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Friday, 23 March 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare ponders the late 50s Warners house style in AUNTIE MAME (Morton DaCosta, USA, 1958)

Mame (Roz Russell) with Vera Charles (Coral Browne) and Lindsay (Patric Knowles), (above, click to enlarge) in a rare didactic moment from the eponymous adaptation of Patrick Dennis' quasi-biographical novel, Auntie Mame.

If ever there was a movie that sang out (Louise) the gay experience of a young boy, without ever acknowledging it (more or less impossible in 1958) this movie must be it although the only fleeting reference to that which dare not speak its name or any other parts is once only alluded to with a clutch of several older Tweed-clad Radclyffe Hall dykes at one of Mame's late parties in Manhattan.

I am in multiple minds about this picture. On one hand I accept it as a part of that run of highly static and Broadway-based stage and music theatre works Warners adapted from the mid-fifties onwards, forever ending the direction of the peak movie musical, along with Fox studios and their R&H franchise. But I am a dinosaur and I still regret the passing of the Freed Unit and its glories, probably absurdly and wrong-headedly. So I am an official Mame Grump.

But how far can one be a grump when confronted with so much high end campery in a single film (despite the subject being the literal elephant in the room), with the supreme talents of people like Orry-Kelly for wardrobe, the adaptation of Dennis' book by Comden and Green, a brassy Warner orchestra (post Salinger) score from Bronislau Kaper, and Harry Stradling photographing one of the very first 6 perf Technirama movies, itself a graduation from the earlier and more expensive, super high quality 8-perf VIstavision, with dye transfer 50s top quality printing for the 35mm and masked reduction prints by Technicolor.

At bottom however I have a distaste for the sheer mercenary throwaway of a nasty line like "Life is a banquet and all the suckers are standing outside." It seems to belie a would-be Bohemian approach to life being performed by a woman, indeed a group of people for whom possession and white privilege is everything, for all their protestations of liberalism. So grump I remain.

The disc needless to say is from a spanking new 2K scan of pristine elements and is flawless. To be downed with a lot of vodka martinis to keep the occasional saccharine moments at bay.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

CINEMA REBORN - "the best film ever made" THE CRIME OF M. LANGE (Jean Renoir, France, 1936)

Bologna's finest: Cinema Arlecchino interior
If there is any single film that might be called the impetus for CINEMA REBORN, it’s Jean Renoir’s The Crime of M. Lange.  Walking down Bologna’s  Via delle Lame last year with my friend Tony Rayns we fell into step with a young Australian academic also heading for the Cinema Arlecchino for a screening of Renoir’s film. “Seen this film?” we asked the young man. “No”. “Well, well. Never seen Le Crime de M. Lange. This is going to be one of the great moments of your life as a cinephile” said Rayns. And indeed it should have been.

Jean Renoir
So there we were in a packed house in the Arlecchino where, for the first time in half a century or more, the film screened as Renoir, his photographer Jean Bachelet and composers Joseph Kosma and Jean Wiener would have wanted it to be seen and heard. The images from the battered, grey and muffled 16mm prints that had lodged in the memory were swept away as a copy was projected that restored all of the film’s luminous black and white.

The young man from StudioCanal who introduced the film said it was the most difficult 4K restoration that the company had ever undertaken. The material which they had to use was very poor. We all knew it. We’d seen it, including on the copy David Stratton screened on SBS in the 90s.

There are films which cause me to tear up a little from the start. The memory of previous viewings kicks in so strongly that you are hurled back into the experience of viewing even before it has hardly begun to weave its magic. (I have to confess that Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg does it for me time and again. It even happened last week when I chanced to see one of the more emotional scenes in Parapluies when David Stratton was running through excepts from some French films from 1964.)

René Lefèvre, Odette Florelle, Le Crime de M. Lange
M. Lange is in that category. Not exactly acute critical assessment but there you are.

There are some more detailed notes on the film here on the Cinema Reborn website. What I don’t say there is that yes, if I were asked, I would nominate this not merely in my top ten but in fact I think I would class it as the best film ever made.

So…There had to be a way of bringing it home…and here we are…

Screens at CINEMA REBORN on Sunday 6 May at 5.15 pm with an introduction (gulp) by moi. 

Subscription tickets to CINEMA REBORN are now on sale. Subscriptions are $85 which admits to all films in the program.  To purchase subscriptions and to make donations to support future CINEMA REBORN activity you should click on this link