Monday, March 30, 2009

Marlene and the Foreigners


The Siren is still here, and apologizes to her patient readers for leaving them alone with the longest comment thread in Self-Styled history. She did have a small post recently, over at her dear friend Annie's place, Blogdorf Goodman. The post is about Marlene Dietrich's Lipstick, and if that doesn't prick up your ears nothing else the Siren has to say here probably will, either.

The update on the Foreign Film Resolution, weeks 8 through 10:

The Banquet (Feng Xiaogang - 2006)




Is it possible for a film to be too beautiful? There is much to admire about The Banquet, the color, the cinematography, and the score by Tan Dun immediately come to mind. There is much attention to detail, especially with close-ups of hands...So much of the action is seen in slow motion, whether it's knights galloping in battle, or with overhead shots of flowing, billowing robes. This is great looking stuff, but Feng seems unaware of the concept that there may be too much of a good thing.
--Peter Nelhaus, Coffee Coffee and More Coffee


Day of Wrath (Carl Dreyer, 1943)

The Siren saw this one at BAM. Utterly bloody magnificent. The Foreign Film Resolution is not a contest, and the Siren has liked all of the movies she has seen so far, and several she loves very much indeed. But this one...this was a real experience, and the Siren is so glad she saw it in a real theatre.




I can't imagine how it must have felt to sit in a crowded theater, watching Day of Wrath during its original release in 1943. Set in 17th century Denmark, when rising religious fanaticism gave church leaders the authority to execute those of "questionable" morality, the film must have mirrored, much too closely for comfort, the Nazi atrocities being waged just outside the theater door. In his liner notes of the Criterion DVD release, critic Jonathan Rosenbaum suggests that Dreyer cast the blonde actress Lisbeth Movin in a deliberate attempt to diminish the allegorical implications of Anne's plight, thereby diffusing a potentially dangerous situation. As with Arthur Miller's The Crucible (1953), however, it's nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction here. Day of Wrath is a damning critique of hypocritical authoritarian power told in very human terms, a modern fable that interrogates faith and sin, love and family, desire and its consequences.
--Darren Hughes, Long Pauses



Dreyer's camera tracks interior and exterior spaces to convey his characters' sensitivity to this nightmarish climate as well as what I take to be his own sense of the divine. In billowing fabrics and whispering winds, God or Satan or the dead menace the living, yet the way the light falls on suffering and ecstatic faces suggests a higher, more clement power. But far more chilling than this spooky expressionism are the simple pans down scrolls invoking God's word and the state's judgments. It's as if Dreyer was at war with words, answering their punishing certainties and limitations with the humanism of light and shadow delicately applied. Dreyer invites you to find in his flesh and blood friezes something a lot closer to God than those murderous texts. It's the only religion I ever wanted to join: the church of cinema.
--Steven Boone, The House Next Door


Late Autumn (Ozu, 1960)

"Aah, Setsuko Hara," remarked Peter Nelhaus once in comments. "She makes Meryl Streep look like a self-serving harpy."





Ozu is most concerned with generating a particular rhythm and tempo, with giving weight or accent to particular movements. The soundtracks of his films tell us much about this preoccupation. We often hear things gently clanging, lapping or chugging in the “background” of Ozu's soundscapes. These elements – heard particularly instructively at the beginning and ending of Late Autumn – create a gentle rhythm that is intimately related to the overall tempo of the film. The repetition and variation of these sounds – and their rhythmic correlations with the visual field, particularly in shots emphasising reflections of water or foliage moving in the breeze--heightens the experiential awareness of life cycles and seasonal change communicated by the film. Although they may seem conservative, even out-of-date in many of their social and cultural values, Ozu's characters routinely exude an exquisite sense of resignation and acceptance that is intimately related to the overall rhythm and pace of the films they appear in. The more things change in Ozu's world, the more they stay the same.
--Adrian Danks, Senses of Cinema

164 comments:

Greg said...

Glad to see you're still here. That last comment thread of yours is extraordinary. I even mentioned it in a post I did last week so impressed, and humbled, I was.

I've never seen Dreyer's Day of Wrath and have wanted to but now I feel I can put it off not a moment longer. To the queue!

Greg said...

That should be "was I," not "I was." Just has a better flow that way.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Welcome back.

I don't see Ozu as being about resignation and acceptance at all. He's an exceptionally stirring socially-conscious filmmaker as is obvious from Record of a Tenement Gentleman and as I Was Born But. . . alone shows one the greatest directors of children the world has ever knwon.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Straubs always inisted that Day of Wrath is an intensely political film. And they are absolutely right.

Campaspe said...

Greg, Day of Wrath is so worth it. I agree with David, it's a darkly and intensely political film, but you can examine it from all of kinds of angles. Plus it's stunningly beautiful. That capture is one of my favorite shots, but even so it is just one example of the perfection of this movie's compositions.

David, I agree that Ozu himself isn't about resignation, but I saw Danke as arguing that the characters often exhibit a serene resignation. I agree about "I Was Born, But..." which I saw some months ago at Lincoln Center and loved; very dark social commentary in that one. In fact I saw it before the economy really starting spinning down the vortex and it probably would hit me even harder now.

Gloria said...

I agree with David. I've seen a couple of silent Ozus and in "Tokyo Chorus", for instance, he openly mocks figures of authority as a bullyng teacher and a pompous boss

X. Trapnel said...

Welcome back, Siren!

I too had the good luck to see Day of Wrath in a theater (Museum of Modern Art) and was overwhelmed. I remember though being perplexed by a strange recurring sound of muffled thunder, particularly striking during a moment when Martin and Anne were walking in a sunlit field. I thought it expressed the displeasure of the Lutheran god. Turns out to have been the subway passing at dramatically meaningless intervals.

Campaspe said...

XT, lol! I saw Children of Paradise for the first time at the old Bleecker Street Cinema, in the smaller theater. "Don't Look Back" was playing in the big one. As anyone who knew the Bleecker St. can tell you, the walls were thin, so I got a unique cinematic experience, "Children of Bob Dylan." But I loved the movie all the same.

Arthur S. said...

DAY OF WRATH is for me a totally perfect film. There is not a single wrong foot taken on that film, from the acting to the cutting, the stunning camera pans and the use of sound. I think in many ways, it's Dreyer's best though not as emotionally shattering as THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC(which is also highly political) or as profound as GERTRUD or enigmatic as ORDET or as carefree and experimental as VAMPYR. In a way it includes all of this in parts to create a great whole. Dreyer made this film ten years after VAMPYR which was part silent and he totally changed his aesthetic and style to create the unmistakable feel of tactile spaces that is in this film. You can feel the rooms, the churches, the arches of the spaces.

Lisbeth Movin for me is one of the great presences in film history for her work in this film. As for it's politics, I think it's not a direct anti-Nazi allegory(and Dreyer didn't intend it to be as he made clear in subsequent interviews) but it's about a conflict between natural and elemental emotions as opposed to hierarchal barriers of Church-Family. But even there it's very complex and the plot is murky and ellusive.

Oh and I believe Dreyer was Calvinist not Lutheran. It's a big difference if you're Calvinist.

One film from the 50s that is totally neglected by Western scholars and even in Japan until recently is TOKYO TWILIGHT. It's out on Criterion Eclipse. It's one of Ozu's more realistic films. In that, while the other 50s films are set in idealized family portraits which was based more on cultural nostalgia this film is about contemporary issues of dealing with the problems in a family. Quite overt and it's emotionally devastating. This is about the failure and emptiness in a family and the way in which the two daughters split up and how they are in conflict with the patriarch, all the moreso because of his passivity.

Setsuko Hara's performance in one scene near the end is stunning. Those who think that she's demure and nice in these films aren't prepared for the emotional violence of that scene. And Ozu is the undisputed Patron Saint of Emotional Violence. Chishu Ryu is also great and according to Ozu, he's the central character of the film even if his part is absolutely nothing regarding plot.

Arthur S. said...

Oh and welcome back, Siren.

CHILDREN OF PARADISE is a Bob Dylan favourite incidentally.

Campaspe said...

Arthur, I post these clips more for discussion starting points than for anything else. I don't see Day of Wrath as an explicit anti-Nazi allegory although the anti-totalitarian message is as striking as any I've seen. But I still liked Darren's image of watching this while you're under the boot--it would be quite an experience in a Saudi cinema as well, or in Myanmar, assuming either regime would let it be shown.

As for the Ozu -- I never see Hara as passive, even in her beautiful portrayal of the pure-hearted daughter-in-law in Tokyo Story (which is what Peter was talking about when he made his comment, which I loved). And where I disagree with Danke, myself, is not so much his take on the character's resignation as in his view of their values as old-fashioned. Not for me, not at all.

On the other hand, Peter's analysis of The Banquet is pretty much my impression exactly, except he probably liked Zhang Ziyi more than I did, since I can barely stand to watch her in most things.

Yojimboen said...

(Bon retour, Chère Madame!)

"I believe Dreyer was Calvinist not Lutheran. It's a big difference if you're Calvinist."

Say that again, A.S.; having been raised in the big C, I can speak with some authority of John Calvin's overriding philosophy of life (as re-filtered through John Knox):
"If you're happy, you're sinning."
Yes, it's that simple.

As a consequence, Dreyer's always been difficult for me - his chilling Calvinist themes push buttons installed by experts. But I weep just seeing the name "Carl Th. Dreyer" on any screen.

