Friday, 11 February 2011

Model Shop - Jacques Demy (1969)

The journey through Demyville continues. It’s quite a trip, and by now I wonder why he isn’t recognised, or as well-known, as he should be. Yes, he’s much-loved amongst film buffs, but to my mind he still doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
   So here’s Lola again, and cars seem to be important to the men in her life, or perhaps they’re just important, symbolic even, to Demy. In ‘Lola’ we see her old flame come cruising into picture, then we see little of him until the end. It’s as if he spent the whole film just driving around Nantes, stopping only to get out and look at the posters outside the dancehall where Lola works. Now, in ‘The Model Shop’, we’re taken on a ride through the back roads of LA to start with, then through many streets with George in his MG. George is driving on borrowed time because the army want his ass for service in Vietnam, and the repo man wants his beloved car because he can’t keep up the payments. Meanwhile his girlfriend is about to break into advertising as a model. She says actresses have been spotted in adverts. I wonder if this is a reference to Godard’s first sighting of Anna Karina.
   George and his girl live in a modest wooden house with an oil derrick on their doorstep, almost literally. It instantly struck me as a strange choice of environment. These symbols of wealth are usually just that in film, but here it’s as if Demy is robbing them of their power and repositioning this one as little more than an ugly noise nuisance. Demy does strange things with sound during the film. At times, as George travels from place-to-place, there is a mechanical throbbing which appears to have no source. At one point the classical music that was on the car radio returns in a burst after he has turned it off.
   George, an architect without work, or belief in the job, views LA from on high at one point, whilst Demy sees it through foreign eyes, taking us on what are now time-travelling tours the way few filmmakers have done. It’s as if he’s engaging us the way he must have been engaged with the mythical city. But there are none of the typical self-mythologising shots of lights glittering like so many Hollywood stars. Here are the shop fronts, street corners and petrol stations, which are no less fascinating.
   The soundtrack, aside from the classical music, is from Spirit, who we meet rehearsing. Many of George’s friends are succeeding in the alternative culture. Others have their own newspaper. It’s all ‘happening’ for them, whilst George can only drive, trying to raise money so that he can keep driving. Then he sees Lola, by chance, and discovers she’s a model for anyone willing to hire a camera to snap her in naughty underwear. The first time he enters the labyrinth of the model shop is reminiscent of Travis Bickle’s trip through the corridors of sin. I can’t help thinking Scorsese was influenced/inspired by this scene. And again, like Travis with Iris, George would like to rescue Lola from the demeaning situation.
   Lola is a magnet to the lost. She is also incapable of saving them. She always has another place, another person calling her. This time it’s her son, back in France.
   What can George do? Soon he may be facing ‘Charlie’ in the jungle. I wouldn’t hold up much hope of him surviving. He might end up in a trench with the thousand-yard-stare....trying, perhaps, to see Lola, thousands of miles away in France...

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