I’m back in after the JAMAICA INN (1939) premiere party, winding down and thinking abut what a great night it was. My first red carpet went well. Norman Lloyd, Tere Carrubba, and Katie Fiala were generous interviewees. They were eager to talk about and connect over Alfred Hitchcock. I recorded our conversations, so I may release the audio at some point, but look for a write-up of the event and a review of the film soon. First I’ll be co-hosting a Flicker Alley Blu-ray/DVD contest. Details will go live at 9 AM PDT!
By msbethg in 1930s, Actresses, Alfred Hitchcock, Directors, Era, Maureen O'Hara, Screening Alert, Series 3 Comments Tags: A Mighty Wind, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Alfred Hitchcock, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, BAFTA LA, Best in Show, Charles Laughton, Charles S. Cohen, Cohen, Cohen Film Classics, Cohen Media Group, family, Fred Willard, granddaughter, granddaughters, Hitch, Hitchcock, Hollywood, Katie Fiala, KCET, KCETLink, Link TV, Los Angeles, Margaret Herrick Library, Mary Stone, Mary Yellen, Maureen O'Hara, Norman Lloyd, redhead, redheads on film, Saboteur, spellbound, Tere Carrubba
Sharing a black and white picture of Maureen O’Hara after and not on St. Patrick’s day might seem like a mistake. The Irish-born actress’s trademark was her flame red hair crowning her head in glory in technicolor pictures, so sharing a color photo of her to celebrate the holiday would’ve been festive, but that’s not what I’m celebrating today.
Tonight I’m in Los Angeles to watch JAMAICA INN (1939) for the first time. I’ve been invited as press to cover a special screening organized by KCETLink, the Cohen Media Group, and BAFTA LA. It celebrates KCET and Link TV’s broadcast premiere of the movie, the last one Alfred Hitchcock shot in the United Kingdom.
As part of the festivities, there’ll be a red carpet, which I’ve been credentialed for, so that marks a first for this film writer and her blog. Celebrity guests include Norman Lloyd (SABOTUER, SPELLBOUND, and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS) and Fred Willard (BEST IN SHOW and A Mighty Wind). There’ll be an exhibition of behind-the-scenes photographs of Hitchcock organized by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library. All three of the director’s granddaughters will be in attendance, and they’ll participate in a panel discussion moderated by host of the COHEN FILM CLASSICS series Charles S. Cohen.
When I heard that last fact, I had to rearrange my schedule to attend. I’m not sure how often his granddaughters (Tere Carrubba, Katie Fiala and Mary Stone) are in one place, and I can’t wait to hear what they share about their grandfather. I’ll be sure to share what live experiences I can on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, and you’ll definitely find more in-depth coverage here at a later date.
For now enjoy this picture of O’Hara as JAMAICA INN’s Mary Yellen. Even after a sub-par screen test, its male lead and producer Charles Laughton insisted she be cast as his co-star. He was bewitched by her eyes, and it’s easy to see why.
By msbethg in 1950s, 1960s, Actresses, Directors, Era, John Cassavetes, Judy Holliday, Nightmare in Wax (1969), Roger Corman, Series, The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956), Vista Theater Tags: 1950s, 1956, 1960s, 1967, 1969, 50s, 60’s, Art Deco, Cassavetes, Devil's Angels, end, fifties, film, film leader, film leaders, film stock, film title, film titles, films, found, found film, frame, frames, Gladys Glover, head, It Should Happen to You, John Cassavetes, Judy Holliday, movie, movie theater, movie theaters, movie theatre, movie theatres, movies, Nightmare in Wax, nitrate, nitrate film, prize, prize night, Rio Vista, Rio Vista Museum, Roger Corman, safety, safety film, safety stock, silent, Silent Film, silent films, silents, sixties, The Solid Gold Cadillac, theater, theaters, theatre, theatres, Vista Theater, Wednesday, Wednesday prize night
Living in a former movie theatre, it was the architecture of the place that connected my home to its former function–until this week. This week I went up into my attic, the former projection booth, to see how its roof has been holding up under the recent barrage of rain. My landlord was too good at clearing away the materials associated with movie exhibition. Most of the items in my attic were from recent tenants who used it as a dumping ground. I happened to notice a plastic shopping bag that hadn’t caught my eye before, and I picked it up to see what was inside. I found film!
