Friday, January 25, 2013
Why Seeing "Jules and Jim" Always Makes Me Think of This Pink Mailbox in California
Fracois Truffaut's beautiful, classic film, "Jules and Jim," is black and white and set in France, so it might seem odd that it would make me think of this quintessentially California scene, which I photographed in Ojai, California in 1994. It's because this is where the woman who is said to have inspired the novel and the film adapted from it lived for many years until her death in 1998 at the age of 105, vibrant and full of life to the end.
Her name was Beatrice Wood, and she was one of the inspirations for the heroines of two of the 20th Century's most memorable movies, "Jules and Jim" and "Titanic." Truffaut's portrayal was the more artful, while James Cameron's was probably more realistic (though Wood was not on the Titanic).
The relationship of the capricious, independent free spirit, Catherine, who loves both Jules and Jim, was partly based on the relationship in New York during World War I of Beatrice Wood, Marcel Duchamp and his friend the French novelist Henri-Pierre Roché, who published "Jules and Jim" many years later, in 1953. Roché and Wood were lovers, and he broke her heart. Jeanne Moreau, in one of her most incandescent performances, plays Catherine in the movie, and Jim breaks her heart. She responds by asking Jules to watch her and Jim go for a ride in a car, which she drives off a broken bridge, killing herself and Jim.
"Jules and Jim" stands up remarkably well for a 60-year old film, still widely regarded as one of the all-time greats. But the ending has not fared as well. Catherine's suicidal impulse isn't really in keeping with her life-affirming character. In the context of the French New Wave, Catherine's death came off as an act of absurdist rebellion, a sudden jolt that ended the movie on a bittersweet note. Today, it seems more like a classic example of what Molly Haskell wrote in "From Reverence to Rape" about how independent women were almost always punished in the movies, especially back then.
James Cameron's creation of the indomitable Rose in "Titanic" much better evoked the spirit of Beatrice Wood (she was invited to the premier, but since she was ill at the time she couldn't make it, and Cameron gave her a private screening at home.) The real Beatrice Wood not only didn't kill herself when Roché broke her heart, but she went on to enjoy many more love affairs and a long, active career, first as an actress, and then as a world-renowned ceramic artist, famed for her unique luster glaze.
I had enjoyed her 1985 memoir, "I Shock Myself," and when we drove to her place in Ojai, I could barely resist the temptation to walk up to the house just to meet this incredible woman. But she was 101 years old at the time. It seemed too intrusive. So I photographed her mailbox instead.