Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 04
October 9, 1908
M. Hulot Arrives

Just eight years into the new century in the Paris suburb of Le Pecq, France, Jacques Tatischeff (which he later shortened to Tati), was born. According to his own story, Tati was a descendent of a Russian aristocratic family who emigrated to France when his father married his Dutch mother, Marcelle Claire Van Hoof. A natural athlete, Tati became a professional rugby player and then later a stage mime who would impersonate athletes. After the war (in which he fought for the free French Army), Tati returned to show business, making a few films and appearing in a number of others. But it wasn’t until 1953, when Tati directed and starred in Mr. Hulot's Holiday, that he found his true comic self. His silent, oblivious, pipe-smoking alter ego Mr. Hulot, bumbling about his life, revealed a world of comic possibilities. But Hulot wasn’t so much the center as the vehicle by which Tati realized his complicated, comic landscape, Rube Goldberg cinematic contraptions that highlighted the absurd, hilarious, often cruel, mostly mechanized modern world. M. Hulot would return in three more comedies: Mon Oncle (1958), Playtime (1967), Traffic (1971). While many came to look on Tati’s humor as a French throwback to golden age of silent-film slapstick (think Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton), others have championed his special touch. As Roger Ebert wrote of Mr. Hulot's Holiday, “It is not a comedy of hilarity but a comedy of memory, nostalgia, fondness and good cheer, [giving] us something rarer, an amused affection for human nature––so odd, so valuable, so particular.”


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December 4, 1998
Psycho remade

Nearly 40 years after Alfred Hitchcock released his seminal horror film Psycho, Gus Van Sant offered a remake that caused as much controversy as the first one, albeit in a different way.

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December 4, 1987
Rouben Mamoulian Dies

21 years ago today, Hollywood lost one of its great pioneers and stylists, Rouben Mamoulian, though the director had been an almost forgotten figure for nearly 30 years prior to his death. In many ways, Mamoulian was emblematic of old Hollywood: a European immigrant, he came to America as an unknown, enjoyed huge success as a director and saw his career come to an end as the structure of the studio system collapsed in the late 50s. Born in Tbilisi (now the capital of Georgia, but then part of Russia), Mamoulian started out as a musical theatre director after relocating to England. From there, he transitioned to Broadway, arriving in 1927 and getting his first cinematic assignment only two years later on the backstage musical Applause. Though he returned to musicals on the big screen and the stage, Mamoulian refused to be pigeonholed and is now remembered for the cinematic ambition and inventiveness he displayed: in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), he opened the film from the perspective of the protagonist (something which initially baffled audiences), he was a major proponent of moving the camera (at a time when it was difficult and noisy to do so), and used innovative sound design, such as in Love Me Tonight, where the film begins with a jazzy, rhythmic blend of street sounds and snoring. Mamoulian was also the first director to ever use three-strip Technicolor, in his adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Becky Sharp (1935), a film on which his dedication to his vision of a rich cinematic aesthetic was clearer than ever. Sadly, Mamoulian never quite had that one hugely successful picture that would have cemented his reputation and had a fair amount of bad luck, such as being fired from the noir classic, Laura (1944), on which he was replaced by Otto Preminger. After making the Fred Astaire musical Silk Stockings in 1957, Mamoulian never completed a film again, as he was fired from his last two directing assignments, Porgy and Bess (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). He received the DGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982 and five years later died of old age, at the age of 90.

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