Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pierre Étaix Lost and Found

This is my 500th post.  I'm surprised I have stuck with this blog for as long as I have.  That's all I have to say about the milestone.  I like to see blogs where the author stopped posting.  Frequently, the posts stop without notice.  I read through the posts to see if I can discern the author's growing disengagement but typically I cannot.  Abandoned blogs are the e-detritus of people's lives.


Last week, I went to the Smith Rafael Film Center to see the Pierre Étaix series.  As I mentioned, I saw Yoyo at the 2012 Mill Valley Film Festival.  Wanting to see more of Étaix's work, I ventured to San Rafael.  As I did last time, I stopped by Sol Food.  Due to traffic, I couldn't eat before the screenings so I had a very late dinner before driving home.  Fortunately, Sol Food is open until midnight most days (2 AM on Fridays & Saturdays).  This time I had the pork chop with pink onions and the revoltillo sandwich (scrambled eggs, tomato, onion and ham).  The food was a delicious as my first visit.  I have to go to the Smith Rafael Film Center more often.

As Long As You're Healthy starring & directed by Pierre Étaix; French with subtitles; (1966)
The Suitor starring & directed by Pierre Étaix; French with subtitles; (1963)

As Long As You're Healthy was preceded by Feeling Good which was originally a segment of As Long As You're Healthy.  The Suitor was preceded by Rupture.

Feeling Good starring & directed by Pierre Étaix; French with subtitles; (1966)
Rupture starring & directed by Pierre Étaix; French with subtitles; (1961)

As Long As You're Healthy was re-edited by Étaix five years after its original release.  The film consists of four stand-alone segments.  Like Yoyo, As Long As You’re Healthy has extended scenes without dialog.

The first segment has Étaix playing a man with insomnia reading a vampire story, the second has the hapless Étaix fruitlessly trying to get a seat in a crowded movie theater, the third segment features Étaix in a restaurant with the man sitting next to him inadvertently consuming his anti-anxiety pills and the final vignette consists of a hunter (Étaix), a farmer, a picnicking couple and a wire fence which keeps getting pulled down.  Somewhere in there (the second segment I believe), Étaix visits a married couple who have all the modern conveniences.

The comedy is broad and crosses over into physical comedy but never slapstick.  As Long As You’re Healthy reminded me of a good Laurel and Hardy film.  The film never provoked an emotion.  Étaix was likely criticizing modern lifestyles (in the third segment, the automobiles put out more exhaust than a steel mill) but his character remains a detached observer.

Feeling Good involved Étaix going camping in a location that more closely resembled a concentration camp than campgrounds.

The Suitor was my favorite Étaix to date.  He plays wealthy young man who is being pressured into marriage by his parents.  A remake of Buster Keaton's Seven Chances, it's not surprising that The Suitor is the only film which created any pathos.  Again, consisting largely of stand-alone segments, Étaix bounces from one woman to the next without ever noticing the Swedish exchange student living in his parents' house.  Fleeing from the attention of a tactless and frequently drunk brunette (who reminded me of Joan Collins), Étaix sets his sights on a chanteuse...until finding out she has a son about the same age as him.  Only noticing the Swede until she has gone off to the train station for her return to Scandinavia, Étaix rushes to the station to meet her.  A little offensive if you think about it enough, the film finally provoked an emotion from me.

Rupture has Étaix trying to write a letter to his ex-girlfriend but his desk, pen and stationery won't cooperate.

As I wrote before, I was expecting (hoping?) Étaix to be closer to Jacques Tati or Charlie Chaplin.  Instead, he is more like Jerry Lewis with comedic savoir faire.  All four films (and Yoyo) were very well made comedies and I laughed frequently & heartily.  I would recommend his works but will say that although I had the opportunity to see additional Étaix films the next two nights, I was not willing to fight the traffic and pay the bridge toll for the privilege.

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