2016/17: Watched the new blu-ray and updated the 2008 writeup below.

The brother of Morag (Geraldine Chaplin, then of Cría cuervos and The Three Musketeers, later of Love on the Ground and Talk To Her) is killed. She seeks revenge on pirate queen Giulia (Bernadette Lafont, Sarah in Out 1, also Genealogies of a Crime), infiltrates the castle with help of traitorous Erika (Kika Markham of Truffaut’s Two English Girls and Dennis Potter’s Blade on the Feather). Gradually all of Giulia’s associates are killed off, then G & M stab each other to death, fall to the ground dying and laughing.

Early ambush attempt:

Feels more mysterious and less straightforward than Duelle even though there’s less talk of magic in this one. Morag is apparently the moon goddess and Giulia the sun goddess, though they don’t reveal their powers until the last half hour. I didn’t do the best job keeping track of the minor characters, but I’m almost positive that some of them – including Morag’s brother – keep dying then reappearing in later scenes. In fact, I guess one of the two male pirates, “Jacob” (Humbert Balsan of Lancelot of the Lake, later an important film producer) is also her brother “Shane,” which complicates the plot in ways I no longer understand.

The men of the castle, Jacob and Ludovico:

There are gas lamps and castles and swordfights and magic, all very period, but then there is lots of cool, modern (clearly 70’s) clothing and guns and motorboats. And nobody is cooler than Bernadette Lafont in her bellbottomed pink leather suit (which creaks loudly when she moves). Watching her and Chaplin’s movements through the scenes, and to a lesser degree the other male pirate Larrio Ekson, are the best part of the movie and sometimes appear to be its entire point.

As beautiful and simple as the sun: Giulia with pink jeans on:

Morag and Erika have meetings in which they sit or walk robotically and recite lines in English from the play The Revenger’s Tragedy, so maybe reading that would help somewhat. Then again, D. Ehrenstein says “Analysis begins to run into a series of dead ends. The texts utilized as central sources of quotation… Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy in Noroît — are merely pre-texts, having nothing to say about the films that enclose them, posed in the narrative as subjects for further research.”

As in Duelle, whenever there’s music in a scene the musicians are part of that scene, even when they realistically would’ve left the room. Maybe right before the shot begins Giulia has threatened their lives and told them to play, no matter what. There are long stretches with no spoken dialogue. Lighting mostly looks natural indoors. This and Duelle were Rivette’s first films shot by William Lubtchansky, who would shoot most of the rest of the films (not Hurlevent). William is husband to Nicole L., who edited everything for forty years from L’Amour Fou to Around a Small Mountain.

Morag killing Regina:

Erika playing Morag in the reenactment of previous scene:

Morag playing Regina getting killed by skullfaced Erika:

I wish I knew how this movie’s title was pronounced, because every time I think of it, Fred Schneider sings “here comes a narwhal!” in my head. It’s gonna be “narr-WHAA” until some Frenchman tells me otherwise. One site translates the word as “Nor’wester.”

Rivette:

When I was filming Noroît, I was persuaded that we were making a huge commercial success, that it was an adventure film that would have great appeal … When the film didn’t come out, when it was considered un-showable … I was surprised. I don’t consider myself … unfortunately, I’m not very lucid when it comes to the potential success of my projects.

J. Reichert:

As with all good revenge dramas (this one inspired by bloody Jacobean plays), the mass of killings begin to far outweigh the initial wrong done and the angel of vengeance experiences moments of doubts and sympathy for her marks—there’s betrayal as well. Rivette shorthands these narratively rich moments, suggesting them in a glance, a line, a change of Chaplin’s face, so that he can maintain focus on the ballet-like movement of his players through space, where stowing recently acquired treasure takes on the aspect of slow-motion acrobatics. The drama climaxes in a clifftop masquerade ball/murder spree/dance performance shot across what looks like infrared, B&W, and color, that combines violence and poetry into a mix that’s literally unlike anything I’ve seen.

Doomed dance party:

Giulia (left) and Morag having stabbed each other to death:

D. Ehrenstein:

The films are devoted to methods that while seeming to reach representational specificity, do so in a manner designed to cancel all possible affectivity. The settings and costumes of Duelle suggest their display in a reserved “theatrical” style, but the camera, while tracking smoothly, does so far too energetically, and when coupled with the film’s nervous angular montage rhythms, disrupts the space it has spent so much time constructing. Likewise each setting (casino, hotel, aquarium, ballet school, race track, park, subway, dance hall, and greenhouse in Duelle, castle by the sea in Noroît) suggests the possibility of an atmosphere the mise en scene never seems directly to create (as in Resnais, Franju, Fellini, etc.).

Similarly acting styles clash with one another. Flip off-hand cool (Bulle Ogier, Bernadette Lafont) wars with highly stylized affectation (Hermine Karaheuz, Geraldine Chaplin) rather than the work holding to the latter mentioned category for an overall tone as would be logically demanded by a project of this sort … The film’s essence is thus not reducible to a specific moment, but must be seen in the working through of its positive/negative gestures — unfixed points neither within nor without the films.

Poster shot: Morag and Shane… or is it Jacob?

Michael Graham:

Like any Rivette film, [Noroît] took shape gradually, drawing on a large number of deliberately chosen ideas and as many fortuitous circumstances. As important as Rivette’s interest in Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy (drawn to his attention by Eduardo De Gregorio), and the curious traditions surrounding the period of Carnival, was the availability of Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont together with that of a group of dancers from Carolyn Carlson’s company. It must be kept in mind that Rivette often conceives a film around particular people; Celine et Julie began as ‘a film for Juliet Berto’. Any casting decision is consequently of primary importance. Further, the selection of Brittany as a location arose as much from certain union allowances permitting a six day week outside Paris, as from a vague desire to spend some time in the country. Once the different ideas and practical considerations begin to sort themselves out and interact, the narrative itself starts to acquire definition. Even after shooting has begun, however, Rivette is enormously influenced by what he may discover the actors capable of achieving.

Finally out on video, I got to watch this seven years after seeing Out 1 in theaters.

