Tag Archives: Francois Truffault

Day for Night Musings

Movie Night!

I watched one of my favorite films, DAY FOR NIGHT, with a small group of folks who are devoted to cinema. I have a special fondness for films about films. CINEMA PARADISO, THE STUNTMAN, SUNSET BOULEVARD, SINGING IN THE RAIN, and their ilk always bring my remote to a delighted halt when I happen upon them.

DAY FOR NIGHT holds other charms for me as well. The film crew in the movie is a tight-knit one. They’ve worked together before and are familiar with and tolerant of their teammates’ peccadillos. Their chosen location for shooting is a sunny and warm one (even when they make it snow). The film has a summer camp feel about it. I’m from the Spin & Marty generation – summer camp usually works for me unless there’s a slasher wandering about.

The film features a tour de force performance by Valentina Cortese and a “tour de WOW” appearance by Jacqueline Bisset.

When the film concluded for tonight’s viewing, one of the group commented; “I can see why people love this film, but it’s not a great work of art.”

After we mopped up the blood and I pleaded justifiable homicide and made bail, I got to thinkin’…

He’s right. It’s not a “great” work of art, but if you generally cherish the films of Francois Truffault (and I do) it is a “great” work of Truffault. Now…what does that mean? This is one of our most-revered directors! How can his films not be great?

Well.

They’re not.

“Greatness” is not the story Truffault cares to tell.

For me, the charm and the wonder of Truffault resides in the tight slice of humanity in which he chooses to tell his stories. His are not the stories of saints or demons. His characters do wicked things and heartbreakingly kind things to each other and are not dependable in their choice between the two. They do good things, but not great, and they do them when it’s convenient, and when it happens to occur to them. Ditto for the not-so-good things they do. Truffault’s characters tell the truth when they know what the truth is or when it’s not inconvenient to do so.

Truffault’s stories tell us about cats that can’t follow instructions, persistent human creativity in the face of American insurance companies, fidelity unless Jacqueline Bisset or Delphine Seyrig or Catherine Deneuve or Jeanne Moreau is involved…and of course, when fidelity is convenient. He tells us of dalliances that turn into life-destroying obsessions or deserted island fantasies or small-scale, but convoluted revenge/murder schemes (that may or may not work) – no great tragedies, merely intriguing human ones.

I find that precious, and usually convenient.

The Devil Rides Out

Movie night!

THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1973) aka THE DEVIL’S BRIDE.

My favorite Hammer horror film; period.

There are so many points of interest.

  • The script is an adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley adventure/supernatural novel that features the Duc de Richleau, a modern warrior in opposition to the evil occult. Richleau is every bit as fascinating and urgent as Nayland Smith battling Fu Manchu or Professor Van Helsing pursuing Dracula. Christopher Lee is at his very best in this portrayal.
  • Richard Matheson adapted the novel into the screenplay. Mr. Matheson authored the novels; I AM LEGEND, THE SHRINKING MAN, HELL HOUSE, and SOMEWHERE IN TIME. He also wrote the terrifying short story “Born of Man and Woman” and many of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone”.
  • The sets are up to the usual Hammer standards for detail and utter lack of clutter and shadows – how do they make that much light come from every direction?
  • Niké Arrighi delivers a pathetic (in the best sense of that word) performance as the damsel assailed by satanic forces. It’s quite a change from her portrayal of the free-spirited costume assistant Odile in Truffault’s DAY FOR NIGHT.
  • A wonderfully sinister Charles Gray (Blofeld in several James Bond flicks) dominates (sans cat, however).
  • The conjuring of “The Goat of Mendes” (Satan himself) in the sabbat, the giant tarantula attacking the little girl, the angel of death attacking the protective circle; all scarily impressive moments.
  • Drop dead cool cars.
  • Three-piece suits to die for.

Of course the ending is incoherent…but there’s a nice purging inferno.

And the cars are so very cool…I may have mentioned that.

I love it.

Plastic Cowboy Hats or Iguanas?

Movie Night!

What are my choices this evening?

Political junkie that I usually am, I could lock-in on this week’s political convention (red shirts, plastic cowboy hats, interminable plagiarism discussion loops, and conventioneers I suspect have spent a bit more time at the hotel bar than is advisable before strutting before cameras announcing numbers to millions of viewers – whoop!), or I could skip along the cultural high road with director Riccardo Freda’s giallo classic, THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE.

Pass up a title like that? I think not.

I can think of two movies with “iguana” in their titles. What are those odds? The other film is NIGHT OF THE IGUANA based on a story by Tennessee Williams. You may be asking (as I did); “What’s so special about iguanas?” That led me to recall a story by British speculative fiction writer J. G. Ballard. Mr. Ballard is best known for his novel; EMPIRE OF THE SUN, upon which the award-winning film was based. But in his novel; THE DROWNED WORLD, the Earth’s protective ionosphere has been decimated by solar flares and the planet has devolved into a ubiquitous, dank, fetid, swamp. The planet’s cities have decayed. Many buildings now harbor amphibian creatures living in the darkness of the buildings’ long missing windows and doors. For Ballard, these creatures are clearly representative of atavistic impulses and desires that lurk within us all waiting to be triggered and released by drastic changes in the conditions that restrain them. I think that may also true for both of our “iguana” flicks.

There is, of course, a chasm of difference in performance quality between NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr) and THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE (Luigi Pistilli, Dagmar Lassander, and Anton Diffring), but not in one performance.

I have not seen many performances by Valentina Cortese, but I’m impressed by what I’ve seen. Her Oscar-nominated performance in Francois Truffault’s DAY FOR NIGHT is a thing of wonder. In THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE (made two years before), Ms. Cortese has a heart-wrenching scene that transcends the tawdriness of the film.

She says of her husband;

“His Excellency has returned to Switzerland and I am alone…as always. How do you expect me to say it? It’s the truth. Behind this façade you are looking at there is the most terrible…unbelievable…emptiness…between me and my children, between me and my………husband.”

The camera never leaves her face. It would be criminal to do so. Score one for director Freda.

Oh yes, this was a much better choice than those ersatz cowboy hats. Whoop indeed!