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Tributes

Tributes

Florence Jacobowitz and Richard Lippe   |   October 2018

Jeanne Moreau

January 23 1928 – July 31 2017

Although Moreau achieved international success with Jules et Jim (1962) and her collaborations with François Truffaut, her identity as a star should be situated earlier with a film such as Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958), preceding the French New Wave. Moreau also had an extensive stage career at the Comédie-Française prior to her film work. Her distinctive personality and presence lent itself to the cinema, and to a filmmaking practice increasingly concerned with the realism of a contemporary moment. Her image and persona communicated intelligence, a sense of privacy and an unconventional beauty; she appeared sophisticated, worldly, a quasi femme -fatale, a woman of a certain independence, committed to her own survival.

As a tribute to Moreau, we would like to discuss her contribution to Buňuel’s magnificent Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), an underrated masterpiece that concisely uses Moreau’s persona in the role of Celestine, the central protagonist of the film. Diary of a Chambermaid is about Celestine’s canny ability to navigate a male dominant, patriarchal culture. Set in the French countryside during the rise of pre-war fascism, Celestine’s arrival as the new chambermaid brings an impressive, sophisticated worldliness to a bourgeois family eager to project an image of status and wealth. Celestine quickly acclimatizes herself to the social world she is in and deftly negotiates relationships in a way that allows her to maintain power. She uses her sexual presence as part of her arsenal of self-preservation. For example, at the beginning of the film, when Joseph picks her up from the station and she sits next to him in the carriage, Celestine coyly but purposefully reveals her ankle, adjusting her boot- lace. Joseph recognizes the maneuver as a calculated statement on her part. More humorously when the patriarch of the family, eager to indulge his fetishes, benignly asks permission to touch her calf, Celestine answers with a knowing “Oui Monsieur”, setting the terms of control over the agreement.

Buňuel allows Celestine to maintain an ambiguity regarding her intentions and plans. She is pragmatic and realistic about the limitations and predatory nature of society. Buňuel places Celestine in a politicized environment but doesn’t direct the viewer’s response to the film based solely on her motivations. He is, instead, foregrounding the charged culture of heightened patriarchal masculinity and invites the audience to enter that world and understand how it operates. Celestine is aligned with the young vulnerable Claire who is brutally sexually assaulted and murdered by Joseph knowing he can get away with it, supported by an entrenched patriarchal hierarchy. Celestine moves from a position of self-interest and survival to one where she is guided by a moral commitment to hold Joseph accountable for his crime, but in a broader sense, his ability to go unpunished in a society that condones the predation of the weak and the vulnerable.

Buňuel and Moreau’s interpretation of the character maintains a certain ambiguity regarding the extent of Celestine’s intentions and plan to expose Joseph as the killer and the lengths she goes to do so. Ultimately, Celestine accepts she can’t succeed in upsetting the social order and instead adapts, as she always does, to negotiating a place for herself within it through a marriage of convenience that will offer her financial security and social mobility.

Buňuel, in his autobiography My Last Sigh pays tribute to Moreau: “Jeanne is a marvelous actress, and I kept my directions to a minimum, content for the most part just to follow her with my camera. In fact, she taught me things about the character she played that I’d never suspected were there.”1 It is a remarkable testament to Moreau, coming from a director of Buňuel’s stature.

 

The Earrings of Madame de...

Danielle Darrieux

May 1 1917-October 17 1917

Danielle Darrieux’s long career in the French cinema, covering a wide range of characters and styles, would be difficult to summarize in a few sentences; instead we would like to pay tribute to Darrieux’s career by mentioning her work with the great Max Ophuls. Ophuls well understood Darrieux’s ability to imbue her ageless beauty with nuance, delicacy and an ability to communicate a depth beyond the surface. Ophuls’ work reconceives the boundaries of melodrama through the complexities of the female characters; in Le Plaisir (La Maison Tellier), Darrieux is one of a group of prostitutes who take a day off to attend a first communion and undergo a spiritual experience, touched by the children’s purity and innocence, triggering the women’s longing and regret. The outing is further complicated by her attraction to and affection for the child’s father, Joseph/Jean Gabin. Darrieux is sensitive to these moments without abandoning the reality of her life, creating a delicate intimacy that is remarkable within the parameters of a short episode within an anthology film.

In The Earrings of Madame de… she gives a magnificent performance as Louise, a character with whom one can’t fully identify, but one can empathize with her insistence to transgress societal rules at the cost of her life. Louise is introduced as a flirtatious wife of an army officer who falls in love with an Italian count. She upends the rules of her society destroying herself almost perversely with a broken heart and commitment to a romanticism that she refuses to let go of. Darrieux’s Louise moves beyond the perception of her role as an ornament to a fully sentient being whose death and the act of bequeathing her earrings to the church is her only means of announcing her desire. Mme de’s greatness certainly relies on Ophuls, who depends on Darrieux to both embody and present the dimensions of Louise and her evolution in the narrative.

