Jacques Demy came to L.A. in 1968 and made a film, Model Shop. I knew nothing about this film when I watched it and I suggest you watch it in the same state of innocence, you will be rewarded with a delicious surprise. Like other European directors who came to Hollywood to make a film, Demy finds the extraordinary in our ordinary, beauty in plain sight, yet invisible to most Americans who take it for granted or in the case of L.A. (where Model Shop is filmed) downright hate it. The comparison that comes to mind is Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, a much maligned film that I like. Both of these films were flops at the Box Office but so what, they capture a Los Angeles at a point in time like a fly trapped in amber.
With the sucess of Easy Rider and other counter culture films, producers were desperate to cash in on the youth craze and gave young directors like Demy a shot. Anouk Aimee is wonderful, so beautiful, so feminine, so mysterious.
Do yourself a favor , do not watch the trailer or read anything about Model Shop, just watch it. It’s photographed by an ex-pat Frenchman who moved to Hollywood, Michel Hugo and he does a wonderful job, the Technicolor portrait of L.A. is stunning, and the locations are great. It looks like they filmed in the real places in the story. I met Michel many years ago when he was teaching a cinematography class. He also shot the 1st Kolcack, The Night Stalker, one of the best TV movies of all time. Gary Lockwood is good, enigmatic, handsome. All American. He was fresh off his big role in Kubrick’s 2001,
Demy wanted an unknown actor he found, Harrison Ford but the studio said no, here is some footage from a screen test Ford did for Demy.
I guess Anouk was reprising her character from Demy’s first film Lola, but I haven’t seen it yet so I’ll report back after checking it out. Anyway take a trip down Memory Lane, the 60’s , psychedelia, Vietnam, the music of Spirit and check out Model Shop.
Here is a fascinating segment showing the great Tomas Milian dubbing a film for his frequent collaborator maestro . I love that Corbucci and the engineer are laughing at Tomas’ funny performance and that Corbucci is wearing shades in the recording studio. Also check out the Italian foley artists at the end, so cool. I think that films where the entire soundtrack is created in post have a fascinating atmosphere, especially the Italian ones from the 60’s but also films like the dubbed Mexican Horror films, the Braniac, Curse Of the Crying Woman, The Witches Mirror, and parts of Plan Nine From Outer Space. The film they are working on here is Sonny and Jed.Thanks to my friend Eric Zalvidar for turning me on to this clip.
Here’s a trailer for the film they’re working om.
I just got the Criterion Blu Ray release of La Notte, it is fantastic. If you are at all interested in this film, get it you won’t be disappointed. Such a visually stunning film, set in Milan in 1961, the center of the Italian Economic Boom, it contrasts the old and the new city in brilliant ways. In a way this is what the film is about, the characters in this changing landscape, this changing, evolving world, and what it does to them. An investigation into the function of human emotions in this rapidly changing theater, do they still make sense? Do they have to evolve as well? These characters, figures in a landscape, that are so cut off from everything. Three of the greatest Cinema actors of all time grace this production, Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Moreau, and the sublime Monica Vitti, Antonioni’s Muse.
Marcello and Moreau were unhappy with this film, probably because Marcello has never seemed so weak, so dissatisfied, so nothing. Moreau on the other hand is much more alive, curious, searching. Her intelligence and sensitivity are revealled in snatches of conversation, a monolouge, glances, gestures.
Antonioni celebrates the power and intelligence of women better than anyone else, especially considering the time and place this film was made, Italy,1961, a male dominated culture. His women are so much more interesting than his men, he saw the gifts and insights women have to offer and illuminated them so clearly. A sign of his maturity as an artist and human being. All this and more is expressed by the incredible camerawork of Gianni Di Venanzo. This guy has become my favorite cameraman of all time, such a genius,his framing is so unorthodox and powerful, his use of Black, amazing, people are always turning off lights and becoming inky silhouettes, or moving through darkness and light. Plus this film has many wonderful mysterious reflecting surfaces, sometimes you can’t tell what’s real, people become ghosts floating through Architecture. Bravo Gianni! A Poet of the Eye, the camera.
