NINA POWER revisits five radical, mixed-genre films from 1965–74 that explore sex and revolution
DUŠAN MAKAVEJEV - Mysteries of the Organism
SEXPOL AND INTERNATIONAL CONTROVERSY, 1971–74
Regardless of the uniqueness and beauty of Makavejev’s earlier features, it is with WR that his reputation will stand and fall. Not quite banned, but not available either in Yugoslavia for sixteen years after it was made—“just not allowed,” as Makavejev puts it in interviews—the film is an explosive and ambitious mix of Makavejev’s earlier obsessions: sex and politics. But it has an international dimension that seeks to address not only repressive forms of social organization but also the dangers of freedom, or at least of the kinds of freedom that twentieth-century America sought to define itself by and against. It is no surprise that many have related Maka vejev’s work in this period to Herbert Marcuse’s thesis in OneDimensional Man (1964) that the supposed freedoms of capitalist choice are only more efficient ways of tightening the shackles of control. Far from being a straightforward celebration of sexual liberation as a superficial reading of the film might indicate, WR is in part about the dangerous effects of desire when the latter is—to use the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari once more—“deterritorialized” too quickly. (If you break an egg, it is useful to work out where the inside might land, for fear of soiling your clothes . . .) We have seen in the decades after Makavejev’s film how capitalism is faster and more efficient than other systems at recapturing desire for its own ends: WR can, in this sense, be read as a warning during a cultural cold war in which the opponents vie for hegemony over human passions. But it is also a film about the inherent unfairness or injustice of desire, regardless of political systems. One may very well want to “fuck freely” in the name of an egalitarian politics as the narrator implores, but there are some people that everyone wants and others whom no one wants at all. A politics based on desire will be unfair.
WR caused a riot; how could it not? One of the outcries, oddly enough, was over Makavejev’s representation of Wil helm Reich, the unofficial hero of the film. In The New York Times (November 7, 1971), David Bienstock, then Curator of Film at the Whitney Museum of American Art, accused Makavejev of misrepresenting the teachings of Reich: “while Makavejev, on the surface, seems to be praising Reich, the actual content of the film mocks and maligns him. Makavejev then cloaks these distortions in a web of comedy and ‘avant garde’ ambiguity. It is an old trick. Hide the poison in sugar.” Bienstock’s irritation at Makavejev’s “misinterpretation” of Reich unwittingly reveals something about the filmmaker’s strategy, however: “hiding the poison in sugar” will actually form one of the central images of Sweet Movie a few years later; as the revolutionary Anna Planeta kills a renegade sailor from the battleship Potemkin, the blood from his stab wound taints their shared bed which is, absurdly, entirely made of white sugar. Makavejev is a master at mixing materials: the clean with the dirty, the sweet with the deadly.
WR: MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM: THE BATTLE FOR DESIRE
© 1971 Dušan Makavejev. DVD: Criterion Collection.
WR is an astonishing fusion of interviews, found footage, propaganda, fictionalized accounts of the encounters between Yugoslav women and an invented Soviet hero, parodies of political speeches, and a vision of an America dangerously unable to cope with its own desires. It is at once a celebration of Reich’s insights (you can read the “WR” of the title as both Reich’s initials and “World Revolution”) and a critique of the commodification of sexuality, whether it be under capitalism, fascism, or communism. The Fugs’ song “Kill For Peace” accompanies Tuli Kupferberg from the band as he wonders around New York, dressed in combat gear, caressing and masturbating a gun and frightening businessmen. Cameos by Jackie Curtis, the glam transvestite from the Theater of the Ridiculous and sculptress Nancy Godfrey, who takes a penis plaster cast of the editor-in-chief of Screw magazine, Jim Buckley, all contribute to the idea that “confusion is sex” as Sonic Youth would later put it. Nevertheless, the Yugoslav storyline involving Milena (Milena Dravi´c), Jagoda (Jagoda Kaloper), and Ljuba (Miodrag Andri´c) is perhaps the strongest part of the film—part joyful passion, part ambiguous take-up of the gestures of propaganda in the service of a sexual revolution, as when Milena, dressed half in military gear and half in her nightie, delivers an agitprop speech from the balcony of the tenement building to the proletarian masses below. “Socialism must not exclude human sensual pleasure from its program!” she declares, as a deranged ex-boyfriend chases her precisely for this very same sensual pleasure. Her eventual death, following an orgiastic encounter with a Soviet ice-skating champion who can’t handle the unleashing of pleasure that Milena induces, is vicious, but strangely in keeping with the excessive nature of the film as a whole: the Soviet Union can’t accept a different kind of socialism, its men can’t accept a different kind of woman. Milena’s decapitated head lives on in the clinical setting of the morgue, carry ing on her defence of revolutionary lovemaking. In recent interviews, included on the DVDs, Makavejev has spoken about current sexual liberation being only “freedom to discharge ourselves as machines.” Characters such as Milena represent a perhaps impossible alternative: a revolution in permanent movement rather than the “frozen” ones of Mao or Stalin, where political energy gets locked into fixed institutions and new forms of moralism. Makavejev stages the difficult moment between repression and liberation: what results is not the hippie fantasy of free, warmly expressed desire but a kind of dangerously overly emotive state, all too easily captured by cults of personality, groupthink, and fascism. “Can we organize liberation step-by-step?” Makavejev asks in one interview, mourning the all-too-quick slippage from repression to release to commodification. But it was WR that saw it coming all along.
