Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Opening the Door to French Film by Hugh Fox

by Hugh Fox
2007, World Audience, Inc. (no price listed)
review by Richard Wilhelm

I was looking forward to digging into Hugh Fox’s "Opening the Door to French Film." As the introduction by Eric Greinke says, the book is designed to be an informal commentary on the work of various French directors from the 1930’s to the present. The writing is certainly free of academic jargon. The tone is conversational, sometimes to a fault. Street corner vernacular is frequently less precise than standard English. Fox is so informal that his language on occasion confuses rather than clarifies. The informal, conversational approach seems welcoming in the first pages as Fox describes the plots of the various films of each director. Forty or fifty pages into the book however this approach grows tedious. Imagine sitting down with a friend who starts telling you, one-by-one, the plots of a hundred and twenty-some films. Interesting at first, but it quickly gets tiresome.

It seems there could have been a better way to organize this book but Fox had a vision of the book he wanted to write, so it is only fair to judge the book as it is written. And his vision was to write a chapter on each director, describing the plots of various films with commentary. Fox has some worthwhile insights on each director’s themes and methods and this makes the book worth owning. But since the approach makes the book tedious to read cover-to-cover, the reader is better served by just diving in at any point of interest, i.e., pick a director one likes or is curious about and jump in. To this end, it would have been helpful to have an index, though the spacing of the typeface makes skimming the chapters relatively easy.

One must take Fox to task for the many errors, typos, misspellings, and stylistic inconsistencies in this book. In his chapter on Luis Bunuel, he launches into a description of the 1977 film "The Obscure Object of Desire" which he correctly calls "Bunel’s (sic) last film. Two pages before, he discusses "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" which he tells us was released in 1991. It was released in 1972. In a discussion of Bertrand Tavernier’s 1986 film, "Round Midnight," Fox speaks of "the friendship between the Frenchman and the gringo saxophonist." Why would he use "gringo" to describe an African-American musician in a context devoid of any Mexicans? The saxophonist is not a "gringo" to the Frenchman. It is depressing to encounter a book published by a writer who shows so little regard for his craft. It makes the reader not trust the material.

I was surprised Fox did not mention the 1945 film "Children of Paradise," written by Jacques Prevert and directed by Marcel Carne, regarded by some as the greatest French film ever produced. (Not to quibble, but neither was there mention of the 1986 film by Jacques Beineix, "Betty Blue," a personal favorite of this reviewer. But, in fairness, Fox can’t possibly be expected to mention every film produced in France. The book is a personal, rather than an encyclopedic, survey of French film.)

Fox’s knowledge and insight—and his reputation—would have been better served
had he taken the time to give his book a serious, professional editing. Nonetheless it’s a fun book for film buffs.

--Richard Wilhelm
Ibbetson Update

* Richard Wilhelm is the arts/editor for the Ibbetson Street Press.

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