There is a little booklet that comes with the Criterion release, in it Antonioni speaks about the gestation of the film. He had the idea before L’Aventura and had begun working on it. He thought a less attractive woman would be good for the lead, so he went to see Giulietta Massina, wife of Federico Fellini and talk to her about the film. Fellini loved the idea and said it would make a fantastic film. But Antonioni didn’t make it at that time and changed his mind about the lead, using the compelling Jean Moreau.
Fellini went on to make La Dolce Vita with Marcello Mastroianni, a film that shares many elements with La Notte. The male leads are both writers, alienated, losing their creative spark. Both films have important characters that are encouraging to the artistic sides of the writers, friends that wind up dead. Steiner in La Dolce Vita, Garani in La Notte.
There are scenes in nightclubs featuring exotic dancers in both, fetishistic, sexualized performances by people of a different race. Monica Vitti is the bored beautiful daughter of a super rich businessman that firts with Marcello, Anouk Aimee plays that part in La Dolce Vita. Vitti has a reel to reel tape recorder she plays with, recording her spoken thoughts that she erases, Steiner has a reel to reel also that almost reveals his innermost thoughts. A working woman at a snack bar on the edge of town, in kind ofa run down area tells Moreau of a nearby hotel she can use for an assignation, Anouk takes Marcello to the run down apartment of a prostitute to have sex with him. They both have climactic scenes at a huge party on a big estate that wind up with decadent games. Both end at dawn after the party, even the cmaera movement through the trees in the final scenes is similar.
Ennio Flaiano was a screenwriter on both. La Dolce Vita was a huge hit, probably because of the controversy surrounding it, the Church banned it, people were forbidden to see it, a sure way to increase ticket sales. I don’t know how La Notte did at the box office, it is an uncommercial film but it is interesting to compare them, these two artists obviously inspired one another, I wonder what their relationship was like? In any case see La Notte. A vision of the future of Makind from 1961.
I just watched this on Hulu Plus, it’s not out on BluRay yet so I will wait to buy a copy, but hurry up Criterion! What a beautiful film, two amazing actors in their young, glorious prime. I’m speaking of the incomparable Monica Vitti and the super cool super handsome Alain Delon.
But don’t read this or watch the clip of Scorsese below until after you have seen the film. See it in your innocent state unaware of the treasures it holds, then come back and read this if you like, I don’t want to compromise the experience of seeing this film for the first time for anyone.
A visionary director at the peak of his creative powers and my new favorite cameraman of all time, Gianni DeVenanzo,(what a genius!) There’s something about a director in love with his leading lady that can be stupendous. I am reminded of Godard and Anna Karina, they made such beautiful, honest, moving films together.
Maestro and Muse
Here Antonioni does it with his Muse Monica Vitti, the love scenes that play out in this film are so real so immediate, I dare you not to be transported back to your own first stirrings of intense passionate love. it is all photographed so beautifully and allowed to breathe and live on the screen, to me when a film is really working, it’s like it comes to life on the screen before your eyes, like the characters can step off the screen and dance around the theater or the top of your Steenbeck. The film going through the gate seems to pulse with life, to breathe. This is true Cinema, the magical machine that captures the essence of humanity and preserves it like a fly in amber for all time. I don’t even care what this film is about, Italian stock market crash, white African neighbor, breakup of one relationship beginning of another, it’s the informed point of view of the filmmakers that really elevates it to the stratosphere, a point brought home by the amazing montage at the end of the film, it goes on for 10 minutes, it features none of the actors even though Antonioni plays a trick on the viewer by having a blond woman enter the frame during this sequence, is it Vitti? No it’s just some woman walking through the same spot where some of our story took place.
