652 Monsieur Verdoux

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Matt
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652 Monsieur Verdoux

#1 Post by Matt » Mon Dec 17, 2012 5:08 pm

Monsieur Verdoux

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Charlie Chaplin plays shockingly against type in his most controversial film, a brilliant and bleak black comedy about money, marriage, and murder. Chaplin is a twentieth-century Bluebeard, an enigmatic family man who goes to extreme lengths to support his wife and child, attempting to bump off a series of wealthy widows (including one played by the indefatigable Martha Raye, in a hilarious performance). This deeply philosophical and wildly entertaining film is a work of true sophistication, both for the moral questions it dares to ask and the way it deconstructs its megastar’s loveable on-screen persona.

• New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
Chaplin Today: “Monsieur Verdoux,” a 2003 program on the film’s production and release, featuring filmmaker Claude Chabrol and actor Norman Lloyd
Charlie Chaplin and the American Press, a new documentary featuring Chaplin specialist Kate Guyonvarch and author Charles Maland
• New video essay featuring an audio interview with actress Marilyn Nash
• Radio advertisements and trailers
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and reprinted pieces by Chaplin and critic André Bazin

georgec
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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#2 Post by georgec » Mon Dec 17, 2012 6:02 pm

Chaplin's speech to the court at the end of the movie is perhaps the best thing he ever did. It's interesting to consider the darker themes of the film in the context of his evolution as filmmaker. His earlier works, and most of his films, are more positive and inspiring, but I think the social commentary in Monsieur Verdoux is excellent.

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domino harvey
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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#3 Post by domino harvey » Mon Dec 17, 2012 6:12 pm

If that's the same Chabrol interview from the R2 disc, then it's essential

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knives
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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#4 Post by knives » Mon Dec 17, 2012 6:45 pm

I at first didn't see the Chabrol interview and was mildly annoyed. I'd probably never pick up this film, but you'd have to be stupid to release this and not feature something from either him or Rivette.

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david hare
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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#5 Post by david hare » Mon Dec 17, 2012 7:22 pm

I don't suppose they have been able to restore the seven short cut sequences that Brownlow was able to smuggle back into his 90s iteration of Verdoux for the now fabulously rare Laserdisc set.

In any case I have the German Blu and can attest the image quality is very good. But the restored footage would be a real bonus, Chaplin fucking Estate notwithstanding.

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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#6 Post by donniedarko » Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:17 am

I love me some Chaplin, Great Dictator is one of my favorite criterions, and from the first 45 mins of Modern Times I've seen in a class, it's hysterical.

This looks like an intresting film, and supplements seem nice, Chaplin isn't "The Tramp" in this one, is he?

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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#7 Post by wllm995 » Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:41 am

He is very far from "The Tramp"!

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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#8 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Dec 18, 2012 2:03 pm

PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky
Whoa, congrats to Ignatiy! I think this might be his first CC essay, and hopefully the first of many.

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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#9 Post by TheBeast » Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:19 am


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The Narrator Returns
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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#10 Post by The Narrator Returns » Sun Mar 03, 2013 12:40 pm


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I.V.
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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#11 Post by I.V. » Tue Mar 26, 2013 5:05 pm

In case y'all were wondering, the nonsense I wrote for this release just went up at Current.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#12 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:29 pm

I.V. wrote:In case y'all were wondering, the nonsense I wrote for this release just went up at Current.
That's an interesting argument- I have to say, in watching the movie, I did not get the impression that Chaplin expected the viewer's relationships to Verdoux's family or The Girl to be at all critical, and read more or less indistinguishably from the sentimental portrayals of love and family that run throughout Chaplin's work- and the jarring tonal mismatch of rank sentimentality amidst what would otherwise be a cold hearted black comedy was one of the things that pushed me away from the movie, as the effect for me was not to problematize the traditional sentimentality but to excuse the murders, with Verdoux's big gallows speech coming off as a Sopranos' style scrabbling self justification that we are unexpectedly meant to buy into. The fact that Chaplin makes all of his character's victims utterly horrible seems to support that- we're never really pushed away from identifying with him, since he doesn't seem to kill anybody that we particularly like.