As you can see above, the film isn’t in great shape. I stuck my nose in the bag to sniff. I was looking for a vinegar odor. That’s what decaying nitrate film stinks like. No such luck or peril! Touching the film, it felt like plastic. It must be safety stock. You can see the pieces vary in length, but all are short, and some have masking tape notations, which state the names of the movies they were once attached to. I had found mostly film leaders, the heads and ends of film used to thread movies into projectors.
I sorted through all the pieces to see if any contained images of interest. Most did not. I found some pieces with their titles imprinted on their frames, and I found three fragments of one theatre-specific film. I’ve included pictures of the ones that caught my attention the most in this post.
Two things I love about the above film leader–my home started as a silent movie theatre, so it’s fun to find a piece labelled sound, and the stencil font used is striking and vintage.
NIGHTMARE IN WAX (1969) was a low budget horror movie that revisited the mad man populating his wax museum with stolen bodies plot.
Long-term readers of this blog know I am a Judy Holliday fan. I was smiling almost as big as Gladys Glover when she sees her first billboard when I found part of THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC (1956) in my hands!
The above is my favorite! I’m guessing it is the oldest I found since it touts a Wednesday prize night, and it sports an Art Deco motif under the text. I’m going to take a closer look at it for dating. A visit to my town’s museum might help me find out what years the theatre ran their promotion. I’ve been meaning to go anyway!
By msbethg in 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1990s, Actresses, Carmen Miranda, Cry-Baby, Directors, Era, Film Fanatic Gear, John Waters, Movies, Series, Traci Lords Tags: 1930s, 1940s, 1990, 1990s, bobbypinsco, Brazillian, California, Californian, Carmen Miranda, collectibles, collecting, Cry-Baby, Fashion, fifties, film fan, film fanatic, forties, gear, John Waters, line, Luso, Luso-Brazilian, memorabilia, Miss Ladybug, Miss Ladybug California, nineties, nostalgia, pin-up, pinup, Pinup Girl, Pinup Girl Clothing, Portuguese, PUG, repro, repro vintage, reproduction, reproduction vintage, t-shirt, t-shirts, tee, tees, thirties, Traci Lords, vintage, vintage style, Wanda Woodward
Today I’m giving you a peek at two recent acquisitions. As we know, it’s very hard for film fanatics to resist collecting all sorts of memorabilia, and I’m no exception. I tend to amass movie books to build my own reference library, but my latest pieces are both items I can wear. I bought them from Californian repro vintage company Pinup Girl Clothing.
Do you recognize the woman portrayed by the pin? She’s Wanda Woodward, the desperate to be bad suburban girl from a loving and supportive home in John Waters‘ Cry-Baby (1990). Waters has written of how he admired the tough girls at school, and Wanda is a fifties embodiment of them–big hair, bright red lips, winged eyeliner, tight clothes, and fierce attitude. Twenty-six years from the movie’s release, she’s having a pop culture resurgence. There are t-shirt lines featuring at least her famous line, “Beat it, Creep!” One of the tops is even by her portrayer Traci Lords, so of course her visage is on those tees. I like this pin from bobbypinsco. It’s pretty and subtle. You’re either in the know about who the woman is or simply assume the wearer has vintage tastes.
I’ve written about Luso-Brazilian entertainer Carmen Miranda before, and now I get to sport a shirt showing my fondness for her and my love of retro design. This tee is by Miss Ladybug California. I suspect they use found graphics. Doesn’t Carmen look like she was drawn in the late thirties to early forties? The fabric is a slightly yellowish off-white, and like a lot of pinup lines the top runs small. It has a straight up and down slim cut. Anyone interested in getting her own, I’d advise the shirt has some stretch, but not a lot, and the fabric is thin. Buy by your chest size, and size up if you’re in between sizes. I’m going to be hand-washing and line drying my shirt to make it last!
Disclosure: I bought these items, and I am not receiving affiliate program compensation for my post.
