Archive for the ‘France’ tag
The Rolling Stones last great album, Exile on Main Street, is also mythical. There are all sorts of stories about the album’s debauched creation, and why not? Forced to flee the U.K., their native country, because their former manager Allen Klein while ripping them off, also didn’t pay any taxes, the Rolling Stones ended up in the south of France. Keith Richards rented a mansion in Villefranche called Nellcôte, a house in the grand European style, with porticos, columns, and gardens, and a basement that the Nazi’s used to torture French partisans and others during WW2. Richards had pharmaceutical grade heroin, and who knows what else, and the band, and friends, hung out, and created a sprawling album while having fun. Well, some fun anyway…
Rich Cohen has a new book out called, “The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones”, I suspect I’ll read it eventually. Here’s how he describes the setup at Nellcôte
The Stones, then in the process of signing a distribution deal with Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records, needed to make a follow-up to Sticky Fingers. They’d gone into exile with several cuts in the can, leftovers from previous sessions—some recorded at Olympic, some recorded at Stargroves, Mick’s country house. France was scouted for studios, but in the end, unable to find a place that could accommodate Keith’s junkie needs, they decided to record at Nellcôte. Sidemen, engineers, and producers began turning up in June 1971. Ian Stewart drove the Stones’ mobile unit—a recording studio built in the back of a truck—over from England. Parked in the driveway, it was connected via snaking cables to the cellar, which had been insulated, amped, and otherwise made ready, though it was an awkward space. “[The cellar] had been a torture chamber during World War II,” sound engineer Andy Johns told Goldmine magazine.“I didn’t notice until we’d been there for a while that the floor heating vents in the hallway were shaped like swastikas. Gold swastikas. And I said to Keith, ‘ What the fuck is that?’ ‘Oh, I never told you? This was [Gestapo] headquarters.’”
The cellar was a honeycomb of enclosures. As the sessions progressed, the musicians spread out in search of the best sound. In the end, each was like a monk in a cell, connected by technology. Richards and Wyman were in one room, but Watts was by himself and Taylor was under the stairs. Pianist Nicky Hopkins was at the end of one hall and the brass section was at the end of another. “It was a catacomb,” sax player Bobby Keys told me, “dark and creepy. Me and Jim Price—Jim played trumpet—set up far away from the other guys. We couldn’t see anyone. It was fucked up, man.”
Together and alone—the human condition.
The real work began in July. Historians mark it as July 6, but it was messier than that. There was no clean beginning to Exile, or end. It never stopped and never started, but simply emerged out of the everyday routine. It was punishingly hot in the cellar. The musicians played without shirts or shoes. Among the famous images of the sessions is Bobby Keys in a bathing suit, blasting away on his sax. The names of the songs—“Ventilator Blues,”“Turd on the Run”—were inspired by the conditions, as was the album’s working title: Tropical Disease. The Stones might hone a single song for several nights. Some of the best—“Let It Loose,”“Soul Survivor”—emerged from a free-for-all, a seemingly pointless jam, out of which, after hours of nothing much, a melody would appear, shining and new. On outtakes, you can hear Jagger quieting everyone at the key moment: “All right, all right, here we go.” As in life, the music came faster than the words. Now and then, Jagger stood before a microphone, grunting as the groove took shape—vowel sounds that slowly formed into phrases. On one occasion, they employed a modernist technique, the cutout method used by William S. Burroughs. Richards clipped bits of text from newspapers and dropped them into a hat. Selecting at random, Jagger and Richards assembled the lyric of “Casino Boogie”:
Dietrich movies / close up boogies
The record came into focus the same way: slowly, over weeks, along a path determined by metaphysical forces, chaos, noise, and beauty netted via a never-to-be-repeated process.
(click here to continue reading Secrets of the “Exile” sessions: Drugs, sex and madness as the Rolling Stones took over France – Salon.com.)
Don’t hold your breath, Dr. Krugman. Once a cliché becomes as lodged in the public consciousness as this one about the French being a bunch of wine-slurping slackers, the cliché has a life of its own, facts be damned.
