Monday, April 26, 2010

Bonjour Tristesse (1958)


What an up-and-down experience was Bonjour Tristesse, the film based on Francoise Sagan's brief novel about a young girl with an unhealthy jealousy about her alleycat father. The Siren loved the book as a teen, but it had not aged well when she revisited it. Still, artistically the 18-year-old's debut book was more cohesive than Otto Preminger's movie.

Preminger is no great favorite of the Siren. Of what she has seen, the Siren wholeheartedly loves Laura, Angel Face and Advise and Consent; likes somewhat but does not understand the fuss about Daisy Kenyon and Anatomy of a Murder; withstood Carmen Jones only for the sake of Dandridge and Belafonte and River of No Return for Monroe and Mitchum; was bored or repelled in varying measure by The Man With the Golden Arm, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Whirlpool, The Moon Is Blue and Bunny Lake Is Missing; and loathed Saint Joan, Exodus, Hurry Sundown and The Cardinal.

Excepting the first three movies (and to a degree the second two), there is a funhouse-mirror aspect to the Siren's discussions of Preminger with just about anybody outside of James Wolcott. Where Preminger's fans see sophistication, the Siren sees coarseness and an unpardonably leaden way with jokes large or small. Where they find moral complexity, the Siren finds herself repeatedly poked in the eye with The Message. When admirers talk about the beauty of his compositions, the Siren does see the point in many instances; still, the Siren frets over lack of flow, occasional bizarre framing, particularly in the late movies, and how a scene or even a shot can wear out its welcome until pacing and its sister, suspense, clutch their hearts and keel over. Others talk of Preminger's women; the Siren thinks his movies push almost all of them into one side of a nympho/frigid label and when the film doesn't, as with the title character in Daisy Kenyon, Preminger keeps the audience so far from the character that she never seems quite real.




Now that the Siren has gotten that off her chest, and has royally pissed off all the Preminger fans (I'm so sorry Glenn, I swear I love you anyway), some good, if qualified, words for Bonjour Tristesse. Plot: Seventeen-year-old Cecile sashays through Paris in the black-and-white present, moving from flirtation to flirtation while accompanied by her aging roue of a father, Raymond (David Niven). Flashback to the Technicolor Riviera in the previous summer, where Cecile finds her idyll interrupted by Raymond's marriage proposal to the refined Anne (Deborah Kerr). Unwilling to have her frolics cut off by Anne's prim insistence on things like studying, and prompted also by sexual jealousy over her father, Cecile plots to break up the engagement, with sad results.

One pleasure that maybe should be minor for the Siren, but wasn't: It was shot in France. The locations are a little bit of heaven and Preminger does not stint in using them. The Siren found herself cheering for the characters to get into another car or take another walk, because it meant another fabulous shot of a street, or a beach, or Cecile and Raymond's villa, the most swoonworthy beach house this side of Contempt.

And then there's Jean Seberg, a limited actress whom the Siren will nonetheless watch in anything. (I mean anything. I sat through Paint Your Wagon for that woman.) She had a vividly original beauty and give Otto credit where he deserves it, he shot her like a man bewitched. She walks away from a scene and Preminger leaves the camera on her backside like he can't bear to see her go. Seberg is breathtaking, and Bonjour Tristesse gives you every angle on her that you could possibly have in 1958.

What is interesting about Seberg in this film is the way she handles her obvious insecurities as an actress. Most inexperienced and/or nervous actresses (think early Ava Gardner or Linda Darnell in most things) will concentrate on getting the line readings just right and neglect the whole-body approach you get with someone truly in possession of her craft. Seberg does the opposite. Her movements in Bonjour Tristesse are perfection, or close--whether she is planting a kiss on the boy she's chosen to take her virginity, reaching her arms out to her father on a dance floor, chucking a picture into a drawer in a fit of temper or just getting ice cream out of the icebox, Seberg's every bit of body language plays as truth. But--her voice. Seberg started with a handicap, a thin voice further marred by a field-flat Midwestern accent, but she makes it worse with intonations that suggest she's reciting in class rather than expressing any kind of emotion. The lines all sound the same--a world-weary remark to a suitor gets the same type of expression she gives to joking with her father or plotting Anne's downfall. In Breathless, Godard took Seberg's affectless delivery and married it to a character for whom it made perfect sense. No such luck in Bonjour Tristesse.

The vocal problem is particularly acute because Seberg narrates large chunks of the movie. When we are flashing back to the Riviera summer, she tells us how very happy they were, and how they didn't see anything coming, and now she wonders if it all could have been prevented. And when we move from the Riviera back to Paris, Seberg tells us how very very triste everything is, and where did it all go wrong, and now she and her father are just pretending to be happy. And she also has occasional thinking-out-loud-on-the-soundtrack narration, like where she's chasing after someone and thinking "should I tell her? no, why should I tell her! then again..." All right, I am caricaturing, but only slightly. The narration is dull, at times risible, at least 95% unnecessary, and it's an open question as to whether Danielle Darrieux or Barbara Stanwyck at the height of their powers could have made these interjections work. Seberg, in only her second movie, didn't have a prayer.




Bonjour Tristesse gets a big boost from David Niven in a role that hit uncomfortably close to his real-life reputation. The Siren loved how Niven shows the slight seediness of Raymond's charm, the character's calculation and essential callousness. And Niven gives Raymond just the right amount of flirtatiousness with Cecile--enough to suggest the man is sublimating something by going with his younger girlfriends, but not enough to be repulsive. Deborah Kerr starts off low-key but ends up heartbreaking as Anne, who is rendered a lot less comprehensible and substantive than in the book.