(A sentiment not necessarily shared in H'Wood):
I read some years ago - in Sight and Sound I'm sure - that when Gertrud was screened by the AMPAS Foreign Film Committee (it was Denmark's official 1966[?] Oscar entry), the committee members booed loudly enough that the projectionist stopped the film and everyone went home; and Dreyer's last masterpiece wasn't even watched all the way through.

Campaspe said...

Y., thank you for that last story, as I treasure anything that confirms my firmly held belief that the Foreign Film Oscar committee people are and always have been nincompoops.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Tokyo Twilight is exceptionally bleak for Ozu. One of its main characters attempts suicide by throwing herself in front on a train. taken to a hospital she begs forgiveness from those her rash action harmed, says she wants to live, but dies anyway.

Ryu is the central figure because his actions -- and inactions -- precipitated the tragedy.

Plus he gets the last shot.

There's a lot more to Ozu than Setsuko Hara's sweet face. And as fine as it is, Tokyo Story isn't his best film, IMO.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ozu regars families as nice places to hang out at certain points in your life. But they are never permanent and neevr stay together for very. Those who imagine that they do are foolish in his view.

Alex said...

"Although they may seem conservative, even out-of-date in many of their social and cultural values, Ozu's characters routinely exude an exquisite sense of resignation and acceptance that is intimately related to the overall rhythm and pace of the films they appear in."

One problem with this is that Ozu's movies aren't particularly slow. Ozu will often actually highlight that he can do quick pacing by including his frequent fast-paced segments of trains rushing around the country.

Second, Ozu will often portray his "resigned" characters as distinctly flawed and characters who either "unresign" or are active are often viewed much more positively within his films.

Third, Ozu's films during and immediately after WWII indicate that he thought that Japan's inter-personal conservatism was directly linked to Japan's political failure.

Karen said...

Oh, Siren, I'm so happy you're back! Not that the 330+ comments in the last thread haven't been a blast to read (and to contribute to), but your firm but gentle guiding hand was definitely missed.

Because I am a bum and a rebel, I will not comment on any of your foreign films, but thank you for that lovely post about the Divine Marlene and her lip rouge. I just watched the [very odd] Knight Without Armour this weekend, in which she co-stars with Robert Donat (?!?). It is from 1937, so she is still, to an extent, the round-faced Dutch Doll with the exquisite features--not yet the fuller-lipped, sharper-cheekboned goddess into which she evolved in the '40s (and what an interesting exercise it might be to compare the transition of '30s-to-'40s Dietrich and '30s-to-'40s Crawford). In this film she is a White Russian escaping the Bolsheviks, and there's never a doubt in your mind that pseudo-Bolshie Donat (he's actually an English spy, theoretically, although that's never referred to again after the first 10 minutes) is going to risk his life to save her.

And what makes her so indisputably a Duchess? That face and that makeup. Even after--possibly especially after--days in the forest and burial under dead leaves, that face, those eyes, those eyebrows, and that mouth are intact and utterly Dietrich.

And, frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Vanwall said...

I can only take Dietrich in certain small doses - mostly those with a Sternberg manipulation; no Herr, no Von, just Sternberg, AFAIC, who, for a while, manipulated himself quite as nicely as any of the females who felt the heat of his lighting at the exact perfect spot on their faces.

"Day of Wrath" is a Dreyer film I can take....without a stiff shot of Talisker to round of the edges. Don't MAKE me watch 'em, I'll decide where and when - bleak, bleak, bleak, I squeak.

Peter Nellhaus said...

It's an honor to be quoted so generously.

Berlinbound said...

What a pleasure it is to spend a bit of time here, a balm it is, for the heart and mind. Almost as good as sitting in the dark with strangers, watching our dreams flicker by.

X. Trapnel said...

Vanwall, I sympathize with your feelings about Dreyer (and Dietrich who I just don't get), but I think there is a deep emotional payoff in Day of Wrath that goes beyond intellectualized bleakness (my Bergman problem). Watching it in the cinema chuch of MOMA, I felt as though I was sitting between Pity and Terror but that each would occasionally offer popcorn or a sip of Coke.

Arthur S. said...

The thing about Setsuko Hara smiling in TOKYO STORY is that the mos famous scene in that film is her exchange with Kyoko Kagawa where she tells that one day she'd treat here parents the same way and that we all would eventually. Then she says, "Isn't Life Disappointing?" Noriko(Setsuko) smiles and says, "Yes!" Ozu's entire worldview is in that film.

But ultimately I think Ozu's films aren't simply possible to categorize as optimistic or pessimistic or even humanistic, it's a complex living thing, his films and it contains multitudes.

You are quite right about TOKYO TWILIGHT, David. That scene where she commits suicide is shocking. How she confronts her boyfriend(who knocked her up) and leaves the room and the camera stays on her and we hear the train coming in and we are still with him. Yes it's using off-screen space, and elliding the narrative but man is that cruel, not showing her suicide.

If it makes people feel better, GERTRUD was just as badly recieved in so-called cultured places as London and Paris where it had bad reviews and was seen as old-fashioned, even if Godard and Truffaut praised it to the skies.

Campaspe said...

Aw, no love for Marlene, save Karen (and David, if I recall)? I think she's marvelous in a lot of things. In fact, though Riva's book is excellent--never read any other study of fame & its consequences that was as searing as this bio--I think she severely underrates her mother's non-Sternberg work. Dietrich is a pleasure in Angel, Desire, and Witness for the Prosecution (where she sure fooled me, even if Riva didn't think the famous twist worked). I also recently saw Leisen's The Lady is Willing and wow, what a bizarre thing that was, but I still kind of loved it.

Arthur S. said...

For me Marlene's finest non-Sternberg moment is TOUCH OF EVIL, it's a small role but the wealth of sadness and soul she brings to it is haunting. Especially when she tells Quinlan his future, "You ain't got no future, your future is all used up." That makes up for the otherwise lackluster part of the career in the interim.

I wanted to ask about Maria Riva's book. I have heard conflicting things about it from the likes of Peter Bogdanovich who said that the book was unjustly critical.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren,

Actually I very much admire Dietrich; I suspect she fashioned her life artistically as her own masterpiece. I respect her latter day reclusiveness. Not vanity (nothing so simple) but like Achilles she had a reputation and image to protect and make immortal. I'm sure the vultures would have made a camp, grotesque monster of her if given half a chance and good for her for not doing their work for them. All of this however, does not, for me, translate into the stuff of dreams. Clearly it does for others.

Campaspe said...

Arthur, if Bogdanovich was discussing Riva's treatment of her mother's non-Sternberg work I would have to agree with him. She's way too hard on a lot of the movies and seems to have had some, but not a lot, of appreciation for mom's stage act. (The only non-Sternberg film that gets high praise from Riva is, not surprisingly, Touch of Evil.) As far as the personal view of Marlene it's harsh for sure, but it's hard for an outsider to critique her take on Dietrich as a mother or her late-life alcoholism, for example. What separates the book from something like Mommie Dearest (aside from quality of writing) is that Riva does have a bead on a fairly large part of her mother's mystique.

One thing about Riva's book, and this relates to XT's take, is that you don't get enough of a picture of the Dietrich her friends seem to have adored. David Niven talked about Dietrich bringing him chicken soup and cleaning his whole place when he was sick, and he wasn't even particularly close to her. She was so funny and deadpan, too.

Gerard Jones said...

Welcome back, Siren!

Dreyer I've never been able to warm to.

I'd say Ozu is about acceptance and resignation to the extent that traditional Japanese culture values such, in demeanor at least. Much of his tension derives from the quiet way his social criticism has to exist within and beneath that. An Italian movie with the same tone would be...well...inconceivable. So let's say, an English or American movie with the same emotional and social tone probably would be about true resignation.

Arthur S. said...

Oh. Bogdanovich is quite protective of many of the stars he was friends with. His book, WHO THE HELL'S IN IT, has a great profile of Dietrich and that's where the accusation is located. It's a good book although it gets kind of sentimental in parts(Anthony Perkins for instance) and depressive in other parts(the one dealing with River Phoenix and the final section on Marilyn Monroe which features a stark interview with Arthur Miller).

Jean Renoir's memoirs, MY LIFE AND MY FILMS has a brief aside where Renoir talks about Dietrich during the time she was with Jean Gabin and she talks about how she was a housewife always cooking food personally for her friends and neighbours and that mentions that Gabin called her "My Prussian!"...I suppose that's romantic, but then this is Gabin after all.

Vanwall said...

Actually, M Arthur, I agree about "Touch of Evil" - her whole performance was brilliant. That was nice small dose, and I can easily take "Witness for the Prosecution" as well - her St.Pauli Girl gone all Hans Albers Reeperbahn in the cellar, is a riot.

Gerard Jones said...

This line: "Aah, Setsuko Hara," remarked Peter Nelhaus once in comments. "She makes Meryl Streep look like a self-serving harpy."

This suggests that we see Meryl Streep as the antithesis of a self-serving harpy, right? But...

Oh, never mind.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I'm crazy about Marlene Dietrich. She was what I would call a Brechtian Narcissist, in that she projected her vision of herself outward rather than inward as most nracissists do. She was very lucky to have found Stenrberg -- just as Edie Beale was very lucky to have been found by the Maysles.

Plus Marlene also had Orson Welles.

"He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people?" is one of the greatest movie last lines ever. Perfectly delivered by the goddess.

I saw Marlene live on stage back in 1968 at the Lunt-Fontaine theater in new York. Easily one of the most overwhelming pieces of theater I've ever scene. Her conductor was Burt Bacharach. I reminded him of this last week when I met him at a memorial tribute to the great jazz photographer William Claxton. But grinned and glowed at the mere mention of her name.

One of Maria Riva's kids is the great production designer J. Michael Riva (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai among others) Her two other sons live a few blocks away from me. Not sure what they do, but they do remember grandma fondly.

Gloria said...

Hey, count me in for the Maria Magdalene love!

(I just happened to leave a Marlene make-up anecdote at your post chez Blogdorf Goodman ;p)

Gerard Jones said...

David, you know everyone!

I talked to Regis Toomey once at a diner in Woodland Hills. (Have I mentioned this before?)

X. Trapnel said...

Gerard,

I hope you asked him who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep.

DavidEhrenstein said...

So how's Regis doing?

The old crowd's thinning out rather radically these days.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Actually Gerard that birngs to mind one of my favorite jokes. Truman Capote was at some restaurant with one of his society pets when an ultra-thin model passed by. "Anorexica Nervosa," he remarked, to which his pet replied "Oh Truman you know everyone!"

Campaspe said...

Gerard, I believe Peter was referring to Streep's characters. :> for all I know, Hara left a swathe of destruction through her real life. In general I watch Japanese movies from a very pure state of knowing almost nothing about the life of the director or actors or screenwriter or anybody else. Gloria fills me in on our mutual fave Hideko Takamine, and I read one good story about Mizoguchi, and that's about it.

Gloria, if any woman could have seduced Laughton it's Marlene!

Arthur, I haven't read that Bogdanovich book, it's on my "to do" list. I read the director book cover-to-cover though. I find him a splendid critic and good writer, too, and his essential desire to be kind to his subjects goes over well with me because I am inclined that way myself. So I'd be interested in his opinion of the Riva book.

I'd also love to do a post on Bogdanovich the filmmaker at some point...

It also strucke me about a dozen posts ago that if I live to be 100 I will never meet as many worthwhile artists as David E. so I am very, very glad to have him around. I would have *loved* to see Dietrich live. The closest I got to the actual woman was meeting a man who was in one of her bands and used to help her pick cigarette butts out of the orchestra pit after performances. Marlene was a tidy soul and she couldn't bear the way the musicians just ground their cigarettes into the floor.

Gerard Jones said...

This was some years ago...I fear Regis has left us now, and taken the mystery of the Sternwoods' chauffeur with him...

Campaspe said...

Karen, I neglected your comment! In Riva's book there is an extremely funny bit where Dietrich is all excited about working with Donat because he's so gorgeous and she's ready to jump him, and then when they meet, all he wants to talk about is gardening. He so bores her right from the get-go that any question of hanky-panky was quashed.

Berlinbound, I have not seen you in a while, and I hope all is well! thanks for the kind words.

Dan Callahan said...

I go through periods when I'm obsessed with Dietrich and feel the need to watch everything she did, in chronological order, then reflect!

Riva's book is truly outstanding in that she gives us a clear and brutal picture of what being this woman's daughter entailed while still somehow paying tribute to the legend; and she's been noticeably softer in the TCM doc about Dietrich's wartime work, and a recent coffee table book of photos.

When I was ten years old, I wrote a letter to Dietrich, and she sent me two beautiful photos, autographed in silver. One was a forties "Seven Sinners" shot, the other was from "Song of Songs." I've been hooked ever since.

Was very happy to see the truly kooky "Knight Without Armour" on TCM..."Angel" is the one Dietrich I don't have that I'd really like to see again.

Many of her men noticed that Dietrich loved to take care of them when they were sick; and when they were well, she lost interest.

Campaspe said...

Dan, thanks for pointing out what totally should have occurred to me, that there is no way two such celebrated hedonists as Niven and Dietrich kept it platonic, whatever he said in his book.

Riva really seemed to be using the book as catharsis, it's quite raw in a way that Mommie Dearest isn't. You get the sense that she wants to understand her mother, still loves her in spite of everything, sees what others see in Dietrich but has a burning need to let the world know what Dietrich cost the people closest to her.

And it's funny too how Riva is very kind about most of Dietrich's lovers, the male ones anyone. She absolutely hated the female ones, far as I can tell.

Vanwall said...

I do remember reading John Kobal's experiences with Marlene - he certainly got the essence of the woman, and most of the important details - I think she mom-ed him a fair amount, as he was sure fond of her.

Karen said...

Don't worry, Siren; I didn't feel neglected!

Dan, thanks for backing me up on the truly bizarre nature of Knight Without Armour; it almost has to be seen to be comprehended. Siren, the news on Donat will please my friend Chris. I had mentioned to her that I'd seen Perfect Strangers (aka Vacation from Marriage), and that Donat begins the film as a perfect Pooter but then transforms into, well, Donat. She, however, is incapable of seeing him as anything but Mr Chips; this will confirm his inner schoolmaster for her.

I've not read the Riva book, so I don't know how exactly Dietrich is depicted. I know that there was a marvellous documentary on her that TCM screened 3 or 4 years ago, that went into great detail about her work with the troops during the war, her adamant anti-Nazism, her possible spy activity on USO tours, and her tearful post-war reunion phone call with her mother, who had remained in Berlin. It filled me with admiration for her. They mentioned how Billy Wilder wanted her for A Foreign Affair, and she thought it might be weird for her to play a Nazi sympathizer, and he said, "You're the only one who could do it." Which was probably true.

Sigh.

I do love Marlene.

When I was an adolescent, PBS did a festival of her films and I was hooked for life.

Greg said...

She absolutely hated the female ones, far as I can tell

I saw a PBS doc on Dietrich years ago and recall that the male lovers were the "fun uncle" types with Maria while the female lovers took Marlene away from her and had a resentful disposition towards Maria. At least that's what the doc said. As I recall. It's been a while. Anyone else seen it. Around 20 years ago probably.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen, I think Robert Donat suffers from something comparable to the Leslie Howard=Ashley Wilkes syndrome, and then they both had tragically abbreviated careers. The Thirty-Nine Steps should put thoughts of Mr. Chips out of any intelligent viewer's head

Gerard Jones said...

I have an odd relationship with Marlene. I find her cold and off-putting in the moment, and I never think, "Oh, Dietrich's in it, I have to see that." And yet, when I think about her delivery of all those devastating lines in Shanghai Express, the way I find myself rooting for her even as I believe her completely as a former Nazi mistress in Foreign Affair, the madness of Scarlet Empress and the horrified fascination she brings out of me in Touch of Evil I realize she's brought me some of my favorite cinematic moments. And that isn't even touching on the gorilla suit.

I find myself thinking, "Well, I don't like her established persona, but I love it when she plays ironically on her established persona." But then...wasn't she always playing ironically on her established persona? The irony even seems to have come first. It's as if in some way she's not just bigger than life but bigger than her own bigness.

Gloria said...

"And that isn't even touching on the gorilla suit"

XD

Well, Campaspe, you enticed me into making a new post: it's got lots of Marlene... and a bit of lipstick, too

By the Way, I like the new banner with Gorgeous George and Myrna Loy... Are we going to have another SandersFest soon?

X. Trapnel said...

More disjointed thoughts on Dietrich. My own reaction to her on screen is not unlike Gerard's and it's a purely intellectual response to the wit of her self-presentation. She's always an odd, not to say forbidding presence unless the vehicle is built around her a la Sternberg (I shudder to think what might have been if she had not called Ophuls too late to be in La Ronde--and I don't even like Isa Miranda. Her presence might have seemed like an art deco gargoyle in Alt Wien). Beyond this I think what makes her extraordinary in life and art is that she seems an embodiment (i.e., not quite human) of pure eros, neither male nor female, bestowing impersonal love like--dare I say it?--a Christian saint. She is rightly called a godess, whereas a woman is a much more exalted thing.

DavidEhrenstein said...

In her book Riva says she like Brioan Aherne the most of all marlene's lovers. I recall someone else of Hollywood note raving about Brain Aherne too but can't recall offhand who it was. He stars in two of my favoirte 30's movies: Sylvia Scarlet and The Great Garrick

john said...

Myrna looks smashing with George.

Noel Vera said...

Dietrich's terrific in Destry Rides Again, and Rancho Notorious.

My favorite Ozu (but then I've seen some, Late Autumn included, but not all) is probably Late Spring. I consider The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice the greatest film on food ever made. Yet, anyway.

hamletta said...

Sorry, but I must dispute Arthur S. Dreyer was most certainly a Lutheran. But very strict, as there was a wave of pietism that swept the church after Martin Luther's death and really took hold in Scandinavia.

That being said, Calvinism and Lutheranism are oil and water. Salvation, justification, the eucharist; they really don't agree on anything.

The first time I saw Ordet, I was bowled over by how Lutheran it was. Of course, it was written by a Lutheran minister, so there you go.

And I am always dazzled by La Dietrich. In that TCM documentary, I remember the bit about how she used to cook old-school German dinners for the newly-arrived refugees.

I think that's so wonderful. If I had to flee halfway around the world and somebody made me crab cakes and collard greens, I'd weep with joy and gratitude.

Arthur S. said...

Okay...have it your way.

I haven't read a book on Dreyer myself but I was quite certain he was Calvinist.

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

Out of these films I've only seen The Banquet, and though I enjoy Zhang Ziyi in most things (particularly 2046) I felt she was horribly miscast in this. Decent in the role, but I really don't understand why she was picked other than her international appeal. Gong Li would've suited the role so much better.

