Tuesday, December 30, 2008

About Money: A Documentary on 'L'Argent', Marcel L'Herbier's Film

L'Herbier in Excerpt

A very quick post, as '08 purges itself with one last heave, simply to draw attention to Jean Dréville's 1928 film — revised in 1971 so that it be accompanied by beautiful, distant, scratchy recordings of standard 'classical' movements, and a voice-over commentary by Dréville himself (which voix off serves, at the same time, as a proto-"audio commentary") — about the making of Marcel L'Herbier's 1929 L'Argent [Money]. Dréville's picture is possibly the first ever "making-of" film, and arguably greater even than the (great) L'Herbier film to which it's ostensibly appended.

The title in full: About Money: A Documentary on L'Argent, Marcel L'Herbier's Film [Autour de l'argent, un documentaire sur l'Argent, le film de Marcel L'Herbier].

Sample frames —

Autour de l'argent, un documentaire sur l'Argent, le film de Marcel L'Herbier [About Money: A Documentary on L'Argent, Marcel L'Herbier's Film] by Jean Dréville, 1928/1971:

The film is available as part of the recent two-disc standard-def Masters of Cinema Series release — which not only contains the above Dréville film, but his one-minute, 1928 preceding film, L'Arrivée à Paris de Brigitte Helm pour le tournage de l'Argent [The Arrival in Paris of Brigitte Helm for the Shoot of L'Argent, 1928]; also, L'Herbier's feature; and Laurent Véray's very interesting 2008 video film Marcel L'Herbier, poète de l'art silencieux [Marcel L'Herbier: Poet of the Silent Art]. Footage of L'Herbier's screen-tests of the actors is also included. The 80-page book that comes with the release contains a Richard Abel essay about L'Herbier's feature; translations of excerpts from two interviews with L'Herbier from 1968 and 1978; and excerpts from period (1929) critical notices composed on the occasion of the film's post-'28 recut and public release.

Here's a translation I did of a dazzling excerpt from L'Herbier's 1979 book La Tête qui tourne [The Turning Head / The "Shooting" Head], which didn't make it into the book:


Today, across the deep eddies of time long since past, I still perceive, as on some dotted thread, the impalbable fragrances of that second Belle Epoque of 1925, année folle... And within me lingers that idea that by way of two paths extending in parallel toward the same goal (a film of L'Inhumaine [The Inhuman One, 1924], a "Deschanel" Interior), I had doubly fastened myself to the more or less flamboyant flank of French Art Décoratif.

If this march forward had the merit of bringing me multitudes of unexpected joys, neither did it neglect to point out, to an ignominious troupe of nay-sayers, the way toward my little corner of the world. Up to the day, already evoked, in which to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the "
Arts Décoratifs", I will see enthroned at the Palais du Louvre — such sweet revenge! — certain objects and effects created by the best names in the art-world, and some simply of my own invention, which acted as the tender accomplices of my deeply rewarding life, and which such obliging aristarques as Vuillermoz and Chavance had admired at my house.

But to come back to the matter at hand — the filmic aesthetic — we might wonder, after all, whether the humble reality of the world of forms, when it has been transformed into film images, and which, in this event, manages to be nothing but a faithful reproduction of planetary appearances, is not, herein, similarly hostile to the decorative motifs that one creator, infatuated by transfigurations, purported to add to the arrangement? To have doubtlessly been, on certain occasions, one of that sort, I come now to wondering: is the cinematograph so imbued with congenital humility that it must strike into filmic ostracism the likes of [von] Sternberg, Fritz Lang, Cocteau, Visconti, Delvaux, Ken Russell, or even Patrice Chéreau, and, along with them, other (Russian, or Japanese) hobbyists of the baroque — all because, in paying honor to the cinematograph, at times in fictive (but such pathetically endearing) vestments, they have in some way come to mythify it? Here I put forward a profound question that brings us back, through certain assertions of
Hermès et le silence [Hermès and Silence — L'Herbier's 1918 essay], to some of the very recent cogitations of one Marguerite Duras declaring the primacy of the recording of the Verb over the recording of the image. This restores some currency to those old jottings of mine, so that these pages might presently lead us back in their direction.


Monday, December 08, 2008


Small Post Meant for a Long Time Now, Respurred Upon Reading Something Irritating — To Demonstrate, Once-and-For-All, That Rivette's Out 1, Despite All Production-Stills Currently in Circulation, Is a Color Film

(no 'spoilers') — (posts on Jerry Lewis, and Seijun Suzuki, and Frederick Wiseman, still to come) —

Out 1 by Jacques Rivette, 1971/1990:


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A King in New York

Civil Rights

Short and sweet: I watched Chaplin's A King in New York [1957/1973] recently, for the first time in probably six or seven years. So refreshing — one of those pictures that acts as an anthropology, as a sociology of the there-and-then doubling as the here-and-now, and does so with the ease and grace, expansion-contraction, characteristic of an Old Master at this game of cinema. (It's not only the precursor to three instances of Godard's oeuvre, but also to Renoir's Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier [The Testament of Doctor Cordelier, 1959], that early New Wave film which will remain forever young, seven steps ahead of the cable shows.) To boot, its Master is front and center: Chaplin, as one King Shahdov, monarch-in-exile — Chaplin here in "Charles"-mode, gone further still than enacted in Limelight [1952], far enough to circle back from behind till he meets the source again, the man Chaplin, completing the avatar first hinted at in the close of The Great Dictator [1940]. Shahdov — which I infer as the phonetic rendering of the likely native-spelling of this poly-European king's name: "Shadow". Shahdov — which I likewise infer as the phonetic off-shoot, and affirmation, of the French: chef-d'oeuvre.

The purpose of this post is relatively minor, insofar as it's just to register, for reference-sake — and this may be widely known and circulated already, I don't know — that the footage from A King in New York used by Godard for the final shot of Episode 2B: Fatale Beauté in the Histoire(s) du cinéma [History(s) of the Cinema / Story(s) of the Cinema, 1988-1998] does not originate from the version of Chaplin's film that currently circulates on disc. Yes, the version made available by the MK2/Warner Bros. DVD (the American edition of which is to be avoided at all costs, due to unspeakably ghastly authoring in the way of PAL-to-NTSC standards-conversion; — and, in some of the earlier films, CROPPED ASPECT RATIOS), and on the out-of-print Region 1 DVD from Image, stands as the correct cut, the one sanctioned by Chaplin c. 1973 — but the aforementioned shot that closes 2B was removed, by Chaplin, at the time of the '73 American theatrical release. Still, this shot, and a wealth of other footage excised by Chaplin in his second pass through the editing of the film in the early '70s, has been maintained within the "Outtakes" section of the MK2 disc. ( — This supplement wasn't included on the earlier Image release — whose snapper-case nevertheless boasted its presence.)

Whether Godard took this shot from a VHS based on a telecine of the earlier/premiere cut of the film, or from a tape that included the shot within an appended "Outtakes" section, I don't know. Anyway, it doesn't matter — it serves its purpose, in the Histoire(s), in figuring into 48 of the most ingenious, virtuosic, profound seconds in the whole History of Montage.

A King in New York by Charles Chaplin, 1957/1973:

Frame from a shot removed by Chaplin from his 1973 recut of A King in New York:


A few days ago Nick Wrigley passed the following clip on to me, following a small bit of organic archaeology on the part of Andy Rector; by coincidence, this Will Sheff fellow from the group Okkervil River, and who looks like my friend Dan W., mentioned / linked to it (as pointed out to me by Nick) on Drowned in Sound, and in turn mentions it was passed on to him, initially, by one of the Shearwater people.

Without further introduction — the year is 1976, and Nina Simone is at the Montreux Jazz Festival:


And Odetta is dead — just under two months away from her slated performance at the Obama inauguration. (This clip is extracted from Scorsese's Bob Dylan: No Direction Home [2005], FYI.) —


And this is the cover of the forthcoming Morrissey album: