Max Ophüls

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HerrSchreck
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Max Ophüls

#1 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Dec 01, 2008 9:41 am

Max Ophüls (1902-1957)

Image

"This Hollywood crisis could be good for you...
this desperate cry for cheap production would
make it possible for you to fool them, and before
they realize it make good pictures. In the picture
I just finished, I found out that that is possible
."


Filmography

Les amants de Montparnasse / Hero of Montmatre (1958) (uncredited) DVDPascher copy, probably obscure.

Lola Montes (1955) (as Max Ophuls) R1 Fox Lorber

Madame de... / The Earrings of Madame de...(1953) R2 Second Sight, R1 Criterion

Le plaisir (1952) R2 Second Sight, R1 Criterion

Vendetta (1950) (1946 first version; fired) (uncredited)

La ronde / Roundabout (1950) R2 Second Sight, R1 Criterion dvd

The Reckless Moment (1949) (as Max Opuls) R2 Second Sight

Caught (1949) (as Max Opuls) R2 Universal DVD

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) (as Max Opuls) R2 Wild Side

The Exile (1947) R1 "Firecake Ent" dvd, released and discontinued in one month(???)

De Mayerling a  Sarajevo / From Mayerling to Sarajevo (1940) R2 Warner VHS

L'ecole des femmes (1940)

Sans lendemain / Without Tomorrow (1939) Discont(?) R2 Warner VHS

Werther / Le roman de Werther(1938) Discont(?) R2 Warner VHS

Yoshiwara (1937) R2 Discont(?) Warner VHS

Komedie om geld / The Trouble with Money(1936)

Ave Maria (1936/II)

La tendre ennemie / The Tender Enemy (1936) R2 Warner VHS

Valse brillante de Chopin (1936)

Divine (1935) R2 Warner VHS

La signora di tutti / Everybody's Woman (1934) R2 RHV DVD, R1 Connoisseur VHS

Une histoire d'amour / Love Story (1933)

Lachende Erben / Laughing Heirs(1933)

Liebelei / Flirtation (1933) R1 Kino VHS, R2 "Art House" VHS

On a volé un homme / Man Stolen (1933)

Die verkaufte Braut / The Bartered Bride(1932) R1 Triad "enhanced" dvd, Internet Archive Online View or download (Note: notes claim film has been re-uploaded and is now complete)

Die verliebte Firma / The Company's in Love (1932)

Dann schon lieber Lebertran / I'd Rather Have Cod Liver Oil (1931)


In Print

The Cinema of Max Ophuls (Paperback)by Professor Susan M. White (Author)

Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios by Lutz Bacher: Hardcover, Kindle Edition

Max Ophuls (Paperback) by Claude Beylie

Max Ophuls: Eine Biographie mit zahlreichen Dokumenten, Texten und Bildern (Arte Edition) (German Edition) (Perfect Paperback) by Helmut G Asper

Max Ophuls (Cahiers du cinema) (French Edition)by William Karl Guerin

Max Ophuls, l'enchanteur (Universale/cinema) (Italian Edition) by Aldo Tassone

Max Ophuls and Melodrama
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Last edited by Matt on Wed Oct 06, 2010 10:13 am, edited 2 times in total.

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GringoTex
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Re: Max Ophüls

#2 Post by GringoTex » Mon Dec 01, 2008 11:10 am

Since the Criterion set came out, I've watched its films plus Reckless Moment and Letter From an Unknown Woman multiple times now, and I'm staggered by Ophuls 5-year achievement. The only comparable 5-year run I can think of are Bunuel's early 50s, Boetticher's late 50s, and Godard's early 60s.

At this point in time, Le Plaisir has floated to the top for me. In addition to the requisite Ophul's camera movement, the film contains several static long shots (such as the town gents sitting and staring out at the seas, the train ride, and the church scene), each consisting of multiple characters carrying out their own personal little narratives. It's a precursor to Tati's restaurant scene in Playtime and makes for infinite pleasure in reviewing.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#3 Post by david hare » Mon Dec 01, 2008 5:57 pm

Ophuls career displays a singularity of subject and form from the very beginning, and I would like to try and throw some light on this through a cursory journey from the start.

