Hard to know what to say about a movie I’ve seen a bunch of times and read a whole book about. Looked gorgeous in the theater. To the IMDB!

Belle’s dad was in Tumultes, which I just found a copy of.

Cinematographer Henri Alekan later shot at least two Ruiz movies and La Belle Captive.

Josette Day retired soon after this, but not before costarring with Marais again in Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles.

One of the sisters I’ve seen in both Les Anges du peche and Rules of the Game and didn’t recognize. The other was in Les Biches and the finale of City of Lost Children (Miette, age 82). Belle’s brother Ludovic starred in a Clouzot movie a couple years later.

The movie puts much faith in its makeup effects, lot of Beast close-ups.

JC during production: “I wonder whether these days of hard work aren’t the most delicious of my life. Full of friendship, affectionate disagreement, laughter, profiting from every moment.”

“Is there nothing more to life than carrying the burden of one’s past mistakes?”

Helene (the great Maria Casares of Orpheus) is engaged to Jean (Paul Bernard of some Jean Gremillon films), who misses their anniversary so she has dinner with Jacques instead, shortly before breaking up with Jean. It seems from the conversation to be a mutual agreement to part ways, but for her facial expressions and closing line (“I’ll have my revenge”).

Helene looks up old friend Agnes, a former dancer who has sunken to prostitution, with her awful mother living off her, and offers to help them out, puts them in an apartment where they can escape the men who hound Agnes, who now wants to see no one. But Helene manages to slyly hook her up with her recent ex Jean, and he falls for Agnes immediately but she takes some work.

“cabaret dancer” must be movie-code for prostitute:

Jean manages to get the reluctant Agnes (Elina Labourdette, later of Lola) to agree to marry him, and immediately after the wedding Helene reveals her plot: “You’ve married a tramp, now you must face the consequences,” an awful blow to a classy rich fellow. But scandal is no use – it’s assumed at the end that the couple ends up happy while Helene is bitter and alone.

Adapted by Jean Cocteau (the year before his own Beauty and the Beast) from a novel by Diderot (1700’s author of source novel for Rivette’s The Nun).

Night Music (1986, Stan Brakhage)

A brilliant-looking hand-painted montage.
Only 30 seconds long including credits.
I’ve been playing it before everything I watch.

La villa Santo Sospir (1952, Jean Cocteau)

Cocteau was hired to decorate a wealthy villa in summer 1950, and documented his own work afterwards. Even in a documentary short he can’t resist shooting in slow-motion and reversing the film.

“Being a professional, I wanted to make an amateur film without burdening myself with any rules.”

Cabale des Oursins (1991, Luc Moullet)

Comparable to Alain Resnais’ plastics short, something that seems like it should be a straightforward industrial film, but goes poetic and absurd. Beginning with a topic even less interesting than plastic factories, “slag heaps made of waste from old mines.” I couldn’t help getting the Hubleys’ rock-based songs in my head (“midnight ride down the rock bottom road, bump-de-bump-de-bump… bump-bump”).

“Coal mining is considered shameful. It has always been hidden underground. Slag heaps are an insult to this secrecy.”

The Case of Lena Smith (1929, Josef von Sternberg)

Fragment of lost Sternberg feature! Lena and friend are at a carnival, witnessing a magic act, a bit overwhelmed. Some cool superimpositions and carnival-glass effects.

Speaking of lost films, there’s also making-of footage on The Day The Clown Cried online, so everybody is talking about that movie again.

Cantico das Criaturas (2006, Miguel Gomes)

Shaky handheld music video for acoustic song by bald guitarist. At the moment this is my favorite Gomes movie. Then on to stylised poetic story of St. Francis regaining memory to anthropomorphized Francis-worshipping nature footage. Ash responded to the sounds of mice and owls.

Trains Are For Dreaming (2009, Jennifer Reeves)

People Like Us-reminiscent mashup soundscape lockgroove with flash-frame alternating strobe edits of faces with scenery. Pulsing ambient soundtrack. Screengrabs can give no indication of this.

Light Work I (2007, Jennifer Reeves)

Sepia animated industrial photography with tone drones. Bubble-chem mixology, molten metal flows. Abstract paint-motion. Aphex Airlines hatefully obnoxious audio. Superb visuals, play some Zorn over ’em next time.