By msbethg in #52FilmsByWomen, #52FilmsByWomen, Actresses, Bettie Page, Biopics, Directors, Drama, Fandoms, Genres, Gretchen Mol, Mary Harron, Quick Reviews, Series, Viewing Campaigns Tags: #52FilmsByWomen, Bettie Page, biographies, biography, biopic, biopics, bondage, director, directors, fetish, film, filmmaker, filmmakers, glamour, Gretchen Mol, icon, icons, Mary Harron, model, models, movie, pin-up, pin-ups, pinup, pinups, Playboy Playmate, Playboy Playmates, The Notorious Bettie Page, tigers, woman, women
Last night I watched The Notorious Bettie Page (2005) because it was her birthday. Gretchen Mol does a great job in embodying Bettie, which took guts. Mol had to know what scrutiny she’d be under to look like the famous model, replicate her ease and joy in posing, and radiate a personality that made much of her more extreme work seem like softer, campy fun, but still sexy. Mary Harron makes sure there’s a humor to the film, and she showcases many of her actresses’ work over the supporting male actors’. The soundtrack and visuals are of the era. The living magazine covers are a nice touch. For feminists the movie will have an empowering, sex positive appeal. Bettie is shown having agency to pose or to retire into her Christian faith without regretting her life or actions and without her beliefs being knocked. Her journey is respected. The movie ends early in her life with no hint of her later mental health struggles. A positive portrayal of a woman, whose later years I wish were as happy as many scenes in this film.
More about #52FilmsByWomen here.
By msbethg in 1950s, Actresses, Appreciations, Bird of Paradise (1951), Debra Paget, Delmer Daves, Directors, Guy Maddin, Moments, Movies Tags: 1932, 1951, 2015, BAMPFA, Clara Furey, Debra Paget, Debra Paget For Example, Delmer Daves, Dolores del Río, dream, dream-like, Guy Maddin, indigenous, island, King Vidor, natives, offering, oversaturated, Pacific Film Archive, PFA, Polynesian, sacrifice, sacrificial, South Sea, surreal, Technicolor, The Forbidden Room, valcano, volcano
When watching Debra Paget, For Example (2015) and seeing clips of the actress‘s work, I was struck by the beautiful colors and dramatic shots that could be found in many of her films, which I had presumed to be mostly B movies. Maybe they weren’t all quality or fully successful pictures, but I caught myself finding aspects of them to admire.
Bird of Paradise (1951) stood out in this regard. I’ve only seen King Vidor‘s 1932 version starring Dolores del Río in its entirety, not the Delmer Daves‘ remake starring Paget. Dolores looked beautiful in her film and played her part well, but Paget had an acting advantage to make her character’s tragic ending even more impactful–Technicolor and framings like below. The intensity of color suggests the intensity of the heat and flames she’s walking through and the intensity of the lava she will be leaping into..
The colors and subject matter connected me back to another film I’d seen in February at the BAMPFA, Guy Maddin‘s The Forbidden Room (2015). His dream-like mix of genre stories within genre stories connecting to other genre stories that fade in and out of each other as one takes momentary prominence also featured island sequences with their not-so-indigenous-looking natives, volcano shots and flames, and another sacrifice. A Grantland interview cites Vidor’s movie as an influence, it was part of an earlier wave of Polynesian pictures, but it’s easier to see Daves’ movie as having greater influence. It’s in the oversaturated colors; it’s in the shots of another dark-haired woman’s flame-framed face. A great moment will make a film live on–in memories, in the subconscious, in dreams, and maybe once again on the screen. Reinterpretation is a compliment.
By msbethg in Actresses, Debra Paget, Directors, Documentaries, Film Essays, Genres, Mark Rappaport, Movie Review, Reviews Tags: 2oth Century Fox, actress, age, Betty Grable, camp, Caroline Simonds, classic, classic film, classic film era, commodification, Cry of the City, dancer, Debra Paget, Debra Paget For Example, director, Fandor, Final Cut Pro, For Example, Fritz Lang, gay, genre, Jewishness, John Philip Sousa, kitsch, Las Vegas, Mac, Maria Montez, Marilyn Monroe, Mark Rappaport, narrator, parenthesis, Princess of Kitsch, Queen of Kitsch, Richard Conte, Robert Siodmak, sex, sexuality, singer, Stars and Stripes Forever, studio, studio system, Ten Commandments, The Indian Tomb
Beautiful, classic film era actress Debra Paget never quite became an A-list star. Despite being in some high profile films, she was mostly relegated to genre roles, usually playing exotic parts and often wearing skimpy and skin-tight costuming. Filmmaker Mark Rappaport chose her as the subject of one of his latest video essays, Debra Paget, For Example (2015), that’s part career biography, part examination of studio era Hollywood, and part personal digression into side topics or characters that interest him.
Rappaport performs a sort of archaeology with classic film elements. The majority of his movie is comprised of clips from Paget’s films. He allows some excerpts to play straight through, while with others he creates new scenes by making collages with with his selected images and moments. At times the material shown simply supports the biography. Other times it’s used to illustrate points. Because of the material he’s working with, a video made in his Paris apartment on a Mac with Final Cut Pro has an expensive, glamorous look. Aspirational DIY filmmakers could be inspired by how easy it would be technology-wise to create their own movies without ever leaving home.
