True-crime magazine editor Pauline Astruc (Sandrine Kiberlain) seems like a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Not only did her boyfriend break up with her, but her sister Jeanne (Audrey Lamy) dragged her into going on vacation at a crowded resort — it’s so crowded that Pauline has a roommate. A very nosy roommate, Mademoiselle Blanchot (Michèle Moretti), who will interrogate Pauline about her love life, drive her literally to drink, and suddenly, suspiciously, disappear.
If you’re into movies at all, and you’ve been on social media in the last couple of weeks, you’re probably aware of a Kickstarter project for Be Natural, a feature documentary about Alice Guy-Blaché, the first female film director. Hers is a fascinating story. In 1895, at age 23, Alice was a secretary to Leon Gaumont when she saw a demo of the Lumière brothers’ brand-new Cinématographe and got inspired to start making movies. She made one of the first narrative films, La Feé aux Choux, in 1896, and synced sound with picture in 1902, to name just a couple of her innovations. After working at Gaumont for ten years, she started her own studio, Solax, in 1910. During a 20-year career in film, she wrote, produced or directed more than 1,000 films.
Even if Guy-Blaché had been male, it would be odd that such a pioneer is so little-known. But take into account that she was female, making films 20 years before U.S. women could even vote, and the fact that she and her work are so obscure becomes downright weird. What happened? Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs, of video effects house PIC, have decided to find out, and in the process, return Guy-Blaché to her rightful place in history.
Even if you don’t know their names, you know their work. Green and van Sluijs have created some of the most interesting main and end titles in film, including the ingenious opening titles for Cabin in the Woods. Their take on Guy-Blaché’s story is sure to be as innovative as she was. They’ve also gotten some pretty big names involved. Jodie Foster is narrating, Robert Redford is executive producing, and a wide variety of filmmakers appear in the trailer. Many others are donating their time and labor. But the bulk of the work – research, travel, finding photos and footage, securing rights to them, preserving and/or copying them – costs money. As they state in their Kickstarter intro…
Sadly, this is not the type of project that easily gets traditional Hollywood funding, nor is it the type of film that qualifies for most of the typical educational grants. Hollywood funding doesn’t usually go into beautifully made documentaries; educational grants don’t allow for this kind of ambition and entertainment value. This is a passion project for all of us involved, and it is through passion that we’ve been able to pull the favors from those in the industry so far.
The Kickstarter has been gaining some buzz on both social and traditional media, and it’s really taken off in the past few days. That’s the good news. The bad news is, there’s only 1 full day left. If possible, post a link to your networks and please pledge if you can. The world needs to know as much as possible about Alice Guy-Blaché.
Update: Woohoo! The Be Natural Kickstarter is funded as of August 27. The project actually exceeded the goal. But further help is needed to ensure that the film will have the funding to continue beyond the rough cut. Contributions can now be made via the web site.
Every year, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) throws a few surprises into their Summer Under The Stars (SUTS) programming. As you may know, SUTS means each day in August is dedicated to the films of a single brilliant star. Along with actors you might expect, such as Humphrey Bogart (Aug. 1) and Bette Davis (Aug. 14), TCM always includes a few surprising choices. For instance, I don’t know of any other cable channel that would run nearly 24 hours of silent films, but that’s exactly what happened on Ramon Novarro‘s day (August 8). If you missed Ben-Hur (1925) starring Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, you really should check it out.
The other somewhat unconventional and totally welcome choice in the SUTS mix this year is Catherine Deneuve (Monday, August 12). As I said on Jean Gabin day in 2011…big ups to TCM for running 24 hours of subtitles. (Actually, there is one English-language Deneuve film, The Hunger, showing at 4:15 a.m. on Tuesday, August 13. But still…it’s not something you see every day.)
Un flic is French for “a cop;” the film’s American title is less ambiguous: Dirty Money. Delon plays the title role, a brutal, not-so-clean police commissioner, who suspects that his friend, a nightclub owner (Crenna), is behind a series of bank robberies and drug deals. Cathy (Deneuve) is caught between them, sleeping with both and keeping both their secrets. Her model beauty and perfectly coiffed hair belie the anxiety in her nervous gestures and darting eyes. It’s a small part but a memorable one.
Melville is one of my favorite directors, he does crime pictures as well as anyone. His newsreel-style, on-location filmmaking was influential on Jean-Luc Godard (whose use of jump cuts was inspired by Melville). This was Melville’s last film, and like my favorite Le samouraï, Un flic may as well have been shot in the black and white of a film noir…cold desaturated colors, dark rooms, inky shadows. Thematically it’s as melancholy as any noir, and the line between the lawman and the criminal is as hazy as dusk in the Paris of Melville’s creation…this isn’t Woody Allen’s City of Lights. Part of it is unbelievable (you’ll know it when you see it), and I’m pretty sure Crenna was dubbed, but these are minor details in a suspenseful and enjoyable neo-noir.