But in truth the French deserve an apology from a lot of American politicians and commentators. If you think that France is a nation where everyone is either lazy or unemployed, compared with hard-working America, you’re not just repeating a caricature, you’re repeating a caricature that’s many years out of date. The French do take more vacations than we do; but in their prime working years, they’re a lot more likely to be employed than we are:
Whenever I mention this fact, I get mail from people insisting that I must be wrong and demanding a correction. Even well-informed commentators seem to be underinformed on this point; for example, Justin Fox, while not wrong in what he says here, doesn’t seem aware that lower French overall labor force participation is entirely the result of early retirement and lower employment among the young — which in turn partly reflects students not having to work in college.
Of course, French employment success isn’t what is supposed to happen in a generous welfare state
(click here to continue reading Cheese-Eating Job Creators – The New York Times.)
There is usually a bit of history behind nearly every human endeavor, in this case, brandy.
Sometimes the influence of history is much less ideological. In fact, sometimes it can come down to something as base as money. The perfect example of this is Cognac. The origins of one of the world’s best-known digestifs is tied purely to commerce and geography.
The Charentes region, just north of Bordeaux, has produced wine since Roman times. During the 13th century, as international commerce began to develop, the region also was a source of salt. The Dutch, who were the world’s shippers at that point, started shipping the local wine as well as the salt. Because the region is also very close to the Limousin forest, where oak trees in particular grew, the container of choice became the oak barrel. Even today, oak sourced from the Limousin forest is the wood of choice for Cognac makers.
But there was a problem — the wine would often spoil during transport.
As a result, during the 17th century the Dutch began to distil the wine. Distillation involves boiling the wine and essentially concentrating it, with the result being a high-alcohol liquid. The name for this in Dutch was “Brandt Wein,” which translates as “Burnt Wine.” Eventually, it became known simply as brandy.
I have heard a few stories as to why they did this, aside from the spoilage factor. One was that barrels of “table wine” took up a lot of space on the boats and shippers were taxed based on the quantity of liquid that they were exporting. Another was that they could add this alcohol to drinking water to keep it from spoiling for their seamen as they travelled the world. This could explain why South Africa, which was also a Dutch colony, became known as a producer of brandy.
However, what happened was that both the Dutch and the French producers began to see that leaving this alcohol, or eau de vie, in oak barrels for prolonged periods actually improved it.
And so, a new type of alcohol product was born, purely out of the need to export.
(click here to continue reading Some historical influences help explain wine, spirits.)
I purchased my first ever bottle of Calvados, which is a brandy from Normandy, made from apples.
Apple orchards and brewers are mentioned as far back as the 8th century by Charlemagne. The first known Norman distillation was carried out by “Lord” de Gouberville in 1554, and the guild for cider distillation was created about 50 years later in 1606. In the 17th century the traditional ciderfarms expanded but taxation and prohibition of cider brandies were enforced elsewhere than Brittany, Maine and Normandy. The area called “Calvados” was created after the French Revolution, but “eau de vie de cidre” was already called “calvados” in common usage. In the 19th century output increased with industrial distillation and the working class fashion for “Café-calva”. When a phylloxera outbreak in the last quarter of the 19th century devastated the vineyards of France and Europe, calvados experienced a “golden age”. During World War I cider brandy was requisitioned for use in armaments due to its alcohol content.
The appellation contrôlée regulations officially gave calvados a protected name in 1942. After the war many cider-houses and distilleries were reconstructed, mainly in the Pays d’Auge. Many of the traditional farmhouse structures were replaced by modern agriculture with high output. The Calvados appellation system was revised in 1984 and 1996. Pommeau got its recognition in 1991; in 1997 an appellation for Domfront with 30% pears was created.
Calvados is distilled from cider made from specially grown and selected apples, of which there are over 200 named varieties. It is not uncommon for a Calvados producer to use over 100 specific varieties of apples, which are either sweet (such as the Rouge Duret variety), tart (such as the Rambault variety), or bitter (such as the Mettais, Saint Martin, Frequin, and Binet Rouge varieties), the latter being inedible.
The fruit is harvested (either by hand or mechanically) and pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider. It is then distilled into eau de vie. After two years aging in oak casks, it can be sold as Calvados.
(click here to continue reading Calvados (brandy) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
Calvados by itself as a digestive could be ok, but in all honesty, there are not many times when I eat a big enough dinner that I need a digestive afterwords. Plus, I enjoy exploring the science of mixology.