 

Jerry Lewis

March 16 1926-August 20 2017

Jerry Lewis’ career as both a comedian and director has provoked much discussion; for example, the lack of appreciation of his work in America compared to his status in Europe, the cause and aftermath of his breakup with Dean Martin, the evolution of his career as an actor in a significant role such as the talk show host in the King of Comedy, the repercussions of a talented artist with a pronounced ego. While we will not elaborate presently on these issues, we wish to acknowledge an idiosyncratic and talented artist, who could be provocative, enervating and radical in his use of humour to challenge the rules of what is considered ‘normal’.

In his own way Lewis fits into the rebels of the 50s, for example, Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Marlon Brando, in his use of comedy to reinvent and rethink traditional notions of masculinity and class by melting the distinctions of gender and sexuality, well before comedians such as Peewee Herman and Jim Carrey took up the reins. Godard was absolutely right to admire the radical mise-en-scène of Lewis’ The Ladies Man, which foregrounds and integrates the movie-making process into the narrative in a way that remains startlingly modern.

 

Jonathan Demme

February 22,1944 – April 26, 2017

In post-classical Hollywood, Jonathan Demme’s career begins with Roger Corman’s ‘B’ genre movies that allowed for the possibility of personal expression. He gradually distinguishes himself as an auteur, exploring the playful blending of genres- comedy, the gangster film, the road movie- with Something Wild and Married to the Mob.   These films were commercially successful and critically well received. As Demme’s career further develops, his films take on a darker resonance; Silence of the Lambs is a deeply disturbing film that maintains a tension and complexity beyond its assignation as a horror film. It surpasses the formulaic in its creation of complicated protagonists who are intelligent, complex and dimensional. Demme’s films tend to be orientated towards the female protagonist who is often more individualized, challenging the expectations of the entertainment film.

Demme’s Philadelphia is a tour de force, ideally casting Tom Hanks/Andrew Beckett with his middle-class American persona, as a gay man dying of AIDS and fighting discrimination in a highly prejudicial homophobic society. Numerous critics rejected Philadelphia at the time of its release, complaining that it presented a simplified Hollywood version of the disease. Philadelphia’s subject is homophobia within a culture profoundly unwilling to accept homosexuality on any level. It is a melodrama that unapologetically foregrounds its emotional impact. At its heart is the extraordinary sequence in which Beckett uses Maria Callas’ Norma to reveal his identity and love of life to his attorney Joe Miller/Denzel Washington in a highly personal manner. It is a sustained sequence of great beauty, and the opera is carried over as Miller leaves and returns to his home and family, taking with him the sensibility revealed by Andrew through his bodily response to Callas and the music. Like opera, the scene elevates the film to a level that moves beyond the word, without being maudlin or resorting to stereotype. In Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love, there is a scene in the unhappily married couple’s bedroom where they are mindlessly watching Philadelphia and the Callas aria can be heard. The title I Am Love refers to Norma and is a tribute to Demme’s achievement. More recently Paul Thomas Anderson acknowledges Demme; the final credit on Phantom Thread reads “for Jonathan Demme” a fitting and touching tribute to the director’s contribution to the cinema.

 

The Tarnished Angels

Dorothy Malone

January 29 1924 – January 19 2018

Dorothy Malone had a long career in classical Hollywood, beginning in 1940. Her promise was already evident in her small role with Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, one of the highlights of the film. This was followed by a series of genre films in which her characters were often conventional but even so her presence was visually striking and she brought a distinctive identity to her roles. In the mid 50s, Young at Heart offers Malone an opportunity to take on a supporting role of substance and complexity. In Battle Cry, Malone and Tab Hunter’s relationship utilizes fully the sexual aspects of her persona; it is a film that precedes and can be considered a forerunner to her collaborations with Douglas Sirk. Malone’s ability to project a darker melancholy and maturity is used magnificently by Sirk in Written on the Wind, where Malone’s summary comments in the film’s final court scene, of the sadness she and her brother experienced, bring a remarkable poignancy to the film. The Tarnished Angels is, in many ways, centered on Malone’s character and her complex sexual identity and the three men who care for her. Sirk understood the essence of Malone’s persona and fully utilized her heightened dramatic performances, bringing a depth and dimension to the generic frame of the melodrama by placing a woman’s moral downfall within a broader frame that indicts a patriarchal culture. Malone’s career dissipates following her work with Sirk and the decline of the studio system. She moves to television with Peyton Place that plays on the latter stages of her film career, and the failure of lost and missed opportunities explored in the melodrama.

Florence Jacobowitz and Richard Lippe

Editors

Florence Jacobowitz is is a film critic and scholar who teaches at York University. Her current project is on Isabelle Huppert and performance.

Richard Lippe teaches at York University, Toronto. He has been contributing prefaces to the Wayne State University Press series of new editions of Robin Wood’s directorial monographs and the forthcoming collection of Wood’s writings on the horror film.

1Buňuel, Louis. My Last Sigh Random House, New York, 1984 p. 241

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