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February 17, 2010

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Matthias Galvin

It may not be Madame De..., but I do think that it has the best ending of all Ophuls movies (including Liebelei): Ophuls makes so much suggest her untimely end, and escape from her literal and figurative place as a court entertainment... But she's ultimately consigned to a fate far worse.

I agree about Carol.
It's a bit of a stretch, but I might have liked to see Lia de Leo (who plays the General's former mistress who leaves in Madame De...) as Lola.

Matthias Galvin

Also:

Why isn't there a damned collection of the soundtracks from all of Ophuls's movies?

I searched everywhere for, and the best I got was three tracks on a Georges van Parys et le Cinema CD.

This is some of the best music ever written for a movie, and almost nothing?

to quote G.O.B. Bluth:

COME ON

Tony Dayoub

I agree with Mr. Galvin on the disturbing ending. One seems to be set up for a cinematic version* of her real-life untimely death of tuberculosis (?), and then the twist is that she survives only to be consigned to a fate far worse.

Regarding this, "In point of fact, the flashback structure of Lola Montes, which is not as linear as one might believe it to be on the first couple of viewings—the viewer does tend to unconsciously categorize and arrange certain scenes to "straighten" things out in his or her memory—is arguably even more sophisticated than that of Kane's, albeit in a somewhat more literary way," I didn't notice until reading it somwhere (which escapes me) that each flashback's Color scheme seems to progress in much the same way the four seasons do starting with spring in the Liszt era through winter in the Ludwig era.

Also interesting (and proferred by Gary Giddins in his essay included with the disc) is the fascinating technique of using the then 34-year-old Carol to play "Lola at sixteen... not as a girl but as her mature self dressed as a girl—in line with the way memory actually works."

Finally, I must disagre with you on Carol's limitations as an actress. Not that she isn't limited, but that her narrow range is somehow a blemish on the film. As Giddins suggests in the essay I mentioned, I believe Ophuls takes advantage of his actress' limitations to underscore the sexual objectification of the character. Of course, you'd have to find her more attractive than DNFM for that to work, which I certainly did.

*I love how earlier biopics had no qualms about rewriting someone's life until it became a virtual hagiography. I remember the Tony Curtis HOUDINI playing around with his death scen in much the same way.

Asher

"After all, it is hardly a groundbreaking, polyglot, underhandedly high-modernist creation the way that Citizen Kane is. Is it?"

Sure. I like it much more than Kane, which in part has always felt to me in part like a series of wonderful stylistic devices in search of a point, and in part a series of wonderful stylistic devices in service of a not very interesting point. It's a very moralizing film; Joseph Cotten's always frowning, acting as the conscience of the director, telegraphing to us that we're supposed to be disapproving of whatever Kane's up to, and when he's not doing that he's delivering big inert monologues about Kane's estrangement from the people that aren't interesting thematically or cinematically. Then when the political part of the film's mercifully over Welles takes the same moralizing approach to Kane's personal life. "Thou shalt not buy happiness with money, thou shalt not attempt to make an opera singer out of a talentless ragamuffin; I shall demonstrate this through an interminable series of high and canted angles," Welles says. Ophuls actually cares about and for his characters, and has interesting, non-dogmatic things to say about them, and says them beautifully. He doesn't insult our intelligence by putting some mouthpiece in the film to espouse his critique of celebrity culture; he doesn't make Ustinov's character a villain, as many directors would.

The Siren

Loved reading this; provocative as always!

I heartily second Tony's sentiments on Carol; Lola is supposed to be a hollow character, someone acted upon and not an agent of her own fate. When I saw Isa Miranda in the similarly themed La Signora di Tutti it did a great deal to make me appreciate Carol. (I disliked Miranda's performance to the point that LSdT is just about the only Ophuls I don't particularly want to see again.) Carol's beauty leaves me cold too, but she stays within her range and doesn't reach for effects she can't achieve. So as a side theme, the film illustrates the truism that a beautiful face and an overactive sex life don't equate with an interesting personality.

In any event, Lola really isn't the key figure; to me that's Ustinov, as the mysterious, at times malicious, but not entirely unsympathetic ringmaster, and Ophuls' alter ego. And Ustinov is magnificent. It's his best performance, although as brilliant as he was, he admits he didn't entirely get Ophuls' aims during filming.

