Sharing the Back Row with Eyes Without a Face

Ashley and I are going to talk about Billy Idol and his video for the song Eyes Without a Face…<producer yells in my ear> What? Oh, my mistake; we’re actually going to talk about Georges Franju’s 1960 film, which is almost as good as the song.

Peter: Snoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooozzzzzzzzz….

Ashley: -_-

Peter: Well, that was a fun review! See you next time!

Ashley: We’ve said all we need to say early, again!

I saw your tweets about rewatching Eyes Without a Face, and it seemed to bore you. Was it like that through the whole watch, or were you initially pulled in by the music? I found that opening sequence with the mystery drive and the ominous instrumentals instantly engaging. Coincidentally, it reminded me a bit about a film we previously discussed, Carnival of Souls.

Peter: Maurice Jarre’s score is one of the few enjoyable things about this film. I find the film overall to be quite boring and slow; it’s not even really building up tension, just taking longer to get to the climax. Even the way Dr. Génessier speaks slows the movie down; he’s just so deliberate. The music is quite enjoyable because Jarre gives this really weird, almost goofy music to some really dark stuff; it’s great. I love Jarre’s work. And my criticism aside, I’d rather watch Eyes Without a Face again than ever watch Carnival of Souls again.

Ashley: Oh boy. Well, we certainly disagree this week.

I find the mannerisms of Dr. Génessier, especially his slow delivery and attentive detail to dialogue to build tension dramatically. We never quite know where he’s going with a train of thought once he starts it down the tracks, and the waiting prevented me from jumping ahead and kept me totally at mercy of the film. It has such a quietly disturbing air to it.

Peter: That is interesting how you feel it builds the tension, and I can totally see how that would work in another film for me. So, how did you feel about the doctor overall? Was he doing terrible things to make up for something terrible, but with pure intentions? Or was he kind of an evil guy?

Ashley: I kept making connections during this rewatch of Eyes Without a Face to the Universal monster movies of the 30’s. I think in a way similar to how Dr. Frankenstein is depicted in the ‘31 film, I believe Dr. Génessier started out with pure intentions, but when he realized he could actually follow through on his plans he became maniacal about it and it evolved into evil. He seemed to become obsessed with this creation-like notion, and the closer he got to realizing that, he was consumed by it and his regard for other living people began to disappear. How did you find his character? Was he evil to you the whole time, or am I painting him in a darker light than he deserves?

What do you think it is about other films that use the tension-building methods we discussed to better serve their narrative? Like you mention above, I have encountered films that use a certain device that doesn’t work for me in that film, but work better in others, so I see what you mean about it not working for you here.

Peter: I’m with you on your assessment of Génessier. He doesn’t have evil intentions from the start, but becomes corrupted by the power he realizes, or believes, he now has. It’s very Frankenstein-ian. Perhaps it could have been a more compelling role if played by a different actor. This is probably the only thing I’ve seen with Pierre Brasseur, and I wasn’t impressed with his performance.

As for tension-building, it’s a little early in my day to try to think of something, but the first thing that jumps to mind is Fritz Lang’s M. It’s not apples to apples, but his use of silence in that film is something that I think really works to build tension and to create an atmosphere of fear. It’s devoid of music and dialogue in large sections, but it works 100% at pulling us in and keeping us engaged in the film.

Ashley: I had never imagined anyone else in the role of Dr. Génessier, but now that we’re discussing it, I would have loved to see our friend Philippe Noiret (Uncle Gabriel) from Zazie! His would have almost certainly been a more animated performance, and one that could have sold his shift in perspective more convincingly.

I agree with you about M; it’s definitely a film that uses silence to serve its story. Eyes Without a Face is maybe over reliant on its dialogue, which I didn’t expect since we’re 6-minutes in before we hear the first line. Despite that, though, the runtime just flies, for me. It feels like a 50-minute film.

