Herbie Mann Comin' Home

Friday, February 25, 2011

With Jeanne Moreau As 'Christine'

We get a lot of that, the logging debris, splinter chips, hillsides looking like a bad shave, bark-shred torn away like venison mauled-off by a bear.

Walking the moss that's grown seasons high up, now in low shadows of treelings cracked haphazardly and interlocked, we follow the path of mammals.

Last night I watched John Frankenheimer's film, the one about the train burglarizing Modern art from Paris into Germany,

The mania of a colonel steeled to steal.  He's High-Cultured, sure, a man with an eye and a purpose.

But he's a Nazi and uses the ways of The Reich to fetch the paintings home to him, chafed between their 'decadence' and excellence.

The Allies are near.  The Resistance has its work cut out, and as in all the post-War winning views, heroic French leave lives, in existential black-and-white.

Burt Lancaster, here a Frenchman, diverts the art train's path for a full screen-hour, finally chuffs up a hill, and with his bum leg slips and staggers and ultimately rolls to loosen the lugs on the railroad ties and knock out their quoins, derailing, when soon it comes, the engine and its first car.

The end takes place, in this case, by the wooded hill abutting the railway line, the way to Deutschland.

This end brings death to hostages and 'Krauts', this ends in boxes of Degas, scattered-about Seurat, piled-up Picasso, contents of the Jeu de Paume atumble amidst the timber-trash of broken ties, 

Art ambiguously crated-up from sight, inert and quiet, beautiful inside, ready for the next appreciator's ego, ready for the next dare and swaggering excuse.

Ends always come.



  1. " le train", what a nice fruit of "collaboration" between Americans and french people!I like what you say about it.I loved these simples humans fighting to save art ,more important than their own life!It's anecdotal but this film was shot in Vaires sur Marnes,very near to my village.

  2. A fine summing up in the last lines of the moveable feast of art, or in this case, I suppose the stolen feast. Wonderful Piaf...our French teacher tried very hard to implant those cascading, rolling 'r's into our midwestern mouths, but those heavenly, alien vibrations were certainly never attained...hard to believe a human throat can vocalize those trills so beautifully. Lovely smile on her face too.

  3. Amazing what the Nazi's did get away with hiding in them in salt mines. Still in all of history this area fascinates me the most, man's ability to destroy and his determination to fight for his freedom. I have seen this movie and many other's on the Great War - the black and white's for some reason seem to express the depth of its significance with more contrasts.

    And too that human's are willing to risk life to save art..is a whole study in itself...which now I must spend some time thinking about....thank you....bkm

  4. Jeanne Moreau is one of my favorites. She is so beautiful and I love her voice! I just added "The Train" to my Netflix queue and will watch it streaming. Thanks for such an interesting post.

  5. Isabelle,

    Thank you for a sense of the geography. Believe it or not, it's not too easy to 'memorize' the political placing of cities and towns -- this is just as difficult for me with England as with France or Germany or Spain or Mexico. I can sometimes manage with Canada.

    Despite the Bush Administration and its bristling against the French response to the Iraq War U.N. vote., America has a loving view of the French, especially as an ally!

    My view of Resistance fighters is very high. I can't imagine what living under occupation must have been like -- a horror show.

    As for French art and French attention to the arts -- I know of no nation more committed or more prolific.

    Thank you!


  6. Joy,

    I did here what I've not done before to any of these posted poems: I rearranged lines.

    This one now ends curtly.

    I felt I needed the 'punch' after the relative abstraction of the (now) preceding phrases.

    Piaf is one of those popular singers who embodies more than herself or her song. She's an icon. That audience -- in love with her!

    I learned to 'roll' from Spanish class, and both 'roll' and 'swallow' from German class. When I studied French on my own, I imported 'the swallow'.

    In France once, I pronounced the nearby hotel name to a bank lady, and we spent ten minutes before she offered me a slip of paper to write it down.

    I swear I did it impeccably.



  7. Barbara,

    I too kept thinking about the salt mines, which I may not have known about when I first saw this film. And this doesn't even raise the issue of private paintings stolen from camp victims.

    The barbarity humans can do!

    We see in color. Yet black-and-white films somehow -- by convention alone? -- come across as more 'real'. That whole issue is worth a full conversation.

    Lancaster, in the film, was shown to be indifferent to the art. Silently, when Scofield as the Nazi berates him for being too 'low' to understand the value of the paintings, he just turns toward the dead (20?) hostages who were just pointlessly killed, then turns back to Scofield and empties several rounds into him.

    End of discussion. We're used to Nazi brutality. It's a bit unsettling, though, to see a 'moral' decision that involves summary killing.


  8. Kristen,

    I think you'll like the movie. By today's standards, there's little gore and much more clarity as to moral character.

    Moreau was quite a beauty in her day!


  9. Wow, you really pack some great imagery into this first stanza. I really like "hillsides looking like a bad shave". And what a chilling last line. Now I want to see the movie. L.o.v.e. Piaf.

  10. Love Piaf - especially this song and now I want to see the movie although I have a slight problem imagining Lancaster as a Frenchman?

  11. Tess,

    So right about the imagizing of the early stanza! I think I do that in order to set slow what becomes a rapid 'narrative summary' later.

    Then I go to the abstractions. Go figure!

    Movie is well worth seeing. Frankenheimer was a television director, I believe, do the old Studio Ones and 'early days of prestige tv' things -- and incorporated that theatrical starkness into many films (Seven Days in May was another).

    Piaf -- a gem!


  12. Bee,

    Thanks for dropping by!

    I've had 'Milord' in my humming repertory for years and didn't know where I picked it up until I got a chance to 'get into' Piaf. She's marvelous.

    Lancaster is a physical guy. He plays a physical guy here. His clothes look accurately 'working French', his name is Labiche, and he dangles a Gauloises from his lips.

    It works.

    (And Paul Scofield plays the German.)