When the documentary opens, Rappaport repeatedly superimposes the 2oth Century Fox logo over Paget’s face. This happens first in black and white and then in Technicolor. During her fifteen year film career, she was a contract player for the studio for eight years. Those were her career’s glory years. She once was third in the volume of fan mail received there, only being bested by Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Getting beyond the surrealism of a logo appearing and disappearing through fade and reverse fade over her visage, the imagery suggests she was part of the studio, branded by it, and never bigger than it. She will always be part of its story and vice versa.
The director narrates the documentary and he attempts to provide a female companion voice by having Caroline Simonds periodically speak Paget’s thoughts. Simonds never really says anything to counter to Rappaport’s narration. Instead her lines bolster his point of view. Her lines don’t always ring true or come from a female point of view.
Rappaport brings up that in Paget’s film debut, Robert Siodmak‘s film noir Cry of the City (1948), it is weird that a fourteen year-old is the romantic love interest of thirty-eight year old Richard Conte‘s character. Simonds retrogradely asks, “Why is my mother allowing this?” Paget’s mother was a stage mother and pushed all of her children into performing careers, but her father was part of their family life. Either parent could have reviewed her potential roles and rejected parts or scenes. Ultimately that’s not the perspective of a fourteen year-old girl. Someone that age tends to think they’re more grown-up than they are. Paget might have thought Conte ancient as the young feel about anyone that much older than them, or she might have been so excited about playing such a dramatic role that the age difference might not have been on her mind, or she could have had an age inappropriate crush. Those are possibilities.
The filmmaker points out that Paget is repeatedly cast as older than her age. She later plays a college coed when she’s really high school age. There’s a suggestion that she was pushed into maturity working in an adult business. There’s a suggestion of how movies do sell us illusions. There’s a suggestion that the commodification of her charms had begun.
Rappaport evaluates Paget’s talents. In “her very first shot in her very first film,” he sees skill. “She knows how to walk across a room. Not as easy to do as you might think.” He praises her for being able to cry on demand. Essentially he goes on to say and show she could act, dance, and sing. She might have had a very different career as the musical film biography of John Philip Sousa Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) showed, except musical movies were on their way out.
The dark-haired-but-blue-eyed Paget found herself the studio’s go to woman for ethnic roles. She played Middle Eastern, Native American, South Sea island, and East Indian parts. For some films, she’d wear contact lenses to turn her eyes brown. She hated that because Kleig lights would heat the lenses up. Her thoughts on having her skin darkened for roles might not be recorded. Rappaport creates a sequence showing her many exotic parts. Not only does it highlight the absurdity of the films she was cast in, but also it acts like an odd sort of fashion show, and while the castings and characters were ethnically tone deaf, there’s a pleasure in seeing a beautiful woman wearing outlandish fashions in glorious Technicolor that makes everything prettier than it should be.
He discusses how sexualized her roles were. There’s the aforementioned skimpy and skin-tight outfits. In the Biblically inspired Ten Commandments (1956), her character was a sex slave, and the costuming had her braless. In Fritz Lang‘s The Indian Tomb (1959), she performs a bump and grind dance routine more suited to Las Vegas stages. Because of her image, Rappaport mentions how Paget was the first crush of many a boy. Those crushes may or may not have been innocent. I’m sure there was many a lad (and a lassie) who didn’t know why they adored the actress, who were getting a hint of what their budding sexualities were. Rappaport chooses to focus on the masturbatory fantasies she inspired. No mention is made of those who may have been influenced to be like the Paget they saw on the screen, a very different kind of wanting.
When the director digresses, parenthesis appear on the screen. They look like crescent moons, tying into the exotic mysticism of some of Paget’s parts. Digressions can be relevant, like when he compares Paget to Maria Montez, “The Queen of Kitsch.” Montez’s roles surpass Paget’s in outrageousness of performance and costuming as a montage shows. He appoints Paget “The Princess of Kitsch,” and then he says that one person’s kitsch may be another’s nostalgia, and he seems not to want to rob anyone of their pleasure in that nostalgia. Momentarily, he’ll focus on other performers because of their Jewishness or sexuality, Paget being the launching pad to that discussion. Despite the tangents, Rappaport covers a lot of of her life in little more than a half hour.
