Don Malcolm and Phoebe Green explain the particulars of their new French revival series to Owen Field.The first of four films taking lovers of THE FRENCH HAD A NAME FOR IT into non-noir regions of classic French cinema will play in the intimate confines of the Little Roxie Theatre in San Francisco on April 4 at 6:30 pm, with a repeat screening on Saturday April 6 at 4:30. Consider it a “Sneak Preview” for a potentially landmark collection of cinematic discoveries rivaling the ongoing French noir juggernaut that enters Year 5 with two series later in 2019.
The film, ENTRÉE DES ARTISTES (aka THE CURTAIN RISES), is a 1938 drama featuring France’s most legendary classic thespian Louis Jouvet, in a role where he’s essentially playing himself as the director of a prestigious Parisian acting academy. There we are witnesses as youth, love, betrayal, heartache, backstage intrigue and tragedy ensue, thanks to Jouvet and crew (and the slick screenwriting skills of Henri Jeanson, nearly as legendary in his field as Jouvet was in his). A wonderful lineup of budding young stars (Bernard Blier, Odette Joyeux, Claude Dauphin) provides support for Jouvet, and noir fans will enjoy a late-in-the-action cameo from Marcel Dalio as a police inspector.
We caught up with Don Malcolm and his “partner in non-crime,” translator and Francophile Phoebe Green, via conference call. They made it clear that this is, as Don puts it, “just as big a deal as what’s been unearthed on the noir side.” After re-reading the transcript, it’s hard to disagree. You’d best get to the Roxie site for tickets ASAP, as the seating for this first film in the series is limited.
Owen Field: Isn’t upending the historical understanding of film noir enough for you guys?
Don Malcolm: Man cannot live by noir alone.
OF: Is this the brainchild of the mysterious Phoebe Green?
Phoebe Green: Yes and no. We shouldn’t typecast dear old Don.
DM: They’ve run out of numbers for those who want to do that anyway
OF: Seriously, what is the thinking here? Might not it be better to launch this all at once?
DM: Phoebe suggested that the variety of genres in this slice of vintage French film would be better to approach in a way where the films were initially given more individual weight.
PG: And since French noir is ongoing, we thought we could reach out to that audience and offer them a way into these films without the level of commitment and stamina needed for those festivals.
OF: So there’s a method to the madness of this “slow open.”
DM: A dollop of caution, and a lot of Louis Jouvet!
PG: Don noticed how people gravitate towards Jouvet and his screen presence, so we thought we could start with him.
OF: The first film for this series, THE CURTAIN RISES (ENTRÉE DES ARTISTES) is a larger-than-life portrayal of Jouvet. He is really playing himself, right?
PG: Yes, but he adds some interesting mannerisms we haven’t seen before.
DM: The realism of the acting class scenes is striking, and you can sense the genuine respect—reverence, even—that the young actors have for him.
OF: And these are, in many cases, actors who became significant figures in French film in the years to come.
DM: Including several who became prominent in French noir.
PG: It’s fascinating to see a 23-year-old Bernard Blier, isn’t it?
OF: Absolutely. But the stars of the triangle story that drives the action in the film are also quite good.
DM: The hope is that all of these actors and actresses, who are not necessarily as well represented in the world of French noir, will get their chance to shine in this series.
OF: So what is the plan as we get past your “soft open”?
DM: The noir series continues this year in the big theatre, but is going to go on hiatus after that.
PG: We hope THE OTHER SIDE can be grown into a follow-on to it, but it seemed sensible to start it out this year while the noir audience was still at its peak.
OF: So it’s the French version of “bait and switch,” n-est-ce pas?
DM: Not switch—expand one’s horizons! As already noted, man cannot live by noir alone.
PG: French film from the cinema de papa isn’t boring or “academic.” Nor is it a one-trick pony. We love all of it, including the noir—but we think folks will be delighted by these films as they discover them.
For more information about ENTRÉE DES ARTISTES and the balance of the 2019 schedule for THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LOST CONTINENT series, go to Midcentury Productions. For tickets to April 4 or April 6 screenings, go the Roxie ticket page