Where the rest of the movie is concerned, I felt it was a little bit over-the-top and messy in some points; and the martial arts sequences seemed extremely forced and unnecessary, just thrown in for the appeal. Despite that, a few visual sequences were quite inspired, like the final scene, which I found mesmerizing and a lot better than the movie that preceeded it.

Campaspe said...

*smacks forehead* Noel, thank you for reminding me of Rancho Notorious. That one is great. As is Destry.

Gareth said...

Five days a week, a glorious shot of Dietrich in Destry Rides Again comes up when I turn my work computer on; it somehow makes the day that much easier to deal with.

Campaspe said...

I couldn't do that, Gareth; I would start bellowing "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have" in my best Dietrich voice right there and while it's the best drinking song EVER I am afraid my coworkers might consider me to be disturbing their tranquility. If I could get it to pop up as I was leaving, now -- that would be quite the happy sendoff.

The esteemed Acquarello, the Auteurs site and Wikipedia agree that Dreyer was raised by Lutheran adoptive parents. I spent the better part of a Southern childhood avoiding Protestant theological disputes but let me say that while there may be huuuuge doctrinal differences between a strict Lutheran and a Calvinist, neither one seems likely to join us in a "Boys in the Back Room" singalong.

John, I like everything about that photo, I even like the couch. I like Myrna's jacket and George's smile. And just look at how elegantly George's trousers drape, even while slouched on a comfy couch.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Dietrich is an ineffabe comination of the inviting and the forbidding. She's "all women" and utterly unlike anyone. She's andorgynous and feminine. Someone you'd love to meet, yet you wouldn't have the slightest idea of what to say to her if you did. And she wouldn't mind.

X. Trapnel said...

all good points, David. I also admire her generosity and good humor as a performer, very evident in the clip with Welles.

X. Trapnel said...

Since the Siren didn't comment on the painting in the photo I will. The mannequin-like rendering (a very slight touch of modernism)of elegant women was VERY popular in the forties. The main practitioners were Robert Brackman (who did the actual painting in Portrait of Jenny), Eugene Speicher (who is Laura's portraitist in the play version, as against the hapless Jacobi), and Frederick Taubes, author of innumerable how to paint books.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Debbie is 77

Campaspe said...

David, what a perfect description. Welles called her the "good soldier of all time" if I recall correctly. In Leaming's Welles biography there is a very funny story about Dietrich meeting Garbo and trying to tell the Swede of her admiration. Garbo: "Thank you." And that's all the great Dietrich got out of the great Garbo.

XT, the painting is interesting, now that you mention it. Teensy little touch of Modigliani, to my untrained eye.

Painters and painting, along with classical music, figured a lot more in old movies, come to think of it. There's a painting (in Technicolor) in all three of Lewin's films with George Sanders.

X. Trapnel said...

Modigliani? Yes, indeed. The DNA of modernism and its popular offshoots is full of unexpected twists. Modigliani and Blue Period Picasso were given a slicked up treatment by Moses Kisling, painter to the vedettes (he did a not very good portrait of Michele Morgan) that was picked up by Americans seeking a little Parisian polish (or Polish; that's where Kisling was from). Even Walter Keane (the little kids with the big eyes) derives from this style.

Karen said...

Well, I am very happy to read all the Dietrich love pouring in. I just think she's amazing, both on-screen and off.

I screened Destry Rides Again for one of my 11-year-old nephews on his most recent sleepover, and it was a big hit. I'm not quite sure he knew what to make of Marlene--more impressed, perhaps, with Mischa Auer as "Callahan"--but it's very warming to my heart to see these films carry over successfully to a new generation. (I've taken my nephews' film education very seriously: they've seen a selection of Marx Brothers, Top Hat, The Court Jester, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Gunga Din, and Destry. All were a success except Gunga Din, surprisingly enough; when Cary Grant goes into the Thuggee den, they were scared out of their wits and asked to turn it off. Well, they were 9 at the time. I can wait.)

X. Trapnel said...

Oh, yes! Painting and the Movies, what a topic! I promise not to hijack the thread, but will just say that Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse is the best movie about painting I've ever scene (gets better with repeated viewings).

Campaspe said...

XT, in one of Anita Loos's autobiographies she talks about how she mentioned one day to her pal Paulette Goddard that she didn't have a picture of her in the house. Next day, Paulette sends one over: her portrait, painted by Diego Rivera.

They did have more style back then, it's undeniable.

Karen, I need to get on with screening things for my kids, too. They loved Meet Me in St Louis, which is a good sign I think.

Gloria said...

The mention of Marlene and the exiles reminds me of an anecdote told by Jean Renoir, during his American exile in WW2:

By night (Dido Freire and I) would go out and meet marlene Dietrich and Jean GAbin, who were living together. marlène would sing French patriotic songs at the clubs because she liked it. This usually ended witha rendition of La Marsellaise. gabin thought this was idiotic. marlene and he would have wild arguments. He would call her "my prussian". and she retorted, touching his forehead with a languorous voice "What I like about you, is that here inside you have nothing, absolutely nothing. And that pelases me". (Gabin) That subtlest of actors didn't care at all about the insult

Campaspe said...

Gloria, Riva says Dietrich considered Gabin her great lost love.

Campaspe said...

P.S. Gloria -- I loved the post, and the lipstick picture! Witness for the Prosecution is a great one. Laughton was so deliciously enjoyable in that one, he had such brilliant comic timing. One of my side obsessions is Rumpole and I always think there is some Sir Wilfrid in Rumpole, and in Leo McCarey's performance.

X. Trapnel said...

Anyone know where/how Remarque figured among Dietrich's lovers? She was the inspiration for the heroine of Arch of Triumph.

Karen's and the Siren's comments on showing movies to children brings up the fraught subject of showing beloved films to friends or audiences (I am "hosting" a showing of Madame de soon). A possible subject for a future post?

DavidEhrenstein said...

"Thank you" is more than most people got out of Garbo. In his diaries Christopher Isherwood recalls meeting her as they were both friends of Salka Viertel. They took a walk on the beach and Isherwood said of her paranoia, "It was like being with someone who was wanted for murder."

In her later years she was a frequent sight on the streets of New York's east side. No one would dream of bothering her. A Garbo sighting was regarded as a kind of "Gook Luck Charm," by New Yorkers.

Arthur S. said...

-----------------------
Painting and the Movies, what a topic!
-------------------------

My favourite is Maurice Pialat's VAN GOGH. Pialat's film is even less accurate than LUST FOR LIFE, the Hollywood film but it's the most poetic and beautiful film about his life and Jacques Dutronc(the "Bob Dylan of Paris") is very Gabinesque in her cool, composed performance. The first scene where Vincent hops off a train is stunning. The film is not only a hymn to late 19th Century Post-Impressionism but also homages those great motion picture painters - Ford and Renoir.

Then another great film that is very little known is Martin Scorsese's LIFE LESSONS(his short for NEW YORK STORIES) which has these magnificent scenes of Nick Nolte painting(contributed by Chuck Connelly) set to loud rock music and it's Nestor Almendros final summation as DP(he'd die shortly afterwards).

Arthur S. said...

ERRATUM
-----
Jacques Dutronc(the "Bob Dylan of Paris") is very Gabinesque in her cool, composed performance.
-----

Much apologies for making what should be "his cool, composed performance" into "her", I am sure M. Dutronc can forgive me for this sex-change operation that was entirely unintentional.

Can't think of any other films about painting, many films about painters from FIVE WOMEN AROUND UTAMARO to AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and of course great painterly films like BLACK NARCISSUS(modelled on Vermeer), FRENCH CANCAN or YOUNG MR. LINCOLN or IL DESERTO ROSSO or PIERROT LE FOU.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Don't forget Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer, Jack Hazan's A Bigger Splash and Clouzot's Le Mystere Picasso

X. Trapnel said...

Pialat's film sounds enticing. Lust for Life is still probably the best (not saying much) of the those fifties fetishization of painting films (this includes An American in Paris and, in a small way, Bandwagon). 50s film "Paris" is the geographical obverse of all those Wm. Holden in Asia pictures, lighter fare, to be sure.

Vanwall said...

A couple of observations:

Donat - a cold fish or a dodderer were his forte, it seems; even in "The 39 Steps" he was schoolmasterish, but in "Perfect Srangers" with Deborah Kerr, he's against type, going from dodderer to a real live sexual object, which is good for him - Kerr melted right thru the screen way too much for him to handle in his usual persona.

My wife's family was never enamored much of Dietrich as a person, regardless of her war work and singing chansons - they judged her by her accent, I think, which was not acceptable if she was running around with a relative. Gabin was off limits for a German as far as they were concerned, in a hard French manner; they did appreciate her film work, but only just that.

Inadvertant film influences on children are the ones that surprise me - one son, when he was small and brave, decided to sneak in and watch "Night of the Hunter" I had on TV one night, without me knowing. Laughton was more brilliant than many will ever know, but my son does, oh so well - Reverend Harry Powell chasing the children down the river scared the crap out of him, and he was frozen on the spot for most of the film. I never even realized he was there, and he watched it later on when he was older without an outward sign of qualms - then a recent list of movie villains came out, and he was adamant about Harry Powell being numero uno, and the story came out. I'm not sure if he was lucky, or unlucky - he the full effects of that film at all levels.

Vanwall said...