Rosenbaum calls the two films “radically different,” but to me, it often felt simply like a shorter version of Out 1. Of course, having seen the longer version, I can’t help noticing major differences. The two theater groups’ rehearsal footage is almost entirely gone. Renaud’s disappearance with Quentin’s money is obliquely shown, and the ensuing city-wide hunt for him is even more obliquely included, in the form of black-and-white stills from those scenes inserted between regular scenes, accompanied by a low buzzing noise. There are other appearances of stills, some from deleted scenes from the longer version, sometimes callbacks or flash-forwards to scenes within Spectre.

Admittedly the 13 group felt like a much bigger deal in Spectre, more of a central conspiracy to the film, and I was able to follow the relationships and stories of offscreen characters Pierre and Igor much better, but I can’t tell if they’re really more sharply in focus in Spectre than Out 1, or if during Out 1 itself I was too busy trying to keep the many onscreen characters straight to follow much Igor drama. But looking through articles I quoted in my original Out 1 writeup, Rosenbaum said Out 1 was shaped by “the successive building and shattering of utopian dreams” and Lim says it “devotes its second half to fracture and dissolution,” and that theme and structure didn’t feel as true of Spectre.

The buzzing stills interrupt and fragment primary scenes, and there appears to be more cross-cutting between scenes than in the long version. Conversations sometimes cut off in the middle and never return. The stills appear in greater frequency at times, and disappear for long stretches at others – for instance, when Thomas first visits Sarah at the beach house and convinces her to return to Paris, the whole scene with its long shots plays out without interruption. Sometimes the editing is telling different stories than the dialogue – when Rohmer’s Balzac scholar says “secret societies,” it cuts to the Prometheus group, not returning to Rohmer for a long while.

Obade is far, an 8-hour drive southeast from Paris

Rivette:

They aren’t single frames, but simply production stills. When we tried a shorter version, our first montage ran five and a half hours. Then to make a commercially feasible length, we used the stills to tighten the editing, much the way that Jean-Luc uses titles more and more in his films, as in La Chinoise. Every time there was an editing problem he had recourse to a title. But finally we spent more time on these photos than on anything else, because there were a priori so many possibilities. We wanted the relation between the film and the stills to be neither too close nor too distant, so it was very difficult to find just the right solution. Then we added the sound to the stills. They didn’t work without sound, because the silences interrupted either noises that were very loud or others that were just murmurs. Silence didn’t produce the effect we wanted. I wanted something purely artificial: what we have is just a meaningless frequency, as if produced by a machine, which interrupts the fiction — sometimes sending messages to it, sometimes in relation to what we’ve already seen or are going to see, and sometimes with no relation at all. Because there are stills from scenes, especially toward the end, which don’t appear in the body of the film and are frankly quite incomprehensible.

Hand-off:

At the halfway point, after Colin, Frederique and Emilie/Pauline just appeared in the same scene, it lets loose with a whole montage of the buzzy stills. When Rivette says “there is a moment, one single shot even, in which almost all the fictions intersect, as if all these lines had to pass through a ring. This shot we put squarely in the middle: it comes just before the intermission,” is this the scene he means? There was no intermission in the DVD version, but it seems likely.

Ten of the 13: Thomas, Lili, Sarah, Pauline, Lucie (legal advisor), Warok, Etienne (chess player), The Ethnologist, Igor (never seen), Pierre (never seen). Four more whom I suspect: Elaine (because she discusses Lili’s disappearance with Lucie), Marie (because she gives Colin the letters), Iris (because Pauline speaks freely about Igor and her blackmail plot in front of her) and Georges (unseen character I mentioned in my Out 1 writeup, though I can’t recall who he is).

But let’s not read too much into the conspiracy. Rivette again:

In Out, I was already more careful, because the idea of the “thirteen” came rather late. For a long time we thought that the characters might never meet; perhaps there would be five or six completely different stories. We just didn’t know. Still, I had the idea that something should bring them together, and so it was Histoire des treize. But it was just a mechanism. In Paris and, even more, in Out, I don’t take the whole idea of the search for meaning seriously. It was a convenience to bring about the meetings, but it didn’t work with either film, because they were taken to be films about a search. I tried and failed to make people understand, as the film progressed, that this search led to nothing: at the end of Paris, we discover that the Organization doesn’t exist; and the more Out progresses, the more evident it becomes that this new organization of the thirteen which appeared to have been formed never really existed. There had only been a few vague conversations between completely idealistic characters without any real social or political roots. In each case there was a first part where we assembled a story of a search, and a second part where little by little we wiped it out… When I decided to use Histoire des treize, it was as a critique of Paris, which tried to show more clearly the vanity of this kind of utopian group, hoping to dominate society. It begins by being fascinating and tempting, but in the course of the film comes to be seen as futile.

equipage equipage equipage equipage equipage equipage equipage:

“Listen baby, I’m not Marlon. Marlon is on the waterfront.”

Lili and Pauline are somehow connected in running the shop (which advertises Bob Dylan bootlegs for sale in the window), and Sarah sneaks in and out. I thought Sarah was hanging out in the basement, but when they knock out Lorenzo’s man and drag him downstairs, it doesn’t look like much of a place to spend time. Lili is later said to have stolen a million francs and disappeared – but from Lorenzo or from the cases full of important-looking papers beneath the shop, I’m not positive.

Both theater groups begin with “rehearsals” that seem more like acting warm-up activities, then into vague explorations of theme and character. Each group gets a shot in the arm from the entry of a new member – Sarah to Prometheus and Renaud to Thebes. But Renaud’s ideas don’t work for Lili, and she begins to retreat from the group. In the end, both groups have dissolved because their most recent members have left, followed soon by leaders Lili and Thomas to Obade.

More important differences in the ending: Thomas doesn’t have his beachside breakdown, and Frederique doesn’t die (not sure that she even meets Renaud).

