Á Double Tour

April 2, 2017

I have twenty-nine Chabrol movies in my collection, and the earliest one is Á Double Tour (1959), also released as Leda and Web of Passion. I find Chabrol’s films worth re-watching more than those of most directors. Á Double Tour seems to have mixed reviews, as some critics seeing it as an immature work with the director still feeling his way toward his mature method. This is perhaps because of a certain doubleness in the film, which I will explain later.

Being from 1959 the world of the film is a little hard to get into. The French propertied class targeted here dress up in suit and tie even to stay home and see no one. Other than the maid, the gardener and the milkman, no one does any work and the wine making estate magically runs itself. On the film’s excursions into the local town, we find a lingering third world feel, with the population divided into boulevard types who come out to be seen at church or in cafés, and a working class who hawk their wares in the market or crowd the sidewalks in provincial idiocy. Adapted from the novel The Key to Nicholas Street set in a New York small town, the film has lost its thriller origins and becomes a social and psychological commentary on a purely French type.

The characters are Henri Marcoux the “head” of the family, but really a passive wimp who berates his wife Thérèse with a long list of pejoratives: she is “old” (about his age) ugly (but better looking than him), stupid, etc. He has a son Richard, who lounges around the house in a suit and tie listening to classical music recordings which he has enough brains to appreciate but not enough appreciation to play on anything better than a cheap portable turntable. He also has enough libido to follow the maid Julie around the house, being a pest, but she has no use for this loser. There is also a daughter Elizabeth who is in the film to show the motivation and character of other players.

An artist, Léda, has moved into the house next door bringing a Hungarian friend, and probably former lover, named Laszlo Kovacs, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo as a typical Belmondo character (so he is probably just being himself). Laszlo, a drunk, a leach and a manipulator of women seems to like to set up situations among his acquaintances leading to conflict which he can enjoy watching play out, stepping in to stir things up when the action is lagging. He has introduced Léda to Henri with a view breaking up the Marcoux household. He also goes after Elizabeth and gets more or less engaged to her, as an opportunity to invade the Marxoux house and act as provocatively has possible, simultaneously outraging Thérèse and exposing Henri’s weakness and unwillingness to take any sort of stand, even to protect his daughter.

Henri’s real attraction seems to be for Laszlo, whom he will forgive anything, but he trails after Léda professing his love but not willing to leave his wife and her property. He does not care about the children. Léda talks about “our love” but hates calling it adultery as she knows other people would. She is less attractive than Julie or Elizabeth and not convincing as a siren, but is a sort of ideal for Henri. Chabrol treats their scenes in a peculiar manner which is a big part of the reason for some critics’ doubts about the film. Chabrol has them roll around in fields of flowers with cut-aways to closeups of blossoms. When they walk in the woods his camera pans the lush foliage and the upper branches of the trees, as though celebrating this wonderful romance, but the romantic treatment becomes self-parody, as theatrical and superficial as Henri’s attachment to Léda by which he conceals from himself his true nature. If Henri had any red blood he would have been after Julie, the hottest woman around, but who only attracts the attention of Richard and her shallow milkman boyfriend. Even Laszlo his not interested as Julie lacks the social standing to make her satisfying prey.

Laszlo, in spite of constant prodding for Heni to “pack has bag and leave”, cannot bring about the breakup of the Marcoux household, but the tension becomes too much for Richard. He heads over to Léda’s house and after viewing her knickknacks and meeting her decides that she possess a talent and beauty that make him and his mother ugly losers by comparison who cannot compete with her for his father. After a “mad” scene with ranting and making faces (shot with mirrors and admired by critics as a Hitchcockian moment) he strangles her. We only see this in a confession flashback, so the action but not the scene launches the who-done-it phase of the movie. It is Julie who finds the body as her boyfriend somehow can’t bring himself to ask for his empty milk bottles back (adding to the list of wimpy characters) and persuades her to do it for him. Laszlo has meanwhile brought a Hungarian pal into the house who is also a drunk and a moocher if not the aggressive jerk Laszlo is, and the pal witnesses enough of Richard’s return from Léda’s house to figure out what had happened. Laszlo then goes into an even more aggressive and bullying phase until he extracts a confession from Richard.