This montage shows the culture alive at that moment recorded by an artist, it can’t help but convey his world view, his philosophy in a series of seemingly random images, but this is another basis of Cinema in the capable hands of an artist like Antonioni. Jess Franco had the ability to say so much with just an establishing shot of a European city, you somehow got more than some shots of buildings at dusk, a clock tower, whatever, it’s not just postcards when filtered through the mind of a genius. It’s like a Jazz musician playing a riff on Civilization, improvising with images and ideas. And by the by these sequences are usually accompanied by music. Images and Music, does it get any better than that?
And here for your viewing pleasure and cinematic edification is Martin Scorsese discussing Antonioni.
I’ve been watching the Mr. Moto film series that was made at 20th Century Fox. They have all been digitally restored and released in a 2 volume dvd boxed set. Great Job by all involved, I really enjoy the special features, a short film about a person involved with the series. The films are very well made, low budget productions shot on the left over sets from the high budget films. Because less money was at stake, and owing to the genre, the filmmakers were able to let their imaginations run wild and pull off some amazing content.
First of all you have Peter Lorre, arguably one of the greatest Cinema actors of all time, just watch Friz Lang’s M or Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. Lorre had to flee Nazi Germany, he wound up in Hollywood. It’s tough to re-establish yourself in a new culture, many emigre’s didn’t make the switch but Lorre did. Mr. Moto is an interesting character, he’s kind of like Batman, rich, super intelligent, tough as nails, Moto is a Jiu Jitsu expert, and ruthless. He routinely kills his adversaries ( usually ones deserving such a fate) He is also a combination of Good and Evil. During Think Fast Mr. Moto you are not sure what side he’s on for a lot of the picture. This adds a lot of dimension to the character and with an actor like Lorre you are assured of a great ride at the Cinema.
The stunts and fights are top notch, there is an interview with veteran stunt man Harvey Parry on one of the discs that is wonderful. Parry was a diving champion and national boxing champion who doubled for Lorre or as he called him Pete. A superb athelete he flings himself on his adversaries with such abandon it exhilarates the heck out of you. There is an amusing anecdote told by Louise Brooks about William Wellman’s Wild Boys Of The Road that I think involves Parry, (I’ll have to find it again and make sure I’m right before I include it.)
Finally we come to the amazing Norman Foster, an unsung hero of Hollywood. The Moto films that he co-wrote as well as directed (6 of the 8 ) are models of atmosphere, action, intrigue and efficiency. Usually starting with documentary footage from far off lands then plunging into action with Moto in one of his many disguises, they take off and don’t let up, the only dull spots are usually the romance angle between the two white leads. Moto doesn’t get to have a romance although their are some Asian women that work as his accomplices.
Foster directed Journey Into Fear for Orson Welles during Welles tenure at RKO, Welles loved what Foster did with the Moto films.
Sloan, Cotten, Welles, Mercurey Players
He also directed the My Friend Bonito, segment of Welles aborted It’s All True project. Later Foster wrote and directed the TV series Zorro for Walt Disney, The opening of Zorro is a tour de force of filmmaking. I heard Foster even wrote the Zorro theme song, which is memorable and features a great section with the word Zorro echoing at you from all angles, as if to say you never know where Zorro will strike next.
Foster, Disney, Zorro
He directed Davy Crockett for Disney as well and that series created a phenomenal cultural effect, selling coonskin caps to all the kids. Foster also directed episodes of the Batman series, another work of cultural iconographic significance. And another story of an underdog, a loner fighting for Justice, a theme Foster excelled at. Interestingly enough Orson Welles spoke of his interest in making a Batman film back in the 40’s when the character first appeared. Strange that Foster would work on it .
There should be a book written about this great artist. I get the feeling he was not a big self promoter, that he put all his efforts into creating excellent films that blasted their way into our consciousness through sheer power of image making and storytelling. A critical study of this man is long overdue, let’s hope it happens soon.
