Vincente Minnelli on “Madame Bovary”

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These excerpts are from an amazing and comprehensive interview conducted by Film Critic Henry Sheehan with Vincente Minnelli – the link to his site is at the bottom of the page.

Q. Another film I’d like to talk about is a very early one, Madame Bovary (1949). If some films can be regarded as a summing up, this one seems to be an anticipation. There’s really no liberation for Madame Bovary…
A. No! She fantasized everything! Her dreams were so much more realistic than reality. She dreamed so big and wanted everything to be beautiful. And everything was hideous, starting with the farm, the convent and all that. Disillusion about her husband.

Q. In your autobiography again, when you talk about Home From the Hill (1960), you talk about the operatic sense of the boar hunt. That operatic sense also seems present in the ballroom scene in Madame Bovary, almost a building hysteria.
A. Yes, that’s the one time that the dream came up to the reality. She saw herself as wanted and beautiful; the belle of the ball, so to speak. Then it ended bitterly. Illusion.

Q. Now the mirrors in the Madame Bovary ballroom scene; those must be very consciously placed to emphasize her narcissism.
A. Yes. She looks up and sees herself with men and officers asking her to dance. That is the dream she recognizes. I use mirrors all through that. The cracked mirror in the horrible establishment she rents in Rouen. The thing she looks into to put her make-up on in the last scene. In the convent. People don’t realize how many mirrors there are in that…

Q. I was wondering what your taste in music ran to.
A. All kinds.

Q. It’s just that you mentioned West Side Story.
A. That’s a marvelous score. But Rosamund makes another kind of marvelous score. Incidentally, the waltz from Madame Bovary, which is so important in the book – I got a chance to work for the first time with [composer Miklos] Rozsa before the event. I went up with a stopwatch and told him what Van Heflin was doing in the other room [while Jennifer Jones was dancing in the ballroom]. Three times I went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It was recorded and we shot to that. Usually, in a dramatic story or comedy, the composer is brought in at the last moment when they see the rough cut. And they have work terribly hard to do it in that time.

To read the full interview Henry Sheehan conducted with Vincente Minnelli click here: Interviews | Vincente Minnelli.

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