Saturday, August 15, 2020

Landscape near Arles

In 1908 Pathé created their own version of Le Film d’Art, the new initiative to make more highbrow films whose first production, starring actors from the Comédie-Française, was The Assassination of the Duke of Guise. The Pathé version was the Société Cinématographique des Auteurs et Gens de Lettres and its first film was L'Arlésienne. The film is remarkable not for its acting (lots of arm waving) but for its technical sophistication (use of double exposure to illustrate the hero Frédéric’s hallunications) and use of real locations, most notably the amphitheatre at Arles. At 3 minutes 15 there is a remarkable 180 degree pan across the Provençal landscape. There are also a few other scenes which give a real sense of place, like the image above of a Frédéric deciding to marry his childhood sweetheart rather than the woman of Arles he met at the amphitheatre.

Of course one of the pleasures of seeing glimpses of Arles in 1908 is knowing that it was exactly twenty years earlier that Van Gogh and Gauguin we re painting there. The Gauguin picture below could almost be a view of the farmhouse where Frédéric lives. L'Arlésienne was based on one of the stories in Alphonse Daudet's Letters from My Windmill (1872).  I've never got round to reading this so I will quote from a Guardian piece on the book: 

'There are impressive tragedies at a scant 1,500 words, like the backstories to single paragraphs in an old newspaper: the inn depressed to ruin by deaths in the family, the farm boy obsessed by a flirt from Arles farandoling in her velvet and lace. Daudet based a melodrama on her with music by Bizet, but the stage version expands to lassitude. His sense of place was strongest when pent up in his fragments.'

This music by Bizet can be heard as the soundtrack to the film. And there is one more cultural link (which I read about on the Cinema History blog): the plot of L'Arlésienne is based on a real story which was told to Daudet by Frédéric Mistral, the great poet of Provence, whose statue now stands in Arles. A nephew of Mistral's, disappointed in live, committed suicide by throwing himself out of the window of the family house.

 Paul Gauguin, Landscape near Arles, 1888

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