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Author Topic: Jean-Pierre Melville  (Read 3999 times)
drinkanddestroy
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« Reply #30 on: May 13, 2017, 07:29:15 PM »

Btw, I remember hearing somewhere (maybe Criterion bonus features?) that Melville shot lots more footage than what was in the final film. And the stuff that was cut had to do with life under the Ocuupation; the final film focuses more on the discussions with the priest.

Film Forum is calling this a director's cut, but I am not sure how accurate that is

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« Reply #31 on: May 14, 2017, 02:14:28 AM »

In the wonderful interview book (by Rui Nogueira, my second Melville book) Melville's says that the original version ran 193 min, and that the 2 protagonists meet there only after over one hour of the runtime. But it was Melville himself who decided to cut it down to 128 min. Against the wishes of the producer and other of the film's participants btw.

After he had more or less wasted most of the 50s, he made only 3 not successful movies in the 12 years since Les enfants terribles, Melville probably was in need of a commercial success. In this interview with Nogueira from 1970 he asks himself if it was a mistake to cut the film down, but isn't sure what was right.
The runtime is here 114 min, with no explanation for the further difference to the mentioned 128 min runtime.

Maybe the 193 min cut was also lost in the flames, when his own studio burnt down in 1967.

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« Reply #32 on: May 14, 2017, 02:35:39 AM »

In the wonderful interview book (by Rui Nogueira, my second Melville book)

unfortunately, that Noguiera book is out of print; the rare used copies that are available are going for $120 + on Amazon/eBay.

I just read Ginette Vincendau's book Jean-Pierre Melville; An American in Paris (which, btw, quotes lots of stuff from Noguiera's interview book). While I appreciate Vincendeau writing what I believe is still the only English book on Melville (besides Nogueira's interview book), I did not realize that GV's book is not a biography but a film study. I can't stand film studies, that nerdy crap written by professors.


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« Reply #33 on: May 14, 2017, 02:50:02 AM »

In the wonderful interview book (by Rui Nogueira, my second Melville book) Melville's says that the original version ran 193 min, and that the 2 protagonists meet there only after over one hour of the runtime. But it was Melville himself who decided to cut it down to 128 min. Against the wishes of the producer and other of the film's participants btw.

After he had more or less wasted most of the 50s, he made only 3 not successful movies in the 12 years since Les enfants terribles, Melville probably was in need of a commercial success. In this interview with Nogueira from 1970 he asks himself if it was a mistake to cut the film down, but isn't sure what was right.
The runtime is here 114 min, with no explanation for the further difference to the mentioned 128 min runtime.

Maybe the 193 min cut was also lost in the flames, when his own studio burnt down in 1967.

Melville was not a very prolific filmmaker (13 features), because he was fiercely independent. Many of his movies were struggles to make and finance. The only real commercial flop he made was Two Men in Manhattan; it was after that movie that famously announced that he is going to start making commercial films. Leone Morin, Priest was the first film he subsequently made.
But two previous films of his were also adaptations of famous books: Le Silence de la Mer and Les Enfants Terribles. And whether or not he meant it when he said he'd go commercial after  Two Men in Manhattan , it did not hurt his work one bit: he still made great and stylish films. Films he made after Two Men in Manhattan include Le Samourai (which many consider his masterpiece and which may be his most stylish film), Le Doulos, Le Deuxieme Souffle, Army of Shadows, and Le Cercle Rouge. In my book, all those films get 8/10 or higher. The other movies he made after  Two Men in Manhattan are Leon Morin, Priest, which I did not like the one time I saw it, but I'll give it another watch; Magnet of Doom aka L'Aîné des Ferchaux, the only Melville feature I have not seen, and Un Flic, his final film, which was the worst of his crime movies and much criticized but far from terrible IMO.

As GV writes, the Cahiers people did criticize his later work, using against him his comments about going commercial.
But the Cahiers people were sometimes full of shit.

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« Reply #34 on: May 14, 2017, 03:36:39 AM »

Melville was not a very prolific filmmaker (13 features), because he was fiercely independent. Many of his movies were struggles to make and finance. The only real commercial flop he made was Two Men in Manhattan; it was after that movie that famously announced that he is going to start making commercial films. Leone Morin, Priest was the first film he subsequently made.


I don't think he really went commercial, otherwise he had done something different than Leon Morin, but he had trouble to get films made then, and he knew he could not afford to make a real flop.

I also don't think that any of his 50s film made money, not sure about his 2 early ones, but I doubt that they did. Maybe Bob le flambeur had a sort of success, but he was in a difficult position. He got some recognition and had some influence on younger filmmakers, but his outsider status made his projects look risky for producers.