- 1.5 oz Calvados
- 1 half of an orange, squeezed vigorously
- ½ oz Orange Curaçao (I used Cointreau)
- ½ oz orange bitters (a very large amount, but I happened to have a bottle of blood orange bitters that needed using. You could dial this back a bit, if you are not a fan of orange bitters)
Add ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice, give it a hearty shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
I also tried a Honeymoon Cocktail (almost pictured). I made it like this:
- 2 oz Calvados
- ½ oz Benedictine
- ½ oz Cointreau
- 1 half of a lemon, squeezed until the juice comes down your leg
Again, goes without saying you pour these ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice, give it a hearty shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Bears further study – especially since I still have most of a bottle of Calvados in my bar…
Sure, why not? Animals drink various kinds of naturally occurring alcohol anyway…
The French are known to like their beef, and they also like their wine. In the southern village of Lunel-Viel, in the Hérault department in southern France, some farmers have taken the next step and are feeding wine to their beef cattle on the principle that if French beef tastes good now, it can only improve with a bottle of Saint-Geniès des Mourgues.
This was what a local farmer Claude Chaballier fed three animals last year – in a trial run that he’s preparing to repeat next month. He says the resulting beef was “lean, marbled and tasty”.
Two Angus and one Camargue were given a mix of leftover grapes, barley and hay before about two litres of wine were integrated into their diet.
Mr Chaballier says next month’s experiment will again use a regional wine and should help to develop the practice, although he insists that “it’s something that will have to remain local and small scale”.
(click here to continue reading The Mooo-ton Rothschild for madame? Cows have a tipple to beef up flavour – News – Food & Drink – The Independent.)
I know I claimed I was going to be more diligent about recording what films and books I consume this year, but so far, have failed miserably. I’ve read about a half-dozen books and seen fifteen or more films in 2011, and this is the first one I’m actually posting about. Oh well.
If you’ve seen a Claude Chabrol film before, you sort of know what to expect. Low-key murder mystery, set in the French countryside, lots of lies told by the bourgeois characters, and so forth. Not one of his master works, but enjoyable enough to sit through.
A painter by trade, Rene (Jacques Gamblin) adds to his paltry salary by giving art lessons to children in his neighborhood. But when one of them turns up dead, Rene finds himself accused of a horrible crime. His wife (Sandrine Bonnaire) stands by him, but even she betrays him in a moment of weakness with a vacationing celebrity (Antoine de Caunes). Claude Chabrol directs this new wave thriller that draws the whodunit out to the very end.
(click to Netflix Claude Chabrol: The Color of Lies.)
French title: Au coeur du mensonge
From the Village voice, a more film-critic-esque description of Chabrol’s style:
In his surest Simenonian mode, Chabrol balances the hidden, the exposed, and the philosophical with little fuss, and the characters are all drawn with a scalpel— including Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s masterfully idiosyncratic portrait of a meek-voiced yet fearlessly confrontational police inspector. (De Caunes’s self-pumped litterateur is a triumphant piece of social satire.) Co-written with longtime Chabrol collaborator Odile Barski, the movie is a deft genre étude and provincial interrogation of a kind Chabrol has made his own.
(click here to continue reading Crime Scene Investigations From an Aging New Waver – Page 1 – Screens – New York – Village Voice.)
For your Friday history lesson, via the incomparable Cecil Adams:
I think it’s poetically appropriate that Joseph Pujol, better known as Le Petomane (which we may loosely translate as “the fartiste”) should emanate from France, without doubt the most pretentious nation on the face of the earth. Le Petomane performed his unique act from 1887 to 1914, and became one of his country’s best-known vaudevillians. At one point he was earning 20,000 francs a week, compared to 8,000 for his contemporary Sarah Bernhardt. The true artistic priorities of the French public are thus admirably revealed.
