At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

A salutary warning for culture gluttons like myself:

    The belief that one is obliged to read all the books of every author, hear all the music of every great composer, and see all the films of every great director is surely a kind of neurosis, and a neurosis whose origin can usually be traced to one's university career. A compulsion toward over-informedness is most apt to occur in individuals who have been arrested at a graduate school level of development; it is an intellectual infirmity, rather than a sign of health, and it is so common now that is perhaps deserves to be elevated to the status of a syndrome: the Star-Pupil Syndrome...The weight of the academic experience is such, for most of us, that it sometimes takes about ten years to realize that we have, after all, graduated. There comes a time when one no longer has teacher to please; thus it is not really necessary to read everything, see everything, and hear everything in order to remain respectable. One eventually begins to notice that the cellars of all the arts are filled with the over informed, and finally one is forced to admit that there is just too much art--far more, at least, than I can use, either as a writer or as a person. With that recognition the nature of the search changes, and instead of trying, perhaps unconsciously, to please one's teachers one begins to seek out sources of response for oneself--people and books and films that one can hearken to, and perhaps be heartened by."--Larry McMurtry, "Movie-Tripping: My Own Rotten Film Festival."

Point taken, but I'm still interested in sampling the French New Wave directors. I got Jacques Rivette's Jean La Pucelle from Greencine without too much delay, probably only a day or two later than I would have received them from NetFlix. (The main problem with GC, I've discovered, is not the delivery time, but the long waiting lists.) Rivette's is the best cinematic version of the Joan story I've seen. Admittedly, the minimalist New Wave aesthetic doesn't lend itself perfectly to epic material. The battle scenes in particular are underproduced; to believe Rivette, the siege of Orléans was lifted by Joan and about 8 other guys. And the lack of a soundtrack, though perhaps appropriate for the typically loquacious New Wave film, leaves an action movie without an important source of emotional resonance. For the general effect, imagine Eric Rohmer directing Troy.

I wasn't entirely pleased with the lead casting either. Sandrine Bonnaire, twenty-six at the time of filming, is a good actress but too old for the title role, since part of the perennial appeal of the story is its Old Testament aspect, God in His grace choosing the implausibly young (e.g. David) to be the savior of the people. Bonnaire also plays in a too introverted register, whereas the Joan one meets in the history books is nothing if not expressive. (Although I'll take Bonnaire's quietly intense Joan over Milla Jovovich's shrill hysteric any day.)

Being a fan of the Maid of Lorraine, though, I appreciate Rivette's version for its historical accuracy. In The Messenger Luc Besson distorted the source material to make it fit his skeptical agenda, and the CBS version, though not anti-Christian, took many liberties in the interest of dramatic license. Rivette's film trusts in the power of the real events to inspire, and includes plenty of small but verifiable details, from Joan's typical meal (dried bread dipped in wine) to the humourous prayer that the soldier La Hire says just before battle ("May you do for La Hire what you would like La Hire to do for you, if you were La Hire and La Hire was God.") It's also nice that Rivette accepts Joan's religious motivations at face value, and doesn't try to debunk the supposed miracles that she performed.

The ideal Joan film would combine the CBS version's excellent casting (Leelee!), Besson's exciting battle sequences, and Rivette's firm grounding in the facts. Maybe Ron Maxwell, of Gods and Generals fame, can pull it off.


Blogger Kate said...

Carlos, I've added a link to your blog on mine. Is that okay?

12:06 PM  
Blogger Carlos said...

Great! Thanks.

1:16 PM  

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