Saturday, October 15, 2016

Pierre Étaix Passes On

Pierre Étaix, the French actor and director well known for his classic slapstick films, died on October 14 2016 at the age of 87. The cause was complications from an intestinal infection.

Pierre Étaix was born on November 23 1928 in Roanne, France. As a boy he was interested in both the circus and the classic silent films of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and others. After finishing his education at the lycée (roughly the French equivalent of an American high school or British sixth form college), Mr. Étaix studied and worked for stained glass artist  Théodore-Gérard Hanssen. He eventually moved to Paris where he worked as an illustrator for magazines, as well as a comic at cabarets and a circus performer.

It was in 1954 that he worked for legendary filmmaker and actor Jacques Tati as a gagman and draughtsman on Mr.  Tati's film Mon Oncle (1958). He eventually became an assistant director on the film. He made his acting debut in Pickpocket (1959) and appeared in Tire-au-flanc 62 (1960--English title The Army Game).

Pierre Étaix made his directorial debut with the short "Rupture" (in which he also starred) in 1961.In the Sixties he directed and starred in the films "Heureux anniversaire" (1962), Le soupirant (1962), "Insomnie" (1963), Yoyo (1965), Tant qu'on a la santé (1966), and Le Grand Amour (1969). He appeared in all of these films, as well as a few he did not direct, including "Le pèlerinage" (1962), Une grosse tête (1962), and Le voleur (1967).  Pierre Étaix's films were critically acclaimed and some of them even won awards.

Unfortunately the critics would soon turn on Pierre Étaix. His 1971 film Pays de cocagne was a documentary made following the period of civil unrest in 1968. The film took a satirical look at French consumerism that was not well received by critics. It was pulled from theatres after only two weeks. Pierre Étaix  found it impossible to get funding for his films and directed no more films for the remainder of the Seventies. As an actor he appeared in Jerry Lewis's unreleased film The Day the Clown Cried (1972), as well as Sérieux comme le plaisir (1975) and Noctuor (1978). On television he appeared in the TV special Show Pierre Étaix and an episode of Cinéma 16.

Pierre Étaix returned to directing with L'âge de Monsieur est avancé (1987). Over the next many years he directed Le cauchemar de Méliès (1988), J'écris dans l'espace (1989), and En pleine forme (2010), as well as an episode of Souris noire in 1989.As an actor he appeared in the Eighties in the films Max mon amour (1986), Nuit docile (1987), and Henry & June (1990). From the Naughts into the Teens he appeared in Jardins en automne (2006), Lucifer et moi (2008), Mic Macs à Tire-Larigot (2009), Chantrapas (2010), Le Havre (2011), and Chant d'hiver (2011).

Pierre Étaix was a total genius and quite possibly the last great slapstick star. He was the last in a long line that included Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Jacques Tati, and others. What made Pierre Étaix one of the best among them is that he endowed his characters with a sense of poignancy that one might not find in most modern day slapstick comedies. This was no less true of  his film Yoyo, in which he played the title character as well as his wealthy father. There were only few great stars of slapstick remaining when Pierre Étaix was working. Except for Jerry Lewis, now it seems that there are none.

1 comment:

KC said...

Thanks for this. I didn't know of Etaix before he died, though apparently I enjoyed some of his work without realizing it (Mon Oncle). Now I am trying to finish the Criterion Collection box set before it is due back at the library. So far I am loving him. Very touching that he was so loved by Jerry Lewis. Clown love :-)