Thursday, April 02, 2009

Frustrations of the MTA. Today i was on my way to the press screening of Jean-Pierre Melville's "Leon Morin, Pretre". I've seen the film before, many years ago, but one reason i wanted to see it again is that since i saw "Leon Morin", i've seen "Le Silence de la Mer" and "L'Armee des Ombres". These three films form a triptych about France during the Occupation, and i had wanted to compare them.

But when i got to the subway station, it was very crowded, which was not a good sign: 9:30 AM during a weekday, there should still be a regular schedule, with trains every five monutes or so. By 9:40, i knew i was in trouble. And, in fact, by the time i got to the 36th Street stop, there was another huge crowd waiting at the station. An N train came, but today i needed the D; another long wait... by the time we were going across the bridge, it was already 10:25! And the screening started at 10:30! There was no way i was going to make it in time, so i got off at the first stop in Manhattan, Grand Street, and went over to see my mother.

Turns out there were massive subway delays on the N and R lines, which i wish someone had told those of us waiting on the damned 77th Street subway stop. Had something to do with signal problems. On the way home, i decided to take the R train from City Hall; i got to the station just as a W train was pulling out. I thought, good, that means the next train will be an R. But no: three W trains later, and there was an announcement (repeated several times) that passengers going downtown should simply take the W because the N and R lines were delayed because of signal problems. Finally, an R train arrived, and what should have been a 45-minute ride took more than an hour. Made me feel like i should never go to Manhattan.

However, i do want to say something about Jean-Pierre Melville. I remember that, years ago, Richard Roud was talking about Melville. Adrienne Mancia was really enthusiastic about his work (and Adrienne would, in fact, program a retrospective at MoMA) and Richard's point was that he felt that Melville's thrillers ("Le Doulos", "Le Deuxieme Souffle", "Le Samourai") were "exercises de style" but that the early films ("Le Silence de la Mer", "Les Enfants Terribles", even, Richard said, "Quand Tu Liras Cette Lettre") had "subjects", that the stylistic experimentation (so apparent in "Le Silence de la Mer" and "Les Enfants Terribles") was used to explore the narratives to maximal effect, but the thrillers were simply a gloss on thriller themes (though Roud did express his admiration for the formal "perfection" of "Le Samourai"). And i remember that Roud felt "Leon Morin, Pretre" was the last "worthwhile" film in Melville's career (but that was before "L'Armee des Ombres"; i never knew what he thought about that film).

Anyway, i missed the screening of "Leon Morin, Pretre" but i still thought about the film.

Yesterday, i watched some of the Jane Powell movies on TCM (on the occasion of her 80th birthday!) and i think my supposition was correct. That is: i do think that Louis B. Mayer wanted to sign Deanne Durbin, and regretted the fact that she already had an option with Universal. Mayer didn't really appreciate Judy Garland (he used to call her the "little dwarf") and forever after kept chasing that kind of juvenile coloratura (that's where Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell came in). And Mayer wanted so much to emulate the kind of wholesome family entertainments that Joe Pasternak was masterminding at Universal that Mayer eventually hired Pasternak away from Universal, which actually put a crimp in Deanna Durbin's career, because once Pasternak left, no one at Universal knew what to do with Durbin, and she soon retired (permanently).

But watching "Two Weeks With Love" and "Small Town Girl", i was struck by the almost infuriating neatness of the whole enterprise, the engineered wholesomeness, with its moments of poignance and its little shafts of chucklesome humor, its manufactured warmth. It's infuriating because it works! And this pair (along with that chef d'oeuvre "A Date With Judy") show Jane Powell at her height (and the producer was none other than Joe Pasternak!), twinkling and toothy.

Getting back to the MTA: i don't understand why we can't just fire the whole damn board of the MTA, and then put them in jail for malfeasance, mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds. Sometimes i wish we had the Chinese style of justice. When there was the problem of tainted food traced to a Chinese factory, the government simply executed the factory owners. New York City should execute the MTA.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It certainly would of been interesting if Deanna Durbin didn't stay with Universal, but instead, at the end of her contract, followed the footsteps of Pasternak & Koster to MGM. Who knows, such a move could of extended her career into the 1950s and maybe beyond??

1:21 AM

Blogger Daryl Chin said...

But she was the one who didn't want to continue. And she's also one of the (rare) stars who, once retired from show business, refused to ever participate: no interviews, no books, virtually no contact with anyone in show business. She moved to France, she got married, she stayed married, she raised her children, she has grandchildren and great grandchildren, she did not lose her money. And she doesn't want to live in the past, and she doesn't want to remember her career. Why she has this animus about show business is unknown: once she retired, she has refused to speak about her career, though she has been asked many, many times. But she seems to have had a happy life, so she is entitled to her privacy. But Mayer did try to get her for some films at MGM during the period when she was ending her contract at Universal. But she chose (decisively) to end her career. And i can't think of anyone who was as definitive and as adamant about leaving show business.

7:14 AM


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