Many of the factors that put the Siren off Preminger are present, though. Attempts at banter among these idle, intelligent people are remarkably slow and unfunny and an extended joke about three maids with similar names is DOA. There was an improbable dance on the docks that reminded the Siren of much that she hated about Carmen Jones. The way Preminger splits up focus in widescreen can strike the Siren as crude, attention jerked hither and yon rather than smoothly drawn from one spot to another. During several conversations there was an odd motif of chopping off the tallest actor at the crown of the head, but that was nothing compared to Kerr and Niven's first big love scene, played in a convertible. This was shot through the windshield in a way that planted the rearview mirror bang in the middle of Kerr's forehead. The Siren simply cannot fathom the reason for this, unless Kerr had somehow incensed her director, a possibility that should probably never be discounted with Preminger.

But the shots that the Siren is complaining about are layered between others of great beauty; in particular the black-and-white scenes are put together with impeccable visual grace. The Siren was delighted with the long swoops of the cars around the Paris streets and Seberg's eyes over her dance-partner's shoulder.




Preminger has a wintry approach to love; romance is usually a distant bat-squeak, if it's there at all. Some directors who don't believe in love do believe in sex, and plenty of it, but despite his vaunted frankness Preminger usually isn't that sexy, either, his camera hanging back as if to say, "Now, if you will, please observe this procedure." But Preminger's attitude is not that far from Sagan's, and Bonjour Tristesse has some heat. The sensuality is almost entirely reserved for Seberg and her young men, with an occasional fatherly embrace from Niven that seems to linger just a hair too long.

Kerr, on the other hand, has her hair scraped tightly off her face, wears clothes that usually don't flatter her and is placed in two-shots with Seberg that emphasize her age (all of 37) in a way that borders on the cruel. Anne's intelligence and intrinsic worth as a person, very much a factor in the novel, are scaled back in the movie. When she reminds Cecile that a seaside tryst "can end up in the hospital" (a pretty goddamn reasonable reminder for a teenager even now) she just sounds prissy. The Siren forgave all this, though, when she saw the final sequences.




Lured by Cecile, Anne stumbles upon Raymond as he tries to lure back his much-younger former flame. As she listens to the man she had planned to marry mocking her age, her looks and even her love, Preminger keeps the camera on Kerr's face, and it's a brilliant choice. You watch this woman's agony grow and grow until you can't bear it any more than she can, and she runs off. It's so beautifully played by Kerr that in no way do you question Anne's suicide later, despite her eminent common sense to that point--what else do you do with that kind of betrayal?

And even more than that, the Siren loved Cecile and Raymond's car ride after he gets the inevitable phone call. They jump into his convertible and wind down the road, and for once Preminger's buildup isn't too long--the car stops in front of the roadblock at exactly the right moment, and its lurch throws you back even though you already know what you're going to see.

Then...back to Paris, and more narration. Lots and lots of narration. But it does build to a superb shot of Seberg, taking off her makeup and staring into the mirror, facing a future already bleak and loveless at the ripe old age of seventeen. That shot, and Kerr's last sequence a few moments earlier, make up for a great deal, even if they don't change the Siren's overall view on Preminger.

87 comments:

X. Trapnel said...

I've never seen BT, but will remark that the shot of Jean Seberg's eyes over her partner's shoulder is as nothing compared to Eva Marie Saint's over Cary Grant's at the fade out of their sleeping car tryst.

Siren, how could you have left In Harm's Way off the list of Preminger clunkers? I can watch anything with battleships, but his is one dreary looking film. The ships, Patricia Neal's clothes, and Dana Andrews' hair, and B. de Wilde's expression all seem to be made out of the same material.

A much better novel than BT on the same emotional terrain is Le Rempart des Beguines (forget what the trans. is called) by Francoise Mallet-Joris, filmed sometime in the 70s with Robbe-Grillet fillette Anicee Alvina.

The Siren said...

Oh lord yes, In Harm's Way was a chore. Blacked that one out.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well where to begin? I loved it when it came out (quite the Big Deal with a HUGE billboard over the Astor theater in Times Square) and I've loved it ever since.

Seberg looks forward to the Andy Warhol School of Semi-Actors. She's always herself and the trick for the canny filmmkaer is to know where to place that self and how. I can't think of another actress at the time who could convey such feckless callousness and STILL not lose audience sympathy in the long run.

You're right on the money on the climactic shot of Kerr listening to Niven betray and diss her. In many ways this is a key to Preminger and why his fans (ie. MacMahonists comme moi) like his films so much -- even when they only half-work, as is the case with In Harm's Way. And let's not even go there with the sublime Skidoo.

Paint Your Wagon was the most cursed of the Big Deal Musical Flops made in the wake of The Sound of Music. Josh Logan couldn't do a damned thing with it. Why? Well to start with none of the leads could sing a note --though Lee Marvin's growling rendition of "I Was Born Under a Wandering Star" became a hit in the UK for some reason. Meanwhile off-screen Jean was having an affair with Clint -- that ended badly. For all the details (and more) seek out Mark Rappaport's great essay film From the Journals of Jean Seberg, with Mary Beth Hurt standing in for Jean.

I also reccomend Garrel's Les Hautes Solitudes -- which I believe can be found on the net.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Here it is!

The Siren said...

David, I have seen the Rappaport and it was pretty great. My Seberg obsession began with a viewing of Breathless (forgot Belmondo, I was hooked by HER) and continued with a paperback copy of Played Out that I made my mother buy for me at the grocery store. When I was in acting class at the start of my move to NY I would see very young actors occasionally reduced to sobbing wrecks by a brutal teacher--honestly, there are very good acting teachers and there's also a handful of pricks out there--and I would think of Seberg and Preminger.

Paint Your Wagon was one of the most unmitigated catastrophes I have ever seen.

Aside from Breathless, I love Seberg in Lilith, a part she really tore into.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Oh yes, Lilith is great.She gave an interview to Cahiers du Cinema at the time and spoke of the fact that Robert Rossen knew he was dying when he made the film and that it's infused with this knowledge.