Shortly before Pauline’s lover Igor reappears (in the form of a phone call to the beach house), this maybe-strangely-translated conversation – Lili: “Why do you imagine Igor’s in a room here?” Pauline: “Imagine someone is a half, or a full year trapped in a house. No one notices. In the basement, on the floor, in a room.” Lili: “But this is a dream.” Then they agree to search the house for him, but there’s one section to which nobody has the key, and later when the key mysteriously appears, Pauline searches the unoccupied rooms beyond, staring into the infinite mirror. I find this piece of the film interesting since Bulle Ogier (Pauline) would appear in Rivette’s next film as a ghost trapped within a dream house.

Rosenbaum: “The coded messages Leaud intercepts are significantly different in the two films.” Different how? Also: “Much as Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow bears witness to mid-century paranoia by turning imaginary plots into real ones and vice versa, Rivette has a chilling way of both suggesting explanations and dispersing them in this monumental, maddening epic.”

Rivette:

There are some sequences which I think are failures, but after a certain number of hours, the whole idea of success and failure ceases to have any significance. Some things that I couldn’t use in Spectre are all right in the longer version. The whole actor-spectator relationship is totally different in Out, because there the actors are much more actors than characters. There are many more scenes where the sense of improvisation is much stronger, even to the point of admitting lapses, hesitations, and repetitions. There are some of these in Spectre, but relatively few, because we treated it much more as a fiction about certain characters. In the longer version, the dramatic events are a lot more distant from each other, and between them are long undramatic stretches… contrary to what most people believe, one doesn’t learn any more in the long version than in the short one.

On the meaning of the opening title “Paris and its double”:

I wanted the two titles to indicate that the film was shot in April and May 1970 – that, for me, is the important thing, since there are many allusions in the dialogue to that period. It should be evident that the group of thirteen individuals had probably met and talked for some time until May 1968, when everything changed and they probably disbanded.

David Thomson:

Out 1: Spectre begins as nothing more than scenes from Parisian life; only as time goes by do we realize that there is a plot — perhaps playful, perhaps sinister — that implicates not just the thirteen characters (including Léaud, as the mystery’s self-styled detective), but maybe everyone, everywhere. Real life may be nothing but an enormous yarn someone somewhere is spinning.

Finally I got a chance to watch this, said by some to be Rivette’s finest hour (errr, four hours). I can’t say I agree, but I came in with absurdly high expectations, and having seen nearly all of Rivette’s other films. So its endless theater rehearsal scenes held no surprises, but the movie perked up considerably in the last hour. As usual, I’m feeling more strongly about the film after reading a hundred online articles about it. And unlike in Gang of Four, I actually picked up on some connections between the theater-rehearsal dialogue and the actors’ lives.

Claire (Bulle Ogier in her first Rivette film) lives with boyfriend Sebastien (Jean-Pierre Kalfon, a lead in Love on the Ground). Sebastien is directing a play – Racine’s Andromaque (it’s always some ancient text), which Bulle quits at the start of the film (I think right near the beginning of rehearsals), spending the rest of the movie at home not wanting to do much of anything.

The play rehearsals are being filmed in 16mm for a documentary about the theatrical process – by director Andre Labarthe (a Cahiers critic turned Cineastes/Cinema de notre temps director) and cameraman Etienne Becker (Jacques’s son, he shot Phantom India and parts of Le Joli Mai), playing themselves. So the actors in the film are playing actors in a play, interviewed in character by Labarthe. And Becker’s footage of the play rehearsals is edited into the film proper (which is mainly shot in 35mm by Alain Levent, cinematographer of The Nun).

The amour of the title is between Claire and Sebastien, though it doesn’t seem that way until the three hour mark, at which point Sebastian’s frustrated love life and his play rehearsals have been at a standstill for so long, one of them has to explode. So he takes a few days off from the theater, goes home, and he and Claire get naked and fou, finally tearing through the wall of their apartment to have sex at their neighbor’s place.

Other interesting bits: the play and documentary directors get dinner together and talk about Jerry Lewis. The nature of the sound changes when the movie switches cameras from 35 to the 16mm documentary, but both feature loud, clompy footsteps on the wooden stage. Sebastian’s awful clothes always clash with his awful wallpaper.

Movie takes place over two and a half weeks – title cards display the date. Before the first card, some shots (which make no sense at the time) show Claire on the train, and the wrecked apartment. Claire walks out of the play on the 14th. On the 17th the documentary crew interviews Claire’s replacement Marta (Sebastian’s ex-girlfriend, whom he tries to sleep with again) and Claire starts following Sebastian through the streets after rehearsals.

The 19th: Sebastian is interviewed about playing Pyrrhus himself while directing the play. He sleeps at the theater, gets a call saying Claire tried to kill herself. He returns home, bringing her a record with a dog on the cover. 22nd: She goes looking for an Artesian Basset like the one on the cover, almost steals one from a guy.

24th: Claire in full spy mode, watching out her window and reporting everything into a tape recorder. A weird moment, a shot of two chairs going in and out of focus. Claire invites Marta over, tells Sebastian she wants a divorce, and hooks up with her ex Philippe. The first real crazy scene (if you don’t count the chairs): when she says she’s leaving, Sebastian wordlessly starts cutting up all his clothes.

26th: Claire is back with Philippe, someone at the theater tells Sebastian that rehearsals are becoming impossible. He goes home. 28th: full-on fou. Seb and Claire draw all over then destroy their wallpaper, chop through a wall and make love everywhere, until she suddenly says she’s tired and that he needs to leave. He goes to the theater.

31st: Claire is cutting herself, he tells her to stay. 1st: She is free, has a friend call Seb from the train station to tell him that she’s left. “I feel like I’ve suddenly woken up.”

The movie gets more complicated when you read about its production. Sure, Rivette is directing a feature fiction film, but it’s based largely on improvisation – plus Jean-Pierre Kalfon is really directing the Racine play. He even cast the actors. One of them is Francoise Godde, who played a domestic maid in The Nun. Also in there somewhere is Michel Delahaye, “the ethnologist” in Out 1. Michele Moretti (Out 1‘s Lili, leader of the Thebes theater group) plays (or IS) Kalfon’s assistant on the play. And the documentary filmmakers are doing their thing independent of Rivette’s feature, getting in close and conducting their own interviews while the 35mm camera stays distant and unobtrusive.