With the first, German period comes the sublime Liebelei (1933) which opens with a flawlessly rendered backstage and front of house performance of Mozart's Die Entfuhrung auf dem Serail, and ends with Magda Schneider's suicide. This version is superior to the simultaneously shot French version Une Histoire d'Amour which contains entirely different takes, and in which the performances, like those in the German Lola Montez, feel comparably stilted. There is a degree of tenderness to Ophuls' evocation of young lovers which I think he never again replicates, as his vision firms into his next masterpiece, La Signora di Tutti (1934) from Italy.

Here Gaby virtually imagines her entire life, under narcosis as a tableau of liaisons and love affairs in which she is effectively "invented" by the people who fall in love with her, including the industrialist's wife, Alma, whose heart attack is a quasi suicide. The movie effectively states the formal premise of Lola Montez twenty years later. Among the early 30s German works, Die Verkaufte Braut (1933 from the Smetana Opera deserves a serious re-assessment on the basis of its energized camera movements alone, including one outstanding sequence with a swooping "Zoom" like shot in and out of a window onto the face of the heroine. Similarly the light comedy, Lachende Erben while minor is highly entertaining and acknowledges Lubitsch in tone. More importantly I think the Dutch film from this period, Komedie om Geld deserves some serious analysis on the basis of its narrative construction, another film with the narrator role interrupting the plot with a wheel of fate. And again the mise en scene seems to anticipate the 40s Universal era in which Ophuls found and made prolific use of the crab dolly (itself invented by the Universal technicians) - in Komedie shot after shot is composed of long travellings which move vertically and horizontally at the same time, seemingly launched from multi level platforms and cranes.

The French period begins with the relatively lightweight La Tendre Ennemie which while charming seems to me to become overwhelmed by its own whimsy - a story in which ghosts narrate and try to intervene in a potentially disastrous romance. Divine and Yoshiwara are similarly picturesque and visually arresting, but don't seem thematically germane.

But then he adapts Goethe's Werther, with Pierre Richard-Willm and gives us his first French masterpiece, quickly followed by the astonishing Sans Lendemain (1938) in which Edwige Feuillere (of all people) plays a "Fallen Woman"/Dance hostess who bares her body nightly to the crowds in a number called "Les Quatre Saisons", but whose life outside is dominated by the demands of the four men in her life - her son, her pimp and ex husband, her past lover who still idealizes her and her colleague, whom Ophuls directs very much like Ustinov's ringmaster in Lola, and who may in fact be gay, as he is the only man who doesn't simply require Feuillere for her body as either sex, maternal nurture or commerce. De Mayerling a Sarajevo is - I think - a relatively routine assignment. And there's a break of seven years until Ophuls embarks on his American sojourn - a period well noted for the troubled relationships he had with producers, excepting perhaps the Ramparts team for Letter.

Caught may be my favorite of these four movies - despite the documented difficulties of the shoot, iuncluding John Berry's early direction of the picture while Ophuls was ill, and Ophuls total re-shooting of all of Berry's footage, then the rushed, budget constrained ending which neither he nor Laurents found satisfactory, and of course several censored scenes, all late in the film after Leonora becomes pregnant and attempts suicide. His vision has firmed into the clarity and multi layered perception of reality which we can all see finally in the last great French period. It's worth mentioning how much The Exile deserves re-evaluation, if only for the fact that it's his first big outing with the crab dolly. For mise en scene alone it's a commanding piece of work. And it should be added he obtains an extremely calm and nuanced performance from Maria Montez!!

Reckless Moment is Ophuls' fully fledged Noir out of domestic melodrama, with totally flawless casting of Bennett and Mason. A complete masterwork of American cinema.

And then the last four French masterpieces. I would add I think Marcel was right to insist on the new French language restoration from the Cinematheque Francaise of Lola as the most definitive version possible, And it IS revelatory now, with the beauties of the full Scope frame, four track stereo and the sumptuous color. I do however think Marcel was wrong to suppress the long cut of La Ronde - the additional 16 minutes largely involves scenes of Walbrook breaking out of his narrator role and stepping into the narrative and relating/conversing with the characters. The added dimenssion of Walbrook as a functioning "character" adds to, rather than diminishing the film's texture.