UPDATE: No worries if you missed this on Deneuve day and you have Netflix. I searched the site on the off chance they would have Un flic on DVD, and lo and behold, not only do they have it, it’s also streaming. C’est super!
I talk about how much I love The Train all the time, I watch or DVR it every time it’s on, and I really want more people to see it, but I feel like I haven’t really said why. Its premise is deceptively simple: In the waning days of World War II, French railway inspector/Resistance member Labiche (Burt Lancaster) is ordered by Nazi-in-charge von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) to get a train through to Germany no matter what. Which wouldn’t be a big deal, except that nearly every important piece of art left in France is on the train. Von Waldheim has ruthless soldiers at his disposal, but Labiche’s Resistance friends, some of whom actually run the trains, are used to making sabotage seem normal. It’s an unpredictable, suspenseful chess match with French lives staked against the country’s soul.
Maybe it’s so good because it’s so real. How real? Lancaster did all his own stunts. He even did stunts for another actor. He was injured only once during filming but it had nothing to do with the movie: He sprained his knee while golfing. Director John Frankenheimer covered it by having Labiche get shot in the leg.
Lancaster was actually responsible for Frankenheimer’s presence on set. After the first day of filming, Lancaster didn’t think original director Arthur Penn was emphasizing action and suspense as much as necessary. The actor, who was also producing, had Penn fired and called on his Young Savages/Birdman of Alcatraz/Seven Days in May director, who was happy to help — provided his conditions were met: the film’s official title would be “John Frankenheimer’s The Train;” he would have final cut; and he would receive a Ferrari. The producers agreed to all of it. (Don’t feel too badly for Penn…he went on to make Bonnie and Clyde.)
In addition, when you see trains crashing or derailing, they’re very real, life-sized, often WWII-era, trains — Frankenheimer didn’t use miniatures. In one scene, the production was able to take advantage of the French government’s decision to scrap a railyard by “planting dynamite charges beneath the tracks….According to Newsweek, this brief sequence incorporated 140 separate explosions, 3,000 pounds of TNT and 2,000 gallons of gasoline” [source].
I could write another whole blog post about the filming of these scenes:
and I haven’t even mentioned Jeanne Moreau’s cameo as an innkeeper who may or may not be collaborating with the Nazis, the crazy weather delays and their effect on the film, or the real-life true story that inspired the script — Rose Valland’s autobiographical Le front de l’art: défense des collections françaises, 1939-1945.*
Furthermore, the film can be enjoyed as both a straight-up action picture and as a philosophical exploration of art and war. It asks the questions, “How much does art matter, and is it worth dying for?” and suggests that one’s answer will vary based on class. The Train’s preoccupation with social status is understated, but it reminds me of another film with an ambivalent outlook on war, La Grande Illusion. For starters, both have working-class Frenchmen, Labiche and Jean Gabin’s Lieutenant Maréchal, and aristocratic Germans, von Waldheim and Erich von Stroheim’s Captain (later Major) von Rauffenstein, though their differences are far more prominent in Illusion.
So The Train won a ton of Oscars, right? Not at all. It received one Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen — which it lost, to Darling. Neither film is really all that well-known today, but I confess I have more affection for the somber World War II movie that could.
* Per IMDB, paintings from the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris “were indeed loaded into a train for shipment to Germany during World War II, but fortunately, the elaborate deception seen in the movie was not really required. The train was merely routed onto a ring railway and circled around and around Paris until the Allies arrived.”
UPDATE: This post wouldn’t really be complete without Frankenheimer’s TCM tribute to Lancaster. The director talks about The Train, including the one-take scene Jack Deth referenced in his comment, here.
A few days ago I was honored to receive the Liebster Award from Iba at I Luv Cinema and from Ruth at Flix Chatter and I couldn’t be more surprised and grateful. It’s a really cool idea for a blog event.
Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
Answer the 11 questions the person giving the award has set for you.
Create 11 questions for the people you will be giving the award to.
Choose 11 people to award and send them a link to your post.
Go to their page and tell them. I think letting people know on Twitter is cool.
NO TAG BACKS. Although I will answer my own questions.
A movie is a couple hours, but a TV show is a much lengthier commitment. I only watch two shows, Mad Men and The Vampire Diaries. Don’t knock TVD unless and until you’ve actually watched a couple episodes of it 🙂
I love anything French, and any book/film about or taking place in France. The 2011 Three Musketeers? Yep, I saw it, it was actually pretty good.
