Jean-Pierre Grumbach (20 October 1917 – 2 August 1973), known professionally as Jean-Pierre Melville (French: [mɛlvil]), was a French filmmaker. Considered a spiritual father of the French New Wave, he was one of the first fully-independent French filmmakers to achieve commercial and critical success. His works include the crime dramas Bob le flambeur (1956), Le Doulos (1962), Le Samouraï (1967), and Le Cercle Rouge (1970), and the war films Le Silence de la mer (1949) and Army of Shadows (1969).
20 October 1917
|Died||2 August 1973 (aged 55)|
|Burial place||Cimetière parisien de Pantin|
Melville's subject matter and approach to filmmaking was heavily influenced by his service in the French Resistance during World War II, during which he adopted the pseudonym 'Melville' as a tribute to his favorite American author Herman Melville. He kept it as his stage name once the war was over.
His sparse, existentialist but stylish approach to film noir and later neo-noir films, many of them in the crime dramas, have been highly influential to future generations of filmmakers. Roger Ebert appraised him as "one of the greatest directors."
Early years edit
Jean-Pierre Grumbach was born in 1917 in Paris, the son of Alsatian Jewish parents Berthe and Jules Grumbach. His father was a rag merchant; the family lived in ninth-arrondissement of Paris. His eldest brother Jacques wrote for the Socialist Party weekly Le Populaire.
World War II and resistance activity edit
After the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, during which he was evacuated from Dunkirk as a soldier in the French Army, Grumbach entered the French Resistance to oppose the German Nazis who occupied the country. He adopted the nom de guerre 'Melville' after the American author Herman Melville, a favourite of his. His brother Jacques and his sister Janine also joined the Resistance.
In 1942, both Jean-Pierre and Jacques crossed the Pyrenees and headed for neutral Spain where they would then try to reach Britain and the Free French Army. They crossed separately several weeks apart. Jacques was carrying money intended for de Gaulle; he was shot dead and robbed by his guide. Jean-Pierre did not find out that his brother had been killed until the war ended. Melville served in the Free French Army for two years, mainly in the artillery. He and his unit were sent to Italy and Melville fought at the Battle of Monte Casino.
Filmmaking career edit
When he returned from the war, he applied for a license to become an assistant director but was refused. Without this support, he decided to direct his films by his own means, and continued to use Melville as his stage name. He became an independent filmmaker and owned his own studio, rue Jenner, in Paris 13ème. On 29 June 1967, the studio and Melville's apartment burnt down. His personal archive of photographs and scripts was destroyed.
He became well known for his minimalist film noir, such as Le Doulos (1962), Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle rouge (1970), starring major actors such as Alain Delon (probably the definitive "Melvillian" actor), Jean-Paul Belmondo and Lino Ventura. Influenced by American cinema, especially gangster films of the 1930s and 1940s, he used accessories such as weapons, clothes (trench coats), and fedora hats, to shape a characteristic look in his movies. He also displayed an interest in Eastern philosophies and martial traditions, as demonstrated in Le Samouraï and Le Cercle rouge. He self-described his style to André S. Labarthe as "nostalgic", while many commentators have noted its existentialist overtones.
This is how you should attend the forthcoming retrospective of Jean-Pierre Melville movies at Film Forum: Tell nobody what you are doing. Even your loved ones—especially your loved ones—must be kept in the dark. If it comes to a choice between smoking and talking, smoke. Dress well but without ostentation. Wear a raincoat, buttoned and belted, regardless of whether there is rain. Any revolver should be kept, until you need it, in the pocket of the coat. Finally, before you leave home, put your hat on. If you don't have a hat, you can't go.
For several years, he sat on the executive board of the French film classication board, the Commission de classification des œuvres cinématographiques, of the Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée (CNC).
Personal life edit
Melville was married to his wife, Florence, from 1952 until his death. She worked as a producer on Two Men in Manhattan.
Although a friend of left-wing icons such as Godard and Yves Montand and thought of himself as a communist in the 30's, Melville referred to himself as "an extreme individualist" and "a right-wing anarchist" in terms of politics, and was not actively involved in politics outside of filmmaking.
