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Capitalist Executives Evicerate a Working Class Film

Art, Ideas and the Profit Motive

The tale of the Goodis novel itself becomes politically interesting when a left-leaning French film director turns it into a film. Goodis’ brand of pulpy American noir especially appealed to French film directors. Francois Truffaut’s film Shoot The Piano Player was made from Goodis’ novel Down There. Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1983 film of The Moon in the Gutter starred Gerard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski as class-crossing lovers. The Moon in the Gutter is nothing if not a lurid tale of sex and violence in a context of clashing classes. In Truffaut’s case, the Goodis story became an art house classic. In Beineix’s case, the story of the film is dramatic in its own right.

Beineix made the film Diva in 1981, a film centered on a young bicycle messenger obsessed with a black opera singer played by real opera singer Wilhelmenia Fernandez, who was born and raised in Philadelphia. The film is done in bright and shiny primary colors with opera music galore with a melodramatic plot with cartoonish thugs, a mysterious young Vietnamese woman, a vintage 1940s Citreon automobile and a man who fills the role of ringmaster. The film was a bomb in France but a huge hit in the US.

Thanks to the US box-office numbers, Beineix turned to the Goodis novel and raised enough money to pay for elaborate sets and top-flight actors. He helped write the script and re-set the story in the dock district of Marseilles.

According to the great French noir novelist Jean-Claude Izzo (The Marseilles Trilogy: Total Chaos, Chourno and Solea) Marseilles is a down-and-dirty working class city peopled with rough immigrants from all around the Mediterranean, a volatile melting pot. In essays on “Mediterranean noir” he writes about a Marseilles characterized by “Mediterranean Creoleness." Izzo rebels against the idea of Marseilles, France, as a “border” between the West and the rest of the rich Mediterranean world. For Izzo, Marseilles is a hotbed of crime and political turmoil. His sympathy is for those at the bottom.

The Moon in the Gutter’s tawdry plot of class-confrontation and sexual romance mixed with violence is the kind of thing the French love. So, again, Beineix uses his signature garish colors and employs a deliberate melodramatic style. He apparently shot miles of 35mm film in and around the rough Marseilles docks to add flavor to the story of lovers crossing class lines. Given Beineix’s clear love of opera, as shown in Diva, Beineix envisioned the Goodis story in operatic terms with intentionally abstract sets, all ensconced in the milieu of the working class dock district of Marseilles.

For the look of the film go to this link.

As he edited The Moon in the Gutter, Beineix made a four-hour and a three-hour version. The producers in the French mainstream film industry, however, had a different vision. They insisted he cut the film down to a two-hour running time, the norm for middle-brow cinema. The film ran in theaters at two hours and 17 minutes.

Roger Ebert summed it up this way: "The Moon in the Gutter is a sumptuous, dazzlingly photographed melodrama that becomes, alas, relentlessly boring. It is all style and no heart, and the giveaway is that we never really care about the characters even though each one has a suitably tragic story.”



story | by Dr. Radut