What a cool movie! I just saw it on YouTube. A great story that unfolds like a mystery, simple, compelling, intriguing. Geraldine Chaplin is wonderful as a crazy, obsessed waif who can kill you. Nobody messes with this tiny beauty and gets away with it. Ans as you watch the film you realize she is sort of a female Charlie Chaplin, she looks a lot like him, she is such a wonderful actress, in this film and the Carlos Saura films she did, I am a true fan of her talent.
Anthony Perkins is excellent too, so is Moses Gunn and a super skinny nerdy Jeff Goldblum. The way Geraldine plays all these people is amazing, it’s like she’s a ghost that can just walk into their lives, they don’t see her unless she wants them to. She actually is a kind of ghost from Tony Perkin’s past, and the way she causes Moses Gunn to fall for her is wonderful, a tough manager of an L.A. flophouse, he’s heard it all and seen it all. Nobody can break through his hard exterior except her, Emily. She has the guy loaning her money and doing chores for her in no time flat. And she is beautiful with her hair tied up in a classic style, transformed by buying a nice dress at a classy shop. this movie is kind of a paen to dedication, single minded attacking a problem, not letting anything stop you, and what a person can accomplish.
Another interesting highlight is the score, which consists of songs by the great Alberta Hunter, she was recently (when this film was made) re-discovered and made some amazing music in her later days. Another factor you’d never see in a movie today.And the movie was produced by the late great Robert Altman, a real American maverick. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him once at an early screening of The Player. I had an idea for a cut so I told Altman’s publicist, and lo and behold he liked it and implemented it. It’s fitting that he produced this film, Alan Rudolph worked with Altman on some of his films as Assistant Director, Nahville, California Split, and The Long Goodbye.
Alan Rudolph- Super Genius
This film falls into one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite genres, female revenge movies. It is one of the most powerful types of film story out there, so compelling by it’s essence. To me this film is the true extension of Film Noir, like Altman’s Long Goodbye, PostModern Film Noir. Future filmmakers, be inspired by this film! It shows you what a great story, excellent acting, and great storytelling technique can do, make an entertaining, thought provoking film, without special effects or zombies. Check this out.
What a cool movie! Dripping with atmosphere and featuring some powerful performances especially from Steve Cochran and Peter Lorre.
Lorre is one of my favorite all time film actors, check out Friz Lang’s M if you haven’t seen it. Cochran has one of the most distinct physical presences in films, his nastiness just shoots off the screen in a way like no other actor. He’s just a bad dude.
Bob Cummings is the perfect American everyman, sort of innocent, shocked by what he saw in WWII, messed up but a good egg. He brings to mind a comment Quentin Tarantino made to me about Joseph Cotten, “I love Joseph Cotten, he’s so weak.” Cummings is kind of in that category, but Cotten always had that down at his heels ex-Southern gentleman thing going on, Cummings is just from small town nowheresville.
This film is a kind of confluence of many strange and wonderful things. Based on a book by noir maestro Cornell Woolrich called The Black Path Of Fear, (I ordered a copy) it’s film noir pedigree could not be higher, I believe Woolrich had more novels made into film noirs than anyone else,( I include Val Lewtons The Leopard Man, and Truffaut’s Bride wore Black and Mississippi Mermaid).
The Producer Seymour Nebenzal produced Lang’s M, which Lorre starred in, the director , Arthur Ripley,was an old hand that got started in the silent days and would go on to direct Robert Mitchum’s Thunder Road and found the UCLA film school. Michele Morgan, the blond femme fatale, is still alive and living in France. A friend of mine (Duke Haney)reminded me that she was having her home built while this movie was being made, A kind of French Chalet that would go down in infamy some years later, 10050 Cielo Drive, scene of the grisly Manson murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Voychek Frykowski, Jay Sebring and Steven Parent.
Michele Morgan at her Cielo Drive home
The camerman was the amazing Franz Planer, a Vienese transplant who emigrated to escape the Nazis. Planer also shot the beautiful, atmospheric noir Criss Cross for Robert Siodmak. His photography is nothing short of amazing. There is a wonderful sequence of a black limousine racing a locomotive at night , it’s a tour de force of miniatures, rear projection, great low angle shots of Lorre driving, shot through the steering wheel.
