Monthly Archives: October 2014

October 22, 2014

64. The Third Man (1949)

1999: 064 box 1 2007: 064 box 2 (went out of print 10/2009)


directed by Carol Reed
screenplay by Graham Greene

Criterion #64.

Again, I pick up from last time.

I said that phantasmagorias like Alice in Wonderland offer relief because they let us admit that life is surreal and consciousness is unreliable.

Dutch angles are the same. A crooked world is one with no stable reality. The tilted lens simulates drunkenness, delirium, compromised consciousness in the observer, but in a film like this there is no observer, so the tilt becomes an idea about perception generally, and thus about the world itself: “Maybe, maybe not; you know how things are…” The tilted camera agrees with Alice that there’s really no hard distinction to be made between the way things seem and the way they are, and that often they seem quite bizarre — more often than most people want to admit.

(By the way, I really dislike the expression “Dutch angles.” But I just chose to use it anyway. This is an example of a phenomenon wherein I assimilate things specifically because I dislike them, apparently trying to neutralize them by ingestion. Not a sensible procedure but unfortunately it’s subconscious. I’m learning to stop it, which, counter-intuitively enough, turns out to require accepting whatever damage has already been done. So: Dutch angles.)

A movie like The Third Man can have a spooky dream-comfort, even if it’s entirely undreamt, simply because its camera knows that reality always stands at an eerie remove. Maybe in a way it’s even more comforting than something like Alice, because it shows us that this distance applies to the everyday, not just to Wonderland.

The music confirms all this. The zither score is famous, which is no surprise because it insists on being noticed: its voice, like the camera, stands apart. It is not quite scoring the movie; it’s scoring a watching of the movie. It is an observer and it speaks to us as observers. Carol Reed purportedly found his zitherer in a cafe, and it is explicitly cafe music, meant to accompany a stationary cafegoer’s wistful sense of all the folly passing on the street.

The story of The Third Man unfolds just outside of the circle of our coffee. The zither’s knowing look is supposed to be Viennese color, but I think it’s also about what the rest of the world does when it looks to post-war Vienna, or to any other times and places romanticized for their fallenness. People want to hang out at Rick’s cafe in Casablanca — or in Nighthawks for that matter — because world-weariness is actually much more emotionally rewarding than the struggle to stay above it. The continental persona/routine of sighing, shrugging, and indulging yourself another cigarette is tremendously appealing to Americans and Brits who are constantly fighting to prove that it’s not so. Noir is release: it’s so, and we admit that we know it. If you admit to the broken heart you get to enjoy the cigarette. And the dreamlife of the world around you. Give up and smell the roses.

So the zither and the camera both say: “You know how things are. Of course there’s not going to be any need to stop smoking during this whole story.” When we see a corpse floating in the water at the very beginning and the voiceover says “Some businessmen weren’t as savvy,” or whatever, the terms of our wry detachment are being declared. It’s only sardonic, “cynical,” if you have a stake in it. Noir — good noir, anyway — has no stake, other than a refusal to pretend to be surprised. Even if that too is a kind of posture, it’s a rewarding one: a calm one.

This isn’t a mean-spirited movie, after all. I don’t know if Graham Greene was a mean-spirited person — he may have been — but the screenplay seems born purely out of a sincere desire to be interesting, to be diverting. It very cleverly manages to have real social morality in it without doing what Casablanca does, which is give in to it. The curtain has to fall very quickly in Casablanca because the noir jig is up. Here, taking the moral high ground just means nobody gets what they want, so the curtain is free to fall very, very slowly.

The last scene and the basic moral equation are copied in Miller’s Crossing, which I’ve always liked; other aspects of the ending are copied in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which has been a ready point of reference around here for the past couple years (and which is, probably not coincidentally, about the same person later in life). But those two works have in common a puzzly convolutedness that The Third Man doesn’t really attain; their noir conclusions are the knot still left in the rope after a great show of complication and untangling. I think that may be a structural improvement on the The Third Man, excellent though it is. The first half has plenty of mystery and portent but the plot is almost confusingly straightforward; I had to keep wondering if I was missing some extra strands of the story, since the simple one I was following didn’t seem to justify all the texture and wit and breadth of detail that was being lavished on it.

(To be honest, I had a sense of dissonance between the means and the ends many times throughout the movie, but I think of it as a personal problem of mine: once I’ve cranked up my brain to be as quick as some of the denser parts of this screenplay demand, simple sequences can touch off my anxiety: “So now they’re just, like… chasing him around… right?”)

Orson Welles’s role really isn’t much more than a kind of prize cameo, but people remember him vividly because when he shows up, 2/3 of the way through the movie, not only have we been building up anticipation about his character the whole time, we’ve also been building up anticipation about what is the underlying conflict of this movie?, which he finally articulates. Before that, we can basically intuit what’s at stake because we’ve seen movies before, but we don’t actually get to know it on screen until very late in the game. This makes for somewhat disoriented first viewings but wonderful second viewings, when we can sip our coffee and bask in the deliciously glum offhandedness of it all.

And maybe, as with Citizen Kane, there are no pure first viewings anymore. Even on my first go, a few years ago, I knew what was up and why. Maybe that kind of clean slate never existed in the first place, for anyone. Why else would they be talking so damn much about Harry and whether he’s good or bad? Hey, and do you remember that girl Laura? Man, she was beautiful and charismatic, right? And either good or bad! Oh and remember that Rebecca? She was really beautiful and charismatic, and either good or bad, you know?

Actually, the three cases are all rather different from each other. Well, no matter. The point is just that I’m no fool. And the point stands.

(Yeah, so I’m using the term “noir” a bit loosely. These aren’t all strictly films noirs. But there is a general spirit of tragedy-as-worldliness that extends through many genres of the same era, and it deserves a name. And I think “noir” gets it across. Here it has a distinctly upscale international flavor: the wisdom of having been a few real places and seen a few real things about how the world works. But the underlying downward glide is the same. It makes some sense that this is how Brits would frame their disillusionment. Post-imperialist noir.)

What I haven’t quite articulated yet is that this is a strange sui generis movie. Much like M, with which it shares more than a few images, it contains iconic moments that seem to encapsulate a genre to which it does not itself entirely belong. Not that it specifically belongs to any other genre. It is, like M, an “interesting text”: instead of laying out its track in the expected straight line, it keeps looping back on itself until it forms a little village. You can walk it from one end to the other, but what’s really being offered is a single unified place: this movie. That’s often the mark of a classic, since it breeds nostalgia: remember the time we spent inside that movie?

I think some of this effect may have to do with its Britishness. Foreign films — even only very very mildly foreign ones like this — often seem to me to have intriguing dramatic or aesthetic “impurity” or “heterogeneity,” when really they’re perfectly unified and well-formed; they just don’t happen to exactly align with my very closely-trained American expectations. What seems to me like a touch of “high” nonconformity is actually just conformity within a different cultural psychology. I’d like to believe that I could benefit from letting my heart (and my inner dramaturg) find these alternate centers of gravity. But locating the exact emotional holes inside myself, through which I can lower myself to feel things a bit more Britishly, is not an easy task. During the course of a single movie it’s not going to happen; I would have to be immersed in the culture for a long time. (This has happened for me with some kinds of classical music, but only over the course of many years, and even with those I tend to lose the breadcrumb path when I try to return; one is always more likely to listen with the ears of the moment, no matter how stupid the moment is.)

So anyway, as far as me-of-the-moment goes, there’s something “interesting” about The Third Man, and my ambivalence about this sort of thing still holds: part of the fun of a thriller is in how thin a show it is; maybe I don’t want a thick one.

Nonetheless I still admire this one. It’s just the right thickness to be able to satisfy all sorts: a golden mean that many movies wish they could hit. How would you like that done? Medium rare.

I could have sworn that somewhere very recently — like, in one of the essays in the packaging — I had read someone talking about how The Third Man shares a basic structure with The Great Gatsby, where we follow our observer-protagonist closer and closer to someone who’s reinvented himself as a mysterious and dashing man of the world, ultimately to discover how phony and desperate that new identity really is. And I could swear that, wherever I read this, it was followed by a point about how Gatsby is popular for the wrong reasons — i.e. for exactly the glamour that it purports to debunk — whereas nobody comes away from The Third Man wanting to be Harry Lime.

In the scene on the Ferris wheel, when Orson Welles tries to be cavalier about everything and keeps calling Joseph Cotten “old boy,” but is actually nearing the end of his rope, I was spontaneously reminded of it, this thing that I read. “Ah yes,” I thought, “that point about The Great Gatsby rings true.”

And yet just now I’ve gone back in search of the source and can’t find it. It’s not in any of those Criterion essays after all. In fact it’s not in google, as far as I can google. I think it must not have been about The Third Man, it must have been someone writing about something else in relationship to The Great Gatsby. But what? Or was it maybe an essay I read only in a dream? Maybe it was a premonition of this essay? Seen at a Dutch angle?

If anyone can explain what’s happening to me, please do.

Okay, okay, you don’t need to: I found what I was thinking of. It was actually from when I was rereading various articles about Stoner to locate a similarly half-remembered tidbit for the previous entry. It’s a New Yorker piece that calls Stoner an “anti-Gatsby,” and then posits that Gatsby is popular because people envy Gatsby. The Third Man doesn’t enter into it. But you can see how this worked in my mind. I vaguely remembered reading a comparison, felt it superficially locking into place, and so retroactively invented what that comparison must have been.

So the point I’ve just made, about Holly Martins being kind of a dopey Nick Carraway to Harry Lime’s corrupted Gatsby, turns out to be my own.

For very superficial reasons I also thought of him as a sort of a dopey Richard Hannay, freshly arrived from across the pond and guilelessly falling into a smooth black-and-white fantasy of impenetrable European conspiracy. I wouldn’t take the time to say this except for the one very striking commonality: both movies have the protagonist running for his life at high speed and then abruptly deposited at a podium and forced to give an impromptu lecture. I suppose this is a joke that occurs independently to anyone who’s ever been asked to give a lecture; I imagine John Buchan and Graham Greene were each drawing on personal experience. Or recurring dreams; I don’t have quite that one but I know it’s common. The jolt of tone and tempo, so characteristic of inter-dream transitions, is the crux of the joke in both cases. Like a moving train car bumping hard into a stationary one on the same track.

Connection to the previous movie: Confusion about whether someone is alive or dead. Or: the whole movie exists to take advantage of a decaying real-life location.

This Criterion 2-disc set is so packed that I am admitting defeat. I can’t get through all these bonus features. It’s already overdue at the library (I can’t renew because it’s on hold!) and I can’t force-feed myself any more.

Yes, I know I could check it out again later but come on.

I will list in the order given on the Criterion site. We have:

• New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed mono soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition

The movie itself looked great on the DVD; I couldn’t find the Blu-ray. This title has been out of print for 5 years, and it seems to me that libraries have only started daring to purchase Blu-ray in the last year or so. And we all know nothing this famous can survive 5 years at Netflix.

• Video introduction by writer-director Peter Bogdanovich

This is in the manner of a TCM promo spot: just a couple minutes of informal interview musings. There’s nothing particularly introductory about it other than that it’s short. And a movie like this needs no introduction. It’s fine, but here begins our journey of hearing the same thoughts from ten different sources.

• Two audio commentaries: one by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Tony Gilroy, and one by film scholar Dana Polan

Steven Soderbergh and Tony Gilroy are just some arbitrary movie dudes (I guess the connection is that Soderbergh had just made The Good German?) but that’s fine with me — so are the “experts” always just some arbitrary academic dudes. And I’d rather listen to movie dudes. This is a perfectly listenable conversation, mostly about craft. (Tony Gilroy: “The best way to do exposition is to have two people arguing.”) Commentary tracks that represent actual social situations pretty much always work for me, even when it’s just the awkward reunion of the director, the editor, and the star, or whatever. Tracks that are a person alone with a script and an academic reputation to uphold are a lot less likely to succeed. This guy Dana Polan does okay — he never says the film is “investigating” anything, but he does make a lot of reflexive “itself” claims. You know: “…can be read as a comment on the film itself.” This always reminds me of Larry Kroger’s essay on Macbeth. (It also reminds me of more than a few of my own efforts. All the more reason not to want to hear it.)

Shadowing “The Third Man” (2005), a ninety-minute feature documentary on the making of the film

This one I didn’t get all the way through. There are probably a few jewels in there that make it worthwhile but there’s also a lot of projecting whole scenes of the movie against buildings in Vienna, which is a dumb and worthless gimmick. That and I’d already heard all the stories in the commentaries, and the essays (see below), &c. Also I recalled getting burnt by the lame documentary on the Black Orpheus set. It’s all very admirable of Criterion to go out and find these things and bring them on board. I just wish they got to edit them too.

• Abridged recording of Graham Greene’s treatment, read by actor Richard Clarke

This is a third alternate audio track. The treatment was later published as a novella, and it stands as a legitimate prose sibling to the movie. But hearing it read while the movie is onscreen is completely unsatisfying. I made it through about an hour’s worth with my attention constantly wandering and finally stopped. This happened with Lord of the Flies too. Apparently somewhere out there is recording of this read by James Mason that a couple of internet fans really like. Doesn’t seem to be available anywhere. Why didn’t you get that one instead, Criterion? I guess because you’d already produced this one back in your younger days.

“Graham Greene: The Hunted Man,” an hour-long, 1968 episode of the BBC’s Omnibus series, featuring a rare interview with the novelist

Oh, oops, that sounds good and I completely forgot it was on there. But I have to return the disc in the next two hours or pay more money! Listen, I watched the movie, that’s 104 minutes; then 2 commentaries, that’s 208 more minutes, at least 60 minutes of the treatment, 20 minutes of the documentary, 30 minutes of the documentary I haven’t even gotten to yet… that’s 422 minutes! 7 hours, to you! 7 hours of The Third Man, and all of it repetitive because there are only so many stories to be told here! Get off my case!

• Who Was the Third Man? (2000), a thirty-minute Austrian documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew

Right, I watched this one. It was totally totally goofy, European TV style. Again, by now I knew nearly everything it had to tell me. But if you wanted to see what the little boy looked like grown up, you will get your wish.

The Third Man on the radio: the 1951 “A Ticket to Tangiers” episode of The Lives of Harry Lime series, written and performed by Orson Welles; and the 1951 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of The Third Man

That’s 90 more damn minutes! And look at those links! I could listen to these any time. I’m listening to them right now as I type this, in fact. Sounds fine. My review is: these sound fine.

• Illustrated production history with rare behind-the-scenes photos, original UK press book, and U.S. trailer

Yes. I did look at all this stuff. The U.S. trailer is a striking Selznick’s-eye-view of the movie: it makes no mention of Orson Welles (bad for the box office!) and pushes as hard as it can on the romance angle.

• Actor Joseph Cotten’s alternate opening voice-over narration for the U.S. version

More Selznickery. This doesn’t work at all, and he apparently made a bunch of other cuts to try to make the goings-on more sympathetic. Be glad we live in an enlightened era when the US version is no longer the US version.

• Archival footage of postwar Vienna

This encompasses a few very brief newsreel and documentary snippets, including a bit about Anton Karas. I was happy to watch this stuff. I wish they had carved out the worthy bits from those other documentaries and presented them this way.

• A look at the untranslated foreign dialogue in the film

Sure, that’s nice of you. But guess what: they’re saying what you think they’re saying.

• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

I appreciated that they were optional!

• PLUS: A booklet featuring new essays by Luc Sante (DVD and Blu-ray), Charles Drazin (DVD only) and Philip Kerr (DVD only)

When you get these out of the library, the booklet is occasionally present, but usually it’s missing. This time it was missing. I read the essays on the Criterion site and you can too. They don’t mention the essay from the original 1999 release, by Michael Wilmington, but that one‘s there too. Reading all of these straight in a row will give you a good sense of where I am now. Ready to be done.

Music, by Anton Karas, a restaurant-zither-playing Austrian nobody. Nobodies can do a pretty damn good job when they’re given the opportunity. My sense is that Carol Reed sort of squeezed the music out of him over many many sessions of telling him what to do and then having him improvise it, but there’s nothing wrong with that. These things are almost always a bit more collaborative than the credits would lead us to believe. In this case the credit is actually pretty clear: “Zither Music Played by Anton Karas,” which I think correctly implies that the music has not been “composed” by anyone, because it does not come from a tradition of composing, just playing. It has been, like pop music, simply “produced,” by Reed. The score is one of the best of all time and can be fairly said to make the movie.

The Main Title. The so-called “Harry Lime Theme,” which is really a “the story of Harry Lime” theme. It isn’t the sound of Harry at all. It’s the sound of his value to the audience. This is not a subtle distinction.

Playing the zither looks pretty hard.

October 12, 2014

63. Carnival of Souls (1962)

2000: 063 box 1


directed by Herk Harvey
written by John Clifford

Criterion #63.

I’m going to pick up from last time. This is after all a sort of diary.

Of Joan of Arc I asked, “What is this for?” That’s my recurring skepticism when I’m emotionally taxed by a serious movie: “Let’s make sure we’re not locking ourselves into a paradigm of difficulty by getting too fond of ‘confronting’ the difficult.”

But difficulty is in the eye of the beholder. So the skepticism has something essentially to do with me. Otherwise I wouldn’t feel the need to express it.

A phrase came to mind today from John Williams’s novel Stoner (which, note, I have never actually read beyond the first couple chapters): surrounded by righteous public fervor about World War I, the protagonist “discovered within himself a vast reserve of indifference.” This reserve, which I think we all have, is a precious resource, the font of serenity. But it’s also something that we are under considerable social pressure to deny, as that wartime context suggests.

A few months ago the New York Times Magazine ran a “riff” praising Stoner, in which a detractor (described as “an elderly gentleman… in a state of high dudgeon”) was quoted, addressing a book group: “Why should I read about this loser? He refuses to fight for his country… He never does anything.”

That guy’s irritation stuck with me, and today, I found myself responding to him in my head: You don’t have to read this book or any other, but perhaps you would benefit from reading this one exactly because you object to it. Read it with the ambition not of coming to love it, but of becoming indifferent to it. The only reason you would ever feel the need to object to something as inconsequential as a book is because some form of denial has cut you off from your natural reserve of indifference. The irritating book can serve as a useful tool for sanding down that denial. Which will improve your quality of life.

Something along those lines.

When I was in elementary school, the idea that I could ever “hate” any TV show seemed absurd, something like “hating” particular raisins in a box of raisins. Nonetheless I felt social pressure to have some “shows I hated” up my sleeve, so I got used to exaggerating my disinterested opinions into a display of phony riled-up emotion. Mr. Rogers is so stupid! Ha ha ha! Cut to the present day: a lot of the time I genuinely can’t remember whether things actually bother me, or if I’m just saying they do to hide my underlying indifference.

Ultimately it comes to the same thing: if I claim to be bothered by, say, a movie’s choices, what I am really bothered by, one way or the other, is some form of my own denial. Otherwise I would just shrug. Shrugging is a much more pleasant experience than complaining.

The cranky man who didn’t like Stoner nicely embodies the problem, since his objection is, specifically, that he doesn’t want to read about some loser who wasn’t angry enough to fight. Both in form and content, he is committed to denying the capacity for indifference.

