At the end of 1957, a couple of years before he recorded the seminal Jazz album Kind of Blue, Miles Davis recorded the soundtrack for Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l’échafaud). Coming in a bit before the French New Wave kicked off, Elevator was Malle’s first film and it turned actress Jeanne Moreau into an international star.

The story goes that Davis took a few notes during a screening of the film then brought in Barney Wilen on tenor sax, Rene Urtreger on piano, Pierre Michelot on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. The five musicians improvised the soundtrack to loops of scenes from the film.  The result is one of the moodiest, loneliest movie scores ever. You can picture the dark empty streets without seeing a frame of the film. It’s the perfect fusion of two uniquely 20th century art forms: movies and jazz.

That’s all from me this week. Now it’s your turn. Has anyone been up to anything interesting since last week? Lay it on me.


5 Responses to “Watercooler to the Gallows”

  1. I saw The Intouchables today, which I really liked. It was funny and touching, and the two lead actors are terrific.

  2. Elevator to the Gallows is a really great movie and debut, and the music sets the tone. I love Malle’s movies.

  3. While Georges Delerue is generally recognized as the most vital musical voice of the French New Wave, you have rightly brought Davis’ excellent contributions into the fold, and I count myself as a huge fan of both his seminal jazz work “Kind of Blue” and the score to the Malle gem you feature here. Love the ‘one of the moodiest, loneliest’ framing there! And yes the fusion is perfection!

    The past week’s insanity was one of the most cinematically blistering of 2012, as Lucille and several of the kids watched a slew of Universal films as part of the long-running Festival at the Film Forum. We saw eleven (11) Universals, and one recent release, Killer Joe, on Saturday, our 17th wedding anniversary. What a lovely choice of a film to watch for that day! Ha!

    We saw:

    The Goose Woman **** (Tuesday) Universal at Film Forum

    The Man Who Laughs ***** (Tuesday) Universal at Film Forum

    All That Heaven Allows **** 1/2 (Wednesday) Universal at Film Forum

    Imitation of Life (Sirk version) **** (Wednesday) Universal at Film Forum

    Phantom Lady **** (Thursday) Universal at Film Forum

    The Suspect *** 1/2 (Thursday) Universal at Film Forum

    The Bride of Frankenstein ***** (Friday) Universal at Film Forum

    The Black Cat **** 1/2 (Friday) Universal at Film Forum

    The Wolf Man **** (Sunday) Universal at Film Forum

    The Invisible Man ***** (Sunday) Universal at Film Forum

    The Mummy **** 1/2 (Sunday) Universal at Film Forum

    Killer Joe *** 1/2 (Saturday night) Landmark Sunshine Cinemas

    Of this past week’s Universal offerings two all-time masterpieces were shown: Paul Leni’s ravishing THE MAN WHO LAUGHS and the film that many consider the best of the Universal horror films, James Whales’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. This is the second time I have seen the Whale on a big screen over the past few years, having previously negotiated it at the Jersey City Loew’s movie palace. melodrama genre and is based on a novel by Victor Hugo. In THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, Conrad Veidt’s performance, the makeup, art direction and Paul Leni’s expressionist point of view make for a melodrama presented as a horror film. Veidt as Gwynplaine is filled with expression and sadness -using only his eyes- that in unforgettable. Olga Baclanova nearly steals the film away from Veidt as Duchess Josiana who loves to do what she wants and has an inexplicable facination with Gwynplaine. Baclanova is captivating with sizzling sexuality dealing with an ambiguous and complex character. The Gwynplaine character of course was an inspiration for the Joker in the BATMAN comics and films, and the magnificent use of the operatic song “When Love Comes Stealing” by Walter Hirsch. in a gorgeous and poignant score is one of the cinema’s genuine glories. There are few films in my life that have affected me as deeply as THE MAN WHO LAUGHS. The Region 1 Kino DVD is a must own.

    Douglas Sirk’s ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (the film that inspired Todd Haynes to write and direct FAR FROM HEAVEN and Rainer Fassbinder to create ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL) is trademark Sirk with the sumptuous visual design, ironic underpinnings, and focus on the conformity-obsessed 1950’s. As always composer Frank Skinner makes a vital contribution, as he does even more impressively in Sirk’s final American film IMITATION OF LIFE, which all things considered in less impressive than Stahl’s 1934 version (seen last week) but still bringing together some of Sirk’s impeccable craftsmanship.

    Robert Siodmak’s flawed THE SUSPECT isn’t quite film noir, but still boasts another impressive turn from Charles Laughton and an intriguing story in a period costume piece; Siodmak’s PHANTOM LADY features some dazzling style and set pieces, and the rare silent THE GOOSE WOMAN by Clarence Brown deserves a DVD release. Steve Sterner’s live piano accompaniment was real nice. As far as THE MUMMY, THE WOLF MAN, THE INVISIBLE MAN and THE BLACK CAT, they never fail to entertain no matter how many times you see them, though of the four, for me the two that really stand out are THE INVISIBLE MAN with a brilliant Claude Rains in the lead and terrific application of humor and the art-deco Expressionistic THE BLACK CAT by Edgar Ulmer. The weakest of the four films, though still fun, is easily THE WOLF MAN. The tomb sequence in THE MUMMY is one of the best in any Universal film.

    William Friedkin’s trailer trash burst of black humor and sickening violence titled KILLER JOE features a superlative performance by Matthew McConaughy as a chilling sociopath devoid of morals in a film that still manages to rivet throughout. Friedkin is anything but laid back at age 76, and his latest venture is both fascinating and repulsive at the same time. Definitely worth a look, especially if you have a strong stomach.

    Even with all the frantic activity at the Film Forum I was still able to watch four more first season episodes of THE WIRE. The series continues to grip after a modest beginning, and I look forward to continuing over the coming days.

  4. I saw The Dark Knight Rises and it was definitely worth the wait in my books. They did a good job with the final installment. Solid script (for most of the time), a good pace (even with the slightly slow beginning), amazing acting – Bale, Hardy, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Anne Hathaway (thumbs up for her – great role) – they all delivered.

    The directing was on the usual Christopher Nolan level for me. I’m a huge fan of his work as you can probably already tell by this and previous comments. :)

    So, it’s a great film. I’ll wait to see it a second time but it’s very much worth it.

    P.S. No 3D :D This was amazing for me. Still can’t believe it! There is hope for cinema after all. :)

  5. Sorry I’ve been AWOL from the Watercooler and commenting in general for the last couple of weeks. These things happen.

    Alison, I have yet to see Intouchables. I know. I suck, but it’s on my list.

    Happy belated Anniversary, Sam! Of all the films on your list, I’m most curious about the new one Killer Joe which doesn’t open here until this weekend. I thought Friedkin’s BUG, while not perfect, was sadly underrated and I’ve heard great things about McConaughey in Joe.

    Piro, I love that Nolan didn’t work in 3D, and he didn’t have to. It wouldn’t have added a single thing to the movie worth having. There were some aspects of the story that didn’t really make sense to me… why’d Bane wait 5 months before pushing the button for example… but all in all it was a terrific conclusion to a very good trilogy. Hathaway was my favorite part.

    Ari, it’s interesting that Malle never made another noir, but then I guess he’s not a guy known for repeating himself.

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