The film is in the public domain now, you can watch it on Youtube, but I just learned it was restored by UCLA and screened recently, unfortunately I missed it. Hopefully they will screen it again soon or at a noir festival.
No, not the movie about ballet dancers, this one is from 1952 and is all about crime, corruption and the law. It’s funny how things intersect on the Great Plains of Life, I have been thinking a lot about George Tomasini, the film editor. This guy was one of the all time greats, look at his IMDB page almost every film he did is a classic!
The Great Cutter! George Tomasini!
He worked in many genres and they all came out great, his fantasy work with George Pal, The Time Machine, The Seven Faces Of Dr. Lao, Houdini. All great. I was watching Cape Fear with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, end credits roll, edited by George Tomasini. Plus he edited a major share of Hitchcock’s Hollywood output. Everything from Rear Window to The Birds, including Psycho with it’s famous shower scene. Anyway I will one day soon write a piece just about George. So when I checked out Mr. Tomasini’s IMDB page I saw a film listed I had not seen, The Turning Point. I thought, ” I’ll have to check that out one of these days.” Then I was cruising around the internet and ran into a blog about Bunker Hill, On Bunker Hill, this site features great images of the old neighborhood that stood just north of downtown before it was demolished. A real dreamscape used as backgrounds by many film noir masters. I then found a link to Angel’s Flight Goes To The Movies, and there was A Turning Point! Then to top it off it’s on Netflix streaming! So I checked it out. Directed by super talented William Dieterle, the man behind such classics as The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Portrait of Jennie, this is a really well written story, excellently paced by Tomasini, it has some incredible scenes, including one of the best assassinations ever filmed. A crooked cop trying to do right is set up for a hit, and the shooter is then shot by two truck driving killers(one of whom is the Professor from Gilligan’s Island). There’s a lot of great location photography all over Bunker Hill.
And a climactic scene at what I think is the old Olympic auditorium, a boxing match featuring an appearance by the second most decorated veteran of WWII, Neville Brand.
This was two years after D.O.A. where Brand tortured Edmond O’Brien, Edmond is sort of the star of The Turning Point but really it’s William Holden. Check this gem out, great writing, directing and editing and all on Netflix streaming!
Maestro Of Psychic Cinema! William Dieterle
This is a film I’ve heard about for many years and now finally it can be seen, thanks to Netflix streaming. Written by the great Terrence Malick a couple years before he directed his masterpiece Badlands, Deadhead Miles is a paean to the open road, a picaresque tale of two and eventually one traveler. That one traveler is played by Alan Arkin, a terrific performance and one of the weirdest Southern accents ever. Arkin is the driver of the big rig of destiny. Beautiful cinematography, 35mm, rich color,awe inspiring landscapes, 1971 locations make this movie a kind of low ball visual feast. And a cool country music score, by Tom T. Hall. A great supporting cast, including some real gems.
But the reason I knew about this movie is that a friend of mine worked on it. Bud Smith, great editor of such films as The Exorcist, Putney Swope, Cat People, Zoot Suit, Sorcerer, Personal Best and many other films, told me about his time on Deadhead Miles. Bud was hired to edit the film, he stayed in Los Angeles while the crew shot on location and sent the film back. Bud cut the film as it came in. At the end of the shoot the director took a few weeks off to recuperate from the rigors of a road movie. When he came into the editing room Bud was ready with his first cut of the movie. They screened it. The director said,” Can you take that all apart and put it back in dailies?” Bud said, ” You mean there’s nothing in there that you like?” ” Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.” “Well, I guess you got the wrong guy to work on your film.” And with that Bud left. Tony Bill , the producer, wisely duped Bud’s cut before having it disassembled and after a little while Mr. Bill fired the director. The new editor used Bud’s original cut for a lot of the film which then languished in obscurity until now. So check it out, a unique film.
