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Monday, March 13, 2017

HISTOIRE IMMORTELLE / THE IMMORTAL STORY (1968)

The first time Orson Welles directed himself on screen, he drops a snow globe memento & dies to begin CITIZEN KANE/’41. The last time he directed himself in a story film, he drops a sea shell memento & dies to end THE IMMORTAL STORY. Tidy symmetry for a career anything but tidy! This lovely, intimate, melancholy memory piece, a one-hour film for French television, first in an unmade series of Isak Dinesen stories, certainly makes for a graceful farewell, though it’s not much taken up by Welles acolytes. (Various film ‘starts’ are still being sorted out for possible release, but Welles never completed another narrative pic.) Dinesen’s meditative tale tackles the limits of wish-fulfillment as a rich aging man with the yen, the cash & the power to bend myth toward reality buys his way into that old saw about an aging impotent man, a young sailor substitute, and the young girl fanning their mutual fantasy. And what a wealth of imagination, feeling, tone & color Welles brings to it, offering a pallette in his first color film of red Vincente Minnelli walls & Vittorio Storaro’s crepuscular atmosphere. (The lensing is by Willy Kurant.) All accomplished with a magician’s sleight of hand, as Welles makes poetically abstract yet believable Macao China out of carefully chosen angles from his own house in Spain and the use of a few long sheets of Chinese calligraphy wrapped or draped over lintels & about columns. Jeanne Moreau is the girl, worried about passing herself off as a 17 yr-old virgin in the manner Sarah Bernhardt did in her 60s, striding to the front of the stage to declare ‘I am Jeanne d’Arc, 15 years of age!` As the sailor, prolific tv actor Norman Eshley is a Terence Stamp knock-off, but with a better, nobly sculpted nose Welles must have coveted as much as his character covets the young man’s virility. (Welles, who had issues with his insubstantial nose, goes au naturel.) Sad, beautiful, mysterious, most of all fitting.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Little did Jean Renoir realize when he used Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons as a score for THE GOLDEN COACH/’52, that the recently recovered, little known music would soon turn classy middlebrow cliché. Much the same here, as the spare Eric Satie piano music used by Welles for underscoring went from unusual to ubiquitous soon after the film appeared.

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