While different in any number of obvious ways Rohmer's Pauline at the Beach is very much influenced by Bonjour Tristesse

Extra Bonus Points: Geoffrey Horne who played the hunk that Cecile and Elsa toy with in the film played Franklin Shepard as an adult in the original prodcution of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along.

You weren't the only girl who got hooked on Seberg in Breathless. Back when I was in high school (Music and Art calss of '64) it was THE film, that everyone saw over and over again. All the boys wanted to be cool like Belmondo and all the grils wanted to be cool like Jean Seberg.

Ed Howard said...

Well, I just adore this film. Something about it hits me perfectly, and in some ways though I recognize your complaints in what I love, you seem to be troubled by exactly the elements that I appreciate in Preminger: particularly the relative coolness and distance, as though he's observing samples on a slide, is of a piece with his stark formalist compositions. Seberg's performance, too, seems absolutely perfect for this film: her awkwardness, her odd inflections, are so well-suited for this girl who affects world-weary sophistication but is really still so young and fresh (at least in the flashbacks; in the present-day scenes she really is world-weary, and it's heartbreaking).

Anyway, there's so much to love here: the summery beauty of the Riviera contrasted against the encroaching darkness heavily foreshadowed by the B&W scenes, the way that Deborah Kerr's wicked stepmother character is slowly infused with pathos and complexity, the examination from every angle of the film's themes of innocence and freedom versus responsibility and maturity.

Flickhead said...

Siren, if and when I ever drink again, you and I should get several bottles of wine and see Such Good Friends together.

The Siren said...

Ed, to me almost all of Seberg's line readings are awkward, and they're the same sort of thing no matter who she is addressing or under what circumstances. There is very little vocal contrast, for example, between Seberg-in-sorrow in the Paris scenes and Seberg-in-flower on the Riviera. You have to get it all from her body. I liked the b&w/color device, obvious though it was, but the transitions between them gave me whiplash a couple of times.

Flickhead, that sounds like fun. I am not going back to Exodus or Hurry Sundown, however, unless there is something in for me, and by "something" I am thinking "something like CASH."

Stephen Brophy said...

I had an interesting experience with Bunny Lake last year. Every Halloween Ran Blake, a mad-genius musician/teacher at New England Conservatory throws a sort of party/concert in Jordan Hall in which he slices/dices some noirish film and accompanies the whole thing with original compositions by his students. Last year was Bunny Lake.

I could still remember images from first seeing the film when if came out in the early 60s, so figured it must be worth seeing again. The musical extravaganza whetted my appetite, so I got and watched the DVD - what a mistake! I can't remember the last time I sat all the way through such an incoherent piece of claptrap. Even the things I liked, like the performances of Olivier and Coward, got annoying before it was over. And Kier Dullea should have sued whichever adviser talked him into taking that role!

I've never felt much one way or the other about Preminger - he never seemed to live up to his reputation, and certainly never accomplished anything like von Sternberg or von Stroheim, with whom I always seem to compare him when his name comes up...

Yojimboen said...

Chère Madame, I find myself half-way between your superb analysis (another one for the ages) and Ed Howard’s incisive rebuttal.
A gentle rap on the knuckles though, for failing to mention one of the more crucial elements in the film, Mylène Demongeot; for my money the most tragically underused beauty ever to emerge from French cinema.

Incomprehensibly, she didn’t become the biggest sex-symbol of the 50s and 60s – BB got there first - but side-by-side, BB looks like a camioniste compared to Mylène.

Again incomprehensibly, she played virtually no part in the Nouvelle Vague – for unknown reasons she never made a film with Truffaut, Malle, Godard or Chabrol – and not for lack of acting talent.
(DavidE probably knows why?)

To the point, every time Mylène is on screen in BT, it’s as if no one else is. The mere presence of M’lles Demongeot and Seberg was bound to (designed to?) turn Deborah Kerr into a matron. (Beats me why an actress of Ms Kerr’s experience set herself up for that.)

Jean Seberg? Exquisite of form and face – the clean-cut (but nonetheless raw) sexuality of her perfect young bod overcame her lack of acting nuance; If Preminger accomplished anything here, it was to convey that truth.

Preminger? I go back to Carl Lemmle Sr.’s most famous command, “A tree is a tree, shoot it in Griffith Park!” Less famous, but more to the point was his, “Get Jack Ford, he yells good!”
Otto Preminger, almost without exception, yelled bad.

The Siren said...

Stephen, generally I try not to use one director to beat up another. This is probably no more than my personal hope that no one reads me side by side with, say, James Agee. But the one I usually see Preminger compared with is Fritz Lang, and I have no hesitation in preferring Lang's filmography as a whole.

The Siren said...

Ah, Y., so it comes to this. A difference of opinion so vast as to be unbridgeable. I am afraid that the reason I did not mention Mlle Demongeot was under my mother's old principle of "if you can't say something nice..." And I can't. Really I can't. Bardot? Put her in the same room with Bardot in her prime and Mylene couldn't flag down a bartender. She gets one of the script's genuinely witty lines ("I will NOT be treated like a wife!") and whines it. I know we have not always shown Monroe the deference she deserves here, but can you imagine what Marilyn could have done with that piece of dialogue?

I won't say that I don't know what you see in Mylene. As my late father once remarked to me after listening to a litany of grievances about a now long-gone boyfriend, "Well daughter, I'd ask what the attraction is, but I guess there ain't much else left." But her looks do nothing for me either. Kind of ... sporty. The Siren doesn't dig sporty.

I hope we can remain pals. Remember, we got over Scorsese. This too shall pass.

Anyone want to beat up on Geoffrey Horne a little bit here?

