The Melville Way
Drastic measures require as much self-advertisement as possible when it comes to the films of Jean-Pierre Melville and only a smidgen of views over at DVD Times. I’m not sure what happened, but suspect the new look of the DVD Times site may have resulted in fewer visitors and, thus, fewer peeks at reviews. Whatever the cause, the two pieces I’ve recently submitted on Criterion’s Melville releases (Le doulos and Le deuxième souffle) haven’t been too popular, though admittedly the discs were released in the first part of October. (Blame DVD Pacific for the delay, not me.) I was fairly proud of the reviews and Melville is one of my very favorite filmmakers so, if you’ve not already, you know, clickety clickety.
That nasty ratings system becomes ever worthless when dealing with personal favorites like Melville. I really do try to assign ratings based on an all-encompassing scale of objective reasoning. I only deliver a “10″ when we’re dealing with something like Chinatown or The Apartment or Sunset Blvd. or my favorite television show, Sports Night. Out of 106 things reviewed, those and No Country for Old Men are the only things that I’ve given the highest rating. I see a 9 as just under a 10, and I’ve tried to be stingy with those as well. The result is that a lot of films I really like end up with an 8, like both of these Melvilles. Both are great films and I can’t imagine not owning either, but I like four other films he directed more.
Criterion sort of blatantly dropped the ball with these releases, too, and neither probably warrants the $40 retail tag. I get the idea that a commentary automatically bumps up the price, but Le doulos just has half an hour’s worth of Ginette Vincendeau talking and it’s ported from the BFI disc. The other commentary, on Le deuxième souffle, is pretty good actually, but the rest of the extra features are hardly generous. I also wonder if Melville has unfortunately gotten a bad deal by having Vincendeau show up in almost every DVD release for one of his films. She’s obviously informed, but perhaps a fresh perspective is necessary at some point. Melville’s attention to detail and obsession with professional camaraderie are well explored. It’s troubling, though, that a one-person consensus seems to have bubbled up. I don’t think Melville was such a one-dimensional filmmaker as to only require a single commentator’s voice. It’s bad enough that Criterion turned their release of Les enfants terribles into a veritable love affair for Jean Cocteau, with very little rebuttal to the idea that it’s a film owing more to Cocteau in terms of authorship than Melville.
If all this sounds like heavy complaining, it’s not meant to be. I’m entirely grateful to Criterion for putting out seven Melville films, with only Un Flic existing in R1 outside of their work. (That leaves five unreleased, though Le silence de la mer and Leon Morin, pretre are available in the UK, from Masters of Cinema and the BFI respectively; all Melville R2 titles except Silence seem planned for Optimum in the new year.) I will admit that it’s a bit funny how Criterion has issued two Melville films each of the last two years, just as his Army of Shadows became an unlikely success on the art house/repertory circuit in 2006. Strike while the iron’s hot and such. These most recent titles are interesting especially as transitional films between the two portions of Melville’s career. Le doulos looks like a significant step in the direction of his later films and Le deuxième souffle may have been the official first move. If you’re just starting out with Melville, Bob le Flambeur is an excellent start and Le doulos a fine second, but make sure to save room for Le samouraï and Army of Shadows.