Lola Montès (Directors Suite) (1955)
Audio Commentary-by Dr. Adrian Martin
Featurette-Working with Max Ophüls: Lola Montès Revisited
Booklet-Woman/Road/America/Cinema, an essay by David M. Lugowski
Gallery-Poster-Original Theatrical Poster
Trailer-Four Directors Suite trailers
|Year Of Production||1955|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (90:38)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Max Ophüls|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Unknown||
French Dolby Digital 3.0 L-C-R (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.55:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.55:1||Miscellaneous|
English Alternate Subtitles
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Lola Montès represents, in my opinion, the unfulfilled grandeur of Max Ophüls' film career. Fluid and mobile camerawork, strong female lead character/s, repetition of movement and action and a plot set in 19th century Europe are all evident here, as they were in Letter from an Unknown Woman, Le Plaisir, La Ronde and Madame De.... The main difference with Lola Montès is that this film was made in colour, shot in CinemaScope and included a magnetic stereo surround track. Ophüls was apparently the third choice as director for this project for producers Albert Caraco, André Haguet and Anton Schelkopf and when he turned in this gloomy and bleak biopic on the famous 19th century femme fatale, Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld (stage name Lola Montez), they sensed that the audience wouldn't get the film. They were correct; when released in December 1955, Lola Montès was an undignified flop causing the producers to cut out the flashbacks and change the German dialogue to French in an effort to recoup their losses.
Eventually, producer Pierre Braunberger bought the rights to the film in 1966. He then proceeded to locate prints that were uncut; from these he released a 110 minute version. In 2008, under the auspices of Braunberger's son, Laurence and Marcel Ophüls, La Cinémathèque Française took two years to restore the film frame-by-frame. Has the restoration saved the film? In many ways yes it has because audiences can now view the film as closely as possible to the way Max Ophüls intended it to be viewed. Judging by the reaction to the viewing at the 61st Cannes film festival in 2008, audiences have now moved on from the bewilderment shown towards the film in the 1950s and Lola Montès has now come to be considered Ophüls' final masterpiece.
Despite the change in critical reaction there are some elements to the film which still pose questions. These include Martine Carol's acting performance (which was almost universally panned by critics in the 1950s), the technical shooting style adopted by cinematographer Christian Matras (why did Ophüls refrain so often from close-ups in this film?) and the negative portrayal of the life of Lola Montès herself; there are no redeeming qualities present in the lead character.
Moviediva adds in their plot review of the film: “Hindsight reveals the film was doomed from the beginning. Ophüls helmed the biggest budget ever for a French film, based on a screenplay by racy author Cecil St. Laurent, starring pre-Bardot French sexpot Martine Carol. The resulting film was opulent, but dense with metaphor and lacking in the expected spice, with Martine Carol baring nothing more than her shoulders”. "The audience is expecting a cream cake but instead it gets a punch in the stomach!" Ophüls would later observe.
There was a real Lola Montés, and except for the circus, most of what you see of her remarkable life is true. She was born Elizabeth Gilbert, in Ireland. Her father was in the army, married Lola's 14 year old mother, already pregnant, and shortly after was dispatched to Calcutta, India. Little Elizabeth’s father soon died of cholera and her mother quickly remarried, and the child was sent back to Scotland to live with relatives. She eloped at 18, and after separating from her husband, made her way back to England, stopping off in Spain, where she revelled in the local dances and changed her name to Lola Montés. She became a dancer herself, although really more of a celebrity than an artist. She became notorious as a femme fatale; the mistress of celebrity musician and composer Franz Lizst and later of the 60 year old King Ludwig of Bavaria. In the 1850s she toured the US and Australia with her sensational “Spider Dance” in which she pretended to shake the creature out of her clothes. She died, impoverished, in the US in 1861. Lola Montés is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, her neglected grave marked “Mrs. Eliza Gilbert, D. Age 42. Lola's dancing was apparently always dreadful, and certainly controversial. Ophüls' film reflects the artistic ambiguities of her career: was Lola Montés an accomplished performer or simply a buxom and scandalous beauty, whose large blue eyes had a particular penetrating quality?. These questions lingered too, regarding the star of the film, Martine Carol. But, from the vantage point of an audience who has never seen any of her other films, her performance as Lola is lovely and affecting.