Well, in the end he could make films on a regular basis up to his premature death, even if there was another bigger gap of 4 years between 1962 and 66. And he had enough success in these years, he could work with some of the big stars (Belmondo, Ventura, Delon, Deneuve), and he got his well deserved critical acclaim.

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« Reply #35 on: May 14, 2017, 11:33:50 AM »

I don't think he really went commercial, otherwise he had done something different than Leon Morin, but he had trouble to get films made then, and he knew he could not afford to make a real flop.

I also don't think that any of his 50s film made money, not sure about his 2 early ones, but I doubt that they did. Maybe Bob le flambeur had a sort of success, but he was in a difficult position. He got some recognition and had some influence on younger filmmakers, but his outsider status made his projects look risky for producers.
From what I understand, When You Read This Letter (1953) did very well at the box office. Leon Morin was a Carlo Ponti production of a best-selling novel starring 2 of the biggest French stars of the period. There was simply no way that wasn't going to be commercially successful. The real mystery is why Ponti gave the property to Melville to direct--he could have tapped just about anyone.

G.V. makes the very good point that the film combines elements of the New Wave (the very talky scenes) with classical filmmaking techniques. This was a good strategy for a dual story-telling approach (life under the Occupation/a woman in love with her priest), and perhaps Melville was one of the few people who could pull that off. Anyway, the woman who wrote the autobiographical novel liked the adaptation, and Melville claimed that was sufficient gratification for him.

This is my favorite Melville, mostly because it's a film about adults. The gangster films are mostly pitched toward children, which is why Drink likes them so much. The one gangster film that has something resembling real life is Second Wind, but of course that plays a lot like a sequel to Sautet's The Big Risk (and borrows from it). Army of Shadows is my second favorite Melville--the idea of using gangster film conventions to explode the myth of the French Resistance was a genius move. It perhaps should sit alongside Once Upon a Time in the West as another shining example of Postmodern filmmaking.

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« Reply #36 on: May 14, 2017, 11:45:03 AM »

Dude, if amazon tells you something is out of stock, and Criterion tells you on their website that the title is out of print, believe Criterion.

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« Reply #37 on: May 14, 2017, 03:03:31 PM »

From what I understand, When You Read This Letter (1953) did very well at the box office. Leon Morin was a Carlo Ponti production of a best-selling novel starring 2 of the biggest French stars of the period. There was simply no way that wasn't going to be commercially successful. The real mystery is why Ponti gave the property to Melville to direct--he could have tapped just about anyone.


It was a film that had a certain commercial appeal, but I'm not sure how big that was.

1. Was the novel really a bestseller, or only a critical acclaimed book?

2. Ponti produced all sort of films, some of them were far from being commercial. Stuff by Godard, Varda or Demy.

3. Riva was no star, but an actress who made a famous film, but not one which was made to make money.

4. Not sure if Belmondo was in these years, despite Breathless, the big star he was few years later.

I think it was still a risky film, apart from the fact that every film can become a flop, even despite stars and famous novels and well known directors.

Melville's gangster films are for (grown up) childs? Not really ...

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« Reply #38 on: May 14, 2017, 04:11:32 PM »



Melville's gangster films are for (grown up) childs? Not really ...

DJ thinks all gangster films are for kids. Doesn't matter if it's the Cagney films of the '30's or the French films of the '50's and '60's. DJ's father was a cop so he hates criminals. Can't separate movies from real life. I truly pity him as there are so many great movies he can't enjoy

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« Reply #39 on: May 14, 2017, 04:38:33 PM »

I can enjoy them, but they are just Marvel Comics kinds of films. All genre films are. Some are better than others, natch. But with few exceptions, the very best films are those that resist all genre classifications.

I re-discovered this thread, which has some important Melville info at the beginning, but then devolves into pointless Frenchifying. But those first two posts are good: http://www.fistful-of-leone.com/forums/index.php?topic=268.0

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« Reply #40 on: May 14, 2017, 05:07:22 PM »

It was a film that had a certain commercial appeal, but I'm not sure how big that was.