Painting in film? A pair to draw to: A name - Gulley Jimson. Or a film - "Age of Consent"

X. Trapnel said...

Well, we've got El Greco with Mel Ferrer; Anthony Fransciosa (insert imperfectly muffled laughter) as Goya; Jose Ferrer as that hardworking bourgeois (so Huston thought) Toulouse Lautrec; Laughton's Rembrandt; Surviving (always beware of films/books with participial titles) Picasso; Montparnasse 19 (about Modigliani, this was to be Ophuls' film before George H. Death came to call. I'm sure it would have been magnificent; I don't even want to see J. Becker's realization depite the presence of Gerard Philipe, Lilli Palmer, and Anouk Aimee).
And then there's The Agony (for Carol Reed lovers) and the Ecstasy (for no one I can imagine).

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Night of the Hunter is the greatest of all American films, IMO. And the darkest of all children's films. Make no mistake, it IS a film for children.

Campaspe said...

The opening of Huston's Moulin Rouge is superb, one of the best things he ever did. I could watch it over and over. Can't say the same for El Greco although I liked the movie's quiet, churchlike sort of atmosphere.

But oh man, The Naked Maja!! That was cap-B bad.

Anybody seen Dante's Inferno with the Siren's pet bad boy, Oliver Reed?

BTW David, did you ever have a street sighting of Garbo? I arrived in the city while she was still alive but I never got a glimpse, alas.

DavidEhrenstein said...

One summer when I was working as an usher at the Baronet/Crorote duplex on third they ran a Garbo series. She called ahead of time, said she was coming (to see herself in Queen Chistina) and wanted to know when the lights would go down So when the audience was in their seats Garbo suddenly appeared in the lobby and sprang up the stairs. The moment the film was over she slipped out the side exit.

She was her greatest fan.

She looked great, BTW.

I've seen Dante's Inferno and it's quite teriffic, dealing as it does with the enitre Pre-Raphaelite menage. Its recently become available in a boxed set of Ken Russell's BBC films.

Campaspe said...

David, I am agog at that story. And she wanted to see Queen Christina! She had taste.

Some years back Vogue re-ran some of the photos Cecil Beaton took of Garbo in middle age and whatever nitwit wrote the copy described her as "aging" and I think "haggard." Man, if I'd had a blog then I would have melted the coating off the flatscreen with my riposte to THAT. She looked stunning for many, many years, one of the 20th century's greatest beauties.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Indeed she did.

Garbo's reasons for retirement were as much economic as personal. Her films did OK stateside but made their real money overseas. When the war cut off export an attempt was made by MGM to make her a "mainstream" star in the Two-Faced Woman -- which despite Mr. Cukor's best efforts really isn't very good. So she retiured. When the war ended a major effort to bring her back was launched by Max Ophuls. He wanted to star her in a film version of Balzac's "The Duchjess of Langeais" (one of the trio of nouvelles that make up his "L'Histoire des 13.") He even had screen tests of her done by James Wong Howe (a DP she had never worked with her before)

But they couldn't get any studio or independent backing (!!!!!!!)

So Garbo went back to reirement and Ophuls went off to make La Ronde, Le Plaisir, made de. . . and Lola Montes

The screen tests were recently issued on an MGM boxed set of Garbo classics.

As for that Balzac nouvelle, Jaques Rivette made it in 2007 with Jeanne Balibar and the great doomed Guillaume Depardieu. He called it Don't Touch the Axe.

Gloria said...

Painters and film: Olivier Eyquem recently made a cool post in his blogabout film portraits. I have myself a long delayed blog post to make comparing the films on Rembrandt (Korda), Utamaro (Mizogouchi) and Andrej Rublev (Tarkovsky).

Re children and films: some months ago I made the experiment of showing my (then) five year olf niece a film by bergman... Don't fret, it was "The Magic Flute". I had to tell her what was going around as the film was in Swedish with subtitled, but she loved it and likes to watch it every then and now, or, at least, whenever Papageno is around. Since then she has been exposed (with positive results) to "Yellow Submarine", "Ruggles of Red Gap", "Hellzappopin", Esther Williams and Deanna Durbin... my conclusion is that children DO love old movies if they have the chance to know them (and, for parents, it's a healthy alternative to watching a Disney film over and over, when you don't have a Miyazaki at hand)

Vanvall: I'm taking note of your son's villain preferences ;P

Arthur S. said...

"Come step on Greta Garbo
As you walk down the boulevard
She looks so weak and fragile
That's why she tried to be so hard
But they turned her into a princess
And sat her on a throne
But she turned her back on stardom
She wanted to be alone."
- CELLULOID HEROES, The Kinks.

I haven't seen those movies David and thanks a million for your story. So is there a famous person you haven't seen or met or eavesdropped?

DavidEhrenstein said...

Garbo's last screen appearance was in 1974

Arthur S. said...

NE TOUCHEZ PAS LE HACHE was Balzac's original title for the story we know as THE DUCHESS OF LANGEIS, but then decided for something less flamboyant and this is Balzac, so that's saying something.

I haven't yet seen Rivette's film which is a terrific sensation but I will soon. I just love period and costume films and this is shot by the great William Lubtchansky.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Never met Howard Hughes.

Karen said...

I swear, I love this blog as much for the commenters as for our lovely and talented hostess. I adore you all! You give me so much to think about.

Vanwall, I love your assessment of Perfect Strangers! And, oh, David, your Garbo story is delicious. I well remember the Baronet/Coronet theatres (I used to cut class in high school to go see movies there), but good heavens I never saw Garbo!

On the subject of painting in film, I've yet to see anyone mention the wonderfully trashy Kitty, with Paulette Goddard in the eponymous role and Cecil Kellaway as a very impish Gainsborough...

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Rivette is really something special. It's a costume romance but Rivette gets so much energy out of his actor's performances that it has real passion to it. The duchess is a grand coquette and she drives a dashing military officer nearly mad by flirting wildly with him -- and holding off delivery of her erotic promise. In a way it's a kind of psychological rape -- of a male victim.

What a film Ophuls could have made of it with Garbo. Very different from the Rivette of course but stunning I've no doubt.

Arthur S. said...

What THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER captures so beautifully is the poetic imagination of being young. And the poetry of this imagination includes a great deal of violence but that's true of the Grimm's Brothers Fairy Tales, Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass, Charles Dickens and other stories intended for children.

I also think of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, the famous Halloween scene when I saw that as a kid I was thrilled finally a film which shows exactly what children think like.

Of course, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is more serious and darker than that, since the threats the kids face is real and dangerous. I don't think any children will be very scared by that film and they are better off with that then saw SAW or ARMAGEDDON.

Campaspe said...

Karen, I adore Kitty! "Me beads!" I don't think it's trashy at all, it's Mitchell Leisen after all. Giddy and a bit silly, yes, but not trashy.

Yojimboen said...

Up front, we, and Marlene, owe a massive debt to Josef non Sternberg; so what if the “berg” may not even have been real? So what if he was plain Jo Stern from Queens? When he tied on that babushka, he was the man! And what fun we all had in his Chinese laundry.

Like most of my contemporaries I first became aware of MD via the later work, Rancho Notorious, Foreign Affair, Witness for the Prosecution, and had to move down from the provinces before I could begin working backwards - with building adulation - to Lola-Lola.

(Incidentally, Witness was less successful in the UK than here, largely because the ersatz cockney of “You wanna kiss me, ducky?” fooled very few of the natives. I think the best piece of acting Laughton ever did was to feign surprise at the reveal. Sorry, Marlene, but the sound of Bow Bells didn’t quite reach Leberstraße 65 in Schöneberg.)

Goddamn, but Marlene is tricky, to this day, she still has us all fooled. The publicity photo above of MD, Maria and ‘husband’ Rudi (the beard/walker), was part of MD’s carefully orchestrated deception that is still an unsolved – and likely unsolvable - mystery.

Item: In 1939 MD sued the IRS demanding a refund on back taxes on the grounds that half the income belonged to her husband Rudi. Fine, said the IRS, show us proof of the marriage. Marlene wouldn’t - or couldn’t - supply it, and dropped the suit.

Daughter Maria never really knew the identity of her father. Marlene told her it was Rudi; but Maria later wrote that she never saw Rudi and her mother sleep together. It may have been impresario Max Reinhardt – who denied it three times before the cock crowed – but most likely it was the deeply mysterious Otto Katz; who (it gets better) may have been a) Rudi’s older brother; b) almost certainly MD’s real husband; and c) claimed to have been told by MD that he was Maria’s father.

Item: Curiously, when Rudi (her father, she said) died, Maria buried him without a surname on his tombstone.

Otto Katz and Marlene were a world unto themselves. When Otto visited H’Wood just prior to WWII, Marlene took him around the studios, introducing him to Zukor, Mayer, the Warners et al; Otto’s stated purpose was to raise funds to help Jewish artists escape Nazi Germany. The funds collected, however (in 8-figures reportedly), went nowhere near Germany – they went straight back to Otto’s masters at Moscow Center. Oh, yes, and d) Otto was a long-time agent of the COMINTERN.

Question: What is the real story of MD’s wartime activities – which entailed several meetings with both FDR and Churchill? Did MD know Otto’s history as a Moscow spy? Clearly she did. So what was in it for her?
Is it just a coincidence that in the various auctions of MD’s estate a surprising number of sparklies show up which were was once part of the Romanoff Crown Jewels?

Is it possible – as has been rumored – that MD helped double Otto back at Moscow and turn him into an agent for Bill Donovan and the OSS? (Otto was executed in post-war Prague – an odd fate for such an accomplished Moscow spy?)