Even if I didn’t always agree with Rappaport, Debra Paget, For Example was a fun way to spend time. I’d seen the actress in multiple movies, but I’d never investigated her, and the documentary piqued my interest in seeing more of her films. I enjoy kitsch and camp. Within films not successful at being what their creators hoped them to be and getting remembered for the wrong reasons, there were performers like Paget working hard to make something out of a role and lucking into starring in moments of stunning imagery.
By msbethg in #52FilmsByWomen, Directors, Viewing Campaigns, Women Film Directors Tags: #52FilmsByWomen, animation, blogathon, Blogathons, campaign, Dance Girl Dance, director, directors, documentaries, documentary, Dorothy Arzner, female, feminism, feminist, feminists, Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco, Mabel Normand, narrative, pledge, silent era, Silent Film, silent films, silents, viewing, watchathon, watching, women, women in media, women in the arts, Women's History Month
During my recent blogging hiatus, I took a movie-watching pledge that’s perfect to share with you during March, which is Women’s History Month. I pledged to watch 52 Films By Women. I’m watching at least one film directed by a woman a week. I started fulfilling my pledge in January. I’m not alone in joining the campaign. As of today, 6,546 other people have made the same promise and are seeking out movies made by women film directors.
Women in Film (WIF) came up with the idea. They’re an advocacy group for women in media. Their goal is to see “gender parity reflected on and off screen” and ensure that “rich, diverse experiences of women’s lives are reflected on screen.” WIF “found that one of the barriers for female directors is a perceived scarcity of talent pool and experience.” Their 52 Films By Women project is a way to draw attention to the wide body of work from the silent era to today that’s available to be viewed, enjoyed, discussed, shared, and inspire future films.
If you’d like to participate, it’s very easy to. Fill out their pledge form here. Start watching films made by women. Share what you see with others. Tweet about the movies. Blog about them. Make Instagram, YouTube, and Vine posts. Remember to use the hashtag #52FilmsByWomen where appropriate. Talk to people about the movies. Organize your own home or theatre viewings. Have fun finding the work that is out there!
I’ve been sharing what I watch on Twitter, but moving forward I plan to feature the films on this blog. I’ve been selecting from the full time range of available offerings from the silent and classic eras to the present day, and the genres have varied within the formats of narrative film, animation, and documentary. I’ve been trying to make all movies first viewings and seek ones I’ve not seen before, but I was away on a trip last weekend, and while I watched a woman directed film in a theatre, it was one I’d seen previously. Maybe one week I’ll watch two to make up for that!
By msbethg in 1930s, Actresses, Black Friday, Charley Chase, Comedies, Directors, Era, Genres, Hal Roach, Holidays, Length, Producers, Shorts, Slapstick, Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts Tags: 1930s, 30s, bargain shopping, battling for bargains, Billy Gilbert, Black Friday, Charley Chase, comedies, comedy, comedy duo, comedy duos, comedy team, comedy teams, female, Hal Roach, in movies, James P. Burtis, on film, pre-code, pre-codes, precode, precodes, sales, short, shorts, slapstick, teaming, teamings, Thelma Todd, thirties, Zasu Pitts
Feeling Black Friday fatigue? Here’s a delightful Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts comedy teaming, The Bargain of the Century (1933), that pokes fun at battling for bargains for you! The duo’s slapstick antics bring humor to scenes best experienced secondhand. In their quest for a good deal, the women give and get bruises in a rough shopping crowd. Each lady does so in her own inherently idiosyncratic style. Thelma’s character is a scrapper, not afraid to get into the mêlée, and ZaSu’s character eventually gets a grabbing with her formerly timid, fluttering hands. Their shopping excursion ends up costing them more than they saved when they accidentally get a policeman (James P. Burtis) fired, whom they have to house and feed until they find him a new job. Of course, that task turns out not to be so easy! Watch the videos below to see how it all plays out.
Why the fervor over the Criterion Collection?
When DVD technology was new, I read in Movieline and other magazines filmmakers and actors praising the technology and claiming watching DVDs was like taking a film class. DVDs offered extras that most VHS tapes did not. Today the content on DVDs and Blu-rays varies. They might contain supplements, but if they’re made-on-demand, bonus features are likely to be minimal–if they are even included. The Criterion Collection carries on the tradition of educating film fanatics about the movies they love.