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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#13 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Apr 15, 2013 7:23 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:the effect for me was not to problematize the traditional sentimentality but to excuse the murders, with Verdoux's big gallows speech coming off as a Sopranos' style scrabbling self justification that we are unexpectedly meant to buy into.
I can't tell whether or not you're seriously proposing that Chaplin intended us to think murdering wives for their money a fine thing to do, and this is his bid to prove it.

The effect of that scene isn't to excuse anything one way or the other, but to redirect all the film's criticisms to larger ends. It's actually the mobilization of a traditional technique of pastoral whereby a person outside society (here a 'clown-as-death' figure), and therefore independent of it, gives expression to a sense of social injustice, which his independence makes him peculiarly suited for. I'll let William Empson describe the rest of this (since I'd just be paraphrasing him anyway): "so far as he is forced by [his poverty] into crime he is the judge of the society that judges him. This is a source of irony both against him and against the society, and if he is a sympathetic criminal he can be made to suggest both Christ as the scapegoat (so invoking Christian charity) and the sacrificial tragic hero, who was normally above society rather than below it, which is a further source of irony."

Pastoral, through various means, allows a typically low figure to adopt a high position, that of social critic, which is an ironic rather than an exculpatory role. It's exactly this technique that Chaplin has hit on, and he does it really well, allowing the emotions raised by certain implied criticisms (of poverty and various social problems) to be funneled into the final encompassing criticism of the final speech in which conceptions of justice are shown to be perverse and themselves misdirected.

The final speech turns on a further irony: that people are willing to get in a rightful moral outrage about one or two murders, but will turn a willful blind eye to the murder of thousands. This does not excuse, this indicts, and Chaplin has earned the right to have these indictments come from the mouth of his bluebeard by using traditional techniques to get it there.

So long as you remain insensitive to the film's ironies, you'll confuse it for traveling in only one of two possible directions (condemning or praising) instead of having a complex and mutually revealing relationship with both.
matrixschmatrix wrote:The fact that Chaplin makes all of his character's victims utterly horrible seems to support that- we're never really pushed away from identifying with him, since he doesn't seem to kill anybody that we particularly like.
It would hardly be very funny if Verdoux were offing people we liked. Even Kind Hearts and Coronets doesn't make us like any of the victims (they're all amusing grotesques). If we liked them, it wouldn't be a comedy any more, it would be a tragedy. But more to the point: for Verdoux to work as a figure of social criticism we have to be able to identify with him. Therein lies the irony.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#14 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Apr 15, 2013 8:28 pm

No, obviously I don't think Chaplin seriously believed murder to be acceptable- but I feel as though the movie allows the audience's identification with Verdoux to be almost total, and makes no effort to make one feel the evil of what he does at any point, such that the effect is that his speech at the end seems aimed at actually excusing his murders as petty change rather than integrating them into a murderous society.

Kind Hearts, for instance, never actually makes Louis a likable figure, as one is privy to his internal monologue and it's obvious he's a more or less complete sociopath- we identify him because he's smart and charming and because his impetus has a certain rough justice, but there's never any attempt to make us think he has a secret heart of gold. Then too, at least one of his victims is clearly a total innocent, and by the end of the movie it seems entirely possible that he will murder Edith as well- the central irony being that his sociopathy and charm are actually the perfect combination for a truly aristocratic man. There is never any particular effort to distance one from Verdoux, and as movies generally don't seem to condemn murdering unpleasant people (see Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda) and unless one assumes that the sentimental scenes are meant to be played ironically, there's nothing to disrupt the portrait of a multiple murderer who's really an ok guy and even lovable.