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Brava, Siren! My first reaction, reading this, was "Gotta love anyone who uses the word substantive."

I hadn't seen "Bonjour Tristesse" until relatively recently, and I loved it when I saw it ... for a large part because of the color and the landscape.

One thing that stuck with me was what seemed, at the time, to be The Quintessential Deborah Kerr Line. It's when Niven, making a gesture toward breaking up with Kerr, saying something about their remaining casual friends (or words to that effect). Her response, with a tear in her voice: "Oh, Raymond, I could *never* be casual!"

"In Harm's Way" works for me, despite awkward stretches, because of the John Wayne/Patricia Neal chemistry. And, let's face it, I'm predisposed to like any film whose cast includes both Patricia Neal and Paula Prentiss. This in spite of the fact that the film seems to imply one woman's extramarital hoo-hah caused the Pearl Harbor attack.

A friend liked my recent off-the-cuff description of "Such Good Friends," which I'll repeat here: "[Not a film with] a light touch, but containing many good things. Instant comparison: 'Way of the World,' directed by Robert Aldrich."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Actually I don't know why.
Mylène was indeed lovely, talented and tragically underused.

Perhaps the N.V. directors bypassed her in favor of their own Deluxe Sexpot Bernadette Laffont. Who can forget her runnig around in next to nothing in A Double Tour or that great moment in Les Bonnes Femmes where she rises, leers at a bevy of prospective boyfriends and says "J'ai quelque chose a faire."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Mylene is equally unforgettable in Roy Ward Baker's supremely weird The Singer Not the Song in which Mexican bandit Dirk Borgarde (yes you read that right) dressed from head to toe in tight-fitting black leather (ditto)spurns galpal Mylene when he becomes unaccountably attracted to a Graham Greene-sih priest played by

(wait for it)

John Mills (!)

Yes that gobsmacked me too.

Yojimboen said...

Oh, dear, the word ‘unbridgeable’ sends me looking for a rusty razor. If I survive today, we’ll talk more.

I wrote an unpublished monograph on Otto P in the late 60s, it wasn’t very good, hence I didn’t keep a copy. It ran along these lines:

For a while now Preminger has had the corner on high-budget exploitation films. He snatches up a hot-button issue (drugs in Golden Arm, racism in Hurry Sundown, religion in The Cardinal, politics in Advise and Consent, Zionism in Exodus, sex in The Moon is Blue and rape in Anatomy of a Murder), shakes it the audience’s face for a couple of hours then puts it back exactly where he found it, smooths it over and tip-toes away quietly without having said anything at all really.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Film is the art of showing. And when it comes to actors, to quote Jerry Lewis "You know the eyes are the windows of the sould -- so if the shades are up. . ."

Preminger is highly suspicious of anyone's knowability. He's drawn to impacable mysteriosu faces -- starting with Gene Tierney -- not only in Laura but also Where the Sidewalk Ends and Whirpool. Seberg is quite like her in thsi respect. That's very important for a film like Bonjour Tristesse, as it's a matter of some dispute as to whetehr or not Cecile is "wise beyond her years" or simply THINKS she is.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Mylene is still around , and working.

Another notable film of hers is La Notte Brava a neat little shocker direcred by Mauro Bolognini from a script by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Laurent Terzieff and Jean-Claude Brialy figure in the cast.

Trish said...

Seberg's flat voice is a miracle in this film. It's one of the reasons why BT is so compelling. Hers is a cynical, middle-aged woman's voice and it works for the character, who thinks she's seen it all. As an actress she's so bad she's good. I love the Riviera, but what really returns me to extra viewings is Seberg's wardrobe. Fabulous without being glam.

Now, can anyone direct me to Moment by Moment?

D Cairns said...

Fallen Angel is a favourite of mine, and one where Linda Darnell's physical acting is very strong -- maybe that's something Otto had a good sense for?

The Siren said...

David C, any rec from you is taken Very Seriously Indeed at the Siren's place so I will search it out. Fallen Angel is one I haven't seen and I do love Darnell too. I seem to have a weakness for insecure actresses. It's quite possible that Preminger emphasized the physical; come to think of it, in Laura, Tierney's physicality is more interesting than her voice (which was fine, though) and it's even more the case in Whirlpool, which I disliked.

Trish said...

Fallen Angel in one of my favourite Fox noirs. I recently saw "Daytime Wife" with Linda Darnell and Tyrone Power, and couldn't believe the difference between the sweet gal of that film and the casually indifferent bombshell of Fallen Angel. She is fabulous, and unfortunately for poor Alice Faye, steals the film. I like her much better than Gene Tierney, who is always beautiful, but in a brittle, stand-offish sort of way.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Also worth noting: the screenplay of Bonjour Tristesse is by Arthur Laurents. Right after it came his Broadway masterpieces -- West Side Story and Gypsy.

Karen said...

I did like BT, and I think we need to take a moment to raise a glass to Hope Bryce, the costume coordinator, because the clothes are just divine and Seberg really knows how to wear them.

I'm not nearly as clever as our hostess and the vast majority of my fellow commenters, so I confess that I rarely notice questions of technique unless they're more of a beam than a mote.

As for Preminger's Exodus: the less said of that embarrassing monstrosity, the better. The sort of film that makes me ashamed of being a Jew. Blech.

The Siren said...

Karen, the costumes are incredible, chic to the max. Not a false one in them, EXCEPT when Demongeot (there she is again) turns up for a confab with Seberg wearing a giant white overturned Easter basket on her head. It even has ribbons. I had to pause the DVD to get the guffaws out of my system.

Yojimboen said...

Sorry, ladies, the BT costumes/gowns were designed by Givenchy – including the silly straw hats. The credit ‘costume co-ordinator’ is now ‘costume supervisor’ as in she (or he) who keeps track of the costumes. For the most part back then (unlike today), actors and actresses wore what they were told to wear.

