Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) and La Ronde (1950)
Max Ophüls never stopped moving. But he’s been called a “Viennese” filmmaker, for the sophisticated sensibility, sensuality and psychology exemplified by these two exquisite films set in the city in 1900 (although shot in the US and France). Stanley Kubrick paid tribute to his filmmaking hero with Eyes Wide Shut, his contemporary ‘take’ on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle, and Ophüls’ adaption of Schnitzler’s play Reigen is equally ingenious: a merry-go-round musical of interlocking love stories light as a feather and deep as a dream. Letter… replays La Ronde’s comedy as tragedy through the contrasting perspectives of its dashing composer protagonist (Louis Jourdan) and the lovelorn female narrator (Joan Fontaine) whose love he longs for and carelessly lost. Sofa, snacks, swoon.
Substitutions: Upper-class ultra-romantic drama Madame de… (1953) might be the closest cinema ever got to the great nineteenth-century novels, but in the purest of film form (how does the camera navigate the tiny jewellers’ shop?), while love/hate career closer Lola Montès (1955) (look for the 2008 restoration) is a theatrical fever dream, the century-sweeping story of the titular dancer/muse/lover, and tone-poem to Eastmancolor.
The Hidden Gem: For an early and inventive working of classic Ophüls style and themes (and staircases), choose La signora di tutti (1934). It made Isa Miranda a star – even as it told the story of the fall of glamorous, haunted film star Gaby Doriot. It’s the only film Ophüls made in Italy, and as gloriously operatic as you’d imagine.
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Laura Mulvey talking Max Ophüls, will be released on February 29, 2016.