With Sweet Movie, Makavejev deliberately forgets his step-by-step idea of liberation and opts instead for a study in revulsion, bodily and conceptual. The major sensation conjured up by Sweet Movie is disgust, and there are parallels with the work of the contemporary artist Paul McCarthy, a reveling in a combination of cultural nausea and sickness of a more visceral, immediate kind. Makavejev’s characters are murderers, seducers, chat-show hosts, gynecologists, capitalists, and renegades from revolutionary eras. But the true stars of the film are the myriad substances that seep from the lens in hyperreal color: blood, shit, breast milk, food, chocolate. If Sweet Movie is, as Makavejev describes it in one of the DVD interviews, “a love letter to Kodak,” it’s a love letter one might handle rather gingerly, for fear of contamination. The objects of his scorn remain much the same as in earlier films: the cheapness of capitalism, the deadly pomposity of ossified political systems, but the tone has changed. What was once a joyful and multidimensional act—sex—is now merely a commodity to be won on a TV show. Women are to be dumped in suitcases and smeared in chocolate. With Sweet Movie one is left with the unnerving question, has the whole world become horrible? A rubbish dump of ideas and useless substances? Did Makavejev give up on thinking that there might be another way out? Against the grain of the film, some have tried to excavate an optimism from Makavejev’s most deliberately unpleasant work: for Stanley Cavell, in an essay included with the DVD, Sweet Movie “attempts to extract hope . . . from the very fact that we are capable of disgust at the world.” Perhaps this is so, but it is a very different kind of hope than that hinted at by Makavejev’s films a decade before. It is relatively easy to see the film as a pessimistic response to the assimilation of the very things, freedom and sexuality, that Makavejev sought to explore so boldly, yet subtly, in his earlier films.
© 1974 Dušan Makavejev. DVD: Criterion Collection.
Again the film was met in the first place by a combination of repulsion and bafflement, and these remain the overwhelming responses to this day, legally and aesthetically. As Vincent Canby writing in The New York Times at around the film’s release (October 10, 1975), put it: “it is, I think, supposed to be an erotic political comedy, which may be a contra diction in terms.” Of course, he could have been talking about almost any of Makavejev’s output here, but the fact remains that Sweet Movie is an extraordinarily difficult film to like or enjoy: the scenes with members of Otto Muehl’s commune in which they vomit on one another, rub excrement into each others’ chests, make out while covered in food, and generally howl much like Lars von Trier’s “idiots” will do many years later, is undeniably unpleasant, unaestheticized, and luridly shot. But perhaps this is the point.
