Welcome back to the screening log, everyone! (Are there screening log fans? Sound off in the comments). My life is about to get a bit crazy—I’m starting my Masters Program at Columbia, and while I plan to try and write as much as I can, but that can be sometimes pretty tough when you have 200 pages of high-level film theory to read. So apologies of this whole endeavor falls apart, but The Cinephiliacs will stay on schedule, and this will as much as possible. On with the show!
-Max et Les Ferraillues, 1971. Directed by Claude Sautet. 35mm projection at Film Society of Lincoln Center.
-Toni, 1934. Directed by Jean Renoir. 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-A Day in the Country, 1946. Directed by Jean Renoir. 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-Boudu Saved from Drowning, 1932. Directed by Jean Renoir. Digital 2K projection at Film Forum.
-Lola Montès, 1955. Directed by Max Ophüls. Cinemascope 35mm projection at Film Forum.
-Maidstone, 1970. Directed by Norman Mailer. DVD.
-Wild 90, 1967. Directed by Norman Mailer. DVD.
-Beyond the Law, 1967. Directed by Norman Mailer. DVD.
-The Buried Secret of M. Night Shaymalan, 2004. Directed by Nathaniel Kehr. DVD.
How does one watch something like Lola Montès outside of a theater? The truly gorgeous and stunning film needs a large screen (one showing the film in its Cinemascope print of course) to truly appreciate the widescreen beauty of the film’s images. These aren’t just large landscapes—they are often interiors, but ones in which space, depth, or simply the overwhelming amount of color and objects compacted into the frame matter. They are images of everything, speaking the depths that the characters dare not say to each other (a common note in melodrama, but oh so pertinent in Max Ophüls’s cinema).
Andrew Sarris was once accused of only liking Ophüls and Von Sternberg because they loved to move the camera, which Sarris admitted might be partly true. Well, watching Lola Montes is like watching the camera in pure ecstasy. You have no idea what is around the next corner, what you can’t see. As expressive as Lola Montès can be, it’s often what we cannot see that titillates us, makes us want to know more. During that opening long take, Ophüls truly makes us aware that there is more than we can see, in his limited frame view. Cinemascope was not enough for him—I bet he would have the image completely surround you if possible.
Lola Montès, which Sarris promoted for some time at his favorite film ever (more because of its maudit status, though hell it would be a great film to have as a favorite of all time), is a film in many ways about melodrama as much as it is a melodrama. It begins as a circus, a backstage drama about the titular woman and her trials and tribulations. But this is also her life being presented, recreated as entertainment. What does that say about how we indulge in investing in her life when we see the flashbacks to her many romances? In one of many great scenes featuring Peter Ustinov as the ring leader, explains to Lola that the two should use her love of scandal and sell it to audiences…oh wait. What year does this take place?
There’s no escape in the cinema of Ophüls. His characters have an inherent nature to reject banality in life or simplicity. A late scene with Oskar Werner gives Lola an escape. She can’t take it. She won’t. And Ophüls’s camera shows us why—she’s going to jump, because that is who she is.