So when I claim to object to something as unsurprising as The Passion of Joan of Arc, what do I reveal? (“Unsurprising” as in “I wouldn’t be surprised”; its existence on earth poses me no puzzles, is readily dreamt of in my philosophy.) At its root, my denial is the same as the elderly gentleman’s: I simply don’t want to admit how easy it is for me to not care about things.

But my specific stated objection is to what I see as an over-fondness for “confronting” hard emotions. So the denial, I guess, would be of the fact that I live in a world where many many people do subscribe to just that. Including me, sometimes; including me during the movie. I can’t just argue it away. Watching Joan of Arc I did feel moved, and then wished I hadn’t been. Saying “maybe there shouldn’t be movies like this” as though it’s purely intellectual criticism is an attempt to deny the real feeling: “I am ashamed of myself that I was moved by this.”

Becoming less irritable, less critical, doesn’t mean “confronting” anything. It means releasing the impulse to deny that these things, and my responses to them, simply are. It means being indifferent to them the way I was indifferent to, say, Silver Spoons, a TV show about which I have never in my life taken the time to say a bad word. Why would I start now?

This is really getting out of hand. For the love of god, say something about Carnival of Souls already!

Well, here’s how I wanted to segue: All horror movies are designed to grate, to make the viewer uneasy. A horror movie is a kind of machine for eliciting objection; not critical objection, but emotional objection. And so, following on the logic above, I think an effective horror movie has to pick at some form of denial. If you’re serenely indifferent to its scares, they’ll just seem like so much Scooby-Doo, and if you’re serenely displeased by them, you’ll simply and calmly turn the movie off. Whereas if you are getting through your life in a state of denial, a horror movie will be able to successfully trouble you, get into your dreams, go to work on you with that heavy duty sandpaper. So the question about a horror movie might be: what form of denial does it target?

The obvious scab to pick at is the denial of death, which would seem to be the most essentially universal denial. But it’s not uniformly universal. I find that my own personal state of death denial fluctuates greatly day to day and moment to moment. My responses to horror movies are a way of gauging this fluctuation: sometimes the threat of cinematic death feels like a terrible pressure on me, really turns my gut and makes me sweat. Other times that same gut blithely assures me that it’s all just Punch and Judy, army men. Sometimes, in fact, when I feel particularly at peace with the world, my gut tells me that so too will my own death just be a kind of final bop on the head, after all, and that there is nothing to know about it that I don’t already. Those days are rare but getting more common, I’m proud to say.

From here we could easily hop off on to today’s movie: Carnival of Souls is rather explicitly about this kind of denial. If you get my drift. If you trawl my car.

But the more interesting forms of denial prodded by horror movies are not to do with our ultimate fates; more to do with our present existential condition. Such as:

That we are a kind of animal; that we are fragile; that we are made of biological matter, or even just physical matter; that the Earth is what it is in relation to the universe and the universe is what it is in relation to the Earth; that interpersonal relationships are contingent and changeable; that the social order is contingent and changeable; etc. etc. etc.

I think it is perfectly possible to be genuinely at peace with all these things, but it is very common to be in denial of them. From the outside, these two states look more or less the same. Apart from horror movies, nightmares, and emergencies, we don’t have a lot of occasions to expose the difference.

So. Despite the rather traditional motif of “death and the beyond,” I think Carnival of Souls actually gets at a form of denial that is one of the hardest for us to transcend, and yet the most rewarding: denial that consciousness itself, our sense of inner and outer reality, is contingent and changeable, and absolutely uncorroborated.

Do you know who you are, and where you are, and what’s going on, and whether it makes sense? Accepting that you might not and you might never — normalizing that idea — can be very upsetting. People don’t just get into a high dudgeon about it, they put each other into mental institutions to keep it locked safely away. But if you can normalize it, you allow yourself access to a great existential serenity.

This I think has always been the appeal to me of Alice in Wonderland and Yellow Submarine and all such phantasmagorias: they offer a dose of normalization to all the ways in which, like it or not, life is but a dream. The ideal such work takes place in a zone that is safe and dangerous in equal measure, as in some ways Alice and Yellow Submarine both are. Or think of Twin Peaks. Whereas Carnival of Souls is exclusively a horror movie, isolating and ominous. And yet it can’t help but have a kind of a subterranean reassuring quality: the coziness, the trust, of being allowed to admit that consciousness can be creepy and unreliable. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I enjoy returning even to someplace as nightmarish as The Shining: because to be inside a dream always lifts the burden of denial, no matter how bad the dream itself. It relieves us of our anxieties of madness.

This zone I’m talking about, it’s a kind of middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition. In a sense, it’s as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It lies between the pit of man’s fears and the height of his knowledge. Do you see what I’m saying here?

Carnival of Souls is Twilight Zone material done in something close to a Twilight Zone spirit. It shares with The Twilight Zone that it manages to evoke the tightly limited reality of a short story. My imagination has always found it easiest to stretch out, to really experience wonder and fear, when I’m given only a relatively bare outline. (Maybe this is an example of the old Scott McCloud idea about iconicity, though it doesn’t quite feel that way to me.) There’s something about the clearly-demarcated function in mid-century short stories that leaves them feeling potent, whereas a lot of mimetic ambition can tend to siphon off a story’s power. (I still haven’t finished Mimesis either. Many books to finish.)

A lot of movies have way more needless ornament than would the corresponding short story. This one doesn’t. Apart from The Twilight Zone I’m not sure what else I could point to that shares that strength.

Production cost about $17,000, making this probably the all-time aesthetic-bang-for-your-buck award winner. The photography is simple and thus effective. The movie is simple and thus effective.

The pitch: the distant blonde who doesn’t really know herself — you know, the one from movies — goes into a trance and montage time begins to trickle over her face. Someone keeps looking at her. She keeps looking at a building. Someone is definitely haunting, or being haunted by, something else. Maybe she’s doomed. Maybe none of this makes sense. Maybe this isn’t “life,” exactly. Maybe it’s just a quick and dirty low budget movie made on an artsy lark by industrial filmmakers from Kansas. Maybe being doomed doesn’t necessarily mean you’re heading toward anything. Maybe doom isn’t so bad after all.

That’s one pitch. Alternate pitch: Betty Draper’s Bogus Journey.

If that doesn’t sound good to you, then this movie isn’t for you. It sounds good to me, and I’ve come to really like the movie. When I first watched it a few years ago, I was afraid it might unnverve me badly. It didn’t. It is genuinely creepy, but that’s a friendly thing. I talk about being averse to untrustworthy movies; this is the opposite: I’m willing to let you jump-scare me if I trust you. In Carnival of Souls I can tell that behind the camera are non-sleazes.

Behind the camera, in fact, is a guy who reminds me vaguely of my grandfather, and so does his art ethic, in a way. A steady-handed, contented American type, not unaware that life has troubling depths, but secure in his position many well-stratified layers above them.

I said last time that you’d have to be an extreme person to make The Passion of Joan of Arc, and that I never would. Carnival of Souls is certainly “weird” but I can readily imagine myself making it (assuming I were a filmmaker in Lawrence, Kansas in 1961). Extremity is relative, of course. To me, this doesn’t feel emotionally extreme. But maybe that’s just because it falls in the zone of my personal emotional extremity. Maybe I should fess up: this movie doesn’t actually seem weird to me at all.

I mean, it’s tremendously cheap and doesn’t all work and has moments of really sloppy amateur writing, acting, directing, editing, everything. Stuff that would be laughable under other circumstances; and maybe even under these circumstances. For the first few minutes, it is nearly indistinguishable from the very saddest sort of Mystery Science Theater fodder. But over time it shows that it is reliable at some basic level where those movies aren’t, even as it wanders around humming to itself like a child. In the commentary, Herk Harvey notes, rather sagely, that part of its appeal and power is in its amateurish surface. Even if that’s not necessarily true, I respect him for being able to see that it might be.

The movie doesn’t have anything to say and it doesn’t do anything that isn’t done elsewhere with more skill. It’s fairly goofy. But it dreams its dream without wavering, which is a rare thing. I can dream along with it if I’m in the mood. Good enough for me.

This is a rather substantial 2-disc set from Criterion. Disc 1 has the 1962 distributor’s cut of the movie, with about 7 minutes edited out to keep the pace and interest up (and to allow it to be shown in a drive-in double-feature with The Devil’s Messenger). The cuts are intelligent and don’t really hurt the movie or remove anything of significance; they might in fact help it overall, very mildly. Disc 2 has the director’s original longer cut, restored for its 1989 revival. The shorter copy seems to be in slightly better shape, visually, though that might be my imagination.

It seems a little unnecessary for Criterion to have sprung for 2 discs just so we’d have the choice between seeing this movie with or without these mostly inconsequential 7 minutes, though I do respect the integrity of this presentation. In any case, I didn’t consider it necessary to actually watch both versions all the way through, just so I could feel the very subtle difference. I poked around and got the gist.

We get some unpretentious commentary by writer and director, but there’s only about 30 minutes of audio there, spread out with gaps, which can be a little frustrating to sit through. Then there are are two early ’90s segments from local Kansas TV about the movie, including footage from the 1989 reunion screening that gives a nice strong sense of the essential midwestern small-towniness of the whole project. The occasion looks more or less like my home town, gathering in the school auditorium to see someone’s show because why not, and happening to see something better than usual. I like this kind of art, art that doesn’t come out of art communities, but out of the latent artistic intelligence of other kinds of communities. (The false note in Waiting for Guffman is that they’re all supposedly eager for Guffman, the voice of higher showbiz, to validate them. I don’t think that’s ever the motivation for people in those situations.)

