Academic journal article CineAction

Lola Montes

Academic journal article CineAction

Lola Montes

Article excerpt

Lola Montes, adapted from a popular novel, was planned as a super-production, to be made in French, German, and English versions, with an international cast, in Cinema Scope and Eastman Colour. The film cost over 650 million francs, and was one of the biggest commercial flops of all time. (1)

As Richard Roud goes on to explain in Max Ophuls, An Index, the reasons are not difficult to find. Audiences were expecting, for the price of a film ticket within the safety of a theatre seat, to experience and be titillated by the exploits of the courtesan Lola Montes. Instead, they were subjected to a meditation (and not a flattering one) on the fears and resulting egos that were drawn to such forms of objectified entertainment. Yet despite its box office failure, French critics hailed Ophuls' last film as perhaps his greatest.

Lola Montes has been interpreted by many, including Max Ophuls himself, as an exploration of the phenomenon of celebrity: Specifically the destruction of individuals who find themselves trapped within their own celebrity. In Max Ophuls and the Cinema of Desire, Alan Larson Williams quotes Ophuls (from an interview in Arts in April of 1956) on how he found the inspiration to make Lola Montes:

When it was proposed that I do `Lola' it seemed to me that the subject was completely foreign to me. I don't like lives in which a great many things happen. At the same time, I was struck by a series of news items which, directly or indirectly, took me back to `Lola': Judy Garland's nervous breakdown, the sentimental adventures of Zsa Zsa Gabor. I meditated on the tragic brevity of careers today. The questions asked by the audience in `Lola' were inspired by certain radio programs. (2)

Williams also quotes film maker Marcel Ophuls (from an interview from the Rice University Media Centre in 1973) on why he thought his father's film was initially received so poorly by the industry as well as the public:

... I think what was not understood was that the film is a denunciation of exhibitionism in show business through show business and a denunciation of spectacle within the spectacle. It was a way for my father to react against having to make a film in Cinema Scope, in color, with Martine Carol [as Lola], and a lot of other things, when actually his original plan had been to make a very small film with a romance between an old king and his young mistress; which would have been a much more romantic and intimate film. And once he accepted all the spectacle, with a bigger budget and so forth, he quite subconsciously, I think, felt more and more like denouncing it. In that way he really was making a film against the producers, and I think they knew that all along. And that provoked a feverish, crisis atmosphere which is very much felt in the film. (3)

Marcel Ophuls' interpretation of the making of the film and its subsequent `disaster' offers some very helpful insight as to why the producers found the film so offensive. But it is through the eyes of the average 1955 movie-going audience that one begins to understand why it was so difficult for the public to embrace such a film.

Max Ophuls worked in Hollywood throughout the forties, before making Lola Montes, and was no stranger to the `climate' in which women in Hollywood were working. Susan Faludi, in her book Backlash, The Undeclared War Against American Women, has a very interesting perspective on "the silencing" of women in film, and goes on to make specific reference to the 30's, 40's and 50's:

The words of one outspoken independent woman, Mae West, provoked the reactionary Production Code of Ethics in 1934... which banned premarital sex and enforced marriage (but allowed rape scenes) on screen until the late 50's... [she wound] up as carpeting along with the other overly independent female stars of the era: Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and West were all officially declared `box office poison' in a list published by the president of Independent Theater Owners of America. …

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