Joseph Pujol, born in Marseilles in 1857, owed his remarkable career to an extraordinary ability to control the muscles of his abdomen and anus. As a youth he discovered he could take in via the rectum as much as two liters of water, which he could then expel at will. Later he found he could do the same thing with air. At first he employed this talent solely for the entertainment of his friends, obviously a very refined and intelligent bunch, but after working quietly for some years as a baker, he was encouraged to give public performances. The first of these, in Marseilles in 1887, met with some initial skepticism, petomanie (“fartistry”) being something of a novelty even for the French, but within a few days Le Petomane’s winning manner and solidly professional performance had won audiences over. From then on it was one triumph after another.
(click to continue reading The Straight Dope: Did a French vaudeville star once specialize in trained flatulence?.)
Alrighty then. Viva la France!
Amused by this historic tidbit:
Because the same dances she gave nightly in Chicago without police restraint were “too shocking” for Parisian tea guests at the Bagdad Restaurant, Joan Warner, twenty-two-year-old Pennsylvanian and only American nude dancer in Paris, was forbidden by police Wednesday from further appearances in the nude. Miss Warner came to Paris to do a series of dances with a large feather fan, which, after seeing the Folies-Bergère and a few other shows, she considered superfluous. She has been dancing at various theaters and cabarets. “I never thought that, if the Chicago and Milwaukee police thought my act sufficiently modest to allow it on the boards when all the other fan dancers were prohibited, I should have any trouble in Paris,” she said yesterday [Jan. 10]. Officials at the Prefecture said yesterday that, while nudes are permitted in stage shows, they are not welcome in restaurants.
[Click to continue reading From the International Herald Tribune – 100, 75, 50 Years Ago – NYTimes.com]
Her Wikipedia entry is sparse, and as far as I can tell in a brief Google search, there are no photos of Ms. Warner online. Pity.
Warner was raised in Washington, D.C., studying there and in New York. She was three years of age when she began dancing. She was slender, quite tall, very blonde, with blue eyes. She danced in Hollywood in 1933 before moving on to Chicago. where she entertained at the Royal Frolics. Warner made appearances in Miami, Florida, Palm Beach, and New Orleans. In the latter city she was persuaded to go abroad by an English producer.
She danced unimpeded in Paris music halls and cabarets beginning in the spring of 1934. She encountered legal difficulties when numerous imitators of her shows began to perform at different venues. Warner mostly appeared nude solely in dim lighted cabarets where she was not especially close to her audience.
She wore a fan and sometimes a pair of iron bracelets during her performances. She appeared at the Bagdad, a tea-dancing restaurant in the Champs Elysees. She was arrested there and the club was forced to close for a day before its license was restored. She soon obtained an engagement at the Alcazar and received top billing at Bal Tabarin
Warner appeared in a French court beginning in July 1935 on a charge of offending public modesty. The suit was brought by the Association for the Increase of the French Population. She was cited for a violation of Article 330 of the French code. It dealt with the extent to which a person could be legally undressed in public. It was also contended that during one dance she came came too close to the floor space designated for spectators.
Warner argued for the art in her dance routine. She said she was covered from head to foot with white makeup and an invisible lavender silk cloth covered me in my absolutely correct positions. Her defense was supported by noted aviators, novelists, a zoology professor, and a painter, Maurice Devlaminck. The latter read a text about artistic nudity and said that he was not shocked by nakedness.
On July 18 the Tenth Correctional Chamber fined Warner fifty francs. The judicial body ruled it is against the law of the French Republic to dance in the nude, however artistically one may dance. The small fine imposed implied that the court was lenient. It mostly took exception to the dances being advertised as nude when actually they gave an impression of complete nudity. Specifically, the court elaborated that it was hard to distinguish between what was art and what was lewdness.
[Click to continue reading Joan Warner – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]
Wonder if there are any options on her biography? Sounds like a fun film treatment to write. I imagine Ms. Warner being played by whatever hipster tart is popular at the moment, an actress who wants to to spread her artistic wings a bit, but doesn’t mind exposing her body, in the name of art, of course. Someone with more talent than whats-her-face Megan Fox, in other words.
Amusing tale of the intersection between historic food collection and capitalism aka the criminal element.
It is a great French autumnal tradition that furnishes an essential ingredient in some of the nation’s finest dishes. Yet the once tranquil pastime of mushroom hunting has fallen victim to organised crime as city-based gangs descend on the countryside in search of a fungus that brings quick, easy profits.