The artists here are all good decent Kansas folks, plus exactly one ringer, a movie-glamorous actress hired from New York. Part of the reason the movie works is because Candace Hilligoss, with lips and cheekbones to match and coming to you straight from the Lee Strasberg studio, is so spookily different a being from all the calmly textureless non-professional non-actors around her. Also, because she is talented! She’s in nearly every shot and she carries it all, despite being very much in the middle of nowhere, doing her own stunts and hair and makeup for someone’s tiny hometown project. Not to mention staring into space, saying strange things, seeing ghouls, and screaming. I felt a little bit irritated at the somewhat condescending, impersonal way in which she’s praised by the director and documentarian, dwelling on how she didn’t want to get in the freezing river and had to be forced. Well, what about how she gamely did everything else? It’s her damn movie! And she didn’t really have any others, so can’t we all give her this one?

I think what might be going on there is just garden-variety midwestern chilliness toward glammed-up cityfolk. That was probably a pronounced undercurrent at Centron Corporation, the industrial film production company where the filmmakers worked, competing against the smug coasts.

But all the same, everybody involved comes across as friendly and human, and deepened my sense that this is a friendly human movie, some kind of a spooky Kansas cousin to my backyard video experiments of childhood.

There are also 40 minutes of outtakes, which are nice if you like outtakes, but that’s all they are, and 40 minutes is a long time. You get to see ghouls break character in the middle of being eerie, which is fun I guess. This is accompanied by the score (see below), but mostly as ripped from the movie, with some effects and dialogue. (If you want to hear it in the clear you need to find a copy of this CD.)

The biggest bonus feature is an hour worth of excerpts from Centron Corporation films. I have seen my fair share of educational and industrial films over the years, in both serious and parody contexts, but this was the first time that the people responsible were so fully humanized. Watching this kind of thing with an emphasis on the studio that produced it, I felt a kind of envy for the job these guys all had, at once workaday and genuinely creative. They got to churn out movie after movie on every conceivable subject (well, every conceivable boring subject). The weird whimsy of some of those movies, the “Well, Johnny, have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a tooth for a day?” writing, starts to make sense as a kind of wholesome enthusiasm for a quirky career. The more I watched, the more I felt hungry for Criterion or someone to do a whole set of such films, well-restored, with commentaries.

The extent of the curation here is that we get an essay profiling Centron as excerpted from this book, and then brief texts introducing: a travelogue promoting Kansas; a fisheye-lens zip around the film studio; a safety lesson for operators of Caterpillar construction equipment; promotion of the community education initiatives in Flint, Michigan (unfortunately titled “To Touch a Child”); a classroom film for McGraw Hill about the Greater and Lesser Antilles, shot on location; and a visit to the wonderful land of South Korea, circa 1980. They’re all staid and soporific and the color prints have all faded well toward red. It is all tremendously dull. And yet I felt like I was having my eyes newly opened to this familiar aesthetic: never before had I thought to think of it specifically as coming out of Kansans. Or for that matter out of Kansans who in their spare time made dream-like horror movies. There was something very stimulating to me about the fact that Carnival of Souls is demonstrably a direct sibling to Korea: Overview, and that the latter is a suitable companion piece on the DVD of the former. These real but counter-intuitive aesthetic relationships are among my favorite things to discover about culture: secret passages, steam tunnels.

I think we all agree that those classroom films are a kind of middle-American gothic, but it had never occurred to me that they might really be that, intentionally, with some kind of artistic integrity. I think people tend to feel that they are inventing for themselves what’s interesting about those films, that we are bringing our own Mad Magazine or MST3K cleverness to bear on something hollow, born out of some black hole of pure anonymous density. But those films were real and deliberate products from a real place, and the people in that place were not absurd drones but full and thoughtful human beings. Having a slightly fuller sense of who they were only deepens the daydream their work offers. Like some grandma’s living room with a deep pile carpet and butterscotches in the bowl. Sure, this may not be how you want to live, but what’s mysteriously enveloping about it is that it really is how someone lives. It’s not just a game.

Oh yeah and the disc also has some print interviews with the writer, the director, and the star, to be read off the screen. DVDs don’t do that sort of thing anymore, but they were good interviews and I didn’t mind pressing “next” to read them. Oh and I forgot there’s also an illustrated history of the Saltair resort outside Salt Lake City, which serves as the movie’s Devil’s Tower. Basically, there’s a lot of stuff in this set. That’s why this entry is so ridiculously long; I started it after I watched the movie once, but couldn’t finish it until I’d gotten through all that bonus stuff, which took a long time. Maybe too long a writing window for my own good. Or yours.

Almost done here, just a couple more bits of business to attend to. Let’s have another horizontal line.

I haven’t mentioned yet that this is a movie widely asserted (by opportunists) to be in the public domain for lacking a copyright notice on its original release. Charade, already Criterioned, is the most beloved movie in this category; Carnival of Souls is probably number two. Number three is almost certainly House on Haunted Hill with Vincent Price (which has a proper notice but, so they say, was not properly renewed). I doubt Criterion will ever get around to that one, though one never knows.

This means that it’s on, ready for you to knock yourself out in both the long and short versions. (This high-quality copy seems to be have been ripped straight from the DVD, but it’s not streamable.) And it’s all over youtube; seek and ye shall find. There is naturally also a colorized version. And a fan apparently converted it to 3D, a mind-boggling task.

Just now I got a pickle out of a jar, and it looked to me like Herk Harvey coming out of the Great Salt Lake. That’s the power of art.

Connection to the previous movie. I guess I’m going to go with: a woman has visions that isolate her and compel her toward death. Or, if you prefer: a creepy guy looks straight into the camera.

Our heroine is an organist, which gives the movie an excuse to show one of the neatest locations available in Lawrence, Kansas: the organ factory! That the score should be an organ solo follows naturally. It’s by one Gene Moore, another local, who apparently recorded it in the course of one morning, with minimal preparation, mostly improvising. It’s very confidently done and works excellently. I have to imagine that he had been a theater organist for silents, or had at least observed the craft closely in his childhood, because you can hear that it’s all done on instinct, very well-honed. People talk about how the organ contributes a unique ingredient to this movie’s particular mood; they forget that live organ was the soundtrack standard for decades. So here is an opportunity — I’m actually not sure how many such recorded opportunities there are — to hear what kind of a thing an improvised organ score was, and why for so many years it was counted on to provide an entire movie’s worth of atmosphere. Moore uses all the essential organ orchestrational tricks: juxtaposing material on the different keyboards, in different registrations, pushing and pulling on long sustained chords and clusters. It is disembodied and ethereal but still closely responsive to the action.

The musical centerpiece is a scene where Mary is supposed to playing church music but her inner creepshow takes over (“Profane!” exclaims the minister), and the longest continuous cue is a climactic merry-go-round-of-the-dead type thing — a “carnival of souls” I suppose you might call it — but those both end up being sort of formless to hear without the visual, so I’m just going to give you the relatively brief Main Title.

That soundtrack CD would be great for your haunted Halloween party. The whole movie would. It’s a peeled grapes and cold spaghetti kind of movie, with all that that implies. Butterscotch candies, too.

October 7, 2014

62. La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928)

1999: 062 box 1


directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
written by Carl Theodor Dreyer (with the collaboration of Joseph Delteil)

Criterion #62.


You can call it The Passion of Joan of Arc. Criterion does.

As you can see, the title card seen on this disc calls it La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, so that’s what I’ve called this entry. But this title screen and all the other French intertitles are not original; they were set in 1985 or thereabouts, when the complete first version of the film was restored under French supervision. The source for this restoration was a single print that had come to light in 1981. These French-language titles were created as replacements for the intertitles on the rediscovered print, which were in Danish, the language of the film’s director, as prepared in 1928 for the world premiere in Copenhagen. Just recently those original titles were finally released, at least in the UK, on a newer, better-restored Blu-Ray edition, not from Criterion.

Why the 80s restorators felt that the movie absolutely had to be released in French, even if that meant losing all those original 1928 intertitles, is unclear. I suspect it has to do with the nationalistically possessive attitude the French have toward Joan and toward this movie: having always known it, from the later cuts, as retitled in French, they weren’t about to give up their Joan to some other language just because that happened to be the historical reality.

This is to say that I think the true original title of this movie might reasonably be considered to be Jeanne d’Arc’s Lidelse og Død (which is literally “Joan of Arc’s Suffering and Death,” which seems to be the standard Christian term in Danish.)

Then again, maybe not. After all, no matter what the intertitles say, the mouths on screen are certainly speaking French. A viewer of any nationality is expected to be able to translate the mouthform of “oui” without assistance. So maybe the surviving Copenhagen copy, historically significant though a premiere is, should indeed be seen as a translation of a French film.

Luckily, this stuff doesn’t matter.


This is that movie with all those beautiful extreme close-ups.

Extreme close-ups are indeed beautiful. At a distance of one inch from the face, you can’t tell that these people are from 1928. Their skin is not from 1928, and looking in their eyes you can see that their minds weren’t, either. This is what it would have been like to be in love with someone in 1928: the same. At a distance of one inch, people are without historical limitations.

And then of course one thinks: this must have been true of the medieval people they are portraying, too. Their pores were undoubtedly the same as ours, their flesh the same. The real Joan of Arc, in the real 1431, from one inch away, would have been just like a person who is only one inch away.

We all know it’s good to flex the historical imagination toward vivid commonplaces: to imagine what ye olde shoelaces really felt like to tie, imagine what was in ye olde cupboard, etc. But to be pushed up this close, into kissing range, to where you can smell the skin, was closer than I’d ever thought to try going before. There’s something new to feel, at that distance. It’s as though historicality gathers, like fog, with distance (and makeup), whereas up close and undecorated, we’re all crystal clear, the same as we’ve ever been.

