Perambulating the Bounds

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Malle Moreau Miles

Belcourt is showing an early Louis Malle movie, Ascenceur pour l’Echaufaud, Elevator to the Gallows, for a couple of more nights. This is a sort of Postman Always Rings Twice/Body Heat story of lovers getting together to murder bothersome husband who is getting in their way. I heard about it first because it has some original Miles Davis music on the soundtrack, recorded with a French rhythm section and tenor player (that includes Kenny Clarke, an American who was living in France). And it was Jeanne Moreau’s debut.

The film is all displacements. The male lead, Julien, gets caught in an elevator for most of the film, setting in motion much of the plot by being taken out of the action. A young couple steal his car and his identity, and go on a joy ride that takes them out of Paris into a suburban landscape of empty modern highways (the “autoroute”) and a cabin-style motel right off the highway. Most significantly, Moreau’s character, Florence, floats through the Paris night searching for Julien and emerges as a kind of ghost. She alone among the characters speaks in an interior dialog. At other times you cannot hear her thoughts but see her silently mouthing words to herself. In an all-night pinball hall she walks behind couples sitting at a bar, leans down to look at them. She is invisible to them, and she looks at them as if they are utterly strange. For me the most defining moment was when she walks slowly across a busy street, with cars passing in front of her and behind her as she goes, as if she is walking through a wall. Florence does not occupy the same plane as the rest of the movie. To a lesser extent this is true of the other main characters as well.

Moreau is fascinating to watch in this movie. She is not beautiful in a conventional way, and her appearance changes in Malle’s hands. She has a hard appearance at first, but then softens as the film goes on. I’m reading Cavell’s World Viewed these days, and she is a good example of what he says about stars being a singularity, representing not a type or the world but a particular, specific entity that becomes known as “Jeanne Moreau” or Bogart or whatever.

Miles’ music comes in at just a few points. It is effective enough, especially the section in the opening. Last weekend the Belcourt was also showing some completely unrelated footage of Miles from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, a group that consisted of Gary Bartz, Jack DeJohnette, Airto, Corea, Jarrett, and Dave Holland, close to the group on the Live at Filmore recordings (with Grossman instead of Bartz). The sets that band did had a very similar structure, and this was the first time I’ve seen how they put it together. Corea and Bartz are doing very interesting things in their contributions to the whole. Bartz vocalizing on alto, Corea working in some very crunching synthesizer sounds.


  • wow!!! moreau, has there even been a more malleable woman? a more beautiful .... i can't say star because unlike her peers she did not come out at night and absorb all the light around her, instead she brought light, and shock and absolute sexy fun to everything she touched. jule et jim being one of the great sad romps of all time, and of course miles davis, a completely french touch, the americans would have used a bad sinatra track. but miles, paris, women in great clothes, sartre and de beauvoir puffing at their galois while the english speaking world goes by looking for "the real paris" while jean paul belmondo snears in the background. the only thing missing is julliette greco and a bull fight poster... plus ce meme, plus ce mems chose.... et c'est vrai, mon ami.... avevu un saxophone.... ???

    By Blogger Agit Spam, at 3:25 PM  

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