The film’s attack on American puritanism and crassness, as captured in the gynecological beauty show that opens the film, is undeniably heavy-handed. The utterly idiotic and money-centric Mr Kapital (John Vernon) wins the prize girl, a virginal Miss Canada (Carole Laure) whom he later daubs with alcohol to clean her before thrusting his golden penis, which shoots out clear water in her general direction. Understandably, she freaks out, and attempts to run away, leading to a series of encounters with male sexual stereotypes (the wellhung black man, the macho Latino romancer). She winds up in a daze at a commune with Otto Muehl and his merry band where she mostly refuses to play along, pausing only to suckle on some breast milk or gently caress a flaccid penis—but it’s not clear that Laure is acting her disturbance in these scenes, which only adds to the discomfort. Meanwhile, Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal) is merrily sailing the canals of Amsterdam in a boat called Survival. The vessel happens to be filled with sweets and sugar, which assist in her seduction of several male children and of a leftover sailor from Potemkin (Pierre Clémenti). While there are moments of real joy and celebration in Sweet Movie, the overriding feeling is one of “toomuchness.” This applies particularly to the spliced-in Nazi footage of the Katyn massacre, the mass murder of thousands of Polish military officers, policemen, intellectuals, and civilian prisoners of war by the Soviet NKVD, which was only admitted by Russia recently (the incident is also the subject of Katyn, Andrzej Wajda’s 2008 film). The corpses of the Polish officers receive an odd mirroring at the end of the film where all of Anna’s lovers are laid out on the banks of the canal, emerging from their cocoons as not quite lifeless after all. The juxtaposition of images again has the disturbing effect of feeling a little too much, not right at all: if this was the effect Makavejev was after then he succeeded in spades, but it is difficult to isolate a notion of hope amid all the various minor and world-historical horrors that Makavejev parades before us.
Perhaps because of the distaste and scandal generated by Sweet Movie, Makavejev’s star began to wane rather earlier than might have been expected of someone capable of making at least the first four of these re-releases. He has struggled to get funding, although he has made several notable films since the mid-1970s. But his output from the mid-60s to the mid-70s remains fundamental to an understanding of European cinema, and, beyond that, to the now closed-off possibilities of other ways of conceiving sex, politics, and film itself. Makavejev’s vision of a republic of free love, albeit a free love that understands the dangers of letting go too quickly, is both a celebration and a warning. It would be tempting to believe that we have outgrown Makavejev, that we belong to a time where sex has very little to do with politics, and cinema has very little to do with either, except as titillation in both cases (recent attempts to depict “politics,” such as Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex is as pornographic as anything found on a seedy Internet portal). If Makavejev leaves us discomforted, we should recognize this uneasiness as the reminder of what has been misplaced and forgotten in the decades separating us from his major works. However, we would do well to remain open to both the spirit and the specifics of these ruminations on love and politics, for if they have no part to play, then things may be even worse than we imagine.
NINA POWER is the author of One Dimensional Woman (Zero books, 2009), a critique of contemporary feminism.
ABSTRACT reconsideration of the fruitful 1965–75 period in Yugoslav director Dušan Makavejev’s career, arguing that Man Is Not a Bird, Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator, Innocence Unprotected, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, and Sweet Movie raise questions about sexuality and politics which remain important.
Keywords Man Is Not a Bird, Love Affair, Innocence Unprotected, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, Sweet Movie
DVD DATA Dušan Makavejev: Free Radical [Man Is Not a Bird, Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator, Innocence Unprotected]. 1965, 1967, 1968 © 2009 Dušan Makavejev. Publisher: criterion eclipse, 2009. $44.95, 3 discs.
WR: Mysteries of the Organism. © 1971 Dušan Makavejev. publisher: criterion collection, 2007. $39.95, 1 disc.
Sweet Movie. © 1974 Dušan Makavejev. Publisher: criterion collection, 2007. $29.95, 1 disc.
taken from here:
NINA POWER revisits five radical, mixed-genre films from 1965–74 that explore sex and revolution
DUŠAN MAKAVEJEV - Mysteries of the Organism
Sex is boring: Michel Foucault’s claim in an interview from 1983, from around the time of his History of Sexuality project, is as good a summation as any of our current predicament. What was once seen as a force for radical change—political, physical, social—is now nothing but a tacky consumer addon: “sex appeal” is smeared on everything from shoes to chocolate, from models to cars, and one buys it as one would a cauliflower or some toilet roll. At the same time, despite a general atmosphere of permissive hedonism, the very idea of questioning the sanctity of one’s “private life” is unthinkable: the couple, straight or gay, forms the only acceptable goal of human sexual behavior, even if one sleeps with hundreds of people on the way. The current obsession with “the One,” the perfect lifetime partner—a key motif of supposedly emancipated television shows such as Sex and the City and Ally McBeal—demonstrates that in fact desire is indifferent to whether its object is another human being, a handbag, or a pair of shoes. Sex is boring. But not so very long ago, in an age we are meant to believe was much sillier, fucking was a revolutionary activity and the nuclear family was a nightmare from which the twentieth century was about to wake up. Radical feminism, in particular, in the work of Shulamith Firestone and others, foresaw a world in which technology would free women from the burden of reproduction, liberating true sexuality and permitting as many different kinds of relations, sexual or otherwise, as humanly possible. But despite the accuracy of Firestone’s predictions regarding contraception, IVF, and a certain loosening of everyday morals, no social revolution has occurred. Sexual liberation did not bring with it a corresponding social revolution. We are living, as Alain Badiou often puts it, in the age of the restoration, where creeping moralism and normative models of behavior are sold back to us as objects of desire.
