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Donovan sings three songs :outside the wonderful "sailing homeward",he
performs two ditties "I'm the pied piper" (obvious) and "life has her
(!) ups and her downs".It was filmed on location in Germany
"The pied piper" ,like "Peau d'âne" which was released the year before, is a fairy tale ,but the mood is drastically different:I would say that "peau d'âne" is a movie for children that can appeal to adults,and "the pied piper" a movie for grown -ups which can appeal to children."Peau d'âne" is the bright Renaissance,with its châteaux de la Loire such as Chambord,and the forest and the country are not hostile,it's a providential world."The pied piper" is the dark Middle Ages;the beginning might have been influenced by Bergman's "the seventh seal":the wandering entertainers ,the plague ,the "sorcerer" ...The screen play is almost an original one:the famous legend lasts barely ten minutes ,the rest of the plot is completely new and extremely pertinent.
Two worlds clash in Demy's work: the world of Melius the jew,that of an embryonic science and a desire to explain the things and to react to them:he comes much too soon and anyway the Jews suffered persecutions in those troubled times too:think that Louis IX,King of France of the thirteenth century ,forced the jews to wear the "rouelle",a sinister ancestor of Hitler's yellow star.And he became Saint-Louis, canonized by the Catholic Church.
And there's the world of the bishops,sinister characters dressed in red,red as blood,who personify intolerance and ignorance :unlike Melius,they react to the bubonic plague by saying it's a God-sent ordeal,because men are sinners,they do not have to understand but they must be ready to repent and to mortify (self-flagellation).The wedding is revealing as well:listen to the bishop,the way he speaks to the bride:she is an impure human being,whose only way is to follow her husband's rule:till 1215,woman had no soul!
Demy expresses his disgust with the famous scene of the wedding cake: big rats appear,they had entered the cathedral-pastry.It won't be long before the magnificent dessert crumble .And it will not be long before Hamelin itself and its hypocrite priests crumble like Sodom .So the pied piper is like God's angel ,leading Lot out of this doomed place.The children are the just men,sometimes sacrified as Hurt's unfortunate bride ,a child herself -a girl used to get married at an early age in those ancient times.
Demy 's pessimism,which passed for melancholy in "Lola" , muted in "les parapluies de Cherbourg",seemed to disappear in "les demoiselles de Rochefort" and "peau d'âne", is glaring in "the pied piper".This is probably his darker work.Thus ,one can forget his return to the ponderous comedy with Deneuve and Mastroianni in 1972".
"The pied piper" remains an overlooked,ignored work.How many Demy's fans do not even know that this film exists?I urge them to see it,it's an essential part of his work,and maybe his swansong,because he was never to reach such heights afterward.
A previous reviewer said that this version is probably closer to the
original version of the story than any other version with which we're
familiar in this day and age. Given the portrayal of the bubonic
plague, I would have to agree. And it only adds to the movie's quality
that they cast Donovan as the title character. I should warn you that
this movie is rather dark - but never gross - and not even trying to be
"cute", so don't expect that. Also starring Jack Wild, John Hurt and
One other thing is that "The Pied Piper" is (as far as I know) not officially available on video or DVD. It is available in the video/DVD store Movie Madness, here in Portland, Oregon. If you're ever in Portland, you should come to Movie Madness.
