Cut from Jan 17 Rewind column
For cinephiles, “To Save and Project” is the equivalent of browsing a second-hand bookstore. You never know what might turn up. The color version of “Wax Museum” was assumed lost until a print was discovered in Jack Warner’s personal vault. This year the programmers have two movies by a hitherto obscure French director, Louis Valray: “La Belle de nuit” (1934) and “Escale” (1935), both showing January 21.
Valray’s eccentric style is marked by off-center compositions, elliptical storytelling, creative sound bridges, and a near-documentary obsession with the seamy side of Marseille. “La Belle de nuit” is a tale of erotic revenge in which a cuckolded husband stage-manages his rival’s come-uppance. “Escale,” released in the U.S. in 1942 as “Thirteen Days of Love” details the unhappy affair between a ship’s officer and a gangster’s moll. The Times reviewer found the movie grotesquely anachronistic (“perhaps there was some procrustean age when this languidly sentimental trash may have seemed important”) but ignores the movie’s most problematic element, namely the hero’s childlike African manservant, played by the Senegalese dancer Féral Benga.
Although neither the Times review nor MoMA’s press notes credit Benga, he was a figure of some cultural significance—a male equivalent to Josephine Baker, his sometime partner at the Folies-Bergère, and the subject of a homoerotic cult. Jean Cocteau cast him as an angel in “The Blood of a Poet,” Pavel Tchelitchev painted his portrait. However demeaned, his presence gives the movie added historical import.