100 ans, Danielle Darrieux, et on a toujours soif de vous*

darrieux coverDanielle Darrieux in Max Ophuls’s “Madame de…,” playing at the Cinematheque Toulouse Thursday. Image courtesy Cinematheque Toulouse.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

I’ve spent the past month or so in the company of the most charming, droll, drop-dead gorgeous, glamorous *and* down to earth, alluring, funniest, romantic, and timeless of French actresses — the one who formed the mold for all the others who followed. Since Danielle Darrieux died at the age of 100 on October 17, I’ve been catching up on some of her films, from Henry Koster’s 1938 American comedy “The Rage of Paris,” in which the 21-year-old Darrieux plays a New York chorus girl who poses as a Parisian femme du monde to bag a millionaire through the 1958 “Drole de Dimanche” and “La Vie a Deux,” the latter a series of sketches about troubled marriages. I haven’t yet had time to re-screen Jacques Demy’s 1967 “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort,” the musical in which Darrieux, portraying the mother of Françoise Dorléac and her real-life sister Catherine Deneuve (whose model she may have been, although Darrieux is smarter), was the only cast member whose voice wasn’t dubbed, the actress also being such an accomplished chanteuse that not only did she sing, but her singing often set off the plot. (And when I say she sang, I don’t mean that she was another one of those French actors who thinks s/he can sing, a la Gerard Depardieu in his new album covering Barbara. I mean that if she wasn’t an actress she could have been a full-time singer; the sheer warmth and beauty of her voice even went against the high-pitched ((Frehel)) or morose ((Piaf)) tonalities that were the mode when she came up. Grover Dale, our colleague who played opposite Darrieux in Demy’s film, told the DI and AV, “It was apparent that Danielle was a wise and melodious woman. What a privilege it was… just being in the vicinity of her music.”)

Unfortunately, the only film I’ve screened which seems to be part of the  Cinematheque Toulouse’s tribute, running through December 13, is Max Ophuls’s 1953 “Madame de…,” a 19th century melodrama in which she cheats on Charles Boyer’s dignified general with Vittorio de Sica’s caddish baron, which screens in the French Midi city Thursday. What that film has in common with all the others — besides Darrieux’s blood-warming singing — is that she inevitably succeeds in re-conquering a man she’s betrayed, rejected, or otherwise disappointed: James Mason as a traitor she’s double-crossed, who can’t help smiling at how he’s been out-foxed at the end of the 1952 “Five Fingers”; Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who falls for her anyway after spending most of “The Rage of Paris” trying to unmask her before his enchanted best friend, the millionaire (and in which film, like any good comedian, Darrieux’s not afraid to show herself at unflattering angles, as when she gets stuck in a collapsed window, leaving only her pajama-covered butt projecting into the room); Bourvil as the estranged husband who finally relents after spending most of a “Drole de Dimanche” plotting to kill her (there’s a droll scene in which a very young Jean-Paul Belmondo, pursuing the couple in a roadster with Bourvil’s landlord to try to derail his plot, pulls out a trumpet to mimic a police siren to get the car ahead of them to pull over); and most of all a heartbreaking Boyer, who finally challenges de Sica’s baron to a duel not for cuckolding him, but for abandoning Darrieux and sending her into a mortal spiral. At one point Boyer’s general (whose own cheating, it should be pointed out, is one chain in a series of seemingly chance events sealing his wife’s doom), agonized by her growing distance from him and apparent determination to let go of life, tells her, more with regret than rancor, “I’m not the figure you’ve made me out to be.” As an actor, part of Darrieux’s gift was to make all her partners better than they were. (If Boyer was always a deft comedian, I’ve never seen him so poignant; he almost steals the show, his character’s fate seeming just as tragic as hers — and it’s clear that being a helpless witness to Darrieux’s demise sets this off.)

Darrieux Madame de ballroomDanielle Darrieux and Vittorio de Sica in Max Ophuls’s “Madame de…,” playing at the Cinematheque Toulouse Thursday. Image courtesy Cinematheque Toulouse.

For her part, Darrieux was as brilliant a comedian as she was a heartbreaking tragedian. If her desperate, eyes-shut refrain “Je ne vous aime pas, je ne vous aime pas” while pounding her head against the door of her mansion as de Sica parts on the other side, meant to convey the opposite of “I don’t love you,” is devastating, her impeccable rhythm in a fracas with her lover in “La vie a deux” is also an example of verbal repartee and physical timing that should be required viewing in every acting class.

