was still in elementary shool when my brother Louis made Elevator
to the Gallows. After all he was barely 24 years old himself. But
I remember the buzz in the family and my new status at school when the
first reviews came out. Suddenly everybody—including the parents
of schoolmates—were my best friends and wanted cinema passes and
autographed photos. That was my first brush with fame and it confirmed
an already well established love for the cinema.
Over the years, many things have been written about the film, lots
of anecdotes about the shoot, about Louis. For example the famous night
when Miles Davis recorded the music with a quintet of French musicians
in a few hours, improvising each number and sipping champagne with Jeanne
Moreau and their jazz-crazy director.
By the way, the particular sound he made on the freeway scene was not
premeditated. It turns out he lost a bit of his lower lip into the mouthpiece
and therefore “blew” differently.
Also the much talked-about scene of Jeanne walking down the Champs
Elysées at night, with Henri Decae (the Director of Photography)
in a wheelchair and electricians holding battery-activated lamps. Since
it was Louis’s first film, the laboratory called the producer
the next day saying it was completely black and had to be entirely reshot.
Thank God they didn’t, and it remains one of the more significant
minimalist night scenes ever. And other directors took notice: So you
can shoot at night almost without lights!
This brings me to a question a lot of people ask me, especially
in America: Was Louis part of the “nouvelle vague” or not?
Well, yes and no.
No, because he never belonged to (and was very against) any “movement”
or “school” and he certainly was not part of the Cahiers
du Cinéma crowd like Truffaut, Godard, Rivette or Chabrol.
But yes, because he shared the same admiration for American cinema
that he saw with them at the French Cinématheque of Henri Langlois
(John Ford, Nicholas Ray, Douglas Sirk) and also because he was out
of the gate before any of them (Truffaut made his first feature nine
months after Louis).
So to try to settle it, I would say he was the closest and the most
obvious precursor of the New Wave.
Elevator was an enormous success both critically and commercially,
won the Prix Louis Delluc (one of France’s most prestigious awards)
and definitely launched Jeanne Moreau’s career as a star.
And the music…!