Here’s a crazy film I happened upon last night. Joseph Losey’s The Big Night. A Coming Of Age Noir Urban Fairy Tale. John Drew Barrymore , son of the great Barrymore and father of Drew, stars and gives a great performance. He is pretty mesmerizing to watch, a fact not only due to his great talent but also to his mental instability. When a crazy person has talent they are fascinating to watch, Brando is another crazy genius that comes to mind.
Atmospheric Imagery thanks to veteran cinematographer Hal Mohr
This is a strange noir story of a boy’s 17th birthday and the night that he becomes a man.
Barrymore witnesses his father getting a savage beating from a crippled newspaper man, it sends him out into the night, the big city, thirsting for revenge.
John Drew Barrymore aka Barrymore Jr.
He goes to all the noir city hotspots, first a prizefight, his prey is a sports writer, thus serving up another staple of the noir canon, the figure of the newspaperman and the paper itself, their role in the Big City. While at the fight Barrymoore makes the acquaintance of a drunken PHD, a Doctor of Philosophy that aids him in his quest for “Al Judge” the evil columnist that caned his prostrate father. A spectator at the fight hands a bottle of liqour to the drunken doctor and I recognized this large individual as Robert Aldritch, who had worked as an assistant director with Joseph Losey on M and The Prowler. The pair of new friends follow Al St. Judge to a bar, lose him and wind up at another noir touchstone, The Nightclub! Complete with Jazz band and black vocalist. Here Losey masterfully limns a disfunctional relationship between the doctor and his mistress in a few deft strokes that tell you so much about them.
The second Mrs. Charles Foster Kane, Opera Singer Susan Alexander
The women is non other than Dorothy Comingore, Susan Alexander of Citizen Kane. She dances with Barrymore, a harbinger of her sister’s kissing him later in the film, his sexual initiation is with two women old enough to be his mother. An artifact of Losey’s relationship with his own mother, described in a biography as a “sexual predator”. Outside the restaurant Barrymore bumps into the Jazz singer telling her “she’s the best singer in the world” and ” really beautiful even if she is a…” (nigger).
Beautiful Jazz Singer! Mauri Lynn
The look on her face triggers instant regret in Barrymore, he didn’t mean to insult her, he just revealed his own upbringing and cultural limitations. A great shot follows of his anguished face in the rear window of a taxi that pulls away and disappears into the Stygian Night Of the City. A wonderful scene between Barymore and the sister of Comingore occurs at the apartment, again a motherly /sexual love thing happens. After a nighttime visit to the graveyard shift of the newspaper, Barymore finally tracks St. Judge down and has it out with the evil cripple. St. Judge reveals some startling information about the foibles of Barrymore’s father viv a vis his recently deceased sister, so unsettling the teenager that he puts down the gun and tries to leave but the rotten reporter reveals the depth of his depravity and turns the gun on our young hero, a struggle ensues , a shot is fired, the handicapped columnist hits the deck. John Drew returns to the apartment of lonely older women where the sister comforts him but his new “friend” the doctor throws him out threatening to kill him if he gets him involved in the case. Losey’s bleak view of humanity on display. Young John winds up back at home the cops show up and he pulls agun, threatening to kill himself, OK, nowadays the cops would open fire on the poor sap but back then they waited for him to work it out with his old man, the father reveals the boy’s real mother isn’t dead, she just met a new guy and split. “Don’t you hate her?” the teen asks. “No, I love her. ” The dad replies. The end! And it’s available for streaming on Netflix!
Here’s a fascinating comparison of two takes from Keaton’s Opus Steamboat Bill Jr,. You can see how well rehearsed the actors were. All those years learning elaborate physical routines on Vaudeville circuits paid off. Check out the salesman that pops in from time to time. Kino is releasing Blurays from new HD transfers of Keaton’s films, I ordered the shorts collection and as soon as I get it I will post about it.