The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Pickpocket (Robert Bresson)
  2. A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson )
  3. Vivre Sa Vie (Jean-Luc Godard)
  4. The Face of Fu Manchu (Don Sharp)
  5. The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Sidney Franklin)
  6. Rupture & Happy Anniversary – shorts (Pierre Étaix)
  7. The Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher)
  8. Les Enfants du Paradis (Marcel Carné)
  9. The Revenge of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher)
  10. The House That Dripped Blood (Peter Duffel)

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1- OK. Let me explain something.  For me, Halloween is the greatest secular holiday.  It is the one secular holiday seems to be intrinsically tied into a time of year in the way religious holidays seem to be. I look at it as a holiday season which leads up to the great day itself on October 31st.  What the season represents to me is the slow decline of the year and the ushering in of the cozy winter. ‘Winter kept us warm’, as T.S. Eliot wrote.

The supernatural images that abound during this time seem to be inoculating us against the lost of summer and fall. By the time November 1st comes around and the ghosts, witches and pumpkins are gone, we are ready for the end of the year.  Ghosts, vampires, werewolves and the like are appropriate totems for this time of year – a time of year where the ‘death’ of the year is becoming more and more prominent. (Fear not, spring always comes – eventually).

I indulge in the season by gorging on horror films. Let me clarify. I am not interested in slasher porn type films. The films I watch have to have an element of the uncanny.  A Romantic-age kind of feeling of the world beyond ours intruding in a way that is both thrilling and a bit threatening.  Therefore, I have been watching a ton of classic Hammer studio films.  Yes, I know. They made hay with being the first of the major film studios to emphasize the gore by filming in lurid color, and they were not above prominently (yet discreetly) showcasing body parts of some of the female actresses – lots of peignoirs here.  But what I love is the atmosphere of these films.  Much effort is put into having a sturdy and interesting script as well as nifty Victorian spookiness of the proceedings.  My  husband is baffled by but indulgent of my passion for these films.  “But aren’t they pretty low-quality?” he asks. Yes, of course they are, but that is almost the point.  They are disposable in a way that most seasonal things are, yet they have a significant point.  Yes, I know that there are great horror films.  The works of Val Lewton (which I have written about here ) as well as masterpiece like The Bride of Frankenstein, The Phantom Carriage and The Birds are infinitely better than The House That Dripped Blood and The Curse of Frankenstein. However, these are films that can and should be watched all year round.  Save the Hammers for the Ghost and Goblin time.

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Rest In Peace, Pierre Étaix

pierre-etaix

This past Friday we lost Pierre Étaix, one of the great comic filmmakers, and up until recently, was in danger of being completely forgotten.  His entire film catalog, consisting of both short and feature length films made in the 1960s, were barred from distribution for decades due to legal problems.  Luckily, Criterion issued his complete works in a lovely Blu-Ray package three years ago.  It’s hard to think of a similar rescue from the abyss!

Many of the most famous film comedians are referred to as clowns, but Pierre Étaix actually had his comic apprenticeship in circuses.  His elegant physical comedy must have its roots in the circus much as Buster Keaton’s does from the vaudeville circuit. Étaix worked as an apprentice to Jacques Tati.  Pretty impressive comedy credentials.  He even appeared in a small role in Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket, amazingly enough.

But it is his handful of feature-length and short films that will ensure his place next to Keaton and Chaplin in the comedy Pantheon. Like those two masters from the silent era, Étaix’s genius is all visual.  The deadpan reactions are direct descendants of Keaton, the sweetness and kindness are direct descendants of Chaplin.  His greatest works were created in collaboration with Jean-Claude Carrière, the screen writer/producer who went to to collaborate with Luis Buñuel on his late masterpieces.

I would suggest you start with the lovely, heartwarming Yoyo. This practically silent gem celebrates being yourself (in this case a circus performer) instead of being who you are forced to be (in this case, a phenomenally rich but lonely young man in a lovely mansion).  The deus-ex-machina of a circus elephant is one of the memorable sight coups (I don’t want to demean it by calling it a sight-gag).

His last film, Land of Milk and Honey, did to his career what Peeping Tom did for the career of Michael Powell: put him on the outs with the money men by seemingly thumbing his nose at the bourgeois tastes of the audiences of 1971.  This is a great shame, because judging from the genius of the few works we have, we can only lament what else we might have had over the forty-plus years since that film’s disastrous release.

So, please, do yourself and the late, great Pierre a favor and see as many of these delightful works as you can.  Here follows a filmography swiped from Wikipedia:

  • Insomnia (1961) Short unreleased
  • Happy Anniversary (1962) Short
  • The Suitor (1962)
  • Yoyo (1965)
  • As Long As You Have Your Health (1966)
  • Le Grand Amour (1969)
  • Land of Milk and Honey (1971) Documentary