Laszlo has failed to break up the Marcoux household; Henri no longer has someone to leave his wife for but instead a romantic memory to delude himself with. Richard has been turned into a murderer and his life, if he had one, ruined. Tragedy has been brought into the family, Léda is dead, and Laszlo is left with some self-righteous posturing as the one whose concern for justice exposed the murderer. So where is Chabrol in all this? Was he groping along making an inconsistent mess, or is there a deeper reading where the professed goals of all the major characters are different than what they were really working for and ended up with? Á Double Tour is Chabol’s third film, following Les Cousins which is considered one of his better ones. If Chabrol was in 1959 the same cynical, even atavistic, personality he was subsequently, he could have made the second type of film naturally by following his own inclinations about the material.


Time

April 2, 2017

Just retired and now I am watching lots of films again as well as reading.


Korea takes the lead

June 5, 2012

Lately I have been watching a lot of Korean TV dramas. For some reasons it would be interesting to understand better, Korea has been moving up as a leader and provider of pop culture. Certainly the technical reasons are obvious. Korean dramas are made with style while preserving a contemporary edginess. There are good production values with the ability to provide sets, locations, good photography skilled script writers–enough to turn out the video at a rate the exceeds the ability of any one viewer to keep up with it. In short it is rather like the situation that prevailed in the Holywood studies during their so-called Golden Age. Why this happened in Korea with so much of the rest of the world still grinding out cheap trash it to me the most interesting question.

Besides this, one can observe in these dramas a sort of convergence of world culture with at lot of Euro-American cultural values now taken as common places. At the same time there seems to be an emerging Asian style that suggests a self-confidence and self-direction rather than imitation of foreign popular forms. Along side of this convergence there is still a lot of Koreanness to these dramas, which adds greatly to their interest to someone like me who is drawn to understanding the dynamics of different cultures. Dramas of this sort rely on a lot of clichés and caricatures, to set up the situations. This might seem a shortcoming to the more sophisticated members of the home audience, but is precisely what is fascinating to the outside viewer, because they are things that would not work to motivate and move things along in a foreign drama, but show the unique aspects of Korean attitudes. 

There seems also to be present in Korean drama some of the same antagonism toward traditional culture and values that the European and American media have long exhibited. There are frequent efforts to insert homosexual themes and other taboos, to condition people to their acceptance. This shows the hand of a certain self-regarding elite in effective control of Korean organs of popular culture. 

There also seems to be a preoccupation with identity. Drama after drama involves some switched at birth scenario where eventually DNA testing comes into play to resolve people’s true identity. But then, if circumstances turned their lives upside down until then, how real its this “natural” identity that is finally revealed? Similarly, class differences are constantly played off: the arrogant, corrupt, spoiled families of the corporate elite, vs. the downtrodden, but also vice-ridden (drunks and gambling addicts) poor who never get a fair chance at escaping their situations. Yet, as vile as the rich are portrayed to be, there is always a sense that that is what everyone wants to be. 

Religions are taken in rotation. Buddhist, animist, Protestant and Roman Catholic identities seems to be assigned by quota. Religion is seldom a determining factor in behavior, however, and often comes across as a bit silly. The drama consensus is that it is not really important. So class and family membership especially as it relates to wealth and power are important to identity, but not religion. 

Returning to the question of Why Korea now? it appears that the Koreans have some idea of a dualism in their identity. They are still an ethnic nation-state yet the Korean diaspora has also made them a world-people with a constant coming and going from abroad. Unlike a third-world country, the homeland side of this dualism is strong enough to maintain this polarity. Korea draws people back not just as a place for nostalgia, but as a center that is powerful, dynamic and with prospects to offer. It appears that this dynamic has affected the production of popular culture. And now it also affects its export, as Korean drama has become popular world-wide. 


