Tuesday, September 07, 2021 —(On September 20, the full moon, “Harvest”, will rise nearest to earth.)
The French film star Jean Paul Belmondo has died. I’m fondly remembering him along with “those days” of new foreign films.
Everybody loves movies and for years Hollywood cranked them out, one after another, usually using tried and true script formulas. Some notable rebellions made it into Hollywood shootings, becoming standouts, like the creative actor Marlon Brando and the genius innovator Orson Welles.
In the early sixties, alternatives to the “Hollywood look” began arriving in tiny experimental theaters, usually refurbished old movie houses that sold tickets cheaply. They showed the films considered as “New Waves” from France, “Italian realism” from (of course) Italy, and (along with the Beatles) refreshing British views of youth and social maturing.
My family loved movies. They were family nights out. They were afternoon babysitters for kids out of school. I grew up watching Hollywood’s weekly putouts. As a youngster living in Oklahoma, I couldn’t get enough of popular singing cowboys with beautiful horses who always won against the bad guys.
As I matured and at first, I disliked new films popping up from overseas. Not the “usual movies”, they seemed pointless and silly against Hollywood patterns. It took my head awhile to “get it”, or to understand that a couple of hours of film content hinted at larger human stories, more complicated than a viewing episode captured.
The upshot was that new films taught me to view and appreciate art. They taught to look carefully at screen action and listen to dialogue, while my viewer’s brain toyed with often-abstract possibilities. They could broaden a film’s palette by hinting at and enlarging ideas into all-human stories.
Belmondo was a capable actor, a cool guy, his face not nearly Hollywood handsome, who spoke always in French. His on-screen work made everything come across, through voice, meanings, and intent. That era produced many more great, memorable non-Hollywood actors. Belmondo’s passing reminds me of many and some fabulous films in which they acted.
It’s time for me to stash these memories, get into the moment and go outside to feed horses. I’ll add that the actors, fine as they were, weren’t the New Wave’s primary driving force. Behind that new film art were creative directors, writers, and camera-folks who created the ideas, made the films. They occupy a special category in the history of great film art.
Dear Friends: Pauline Kael’s (1965), I LOST IT AT THE MOVIES, tells how film touches human hearts. Diana