Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Demain, c'est La Revolution!

Tomorrow is Bastille Day, and in honor of said event, I thought I would note some French Revolutionary films, French films, and French-inspired films to watch in celebration...

First, however, in case you want to celebrate alone or with friends, here are some cocktails inspired by sch events as the overthrowing of the Bastille, the execution of the elite classes, and the emergence of a tyrannical military leader, courtesy of Apartment Therapy and . I especially like the notion of the Jacobin cocktail with the inclusion og blood orange (one of my favorite citrus flavors)...

The Jacobin

Or, as they note, simply some champagne or French wine.

French Revolution films, both American or French (with subtitles, obvously):
    Howard & Oberon
  1. The Scarlet Pimpernel. I suggest the divine Leslie Howard/Merle Oberon/Raymond Massey (1934)version for the costumes and period nonsense. You might follow it with Pimpernel Smith (1941) the modern-day version (only 2 years before Howard's plane was shot down in WWII). I also recommend the 1999-2000 BBC version with Richard E. Grant/Elizabeth McGovern/Martin Shaw. Charming Grant personification and really great typical BBC period work. All available through Netflix, some on streaming. Or read the Baroness Orczy novel: fabulous period melodrama reading, and great love story.
  2. A Tale of Two Cities. Again, you can read the novel, by Dickens (one of his popular best) but in film version I am again a purist and recommend the Ronald Colman (1935) version, again for the style and the acting. Colman was an early period hero, the go-to actor in swashbuckling-literary films with an unforgettable vocal style. 
    And... cake?
  4. Marie Antoinette: Here I actually favor the recent Sofia Coppola version (2006), for its crazy appreciation of the sites, costuming, and surface detail of Marie Antoinette's life--which was so very meaningful in terms of her end. This woman was the "Real Housewife of Versailles" of her day, and her life a moral tale of "reap/sow" relationships. Coppola's film doesn't try and dress that up. it should ahve won more awards, but its subject matter (a frivolous woman) and its director (a woman) aren't the material Hollywood feels comfy rewarding. I quote Wikipedia here: "American film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four. He states that, 'every criticism I have read of this film would alter its fragile magic and reduce its romantic and tragic poignancy to the level of an instructional film. This is Sofia Coppola's third film centering on the loneliness of being female and surrounded by a world that knows how to use you but not how to value and understand you.'"  There is also the 1938 film with Norma Shearer (the world's biggest box office star at the time) and Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, and Robert Morley as the men surrounding the queen. Early Power was gorgeous, and this is the fading Barrymore--again, worth seeing but it is a piece of intentionally Hollywood fluff compard to Coppola's version.
  5. Lillian and Dorothy
  6. Orphans of the Storm: the silent film by D.W. Griffith starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish (1921). Melodrama as only Griffith can tell it: poignant, visually stunning, and full of strong performances by both Gish sisters (Dorothy plays the blind sister, while Lillian is the one searching for her after they are separated). One of his masterpieces, and demonstrates why Lillian was his go-to-girl.
  7. Danton: starring Gerard Depardieu as the revolutionary leader, directed by Anton Wadja, this is a Polish-French production (1983). Made as an allegory of the Solidarity struggle going on in poland at the time (remember that?). Obviously, the major struggle between Robespierre and Danton as the two representatives of French politics; starts in the Reign of Terror and, well, we go on from there.
    The CRAZY chorus
  9. Marat/Sade: the Peter Brooks film (1967). This is only for the very, very strong. I love it, but the crazy mental institution antics still get me. This is the story of the play written by the Marquis de Sade in the Charenton Asylum, which is produced using inmates as actors for an audience of patrons, to demonstrate the modern tactics of rehabilitating inmates (including the insane of all stripes, people with OCDC, and psycopathic criminals). Theatre as therapy that goes very, very wrong. The subject of Sade's play is the death of Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub (he had a skin condition) by Charlotte Corday. The play is built on facts about de Sade, Marat, and the Charenton asylum... but it quickly becomes much, much more. There are songs, too.
If none of these interest you, I suggest these french or French-inspired films:
  • Horseman on the Roof (1995), with Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez about the 1832 cholera outbreak in France. Happier than it sounds, lovely period stuff, and wonderful love story. Charming.
  • Cousin Bette (1998) adaptation of Balzac novel with Jessica Lange and Elizabeth Shue. Did poorly at box office but I loved it. No subtitles.
  • Diabolique (1955) black-and-white thriller about a wife and mistress doing in their shared man. Creepy. On Netflix streaming.
  • Jefferson in Paris (1995) with Nick Nolte, Greta Scacchi and Thandie Newton.
  • Ridicule (1996) about the French court, starring Fanny Ardant. I love this film! Underrated gem. 
  • Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), a werewolf film set in the 1780s in France... and you thought the guillotine was a problem! Classier and better than it sounds in that tongue-in-cheek description.

Or just go with one of my comic favorites, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. The depiction of the Little Emperor in contemporary San Dimas and the waterpark... priceless! In fact, the history here is not quite as fast-and-loose as it seems.

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