Saturday, February 25, 2023

Tom Luddy 1943–2023

Larisa Shepitko and Tom Luddy at Telluride Film Festival, 1977. Photo: Richard Leacock. Tom sent this photo to me for our 2016 Larisa Shepitko retrospective.

I did not know Tom Luddy well, but I kept meeting him irregularly since his 1987 visit to the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä, Lapland where I registered his silent dignity. In 1993 I visited the Telluride Film Festival for the first time, and witnessed his mercurial engagement as festival director.

Tom Luddy was a film programmer of the first order, but there was an even more profound dimension in his commitment, something that I have learned to increasingly appreciate during the pandemic years of enforced distancing.

Our calling is about films, but even more importantly, it's about people. Our calling is to connect the artists who created the films with the people who visit our screenings.

"It takes talent to appreciate talent", said Stanley Donen who visited Sodankylä in 1994, and that could serve as a motto for Tom Luddy.

When Tom met people, they had a feeling of having been seen. Tom had an inner eye, and when he saw, it was not in an instrumental way, not as a means to an end. Seeing was the end. The immense pleasure of that happening was obvious.

The happiness in such encounters was infectious, and the expanding circles of such encounters created a warm and enthusiastic festival atmosphere.

Tom was a wizard of introductions. Between screenings he could simultaneously conduct multiple introductions between guests. Tom was a master matchmaker. He positively glowed in that role.

A special Telluride memory for me is when Tom introduced me to William K. Everson, a grand old man of film history and preservation. Two weeks later I visited Everson's class at the New York University, followed with an invitation to Everson's home for a private screening. The year after, we invited Everson to Helsinki for a series of Pre-Code treasures from his collections.

Tom Luddy had a distinguished official and credited career as a film producer and Francis Ford Coppola's right-hand man. But behind the scenes, his influence was greater, unfathomable.

I liked Kasi Lemmons's recent film I Wanna Dance: The Whitney Houston Movie, and one of the reasons was the affinity with Tom Luddy in Stanley Tucci's quietly compelling performance as Clive Davis, the visionary music industry executive of Arista Records.

I was in correspondence with Tom who sent Telluride programs and followed our Helsinki programming and shared memories inspired by our themes. How he helped Agnès Varda in California to meet Black Panthers and Uncle Yanco. How he guided Larisa Shepitko in Telluride through Brezhnev era surveillance (Tom wrote an excellent memoir about this. I wish I could find a link).

Tom's interest in culture and society was many-sided. He loved music. He was widely read, even in Finnish literature: he followed Sofi Oksanen's oeuvre in Lola Rogers's translations. In Finland, Tom's key connection was Peter von Bagh whom he knew since 1972. Midnight Sun Film Festival was inspired by Telluride Film Festival.

Born in New York City, Tom came to the University of Berkeley in Northern California to study physics in 1962. Stanford University was the other major university of the Bay Area, which kept flourishing into the world's most important center of information technology, including Silicon Valley. In the heart of counterculture and the Summer of Love, in an atmosphere of some of the greatest musical and literary exploration of the era, Tom groomed the Pacific Film Archive into one of the most exciting hubs of film culture.

I was humbled by the fact that Tom was a reader of my blog and sent dvd's and links to watch. When Jonathan Miller died, Tom advised me to view Miller's films. Tom had met the Renaissance man only once: "we were both close friends of Susan Sontag and met at a dinner on the eve of Susan’s burial at Montparnasse." The Sontag and Miller connections are illuminating.

"The company you keep". That, too, could serve as a motto for Tom.

In our calling as film programmers the memory of Tom Luddy lives on as a model in the spirit of inspiration and generosity.


P.S. 28 Feb 2023. Meanwhile, I have read many wonderful obituaries. I just finished reading a particularly outstanding tribute by Catherine Shoard for The Guardian, 21 Feb 2023.

P.S. 26 May 2023. The brilliant Pacific Film Archive tribute "Ambassador of the Cinema" in June-July 2023.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Sois belle et tais-toi ! (1981) / Be Pretty and Shut Up

Delphine Seyrig: Sois belle et tais-toi ! / Be Pretty and Shut Up (FR 1981). Photo: © Tournage de Sois belle et tais-toi ! / Familles Seyrig et Roussopoulos / Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir / Version restaurée par la Bibliothèque nationale de France.

