Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Roselyne et les lions (1989) + Mabel Stark (1920's)

I! Loved! This! Movie! French 80's teenage lion tamers in love? Sign a girl UP.


I caught a screening of Diva at the Belcourt a few years ago, enjoyed it, and didn't give a second thought at the time to catching up with the director's other movies (shame on me). Sick in bed over the Christmas holiday, I came across Betty Blue and thought, "Hey! That's the director who did Diva! How are ALL his films on Netflix?" In spite of the scandalous amount of raw sexuality, the movie was a big hit with me. The poignancy of BĂ©atrice Dalle's wild child titular character combined with the soundtrack by Gabriel Yared... sigh. Real emotional attachment.

Realizing the great coup this was for an armchair auteur aficionado such as myself, I set to work on the next installment in Jean-Jacques Beineix's film catalog, skipping The Moon in the Gutter (rough, very boring start, will try again another time). At TWO HOUR AND FIFTY MINUTES, I started Roselyne et les lions earlier this week, and finished it last night. While it wasn't as thrilling as Diva (opera meets dirtbike-racing scene through subway?) or as endearing as Betty Blue (sexy but bipolar girl captures your heart and then stomps all over it; repeat, rinse), I couldn't get over the idea of two good looking Francophones falling in love in the middle of a LION'S CAGE. And even at the almost three hour run time, breaking it up into segments still worked for me.


While the question"Will Roselyne's success and Thierry's jealousy destroy the relationship?" does come into play as the key plot point, it's not necessarily as important as it would be in a more structured movie. Mostly, the kind of questions I asked myself during this movie included "How can I get my hair to look like that? I wonder what color lipstick that is. This song IS GREAT! How are in they in there with those freaking lions and not getting eaten? Was that girl in that other movie...the one with the... ah, I'll look it up on imdb later."

And this is not to say I'm superficial!

(....I'm a little superficial). However!

The films of the "cinema du look", a term coined to refer to a series of successful, early 1980's movies made by Jean-Jacques Beineix, Leos Carax, and Luc Besson, have an almost Hitchcock, MacGuffin like ranking of style and emotion before plot. The feel and look of the movie are placed heads and shoulders above the development of the story, and I say, why the heck not. When you get scenes like THIS:


Like I said, they are falling in love in a lion's cage. Pinch me. Watch the movie! And keep an eye out in the first hour for a zaftig, gorgeous voiced torch singer who sings "Les lionnes d'Afrique" as Thierry and Roselyne's taming instructor performs a show. I need her and those considerable pipes to accompany all my public appearances in song.

Thinking about the lion taming culture started these old cognitive wheels spinning about the historical background of , specifically, women lion tamers. Who were they? How far back are we talking about here? While several came up, the best story I stumbled across was that of Mabel Stark (1889-1968). Technically, she worked more with tigers, but we'll let that one slide on the basis of her great, 1920's/30's look. Are you seeing the spangles on the costume to the left? Are you?


Born to large family in Kentucky, Mabel Stark (real name Mary Haynie) ran away to join the circus and learned big cat taming from Louis Roth, a known performer as well as the second of her five husbands. With an adopted tiger cub named Rajah, she rose to prominence in that show and eventually was part of the Ringling Brothers circus in the early 20's. Stark also worked with Mae West (below, in the white cloche hat and suit) as her double for a lion taming scene in I'm No Angel (1933). Mabel Stark was mauled NINETEEN TIMES during her career, and even had occasion to enter the ring after a mauling swathed in bandages and supported by a crutch, to continue with the show! HOW DO YOU EVEN DO THAT? In the fifties' and sixties', she worked for "Jungleland", a theme attratction and the California supplier of trained movie animals to Hollywood. With her marcelled hair and parade marshall's outfits, I can't say I'm not a little crazy about the whole idea of the lady lion tamer. Don't think I'm made of the stuff to do it, but wow, still; wow! I'm going to see if I can't get my hands on her autobiography (cleverly enough titles Hold That Tiger) through interlibrary loan.


Don't you just love it when you discover something you like that you hadn't even thought of?


Irina Bugrimova, a famous Soviet female lion tamer
Yahoo Female Circus Tamers Group (I can't make this stuff up)
Interesting article on reading Mabel Stark's autobiography from the LA Times

If you can't make it through the whole three hours, at least treat yourself to this TOTALLY METAL final act, in which I am CERTAIN Isabelle Pasco is going to be eaten, scant burlesque bra-and-pants set and all, and the character of Thierry is dressed in a full death's head skeleton costume:

Til next time!

1 comment:

  1. Man that is a beautiful looking movie! I will def. add it to my Netflix queue. I love those photos of the lady lion tamer. It would take a lot of guts to think bossing around a bunch of wild animals is a good idea. The looks on the Tigers faces in the shot where they are up on the little shelves, is murderous. I think they picture her as a turkey leg with a boots and a whip!



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