Entry: JULES DASSIN RIP Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The great film director Jules Dassin died at the end of last month.  I've been a fan of his work for quite some time and was so enthusiastic about him that, at one point, I made an effort to see all of his films.  I haven't succeeded yet, but have probably seen more of his filmography than most.  A few years ago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art showed many of his movies in a festival.  After the screening of his masterpiece, "Rififi," he made a rare appearance.  The discussion and Q and A that followed was moderated by Bruce Goldstein of the New York Film Forum.  I had a question that I wanted to ask Mr. Dassin, but didn't get the opportunity to.  Frustrated, I looked up Bruce Goldstein's email address and wound up corresponding with Mr. Dassin through him. 

Dassin apprenticed under Hitchcock and it's quite clear that it had an impact on his technical skills as a director.  Dassin made gorgeous-looking films and established himself early on as a master of location photography.  "The Naked City" won a deserved Oscar for how well is captured the beauty of New York City.  This would begin a trend of his and he followed up by doing the same for London in "The Night and the City," Paris in "Rififi" Piraeus in "Never on Sunday" and Istanbul in "Topkapi."  In fact, tourism for the respective countries spiked considerbly after the successes of "Never on Sunday" and "Topkapi." 

The film of his that he was most fond of is the little seen "He Who Must Die," though most (including myself) consider "Rififi" to be his best.  If you haven't seen it, it's really worth checking out.  The influential heist sequence still holds up today and one can only imagine how impressive it must have seemed when it hadn't been copied so many times.   

My second favorite is "The Night and the City" which is incredible on its own, but strikes a chord with me due to how much of the plot revolves around the grandeur of amateur (Greco Roman) wrestling and how the sport is sullied by the world of professional wrestling. 

...Which brings me to my correspondence with Mr. Dassin.  "The Night and the City" isn't the only film which featured wrestlers.  The part of the scheme of Topkapi revolves around a Turkish wrestling event being so engaging that one simply can't turn away from it, and, "The Naked City" features a villain who is an (amateur) wrestler.  The reoccurance of wrestlers in Jules Dassin's films made me wonder if he was a fan.  He wound up spending much of his life in Greece, which obviously has a long tradition of classical wrestling.  Bruce Goldstein kindly forwarded my question to him.  Below is a cut-and-pasted response directly from the horse's mouth.

"With my regards tell him that all I ever wrestle with is my conscience." -- Jules



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