From Paris to the Moon
The fifth edition of the chronicle by journalist David Blot. This time, he helps us to (re)discover some seminal films of their genre.
Zazie in the Metro (1960)
We are in Paris with this quasi-contemporary adaptation (the book dates from 1959, the film the following year), by a still young Louis Malle, of the classic by Raymond Queneau. A priori intransposable on the big screen, Malle casts Philippe Noiret as Uncle Gabriel and a very young Catherine Demongeot as the title role of Zazie, and plays around with the images as Queneau plays with the words. A wisp of Jacques Tati, a touch of Blake Edwards, and direct quotes from Mad Magazine, it’s all very agitated, sometimes beautiful, sometimes a bit long, but it damn well makes you want to re-read the book…It also makes it difficult to avoid feeling nostalgic for a bygone Paris, for a film that is otherwise highly irreverent in its execution.
Trip to the Moon (1902)
We are…on the moon! Taking everything back to the beginning. The first, and certified international blockbuster in film history is French. In 12 minutes, Méliès creates a lunar world halfway between H.G. Wells and Jules Verne with scantily clad female angels and, of course, a big rocket. In contrast to other amateur films from the time – practically all documentaries – A Trip to the Moon was an example of absolute fiction. The Journey has been re-released in 2011 in a modern colorized version – you can imagine that, in 1902, each image had to be painted by hand – and with a new soundtrack by Air.
Les Vampires (1915 / 10 episodes)
We return to Paris for a silent film. Les Vampires by Louis Feuillade in 10 episodes is without a doubt one of the most exciting works of French cinema and raises the question: How does one country, France, which produced in the space of thirty years some of the most important icons of pop culture (Jules Verne, Gustave Eiffel, Maurice Leblanc, Méliès and Louis Feuillade, no less) become as corny as all the rest of them in twentieth century? I spy the first of the guilty party in the 1930’s with Jacques Prévert…but that’s to be discussed another time. And Les Vampires, devours them all. A masterpiece!
The Tall T (1957)
We are in Arizona. Written by Burt Kennedy, inspired by a story about Elmore (Jackie Brown) Leonard, The Tall T (translated into French as L’homme de l’Arizona) is one of seven collaborative westerns directed by Budd Boetticher and the actor Randolph Scott. Short, lean and simple, the film begins with twenty cheerful minutes, all very Little House on the Prairie, before moving onto a hostage taking of amazing psychological maturity (with moral issues typical of Boetticher) and ending with a bloody shootout, and all in 1:18. Among the bad guys, there is the former Jane Tarzan, Maureen O’Sullivan, and the first film role of the future star of the Italian series Z, Henry Silva with a face that is impossible to forget. Note that the title, The Tall T, was not chosen by the writers, or by the director…and indeed no one has ever figured out what it means. We know Ford, and a bit of Mann, but Boetticher remains to be explored in the context of masterful concise and accurate westerns, and The Tall T can serve as the perfect introduction for that.
The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
We are in an underground and intercultural Shanghai, in the unique setting of a casino amongst many characters of obscure pasts and shattered destinies. A perfect cocktail for Joseph Von Sternberg, served up with a hallucinogenic delivery: Walter Huston as a corrupt businessman, Ona Munson as ‘Mother’ Gin Sling, the ruthless madam, Victor Mature aka Dr. Omar, as the conniving false Arab, but true charlatan, Marcel Dalio as the French dealer, not to mention (I cannot find his name) the mandatory fat and rich Chinese man with his women in cages sold to the highest bidding marine. But don’t touch Gene Tierney, fat Chinese man, she is far too beautiful for you! It is colonial exoticism in its most sadistic depravity. And Gene makes one reluctantly ask for more…Beauty and debauchery at its height, and Gene Tierney is all the way up there – just perfect.