Journeys Through French Cinema – The 8-part Series

by Mark Steiner

In 2016, when Bertrand Tavernier made the 3 hour, 15 minute personal survey of French cinema, titled My Journey Through French Cinema, fans of the director were in heaven. If you’ve ever heard Tavernier talk about movies, his breath of knowledge and urgent enthusiasm make you walk away wanting to watch every movie he mentions. The expansive documentary was well-received and thankfully received a US release on home video. One year later it seemed, however, that Tavernier was not content to leave the survey at just 195 minutes, so he set about making an even more expansive documentary series, which has now also been released in the US by Kino Lorber and Cohen Media

Scarecrow has both My Journey Through French Cinema as well as Journeys Through French Cinema – The 8-part Series for rent. We also have the Journeys Blu-ray in stock for purchase for $34.95.

Clocking in at 459 minutes and divided into eight hour long episodes, Journeys Through French Cinema is more than merely a rehash or expanded version of the first film. In it, Tavernier breaks the 171 films he discusses into parts that reflect various thematic and technical aspects of French cinema, as well as groups of some of his own personal favorite filmmakers that have not been recognized properly. As mentioned above, when Bertrand sings the praises of a certain film or filmmaker, he does it in a way that sets a fire inside you, making you want to share his enthusiasm by watching it too. Luckily, Scarecrow is your place to do this very thing. Of the 171 films listed in the episode credits, we have 108 of them. Most are on DVD, some are on Blu-ray only and some are only available on VHS. Here is a .pdf of every title in Scarecrow’s library, grouped by episode, with notes on where to find them in the store. And if you really want to do a deep dive or are merely curious to see the entire list, we’ve got that too as a spreadsheet. Happy viewing!

Bertrand Tavernier (1941-2021)

Last Thursday, when Bertrand Tavernier passed away in the south of France at age 79, the world of cinema lost not only a great filmmaker, but it also lost one of the great, if not the greatest, ambassadors of the seventh art. Whether Tavernier was talking about movies or making them, you always knew felt that he was communicating with you in the most urgent, direct way he could. His passion for storytelling and telling you about storytelling was palpable, whether he was using a handheld camera in a period film like Laissez-passer (aka Safe Conduct) to express the danger that his cinematic forefathers faced during the Nazi Occupation, or looking straight into the camera, hands shaking in excitement as he shared his infectious enthusiasm for a relatively obscure (at the time) gem like Jean Gremillon’s Le Ciel Et A Vous during an interview on the DVD of Joseph Losey’s The Prowler. Whenever I heard Tavernier talk about cinema, I always came away with a long list of unseen gems that I needed to watch as soon as I could get my hands on them.

He had a keen eye for social structures, and always championed those left behind or treated unfairly. During an interview at SIFF in 1997 before a screening of Capitaine Conan, he talked about adapting Jim Thompson for Coup De Torchon, and wondered how all previous Thompson adaptations either missed or ignored the deep criticism of the divide between rich and poor in Thompson’s post-Depression America. And this, from a guy from France! He also told a wild, illustrative story on that aforementioned Prowler interview about “outing” the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo as a ghostwriter for Rocketship X-M. Evidently, while watching the film he picked up immediately on Trumbo’s socialist themes and at a film festival, walked up to him and shocked Trumbo by telling him that he knew he wrote it.

It was during that visit to SIFF in ’97 that Tavernier came to Scarecrow. The day of the Capitaine Conan screening, somebody called Scarecrow asking if we could procure him a laserdisc of his film The Passion Of Beatrice. We needed to check and told them we’d get back to them. That night, after the screening, I walked up to Tavernier and told him we could order him a copy. There was a large crowd surrounding him and he looked a little confused, so I thanked him and left, not wanting to be part of the post-screening madness, and assumed that nothing would come of it. The next day, sometime in the early afternoon, he wandered into the store. Strangely, he didn’t seem at all interested in the laserdisc, but really wanted to see the store and our collection. I was more than content to let him wander freely, but he wanted a tour and after some urging from a colleague, assented to be the one to show him around. Compared to him, I didn’t know a crumb, but at least I knew what the layout of the store was and started leading him through the directors sections. I soon realized he didn’t really want a tour guide as much as someone to share his enthusiasm with, and for the next two hours I followed and listened intently as he pulled box after box off the shelf, talking about a forgotten director or film or genre. 24 years later, the details are a little sketchy, but I remember him wondering why we didn’t have director sections for Charles Marquis Warren, Henry King, William Witney, and Robert Parrish. (We’ve since rectified half of that.) He knew Witney and had made a film with Parrish, and talked about both of them at length. The Charles Marquis Warren films he was looking for were Hellgate and Trooper Hook. We didn’t have either at the time, but a few months later, a co-worker recorded them off cable and sent them to France. (Both have since been released to DVD.) The Witney film he urged us to watch was a singularly offbeat and powerfully emotional Western called Stranger At My Door. It was rarer than hen’s teeth at the time, but thankfully Olive Films released it to home video in 2015 and we were finally able to see the great film he was talking about. But I think the best part of the day, and possibly the best memory of my 29 years at Scarecrow, was standing behind him as he rifled through the film noir section, stating in his very thick French accent, “this is great!,” or “this is OWFOOL!,” randomly commenting on forgotten directors who made cheap masterpieces and then faded into obscurity. A deeply humanist filmmaker (and person!) he seemed most interested in the victims of the Hollywood Blacklist during the McCarthy era, and particularly praised the films of Cy Endfield. The Endfield film in the noir section that he was most excited about was Try And Get Me aka The Sound Of Fury – a brutal film noir that features Frank Lovejoy as a well-intentioned, down-on-his-luck family man who gets hooked into a kidnapping scheme with an oily, reprehensible Lloyd Bridges, resulting in one of the strongest depictions, and indictments, of mob violence classic-era Hollywood ever saw. Needless to say, that tape was a hot item around the store for a while as various staff members all wanted to watch it.

He began his career as a publicist for Jean-Pierre Melville in 1962 and ended it 55 years later with a documentary singing the praises of Melville and many other unsung French filmmakers. In between, he never stopped focusing his eye on the downtrodden, the unjustly accused or ignored, and anyone else treated unfairly by society, whether he was in front of the camera or behind it. The world of cinema, and the world at large, lost a bright, guiding light. What are we left with? As Tavernier might have answered, as he encouraged us to watch more films and live as if every day were our last  – life, and nothing but.

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