Very quickly, some references include the outstanding visual essays of around 20 minutes each which Tag Gallagher has done for Caught (coming to R2 Second Sight next year) and Madame de, not to mention his posts in Rouge, Senses of Cinema and elsewhere. I think that Tag's essays really capture what I wish every good film writer could do, and that's to lay the works out for you as they unfold with the same rapture that one gets from the movies themselves, and then drawing you into a visual appreciation of the director's mise en scene with seemingly effortless grace. I also have Tag to thank for the opportunity to see a lot of Ophuls work previously unavailable to me.

And Lutz Bacher's book on Ophuls, Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios, from which comes the quote above, referring of course to Caught.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#4 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Dec 02, 2008 7:47 pm

Caught really is a magnificent picture, as indeed is Reckless Moment. I had the good fortune recently of getting my hands on the Pal discs of both of these films, and Ophuls' delicacy and sophistication is completely incredible. Not to mention he pulls out of James Mason in both films a sense of spontenaety and easy charisma that compliments the subtext of psychological self-immolation that runs beneath so many of his performances.

In his best pictures I often think that Ophuls' moving camera is overemphasized-- his technique is full, and his achievement is total. Despite the impressive quality of his moving camera, his sophistication is far more refined than just that-- too refined actually to be pinned down to a single shining conceit.

He often reminds me of G W Pabst's finest hour: The Love of Jeanne Ney, where Pabst achieved his best work via the expressive deployment of all the tools the cinema sticks in the director's toolbox: montage, moving camera, art direction, casting, on and on. The finest journeyman professionalism ratcheted to exquisite levels, invisible style made hugely visible by force of talent, intelligence and originality.

Although I love the avant garde, guys who fought from the outside to get their pictures made in their own way, equally fascinating are men like Ophuls and Sirk who load the "Hollywood Style" with such livid originally and depth-- I often find myself wondering: are men like Ophuls and Sirk taking the cinema backwards to the glories of the hi-art styles of Murnau, Sternberg, the scripts of Carl Mayer, the atomic exquisitries of pre War Lang at UFA, when the medium reached it's hieght of visual expression? Is this style of melodrama a nod to the very best of work of the Impressionists and the Germans? Or did they take the medium forward into the future, taking what they needed from the past and, with the inegration of these conceits into classical Hollywood melodrama, crafting something entirely new?

The answer is probably not important and maybe just a bit of mental masturbation, but it's something that nonetheless pops to mind when watching them. For me, Ophuls is even harder to pin down than Sirk, whose style is so visually muscular. Ophuls' tends to go right to the edges of this kind of visual exaggeration, and dances comfortably along that razors edge. As opposed to "stark", I'd call him lush. Looking at Caught or Reckless Moment is instructive, since these are considered 'noirs'... yet they lack the extreme visual starkness that other directors might lean on to lather up a metaphor for clashing moral elements. Ophuls seems to find his home in shades of grey, juggling all the temperatures like a maestro, never tending to much exaggeration except for punctuation here and there. This as opposed to the wrought iron hardness of say Mann, who was equally adept at melodrama as well as noir yet in a far more masculine and exaggerated way.

What I love about Mann is that you could turn the sound down and-- strictly through the compositions of his images-- get quite a bit of the vast bulk of his narratives. What I love about Ophuls is that even with the sound up you can miss much of his lushly sophisticated narratives, so refined is his technique. These are surfaces wound very carefully and with delicate correspondence, and repeated viewings continue to reveal new layers and deft touches and pieces of punctuation.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#5 Post by Yojimbo » Tue Dec 02, 2008 11:34 pm

'Caught' is the only Ophuls I've seen which I ws underwhelmed by, although given that so many people disagree with me on that and at least place it on a par with 'Reckless Moment' makes me think I should give it another look.
I doubt however, I'd rate it higher than the latter film which is one of my favourite noirs, although perhaps by the strictest, accepted definitions its not quintessential noir: perhaps more 'woman's picture' and a slicker, more polished 'Mildred Pierce' too boot, featuring career peak performances by both Bennett and Mason
(who was apparently at the pinnacle of his 'matinee idol' period at the time, or so I recall my mother telling me anyhow).

Leibelei is definitely one I'm keen on tracking down.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#6 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 03, 2008 12:17 am

Yojimbo wrote:'Caught' is the only Ophuls I've seen which I ws underwhelmed by, although given that so many people disagree with me on that and at least place it on a par with 'Reckless Moment' makes me think I should give it another look.
Caught is the worst film ever made by a great director

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Re: Max Ophüls

#7 Post by david hare » Wed Dec 03, 2008 3:49 am

Well. that's a bald statement, if nothing else.

