Romy Schneider in Uniform, on the Trail to Bandit Country

Romy Schneider in Western garb, 1952.

Romy Schneider in Western garb, 1952.

While writing a comedy dedicated to Luis Buñuel last summer I initially refrained from watching anything other than his films, so as to accustom my imagination with both Buñuel’s timing and framing; I also gave myself the excuse to catch up on a few from his Mexican period, which I had been saving (such as Illusion Travels by Streetcar). But eventually I began making exceptions. You see, when I’m writing fiction I tend to use real people as models, in order to help me visualize the characters and scenes. And since three of the leading characters in my comedy were physically inspired by actors Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, and Michel Piccoli, I carefully selected and viewed films in which they starred but that I had not yet seen. Three of these with Piccoli allowed me to feel comfortable with taking a break from Buñuel—without the fear of losing my inspiration—and introduced me to the films of Marco Ferreri (with La Grande Bouffe, Dillinger is Dead, and Don’t Touch The White Woman!). Other memorable films I watched during those months, with Alain Delon, were Purple Noon, Borsalino (co-starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, who had also inspired another one of my characters), and The Swimming Pool (with Romy Schneider).

The project was a spur of the moment reaction I had undertaken after reading the original film treatment it was based on, which was to have been presented with my blog’s third post. But this blog itself was prompted by the desire to share my movie finds and writing hobby while organizing my first screenplay and second Western.

The first images that gave birth to Bandit Country, which I am very happy to be pursuing again, were conceived of only a couple of days into February of 2011, after having had a repeated viewing of Dirty Little Billy (before its DVD release) and upon concluding my exploration of director Paul Morrissey’s feature films of the ‘70s and ‘80s. While I had known and loved Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula for many years, I hadn’t felt inclined to sample his other work, besides Flesh for Frankenstein. But that changed in late January, after stumbling upon Mixed Blood thru my online rental provider. Upon noting the consistency in humor of the latter crime film and those earlier horror-satires, I simply had to catch up with what else I had been missing out on. And within a couple of days I had managed to track down and watch all but one title (L’Amour).

The laughs and fun I got out of those Morrissey’s (especially two starring Holly Woodlawn: Trash and Women in Revolt) combined with my interest in the Billy the Kid origin story (Dirty Little Billy), as well as impressions left over in my subconscious from an Argentinian intersex drama I had seen months earlier (XXY with Inés Efron) must explain what the hell it was I had swimming around inside my head when I got the funny idea involving Morrissey regular Joe Dallesandro and Fellini Satyricon’s Gitone (Max Born), which left me itching to write a story to accompany what I’m still chuckling about. Incidentally, it’s when I went searching to find out what became of actor Max Born that I found the excerpt from Ciao, Federico! (click on his name) in which he sings a Bob Dylan classic that lead me to find this version of it. And it was the playful mood in that cover of Don’t Think Twice (performed by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) that allowed me to imagine my two leading characters’ train ride out West and the unveiling of Bandit Country’s story. No, neither of those ‘kids’ is the one that’s Dallesandro-inspired. They meet up with that brute later.

To pick up additional ideas and inspiration for the benefit of one my leading protagonists, I’ve spent the following months, on and off, carefully selecting and viewing films with an LGBT theme. (It’s worth noting that before I began my research I had just watched a great Mexican Western featuring gay outlaws, recommended by director Alex Cox: Alberto Mariscal’s Los Marcados.)

I began with Querelle, which not only introduced me to the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder but also helped me resolve the only scene I had left to figure out before completing my comedy (it was the presence of Jeanne Moreau that inspired Ardie’s Redheaded Woman). Besides the visually stunning Querelle, other titles which have impressed me most so far have been Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (apparently influential on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), Fassbinder’s In A Year With 13 Moons, Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice, fashion designer Tom Ford’s A Single Man, Nagisa Ôshima’s Taboo, Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin, and the 1958 remake of Mädchen in Uniform starring Romy Schneider. I immediately knew upon my initial viewing of the latter film that I wanted to comment on it here, and thought it best to save for when I returned to work on Bandit Country. But when Todd Liebenow of Forgotten Films recently invited me to contribute to a guest blogger series in which the author had to review a title which featured a celebrity he or she had a crush on, the timing and opportunity felt just right.

Back in late 1996, when I got myself a Laserdisc player after a close friend gave me a new appreciation for movie making, I wanted to read about and learn from the film giants. And the first two books I picked up were The Complete Films of Orson Welles by James Howard and Scorsese on Scorsese edited by David Thompson and Ian Christie (the October 1996 edition). Among the titles I jotted down to seek out, I was powerfully drawn to Howard’s section on Welles’ The Trial, which included two photos (click here and here) with a lovely young actress that had just as much to do with my interest in finding that film as the appealing sound of Welles adapting Franz Kafka. Fortunately I shortly found and purchased two VHS/EP copies, and for many years I’d tell everyone that The Trial was my favorite movie, as I related to the story at the time and loved its sense of humor; I later purchased and still own the Roan Group’s Laserdisc release of it, and was thrilled to have seen it on the big screen at Bill Cosford Cinema with a receptive group of appreciative friends.

Portrait of Romy Schneider in Chanel, 1963.

Portrait of Romy Schneider in Chanel, 1963.

While favorites have changed throughout the years, Romy Schneider remains in that special place in my heart that I can’t say any other actress has ever dug themselves into, and there have certainly been others whose charms I’ve fallen for. Both beautiful and immensely talented, there’s something about Schneider’s face that pulls a protective big brother-like love out of me nearly every time I see her in a film, sort of like what she does to Servais Mont (Fabio Testi) in L’important C’est D’aimer. It disturbs me whenever I see her sad or even nude on film. (I laugh at myself now for wishing horrors on director Claude Chabrol, along with a couple of the actors, for her character’s abuse and humiliation in Innocents with Dirty Hands.) Schneider actually had more than her share of tragedy in her personal life, including the accidental death of her 14-year-old son.

Reviewed here for Forgotten Films, Mädchen in Uniform was one of my ten favorite older movie discoveries in 2011, and remains among a handful of titles starring Romy Schneider which I simply adore and will continue to revisit for both entertainment and for inspiration as a writer. It’s no coincidence that my muse resembles Schneider a bit.

More details on Bandit Country and its other inhabitants to follow, along with two more posts; one focusing on ‘cooking up a better villain’. I’ve been watching a lot of older Westerns lately (including treasures like Monte Walsh, Buffalo Rider, and The Wonderful Country), so there just might be another Western film review too.

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