The company focuses on world classics and movies otherwise deemed culturally important. It packages home viewing copies in carefully designed cases usually including booklets containing essays written by experts on the films or their subject matters. Aspect ratio police can relax when watching a Criterion disc. When buying one, they will never buy a pan and scan, essentially a new directorial version of the film sacrificing its full screen image by cropping it to fit yesteryear’s square televisions. The distributor standardized the letterbox format for widescreen films on discs.
Sometimes Criterion’s licensing for movies lapses, and it cannot produce new copies for sale. The threat of time limited editions pressures movie lovers to buy discs sooner versus later. Tardy and unlucky cinéastes risk having hunt for them on the used market, where hard-to-get out-of-print editions can be costly.
As of my writing this post, a Google search of the words Criterion Collection yields 9.3 million hits. Most of that content isn’t even produced by the company. Fans share their Criterion hauls across social media. Some make blog posts and podcasts about individual films. Others go even further devoting their entire blogs and podcasts to covering only Criterion’s offerings. This blogathon is another contribution to the cult of Criterion!
In order to best cover Georges Franju‘s Judex (1963) for the Criterion Collection blogathon, I’m reviewing not only the film, but also its packaging and bonus features. I bought the dual-format edition, so all details following below refer to that edition, but a one-disc DVD edition is available.
Packaging & General Contents
The set comes in a sturdy box, squatter than a traditional DVD case, but of the same width and length. While the case is classic Blu-ray size, the plastic is not blue. It is clear, so that it does not detract from the cover artwork. Inside is a thirty-seven page booklet and three discs. One disc is a Blu-ray, and the other two are DVDs.
Packaging Design & Booklet Artwork
Art directors for this set are Sarah Habibi and Eric Skillman. The packaging design is by Skillman, “a Brooklyn-based designer, art director, and writer, best known for his work with The Criterion Collection, where he has been firmly ensconced since 2002.” Ron Wimberly, best known as a comics writer and artist, provides the illustrations, including the cover image. He designed the box art for Criterion’s Zatoichi collection.
Their challenge was to make the package and booklet visually tie into the Judex’s silent film aesthetics. They did a superb job! All design elements are in the color palette of silent film. They’re in whites, blacks, and grays with orange added as the one vivid, popping color. A modernized, meaning streamlined, art nouveau style is found in every design element. Major sections of the booklet are demarcated by intertitle-style boxes with art nouveau framing, and those frames are copies of ones in the movie’s opening credit sequence. Art nouveau embellishments mark essay and interview breaks. Wimberly’s illustrations have a simplified style. His subjects from the film are immediately recognizable, but they’re rendered in a style where the film’s decadent art nouveau aesthetic meets a graphic novel pop art style.
The booklet contains the film’s cast and credits listings, the essay The Secret of Heart of Judex by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien, selected commentary by the director entitled Franju on Judex, information on the transfer, special thanks and acknowledgements, and productions credits. O’Brien’s essay covers a lot of ground, from Louis Feuillade‘s cinematic contributions and rediscovery, to his original Judex (1916), to what both directors have in common, to an evaluation of Franju’s version, and to how a reimagining of Feuillade’s Judex could result in a highly personal film for Franju with a lasting contribution to pop culture. In his commentary, Franju discusses how he actually wanted to remake Fantômas, but was solicited to remake Judex and how he modernized the telling of the tale while attempting to keep the original film’s atmosphere. He reveals how he felt about his main actors and characters. For example, his muse and frequent collaborator Édith Scob gave him déjà vu when he first met her. A diversion into Le grand Méliès connects back to Judex, but before it does some wonderful anecdotes about Jehanne d’Alcy, Méliès second wife and widow, are shared.
According to the booklet, “Judex is presented in its original aspect ratio of about 1.66:1.” On my widescreen television, the film’s images filled my screen without any letterboxing, but on standard 4:3 televisions and some widescreen models, you may see black bars to maintain screen format. The new transfer “was recreated in 2k resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative.” During the restoration process, “thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed.” The resulting movie I watched has a gorgeous look, clear of signs of aging with the dreamlike silent film aesthetic intact and details in set design, clothing, and actors’ expressions readily studiable.
While this Judex is a near silent in some parts, it has spoken dialogue and a soundtrack by Maurice Jarre, another frequent collaborator with Georges Franju. From the booklet: “The original monoaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.” Again no signs of aging are audible in the movie’s soundtrack. The resulting soundtrack is clear.