Watching this recently, I remembered certain scenes from when I watched it as a child of about 7 or 8, some twenty-five years ago. That is testament to how effective some of The Pied Piper is. Indeed, in some ways it hardly qualifies as a "childrens' film" at all, as it starts with a picture of a heretic being burned at the stake and ends with the death of one of the main characters by the same means. Clearly Demy had Bergman's The Seventh Seal in mind for the general feel of the film, which stresses the irrationality and brutality of the times. However, the screenwriters and Demy add another ingredient - the political chicanery of the Church, the aristocracy and the merchant class, sometimes colluding together, at other times each promoting their own special interests. It's not difficult to read the film as a quasi-Marxist parable about feudal society, and the film-makers clearly intended something of the sort. If that makes it all sound very heavy, actually the film is fairly fast-moving and fun, especially because of the wonderfully comic grotesque playing of Donald Pleasance and Roy Kinnear. Fans of these actors should definitely seek this film out - Pleasance is as good as he was in "Death Line" (AKA "Raw Meat") made about the same time, and Kinnear is nearly as good as he was in "Juggernaut", another overlooked but very interesting British film of the early 70s. There is also a very good performance from Michael Hordern as the rationalist alchemist, one of his better and most substantial but unfortunately least known performances. Nostalgia fans can also take pleasure in remembering a time when Jack Wild, made famous by "Oliver", was considered a star. The Pied Piper deserves its mixed critical reputation. Demy does not here have the firm control over his material he had in earlier films. The main flaw is the total lack of characterisation of the Piper, and the terrible non-acting of the folk singer Donovan in that role. His musical interludes are just embarrassing and the worst thing about the film (for a similar ruining of a otherwise thoughtful historical film by a miscast singing star, see 1969's "Where's Jack?" with Tommy Steele). This is a pity as the socio-political stuff at the edges of the film, plus the costumes and scenery, are very good indeed. Overall, this is certainly worth a watch if it turns up on TV or you might, as I did, seek it out on a secondhand VHS cassette. It is not a major film but it's an endearing oddity, and certainly a must-see for Demy students or fans of Brtish film in the early 70s.
Back when I was a (allegedly disturbed) young child, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" was my absolute favorite fairy-tale. I owned many tapes that were filled with bedtime stories and fairy-tales, but I mostly just listened to "The Pied Piper" because it featured fascinatingly morbid topics like the black plague, child abduction, rat infestations and a mysteriously sinister guy playing the flute. I was always convinced the premise of Robert Browning's eerie poem could form the basis of a series of unimaginably dark horror movies, but unfortunately there aren't that many. This British production, filmed on location in Germany, is a pretty great version but it's incredibly obscure for some reason and I spent an awful long time purchasing a decent copy. Now that I finally own it, I'm both thrilled about re-experiencing the familiar story lines as well as surprised about discovering entirely new story aspects I wasn't even aware of. The new (to me, at least) elements mostly handle about political and religious hypocrisy, so I presume that is the reason why they weren't included in any of the fairy-tale versions I grew up with. But it remains a fascinating story and a fabulously engaging film, only suffering from obvious and regrettable budget restrictions. Director and co-writer Jacques Demy had a clear and personal vision of the story, and it's definitely not a movie for young children to watch. Although never graphic or repulsive, "The Pied Piper" thrives on a disturbing atmosphere and it never evades any controversial themes, like the abuse of political power by the Catholic Church and the arranged marriages with minors. Donovan is excellent as the Piper, passing through Hamelin with a family of traveling circus artists. The burgomaster and the Baron (another splendid role for versatile super-actor Donald Pleasance) supposedly run the secluded little town, but they mainly obey the will of the uncanny red monks that always look over their shoulders. The friendly Jewish alchemist Melius is concerned about a threatening outbreak of the Bubonic plague, the power-hungry son of the Baron (John Hurt) is about to wed the under-aged burgomaster's daughter for financial reasons and the Pied Piper is the only person capable of freeing the town from its rat infestation. The script of this film is well filled and requires your absolute full attention, but the elaboration of the different story lines is highly compelling and the dialogs are enchanting. The costume designs and scenery are terrific and genuinely take you back to the dark and unsettling medieval times. Donovan, primarily a singer, also provides the film with a couple of great songs (most notably "They Call me the Pied Piper" and "Life has its ups and downs") and there are at least two near-brilliant and unforgettable sequences. Namely the rats breaking out of the wedding cake and a harrowing execution scene near the end. If you own "The Pied Piper", it's definitely a film to treasure.
The bubonic plague often began with the death of the rats before it spread to the people. This movie's version of the pied piper seems far closer to the origin of the story than anything else I've seen.