David Thomson, as big as an Ophuls booster as he is, has admitted that it took several viewings to "get" the movie. I guess I am odd; it knocked me sideways the first time I saw it, on an old Sony on VHS in the same old print everyone complains about. I am absolutely delighted this is restored and getting so much attention again, and I can only hope it means the remainder of Ophuls will get similar treatment.

(I'm going to ignore the Kane bait, as this is Glenn's house and not mine...)

D Cairns

On Kane, it's worth noting that Welles seemed to disapprove somewhat of Jed Leland for turning against his friend: his movies are full of old friends betraying unworthy comrades, and Welles always sides with the unworthy Quinlan or Kane character, even though they're the villains.

On Martine Carol -- Lola is quite obviously a lousy dancer -- if Ophuls wanted her to be good, he could have faked it. And Carol's limitations are part of the characterisation of Montes as a worthless artist who is famous for being famous. And Ophuls still sympathises with her as a suffering woman.

Carol is pretty sexy in Sins of the Borgias, I'd say.

lipranzer

I may have to watch this again. It didn't involve me the way EARRINGS OF MADAME DE..., LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, or THE RECKLESS WOMAN do. Part of the reason is Carol - I know she is playing someone who is mostly an object, but she didn't really draw me into the character.

Becca

I saw Lola a couple of weeks ago on the current region 2 edition, which I think came out in 2008 so it's possibly not exactly the same as the Criterion edition. Like The Siren, I was knocked sideways by the film -it's beautifully magical, especially the circus sequences, and I found the ending really haunting. Incidentally the region 2 edition has quite an interesting documentary on the 'making of' with archive interviews with various participants (and audio of Ophuls talking about it) -Ustinov, as usual, holds court most amusingly.

Larry Gross

Thank you for this superb evocation of the merits of Ophuls' Lola Montes. Your description of the interest of the film's narrative structure was particularly useful and precise. On the Martine Carol problem--what perplexes me is the complication of effect created by how great the men around her are--the guy from Maria Braun, whoever plays Lizst, Walbrook, Oskar Werner, and of course the astonishing Ustinov. Talk about an echo-chamber effect! These guys produce a cumulative image of men-in-love that make Carol's tabula rasa into something that vibrates mysteriously even as she on her own terms does nothing for almost any of us. A more obvious example of this would be say, how the complexity of Robert Walker Jr.'s performance in Strangers on a Train complicates one's perception of Farley Granger's boring performance as the hero in that film. Doesn't something similar happen here, where Carol is transfigured by this complicated male desire--sort of--to a degree--like what happens in so called real life?

Stephanie

Much as I admire Gary Giddins I don’t see how Ophuls improved his picture by casting an actress without the looks or chops for the role. (Not only does Carol not look sixteen, she looks older than thirty-four, and apparently my memory works differently from Giddins’.) It also seems a trifle unfair to the historical Lola Montez, who appears to have been a formidable woman. Although Montez may not have been a great dancer or even a particularly good one, she had the ability to convince people she was, and a Lola with physical grace and allure would seem to be the minimal requirement for a performer at the center of a big film. The movie has wonderful things in it, but.

The Siren

I can't speak for Tony, but I am not saying Carol improved the movie, only that she doesn't hurt it. Ophuls takes what she does have and makes it work. And I don't think she looks older than 34; that is what 34 looked like in 1955, in terms of hair and makeup. 44 looked like Ginger Rogers.

Victor Morton

I wrote a bit about LOLA MONTES in Fall 2008 at my site, when it was working its way around the country. Here's what I had to say about Carol's performance, which I think "works" in the same way as Sasha Gray in THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE or Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood in 2001
--------------------------------
Third, that lead actress Martine Carol is rather wooden in the noncircus scenes and trying rather too hard to “Act” in the circus ones. Her role is to serve as a doll or model at best, surrounded by a gaggle of supporting paraphernalia, carefully arranged and framed and layered ...

Carol’s bad performance ... I think holds the key to how the film works. ... My “gut” reaction was that the circus scenes were magnificent and worth the price of admission by themselves because of Peter Ustinov’s sheer virtuosity as the ringmaster and the spectacle he was mastering, while the flashback scenes, the ones depending most on Carol to deliver as an actress, were often rather flat. And the scenes among them that worked best were the ones most like the circus scenes, i.e., those that had an air of public performance about them. This gap is exactly what LOLA MONTES is about — the transformation through art of banal life material into a virtuoso spectacle.

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