FR 1981. Année de production : 1976. Sortie en France : 4 March 1981. Productrice déléguée : Delphine Seyrig
    Genre : Documentaire, long-métrage.
    Réalisé par Delphine Seyrig. Directrice de la photo+montage: Carole Roussopoulos – source format: video – camera: Sony AVC-3400 – couleur – 1981 release on 35 mm – 2023 re-release on DCP.
– Jill Clayburgh
– Marie Dubois
– Delia Salvi
– Juliet Berto
– Patti D'Arbanville
– Mady Norman / Maidie Norman
– Louise Fletcher
– Jane Fonda
– Cindy Williams
– Rita Renoir
– Jenny Agutter
– Luce Guilbeault
– Shirley MacLaine (archive footage)
– Anne Wiazemsky
– Rose de Gregorio / Rose Gregorio
– Maria Schneider
– Viva
– Candy Clark
– Barbara Steele
– Millie Perkins
– Mallory Millett-Jones / Mallory Millett
– Susan Tyrrell
– Ellen Burstyn
– Simone de Beauvoir (voice, archive footage)
– Michel Drucker (archive footage)
    Production: in Hollywood in 1975, and in Paris in 1976.
    112 min
    Premiere in France: 4 March 1981.
    There were originally two versions: a French one and an English one. Each version was overdubbed (a narrator reading the simultaneous translation).
    Digital re-release in France: sortie nationale 15 Feb 2023
    Version restaurée par la Bibliothèque nationale de France.
    Exportation / Vente internationale / Distribution France : Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir
    Viewed at Luminor Hôtel de Ville Paris, 23 Feb 2023.

The title of the film is a riff on: Sois-belle et tais-toi (FR 1958), D: Marc Allégret, C: Mylène Demongeot (1935–2022), Finnish title: Ole kaunis ja – vaikene.

There was a debate after the screening about the double bill " Maria Schneider, 1983 " and " Sois-belle et tais-toi ! " with Elisabeth Subrin, Nicole Fernandez Ferrer and Jackie Raynal.

Le mot du cinéma (Luminor Hôtel de Ville Paris)

" La projection du film sera suivie par un débat avec Jackie Raynal, réalisatrice monteuse et comedienne et Nicole Fernandez Ferrer : déléguée générale du Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir de 2004 à 2022, elle donne des conférences sur le cinéma et la vidéo féministe, elle est membre du 7ème Genre, des Archives du féminisme, du Centre Hubertine Auclert, de PIAF Images Europe. Elle a travaillé aux deux expositions Delphine Seyrig et les vidéo collectifs vidéo féministes des années 1970 et 1980, concues par Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez et Giovanna Zapperi. "

Synopsis (Luminor Hôtel de Ville Paris)

" En 1976, Delphine Seyrig s'entretient avec 23 actrices sur leurs conditions de femmes dans l'industrie cinématographique, leurs rapports avec les producteurs et réalisateurs, les rôles qu'on leur proposent et les liens qu'elles entretiennent avec d'autres comédiennes. Un documentaire culte, qui permet de réaliser ce qui a changé (ou pas). Actrices interviewées : Jane Fonda, Louise Fletcher, Barbara Steele, Juliet Berto, Anne Wiazemsky, Shirley MacLaine, Maria Schneider, Ellen Burstyn ... "

Synopsis (Unifrance)

" Delphine Seyrig interviewe vingt-quatre actrices françaises et américaines sur leur expérience professionnelle en tant que femme, leurs rôles et leurs rapports avec les metteurs en scène, les réalisateurs et les équipes techniques. Bilan collectif plutôt négatif en 1976 sur une profession qui ne permet que des rôles stéréotypés et aliénants. "

AA: There is a do-it-yourself quality in the movie. Shot on video, its opening credits unfold as a series of photographs manually changed in front of the camera, the names announced by the narrator. All original videotapes of the two versions of Sois belle et tais-toi have not survived, and approximately half of the movie is presented with overdubbing (we hear vaguely the original interview, overdubbed by voice translation). Much of the movie is hard to understand, and hopefully a subtitled version can be produced.

From challenging sources, Sois belle et tais-toi ! has been painstakingly reconstructed and restored, and it is a powerhouse of a movie. The low definition of the video footage fails to do justice to the beauty and charm of the actresses, which is, however, somehow also the point. Beauty in the context of the world discussed here has become a curse, even for the director Delphine Seyrig herself. The external beauty of a young woman is transient, and the more profound charms of a mature woman are not appreciated in the film business.

