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-A RIALTO PICTURES RELEASECRITICAL ESSAYS CARLOS CLARENS ON EYES WITHOUT A FACE The obsession with blood and viscera exhibited by the Hammer films and rival exponents of the scalpel-and-formaldehyde type of sensation reaches a logical conclusion in the thriller Eyes Without a Face… From synopsis, the theme could be categorized as Guignol. It is that. Except in the French magazines circulated primarily among cineastes, Eyes Without a Face was adversely criticized in just about every country it played. In America, it was dubbed, mangled, and released as The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus and dismissed, by those hardy reviewers who caught it at theaters specializing in nudist/sadist fare, as a nauseating piece of sensationalism. The basis for this complaint is a scene which covers the minutiae of a skin-grafting operation in detail and does it with operating-room clarity and without the customary tactics of shock. These moments, as unnervingly real as they seem, nonetheless were expertly faked and throw off an aseptic power which overcomes the revulsion. They are also indispensable to the film and not the least of Franju's talents is to convince us of their necessity. Elsewhere the movie is charged with suggestive poetry (one readily understands Franju's admiration for Cocteau and his eventual filming of Cocteau's Thomas l'Imposteur). A sinister little beetle of a Citroën stalks a young girl student throuth the Latin Quarter and its driver, the ambiguous nurse in her leather raincoat, takes on the bodeful presence of one of Cocteau's own messengers of death. A masked, ethereal figure goes among the cages, liberating their occupants in a flurry of doves that invests the scene with a fairy-tale grace. Tingling with Maurice Jarre's nervous score and superbly photographed in glacial black and white by the veteran Schüfftan, Franju's movie treads horror territory with elegant assurance. It might not be the intended denunciation but something much more unusual: the elusive alliance of poetry and terror. -- excerpted from An Illustrated History of the Horror Film RAYMOND DURGNAT ON EYES WITHOUT A FACE “When I shot Eyes Without a Face,” says Franju, “I was told: ‘No sacrilege because of the Spanish market, no nudity because of the Italian market, no blood because of the French market and don’t kill any animals because of the English market.’ And I was supposed to be making a horror film!”
while Valli wears a velvet choker. One scene contrasts Valli's furs with Juliette Mayniel's raincoat. Valli in a leather coat drags a dead girl. and partly by the retrospective prestige of Franju's more obviously respectable films. But Franju is not interested in the Lesbianism of Lesbians. or whether it incompetently failed in every respect except horrifying. In the opening sequence.. The film's physical details are as carefully orchestrated. and imagined that the land of Mary Shelley. sadistic. so much as in a sad and sexless 2 . the film's reputation was rapidly redeemed. In England. nude in a man's mackintosh. press. and seem to perform an eerie dance. necrophiliac. Franju didn't improve matters by saying that now he knew why Scotsmen wore skirts. (Needless to say.it's very dangerous not to conform in the world of English culture. The dogs wear studded collars which evoke slavery. or contemptuous.. Valli strokes Edith Scob's hair with a reverent sensuality. as slippery as black ice… The delicate loop described by a Citroën DS as it parks. the rhythm with which scalpels are placed firmly in Génessier's rubber-carapaced hand. The cables of an electro-encephalogram recall the surgical clips framing a face during an operation. Sight and Sound bayed its utter scorn). which wasn't imported until after Eyes Without a Face… The cliché aspects of the story [are] transformed into poetry by the styles which bathe and impregnate them. Eyes Without a Face was greeted with a unanimously shocked. not even the loneliness of Lesbians. the branches along a country road are spectrally illumined by car headlights. partly by the younger critics. Bram Stoker. across rough ground in such a posture that it is almost a perverse embrace: Lesbian. they link the mythic and the everyday.EYES WITHOUT A FACE -A RIALTO PICTURES RELEASEFor all these handicaps. cease to be “superficial” details of style. when it was presented in the Film Festival at Edinburgh (home of body-snatchers). or whether it incompetently failed to horrify. partly by the slowly percolating influence of the French magazines. Franju seems to have succeeded only too well. Critics were already disturbed by the Hammer horrors. because she is Génessier's dog. The French have always admired the English penchant for horror stories. including La Tête contre les Murs. Jack the Ripper and Terence Fisher would appreciate an artistically-made horror film. and here was a horror film which really hurt. later Edith Scob in her white satin housecoat contrasts with Mayniel's rough garb of white toweling. emphasized by Maurice Jarre's waltz. the reflection of black branches in its black metal skin. Almost the only reviewer in a national daily to give it a good review very nearly lost her job as a result -. However. the morgue by a Metro station near which the trains emerge like grey ramrods into listless day. The critics disagreed as to whether it was actually too horrible to bear. Alas. and public and press were outraged. seven people fainted.
” is killed. but effectively constructed. Several factors ensure that they don't. as in Hitchcock's film. If the fates of these victims provide the principal melodramatic shocks. and. her fiancé’s name. amongst satins and glossy fashion magazines. In form it anticipates Psycho1: a first heroine visits “Hell. escapes in Génessier's house. hers are the eyes without a face. from the bloodied front of Mayniel’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) was almost certainly influenced by Clouzot’s Diabolique (1954) and Eyes without a Face. believed dead. Such details occupy the bulk of screen time. itself a disturbing parallel to the scalpel's subsequent curve along the same line. though slits in the toweling. their novel D’Entre les Morts was the basis for Vertigo. And so we're caught in a tangle of hope and counter-hope. And when the girl lies dead. Franju was right to resist its classification as a horror film. with a transistor radio. 1 3 . more internal. lives in her snow-colored apartment. more penetrating. It's a quieter mood than horror.. our optimism and pessimism are equally frightening. because of the toweling round her head. a contact which is at once turgid and void. “It's an anguish film. where the audiences were gripped from the opening moment by the intensity of atmosphere. and went onto a consistent identification with each victim in turn – sickened screams being provoked as Génessier lifts. and might have weakened rather than set off the terror.. the tired throb of a passing airliner . seen from above. now. having been facially skinned. her eyes stare at us. allow a certain dramatic and moral complexity. the eyes without the eyes… Though the film horrifies. the Boileau-Narcejac script is unconventionally. and all the mirrors replaced with black panels. if only of revenge. But we hope even more desperately that she will not escape. like a soul in purgatory. The loop described by Genessier's Citroën DS. because then she will have to face the truth. we hope she will succeed because where there's escape there's hope. When Mayniel. Flayed alive beneath her pearly mask.. she murmurs through its unmoving lips into the telephone. and he hears her speaking as if double long-distance from a satiny grave. unaware.EYES WITHOUT A FACE -A RIALTO PICTURES RELEASEdislocation of being. Overlaid sounds are used to “enlarge” the screen—crickets whirring. the melodrama loses all will-sheor-won't-she naivety and becomes elegiac. It's horror in homeopathic doses. First.” The present writer saw the film three times in upper working-class halls. something more subjacent. Hitchock was well aware of Boileau & Narcejac. Christiane. of what has happened to her. parallels the course of his pencil over a doomed girl's face. the sloppy thud of a body into a family vault. unseeing. and drugged as she is. they also. and a second victim nearly takes her place.