16mm:

35mm:

According to a Greek mythology site, the play is from 1667 – “The structure of Racine’s play is an unrequited love chain,” and it’s “the most often read and studied classicist play in French schools.”

Shooting Down Pictures – who gets credit for getting there first, and linking me to a bunch of articles from which we quoted the same things:

Sebastien, made self-conscious of his directing technique after watching rushes of the doc, adopts an increasingly hands-off approach to the production, effectively casting the production adrift in endless rehearsals without a clear sense of focus. … [the film] seems implicitly to be an inquiry on the limits of what straight shooting of spaces and interactions can tell us.

Director’s assistant Michele Moretti and a tired-looking actress:

Rosenbaum:

The rehearsals, filmed by Rivette (in 35 millimeter) and by TV documentarist Andre S. Labarthe (in 16), are real, and the relationship between Kalfon and Ogier is fictional, but this only begins to describe the powerful interfacing of life and art that takes place over the film’s hypnotic, epic unfolding. In the rehearsal space Rivette cuts frequently between the 35- and 16-millimeter footage, juxtaposing two kinds of documentary reality; in the couple’s apartment, filmed only in 35, the oscillation between love and madness, passion and mistrust, builds to several terrifying and awesome climaxes in which the distinctions between life and theater, reality and fiction, become virtually irrelevant.

He also says the movie may have been inspired by the “psychotic breakup” of Godard and Anna Karina.

K. Uhlich:

The result is a mish-mash of ideas and situations both brilliant and inane: a good stateside comparison, coincidentally created around the same time, is John Cassavetes’s Faces, which, like L’Amour Fou, is a jagged-edge black-and-white psychodrama prone to rather unbelievably grand gestures in constrictively intimate settings.

Peter Harcourt:

The films ends with the same shots that had opened it, with the sense of separation and emptiness — Claire travelling away on a train; Sebastien as if defeated, in his apartment; the characters of the play, in costume and make-up, as if ready for a performance; and then that slow tilt down from those few spectators in that huge arena onto an empty stage as we hear, as if from some other space, a baby crying — as we had heard as well at the opening of the film.


Mirror-mirror

Rivette 1975:

Shooting a film should always be a form of play, something that might be seen as a drug or as a game. Even during the ‘breakdown’ scenes near the end of L’Amour fou I was not being tragic as many people thought. I was joking, having fun, and so was Bulle. It’s just a movie, not some kind of cinéma-vérité!

Rivette from an epic, essential interview for Cahiers in 1968:

I hadn’t forgiven myself for the way I had shown the theatre in Paris nous appartient, which I find too picturesque, too much seen from the outside, based on cliches. The work I had done on La Religieuse at the Studio des Champs-Elysees had given me the feeling that work in the theatre was different, more secret, more mysterious, with deeper relationships between people who are caught up in this work, a relationship of accomplices. It’s always very exciting and very effective to film someone at work, someone who is making something; and work in the theatre is easier to film than the work of a writer or a musician.

The film itself is only the residue, where I hope something remains. What was exciting was creating a reality which began to have an existence of its own, independently of whether it was being filmed or not, then to treat it as an event that you’re doing a documentary on, keeping only certain aspects of it, from certain points of view, according to chance or to your ideas, because, by definition, the event always overwhelms in every respect the story or the report one can make out of it.

I didn’t feel I had the strength, or even the desire, to make a film where the woman would really be mad. So this would only be a crisis, a bad patch, as everyone has. And that’s when it became clear that she would be no more mad than he was and even that of the two he was clearly the one who was more sick. The main feeling was also expressed in a sentence from Pirandello that I happened to find when I was reading a bit before starting to write anything at all, which I had even copied out at the beginning of the scenario: ‘I have thought about it and we are all mad.’ It’s what people commonly say, but the beauty is precisely in stopping to think about it.

I believe more and more that the role of the cinema is to destroy myths, to demobilize, to be pessimistic. Its role is to take people out of their cocoons and to plunge them into horror. … More and more, I tend to divide films into two sorts: those that are comfortable and those that aren’t. The former are all vile and the others positive to a greater or lesser degree.

With its four-hour length (Rivette called it “only a little longer than Gone with the Wind, though without the bonus of the Civil War”), it was a flop for producer Georges de Beauregard, who made some fifteen movies I’ve heard of before L’Amour Fou and only one after. The producers butchered together a two-hour version, which Rivette wants nothing to do with. He once spoke of making a finished edit of the 16mm documentary. But it makes sense that the documentary was never finished, just as the play was never produced – he’s more interested in the process than the finished work (see also La Belle Noiseuse).

This was the same year as Army of Shadows, My Night at Maud’s, The Swimming Pool, The Milky Way, at least two by Chabrol, Z, and Bresson’s Une Femme Douce.

B. Kite on the ending:

Sebastien, meanwhile, has learned the perils of true collaboration. Having initiated a process which assumed its own momentum, he now finds himself trapped inside it, inhabiting the shell of a departed life. Mourning is its own paranoia, and Sebastien is left locked in Claire’s old role, shut up in the apartment, listening to the recordings she had made to summarize the findings of her investigation, conducting his own investigation into absence and loss.

P. Lloyd:

The ghosts of Hitchcock, Lang and Preminger, which have haunted the New French Cinema for the last ten, years, have finally been laid to rest, by L’Amour Fou. The classical tradition has outlived its uses; but Rivette rejects that tradition, paradoxically, only because he absorbed its principles, received with thanks all that it has had to offer.

