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Santoalla

Fans of off-beat true-crime tales will find an absorbing murder mystery in Daniel Mehrer and Andrew Becker’s Santoalla, a documentary that had this reviewer wondering…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Marilyn Monroe's dressing recipe

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In her own handwriting:

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Claude Chabrol, RIP. The master at midpoint

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Claude Chabrol, who died Sunday, Sept. 12 at 80, was a founder of the New Wave and a giant of French cinema. This interview, which took place during the 1970 New York Film Festival, shows him at midpoint in his life, just as he had emerged from a period of neglect and was making some of his best films.

By Roger Ebert

NEW YORK -- Claude Chabrol's "This Man Must Die" is advertised as a thriller, but I found it more of a macabre study of human behavior. There's no doubt as to the villain's identity, and little doubt that he will die (although how he dies is left deliciously ambiguous).

Unlike previous masters of thrillers like Hitchcock, Chabrol goes for mood and tone more than for plot. You get the notion that his killings and revenges are choreographed for a terribly observant camera and an ear that hears the slightest change in human speech.

For this reason, particularly, it's necessary to put up a squawk and insisted on the film's original subtitled version; without the rhythm of the sound track, the movie simply doesn't work. New Yorkers saw the subtitles, of course, but Allied Artists apparently decided to let the rest of the country see a wretched botch of a dubbing job.

I wouldn't be surprised if the dubbed version flopped; "Z" ran for months in its exquisite subtitled version, but flopped in the neighborhoods because a lousy dubbed version was substituted.

Let's face it. Movies by director like Chabrol or Costa-Gavras are intended for the more literate section of the movie audience. You can dub a spaghetti Western and nobody cares, but mess with Chabrol and you're eliminating the very quality audiences respond to in his work.

In any event, we're seeing the good version here, and it is one of the best Chabrol films since he began his new career as a student of murder. With Godard veering ever more erratically into left field, and Truffaut exhibiting an alarming tendency to get cute, it's actually beginning to appear that Chabrol will become the front-running French director of the 1970s - commercially, and maybe even artistically.

Yet as recently as 1967, in his "Interviews with Film Directors," Andrew Sarris was actually able to write about Chabrol in the past tense: "He quickly became one of the forgotten figures of the nouvelle vague . . . Chabrol found himself so demode by the mid-1960s that he was forced to accept commissioned projects to keep his hand in."

But just then, when his career as a serious director seemed most in doubt, Chabrol arrived at the 1968 New York Film Festival with "Les Biches." It was an artful combination of lesbianism and very Chabrolian irony, with a nice bit of murder at the end, which forced you to re-think all the characters. And Chabrol, the first of the New Wave directors to be hailed and the first to be dismissed, was very clearly back in business again.

Les Biches

"Les Biches" was the first film Chabrol made with Andre Genovese, a young Parisian who is, Chabrol says, the only producer he has ever been able to work happily with. They followed it with "La Femme Infidele" (1969), Chabrol's greatest critical success since "Les Cousins" a decade earlier. Then came "This Man Must Die," "Le Boucher," one of the hits of this year's New York Film Festival, and "Le Rupture," still unseen in the United States. ("We're certainly going to have to change that title for the American release," Chabrol notes cheerfully.)

Taken together, this group of films seems to announce that, at 40, Chabrol is finally realizing the great promise of his early career, There have been 18 Chabrol features so far, and they reflect a distinctly erratic chapter in the history of the New Wave. Chabrol was there at the very beginning, first as a critic for Cahiers du Cinema and then as the director of perhaps the first New Wave film. His "Le Beau Serge" (1958) preceded Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" by a few months, and when Godard's "Breathless" appeared the original triumvirate of New Wave directors was established. It still rules.

Chabrol's sensationally successful "Les Cousins" followed, also in 1958, and the next year he made "A Double Tour" and "Les Bonnes Femmes."

Although he was by then routinely linked with Truffaut and Godard, his style and taste in material didn't resemble theirs (nor did they resemble each other, of course, although they made a convenient grouping because of their common disregard for the existing writer-dominated French cinema.)

Chabrol's 1962 "Landru," from a screenplay by Francoise Sagan about a World War I mass murderer, can be seen in hindsight as characteristically Chabrolian but having little connection with the concerns of other New Wave directors. It was coolly professional and exhibited the fascination with murder that has been his subject in all the recent films produced by Genovese.

Le Boucher

"Landru" was a commercial and critical success, but "Ophelia" the same year was a failure, beginning a period of involuntary idleness for Chabrol. He married the actress Stephane Audran in 1962 (she was Jean-Louis Trintignant's former wife and had starred in "Les Cousins"). And then he announced a number of projects, but nothing came of them. In 1964 he directed the first of three comedy thrillers he considers potboilers.

All three were frankly jobs done for money, and if some auteur critics defended them, not many others found them worthy of Chabrol. A 1967 "comeback" project for Universal's European production division, "The Champagne Murders," starred Anthony Perkins and was praised in France. But the mutilated U.S. version was a disaster.

One night recently, Chabrol sipped a Scotch and soda in the Greenwich Village apartment of a friend, and talked about it.

"How do you become a director? First, you must start. Second, you must find a producer who is a human being. Andre Genovese is a human being. I can say of all my previous producers that I hated them and they hated me. Just before I met Andre, things were at their blackest. I was doing 'The Champagne Murders,' and the producer, so called, was a young man named Jay Kanter who was in charge of Universal's operation over there.

"He was a good agent, they told me. Why not? But as a producer he was a joke. After I finished the film, they brought in an editor who was described as a 'doctor.' He was supposed to make a film out of my film. So what did he do? He made a hodgepodge. For the English version, he cut out 20 -minutes, and inevitably they were the exact 20 minutes for which I made the film."

Chabrol spread his hands in a gesture of futility. "Editors have an uncanny ability to find what you feel is most important, and cut it out," he said. "I could have made a stink, but I wasn't in a very strong position just then. At least they let me have the final cut for the French version. Perhaps I'm not the purist I ought to be. When we were all writing for Cahiers, we looked at Hollywood films that everyone thought were commercial, and we discovered art and morality in them. Fifteen years later, with these recent films of mine, perhaps I'm taking art and morality and making them commercial . . ."

In a sense he's correct, although "commercial" is a word too negatively charged to describe the exquisite subtlety of "Le Boucher" or "This Man Must Die" (even if they are advertised as thrillers).

Perhaps professionalism is the quality that ought to be substituted; the early Cahiers critics appreciated that quality to such a degree that they actually prized directors whom accepted routine assignments and turned them out competently. Even today, when the budget is not exactly critical, Chabrol makes a point of telling you that John Ford shunned covering shots, and that every shot Chabrol takes is in the film.

Because Genovese respects this, Chabrol says, he gives Chabrol a free hand in making his films, and that, you see, is why the last three years have been so productive for Chabrol.

"Most of the French producers," Chabrol explained, "are like Zanuck. No, not like Zanuck. Like a little Zanuck. I have a certain regard for Zanuck himself. You know I used to work for him. That's right! I was the Paris publicity man for 20th Century-Fox in 1955."

Chabrol sipped his Scotch very seriously, for comic timing, and then allowed himself to grin. "When I quit," he said, "you'll never guess who got my job. I gave it to Jean-Luc Godard. Of course he was even worse as a publicity man than I was.

"He always made sure to have the lavatory key. He would come into the office and look busy for an hour, and then say he was sick. Then he would lock himself in the lavatory and read scripts. I know the feeling because I like to read all the time myself, when I'm not watching movies. During the war I was sent out into the country -- I must have been about 10 at the time -- and I read detective novels all day.

Ten Day's Wonder

"It was at that time I first read 'Ten Days Wonder,' by Ellery Queen, which will be my next film. In writing the script, I worked from the very same copy of Ellery Queen that I read 30 years ago.

"When I wasn't reading I was going to the movies. I saw 'Snow 'White' at least 10 times between 1937 and 1940 and I think it influenced my work, a little. It was a good horror film. The death of the witch was the best thing Disney ever did. Of course, murder always heightens the interest in a film. Even a banal situation takes on importance when there's a murder involved.

"I suppose that's why I choose to work with murder so often. That's the area of human activity where the choices are most crucial and have the greatest consequences. On the other hand, I'm not at all interested in who-done-its. If you conceal a character's guilt, you imply that his guilt is the most important thing about him. I want the audience to know who the murderer is, so that we can consider his personality."

Chabrol said he is rather happy right now about the way his career is going.

"With the films since 'Les Biches,' I think I'm on the right track. Not that I was ever on the wrong track, but I believe that period of idleness helped me think things over. You might consider a concert pianist, suddenly unable to give concerts. So he sits at home and practices for two or three years, until somebody hires him again. And then they don't think about the two years, they think about how well he plays . . .

"Certainly I'm happy right now making these films about murder. My interest isn't in solving puzzles, but in studying human behavior. Nothing else interests me so much. I'm not a chansonnier, a man obsessed with the events of the day. I am a Communist, certainly, but that doesn't mean I have to make films about the wheat harvest. I think Godard's political films have been messy. Right now, Jean-Luc seems to be going through a bachelor's crisis: Should I marry politics or remain free?"

Chabrol leaned forward to share a confidence.

"I'll tell you a Party secret," he said. "Spiro Agnew is a double agent. Of course, he doesn't know it, but that's the best kind of agent there is -- because he can never blow his own cover!"