With professional pickers from France, but also Spain and Romania, gathering ceps, milk-caps, black trumpets and other delicacies worth thousands of euros, forest owners have decided to strike back.
They are planning to introduce mushroom picking licences to regulate an activity that has become a lucrative business, The Times has learnt.
[Click to continue reading Organised crime mushrooms as French fungi trade becomes lucrative – Times Online ]
The old ways of communal sharing are being replaced by quick-get-rich schemes:
landowners had traditionally allowed their neighbors to hunt mushrooms to cook with their omelets, chestnuts or scallops.
“The law says mushrooms belong to the landowner, but the practice was always tolerated so long as it was for family consumption.”
However, over the past couple of years, gangs — notably from Marseilles — have been pillaging woods in southern France and selling their finds on the black market to the restaurant trade and food industry. “An experienced picker can make between €5,000 and €7,000 in a fortnight, which is significant revenue,” said Mr Lauriac.
A few interesting links collected October 6th through October 13th:
- Army of Shadows :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies – “The members of this group move between safe houses, often in the countryside. When they determine they have a traitor among them, they take him to a rented house, only to learn that new neighbors have moved in. They would hear a gunshot. A knife? There is no knife. “There is a towel in the kitchen,” Gerbier says. We see the man strangled, and rarely has an onscreen death seemed more straightforward, and final.”
- 1000 Constellations » Blog Archive » Together In Transit – I realized yesterday While riding on a train Crammed full of people That we never really get Second chances. What we truly get Are first chances Over and over Again.
- The Footnotes of Mad Men. Betty’s Euro Look was based on Brigette Bardot – RESOLVED: Betty’s Euro look was based on Brigette Bardot: the 26 year old ‘sex siren’ of France. Here’s my favorite work from the Bardot cannon. The movie — by Godard, set in Italy, released in 1963 — is not only super slick but it also spawned, I believe, the greatest trailer of all time. I’ve been aching to link to this.
Any politician who is this fanatical should not be allowed to be near nuclear weapons, for all of our sakes.
James A. Haught reports:
Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse.
Honest. This isn’t a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.
Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”
This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”
After the 2003 call, the puzzled French leader didn’t comply with Bush’s request. Instead, his staff asked Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne, to analyze the weird appeal. Dr. Romer explained that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains two chapters (38 and 39) in which God rages against Gog and Magog, sinister and mysterious forces menacing Israel. Jehovah vows to smite them savagely, to “turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws,” and slaughter them ruthlessly. In the New Testament, the mystical book of Revelation envisions Gog and Magog gathering nations for battle, “and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”
In 2007, Dr. Romer recounted Bush’s strange behavior in Lausanne University’s review, Allez Savoir. A French-language Swiss newspaper, Le Matin Dimanche, printed a sarcastic account titled: “When President George W. Bush Saw the Prophesies of the Bible Coming to Pass.” France’s La Liberte likewise spoofed it under the headline “A Small Scoop on Bush, Chirac, God, Gog and Magog.” But other news media missed the amazing report.
Subsequently, ex-President Chirac confirmed the nutty event in a long interview with French journalist Jean-Claude Maurice, who tells the tale in his new book, Si Vous le Répétez, Je Démentirai (If You Repeat it, I Will Deny), released in March by the publisher Plon.
[Click to continue reading Council for Secular Humanism : A French Revelation, or The Burning Bush]
Purporting to make photographs not as art, but as documentary aids to artists, Eugène Atget left this world with an oeuvre that captured the transformation of Paris at the turn of the last century. Although Atget is now heralded as a canonical figures in the history of photography, his humble beginnings and methodologies during his photographic career attest to his simple desire to record his city as he knew it.
Born in 1857, in Libourne near Bordeaux and raised by his uncle, Atget’s youth was molded by his time as a sailor. Upon his return from the sea, Atget turned to the stage and pursued an acting career in provincial cities and later in Paris suburbs. After minor success as an actor, Atget abandoned the stage and at the age of forty took up painting, then quickly turned to his true life’s work as a photographer. For the next thirty years, until just a few short months before his death in 1927, Atget undertook a systematic documentation of the city of Paris, creating approximately five thousand negatives and nearly ten thousand prints.
