Friday, December 3, 2010

On Watching a 16mm Print of Truffaut's The Green Room

There I sat, on a Wednesday evening at a filmclub of sorts called Moviate, in Midtown Harrisburg, snugly nestled amongst the throngs of film lovers packing the screening of Truffaut's all-but unknown 1978 film adaptation of the Henry James novella "The Altar of the Dead".  Well, most of that opening sentence is correct at least.  The blatant lie shoved in there, like a glaring, flaming albatross (at least to me) is the whole flapdoodle about the throngs of film lovers.  In sad reality, there were only three of us (four if you include Moviate's head honcho and projectionist) at this Wednesday evening screening - but even more sadly is the fact that this is probably considered a good crowd for such an event here in the boondocks of central PA.
Anyway, soapboxing about the dearth of culture in America aside (and trust me, I can ramble on quite incessantly about that angering subject!), allow my short critique about this mid-week cinematic experience to get under way before everyone is completely bored out of their respective skulls at the aforementioned rambling.

The Green Room has got to be one of the least known (and least seen) of all of Francois Truffaut's oeuvre, so even on the scratchy, colour-saturated 16mm print that we throngs of three were privy to is a welcome kind of joy.  Based on the aforementioned James novella, Truffaut weaves a story of a disenfranchised man in the late 1920's, having been through the horror of the Great War only to return and lose his beautiful young bride mere months after their wedding.  This quite morose protagonist, played by Truffaut himself with an almost zombie-like stoicism (perhaps this is less a character driven thing and more an inability to act kind of thing in many ways), makes it his life's duty to honour "his" dead - those who have been part of his life (either in a major way or the most minor).

This self-imposed honourable duty begins in the titular green room of the man's provincial French house and eventually concludes in a newly-rebuilt chapel, with enough fluttering candles and Gothic atmosphere to make one expect a horror movie to pop out of the woodwork at any moment - it is after all, based on Henry James.  It is a strange movie indeed, never really going anywhere, but never really meaning to either.  Perhaps not up there with the so-called creme de la creme of Truffaut works, but with its deep set cinematic eyes and its overtly Gothic mannerisms and the director's strangely one-note performance, The Green Room is more than an interesting diversion on a Wednesday night in Midtown Harrisburg.

The thing that most satisfied me - and the film historian inside me (and the self-referential junky inside there) - was what would be the semi-climactic set piece of the renovated chapel and the "dead" laying to rest there.  Candles burning in every corner, Truffaut's character has hung pictures of all those he has lost, and it is in these pictures that we see a glimpse of the cinephile inside Truffaut (not that he has ever kept this persona very hidden from us).  Pictures of Oskar Werner, Jeanne Moreau, Oscar Wilde and even Henry James line these flame-lapped walls as an ode to Truffaut's own "dead" (or in some cases, his past friends and idols).
What more can one say?  Not much I suppose.  The Green Room, while interesting and even exhilarating at times, never imposes the feelings films such as The 400 Blows or Jules et Jim or The Wild Child or Shoot the Piano Player have and still do.  Still though, this little seen film (even on scratchy 16mm) is a fun look at the auteur of all auteurs at his Gothic giddiest - stoic as it may well seem, in what very well may be the director's least lively tale ever.  Perhaps it is my desire for the life in cinema as opposed to the death inside it, that makes me place this film lower on the proverbial totem pole than I probably should, for it is a well-crafted and well-manicured look at death and what it means to those still living.


Valerie Troutman said...

It could be worse. You could live in Coatesville. Just kidding, that's my Dad's hometown and I live in California so I don't know.

Sounds at least as interesting as The Innocents, if not as good.

Kevyn Knox said...

I do joke a bit about the boondocks, but I am less than three hours from NYC, so it is not that bad. The film is quite interesting as well.