Saturday, May 19, 2007


I can't seem to escape the ensorcellment of the Parisian cemeteries of late. If not Edith Piaf at the Pere-Lachaise, then Henri Langlois at the Cimetière de Montparnasse. Then again, I'm not really trying to escape, am I? Infatuated as I am with stone angels kissed by reminiscence. Any return to Paris—even by memory—is welcome.

Girish's site should more appropriately be named The Evening Class. It's there I genuinely learn about film through his challenging lesson plans, let alone wryly wallow in the alliterative sibilance of his cinematic syllabus. His most recent entry on Henri Langlois reminds that it's not enough to watch film; one must read about film as well. Mon Dieu! Girish gleans more from a minute than most do from a month. Not only does he catch the three-and-a-half-hour version of Jacques Richard's documentary, Henri Langlois: Phantom Of The Cinematheque; but, he handpicks choice quotes from Richard Roud's 1983 biography of Langlois (A Passion For Films).

In response, and with Michael Hawley's gracious permission, I offer up Michael's journal entry of our attendance at the opening of the new Cinémathèque Français in the Frank Gehry-designed US Cultural Center on the east side of Paris.

* * *

[On October 28, 2005] Maya and I had the good fortune of seeing the brand new Cinémathèque Français on its opening day. The place was mobbed and you could still smell drying paint in some of the exhibition spaces.

Located in the 12th arrondisement, adjacent to the Parc de Bercy, it's a huge modern building with three theaters, a library, two floors for its permanent exhibition (the Passion Cinema museum), one for new acquisitions and another for special exhibits.

The museum, unseen for many years since vacating its previous home at the Palais de Chaillot, is full of fascinating memorabilia. The best known item is probably La tete de Madame Bates, a.k.a. the skull of Tony Perkins' mother in Psycho. There are plenty of great costumes, everything from a serpentine turban Mae West wore in Belle of the Nineties, to a fabulous Karl Lagersfeld number Stephane Audran wore in Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie. Many of the costumes are accompanied by video clips of them actually being worn in the movie.

I'd say a good third of the museum is taken up by an exhibit of early moving picture technology, some of which visitors are able to experience hands-on. There's also a whole room dedicated to the infamous 1968 Affaire Langlois, and a beautiful collection of Sergei Eisenstien production sketches made for several of his films.

The Cinémathèque's first special exhibition is "Renoir/Renoir", an intimate look at the famous artistic family in which the paintings of Pierre-August Renoir are linked with the films of his son, Jean. There are several dozen Renoir paintings on display, many of them hung side-by-side with projected clips of Renoir films that are connected by theme. A few that I made note of were the hunting scene from Rules of the Game with the portrait "Jean en chasseur" (a teenage Jean dressed in a hunting costume,) "Danse a la Campagne" with a scene from French Can Can, and the bullfighting scene from Le Carrosse d'Or with "Ambrose Vollard en costume de toreador."

Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any screenings there. The following night we attempted to attend an in-person tribute to Michael Caine with a screening of Zulu, but ultimately decided to spend our last night in Paris elsewhere.

After our lengthy tour of the new Cinémathèque, we sat and rested a while on a bench in the Parc de Bercy while the nearby children's carousel played James Brown's "Get Up I Feel Like Being Like a (Sex Machine)" and Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones."

No comments: