Two love stories

Autumn Fire
US, 1931
by Herman Weinberg

What presumption, that Hollywood.  And what gullibility, when we endorse or proselyte Hollywood’s version of the story.  If sound came in and 1927, and everyone but Chaplin was using it from 1929, then what do we with Weinberg?  Maya Deren?  Stan Brakhage?  The industrial part of the story is okay, until it becomes the only story.  Then it’s a lie.  A presumption, more like, or even a crime.  The fact that there was no place for and that hardly any one ever saw this exquisite thing, or all the exquisite things like it, pretty well proves the inadequacy of market worship, even the iniquity of the market.  Only the philistines could claim that if this were worthy then it would have found a place, or that something so worthy wouldn’t be besmirched in that particular commercial space.  And Steinway pianos (exquisitely overpriced products for plutocrats; Note by Note… [2007]) are no answer either.  It’s all a scandal!

As for Weinberg’s film, it’s a lovely, melancholic fantasia on the themes of absence and longing.  It quite resembles that sundered part of Vigo’s L’Atalante, and it compares favourably therewith.  It makes me think about Maurice Tourneur (Rex Ingram, Clifford Brown, Michael Powell) and the pictorialist tradition in film.  We usually think of pictorialism as being in a traditional Raphaelian mode.  But as Weinberg’s terrific picture sense (composition, duration, juxtaposition, and all adding up to a story that’s both conceptually and emotionally clear) demonstrates, there’s plenty room for a more modernist pictorialism.  Indirectness, fragmentation, more than a nod to the apparatus.  Colin Low was right.  Twenty minutes is the perfect length for a film.

 

The Bakery Girl of Monceau
France, 1963
by Eric Rohmer

Here he is.  As with the courses comiques of the first years of cinema, this has tremendous documentary value, over and above the plot and enactment.  These Parisian places and people register powerfully, burstingly, even imperishably.  As for Rohmer, he seems to have found his method, and hit his stride.  We’ve got a trifle of a situation, agonized over with poignant hilarity by his reflective and deluded protagonist.  The excessive narration works wonderfully: in the first place it is consistent with the character, and in the second, good talk is as cinematic as good pictures.  Also, and in connection, nothing is trifling when you elaborate upon it.  (Plus the film was shot silent.  This is a cheap way to flesh it out.  Why not?)

The conclusion here is kind of chilling.  Schroeder’s character takes the next step with this working girl, so that harmless flirtation borders on actual engagement, and the ethical commitment that should go with.  Then, when his previous quarry reappears—a satisfying solution to the mystery of her disappearance—he just dumps the shop girl.  So far, so caddish, and maybe not so big a deal.  Until he tells us that it’s a moral decision, which is how he justifies himself and leaves the world corrupted.  A crafty, glancing epilogue tells us that the proper consummation of all comedy has taken place.  But there’s no joyful resolution, no tonic cadence in this marriage.  Wrong person, for the wrong motive, with the wrong values reinforced thereby.  Piquant!

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