#246. The Golden Coach (1952)

This is just exhausting. This is the last movie on the List from director Jean Renoir and I’m feelinga small wash of remorse to see him go, same as I felt in observing, with Tabu, that F.W. Murnau’s career was the first on the List to demonstrate its full arc (he died a couple weeks after the editing was done–or maybe it was a couple weeks before the premiere). But, as with the end of Sergei Eisenstein’s reign in Ivan the Terrible, I’m also kinda relieved.

Renoir’s movies aren’t impenetrable, but they’re very refined, and increasingly become too austere for me to even feel like putting up the effort to figure out why they’re supposedly special. The 40-minute Day in the Country is genuinely mystifying, and there’s a cynical part of me that thinks a lot of its praise is rooted in people trying to signal their own refinement.

The Golden Coach is more of that. It’s a gorgeous movie but the beauty mostly has to dow ith the costumes, the sets, the props. The actors. The story is a love triangle, dudes from different social classes all losing their shit over a beautiful actor in this troupe that’s recently come to town in (according to Wikipedia) Peru.

As with Renoir’s masterpiece (or at least his best title on the List’s sampling of his work), The Rules of the Game, he uses romantic entanglement here as the movie’s heartbeat. Something to ground us out of the opulence. But even in Rules he obscures the romance for a long time. it’s an hour of bullshitting until we even get to the comedy (or maybe the comedy up to that point was just going over my head).

The Golden Coach isn’t quite like that–like I can see how this movie is total eye candy for the kinda viewer who also gets off on stories of Tudor England, or something like Barry Lyndon, or fuckin…ahdunno, some or other movie where teh languorous resurrection of a “simpler” time is kinda the whole point, and if there’s a commentary it’s probably about class, or about romance, and where the allure is that you’re just getting to hang out her,e in this setting, with these sortsa people in these sortsa clothes, and it almost seems like story and drama are suppressed so’s not to interfere with that [editor’s note from the future: Luciano Visconti is gonna take this to a ridiculous extreme and I’m gonna be so miserable].

Again, this movie is gorgeous and there’s a total master behind the camera, but I was checking my watch the entire time and I absolutely hated it, was so bored I could hardly follow the story and really only perked up at the end, where we see Renoir exploring the idea of ana ctor, and her role in the world, which we can imagine to be something he’s been meditating on for a long time. It packs something like a punch we get from Renoir’s own show-stopping monologue at the end of Rules of the Game (I suppose it does get pretty earnest with his endings).

but yeah: a year ago I’d have stressed myself out about needing to study this, needing to find some insight for the blog. I’m over that now. I fucking couldn’t stand this and there’s no way I can muster enough intrigue to write some sterling meditation about it.

What I can riff on, though, is this passage from an essay by Andrew Sarris. He says, of Golden Coach:

To claim, as reviewers of the time did, that Renoir had failed to produce a convincing narrative, is to scorn Matisse and Picasso for not painting plausible pictures. 

Andrew Sarris, “Golden Coach”

I’m still on the fence about how to embrace this. I think about applying it to my own fiction, particularly when it comes to conjuring a believable kinda Miami setting on the page, cuz there’s a part of me that appreciates the conjuring of something that has a real world spirit without necessarily depicting things as they are.

Scorsese uses this argument in coming to the defense of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which I still haven’t seen, but I also think that the argument works differently when you’re talking about a master‘s application. Kubrick knows enough about film and he has enough big ideas about relationships and New York City that when his streets don’t look believable, or there’s a disorienting montage that feels so fake, we can trust that he’s got a reason.

But maybe he doesn’t.

One of the most influential pieces of art I’ve consumed in the past couple years, up there with Don Winslow’s Cartel trilogy of novels, is David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, which is an eighteen-hour series that juggles a bunch of different storylines, I wouldn’t even know how to count them, and rather than having them all intersect, or directly influence one another, he builds them up in such a way that…there’s a suggestion of connection.

Tough to explain.

Anyway. I can’t watch Golden Coach and scoff and say, “Bullshit, that’s not what seventeenth century Peruvian theater looked like,” cuz ahdunno what that looked like. I can dig that this was a question on the minds of other viewers, though.

It’s on my mind a lot lately.


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