Little Foxes


Marseille, Où - Lieu d’exposition pour l’art actuel

Video editing, 2 mn 17.

A montage formed from the credits and first scenes of seven black and white films featuring Gene Tierney (including all of the Mankiewicz and Preminger films revisited in Lora’s Tears) is projected onto a wall at the exhibition’s entrance. Images, titles, music and sound effects are blended together so as to constitute an original score made up of elements that in some cases will be difficult for visitors to recognise, however familiar they may be with the works in question.

Water constitutes a highly present motif within the montage. Flowing from the shores filmed for the credits of The Ghost and Mrs Muir to the choppier waters of The Razor’s Edge, developing from the gutters of Where the Sidewalk ends to the quays of The Night and the city, arising in the form of substitute elements (fog enclosing the sleepy alleyways of London, the flux of cars rushing past each other in New York’s clogged arteries, sheep cantering down the grassy slopes of Connecticut, a sheet of wrapping paper thrown into waves behind the counter of a Los Angeles department store), water appears to reach everywhere, enveloping everything in its path, as is hinted at by the intrusive appearance of the title, Whirlpool, on the screen. As though born from the flights of lyricism of the opening lines of the main theme of The Ghost and Mrs Muir, artificially pasted across the imposing residence of Dragonwyck at the montage’s beginning (before it, too, is swallowed up by the waves), water overflows from one scene to the next so as to ensure a sense of continuity between the works.

The juxtaposition of the shown filmstxt_quote_single_close images, titles, sounds and musical scores highlights certain analogies between them (the same production teams and distribution, genre correspondences, repeated use of backdrops, ambience etc.). While alluding to the works narrative and visual content (notably, the shots of flowing water leading up to the transitions between films are reminiscent of some of the visual effects employed by Mankiewicz in The Ghost and Mrs Muir to signal gaps in time), it also creates references to other classic films, unrelated to Gene Tierney’s career. For example, several associations may refer to West Side Story: the bold super- imposition of a man’s whistling over a theme by Bernard Herrmann, alluding to extracts from Leonard Bernstein’s musical score, the association of Natalie Wood’s name (in the credits of The Ghost and Mrs Muir) and chalk graffiti writing on a pavement (in Where the Sidewalk ends whose title echoes the inscription on the sign – End of the Street – at the close of Robert Wise’s work). The moving of Laura’s portrait from a Whirlpool shop window to Ann Sutton’s car introduces a two-fold reference to Jean Renoir’s La Chienne (The Bitch) and to Fritz Lang’s subsequent remake, Scarlet Street, a few months after the completion of Otto Preminger’s film.

Partially inscribed within the montage’s closing moments through the appearance of the names of Laura’s technical team, the work’s title refers to 20th Century Fox, which produced all of the films featured. It also alludes to Lillian Hellman’s production, The Little Foxes, which was one of the first Broadway shows for which Gene Tierney, still at her career’s beginnings, would audition. The erosion of the classics brought together in the montage makes reference to the young woman’s revenge on the man who would soon reject her from the production, due to her lack of prior on-stage experience, even if, a few years later, he would make her known among the cream of New York society by giving her the opportunity, at the very last moment, to replace Mary Lou Davis on stage in The Male Animal. When we consider that it was none other than Fritz Lang who directed Gene Tierney’s first on-screen appearance in The Return of Frank James, this evocation of the stage beginnings of the actress’s career clearly associates, in Little Foxes, with her very first film appearance.

We may then wonder whether the flowing water shots used in the montage also refer to fame itself, swallowing up the young actress’s life wave after wave with the psychological repercussions that we know only too well. But they can also be seen as a mere expression of the emotions inspired in spectators faced with this collection of visual and sonic materials. In this sense, the confusion established between their sources works to reflect the operations at play in visitors minds, with memories conjuring chain reactions of further associations and evocations.

The progression enacted in Little Foxes (from the combination of the images taken from the credits of Dragonwyck with music from The Ghost and Mrs Muir to the closing appearance of the portrait from Laura in the window of a shop on Wiltshire Boulevard) indicates the importance given to ghostly presences within the montage. Should we see these as nothing other than the traces left behind by spectators memories (with the flowing water that intensifies those memories serving to highlight their lyricism and power) or that equally mysterious force that allows the actress’s image to carve out its place within the History of film (the portrait from Laura is itself super-imposed upon the silhouette of a mannequin, which, a label explains, has been dressed up for a Hollywood celebration)?

The themes addressed by the series are flagged up in this way. The wild, ever expanding flow of water eventually submerges the actress entirely. It imposes an idealised image (Laura’s portrait) at the cost of the woman embodying the role, who is literally eclipsed from the montage (when a police inspector asks Ann Sutton to switch off her car’s engine); on the one hand an icy, distant image – on the other, that of a woman caged in by the triviality of daily life.

The water also phonetically recalls the name of Dora Maar (marine, maritime). Thus we may also consider that this marine interference within the American actress’s filmography reflects the work undertaken by the series of installations: this desire to push Gene further and further towards Dora. The effervescence of fame, concluding in the form of a painting, and the distance imposed through this representation: there is also an element at play in Little Foxes that stems from the life of Picasso’s lover and builds a sense of confusion between the two sources of inspiration for Lora’s Tears.

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Copyright © 2016 Laurent Fiévet