Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Wonderfully Odd Shaped Object

Marcel Carné’s “Drôle de drame ou L’étrange adventure du Docteur Molyneax” (1937) is very odd indeed. The great director (“Les enfants du paradis”) directs a script by the great poet and fine screenwriter Jacques Prévert, with some of the best French actors of the time. Michel Simon, Jean-Louis Barrault, Louis Jouvet, and Françoise Rosay play a bunch of daffy Edwardian English people, in a crazed farce set in London, in French!

Hollywood has a long standing convention of portraying stories set in other countries with American actors speaking English. I found it quite amusing to see the French version of this, particularly given the incestuously tangled millennium-long relationship between the French and the English.

It took me a minute or two to get in sync with this convention and with the frantic pace and broad style of the film but then I went with it. It’s strange and very funny and has a black heart filled with fine 1930’s contempt for the Bourgeoisie.

It has a murderer who only kills butchers, an imperturbable Chinese mugger who steals flowers, a singing milkman and a narcoleptic reporter. Louis Jouvet is particularly good as a hypocritical Anglican bishop. His finest moment involves Scottish attire. I will say no more except that the DVD is available on Netflix.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


When Madame Le Chef and I were visiting friends in the Loire Valley in 2008, they suggested that we go see the town of Richelieu. Although I had heard of the famous Cardinal, I knew nothing about the town. Turns out the town was the ancestral home of the Cardinal and, at the height of his power, when he was running France for Louis XIII, he had a new town built on top of the old one. It was constructed between 1631 and 1642, which seems like pretty fast work for a whole town. It is walled, with a moat around it, and designed on a strict grid plan. Next to the town, Cardinal Richelieu built a huge palace, set in a correspondingly large park.

The town is still there and the park is still there but the palace was dismantled and sold off as building material in the 19th Century. Apparently it was not a political act. A real estate agent just wanted to make some money. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Except for cars and no merde in the streets, the town preserves its 17th Century appearance.

The Cardinal presides over the parking lot at the entrance to the park.

There are remaining outbuildings, gardens and canals but there does seem to be some huge thing missing.

The woods have vistas carved into them that are vaguely ominous.

The evidence of what was there.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Fall

At the beginning of the year I reviewed three films that were medium, but worth seeing, because they contained fantastic performances. “The Fall” is also medium yet worth seeing, but for the director’s extraordinary visual abilities, not for an actor's amazing performance. (Having said that, there is a very good performance by child actress Catinca Untaru.)

The director, Tarsem Singh, makes his living directing ads and videos but has done two features. “The Fall”, his second feature, was shot between other work, during a period of several years. He searched all over the world for places and structures that were visually arresting but not recognizable to the general audience. He succeeded. Supposedly there are no computer generated shots in the film although there must have been some practical effects.

The plot concerns a Hollywood stuntman from the 1920s who’s in a hospital with badly damaged legs because of a fall. He can’t get out of bed. He tells a story to a little girl who is in the same hospital with a broken arm, also from a fall, and who runs through the building, exploring it. The girl visualizes the story as he tells it and these are the amazing images that we see, including her wonderful confusion of “Indians” and “Indians”.

The story has some dark twists and turns but finally can’t equal the visuals. Still, they are enough.

Monday, November 2, 2009


When I first heard about, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”, which is the name of a current documentary about a Canadian Heavy Metal band, I was struck by its title’s structural similarity to “kittens Inspired by kittens” which is a 1:32 minute YouTube video narrated by a very little and very energetic girl. It turns out there is more than a grammatical similarity between the two documents. They are both very sweet, and the sweeter of the two is the one about the Heavy Metal band.

It’s about a 30 year friendship, family, love, art, aspiration, failure and mortality. Hey, it rocks.