Ophüls claimed not to be interested in the subject, insisting, “Lola Montés? That woman doesn’t interest me. It is the people who surround her that excite me. Her role is roughly the same as that of our pair of earrings in Madame De…” and he took the original script by St. Laurent to his own collaborators for refinement. The producers managed to raise the equivalent of a $2 million budget: this would be the most expensive film to date in post-WW II Europe. Ophüls was offered the film specifically because he had been a Hollywood director, and the producers wanted an international hit, not an art film. They insisted not just on Martine Carol and her box office clout, but on using the wide screen CinemaScope process, when Ophüls preferred the intimacy of the square screen. They also wanted three versions, in French, German and English, fortunately, all languages in which Ophüls was fluent. Scheduling glitches were rampant, cheques bounced, 500 costumed extras were rained out of an extravagant parade scene and had to return at great expense the next day. Altogether the filming took five months, with 100 days of shooting, and was assembled in three different editing rooms, one room and editor for each language. At the end, the critics savaged the film, and it was extensively recut from 110 minutes (never 140, as was once thought), the flashback structure was scrapped and at 90 minutes the film was retitled “The Sins of Lola Montés.”. The producers and editors were still arguing about how to salvage their investment when Ophüls died. When the film finally opened in New York, it was a scant 75 minutes, and began with the final shot of Ophüls’’ original cut.
Although a financial disaster, the film did have its defenders, among them cinema's most respected voices. Jean Cocteau, Roberto Rossellini, Jacques Tati, as well as Francois Truffaut and the rest of the impassioned writers for Cahiers du Cinema all admired it. Advertisements in the newspaper sung its praises, "while more casual support was expressed by fisticuffs in the aisle". Truffaut could not have been more effusive in his praise, "Lola Montés is a film that breaks all the records: the best French film of the year, the best CinemaScope to date; Max Ophüls is declared the best French technician of the day as well as the best director; for the first time, Martine Carol, as Lola, is really satisfactory, Peter Ustinov is sensational, and so is Oskar Werner, Anton Walbrook and Ivan Desny are excellent".
Martine Carol was a 1940s pinup girl, whose sensational private life included a torrid affair with a married actor and a suicide attempt in the Seine River. Her personal scandals were a great career move. Starring in a several historical bodice-rippers in the 1950s made her France’s top sex kitten. She was not the most expressive of actresses and filming in three languages was difficult for her. The French version is the restored version, because Carol could barely speak German and spoke no English, which impeded her limited acting skills even further. The producers thought that she would sell tickets for any film, and found out, to their sorrow, this was not true. Her appearance in the film is made poignant by her premature death, in 1967, of a heart attack, at the age of 46, only four years older than Lola Montés.
Peter Ustinov was an actor, director, playwright, novelist and screenwriter. A versatile character actor, he was “an accomplished actor, a literate author, a cultivated wit and a delightful conversationalist and raconteur of TV talk shows”. He won Oscars for his supporting roles in Spartacus and Topkapi, and later in life became a UN Ambassador for UNICEF. An odd fact is that Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was walking across her garden for a TV interview with Ustinov when she was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984. Due to schedule overruns, Ustinov was not required on Lola Montés’ set until two days before his contract was scheduled to expire. Ustinov wrote in his autobiography, “Max was the first great poet of bad taste, in that he was the first to exploit Art Nouveau as a thing of beauty and style, not merely as a curiosity, the visible cancer of a decadent and dying society as my generation was brought up to believe it to be…In his endless search for subtlety, he would ask you to register hatred or brutality without changing the expression of your face and then plunge you into shafts of darkness, or shoot you through a metal banister or a net curtain to obliterate every effect except your presence”. “During another immensely complicated take—lasting four and half minutes and involving horses, tumblers and trapeze artists, and with the camera moving on an endless complicated track, spiralling and dipping—I, as the ringmaster, sent a dwarf off for a glass of water, which was not part of the meticulous planning. Surprised, the dwarf ran off to fetch it. Since he didn’t know where to find it, it took rather a long time, and my irritation increased, as did the hoarseness of my throat. At last, he brought it, I drank it surreptitiously while shouting out my lines, like a headwaiter having a secret nip, and gave the empty glass to the dwarf, drying my mouth with a large silk handkerchief which was part of my costume. It was as relaxed as the rest was formal. At the end of the take, Max Ophüls expressed both the quality of his despotism and of his magnanimity. Taking me aside, for once rather sad, he said, ‘Peter, the one thing I regret is that I didn’t tell you to do that’”. This anecdote reveals both Ustinov’s mastery of the passive aggressive, as well as his knack for upstaging even a monumental tracking shot. Perhaps his memory of the incident was a little vague; a similar incident in the film does appear to have been scripted.