Empty time

May 4, 2011

It has been nearly a year since I posted anything, and looking back I can think of few films I have seen for the first time that stand out. The main one is Lars von Trier’s  Antichrist. Certainly it is a serious film, and made with talent, but at the same time rather misguided. But that seems to be the best that can be said of the current cinema, whose directors have now moved so far out of a framework of values that the only way they avoid seeming contrived is to seek psychological shock. In the meantime third world cinema seems more powerful because it is still made inside frameworks of value. This frameworks and the works that reside in them still get respected because everyone is supposed to respect all such non-Western frameworks.

I just came back from a trip in which I drove 5500 miles, crossing South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. I visited the Badlands National Park, Devil’s Tower Monument, Bryce Canyon, Zion, the Pacific coast, Sequoia National park and Yosemite. I took hundreds of pictures, and also of the thousands of miles of open spaces in between. In close up there is nothing much to distinguish most of these places from each other or from the “boring” seemingly endless places in between. What makes them spectacular is to seen them in panorama. To photograph this I had to combine multiple frames, sometimes as many as twenty, in Photoshop.

Of course right away we can understand something of cinema which has no problem in combining and giving us a panoramic view, whether literally, or in some way analogous to that at it covers some subject. I want on this trip conscious of the problem before me of trying to apprehend the immensity of what I would experience in some that that could be apprehended. Part of the idea of taking all those pictures was to see if some would turn out to be such captures and learn why. I still have to review them to see if there was any success.


Godard

May 11, 2010

Got through the last of my stack of Godard movies.  This one was Tout va bien. This one was unusually straightforward.  I suppose Godard avoided highjinks that would taken as a sort of  lèse majesté to the divine cause of the left. Doesn’t hold a candle to Getting Straight.



Juliet of the Spirits

February 22, 2010

Finally watched Juliet of the Spirits after hearing about it for forty years and wanting to see it. I could never bear to pay Criterion’s price for the DVD, but finally got it cheaper. I must say that it is not nearly as confusing and difficult as I had always heard. Supposedly the line between fact and fantasy was indistinguishable, and this was some sort of philosophical point Fellini was making. The line seemed clear to me. It strikes me that Fellini was a man with a lot of cinematic talent, but somewhat deficient in the sense of what to use that talent for. Yesterday I watched Goodbye, Dragon In (Bu san) by Tsai Ming-liang, 2004. Now there is a film that is hard to get into. Oddly enough, I watched it right after Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, where Godard sometimes does the same thing, of holding on a shot with nothing happening in it. I liked Goodbye, Dragon Inn a lot more. And about that, one little comment. People complain that it is too static, and that the shots are held way to long. Well, not as long as I have looked at still pictures, that were about as interesting, and both Godard and Tsai Ming-liang seem to want to shows us stuff. This is what home video is good for. You can’t watch films like these with other people, unless you know a different kind of people than I do.  (And I have watched Last Year At Marienbad four times.)


Send yourself to film school

February 11, 2010

Some DVDs of movies have been issued with a commentary track by critics or film historians that are very illuminating. Most commentaries are not. The worst seem to be those that involve the actors, and commentaries by directors are generally not the best ones, and often are worthless.

I have been trying to come up with a list of DVDs (or Blu-rays) that have a commentary track that is able to genuinely open up the film to the viewer and teach a lot about movies and how to watch them.  Here is my list so far:

Alex Proyas, Dark City, commentary by Roger Ebert
Michelangelo Antonioni, Blow-up, commentary by Peter Brunette
Claude Chabrol, Les Biches, commentary by Wade Major and F. X. Feeney
Claude Chabrol, Le Boucher, commentary by Howard Rodman and Terry Curtis Fox
Claude Chabrol, La Rupture, commentary by Howard Rodman, Terry Curtis Fox and F. X. Feeney
Claude Chabrol, Une Partie de Plaisir, commentary by Dan Yakir and Ric Menello

Many film noir discs have commentaries by film historians. I have not put together a list of the good ones (and they vary a lot).

What other discs should be on this list?