Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Vingt-quatre heures de la vie d'un clown / Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Clown (2017 DCP, Institut Français, Melville 100)

24 heures de la vie d'un clown. The clown Béby and his dog at evening prayer.

24 heures de la vie d'un clown [title on screen].
    FR 1947. P+D+SC: Jean-Pierre Melville [credited as J.-P Melville]. Assistants: Carlos Viladerbo, Michel Clément. CIN: Gustave Raulet, assisté d'André Villard – 35 mm – b&w – 1,37:1 – son mono. M: Henri Cassel. ED: Monique Bonnot. Featuring: clowns Béby et Maïss, alors vedettes du cirque Medrano à Paris (Montmartre, 63 boulevard de Rochechouart, à l'angle de la rue des Martyrs). 22 min
    Court métrage documentaire. Burlesque.
    "Son titre est un clin d’œil au roman de Stefan Zweig, Vingt-quatre heures de la vie d'une femme." (Wikipédia, l'encyclopédie libre)
    Institut Français, DCP (Melville 100), with English subtitles by Victoria Britten, 19 min.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Melville 100), 16 Aug 2017


"Before loving the cinema, I liked the circus. Of this love, I had kept a friendship: the clown Béby, who was at that time the greatest living clown, and whom I had to adore later in a short film of Bresson...
    To make my trial run, I decided to shoot a short film with him. We were in 1947 and I had Agfa film that I bought in 1942 ... We were silent and a steno scrupulously noted what Béby said in his number. But once in the auditorium, we realized that he could not read, and it had to be synchronized word by word.
– Jean-Pierre Melville, Cahiers du cinema, n ° 124, October 1961

The critic Raphaëlle Pireyre retraces the origins of Melville's first short film: "When, after the war, Jean-Pierre Melville was able to use the film he had acquired since 1942 to make his first film, he chose to make the documentary portrait Of the famous Béby clown. At the end of his career, this descendant of a large family of Italian fairgrounds no longer practices the perilous equestrian acrobatics which made his success. Forced to renounce it due to numerous accidents, it occurs in the 1940s at the Medrano Circus, in duo with the white clown Maïss. It was not on waking that the novice filmmaker chose to pick this artist he admired to spend twenty-four hours with him, but late evening, just before the curtain lowered his performance. Melville first unveils the clown by his work, as the public already knows it: on stage, in excerpts from musical numbers. By keeping him company as the needles move forward on the dial, it is as if he strives to remove successively all the layers of make-up that conceal the man under the stage makeup." (FROM FRENCH WIKIPEDIA)

AA: It is fascinating to contemplate that both Robert Bresson and Jean-Pierre Melville, of all people, started their careers with films starring the clown Béby.

The milieu of 24 heures de la vie d'un clown is next to Pigalle, the location of many French gangster movies, including Melville's. There is even La Place Lino-Ventura.

This is a film about professionalism. Béby has been a star for decades. It is a dangerous profession to be a clown, perhaps as dangerous as being a gangster. There are "sortie d'usine" scenes where Béby and Maïss leave the entertainment factory as they do every evening.

They are classic clowns. Béby is the Pierrot, Maïss the White Clown. Federico Fellini analyzed these characters at length in his masterful documentary I clowns. These archetypes keep appearing in his films, as they do for instance in Les Enfants du paradis.

There is no direct sound. A running commentary tells us a lot of what is interesting to know. After working hours we follow Béby home where we see him enjoy a dinner cooked by his wife and get an opportunity to study images and memorabilia, even his scrapbooks. There are wonderful books signed with autographs. We see a photo montage covering Béby's career. In the evening Béby reads his evening prayer, as does his dog. His wife brings his morning coffee to bed.

About Maïss we are told that until 1905 he used to be a doctor at the opera.

The circus routines are fun to watch.

The talent for observation is already evident in Melville's first film. Now I believe I have seen all his films.

A good digital transfer of a film with impressive and challenging cinematography. There are many night scenes.

No comments: