They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

I grew up watching old films. (See my post about my master plan to host American Movie Classics as a kid). Film noir was a favorite.

When I did my crash course of French before moving here, a large part of my self-education involved watching French films and reading the transcripts at the same time. I was simply “opening my ear” to the language; I didn’t understand a dang thing! But what a pleasurable introduction.

Somehow I missed this one: Ascenseur pour l’échafaud or “Elevator to the Gallows” in its US release. This was Louis Malle’s first film (he was only 25!).

If this trailer doesn’t make you want to watch it immediately, well…I will still love you, but be forever confused as to how in the world this does not look awesome to you.

Hear that lonely trumpet?

That is MILES DAVIS playing an original score. And get this: he IMPROVISED the music while watching the film.

(Really, why are you still reading this? Don’t you need to rent this right now?)

If you don’t know what Louis Malle is saying…well, just think of it as opening your ear! He’s explaining what’s going on (again, Miles Davis is improvising as he watches the film! am I the only one blown away by this?), talks about his experience working with Cousteau (the French oceanographer/director), and the importance of making a film on a small budget in order to feel more free to take risks.

At one point the interviewer asks if his intention was to tout casser – break everything – and he responds why break everything? To do something new in film, it’s clarified.

He may not have known it at the time, but Malle’s film is now considered the beginning of La Nouvelle Vague – The New Wave of cinema.

So yes, new.

Tres cool.

What new or cool discoveries have you made this week?

If you’re as impatient as me, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud can be viewed on YouTube if you can’t wait to get your hands on a better copy.

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15 Responses to “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To”


  1. 1 Franck June 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Cousteau, not Costeau (costaud), it means “strong”.
    Louis Malle was the living proof that a man could be sweet (not sweat this time) and incredibly tenacious. He made a beautiful couple with Candice Bergen. What french film noir did you like the most?

    • 2 paris (im)perfect June 8, 2012 at 9:15 am

      Thanks for the correction. Have to admit I still know American film noir much better and it’s been 6 years since I did my intense course of watching French films. I have such a bad memory – just remember it being an interesting way to plunge into the language.

  2. 3 writenaked June 7, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    I LOVE French New Wave films! I took a semester on the topic. I will have to argue, Truffaut’s 400 Blows is the kickoff to the French New Wave. Elevator to the Gallows falls more in the film noir sector, but it was born right on the cusp of the wave! I hope you continue discovering the amazing French films of the 60s. I have the Criterion Collection edition of Breathless and loved discovering Godard’s short films on the bonus tracks.

    • 4 paris (im)perfect June 8, 2012 at 9:13 am

      Sounds like you know much more than me, Tara. No arguments from me! I just saw in the trailer it said this film was the birth of the New Wave and went with that ;) Didn’t this one come out the year before 400 Blows?

      In any case, yes, fun stuff to discover.

      • 5 writenaked June 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm

        Indeed it did. If I were the cinephile that I used to be I would debate the issue, but now I much more enjoy appreciating art for art – especially anything that entices someone to get lost in the Nouvelle Vogue. Definitely check out Cleo from 5 to 7, Le Mepris, Breathless, Shoot the Piano Player…and you’re reminding me that I really want to watch these over again too!

      • 6 paris (im)perfect June 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm

        I’ve seen Cleo from 5 to 7 and Breathless, but not the others. Thanks for the tips!

  3. 7 Life, Laughter and Paris June 8, 2012 at 5:16 am

    OK – I’m sold! I’ll rent the film ASAP!

  4. 9 Astrid June 8, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks for the movie tip – in the queue! And love that Miles Davis too!

  5. 11 Amy Kortuem June 12, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    He improvised the music while watching the film. THAT’s artistry.

    I’ve been obsessed with Marilyn Monroe recently and have watched some of her movies, but generally I’m not an old movie lover. Don’t know why.

    By the way, I had a dream the other night that Bill Clinton wanted to have an affair with me, but I told him I couldn’t because I was late for my writing group. With you. (Thanks for saving me, lady!)

    Did you speak at the Paris Writers Retreat in May?

    • 12 paris (im)perfect June 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      I grew up on old films so I’m sure that’s why I love them. I understand why they don’t grab others. But yes! I had a huge poster of Marilyn plastered on my wall in my childhood room. (And erm, I *still* have a picture of Marilyn on my wall now).

      Oh my gosh…that dream is amazing! Happy to save you from Clinton. And good for you for prioritizing your writing :)

      The Paris Writers’ Workshop is at the end of the this month so you still have time to come on over and see me speak! ; )

  6. 14 Leah June 14, 2012 at 10:56 am

    I tried to start an “Old Movie Night” at my apartment a few years ago. Sadly, my friends weren’t as interested in classic films as I am. But we did watch “Elevator to the Gallows”!


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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