Double Exposure: Jean-Pierre Melville

“Call him Melville. He picks his way through the rubble, skirts along charred walls, climbs over a roof beam here, steps on a windowpane there, bits of glass scraping underfoot like the screak of winter snow. He moves through interconnecting alleyways as through the maze of a Moroccan souk, sheer-sided as a prison perimeter, buttressed by fire-blackened metal uprights. A ladder much too short to scale a particular wall leans its lacquered wood against the pitted limestone, scored and scraped by tortured ghosts. A vacant lot in the 13th arrondissement, it looks from above like a concrete maze ringed by three- and four-story buildings. The surrounding dilapidation, the washing hung from the windows, mark the precincts of his ‘cobbler’s stall,’ as he liked to call his movie studio. Only the outer defenses of the fortress are left, tracing the rue Jenner and the rue Jeanne d’Arc, a ghost town of 12,000 square feet looking just like something from a modern western, between the elevated Chevaleret Métro stop and La Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital. A corner of America, a fantasy drawn straight from a Sinatra song, the streets are lined with fences that hide vacant lots and shadowy dealings. Debris collects in pyramids, boards, broken furniture, segments of doors, tangled with lengths of twisted metal. His Ford Mustang is parked in front of the local bar, its state-of-the-art cassette player oozing Miles Davis, a car sequence from Elevator to the Gallows. Jean-Pierre Melville walks down the central alley sporting a Stetson, Ray-Ban shades, and a trench coat, personification of the lone sniper who curses his fate, curses the plots to bring him down—him, the solitary man. In a huge room, the scarred plaster of its walls flaking, he stops and savors fire’s random opus: ‘This lovely abstract composition was made by the fire, and I think that Cocteau would have found it very beautiful. I mention Cocteau because in 1949 I had a small set in this exact spot, a small auditorium where I shot the greater part of Les enfants terribles, and I remember making Cocteau run around the microphone before recording his heartbeat. That’s the heartbeat you hear in the film.’ It is 1970. The studio on the rue Jenner burned down three years ago, on June 29, 1967, during the filming of The Samouraï. The abandoned factory, converted in 1955, caught fire in the middle of the night. Melville is asleep, alone, his wife, Florence, is away. …”
MUBI – Jean-Pierre Melville: The Moral Dimension of Crime
W – Code Name Melville, Criterion – Code Name Melville ($)
YouTube: The Complete Jean-Pierre Melville – Criterion Channel Teaser

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