Jane Fonda is vocal about her ridiculous sex kitten roles in the 1960s. Barbara Steele speaks out about her humiliating exploitation film career, films she did not want to make now adulated as cult films, and all she wants to say is: "That's not me". Ellen Burstyn is sarcastic about her mistreatment: her suggestions were ignored and when they were accepted she had to pay her own flight tickets to make the film.

It gets deep. The producers and distributors have all the power, and because of their veto, they ultimately decide who is bankable and which stories get made. "They don't like women. They don't want someone who is equal." The actresses find women of all ages beautiful, especially the mature, fully experienced ones.

The buddy movie phenomenon is discussed. The actresses do not use that term, but they mean movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Ellen Burstyn and Jill Clayburgh discuss the almost open homosexual current in male love stories like this in which there is even less space for women. Men can remain stars regardless of age, but for women, it's hard to pass the 50 year mark.

Delphine Seyrig's film reminds me of the great wave of feminist film historians of the 1970s including Joan Mellen, Marjorie Rosen and Molly Haskell. They emphasized the tradition of the strong women and superstars of Hollywood's classical studio era from the early days until the early 1960s.

Paradoxically, during the New Hollywood and the women's liberation movement, the status of women stars took a deep dive. The careers of exceptional veterans such as Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis lasted until the 1980s. But the domination of male stars grew, "to the detriment of all", to quote Jean-Michel Frodon.

This is a saga of money, power and sex. The hidden mystery is the misogyny inherent in the film production system. As a result, the quality of the films has suffered. The great change that started five years ago is one of the most promising currents of our age.


Maria Schneider, 1983 (Elisabeth Subrin's short film, 2022)

Elisabeth Subrin: Maria Schneider, 1983 (FR 2022) with Manal Issa, Aïssa Maïga and Isabel Sandoval each playing Maria Schneider. Poster design: Caspar Newbolt. Smoke gets in your eyes.

FR 2022. PC: 5à 7 Films. P: Martin Bertier, Helen Olive.
    D+SC: Elisabeth Subrin. Cin: Pascale Marin – 4:3 – colour. PD: Valérie Valéro. Cost: Corinne Bruand. S: Nassim El Mounabbih. ED: Jenn Ruff.
    C: Manal Issa (Maria Schneider), Aïssa Maïga (Maria Schneider) and Isabel Sandoval (Maria Schneider) with Amélie Prevot (Anne Andreu).
    Inspired by the Maria Schneider interview in the TV show Cinéma, Cinémas (1983), Antenne 2, P: Claude Ventura, Anne Andreu and Michel Boujut.
    24 min
    Festival premiere: 26 May 2022 Cannes Film Festival: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs.
    Viewed at Luminor Hôtel de Ville Paris, 23 Feb 2023.

There was a debate after the screening of the double bill " Maria Schneider, 1983 " and " Sois-belle et tais-toi ! " with Elisabeth Subrin, Nicole Fernandez Ferrer and Jackie Raynal.

Cannes Film Festival 2022: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs: " In 1983, French actress Maria Schneider gives an interview for the TV show Cinéma, Cinémas. The conversation takes an unexpected turn when she challenges film industry practices and is asked to talk about the controversial film Last Tango in Paris (1972). "

AA: A powerful short film by Elisabet Subrin based on the "theme and variations" structure. Three actresses interpret a quietly devastating Maria Schneider interview from the year 1983. Manal Issa looks like Maria Schneider, Aïssa Maïga is Black, and Isabel Sandoval is a trans woman. The substance remains the same, but the narrative changes, and each actress brings a complex of personal reverberations to the tale about the power play involved in the making a movie.

The endless disappointment in the saga of the making of Last Tango in Paris is that artists like Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando behaved like this, treating a young woman like a sex object and not like an equal fellow artist, worthy of special and sensitive attention, particularly crucial because the subject was something as intimate as sex.

Maria Schneider evokes Romy Schneider (no relation), who had died the year before at the age of 43. "This is a very dangerous career. I would not recommend it to any young person". She does not prefer actors who are myths like Brando. For her an actor like Magnani is the greatest. The trouble in the film industry is that it is not the directors who have the final say in casting but producers and distributors who deem who is bankable.

Last Tango in Paris is the most dismal topic that Maria Schneider can imagine. How she was treated was beneath her, but she never lost dignity.