The logic of black comedy would seem to insist that Verdoux does not intend the viewer to take the sentimental scenes with his family and The Girl seriously- after all, he is a totally unrepentant murderer- but I recall nothing within those scenes to differentiate them from the similar, totally unironic uses of them in Chaplin's other work, and it's not a movie that is generally particularly subtle in its effects. Then too, Verdoux never seems to me to be an impoverished or truly desperate man- he seems rather distinctly bourgeois, acting out of terrified fear of allowing his class status to drop rather than practical necessity (as Ignatiy himself points out, Verdoux's wife feels that the money he 'earns' is less needed than his presence.) He seems to prefigure someone like Tony Soprano in that respect, and indeed that character made quite a few speeches like Verdoux's, defending himself by pointing to larger societal evils (and also, it's a show that often turned on exceedingly black comedy). The Sopranos, however, was careful to depict Tony as both correct in his criticisms and as fundamentally a hypocrite, providing jolting disruptions from the audience's identification with a murderer by forcing him to make unpleasant decisions or by allowing him to be ugly in a way Verdoux never is. Without such disruptions- without seeing the essential ugliness of murder, or feeling the real pain that death brings, there isn't much sense that Verdoux shouldn't be read as a totally sympathic figure within the film- he's merely removing unpleasant characters from our view, and that seems like something of a favor.

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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#15 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Apr 15, 2013 9:19 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:but I feel as though the movie allows the audience's identification with Verdoux to be almost total, and makes no effort to make one feel the evil of what he does at any point, such that the effect is that his speech at the end seems aimed at actually excusing his murders as petty change rather than integrating them into a murderous society.
No, it doesn't. The point of this is plain and commonsensical. Society has become so bad that it loses the moral authority to condemn even something as obviously bad as murdering women for their money. It's this state that Chaplin wishes to address, not say that murdering people isn't as bad as all that. In your quickness to find fault, you've missed the point of the criticism entirely: that when the murder of women for money seems like "petty change," we've reached a bad state indeed. How you managed to construe that as an excuse rather than itself the criticism, I don't know.
matrixschmatrix wrote:Kind Hearts, for instance, never actually makes Louis a likable figure, as one is privy to his internal monologue and it's obvious he's a more or less complete sociopath- we identify him because he's smart and charming and because his impetus has a certain rough justice, but there's never any attempt to make us think he has a secret heart of gold. Then too, at least one of his victims is clearly a total innocent, and by the end of the movie it seems entirely possible that he will murder Edith as well- the central irony being that his sociopathy and charm are actually the perfect combination for a truly aristocratic man. There is never any particular effort to distance one from Verdoux, and as movies generally don't seem to condemn murdering unpleasant people (see Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda) and unless one assumes that the sentimental scenes are meant to be played ironically, there's nothing to disrupt the portrait of a multiple murderer who's really an ok guy and even lovable.
Why ought we to dislike Verdoux? Kind Hearts and Coronets is more acerbic and withering, but that's it. Verdoux presumes you've already figured out that murdering women is a bad thing, so it doesn't really see the need to make that its criticism. This is not a movie that wants to handhold your conscience about that bit. But more to the point, Verdoux is a more highly pitched comic film than Kind Hearts. Verdoux isn't psychologized, but the film does put him through the ringer. His impossible-to-destroy American wife is his penance, as it were, and we find his failures just as hysterical as his successes. On top of it, it's long been a comic (and pastoral) technique to make villains, rogues, and other usually unsavory people the most amusing, entertaining, and likeable of the bunch. This is itself an enjoyable bit of moral upending.

But the crucial fact is this: is he likeable because he murders, or for other things? I'd say it's the latter: we like him for the same reason we like other Chaplin figures: the charm, the improbable elegance even in the most fiendish or dire circumstances, the artistic way he carries off even banal things, the irrepressibly light way he carries himself, his sense of joy. It's the same reason we like the thief and multiple bigamist MacHeath in The Begger's Opera: not because he commits this or that crime, but because of the attitude he maintains in the face of it.