I'm tempted to, but wont paraphrase Robin Wood when he said something like anyone who doesn't love Marnie doesn't love cinema.

But I wont do that.

Ophuls melodramas and Noirs and kammerspiels and musicals are all formal disguises in layer upon layer of the way human beings conduct their lives - usually as best, and sometimes as worst as they can, as profoundly as Ozu, or Shakespeare, or Goethe, but who are constantly thwarted or locked into "society", or "Moral codes" or ultimately the limitations of their own egos and their need for self definition, with or without the attentions or validations of others. And all his movies are about passion. And its sibling, madness.

Leonora is a complex and ultimately an admirable figure - in fact she's almost unique in Ophuls' canon - and Ophuls then runs Mason and Ryan through an astounding gamut of good to evil in several thousand shades of gray. Central to Ophuls is the pushes and pulls on indivduals who are all struggling for indentity. Down to trying to defeat the inevitability of history, and time, and their being forgotten. Even when, like Mizo, he pushes them into these sublime levels of self-invention and performance. All the while surrounding them with one of the most seductively opulent mise en scenes in all of cinema. In the case of Caught, with the Laurents screenplay, and the Garmes photography. And the playing of every single performer in this masterpiece.

His movies really are for grown ups.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#8 Post by Narshty » Wed Dec 03, 2008 6:21 am

david hare wrote:I'm tempted to, but wont paraphrase Robin Wood when he said something like anyone who doesn't love Marnie doesn't love cinema.
Oh, Robin. If there was ever a prime example of an idiotic statement borne from an essentially good place, then that's it.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#9 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Dec 03, 2008 6:24 am

domino harvey wrote:
Yojimbo wrote:'Caught' is the only Ophuls I've seen which I ws underwhelmed by, although given that so many people disagree with me on that and at least place it on a par with 'Reckless Moment' makes me think I should give it another look.
Caught is the worst film ever made by a great director
Didn't you once put up a post about the film after you watched it? I was looking for it when searching for Ophuls material on this new thread, but couldn't find it anymore. You went on a bit about it, didnt you?

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Re: Max Ophüls

#10 Post by david hare » Wed Dec 03, 2008 6:49 am

Narshty said:
Oh, Robin. If there was ever a prime example of an idiotic statement borne from an essentially good place, then that's it.
david hare wrote:I'm tempted to, but wont paraphrase Robin Wood when he said something like anyone who doesn't love Marnie doesn't love cinema.
Yes Batman, but you know what? I suspect he's right. Whether it's from a good place or whatever.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#11 Post by Narshty » Wed Dec 03, 2008 8:25 am

Then my own love of cinema must be a sham. This harbinger-of-taste nonsense from Wood or whoever is neanderthal and the point where criticism turns into snake oil peddling.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#12 Post by Yojimbo » Wed Dec 03, 2008 9:49 am

david hare wrote:Well. that's a bald statement, if nothing else.

I'm tempted to, but wont paraphrase Robin Wood when he said something like anyone who doesn't love Marnie doesn't love cinema.

But I wont do that.

Ophuls melodramas and Noirs and kammerspiels and musicals are all formal disguises in layer upon layer of the way human beings conduct their lives - usually as best, and sometimes as worst as they can, as profoundly as Ozu, or Shakespeare, or Goethe, but who are constantly thwarted or locked into "society", or "Moral codes" or ultimately the limitations of their own egos and their need for self definition, with or without the attentions or validations of others. And all his movies are about passion. And its sibling, madness.

Leonora is a complex and ultimately an admirable figure - in fact she's almost unique in Ophuls' canon - and Ophuls then runs Mason and Ryan through an astounding gamut of good to evil in several thousand shades of gray. Central to Ophuls is the pushes and pulls on indivduals who are all struggling for indentity. Down to trying to defeat the inevitability of history, and time, and their being forgotten. Even when, like Mizo, he pushes them into these sublime levels of self-invention and performance. All the while surrounding them with one of the most seductively opulent mise en scenes in all of cinema. In the case of Caught, with the Laurents screenplay, and the Garmes photography. And the playing of every single performer in this masterpiece.

