Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Vive la France! - Our Cinematic Sojourn to the City of Light!


After the now legendary debacle of Oscar night where “Trash” stole the top prize from four much more deserving flicks, we were beset by a disgust and hatred for the film community at large that filled our lovely noggins with daydreams of systematically bludgeoning to death all 6,000 plus members of the Academy. We had to make an escape. So without a glance backwards, we packed our bags and hopped the next Concorde to our beloved Paris!

It served as the perfect tonic to help assuage our anger and lessen our disgust at the Academy’s worst Best Picture winner since “Gladiator”. Now, while there are so many things to enjoy when traipsing thru the cobblestoned streets of the City of Light, chief among them the stunning architecture, museums and legendary monuments – we were bowled over by the generosity and warmness of the French people. We have never understood where the trumped up charges of arrogance against the Gauls comes from - jealousy of a far superior culture, we suppose. (Honestly, Americans abroad are one step below Attila the Hun on the civility ladder. Don’t believe us? Tell it to the American cunts that we witnessed mauling artistic works of antiquity at Le Louvre – appalling in so many ways, but typical of a nation that reveres McDonald’s and American Idol.) Suffice to say, those narrow minded xenophobic twits couldn’t be more wrong.

For us, the real joy and piece of mind of our far too short sojourn in La Belle France was the passion the French have for le Cinema! Now, as many of you know we reside in what is clearly the cultural capital of the New World - New York City. And while we have always enjoyed the Big Apple’s revival houses, we are here to tell you that they are completely overshadowed by the myriad choices to be found in Paris. The French rightly consider Film to be as genuine an artistic endeavor as the plastic arts. The Seventh Art as it is known. And what a blissful experience it was to watch all these films in reverential awe, with nary a cell phone ringing or rude, insensitive American louts jibbering back at the screen. We were lucky enough to be able to visit a few temples of celluloid worship. Here is a brief highlight of our sojourn amongst the Gallic Silver Screen lovers of Paris.

During our brief visit, the various movie houses were obviously screening all the recent international mainstays from “L’Affaire de Josey Aimes” to “Le Secret de Brokeback Mountain”. And while we would have gladly hopped into any current release playhouse, we opted for their unparalleled selection of revival houses. The selections were dazzling to say the least. From tributes to such legendary stars as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe to auteur retrospectives of such greats as Akira Kurosawa, Andrei Tarkovsky, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, David Lynch and Terrence Malick. To say nothing of the various repertory houses running such classic fare as “La nuit du chasseur”, “Le dernier tango à Paris”, “Moulin Rouge” (No, not the horrible Spaz Lurid version, the classic by John Huston), “La captive aux yeux clairs”, “La nuit de l’iguane” to camp classics like “Soleil Vert” and such lovely tributes to the delightful current “Paris au Cinema” photography exhibit on display at the Hôtel de Ville. We were in movie lover’s heaven.

La riviere sans retour
While the Marilyn tribute at L’action Écoles may have featured better films such as “Certain l’aiment chaud” and “Eve – we opted for this horse opera bauble from the lens of Otto Preminger featuring a blisteringly sexy Marilyn, a ruggedly smoldering Robert Mitchum and one of the better child performances by Tommy Rettig of TV’s “Lassie” fame. Thoroughly enjoyable, especially on the widescreen glory that perfectly framed the Cinemascope splendor of Marilyn’s greatest attributes.

Zowie! The bitch could really fill out a corset!

Complot de Famille
Le Hitchcock’s final film while far from being his best manages to hold up quite well since its debut thirty years ago. Featuring such 70s mainstays as Karen Black, Bruce Dern, William Devane and the criminally underrated Barbara Harris in a dark comedy of two small time scam artists who become embroiled in a kidnapping scheme by jewel thieves, the master once again demonstrates his sublime control over the medium.

All this in a theatre that featured an image of the patron saint of movie lovers, the late great, Henri Langlois looming over us cinephiles. (Not to fear, we later paid homage to his movie memorabilia inspired grave at the Cimetière du Montparnasse - see second pic from the top. Also laid to rest in Movie Heaven there, our idol Jacques Demy!)

La Dame au vendredi
The now legendary fastest talking screwball comedy masterpiece featuring pitch perfect star turns by Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. The supporting cast is brilliant down to the smallest role, but the film belongs to the leads. Another masterpiece from one of our favorite directors of all time – the legendary Howard Hawks, and speaking of Howard . . .

No, ya mooks – not the overblown debacle featuring Al Pacino’s worst accent ever. This was the original brought forth from the master, Howard Hawks. We have the French to thank for so many things, and chief among them is their passionate love affair with some of America’s most neglected directors. While it is commonplace nowadays to applaud the careers of Howard Hawks, Nicholas Ray, Robert Aldrich and Anthony Mann – it was the brash and brave young writers and editors of the legendary Cahiers du Cinema that launched the career revivals of so many great auteurs.

Scarface”, seventy four years after it blazed its way onscreen in all its pre-Code glory, remains a blistering indictment of the life of organized crime. While it suffers slightly from the early talkie stiffness of its pacing, the central performance by Paul Muni and the supporting turns by Osgood Perkins (Yup, Tony’s papa.), Karen Morley and especially our beloved Ann Dvorak still shine with great skill and polish. And what an ending!

We opted to end our Parisian cinematic grand tour with this mid-century musical extravaganza that swept the Oscars in 1958 – nabbing nine statuettes out of nine nominations! It would set the record for the most Oscars won by any film, and then promptly watch that record get shattered by the following year’s “Ben-Hur” who galloped its way to a record setting eleven Oscar wins. (A record that has been tied by “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, but has yet to be broken.)

This scandalous tale of the education of a young girl into a high class slut, still holds up in part to it’s frothy score, real Parisian scenery (for the most part, but they did indeed film in Paris for the majority of the exteriors and the famous scenes at the reknowned Maxim’s.), fabulously gifted cast and especially to the incredibly discriminating eye of Cecil Beaton who designed the stunning costumes and decors. We whiled away our final night in Paris basking in the glory of director Vincent Minnelli’s delightful musical, when we almost had a stroke at the good fortune we had on attending that particular performance that very night.

For you see, after the film we were treated to a magical, enchanting and straight out of the movies in person chat with the star of “Gigi”Mademoiselle Leslie Caron herself! Running a few minutes late due to the parking (hmmmm, probably due to the rioting students, no doubt – those nutty Parisian students, such fans of the political riots!), she strolled in briskly (which at her crypt cracking age, is no small feat), gamely tossed her wrap and purse aside on the floor no less, and brought forth some wonderful behind the scenes tales of the magical MGM musical heyday. Tears still well up in our eyes when we think of it. What a perfect topper to our lovely trip to the gorgeous city we love so dearly!

It almost made us forget the nightmare of the Oscars. Almost. À bientôt! Bless you all!



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