Bob le Flambeur

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A new box-set to relish, six French cinema classics by a cult director, along with a wealth of fascinating extras on a seventh DVD. The French film-maker Jean-Pierre Melville belongs to a class of his own: a precursor of the New Wave, an influence on Godard, Louis Malle and others, and a successor to French film noir directors such as Pierre Chenal and Edmond T Gréville.

He is most celebrated for stylish thrillers in which archetypal gangsters and lawmen are pitted against each other in a complex duel that unfolds with the tragic predictability of classical Greek drama. These films are often as slow-moving as Robert Bresson, tortuously plotted, and shot through with moral ambiguity as well as displays of anti-heroism tainted by betrayal and duplicity. Melville’s masterpieces include Le Doulos, featuring a ruthless police informer, played to perfection by Jean-Paul Belmondo, or Bob le flambeur, one of the first French films to rely on handheld camera-work and moody location shooting, and Le Cercle Rouge with a star-studded cast that includes Alain Delon as an English ex-con, Yves Montand and Gian-Maria Volonté.Like many French film-makers, Melville – who had borrowed his name while fighting in the résistance from the author of Moby Dick– was influenced by Hollywood, not least by William Wyler and John Huston. The appeal of his work comes in part from the seductive fantasy world (strangely but appealingly mid-Atlantic) he created: with quintessentially Gallic characters who wear hats and raincoats straight out of a cartoon Raymond Chandler universe. Melville was something of an automobile fetishist. Many of the bad men’s cars are big American saloons with space-age tailfins, that sail around with sinister grace, while the cops often drive the equally stylish Citroën DS19. There are recurring scenes in bars with elaborate floor-shows, proto-bunny girls and pole dancers, and cool jazz bands, a backdrop to the disenchanted drama that takes place in this underworld of pimps, executioners, robbers and cops.

These are the films that have made Melville a cult director. It’s disappointing that two of the best of this genre, Le samouraï and Le deuxième souffle are not included in the box-set. But two of his masterpieces in other genres are: L’armée des ombres, a gripping account of the French resistance with Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret in particularly fine form, and Léon Morin, prêtre, another wartime drama, which pits a communist atheist, in full spiritual crisis, magnificently played by Emmanuelle Riva, against Belmondo, unusually cast as a totally engaged young priest. This tale of repressed sexuality and liberation theology is surprisingly similar in feel to Melville’s film policiers, dramas that explore in fine and ambiguous detail the difficulty and perhaps impossibility of unequivocal ethical behaviour. This malaise, mixed with a touch of melancholy, gives Melville a quality of greatness, and an undisputed place in the history of French cinema.From 1971 to 1983, Bob Colacello directed Interview, a monthly magazine created by Andy Warhol . In 1990, three years after Pope’s death Pop Art, Colacello delivered the best biography of Andy, the most warholian too: sarcastic, based on nocturnal memories, and delivered in a tsunami of name-dropping society. Holy Terror is finally translated into French. The opportunity to return with the delicious Bob Colacello on the 70s in New York, where Interview invented a new way of doing journalism, halfway between William Burroughs and American Psycho.

What boy were you when you joined the Factory? A boy too young, not prepared for that. I wrote movie reviews for The Village Voice using an intellectual style. When Gerard Malanga asked me to introduce myself to Interview, I did not touch land anymore: Warhol was a god for me. I had seen Chelsea Girls five times. This 1966 film that showed people injecting amphetamines, girls kissing girls and boys kissing boys had opened my eyes to what art could …

How was Andy Warhol seen by the New York intelligentsia? Vast subject … Andy played transvestites, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn were her “superstars” … They played with the codes of Hollywood stars all the time. Candy could recite to you all of Kim Novak’s dialogues in Picnic, a 1955 film. That was the deep culture of the camp at the Factory. Some people in front of a Warhol movie with Candy Darling were wondering, ” But that’s a joke, their thing?”Yes, it’s a farce, a parody replay. And no, it’s not just a joke. It’s deep, the way Candy grabs the codes of the star to impose herself in a society that sees her as a monster. Warhol was very attacked on that. The European critics respected him, but not the American critic, who found him superficial, compared to other artists of his generation such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella. Andy had only one American retrospective during his lifetime, at Whitney. The name of Warhol in the 70s, you found it in the “gossips”, where you could know if he had gone to Studio 54 and with whom – Bianca Jagger, most of the time.