Related to that, I want to write about French film and film noir more often.
My dad and my husband’s dad went to the same high school.
I have three tattoos and am working on a fourth.
One of the people I most admire is the inventor James Dyson for his creativity and resilience. Plus, if you have furry pets, the Dyson vacuum cleaner will change your life.
I believe in that astrology stuff (I’m a Taurus). It isn’t just your sun sign, it’s where all the planets are in your whole chart. I’ve been a lot happier since I started to rely more on astrology and my intuition.
Over the past few years, I’ve lost around 100 lbs. and am still dropping.
Now, my answers to Iba’s questions:
1. Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter?
What a question! Wow. While I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings first, Harry Potter has the slightest edge. Don’t tell my husband.
2. What’s the longest you have waited in line for a movie?
Two or three hours. Not long, compared to other people.
3. Have you ever fallen asleep in a film? If so, which one?
Never, though I got pretty drowsy during Alexander(2004).
4. What was your first concert experience?
Andy Williams. I was eight or nine, I think. So hip!
5. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Back to Paris, and I wouldn’t ever leave.
6. Any hidden talent(s)?
Black belt designer/art director and Adobe Creative Suite ninja. I have other talents, but they will remain hidden.
7. Subtitles: Yea or Nay?
That’s a definite yea! Dubbing is horrible to watch, the voices never match the actors, and you can pick up and/or practice another language by watching subtitled movies.
8. What book would you like to be seen made into a movie? The Englishman’s Daughter by Ben McIntyre. It’s one of those non-fiction novels, about English soldiers who get caught in a French village behind the enemy lines during World War I. That’s all I’m going to say, you should read it! But it’s short and McIntyre’s style is fairly cinematic; it would make an excellent film. I think Joe Wright, François Ozon, or Guillaume Canet (Ne le dis à personne) should direct it, Michael Fassbender and Tom Hiddleston should be two of the soldiers, and all my favorite French actors should be in it — Marion Cotillard, Mèlanie Laurent, Audrey Tautou, Catherine Deneuve, Alain Delon, Jean Rochefort, Daniel Auteuil, Gilles Lelouche, and Gaspard Ulliel.
9. What is the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?
After I took care of all my entire family’s financial obligations, I’d buy a movie theater.
10. Have you ever snuck into a film without paying for it?
Yes, I have. I did actually pay, but I saw another film after the one I paid for. I guess that’s half price.
11. What is your favorite silent film?
I haven’t seen that many, although I’ve seen more in the last six months than I have my whole life. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for The Artist, the “silent film gateway drug,” but I also love Sunrise (1927) and Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1919).
And, my answers to Ruth’s questions:
1. Who’s your favorite movie actor who’s currently starring in a TV show?
I guess Jon Hamm or Ian Somerhalder. They have both been in a couple movies. Or maybe Kristen Wiig, although she’s not on TV anymore.
2. Could you date someone who does not love movies?
3. What makes you want to have a movie blog?
I write a column for Examiner about classic movies in Detroit and I wanted to branch out and write about current movies and other classics. Also, it gives me somewhere to put all my movie babble instead of driving everyone around me crazy with it. I have to say, this blog wouldn’t exist without the encouragement of Ruth (Flix Chatter).
4. Which director/actor collaboration you’d like to see [it has to be people who have never worked together before]?
Quentin Tarantino and Emma Thompson.
5. What dish are you good at making?
Any kind of Italian or Mexican food. I also make a mean potato salad and the best pancakes.
6. Any encounter with a celebrity you care to share?
I met Martin Sheen once. He’s about my height and seemed like one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.
7. Since the Olympics is still going on, what’s your favorite movie set in London?
There’s so many…I’ll stick to the most recent one I really liked, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
8. Which is your favorite movie writer [could be a journalist, novelist, etc.]?
Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) in His Girl Friday (1940-above) or Jo March (Winona Ryder) in Little Women (1994).
9. Which do you prefer: sweltering heat vs. cool, rainy days?
You need some of both, and I really like sweltering heat, but I like cool rainy days just that little bit more.
10. Favorite outfit/costume from a movie?
The costumes in Marie Antoinette (2006). Myrna Loy’s dresses in Libeled Lady. Peppy Miller’s outfits in The Artist, especially the shoes. And Joan Holloway Harris’ entire wardrobe on Mad Men. I know it’s not a movie, but it’s not often that a fictional character has my body type 🙂
11. Which actor/actress you initially detest but then slowly warming up to? [Feel free to reverse the question, that is an actor you initially love but now can’t stand.]
I never detested Channing Tatum, I just didn’t understand why he kept getting movies…he works a lot. But he was pretty good in The Eagle and hilarious in 21 Jump Street, which is getting its own sequel.