This movie makes me look forward to watching the original Maria Schneider interview and make more sense of the Last Tango saga.


The Banshees of Inisherin

Martin McDonagh: The Banshees of Inisherin (GB/US/IE 2022) starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

The Banshees of Inisherin [title in Finland and Sweden] / Les Banshees d'Inisherin
    GB/US/IE 2022. Searchlight Pictures presents – In Association with Film4 and TSG Entertainment - A Blueprint Pictures Production – A Martin McDonagh Film. P: Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, Martin McDonagh. EX: Diarmuid McKeown, Ben Knight, Daniel Battsek, Ollie Madden.
    D+SC: Martin McDonagh. DP: Ben Davis. PD: Mark Tildesley. Cost: Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh. M: Carter Burwell. ED: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen. Casting: Louise Kiely.
    C: Colin Farrell (Pádraic Súilleabháin), Brendan Gleeson (Colm Doherty), Kerry Condon (Siobhán Súilleabháin), Barry Keoghan (Dominic Kearney), Pat Shortt (publican Jonjo Devine), Gary Lydon (Gary Lydon, the local Garda Síochána [the national police service of Ireland]), Sheila Flitton (Mrs. McCormick, the local elder).
    Loc: Inishmore and Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland.
    114 min
    Festival premiere: 5 Sep 2022 Venice Film Festival.
    UK premiere: 21 Oct 2022.
    French premiere: 28 Dec 2022.
    Finnish premiere: 3 Feb 2023.
    Viewed en VOST [version originale avec sous-titres français par Houria Belhadji] at Luminor Hôtel de Ville Paris, 23 Feb 2023.

The Banshees of Inisherin production notes: "Set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN follows lifelong friends Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), who find themselves at an impasse when Colm unexpectedly puts an end to their friendship. A stunned Pádraic, aided by his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and troubled young islander Dominic (Barry Keoghan), endeavours to repair the relationship, refusing to take no for an answer. But Pádraic’s repeated efforts only strengthen his former friend’s resolve and when Colm delivers a desperate ultimatum, events swiftly escalate, with shocking consequences."

"Searchlight Pictures presents, In Association with Film4 and TSG Entertainment, a Blueprint Pictures Production, a Martin McDonagh film, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. The film stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who reunite with McDonagh from In Bruges, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan. The key crew include Director of Photography and regular McDonagh collaborator Ben Davis, BSC, costume designer Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, production designer Mark Tildesley, and editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, ACE. Carter Burwell is composing the score. McDonagh’s frequent collaborators Graham Broadbent and Pete Czernin are producing for Searchlight Pictures and Film4." 

"The film was shot on location on Inishmore and Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland.
" (The Banshees of Inisherin production notes)

AA: The Banshees of Inisherin, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, is an excellent film in every department.

The performances by Colin and Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in the leading roles are terrific, as are Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan in the main supporting roles, and also Pat Shortt as the pubkeeper, Gary Lydon as the brutal local Garda policeman, and Sheila Flitton as the sinister local elder.

The movie was brilliantly shot on location by Ben Davis, capturing the magnificence of the seaside landscape and the majesty of the sky.

Maestro Carter Burwell has created a score which avoids Irish accents. It unfolds in a fairy-tale world with affinities with Tchaikovsky's "The Dance of the Sugar Plums" and John Williams's "Harry Potter Theme" ("Hedwig's Flight"), all connected with the other-worldly sound of the celesta, in The Banshees of Inisherin enhanced by gamelan. For me, the music seems to connect and give a sound to Pádraic, who, however, is himself tone-deaf, unlike his musically talented sister Siobhán and would-be friend Colm.

The Banshees of Inisherin is a tale of male marginalization, a theme currently prominent in public discourse internationally, also in my country. The men live solitary lives, but they meet in the jovial atmosphere of the pub. The policeman is the most brutal of them, and his main victim is his own poor maimed son Dominic.

Also Pádraic is handicapped in his way. He is a fundamentally nice guy, and he loves animals, but Colm, whom he would like to call his best friend, loses patience with Pádraic's limited range. They fail to communicate on levels and dimensions that are for Colm the most meaningful.

Out of all this, a very special and unique story evolves. A great film can be based on a slight narrative or even a token narrative, for example Iranian classics in the tradition of which Kiarostami is the best-known example. But then the viewer would expect an engrossing sense of the presence of life, or an experience of transcendence, in the world of the story.