Of course I already knew it and have already spent many an hour thinking it. But one always knows things better after seeing them and feeling them in a movie. (I considered qualifying that, but I think it stands. Movies teach us how to be aware of the world, perhaps more deeply than any other art.)

So that — the purity of the extreme close-up — is for me the principal virtue of this movie.

It is also a movie about something. Here I am less sure how I feel.

I recognize that this angle of critique is getting a little old around here, but:

What is the point of stories about persecution? I mean what is the therapeutic point; what are we doing for ourselves when we make them and watch them? Why this? What is this movie up to?

You could say that it’s avant-garde and essentially intellectualized, formalistic — the ultra-modern photography and editing suggest it — but it doesn’t feel to be that at all. It feels quite sincerely and intensely emotional about what’s happening to poor poor visionary Joan.

To accuse the movie of being merely the agonized self-pity of the misunderstood might seem petty; it’s clearly a far greater piece of work than that. But the agonized self-pity of the misunderstood is actually a very rich tradition. Not just Romanticism, but Christianity itself, right? Poor visionary Jesus, right? And poor visionary you, if you dare. This is a fine monument in that hallowed tradition.

Self-pity is philosophical: Is there room among men for the purity of truth? Good question. I worry about that too. When Falconetti lets a perfect single tear go — repeatedly! suck it, Meryl! — I’m on board. Goddamn this council of condescending jerks, trying to snuff out grace itself! Goddamn them! Damn dirty apes!

But as that perfect single drop of pain dries up, that’s where my wondering comes in. Why is this being done to me? To anyone? Why was the real story of Joan of Arc — who was persecuted for her military actions, not her tears of purity, though you wouldn’t know it from this movie — rendered into this simplistic witch-trial emotional scenario, with these glistening eyes at the center of it? When she burns — spoiler: she burns — and we are horrified and heightened, what spiritual principle have we moved toward? Is it to the good? Or just in a circle? I’m not sure. I’m wary.

The political motivation of her persecutors is not explored. In fact their psychological motivation is not explored. They are bad guys. Some of them are softer than others, and some nuances are hinted at in a few sideways glances, but at the dramaturgical core, they’re just doom judges and she’s just a unearthly creature of grace that they are set on destroying.

But okay, it’s like devotional art. Only one idea at a time, intensely rendered. Simple, deep images for meditation. Everyone gets to pick their own devotional. This isn’t mine. Or at least martyrdom isn’t. But faces might be. I was moved, and that can be enough. What else is there?

It’s like what I said about Charlie Chaplin: his vast egoism is healthy for the viewer, as long as it goes unobserved. Being transported is an absolute good, so long as you don’t name what’s happening. This is at the heart of the Wagner debate: how to keep your rapture without defending it.

This, like that, is moral art with no moral but plenty of force. So is every person’s face, I suppose.


This film has no score. Apparently it was shown with the standard theater-discretionary live accompaniment in 1928, but Dreyer didn’t specify anything in particular and apparently was skeptical about the inauthenticity of music. Decades later, complaining about the classical music that had been stuck on the version then in distribution, he said crankily that the film would be better shown silent. No makeup? No music! The first option on the disc is just that. Complete silence for 80 minutes.

That’s weird.

The film is stark and bare, “like silence,” and so one wants to believe the silence is working in some bracing MOMA way. But in the absence of sound, one’s inner pulse starts attending to the editing rhythms, as though they were the movie’s heartbeat. They aren’t; they’re just the flickering of its attention. Taken as a rhythmic foundation, the cutting is jittery and counter-intuitive; dramatic time feels constantly disrupted and shuffled and misjudged, rather than synthesized into heightened montage-time, which is clearly the intention. To feel that, we’d need some steady grounding, laid down in actual music. Speaking as a pianist: the visual is very right-hand, so we feel the lack of a left hand.

That’s my opinion. Others will tell you that the silence is ideal. But, like I said, it’s aesthetically tempting to say so in denial of one’s actual experience. It just seems like it would be cool for the silence to be ideal. But it’s not. You can’t make a sandwich without bread.

So here we have this acknowledged masterpiece of cinema — simultaneously of avant-garde, mainstream, historical and religious interest and thus frequently programmed at museums, festivals, and arthouses alike — that still lacks a standard musical score. An enterprising film composer can surely see that here is a great opportunity. Programmers aren’t going to want to solve this problem themselves; they’re going to want to do whatever everyone else does. So why not take a stab at being the guy who wrote the score that everyone uses? If you can be the standard, and you can maintain the rights: woo-hoo! Score! So to speak.

Well, meet composer Richard Einhorn! Who is Richard Einhorn? He is a composer! And he has played all the angles on this one. His score is “not actually a score, but rather music inspired by the film” … music which just happens to sync up perfectly with the film for 80 minutes! A miracle! You see, being miraculous in this way, it is suitable for live performance with or without the film — both at events promoted as classical music with film accompaniment, and those promoted as film with live music — as well as for sale on CD as a pure classical composition, released by Sony Classical. The important thing is that it is not a score! It remains at all times Voices of Light by composer Richard Einhorn. Score!

So: the other soundtrack option on this disc is to watch the movie while hearing the non-score Voices of Light by composer Richard Einhorn. We can also watch a little promotional video where composer Richard Einhorn yaks about his process and his intentions with Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light, which is more indulgence even than Philip Glass got, back on La Belle et la Bête.

Yes, so I’m a little cynical about this, but: I watched it first silent. Then I thought, “okay, I have to,” and watched the Voices of Light version. To my surprise, I preferred it. It is far from ideal. But given the choice between no soundtrack and this soundtrack, I choose this soundtrack. For any other movie, that wouldn’t be saying much. And for this one it isn’t saying much either.

Voices of Light is a very Nonesuch/BAM kind of thing, vaguely slick vaguely serious mood music for the cultural intellectual crowd. Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex turned down to 5, via Philip Glass, via Howard Shore. Chorus and strings do a lot of tasteful chugging. There are some medievalist gestures but nothing that Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame couldn’t swallow. Post-minimalist, pre-Raphaelite, neo-classical, non-confrontational. I am being a little mean but I basically like stuff like this. I like the lulling rhythms that say “relax, relax, rest assured that even as you relax you are urbane and culturally discriminating (or least high middlebrow) circa 1988, relax.” I like stuff that lets the mind soften without retracting its validation of your taste. Piercing attention didn’t used to be as obsessively revered among the cultural elites as it is now. A topic for another time.

The score gives the visual what I said it demands: a grounding rhythm, over which the visual rhythms can be read as thought rather than feeling. It allows the emotions to enter the space and survive intact through all the cutting. Einhorn’s sound world does not grate against the visual. It basically invites feeling. I felt, while watching and listening.

But all the same it is not a good score, not the right score. It honors one stratum of the movie’s emotional life to the exclusion of others; its anachronisms reduce our range of possible thoughts to only the intersection between the 1928 visual and the perpendicular 1995 audio. And it gave me a bit of a sense of that condescending post-modern retro affection: trust us, this old black-and-white movie really is wonderful, transcendent. Sometimes it feels like it’s trying to subordinate this world-class movie to its own soggy ends; which after all is the explicit intent when it’s played at orchestral concerts “accompanied by film projection.” Just the fluffball title Voices of Light should give you a clue. This music isn’t nearly as offensive as that Philip Glass opera (also NOT A SCORE) but it has a little of the same hubristic blandness.

I mean it, though: I basically enjoy this style! Here’s our sample: an instrumental interlude that is one of the few short sections that are unique to the “with film” version and are not included in the “without film” version as heard on the Sony CD recording. (This transitional cue would fall between the 3rd and 4th tracks of the CD.) When you hear it, you’ll get it.


I’d say that Mike Nichols got those inaudible angry jabbering mouths at the end of The Graduate from here, but he probably didn’t. They came to mind while watching anyway.

Because of all the close-ups giving it that ahistorical quality I mentioned above, my mind kept trying to identify the actors as people I’d seen recently on TV, or the like. Then I’d have to remind myself that, no, this guy definitely couldn’t be “that guy,” because this was 1928 (and France, to boot).

Connection to the previous movie: is broad and obvious. I don’t know why I’ve started playing this game but I have. This one was a gimme. Next time is going to be harder.

The other stuff on the disc, besides the Voices of Light promotionalia, are a few brief excerpts, not particularly enlightening, from an interview by Einhorn with Falconetti’s daughter; and a full commentary by Dreyer scholar Casper Tybjerg.

The commentary is entirely academic, not a personal response, but done with complete integrity and unforced expertise. I enjoyed and appreciated it even though I don’t usually think such things are necessary. In the case of this particularly quizzical sort of mute high art film, it was welcome.

He mentions that the actors were required to maintain real tonsures for the entirety of the six month shoot, regardless of how long they appeared onscreen and regardless of whether their costume included a skullcap. One of the actors later said that Dreyer was “a certifiable lunatic.” Hearing this quoted, I immediately believed it — not literally, of course, and not in a derogatory sense. But to make extreme art in good faith, one must be extreme. He must have been. I for one would never ever make this film. Is that criticism or praise? It’s neither.

Again I think of the Scorsese comment about something rare happening when an artist’s feelings are out of control. And of what seems to be my broomlet refrain: that all art encounters are social encounters. There are two kinds of social satisfaction: being intrigued by someone who is different, and being put at ease by someone who is the same. High culture validates the former, pooh-poohs the latter: “art should be an encounter with the extreme, not a warm bath.” But nowadays I think there is no general principle, no art ethic. Life is a balance of same and different; we alternate between which we need. Right now in my life I think I benefit more from sames than differents. Whereas this film is different, fervently different, different from almost anyone out there.

