New York

Roger Corbeau

French Institute/ Alliance Francaise

The French didn’t make a very strong showing in the New York galleries this spring. Consider Roger Corbeau, whose claim to fame is having done the production stills for movies in France ranging from Marcel Pagnol’s Jofroi, made in 1932, through Claude Chabrol’s Les Fantômes du chapelier, as yet unreleased here. It’s not much of a claim, really. The press release for the show calls men like Corbeau the “unsung heroes” of the movie business and laments the “anonymity” in which he has had to work. I think the anonymity is deserved; in fact, I’d say it’s inescapable no matter how many one-man shows he’s given. If this selection fairly represents Corbeau’s career, he has specialized in romantic costume dramas. He has worked on some great movies, and on others as entirely forgettable as his own photography. But his pictures make them all look like the same movie. (The one exception is Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, a movie whose style is so forceful that it deflates the puffery even of Corbeau.) Corbeau creates atmosphere—through key light falling only on the eyes, or bold camera angles—of a sort that has scarcely been seen in movies themselves since the silent screen. He tries too hard to compete with the movies, overcompensating for having only a still image with which to match moving ones.

Colin L. Westerbeck Jr.