Jeanne Moreau's LipsWednesday, April 28, 2010
Knowing what I was going to write about today I stood in front of a mirror this morning and watched my mouth as I said, out loud, “Lips.” I then switched to Spanish and said, “Labios.” The Spanish is far more melodic and softer. The word is easier to rhyme than the English equivalent. The Spanish pronunciation involves a wide opening of the mouth that seems generous with a hint of the romantic. Yet, in English, that lingering of one lip over the other, an intimate one, suggested something far more exciting than just the romantic. It felt almost erotic as I let the air sneak out slowly when I got to that final s in lips.
My Real Academia Dictionary (RAE) definition for mouth is:
(Del lat. bucca, voz de or. celta; cf. galo boc[c]a).
1. f. Abertura anterior del tubo digestivo de los animales, situada en la cabeza, que sirve de entrada a la cavidad bucal. También se aplica a toda la expresada cavidad en la cual está colocada la lengua y los dientes cuando existen.
Translated into English it is most unromantic.
The outside opening to the digestive tube of animals which is situated in the head. It is the entrance to the mouth cavity. It is also used to describe the cavity in which you will find the tongue and the teeth when they exist. Decidedly unromantic.
I looked up labios to see if there would be a poetic improvement:
(Del lat. labĭum).
1. m. Cada uno de los rebordes exteriores carnosos y móviles de la boca de los mamíferos.
Each one of the fleshy and moving borders of a mamal’s mouth.
In order to educate my granddaughter Rebecca (12) and to train the younger ears of Lauren(7) I make it a habit of changing the CD programming of the car. I put very special care to this when we drive (about three times a year) to visit my eldest daughter in Lillooet. The slightly over a three hour trip gives me ample opportunity to train the captive ears of my granddaughters. Only once, Rebecca attempted to listen to her iPod in the car. I nixed that. Luckily it broke and her father, and anti-Apple man who would probably shoot Johnny Appleseed on sight, refuses to have it fixed.
Rebecca adores Philip Glass, Erik Satie, Oscar Peterson, Vivaldi (she is specific of the slow middle movement of the Season’s Winter), Gerry Mulligan playing My Funny Valentine and many others from my CD collection. Of late I introduced her to the Argentine folk singer Teresa Parodi who hails from the semi tropical province of Corrientes. Like her mother, Rebecca enjoys Astor Piazzolla and when I do play him the car she always wants to listen to Milonga del Angel. She could do worse. I approve.
Most of my extensive collection of Piazzolla has passed by Rebecca’s ears but there was one CD that I really had never played much and only now I am beginning to appreciate it. The CD is called Piazzolla – Música de Películas (Film Music). The only film that I can remember that definitely featured Piazzolla’s music is that most interesting (I really like Bruce Willis, even in the worst of movies) is Terry Gilliam’s 1995 science fiction Twelve Monkeys.
Since Argentines consider themselves to be European the Piazzolla film album features films I have never seen such as Alain Jessua’s 1977 Armagedon with Alain Delon, Jean Janne and Renato Salvatori and Nadine Tringinant’s The Honeymoon. But it’s the third film (and the CDs best and first four cuts, Soledad (Solitude), Muerte (Death), El Amor (Love) and La Evasión (Evasion) that are my favourites. I never bothered to find out what film it was from. I did on Monday. The film is Lumière and it is Jeanne Moreau’s 1976 directorial debut.
When I read the name the first image in my mind was her striking mouth with lips that seem to be etched into her face.
I was suddenly hit by a wave of nostalgia for her films of which I have seen many. But I had never seen or heard of Lumière in which she also acts but that curiously includes Keith Carradine in the cast. Some might think that Carradine would be a superfluous reason to see this film but, for me, his presence would be a most welcome attraction.
The reason I never saw Lumière is that I had moved with my family from Mexico in 1975. Let me explain why the film escaped my notice as it involves the influence of a friend/mentor who pushed me, gently, into culture. Once I had left for Vancouver I would have to learn to fend for myself. It took me many years to find out about my loss and how I was to regain it.
As a child and a young boy my parents and my grandmother fed me a steady diet of the best Hollywood films of the 30s, 40s and early 50s with a smattering of British films. They never took me to see Spanish, Argentine or French films.
