A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A Woman of Paris (Charles Chaplin, 1923)

Adolphe Menjou and Edna Purviance in A Woman of Paris
Marie St. Clair: Edna Purviance
Jean Millet: Carl Miller
Pierre Revel: Adolphe Menjou
Jean's Mother: Lydia Knott
Jean's Father: Charles K. French
Marie's Stepfather: Clarence Geldart
Fifi: Betty Morrissey
Paulette: Malvina Polo

Director: Charles Chaplin
Screenplay: Charles Chaplin
Cinematography: Roland Totheroh, Jack Wilson
Art direction: Arthur Stibolt
Film editing: Monta Bell, Charles Chaplin
Music (1976 re-release): Charles Chaplin

Was it Charles Chaplin's great ego that kept him onscreen for almost his entire career as a director? Because on the evidence of A Woman of Paris, his only "serious" film and the only one aside from A Countess From Hong Kong (1967) in which he doesn't appear onscreen (except for blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameos), he was a considerable director of other people. He also had a deftly light touch, not unlike that of Ernst Lubitsch, for livening up a scene with a surprising angle -- such as the way he comments on the frivolity of the Parisian demimonde by concentrating on the somewhat disgusted face of a masseuse as she works on the pampered body of Marie St. Clair and listens to the gossip of Marie's friends. A Woman of Paris is weighed down a bit by the built-in moral assumptions that Marie is to be scorned for allowing herself to become the mistress of Pierre Revel, but Adolphe Menjou's performance as Revel has such gusto that he we understand why Marie is taken with him -- just as we don't understand what she ever saw in the dour, hawk-faced Carl Miller's Jean Millet. A Woman of Paris is a more sophisticated film than it has any right to be, given the melodramatic framework. I like the way Chaplin makes a smart time jump from Marie's departure for Paris to her establishment as Pierre's kept woman. We don't need to know how she got there, just that she did. And the ending, with the obligatory self-sacrifice, is not as saccharine as it could have been: There's wit in the final montage, in which Pierre's automobile passes the wagon in which Marie and one of the orphans she tends are sitting. Pierre's car disappearing into the distance is almost a parody of the endings of Chaplin's "Little Tramp" comedies, in which the Tramp saunters off into the sunset.

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