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Friday, May 25, 2012

THE COMPLETE JEAN VIGO (1930-34)

  • À PROPOS NICE/’30

  • TARIS/’31

  • ZÉRO DE CONDUITE/’33

  • L’ATALANTE/’34

Two documentary shorts (one plain, one fancy); Four-reels of adolescent anarchy in a boys’ school; A short feature film about newlyweds adjusting to life on a barge. That’s the Complete Jean Vigo. But it was enough for a legacy, and to anoint him Patron Saint for all forward-thinking French Cineasts. Dying at 29 from chronic lung ailments, Vigo is to film as George Orwell (downed by TB) is to essayists or Dinu Lipatti (downed by leukemia) is to classical pianists. And while these artists’ reps have undoubtedly been burnished by our own dreams of their unfulfilled promise, they each left enough to justify the extravagant claims made for them. The recent Criterion DVD edition comes with some excellent Extras that help set up these wonderful films. There’s a fine 90 minute tv documentary from the ‘60s, loaded with cast & crew interviews (instead of the usual academic bloviators) to get you started. (It features clips from dreadful old prints that give the glistening restorations in this set an extra charge; Boris Kaufman’s great cinematography reborn at last.) Watch the documentary first to give you a taste of Vigo’s distinctive mix of anarchy, realism, surrealism, eroticism & playful delight. On the other hand, it’s probably best to watch the survey on the various cuts/mutilations of L’ATALANTE after seeing the fine new restoration. Vigo followers will note that the superb restoration used on this DVD has dropped the controversial dance montage (added in the ‘90s?) which never fit in with the rest of the film. Essential stuff, and incredibly joyous.

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