naive. and to German fantasy directors like Fritz Lang and F. As the mad were thought to be. which shows Alida Valli driving a black Citroën DS at night down a tree-lined road to a river to dispose of a female corpse wrapped in a raincoat. and Christiane's eerie molded mask.check out Charlie Chaplin's treatment of it two years earlier in A King in New York -. an impossible assent to freedom. University of California Press) JONATHAN ROSENBAUM ON EYES WITHOUT A FACE Franju had strong ties to the French surrealists.filmed by German-born cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan. check out the remarkable opening sequence ("as haunting as the first dream of a dead man." wrote novelist Iain Sinclair). when the film played briefly in 4 . Murnau. "The more you touch on mystery. but the sense of moral outrage can perhaps be attached more specifically to the practice of plastic surgery. For chilling noirish textures. Franju doesn’t show us Christiane’s faceless face at the end. she has become divine. the elegant Givenchy gowns worn by the women. who won an Oscar for The Hustler only two years later. which back in the 50s seemed as obscene to some people -. And if there's any black-and-white movie that demonstrates the awesome difference between 35-millimeter film and video. -. freeing the dogs and the doves from her father’s cages. which makes her look like a department-store dummy. And though this sequence may be slightly less shocking today than it was in the 60s. The plot is as absurd.as organ transplants would about a decade later. to tenderness and powerless mercy. mocking. She is mad. it's this one -. but her madness is an absolute. the audience flinched as if the pencil-pointy were already a scalpel.W. Other memorable details include Maurice Jarre's icy. One of the central sequences in Eyes Without a Face shows a face-lift operation (actually expertly faked) in clinical detail. as his pencil marks out the next victim’s face. "Hammer Films meets Georges Bataille" was English critic and filmmaker Christopher Petit's elegant formula for Eyes Without a Face. jaunty score. to Jean Cocteau (who said in praise of Eyes Without a Face. the soft plane of her expressionless. and obsessive as a fairy tale… embellished with such baroque elements as the professor's dog kennels (heard more often than seen in the film's creepily creative sound track) and the doves he keeps locked up. the more important it is to be realistic").EYES WITHOUT A FACE -A RIALTO PICTURES RELEASEhead. the ghostly face hovering over her scarred tissue is the most beautiful face in the world. both dogs and doves figure centrally in the final sequence.excerpted from Franju (1968. eyeless face: and later. but I believe that as she walks into the night air. Many critics have described the film as an attack on modern science.
culture. and the public and press were both offended. which he regarded as trash and I maintained was art. Psycho and Peeping Tom.) Up to this point I've linked Franju's poetry to certain French art traditions. (Most English and American viewers did dismiss the film as trash back then. even though Anglo-American thrillers and horror movies often play with much cruder versions of these writers' transgressions. and all the baggage that goes with it -. as could his feeling for hidden identities and buried emotions. the Nazi medical experiments on Jews and others. yet it seems to me that there's a historical fact implicitly standing behind this movie: the German occupation of France. like Génessier's kennel dogs. I can still remember arguing circa 1963 with a friend in Alabama about The Horror Chamber of Dr. thanks to the relative puritanism of U. 5 . it still "takes us implacably to the end of what our nerves can bear. Lautreamont. were released a year after Eyes Without a Face opened in France." Robert Bresson's acute sense of form -. Franju's frozen poetry may be connected with the same dark era. seven people fainted.. and even certain film traditions associated with Germany. it's Franju's delicacy that distinguishes his work so radically from later splatter-and-slash movies.EYES WITHOUT A FACE -A RIALTO PICTURES RELEASEthe U. in his interview with François Truffaut in Cahiers du Cinéma. Franju reported that when Eyes Without a Face was presented at the Edinburgh Film Festival.among other things. we should recall. To quote Cocteau yet again on Eyes Without a Face: "The ancestors of this film live in the Germany of the great cinematographic epoch of Nosferatu.S. Indeed.as evidenced in such writers as Sade. Eyes Without a Face.seems to us specifically French and surrealist. but they were certainly shaken by seeing it. the attack dogs they kept. Ironically. the formal treatment of cruelty . Faustus. conveys the conviction of an artist who's tasted the horror of the 20th century and has something to tell us about its flavor. and Bataille . though they were shown two or three years before Franju's film opened here.including his special feeling for off-screen sounds. which Franju appears to have learned from -could be tied directly to his experience of the occupation and the resistance.S." as Cocteau noted. for all its intermittent camp and occasional absurdity.
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