Seeing The Banshees of Inisherin for the first time, I failed to be overwhelmed, and thought that it might be one of the victims of the pandemic phlegmatic syndrome. Too many obstacles and interruptions in the progress of a film project may dim some of the fire, the fury and the passion.

I can point to no direct connection, but recently I have been reading G. H. von Wright's memoirs and thinking about Oswald Spengler's Der Untergang des Abendlandes, a favourite book of his. Spengler predicted that the downfall of the Western culture and civilization would start around the year 2000 and last two hundred years.

The story of The Banshees of Inisherin is set in the year 1923, a hundred years ago, in the period after the First World War and during the Irish Civil War – which only remains in the background. But in a general way it has an ominous significance in this history of violence and friendship's death.


Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Kiss (1929)

Jacques Feyder: The Kiss (US 1929) with Greta Garbo (Irene Guarry) and Lew Ayres (Pierre Lassalle). This was the first major film role for Lew Ayres. He became world-famous in his next film: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

Le Baiser / Kohtalokas suudelma / Kyssen.
    US © 1929 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) presents, controlled by Loew's Incorporated. P: Albert Lewin (n.c.), Irving Thalberg (n.c.).
    D: Jacques Feyder. SC: Hanns Kräly – titles: Marian Ainslee – from the story by George M. Saville. Cin: William H. Daniels. AD: Cedric Gibbons. Gowns: Adrian. Movietone synchronization: Dr. William Axt – the soundtrack listing (including copious Tchaikovsky selections from the Romeo and Juliet overture and the pathetic symphony) has been published on IMDb. ED: Ben Lewis.
    C: Greta Garbo (Irene Guarry), Conrad Nagel (André Dubail), Anders Randolf (M. Charles Guarry), Holmes Herbert (M. Lassalle), Lew Ayres (Pierre Lassalle), George Davis (Detective Durant.
    Filming dates: 16 July – 26 August 1929.
    Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, 10202 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City.
    Released in two versions: a silent one and a sonorized one with a Movietone soundtrack and sound effects. The silent version was released in full frame, the sonorized one in the Movietone aspect ratio. 62 min
    Premiere: 15 Nov 1929 (New York City), 16 Nov 1929 (wide).
    Finnish premiere: 3 Nov 1930.
    Copie 35 mm, Cinematek de Bruxelles, original English version, sous-titres français dans la copie, full silent frame, duration announced: 1H01
    Présenté par Samantha Leroy.
    Grand piano: M. Camille El Bacha.
    Viewed at Salle Charles Pathé at the Fondation Jerôme Seydoux Pathé, 73 avenue des Gobelins (retrospective Greta Garbo, La Divine), 15 Feb 2023

"Irène est l'épouse malheureuse de Charles. Pierre, le fils d'un associé de Charles, la poursuite de ses attentions amoureuses. Un soir, alors qu'elle lui donne un innocent baiser, Charles les surprend. Fou de jalousie, il s'attaque à Pierre mais meurt dans la bagarre. Irène est accusée du meurtre." (Fondation Jerôme Seydoux Pathé program notes)

"Irene, victim of a loveless marriage to wealthy Guarry, carries on a clandestine affair with André, a young lawyer whom she loves but forces herself to forget; and in desperation, he leaves and goes to Paris. Pierre, the youthful son of a Lyon financier, is fascinated by Irene, and when she gives him an innocent goodby kiss, Guarry, thinking she has been unfaithful to him, attacks the boy. The ensuing struggle results in Guarry's death. Irene recounts the events of the fateful evening to the police, but her story is full of contradictions and she keeps the boy's name out of the affair. Brought to trial, she is acquitted with André's help, but later she confesses that she killed her husband to save the boy's life. At last she finds happiness with André." (AFI Catalog online)

AA: The Kiss was the last silent film of Greta Garbo and the MGM studio. It was released amidst the turbulence of the Wall Street crash, anticipated in the film: M. Charles Guarry, the husband of Irene (Garbo), facing bankruptcy, has a stroke. Against all odds, The Kiss became a huge hit, Garbo's second most successful film to date.

Garbo was once again brilliantly showcased by the greatest studio of glamour. Adrian created gowns, Cedric Gibbons designed Art Deco milieux, William H. Daniels made magic with the camera, and Ben Lewis stunned with montages, superimpositions and visual effects.

Like in Jean Renoir's films, the dramatis personae form a quadrangle. Irene is faithful to her suffering husband, but she is surrounded by a suitor, the lawyer André Dubail (Conrad Nagel) and a teenage admirer, Pierre Lassalle (Lew Ayres).

The most fatal sequence of events is related to Pierre. Irene displays tact and a sweet sense of humour as Pierre timidly reveals her affections. Irene avoids hurting Pierre's feelings, in no way playing with them.

But love is a play with fire. An innocent kiss can lead to tragedy. Pierre does not accept a "no" as a "no", and Charles witnesses Irene in the grip of the youngster's passionate advances.

Irene is not like Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft / The Graduate) or Mrs. Reynolds (Deborah Kerr / Tea and Sympathy), but she does incarnate sympathy. To Irene's sympathy both men react destructively.

As usual, the literary quality of the storytelling is beside the point. In a silent Garbo vehicle, it is like a manuscript for a ballet whose substance lies in wordless body language. And in the case of Garbo, increasingly eloquent facial expression.

Again, Garbo overcomes the limitations of the narrative and the obsolete conditions of life in which the storyline plays out. Her screenplays would not have survived the Bechdel test. But it cannot be claimed that Garbo's characters are defined by her relationships with men, because they observe everything from the viewpoint of transcendence.

I was also thinking that the death of Mauritz Stiller the year before marks her performances in 1929 in a poignant way. Garbo is timeless, never more than here. In our age of revaluation / transvaluation of gender, Garbo is beyond conventional roles and identities. Also a legacy from Mauritz. When Abraham met Greta at Mauritz's grave, he recognized his brother in the figure emerging from the distance of the graveyard corridor. They conversed in Swedish.

– I want to be buried with Mauritz.
– That is not possible.
– Why?
– Because you are not Jewish.
– I would like to convert.
– That would be too complicated, and besides, you are too young to think about such things.

Jacques Feyder was one of the greatest directors of the silent period in masterpieces including Crainquebille, Visages d'enfants and Gribiche. His Thérèse Raquin (1928) was for many the greatest lost silent treasure. I was puzzled to register how great The Single Standard felt, directed by John S. Robertson. Now I'm puzzled to discover Jacques Feyder not quite at his best in The Kiss, perhaps hampered by the studio system in his first Hollywood assignment.

The Brussels print is complete and in full frame but, duped and bumpy as a result of unevenly shrunken source image and intertitle footage, fails to convey the MGM glamour. Yet it is a luminous pleasure to behold.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Single Standard

John S. Robertson: The Single Standard (US 1929) with Dorothy Sebastian (Mercedes) and Greta Garbo (Ada). In 1929 Dorothy Sebastian was also Buster Keaton's costar in Spite Marriage, his best female lead and a long-term romantic partner.

Le Droit d'aimer / Gleiche Moral / Elämän valhe / En kvinnas moral.
    US © 1929 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) presents, controlled by Loew's Incorporated. .
    P+D: John S. Robertson. SC: Josephine Lovett (adaptation) – Marian Ainslee (titles) – based on the novel (1928) by Adela Rogers St. Johns. Cin: Oliver T. Marsh. M for the sonorized version: William Axt (compilation soundtrack listing detailed in IMDb). AD: Cedric Gibbons. Cost: Adrian. ED: Blanche Sewell.
    C: Greta Garbo (Arden [Ada] Stuart), Nils Asther (Packy Cannon), Johnny Mack Brown (Tommy Hewlett), Dorothy Sebastian (Mercedes), Lane Chandler (Ding Stuart), Mahlon Hamilton (Mr. Glendenning), Kathlyn Williams (Mrs. Glendenning), Zeffie Tilbury (Mrs. Handley).
    Filming dates: 15 April – 3 June 1929. Production Dates: 19 April – June 1929,
    Filming location: San Pedro, California, USA (scenes on the boat off-shore).
    Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios – 10202 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City
    Released in two versions: a silent version and a sonorized one with a music soundtrack and sound effects. Silent length: 6474 ft. Sonorized length 6574 ft / 24 fps/ 73 min
    The silent version was released in full frame and the sonorized one in the cropped Movietone ratio. Only cropped prints survive.
    Premiere: 27 July 1929 (New York City), 29 July 1929 (general).
    Finnish premiere: 25 Aug 1930.
Copie 35 mm, Bundesarchiv, Deutsche Fassung (deutscher Vorspann und Zwischentitel), Movietone aspect ratio. Duration announced: 1H10.
Présenté par Marion Polirsztok
Grand piano: Satsuki Hoshino
Electronic subtitles in French
Viewed at Salle Charles Pathé at the Fondation Jerôme Seydoux Pathé, 73 avenue des Gobelins (retrospective Greta Garbo, La Divine), 14 Feb 2023