Vanwall said...

Siren - Lovely banner!

As for Prem, his films don't do very much for me, except a few exceptions. More than most any director for me, his films are often well-dressed manikins parading in front of luscious sets or scenery, spouting something like words, with never the twain a'meetin'. Sometimes he has actors and actresses who transcend his limitations, often by luck, such as in BT or many others. I'm in the meh camp for Otto, tho I will take a gander at a film of his anytime - it usually looks good if not great, and passes the time, sorry.

Yojimboen said...

Karen – Walk, don’t run to Moment to Moment, it isn’t worth bruising a shin for. It’s surprisingly washed-out in almost every aspect. The cinematography, notwithstanding it’s Harry Stradling, literally pales by comparison to G. Perinal’s BT imagery. Though supposedly shot in the same locations, it’s worlds apart from BT’s cobalt-blue Med and sky. Mostly shot on an annoyingly pastel studio set, it doesn’t go outside to the sunshine nearly enough; and when it does, and goes to close-up, the Côte d'Azur background becomes just that – back projection. No doubt Mervyn LeRoy was more comfortable in the traditional ways.

Seberg’s performance is limited – perhaps because it was too heavy a lead for her to carry alone (she’s on screen a lot); in fact that was something of a recurring problem in her career – though she could – and did - shine brighter in ensemble pieces.

All in all, MtoM makes you yearn for BT (and/or To Catch a Thief).

Rob said...

Hello there, Siren! As always I'm kind of intimidated by your smarts and I'm so happy you focused on "Bonjour Tristesse", one of my favorite movies. I saw it as a kid and didn't see it again until about two years ago, and it haunted me the whole time. There's nothing to say that you haven't said here (although I loved it a lot more than most seem to) but as to Seberg's voice, doesn't it seem like ALL teenagers had that chirpy, yet utterly flat voice in the cinema of the 50's and early 1960's? It almost sounds like she overdubbed her own lines! But I don't mind it. I've also grown to appreciate "Daisy Kenyon" too, as time has gone by.

Dan Callahan said...

"Bonjour Tristesse" would make a great double feature with Preminger's "Angel Face." There's something about his neutral style that makes him the ideal director for these twin studies of young female sociopaths.

Seberg's narration: yes, she does deliver all of it flatly, "bad acting" on her part, but increasingly chilling, at least to me, because Seberg's lack of affect is being used by Preminger just as he used Jean Simmons's hard face to get across the impenetrability of this type of person.

Niven and Kerr were never better, and that's because Preminger is asking them to expose unattractive/vulnerable sides of their screen personas, all in the service of a very disturbing story.

Preminger still has one of the most contested reputations of any major director. I remember being bored by some of his films when I saw them as a kid, but when I looked more closely at them as an adult, I began to see, through a small adjustment of perspective, the way his judicial, "everyone has their reasons" style left so much of the film up to the individual viewer.

"Fallen Angel" is a great test case; if you get entranced by its long takes and the open way it looks at people (especially Darnell), it will seem like a great film. If not, it will seem like an unaccountably depressed little noir.

I guess I have become a Preminger cultist. I'm even fascinated by the deliberate ugliness of "Such Good Friends."

Karen said...

Well, Y., that's what I get for relying on IMDb for wardrobe info! I did think that Ms Bryce, whoever she might be, seemed to be some kind of ringer, since the clothes were just DELICIOUS. I was just glad to see it wasn't Edith Head.

I will probably pass on Moment to Moment, based on your enthusiastic indifference....

The Siren said...

Y., I really should have twigged too since the black dress on Seberg in particular practically howls Givenchy. However, there is NO excuse for that hat, except that it is clearly part of a running joke at Elsa's expense. Like the rest of the jokes in BT it isn't very funny, but she allegedly has a sunburn in the early scenes and thereafter shows up in progressively odd sun protection. It's also odd that everyone keeps talking about how she's peeling and yet her skin is barely tinged with pink and she's smooth as a grape.

The Siren said...

Dan, eloquently put as always. Ultimately Seberg's voice just doesn't work for me as Simmons worked in Angel Face; well, much as I love Seberg, Simmons was a far more gifted actress. My experience with Preminger over the years has been the opposite of yours. I loved the first three movies very early on, but almost my every later encounter with OP has been a disappointment to one degree or another. I was very pleased that I found as much to like in BT as I did.

I don't find a judicious "on the one hand, on the other" approach to theme in Preminger. I think his point is usually all too obvious; there is no freaking way one can read Exodus as "everyone has their reasons." One shining exception, though, is Advise and Consent, where the constant flipping of sympathies stands in for the horse-trading of Washington in a way that works brilliantly for me.

The Siren said...

Rob, nice to see you, and what an interesting point about teenage voices in the 50s. There is a sameness about them, at that, and it goes for the boys as well as the girls. Hadn't thought about that. But, while certainly Sandra Dee was chirpy and so was Natalie Wood at times, both of them got more variation into line readings than did Seberg.

X. Trapnel said...

Moment to Moment! I just sent a jet of coffee at my computer screen.

I can always get my sister on a laughing jag simply by uttering the words "Assault on a Queen." Must see how M to M works.

The Siren said...

Quote re Jean Seberg, from second husband Romain Gary: "To understand Jean, you have to understand the Midwest. She emerged from it intelligent, talented, beautiful, but with the naivete of a child. She has the kind of goodwill that to me is infuriating--persistent, totally unrealistic idealism. It has made her totally defenseless. In the end it came between us."

Beef said...

Note: Hope Bryce, the costume coordinator for "Bonjour Tristesse," was Mrs. Otto Preminger.
I think the Siren makes some valid points in her "BT" post, but I've loved this movie since I first saw it on TV in the 1970s. My first viewing of it was on a black-and-white TV(!), and I still found it fabulous and haunting.
But I also think that "Hurry Sundown" is a brilliant movie!