The pastoral figure works best when we identify with him, hence it doesn't make any aesthetic sense to distance us from Verdoux, especially if he is meant to be a vehicle for a wider criticism (rather than the movie turning its criticisms onto him, as in Kind Hearts).
matrixschmatrix wrote:The logic of black comedy would seem to insist that Verdoux does not intend the viewer to take the sentimental scenes with his family and The Girl seriously- after all, he is a totally unrepentant murderer- but I recall nothing within those scenes to differentiate them from the similar, totally unironic uses of them in Chaplin's other work, and it's not a movie that is generally particularly subtle in its effects.
Of course you're meant to take them seriously. As I said earlier: "[the movie is] allowing the emotions raised by certain implied criticisms (of poverty and various social problems) to be funneled into the final encompassing criticism of the final speech in which conceptions of justice are shown to be perverse and themselves misdirected." The film takes care to weave real emotions into itself so that, when the criticisms come out in force at the end, we've been prepared for it and find our release in it. And we see that Verdoux knows what he's talking about: he's a murderer, a clown, a rogue, but he understands pain and he understands injustice all the same, and thus can find an ironic elevation. The lowest figure becomes the condemner from a height (isn't Verdoux even sitting higher than everyone else?), a fine irony. Without a current of real feeling behind this, the irony of this elevation loses its sharpened point and its seriousness. Irony is not a repudiation of the direct meaning in favour of the indirect one (that's sarcasm); it's a state in which both sides are true, but true in a way we don't expect.
matrixschmatrix wrote: Then too, Verdoux never seems to me to be an impoverished or truly desperate man- he seems rather distinctly bourgeois, acting out of terrified fear of allowing his class status to drop rather than practical necessity (as Ignatiy himself points out, Verdoux's wife feels that the money he 'earns' is less needed than his presence.)
This is what makes it funny. True impoverishment and desperation would make this a tragic rather than comic pastoral. The humour is in how lightly and faux-elegantly he carries off the most heinous things. Treating the low as high is a central comic irony, and Chaplin had been mining it his whole career (the tramp is always trying to work some kind of bourgeois elegance into his down-and-out actions--like salting his shoe ever so carefully and eating it with table manners totally out of keeping with the situation ).

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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#16 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:05 pm

That response deserves more depth than I have time for at the moment, and I'll go into it more later, but for the moment I'll observe that I didn't actually find the movie funny (uniquely of the Chaplins I've seen), and that it seems possible that my perception of its thematic and character failures may stem from from that fact, as quite a lot of this disagreement seems to derive more from perceived intent rather than anything directly textual.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#17 Post by matrixschmatrix » Thu Apr 18, 2013 12:55 am

So, thinking on this more, I the issue I have with the movie, and the reason that none of it plays as having any irony to me, is that irony of any kind requires distance from both the narrative and the character- specifically, to find Verdoux's placement as a moral arbiter ironic requires that one sees him not as Verdoux seems himself, but as essentially a hypocrite and and a monster who happens to be less hypocritical and monstrous than the society that surrounds him. I think one never gets that distance- the movie seems to push one so totally into Verdoux's own view of himself, with disposable and unpleasant victims, likewise horrible families, no unpleasant messiness of actual murder to think about, and an overriding justification for his acts, that while one assumes that most audience members will come in with the mindset 'murder: not great?' there is nothing within the movie to break one from the mindset of someone who thinks otherwise. The trials and tribulations Verdoux undergoes in doing what he does only furthers the total identification, as we're lead to focus not on his actual goals, but on the execution of a plan- and as shown by Psycho, it's really easy to get an audience to want a character to get away with pretty much whatever it is they're doing, however horrible.

I think, for me, this is an effect of Chaplin's technique- apart from The Great Dictator, I can't think of a film of his I've seen where we aren't expected to identify totally with whomever Chaplin is playing, and that's totally appropriate for most of what he does. Getting an audience to identify with and laugh at the struggles of a penniless drifter to survive is a fairly admirable feat, and ironic distance would destroy something like City Lights. But for a movie whose climax obviously must turn on a central irony, the lack of distance seems to me to be fatal.

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Re: 652 Monsieur Verdoux

#18 Post by Fred Holywell » Thu Dec 06, 2018 8:25 pm

Here's something you might not expect to see in an Italian musical-comedy (heck, any musical-comedy): a "Monsieur Verdoux" number. It's from the 1953 film Ci troviamo in galleria (We're in the Gallery), directed by Mauro Bolognini. Carlo Dapporto is the performer.

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