Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Okay, the last two films, Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic, both starring Alain Delon, first with a mustache as a gangster and then without a mustache as a policeman. Delon was born to act in films by Melville. He hardly changes expression in the two movies. But why should he? He's Alain Delon. How iconic can you get?
The first film also stars Bourvil as a policeman, an actor that was best known for comedies. It's a bit like if Bob Hope had been in an American film noir, I suppose, but it works well.
The heist is done in complete silence, just like in Rififi. Except dancers in a nightclub there are no women in the film. It's another tale of loyalty and betrayal. And, oh, all the gangsters die in the end.

In Un flic the gangster is played by Richard Crenna. The film has a feeling of being more an international production, but I don't know, that might not be the case. It's the one film in the box that has no extra material or commentary track. The story could have taken place anywhere, and even has a generic train and helicopter action-sequence.
There are not that much talking in the film. The dialogue could probably fit in a small note book.
There's also Catherine Deneuve as sort of the woman caught in the middle, but she doesn't get that much to do. All three main characters are enigmas in the film, something that I normally would have liked, but here makes you remain on the outside looking in.

Both films are in colour, and I must admit that I miss the black and white from Le Doulos. And both films are very slow, like a lot of films from that period, the late sixties / early seventies. Even for someone that doesn't like the fast MTV-style editing of modern films it's a bit slow. And especially in the last film, the characters and situations feel a bit old, but without that being the point.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Just finished Sinatra, The Man Behind the Myth, by J. Randall Taraborrelli. It seems to be a balanced biography, including his famed temper, Mafia friends but also his generosity. His marriage to Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, affairs with Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and apparently, once, Jackie Kennedy. Plus countless showgirls and prostitutes that he had his butler kick out the morning after.
Prefrerring to do only one take in his movies, he would be a perfectionist in his recordings, doing up to 20 takes to get a song right.
And he wasn't a completely heartless bastard, taking the breakup with Gardner pretty hard, even trying to commit suicide.

The book will go up on the shelf, next to Nick Tosches' Dean Martin biography. I've ordered In Black and White, The life of Sammy Davis Jr, by Wil Haygood. In the meantime I'm rereading Rat Pack Confidential, by Shawn Levy.

Why am I reading all these Rat Pack books? I'm not sure. It might have been seeing the first two seasons of Mad Men. It was a fascinating period.

There are two short story collections on my bedside table. Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore, about half finished: very good, and Our Story Begins, by Tobias Wolff, not begun yet.

Walt & Skeezix, vol.4: I found the first part of this book a bit tedious, the whole Madame Octave, kidnapping of Skeezix and Col. Coda's trial for custody of Skeezix-part. There's not really much doubt about how it will end. First in the middle of August, 1927 does the strip come to life, when they go on vacation. For some reason, I find this more appealing than all the melodramatic stuff. But the rest of the book is good.

Prince Valiant, vol. 2 and Captain Easy, vol. 1: I love the drawings in these books, but find it a bit hard to read more than 10-15 pages at the time. Easy is a complete blank, and there aren't the more exciting secondary characters, like in Tintin.
Mark Scultz makes a point of Foster being a cartoonist, not an illustrator, in his foreword. Maybe, but reading the caption "Into the wash-tub he plunges, bringing the clothes-line down in his fall" and seeing the exact same thing in the drawing, is not good cartooning.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Lino Ventura was a huge star in France. I'm not sure if he was that well known in the rest of the world. I had seen films of Belmondo and Delon, but not any of Venturas before moving to France.
Here people often quote from his films, especially Les Tontons Flingueurs and Touchez pas au Grisbi, and as a non-Frenchman you just have to sit there, wondering what the hell they are referring to.
I don't think there are any cult lines of dialogue in Army of Shadows. It's another movie taking place during the Second World War, and it's quite slow and serious. Only after 90 minutes does the film really kick in, when members of the resistance are trying to free a prisoner from the Gestapo headquarter. And then, after 140 minutes, there is the typically bleak Melville ending.

It's a good film, but less fun than Le Doulos.You have to be in the right mood to see it, I guess. It's not an exercise in style that a film noir can often be, and it's in muted colours rather than in black and white. One of the most powerfull sequences is probably the one where four members of the resistance must kill this traitor, just a kid really. They don't want to alarm neighbors by using a gun, so they must strangle him with a towel. It's obvious that none of them have done anything like this before. The camera slowly closes in on all their faces while you hear the sound of the strangulation.

Lino Ventura also did Le Deuxième Souffle for Melville, which I haven't seen, but that film is unfortunately not part of the box. Next, to end this thing, is Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic, starring Alain Delon.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Léon Morin, prêtre is not one of Melvilles's gangster movies. The story takes place in a village in occupied France during the Second World War. We follow the growing friendship between a young widow and a priest. Visually the film is a lot stronger than Bob le Flambeur, with beautiful black and white photography. It's shot in a classic style, but with a couple of jump cuts.
Melville is known for doing masculine, even misogynist, movies, but here the story is seen from the point of view of the woman, and it's a sympathetic, convincing portrait.
Jean-Paul Belmondo and Emanuelle Riva make a nice couple, but of course it can't be since he's a Catholic priest, and the last image in the film is pretty heartbreaking. Eventually, though, I found it to be a movie that is easier to admire than to actually like.

Le Doulos, now that's more like it! It's a return to the gangsters. It has a great, atmospheric opening, with a very effective introduction of the two main characters, Serge Reggiani as Maurice, a thief out of prison, and Jean-Paul Belmondo as Silien, a possible police informant.
There's a heist, as usual. It goes wrong, as usual. Maurice is wounded but manages to get away, and is certain that Silien is the one who gave him up. The rest of the story is about finding out what really happened, and of course it ends in tragedy.
Bemondo is great in his part, and Reggiani has one of those melancoly, beat down faces that always look good on film. As in Bob le Flambeur, the gangsters walk around in trenchcoats and fedoras. They even drive in American cars. Melville is clearly influenced by American film noir, but creates something a bit different, with a more European pessimism. And ah!, the last shot in the film must have been an inspiration for the Coen brothers in their gangster film, Miller's Crossing.

Next: Army of Shadows, with Lino Ventura.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bonjour Bob

I've been curious about the films of Jean-Pierre Melville. Earlier I've only seen Le Samourai, which I liked quite well. I just got a box of six of his films, from Bob le Flambeur, 1956, to Un Flic, 1972. I've now seen Bob le Flambeur, and it has some charm, but something is lost in moving the film noir genre from America to France. The robbers in this film seem to be doing pretty good. You're not quite sure why they actually pull a heist. They haven't fallen though the cracks of the American dream, like the characters in The Asphalt Jungle or The Killing. They don't have the same desperation on their faces.
Seen today the best part of the film is probably the images of Paris in the fifties. It seems to be something that Melville was interested in showing. He's taking his time introducing the characters and the streets of Pigalle. To dress Bob in a fedora and trenchcoat in these scenes underline that it's a French director playing with an American iconography. Still, it's an interesting film.

Next up is Léon Moran, Prêtre and Le Doulos, both starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

More sketches

Another book again

I've started working on a new book. It's another collection of five or six short stories, around 200 pages, in the same format as Low Moon. Here's the first page of one of the stories.

Montpellier sketch


I guess this might be the beginning of a blog. It's mostly for getting to know the computer better and to learn how to use a scanner and photoshop. I'll probably put up some drawings from my sketchbook and then hopefully feel less guilty about not doing more sketching.