Stephen Brophy said...

Madame Siren - I can appreciate your disinclination to use comparisons to beat directors and other artists up, but I can't help myself usually. I do think that your inclination to use Fritz Lang as a way to view Preminger's shortcomings is instructive. As much as I love Scarlet Street and The Big Heat and quite a few other of Lang's American movies, I don't think Hollywood ever gave him the chance to work at the level he achieved in Germany.

Preminger, OTOH, rose steadily in the studio system by making increasingly bloated bull fertilizer containers, esp. after he became a producer. Even the best of his leaner work - I'll give you Angel Face or Whirlpool - suffers by comparison with Scarlet Street or Woman in the Window.

p.s. I'm going to see La Sirene du Mississippi this weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts. I'll think of you when the title rolls across the screen.

Yojimboen said...

A couple of small nuggets:
1) Givenchy’s famous credit on Breakfast at Tiffany’s for “Miss Hepburn’s perfume by…” is actually an urban myth – it may have been in the pressbook, but it’s nowhere on the movie’s credits.
2) Jean Seberg was once on the short list to play Holly Golightly. Now, that would’ve been interesting.

Trish said...

I can definitely see Seberg as Holly Golightly. If memory serves, Capote's Holly was a bit of a tomboy, with short cropped hair.

bitter69uk said...

I only just recently saw Bonjour Tristesse for the first time and found it a flawed but fascinating 1950s melodrama, beautiful to look at. The analysis of Jean Seberg's stilted but compelling acting style (or lack of style!) is certainly interesting. For me Bonjour Tristesse is especially memorable for the nightclub sequence where Juliette Greco (one of my favourite singers, and at the height of her beauty) sings the title track in one of her trademark long black Morticia Addams dresses -- exquisite! DavidEhrenstein: believe it or not, I've watched Les Hauts Solitudes online too -- I'm really fascinated by the films Garrel and Nico made together, they're virtually impossible to see and certainly an acquired taste. It's uncomfortable viewing: is like watching Jean Seberg having a nervous breakdown onscreen.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well that's exactly what was happening.

It's a shame that Garrel's Nico films aren't available, particularly La Cicatrice Interieure, a major scene of which was shot in Iceland at that volcano that just erupted. Nico is shown speaking to the volcano -- which figures.

I have a tape of Le Berceau de Cristal that I found at Amoeba for a couple of bucks. Nico sings "Henry Hudson," Anita Pallenberg shoots up and Dominique Sanda swans around in an enormous gown. That's it. No plot whatsoever.

Garrel's later fims Je'entends plus le guitaire and She Was Under The Sunlamp Too Long are about his relationship with Nico.

The Siren said...

"Nico sings "Henry Hudson," Anita Pallenberg shoots up and Dominique Sanda swans around in an enormous gown."

I'm there. Anita Pallenberg sends me. She was so often portrayed as a malevolent bitch in stories about the Rolling Stones that I developed enormous admiration for her.

Yojimboen said...

Dominique Sanda doesn’t swan nearly enough for me, she’s barely in it. At the height of her Finzi-Contini beauty, Mon Dieu!... Qu'elle était belle... J'en ai froid dans le coeur

Trish said...

You guys have lost me... My education is sorely lacking in foreign films. I only know Anita Pallenberg as a groupie and fashion icon.

The Siren said...

Trish, that's basically how I know her too although I have seen clips from Performance.

Yojimboen, we are as one once more. Sanda was ungodly beautiful.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Anita has most recently appeared in Stephen Frears' (woefully neglected) Cherie as a fellow coutesan to Michelle Pfeiffer.

The Siren said...

David, I forgot about that! A cameo, but she's marvelous all the same. She is like her good friend Marianne Faithfull, a woman whose beauty has turned into a glorious wreck that is much more fascinating than many a "well-preserved" lady.

bitter69uk said...

I have an Anita Pallenberg story that dates back to the early 1990s when I first moved to London. There was a strange Warholian art happening / party in a loft in Shoreditch with Anita as the guest of honour: they screened Performance and some of her own grainy super 8 home movies dating back to the Stones years (i.e. footage of her and Keith in bed together, etc). I was sitting at the back; she arrived late and sat next to me, chain-smoking and pounding back red wine. She kept up a running commentary while Performance was playing, cackling and muttering in a husky Marlene Dietrich voice – I need to blog about it and get all the details down once and for all. Shortly after that I saw her DJ’ing at a tiny art-y club. She’s a great lady, really charismatic, strange and fascinating. I read an interview recently where she admitted that the years of hedonism have caught up and she has a bad hip which leaves her pretty impaired, sadly. But I did see her at a Marianne Faithfull concert recently; in fact she brushed past my friend and I when she arrived. She’s still very glamorous. When I see Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull now, it makes me sad that Nico didn’t live long enough to kick heroin and sort her life out. Her music and reputation have really been re-assessed in recent years,and she’s not alive to benefit.

I’ve only seen tantalising fragments of La Ciccatrice Interieur in that documentary about Nico, and on Youtube. The only two Nico-Garrel films I’ve seen to date are Les Bleu des Origins and Les Hautes Solitudes. I wrote about Bleu des Origins on imdb:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077242/

It actually has a very brief blink and you’ll miss it appearance by Jean Seberg (maybe even her last ever on film?): she slaps Nico across the face! The most disturbing sequence in Hautes Solitudes is when a disturbed Jean Seberg is shown taking an overdose of pills onscreen and is stopped by (the also doomed) Tina Aumont – talk about foreshadowing. The Nico-Garrel films I’ve seen seem steeped in heroin addiction and depression and despair: beautiful but heavy going!

Flickhead said...