To this day, a Freedom Of Information application to the FBI brings heavily-redacted pages on MD, and almost completely blacked-out pages on Otto.

Who was Marlene Dietrich? To paraphrase her one true love, Orson Welles:
"What does it matter what you say about people? She was some kind of woman."

Charles Noland said...

"Day of Wrath", without having seen it, sounds like a distant cousin of "Name of the Rose". Name of the Rose doesn't have the parallels with current events, but it was a great look at the conflict between rationality and rigid religious dogma (that's what I got out of it anyway).

Let's not forget "No Highway in the Sky" when talking about Marlene movies. More of a Jimmy Stewart movie, but she had a significant role. For some reason not available on DVD. How can a movie with Stewart, Dietrich, Hawkins, and Glynis Johns, not be available on DVD? This is practically criminal! I think it is safe to say that this is the best movie ever made about metal fatigue.

Arthur S. said...

I heard that Ophuls planned Greta Garbo as the coquette to star opposite...wait for it...JAMES MASON. If this is true, then oh the agony...

I have read THE DUCHESS OF LANGEIS and the stark irony of the story is amazing as is the humour and the cynicism of the final lines. Lubitsch's MONTE CARLO, which I saw yesterday is kind of similar, there Jeannette McDonald who's living out of her means torments and turns on Jack Buchanan's hairdresser and makes her submit to him and use him in a way that's comparable to the Duchess. Of course there Buchanan is secretly a Count undercover and the ending is "happy" I guess.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen,

Nothing against Cecil Kellaway, except he's all wrong for Gainsborough; no imp, for sure, but a wonderful, witty, sympatheic chap, as a human being my favorite among the great artists (and make no mistake, he is very great!). I see Ralph Richardson or (yes, indeed!) George Sanders (ok, with less acid). Gainsborough is also one of art's great letter writers.

X. Trapnel said...

Balzac, Garbo, Mason, Ophuls; the pain of it almost equals that caused by the butchering of Ambersons. I read recently that some hack was hired to curb Ophuls' enthusiasm on the set of Montparnasse 19. Has anyone looked into some interesting Welles/Ophuls parallels--love of the past, present-day thrillers, extravagence and precision of vision, unrealized projects?

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

A while back, over at the Yahoo group Songbirds, people were making jokes by imagining Marlene Dietrich playing other people's Major Roles.

My friend Alfredo responded that, rather than imagine Marlene in an unlikely role, the more interesting and potentially funny gesture would be to imagine unexpected people in Marlene roles.

My contribution, with an eye to one of Alfredo's favorites, was to say "Garden of Allah" -- starring Thelma Ritter and Paul Douglas.

I'm glad that a few people finally got around to mentioning "A Foreign Affair," which is one of my short-list non-Sternberg Dietrichs. If nothing else, I will always love it for this ...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeEq7_nsMho&feature=related

Gloria said...

"Garden of Allah" -- starring Thelma Ritter and Paul Douglas

Tonight I'll sleep happy in the thought that, somewhere in the many and vast multiverses, this film actually exists

Arthur S. said...

The director who made MONTPARNASSE 19(which to yoke two in one, is a biopic of the painter Amadeo Modigliani) is Jacques Becker and he is no hack. A great film-maker in his own right though that film isn't among his best but it's not bad either. Godard liked it, or claimed to anyway.

Ophuls according to Truffaut set up rules with his producers to leave at any point before production actually started in case he felt his creative vision was being interfered with or compromised beforehand. That's likely what happened with the Modigliani film, it happened with an earlier Yves Allegret film. Ophuls died on the premier of a Mozart Opera he had directed(THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO if I'm not mistaken).

---------------------------------
Has anyone looked into some interesting Welles/Ophuls parallels...
----------------------------------

People say Ophuls' LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI(which for those who can get it, is out on a great Italian DVD with English subs) made in 1934 influenced CITIZEN KANE, it's full of breathtaking tracking shots, a flashback structure and amazing layers of cuts. And the last scene is as devastating as the burning of the sled at the end of CK. While it's possible that LOLA MONTES was influenced by CITIZEN KANE.

Ophuls worked in the 40s with John Houseman who apparently helped Ophuls during a mid-life crisis.

---------------------------------
love of the past, present-day thrillers, extravagence and precision of vision, unrealized projects?
--------------------------------

In terms of content, no. And I don't think Ophuls is a big fan of "the past", more like "it's a nice place to visit and people have great clothes...all the better to trap them!"

Ophuls, according to Truffaut's obit, carried in his pocket a list of films that he'd like to make and among the films that he planned was adaptations of Goethe, Pirandello, a play by Peter Ustinov and...this'll break your heart...a film about Catherine The Great starring - Ingrid Bergman.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Fabulous Dietrich dish, Yojim!

If anyone can finally getto to the bottom of the Otto business nit would make a teriffic movie.

There was talk some years back of casting Uma Thurman as Marlene. But apparently died in Development Hell.

Streep(who as we all know can do anything) would make a great Marlene in her last years. And speakign of smae, I trust everyone's familiar with Maximillian Schell's documentary, Marlene -- in which La Dietrich is heard but not seen.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Kane was definitely influenced by Murnau's Faust. There are several shots that are straight steals.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I quite agree with you about No Highway in the Sky Mr. Noland. It played a lot on New York television in the early 60's. Tight thriller with a great shot of the Dietrich legs.

Exotic as she was, Marlene was quite adaptable to circumstance. You could put her in films as different as No Highway, Stage Fright and Touch of Evil and she always worked out fine. The script called for somebody fabulous -- and there ahe was.

Garbo, by conrast, was a roantic dram figure whose true home was the 19th century. That there was nothign modern adbout her was her greatest asset.

X. Trapnel said...

Arthur S.

I didn't mean Becker as the hack. This was before Ophuls' death and the source I was reading implied that the hack was some smaller fry.
I don't agree, though that Ophuls didn't love (while knowing everything that was wrong with, as David Thomson rightly said of Welles) the Vienna and Paris he was filming (and "trapped" is certainly what his characters in Caught and The Reckless Moment are). I do see the visual splendor (and painstaking detail) of La Ronde, Le Plaisir, Letter, and Madam de as love and knowledge.

Arthur S. said...

--------------------------
I do see the visual splendor (and painstaking detail) of La Ronde, Le Plaisir, Letter, and Madam de as love and knowledge.
----------------------------

But how much of this splendor was Ophuls a part of that's the issue. He was Jewish(in Austria) and son of a wealty family and had to change his name from Oppenheimer to Ophuls because he didn't want to upset his father. Truffaut said that he went into cinema because he fell in love with an actress(never a bad reason to make movies). The society in his period films is the one that he broke away from and that he left first in Germany and then France and was pretty much gone when he made LETTER...

Of course all this doesn't mean that Ophuls didn't love the atmosphere and culture of the period but I don't think it's really nostalgic.

---------------------
(and "trapped" is certainly what his characters in Caught and The Reckless Moment are).
------------------------

CAUGHT yes, but RECKLESS MOMENT?!

Yojimboen said...

Thank you, David, praise indeed. Oh, and by the by, I did once meet Howard Hughes; he spoke very highly of you.

Karen said...

Siren, kudos to you for calling me on my pre-emptive deprecation: I love Kitty, too, and should have just owned it, instead of dismissing it as trashy.

X.Trapnel, I don't know nearly enough about Gainsborough the man, but I dearly love Gainsborough the artist. My second favorite museum here in NYC is the Frick Collection, which boasts some magnificent examples of his portraits, an array of which may be seen here:
http://collections.frick.org/PRT18*1$30981*1605224 .

Mrs HWV, "Black Market" is absolutely the high point of a film that already has its fair share.

DavidEhrenstein said...

What's you're suggesting, Arthur, si that Ohuls was nostalgic for a world he never knew. hat's one of the big perks of being an artist.
Lola Montes is (as usual) key in this regard in that while nominally set inthe past he was inspired to make it by news items concerning Edith Piaf, Judy Garland and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

As of this frozen cyber-nanosecond only Zsa Zsa is still with us.

X. Trapnel said...

Ophuls was actually German (from Saarbrucken) not Viennese and in the Jewish context the difference is enormous. The Vienna depicted in La Ronde and Letter From an Unknown Woman draw on the period that Stefan Zweig (author of Letter) termed the Great Age of Security, the period of the precarious Liberal ascendancy in Viennese politics and the golden age of Austrian Jewish culture and social acceptance (look carefully and you will see portraits of Mahler and Joseph Joachim on the walls of Stefan Brand's apartment). I believe Ophuls made himself into a Viennese just as Billy Wilder unmade his Viennese self (he is actually Lubitsch's antipode or rebellious son). Ophuls' great admiration for Schnitzler is part of the same cultural identification.

X. Trapnel said...

Karen,

I'm a computer illiterate who doesn't know how to do links, but do seek out Gainsborough's portraits of his daughters (best depictions of children in the history of art--alright IMO) and the ravishing portraits of Elizabeth Linley (who married Sheridan).

Kellaway was too much of a parson or a butler to be TG

D Cairns said...

The Reckless Moment is a great film about the domestic prison: Bennett is utterly trapped, with James Mason's blackmailer offering a chance of escape. And in the last shot she's framed through the bannister as if behind bars...

Dietrich is very underrated as a comic actress. Although Dishonored is the only Sternberg where she really gets to show it. But Destry and Seven Sinners show how downright hilarious she could be, with an almost musical approach to dialogue.

Arthur S. said...