How was the transition between the underground world and Park Avenue organized?Andy had worked during the 50’s for Tiffany’s and for fashion as an illustrator. He already had connections. But what made this switch to Park Avenue was his huge paranoid crisis of 1968, after Valerie Solanas shot him. From there, he was suspicious of speed freaks, he fired a lot of people at the Factory, surrounded himself with people like Fred Hughes or myself, fresh out of middle class “colleges” and who were looking for a job with Andy, not a host family. Things have become more framed, more commercial: Fred Hughes had the idea of ​​the portraits paid by the sponsors, and the worldly life for Andy has turned into a strategic plan: to integrate such circle to obtain such order, and to make live the Factory. But not only : there is a history of portraits commissioned by the powerful, it is even an important part of the history of art, and Andy was part of this lineage. And it was also a way for him to continue his analysis of celebrity.

The magazine had a purpose in this plan? Interview was initially designed by Gerard Malanga, to promote the underground cinema and defend a taste “camp” deviant for the Hollywood stars of the 50s. One of the first numbers, remained mythical, was only illustrated with photos of Rita Hayworth without no relation to the texts. When I became editor, I edited a poem by Glenn O’Brien on Elvis, and Andy came to see me saying, “Bob, never again poetry in the paper, nor articles. Now we’re just going to transcribe long-term conversations. ” Interviewhad to extend the recording strength of his films. We expanded with fashion, and that brought other contacts, then a column of gossips, which reflected what Andy’s worldly life was but quickly established itself as a mirror in which a certain world in New York wanted to look at each other. Gradually, everyone dreamed of this mix, everyone began to make these dinners where the Chinese ambassador, Bob Wilson, one or two models, drag-queens, Truman Capote. Around 1973-74, New York began to look like the magazine’s summary. Which was, however, just a little tinkered magazine, very difficult to mount. I was 23, I was paid a semi-misery, the interviews were transcribed by the secretary of the Factory, we abused the address book of Andy or Fred Hughes. But the genius is that the interviews were not promotional exercises. Interviewing Faye Dunaway or Jack Nicholson was eating with them, spinning the tape recorder and talking with them about life, taking a moment and delivering it almost unchanged, according to Andy’s own voyeuristic urge. Andy was coming to the table, dropping his tape recorder and saying, “I introduce you to my wife: Sonia … ” We began to describe the people on the surface, in a completely neutral way, according to what they were wearing, which Bret Easton Ellis then applied for American Psycho.

You no longer frequent the Lower East Side? More restaurants on the Upper East Side, you know these restaurants with wonderful French names, such as the Pavilion, the Frog, the Basque Coast, where chic ladies, ladys, used to have lunch in years 70.

“We all worked for Andy, we let him all know about our lives”

The Basque Coast was held by a certain Henriette. Henriette would never have allowed a woman to eat in her restaurant in trousers. We are in the 70s … (He looks up at the sky.) Once we were there with Paulette Goddard (former movie star, married between 1936 and 1942 to Charlie Chaplin, Ed), and Maria Cooper, the Gary Cooper’s daughter. These ladies were in fur coat and pants: they fled to the bathroom, took off their pants and crossed the room with their fur, with nothing underneath …

What man was Warhol? Magnetic and despotic. We all worked for nothing for Andy. We all let Andy know everything about our lives. Worse: it was shaking that he does not call us at night to tell him our intimacy. Still, I hated his intrusive questions, I said to him , “Stop, Andy, I’m dead right now.” But he said to me, ” But Bob, when will you understand that I live my life through yours?”

Nothing is known about your private life by reading the book … This is not entirely true. That’s right about my love life. The book tells a social life in the wake of Andy, the point of view of a type of middle class immersed in this ocean of international society. But he does not hide that I took drugs. I could not do otherwise, when I tell you about the cocaine invasion of New York, how everyone around 1972 ended up in the bathroom, men or women, whatever, I could not make the reader believe that I was there, hum, as an observer …

There is no picture of you either in this book. Did Bob Colacello really exist? Ha ha, I do not know, I just found dozens of notebooks that I transcribed. All this was perhaps a fiction, after all …

Holy Terror by Bob Colacello (Editions Séguier, 976 pages, translated from English by Laureen Parslow).