Tag Archives: Francois Truffault

My Favorite Bookstore 3: Rokuro-Kubi 1

I had only been working a week at the Bait Shop.

The Bait Shop was a book store with only a miniscule inventory of books about fishing.

It did boast several sizable aquaria with mesmerizing arrays of tropical fish; mostly cichlids and one tank of bosemani rainbows. I had already discerned that the cichlids were an opinionated bunch that moved their furniture constantly and spit gravel when disgusted…or about to give birth. The rainbows were sleepy and “just happy to breed here.”

Thus, the Books and Interesting Tidbits Shop was a touch tropical, certainly topical, but not your typical book store.

I had yet to master the chimerical shelving system for the books. My high school part-time job at the public library had taught me the essences of the Dewey Decimal System (DDS). The logic parceling out shelf space at the Bait Shop however, was totally uninfluenced by the DDS. For example: Francois Truffault’s HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAULT was deliberately placed next to James E. Vance’s GEOGRAPHY AND URBAN EVOLUTION IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA. When I groused to Sam Cooger, the banjo-playing partner/owner of the shop, he sneered; “Melvil Dewey was an anal nerd. Numbers on books – whatta load of crap. He probably never even saw the Frisco Bay and I know he never saw VERTIGO. We should be guided by such ignorance?” He leaned back in his corner and crooned “It’s so neat ta beat yer feet by the San Francisco Bay.”

Gifted by such guidance, I fumbled about on the road to dim-as-could-be until, one day, I had an epiphany. Of course Hugh Lofting’s DR. DOOLITTLE IN THE MOON belonged next to Guy Boothby’s DR. NIKOLA not only for the dubious medical pedigrees of the titular characters, but also for their similar portrayals of cats as alien and not completely sympathetic critters. I confidently slid a handsome first edition (in dust jacket no less) of Carl Van Vechten’s THE TIGER IN THE HOUSE to the right of those books to mollify any negative feline vibes. Benji Andante, the other store partner/owner peered at my decision and pondered… “A bit obvious, but shows progress. Balance has its place, but not everywhere. Sometimes a clear vector is useful, but let’s leave it that way for few days and see.”

I wasn’t sure I understood what Ben had said…actually…I was sure I didn’t understand. Still, I marked it down as a win. The day before, he had paraphrased Albee (or Stoppard – I can’t keep ‘em straight when he starts rattling) to encourage me; “A step is positive, any step, even a negative step, because it is a step.”

Now…where should I put George F. Worts’ THE HOUSE OF CREEPING HORROR?

Garrotes are involved. Perhaps in the Spanish language section of the shop, next to the screenplay of Santo Contra el Espectro de el Estrangulador?

Or next to A BLUEGRASS CONSPIRACY – murderous doings by elements striving to return a small town that once was a crossroads for illicit substances to those profitable, if less righteous days.

Or next to Manly Wade Wellman’s THIRD STRING CENTER book-for-boys, to demonstrate a useful, if often pummeled career path après high school football hero-dom.

Sam disrupted my cogitation; “Ya know, Cayton, yer not much help, but ya sure are slow.”

Ben; “He’s trying, Sam. Not particularly well, but… Put it next to the Wellman, maybe it’ll improve the prose.”

He continued; “I got a call from Mo Stern. He’s coming in this afternoon.”

Sam erupted; “Christ! I’m not up to that today.”

Ben gazed at me.

“Cayton, you’re a theatre major, yes?”

“I am. I’m rehearsing Synge’s Playboy of the Western World now.”

“Ah yes; ‘I’m thinkin’ it’s a queer daughter you are to be askin’ yer father to be crossin’ the Stooks of the Dead Women with a drop taken.’ – do you get to say that?”

“No. That’s someone else’s line.”

“Pity.”

Sam and Ben had a strange conceit about communicating privately with each other. They would slide up next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, but facing opposite directions. They would then murmur to each other in a tone that anyone nearby could clearly hear…but to them it served as a private conversation.

Sam; “Seriously, I don’t think I can do this today. Give the kid a try. God knows he ain’t worth his salt yet on anything else.”

Ben to me, after a moment of mindful breathing; “Here’s what we need for you to do this afternoon…

We have a customer. His name is Mo Stern.

Mister Stern loves books. Always has. A while back, he began to lose much of his sight. Forget what that meant to his life otherwise. He loves books. He has adapted admirably in his everyday living. We are part of his adapting…maybe the most important part. He loves books and now it is near impossible for him to read them.

We maintain a list of the books he wishes to “read.” When we get two exact copies, same editions, of books on his list, he buys them both, and…he comes into the shop, and…we read them out loud to him from one copy, while he follows along in another. Pages are turned simultaneously, chapters are finished simultaneously, until the book is complete. He then takes both copies in case he might want to “reread” the book someday.

He loves books. He has passion for reading.

I believe passion is an important ingredient for the theatre. I know you read well and, I assume, speak clearly. Else, no audience will seek you out for long.

Will you do this?”

(…to be continued…perhaps…)

A Close Encounter Revisited

Movie Night!

We cling to and cherish what constants we can find in our lives.

Well…..maybe not death and taxes…but most of ‘em.

For example, these are some of the verities upon which I depend;

  • Melinda Dillon will forever be Ralphie’s mom, possessor of all wisdom concerning the ocular hazards of Red Ryder BB guns.
  • Richard Dreyfus will forever haunt the drive-in restaurant and eat popsicles with Wolfman Jack and just miss life-diverting appointments with Suzanne Somers.
  • Francois Truffault will forever make films about making films with Jacqueline Bissett and the exquisite Valentina Cortese in the totally sunny South of France.
  • Terri Garr will forever be Buck Henry’s befuddled date in the Steve Martin comedy short; The Waiter.
  • Bob Balaban will always be an outraged community orchestra director in Blaine, Missouri.

I sleep better knowing these things are forever true.

Then along comes Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Everything I thought I knew about these people…forget it.

Plus, there are visitors from outer space pickin’ up hitchhikers.

Double plus, I can hum the alien theme song.

I love it.

Day for Night

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, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 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 portrayed in the movie is a tight-knit one. They’ve worked together before and are familiar with and tolerant of their teammates’ peccadilloes. 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 predictable in their choice between the two. They do good things, but not great, and they do them when it’s convenient, and or 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.devil rides out-poster

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?
  • devil rides out-bookNiké 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 impressive and frightening moments.
  • Drop dead cool cars on tiny English country lanes.
  • 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!