His movies really are for grown ups.
....although, in 'Marnie's' case, having listened to its champions, and, given it another go, I'm beginning to feel like the little boy who shouted 'The Emperor has no clothes on'

I suppose you're not going to say Fod's '7 Women' is his great unappreciated 'Masterpiece', now, are you? :wink:

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Re: Max Ophüls

#13 Post by GringoTex » Wed Dec 03, 2008 10:54 am

After a fine start, this thread go mucked up real quick.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#14 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 03, 2008 11:03 am

HerrSchreck wrote:
domino harvey wrote:
Yojimbo wrote:'Caught' is the only Ophuls I've seen which I ws underwhelmed by, although given that so many people disagree with me on that and at least place it on a par with 'Reckless Moment' makes me think I should give it another look.
Caught is the worst film ever made by a great director
Didn't you once put up a post about the film after you watched it? I was looking for it when searching for Ophuls material on this new thread, but couldn't find it anymore. You went on a bit about it, didnt you?
I did and I can't find it either-- very strange. The only reason I didn't expand my thought was because I assumed I already had elsewhere. My complaints with the film are very basic and therefore unfortunately almost impossible for me to overcome. It's the most amateurish Classical Hollywood film I've ever seen, with unreined and sloppy acting, an embarrassingly spastic camera, an overly intrusive score, and huge problems with pacing, among other problems. I tried listening to the commentary track and I know it has its defenders but I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could take up the film's cause. I've disliked films from this era before, but I cannot remember ever sitting in front of the screen with such blatant shock at just how bad a film could be. It's not like I don't love Ophuls and his other films from this period. I too am a fan of the Reckless Moment and Letter From an Unknown Woman might be his best film. I just don't know what happened here.

But hey, I do like Marnie

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Re: Max Ophüls

#15 Post by Gregory » Wed Dec 03, 2008 4:40 pm

Narshty wrote:Then my own love of cinema must be a sham. This harbinger-of-taste nonsense from Wood or whoever is neanderthal and the point where criticism turns into snake oil peddling.
Wood is far from being the only critic to make such a statement. It's a clear case of hyperbole and I don't think it shouldn't be taken with any great seriousness or indignation. I would also bet that a lot of members of this forum have said such a thing at least once, or at least have to resist the temptation.
Wood's views are often strong in comparison to most critics and scholars, whose own writings in many cases is rather lifeless at least it seems that way to me. He occasionally comes out with a silly statement (who doesn't?), but there's no need to dwell on it. His writing on Ophuls is outstanding, particularly on such films as Letter From an Unknown Woman and Reckless Moment.

I like Caught a lot but don't think it reaches the brilliance of Letter From, Madame de.., Reckless Moment, and Le Plaisir. I'd need to see it again to feel confident discussing it in any great detail.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#16 Post by david hare » Wed Dec 03, 2008 4:42 pm

After a fine start, this thread go mucked up real quick.
Yes he's basically derailed it.

One of the reasons I stopped posting here was this trivialization of any attempt to deepen the discussion with pointless and meant-to-be provocative one-liners. If it keeps up I'll be taking my leave again. There's other fish to fry.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#17 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 03, 2008 5:33 pm

If that's a reference to me, I've already explained why I didn't initially reply with more than the one-line confirmation that Caught didn't charm everyone.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#18 Post by Yojimbo » Wed Dec 03, 2008 5:49 pm

domino harvey wrote:If that's a reference to me, I've already explained why I didn't initially reply with more than the one-line confirmation that Caught didn't charm everyone.
forget one liners, how about one word, the most that I can remember about 'Caught' was that it looked 'gloomy'.
(which is not a word one tends to associate with Ophuls)
I know its been more than 10 years since I watched it, and my memory may be fading but I can remember vivid details of some films I only saw once, and in those cases some 30+ years ago.
(so perhaps its a case that my memory banks refuse to allow any more space for my memories of it).

My favourite Ophuls is probably 'Madame De', though
(although only marginally over 'Letter' and 'Reckless Moment')

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Re: Max Ophüls

#19 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Dec 03, 2008 9:59 pm

Enough about 7 Women furchrissakes.

Is gloomy a perjorative? Stay away from French Impressionism or some of the more hardbitten noirs from the late 40's, you may go whistling down the side of a skyscraper. Seriously, I'd recommend you give it another whirl.