Contents of the Three Discs
The single Blu-ray contains the movie, a searchable timeline, film chapters, supplements, and an option to turn off or on English subtitles (The default is on). DVD 1 contains the movie, film chapters, and the option to turn off or on English subtitles. DVD 2 contains the DVD version of all the supplements found on the Blu-ray disc.
The menu screen design of the Blu-ray is quite clever. As you prepare to watch the movie or its extras, you see Judex’s observation screen. Images from the film play within its frame on a loop. The soundtrack has a shorter loop than the images. It features a segment sounding quite sci-fi. You’ll likely not leave on the menu screen too long before the sounds of such a short loop get annoyingly repetitive.
- The first bonus feature is an interview with Francine Bergé, who played Marie Verdier/Diana Monti. The interview was recorded in 2012 for Paris’s La Cinémathèque française. She talks about what it was like working with Franju and the other actors and what a fun time she had on the set. Franju’s main character direction was for her to play her role as “evil.” She relates a sad on the set tale about costar Channing Pollock.
- The second is a 2007 interview with Judex cowriter Jacques Champreux. Franju credited Champreux for removing any aspect resembling movie serials in their retelling. He called Champreux “a habitué of the Boulevard of Crime” and one of “the most creative writers.” Champreux was involved with the project first, and he was the one who solicited Franju to participate. Champreux, also, happened to be the grandson of Louis Feuillade.
- The third supplement is Franju Le Visionnaire. It’s a fifty-minute program consisting of interviews with Franju that spanned twenty-three years. The last was filmed shortly before his death. Clips of his better known films are spliced into the interviews, and works covered include his documentaries, like Le sang des bêtes/Blood of the Beasts, as well as his fiction films, like Les Yeux sans visage/Eyes without a Face. Franju Le Visionnaire was originally broadcast as part of the French television series Cinéma, de notre temps in 1998. The interviews expand on the booklet’s material in Franju on Judex going deeper into his film-making philosophies and techniques and his work on Judex.
- The fourth is short Le grand Méliès (1952). It’s a biographical tribute to early film pioneer Georges Méliès, whose movie career ended around the onset of World War I. Méliès started in magic theatre shows, and after seeing the Lumière brothers privately demonstrate their cinematograph, he knew it could be used for entertainment purposes. Franju’s film starts when elderly Méliès runs a toy store and jumps to the end of his pure theatre career as he segues into his movie career before ending in 1953, past Méliès death. His wife Jehanne d’Alcy plays herself, and Méliès’ son André plays his father. The movie is a creative way of teaching film history while demonstrating early film-making techniques.
- The final extra is Hôtel des Invalides (1951). It features music by Maurice Jarre and cinematography by Marcel Fraedetal, both collaborators on Judex. It’s an antiwar documentary short. Hôtel starts off seeming like a simple cinematic tour of the museum in the former hospital. We follow a young couple visiting the site. The movie ultimately shows the human cost of war. We’re shown the place’s burial site, and we’re shown physically and likely psychologically wounded veterans being celebrated for their service. Hôtel hints war is not over as one of its final shorts contains child soldiers, eager to grow up and serve.
If you have seen Louis Feuillade’s movie serials Judex (1916) and Les Vampires (1915), you’ll get the most enjoyment out of this film. While it functions as an entertainment on its own, including scenes of original, strong imagery, it’s a lot more fun to see the ways in which Georges Franju’s film remains faithful to its source material and when it deviates. Placed throughout the movie are what we now call Easter eggs to Musidora‘s performance as Irma Vep in Les Vampires. Franju was known for mixing documentary style with the dreamlike, and his Judex screens like we’re watching his fever dream that crosses Feuillade’s films and a groovy, sixties crime thriller.
Franju loved how monochromatic silent film made everything beautiful, even the mundane. He was influenced by surrealism, expressionism, documentaries, and the French “tradition of quality.” Aware of his influences, he was driven to pursue his own vision: “I like films that make me dream, but I don’t like anyone to to dream for me.” He discovered Louise Feuillade’s films in 1938. He and Henri Langlois “included some of them in a retrospective program at the Venice Film Festival.” Franju complimented Feuillade saying, his style “does not seem like a style. . .His way of telling the simple or crazy stories that are made still more extraordinary by the familiar natural settings whose reality–the truth–always makes them beautiful.” It’s hard not to read that description and see those elements in Franju’s works.
