Friday 28 October 2011


The early Tintin albums were inspired by silent cinema, and they in turn inspired cinema. But all of Hergé's 23 proper Tintin albums, are should they be called graphic novels?, are very cinematic yet there have been few film versions. I myself have seen only one, the non-animated Tintin and the Blue Oranges (Tintin et les oranges bleues 1964), which is not based on any of the albums. I have also seen a TV-version, which was actually pretty good.

But I have never felt the need for any film adaptations. For me the albums have been enough, and I have been a Tintin fan since I was a young boy. I have read them in Swedish, English and French, and I even have an album in Japanese at home. I know them all very well, and I adore them. Especially the style, Hergé's ligne claire, which has become a very influential and easily recognisable style. Another thing about them is how they grew over time, developed in many different ways. Hergé changed when the world changed, both the global world and his own personal world, and the albums changed with him. First they were imaginative but rather crude, and in the case of Tintin in the Congo (Tintin au Congo 1931, re-edited colour version 1946) embarrassingly racist. Then came the middle period of such work as the anti-fascist King Ottokar's Sceptre (Le Sceptre d'Ottokar 1938, re-edited colour version 1947) and then the late masterpieces with the emotionally complex and beautifully illustrated Tintin in Tibet (Tintin au Tibet 1960) as the high point. That album, I think, is one of the greatest drawn art work of the 20th century. Other highlights are Blue Lotus (Le Lotus bleu 1936, re-edited colour version 1946), the album with which Hergé stopped being "just" a cartoonist and became an artist and storyteller, and the double feature The Seven Crystal Balls (Les 7 boules de cristal 1948) and Prisoners of the Sun (Le Temple du soleil 1949).
Now Steven Spielberg's film The Adventures of Tintin is here, and I saw it yesterday. Spielberg has been a fan of Tintin for several decades and got the rights from Hergé's, or to use his proper name Georges Remi's, wife in 1983, after Remi had died. Remi liked Spielberg's films and was happy for him to have the rights. But it has taken a long time before anything came of it.

I liked the film. For one thing it looks great, it is witty and it got a very strong drive. But somehow what is good about the film is also a problem. Spielberg has such a strong personality as a filmmaker, his style is easily recognisable and forceful and it all but negates Hergé's presence. What I mean is that although based on two albums there is very little left of the feel, texture and style of Tintin, whereas almost every shot clearly signals Spielberg's presence. It is not so much an adaptation as an appropriation. These means that there is a strong sense of wonder, and dazzling displays of visual imaginations, Spielberg at the top of his game. But there is also a certain breathlessness to the film, which I feel is a bit inappropriate. Hergé's albums are not breathless, they are more measured. Also, I did not like John Williams music, and there was too much of it at that. One thing that has got lost altogether is the subconscious level. Hergé filled his albums with hallucinations, dreams and nightmares, elements which he sometimes took from his own dark secrets. But the film is all surface.

They have taken the album The Secret of the Unicorn (Le Secret de la Licorne 1943) and blended it with The Crab With the Golden Claws (Le Crabe aux pinces d'or 1941, 1943). They are not related, but since they have taken so very little from The Crab..., I suppose they just wanted that album's first meeting of Tintin and Haddock . But when I saw the film and the traitorous first mate Allan appeared I thought, almost angrily, "Hey, he's not supposed to be in this adventure!" Then I realised what they had done and calmed down. It also says something about the quality of the film that I immediately recognised Allan, even though I was not expecting him to be there.

Of the new things that has been added to the film (but which are not in any album) a car chase, involving a hawk, a tank and a collapsing damn, was particularly breathtaking, even though they took place in a stereotypical fantasy of a Middle East kingdom. But the best part of the film was the opening, after the title sequence. It takes place on a square where there is a market, and a man is drawing a picture of somebody else. But we do not see the faces of either man. When the faces are revealed we see that it is Georges Remi drawing Tintin. I thought it was a nice gesture.

So there it is. A meeting between two of the most successful makers of popular art in the 20th century, Hergé and Spielberg (and Peter Jackson on the side), has resulted in a film which is both a dazzling piece of film, and a disappointment. It actually ties in well with what I wrote not long ago about adaptations. It is also fun to consider which other filmmaker's would have been suitable. A version of The Castafiore Emerald (Les Bijoux de la Castafiore 1963) by Ernst Lubitsch or perhaps even by Eric Rohmer would have been something. A Michael Mann version of The Calculus Affair (L'Affaire Tournesol 1956) would be interesting as well. But the beauty of the albums is still unsurpassed.


There is a very good documentary about Tintin and Hergé called Tintin et Moi (Anders Ostergaard, 2003). Not sure of its availability but look for it, it is worth the effort.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Peter Weir

It is time for a new celebration, this time of one of my first favourites among filmmakers, Peter Weir. I mean first in the sense that when I came of age as a film enthusiast Weir was one of the first I liked for his body of work. The thing about Weir also is that I discovered him on my own. Other first favourites such as Hitchcock, Ford and Kurosawa were not people I had to discover, they were already there, in my face so to speak. But since my interest in Australia came about simultaneously with my interest in cinema I naturally wanted to see what Australian films I could find. And among the best were Weir's.