Anton Walbrook, who plays King Ludwig I, was a favourite actor of Ophüls and appears also in La Ronde. He was born in Vienna to a family who had been clowns for 300 years, but instead of joining the circus became a stage actor for the legendary Max Reinhardt. He starred in both silent and sound films in Germany, but as both Jewish and gay, he decided not to return to Germany after a brief Hollywood stint in the 1930s. His most famous role is as the ballet impresario in The Red Shoes. He died of a heart attack in 1967.
Oskar Werner was also Viennese and dropped out of school to pursue his love of the theatre. Drafted into the German army, he pretended to be so stupid that he was only fit for KP duty. After years of flirting with film stardom, he finally achieved international fame in Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, and then had a brief Hollywood career, He was Oscar nominated for Ship of Fools, and appeared in Fahrenheit 451 and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. He died of a heart attack in 1984.
In spite of some rapturous reviews, the film failed to arouse the interest of the audience. The central metaphor of the film, a grandiose circus of which Peter Ustinov is ringmaster, was confusing to those who did not know Lola Montés as a notorious courtesan and dancer, but believed her to be a circus star. Ustinov, playing a crucial role in the narrative did not believe it to be one of the director’s masterworks: “I had to write Ophüls’ obituary for the Manchester Guardian, and I described him as a man with an ingrained perversity, the kind who would make the smallest wrist-watch in the world and then hang it from a church spire as a timepiece. I liked him, but I didn’t feel comfortable, I felt like a cog in his machine. His methods were far from mine. I agreed with him on nothing, but he had a marvelous humour and we got along delightfully”.
In an interview with Jacques Rivette and Francois Truffaut, Ophüls said, "I can assure you that when I was watching the rushes and the projection people said to me, "That blue! That red! It's too daring!' I didn't understand. Everything good in Lola happened because of my inexperience with color and CinemaScope--when I looked through the camera's viewfinder, it was as if I'd just been born."
We are lucky to be able to see this fantastic restoration by Rialto Pictures, thanks to a collaboration including the daughter of a legendary New Wave French film producer, the Cinematheque Francaise and the director’s son, Marcel Ophüls. The color, the CinemaScope and the original stereophonic sound mix have—finally--all been presented as the director intended. This film has no greater champion than Andrew Sarris, who once wrote: "Lola Montès is in my unhumble opinion the greatest film of all time, and I am willing to stake my critical reputation, such as it is, on this one proposition above all others.” A recent interview with him, available on the Rialto website is both an affirmation of his opinion and a reflection on our current society--even more obsessed with celebrity than Victorian age. Sarris’ wife of 38 years, film writer Molly Haskell adds, "I think if I hadn't liked Lola Montès, our relationship might have been over."
François Truffaut, too, was alive to Ophüls’ contemporary commentary on celebrity, observing that in the film, "Peter Ustinov, the ringmaster-biographer, manages his show with the same bad taste, vulgarity and unconscious cruelty that governs television broadcasts"--this in 1955!. And this was completely Ophüls’ intention; Truffaut wrote after the director's death in 1957, "He confided to me that he had systematically put into the plot of Lola Montés everything that had troubled or disturbed him in the newspapers for the preceding three months: Hollywood divorces, Judy Garland's suicide attempt, Rita Hayworth's adventure, American three-ring circuses, the advent of CinemaScope and Cinerama, they overemphasis on publicity, the exaggerations of modern life".
The Region 2 Second Sight, Region 1 Criterion Collection and Region 4 Madman Directors Suite DVD releases all use the 2008 La Cinémathèque Française restoration for their video and audio transfers. The aspect ratio is 2:55:1 (as shot in CinemaScope and with 4-track magnetic stereo surround sound, compare David Lean's 1957 film Bridge on the River Kwai for a similar and unique aspect ratio) 16x9 enhanced. The average bitrate of the main presentation is 5.32 m/b per sec.
The sharpness of the transfer is decent rather than been spectacular. Colour, however, is vibrant and saturated, with various colour schemes employed by Max Ophüls to make flashback scenes distinct (mainly primary colours were employed such as blue, yellow and red). Film artefacts such as scratches and dust marks are very rare. Overall the restoration has cleaned up the film damage and has highlighted the magnificence of the original Eastmancolor print.
