June 14, 2009

collected notes on Marie

[edited and republished]

Marie, a Hungarian Legend aka Spring Shower (1932)
directed by Paul Fejos
starring Annabella
produced by Osso in Hungarian and French

Burns writes:
Fejos's Spring Shower is one of the key Hungarian films of the 1930s and 1940s to explore the miserable lives led by maidservants. It tells the story of Mari, an austerely beautiful young peasant girl played by the French star, Annabella. Mari is seduced beneath a flowering tree by the admirer of one of the daughters of the prosperous family for whom she works, becomes pregnant and is cast out. Her lover gives her some money and then runs off. Respectable people gossip about her and she is refused work, so she moves to the city. There she becomes a maid in a smart brothel, where she is kindly treated by the prostitutes and the madam, and where her daughter is born. Mari and her daughter travel to her village, where she seems uplifted by the religious festival in which she takes part, and soothed by a statue of the Virgin Mary which she venerates. However, when she returns to the brothel, Mari's daughter is taken from her at the request of a group of stony-faced bourgeoisies who think that the child may be in moral danger. Mari is broken-hearted, leaves her friends and, unkempt and half-crazed, becomes a tramp. She goes back to the scene of her downfall and attacks the tree which has become its symbol. The bells of the church seem to call her, she stalks madly up the aisle, reaches for the statue of the Mary, and dies. But she is seen to ascend to heaven and when, fifteen years later, she realises that her daughter is about to be seduced beneath the same tree where she lost her own virginity, in fulfillment of an ancient folk-tale she sends down a spring shower to save the child from the unfortunate fate of her mother.

Spring Shower is like many 18th century English novels, such as Defoe's Moll Flanders, in revealing the vulnerable position of lower-class girls in hypocritical societies where men do what they like and women bear the blame. Here, as in Defoe, we see that the Establishment is on the side of expediency, not justice. In addition, we note that the only affection and humanity offered to Mari comes from the women at the brothel, declasees like herself and similarly rejected by the mainstream of society.

Yet Spring Shower is not like a work by, for example, Mariassy, a sociological expose which strives for authenticity above all. Fejos's film is, if not exactly pure poetry, at least largely fable. Its narrative is simple and exemplary; it has little dialogue although much music; it relies on striking, repeated motifs such as the flowering tree; its manner is sophisticatedly naif; it presents a world of feeling, not of fact; its conclusion is a matter of transcendence, not accommodation. Spring Shower is a fairy-tale, therefore, not a realistic account of the difficult life of one particularly ill-used servant girl. Its aim is imaginative truth rather than observation of reality. It gives us the story of an outsider, a girl like Cinderella who is cut off from the good things of life through no fault of her own, but who in the end magically achieves consolation (and, with the spring shower, even the capacity to influence events). It could hardly be thought that the film offers anything like advice to girls in Mari's position. Instead, it appeals to the emotions, affecting the audience by the uplifting power of its vision, not by the feasibility of its narrative. The spare, stylized cinematography by Istvan Eiben and Marlay Pawerell adds to the impression of the legend that the film wishes to convey, and Annabella gives a charming, luminous performance as the archetypical Mari. Altogether, Spring Shower is remarkable: an exception to the documentary rule which governs the modern Hungarian cinema and one of the most intensely metaphoric works of the 1930s.
H.D. writes:
...went to the Wien's biggest kino to see the Fejos film Marie, with Annabella. She really is lovely in it, but the film! It began very realistically with a servant getting landed with pup. She cant get work. Finally she lands in a bawdy house and has pup in middle of party. Then the bawdy house is reformed and the old dame keeper thereof crochets baby socks. But church bells ring and (we find afterwards in dream) the pup is carried in triumphal procession to church. Then police seize the pup to prevent its contamination. The servant takes to drink, goes mad, rushes into church and was removed walking -- and I mean photo-ed walking -- up sky steps to a heavenly kitchen of golden scrubbing pails and brushes where she empties soap suds of rain on to the man who seduced her. I myself was speechless from astonishment but half the kino wept and howled audibly. It is called a Hungarian legend. Marley (Mary Pickford's cameraman I think) did the photography all very soft focus, with many duck and blossom scenes. Fejos directed.

