Posted in: Books, by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors

In Black & White: Nashville

[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]

NASHVILLE. Bantam Books (paperback), illustrated. No pagination. $2.25.

On the spine it says “Robert Altman’s Nashville.” On the cover it says “Robert Altman’s Award-Winning Nashville, with an Introduction by Joan Tewkesbury.” On the title page, it says “Nashville, an Original Screenplay by Joan Tewkesbury.” This new and inviting little pocket-size is actually none of those things. It’s well known that Altman’s Nashville was about twice its present length before cutting, and this. book is way too tight to have been the “original screenplay.” It’s not a shooting script, either, because much of the dialogue is summarized in the directions, and too much is present in these pages that couldn’t have been known before the time of the actual shooting (for example, this book has the Monday night scene between Sueleen Gay and Wade, with no hint of the reported intention of the original screenplay that was to have her commit suicide). Yet the book isn’t simply a transcript of the film, either, because it does contain some dialogue and a lot of description that were not used in the film. What we have here, then, is not entirely Altman’s Nashville, and not entirely Tewkesbury’s.

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Posted in: Books, by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors

In Black & White: The Girl in the Hairy Paw

[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]

THE GIRL IN THE HAIRY PAW: King Kong as Myth, Movie, and Monster. Edited by Ronald Gottesman and Harry Geduld. Foreword: Rudy Behlmer. Layout and Design: Anthony Basile. An Avon Books “Flare” Edition. Paperbound, coffeetable size. 286 pages, illustrated. $5.95.

A browser’s delight, this paperbound first printing has much to recommend it, but not without qualification. The Girl in the Hairy Paw, whose cover blurb calls it “a documentary study of King Kong,” combines the multicritical anthology approach of the “Focus” series with interesting archaeology into the origins of the film, and with the visual appeal of the better coffeetable editions—a sort of Citizen Kong Book. Virtually every aspect of the film is covered: an examination of the origin in myth and literature of the ape’s representation of the bestial side of man, humankind’s physical aggressiveness and sexual lust; studies of the literary precursors of the film (Jonathan Swift, Madame Leprince de Beaumont, H. Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Edgar Wallace are all proposed as direct influences); the question of authorship of the actual screenplay (Edgar Wallace’s role is generally minimized in favor of Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack, and Willis O’Brien, but Mark Bezanson presents an article in which he describes and quotes from a Wallace draft of the original screenplay, of which none of the others seems to have been aware, but which includes scenes found in the finished film); the process of model animation; sound dubbing; Robert Fiedel’s excellent reassessment of Max Steiner’s “corny” soundtrack score; and an anthology of the film’s influence on popular myth, including a number of parodies and cartoon recreations of the giant ape. Included are items as diverse as the magnificent storyboard drawings of Willis O’Brien (which alone are worth the price of the volume), several critical articles (most previously anthologized), Fay Wray’s reminiscences, Arnold Auerbach’s interview with Kong in retirement, Bob Newhart’s monologue of the rookie night watchman in the Empire State Building on that night of nights, Mad magazine’s famous lampoon of the film, and reproductions of posters, stills, cartoons, comic book pages, advertisements, and magazine covers using the Kong motif. The one additional thing the book’s concept seems to have called for is a printing of the film’s shooting script. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been included, nor does it seem to have occurred to the editors to do so, since they never even mention the possibility.

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Posted in: by James Monaco, Contributors, Essays, Interviews

Au milieu du monde: Alain Tanner and Swiss Film

[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]

Alain Tanner, now 45, served a long apprenticeship before he was able to make his first feature film six years ago. Before he could become a Swiss filmmaker it was necessary to invent Swiss film. There had been some activity in the German-speaking part of the country during and just after the war. Exiles had provided Zurich with a modest film industry (and even a studio), and during the war years about ten to fifteen features per year were produced in Swiss-German dialect. Since the borders had been closed to imports, these films were extremely popular. But when the war ended, the exiles departed and the Zurich filmmakers retrenched, concentrating on documentaries and industrial films.

Meanwhile, in Romand Switzerland (the French-speaking Swiss comprise approximately one-sixth of Switzerland’s six million population) there had never been any native film culture to speak of while Tanner was growing up. “Switzerland exists much more for the German Swiss than for us,” Tanner explains. “They have a real identity while we don’t. There are some differences between the French and us, but we are much more of a French province than the German Swiss are a German province.” So, after having studied literature at the University of Geneva following the war, Tanner left the country, working first on cargo ships around the world, then doing a little journalism, waiting for “something to happen.” In the middle Fifties he settled in London (choosing that city, even though he knew nothing about England, because in Paris it was so difficult to get work). He met people like Lindsay Anderson and Karel Reisz who were just starting the Free Cinema movement; “we got to be quite good friends,” Tanner says, “and they managed to get us work with the Film Institute.” In 1957 he and fellow Swiss exile Claude Goretta (the two of them had known each other since university days and had, in fact, founded one of the first film societies in Switzerland then) made their first film, a short, Nice Timea study of Piccadilly Circus at night.