Subtitles are available in default yellow or alternative white.
The RSDL change occurs at 90:38 at the beginning of a scene change. unfortunately the pause is quite noticeable.
The audio transfer utilises the restored soundtrack from the original 4-track stereo soundtrack. The main soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 3.0 track encoded at 224 kbps. The English audio commentary track is encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kbps also. Dialogue is clear and synchronised. Georges Auric's music highlights the massive spectacle of the circus scenes which sound triumphant and march-like. The restored soundtrack is free of background noise and hiss.
Surround channel usage is limited to the centre channel and the two front speakers. This is heard mainly for music flourishes where all three speakers are usually employed. Otherwise, dialogue comes out of the centre channel. The subwoofer is not utilised for this soundtrack.
|Surround Channel Use|
Dr. Martin's commentary is every bit as informative as Susan White's commentary on the Region 1 Criterion Collection and Region 2 Second Sight releases of Lola Montès. He discusses the spectacle of the circus scenes which were expensive and included many extras, the flashbacks and their related colour schemes, production problems, critical reaction to the film and Martine Carol's acting performance (which he defends as adequate to the needs of the movie). Dr. Martin also highlights the cinematographic method used by Ophüls such as placing objects in the middle of a frame and using masks to change the aspect ratio of some scenes from widescreen to a more traditional full-frame academy ratio. Personally, I have a feeling Dr. Martin doesn't feel as passionate about this film from Max Ophüls as he does others; nevertheless, his commentary is more than adequate in assisting the viewer who has no prior knowledge of the context of the film in understanding the movie.
This is the same outstanding documentary of the background to Lola Montès which was included on the Region 2 Second Sight DVD release. Ophüls scholar Robert Fischer directs this detailed look at the production of Lola Montès, from beginning to end. Interviews with co-writer Annette Wademant and Peter Ustinov (speaking in German) are included, with an audio interview from Max Ophüls, which are combined with various production stills and archived film clips to give this featurette a real documentary feel and look to it. Michael Ballhaus, the cinematographer famous for working with Martin Scorsese, also reminisces about his time on the set as a 20 year-old extra. The experience made him want to become a cinematographer!
This 16-page essay looks at the film as a type of road movie. Lugowski also defends the status of the film as well as Martine Carol's acting, the role of women in films, the influence of early and classical (for the time) cinema on the movie and finally he compares the film to post-modernism.
The raunchy and provocative (for the time) original theatrical poster is included here.
Four Directors Suite trailers are included for Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau, Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession and There's Always Tomorrow and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun.
Lola Montès has been released on DVD in Region 1 in the United States by the Criterion Collection and in Region 2 in the United Kingdom by Second Sight.
The Region 1 Criterion Collection release includes an audio commentary with Max Ophüls scholar Susan White, "Max Ophüls ou le plaisir de tourner", a 1965 episode of the French television program Cinéastes de notre temps, featuring interviews with many of Ophüls’ collaborators (53:10), Max by Marcel, a new documentary by Marcel Ophüls about his father and the making of Lola Montès (32:56), silent footage of actress Martine Carol briefly demonstrating the various glamorous hairstyles in Lola Montès (1:04), theatrical re-release trailer from Rialto Pictures (2:20) and a 28-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic Gary Giddins.
The Region 2 Second Sight release includes the same audio commentary by Susan White, author of 'The Cinema Of Max Ophüls', included on the Region 1 Criterion Collection release and Lola Montes Revisited - A documentary on the making of the film (69:27).
I would call this a draw between the Region 1 Criterion Collection DVD release and the Region 4 Madman Directors Suite release because, in my opinion, although there are more extras on the Region 1 Criterion DVD, they are nowhere near as comprehensive as the extras on the Region 4 Madman Directors Suite version of Lola Montès.
Lola Montès digitally restored, a comprehensive documentary on the history of the film and a thorough and scholarly audio commentary by Dr. Adrian Martin, what more can you want? This DVD release of Lola Montès by Madman Directors Suite label comes highly recommended as an honourable addition to your DVD collection. Do not hesitate to pick this one up from your local retailer!
|DVD||Sony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output|
|Display||Samsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Sony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.|
|Speakers||Sony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)|