youngest daughter of the great French author, Victor Hugo, was a victim of
schizophrenia. Although she was devastatingly beautiful, history tells us that Adèle
Hugo was seriously disturbed.
the time of America’s Civil War, Adèle became fixated
on a British soldier, one Lieutenant Pinson. She followed him across the
Atlantic to Nova Scotia, where he was stationed, for she was convinced that he
loved her and would marry her. In fact, the couple had experienced a brief
relationship in England (while Victor Hugo was living in Guernsey, in exile
from France), but Pinson ultimately rejected Adèle and wanted no
more to do with her. Even though he was obviously a rakish cad, the girl became
obsessed with the man and went to great lengths to pursue him.
days we would call it stalking.
Truffaut’s The Story of Adèle H. is the true account of a young woman’s
descent into a kind of madness that was sadly misunderstood in the 1800s, for
after the events in the picture took place, the real Adèle spent the rest of her life in an institution.
film is one of the director’s best. Beautifully shot by Nestor Almendros, it garnered
a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Isabelle Adjani, who in 1975 was
the youngest actress ever to be nominated in that category. For my money, she
should have won (Louise Fletcher snagged the award for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; but, arguably, time has shown that
Adjani went on to a long career of remarkable work, mostly in French films,
whereas Fletcher...?). I remember seeing Adèle H. on its release and falling head over heels
in love with Adjani. Despite playing a woman that all sensible men should run
away from, her physical beauty was indeed intoxicating. Those expressive blue
eyes worked wonders. It is this element of “tragic beauty” that makes
Truffaut’s picture all the more powerful.
lies and cheats and deceives everyone she meets in order to get closer to
Pinson (played by Bruce Robinson). She
creates fantasy scenarios in her head about her relationship with Pinson, and describes
them to anyone who inquires. As he continues to reject her, Adèle attempts to
destroy the soldier’s reputation. She also cruelly leaves
other men in her wake who probably could have cared for her and loved her
deeply—such as the handsome but lame bookseller who dotes on her. Instead, she
ends up breaking his heart. She constantly
lies to her father in correspondence (Hugo is very much a character in the
story, even though he is never seen) and it’s implied that her parents’ worry
and concern for their daughter is the cause of Madame Hugo’s untimely death. By
the end of the picture, the tale has moved to Barbados, where Adèle
has pursued Pinson yet again—and it is here that she finally succumbs to her
the conclusion, we find ourselves almost admiring the poor woman for her
determination and perseverance, even though we know she’s headed for the
madhouse. Her vulnerability and desperation is heartbreaking. The price of
beauty? Perhaps, but Truffaut doesn’t provide an opinion... nevertheless, he
directs the film with a this-is-how-it-was objectivity, utilizing his signature
mise-en-scène of short scenes,
some voice-over narration, and lyrical, sweeping story-telling. The director
was very good with period pieces such as Jules
and Jim, The Wild Child, and Two English Girls. The Story of Adèle H. is another
excellent entry in that category of Truffaut’s body of work, as well as a fascinating
character study and canny look at 19th Century relationships.
Time’s new Blu-ray release looks wonderful, but then Almendros was one of those
great European cinematographers who was particular good at capturing the
splendor of period settings. The limited edition release of 3000 units is short
on extras—there’s an audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick
Redman which is interesting, an isolated score track (the orchestral music by
Maurice Jaubert is fabulous), and the theatrical trailer—but the quality of the
digital transfer is worth the price of admission.
is a film as beautiful as its lead actress—don’t miss The Story of Adèle H.
Rudolph directed two forgotten horror flicks in the early seventies before joining
Robert Altman’s team; he served as Altman’s assistant director and in other
positions for several years. In the interim, Altman produced Rudolph’s third
feature film, Welcome to L.A., which
premiered in 1976 and was released to the general public in the spring of 1977.
best work is obviously inspired by Altman’s method of telling the personal
stories of an ensemble of quirky and neurotic characters over a sprawling
canvas (M*A*S*H, Nashville, A Wedding, Short Cuts, for example). Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. does just that, only this
writer/director’s style is even more loosey-goosey than Altman’s. Rudolph’s
approach is much more poetic, slower, and dreamier. More serious, too, I might
Carradine plays Carroll, a character much like the guy he played in Nashville—a songwriter who is coolly
arrogant and a cad, but all the women love him anyway. He’s been living in
England when his agent and former lover, Susan (Viveca Lindfors), hooks him up
with singer/musician Eric (Richard Baskin, who wrote all the film’s songs); so
Carroll comes back home to L.A. He doesn’t get along with his millionaire
father (Denver Pyle), but manages to seduce his father’s girlfriend,
photographer (Lauren Hutton). Throw in the realtor of his rented house (Sally
Kellerman), a seriously-disturbed and unhappy housewife (Geraldine Chaplin), and
a wacky housekeeper who vacuums topless (Sissy Spacek), and we’ve got a real
merry-go-round of one-night-stands (in fact, one of the songs beats us over the
head that they’re “living in the city of the one-night-stands”).
are other men, too—Harvey Keitel is quite good as Chaplin’s husband, who
happens to work for Pyle and has his sights set on some co-stars, and John Considine,
who is married to Kellerman—he, too, manages to have dalliances with other
female cast members. The entire movie’s “plot,” as it were, is how all of these
characters will hook up with the others in the space of a few days.
what the movie is really about is
loneliness. These people are middle-to-upper-class Hollywood types and they’re
caught in the malaise that Los Angeles of the mid-seventies had become (and
Rudolph’s filmmaking smacks of the 1970s in look and feel—not that this is a
bad thing). The picture seems to be saying that even if you’re rich and
beautiful/handsome and talented, you still need love and connection—but
unfortunately, the one-night-stand mentality is a dead end, as many of the
characters learn. And Carradine’s character, something of an omniscient
angel/devil, floats through this world caring about nothing but himself, but
therein lies a central truth—this guy is the unhappiest of them all.
film is beautifully shot, and if you can get past the somewhat now-pretentious
and arty device of people looking into mirrors and delivering soliloquies, you
may be impressed with the mise-en-scene.
Some folks, I remember, criticized Baskin’s songs and singing as being
annoying; on the contrary, I’ve always found the movie’s soundtrack to be very
well done. After all, the point of the picture is that it’s a musical journey
through vignettes that dramatize the lonely search for interconnection.
film is available as an MGM burn-to-order title. A card before the movie claims that the transfer was made from the “best
sources possible,” which means they probably used an existing print rather than
negatives to strike the DVD. Colors have faded significantly and the image
looks rather drab, which is unfortunate.
Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Rudolph, or Altman, and you want to experience
something different that was hitting the art house circuit in the
mid-seventies, take a look. I would place Welcome
to L.A. near the top of Alan Rudolph’s idiosyncratic, but usually quite