La Bête Humaine [1938)

This might be the most depressing film of all time.

And that’s not nothing.

I seem to remember.  Thurston Moore.

A Rolling Stone review of Lou Reed’s album Berlin.

The fucked-up kids will always search out these masterpieces.

Because they are forbidden.

Like the strange death of James Forrestal.

The first U.S. Secretary of Defense.

But let’s back to cinema.  [sic]

Let’s active.

Trains.

I often dream of trains.

Such an important part of my lineage.

Whether there were drunkards or not, I have no idea.

But train men there were many in my family.

Enough.

We think it’s gonna be like La Roue of Abel Gance.

That 273-minute behemoth.

But it’s only the trappings which match.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are more perceptive than I.

But I couldn’t have seen this ending coming in a million years.

Like the Maginot Line being overrun.

This was 1938.  Jean Renoir.

Madness.  Madness.

On the precipice of World War II.

Not history.

But present.

It must be ever present.

We must be terrified of history.

And to each of us is given a special area to study.

I long labored in the musical mines.  Studying birdsongs.

But one day I escaped my cage.

And I lived to see the blowout.

Jericho, Kentucky.

But now I am given over to film.

Because I am too old to be a rock star.

“My face is finished/My body’s gone”

It would be a miracle of spectacle for me to be relevant again in the most venal of concert halls.

And so we move on to opera.  Silent film.  Quail eggs.

Madness vs. madness.

When magazine was a store.

And journal was a newspaper.

When was that?

The false-friends attack of language.  Cognates.  Faux.

Gripping his steam engine.  A night without sleep.

La Bête Humaine.  The human beast.  Monster.

Fighting it.  Fighting it.

The banality of evil had already suffused Europe by 1938.

And so we live with a corpse throughout most of this film.

Pocket watch.  Wallet full of dough.

But Simone Simon is already flirting her way to destiny.

Der müde Tod.

Femme fatale.  Serial.  Concatenation of sickly sweet roles.

Roles.

Jean Gabin.

Here’s to you, my friend!

And Julien Carette.  Always sucking on that cigarette.

We begin to covet the boring comfort of his life.

Living from one cigarette to the next.

Vive le tabac!

Piss-poor English Wikipedia will not tell you that Monsieur Carette was an integral part of Renoir’s masterpiece La Règle du jeu.  Not, that is, if you are looking at his page.

And so, dear reader, I am here to make those connections for you.

Perhaps they will mean nothing.

Perhaps they will mean everything.

Let me just say this…

La Bête Humaine was an extremely brave film to make in 1938.

More Hitchcock than anything Hitch had made up till that point.

Ahead of its time, yes.

But most particularly…symptomatic of that age of anxiety.

 

-PD

 

Pépé le Moko [1937)

I was alive.

Really alive.

I thought about one way, but took another.

Because the unpredictable had become routine.

We write until we die.

Romantic outlaws.

My crime?

Thirst.

It is a masterpiece from Julien Duvivier.

Jean Gabin is trapped in the Casbah.

Like the digital ghetto known as Facebook.

I didn’t coin the phrase.

But it is not my primary impetus.

It comes secondary.

Pépé from Toulon.  It’s been too long.

Not long enough.

Just as Yves Montand dreamed of Pigalle in Le salaire de la peur.

Here Jean Gabin dreams of Le Métro.

Like Baudelaire’s “La Chevelure”…

Gabin inhales the perfume of freedom.

Sick of his life.

Running.

Hiding.

Sick of life.

But Fréhel teaches the most poignant lesson.

“Où est-il mon moulin de la Place Blanche?
Mon tabac et mon bistrot du coin?
Tous les jours pour moi c’était dimanche!
Où sont-ils les amis, les copains?”

 

Where’s my tobacco shop and my corner bistro?

I dreamt of France for ten years.  Finally I made it there.

And Paris?  I was there for an hour or two.  In the back of a van.  Gazing out the windows.

And like Fréhel I had my day of glory.

The very name of this website.  Pauly Deathwish.  My stage name.

And so, for us, a picture from our youth becomes a mirror.

And we wind the phonograph like the engine of a Ford Model T (pre-1919).

But I have my memories of Doc.

Of the thatched roof.

I thought only Debussy hung the moon.

But it was also dear Ravel who made the birds sing and the flowers bloom.

And so perhaps Ravel’s Piano Concerto…middle movement…in the hands of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.

Perhaps this is my “Où Estil Donc?”

Algiers.  Alger.  Algeria.  Kabyle.

ⵟⴰⴳⴷⵓⴷⴰ ⵜⴰⵎⴻⴳⴷⴰⵢⵜ ⵜⴰⵖⴻⵔⴼⴰⵏⵜ ⵜⴰⵣⵣⴰⵢⵔⵉⵜ

Berber or Tamazight in the Maghreb.

Yes, there are no English words to sum up the emotion I have for this film.

The secret of the world can be found in French films.

 

-PD