Franju wanted to remake Fantômas, but its rights were not available, so he consented to work on Judex. He saw Judex, in the name of good, as being as horrible as Fantômas. In Franju’s film, Judex (Channing Pollock) loses his revenge tale. A backstory whose DNA can be found in pop culture creations like Batman is gone. Instead Judex metes out justice against the horrible banker Favraux (Michel Vitold) for no reason. Why did Judex decide to turn vigilante and punish Favraux for his crimes? Has Judex punished anyone else before? Is he letting out a dark side in the name of good? We never find out. Perhaps if Judex whims had turned another way, he’d be a criminal like Fantômas. Perhaps Franju’s Judex’s DNA can be found in television shows like Dexter.
Even though Judex’s targeting of Favraux starts the plot going, he becomes reactionary to the antics of Diana Monti (Francine Bergé), nanny to Favraux’s grandchild under the false name Marie Verdier. Diana has a scheme to marry Favraux, so she can get access to his wealth. Judex seems to kill Favraux at a party, and then Judex secretly kidnaps the comatose Favraux. Diana is the only one bright enough to realize the ruse. We’re never told what motivates her other than greed and jealousy, but Bergé is a better actor than Pollock and has more presence, so she makes the more use of her greater screen time. Her Diana is evil, sexy, and profane. A feat when following Musidora’s performances!
Édith Scob’s Jacqueline Favraux is Diana’s opposite. She’s the good woman whose strong moral character survives despite being the pawn of so many in the story. Her father Favraux had married her off too young to a man old enough to leave her a widow with a young child. Her father plans to marry her off again for his convenience to a penniless man of low morals. After her father’s “death,” his true nature is revealed to her, and she renounces her portion of his fortune, while leaving her child’s in trust for her to decide what to do with it when she comes of age. Jacqueline’s suitor breaks their engagement, and her only remaining friend is family servant Vallieres. Thin Scob conveys a physical fragility later exploited by Diana, and Scob gives Jacqueline’s eyes a haunting, soulful look that replaces her initial sunniness and naiveté.
Judex and Jacqueline stand in Diana’s way. She needs to find Favraux to “save” him so she can marry him. Judex knows where Favraux is, and Jacqueline is the heir who can make trouble for Diana and prevent her marriage. Diana repeatedly attacks Jacqueline, and while Judex doesn’t prevent the attacks, he’s too consumed in punishing her father, he repeatedly saves her. It’s sheer luck that Diana’s efforts don’t kill Jacqueline before Judex’s appearances. Further speaking to his impotency against Diana, it will be another female, Daisy (Sylva Koscina), more robust than Jacqueline, but also a wearer of white, who will prove to be more than Diana’s equal in a rooftop battle.
The film’s setting exists in an alternate reality merging 1914 and 1963. All the cars driven are vintage, and one neat scene features headlights being lit by hand with flame. The characters wear sixties clothing that echoes their characters’ silent film origins. There’s a tribute scene to Les Vampires’ Apache dance sequence. Diana and her boyfriend Morales (Théo Sarapo), are dressed like mod reinterpretations of Irma Vep and her companion. Judex has gadgets and a secret lair like in the silent, but they’re upgraded for the sixties, like Judex’s observation mirror. Phones and decor remain vintage style. As in the original Judex and in Les Vampires, the decor offers much eye candy and design inspiration. My favorite set piece is Favraux’s art nouveau embroidered desk chair.
Franju fills his film with beautiful and surreal and frightening images. A kidnap attempt on Jacqueline is foiled when German shepherds suddenly appear on the grounds. They drive Diana and her henchman away, and one dog rests his paw protectively on Jacqueline. The scene is like something out of a fairy tale. In another scene while dressed as a nun, Diana attacks Jacqueline with a hypodermic needle. It’s done in daylight and in public, and no one notices. Later Diana has drugged Jacqueline dropped into the river, where she floats away. Shots of her in the water evoke Ophelia. Near film’s end, Judex’s men carefully scale the wall of Diana’s hideout. They move slowly up it like insects.
The movie’s standout scene is its masquerade ball. Pollock is best made use of in this sequence. The tall, handsome man stands outside the party. As the camera pans up his tuxedo, he’s revealed to be wearing a hawk’s mask, and its face looks toward the camera, breaking the fourth wall. He turns his attention to what appears to be a dead dove, picks it up, and carries it on his hand into and through the party onto the stage. With a sleight of hand, the dead dove becomes a living one and flies out toward the crowd. A crowd of people wearing bird and insect-like masks. Pollock was a stage illusionist best known for his grace in making doves appear out of nowhere. For a moment, Pollock has something in common with his director. Both skillfully make illusions to entertain.