His is an eclectic cinema, with different types of films made in different locations, spread around the world. But they share several traits. One is spirituality, that the world is a somewhat magic place, for good or bad. Another is the milieu's importance on the individual, how we are affected by, perhaps even become, the world we suddenly inhabit. The word suddenly is key here because most of his films are about people who find themselves in a new milieu with which they are unfamiliar and which does not easily agree with them. This world, especially the outside world, is captured in powerful and haunting images (he has two trusted partners in cinematographers Russell Boyd or John Seale). Weir works with music, silences and images more than words and his films are full of scenes that are powerful enough to become unforgettable. There is also a moral seriousness to his films, even though they can be playful. His first film is a very weird one called The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) but it was the eerie Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) that made him a leading example of the New Australian Cinema of the late 1970s and 1980s. He has continued to make remarkable films all along, in Australia, the US and Europe, and hardly ever compromising on his vision. That unfortunately means that he has not made as many films as one would have liked...

Let's start with a clip from Picnic at Hanging Rock, the opening sequence:

Here is a scene from Gallipoli (1981), a strange encounter in the desert:

This is a scene from The Year of Living Dangerously (1984), about an Australian journalist in Indonesia during the last days of Sukarno.

His first film in America was Witness (1985). It is set among the Amish, where Harrison Ford's character is hiding from three killers from the city.

Fun to compare this scene with the trailer:

Looks like two completely different films, although they are both representative. It is a great film on many levels, not least the way much of the beginning is told through the eyes of the boy.

Now, a clip from his film with Jeff Bridges, Fearless (1993). It is about survivors of a plane crash, and the effect surviving has on them:

Then there is the sweet and sad Green Card (1990) a French/Australian comedy set in New York, with Gerard Depardieu upsetting the ordered lives of some New Yorkers:

And I will round this off with the trailer for The Truman Show (1999). I think the film is astonishingly good and I love the trailer as well:

Weir has said that when he works on the scripts he always listens to music, as varied a collection as possible, and you can tell already from these clips the importance of the music in his films, and how all kinds of music are used. Music and moving images. It is a fantastic combination.

Friday 7 October 2011

Carole Lombard

Since it is Carole Lombard's birthday I'll take the opportunity to post some clips. She was one of the greatest of comediennes, even though she could do drama as well. She had a very interesting voice, and a slightly otherworldly allure. She was made for screwball comedy, perhaps because she was a bit of a screwball herself. It is a sad thing that she died as young as 33 (in a plane crash in the winter of 1942), but she had at least eight good years, when she became the highest paid female star in Hollywood. Her big break came in 1934 when she starred in the milestone masterpiece Twentieth Century. It was Howard Hawks's first screwball comedy (and one of my top ten favourite films), and it is pure anarchy from start to finish.

One of her more peculiar films is Swing High, Swing Low (1937). In it she plays a girl on a cruise ship who meets a man in Panama and stays there with him. So far it is a musical comedy, with the man (played by Fred MacMurray) being a trumpet player. When he gets a job in New York the tone of the film shifts dramatically. She gets more and more lonely in Panama while he is living a grand life in the big city, and forgets to write to her. Finally she follows him there, and telegraphs for him to meet her in the harbour. He isn't there. She goes to a hotel, and tries to locate him but nobody knows where he is. She gets the number to a woman whom he performs with and calls her. He answers, but doesn't recognise her voice. So she stands in the dark in the hotel room and whispers, panic stricken, to herself "What shall I do now?" It is a heartbreaking scene, beautifully shot and acted, as in a film by Max Ophüls, and it captures the full range of her talents.

That one was directed by Mitchell Leisen, and he also directed Lombard and MacMurray in Hands Across the Table (1935), another great film, and a tender love story. It might be Leisen's best. Great is also the biting satire Nothing Sacred (1937), scripted, like Twentieth Century, by Ben Hecht, and directed by William Wellman. Her greatest hit was perhaps My Man Godfrey (1936). She also did a comedy with Alfred Hitchcock, Mr and Mrs' Smith (1941), but I've never warmed to it for some reason. Then she made her final film, which was released after her death, To Be or Not To Be, Ernst Lubitsch's brave and magnificent satire of Nazism. It shows her in all her glory and, as in Twentieth Century, she plays a headstrong actress.

But now let's look at some clips. It was as usual tricky to find my favourite parts, so there's considerably less than I had hoped...

The first one is from To Be or Not To Be, an illicit scene between Lombard and Robert Stack. This one I love.

Here's a dance number between her and George Raft, from Bolero (1934). (The dance begins after about a minute.)

And here's the whole of Nothing Sacred, if you've got 80 minutes to spare.

And here's another one from To Be or Not To Be, a film in which nothing is what it seems to be.

2011-10-08 I noticed a few misplaced words and a missing title so I've updated it just a bit.