Not to mention "noir" itself, of which Caught is a relative soft incarnation of-- at least in terms of atmospherics.

Hey Domino, can you give some examples of where you find some of these phenomena in the picture? I know there are moments in the film that bely the pedigree (slight fuckups in bel Geddes' line readinings once or twice that werent retaken, but I think she's absolutely wonderful in this part, an entirely unique heroine in a film of this type, drawn with many facets of authenticity). Where specifically did you find the camera spastic, and problems with the pacing?

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Re: Max Ophüls

#20 Post by domino harvey » Wed Dec 03, 2008 10:09 pm

HerrSchreck wrote: Hey Domino, can you give some examples of where you find some of these phenomena in the picture? I know there are moments in the film that bely the pedigree (slight fuckups in bel Geddes' line readinings once or twice that werent retaken, but I think she's absolutely wonderful in this part, an entirely unique heroine in a film of this type, drawn with many facets of authenticity). Where specifically did you find the camera spastic, and problems with the pacing?
I know Ophuls' cameras are always so free, but inside the doctor's office, when he moves so swiftly from room to room, it seems like he pushed the camera faster than it was supposed to be move, and it just looked jarring.

As for pacing, the first twenty minutes or so (which is also where the music problems are found) is really flat and I assume the actors weren't given enough time to rehearse before Ophuls orchestrated his notorious long takes. I'm thinking in particular the scene in the apartment where the female protagonist is reading a magazine (I think?) and the scene just goes on forever-- that's definitely a moment where editing could have tightened up and fixed a lot of the problems if the one-shot hadn't shackled the film to the take.

But I think even a great actor like Robert Ryan is lost once his character's true bent is revealed, which unfolds in a very haphazard manner. The editing during his freakouts I recall being particularly poor as well... is there a fade-out right in the middle of his line? Sorry, it's hard to write about a film in this kind of detail once time's lapsed, but I hope this helps

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Re: Max Ophüls

#21 Post by Yojimbo » Wed Dec 03, 2008 10:13 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:Enough about 7 Women furchrissakes.

Is gloomy a perjorative? Stay away from French Impressionism or some of the more hardbitten noirs from the late 40's, you may go whistling down the side of a skyscraper. Seriously, I'd recommend you give it another whirl.

Not to mention "noir" itself, of which Caught is a relative soft incarnation of-- at least in terms of atmospherics.

Hey Domino, can you give some examples of where you find some of these phenomena in the picture? I know there are moments in the film that bely the pedigree (slight fuckups in bel Geddes' line readinings once or twice that werent retaken, but I think she's absolutely wonderful in this part, an entirely unique heroine in a film of this type, drawn with many facets of authenticity). Where specifically did you find the camera spastic, and problems with the pacing?
gloomy isn't necessarily a perjorative: it has its place.
it fits 'Human Desire', or 'It Only Rains On Sundays'.....or indeed 'Le Jour Se Leve', to name but three, like a glove.
Its just that it doesn't fit easily with Ophuls for me.

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Re: Max Ophüls

#22 Post by david hare » Sat Dec 13, 2008 1:47 am

Gloom in Max Ophuls is simply a non-sequitur, if only because however dark the vision, his mise en scene is always invigorating and rhapsodic, and so often his camera becomes a player within the film in its own right.

On that subject we just finished reviewing The Exile last night. I really have to take back all reservations (all forty years old based on one television viewing back then.) Apart from the obligatory couple of minutes of Swashbuckling with Fairbanks deflecting the English spies in Holland, even calling the movie "graceful" or "stylish" is an understatement. The crab dolly really is a prefect device for Ophuls to combine vertical and even diagonal movement up and down with lateral tracking. Effectively he can realize completely three dimensioonal camera movement, which you also see very plainly in something like the opening Dance Hall scenes of Le PLaisir (le Masque episode.) While the dialogue can get a little flowery Ophuls is able to create little references to his other work made earlier and later. With Charles in exile his character harks back to the melancholy isolation of Werther in 1938 played by Willm, himself isolated to a degree in an unsympathetic cultural geography. And the two short scene with Maria Montez look forward to Lola Montez in her carriage passing through another man's life, although in this case she hands over the romantic mantle to her rival in this, the real female lead Rita Corday.