Siren, is there anything preventing you from seeing Performance? Naturally, after all the comments that have been left, and all of what you've read, it would be impossible to go into it without preconceptions; nonetheless, it's worth seeing.

Flickhead said...

BTW, I agree with David on Cherie: a good Michelle Pfeiffer film that went straight to video in the US.

The Siren said...

I liked Cheri a lot too but it seems we three are rather lonely. The only thing stopping me from seeing Performance is my own inability to organize my viewing in any coherent way, some of which is due to my own scattered nature and some to my circs.

The Siren said...

Bitter69uk, I would LOVE to see Pallenberg in person. I so want to knock back red wine with her and Faithfull one night, my idea of heaven. No wait -- we would have to invite Kim MOrgan. The perfect evening. Talk about cackling.

Rozsaphile said...

Hyperemotional (Hollywood style?) music by the French composer Georges Auric. I just noticed that there is a CD. Samples here:
http://www.screenarchives.com/media/13282-9721.mp3

tom hyland said...

You didn't mention Fallen Angel (1945), one of Preminger's most stylish films. Check it out - between Preminger's fluid camera movements (tracking shots, dollies et al) and the sassy performance of Linda Darnell, the ever-so-light performance of Dana Andrews and the subtleties of Alice Fay, this is a fun ride!

DavidEhrenstein said...

I just found out there's going to be a Donald Cammell series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art later this season.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Marianne Faithfull and Anita Pallenberg on "Absolutely Fabulous"

Yojimboen said...

I agree, David, it is something of a puzzle why Phillippe Garrel is virtually unknown this side of the pond. Though I’m less fond of Berceau (it almost begs to be categorized as an earnest home movie - with the expection of Mlle Sanda, everyone seems to be competing in a David Bowie look-alike contest), than I am of Cicatrice intérieure; the latter film has a compelling purity to it; cleanly and elegantly mounted (though one’s sympathy must be extended to the poor actor [Pierre Clémenti?]'s protracted naked bareback ride among the freezing fiords).

I think She Was Under The Sunlamp Too Long (with compositions to rival Une Femme Mariée) and Je'Entends Plus le Guitare (imagine Muriel directed by Dreyer) are as close to masterpieces as Garrel has produced.
(The miraculous Anne Wiazemsky in the former and Mireille Perrier in both, give quietly amazing performances.

Yojimboen said...

Trailer to Garrel’s latest: La Frontière de l'Aube

(Manohla Dargis likes it, but we shouldn’t let that bother us).

DavidEhrenstein said...

They're both great, Yojim. But his masterpiece (to date) is Les Amants Reguliers starring his magnificent son Louis. This film is May 68 seen from the inside. Anachronistically a Nico cut ("Vegas") is inserted at one point. And pay attention to the Bertolucci diss. WHOA!

Salty Dog (Bill) said...

I think Preminger's best film may well be Where the Sidewalk Ends, where Dana Andrews plays a character who comes off as a deteriorated version of his character in Laura.

Yojimboen said...

Jesus H. Shakespeare, David, that Louis Garrel is one handsome young man! (I actually looked like that at his age [in my dreams]). But it’s hard to tell where Garrel père sticks his thumb in Bertolucci’s eye, he does it so often. Wow, what a film!

Holy shit! The WV was 'adremer'!
Scary!

X. Trapnel said...

Gene Tierney even looks somewhat the worse for wear in WTSE. The whole thing as an aura of dank dismay that makes its happy ending curiously stirring.

I always imagine Dana Andrews and Jeanne Craine in Hot Rods to Hell as Mark and Laura twenty years later.

Weird. I just became aware of Cheri a few days ago and here it is. Mlle. Pfeiffer as Lea? Mais non. Have the movies ever done right by Colette? I await a good film of Julie de Carneilhan.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Louis is only 27. His first appearance is in his father's autobio pic Emergency Kisses. He enters riding a tricycle!

Louis has a lot of the gravitas of Gerard Phillipe.
He's going to have a long and multi-faceted career.

The Siren said...

Ah, Gerard Philippe. *lapses into reverie*

DavidEhrenstein said...

Eh Voila!

The Siren said...

Oh David you have made my day. And Gloria's too, if she is around.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Louis at his most devestating with my favorite last line of all time.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I adore the new banner. Jean is da bomb.

Arthur S. said...

Sorry for including myself this late in the proceedings...I had exams/family trouble/computer malfunction at one and the same time.

Preminger's cinema is something that you have to sample via alternate flavours. The mistake people make is simply starting with the crime films(which Preminger save for ''Laura'' infamously dismissed by saying he couldn't remember any film he made between that film and ''The Moon is Blue'') and then moving on to the remaining films because he simply isn't a genre film-maker as Chris Fujiwara argues persuasively in his recent study on his films, ''The World and its Double''.

I can never forget when I saw ''Carmen Jones'' under conditions that the French Surrealists would have envied...I saw a DVD where the dialogue scenes were dubbed in Korean and the songs were in English and we had helpful subtitles for both running throughout the film. Amazingly the film worked with sincerity rather than a camp piece and it's one of my favourites of his works. Laurence Olivier liked that film too and cited it as his reason for his keanness for working with Otto on ''Bunny Lake is Missing'' only to be disillusioned by commenting that it almost made him lose his admiration for Carmen Jones.

My recent favourite of his films is THE CARDINAL, the only truly intellectual film that analyses the Church as a wholly political organization.

