Close Up

18 June 2017: Take Two: Johnny Guitar / Pierrot le fou


"In the 50s, the critics of Cahiers du Cinéma turned their gaze upon Hollywood, with Nicholas Ray an undeniably important influence on the French New Wave. Godard famously wrote in a review of Ray’s Bitter Victory (1957), "Cinema is Nicholas Ray", a statement that epitomised both his admiration of a certain type of maverick American filmmaker, as well as his disdain for a nation unable to recognise its artistic greats. Ray’s influence, although evident in Godard’s writing, is difficult to isolate in his films. However, there are numerous references to his work. In Le Mépris (1963), Michel Piccoli’s character claims to have written Ray’s Bigger than Life (1956), and in Pierrot le fou (1965) Belmondo’s character allows his maid go and watch Johnny Guitar for the third time because "she must educate herself". It could be argued that Godard’s abrupt editing style is where Ray’s influence is best observed, an argument supported by Godard’s dedication of Made in U.S.A. (1966) to both Ray and Samuel Fuller, who "taught me respect for image and sound"."– BFI

Johnny Guitar
Nicholas Ray
1954 | 110 min | Colour | DCP

"Ray’s second color film marks an important turning point in his career toward the blatantly stylized, melodramatic style that would become his trademark and calling card. A terrifically hardened, masculine Joan Crawford balances a chip on her shoulder pads as saloonkeeper Vienna, locked in a passionate battle of wills with Mercedes McCambridge’s malicious, rageful cattle baron. Ray’s vision of the barely-civilized West reads as a graphic allegory for the Communist witch hunts that were winnowing careers in Hollywood, with a blood-thirsty lynch mob standing in for McCarthy and his cohorts. With its primal emotions, pointedly unrealistic sets, brilliant dialogue by Philip Yordan, electric use of color and unconcealed sexual tension, Johnny Guitar is, together with Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious, one of Hollywood’s strangest Westerns, and a delirious high point in Ray’s idiosyncratic career.” –Harvard Film Archive

Pierrot le fou
Jean-Luc Godard
1965 | 110 min | Colour | DCP

"In this stunning exploration of personal and global violence, Godard depicts the picaresque journey across France of a disaffected Everyman and his girlfriend, who become involved in criminal activities along the way. The film includes direct references to Angola, Vietnam, and South Africa as it employs a dramatic and symbolic use of color. The film’s abstracted directorial style is perhaps best explained by the director’s response to the question of why it contains so much blood: "It is not blood but red." The film also features brief appearances by director Sam Fuller and actor Jean-Pierre Léaud." – Harvard Film Archive