Dodds writes:
In Paul’s movie days, the beautiful Annabella was once one of his leading women -- very probably he had an affair with her. She had played the leading part in Marie (1932), the one of Paul’s Hungarian films which he liked best. When Annabella was leaving Hungary, Paul flew over her train (he was also an aviator) and stewed bushels of roses in front of the engine. People talked about it for a long time.
Fejos at Film Reference.
Fejos at Universal.
Annabella's obituary by Kevin Brownlow.

YouTube clip

June 09, 2009

Marie, a Hungarian Legend -- yard scene

The scene that sets Marie in motion. (Sorry for the quality.)

June 04, 2009

fejos on lonesome

I think June will be my Fejos month. This passage quoted from The Several Lives of Paul Fejos:
[Universal] had at the story-department properties -- that's what they called them -- stories that they owned, and naturally the first order of business was that I should get all the stories and read them and select one of them, because they'd rather use something they had than buy a new one. So I sat there on 'director's row,' which was called 'pneumonia row' because everybody got pneumonia there, it was so drafty, and read scripts from morning until midnight. Nothing! It was the most horrible amount of balderdash that I ever read; each one was worse than the other. Most of them were stolen from classics and very badly adapted, with names changed and age changed and all that, but everywhere the thing stuck out. I couldn't find a single story.

I had no preconceived ideas about what I wanted to do, but I wanted to do something new. I wanted to do something new in technique or new in feeling. And they had nothing.

Finally I went back to the story department and said, 'You can take back all the stories, I don't want any of them. Don't you have anything else?' They said they had some material but I wouldn't be interested because this was for shorts, short subjects. I said, 'Let me see them,' and took them down to my office and read them, and among them I came across a title called Lonesome. It was a very small script, three pages, the outline of it. It was about a girl and a boy in New York City, who have no friends and who are utterly lonesome. And these two people on a Sunday, as they have nothing to do and they have no friends, start out separately to Coney Island to spend the afternoon there. At Coney Island they meet accidentally and fall in love. Then some circumstance separates the two and neither of them knows the other's name, and there starts a desperate search at Coney Island from roller coaster to merry-go-round to try to find each other, but they don't. At the very end of the picture -- a happy ending -- they find each other. But it was poignantly-written, a beautiful, lovely, tiny little gem.

I ran with it to Junior and said, 'This is what I want to make!' Junior called up the story department and told them that I had selected this, and there was a lengthy talk on the phone. Junior said, 'Well, well,' and didn't say anything to me. Then finally, when he put down the receiver, he said, 'They're all against it. They say it's a property they bought for $25 and it's silly, and it's nothing, it's a travelogue.'

'Well,' I said, 'travelogue or not, that's what I want to make and my contract says I select the story.' Junior said, 'All right.' Then I needed to cast it and, of course, they told me to go through all the people whom Universal had under contract first, before I selected somebody from outside. I selected a very young, 17-year-old British and Canadian girl for the female lead, and one of Universal's very bright boys, sort of a wise-cracking, semi-comedian, Glenn Tryon, for the boy. The girl's name was Barbara Kent. Tryon was very popular.

One of the reasons I selected the story was that it reminded me of New York. I wanted to put in a picture New York with its pulsebeat, everybody rushing; where even when you have time, you run down to the subway, get the express and then change over to a local, and all these things; this terrific pressure which is on people, the multitude in which you are always moving but you are still alone, you don't know who is your next neighbor. There was, by the way, an O. Henry twist in Lonesome: at the very end the boy and girl found out that they lived side-by-side in the same rooming house, but they had never known about each other. It sounds corny, but let's say that it was high corn.
Hearing about Fejos's experience as an immigrant in New York with no English makes Lonesome a more poetic and personal film. What is most interesting about this story is the way Fejos avoids his more personal life and thoughts -- he doesn't mention much about Barbara Kent, although he supposedly entered into a relationship with her until he left Hollywood in 1931, nor does he say much about his theory and approach to filmmaking, although he undoubtedly put a lot of thought into Lonesome and made it one of the most unique films from Hollywood of the era. Did he watch many films? What were his artistic ambitions? I don't know. Curious figure.