Jacques Demy's The Pied Piper is neither musical (though there are
three songs) nor children's film, more an almost resigned fable about
the foibles of human nature. The Piper isn't even the main character.
Rather it's an ensemble piece, with the town of Hamelin, with all its
pettiness and everyday corruptions, that takes centerstage. It's the
kind of film that could only have been made in the 70s, set in a
vividly realised medieval world that at times threatens to make Monty
Python and the Holy Grail look glamorised, though it doesn't revel in
the filth or the grotesque. Aside from the travelling players, almost
everyone is out for whatever they can get - even Donovan's piper, for
all his hippie folkie songs (and there are only three of them) wants a
thousand gilders for a spot of pest control he knows won't prevent the
plague from coming to Hamelin, while Donald Pleasance's baron won't pay
up because he's bankrupting himself buying his way out of Hell by
building a cathedral for the Church. The Church would much rather he
provided them with troops for another civil war ("The Pope wants a new
emperor because the emperor wants a new Pope."). Even the nominal love
interest is far from a Disney princess, but the Burgomaster's bored
young daughter bartered to the baron's callous son (John Hurt) for
political power by her father (Roy Kinnear) and for a bit of adultery
with the husband-to-be by her mother (Diana Dors). It's not so much a
portrait of superstition versus reason as one of superstition versus
superstition with the hint of the seed of reason that may take
generations to flower: as Michael Hordern's Jewish alchemist tells his
inquisitors, where once he had hoped the world would learn from his
discoveries, now he can only hope the world learns from their mistakes.
The film isn't entirely successful by any means, but it's constantly fascinating and even manages not to seem as clumsy as most Euro-puddings - in this case an English picture (one of David Puttnam and Sandy Lieberson's first) directed by a Frenchman and shot in Bavaria on some excellent locations - probably because it keeps the cast almost entirely British so there's no jarring clash of accents. Donovan's not exactly a great actor but he's mostly harmless as the Piper (although his wardrobe isn't terribly pied), though he's infinitely less hopeless than Patsy Puttnam in a thankfully brief role as the player's wife. Jack Wild shows his limitations as the most famous cripple in fairy tales, Richard Eyre has a nice turn as an increasingly disillusioned pilgrim, Peter Vaughn brings the church into disrepute as a pragmatic Bishop and it's strangely appropriate to see John Hurt playing Pleasance's son considering the way his career has evolved into a modern-day Pleasance's as a stock feature in undemanding low-budget movies.
Long out of circulation, Legend's extras-free Region 1 NTSC DVD isn't a great transfer but it's acceptable enough considering the film's rarity and Paramount's disinterest in releasing it themselves. In France the film is available in an English-friendly 10-disc boxed set of Demy's features. Very unusual and worth a look.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's not the free-spirited musical one would expect given that Donovan, the high priest of pop psychedelia, has the title role. Nor is it anything approaching a children's film. This is a grim, unrelentingly downbeat telling of the classic tale of a piper who rids a German burgh of black plague-infested rats...at least in part...as the piper is off screen for most of the film. Instead, director Jacques Demy focuses on the politics of Hamelin and the infighting between town officials Roy Kinnear, John Hurt, Donald Pleasence and others. Hurt, as a sleazy royal, marries an 11 year old girl, much to the chagrin of Jack Wild (as a lame artist). There's even a burning at the stake! Despite the identity crisis the film suffers from, it's still fairly intriguing, capturing depressing village life of 1349. Donovan sings a few songs and does indeed lead the rats out of the village (among other things) and the acting is all great, particularly by Hurt. A very blowzy Diana Dors plays Kinnear's wife (one shutters thinking about THAT courtship).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The year is 1349, and the people of Hamelin are building a cathedral in
hopes of warding off the Plague. The Burgermeister is happily planning
the marriage of his daughter to the Barron's son (John Hurt), and a
band of actors and a piper (Donovan) come to town.
I expected this 1972, Donovan movie to be a hippy-dippy, rock fairy tale, but I was way off. It's dreary and pointless, with a completely forgettable script and soundtrack. The film focuses on the Burgermeister's money problems, and the Piper story is almost an afterthought; his piping-the-children-away doesn't even merit a comment.