The fixed French subs are moderately annoying, as always and this print suffers a few cuts and tears but it's pretty good. One hopes Universal gets around to it sometime soon. Through Carlotta perhaps?

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david hare
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Re: Max Ophüls

#23 Post by david hare » Sat Dec 27, 2008 8:26 pm

I’ve just finished a couple of re-viewings of Yoshiwara, which given the title card should in fact properly be called Kohana, after the name of the heroine. I've needed several viewings as the soundtrack on this unsubbed French TV VHS copy is rough as guts, and about as rough as my own French language skills.

I was interested to read an otherwise sympathetic commentary elsewhere on the movie in which the writer cites a number of negative reviews in France, based seemingly on the relatively poverty-stricken "look" of the sets, among other things. As Ophuls was never one to shy away from the fabric of expressive stylization, one could equally cites scene after scene from Lola Montez – perhaps most notably the shipboard scene after Lola as a teenager has gone back to bed and the camera cranes up from the bunk berth to a deep blue night sky, clearly glittering with artificial stars, and continues the movement further upwards straight into the balconies at a performance of the Opera for the next sequence. The artificiality in Kohana certainly didn’t bother me, especially considering it’s the production design provenance of the brothers Barsacq, plus the photography ofg Eugene Schuftann. Lourie also acted uncredited as costume designer. In other words I think, conceptions of “impoverished” mise en scene are obviously subjective.

And contrary to my earlier impressions, the narrative –a sort of Noir Madame Butterfly set during the Sino-Russian difficulties circa 1904 – has a central place in Ophuls’ world, insofar as here, even more than le Plaisir or Sans Lendemain, the theme of prostitution is far more explicitly and directly addressed. In fact the main problem with the movie may be the degree of narrative incident and the necessary twists and turns of secondary characters for this sort of conventional melodrama, such as Sessue Hayakawa as the unrequited lover turning spy, which leads to the demise of both the principals.

But try to imagine Max making a Mizoguchi film, like Osaka Elegy or Downfall of Osen, with a studio fabricated world of Meiji Japan in the spirit of Sternberg and you start to get the flavor. The centerpiece of the picture is a scene of mutual enrapturement between Kohana (Michiko Tanaka) and Pierre-Richard Willm, in which he dresses her, for the only time in the film, in Western clothing, a ball gown no less, and he brings to life imaginatively for her, and for the camera a series of fantasies of Western high life - the grand restaurant banquet, the ballroom, all done in incredibly difficult single takes with barely a cut. The sequence very clearly harks forward ten years to the fairground “Train Ride” scene with Jourdan and Fontaine in Letter.

Ophuls obviously had to work with a less than gala budget for this movie, yet you never feel it in these scenes, or indeed anywhere in the entire film, from the exteriors, whenever Kohana is momentarily free of the brothel/Tea House to which she is indentured by her family debt, or the Sternbergian replications of the Yoshiwara district of Tokyo.

The movie may have small flaws in narrative density and execution, but the circularity of Ophuls’ imagination is clearly evident in the recurrence of motifs and fetishes.

Next up Divine, with subs. The more I look at this period of the work I think you could justify a ten disc box of 30s Ophuls as equally important as Mizo, Ozu or Sternberg. Or Hawks, Hitchcock, Lang………

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Re: Max Ophüls

#24 Post by Yojimbo » Sat Dec 27, 2008 10:04 pm

"Liebelei" is the pre-Hollywood Ophuls I'm most keen on seeing
("Letter from an Unknown Woman" is the earliest of his films I've seen).
"Yoshiwara" only has an average rating of 6.3 from 31 votes on IMDb: a general rule of thumb for me is anything with a rating of 7.5 or higher, for directors I'm interested in, is worth checking out.

Certainly I'd agree with you though that Ophuls pre-Hollywood work deserves a box-set or, at least, an Eclipse

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Re: Max Ophüls

#25 Post by david hare » Sat Dec 27, 2008 11:34 pm

It's my aim to get others interested in such a possibility.

As a "First Wave" top tier of 30s titles:

Liebelei
La Signora di Tutti
Werther
Sans Lendemain

Second Tier
Die Verkaufte Braut
Komedie om Geld
Kohana/Yoshiwara
De Mayerling a Sarajevo

Third Tier/Subjects for further research

Lachende Erben
La Tendre Ennemie
Divine

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