Friday, February 26, 2010

1949: Jour de fete (Jacques Tati)

1949: Jour de fete (Jacques Tati)

The only time I ever saw this was its "Color Premiere" in France in 1995.  Tati wanted it to be the first French feature shot in color, but technology at the time wouldn't allow him to release it that way. Fortunately, he also shot a black-and-white version, and that's all that existed from 1949-1995.  

I've never seen the black-and-white version so I can't say with certainty, but it is one of these films where I really remember the colors.  I can only think this film's impact and power grew once the re-release happened (it was Tati's daughter, by the way, that did the restoration.)

This is definitely a sibling film for me to Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons.  Tati always seemed to have a fascination with the negative effects of technology.  But of all his work I've seen, this one affects me the most.  Like Ambersons, this movie is obsessed with the idea of our world getting faster and faster, and the dehumanization that comes with choosing this direction.  

As I hinted at in my Ambersons post, at this point in my career, this theme is probably more important to me than any other.  And Tati gets at it in his own special way, with humor, satire, and in a brilliant style that he made all his own.

Other contenders for 1949: As with other years, there are still some major titles I need to see.  These include: Joseph Mankiewicz's House of Strangers, Jean Cocteau's Orphee, Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring, Max Ophuls' Caught, Jacques Tati's L'ecole des facteurs, John Ford's She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Max Ophuls' The Reckless Moment, and Michael Powell's The Small Back Room.  Joseph Lewis' Gun Crazy is another one of these films that I really need to revisit.  The first time I saw it, it did not have the impact I would have expected.  This year, there are so many films that I like I have decided to create three tiers of runners-up:  films that I really like, films that I love, and films that are extremely close runners-up.  The films that I really like are: Howard Hawks' I Was a War Male Bride, Jacques Becker's Rendez-vous de juillet, Carol Reed's The Third Man, and Raoul Walsh's White Heat. The films that I love are: George Cukor's Adam's Rib, Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway and Robert Wise's The Set-Up.  Finally, the four films that would most challenge for my top pick are Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross, Ted Tetzlaff's The Window, Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli, and William Wyler's The Heiress.  

10/23/10 I watched John Ford's She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.  A film with great reverence for the US cavalry and one that teaches and reminds us of an important part of ourselves.  But Ford gives it, at times, a little too much corniness for my liking and like some of Ford's other work, it can devolve into a cloying exuberance and boisterousness.  

10/27/10 I watched Joseph Mankiewicz's House of Strangers.  Conte's great and so is Edward G Robinson (in fact, they both deliver two of their more memorable performances).  Also another key link to The Godfather and Mean Streets.  Doesn't always hum and stay on track, but at times it's downright classic.  

11/5/10 I watched Jean Cocteau's Orphee.  A strange film with some beautiful, poetic touches where Cocteau demonstrates that he's an inventive and lyrical stylist.  But I never fully connected to it in the way that I might have hoped.  

11/14/10 I watched Michael Powell's The Small Back Room.  Lacks most of the verve and fun of some of my other favorite Powell films. Overall pretty disappointing.

11/21/10 I watched Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring.  Another extraordinarily tender and wise film about  life, relationships, and personal growth and evolution.  Ozu keeps things minimal and spare, as usual.  But whenever he goes outside he reminds us of his strong connection to nature and tremendous feeling and eye for the outdoors. Soft but packs a punch.  

3/14/11 I watched Max Ophuls' Caught.  Ophuls shows at times his gift at creating space and moving the camera.  But the script's creaky in this one, and all in all, I found it to be only a mediocre noir.

3/17/11 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn.  Has anyone endured more psychological torment on screen than Ingrid Bergman? Just Gaslight, Europa '51, and this film alone might earn her the top spot.  She's excellent here, as always.  And this is an unusually oblique piece from Hitch with some of his most expressive camerawork ever. However, Michael Wilding seems wrong for the role.  Too loose when paired alongside two of the most contained actors in the history of cinema -- Cotten and Bergman.  

7/2/11 I watched Robert Hamer's Kind Hearts and Coronets.  Dry and sometimes quite funny, in a very British way.  Also shows off Alec Guinness' extraordinary talents.  But it's too deliberate and clean in ways as to come fully alive.  

10/5/14 I watched Raoul Walsh's Colorado Territory.  A western remake of Walsh's great High Sierra enjoys a strong reputation and it has some wonderful moments even if I much prefer the original Walsh noir.  Mayo grates on me more than I find her appealing and the plot sometimes seem to lose some of its urgency and thrust.  Of great interest though is the final murder which seems unusually violent for its era and a true precursor for Penn's finale twenty years later in Bonnie and Clyde.  

4/4/15 I watched Joseph Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives.  As is usual with Mankiewicz the writing is intelligent and the direction is classy and there seems to be a real interest in emphasizing the female point of view.  And even though this one gets at some interesting emotional topics such as marital insecurity, I never was as fully captured in it like I have been with some of the director's other work.