"Arden Stuart, une oisive de la riche société de San Francisco, rencontre Packy Cannon, un marin combattant devenu artiste, dans une galerie d'art. Elle tombe amoureux de lui et part avec lui sur un yacht pour une liaison prolongée. Lorsqu'il la quitte pour aller à Paris pour affaires, elle retourne à San Francisco et épouse un ancien prétendant, Tommy Hewlett." (Fondation Jerôme Seydoux Pathé program notes)

"Arden Stuart maintains that the set of moral principles applying differently to the sexes should be altered in favor of a single standard of conduct applying equally to men and women. She refuses to take seriously the marriage proposal of Tommy Hewlett, of her own social set, and steps out with Kendall, the handsome family chauffeur; but Kendall commits suicide in despair. Then she meets Packy Cannon, an ex-prizefighter turned artist, and takes him on her yacht to the South Seas, where their romance develops over a period of months; but when Packy fears she is interfering with his creativity, she returns home and marries Hewlett. After the birth of their child, Packy returns, realizing that his love for her is stronger than his devotion to his art. Arden plans to leave with him, but her love for the child persuades her to remain with her husband." (AFI Catalog synopsis)

"For a number of generations men have done as they pleased--and women have done as men pleased... " (motto of The Single Standard)

AA: I saw for the first time The Single Standard, Greta Garbo's penultimate silent film. Charles Chaplin and Greta Garbo were the last Hollywood superstars still popular in silent films when sound film became dominant. Silent cinema reached its greatest heights when it ended.

For me, The Single Standard is a Greta Garbo vehicle, beyond genre, beyond subject matter, and beyond the literary source. Adela Rogers St. Johns was an exciting talent and worthy of attention, but it is not for her literary merit that the film adaptation of The Single Standard remains relevant.

Greta Garbo is at her best here, conveying much in subtle looks and gestures. She kept getting better in the mastery of pantomime, in the unique art of the silent cinema enhanced by luminous, superhuman close-ups.

The story is relevant to the post-WWI experience. Ada's first lover is an ex ace pilot suffering from the post-traumatic stress disorder, a member of the "lost generation" immortalized in Ernest Hemingway's novels such as The Sun Also Rises. Having lost his social standing and unable to readjust, he commits suicide by car crash.

The shock is transferred to Ada who finds a new lover in an art gallery, seeking shelter from the rain and unwanted attentions of a man on the street. Packy is a sailor and a boxer who has turned into a painter. They embark on a cruise in the South Seas on Packy's yacht. But art is what matters most to Packy, and he abandons Ada in San Francisco.

I know too little of John S. Robertson to assess how much the film's success can be attributed to the director-producer and how much to the genius of the system. Brilliant cinematography by Oliver T. Marsh and elegant gowns by Adrian contribute unforgettably to this Hollywood dream.

It is a dream of fulfillment for men and women equally, against the double standard, told visually, one of the cinema's counterparts to D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, frankly and proudly sensual, a pre-code film: finding the greatest beauty in an uninhibited expression of sensuality. There is no sin in Ada's paradises.

It is a satire about manners and mores, casting a sharp eye on hypocrisy. Recently I wrote about Leo Tolstoy and the cinema and remarked on the distinction of Greta Garbo's Anna Karenina interpretations. Her originality is in bringing a dimension of cosmic solitude to Tolstoy's tragedy. The same is valid here. To each frame, she brings transcendence.

Ada returns to her own social world and the patient Tommy, but I don't find this movie conformist. It is about a woman's equal freedom to love and pursue happiness. What happens is not because of social norms but an inner urge.

Ada is proud of the blood flowing in her veins. She is also proud of her motherhood, giving birth to new life and the supreme joy of witnessing her child grow. In her pursuit of the single standard, she transcends her social circle. In motherhood, she transcends herself.

The Bundesarchiv print has a duped look. The glamour is missing, but the print conveys the mastery of the cinematography in extreme close-ups and underwater passages and the irresistible flow of Blanche Sewell's editing.