Film Forum’s retrospective of the films of Pierre Etaix, which starts today, brings belated recognition to a filmmaker, writer and comedian who is beloved in France (where he is regarded as the French Buster Keaton) but has too long remained unknown in the States. I was shamefully unaware of M. Etaix (although I would have seen his appearances in such disparate films as Pickpocket and Henry & June) until I saw him in Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre last year and someone—une Française naturally—told me of his renown. When I started to look into him I was bowled over to discover that not only had Etaix—who, at the age of 83 will be appearing at Film Forum tonight—been a close confidante of Jacques Tati in the mid 1950s, but had also designed the poster for Tati’s Mon Oncle and had come up with the iconic silhouette of M. Hulot.
Born 1928 in Roanne in the Loire, Etaix moved to Paris in 1954 to work as both an illustrator and a cabaret performer. When we corresponded by email earlier this week I asked M. Etaix whether he had studied to be an illustrator and whether he had done any other professional illustration work before he started to work with Tati. He told me “I learned to draw when I was young. Then I met Théodore Gérard Hanssen [1885-1957], a great master glassmaker who taught me the art of stained glass. I started to paint and learnt different techniques (washes, pen and ink, watercolor, etching, lithography...). My first illustrations were for done for Jacques Tati, illustrating the novelizations of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle.”
Etaix was the assistant director on Mon Oncle and he helped conceive the film with Tati by illustrating his ideas. Tati asked him to design the poster also, as well as this alternative version.
Etaix also designed a poster for a re-release of M. Hulot’s Holiday in the late 1950s.
A couple of years after Mon Oncle, Etaix made his first two short films, Rupture (1961) and Heureux anniversaire, the latter of which won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject. (These films were also the first produced screenplays of the great Jean-Claude Carrière, who featured prominently in last week’s Movie Poster of the Week.)
His first feature was The Suitor, a remake of sorts of Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances. The poster featured at the top of the page was designed not by Étaix himself, perhaps surprisingly, but by the Hungarian-born, French-based cartoonist André François (1915-2005), who is known here for his many New Yorker covers. François went on to design four posters for Etaix’s films and when I asked him about their relationship Etaix told me “I have great admiration for André François. I adore all his posters. I asked him if he wanted to design the poster for my first film. He accepted and we became friends. His death was a great loss to the arts.”
François’s other posters for Etaix can be seen below:
Above: André François’s poster for Le Grand Amour (1968).
Above: François’s poster for Land of Milk and Honey (1971).
Above: François’s poster for a 1980 re-release of Yoyo (1965).
I asked M. Etaix if he ever designed posters for any of his own films. Some looked like they might be his own work, like this for his second film Yoyo:
...but M. Etaix’s wife Odile told me that it was made by the distributor for foreign sales without Etaix’s approval.
Etaix told me, however, that there were two posters he designed for his own films, the first one for Yoyo (1965), which I think is this:
...and this one for As Long as You’ve Got Your Health (1966):
But he told me that for economic reasons they removed one of the colors in this poster and it became ugly. It is perhaps explained better in French: “on supprima une couleur pour des raisons économiques et ainsi, elle devint laid.”
Due to a long-running legal dispute over distribution rights, Etaix’s films have been out of distribution, even in France, for the past two decades. But thanks to a campaign that presented 50,000 signatures, including those of Woody Allen, David Lynch and Jean-Luc Godard, to the French Minister of Culture, the legal issues have been resolved and Etaix’s films have been restored and re-released.
As a side note, it seems that Etaix must have been popular in Eastern Europe in the 1960s, judging by the wonderful selection of Czech, Polish and Hungarian posters for his films.
Above: Polish poster for The Suitor by Maurycy Stryjecki.
Above: Czech poster for The Suitor by Vaca Karel.
Above: Polish poster for Yoyo by Maciej Zbikowski.
Above: Czech poster for Yoyo by Stránský Petr.
Above: Hungarian poster for Yoyo.
Above: Polish poster for As Long as You’ve Got Your Health by Andrzej Onegin Dabrowski.
Above: Czech poster for As Long as You’ve Got Your Health by Sůra Jaroslav.
Above: Polish poster for Le Grand Amour by Bronislaw Zelek.
Many many thanks to Pierre and Odile Etaix for all their help, to Sarah Finklea of Janus Films for introducing me to M. Etaix, and to Clemence Taillandier for introducing me to his films.
The Suitor courtesy of Heritage Auctions. Czech and Polish posters courtesy of Terry Posters.