From Robin Wood’s excellent article – obviously I need to get his books:

Clearly, the length of our cinema program is closely bound up with the more obvious conditions of the current phase of consumer-capitalism: alienated labor, the five-day week, the 9-5 job, the nuclear family, a norm common to all levels from employee to executive, necessitating that (weekends apart) “leisure” be packed into a 2-3 hour slot between the time the kids are put to bed and the “early night” required by the next day’s toil. Otherwise, in one of those ugly and brutal, but entirely taken-for-granted, phrases that characterize our culture, “time is money”; and if we are going to surrender four hours of our “money” to watching a spectacle, we must be repeatedly reassured that the spectacle we are buying was extremely expensive, that we are purchasing a visibly valuable commodity. Rivette’s films, on the contrary, are perceptibly cheap … Nor is the length of the films validated by complexities of plot, large numbers of characters, “epic” events. What is the plot of L ‘Amour Fou? Sebastien tries to produce Andromaque; Claire goes mad. Rivette could easily have told it to us in fifteen minutes and spared us the superfluous four hours. The “unjustified” length of the films, then, represents an act of cultural transgression. The question, “Why this length?,” should immediately provoke a reciprocal one: Why the standard length? Why should we automatically expect our movies to last between 90 minutes and two hours, feel cheated if they are less and demand particular justifications if they are more?

We have, then, Rivette making a film of Labarthe shooting a documentary of Kalfon producing a play by Racine reinterpreting a Greek myth.

I know of no other film that so powerfully communicates the terror moving out of one’s ideologically constructed, socially conditioned and ratified, hence secure, position and identity, into… what? Which is precisely the question with which the film leaves one: a political question if ever there was one.

An unusual Rivette film. First thing I noticed was that it’s strange to see an in-film performance of a finished play in front of an actual, paying audience. I thought none of his plays-within-a-play ever made it past their planning stages. The characters go about their business in a straightforward way. Minor mysteries from the past crop up, some coincidences seem almost magical, but the weight of the drama never sets in. Even the lighthearted Celine & Julie felt weighty. Finally towards the end (during the drinking duel in the rafters) I accepted that Va Savoir is purely a comedy, and a very fine one.

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From the shot above, which is used in the poster art, I’d assumed there’d be more Feuillade influence. People upon Paris rooftops conveys Feuillade, and with Rivette’s ever-present sense of mystery I thought a feature-length homage would be wonderful, but that’s not what we get. Oh well, there’s always Franju’s Judex.

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The play performed is the Italian “Come tu mi voui” by Luigi Pirandello, being performed (in Italian) in Paris for a week. I think we see a scene from each night’s performance, each time a different scene, and not in chronological order. They’re probably arranged to comment emotionally upon that day’s off-stage action, but I’ll have to watch it again to be sure (I also missed the on/off-stage connections in Rivette’s previous film Secret Defense). That’s Camille (the lovely, angular Jeanne Balibar, of Don’t Touch the Axe and Comedy of Innocence) in the middle with her lover/director Ugo (Sergio Castellitto of Around a Small Mountain) at left. Their relationship is strained with her return to Paris after three years away, now closer than ever to her long-term ex Pierre, but ultimately they’re good together.

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I’m getting out of order here, but Pierre (Jacques Bonnaffé, at right, of Lemming and Prénom Carmen) ultimately duels Ugo over Camille. I was never quite sure if Ugo is a nice guy, since he acts like such an ass when first meeting Pierre, but this clears it up. His dueling method of choice is heavy drinking while standing high in the rafters above the stage, but he repeatedly tells Pierre not to look down because there’s actually a safety net below them. This scene made me extremely happy.

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While in Paris, Ugo seeks a lost play by Italian author Goldoni. He checks with an autograph/letter collector (filmmaker Claude Berri), but to no avail. Funny casting a filmmaker in this role, since thirty years earlier Rivette had Eric Rohmer playing a specialist librarian in Out 1.

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Ugo bounces to this family, descendants of a friend of Goldoni’s who maintain a library of the playwright’s works. The woman (Catherine Rouvel – oh my god, she’s the always-nude girlfriend of the scheming guy in La Rupture) invites him to stay as long as he likes, but after he can’t find the unpublished play all week, he suspects it was secretly sold by her thieving son Arthur (Bruno Todeschini, at left, of Code Unknown and Haut bas fragile)

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Arthur is also meeting secretly with Sonia (Marianne Basler, who costarred with Gabriel Byrne in a WWII drama), coincidentally the live-in girlfriend of Camille’s ex, Pierre. The affair would be harmless but that Arthur steals a precious ring from Sonia, which Camille sleeps with him in order to steal back.

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Finally, there’s Arthur’s sister Do (Hélène de Fougerolles of Innocence, maybe in the scene with Edith Scob in Joan the Maid). She helps Ugo search for (and ultimately find) the play, getting ever closer to him as Camille gets closer to her ex (before he locks Camille in a closet). Peace is restored in the end with everyone happy and dancing, the viewer comforted in knowing that the only really crappy character, Arthur, in debt trouble, will soon find out that his stolen ring is gone.

I only noticed this because of the similarly oval-shaped mirror near the end of Out 1:
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Reportedly there’s an extended cut called Va Savoir+, but little is known about it besides that it had a one-week run in Paris. A message board posts claimed it “wasn’t even an official director’s cut, just an alternate cut Rivette put together for a few screenings, mostly for himself and the other actors,” so I’m not going to worry too much.

Trounced at Cannes (along with decade-faves Mulholland Dr., I’m Going Home, What Time is it There?, In Praise of Love and The Piano Teacher) by a Nanni Moretti film. That must be a good one!

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Filmbo:

In Va Savoir we are spectators instead of participants. And while there are moments when this pays off rather humorously — take for instance the detective work of finding the missing ring in the flour jar or the duel between the rival male suitors — it falls short of being a top-notch Rivette experience. … there was also the more palpable concept of a theater company producing works that only a few are interested in seeing, accompanied by a quest to find a lost work by an obscure writer… should we be thinking of the oeuvre of anyone in particular?

The first post of my special four-part In Over My Head series, in which I watched some movies I didn’t fully understand, and can’t adequately describe, or even remember properly. I must have been tired last week.