His face opened into a beatific smile. He finished his Scotch. He sighed. "Now we go back to France to make a film about murder again," he said. "In this one, I kill everyone, but it's no big deal. They're living at the beginning and dead at the end. In between, there's a story about a man who breaks the Ten Commandments, one by one. Catherine Deneuve will star, and of course Orson Welles will play God." I have many Chabrol reviews online. Use Search on my home page. Here is my Great Movies Collection review of Le Boucher. From the Telegraph, the best Chabrol obituary..

Chabrol's 50th and final film: "Inspector Bellamy" (2009)

☑ All of my TwitterPages are linked under the category Pages in the right margin of this page.

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I love it when I'm quoted correctly

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That's from the box cover of a bootleg DVD. Here are 23 more hilarious examples from I Heart Chaos.

Thanks to Andy Ihnatko for the link.

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Jason Reitman in conversation

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Jason Reitman is not only a gifted director, but a forthright and thoughtful one. After three features ("Thank You for Smoking," "Juno" and "Up in the Air"), he has achieved, at the age of 34, firm standing on the A List.

He visited Chicago on Jan. 29 to appear on the Oprah program, and stopped off at my house on his way to the airport. Having only just discovered the video capability of a new camera, I took these videos. They are hand-held, shaky and need editing. But what Reitman says is perceptive and worth sharing.

Also in the room: My wife Chaz, off camera to the left. Reitman's wife, the actress Michelle Lee, to his right. Chicago publicist Janet Hillebrand on the sofa in front of the windows. The voice on my MacBook is sometimes heard.

The sculpture is "Warrior Woman," which Chaz and found in a London gallery that holds an exhibition called "Not in the Spring Exhibition," for works not accepted in the annual show of new works by the Royal Academy of Arts. In other words, Refuseniks. Jason and Michelle are standing in front of an abstract by the British expressionist Gillian Ayres. RE • • •

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"As Penny Chenery's youngest son..."

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I received this comment on my blog entry about "Secretariat" the movie, Secretariat the horse and the discussion about Andrew O'Hehir's review of the film at Salon.com. It appears under the blog, as do comments by O'Hehir and Bill Nack, author of the Secretariat biography that informed the film. But it is so well-worded and wise that I wanted to call particular attention to it. RE

October 9, 2010

As Penny Chenery's youngest son, I am fascinated by "Secretariat's" reception by critics, and the dialogue between Ebert and O'Hehir is to me the most interesting so far. Rather than taking sides about whether the movie is "good" or "bad" (I am far too close to evaluate its merits), I want to comment on the value I see in both reviewers' perspectives. From their conflicting angles, each shines a light on something I believe to be true about both the movie and the events that gave rise to it.

I understand O'Hehir's perception of something relentlessly, indeed forcedly, upbeat about the story, perhaps masking a troubling reality underneath. The movie does, indeed, glamorize and improve on my family's situation in the early 1970s, as it sanitizes the cultural context of that era. In real life, we Tweedys were more riven and frayed by the large and small conflicts of the time, and by the pressures of celebrity into which we were suddenly thrust. The wars between our parents were more bitter, the marriage more broken, and we kids were more alienated and countercultural than the movie depicts. During the pre-race CBS broadcast at the Belmont, Woody Broun interviewed my dad, my siblings and me, asking Jack whether he was the "power behind the throne." He gamely (and for me now, poignantly) replied that he was proud of his wife, his kids, "and the horse." Mom had wanted us to be all together for that interview, but away from the cameras we were each living in a separate world. The movie navigates this terrain with a combination of erasure, gentleness, and tact, and from the point of view of my family's privacy, I am grateful.

But Ebert is right that there is something more -- and something better -- at work in the movie than simply airbrushing over painful truth. My mother has always known that the "Secretariat story," and her role in it, filled a deep cultural need. While the country was convulsed by feminism, Watergate and Vietnam, Penny took pains to present as a wife and mother, offering a wholesome, western, maternal female image that paired beautifully with the heroic, powerful male icon that Secretariat was becoming. Our President may have been a Machiavellian liar, our soldiers denounced as baby-killers, and our fathers excoriated as chauvinist pigs as they commuted grimly to work. But here came Secretariat, deeply male, muscular and graceful, his chest lathered with sublimated sex. And on that day in June 1973, when he blew away the field in the Belmont Stakes, he transcended argument, rivalry, even transcended sport itself. In that moment Secretariat gave my family, and gave the public, something like grace.

Now we are again in a cultural moment of war and dissension. My sense is that the movie's creators didn't feel the need to portray the convulsions of the early 1970s, in part because today's audiences carry the burdens of our current convulsions into the theaters with them, hoping to escape briefly to a world they can believe in and admire. I think the movie is offered to satisfy the old hunger for a kingly male and a queenly female, who together strive for something beyond themselves, who seek victory, and achieve grace. Disney has long been in the business of telling this kind of story. The best such films rise to the level of archetype, while lesser ones sink into the mire of cliche, or worse. Whether "Secretariat" succeeds in this mythic leap is for critics to argue, and for audiences to decide. Personally, I'm enjoying the ride, as well as the critical dust it's kicking up.

John Tweedy

Here is my blog entry, Secretariat was not a Christian. My original review of "Secretariat." Andrew O'Hehir's article in Salon.com. var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname = "Roger Ebert's Journal"; a2a_config.linkurl = "http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/"; a2a_config.num_services = 8;

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Walt Kelly, an immortal

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The creator of "Pogo" died on this day in 1973.

☑ Click to expand.

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A Labor Day concert

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☑ Photo of Pete Seeger's banjo by Roger Ebert; taken at the Weavers reunion at the Toronto Film Festival in 2004. All of my TwitterPages are linked under the category Pages in the right margin of this page.

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I have no arms and I must play

This is Mary Goffeney and here is his website.

Thanks to readers Brian Ford, natalie, JessicaEve and jojo for identifying the guitarist as Mark Goffeney. (The link is to an article about him in Abilities magazine.) And thanks to Moncef Gridda for sending me the first video link. His YouTube clips do not include his name!

☑ All of my special pages are linked under the category Pages for Twitter in the right margin of this page.

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We are part of all worlds

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By Mark Hughes on October 20, 2010 6:40 PM

A singularity, tiny beyond comprehension, burst forth with power and energy. In seconds, the foundation for reality and existence in our universe were created. Only Hydrogen and Helium existed as elements. They formed stars.

Eventually, those stars died. Some collapsed and became black holes, singularities working in the reverse of the one that raptured outward to form our universe, instead gobbling up all reality around them. Other stars broke down and exploded, hurtling their essence further into the universe that still grew and expanded and changed around them.

That essence, that dust from the stars, contained new elements, elements formed within the heart of the stars. This star dust, these new elements, formed everything else in the universe. Planets formed, rocks formed, water formed.

And life formed. Life composed of elements born in the heart of the first stars, stars themselves formed from the birth of our universe.

Life no doubt formed all around our universe, including probably on a planet in the Gliese 581 star system. And of course, life formed right here on Earth. Microbes, multi-celled organisms, complex organisms, in the oceans and then crawling out onto land and evolving into all manner of living creatures. On a planet changing radically over millions of years, struck by massive impacts from asteroids and comets, one so large it knocked part of the planet loose and formed our moon.

Life here evolved and became self-aware, stood on hind legs, grunted and then spoke. Looked up into the sky at night, saw the stars, and wondered about our own origins.

We were born out there among the stars, starting in that first instant when the singularity expanded and birthed stars that birthed everything else that became life that looked up into the sky and that finally understood. From a single point to a universe, from stars to stardust to life. From simple life to complex self-awareness.

And meanwhile, still out there, those stars that fell into themselves and formed black holes? They feed on this universe's leftovers, filling up one side of a singularity that many researches now strongly suspect opens up and spits back out that energy and mass into brand new universes just like our own. The laws pass from one to another, the first stars form again and then in their hearts form the ingredients for the rest of the universe, and once more forming life that will some day look up and understand it all.

Our singularity was probably born that same way, the back door so to speak of a singularity in some universe that already existed long before our own was formed. Our universe was fed by that older universe, the laws passing through to us.

Universes form, inherently forming stars that inherently form the rest of what is needed for a universe, and those stars explode sometimes and collapse other times. And some of the collapsed ones form new singularities birthing more universes, birthing more stars to birth more universes, on and on. Each time, too, some stars birth life. Life that eventually must become self-aware and must eventually comprehend these basic concepts -- the simple law of averages says life will exist, and some of that life will understand.

Life is sort of the consciousness of the universe, the way a universe can be aware of its own nature, it's own past, and you might even say it's own "purpose" -- to reproduce, to make more, to keep understanding.

Think about the odds, the complexity, the beauty and perfection in this. A singularity, a universe, stars, stardust, life, a black hole, a new singularity, a new universe, new stars, new stardust, new life, forever and ever. And we sit here able to understand it, to tell others about it, to look up into the night sky at the stars and know "That's where we came from, that's where we'll go some day, and there are other living things looking up into their own night sky out there around those stars right now thinking the same thing."

We don't have to look up and feel insignificant -- we are more significant than we can ever probably truly appreciate, as the consciousness of all that exists. We are part of it, part of not only this world but all worlds.

Now tell me -- what miracle could be more awe-inspiring than that?

Knowing and believing these things, the idea of a God having made everything would actually be a let-down, wouldn't it?

This comment was posted on my blog entry here.

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