------------------------------
The Reckless Moment is a great film about the domestic prison: Bennett is utterly trapped, with James Mason's blackmailer offering a chance of escape.
-------------------------------

Tag Gallagher says something different, he says that Joan Bennett's character believes she has something to live for and that James Mason's character doesn't, and eventually he agrees with her when he sacrifices his life for her...which is the precise moment she falls in love with him, when she's reduced to tears crying on the bed(a shot beautifully homaged in FAR FROM HEAVEN).

I don't think it's simply that Joan Bennett is trapped in that film and James Mason's character is about escape. Because she never considers or wants to escape, she fully assumes her responsibility as an adult woman(which makes her different than Barbara Bel Geddes and Joan Fontaine and Martine Carol) and unlike Louise de... her middle-class life means that she is administering the family which makes her into a practical woman unlike Danielle Darrieux. I mean yes she's a housewife and obviously is part of the hypocrisy of middle-class life and the like but it's way to easy to call it a domestic trap...

The telling line is when James Mason tells her, that her daughter has a very good mother and she retorts, "Sure she does. We all did. I am sure your mother was just like me."

DavidEhrenstein said...

She's also quite funny (in a martini-dry sort of way) in Desire and Angel

Karen said...

And she's hilarious in Golden Earrings, in a bizarrely vulgar way. Oh, god, the sight of her slurping down fish stew with her hands--I'm giggling just thinking about it.

Campaspe said...

Charles, there is an excellent DVD of Day of Wrath available (at least I am told it's good) and I would highly recommend the movie to any serious movie lover. I haven't seen the movie The Name of the Rose, but Day of Wrath is certainly more accessible than the Eco book. And Dreyer by no means stacks the deck entirely against the religious or even the religious authorities, that is part of what makes it such a chilling, brain-teasing experience, and a greater take on witch-hunting than The Crucible, in my view.

Campaspe said...

Where am I? The Marlene tidbits from Yojimboen would make a great movie, tis true--once again, I am agog--and I think Thurman could still do it. She is around the same age as Marlene was in WW II, after all. She would definitely be better than Madonna, who used to scare the shit out of the Siren in the 1980s by periodically announcing how much she loved Marlene and wanted to do a movie of her.

In a way Madonna is appropriate--another star with an image created and maintained with a steely will--but let's face it, Madonna can BE that but she could never impersonate it on screen.

Yojimboen said...

XT - Re Gainsborough, one of my favorite activities, when Brit relatives visit, is to drive them to the Huntington Gardens (and Museum) about 20 minutes away in Pasadena. Then casually, casually meander, steering the visitors through the Gallery until we wind up looking up at something familiar to them: Blue Boy. (Pinky’s on the opposite wall.)
My visitors are puzzled at first. Why is this California museum displaying reproductions of Gainsborough’s two most famous portraits? Then, slowly, slowly, the penny drops.
Oh, Christ… These are the originals.
It’s fun (and on Thursdays it’s free).

DavidEhrenstein said...

Madonna can do Marie Windsor.

X. Trapnel said...

Wonderful, Y! Being British though, I imagine they take it with good grace. Jean Renoir in his bio of Pierre-Auguste had some choice words for Frenchies complaining abt the almighty dollar siphoning up French masterpieces.

"Pinky" is not quite by Gainsborough (to put it Britishly); It's Thomas Lawrence.

Yojimboen said...

Of course Pinky's by Thomas Lawrence. I was just testing you ;D

Charles Noland said...

Siren - Day of Wrath is available through Netflix, so it is now in my queue.

Campaspe said...

Re: The Reckless Moment (where did that come from? oh well) -- I don't see Lucia as trapped so much as thwarted, a woman with amazing resources of nerve and deception, who had never really had to bring those qualities out before, and is doing so now under circumstances that we understand are going to be temporary. I love how Mason's dawning admiration and eventual love for Lucia mirrors the way we come to see her.

Bosley Crowther, that prosy old bore, called it "feeble and listless." HOW did he maintain so much influence for so long? But one interesting thing is that it's Bennett's finest screen performance and she too never thought it was any good. Not in the same class as Scarlet Street, she told interviewers later. When it was shown as part of a retrospective of her films, she was heard muttering as she left the theater, "Well, that wasn't much, was it?"

X. Trapnel said...

Bosley Crowther also called Letter From an Unknown Woman "tommyrot." Or was it "tosh"?

Interesting to note that Bennett worked in rapid succession 1947-48with Renoir, Lang, and Ophuls. Maybe she was a bit dazed by the end.

Arthur S. said...

I think Bennett's performance in that film is among the best performances in film. So it's kinda sad she had that attitude. But then Mason felt the same way, saying that THE RECKLESS MOMENT was a film Wanger wanted to be more European but it failed, what he meant by that I have no idea. But then it's rare for actors to be great judges of their own work. They're so involved and often they judge the film with what they think it is instead of what it is. I personally think that it's the best of Ophuls' American films which means a great all-time American classic.

----------------------------
Not in the same class as Scarlet Street,
-----------------------------

Well I'm not hung up on that Lang film. The original film by Renoir was way more scary and radical, mostly because that film wasn't really a thriller but a satirical comedy. Lubitsch wanted to remake it at first and that would have been interesting.

Gloria said...

My favourite Bennet-Lang combo was "Man Hunt", where she was most funny when she visits Walter pidgeon's folks, and then most heartbreaking elsewhere.

Of Course, another attraction of this film is George Sanders drawling most lethally.

Arthur S. said...

For me THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW is the key one. SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR is also good in my opinion.

Joan Bennett is one of my favourite stars, my favourite performance of hers might be ME AND MY GAL by Raoul Walsh where she stars opposite Spencer Tracy decked out in her natural blonde hair. She may not have been a grat actress technically but in all the films I have seen she's been a striking presence and with Walsh, Lang, Renoir, Ophuls and ME AND MY GAL and THE RECKLESS MOMENT are great performances.

Manny Farber considered ME AND MY GAL Walsh's best film and so naturally it's not out on DVD or any form of Home Video. But bootlegs abound...As David E. says, the 30s were a period of extraordinary creativity and he cites THE GREAT GARRICK and SYLVIA SCARLETT. Like these two, ME AND MY GAL has a inventiveness, wit and a free approach to genre and themes that is comparable to the New Wave stuff. ME AND MY GAL is a lot like BAND OF OUTSIDERS in it's tone and vitality and the freedom of it's characters and the world they live in. I wouldn't be surprised if a Walsh fan like Godard took notes from this film.

Yojimboen said...

Is it too early for me to remind everyone (yet again) of Ms Bennett's small but adorable role in Curtiz's We're No Angels?

(N.B. Madame Sirène and Karen - this is the Xmas movie to raise children on! Forget Tootie's snow-people and Zuzu's petals - murdering the nasty Basil Rathbone is much more character-building!)

Karen said...

A valid point, Yojimboen! I am fortunate, however, in that, as a member of the Tribe, I don't have to screen any Christmas movies at ALL.

X. Trapnel said...

Being tribal myself, I consider Shop Around the Corner a Jewish Xmas movie. Ezra Pound (he's baaaccck!)would likely point out that Christmas here is celebrated only in terms of a big profit.

D Cairns said...

What I'm thinking of is the domestic arrangement in The Reckless Moment. Bennett's husband is away (we think he might return at the end as her reward for enduring the plot but nooooo) and she has to manage the whole household and then these extraordinary crises. When Mason first visits, watch how they're constantly interrupted by the family, there's no possibility of peace or privacy. I can't see it as a happy home, although the people are perfectly nice, even the daughter is just immature, not a Mildred Pearce monster...

DavidEhrenstein said...

I knew the actress who played Joan Bennett's housekeeper in The Reckless Moment -- a marvelous woman named Frances Williams. Frances was a big union organizer in Hollywood, and worked hard at gettign African-Amwerican parts. She adored Ophuls and he her. He even rewrote a scene so she could do the driving for a distraught Joan Bennett (the character she was playing, not the actress.)

Frances' last work as "Miss Marie the "waitress emeritus" on the great, short-lived, but fondly rememebr TV series Frank's Place

Campaspe said...

Frank's Place! oh what a good series that was. I adored it. I can still remember certain lines and episodes. I wish someone would bring it back. What happened to those characters after Katrina, for example?

SteveHL said...

Connecting the start and the current part of this thread, James Agee mentions that Crowther also disliked Day of Wrath.

Campaspe said...

SteveHL, welcome. Crowther was a pain, there's no denying it. He did like Joseph Mankiewicz (and I do too) but even there his take on the director was wrong.

X. Trapnel said...

Crowther needn't pain us any more. What pains me is that Agee's revieiwng duties never crossed paths with Caught, Reckless Moment (thanks, David, for that treasurable addition to the Ophuls legend), or Letter From an Unknown Woman). Neither, unfortunately, did those of his British opposite number, the great and equally chaotic Julian Maclaren-Ross who wrote brillianly on film noir before it had a name. (somewhere, I fondly hope, Agee and Maclaren-Ross are drinking and talking each other under the table).

Arthur S. said...

Well I have huge issues with Agee's criticism myself. He didn't get Orson Welles for one thing, and thought Zoltan Korda to be among the best film-makers at Hollywood, gave CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE a good review and in a piece on FORT APACHE complained about the number of Irish accents in that film making him wish, "that Cromwell did a more thorough job." This was two years after the Holocaust was made public!!! His work on MONSIEUR VERDOUX is a masterpiece however.