It seems to be telling me that if I do not identify with it, I am putting it on trial and burning its flesh. What? No! Not at all! Stick around, Jeanne and Carl, mingle, everyone’s welcome. Jeanne d’Arc, Mike; Mike, Jeanne d’Arc. So glad you could make it, truly. Get a drink, have fun… I’ll be back around, but right now I’m just going to check and see how things are going in the other room.

October 2, 2014

Best Original Screenplay 1945: Marie-Louise


Winner in the category of WRITING (Original Screenplay) at the 18th Academy Awards, presented March 7, 1946 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

The other nominees were:
In Which We Serve — Noël Coward
The North Star — Lillian Hellman
Air Force — Dudley Nichols
What Next, Corporal Hargrove? — Harry Kurnitz

Opening of screenplay:

1. I n v a s i o n (Mittwoch, 12. Juni 1940)

Landstrasse in Frankreich


1. Gross

Vier Ziffern erscheinenMusik
klein und undeutlich.Die Musik des Vorspanns geht
Ziemlich rasch heben sieunmittelbar in den ersten
sich deutlicher vomKomplex über.
dunkeln Hintergrund ab,Ernstern Charakter, dem Rhythmus
kommen nach vorn undder folgenden Bildvorgänge
bilden jetzt gross,entsprechend.
die Bildfläche beinahe(durchgehend)
die Jahreszahl 1940.

Die Jahreszahl verschwindet,
indem sie sich nach vorn

In der dunkeln Bildfläche
wird jetzt ein schräg ge-
stelltes Autoschild (fran-
zösische Nummer) sichtbar.
Ueber das Schild ziehen

Kamera fährt zurück

Das Auto wird sichtbar.
Es steht schräg geneigt
am rechten Strassenrand.
Die Wände der Karosserie
und die Bereifung sind
von Kugeln durchlöchert.
Der Lichtkegel eines ab-
aber vorläufig noch nicht
sichtbaren Scheinwerfers
trifft den zerstörten Wagen.
Schatten von Menschen ziehen
darüber weg.

Kamera fährt zurück bis

My translation:

1. I n v a s i o n (Wednesday, June 12, 1940)

A country road in France

Fade in

1. Close-up

Four numbers appearMusic
small and indistinct.The music of the credits goes
Almost immediately, they standdirectly into the first
out more distinctlysequence.
from the dark background,More serious in character, in
come forward andaccordance with the rhythm of
now grow big,the following visual events.
almost filling the screen,(continuous)
the year 1940.

The year disappears,
moving forward
out of sight.

On the dark screen
an obliquely angled
license place (French
number) now becomes visible.
A shadow is cast
over the plate.

Camera pulls back.

The car becomes visible.
It stands at an angle
on the right side of the road.
The walls of the body
and the tires
are riddled with bullet-holes.
The cone of light from a
dimmed, but as yet
unseen headlight
falls on the destroyed car.
The shadows of people
are cast against it.

Camera pulls back to
Medium shot.

First lines in finished film, which begins differently (at least in the “Religious Film Association” copy we watched):

June 1940
The German armies approaching the Seine.
Rouen a field of battle.
The civil population in panic.

— Vous apporter beaucoup trop trop, Madame Fleury. Croyez-moi, dans deux ou trois jours vous serez de retour!
— Il est facile de parler comme ça. Le seul dans la vie, il ne va s’occuper de personne.

— You are bringing too too much, Madame Fleury. Believe me, in two or three days you will return!
— It’s easy to talk that way. One who is alone in life, he is not going to take care of anyone.

subtitled as:
— You’re taking too much, Mme. Fleury… Why, you’ll be back in a few days!
— You’ve only yourself to think of.

[We are joined by MRB courtesy of the technological marvels of the day]

ADAM Welcome to our little party.

MRB Thank you.

BROOM We four are the only people who have seen Marie-Louise.

ADAM That’s probably true, the only living people. Though Pierre could still be alive.

MRB Well, he’s not!

ADAM Yeah. That was sad. Though this movie was nothing more than a gesture, I found it very affecting. I cried several times.

BETH I didn’t cry, but I was moved the entire time, and completely engaged. It was very interesting to see how Switzerland was making movies in 1943, because it had nothing to with how Hollywood was making movies.

BROOM I’m not sure Switzerland made enough movies to have “a way” that Switzerland made movies.

BETH Well, whoever made this movie was not being influenced by the American system.

ADAM I think now we can all speak pretty authoritatively about 1940s Swiss filmmaking.

BROOM I can speak with the slightest authority, because in searching for this, I had to go down the byways of the internet that have to do with buying Swiss films from the 40s. And there are some, and they’re very obscure, and the affection for them is similarly obscure. There’s no bragging about them. The VHS copy of Marie-Louise that’s being sold in Switzerland is being sold by the institution that produced it, and their site makes no claims at all about the value. And that’s how this felt. It felt not unlike an American PSA-type film.

BETH It was more than that, but I know what you’re saying.

BROOM Yes, it was more than that, but it didn’t feel like some it was some other tradition that was artsier and higher.

MRB BETH just said 1943. This won in 1945. Was it made in 1943, that you know of?

BROOM I think it was released in 1944 in Europe and only in 1945 in the US, which is why it received a 1945 Oscar. But it was actually a 1944 movie, and maybe made the previous year.

MRB So it was made during the war, for sure.

BROOM Yes. I found a web page about the movie where there was a promotional press release from the time, in German, saying “Many people, since seeing the film, have wanted to know what happened to the little girl who played Marie-Louise.” Because the story of the movie was essentially true for the real actors involved. They were asking, “How’s she doing in France?”

ADAM She died.

BROOM Well, as of the time of that press release, she was okay, but that was probably only six months later. I don’t know what her life story is. I tried to look her up and couldn’t find anything. I’ll do more googling now that we’ve seen it. [ed: Still no trace of “Josiane Hegg” after 1945.]

ADAM Let’s talk about why it was composed so oddly. It didn’t have anything resembling a plot that I understood. Maybe it’s because I had too much wine, but by the end, I just didn’t understand what was happening.

BETH The last half-hour just went in another direction. I don’t know why! Like, why was that kid introduced? Why was the troublemaking boy part of the story?

BROOM That is a question.

MRB He was sort of comic relief, wasn’t he?

BETH Yeah, but only introduced at the very last minute. Script-wise, it felt weird to me.

ADAM At the time, I said that I thought Mr. Rüegg was adopting the boy so that he could forcibly dress him as a girl and send him back to France in place of Marie-Louise, but that didn’t happen!

BROOM It did seem like something like that might happen.

ADAM I successfully predicted that she was going to drop the plate, so I was feeling confident.

MRB Yeah, I heard that coming too.

BROOM The way I understood it while watching was that this was a movie about a current issue, and we as Swiss audience members were supposed to feel good about Switzerland’s role. And once that had been addressed in a realistic and moving way, they had to wrap up the movie somehow, even though the issue is still an open question. This program involves sending people back into war zones, but the movie had to have a happy ending because it’s positive, so the arrival of that kid felt like: “We need a little bit of a distraction from this reality. We’re going to pull back a bit from here out. So here’s this kid…”

BETH Here’s a character!

BROOM “You know how French people are! Oh ho ho! Well, even the little boys are that way! A little boy like this will be fine, if we send him back on a train. So too will everyone else.”

BETH “I’m sorry I broke your central heating system.”

MRB And it also gave the grandfather — I know that’s not what he was…

BROOM Yeah, Geppetto.

MRB … Mr. Rüegg. It gave him sort of a consolation prize for giving up Marie-Louise. Though I guess André was leaving too.

ADAM Yeah, they sent him back after three days.

BROOM I don’t understand why he needed a consolation prize. They just sent her up to the chalet to, like, calm down.

MRB I meant for losing her.

BROOM But that’s not how it worked out. I see. Yes.

ADAM What do you mean? He gets to keep the beautiful model of her house, which was demolished.

MRB Oh yeah, she can’t take that with her. Did anyone get the Wizard of Oz vibe that I got twice?

BROOM I got a vague Wizard of Oz vibe, yeah.

MRB At the beginning, when all the adults are out, and she gets out of bed, and bombs are falling, and she’s alone in that place… I didn’t know what was going to happen, so I thought, “All the adults are going to be killed and she’s going to be left alone.” Which felt like The Wizard of Oz. And then when she’s on the roof hanging clothes, she’s essentially saying “Auntie Em, Auntie Em!” when she’s pounding on that door. That felt Wizard of Oz-like. That’s my film study.

BROOM I thought it at the end, when she was walking down the train tracks. She looked sort of like Dorothy going toward that backdrop. But with a real landscape. I thought that tracking shot was very pretty.

ADAM I was thinking about War and Peace the whole time, because I’m reading it. The part that I’m in — spoiler alert: Napoleon conquers Moscow and the city is burning. And it’s sort of like Gone With the Wind where Atlanta’s burning, but with really horrible depictions of what it’s like to be a refugee and have your city burning. And I don’t know what’s going to happen, yet, so it feels like it’s happening in real time. I was thinking about that at the beginning. This really was a graphic and moving depiction of what it would be like to be in a city that was being bombed. And it was awful.

MRB It was.

BETH It was. It felt like vérité, like it was a documentary.

BROOM I was moved in part because it wasn’t a documentary, it was a movie that had been filmed near the real time and place. This movie itself was not particularly slick, but they just needed to point it at those buildings, because it was really 1943. All the help they wanted to give my imagination was there in those settings. And it was genuinely well staged. At the beginning when she looks out the window and the curtains suddenly burst inward with the blast, I felt like it was both a real detail and a movie scare for a kid. It got me contemplating the fact that war actually scares actual little kids who are stuck in it. I saw a comment from someone online who had seen it when they were a kid in the 40s, who said that it really made an impression on them because it was the first time they had realized that children could be harmed by war. [ed: this is the reader review at the New York Times page as linked below]

ADAM I thought that the incomplete subtitles were actually effective, because it kind of made me feel what it would be like to be a refugee, where you don’t really understand what’s happening.

BROOM And like a child. A lot of the movie was shot from her point of view, and she didn’t know what they were saying.

MRB But that wasn’t intentional on the part of the person who provided the subtitles.

BETH No, but it did add to it.

MRB We’re evaluating this as Best Screenplay, and I felt like we only got about fifty percent of the screenplay. I’m not sure that was the best ratio.

ADAM There were no great lines. Well, maybe “I’m sorry I destroyed your central heating system.” And “Your house is so modern — do you have a ping-pong table?” was a pretty good line.

BROOM And I liked the father’s speech about “They said they were going to ask me afterward… but for me, afterward is too late.”

ADAM “Discussion unnecessary.”

BETH I laughed at that.

MRB “The president has nothing further to communicate.”

ADAM That’s the only Wilson joke anyone has made in the last 40 years.

BROOM From what we were able to pick up of it, I thought the screenplay had a nice delicate touch. The situations he set up were nicely balanced. Like the whole arrival, where the women in the household say “oh, we’ll eventually tell dad, it’ll be fine,” and we feel uncomfortable on Marie-Louise’s behalf because she’s completely helpless and should not be made the pawn of this. And then the ball rolls down the stairs… I felt just the right kind of uncomfortable through all that. It puts you in the child’s moral position.

ADAM Yeah. It did emphasize her total helplessness. The dad didn’t have to turn out to be this avuncular Swiss factory owner; he could have been a monster. This could have been any kind of movie. It could have been The Secret Garden. You know, the beginning. But in fact it was The Secret Garden: the middle and end.

BROOM That’s what I thought was effective. It ultimately was… maybe not a PSA but an issue movie — “We’re not going to push you too hard, but think about this issue. Come up and shake its hand” — but it had the spirit of children’s literature. I also thought of The Secret Garden. And some other book; I forget what.

MRB Heidi.

ADAM Is Heidi a refugee? Oh, I see, she’s Swiss.

MRB I don’t remember what her problem is, but she has a grumpy grandfather who she softens by her sweet lovableness.

ADAM This past weekend, my sister-in-law in Minneapolis was talking about a Somali refugee she had sponsored, and my nephew was like “What’s a refugee?” And she said, “Well, it’s someone who, when their country is in a terrible war and they can’t stay, they go to another country.” And he wanted to know what would happen if America got attacked. She said, “Well, we’re very powerful, so that’s unlikely to happen.” He didn’t really press the point, fortunately.

BROOM Canada is familiar to him, right? They must go to Canada sometimes.

ADAM They’ve been to Prince Edward Island. But I don’t know that he has any familiarity with what it’s like to be a refugee.

BROOM Well, neither do I, but I got some idea out of this movie.

ADAM I didn’t really have a point there. But it was a striking conversation. Luckily he forgot about it, so we didn’t have to follow it up.

BROOM I thought it was interesting to see any amount of Swiss national self-image, because that’s not something I’ve been exposed to before.

ADAM It was sort of like Canadian self-image: a kind of smug, quiet self-righteousness.

BROOM That’s not what I got at all! Are you joking?

ADAM No, I’m not.

BETH I got a little of that. I know what you’re talking about.

BROOM To me it was more like Soviet-style propaganda, when all the guys in the loom factory spontaneously start saying “Well, I think we should work longer hours to save the children!” “Well, I do too!” “I don’t know whether this will work, but we’ll try!” And then we see a montage of the looms going vroom vroom vroom!

BETH Everyone was like, “Fifteen minutes? Okay!”

MRB I was so touched by the fifteen minutes. I thought, “I would work fifteen more minutes to help something!”

BETH That’s what I thought too: “I’m happy to devote fifteen minutes for these kids!”

MRB I know! I thought it was great. What’s fifteen minutes?

BROOM So that’s Swiss patriotism: that sequence, and then a montage of the looms going, with stirring music.

BETH I really enjoyed watching those looms.

ADAM But there was a kind of smugness in “oh, there’s no airplanes here, of course.” Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?

BROOM I don’t know.

ADAM Because it wasn’t worth it?

MRB Because they’re neutral! I always wondered how Switzerland gets away with saying “nope, we’re neutral.”

ADAM Well, right. [ADAM later looks it up] Anyway, after the technicolor triumphalism of Wilson, to go back into this flickering magic-lantern world felt like it suited the content.

BROOM Yes. I think for many movies, this kind of degraded image would have been an insufficient way to watch it, but in this case I felt like it was appropriate that I was imagining myself watching this in the church basement. Or rather the basement of The Religious Film Association.

ADAM I couldn’t help comparing this movie in my mind to… what was it? 2007’s Stalingrad. Remember? It was like a big-budget romantic war picture set in the battle of Stalingrad. Anyway, it was too high-budget. See it sometime; we can talk about it.

BROOM That really exists? Are you sure you’re not thinking of Australia?

ADAM It’s like that! It’s actually very much like that. I was going to say it was like Pearl Harbor. It’s that same kind of brilliantly overdone extravagant spectacle. But this flickering dream-world bombing was more effective, for having the curtain half-drawn on your understanding.

BROOM In the original print, I’m sure one could have seen more in those scenes. MRB, at the end of the opening scene, could you tell what it was that made her gasp when she looked down at the cart?


BROOM We couldn’t tell either. [ed: subsequent email from MRB: “I’m pretty sure we can see a body in a coat lying on the ground next to the cart. It is likely the unidentified neighbor woman who was impatient for the cart to come. It looks like the man from that opening scene is investigating and bending over her body.”]

MRB I didn’t really understand what was happening there. They were going to try to leave Rouen right then in a cart?

BROOM In the original screenplay, it doesn’t begin with that scene at all, it begins with a scene of horrors on the road as the refugees are trudging along. The first image is a car riddled with bullets at the side of the road.

ADAM [having looked it up] So… it’s not called Stalingrad, but I’m thinking of 2001’s Enemy at the Gates, with Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, and Rachel Weisz.


BROOM That’s not called Stalingrad.

ADAM But it’s set in the battle of Stalingrad and has vivid ultra-Technicolor depictions of the battle of Stalingrad.

BETH That movie wasn’t a total failure.

ADAM I didn’t say it was a total failure.

BROOM But Stalingrad (2007) must have totally tanked!

ADAM Whatever. Both those years and those titles sort of blend together in my mind.

BROOM So: Richard Schweizer, winner for Best Original Screenplay. What do we think the Academy was thinking?

MRB How did it even come to their attention to consider it?

ADAM It was probably the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon of its day.

MRB Maybe they were just feeling very paternal toward Europe.

ADAM Charitable, yeah.

BROOM I looked up the guys whose names are on the title screen as the American distributors. One or both have them must have gone to Europe and seen a lot of movies, and from out of what they saw, they picked this. They thought Americans would like something about this movie in particular.

ADAM And we did.

BROOM Yes, they must have gotten it right. Do you think Americans felt proud of themselves for sampling something European?


ADAM I think we felt proud of ourselves for our generous and paternalistic role in the war, and this was flattering to that.

MRB Was it? How did this flatter America?

BROOM I think this flattered that same attitude, but from the Swiss point of view.

ADAM Yeah, but it was basically our point of view. To say, “Look at all we’re doing for these wretches.”

BROOM It wasn’t about what we, Americans, were doing; it was about what “we,” the psyche of the audience, are doing. What we, good people, are doing for them, helpless people.

ADAM It wasn’t literally about America, but it was about goodwill toward the unfortunate, which is what we pride ourselves in.

BROOM Being good. Being nice. “If you saw this little girl, would you want to give her the best dollhouse in the world? I should hope so! Would you want to make her laugh?” I liked that the movie was summed up by him saying “My teacher used to pull my ear like this!” and when she doesn’t laugh at that, he’s horrified. “My god, war is terrible!”

ADAM To pick another recent analogy: what did you think of Life is Beautiful? And did you think that this had any of those defects?

BROOM That was a very strange phenomenon.

BETH Didn’t see it.

[the movie is summarized for her]

ADAM This movie isn’t really like that, because it’s not as cynically self-involved. But is there anything problematic about putting this wartime experience between the cottonballs of her beautiful dollhouse, and so on? I mean, her brother dies, so that’s pretty sad.

BROOM I think we’re shown real harshness of the beginning, where they tell us that bombs really do fall on people and blow them up, and then later when it happens to her brother, where they show us…

ADAM His tiny coffin.

BROOM With his little voice coming from inside: “I was born in February 1937…” That was pretty sad stuff. And the mother looking destroyed. They also showed his cot smashed to smithereens, before they showed the funeral. That’s all pretty unvarnished. So they earned the right to focus on comfort: “You’re happy to stay in this nice bed, aren’t you? Yes! It is nice of us.”

ADAM Then why is she so happy to go back at the end, after her nervous breakdown?

MRB She did miss her mother!

BETH Yeah, I think it was a reality check for her to be put in this chalet, and realize, oh, she doesn’t really want to live here.

BROOM In the most beautiful place in the world.

BETH Right, she wanted to live with her family.

ADAM … at the chalet.

BROOM Maybe that was part of the point of having the naughty kid take her bowl: being a refugee means living with random weirdos.

MRB … So it’s better to go back to the bombing?

BROOM Well, one wants to be with one’s own family.

MRB Those kids weren’t being rescued; they were just getting a respite from their terror. And it was only a three-month respite, and they were always going to go back. It was like, “these kids are too stressed out and they just need a break.”

ADAM That’s such a strange idea!

