Daily Archives: December 2, 2017

A Notorious French Conspiracy Exposed

SAILORBEWARE ad

The following sentence is spoken in Variety writer Peter Debruge’s informative and interesting audiovisual essay “Abel & Gordon The Quest for Burlesque,” included on Arrow Academy’s Blu-Ray of Lost in Paris (to be released on December 4):

“There are all kinds of styles from within the burlesque tradition, from the blatantly silly likes of Jerry Lewis, for which the French notoriously have a far greater appreciation than Americans do, to the more refined French comedian Pierre Etaix, who did most of his pratfalls in a suit and hat.”

There are two rather strange assumptions lurking behind this commonplace sentence. Let me bypass the one that defines refinement strictly according to class and clothes and focus on the seemingly more innocuous one about Lewis, which in fact exposes the secret conspiracy accounting for the release of two to three Jerry Lewis features a year during the 1950s — namely, the fact that France was surreptitiously funneling millions of dollars in production costs to Paramount and Hal Wallis so that they could jointly service the French market, all unbeknownst to Americans, who were staying away from the Martin and Lewis pictures in droves. Consequently, one can only surmise that the estimated 80 million people who saw Sailor Beware, Martin and Lewis’s fourth feature, in 1952, consisted of the entire population of France and only 20 million or so Americans, and the fact that Living It Up a year later made more money than Singin’ in the Rain, On the Waterfront, or The African Queen can only be explained by the hyperbolic activities of Lewis’s French fans.… Read more »

Sign and Cinema [IN THE LAND OF THE DEAF]

From the Chicago Reader (August 5, 1994); this was reprinted with the DVD of this film released in the U.K. by Second Run Features (see below). — J.R.

*** IN THE LAND OF THE DEAF

(A must-see)

Directed by Nicolas Philibert.

Nicolas Philibert’s beautiful, illuminating, and energizing documentary, Le pays des sourds (“In the Land of the Deaf”), playing Saturdays and Sundays in August at the Film Center, implicitly reflects on three different kinds of language: (1) the different languages spoken in movies, (2) the so-called language of cinema, and (3) sign language, specifically the language of the deaf.

(1) Language in film. I never attended a film school, but during the five years I lived in Paris, from 1969 to 1974, I was unofficially attending something very close to one several days a week — the Cinematheque Francaise, which was then operated by its eccentric, visionary main founder, Henri Langlois (1914-1977). The Cinematheque had two screening facilities that showed together seven or eight films daily, each for a nominal price; if you had a student card, each was less than a dollar. These were films from all over the world, and Langlois was a purist: silent films were almost never shown with musical accompaniment, and little effort was made to show silent or sound films with subtitles that the audience could understand.… Read more »

The Early Criticism of Francois Truffaut

From Cineaste, Spring 1993. I must say that I continue to be stupefied that a  very respected academic French film critic reviewed this book favorably in Sight and Sound. — J.R.

The historical amnesia currently infecting much of film scholarship, in academic and mainstream publishing alike, is so pervasive that it might be said to affect our sense of the present as well as the past. In theory, then, the most valuable thing about this annotated collection of early film criticism by François Truffaut would be less what it has to tell us about individual films than what it has to impart about film criticism itself in Paris during the Fifties. In practice, however, it proves to be highly problematical on both counts. While I would find a first volume in English of the criticism of Serge Daney, Jean-André Fieschi, Luc Moullet, Claude Ollier, or several other French critics immensely more valuable than a second Truffaut collection (after The Films of My Life, not to mention his collected letters and many other related books in English), additional samplings of his critical work are still certainly welcome. Even a decision to translate his ephemeral early work rather than the sturdier later pieces gathered in Le plaisir des yeux (1987) could be defended if an adequate sense of historical context and scholarship were brought to the task.… Read more »