Peter: I’m not sure who I would have put in Génessier’s role instead of Brasseur, but almost anyone would have been better. The pacing of the film, and Brasseur’s delivery, almost feels like the film is being improvised. We’ve beaten this horse, so let’s move on a little bit and talk about Edith Scob. I did like what she brought to the film; an innocence and lack of understanding about what is happening. I think she’s the one silent part of the film that is used to great effect; her slow, almost balletic way of walking and moving are quite beautiful. I found it interesting how effective she was in communicating emotion with her body movements, body movements that actually seemed to give her mask emotion; like we as viewers project an emotion on the mask just based on how she’s moving at any given moment.

Ashley: I took notes about her performance too, and was taken by it for many of the reasons you describe. I believe this was only her second film, which makes her performance all the more incredible. The final scene where she’s opening the cages to let the animals go, freeing the prisoners of that dungeon-like place just as she was being freed was so powerful. Her flowing dress, and her balletic movements, as you aptly describe, gives her an angelic presence doubling down on the creation motif explored throughout the film. She was brilliant, and unlike Génessier, I can’t imagine anyone else in that role.

Eyes Without a Face 6

Peter: Agreement! I obviously don’t own Eyes Without a Face, so I watched it on FilmStruck. I checked out a couple of the supplements, and one was an interview with Scob about her experience making the film. She said that she was on her own for much of the filming because she couldn’t really interact with others due to the mask. It really affected her performance in a positive way, showing her isolation from everyone.

Ashley: I could of course watch the interview, but did she give any indication on whether or not that was intentional? I don’t know much about Franju’s style as a director. Either way, It definitely aided her performance, I agree with you. Despite her limitations, due to the mask, she emotes in a powerful way throughout the film.

I forgot to congratulate you on your nuptials, this being our first discussion since the marriage…

Peter: First, thanks for the congrats! What a crazy day that was! A lifetime subscription is just what this cinephile needed.

Ashley: The perfect union, for sure!

Peter: Back to Scob…I’m not sure if it was intentional on Franju’s part or not, but Scob just mentioned that it was hard for her to eat with the rest of the cast/crew or to interact with them in a normal way. Perhaps that was just an unintended consequence of the role. Either way, it worked very well.

Can we also go back to Jarre’s score for a moment? Why do you think he went with something that was almost…zany?

Ashley: Interesting question about Jarre’s score. For me, the score suggests that we’re witnessing someone as they become unhinged, and really helps the audience get into the head of Dr. Génessier. The way the score envelops you illustrates how obsessed Dr. G is becoming with his work. What did you take from the contrast of the score?

Peter: I haven’t formulated an opinion on it; it’s just baffling to me, but not in a bad way. I love what he did, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why it’s so goofy. It’s almost as though he was led to believe this was some French New Wave (here we go with that term again!) comedy, so he scored it as such, only to find that some doctor is actually ripping off people’s faces. Strange.

Ashley: We should do a month of all French New Wave, wouldn’t that be fun?

I’m definitely not suggesting to know his motives, but I, like you, appreciate the score so much and for whatever the reason, it works well with the film.

Peter: Fun? I’d rather drive icepicks into my nether regions than watch a month of French New Wave.

Okay, one more complaint about the movie…the foley artists. I can’t stand when their work is so obvious, and they are not only obvious, but terrible in this movie. The scene when Génessier is walking to the morgue to identify his daughter’s body, the footsteps are so obnoxiously fake. I think the intent is to give us the sense of what it would be like walking down that hallway, but it was obtrusive. And all I could think of was Terry Gilliam clapping cocoanuts together in Holy Grail.

Ashley: I……loved that aspect of this film. You’re right that it was often obtrusive, but it added to how haunting the film is. It reminded me of being in a haunted house; all the sound effects you hear are loud and fake but it really instills a sense of terror and is so ominous that it works to set the mood.

How do you feel about Eyes Without a Face? Let us know in the comments.

For more movie opinions, follow Ashley on Twitter @oOoOoBarracuda, and check out her Letterboxd page, too. You can find me on Twitter @PeterPutzel, Letterboxd, and right here in the Back Row, Center Seat. See you next time!


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