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Posted in: by Peter Hogue, Contributors, Essays

The “Commercial” Life of Luis Bunuel

[Originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976]

One tends to think of Luis Buñuel’s “early” career in terms of long desert spaces between highly personal landmarks: almost two decades of relative anonymity between the collaboration with DalíUn Chien andalou (1929) and L’Age d’ôr (1930)—and the explosive resurfacing occasioned by Los olvidados (1950), and then a decade of ostensibly “commercial” filmmaking between Los olvidados and Viridiana (1961), which in turn initiated a period of big and small masterpieces extending to the present. As a new biography by Francisco Aranda makes evident, Buñuel was much more involved in film in the Thirties and Forties than has generally been recognized; and, as retrospective tributes and newly available 16mm prints show, Buñuel’s “commercial” work is much more interesting than disparaging remarks about the director’s “Mexican period” would lead us to believe. One might go even further: some of Buñuel’s lesser-known Fifties films are so good that they may alter our sense not only of Buñuel but of film in the Fifties as well.

Of the movies the director made between Los olvidados and Viridiana, perhaps only Nazarín (1958) has any great currency. But at least half a dozen titles from the period, many of them out of circulation until recently, are of special importance. Subida al cielo (1951) and Él (1953), two films which have been generally available, rank as small masterpieces—the one a devastatingly surreal B picture*, the other a superbly succinct psychological study which has something of the seductiveness and sting of Belle de Jour (1967). Susana (1951), Abismos de pasión (1954), and Robinson Crusoe (1953) are literary adaptations of considerable interest. A number of “commercial” films from just before and after Los olvidadosGran Casino (1947), El gran calavera (1949), La hija del engaño (1950), Ilusion viaia en tranvia (1953), and El rio y la Muerte (1954) rate as appealing minor works. But three others—Ensayo de un crimen (1955), La Mort en ce jardin (1956), and The Young One (1960)—deserve to be known by more than Buñuel aficionados alone. All three reflect a radical filmmaker’s approach to a conservative, conformist age, and all three are among Buñuel’s wisest and most engaging films.

* * *

Georges Marchal and Simone Signoret: 'Death in the Garden'

La Mort en ce jardin (Death In the Garden) is an “ambitious” film whose best moments prove more interesting than its plot—perhaps deliberately so. One senses Buñuel is wary of letting the film’s journey (through a dictatorship and a jungle) become too much of an easily interpretable allegory. Buñuel’s cinema is consistently and rigorously opposed to easy, readymade answers, and La Mort reflects this through a group of characters who constantly keep us off balance, and through a series of small digressions from a deceptively linear plot. The film is a sort of pilgrims’ progress, but one which is more intent on moral distinctions than on clearcut moral lessons. Anti-Catholicism and anti-imperialism both loom large, and Buñuel links them quite directly with each other. But the film’s major insights have more to do with the nature, extent and price of individual freedom. All of the characters, including an unusual missionary priest, Father Lizzardi (played by Michel Piccoli), are individualists and entrepreneurs of one sort or another. The story’s movement reveals their discovery and/or neglect of the connections each has with his fellows.

Four characters have special importance in the film’s South American setting. Castin (Charles Vanel), an aging diamond-miner, dreams of returning with his daughter (Michèle Girardon) to France and opening a restaurant. He also wants to marry Djin (Simone Signoret), a prostitute who is interested in his money but not in him. Lizzardi preaches acquiescence when the workers plan an armed rebellion against the government’s nationalization of the diamond mines. Chark (Georges Marachal), a lone wolf adventurer, disdains the government and the rebellion; but when he is arrested for freelance diamond smuggling and thereby mixed up in the general police-state brouhaha, he escapes and temporarily fights alongside the rebel leaders with a vengeance. When all of these people are thrust together in flight, he becomes their guiding light—in a way which encompasses both the conventions of the adventure film and the idiom of Buñuel’s cinema. Chark, in fact, is unique in that respect: no other Buñuel film I know of has a figure who is so commanding without being corrupt at the same time. Buñuel is not a director whom we think of as a creator of heroes, but Chark’s independence, ferocity, and lack of sentiment bring him closer to the conventional hero than is usually permitted in Buñuel’s more personal movies.

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