in full evening dress walking into water, over his head, and casually subverting a plot to find him. The sphinx-like fingers that had, by rising and falling, acted as some sort of unexplained early warning system. These elements and more were literally marvellous for their free invention – they almost floated free of wider considerations of plot or even character, and subsisted for their own pleasure.

Not really a story, either, of the vaulting ambition of Faust (it is presumably the Gounod version of which we see extracts on stage, but it could be that of Berlioz : the familiar motif of Gretchen am Spinnrad, in any case), despite Christine's being keen on being a star* and having The Phantom as her Master until, like Pandora (or Eve), she disobeys and sees who he is. There the parallel with the Cocteau story runs out, since she looks to Raoul to save her, and, for her, it is not going to be loving this creature in order to have a career.

So the index-card (perhaps where the story was re-worked) does all the work for us, and takes away the initial intrigue or ambiguity of The Phantom, when the pretty young dancers are busy being startled in their tutus, and where it could easily be a story from an episode of Scooby-Doo : Which way did he go ? Didya see him, Scoob ?, with the wicked Old Owners (with one of them in disguise as The Phantom) frightening the New Owners with a story, so that the latter, to be rid of it, will sell it back again for nothing. (Later, there is casual talk of 'another strangling.)

The story simply is not going to cohere and be any one thing, and why should it, when it is was hardly unusual for a film to be written as it went along (cinema has always been a wasteful business : just think, now, of all the feature-length films made, and how few get distributed) ? Whether the lengths to which those working on the film went were unusual, others would know better than I, but IMDb credits the characters of Carlotta and Raoul’s brother as only existing since the 1929 version).

Elizabeth-Jane Baldry’s accompaniment for solo harp does allow the film to cohere, and it is clear that she had thought carefully about times whether her part was to be more evocative, or more imitative, and there were important moments that she had to address in some way, such as when the man in the box is first seen by the new owners, and when, girding their courage, they return to find him somehow gone. The mirror into The Phantom’s realm was especially rich, when she had two types of material, one for the slightly dreamy Christine going through to him, the other for Raoul, shut out when the mirror has swung back** (and how fitting that the universal symbol of vanity should conceal from her the origins of her success, as the law from Pip how he comes to be a gentleman) : the alternation made clear that, however penetrable the barrier, Christine was in another world.

For a film of 93 minutes, the score is bound to use whatever one calls them of themes or leitmotifs, and the effect is as in sonata form, that one hears what one heard before, but, in between, one has heard other material, and the effect (even if the repetition were scored and played note for note the same) is that one pays attention to it in a different way. Elizabeth-Jane’s structure of themes led one unshowily through the film, though not to say, as many will know the harp from effects such as the glissando and from virtuouso concert-playing, that the accompaniment was not without its appropriate drama and grandeur (that Technicolor scene on the steps, or the seemingly playful folly of Christine removing the mask).

Using the physical architecture of the instrument, tapping and strumming on the case, and running and sliding her fingers along it, Elizabeth-Jane in no way limited herself to the traditional way in which a pedal harp would be employed, and she is no doubt influenced in her choice both by work as a recitalist and composer, and by playing works by other composers such as Graham Fitkin (who wife Ruth Wall plays his work in her repertoire). The music and its playing were daring and inventive, and the great round of applause that she received at the end of the work, and again when reintroduced, are testament to how much Elizabeth-Jane had enhanced people’s enjoyment of this silent master, with her varied layers of interpretation, and her witty and inventive performance.


* Philbin showed herself, if not coquettish, then easily bought by flattery in her visual responses to what she hears her Master promise her : one momentarily thinks that she is not going to be taken in by it, and she then falls head over heels in love with her stardom and adoration.
** One finds it a little hard to stir much for Raoul [de Chagny] (Norman Kerry). Here, he knows that Christine has gone out of sight, behind the mirror, but, other than huff and puff a little, he does nothing, and seems to make nothing of trying to follow it up. A mere man might do no more, but it turns him into something of an anti-hero, and The Phantom, who is willing to fight for Christine’s love and capable of doing so, seem more appealing, which is all to the good of the dynamics.

And then there is when Leydoux (Arthur Edmund Carewe) and he, after the farcical holding of their hand in the air against the strangler’s snare, find themselves at The Phantom’s mercy, as the room of mirrors burns them and they strip off :

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Ma Bête !

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

30 November

This is a review of La Belle et La Bête (1946), as shown at Bath Film Festival 2013 (@BathFilm) in a new BFI (@BFI) restoration (a trade-in for writing a Film Note for the festival)

99 = S : 17 / A : 17 / C : 16 / M : 17 / P : 16 / F : 16

A rating and review of La Belle et La Bête (1946)

S = script

A = acting

C = cinematography

M = music

P = pacing

F = feel

9 = mid-point of scale (all scored out of 17, 17 x 6 = 102)

Georges Auric, just on the showing of this score (though, amongst others, he worked his effect on such highly rated films as Passport to Pimlico (1948) and Roman Holiday (1953)), would be considered an insightful composer. He gives us, for example, a compact overture, builds to a finale to match the assumptive apotheosis, and, in between, has unresolved chords when a dark forest is being penetrated, tellingly uses the middle part of the oboe’s register at key moments, and transforms and modulates themes to suggest the transitional moods.

As one would expect of him, Jean Cocteau has produced in this film a work that resonates with literary, cultural and homosexual allusion and yields an almost overwhelming richness of meaning*. On one level, Adéläide (Nane Germon) and Félicie (Mila Parély) are the ugly sisters from Cinderella, except that they are not ugly beyond their attitudes and aspirations, but just that La Belle (Josette Day) is more beautiful in all of those things. (We also have something like the looking-glass from Snow White, hints of Goldilocks when the father enters La Bête’s domain, and Little Red Riding Hood with the perilous forest.)

Looked at differently, we have Shakespearean perspectives in La Belle’s father as Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, with Bottom’s becoming an ass, and with Lear’s division of the kingdom between his daughters, where La Belle asks but for a rose (as against a monkey or a parrot) and is blamed when plucking one (with all the rich symbolism of rose-picking going back to The Romaunt of the Rose) proves dire.

On the level of realistic narrative, a father looking to save himself at the suggestion that one of his daughter’s should die in his place seems monstrous, though little as monstrous as much in Lear, but it amounts to the same thing : which of the daughters loves him more than the others to take his place (with all the suggestion of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice) ? Link this with the insincerity of La Belle’s sisters, their scheming, and their desire to subjugate her and one has quite a bit more than the Prince Charming story.

What we must also have is inspiration for other filmic enterprises such as Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Elephant Man (1980), Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Edward Scissorhands (1990), but also wide influences from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (for whose film Auric wrote the music ten years later) and Nosferatu (1926) (those doors that open themselves) to the Wife of Bath’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales.

Names are important (though probably inherited by Cocteau, but he would have known what to do with them), with, beyond Belle = Beauty, ones that mean happy or lucky (Félicie), noble or honourable (Adéläide), fame or fighter / warrior (Ludovic), and pleasant or welcoming (Avenant) : link beauty with happiness and honour and you have a powerful trio, but, when being happy means selfishly seeking out one’s own comfort (even at the risk of another becoming a slave) and when it is only honour amongst thieves, one has a pair as corrupt and venal as Goneril and Regan.

The circumstances of shooting, so soon after the end of the war, mean that the privations that Chris Baker brings out in his festival film not only match those of this family wracked by debt by vessels being lost at sea (U-boats, etc.), but are also reminiscent of The Cherry Orchard, with so many people, other than the self-motivated sisters, failing to do anything beyond moping or spending the last pennies in the tavern to remedy the situation (and La Belle only incidentally does that by her holy tears of pity turning to diamonds). The requirements to be careful whom one trusted in war time, and who one’s real friends were, must have been raw topics at this film’s release.

With La Belle and La Bête, the polarity is more obvious, with him moaning Je sais que je suis horrible – she, who was a willing sacrifice, brings to him her goodness and faith, which he finds hard to receive, and is adamantly vocal that she should not kneel to him. At the start, with a clapperboard that was going to set things off interrupted by Cocteau’s written admonition read aloud by him (and, as in the credits, with a superscript five-pointed star), we are urged how to try to enter into this world. La Belle, likewise, enters into La Bête’s world, and, in return for glowing less with a kind of saintliness in her beauty **, takes on a different beauty that she can share with him, where La Bête can become Ma Bête.

As, in more senses than one, this is a tale of enchantment, I had a theory about La Bête (which turned out to be wrong), but I became more interested in his psychology, brought out wonderfully by Jean Marais both in his vocal tone, and his eyes, demeanour and gait. He did change, did develop before our eyes, and the side of him that exacted bargains from people on pain of death, humbled before La Belle, appeared to soften. He is a sort of Prospero, swearing a vengeance on his brother and other betrayers that he does not - cannot - carry out (which is where the Greenaway connection is), or a bit the man behind the illusion of The Wizard of Oz.

Cocteau winds up the story gradually, seeming to be an unmagical one until the branches part in the forest and the father finds himself in La Bête’s domain. When he enters, and the male hands holding a candelabra move and gesture, and the male faces watch and follow, we are conscious that he is a man amongst disembodied male features, and there is a homoerotic tinge (when the hand at the table lets go of the shaft (sic) of the candelabrum to pour the wine, the father jumps a mile) – later, when La Belle passes through, and, after that, describes how they brush her hair, they take on a different character. Striking imagery that could not have failed to say some to a film-maker such as Peter Greenaway, or a writer such as Samuel Beckettt.

Whatever meaning one tries to put on this film, no one will adhere, because it is, with music, words and the visual world, such a coherent piece of art that it is, as Chris Baker says was Cocteau’s desire, poetry, and demands to be watched over again.


* Whatever its starting-point in the writing of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.

** I am not with Chris Baker in finding a Vermeer resemblance made out, not even to what is called Girl with a Pearl Earring, as hair swept back and in a headscarf is not an unusual look.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)