Capitalism: Child Labor (2006, Ken Jacobs)

Oh my god. An historical stereoscopic photograph has been acquired, depicting children in a factory. Ken shows us left frame, right frame, black, on repeat for fourteen fucking minutes, with variations, accompanied (as all a-g movies must be) by ambient music by Rick Reed that gets increasingly hard to bear. I cannot tell a lie: I skipped ahead.

Lullaby (2007, Andrej Zolotukhin)

Among all the analog-looking pencil lines and rumpled paper, there is some sort of software manipulation and either live-action or rotoscoping. I can’t work out how it’s done, but it’s remarkable and original. It is russian, so involves death and bare wooden rooms. Bonus topics: angels and puppets, dreams, pregnancy, birds.

Jacquot de Nantes (1991, Agnes Varda)

A pretty good movie about a kid growing up in small-town France wishing to make films – but if you’re a Varda/Demy fan who knows the backstory, that she’s filming her husband’s childhood memories as he’s dying, it becomes extremely wonderful and moving.

The Beaches of Jacques:

You see inspirations for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Donkey Skin, Pied Piper and Lola, family life, the love for music and cinema. Largely black and white with splashes of color. Varda flips between childhood events and the film they’d inspire, flashing a graphic of a pointing hand from the Demy Garage sign in between.

Jacquot 1:

“Seeing my name there when I was so young gave me a sense of the fragility of our existence.”

WWII occupies much of the film. His father helps with wartime manufacturing. The kids see Les Visiteurs du soir instead of Baron Munchausen because they’re not allowed see German films. In September 1943 his town is bombed. “There were dead all over town.” Adult Demy tells us he’s hated violence ever since.

Jacquot 2:

Making La Ballerine:

Young Demy spends a season with the clogmakers, works with puppet shows, decides he wants to manufacture theater and film sets. After tiring of the 8mm Chaplin film he’s given, he scrapes off the emulsion and hand-draws his own war story on the film. After a failed attempt at live-action shooting, he continues making films alone – stop-motion this time.

Jacquot 3:

Demy is sent to trade school but hates it, makes his stop-motion and keeps dreaming of cinema. The movie ends quite suddenly. “Later, Christian-Jaque came to Nantes to present his film D’homme a hommes. Christian-Jaque was kind enough to look at my film.” Demy gets to enroll in film school. “I met a woman filmmaker, we made a few films, then she gave me a fine son, and now I paint.”

L’Univers de Jacques Demy (1995, Agnes Varda)

Varda’s doc about her late husband’s films, with some personal details and stories thrown in, and interviews with key participants. Varda says they didn’t work together until Jacquot de Nantes, “so I’ll be discreet in this documentary.”

Demy on the set of Lola:

Covering all his films, in no particular order: Lola (with Anouk Aimee, Marc Michel and Michel Legrand), Three Seats for the 26th (with Francoise Fabian), Donkey Skin (with footage of Jim Morrison visiting the set). “I wanted to recreate things that Marais did with Cocteau.”

A Slightly Pregnant Man, then flashback to the war, the nazi bombing of his hometown. “After something as horrible as that, you get the feeling nothing worse can ever happen. And that’s when you start creating a fantasy world.” A Room in Town with Michel Piccoli. La Table tournante, codirected with animator Paul Grimault at the end of both men’s careers. A hilarious montage of scenes from 1954’s The Rebels of Lomanach in which Demy plays the soldier who dies first in every battle scene, then assisting Jean Masson and Georges Rouquier, who encouraged Demy by producing his clogmaker short.

Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Deneuve and producer Mag Bodard. Model Shop, which was “Lola in L.A.” and would have starred Harrison Ford if the studio hadn’t insisted on bankable star Gary Lockwood (heh). Varda catches up with Ford and asks Aimee about the sequel. Demy: “I called it Model Flop, which it was.” On to Pied Piper (also in English), The Seven Capital Sins (Demy drew Lust), and his weird-looking 1980’s Orpheus story Parking, “a fairy tale where there’s no fairy.” Back to Bay of Angels, then Lady Oscar and the TV movie La Naissance du jour (“I like it because I thought it was unfilmable”) before ending on a high note with Young Girls of Rochefort.

So, having just heard about them for the first time, I watched some of Demy’s early shorts.