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A big title on the decade list. Not only did it show up on multiple lists, but it’s one of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s top 100 of all time, and the Telegraph called it the masterpiece of the “sixth generation”. I’ve now seen five of Jia’s movies and I probably like this one second-best to The World, but I don’t even love The World very much. I watched it once in theaters, then a year later when Cinema Scope sent me the DVD (to replace the announced Colossal Youth) I just tossed it onto the shelf, thinking “don’t suppose I’ll ever watch this again.” I find a great Jia movie less desirable than a pretty-good Brian De Palma movie, and since Jia won the consensus critical vote for auteur of the decade in Film Comment while winning my own WTF Award of 2009 for Dong and Still Life, I am clearly missing something.

First, a quote from the esteemed Acquarello. Despite all the big, big words he uses, this is my favorite short description of the film that I’ve found:

An estranged and depersonalized chronicle that illustrates the marginalization of humanity under the turmoil of profound national change…
Similar to the plight of the perennially dislocated acting troupe in Theo Angelopoulos’ epic film, The Travelling Players, the evolution of the itinerant performers – from disseminators of peasant propaganda, to champions of an eroding, indigenous culture, and eventually, to gauche (and unintentionally comical) assimilators of commercial pop culture – is a poignant articulation of a generation foundering in their own seeming irrelevance and figurative exile from within their homeland, desperately struggling for inclusion and a sense of place in their country’s future. It is this sentiment of cultural displacement that is illustrated in the repeated encounters between Ming-liang and Ruijuan among the ruins of a disused ancient fortress: an elegiac image of unrequited love lost in the expansive and formidable landscape of a silent, unarticulated, and disconnected human history.

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During the first hour of the movie (the “peasant propaganda” section) I wrote: “it must be tiring to be that nationalistic all the time.” During the last hour (the “unintentionally comical” section) I noted the group was calling themselves The All Star Rock ‘n’ Breakdance Electronic Band.

Cui Mingliang, is our sorta-hero, a glasses-wearing bellbottoms-wearing so-called artist who doesn’t seem to believe much in anything he’s doing, just going along with the group. He meets with his girl regularly, but they never seem to fully connect, and when he comes home from a tour at the end, she has become a cop or a commie or something. Camera is mostly stock-still, but not afraid to pan around when outdoors. Whoa, does the movie really end with some girl and her baby playing around a teapot? Since I have no wisdom, here are more helpful quotes.

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AO Scott: “The story, which unfolds episodically over more than three hours, might be described as a Boogie Nights about socialist cultural politics instead of pornography.”

Senses of Cinema:

That Jia shows the negative consequences of this economic revolution goes without saying but his imperatives are non-judgmental and totally undogmatic. His cinema belongs to a humanistic tradition in the larger ecumenical sense but Jia’s style is buffeted by postmodern means and a dedication to realism. At the same time, Jia associates his humanity with a feeling for home. Home is Fenyang, which to Jia, acts as a microcosm of China itself. Fenyang shows the “original face” of China. Jia depicts the fundamentally harsh conditions of the backwater that is Fenyang as the wheels of the market economy turn, driving the residents of Fenyang into the modern age and leaving many by the wayside.

Jia himself makes a surprisingly good interview subject.
“A hundred years ago, if you felt lonely, you would write a poem. A hundred years later, if you felt lonely, you might make a movie. Such problems persist.”

S. Teo: “But your movies are banned inside China, and in fact, they have been mostly seen outside of China, in foreign countries.”
JZ: “This is a fact. This is the most embarrassing and tragic aspect of being a Chinese filmmaker. … Then again, Xiao Wu is quite widely seen in China because there are pirated VCDs being circulated. So I have conflicting emotions. My film is being pirated on the one hand, but on the other hand, it is one method of getting my film shown. I feel embarrassed and helpless.”

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Jia again:

I use a lot of long shots. If the audience can see things in there, that’s good, if they can’t, so be it. I don’t want to impose too many things onto the audience. For instance, in Platform, I used only two close-ups. One was the close-up of the postcard that Zhang Jun sent from Guangzhou. It’s not that there are special situations where I wanted to hold back some information. I don’t want to impose a message onto the audience. I want to give them a mood and within that mood, you can see things that you want, or you can’t see things. My films are rather challenging for the audience. They are not very clearly stated to the extent where the audience can see clearly the objects they want to see – this pen or this watch. If they don’t notice it, they don’t notice it. It’s not that I am being indifferent. Through all these, I am imparting a director’s attitude, how he sees the world and the cinema. What I mean to say is that it’s only an attitude because you can never be absolutely objective. When you need somebody to look at something, it’s no longer objective. There is no absolute objectivity, there is attitude, and through this attitude, there is an ideal.

Mr. Grunes: “Some reviewers have called the film ‘static’ – technically, an odd claim given the film’s prolific use of moving cameras (pans, trackings, fixed cameras in moving vehicles), but a claim that makes emotional sense.”

Aha, Jia also says the whistling teapot at the end is meant to evoke a train whistle, the train having the same meaning of escape from the small-town ordinary as it does in Pather Panchali. He gives a very good interview, plainly explaining his style and intentions – and, horror of horrors, he says he prefers the shorter cut of the movie, the version I watched, not the elusive 3+ hour so-called director’s-cut.
Eat it, Film Comment.

The missing link between Celine & Julie and Marie & Julien (with some Gang of Four thrown in).

Jane Birkin (under a decade before La Belle Noiseuse but looking two decades younger) and Geraldine Chaplin (eight years after Noroît) are working as actresses with Silvano (Facundo Bo) in a play performed in Silvano’s actual apartment. Play was ripped off from famous/rich playwright Clémont Roquemaure (Jean-Pierre Kalfon of L’Amour Fou and some Philippe Garrel movies). One day he’s in the audience, invites the three to perform a new play in his house, based on the sordid love triangle of himself, hanger-on magician Paul (André Dussollier, the realtor from Coeurs), and the now-missing Beatrice.