Donovan has no discernible acting talent or screen presence, mostly plays a modern guitar, and is a minor character. Top-billed Jack Wild, so likable in "Oliver!" plays a disabled apprentice, but he is well-past his boyish-prime and adds nothing to the story. Both children and adults will probably be bored by this cheap misfire.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jacques Demy invariably wrote his own lyrics - I use the word loosely -and got away with their mediocrity because he usually hired Michel Legrand to set them. This time around he hired Donovan and lost out on both words and music so perhaps it's just as well that he (Demy) was clearly aspiring to something more than just a light musical but a Socially Significant document embracing usury, racial prejudice and pestilence. It wouldn't be Demy without some picture-book visuals and indeed the opening sequences in particular are reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman whose bitter black coffee had been slightly diluted to cafe-au-lait. The casting is Odd to Quaint and doesn't really work but it has to be said that the scenes with the wedding cake, the rat exodus and the children exodus have a certain style.
I had seen this one ages ago on local TV, back in the early 1980s when
our set was still in black-and-white! Naturally, I welcomed Paramount’s
idea to let Legend Films release it on DVD albeit bare-bones, and I
luckily happened upon it in (arguably) Malta’s best-stocked DVD rental
store when it comes to vintage Hollywood movies.
I’ve been a fan of Fairy Tales every since early childhood when illustrated Maltese translations of the Brothers Grimm’s famous stories where constant companions during the Summer holidays and, when my main interest migrated to film, I eagerly sought out examples of this type. The French seemed to do the genre particularly well – Ladislaw Starewicz’s delightful pioneering puppet classic THE TALE OF THE FOX (1931), Jean Cocteau’s enchanting LA BELLE ET LA BETE (1946) and the charming animated fable LE ROI ET L’OISEAU (1979). Jacques Demy also tried his hand at this by bringing DONKEY SKIN (1970) to the screen with Catherine Deneuve, Jacques Perrin, Jean Marais and Delphine Seyrig. In fact, THE PIED PIPER was his next project and follows similar lines – even if it’s a British production shot in Germany, though still with an equally remarkable cast: Jack Wild, Donald Pleasence, John Hurt, Michael Hordern, Peter Vaughan, Roy Kinnear, Diana Dors and, in the titular role, folk singer Donovan! The general consensus about Demy is that his career peaked early (late 1960s) and progressed engagingly but unremarkably towards an untimely end (early 1990s); actually, I haven’t seen any of his acknowledged masterpieces yet – I do own THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964) on R2 DVD, though, and also have the ultra-rare LADY Oscar (1979) in my unwatched pile.
While Maltin gives this version of THE PIED PIPER (incidentally, the 1957 TV-film with Van Johnson and Claude Rains is also available for rental over here) a very generous , most other reviews of the film I’ve come across were usually mixed and less enthusiastic. In fact, I’d say that its unexpectedly grim tone got to be a bit much at times and left one with a sour taste in the mouth; besides, in spite of Demy’s detached approach (with very few close-ups throughout), the whole still felt somewhat claustrophobic. Even so, the actors, the décor, the costumes and the music eventually save the day: Wild has probably his most significant role after OLIVER! (1968) as Jewish alchemist Hordern’s lame assistant; Pleasence and Hurt are truly despicable as greedy father and son and the town’s chief citizens; Kinnear and Dors as the burgomaster and his wife who want to marry off their teenage offspring (Cathy Harrison, Rex’s daughter) to Hurt; Peter Vaughan is a bloodthirsty Bishop who eventually has Hordern burned alive at the stake.
The troupe of traveling players in a plague-ridden medieval town cannot help but raise comparisons with Ingmar Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957), while the onslaught of the rats (at one point coming out of the wedding cake!) might well have influenced a similar scene in Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979). Finally, Donavan’s score is pleasant if not quite memorable – his performance is equally decent even if, the film’s title notwithstanding, he is not really the main character!
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