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Romy Schneider

Review: César and Rosalie

[Originally published in Movietone News 23, May-June 1973]

There’s no good reason why this film shouldn’t be entitled César and Rosalie and David since that’s a much more complete and accurate indication of what’s going on herein. Rosalie (Romy Schneider) is the mistress of César (Yves Montand), a vulgar but dynamic and likable junk tycoon given to explosive demonstrations of affection one moment, rage the next. She has a child, a little daughter, by a painter named named Antoine whom she married after the love of her life, another artist named David (Sami Frey), bugged out to the States without a word of explanation. After five years David returns as unexpectedly as he departed; Rosalie, without ceasing to love César, finds she’s still interested. César, doing his utmost to appear subtle and to take things in stride, belatedly catches on and threatens to make a shambles of all their lives. The film proceeds along familiar enough lines with Rosalie gravitating first to one man, then to the other. It is the violently changeable César who finally concedes that he cannot cope with “imagination,” as personified by David, and that Rosalie cannot be content without both of them; he invites his rival to share their seaside idyll. At that point Rosalie finds herself confronted with a particularly incongruous Jules-and-Jim relationship in the making and clears out entirely—only to return, a year later, just as the two men have settled into a mutually supportive (though not necessarily homosexual) lifestyle. And at that questionable juncture, the film terminates.

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The Trial

“[I]t’s my own picture, unspoiled in the cutting or anything else…. The producers were heroic and got it made, and there isn’t anything I had to compromise—except no sets, and I was happy with the other solution, as it turned out, even though I was kind of in love with all the work I’d done. Still, I was happy enough to scuttle it, as I always am.”
–Orson Welles on The Trial, from This is Orson Welles

Anthony Perkins in ‘The Trial’

Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1959) is now celebrated as a masterpiece, but the version released in 1959 was not the film that Welles had intended and it was largely dismissed as a glorified B-movie. It had been for Welles one last attempt to make films inside the studio system and he brought the film in on time and on budget. Yet Universal thought that his labyrinthine nightmare of a crime movie was too dark and confusing for audiences and took the editing from his hands. Welles’ famous fifty-eight-page memo (which became the basis of a 1998 revision undertaken by producer Rick Schmidlin and editor Walter Murch) was politic, polite and even supportive of some of the changes made by Universal’s editor as it made the case for editing refinements. Welles played by the rules right to the end, attempting to work with the producers rather than fight them, but it became clear that Hollywood simply did not want the kinds of films that Welles made and he left for Europe. Never again did he work with the budgets or the resources of a major studio production. That was his trade-off for creative control.

The Trial (1963) was not Welles’ first project after Touch of Evil—he started shooting Don Quixote in Mexico and Spain and made a series of documentaries for Spanish TV—but it was the first film he completed after leaving Hollywood.

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Review: The Old Gun

[Originally published in Movietone News 54, June 1977]

The Old Gun came to the Second Seattle International Film Festival with a host of French “Oscars” (Picture, Actor, Original Music Score) to recommend it. While Philippe Noiret was excellent (he doesn’t know how to be less than excellent, in supporting role or lead), the film itself tended to confirm that the same sorts of movies win foreign Best Picture awards that customarily take the prize in the States. The Old Gun is basically a lame excuse for a film with a Big Subject: war crimes and their devastating impact on the hearts and minds of decent individuals. Noiret plays a French physician who treats wounded Frenchmen and wounded Germans with equal diligence and compassion, sympathizes with but keeps clear of the Resistance, and mainly tries to do his job and look to the safety of his family, a wife and daughter. Most of the action takes place within hailing distance of 1944, when the Germans were hanging on to their occupied territory even though it was apparent to one and all that Allied victory was near. Noiret ships the family off to an out-of-the-way village where his tribe has maintained a château for centuries. Seeking to protect them at this critical period of the fighting, he inadvertently puts them right in the way of retreating troops desperate to make up in havoc what they cannot achieve as tactical victory; he arrives on the scene to find the village massacred, his daughter murdered, his wife reduced to a charred statue by flamethrower. The Germans, scarcely more than a patrol, are still in residence, and he sets about their methodical annihilation, making use of his familiarity with the château and its subterranean, intramural passages and an old hunting piece he recalls being stashed away in an attic.

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“Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno” – Portrait of the Artist as a Mad Man

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (Flicker Alley)

Serge Bromberg is one of the most dedicated film preservationists in the world today. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, his documentary on the legendary unfinished film, represents a different kind of detective work but the same spirit of discovery, preservation and presentation of cinema saved from neglect.