Melville died on 2 August 1973 while dining with writer Philippe Labro at the Hôtel PLM Saint-Jacques restaurant in Paris; the cause of death has been variously given as a heart attack or a ruptured aneurysm. He was 55 years old.
At the time, Melville was then writing his next film, Contre-enquête, a spy thriller for producer Jacques-Éric Strauss with Yves Montand in the lead. Melville apparently wrote the first 200 shots for the film. After Melville's death, Labro took over the project, hoping to finish writing and direct it, but he eventually dropped it to film Le hasard et la violence (1974), also starring Montand and for producer Strauss.
Melville's independence and "reporting" style of film-making (he was one of the first French directors to use real locations regularly) were a major influence on the French New Wave film movement. Jean-Luc Godard used him as a minor character in his seminal New Wave film Breathless. When Godard was having difficulty editing the film, Melville suggested that he just cut directly to the best parts of a shot. Godard was inspired and the film's innovative use of jump cuts have become part of its fame. In an interview, Melville claimed editing was his favorite part of the filmmaking process along with writing.
Melville's approach to film noir and the crime film genre, with its emphasis on "on process and technique, on the importance and ontological insinuations of habit and rules and codes and the consequences of breaking them" influenced the work of directors Michael Mann and John Woo. Woo called Le Cercle rouge one of his favorite films, and called Melville "a god".
Other directors influenced by Melville include Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Walter Hill, Johnnie To, Takeshi Kitano, John Frankenheimer, John Milius, Nicolas Winding Refn, Kim Jee-woon, Hossein Amini, Jim Jarmusch, and Aki Kaurismäki. The John Wick film series contains several nods to Melville's Le Cercle rouge.
As director & writer edit
|"24 heures de la vie d'un clown"||1946||Producer, narrator|||
|Le Silence de la mer||1949||Film editor|||
|Les Enfants terribles||1950||Producer, actor|||
|When You Read This Letter||1953||Adaptation|||
|Bob le flambeur||1956||Producer, adaptation, voice-over|||
|Two Men in Manhattan||1959||Producer, adaptation, dialogue, cinematographer, actor ("Moreau")|||
|Léon Morin, Priest||1961||Dialogues|||
|Le Doulos||1962||Adaptation, dialogues|||
|Magnet of Doom||1963||Adaptation, dialogues|||
|Le deuxième souffle||1966||Dialogues|||
|Army of Shadows||1969||Dialogues|||
|Le Cercle rouge||1970||Dialogues|||
As actor edit
|Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne||1948|||
|"Quatre sans millions!"||1951|||
|Amour de poche||1957|||
Code Name Melville edit
Produced in 2008, the 76-minute-long feature documentary Code Name Melville (original French title: Sous le nom de Melville) reveals the importance of Jean-Pierre Melville's personal experience in the French Resistance during World War II to his approach to filmmaking.
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- Calleri, Michael (30 March 2023). "ON SCREEN: In John Wick's world of action, nothing succeeds like excess". Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. Retrieved 7 August 2023.
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- "Orphée (1949) Jean Cocteau" (in French). Bifi.fr. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
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Further reading edit
- Ginette Vincendeau Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris, 2003, BFI Publishing, ISBN 0-85170-949-4
- Tim Palmer "An Amateur of Quality: Postwar Cinema and Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SILENCE DE LA MER," Journal of Film and Video, 59:4, Fall 2006, pp. 3–19
- Tim Palmer "Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SAMOURAI", in Phil Powrie (ed.) The Cinema of France, 2006, Wallflower
- Tim Palmer "Jean-Pierre Melville and 1970s French Film Style," Studies in French Cinema, 2:3, Spring 2003
- Bertrand Tessier "Jean-Pierre Melville, le solitaire", Editions Fayard, Paris, 2017. The first Jean-Pierre Melville biography. "The resistance period is informed on a different way through unpublished documents" (Le monde)
- 23 November 2017,Biographie. Jean-Pierre Melville, le parrain
- Daniel Israel Homage: a Tribute to Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973), 2022, D.I. Linguistic Solutions, ISBN 979-8840545041