L'enfer De Henri-George Clouzot (Clouzot's Inferno) and Gone With the Pope at the Dryden

Although I didn't bother with a pass this year, I did head out to two films I wanted to see at The 360|365 Film Festival (formerly the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival): L'enfer De Henri-George Clouzot (Clouzot's Inferno) and Gone With the Pope, screening in sequence at the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.)

The former is a quasi-documentary about the respected French director Henri-George Clouzot and how he failed to complete L'enfer in 1964.  It's also sort-of a completion of that film.  The gist is that it was to be a film about jealousy and obsession. Serge Reggiani plays an older man married to the much younger Romy Schneider. They buy a small hotel together, yet whenever the train rumbles across the trellis bridge high above, Reggiani's character grows insane with jealousy. The physical world distorts and all he sees is his the parts of his wife's actions that suggest infidelity. It may be all in his head; it may be true; it may be both.

Clouzot began some experimentation with visual effects for the distortions. When the studio saw his work, the gave him literally a blank check, so he continued experimenting — creating some astonishing effects in the process. He was late to start actual shooting, and despite his insomnia, was unable to keep the three film crews shooting efficiently. He pushed them and his actors beyond their limits. Some walked off — Reggiani eventually did. Even worse: there was a physical deadline because the lake adjacent to the location was to feed a soon-to-be operational hydroelectric dam and essentially disappear.

So he became obsessed. He tried pushing things further. He shot scenes that were already complete. He essentially drove the production full-speed into the impending deadline. But once he had his heart attack on set, that was pretty much the end. Although he survived, he never finished the picture.

The documentary explains all this, and is fully worthwhile to see even if only for the sampling of brilliant effects shots (or, if you prefer, images of the adorable Romy Schneider and her gorgeous co-star Dany Carrel mostly wearing bikinis). Clouzot's goal was to create a film like none other — an entirely new kind of film-making. And I think he succeed perfectly. He made a film about obsession, and it was never to be completed. And by presenting it in titillating bits and pieces through the documentary filter, the obsessive feeling is perfectly achieved. I desperately want to see the finished product, but I know that any real version of the film would absolutely fail to be perfect enough — the very definition of obsession. If Clouzot wasn't consciously aware of it, his artist's heart certainly was: I believe some part of him certainly knew that not completing the film was the only way to properly obey the art.

After a brief intermission, I was back to see Duke Mitchell's Gone With the Pope. In some ways it was similar to L'enfer De Henri-George Clouzot (Clouzot's Inferno) in that it was a labor of love, created only when the conditions were right. It's different in that it's a raunchy exploitation film from the 1970's and shot on a very limited budget. Apparently Mitchell was a lounge performer in Las Vegas, and used his connections with casino operators to get permission to shoot his film on weekends. Using amateur actors, a fresh-out-of-film-school talented cinematographer, and the passionate performance of Mitchell himself, he set out to make a film about mob hits and, apparently, a loving criticism of the Catholic church — nearly a prayer to God in fact.

So once he got the film shot, he edited a rough cut but eventually stopped working on it. His son Jeffrey Mitchell (who also wrote and performed several songs for the film) became caretaker when his father died in 1981. Bob Murawski of Grindhouse Releasing liked Duke Mitchell's earlier film Massacre Mafia Style and tracked down Jeffrey Mitchell. Mitchell mentioned to Murawski that he had a bunch of material from his father's incomplete film and offered it to see what Murawski could do with it.

So Murawski, being an established editor in Hollywood (editing Spider-Man, for instance) decided to tinker with editing Mitchell's unfinished film in his spare time. The result is Gone With the Pope. I think it got finished perfectly in exactly the right way. Mitchell started it as a labor of love in the 1970's — finding the best people he could to do the task. You could say that he never found a suitable editor — at least one who would work for cheap and do a good job — until years after his own death when Murawski picked it up and did exactly that.

Murawski and executive-producer Chris Innis were on hand to answer questions and provide a lot of the background story I told about the film. One last bit of trivia: Murawski surmised that Mitchell would do exactly one take for every shot, sometimes writing the dialog in marker on a legal pad for his actors to read. As such, almost every shot was included in the resulting film.

In all it's a wonderful cinematic experience, so long as you can stomach the frequent bad acting, several scenes of over-the-top exploitation of women, and quite a lot of astoundingly politically incorrect language directed at blacks.

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