1. Was the novel really a bestseller, or only a critical acclaimed book?

2. Ponti produced all sort of films, some of them were far from being commercial. Stuff by Godard, Varda or Demy.

3. Riva was no star, but an actress who made a famous film, but not one which was made to make money.

4. Not sure if Belmondo was in these years, despite Breathless, the big star he was few years later.

I think it was still a risky film, apart from the fact that every film can become a flop, even despite stars and famous novels and well known directors.
GV has box office totals for France (initial release, I assume). They are as follows:
Le Silence de la mer          1, 371, 687
Le Enfant terribles                 719, 844
When You Read This Letter 1, 160, 986
Bob le flambeur                     716, 920
Two Men in Manhattan           308, 524
Leon Morin                        1, 702, 860
Le Doulos                          1, 475, 391
Magnet of Doom                 1, 484, 948
Second Wind                      1, 912, 749
Le Samourai                       1, 932, 372
Army of Shadows                1, 401, 822
The Red Circle                    4, 339, 821
Un Flic                               2, 832, 912

Leon Morin established him as a reliable maker of commercial films, and his box office was consistent ever afterwards. In fact, as total annual admissions in France plummeted (from 400 million in 1949 to 177 million in 1972) his market share steadily increased as well.

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« Reply #41 on: May 15, 2017, 02:09:57 PM »

I saw Le Doulos the other day at Film Forum.

Lately I am noticing that some dvd's that I was able to rent from Netflix are now no longer available on Netflix, and the discs are available on Amazon either (except, in some cases, rare used copies for high prices). In some cases they're available for digital download via Amazon or iTunes, but others are not. So maybe DJ was right after all; I should buy discs and not rely on them being available for rental. Le Doulos is one of those movies - I am pretty sure I rented the DVD a few years ago from Netflix; but it's no longer available, and the few discs on Amazon are expensive. Anyway, once I order my region-free BRD player this weekend, I'll have more discs to choose from  Smiley

When I saw the Criterion a few years ago, I hated the cinematography - this movie was the harshest black I have ever seen in a black-and-white movie. This time, at Film Forum, I didn't notice that at all. I'm not sure if the FF projection looks different than the Criterion, or if since that time my sensibilities have changed.

Anyway, Le Doulos gets an 8/10. It's avery good movie, but ...

spoiler alert

I did not like the "reveal" - it's just Belmondo telling us that everything we thought we knew is not true. I wish there has been a more creative way to show us that, rather than simply having him tell us (even though there are flashbacks playing as he speaks), I'd have preferred if that has been handled differently. (I guess this is sort of the same complaint with the reveal in Vertigo.

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« Reply #42 on: May 15, 2017, 02:41:42 PM »


When I saw the Criterion a few years ago, I hated the cinematography - this movie was the harshest black I have ever seen in a black-and-white movie. This time, at Film Forum, I didn't notice that at all. I'm not sure if the FF projection looks different than the Criterion, or if since that time my sensibilities have changed.
There a reason why Criterion is called The House of Black Crush. I don't doubt that they fiddled with the contrast. Hey, was that thing projected at FF a DCP or a film print?

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« Reply #43 on: May 15, 2017, 04:00:43 PM »

There a reason why Criterion is called The House of Black Crush. I don't doubt that they fiddled with the contrast. Hey, was that thing projected at FF a DCP or a film print?

http://filmforum.org/film/le-doulos-melville-film-5-10  35 mm

In her book, GV mentions that Hayer's photography is "harsh." (She doesn't mean it in a negative way as I do). Which means that it was intended this way (or maybe Criterion made it harshER; or maybe she had only seen the Criterion. Who knows)


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« Reply #44 on: May 16, 2017, 01:16:19 AM »

There a reason why Criterion is called The House of Black Crush. I don't doubt that they fiddled with the contrast. Hey, was that thing projected at FF a DCP or a film print?

It says here that it was 35 mm   http://filmforum.org/film/le-doulos-melville-film-5-10

On page 146 of her book, GV writes, regarding Le Doulos: "Nicolas Hayer's harsh black-and-white photography is here put to excellent use in the depiction of a grim environment, in contrast to Henri Decae's diffuse and lyrical light in, for example, Bob le flambeur.

(Nevermind my disagreement with GV over whether the harsh b/w cinematography is a good thing.) The fact that GV says it was harsh b/w cinematography means that the film was indeed shot that way, and it was not just that CC messed with the print. GV wrote her book in 2003. The Criterion DVD was released in 2008. So in her book, she was not referring to the Criterion disc.

Of course, anything is possible: Maybe whichever version she did see had also messed around with it. (Maybe Criterion used the same source?) Or maybe the film was indeed shot with harsh b/w cinematography, but Criterion made it even harshER. Who knows. I just know that I saw the movie 3 years ago – when I was certainly no b/w-cinematography expert, and never noticed this stuff – and it jumped out at me, I could not stand how black the blacks were; it significantly affected my enjoyment of the movie. But watching it the other day at FF, I didn't notice that at all. The issue of cinematography never crossed my mind.

If you have the DVD, dj, you can give it a spin and tell me what you think ....

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