Thursday, November 11, 2010

Some notes on some old films I've seen recently

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

I'd always avoided seeing this film, because I used to cherish Capote's original novella, and I was worried that the film version would turn a story that's supposed to be about friendship into a story that's merely about romance. But it doesn't. It turns it into a story about capitalism. I promise I'm not being perverse when I say the Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany's seems to me almost indisputably a Marxist work. It is, after all, about the love between a quasi-prostitute and a quasi-gigolo. (2E, the older woman who "keeps" Paul, is nowhere in the novella.) The real clue is that Paul gets the exact same amount of money, $50, for publishing his short story that Holly gets for her "trips to the powder room": in art, sex and all other endeavours, the film argues, we offer ourselves only as products. When Holly's abandoned husband from Texas insists on calling her Lula-Mae, she firmly corrects him that she's not Lula-Mae any more. What she means is that, in Marx's terms, she has passed irreversibly from the old agrarian logic of use value to the new urban logic of exchange value. This is why, when she goes to Tiffany's to cheer herself up, she's not looking hungrily at the jewelry there, she's looking at the price tags. Later in the film, Paul promises to spend $10 on Holly there, and of course they can't get any diamonds for that, but neither of them care – their only aim is to put some money into the system so that they can feel as if they are part of it. (Even this is only possible because they have a strange bonding moment with the shop assistant, not over anything genuinely human, but over a mass-produced toy that comes in a box of popcorn. Commodities can be persuasive in this context, but not their owners.) When Holly and Paul get together at the end of the film, it's only because Holly has just been turned down by José da Silva Pereira, and Paul is now the best deal she can get. "I'd marry you for your money in a minute," she has told him earlier. "Would you marry me for my money?" Paul agrees that he would, and Holly replies: "I guess it's pretty lucky neither of us is rich, huh?"

2. Shogun Assassin (1980)

This is the film from which RZA sampled all that dialogue for GZA's Liquid Swords. It's very entertaining, but what I couldn't stop thinking about was the sound design. It's minimal, disjointed and lo-fi in a way that must surely have been a significant technical influence on RZA's production style. After all, the whole Wu Tang Clan probably watched this about a million times, right?

3. La Règle du Jeu (1939)

Did Henry Green see this film? His novel Loving, which came out six years later, is similar not just on the level of subject matter – country house farce in which aristocrats and servants observe each other's romances with bemusement – but also on the level of method. The way that Green will begin a scene with one pair of characters, let them eavesdrop for a moment on another pair of characters, and use that as a path to move smoothly into a new scene with the second pair, exactly parallels Renoir's famously graceful camera movements in La Règle du Jeu. (The clip I've chosen above doesn't demonstrate this, I just like it a lot.)

4. Rififi (1955)
Joins Le Trou (1960) in the small genre that I'm going to call "French noir films with explicit scenes of criminals chiselling at stone floors without any dialogue for almost unendurable periods of time." I think this may be my favourite of all genres.

1 comment:

Fiona said...

Ha, I think I'd forgotten how long that drilling scene in Rififi goes for. And yet I didn't get up to make popcorn or alphabetise my cds by label or any of those other things I do when I'm bored. I wish to see more films in this genre.