3/25/16 I watched Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog.  Kurosawa does noir and he does it fairly well.  But it is too long, too meandering and for the most part less raw than the best films of the genre.  

1/15/18 I watched Nicholas Ray's Knock on Any Door.  Very bottom shelf Ray that never transcends the genre of noir or courthouse drama or even rises close to the level of the genre's just very good films.  

7/3/22 I watched Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's On the Town.  Most impressive is the way it feels to be dissecting the musical genre, stripping it away and distilling it into something more spare, more modern.  The characters nor the musical numbers are nowhere near as memorable as the team's effort three years later with Singing in the Rain


  1. I still need to catch up with Tati who praises have been sung by many. For Number #1, I am going with WHITE HEAT, which is a change for me from when Dave over at Goodfellas did a similar list in which I selected THE THIRD MAN. That is the thing with list they are in a constant flux. Anyway ,I love Cagney’s performance in this film and there are so many greats scenes in this that after watching it not too long ago, it just made me realize how much I like this film.

    #1 White Heat

    and the best of the rest

    The Third Man
    On the Town
    The Set Up
    All the King’s Men
    Gun Crazy
    She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
    House of Strangers

  2. John, great comments!

    Tati is definitely quirky, and I can only imagine not everyone's cup of tea. But he had a great eye and a really unusual wit. I think a fairly good description for him would be a very spare Terry Gilliam.

    No argument from me when it comes to WHITE HEAT. This is an incredibly strong year for noirs with that one, CRISS CROSS, and THE SET-UP. All noir at the top of its game, I would argue.

    CHAMPION is another one I still need to see and definitely will at some point.

    Thanks, John, for the excellent list and perspective!

  3. My #1 Film of 1949:

    Late Spring (Ozu; Japan)


    The Third Man (Reed; UK)
    Kind Hearts and Coronets (Hamer; UK)
    Les Enfants Terribles (Melville; France)
    Orpheus (Cocteau; France)
    Crows and Sparrows (Junli; China)
    Alias, Nick Beal (Farrow)
    The Reckless Moment (Ophuls)
    The Set-Up (Wise)
    Jour de Fete (Tati)
    White Heat (Walsh)
    The Heiress (Wyler)
    Gun Crazy (Lewis)
    Criss-Cross (Siodmak)
    Whiskey Galore (Mackendrick; UK)

    It's a tough, tough decision here, not to annoint either THE THIRD MAN or KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, which are probably my two favorite British films ever, and two of my favorites, period. But Ozu's transendent film is one of the most emotional films in the history of the cinema, and it ranks with TOKYO STORY as one of the Japanese directors two mega-masterpieces.

    JOUR DE FETE of course is a wonderful choice Jeffrey, as would be a few other Tatis like PLAYTIME for example.

  4. Sam, great to hear from you! I still need to see this Ozu film. He's actually a director I think I'll really love at some point. I just need to take more time to catch up with his work. I feel like he'll impact me like a combination of Bresson and Mizoguchi, which would be a potent 1-2 punch indeed.

    I really like KIND HEARTS, too. It's definitely one of the funniest films I've ever seen, along with just incredible performances from Alec Guinness.

    Thanks, Sam, for the awesome perspective, as always!

  5. Jeffrey, I haven't seen Jour de fete, but the next four Tati features are gold. When you equate it with Ambersons it starts moving up fast on my to-do list. Until I see it I have to stick with The Third Man. Right now I'd put Criss Cross ahead of White Heat as runners-up.

  6. Samuel, great to hear from you!

    Of course, JOUR DE FETE is also much different than THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. The Tati film is spare, somewhat austere, hemmed in while, as you well know, AMBERSONS is full of Welles' dazzling style. But if you know Tati's other work, this will be very familiar to you. In fact, it's probably a little more extroverted, a little more readily accessible than his later work.

    If you see it, I'd love to hear how it strikes you. Thanks for the wonderful comments!

  7. This is a pretty strong year, but my favorite remains Robert Siodmak's CRISS CROSS. Siodmak is one of my favorite directors and a guy who deserves much more credit than he even now receives - he's respected by hardcore movie folks like us and noir fanatics, but I think he is still underrated. Criss Cross is my favorite of all of his films and in my opinion one of the greatest noirs ever made.

    Other favorites:

    The Third Man
    White Heat
    Kind Hearts and Coronets
    Gun Crazy
    The Reckless Moment
    House of Strangers
    The Heiress
    The Set Up
    Reign of Terror/The Black Book

  8. Dave, great comments! I completely share your affinity for CRISS CROSS. And of the classic noir period, up until '58 let's say, it would absolutely find a place in my top ten. As I mentioned, I also really love THE KILLERS and THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. Which of Siodmak's other films do you really like? (Not that these three aren't enough already to justify him as a major figure.)