Friday, April 2, 2010

Bashing the Old World

It's by coincidence that I've see these two film so close together, but there's a reasonable enough connection to review them together in that they are trying to do the same thing in the end: trash European aristocratic society.

The Earrings of Madame de..., 1953
Dir: Max Ophüls

I think that this does an alright job of bashing stuffy Eruo nobles and how ridiculous they are, but reading other stuff it seems it's supposed to be some sort of feminist film and that makes no fucking sense to me. There's something in there about false opulence, but I don't really care. So there are some costume balls (so sumptuous) and a female lead, is that it? Even so, the Madame (Danielle Darrieux) is such a prissy liar and unlikable character that it's hard to believe feminists were all about this film. Charles Boyer as her army General husband is decent, and Vittorio de Sica as her Baron lover is really great, but that's probably because of his own experience making really great films. In the end though, you know that the General is gonna find out, and you know that shit is gonna go down. And yes, Madame, it's all your fault. You should cry. I don't feel bad for you. Is that what it's all about, that upper-society and having it too easy made everyone this way? What is feminist about bashing that? That it's a man's world and she was playing two dudes for fools? Over fucking earrings? That might work if she weren't the biggest idiot in the film. As for Ophuls, I wish he made movies about other stuff. His technical wizardry and composed film-making is mind-boggling. Like Orson Welles good. Watching the film for film-making sake is probably worth it. The number of dolly shots is off-the-chats. Just don't blame me if you start getting really ticked off about what's actually happening in the movie as opposed to what makes it up.


Kind Hearts and Coronets, 1949
Dir: Robert Hamer

An Ealing Studio classic, I found myself enjoying this because, despite it being incredibly stuffy black, English humor, it hits the nail on the head a lot of this time, "Even my lamented master, the great Mr. Benny himself, never had the privilege of hanging a duke. What a finale to a lifetime in the public service!" That's a hangman. The film revolves around Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), a man descended through the female line of the D'Ascoyne family. When his mother, a D'Ascoyne, marries an Italian opera singer, they disinherit her, and when she dies, they refuse to allow her to be buried in the family crypt. This is the final straw for Louis, who vows revenge, taking out all members of the D'Ascoyne family so he can become the Duke himself (female line members can). Playing every member of the D'Ascoyne family is Alec Guinness, from the shy, photographer Henry D'Ascoyne to elderly, feeble Reverend Lord Henry D'Ascoyne ("The Reverend Lord Henry was not one of those new-fangled parsons who carry the principles of their vocation uncomfortably into private life.") The film is full of biting zingers that will probably go over Joe Blows head, but if your waiting for it you'll find they're actually really funny. Take for example, after killing his cousin, young Ascoyne D'Ascoyne (great name), along with his mistress, Louis muses, "I was sorry about the girl, but found some relief in the reflection that she had presumably, during the weekend, already undergone a fate worse than death." This film relies a little too heavily on voice-over to be perfect for me, but a lot of that is Louis' biting humor, so it's forgivable. This forgiveness includes the two great ironies of the film, which is why Louis ends up in jail (hint: it's not for murdering anyone he actually killed) and that he really does start to become a D'Ascoyne in the end. I guess I just liked this more because it's funny, and I'm all about that. Satire: it works a lot of the time.


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