Romy Schneider in one of Clouzot's fantasy images

In 1964, French director Henri-George Clouzot—a man at the top of his game and his fame for such films as The Wages of Fear, Diabolique and La vérité (though largely forgotten today, it was an Oscar nominee and a Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Language Film)—was given carte-blanche by Columbia Pictures to make a dream project. His film, a portrait of obsessive jealousy in a husband (Sergio Reggiani) who becomes insanely paranoid and maniacally controlling of his beautiful young wife (Romy Schneider, then one of the most luminous stars in Europe), collapsed in the director’s own obsessive camera tests and experiments, increasingly demanding direction and endless reshoots. He pushed the production overbudget and over schedule, drove his leading man to quit in exasperation and became distracted in exacting minutiae at the cost of the big picture. When a heart attack leveled him, the producers to pull the plug. It’s like Hearts of Darkness as reconceived by Werner Herzog as an epic failure: one man’s vision and creative ambition fueled by obsession and growing megalomania and laid low by the limits of physical reality, production economics and the limits of his own body.

Serge Bromberg’s documentary (co-directed with Ruxandra Medrea Annonier) is a peek into a film that never was through a rich collection of rushes and camera tests, unseen and forgotten for decades until Bromberg tracked it down and negotiated access to the preserved and protected reels. The footage (some of it in raw, undeveloped form until Bromberg’s involvement) reveals an artist searching for new expressive ways to explore jealousy and madness on film, but also a relentlessly ambitious artist looking for new ways to express himself. When Clouzot began production, it had been four years since he had made a film and the freewheeling directors of nouvelle vague had become the young turks of film art in the meantime. He had something to prove to them, to the critics and to the public. And possibly to himself.

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Out of the Past: Otley

[Originally published in slightly different form in Movietone News 58-59, August 1978]

Asked to name the absolute quintessence of the late-1960s film hero, whom would you choose? Benjamin Braddock? Antoine Doinel? Cool Hand Luke? Rooster Cogburn? Butch Cassidy or the Sundance Kid? Frank Bullitt? Wyatt or Billy from Easy Rider? My vote would go to none of these, but to Gerald Arthur Otley, the eponymous hero (played so superlatively well by Tom Courtenay) of Dick Clement’s dazzling first feature. Otley has all the wariness, all the coward’s cunning, all the what’s-in-it-for-me cynicism of the man in the 1969 street; but he also has the quick wit of the born survivor, the good luck of the sainted schlemiel who always somehow stumbles through, the street kid’s celerity in taking advantage of a sudden change in situation and the resilience of the eternally befuddled, but also eternally cocky, “little man” who gets by as much because of his smallness as his manhood. Otley is a thief, a rogue, a liar, a scrounger, a seducer of other men’s wives, and he’s no good at any of these things, and not much good at anything much else either, not even at being the layabout he so naturally is. But he has no malice in him and he loves life, even as it baffles and overlooks him.

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Antonioni’s Red Desert and Cavalier’s Le Combat dans l’ile – DVDs of the Week

Monica Vitti and Richard Harris in the modern landscape

Red Desert (Criterion)

The color debut of Michelangelo Antonioni continues his exploration into the cinema of alienation with a new dimension. And it’s not just the expanded palette, which he paints in the colors of waste. This drama of dislocation and neurosis is set against an industrial landscape where the rivers are choked black and oily with pollution, the barren lots around factories are dead, gray graveyards of junk and ash and waste, the horizon is made up of smokestacks belching smoke and flames and even the parks hiss smoke from pipes running under the sod.

Giuliana (Monica Vitti, Antonioni’s great muse) navigates this world tenuously, a fragile woman in a world where the detritus of industry has almost eradicated the natural world. Richard Harris (his voice dubbed into Italian) is a visiting corporate recruiter who becomes infatuated with the beautiful but nervous wife of his colleague. There’s a flirtation of sorts, but it’s as emotionally smothered as the industrial world around them.

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Review: Bloodline

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

There are certain questions that tend to come up in the dark nights of the critical soul, like ferinstance: How, in a just universe, can there be a greater resemblance between the basest, most incompetent shlock and art of a very high and rarified degree, than between. say, middling-respectable shlock and moderately successful art? It’s as though the snake of aesthetic value had swallowed its tail and brought polar extremes into a condition of adjacency. The Kit Parker Films catalog carries my appalled reaction to a grade-Z horror property named Scared to Death (Christy Cabanne, 1946, with Bela Lugosi in Natural Color), which includes a discussion of the resemblance between the budgetary-imaginative limitations of this level of cinematic creation and the sorts of narrative shorthand and lacunae-leaping one encounters in avowedly surrealist artworks. If anyone wants to take the discussion further, he might well pick up on Bloodline, a multimillion-dollar dog of summer that outdoes in ineptitude any Z-movie you care to name—that is, in fact, so astoundingly poor that one almost needs a new theory of cinema to cope with it.

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