Just to chip in to the Marianne Faithfull worship, her intense powerful renditions of the Brecht-Weill catalogue on her album ''20th Century Blues'' were my introduction into all things B.B. Once you hear her chantings of ''Mack the Knife'', Bobby Darrin's tunes will be totally obliterated as charlatans always are under the glare of the real thing.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Found a great Mike Wallace interview with Seberg from January of 1958, just before the release of Tristesse:

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/multimedia/video/2008/wallace/seberg_jean.html

Wallace asks his characteristically tough questions, and the composed nineteen-year-old gives back with some remarkably intelligent, perceptive and honest observations (I especially love her "a silly sort of pride" comment regarding her refusal to quit her career and go back to Marshalltown, Ohio if Tristesse proves to be a failure). You can tell Seberg's earned a large measure of respect from Wallace by the end of the interview.

On an unrelated point, Seberg looks absolutely stunning throughout the interview.

Yojimboen said...

“Weird. I just became aware of Cheri a few days ago and here it is. Mlle. Pfeiffer as Lea? Mais non. Have the movies ever done right by Colette?”

Mais oui, mon ami, and this one comes as close as any I’ve seen in English. (The 1949 French non-musical of Gigi - with the other DD, Danièle Delorme - is still my fave.)

But Chéri is remarkable in other ways, mainly as an example of how not to sell a film. Despite Frears’s success with The Queen, Miramax decided not praise Chéri, but to bury her. Given a mid-year (“limited”) release, it was forgotten by year’s end nomination time; not a single Oscar or Golden Globe nod – which, depending where you sit, was either sad or a goddamn outrage. The Art Direction (Alan MacDonald) and, especially, the Costume Design (by Consolata Boyle – her 6th film with Frears) were IMO far, far and away the best of the year. But if your distributor doesn’t push the movie, not enough people see it.

(Like last year’s other outrage, Jane Campion’s Bright Star - not only the year’s best performances [not to mention Janet Patterson’s production design and costumes to die for], this was far and away the best film of the year.)

Glad that’s off my chest.

The Siren said...

Okay, make that FOUR in lonely solidarity...David, Yojimboen, Flickhead et moi. Bonne compagnie.

X. Trapnel said...

Ok, I'll give it a spin, but memories of MP's Mme. Olenska (and that whole mess generally, yet another mucking up of a great novel) will keep my expectations low. The non-warbling Gigi sounds tantalizing.

bitter69uk said...

You're right about the bleak ending of Bonjour Tristesse: that shot of Jean Seberg staring at her own anguished reflection in the mirror, knowing she'll be burdened with this guilt and sadness for the rest of her life, is powerfully downbeat. Arthur S: I saw Marianne Faithfull perform her Kurt Weill / Twentieth Century Blues material here in London way back in the 90s, accompanied by just a pianist. Was wonderful. She beautifully (and bravely) re-interpreted some Marlene Dietrich songs that compared favourably and didn't slip into imitation mode.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Marianne is also teriffic in Patrice Chereau's Intimacy. She plays an acting student of the lead, Kerry Fox, who goes off on her in class for no reason. Marianne proceeds to read her like the telephone director.

Made in the UK in english, Intimacy is one of Chereau's most neglected films -- despite the fact that Kerry Fox and Mark Rylance have actual sex in it. (Their characters are carrying on a kind of low-key Last Tango relationship.)

Marianne (who is part of la famille Chereau) can be heard singing "Sleep" at the close of his Son Frere.

There's also early pre-drug-ruination Marianne in Serge Gainsboug's TV musical Anna, very briefly in Godard's Made in U.S.A. (singing "As Tear Go By" a capella) and leave us not forget Jack Cardiff's Girl on a Motorcycle wherein a tip-to-toe black leather Marianne throws herself across the lap of her lover Alain Delon and orders "Skin me!"

Flickhead said...

There's a ton of "Oh! Brother!" dialog in Girl on a Motorcycle/Naked Under Leather. I haven't seen the film since 1979, but I vividly recall Delon telling Marianne "Your body is like a violin! Your toes are like little tombstones!"

Plus I recall way too much narration... and endless shots of her on her hog acting quite strange. It was always a tad too daft to qualify as a guilty pleasure.

Yojimboen said...

And when he says her toes are like tombstones, she says thank you.
‘Daft’ is the word.

The first five minutes when she dreams Delon is whipping the leather one-piece from her body is vaguely diverting if you like that sort of thing. Then it just gets too silly for words.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"A little more throttle."

Daniela said...

Hello there Siren, first time poster (long time admirer) here. I just couldn't resist... Regarding Givenchy's perfume credit - it's not entirely a cinematic myth, since that credit did appear in "Paris when it sizzles". Makes one long for some Smell-O-Vision...

Congratulations on your blog!

pvitari said...

That's five in your (not so) lonely Cheri club. I saw it in the theater when it was here briefly and was most impressed but that didn't surprise me since Cheri was played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Ditto on Bright Star. I'm still infuriated that the latter (and its splendid cinematography) did not get a Blu-ray release.

Yojimboen said...

R.I.P.

bitter69uk said...

Re: Girl on a Motorcycle. I just wish it was a better film as it was Marianne Faithfull's only shot in a leading role, and it captures her (and Alain Delon!) at the height of their 1960s beauty. In her leather catsuit she looks like an English rose Brigitte Bardot. But it's hopelessly bad! It's so stilted it's not even fun as kitsch. Especially the dialogue -- I'll never forget the "toes like little tombstones" line either, but before that there's a shot of her on her motorcyle zipping past a graveyard and musing, "Why don't the dead rebel?"

bitter69uk said...

The Mike Wallace interview with Jean Seberg is strange and fascinating. Wallace is so absurdly combative and antagonistic towards her! And Seberg herself is so heartbreakingly beautiful and doe-eyed, so poised and articulate (she's only 19!) but you can sense her fragility and sensitivity. The cigarette ads that keep appearing are beyond pardoy: "a man's type of mildness ..."

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Wallace was normally very tough with his guests (check out some of the other interviews at the site)- it's amazing how well the young but very mature Seberg handles the situation, without once coming across as defensive.

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