Wednesday, December 14, 2011


As long-time readers (if there are any) of Ad Aged know, I am a nut about old movies. This is not because I am living in the past. It is because I find moments of truth, humanity and wisdom in them that I seldom see in newer works.

Jean-Pierre Melville's 1956 movie "Bob le Flambeur" starring Roger Duchesne had one such seminal moment. Bob is an aging crook looking to get out of debt and to make one more killing before he retires to a life of leisure.

Bob is "too old for this" and he knows it. He is staring down the barrel of his own mortality. It's a painful moment for him. An admission that he's lost his looks, his physicality, his elan. Melville communicates all this in about 48 frames of film. Bob, getting dressed in front of a mirror closes up on his face. He is immaculately groomed, ready to face the world. Then, just before he leaves the mirror, he pinches his throat and wiggles an inch or two of excess skin, skin he never had before. That's it for Bob. That excess skin defines his destiny. There's no escape from it.

Another such moment I love is from Ernst Lubitsch's small 1937 comedy "Angel" which featured a drop dead gorgeous Marlene Dietrich, the great and under-rated Herbert Marshall and the greater and still more under-rated Melvyn Douglas.

Lubitsch was the master of the small cinematic touch that conveyed big meaning. In "Angel" Dietrich is married to Marshall but is embroiled in an affair with Douglas. Lubitsch illustrates the character of his characters with a few simple lines of dialogue.

Dietrich: (At her dressing table. Marshall enters the room. She looks at him, indirectly, through the mirror. She doesn't like what she sees.) "The op-wa starts at eight, doesn't it?"

Marshall: "Oh, the opera."

Dietrich: "Oh, darling, you promised."

Marshall: "And I'm going to keep my promise. You love the opera. I hate the opera.
So, why shouldn't we go?"

Their entire dynamic, her imperiousness, his attempts to please, all in a few lines.

Good communications relies not on platitudes and puffery.

It is contingent on minor moments of reality, of truth.

There is beauty, laughter, wisdom in these small moments.

Find them.

No comments: