Ascenseur au Pantheon du Cinema: Jeanne Moreau est morte — Long live Jeanne Moreau

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

Jeanne Moreau, the embodiment of French film and muse to the giants of French and World cinema for seven decades, including Francois Truffaut (“Jules and Jim”), Louis Malle (“Ascenseur pour l’echaffaud”), Orson Welles, Luis Bunuel and countless others, was found dead in her Paris apartment this morning by her maid, French radio reported. Jeanne Moreau was 89 years old.

After making her theatrical debut at Jean Vilar’s Festival d’Avignon in 1947 and subsequently joining the Comedie Francaise before leaving it for Vilar’s new and pioneering Theatre National Populaire in 1951, Moreau never really left the French stage or screen, continuing to be a formidable presence with her distinctive gravelly voice well into the current decade.

“My voice changed with the years and the cigarettes, but my voice is like that,” Moreau said. “One should never take advantage of one’s tools; at that instant one becomes manipulative. Even with men, I never played the coquette.”

“She’s an absolute monument,” declared the actor Pierre Arditti, speaking today on French public radio. “The very model of what an actor must make of her metier. She’s the very example, that is to say that she was always conscious of her art; when it came to playing someone else, she always mined herself.”

“In a certain manor, she incarnated the modern woman even before the explosion of feminism,” explained Eve Beton, a cinema commentator for French public radio, adding, “This was a woman who loved words; her home was packed with books.” Among other signature moments, Beton singled out Moreau’s poignant portrayal of an ex-convict in Bertrand Blier’s 1974 “Les Valseuses,” which made stars of Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere, as two incorrigible youth on a rampage through France. “They encounter this woman as she’s being let out of prison, they sleep with her, and the next morning she commits suicide.” Moreau’s brief appearance was so moving that it eclipsed that of an icon of a younger generation whom the two seduce earlier in the film: Isabelle Huppert.

It was one of many roles in which Moreau revealed what Serge Toubiana, the former director of the Cinematheque Francaise, described as her strong sense of a ‘sovereign self.’ “She had such a taste for liberty,” Toubiana said, “that she revolutionized the very concept of what it meant to be a star. I rarely encountered such an independent personality. Truffaut said of her, in ‘Jules and Jim,’ ‘She is prestigious.'” For Orson Welles, who directed Moreau in his 1962 “The Trial” after Kafka, Toubiana said, she “incarnated the French language, the French panache.”

While it was not her debut film — among other roles, she’d already held her own opposite French film legend Jean Gabin (France’s answer to Humphrey Bogart) in Jacques Decker’s 1954 Paris polaire “Touchez pas au Grisbi” — the film which announced Moreau’s arrival, Toubiana remembered, was Louis Malle’s 1957 “Ascenseur pour l’echafaud” when, to the melancholy trumpet notes of Miles Davis, she walked the Paris streets, sans make-up (Moreau didn’t need any to make an indelible impression), in search of her man.

Also speaking on French public radio this afternoon, Jean-Claude Carrier, who adapted the scenario for Luis Bunuel’s 1964 “Diary of a Chamber Maid,” recalled, “One day Jeanne came to see me and said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on with Luis. He’s not telling me anything. I have the impression that he doesn’t like what I’m doing.” When Carrier reported the remark to the director, Bunuel replied, “What do you want me to tell her? It’s she who’s teaching me things about the character.”

If Toubiana and others pointed to Moreau’s audacity, for the actress it was an audacity she put to the service of the directors with whom she worked in over 130 films. “What’s interesting,” she said in a recent interview, “is to have commenced in 1948 and have told stories in a different way…. with the Nouvelle Vague, and after, it changed again. In fact these are always the same stories, but told in a different manner. And it’s good to allow a young woman or young man to be conscious, and to have the audacity to express his desire and not be timorous. One should never submit.”

Vivre Utopié

mekas-film

Louise Bourgeois in Jonas Mekas’s new “Sleepless Nights Stories.” Image courtesy Jonas Mekas.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

Halfway through “La Commune,” Peter Watkins’s 5-hour, 45-minute tour de force which simultaneously resurrects the insurrectional barricades Parisians erected around their city to stave off a new monarchist-leaning government and tears down the barricades between documentary and fiction, I had to stop and e-mail a Parisian friend to ask if she’d seen the film. My friend — an artist denizen of Belleville, one of the quarters which lead the rebellion — had not even heard of it. This vindicated Watkins as far as the one reservation I have about “La Commune,” that the otherwise educative inter-titles, filling in the basic historical timeline around the events of March – May 1871, sometimes cede to the film-maker’s rants about the obstacles to getting his film distributed in France — even its co-producer the German-French television network Arté screened “La Commune” from 11 at night to 4 in the morning — and claims that the Commune is under-taught in French schools. The media blockade is not incidental, indeed validates the pertinence of a film which resurrects a utopian societal ideal which directly menaces the financial elites.