Crowther wasn't a good critic but once or twice he did something interesting, like his review of Ford's CHEYENNE AUTUMN, understanding the significance of that film when few critics did(which includes Ford lovers). He also wrote a good review of IN A LONELY PLACE though he criticized THEY LIVE BY NIGHT because Ray was sympathetic to criminals...

Arthur S. said...

---------------------------------
I can't see it as a happy home, although the people are perfectly nice, even the daughter is just immature, not a Mildred Pearce monster...
---------------------------------

It's not a "Happily Ever After" home but it's a normal family home that's all. Some days it would be happy and other days it would be lonely and irritating and Ophuls for dramatic days chooses the latter. Ophuls' irony is that he makes the film from the point-of-view of the person who makes that family function and that's the mother and she literally runs the house not because she's the "soul" but because she makes it work practically - taking care of the bills, making the food, looking after the old father-in-law. It's a rare film that shows that being a housewife is hard work. And that housewives would be the best mafia cleaners as is shown in that terrific detailed scene where she hides the body.

The film's attitude to that house and towards Joan Bennett's place in that is ironic, but ironic in the 19th Century sense. Not say, the Sirkian irony that we know better.

------------------------------
When Mason first visits, watch how they're constantly interrupted by the family, there's no possibility of peace or privacy.
-------------------------------

Well that's because Mason is a guest and naturally the family will want to know who this guy is. The numerous interactions with them and his tour through the house is the beginning of his obsession with Lucia, who he falls in love with.

X. Trapnel said...

Oh, I have many issues with Agee as a film critic, very uneven and idiosyncratic, built around the viewpoint of the director he would like to have been. There's intermittant brilliance, some misjudgments, and almost always superb writing that goes beyong the bounds of the subject, but that's Agee. Film criticism was only one of his activities, and I firmly beleive he was the most talented writer of his generation in the amplitude of his rhetorical gift, capacity for feeling, and intellectual and moral acuity. As with Nathanael West, another huge talent lured by Hollywood, we're left with so little and a large feeling for what might have been.
My favorite Agee review is of Best Years of Our Lives where I beleive he discerns the lineaments of an American lyric realism that never came into being (for a literary approximation read A Death in the Family).

DavidEhrenstein said...

Crowther's problem was that he couldn't leave bad enough alone. He caught Bonnie and Clyde in Toronto and attacked it. Twice. He attacked Chimes at Midnight on three separate occasions. So much so that the distributor changed its title to Falstaff. So he attacked it again. Such was the power of the NYT's film critic.

As I trust many recall Pauline Kael came to the defense of both films -- spurring the success of one, unable to save the other. Taking Crowther on was her finest hour.

Is everyone familiawith the remake of The Reckless Momnet -- The Deep End? It's quite something. Tilda Swinton in the Joan Bennett role. No housekeeper in this version, and instead of an errant daughter -- a gay son.

The best scene is Tilda getting rid of the body -- as only she can.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh and the blackmailer isthe Serbain Goran Viznic instead of the faux-Irish Mason.

D Cairns said...

Kael's article on Chimes at Midnight was called There Ain't Know Way, as I recall -- she was declaring that her attempt to rescue the film was fore-doomed, because the American public wouldn't accept anything as technically flawed and "difficult" as this. Which may have been true, but it suggests to me that she wasn't really entering the fight, just shouting from the sidelines.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Yes and no. Chimes wasn't going to be a blockbuster even if Crowther had liked it.

Of course her feelings about Welles are all over the map, but on this occasion she was genuinely in his corner.

Yojimboen said...

Completely off-topic, but let's raise a glass to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Good Friday came early this year!

Yojimboen said...

"For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? See Citizen Kane for further details."

Thus Crowther ended his (rave review) for Kane.

Sometimes he got it right, but most of the time he was just godawful. The best - and the worst - that can be said about Ms Kael (whom I met a few times), is that she started out strong but unfortunately ended up believing her own press.

Some wag once defined the critic as someone who sits up on the hillside watching the battle below, and when it's over, climbs down to shoot the wounded.
Agreed, it's rotten job, but...

X. Trapnel said...

"Nobody ever built a monument to a critic"--Jean Sibelius

True enough, but in their own way they are as necessary to the health of culture as doctors are to the health of the body. And of course there are lousy doctors.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Yes Yobimboean. This is the best thing to come out of Iowa since Jean Seberg.

Yojimboen said...

or Meredith Willson...

X. Trapnel said...

or Grant Wood

Karen said...

I think we should all join together in a rousing rendition of the Iowa Corn Song, as so memorably sung by Jean Arthur in A Foreign Affair--which brings us 'round again to Marlene!

I tried to find a video of Jean warbling away, but YouTube's Foreign Affair section is ALL about Marlene...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here ya go!

Gerard Jones said...

Hooray for Iowa! Better than the ethanol lobby, that's for darn sure.

I also like Kael's early stuff a lot (that "Fantasies of the Art House Audience" still feels bold and revelatory), but later she really wears me down. I see this often with critics who write a lot for a long time, and I wonder if it's something inherent in the critical process. Or let's say reviewing more than criticism. That seems to be what drags so many critics into predictability or self-satire of the promotion of a persona over real meaning: the obligation to comment on this month's releases. The pressure to have something to say about Live Free or Die Hard that you didn't already say about Mission Impossible 3.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Kael had moments of genuine inspiration. Certain films inspired her and she could go to town on them. Other times she came up empty -- missing points as big as the Chrysler buiding. Still she was always readable, and it says a lot about a critic whose writing you enjoy even when you think she's dead wrong about the film under discussion.

X. Trapnel said...

Kael is readable, yes, but I rarely find her re-readable. Nothing much of sustanence cooking under the sylistic sauce.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well that's because she was typical of a certain strain of American intellectual anti-intellectualism. She loved L'Aventura but rejected La Notee as too arty. She applauded Taxi Driver but turned on Raging Bull. It's as if enthusiasm any film director had to be tempered for fear of looking to serious.

Yojimboen said...

Sorry, guys, but for most of us Yurpeens, "American anti-intellectualism" has always been something of a tautology.

X. Trapnel said...

Waal, Mister Yojimboen, if yuh don't like the way we do things here yuh can go back tuh Red Roosha whence you came.

Yojimboen said...

I was hoping I wouldn't have to say, "Present company always excepted."

X. Trapnel said...

We Amurricans don't do nuance. Remember?

Vanwall said...

Purity of Essence - nothing else to be said.

X. Trapnel said...

Right, Vanwall. We don't avoid the rest of the world; we just deny them our essence. They feel our power.

Arthur S. said...

Some of Pauline Kael's better criticism is her pieces on Satyajit Ray's films which are quite perceptive.

Kael's modus operandi was pretty simple, she'll like a director upto a point and then ignore everything else he did. She was an early champion of Altman but she soured up on him. The same with Scorsese and Coppola, I guess.

This would be okay if she were constantly engaged with new cinema and younger film-makers but she instead kept praising many other mediocre films. One film-maker she remained loyal to was...ahem...Brian DePalma.

mndean said...

Not to be too contradictory, Arthur, but she didn't sour on Altman totally. She disliked his late-'70s output (Buffalo Bill and the Indians which she didn't review but referred to negatively in another review, A Wedding, Quintet), but came back to liking him to a certain degree in the '80s, but considered him erratic. His output in the '80s was erratic (does anyone like O.C. and Stiggs? - I can only view it as a weird self-parody with a tweaking of Coppola thrown in), so it's not out of bounds.

Her turning to dislike of Scorsese was less understandable but it seemed she just got there too early. I stopped automatically liking his films after GoodFellas. Cape Fear put me off him and made me look harder at what he was putting out.

One reason she turned into an advocate was that she saw a lot of great filmmakers getting little audience for their films in the '70s so she advocated for them. (Altman, Allen, Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, DePalma) That is a pretty common critic's function, but unlike critics like Truffaut, she could turn against those same filmmakers if she disliked their output (something Truffaut never did, from what I read). She slagged every single one of those she advocated if they put out what she considered a bad film. She wasn't always right. Now, can anyone think of a critic who was always right?

MovieMan0283 said...

Day of Wrath is truly an outstanding masterpiece and I too saw it for the first (and only) time in a New York theater - several years ago at the Walter Reade, during the Janus retrospective. It was one of the most powerful cinematic experiences I've ever had.

After it was over, the older guy in front of me grumbled, "Fuck organized religion," and chuckled. The quotes you've selected would seem to bear out this reading, but to me it's too much of a simplification of Dreyer's subtlety and openness. There is a guiltiness about the heroine, who wishes for (wills?) someone's death and later flirts with the idea of witchcraft after she's accused. The film is harrowing, upsetting, but also ambiguous and the closing moments seems to focus on the woman's soul, on her own inner confession, putting aside notions of corporal and capital punishment, strict judicial law, etc in favor of some mystical, transcendental relation to the Almighty and Divine Justice, not in the manifestations people make of them but in their essences. It was, I think, the most deeply spiritual and religious film I've ever seen and fittingly, without any easy answers or simple conclusions. It's not just about the mystery, it embodies the mystery.

Of the directors Schrader described as "transcendental" - Bresson, Ozu, and Dreyer - only Dreyer seems to me to truly embody that term (Ozu is more about resignation and Bresson has a cold austerity which, to me, often indicates an unacknowledged cruelty towards his characters). The ending of Ordet also comes to mind - not to mention The Passion of Joan of Arc.

It's been said that cinema is both lies and truth 24 frames a second. Dreyer's films are miracles at the same speed - every frame a revelation and transformation.

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