Mademoiselle, made in 1966 for Woodfall Films

“My first picture with Tony [Richardson] was made in France with an entirely French crew, apart from myself and an editor I didn’t like. Oscar Lewenstein had uncovered a screen-play by Jean Genet written many years before, to while away one of his sojourns inside a French prison, that Genet himself had forgotten about…. It may have been this wildness in the place that caused Tony to decide quite early on to have only the actual sounds of nature, and no music. These was done for him by a very special recordist, Peter Handford, and led at one point to a typical exchange between them. Tony had asked for the sound of bats to be laid over one scene, and Peter explained that the frequency of bat sounds is outside the range of the human ear.”Well I’m most disappointed in you, Peter, why can’t you invent something?”…

DSCF4373 Quite early on Jocelyn Herbert, George Devine’s wife, arrived on a visit. It was a day when some farmers were doing something not very nice to an ox (I don’t know the specifics). The creature was cased in a heavy wooden frame where it couldn’t move, and Tony had set up close on one petrified eye. I told Jocelyn I could not understand what he was about. She laughed, “That’s my Tony – you’ll soon get used to that.” …

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MADEMOISELLE was my first encounter with the ultra-wide screen format using anamorphic lenses, sometimes referred to as  “scope”. It is a process that I have come to dislike but at that time it was intriguing. There was this interesting difference, that (unless you were cross-eyed) you would be unable to see both ends of the screen at the same time. In other words you would be composing pictures not within a frame but within a space; so I suggested to Tony that all the movement in a scene should be carefully arranged inside this space and that the camera itself would never move. He loved the idea but it didn’t half piss off the French camera-operator who, having panned and tilted his way through all Alain Resnais’ pictures, felt his talents were being overlooked. At least it meant the operating lay within my capabilities when I had to take over for the last two weeks because he wanted to go off and start another picture with his true master

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The two language idea yielded hilarious results due to the French small part actors having to learn their English lines phonetically, the theory being that their lip movements would then allow them to be re-voiced later on. Unfortunately French is the language above all others where the stresses can be relied on to fall in the wrong place, and so “What are you going to do about it?” emerged as a pair of triplets “WOD OO GOAN / DOO BOW TIT”. With ardent Gallic bit players, scenting international renown, hurling this sort of thing at each other, as may be imagined, my life was a joy.

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This is probably as good a place as any to deal with that vexing nuisance the aspect ratio. This technical-sounding name means only that the picture is the wrong shape for television and in this respect MADEMOISELLE is in the demonstration class. When she turned up on video thirty years later the carefully arranged placement of images no longer existed, in fact one close-up with Jeanne on the edge of screen left, had me wondering why they had put in a shot of an empty landscape. It was at that moment that I feared what was going to happen to Gilles de Retz. This is a sequence where Jeanne goes wildly deranged in the classroom as she describes the paedophobic activities of the Marshal of France. Diopter is a Greek name for a supplementary lens attachment that brings the focus down to a mere couple of inches. Due to the extra-wide format of “scope” it is possible to confine the close-up attachment to one side of the picture only ; this is called a half-diopter (a good example being Milo’s egg in CATCH 22 ).

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Because the edge of the glass shows up as a strange unfocused vertical bar down the screen one always tries to lose it against a hot background, usually a bright sky. This time however it was the edge of the diopter that would make everything work. In a close-up Jeanne turns profile to camera and, as she does so, shifts very slightly sideways and the edge of the diopter pulls out the back of her head as though drawn by a magnet (one of Picasso’s or Braque’s ladies had the same trouble). It was an astonishing exercise of control by Jeanne; however in this instance video, which would have lost the thing outside the left of screen, was pre-empted. She and I needn’t have bothered in the first place – a shot like that is a challenge to any editor and it had landed on the cutting-room floor years ago.

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In ordinary wide-screen pictures, or “1.85 to 1” as it is called, there is a space at the top of the frame where no one may put anything (be it lamp or microphone) because although not seen in the cinema, it will disobligingly re-appear on the tele. Apart from handicapping the sound crew, it is obvious that a composition that fits two quite different shapes will be one with very little to say. It would be nice if somebody made up their mind; but no, for the past forty years there has been one frame for cinemas and another for television which of course actually means no frame for either – so there can never be properly effective use of composition, which is half the strength of a photograph gone.

Troubles with the French did not end with my operator; another crew member proved sufficiently unsatisfactory for me to fire him, which brought the entire unit out on strike. Tony was magnificent. We sat it out for a week, after which, amour propre being satisfied, Albion was allowed somebody who could actually do the job… The only time ever I saw Tony worried about a scene was the ending of MADEMOISELLE. She takes an evening stroll in the direction of the woods and of course encounters none other than Ettore Manni. They then set out on an all night sexual Marathon through moonlit woods, byres and hayfields – every act more bizarre than the one before it. Tony had already told me why these scenes were crucial,

“If they work, the film will work.”

When it came to begin shooting Tony approached me early in the evening.

“How many times do you think he fucks her during the night?” Nicely brought-up English boy that I was, I ventured a cautious “Three”. A couple of hours later he took me aside again.”It’s all a disaster!”

“Why?”

“You know what I asked you earlier. Well I’ve been round the unit and got some very peculiar answers. ”

“Like?”

“That silly third assistant said fifteen, and someone else said they don’t do it at all.”

“Who was that?”

“That fool Ettore – that’s why it’s a disaster.” from Clara

A year before he died, David came to talk to my PhD students and he chose the subject of Black and White photography (a warm up for Lodz did we but know it). Although there was no available dvd of the film available at the time, he talked warmly of what he had achieved in Madameoiselle, and in particular the sense of place in the landscape photography, confirming how right he had been in fixing the camera so events unfolded in the oblong spaces. The absence of a musical sound track delighted him, and he paid tribute to Peter Handford’s integration of sound effects into the film, the noises of animals and birds. His devotion to Tony was such that the film was considered a vehicle for characteristic glimpses of the perverse Mister Richardson. It’s a pity that in Thesaurus and Clara, David did not expand more to the photographic achievements of his camerawork, which saved this flawed picture. In his interview with Peter Handford, they bemoaned the decision to reveal the cruelty and destructiveness of Mademoiselle right at the very beginning rather than letting the audience slowly discover her character. Tony Richardson had agreed to a re-edit but, becoming impatient on post-production, had released the original edited version.

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