Ida Lupino, the mother of American indie cinema, honored on Arte


Four films from the mother of American independent cinema are to be seen in replay: The Voyage of Fear, Bigamy, Coping and Before You Love You.

In 2020, Les Films du Camélia organized a retrospective of four films by Ida Lupino allowing us to rediscover the work of this forgotten filmmaker (yet the only one from Hollywood’s golden age), whose filmography has never been so relevant. than today. Four works that are now visible on Arte.TV: To face (1949), before loving you (same year), The Journey of Fear (1953) and Bigamy (same year). They will all be available for free until July 7, 2023.

At the end of the 1940s, Ida Lupino confides in his girlfriend Hedda Hopper, high priestess of the Hollywood people press. “I feel like the industry needs to get rid of some of the old mugs that clutter the screens. Including mine. I will stop playing! I want to explore other facets of the film industry. Acting has always been torture. I am now going to undertake what has never been done for me: tailoring stories for kids who want to break through. I want to write for them, direct for them, give them what they need.

This article originally appeared in issue 511 of Première, available on our online store

“I probably invented the new wave without knowing it.”

Ida Lupino

For more than fifteen years, Lupino was indeed an actress. A golden voice, a slender silhouette, her playing mixed hardness and fragility, softening a little the macho universes of Raoul Walsh, Michael Curtiz or Allan Dwan… One day she was an unhappy bitch (A dangerous womanfrom Walsh), the next day a nice girl (The Man I Love, again Walsh). She could hold the frame against Bogart (High Sierraalways Walsh) or make Robert Ryan waver, brilliant as a violent cop in The House in the Shadows (Nicholas Ray). A Warner actress, fetish of the great directors of the time, from whom she will learn a lot. In the mid-1940s, however, her career stagnated and she refused the box assigned to her (“I’m the poor man’s Bette Davis“). Too intelligent, too free, she can’t get roles to her (un)measurement. So she changes lanes.

On edge

Alongside her work as an actress, Ida Lupino has been writing for a few years. Stories, scripts – a soundtrack, even. But the real turning point dates from 1949. Her contract with Warner coming to an end, she decided, with her husband Collier Young, to found The Filmmakers, a production company which would finance films dealing with salient social problems. Filmmakers wants to show”America as she lives“, through B series shot in two weeks and for less than $200,000. The stories will be driven by an equal desire for social intervention (see the end credit of To face : “This is Not The End, it’s just the beginning for those armed with courage and faith“) and entertainment… It is all the same by chance that she finds herself at the head of her first film, Before I Love You. The hired filmmaker has a heart attack after a few days of filming and Lupino takes From this first attempt, she put in place a system that would remain the same: she reused film sets from other films, invented product placement before her time, called her old playmates to get advice. solid casts…”I probably invented the New Wave without knowing it” she would say in the mid-1960s.

Ida Lupino and Groucho Marx circa 1942
Ida Lupino and Groucho Marx circa 1942: The Hollywood Archive/Photoshot/ABACA

Between 1949 and 1953, she made six films on edge, on the worst taboos of the time. before loving you deals with abortion. To face talks about disability to better tell theempowerment of a young dancer with polio. Contempt (released in theaters on September 9) recounts the consequences of a rape. Game, set and match (absent from the retrospective) hides behind the sports film a reflection on the twisted relationship between parents and children. Bigamy displays the color from its title and The Journey of Fear is a great serial killer movie. The staging is always clear and bright. Classic cutting, dazzling mastery of the long shot and the sequence shot, nuanced photography that avoids contrast to favor softness and tenderness, and profound humility in relation to the subjects treated: this is the hallmark of one of the rare female filmmakers to hatch under the studio regime. Avoiding preaching or sentimentality, Lupino follows the moral or sentimental trajectories of traumatized heroes and always strives to bring hope out of distress. His films are above all stories of reconstruction that tell of the slow healing of a wound and the vital need for serenity of shattered characters.

missing link

In a famous filming photo, we see her sitting in her filmmaker’s chair. Where the director’s name usually appears is written: Mother of all of us (“the mother of us all“). When asked what the expression meant, she explained: “I like being called mom. I never give orders. To anyone. I hate women who yell at men…wouldn’t do that to those I direct on set. I prefer to say: ‘My darlings, mum has a problem. I’d rather do it that way. You can ? It sounds silly, but I would like us to try.’ And they do.“It says a lot about the difficulties of establishing yourself as a woman in the Hollywood fifties. But we can also see in this motto a deeper declaration of intention: if the films of Ida Lupino touch us, it is because they all have a loving eye on their characters. Damaged, screwed up, they discover over the course of the story a path to appeasement. The filmmaker offers her lost souls a possible reconciliation. In 1954, Filmmakers goes bankrupt. The director continues to work for television where she directs episodes of series, but her work gradually disappears.It will be necessary to wait for the 90s, Pierre Rissient and Martin Scorsese to rediscover this missing link between Raoul Walsh, Don Siegel or Robert Aldrich. .

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Ida Lupino, the mother of American indie cinema, honored on Arte