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On Movies, Plays, etc.

My Parisian days were, as consequence, rather hectic. To begin with, I devoted myself with systematic fury to see all the possible plays and all the possible movies. I saw five plays (two of them, excellent; two, mediocre; one, definitively bad) and as many movies as you can count with . . . [your] fingers. One ofthem —“Les liaisons dangereuses”— you will never see unless you go to France; the export permit has not been granted. It is a pity, for the director has done his best to show his talent. Perhaps you have read de Laclos novel with the same title— an impressive Eighteenth Century display of sensual Cartesianism. The movie is a skillful adaptation to the Twentieth Century of de Laclospsychological finesse. I saw “About the soufflé,” usually called “the French Private Property,’ ”— and “Private Property”— by common consent called “the American‘About the soufflé’ ” I saw a couple of things of the indefatigable Mr. Bergman. I have now forgotten what else I saw, but I hope you are realizing that I had my share of the show world to the point that I got tired of it. You cannot spend your life in movie houses and theater houses; after all, you are supposed to be an actor and not a spectator of life (whatever this last word means). [Paris, Aug. 20, 1960]

I read the New Yorker's review of the two French movies you talk about. I sharply disagree with the reviewer. There is a certain tendency among American reviewers to think that French movies, whether of the New or the Old “vogue,” are mere bedtime stories. To be sure, they are. But the New Yorker's reviewer, who lives in France, should know better: bedtime stories in France are like ham and eggs in America, but nobody would say that a movie showing a certain amount of ham and eggs here and there is about ham and eggs. And the nudity of lovers is a tricky affair: it all depends, as usual, upon the lovers. Most of the ones shown in said stories are cute enough to deserve the honor of a carefree presentation. [Paris, Sept. 1960]

So . . . you think that my taste, as far as movies are concerned, is debatable, if not downright perverse, and that, at any rate, my recommendations on this subject reveal, rather than my aesthetic sensibility, some sort of existenziell (or is it existenzial) Leitfaden or perhaps a winding and meandering character. And to think that I believed my aesthetic judgment was angelically pure! It may, indeed, happen that “Breathless” is less good than I thought it was at one time; perhaps I was in a benevolentmood. [Paris, 1962]

I have seen a few movies, including “The Hustler,” which you recommended, and had reasons for, since this is one of the best American movies I have ever had the opportunity to perscrutate. There is (or rather, was) only one theatrical performance worth seeing; Valéry's “Mon Faust,” and I saw it. [Paris, July 18, 1962]

Went to see 8½. I stronglyrecommend it, This is not a movie; it is a whole universe. Don't miss it; Ihope you will not be disappointed. I certainly wasn't. It's a real beaut.[Paris, nd]

I saw Bergman's movie. It may not be as good as others by the same vigorous Swede, but it is still quite worth seeing. As a matter of fact, now that I think of it I find it better than when I saw it. [Paris, nd]

I saw “Sunday and Cybéle” and I found it wonderful. . . . It is a beautiful piece, with a Corot-like, or something-like photographic background. . . . A very fine picture I think.[Bryn Mawr, nd]

Yesterday I saw the last of Ingmar Bergman's movies, the one entitled (in Swedish) "Tystnaden" and translated, I assume rightly, as "The Silence." Ester is a puritan lesbian who loves her sister, Ann...Ann has a very young son who almost watches his mother sleeping with a stranger—the perfect stranger, for they ignore each otheršs language. It is a great movie, on the theme of "We are alone," and with the usual Bergman mixture of sex and religion, and what not. [Paris, March 24, 1964]

With reference to "The Silence" it would seem that is has been cut—and probably "cut down"—in the American version, but, of course, according to the most sophisticated commentators, the movie has nothing to do with sex; only with God, religion, and other Kierkegaardian anxieties. Therefore, nobody is really shocked. [ Paris, April,1964]

I have seen a Polish movie that I strongly recommend to you: the original title is something like Posciag (or Pociag, God knows with how many diacritical signs), translated as Train de Nuit, namely, although the last translation is utterly unnecessary, Night Train. It is remarkable in all senses, as a picture of mankind, of womankind, of manhood, and so on. [Paris, April, 1964]

Have you seen "The Servant"—a movie by Joseph Losey? If not, please hurry up to see it; it is a masterpiece. Time magazine points out that :"Director Losey's camera peers into the British caste system like an evil-minded snoop," but that is far from being all. The movie, indeed, raises the Hegelain questions as well. Even if it did not raise any questions, it wouldn't matter; a masterpiece of art is a masterpiece of art, and that's that. The picture is considered "shocking," because of the sex "questions" involved in it, I myself find it very puritan, since it tends to view sex as Evil, and I have told you my opinion thereupon. Losey produced before another picture, "Eva," which is truly remarkable, but not as much as "The Servant" is. [ Paris, April, 1964]

Yesterday I saw a ballet—the classical Cinderella, this time with Prokofiev's music—although I am not much in favor of traditional "ballet" with all its artificousness, I could not help admiring what happens to the human body when it dances so gracefully. Does it become a soul? Or is it just one way—another way—of being a body? I should swear by the latter interpretation, if only to be consistent. All things considered, when the human body is well made, and knows how to move around and about, it is well made, indeed. Valéry said interesting things about "Soul and Dancing"; I have, though, forgotten everything that he had said—although I still remember some of the things that Plato said to that effect. Should the "philosophy of dance" be included in a 101 course, Semester I? [Paris, April, 1964]

I could tell you something about various plays and movies I have seen recently, but I have seen so many that I am beginning to forget what was what. Yesterday night I saw a wonderful piece by a French Playwright—Audiberti—who is well known, but not appreciated—there were not more than two dozen people in the auditorium, despite being a new play which started only a week ago. The reason for this lack of appreciation lies, I assume, in the "Shakespearian" manner of the writer; his play is literally bursting with life. One of the characters, the main character, of this play is a medieval "chavalier" who rolls over the girls with great gusto, and far from feeling any sense of guilt he declares that it is truly great, and even "religious." [Paris, April, 1964]

I've seen a few movies: Bergman's "Persona—good, of course, but critics not withstanding, inferior to others ("The Silence," "Wild Strawberries," etc.); "The War is Over"—good; "La Collectioneuse"—boring to death, despite the beautiful photography by my friend, Nestor Almendros, the cameraman; this proves that photography by itself does not make a good movie; "Mord und Totschlag"— German monstrosity; four "shorties," including Kenneth Anger's "Scorpio Rising," which is much gorier than, say, "The Hunt." [Paris, 1967]

Sorry about my nasty remarks on "The Sound of Music," which I must confess I have never seen. Julie Andrews I saw once on a TV program, and there is no doubt that she is a very skillful actress; indeed, a much better actress than most. Wholesome, but charming." [Paris, 1967]

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