In the one film I haven’t yet had the courage to watch in its entirety, “Crime doesn’t pay,” yet another of the formulaic ‘sketch’ films that were popular in Europe in the early 1960s, Darrieux, still ravishing at 45 and having derouted yet another male who would have had her hide, ends the film with a semi-deliriius, flirtatious, luxuriant “J’ai soif” from her bed. 100 ans, Danielle Darrieux, et on a toujours soif de vous.*

PS: Darrieux isn’t the only grande dame of French cinema we’ve lost this past year. Jeanne Moreau, Michelle Morgan (at the age of 97), Emmanuelle Riva and, most recently, Anne Wiazemsky, one of Jean-Luc Godard’s muses, 70, have also disappeared. (To hear an audio broadcast, in French, of Wiazemsky’s autobiographical story “Mon Enfant de Berlin,”  click here.) All these deuils are enough to make one regret that the State no longer throws national funerals for departed giants of the theater, like the mass procession for Sarah Bernhardt. (Whose name pops up in “Madame de …” when Boyer, having confirmed Darrieux’s infidelity but refusing to discuss it, proclaims, “Tonight we shall speak only of Sarah Bernhardt.”)

*100 years, Danielle Darrieux, and we still haven’t got enough of you.

 

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The Permanent Humanity of Marcel Gromaire

Gromaire Sculpteur 1949 lot 133 smallLight & matter: In Marcel Gromaire’s 1949 oil on canvas “Sculptor,” measuring 31 7/8 x 39 3/8 inches and on sale today in Paris for Artcurial’s Impressionist and Modern Sale, a grid seems to be imposed over the torso of the live model, the clay has already assumed her curvy proportions, the figure of the sculptor is ephemeral, and the light (and outside world) filters from a large window. Signed and dated lower right; signed, dated, and titled on the back. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 30,000 – 40,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

The universe of Marcel Gromaire (1892 – 1971) – as confirmed by a number of the 10 Gromaire oils and inks available in the November 28 Impressionist and Modern Sale at Artcurial Paris — is a universe in which there is almost always light. Construction workers, soldiers, nude models, stairways on narrow somber streets, rooftops; even if it’s not the central subject, a patch of sky is usually hovering somewhere, a reminder of the larger world in which the scene is taking place. The result is that nothing is detached from life. “My mission as a painter,” Gromaire once explained, “is to give art a permanent and humane image.” If, viewed with a post-feminist (using the term ‘post’ loosely) sensibility, the native of northern France’s nude ink sketches and paintings (many sexually suggestive), with their visages frequently indistinct and even smudged, the bust always ample, the positions often not simply neutral but provocative, can be justly taxed with objectifying women, they can also be viewed as humane, the conniptions of the body and the head often suggesting an inner turmoil. In lieu of Lotharian intentions, perhaps it is simply that, having commenced his artistic career by sketching the rat-riddled trenches of World War 1 (for a series published by the revue Le Crapouillot in almost real time, and later issued in a very limited edition book) in which he was embedded and which reeked of the putrid stench of death, he simply wanted to focus, a la Courbet in “The Creation of the World,” on the source of life, the perfume of sex, the elixir of rejoicing, the nourishment (in the breast) of sustenance. (The drama of the nudes also owes something to his cinematic eye; Gromaire authored, in 1925, the first treatise on the manifestation of painterly values in the nascent medium of motion pictures.)

To receive the complete article, including more images, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $99 (institutions). Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

La mystere de Stael

de stael smallIn the month before he threw himself off a building in Antibes on March 16, 1955, Nicolas de Stael churned out 350 paintings. And yet even if de Stael’s life had ended 11 years earlier, when he was just 30, he still would have shattered the art world with the oil “Astronomy – Composition,” painted on a 90 1/2 inch long, 40 1/2 inch tall slab of wood in Occupied Paris, the same year de Stael held his first major exhibition at Jeanne Bucher’s seminal abstract art gallery on the Boulevard Montparnasse. Looking at just a photo of this phenomenal, precise oeuvre — on sale in tonight’s Artcurial auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art in Paris — even makes one re-think the appellation “abstract,” which implies the opposite of “concrete” or, in the construct of the post-War battles for aesthetic hegemony, “figurative.” What one sees here, though, is a painting in which the observer’s universe figures into the calculation of the meaning. One can only hope that the State will calculate the oeuvre’s importance and pre-empt its sale. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 700,000 – 1,200,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial. — Paul Ben-Itzak

