Monday, June 29, 2009

Two in Red

Friday, June 26, 2009

Franscope and American Color

One tradition we've sadly lost: the "first film in color." That second debut that usually marked the moment a director became more commercially viable (though nowadays we have a new tradition, exclusive to older filmmakers--the "first film on video"--that usually marks the beginning of a looser, less commercially-minded period). As The Red Desert, as in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, so in L’Aîné des Ferchaux (sometimes called Magnet of Doom in English), Jean-Pierre Melville's first film in color, a film set largely (and largely unknown) in America. Melville's other color films are designed in this sort of funeral parlor hue that gives everything a sense of twilight. A haze, a prolonged decay that permeates the image and brings out the green in a person's skin.

The images all have exclamation points, as if Melville's thinking "America! New York!" The excited way street signs and motels are framed gives it a sort of home movie quality: a little movie and a big one, at the same time. That sort of mad love for American culture only a foreigner (usually a Frenchman) can have, the kind that leads Jean-Paul Belmondo, in the scene above, to punch out two GIs for calling Frank Sinatra a "wop." Melville is a man of symbols, but they tend to be symbols of a fairly minute nature: clothing, cars, the way objects (cigarettes, pistols, hats) are held and handled. L’Aîné des Ferchaux seems to be working on the largest level of any Melville movie--the symbols it works with are fairly large: cities, popular references, thousands of dollar bills raining down into a canyon. The landscape shots look like sketches for the Western Melville always hoped to make; the project was never realized, but with L’Aîné des Ferchaux we get little glimpses of, like in the sequence where Belmondo kisses a beautiful hitch-hiker against the backdrop of a stern blue sky and imposing rocks, a river rushing along nearby.

"The only necessary thing would be an organizing intelligence. Wexler's. And the camera. The characters would relate directly to the eye. They would make their own context. It would be impossible for a modern audience not to see a resonance with what had been happening in the streets. With what was happening in the world. It would be documentary fiction."
--Jeremy M. Davies, Rose Alley


Looking through my computer, I found a folder of still frames I took from DVDs a few years ago. It was a good habit to have. I should get back into it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Cotton Club is Francis Ford Coppola's best film. I bring it up now because Tetro is opening in theaters soon. It's good, but really The Cotton Club's the only Coppola that's worth a damn. Well, maybe Bram Stoker's Dracula, too.

There's no betrayal in The Godfather, just pretty pictures -- but you can feel it in Maurice Hines' face and understand what's it's like to be the traitor in Gregory Hines' eyes. Richard Gere expresses more through his cornet than Marlon Brando ever could with his mumbling mouth. There are no moments in any of Coppola's other films like the Hoofers' Club tap-off, the screen test, the dance club slap. There is no tenderness like the half-second Gregory Hines kisses Loretta McKee's neck when they reunite after years apart, and no emotion more vivid than the tap dance number the Hines brothers share when they reunite in a Harlem club. No speech like the one Lawrence Fishburne delivers at the bar after being fucked over by the mob. It's Coppola's truest film.