You can tell a real movie lover because their list of all-time best or favorite movies doesn't contain mostly films from the years of their own teens and early twenties. Those are, certainly, the years of our lives in which movies matter most to most people.
My best movie-watching experiences came from those years of my life, but for a different reason. At Dartmouth, in the years when I was a student there or lived nearby, the Dartmouth Film Society showed a pair of movies twice a week. If I'm remembering correctly, one set started on Sunday afternoon and the other on Wednesday or Thursday. Each of the two movies was screened twice a night and students could attend as many screenings as they liked. I saw many classic movies twice or three times, or even more.The movies were shown in a vast and luxurious 3,000-seat auditorium with a huge screen and an excellent sound system.
At every movie there was a student standing at the door of the auditorium passing out "notes." These consisted of background essays on each of the movies you were about to see. They were the best essays written for film courses by then-current Dartmouth film students. Collectively these were of a very high standard—fresh, vital, thoughtful, and well-written.
For years and years afterwards, I missed those handouts when going to movies.
My film education took in the whole history of the movies up until then—the late '70s—including foreign, historical, and rare art-house gems, and films in every genre. But even with the Film Society's capable help, somehow I missed Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows).
Every now and then we write here on TOP about a peculiar genre..."movies about photography." For instance, The Return*. I'm still not sure this is even valid...even just restricting the list to dramas that touch on photography as a plot device or as part of their subject matter, the swings are hugely wide—between great films and movies that suck; between movies that treat photography with sensitivity and insight or with only clichéd superficiality; between accurate depictions of photo techniques and depictions that are laughably wrong. My brother's a doctor, and can't watch a lot of "medical" dramas because their technical medical aspects are so poorly researched or presented. That doesn't happen as often with movies that include photography. But it does happen.
Ascenseur pour l'échafaud can't be called "Film Noir," since that was a French term for a certain genre of dark American thrillers that shared a certain range of styles and themes. And I guess film mavens argue as to whether Ascenseur pour l'échafaud is early French New Wave or just one of the prototypes for New Wave. Not qualified to comment. But it really is noir, in everything but name. And as far as movies that touch on photography are concerned, I think it belongs on the short list of the good ones.
Like a lot of noir, there are a few places where the plot almost but doesn't quite parse. I've never heard of anyone jovially waving off a fender-bender, for one thing, especially when the car is a Mercedes gull-wing. Probably the most dated and unrealistic aspect of the movie is that Malle, ever the woman-besotted romantic, requires us to believe that the two principal players are in love. If there's anything that seems unrealistic and unbelievable in modern movies, it's two people who actually are in love.
It's a bit odd to recommend a great classic, because most people will have already seen it, and even more will already know about it. It borders on the ignorant, like saying, "Hey, I saw this great war movie the other night. It's called Gone With the Wind. Ever heard of it?" But if you missed this one, like I did, you should put it on your list. It's a fine film. And has lots of interest for photographers...without giving anything away, consider Henri Decaë's camerawork in the famous scenes where Jeanne Moreau is wandering the nighttime streets of Paris in a daze...and notice when, where, and how we first see the two lovers together in the same shot.
The only thing missing for me is the Film Society handout.
*Periodically people contact me asking where to find an old post on TOP that they remember. I can't even find half the old posts on TOP that I remember. Even though I wrote them. For instance, I'm sure I did a post about a movie concerning a turn-of-the-century woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who finds herself through photography. But I'll be damned if I can either remember the name of the movie (my "proper noun aphasia" again—I remember the visuals, and have a really hard time with the labels) or find the post. Anyway, I'd link to it, but I can't. If anybody can find it, please fill me in.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Judith Wallerius: "Found it! It's hidden in one of your summary-posts. The title is 'Everlasting Moments.' I only did find it because I remembered that Roger Ebert had written about it as well; his review is here (and well worth a read). Probably time for a 'movies' category, is it not? Because you just know that in six months, someone is going to email you and ask, hey, didn't you write something about a movie with a Minox and a car thief...? :-)"
Featured Comment by robert p: "Knowing that you are a jazz fan, I find it hard to believe you can write about L'ascenseur a l'Echafaud without mentioning that the music is by Miles Davis. The CD on its own is fantastic, even if you haven't seen the film."
Mike replies: I had an appointment and was very rushed this morning. Not much of an excuse!