It was around 1961 that I met the urbane and multi-lingual Raúl Guerrero Montemayor who is part Filipino, part Mexican and a third nationality that he has always kept to himself. He is a handsome man with blond hair and blue eyes and he looks very much like the actress Yvette Mimieux. And he should as they are first cousins. Raúl was educated in Switzerland (the details are a mystery) and he has a fondness for friends who are Hungarian and French. Raúl took it upon himself to become the Artistotle to my puny Alexander. He took me to bohemian cafes in Mexico City and to late shows at the beautiful cinemas that Mexico City had in the 50s like the Cine Chapultepec, Cine Metropolitan and the exquisite Cine Roble. Raúl introduced me to French and Italian films. We saw all of the Michelangelo Antonioni films.
In those early 60s the Mexican government, a virtual dictatorship by the PRI imposed on all movie houses an hour long string of “cortos” or shorts which were newsreels modelled after Movietones but far more boring. They were thinly veiled propaganda and a recurring theme was the Mexican president, dressed always in a guayabera, cutting the ribbon of this social security hospital or that new superhighway to the hinterlands. The music was either by Mexican composer José Revueltas, or strangely, the American Aaron Copland. To avoid them Raúl and I would arrive late so we rarely were able to sit together. Some of those 60s Italian or French films had bidet references or jokes. Few Mexicans knew about bidets (it is reputed that Napoleon, who suffered with severe hemorrhoids travelled with a bidet) so whe the jokes came I could always hear Raúl laugh on the other side of the room as he also heard me. I also fondly remember that for some reason the British films of that era, particularly those with Peter Sellers, showed primitive British plumbing with many repeated scenes of overhead chain pulling in toilet stalls.
The first Antonioni film we saw was his 1962 La notte. Jeanne Moreau was in it and I became obsessively fascinated by her etched lips. She was a bit scary.. She was like a blend of Katherine Hepburn (as a child her scenes in films were she wore pants confused my sense of what sexuality was all about) and Betty Davis. I wasn’t quite ready yet for assertive women. I preferred the likes of that other Antonioni heroine, Monica Vitti, who had shared film credits with Moreau in La notte. I then saw Vitti in L'avventura, L'eclisse, and the Red Desert. Raúl said nothing when I tried to explain my attraction for the cool but sensual Monica Vitti. It had been Raúl who had taken me to see enough Italian films with Sophia Loren and Marcelo Mastroianni or films with Claudia Cardinale that helped push me from the merely pneumatic to the sophisticated femininity of Vitti. It was only time before I would fall for Moreau. And I did although for a while I was distracted by the charms of the Zagreb-born Italian actress Sylva Koscina. And it had been in the middle to late 50s that I had discovered my lifelong interest in the power of empty and negative space when I first saw the cheap and rather tame Mexican magazines with censored pictures of Brigitte Bardot’s cleavage.
Raúl Guerrero’s urbane sophistication won out although I will not give him full credit. After all it was in the middle 50s that I had first noticed Grace Kelly’s neck and then noticed her other attributes and I fell in love with her. Perhaps it was her distancing purity that made me fall for the distractions of Brigitte Bardot.
Listening to that beautiful Soledad by Piazzolla and knowing its connection with Moreau I could see Moreau’s lips in my mind. I never met her so I do not have any pictures of her. The pictures on the web are small files and rarely break my goal of mostly featuring my own photographs here. I came up with the idea of showing three women that I have photographed who in my mind have lips in spades. Before I go to that let place here a translation of Piazzolla’s letter which is inside my Argentine CD. It reads:
Solitude, Love, Death and Evasion was composed especially for the film Lumiere which was directed by Jeanne Moreau. This Lumiere Suite refers to the four moments and protagonists of the film.
I wrote music before the film was made. Each person with his music.
Jeanne was satisfied and so was I. She is a beauty, but I am not.
May, 1976 Buenos Aires
The three women, whose wonderful mouth and lovely lips are featured here, are modern dancer and choreographer Crystal Pite, the beautiful Lisa Montonen (of Finnish origin) and the very Italian Lalita. Of the latter many of the patrons who frequented the No Five Orange (where she served beer) called her Vancouver’s answer to Sophia Loren.
Raúl Guerrero Montemayor would not approve of the last two. I think he would opt for, as I do, for the woman whose lips, while beautiful, somehow convey the intelligence and the exactitude of her craft which is dance.