Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Clouzot in chains

La Prisonnière (Woman in Chains) - 1968

Henri-Georges Clouzot is best known for his thrillers The Wages of Fear and Diabolique. His lesser known works include Quai des Orfèvres and Le Corbeau. Each of these films is available on the Criterion collection label. But his least known films are close to impossible to find. One such films is La Prisonnière.

If you happened to have seen the documentary L'enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot you'll recall the amazing visuals that Clouzot used for the film L'enfer, which he never finished due to a heart attack and a loss of funds. What that documentary didn't tell viewers is that a few years later Clouzot directed La Prisonnière, which tells a somewhat similar story and extensively uses the cool experimental visual elements that made L'enfer seem so enticing.

The film deals with a young woman named Josée (Elisabeth Wiener) caught between Gilbert - her artist husband - and Stan - a gallery owner / photographer who she takes an interest in.
Gilbert produces intriguing optical illusion art, which are showing in Stan's gallery. Stan also takes S&M photos, which Josée [the suppressed housewife] finds herself drawn to both out of curiosity and an attraction to some odd element of humiliation. But too she has fallen in love with Stan. Only he is a rather creepy guy who takes more pleasure in voyeurism than he does in real human contact or emotions. This, of course, causes a problem in their relationship because she wants a warm loving man.

Gibert finds out about the relationship and goes to confront Stan. The story continues....

The strength of the film is the visual design, shot selection [shot by Andréas Winding] and editing [edited by Noëlle Balenci]. Clouzot plays up a mod avant-garde optical illusion aesthetic to the point that you could actually just start watching the film at any one scene and find it fascinating to look at. [Antonioni's Blow-Up comes to mind as a film that may have been influenced by this one].

Three scenes in particular stand out; one is an early scene in which Gilbert and Josée take a train and notice converging train tracks, high wires crisscrossing and various other visuals one can see from a movie train. The second scene is a gallery opening where every shot is designed to show off optical illusions on display and the third scene is a three-and-a-half minute montage toward the end of the film that encompasses visions, thoughts and experiences Josée has had up to that point as she lays in a hospital bed most likely spaced out on morphine.

Below is a link to that scene.
La prisonnière

In short, if you feel that a real opportunity was missed because L'enfer was never finished then rejoice because La Prisonnière more than makes up for it. The only problem is finding a copy. I managed to find a DVD at a local video store in Los Angeles [yes, they still have those.]

Friday, November 09, 2012

Election Night TV

I don't normally talk politics here but watching the returns on each of the major networks on election night made for pretty good TV.

The most compelling, however, was when the networks called Ohio for Obama because then we knew Obama's win was assured.

What I found interesting, at that moment, was the way in which FOX News and CNN handled the call. From my perspective CNN was much better, more sophisticated and succinct. But FOX had better drama even though with regards to technology they still seem like they are locked in the 1980's.

What does CNN have? A beautiful interactive map, which John King would use to bring us informative visuals. He could zoom in on a state and drill down to each county and show the number of votes and percentages reported. This was the exact method King used to show us why CNN called Ohio when only about 65% of the vote had been counted. To the point, all the Republican counties were counted at close to 100% and the only areas on the map left fully uncounted were Democratic areas.

FOX News, on the other hand, did not have an interactive map. They had talking heads and graphics that only showed states and overall numbers. When Ohio was called they had no way of showing us why it was called. So that lead to a good bit of off-the-cuff live television that began with the now famous meltdown, rant by skeptical Karl Rove. So what did FOX do? In order to get answers they sent co-anchor Megyn Kelly into the basement [!] to get facts. Here it is.

Yes, rather than have the decision desk be right there in the studio they have it located downstairs nowhere near any cameras. The fact that FOX News has such an antiquated system is a bit unbelievable considering that they are hardly some small time network. They are usual #1 in ratings and owned by one of the wealthiest men in the world. 

I should note that an article in New York Magazine claims that an insider at FOX said the call to send Kelly walking downstairs was a good one because it gave them an opportunity to show the audience her legs. Yes, they sent a woman to do the work so audiences could look at her legs. What can I say? Good television and bad television in part because it is so old fashioned and out-of-date. But then again their core audience is predominately older, conservative and white.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Lost Island of VHS...XII

Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man - Bernardo Bertolucci - 1981

This is far from Bertolucci's best film and since it came out after his streak of better films including The Conformist (1970), Last Tango in Paris (1972) and 1900 (1976) it can't help but fall short. However, seeing it this many years later - well away from the expectations that moviegoers had for a new Bertolucci film -- it is fairly good.

A wealthy cheese factory owner named Primo (Ugo Tognazzi) witnesses his son being kidnapped by terrorists. A while later they demand a ransom that will cost him a fortune - not to mention his business, which is already going bankrupt. His wife (Anouk Aimée) has no hesitation in wanting to pay the ransom. But he does. Especially when he begins to get the feeling that he is being set up and maybe there has been no kidnapping at all. He comes up with a plan - along with two young leftists who work in his factory - to get the ransom money and reinvest it into his factory.

The film was made in an era when radical youth groups were still a topic of discussion and that plays a central role in the film. Much like The Spider's Stratagem [in which a son looks for a father] this one deals with a subject Bertolucci had done before. But it also emphasizes characters having to make choices they are not comfortable with making.

It is not top drawer Bertolucci but it was shot by Carlo Di Palma whose style lends itself well to Bertolucci's sometimes operatic scenes. And the story is a good one - if not slightly cynical in nature. The acting overall is above average - Tognazzi is agreeable as the lead actor while Aimée seems to walk through her role.

So why is this self made factory owner a ridiculous man and what is the tragedy? In part, the two concepts go together. On the one hand, he cares more about his material possessions than his son, but on the other he has fallen into a trap that he should have known better than to get caught in. He too seems unaware of his responsibility as a father, a husband and an employer of many people who rely on his weekly wages. The tragedy is that he may lose everything but he decides to use the event as a way to save his business. His love for success means more than the safety of his son. However it may all be a ruse anyway and he seems to sense it.

This film is only available on VHS and [surprisingly] can still be found brand new on Amazon.