Appellate Judge James A. Stewart has a recipe for a Riviera Cocktail. Every ingredient comes from cans....Oh, it's supposed to be Cannes? Whoops.
"It wasn't really a realistic time. It was all a bit nicer than it really was."—Gret Quinn
Edward Quinn made the stars shine in newspapers and magazines around the world. In the days before everyone knew the word paparazzi, the celebrity photographer of the Cote d'Azur captured stars like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Brigitte Bardot, Jayne Mansfield, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Diana Dors, and Audrey Hepburn on film. While his alluring shots of women like Bardot and Dors may be memorable, he also snapped a few guys—guys like Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Gary Cooper, and Frank Sinatra.
Quinn's work preserved—and helped promote—the glamour of the French Riviera and Cannes in the 1950s. The DVD cover for Riviera Cocktail, a documentary about his work, calls his photos "an invaluable photographic evocation of a lost world."
Filmmaker Heinz Bütler hopes to recreate that world with Riviera Cocktail. His main tools are lots of Quinn's photos and a jazz band, Franco Ambrosetti and European Legacy. The band takes a larger part in the movie than you'd expect, since you see them on camera a lot and they discuss (although not in English, and not with subtitles) what they see on the screen. Beyond that, there's a sparse narration, clips of an older interview with the now-deceased Quinn and a more recent visit with Quinn's wife Gret, and recent footage of the Cote d'Azur that mimics the atmosphere of Quinn's bygone era.
The result is like a coffee table book set to music, with the sparse narration that fills in details about the people, the photographer, or the era serving as photo captions. While the narration and the interviews are informative, the photos mostly speak for themselves. The angles—Quinn's own favorite is a shot of Sophia Loren from behind—are artful and thoughtful, even when Quinn must have been working on the run. A quick look at Amazon.com tells me the coffee table book analogy is apt; Bütler worked on a print retrospective of Quinn's work as well.
The soundtrack is presented separately as a bonus feature. It's nice—and the music is great—but it would have been even nicer as a bonus CD.
While the arty touches occasionally make Riviera Cocktail look like a music video, it does the work of introducing viewers to Edward Quinn's career quite well. It does even better at simply showing a lot of memorable photos.
If you're interested in photography or 1950s celebrities, you'll probably find Riviera Cocktail a headier mix than it sounds.
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