To receive the rest of this article from the Arts Voyager Archives, first published December 13, 2011, including more images and, in addition to “La Commune,” reviews of Alain Tanner’s “Charles, Dead or Alive” and Jonas Mekas’s “Sleepless Nights,” Arts Voyager & Dance Insider subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Arts Voyager & Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, employees, company, association and collective members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 articles by 150 leading critics on performances, film, and art and culture from five continents published from 1998 through 2017. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

 

New York Gallery Hop-o-thermia: Fear & loathing in Chelsea

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

NEW YORK — Only a true art fanatic with a death wish would walk 50 blocks downtown from his digs on the Upper West Side to the Chelsea Art Valley on a polar night in Manhattan, when the towering buildings on the seemingly interminable blocks between 10th and 11th Avenue make the art voyager feel particularly naked in the Naked City. So there I was — oui, moi — with a scribbled list of a dozen galleries hosting openings Thursday night, in search of high middle-brow art ‘arrosed’ by red, red, wine. What I found was middle-concept middling art watered down by tepid white wine (doesn’t stain like red), with only one artist worth remarking among the 12, this defeated art voyager treading wearily home in his Fort Worth Mexican flea market tan cowboy boots, only to be saved by Joel McCrea riding out of the high country with Randolph Scott riding herd.

To get the rest of the article, first published on February 12, 2011, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Arts Voyager for just $49.95/year ($25 for students and unemployed artists) and receive full access to all Arts Voyager stories and art, including stories archived since 2011. To subscribe via PayPal, just designate your payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check, Euros, or British pounds. Subscribe by January 31, 2017 and receive a second, gift subscription for free.

How to access new Arts Voyager stories and art from around the world

As of January 1, 2017, new Arts Voyager articles and art will be made available exclusively to subscribers and delivered via e-mail.

Not a subscriber? 1-year subscriptions are just $49.99 or Euros, or $24.99 or Euros for students and unemployed or under-employed artists. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address for information on how to pay by check.

moma-marlene-smallFrom the festival Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema, on view at the Museum of Modern Art through April 30: Marlene Dietrich in “Blonde Venus,” 1932. Directed by Josef von Sternberg (Austrian, born Austria–Hungary. 1894–1969). Paramount Pictures. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art.

Carrie Fisher: Author, screenwriter, actress, and post-Feminist trailblazer (Updated, 12/29)

“This will really, really impress you. I am in the abnormal psychology textbook. How cool is that? Now, keep in mind, I am a Pez dispenser, and I’m in the abnormal psychology textbook. Who says you can’t have it all?”

— Carrie Fisher, 2006, from her one-woman show “Wishful Drinking,”  cited December 28 on Democracy Now.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

The appalling level of ignorance and lack of enterprise of much cultural journalism on French public radio, particularly when it comes to reporting on American culture, has once again revealed itself in this morning’s shallow coverage of the death yesterday at the age of 60, following a heart attack Friday (fittingly, while descending from the stratosphere), of Carrie Fisher, reduced to her portrayal of Princess Leia in the 1977 “Star Wars” and its sequels. Simply posing the essential five Ws of journalism (Who, Where, Why, What, and When) would have yielded a much deeper — and more accurate and just — portrait of this pivotal figure in the Women’s Liberation Movement.

To access the rest of the article, including more images, subscribers please e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Not a subscriber? 1-year subscriptions are just $49, or $25 for students and unemployed artists. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address for information on how to pay by check or in Euros or British pounds.

You Belong to Me: Keith Haring Sketches Penises in front of Tiffany’s, and other dreamquests

haring-penises

Keith Haring. Manhattan Penis Drawings for Ken Hicks, 1978. Graphite on paper. 8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches (21.6 x 14 cm). ©Keith Haring Foundation. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York. First published on the Arts Voyager in 2012.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

Today my  DVD deck on my more or less brand new lap-top broke down just after I’d popped in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for my annual refresher course in pursuing one’s dreams and fleeing one’s disappointments with panache. Every year Blake Edwards’s film of Truman Capote (note to French media: It’s CA-POE-TEE not CA-POHT)’s novel teaches me something new. Two years ago, I finally understood why George Peppard’s insisting, “You belong to me, Holly” is not misogynistic. (If I told you there would be no need for you to view the film.)

To access the rest of the article, including more images, subscribers please e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Not a subscriber? 1-year subscriptions are just $49, or $25 for students and unemployed artists. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address for information on how to pay by check or in Euros or British pounds.