Because he refused to work with the latest advances in photographic technology, Atget’s images evoke a sense of timelessness, due in part to the slower exposure times and the pre-visualization of the final image that was required. Atget produced glass plate negatives, using an 18 x 24 cm. view camera that was fitted with a brass rectilinear lens and had no shutter. Rather, Atget would simply remove the cap from the lens and capture the scene before him, allowing any motion to appear as a blur. Atget carried this large camera around Paris as he worked to document its essential elements: streets, shop windows, building facades, architectural details, and the landscape of the public gardens and parks in and around the city.
Atget’s unique documentation of the French capital captured the eye of surrealist photographer Man Ray who worked to promote Atget as one of the pre-eminent photographic modernists. Later, the efforts of Berenice Abbott, who acquired Atget’s negatives and prints after his death, finally situated Atget’s work in the history of photography where it continues to gain in stature and influence.
[Click to view photographs by Eugène Atget – a set on Flickr]
The best way to view these photos is to click on the slideshow option, and be transported.
His photographs really blazed the trail that I (in my humble fashion) and so many of my Flickr compatriots follow: taking photographs of the city we live in, warts and all. Photos of strangers on the street, of shop windows, of public art, signs – all of these are subjects I revist over and over.Footnotes:
- no known copyright restrictions [↩]
The New York Times pulls a Sarah Palin…
In Monday’s newspaper, we published a letter over the name of the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, criticizing Caroline Kennedy. This letter was a fraud and should not have been published. Mr. Delanoë’s office has since confirmed that he did not write it.
Printing the letter, which also appeared on nytimes.com until it was removed, violated the standards and procedures of The New York Times editorial department.
It is our practice to verify the authenticity of every letter we publish. Like most of our letters these days, this one arrived by e-mail. We sent an edited version back to the writer of the e-mail and did not receive a response.
At that point, the letter should have been set aside. It was not.
The Times has expressed its regret to Mr. Delanoë’s office for the lapse in judgment that led to this error. We now express those regrets to our readers.
We will be reviewing our procedures in an attempt to ensure that an error like this is not repeated.
The original letter read:
As mayor of Paris, I find Caroline Kennedy’s bid for the seat of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton both surprising and not very democratic, to say the least. What title has Ms. Kennedy to pretend to Hillary Clinton’s seat? We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling.
With all the respect and admiration I have for Ms. Kennedy’s late father, I find her bid in very poor taste, and, after reading “Kennedy, Touring Upstate, Gets Less and Less Low-Key” (news article, Dec. 18), in my opinion she has no qualification whatsoever to bid for Senator Clinton’s seat.
We French have been consistently admiring of the American Constitution, but it seems that recently both Republicans and Democrats are drifting away from a truly democratic model. The Kennedy era is long gone, and I guess that New York has plenty of more qualified candidates to fill the shoes of Hillary Clinton. Can we speak of American decline?
Bertrand Delanoë Paris, Dec.
A Criterion Collection release of a 1955 Jean-Pierre Melville movie, this one I rented on the strength of Touchez Pas au Grisbi some time ago [Netflix page] (and the magic of the Netflix suggestion engine)
The plot to the Bob Le Flambeur1 could be explained in ten lines2, but that isn’t really the point of the film. Ambiance is. The ambiance of French cafés and nightclubs, jazz, neon signs, glistening streets, characters who go to sleep at 6 AM, and arise by noon, casual sex, gambling, and gamblers, and male friendship. You get the idea. Certainly worth looking for if you haven’t seen it before, and worth a re-watch if you have.
Roger Ebert reviewed Bob le Flambeur as part of his “Great Movies” series:
Before the New Wave, before Godard and Truffaut and Chabrol, before Belmondo flicked the cigarette into his mouth in one smooth motion and walked the streets of Paris like a Hollywood gangster, there was Bob. “Bob le Flambeur,” Bob the high-roller, Bob the Montmartre legend whose style was so cool, whose honor was so strong, whose gambling was so hopeless, that even the cops liked him. Bob with his white hair slicked back, with his black suit and tie, his trenchcoat and his Packard convertible and his penthouse apartment with the slot machine in the closet. Bob, who on the first day of this movie wins big at the races and then loses it all at roulette, and is cleaned out. Broke again.
Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Bob le Flambeur” (1955) has a good claim to be the first film of the French New Wave. Daniel Cauchy, who stars in it as Paolo, Bob’s callow young friend, remembered that Melville would shoot scenes on location using a handheld camera on a delivery bike, “which Godard did in ‘Breathless,’ but this was years before Godard.” Melville worked on poverty row, and told his actors there was no money to pay them, but that they would have to stand by to shoot on a moment’s notice. “Right now I have money for three or four days,” he told Cauchy, “and after that we’ll shoot when we can.”
This film was legendary but unseen for years, and Melville’s career is only now coming into focus. He shot gangster movies, he worked in genres, but he had such a precise, elegant simplicity of style that his films play like the chamber music of crime. He was cool in the 1950s sense of that word. His characters in “Bob” glide through gambling dens and nightclubs “in those moments,” Melville tells us in the narration, “between night and day … between heaven and hell.”
and offers this brief bio of the director:
Melville (1917-1973) was born Grumberg. He changed his name in admiration for the author of Moby Dick. He was a lover of all things American. He went endlessly to American movies, he visited America, he shot a film in New York (“Two Men in Manhattan”), and Cauchy remembers, “He drove an American car and wore an American hat and Ray-Bans, and he always had the Armed Forces Network on his car radio, listening to Glenn Miller.” He inhaled American gangster films, but when he made his own, they were not copies of Hollywood but were infused by understatement, a sense of cool; his characters need few words because so much goes without saying, especially when it comes to what must be done, and how it must be done, and why it must be done that way.
One unrelated note, I wish Netflix compiled a list of all the Criterion Collection films they offer. I did suggest it to a Netflix staffer years ago, but they haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. There are user-generated versions, but these are decidedly less useful.Footnotes:
Another film based on a book, though a true story this time.
In 1995, author and Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a stroke that put him in a coma; he awakened mute and completely paralyzed. Mathieu Amalric stars in this adaptation of Bauby’s autobiography, which he dictated by blinking. Julian Schnabel was nominated for the 2008 Best Director Oscar and won the Golden Globe in the same category for his poignant film about the strength of the human spirit.
A powerful film. Not sure if it was the late night viewing, or other maudlin reasons, but was immensely engrossed by this film. A meditation of life, and death, family relations, and the wheel of samsara. Well, not really the rebirth thing, more a ‘life flashing before one’s eyes right before death‘, expanded over a years time, with one of the eye being sewn shut. I had hesitated viewing the movie, since the premise is a bit unnerving (and a real fear of mine – such a horrible thought to be cognizant, 42 years old, trapped in a body that no longer functions), yet couldn’t stop once I started. Innovative cinematically: the Point of View is nearly always through the blinking eye of the narrator (which some exceptions later on).
The director, Julian Schnabel, who also directed Basquiat, filmed on location in Calais, France, using several actual hospital employees, and the movie is better for those choices. Seems authentic, non-Hollywood, as a result.
Johnny Depp chose to be in the dreck, Pirates of the Caribbean, instead of in the Diving Bell, his loss, as one film will be played for years, and one cartoon movie will just make Disney a lot of money. Mathieu Amalric was wonderful in the role, emoting without moving his face muscles at all. Max von Sydow was also magnificent as the dying father of Jean-Do.
From the book jacket:
We’ve all got our idiosyncrasies when it comes to writing–a special chair we have to sit in, a certain kind of yellow paper we absolutely must use. To create this tremendously affecting memoir, Jean-Dominique Bauby used the only tool available to him–his left eye–with which he blinked out its short chapters, letter by letter. Two years ago, Bauby, then the 43-year-old editor-in-chief of Elle France, suffered a rare stroke to the brain stem; only his left eye and brain escaped damage. Rather than accept his “locked in” situation as a kind of death, Bauby ignited a fire of the imagination under himself and lived his last days–he died two days after the French publication of this slim volume–spiritually unfettered. In these pages Bauby journeys to exotic places he has and has not been, serving himself delectable gourmet meals along the way (surprise: everything’s ripe and nothing burns). In the simplest of terms he describes how it feels to see reflected in a window “the head of a man who seemed to have emerged from a vat of formaldehyde.