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June 06, 2006

The Cry of the Owl


Le Cri du Hibou
Claude Chabrol - 1987
Allday Region 1 DVD

Claude Chabrol is a filmmaker I've been following as best as possible since I saw La Femme Infidele opened in NYC in 1969. During the time I lived in NYC, I was able to see several of Chabrol's older films and saw most of his current films through the release of Nada in 1974. For me, Chabrol's early period holds the most interest. Of all of the filmmakers who established their names as film critics for "Cahiers du Cinema", Chabrol has become the most prolific and the most consistently commercial. While I have enjoyed some of his latter films, particularly, Merci Pour le Chocolat, I feel like Chabrol has become frequently formulaic.

Like his admired Alfred Hitchock, Chabrol has made a film from a novel by Patricia Highsmith. The film is about observers and the observed, and an innocent man who is guilty of the deaths of several people. A plot by two jealous ex-lovers goes out of control. Among the visual motifs are rooms filled with photographs and paintings and people observing other people through picture windows. Much of the action takes place at night or in the dark, much like nocturnal animals in pursuit of their prey.

My main motivation for seeing this Chabrol film was due to the commentary on the DVD. An friend of mine from NYU, Ric Menello discussed aspects of Chabrol's filmmaking style as well as information on the making of the film. Ric's commentary was both informative and fun to listen to which was no surprise, as he was always a great story-teller when I knew him. I would recommend checking out Cry of the Owl for the commentary track, although this brings up a point of discussion. Most commentary tracks are by the filmmakers and cast members. A frequent complaint is that they are sometimes not very informative. I have listened to some directors commentaries that were sometimes better than the movies, for example, Peter Medak explaining what he was doing on Species II. I've had to stop DVDs where the commentary consists of droning non-information, often simply describing what I am watching on the screen. I just have to wonder why there aren't more films with commentaries by film critics and historians who are entertaining speakers. As much as I've learned from Donald Ritchie, I nodded out while listening to him discuss Crazed Fruit. Rate That Commentary would be more helpful if there were reviews in addition to the ratings. Otherwise, commentary tracks seem to be a hit or miss affair for everyone involved which is too bad. Done right as in Cry of the Owl, the commentary can be a valuble tool for film scholars. Otherwise, it's just another time waster.

Posted by peter at June 6, 2006 09:19 PM