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Four films for a journey, from New-York to Paris

David Blot

In every edition, the journalist David Blot will speak about his favourite films and music. For this issue, we have four film reviews. Out-of-the-box culture…


Love With The Perfect Stranger by Robert Mulligan (1963) We find ourselves in New York for this little marvel, little known despite its all-star cast (Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, wow and double wow…) and it’s prestigious technical pedigree (Robert Mulligan directing and Alan J. Pakula as producer). Nathalie Wood is pregnant after a one-night stand with a perfect stranger, Steve McQueen. She has to have an abortion, but how can she when it is still illegal, dangerous and terribly grim? The film constantly oscillates between drama and comedy, romance and realism, in beautiful, sober but not sombre black and white, equally hard and soft – in quasi documentary style, as for it’s consideration of New York and the not-quite-yet hippy young adults that lived there during the 1960’s. Steve McQueen comes across as a little gauche, a bit of a buffoon, and only slightly less impressive than Nathalie Wood. But together, they form an untouchable partnership.

Death Rides a Horse by Giulio Petroni (1967) We are in Western America, or rather no, we are in Spain, in the region of Almeria, where most Italian Westerns were filmed in the 1960’s. This dry and rocky region strongly resembles Arizona. This genre is bound to make a fierce comeback soon by way of Quentin Tarantino. He has recently announced that his next film, entitled Django Unchained, will be a remake – although it will be very different – of a classic Western, the Django by Sergio Corbucci (1966). Death Rides a Horse (or in it’s original version Da Uomo a Uomo) could serve you as a very good introduction to this genre. It functions a bit like a ‘Best of’ of Western films, with all the usual spicy ingredients you expect: lingering close-ups, dozens of people killed at a time, revenge, obsessions, rape, torture, unbelievable mugs, minimal dialogue, monolithic heroes, wildly perverse villains, with Lee Van Cleef starring, and a theme song by Ennio Morricone. Tarantino shot at least three direct copy-tributes in Kill Bill, in which he repeated the line word for word: “Revenge is a dish best served cold… The way you’re going you’ll end up with indigestion”. Plagiarist!

Jazz on a Summer’s Day by Aram Avakian and Bert Stern (1959) We are in Newport, Rhode Island, on the East coast of the USA, at the end of the 1950’s, sliding straight to the top of the list of best musical films. This story is void of all voiceovers or interviews, filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival. The camera is up-close, day and night, capturing an audience that is a near-perfect mix of stunning beauty, Don and Betty Draper style in Mad Men, and pre-Jean Seberg beatniks, black intelligentsia, young rockers, old travelling performers and young dumbfounded children. It’s a totally feel-good film. And then, for the music, we are treated to no less than Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, Gerry Mulligan, Big Maybelle, Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, I could go on. The Chico Hamilton Quintet gives an outrageous performance, displaying talent as well. It is simply perfect. It lies right at the top of that list of concerts that if you didn’t see it, you would regret it for the rest of your life. OK, so you weren’t even born then, but that’s still not an excuse!

The Black Book by Anthony Mann (1949) We find ourselves in Paris in the 18th century…but seen through the eyes of Hollywood. The French Revolution, magnified in this black and white film, is the strength and curiosity of this masterpiece by veteran Anthony Mann. Under the benediction of the Marquis de Lafayette, the history of the Revolution is recounted to us from the death of Danton up to that of Robespierre’s. From a marvellously claustrophobic set, the film covers all genres – thriller, horror, espionage, cloak and dagger, adventure, suspense and even bondage, everything – …but history. The French Revolution is reduced to the frantic chasing of a black book, which is likely to cause the downfall of Robespierre. But even if the political vision seems fairly perfunctory, the film comes out on top regardless. To a peasant remeniscing over the time of the “Bon Louis” (understood to be Louis XVI), the heroine replies furiously that one must believe in the Republic and never look back despite the Reign of Terror. Follow the terrible and vicious Fouché, the incorruptible psycho Robespierre, Saint-Just the collaborator (in the film but not in reality!), and our hero, the intrepid Barras deep into the corners of Paris. And let the adventure begin…What a delight!

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