Saturday, 14 June 2014

The End is the Beginning....

I will be frank and say that this blog will no longer be continued. I feel its a mess with no goal. In its place is the following with said goal... Cinema of the Abstract

None of the reviews from this blog will be removed. But it has no been made into a blog that will hopefully be what I want it to be now.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Nuits Rouges (1974)


Dir. George Franju

Pulp has an inherent artistry that is badly ignored. You can tell, even if you can't say how, when a story or a work defies the best of what the word means. No matter how unrealistic the set piece that takes place is, it makes logical sense within a great work of pulp as part of the world it builds. A western can satisfy going through all the usual tropes even as a chamber piece. An animated science fiction work can work a complete lack of realism with a tangibility. This applies to every genre or concept. It's mood. Franju, to his testament, took immense concern with this sort of idea - in an article, The Haunted Void based on an interview with Tom Milne, he went as far as dividing the kind of films he did in three categories. The cinema fantastique, le cinema de l'insolite (the unusual), and le cinema de l'angoisse (anxiety). In his defined terms, it's the concern of utmost respect for the material whether it's completely seriousness or a willingness to be silly on purpose without undermining the importance of the content. That it's about the unusual, the fantastical, the angst generating, mood and tone. What is not seen but felt. There are countless ideas in this area, about the notion of emotional reaction - the fear of the unknown, the uncanny, the erotic or pornographic, to defined cinematic ideas like Alfred Hitchcock's bomb-under-the-table metaphor. All of these examples, including Franju's, and more, are powerful when done properly. Unfortunately, you don't need to rant about the current climate to say that these ideas don't get their due. Which is strange to say when there are countless examples of filmmakers, critics and audiences praising the concept of pulp and yet it's still neglected in places. Probably because its dismissed compared to art house films a lot of the time even now. Fitting a French film I'm reviewing, France has contributed a great deal in this area, from the auteurist theory to the running joke about them loving Jerry Lewis  films, contributing to a consideration of this area of cinema they deserve praise for as cineastes. French takes on pulp in their own cinema from what I've seen, for the most part, have always been rewarding and their reflective tones add as much to them.


This is as much of interest as, while not connected to his work, co-writer and star Jacques Champreux is the grandson of legendary Les Vampires (1915) director Louis Feuillade, the same tone of pulp aesthetics celebrated as in his grandfather's work is here as well. Also interpreted in a longer TV mini-series, which I am clamouring to see, Nuits Rouges follows a man without a face (played by Champreux), a man of disguises, head of a secret crime syndicate of black masked individuals, a thief, murderer and dabbler in illegal activities to boost his power and wealth. His most distinct trait is a cloth, crimson red mask, the only visible features uncovered being piercing, sadistic eyes. Learning of the potential lost treasure of the Knights of Templar, he murders a historian connected to the subject, and left with nothing, targets his son and anyone who possibly has clues to the whereabouts of that treasure. By any means necessary to reach his goal will be done - automated taxis, henchmen including an alluring femme fatale assistant, even the creations of a deranged brain surgeon, lobotomised people who can be controlled like walking corpses to perform assassinations. In his way is the son of the murdered historian, his girlfriends, a hired detective, the police force, and the greatest threat, a sect of the Knights' Templar not at all happy with one of their members being killed. A series of set pieces are loosely connected by this narrative, as if the film is an entire serial set within a hundred minute feature, the characters existing to represent their archetypes, absurd situations taking place, and a knowing humour mixed with moments of ghoulish brutality. A minimalist work in style. Loose narrative threads that play out in natural exterior locations and closed-in interior ones, with a muted colour and aesthetic look baring the use of deep, blood red. White Franju undercut the influence of Feuillade, there is still comparisons to be made with Les Vampires in that both used straightforward styles, limited use of camera movement if none, but inherently were dreamlike in tone because of how the content was depicted in such ordinary environments. So casually do events take place that it pulls one into a logic separate from conventional reality, with anything from kidnappings to police pursuits being performed with heightened tones. The characters have enough to them that you engage with their situations, yet by being minimal in characterisation, it creates a celebration of this type of plotting for the sake of it. Like his take on Judex, Franju can make the completely absurd sound in the context of the film's structure, and the intricate parts of the this content is clearly a Herculean task in having had to pull off. To be able to make a film that, as pulp, carries weight to the images and can accept the fantastical into its core without jarring is enough as it is. It's even more of a challenge if you don't use a self-reflective, stylised framework to express the content.

Very subtle uses of the camera are used, a close-up of a small detail given monumental importance. Despite the lack of camera movement, it frames scenes within rooms and exteriors with a scope to them that emphasises the events about to take place. Like the best pulp, one doesn't need to concern yourself with concrete, logical continuity, instead enraptured by the scenes carefully woven together at the right times so they build off each other and never become disjointed. Every criminal act is enthralling in its tenseness, every death stings, every plot point is exciting in ways not found in boring mainstream films. To be able to make the film as it is, despite being simple on the surface, the director probably had a difficult task on his hands with this. The work is a paradox, between classic turn-of-the-century crime thrillers and the seventies, the cars and technology of the time mixing with intrigue and suspense from a long gone era. It helps to add a fantastical picture to the film, more so now decades later, and places Nuits Rouges amongst the genre films of the era which exist in their own ghostly worlds, Euro pictures that feel alien even now. Like them too, this had the benefit of a Seventies synthesiser being used, adding a nice motif and thus proving its out-of-time placement when it was release was to its advantage. The film's roots lay in an older era in terms of how the story telling is, but that doesn't make it predictable on the first viewing nor the second when you know how the story concludes, as the events seen exist in themselves and, thankfully, have originality and jest to them that is sorely missing in newer films. It helps too Nuits Rouges avoids having contrived subplots and plotting additions that usually undermine genre cinema, no pointless romantic story to speak of for example, and instead lets the spectacle of the main plot, and its own tangents, engage the viewer.

When stripped down to its bare essentials, like here in Nuits Rouges, the concept of pulp storytelling is shown to have incredible artistry. Again, its perplexing to say that this kind of artistry is given its needed due, through fans of this sort of cinema, and yet is not, dismissed and with most critical accolades given to the stereotype of the art or morally improving picture, a dicey world of failed and contrived storytelling when it disappoints, when it badly needs the rigor of the genre pictures' filmmaking. Admittedly, pure luck is involved in some of the best of genre filmmaking, and everyone has encountered it at its laziest and worst. But when it works, the emphasis on a sound and study craft is lionised in these films the most, one that is badly ignored when you see how many throwback or homages to older cinema fail so completely. They are the filmmaking that led to Manny Farber to create the term 'termite art', the 'white elephants' opposing them not elaborate art films for me, but those films that are big, unwieldy and overrated movies that the moment you find one flaw completely destroys their foundations and collapses them, while the termites work silently and do make a big song-and-dance of their creation finally when they prove careful or at least rigorous style is the best way forward for the best films. In comparison to the magic of Judex, Nuits Rouges is the meat-and-potatoes of these sort of crime storytelling devoted to completely for a whole feature, of Machiavellian villains, a grittiness that is nasty but can given way to humour, and a constant pace where even the dialogue scenes have a trajectory to them. It manages to be merciless in its violence yet somehow be appropriate for children to watch according to the British film certificate on it, a contradiction its perfect craft allows. Its precarious in its plotting, yet manages to succeed, where the Knights Templar can suddenly be reintroduced near the end and not undermine what's happened before. Champreux sits in the centre of the creation he helped bring to life, almost bloodshot eyes piercing through everything in the mask, and managing to make the character dangerous even after his first scenes have him dressed up and impersonating an old woman running a sewing materials store. No one around him is allowed to merely be boring and paper-thin, everyone in a series of events that leave no random individual being shown onscreen with no contribution. Even if they exist only to die, it still hurts, good or bad, for them to kick the bucket. The film proves no illogical concept should prevent a film being a great piece of art, and a film like this in fact shows the illogical is a craft that outclasses realism in cinema at its best. Mood, tone, what makes you jettison trite attitudes like dismissing the reality of a film, is of the greatest importance in a film like this, verisimilitude that of its own world with its own logic, not yours you bring as a bias to the film. That this film can do this without heavy stylisation, which manages to be its own style, makes Nuits Rouges such a rare treat to see when, surprisingly, this is not as easy as you'd presume to film and make.