Sunday, October 19, 2008

One For The Film Buffs ... Max Ophuls

One of the highlights of my early years, teens, into twenties, was working at the legendary Brattle Theatre, in Harvard Square.

The Brattle made it's mark, in the 1950's, bringing in the films of Ingmar Bergman, and later, the French New Wave.

And, of course, its' Bogart Festivals.

It opened a whole new world for me, movies from all over the world, new and old, comedies and dramas.

With friends, when rattling off lists of favorite films, I would often be gazed upon as if fitted with three heads, naming films that they never knew existed (and, likely, will go through life never viewing).

Included in those are two from the French director Max Ophuls, "The Earrings of Madame de..."and "Lola Montès" (I can still hear Peter Ustinov, eerily, almost menacingly, looking up and saying "Are you ready, Lola", before she takes her acrobatic jump; Watch the trailer for Lola Montès here).

Wikipedia notes of Ophuls "All his works feature his distinctive smooth camera movements, complex crane and dolly sweeps, and tracking shots, which influenced the young Stanley Kubrick at the beginning of his filmmaking career."

Which brings up to the point of this post.

Mark Feeney's The man who made the camera move; Discs celebrate Max Ophuls, master of the tracking shot.

The Criterion Collection last month released three of Ophuls's best-known films as uniformly packaged separate discs: "La Ronde" (1950), "Le Plaisir" (1952), and "The Earrings of Madame de . . ." (1953).

Max Ophuls, Max Ophuls . . . - for those of us besotted with the glories an ambulatory camera offers, the name itself verges on poetry. In fact, James Mason, who starred in Ophuls's "Caught" and "The Reckless Moment" (both 1949), actually did write a poem about him:

A shot that does not call for tracks

Is agony for poor old Max,

Who, separated from his dolly,

Is wrapped in deepest melancholy.

Once, when they took away his crane,

I thought he'd never smile again.

Perhaps no other filmmaker has ever used the camera with such grace, such sensuousness, such intricate choreography. One trembles to think what Ophuls might have done with a Steadicam. Given a pilot's license, Icarus might still be aloft.
Next time your renting, be brave, take a different path and check out any of those noted above, for you will be rewarded.

Bonus Links

As Time Goes By...100 Years of the Brattle

Rififi Director, Jules Dassin, Blacklisted, Dies at 96

Swedish Film Icon Ingmar Bergman Dead at 89 ; Police Depressed, Working Through Emptiness, Not Ruling Out Foul Play

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