If you have a lemon tree, make art: Foujita in Montparnasse

foujita lemon pickers small

As an illustrator, Kees Van Dongen can’t be beat. (Check his ethereal covers of Proust’s gossamer ladies for Folio’s editions of “Remembrance of Things Past.”) But I just can’t see what makes “The Tall Doe in Black Stockings,” a 40 x 32 inch oil of a thin naked flapper painted in 1922-23, worth between 1.2 and 1.6 million Euros, Artcurial’s pre-sale estimate for tonight’s Impressionist and Modern auction in Paris. So if you’re looking for a representative of the Montparnasse epoch of the School of Paris — in all its international splendor — we propose instead Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886 – 1968), whose 1918 “The Lemon Pickers,” an 18 1/4 x 12 inch watercolor, ink, and gold and silver leaf on paper, is estimated at a paltry 100,000 – 150,000 Euros. Not just for its intrinsic value, but because Foujita, born in Japan and artistically flowered in France, in the hybrid nature of his oeuvre defies the false debate current among some French pundits between “multi-culturalism” and “national identity,” demonstrating that far from being antithetical, they have forged the synthesis that is the cosmopolitan French and Parisian culture. Signed in French and in Japanese (of course) at lower right. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

She wore lemon: Concocting the feminine image with D. Chase Angier

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

BROOKLYN — I know, I know, the borough of Brooklyn is part of New York City, so it’s as ridiculous to make that the dateline for this Flash as it would be to make it “MANHATTAN.” But living in Manhattan — GreenWich Village, no less, to para-tone Bob Dylan in “Talkin’ New York” — I’ve tried to ignore the increasing number of dance flyers with a Brooklyn venue that have flooded the DI inbox. That’s not from snobbery, it’s from fear of getting lostery. As anyone who’s ever accompanied me to an event where a subway is involved will tell you, when I emerge from the station I can’t even figure out which way is uptown and which way down. So the prospect of trying to find my way to a hidden theater in a strange town has always been daunting. Only a friend or an artist I know and REALLY want to see will get me there, and even then only if there’s someone to hold my hand along the way. But when I heard Chase Dance Theater was in the house with “an Evening of Beauty and Madness,” including a reprisal of D. Chase Angier’s mostly-new-to-me riff on female image consciousness “Lemons for Loveliness,” I was tempted. And when I heard the house was a spanking new space, Williamsburg Art NeXus (or WAX), it seemed my duty, as we’ve been ranting here about the shrinking space for dance in this town, to check it out. And finally, when I was told WAX is right on the L line — folks, this is a ten-minute ride from downtown Manhattan, half the time it takes you to get uptown, and you’re in the company of a way cooler Boho crowd — this young man had no excuse not to go east.

To receive the complete article, first published on October 9, 2000, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $109 (institutions). Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

La nude en rose armchair

gromaire arm chair nude smallAmong the works featured in tonight’s Impressionist & Modern auction at Artcurial Paris is, above, “Nude in pink arm chair,” a 21 5/8 x 18 1/8 oil on canvas painted in 1931 by Marcel Gromaire (1892 – 1971) — a far cry from Gromaire’s early depictions of life in the trenches of World War 1, first published from 1916 through 1918 in the revue Le Crapouillot. (Gromaire also wrote the first treatise on the manifestation of painterly values in the cinema, in 1925.) As intimate as the tableau may seem at first glance, the perspective of the outside world is frequently present even in Gromaire’s most intimate paintings (here, in the cobalt twilight projected on a rear window). Signed and dated at upper center; signed again, dated, and titled on the back. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 60,000 – 80,000 Euros.  Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

Orienting the Eye

Fall AC two Dufresne smallOrienting the eye: I was all set to re-frame Charles Dufresne’s monumental painting “Retour de chasse” (The Return of the Hunting Party), above, in current and historical socio-political contexts, but then I heard about the Viennese tourism office’s cynical response to the reluctance of the cities of London and Hamburg to run its publicity posters for the country’s celebrations of the Expressionist painter Egon Schiele on the centennial of his death at 28. Rather than simply pull the posters featuring work like “The girl in orange stockings” and “Nude Self-Portrait,” it draped the subjects’ privates in banners reading “Sorry — 100 years old but still too daring today,” accompanied by the inevitable hashtag. In other words, the Viennese tourism office desecrated the art it was supposedly promoting and debased the memory of the artist it was supposed to be celebrating. I realized that even if they often comment on, rebel from, or reflect contemporary mores and debates, artists should not always be subjected to them. I also couldn’t help recall a colleague’s insistence that a female nude by Eugene Dinet — who spent most of his adult life in Algeria and converted to Islam — which we once published and which was to my eye a natural study denuded of any exoticism was Orientalism of the worse sort. (If any context could be appropriately applied to Dufresne’s circa 1913, 83 1/8 x 115 inch oil on canvas — apparently the most controversial work of the last Salon before World War 1, on sale for Artcurial’s November 28 Impressionism & Modern auction Tuesday in Paris — it would seem to be that furnished by Ballets Russes, whose version of Michel Fokine’s “Scheherezade” premiered in 1910 with Ida Rubinstein and Vaslav Nijinsky.) But the painting, signed at the lower left, ultimately deserves to be judged, evaluated, perceived, and received on its own intrinsic merits. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 30,000 – 50,000 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.