G. Chaplin and Paul:
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House-fellow Virgil (László Szabó of Godard’s Passion and Made in USA) doesn’t have much to do until the end, when he shares wacky scenes with Birkin. He spends his free time translating Hamlet into Finnish (predicting Hamlet Goes Business points out Glenn Kenny).
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Third-wheel Eléonore – Sandra Montaigu of Hurlevent:
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There’s not actually a ton of love here, but there are lots of triangles… the film is rich with triangles. And magic and mystery – the girls see visions and premonitions in mirrors and through keyholes. And the mansion is visually insane (D. Cairns calls that first screenshot the “streaky bacon” room). And the premise gives us enough of Rivette’s performance/identity motif for at least two movies… I mean, the actor characters are portraying the other characters in the film… it starts to fold in upon itself and collapse like Bjork’s Bachelorette video. That the movie even has a conclusion (public performance of the play culminating in Beatrice’s mysterious reappearance) seems moot. This is three hours gladly spent in Rivette Country… not his best movie, but one of his most Rivettian. Like his Wild At Heart.

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This was the full three-hour version, happily out on DVD. Jonathan Rosenbaum says: “Rivette’s 1983 two-hour Love on the Ground is a minor work, but at a 1989 Rivette retrospective in Rotterdam I saw a superior three-hour version–the first I knew of its existence. Rivette told me on that occasion that it was the only version he believed in; he implied that the release version merely honored his original contract.” JR later echoed that even the three-hour version is a minor work, and others would agree. Senses of Cinema calls it “a mere footnote”, Slant says “precious, lifeless, and ultimately meaningless.” Ouch. But J. Reichert at Reverse Shot, G. Kenny and D. Cairns all liked it, and I’m throwing in with them.

I haven’t found any online mention that the two lead actresses are named Emily and Charlotte – the names of the two famous Brontë sisters. Rivette’s next film would be an adaptation of Emily’s Wuthering Heights.

Barbet Schroeder makes an appearance after spending 20 years producing French New Wave films. He’ll spend the next 15 directing Hollywood thrillers.
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I don’t know much about Bette Davis, seems she was a big star in the 30’s and this was her comeback picture (was supposed to be Claudette Colbert but she got sick). Anne Baxter had been in The Magnificent Ambersons, later starred in I Confess, The Blue Gardenia and The Ten Commandments. Movie is over-narrated by both George Sanders (Moonfleet, Rebecca, Voyage to Italy) as a gossip columnist and Celeste Holm (High Society, Three Men and a Baby) as Bette Davis’s best friend. The friend’s husband is “writer” Hugh Marlowe (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Day the Earth Stood Still) and Bette’s beau and eventually husband is “director” Gary Merrill (of noir Where the Sidewalk Ends). Marilyn Monroe, a year or two before stardom but already showing her signature persona, has a small part as an aspiring actress.

Nice cinematography by Milton Krasner, who worked nonstop through the 30’s, shot some good noir pictures in the 40’s, and worked with Wilder, Ray, Minnelli and Hawks after this. Mankiewicz made this the same year as No Way Out, five years before Guys and Dolls.

Um, right, what happened in it? Bette is kinda washed up, I mean still a huge-selling star of stage (not screen) for her celebrated director/beau and writer/drinking buddy, but all the parts are still for younger girls and she’s starting to stretch the definition of young. Enter Eve, superfan who has seen every performance of Bette’s new play. Flattered, they let Eve hang around, but she’s not the innocent thing she claims to be – has been lying about her past and getting cuddly with the two men, conniving to put herself in Bette’s shoes, which she has very successfully done by the end (errr, the beginning, since it starts at the end).

Got a record 14 Oscar noms (winning writing, directing and picture) and even some awards at Cannes, beating out Sunset Blvd. The Third Man took it for cinematography, though. Lots (lots!) of self-conscious swipes at Hollywood (even one at the Oscars) and a few at television. I thought it was a little clunky, a little long, a little dry, overall quite good but didn’t strike my passions. Didn’t see Thee Acclaimed Bette Davis for the most part until the end when she is freaking out, and I guess in a couple other parts (see candy-eating scene below). Katy and Dawn liked it, too.

Who’s that on the right? Why, it’s the great Thelma Ritter, soon to be in Rear Window and Pickup on South Street. Center, facing Bette, is co-narrator and best friend Celeste Holm, and that’s one of the two male leads next to her, frankly they both looked the same to me:
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I loved the bit during this fight at home when Bette is furiously eating candy instead of screaming at this guy:
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Fey George Sanders with titular star Anne Baxter:
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Awesome rear-projection shot. They are just pretending to walk, rocking back and forth in front of a screen. Why?
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Terrific ending, with a new young hopeful who idolizes Eve and pretends (here, in a three-way mirror) to take her place, the cycle starting over again. This was the signature scene for small-time actress Barbara Bates, who never topped it and committed suicide twenty years later.
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“Don’t waste your time in the so-called real life.”

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One of my new favorite movies! Rivette must’ve dug this one, being about theatrical performances bleeding into real life, with characters and camera always behind and in front of screens and fences, sheets and curtains.

An Italian theater company arrives “in a Spanish colony of Latin America” in the early 1700’s and attempt to build a theater and make a living amongst locals who care more about bullfighting. Camilla, the lead actress of the group (Anna Magnani in an amazing, vibrant performance) entertains the affections of three fans: the local star bullfighter, the viceroy (who offers her the titular coach) and troupe member Felipe, who wants to settle down in the wilds of America. With the threat of duels, revolution, prison and worse, Camilla contrives a way out, donating her coach to the church and retreating back behind the curtain, letting all three men off the hook. Movie (this version of it, anyway) is in English, with a wild mix of accents.

In interview, Renoir says he was highly concerned with color (it is brilliant – see shot above), with Anna’s wonderful acting, with being able to change the script and with playing around with the nature of acting, on the stage and in real life.

Renoir: “My principal collaborator on this film was the late Antonio Vivaldi. I wrote the script while listening to records of his music, and his wit and sense of drama led me on to developments in the best tradition of the Italian theater.”

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Andrew Sarris: “To claim, as reviewers at the time did, that Renoir had failed to produce a convincing narrative, is to scorn Matisse and Picasso for not painting plausible pictures.”

Andre Bazin: “Renoir directs his actors as if he liked them more than the scenes they are acting and preferred the scenes which they interpret to the scenario from which they come. This approach accounts for the disparity between his dramatic goals and the style of acting, which tends to turn our attention from his aims. The style is added to the script like rich paint liberally added to a line drawing…”

J. Rosenbaum: “As Bazin suggests, the actors are employed as if they were different kinds of paint, freely spilling over the initial designs, but it’s worth adding that the colors are employed on occasion as if they were actors – a splash of yellow or blue in an incidental decor carrying all the allure of a memorable extra.”

Rosenbaum again:

All three films are comic period fantasies in dazzling color, offering a kind of continuous, bustling choreography in which shifting power relations between upper and lower classes and between spectators and performers literally turn the world into a kind of theater. In this respect, they might be said to offer more abstract and less politically anchored versions of the films Renoir made during the thirties. Unlike their predecessors, they’re deliberately removed from real life. And given the sense of political as well as the personal defeat that came with the war and his departure from France, followed by a lengthy period of living in exile, they’re unable to hide a subtle aftertaste of regret lurking behind all that gaiety – a sense that utopia can only be found, if at all, on a soundstage, not in the Popular Front that once meant so much to Renoir. This sadness only occasionally rises to the surface, as in the memorable exchanges between actors Camilla and Don Antonio at the very end: “Felipe, Ramon, the viceroy… disappeared.” “Now they are part of the audience. Do you miss them?” “A little.”

Scorsese says there were versions in Italian and French, and that the ending (which looks like it came from a degraded print) was newly restored in the 90’s.

Don Antonio, leader of the actors group, played by Odoardo Spadaro of Divorce, Italian Style:
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Rome’s Cinecitta studio was equipped for sync sound recording in the 50’s? You wouldn’t know it from the Italian movies I’ve seen.

A few comic reminders that we’re in the 18th century: “Tomorrow papa is being bled with leeches, the day after I have my purge.”

Cameo by French actor Jean Debucourt as the bishop, of Epstein’s silent Fall of the House of Usher, Cocteau’s Eagle With Two Heads and Max Ophüls’ Madame de…

The three men, below from left to right:
– Ramon the bullfighter – Riccardo Rioli, whose film acting career began the year before, and ended the year after with a small part in a Mankiewicz picture.
– The Viceroy – Scottish Duncan Lamont, charming in this, later in Mutiny on the Bounty and Quatermass and the Pit.
– Felipe: American Paul Campbell, who was a beef-and-cheesy enough actor to get himself cast in The Deadly Mantis. He lived long enough to have seen the MST3K version – here’s hoping he did.

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The great Anna Magnani plays Camilla. Star of Mamma Roma, Bellissima and Rome, Open City, she also beat out Kate Hepburn and three other Americans for the 1955 Oscar for The Rose Tattoo.
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“Where is truth? Where does the theater end and life begin?”

What a wonderful coincidence that I watch You’re Never Too Young, and then find out the next day that the film it remade is on Turner Classic.

Robert Osbourne introduced as a screwball comedy, but the only thing screwball here is the premise. Movie is played as a straight, semi-romantic comedy. Same story as the Lewis flick but minus the jewel thief and with a sex reversal (and predictably there’s no equivalent to the Dean Martin character). So Ginger Rogers is the scalp-massager lured to an apartment under a false premise which gets her to leave town and have to pose as a kid to afford a ticket. She hides out in Ray Milland’s room, same thunderstorm and morning discovery scene, then has to keep up the ruse so Ray won’t get in trouble and kicked out of the military. Again, a happy ending with Ray getting his wish to be sent on active duty (makes more sense in the nationalistic war-ragin’ 40’s than in the 1955 remake) and happening to meet a finally-acting-her-own-age Ginger on the train platform (where she gives him a Katy-disapproved line about how all some girls want is a letter from their husbands-abroad every couple weeks).

Cute movie, with some major Creepiness Issues (Ginger cuddling up to Ray, wanting him while pretending to be a little girl and calling him “uncle”). Not the madcap funhouse of the remake, though… no Dean songs (they’re not missed) or speedboat chases, choral performances or marching band shenanigans. Turning the all-girls school into a military academy surprisingly doesn’t change much. Some scenes are very similar, like the long-distance call at the phone switchboard (though Jerry ups the humor with his nutty dancing and a voice-dubbing stunt). I’m sure there’s some auteurist reason why I should prefer the original to the remake, but sorry, I sorta don’t.

This came out a full decade before Ginger Rogers had a lot more fun playing a little girl in Monkey Business (another movie comparison which does this film no favors), and TWO decades before Ray Milland acquired his X-RAY EYES. Back in the 40’s he was cast not for the x-ray eyes but because he is an effective leading man, and an exact cross between Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. Wilder sez: “I wrote the part of the major for Cary Grant. I always wanted him in one of my pictures, but it never worked out.”

15-year-old little Lucy would grow up to play the love interest in the remake. Ray’s meddling fiancee (and Lucy’s big sister) was Rita Johnson (The Big Clock, Here Comes Mr. Jordan). The strict colonel (Lucy’s father) was Edward Fielding, who managed to portray military men, doctors, ministers and shopkeepers in over 70 films in the 1940’s despite a fatal heart attack halfway through the decade. Ginger Rogers’ mom, in her only screen appearance, played Ginger Rogers’ mom. Guy who gets a scalp massage at the beginning was Robert Benchley, the Jaws author’s grandfather. The young high-school age kids were actually 22, 21 and 16 (x2). That’s more accurate casting than the remake managed to get. The one familiar-looking boy had played Rudy in Shop Around The Corner, the kid the shop owner takes out for Christmas dinner in the final scene.

And what do I know about Billy Wilder? Not very much! Just enough to see plot parallels between this and Some Like It Hot. Saw none of the cynicism for which he’s known, but Wilder explains: “I was very careful. I set out to make a commercial picture I wouldn’t be ashamed of, so my first picture as a director wouldn’t be my last.”

Internet says the screenwriter invented the bad pickup line “Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?”.