Sunday, March 7, 2010

1958: Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger)

1958: Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger)

When I first started this countdown, I mentioned that some of these entries would come from memory, things I may not have seen for a very long time.  Right or wrong, I have always given great value to the lasting impression a movie makes.  Some movies almost evaporate as if I never saw them.  Others expand and become forever embedded (even if in some other form) in my movie memory.  

For instance, I can't remember that much that is tangible about Bonjour Tristesse, yet it is the impression of it that remains so strong.  I can remember Jean Seberg in it as one of the most alluring screen presences.  And I can remember a certain uncharacteristic "softness" in the cinema of Preminger, something for him that seemed far more romantic, more poetic, more tender. 

I can't even fully remember the story well enough to say much more, but instead I am trusting the abstract, intangible impression it has left.  For whatever it's worth, I remember loving it after I watched it, but now that I can hardly remember it, I love it even more.

Other contenders for 1958: I don't have quite as many gaps this year.  These include: Roberto Rossellini's India, Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle, Douglas Sirk's A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Nicholas Ray's Wind Across the Everglades, Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds, Jacques Tourneur's Curse of the Demon, Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones, Luis Bunuel's Nazarin, Don Siegel's The Lineup, Youssef Chahine's Cairo Station, Budd Boetticher's Buchanan Rides Alone, Satyajit Ray's The Music Room, and Keisuke Kinoshita's The Ballad of Narayama.  I probably should revisit Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo at some point soon as I've never connected with it on the same level as some other Hitchcock.  But from this year, I do love Anthony Mann's Man of the West, Jacques Becker's Montparnasse 19and Orson Welles' Touch of Evil.  And as one of my closest runners-up yet and one that slightly pains me to not have as a top pick, Vincente Minnelli's Some Came Running.

2/20/11 I watched Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle.  There's no one quite like Tati in the history of cinema.  And how I'd love to see a Tati film now and see what he'd make of all the technological absurdities we have.   He's really a master when it comes to using sound and some of the gags here are laugh out loud funny.  But like much of his work, it can grow a little tedious by the end. 

3/31/11 I watched Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds.  One of the most unconventional noirs.  Stylish with extremely effective and expressive camerawork.  Some unusual cross-cutting for its day and a guttural and visceral finale.  Not there all the time with it, but when I am, it's very strong.   

4/16/11 I watched Satyajit Ray's The Music Room.  A strange film with some scenes of beautiful music and dancing.  I'm still trying to understand the tremendous reputation that Ray enjoys.  I understand this one as an interesting mediation on class, age, and wealth, and the difficulties of facing the reality that all of the things might be lost one day.  But the film never grabbed me and seemed far too interested in atmosphere than drama of any kind.  

5/5/11 I watched Irving Lerner's Murder by Contract.  Another Scorsese favorite, this noir is utterly unique in terms of its tone.  Much of its difference comes from its Flamenco-like score that gives the film a very offbeat, bouncy and buoyant feel, in the midst of a good amount of darkness.  Vince Edwards gives a tremendous performance, and although spare and lean, the production always feels formally clean and clear.   A very strong, lesser-known work.  

12/26/11 I watched Yasujiro Ozu's Equinox Flower.  Definitely treads on familiar Ozu territory although to less effect than some of the master's greatest films.  Still worth a look though for major Ozu fans. The arc of the dad is particularly memorable.  

1/14/12 I watched John Sturges' The Law and Jake Wade.  Surtees does tremendous work yet again with town and landscape.  And of course, Widmark is always fresh, spirited, and full of extremely unique choices. It's a pretty hard-hitting, no-holds-barred little western.  Certainly worth a watch.  

2/25/12 I watched Youssef Chaine's Cairo Station.  Not sure I'd go so far as to call it a masterwork, but it's an incredibly ambitious neorealist work with an absolutely amazing lead performance and some truly fantastic moments.  

9/19/15 I watched Jean-Luc Godard's Charlotte et son Jules.  I think it is the first time I have seen this pre-Breathless short.  It is nothing earth shattering but nice to see as a Godard completist and to see certain stylistic touches, such as the hallmark Godard soundtrack ruptures, already firmly within his palatte. 

1/3/16 I watched Agnes Varda's Du cote de la cote.  A pretty mediocre, early effort from Varda.  The voiceover rhythms are very Nouvelle Vaguish but the rest was never very enthralling.

3/10/16 I watched Jacques Tourneur's The Fearmakers.  Some of the plotting, if you think about it more than a couple of seconds, doesn't hold together.  But this very minor Tourneur is somewhat interesting for Andrews' presence and as another Tourneur entry into noir, this time a contribution to the amnesiac noir.   

5/2/17 I watched Nicholas Ray's Wind Across the Everglades.  Ray made numerous films that were haunted with very dark characters spiraling deep, and almost uncontrollably, into their own obsessions and struggles.  His visual sense of abstraction was among the greatest the medium has ever seen and his diseased tone potentially more unique and consistent than that of any auteur.  I have now seen early Christopher Plummer twice (here and in The Silent Partner).  His ability to tap the hysteria within his own compulsion is a perfect match for the sensibility of Ray and his talent simply remarkable.  It is a shame more people do not discuss this work as it is the rawest, most uncompromising Ray film I have seen to date.    

9/17/18 I watched Jean Rouch's Moi, un noir.  Wow, probably the biggest influence I have ever seen on Godard's Breathless.  I have long known that Godard was a big fan of Rouch but this film blew my mind.  The cadence of Belmondo's voicemover and the frenzied rhythms of Godard's feature debut seem to have been lifted almost entirely from Moi, un noir.  It's a remarkable film for its nudity, its post-sync methods and the most pop culture references I have ever seen from a work that came out before 1960.