Le Sabotier du Val de Loire (1956)

A solemn documentary about the clogmakers of Demy’s youth – or perhaps a half-documentary with a dramatic story added, including a death and a climactic wheelbarrow purchase.

Le Bel indifferent (1957)

Demy’s first non-hand-drawn color work, based on a Cocteau play about a very desperate and lonely woman, waiting all day for her man to return, but seeming even more alone when he does. Cinematography by Franju regular Marcel Fradetal.

Lead Actress Jeanne Allard appeared in Varda’s Les Creatures.

Ars (1959)

Another black-and-white semi-doc, this time about Jean-Marie Vianney, parish priest of the small town of Ars, who’d be named a saint after his death. Demy films museums and artifacts while briefly telling Vianney’s story, but most effectively he shoots the present-day town as if the events were happening currently.

Also watched Les Horizons Morts (1951) again – a very accomplished student film.

And happily, Demy’s homemade animations are available to watch in full, apart from their appearances in the above two features.

Le Pont de mauves (1944)
Bombing of the bridge.

Attaque Nocturne (1948)
Looks like the mugger is walking past the Demy Garage entrance.

La Ballerine (unknown date)
I love the pinholes tracing her path.

America as seen but not heard – the soundtrack seems like a post-sync invention, with a fun Michel Legrand score (one of his first films, the year before Lola). Reichenbach spent a year and a half in the States, filming everyday scenes (carnivals, prisons and churches) and special events, including a prison rodeo, a festival for identical twins, a hula hoop contest, horse diving and striptease school.

“This man committed two murders. He is in for a hundred years.”

Is this illegal yet?

A cool movie as travelogue, anthropology and time capsule. Chris Marker wrote a full narration, but reportedly this was adapted by Reichenbach, who considered it too harsh, so Marker’s name barely appears in the film’s credits and he published his own version in Commentaires as L’Amerique Reve, film imaginaire (American Dream). No hard feelings, I guess, since Marker and Reichenbach later collaborated on The Sixth Face of the Pentagon. Produced by new-wave kickstarter Pierre Braunberger, with an introductory note by Jean Cocteau.

The narratively-straightforward centerpiece of the Orphic Trilogy. Like Beauty and the Beast before it, it’s full of visual effects, mostly with easily identifiable techniques – reversing the film, tilting the camera, a mirror, rear projection – but so handsomely shot and elegantly presented as to seem fantastically unique. I don’t quite understand the point of the Orpheus myth, why his wife is taken away as if she’s a toy, but Cocteau redeems it with his “it was all a dream” ending, the couple back together (and expecting a child) while their now-forgotten underworld lovers are punished for meddling.

Jean Marais (Cocteau’s ex-boyfriend, returning from Beauty and the Beast) is the title poet, nationally famous, but hated by the locals. I suppose they consider him a sellout. Cocteau makes these kids out as an unthinking mob always looking for the next new thing – a response to his own audiences after he’d become famous himself? He’s married to the beautiful Eurydice (Marie Déa of Les Visiteurs du soir), but mostly ignores her, concentrating on his work. Meanwhile, the kids are swooning over young poet Cegeste (Edouard Dermithe, Cocteau’s current boyfriend, also lead in Les Enfants Terribles).

Orpheus and his death:

But Death comes for Cegeste – Death in the form of Princess Maria Casares (Children of Paradise), who runs him over in the middle of a crowd, then takes him away along with Orpheus. Since the townspeople have never seen her, her car or the two motorcyclists that accompany her, but they see Orpheus’s conspiratorial-seeming involvement, they come after him with weapons towards the end. But first, either the Princess or her buddy Heurtebise (Francois Perier of Stavisky and Gervaise) kills Eurydice out of jealousy, H. leads O. on a tour of the underworld, and the agents of Death fall in love with the poet and his wife, and vice versa. Cegeste, meanwhile, is happily writing messages for broadcast on Death’s private radio network, and back in the real world, Orpheus sits in Heurtebise’s Rolls all day, listening and transcribing the poetry from the airwaves – which only gets him in further trouble with the mob when they realize he’s ripping off the unpublished work of their missing hero.

Cegeste gets carried away:

Quoth IMDB: “Orphee’s obsession with deciphering hidden messages contained in random radio noise is a direct nod to the coded messages that the BBC concealed in their wartime transmissions for the French Resistance.”