BROOM It is strange that they weren’t ready to say, “Since all of Europe is banking on this war ending sometime, we’ll just keep these kids safe until then.” I mean, if they had known in advance that the war was going to end in 1945, I’m sure they would have said that. But it still suggests this strange attitude of, “The best we can offer you is three months! After all, you wouldn’t want to be away from the bombing for more than three months. Your mom needs you.”

MRB “You’d miss it.”

BROOM At the end of the movie, BETH and ADAM both said “I really thought we were going to see the reunion with the mom at the end.” There was something strange about Madame Fleury not reappearing after her son’s funeral. IMDB says this movie is 103 minutes long, whereas the version we just watched is 90 minutes long. But so is the VHS being sold by Praesens in Switzerland. So I’m not sure if there ever was a 103 minute movie or what.

MRB After I watched it the first time several days ago, I googled something, I can’t remember where, and it said that you could tell that parts of it had been chopped up. I don’t know what parts they meant.

ADAM The music suddenly dies off in a couple places.

BROOM The soundtrack was in bad shape throughout. Like I said, I expected from the screenplay that the first image was going to be a bullet-ridden car, and it’s not. But then again, the title music gets prematurely cut off by a splice, and then the first scene starts. So there may well have been some scene at the beginning that was deemed unpalatable for the international audience. Or possibly just unpalatable for distribution by the Religious Film Association. I don’t think that title screen is what the Academy voters saw. I think the Religious Film Association bought a copy for their own use, and then stuck their own titles on it, and maybe made their own edits. And that’s the copy that happened to get transferred to this bootleg disc. That’s what I suspect. So it’s hard to know what we’ve seen here. Anyway, it was a sweet movie.

ADAM Yeah, it was deeply affecting.

MRB I agree.

ADAM But I would not recommend it.

BETH I think I would recommend it if it were available in a better copy. I’m happy to have seen it.

BROOM It was like something you’d get shown in school, and for that it was excellent.

MRB Right. Someone said earlier that this is what they were making in Europe while Hollywood was making something else… How did they know to be so natural in front of the camera, when in the US nobody thought that was a good idea at the time?

BROOM I think Europeans are more relaxed.

MRB Or maybe Hollywood thought they were more advanced because they knew how to do schtick, where Europe was just being like people.

BETH It reminded me of a movie called Rome, Open City, which was shot right after Rome had been bombed.

BROOM You’ve heard of that.

MRB I don’t think I have.

BROOM 1945. It was Rossellini’s big break-out movie.

BETH So it’s after this. That’s interesting. I thought this had been influenced by it a little bit, but maybe the opposite is true. Anyway, I think there’s just a more natural attitude about everything. It seemed like the shots were more relaxed, and I liked that. “This is just gonna play out the way it plays out.” I liked that the music was not intrusive in most of the movie. There wasn’t a need to fill time with music.

BROOM I thought about that same stuff. At one point I thought something like: “Europeans are better at knowing what they’re doing and just doing it. And sometimes that can feel simplistic, but it’s also wholesome. This is a scene where X happens, and that’s exactly what’s happening. And if your mind starts looking around the edges of it, you might be able see the seams, that it isn’t a whole world. Whereas Americans, especially in this era of Hollywood, if you think carefully about their movies, you’ll reach the conclusion that they don’t actually know what they’re doing, or why, that it’s all fundamentally just distraction, but the distraction is effective, so you’re not as inclined to notice superficial thinness.”

BETH I thought a similar thing. My thought was: “Hollywood is manipulating in a particular way, and knows it; and Europe is manipulating the audience in an entirely different way, that to me feels like it doesn’t know it.” But they also knew it.

MRB I think “manipulating” is the word. Someone who’s sad is “manipulating” you to feel sympathetic, but that’s not called “manipulation,” it’s just feeling; that’s just called “somebody who’s sad.” It seems like in the US, in Hollywood films, they would calculate how to make you feel a certain way, but here it’s just like, “these humans feel this way, and you’re going to feel, in reaction, a human way.”

BROOM I thought about it in the scene where the father plays Hot and Cold with her. This game was played with me as a child. “Oh, you’re freezing now! Brrr! North pole!” And it always had a little European tinge to it. This is the thing in the storyline that finally makes her laugh, and it’s a very pre-structured thing. There was no joke that he made that surprised her. He just played the Hot and Cold game. He took off his coat when she got “warm,” but, you know, you can’t picture David O. Selznick saying “Ah-ha! And when it gets hot, he’ll take off his coat! That’ll get ’em!” It was just a ritual associated with happiness, and they did it. That was within the scene, and it was also the premise of putting the scene in a movie. I thought an American movie wouldn’t take that kind of time, because of anxiety about everything that scene doesn’t address. The American movie would feel the need to lacquer it somehow so that you wouldn’t be able to notice its limitations. Whereas here the limitations were just up front. “This is what there is. This is the movie we made.” I enjoy that; it’s very soothing. The crackle the whole time was also very soothing.

MRB Of the film?


MRB I agree — after the feeling of “this is all awful for kids,” when the bombs are coming down and she’s scared and running through the street with her little brother — then when she gets to Switzerland, and everybody is so nice, it’s just so comforting! Because we’re modern Americans, because of what we’re used to seeing in films: when they were distributing the kids out for the families, weren’t you waiting for some awful family to come?

BETH Yeah!

MRB But no! Everyone is kind and cheerful. “Bonjour monsieur!”

BROOM Well, what happens is: “Oh no, that family’s son got the measles, so what’s going to happen to you?”

MRB “You’re going to go home with this beautiful lady!”

BROOM Right, of course, but that was the section of the film that I found the most effective, because the level of threat was just right. “Don’t come downstairs ’til we tell you!” “Oh, your family isn’t here, so sit in that chair over there!” She’s scared of everything, but it’s all this safe, mild stuff. And that’s a real childhood feeling. We have this big traumatic premise, and then we come way down to the scale of “Is the nice lady going to be nice this way or that way?” and it still feels uncertain.

ADAM I was afraid she was going to get thrown out by the dad, or something. I was worried he was going to be a bad dude.

BROOM Exactly. We’re able to be afraid about all these things, while actually what’s happening is a repeated soothing message: “No, no, you’re in Switzerland now.”

MRB Yeah: “You’re safe, you’re safe.”

BROOM And you can call that smug if you want, but that’s also what actual comfort feels like. Being around smug people.

MRB It was like taking your dolls — I’m not thinking of any actual children that I might have had, just my dolls! — you put your doll in the bed and you cover it and you say, “Now you’re safe and warm.” And when she comes the first night, they put her in that lovely bed, and they say, “Here’s some milk, and here’s how you turn on the light, and you can sleep as late as you want.” It was the best possible thing. “And this lady will pray with you.” It was all very nice.

BROOM “We’re Protestants but it’s okay for you to be here.”

MRB “Our servant will pray with you.”

BROOM Yes, that’s right. “We keep one Catholic.”

MRB I have a little anecdote, the thing it reminded me of in my own family. My brother was born in Israel before it was Israel, and that was where he spent his first two years. This was during the 1948 war. And he was a little kid, and they would put him on the balcony, and when the planes would fly over they would grab him and run down to the cellar, the bomb shelter. Because they were getting bombed. And the story about my brother is that when the war was over — I forget when it was, actually — but he’s in the playpen, and he hears an airplane in the distance, and he puts his arms up to be whisked away. And some cousin of mine says — in Hebrew, which I can’t reproduce — “No, no, Gareleh! It’s ours, it’s ours!” Like, “those are our planes.”

BROOM Just like in this movie.

BETH That’s a good anecdote.

BROOM That’s very closely related to what happens in this movie.

MRB Yes, it is; that’s what I thought.

BROOM Did you identify with Marie-Louise?

MRB No. I didn’t live through it.

BROOM I know you didn’t live through the war, but did you have those dresses?

MRB Oh, the dresses. No. “I look like a little Swiss girl.” She had a very Anne Frank look, didn’t she?

BETH She really did.

[we read the New York Times review]

BROOM On point, Bosley.

ADAM I basically agree with that.

BROOM He said that it was “bluntly told in places,” and that was something I wanted to say. Some of the photography was really nice and attractive and had good ideas in it — I imagine that more of it would have been if we could see it better — and then some of it just wasn’t. That’s why it reminded me of an educational film. Some parts felt very much merely functional.

ADAM Which parts?

BROOM I don’t remember a specific moment; I just remember having the thought “Well, this shot looks good,” after having been through a period of very pedestrian, Voyage of the Mimi stuff. But I guess that’s just sort of a relaxed quality. As is the case in those school films.

MRB “Quiet integrity.” Was the phrase in the review.

ADAM Who was bombing Rouen? Probably we were. Or the English. Oh well. I didn’t know that there was widespread bombing in France.

BETH Maybe that’s because we were the ones doing it.

BROOM I know from Saving Private Ryan that they pass through towns that had been bombed to pieces. But I didn’t think about who did it.

ADAM I was in a Wikipedia rabbit hole a few weeks ago where I was reading about every firebombing in World War II, and… the people in this movie got off pretty easy.

BROOM Maybe in the dark shots there were horribly mutilated people, and we just couldn’t see it because of the contrast.

ADAM We can talk about it later. Not on camera.

Last line in film:

— Vive la Suisse! Vive la Suisse! Vive la Suisse!…
[Soyez les bienvenus]


Complete broadcast of the 18th Academy Awards is available here (download only, 19 Mb). Writing awards begin at 32:00, presentation by Bette Davis. First she does a reading from the work of John Cowper Powys, backed by dreamy music. You don’t get that at the Oscars these days! Actual announcement and polite applause is at 36:32. “He won’t be here? Is he in Switzerland? Well, our congratulations to Mr. Schweizer.”

This moment happens to be included as one of the selections at the official Oscars site (scroll down, second audio clip). The only film I can find from the evening is the set of restaged presentations found on that page. (A writing award is included, for once.)