9/23/18 I watched Eric Rohmer's Veronique et son cancre et Presentation ou Charlotte et son steak.  The first is a very solid Rohmer short that already shows his sensitivity and his unusual ability with actresses.  The second is a tough trudge.  Godard stars and does little for this ten minute piece.

12/7/20 I watched Jacques Rozier's Blue Jeans.  Already in his early work, it feels very much like the work Rozier would become known for.  Most impressive to me was the way Rozier used jump cuts.  In the opening credits, you immediately feel the presence of a new rhythm and a new syntax.

2/26/24 I watched Frank Tashlin's Rock-A-Bye-Baby.  Jerry Lewis continues to be a challenge for me even if I recognize him as one of the couple of successors of the cinema of Keaton and Chaplin.


  1. Jeffrey, this is an inspired choice, and a film that's high on my list too. I must thank our good friend Ed Howard, who penned a magisterial "Films That I Love" entry at ONLY THE CINEMA that made me seek this out, and I discovered a new classic and one that view with LAURA as Preminger's greatest film. Here's Ed's essay:

    Vertigo (Hitchcock)


    Cairo Station (Chahine)
    The Music Room (S. Ray; India)
    Bonjour Tristesse (Preminger)
    Enjo (Ichikawa)
    Mon Oncle (Tati)
    Nazarin (Bunuel; Mexico)
    The Ballad of Narayama (Kinoshita; Japan)
    The Horror of Dracula (Fisher; UK)
    Equinox Flower (Ozu; Japan)
    The Magician (Bergman; Sweden)
    Ashes and Diamonds (Wajda; Poland)
    Les Amants (Malle; France)
    The Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa; Japan)
    A Night to Remember (Baker; UK)
    A Time to Love and A Time to Die (Sirk)
    The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (Juran)

    VERTIGO is one of the cinema's greatest masterpieces, and for me the clear choice, but the Preminger, the Egyptian gem CAIRO STATION (one of the greatest African films ever made)the great S. Ray film THE MUSIC ROOM and those by Tati and Ichikawa rank supreme, along with others here.

    Again, marvelous annual recap and terrific choice!

  2. Sam, I just read Ed's great piece on this film! It's so good to hear that others like this one as much as I do. I think it's a special film and quite different from anything else I've ever seen from Preminger.

    I should have Chahine's movie on my list of things to see and am adding it now.

    Thanks, Sam. Always great to hear from you!

  3. 1958 is such an amazing year, I wouldn't be able to choose just one film. To Bonjour Tristesse, which is definitely one of my favorite Premingers, I'd add Man Of The West (the best film Mann ever made), Some Came Running (the best film Minnelli ever made), and Vertigo (one of the three best movies Hitch ever made, the other two being Notorious and Under Capricorn).

  4. Doniphon, a great comment! I totally share your appreciation for MAN OF THE WEST and SOME CAME RUNNING and am happy to hear that you also love this Preminger.

    Always great to hear from you! By the way, I'd comment on your last post on Rivette, but that's one I haven't seen yet.

  5. There are a couple of ways I could go on this one. In my own countdown, I went with Wajda's ASHES AND DIAMONDS, which was a relatively "new" film for me and one that had an immediate impression. But even when I made that pick, there were two others that I could easily have gone with and been happy: Hitchcock's VERTIGO and Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL. I could pick any of these three now without any hesitation.

    But between then and now, I watched Vincent Minelli's SOME CAME RUNNING for the first time and there is no longer any debate about my #1 for 1958. It's Some Came Running. A great film and I now kick myself for waiting so long to finally watch it!

    I have BONJOUR TRISTESSE but was not a big fan of it as everyone else seems to be. I didn't dislike, but was kind of ho-hum about it in general... it just seemed OK for me.

  6. Dave, I'm dying to see ASHES AND DIAMONDS. It's one that's been on my radar for years, but I just haven't seen yet.

    I can understand that reaction to BONJOUR TRISTESSE. Like so many films, there's something about it that I can see being very divisive.

    But totally with you on SOME CAME RUNNING. I really love it, too.

    Always great to have you here, Dave. Thanks!

  7. Have yet to see your choice Jeffrey. Definitely, one I have to keep an eye out for. I am going with Welles “Touch of Evil.” I can never get the opening shot out of my mind. My only problem with the film is Charlton Heston as Vargas. Truthfully speaking, I always found Heston a bit of a wooden actor once you took him out of his religious garb. The Lineup is a terrific film that I think you would like. A great ending. Ashes and Diamonds and some others you mention are still among my missing.

    #1 Touch of Evil

    Runner ups

    The Defiant Ones
    Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
    Man of the West
    Some Came Running
    Buchanan Rides Alone

  8. John, great to hear from you! I love TOUCH OF EVIL very much -- the opening shot, Mancini's music, Welles' performance, and just the whole thing. Actually, Heston doesn't bother me, but I can understand that he could have that effect.

    I'll have to revisit CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at some point. I liked it but not as much as some of the others I mentioned.

    Always great to have your perspective. Thanks, John!

  9. As Sam pointed out, I love this film and have always tried to champion it to anyone who'll listen! What I especially love about it is the tension between its aesthetics and its themes, and its tonal contrasts. And it's anchored by a performance of wonderful energy by Jean Seberg, who had earlier been unfairly castigated for her turn in Preminger's fascinating, bizarre Saint Joan.

  10. Ed, the piece you penned on it was fantastic, and you and I are in total agreement on this one! I still need to see SAINT JOAN. I'm very curious and just, for some reason, haven't caught up with it up to now.

    Thanks, Ed. Always great to hear from you!