And quoth Cocteau, “I have always liked the no man’s land of twilight where mysteries thrive. I have thought, too, that cinematography is superbly adapted to it, provided it takes the least possible advantage of what people call the supernatural. The closer you get to a mystery, the more important it is to be realistic. Radios in cars, coded messages, shortwave signals and power cuts are all familiar to everybody and allow me to keep my feet on the ground.”

My favorite stills from this movie have been on my PC screen saver for years, so I tried to get some different ones. This is from a great subjective shot which seems simple until you realize those can’t be Marais’s hands, nor his reflection:

Cocteau again:

Among the misconceptions which have been written about Orphée, I still see Heurtebise described as an angel and the Princess as Death. In the film, there is no Death and no angel. There can be none. Heurtebise is a young Death serving in one of the numerous sub-orders of Death, and the Princess is no more Death than an air hostess is an angel.

The way the French words “my death” are pronounced in this movie, in combination with seeing those words on the subtitles, “my death”, and pondering their meaning. Does everyone have his own death? And like Cocteau is saying above, the Princess isn’t “Death” in the way he appears in The Seventh Seal. She’s an employee of a system, subject to judgement, part of a bureaucracy so vast that someone mentions orders bouncing from place to place, with no identifiable origin. It’s details like this which lift the movie from a well-shot retelling of an ancient myth into something original and exciting.

Orpheus glimpses his wife in the car mirror:

For a while there, I dismissed all Italian movies. Their horror is badly acted and makes no sense, 98% of their movies have awful lipsync and among the higher-quality pics I’ve seen are The Leopard (which I hate) and flicks starring Roberto Benigni. Sure, I admit Antonioni and Fellini can be great, and I liked Suspiria a whole lot, so I figured I’d give the country another shot this year via poster-boy Rossellini. Rome, Open City was wonderful, but before moving on to Paisan I took a pit stop with L’Amore, wanting more Anna Magnani – and what a pit it was.

L’Amore is actually a film and a half, or an hour-long feature preceded by a short. First off is The Human Voice, a one-woman play written in 1930 by Jean Cocteau. I’d heard it performed before, on an LP by Ingrid Bergman recorded sometime after her divorce from Rossellini and return to Hollywood. So two Rossellini lovers recorded the same French monologue – coincidence? The play is pretty straightforward, a woman who’s been dumped awaits a call from her ex-guy, talks to him through a failing connection, going through various levels of grief. Should be a showy actresses’s dream role. The Bergman LP sold it better, as far as I’m concerned, sounding more like an actual phone call, all the visuals imagined. Rossellini’s version adds straightforward visuals – an unkempt Magnani on the phone in her room, with no fancy editing or showy camerawork. The biggest problem is the sound, distractingly out of sync (distracting even for me, who was busily reading subtitles), harsh and shrill, Magnani’s whining getting on my nerves until I finally turned the volume waaay down. You’d suppose a one-person movie in a single room would have been a good chance for the Italians to try recording synchronized sound for the first time ever, but even the pioneering Rossellini didn’t think to try that.

In the second part, The Miracle, from a story by Fellini, simple Nanni has a religious mania. While up in the mountains herding goats, she meets a lone dude, whom she welcomes as Saint Joseph (as in the stepfather of Jesus). They share some wine and she wakes up later, wanders back to work. A few months later she’s pregnant. Neighbors taunt and joke with her, a devilish midget throws her from her “home,” which looked like a pile of clothes in a plaza, then literally the entire town comes out to throw her a fake parade then throw stuff at her. So she flees up the mountain, delivers the baby herself.

G. Moliterno: “… largely made, as Rossellini himself acknowledges in the film’s epigraph, to showcase the consummate acting talents of Anna Magnani.”

He also mentions that the Human Voice segment was shot in Paris during prep for Germany Year Zero. “A clear indication of Rossellini’s greater than usual attention to visual style here is given by the pronounced presence of mirrors throughout the film in order to underscore the ongoing fragmentation of the self.”

And if I may overquote from the same source:

[Nanni] clearly anticipates the characters of Gelsomina and Cabiria in Fellini’s La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, but Magnani channels an animistic vitality into the role that makes the poetry of Fellini’s two later creatures appear wan in comparison. And in fact, despite Fellini’s own appearance in the film as the silent and mysterious vagabond who prompts Nanni’s religious delirium… Nannì brings to mind the “durochka” or holy fool, of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev. … [Appeals against the film’s banning in the States] also overturned the Court’s own decision in 1915 which had for decades denied films the status of self-expression and thus protection under the First Amendment. Part of the miracle of Il miracolo, then, turned out to be its role in initiating the beginning of the demise of film censorship in the United States.

“This film deals with the world of fantasy. It is a fairy-tale for grown-ups. It explores the realm behind the magic mirror wich served Lewis Carroll 100 years ago to stimulate your imagination. … This film has been produced by artists. We have made use of the traditional freedom of the artist to follow our inspiration.”

The producers felt compelled to append that little preface, probably to distinguish their movie from contemporary films like Desk Set, Bridge on the River Kwai and I Was a Teenage Werewolf. But this was also the year of artistic masterworks The Cranes Are Flying, Letter From Siberia and The Seventh Seal, none of which felt the need to open their piece with a pretentious prelude pointing out its poetry.

Cocteau, I think:

With the participation of Louis and Bebe Barron (Forbidden Planet), Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, dada artist Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, some of whom had previously worked on more justifiably renowned films like Entre’act, L’Age d’Or and Richter’s own Dreams That Money Can Buy.

Short, playful episodes, all somehow chess-related. For instance, in one scene a man is paralyzed and confounded by a chess board, mocked by a coat rack in the room shaped just like the king piece, while white mice run around his black shoes. A naked woman arrives and suddenly he is able to take his turn, while a horrible horn plays and the mice, captured by a folding chess board, transform into pigeons. This all sounds like it should make for a fine bit of visual poetry, except that the pacing makes it tedious, and most of the movie features intolerable flute, trumpet, accordion and violin music.

Richter was around 70 when he made this. Seems more like something he did with/for his buddies rather than general audiences. Titles and occasionally narration in English. I liked some stop-motion, a Svankmajeresque dance of rattles, mobiles and masks made from repurposed found objects. Liked the 1950’s fashions. Otherwise it’s a pleasant waste of time, maybe not the Great Lost Cocteau Film I was hoping for. I wouldn’t mind watching again if it ever surfaces with less appalling picture quality than my copy.

Allmovie:

The idea is to present chess conundrums cinematically the way Lewis Carroll did in literature, particularly in Through the Looking Glass. Filmmaker Hans Richter, who’d previously collaborated on Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet, designed his films like paintings; as a result 8 X 8 is visually dazzling, especially segment #2 (“A New Twist”) — even when the viewer is at a loss to understand what is going on.

Grunes:

The first episode is a period piece depicting royal intrigue in the woods. It includes a lady’s tripped-up, trapped bare foot: one of numerous erotic images. In another, Calder constructs a mobile and uses his breath to blow it into life. Here, also, is randomness—of the found objects, various movements resulting from disparate shapes and weights, etc. A woman’s kiss elsewhere turns a royal doll into a human beloved, but, unwilling to cede any power, the woman submits the man’s head and neck to a succession of hats (including a large one with a chessboard design) and ties, preferring to wear the crown herself, and converts the man into a puppet on a string. In perhaps the most wonderful episode, an adventure in “the fortunes of love,” Max Ernst pursues another chess piece, wife Dorothea Tanning, throughout Lower Manhattan—initially, in unexpected black and white. … A clock turns counterclockwise, erasing its numerical indicators. The film’s irresolution suggests that life is a chess game in endless play.

Katy thought Belle was dumb and the final scene looked crappy/fake and bits were stolen from Cinderella, but even she was impressed by the handheld candelabras.

One of the most beautiful movies ever, of course. Lighting, set design and costumes are completely perfect, acting and story and effects are all great. Probably not much needed to say since I’ve seen this a bunch of times now.

Learned from commentary: actor Jean Marais (Avenant, The Beast, The Prince) was Cocteau’s lover and suggested he make this film. René Clément (Forbidden Games, Purple Noon) co-directed. Beauty Josette Day starred in Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles, which I barely remember. Given the post-WWII shortages, Cocteau’s illnesses and all the other problems involved in making this, it must be one of the biggest film triumphs in history.