Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A film unimaginable without Miles

Went to a screening of Lift To The Scaffold (Ascenseur pour L'├ęchafaud) and it was sensational. The BFI are screening it in February. When they do, bunk off for the afternoon and see it.

It was made by Louis Malle in 1958 when he was 24. It's about a man who murders his lover's husband and gets trapped in the lift of the building over the weekend while a couple of tearaways go joyriding in his car and commit a crime of their own.

It struck me how some aspects of daily life in the Paris of that time might seem as puzzling as historical fiction to modern audiences. A nightwatchman clocks into the building during the night to check the premises. The killing is masked by the sound of an electric pencil sharpener. The newspaper which shows the murderer's picture is set in hot metal. The tearaways spend the night in a motel where you slept right next to your much-prized car. The girl lives in the 15th arrondissement in what the characters familiarly refer to as a "maid's room". And I suppose the over-arching question that any 18-year-old might ask is - how could you possibly not be able to get in touch with someone for twelve hours? 

The picture above shows the film's star Jeanne Moreau with Miles Davis, who improvised the soundtrack in one overnight session in Paris after having seen the film just twice. It's now pretty much unimaginable without him as you can see in this short clip.


  1. We've started on The Soprsnos to fill the hole left by Breaking Bad - although it's achingly dated, large PC screens, no mobiles and using public phones - we're sticking with it...

    On a Miles riff, have you checked this - The Complete Columbia Recordings. Six CDs of every Miles/Coltrane session, remastered so perfectly, at times, it sounds like the musicians are in the room with you. All for around eighteen English pounds

  2. I agree. The film is excellent. I would also recommend the recently issued 6 cd box set of Jazz on Film - the French New Wave which features this soundtrack amongst others. Playing it in the car, you can create your own personal film noir soundtrack while cruising those mean streets searching for the ghost of Jeanne Moreau.

  3. Thanks for the tip, Thomas. Just found that on Spotify.

  4. Because of your piece, I'm off to see the film this afternoon at the BFI.