Contemporary cinema is, at times, haunted by the memory of these failed aspirations. Some recent films, such as Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience and, in a quite different register, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, have examined the contemporary state of sex, reduced as it is to an unstable combination of consumerism and morbid inwardness. Both are morality tales for a depressing age: but there is another story to tell, one which represents a course not taken by cinema or the world at large. The films of Dušan Makavejev long for and hint at a society that would not be blind to human pleasure, that would celebrate sexuality without commodifying it. Makavejev’s exploration of visual form, what we might call mixed-genre montage (fiction, documentary, inter views, performance, parody, propaganda), similarly alerts us to the possibility of a new kind of cinema, one that would be able to bridge the gap between big ideas and minor lives. Makavejev is far from mourning lost dreams or reveling in wistful fantasies: what his cinema proposes is not simply “socialism with a human face,” but, as Daniel J. Goulding puts it in his chapter on Makavejev in Five Filmmakers: Tarkovsky, Forman, Polanski, Szabó, Makavejev (Indiana University Press, 1994), “with a human body as well” (236). Maka vejev’s films should also be included in the small but important category of mid-twentieth century feminist films. Indeed, one of Makavejev’s very great strengths is his portrayal of “modern” young women, beginning with Rajka, the strong-willed, independent heroine of Man Is Not a Bird (1965). While it would be easy to read Makavejev’s women as ciphers for all that is left out in the Soviet vision of humanity—playfulness, desire, and a certain carefree autonomy—they are also fleshed-out, engaging characters in their own right. When violence is meted out to the women in Makavejev’s films as it invariably is (the image of a man pushing a woman over features in almost all of the films discussed here, and murderous rage claims the lives of several women), we should not simply understand it as part of the long and dreary history of cinema’s desire to revel in the punishment of women, but as the realization that the long-term goal of changing the world is an awful lot harder than it looks. If it is women who are “going to bring us freedom,” as Makavejev claimed in an interview for Village Voice with Jonas Mekas in 1972, this would have to happen all the way down: the feminist phrase “the personal is political” has never had a filmmaker so willing to try and understand what this might mean as Makavejev. In an age where sex is as dull and omnipresent as any other consumer item, and where western feminism itself is all too often complicit in reinforcing this consumerism, we should ask: what does Makavejev mean to us now?
Hypnosis, soap, sugar
Man Is Not a Bird (top). Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (bottom left). Sweet Movie (bottom right). © 1965, 1967, 1974 Dušan Makavejev. DVD: Criterion.
The five main features under discussion here, Man Is Not a Bird (1965), Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967), Innocence Unprotected (1968), WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), and Sweet Movie (1974), all recently reissued with new subtitles by Criterion (the first three as a boxed set under the Eclipse imprint), share important similarities, even as they cross from blackand-white to color, from Yugoslavia to America, from simple love story to complex cacophonic delirium. If by 1974’s Sweet Movie, Makavejev had “gone too far” as many thought, and still think, including censors the world over, it should nevertheless be understood as the culmination of a decade’s rumination on sexuality, politics, and the cinematic form. But how do we get from a sweet, if painful, love story set among the harsh lunar landscape of a mining town near Bulgaria (Man Is Not a Bird) to sex murder and the seduction of children on board a boat bearing a papiermâché Karl Marx figurehead drifting down the canals of Amsterdam (Sweet Movie)? To some extent, the more difficult Makavejev found it to be institutionally accepted—by his native Yugoslavia, by international censors—the more he pushed at the boundaries of “acceptable” avant-garde cinema. Just as Wilhelm Reich’s books were burnt in the 1950s and 60s by the FDA in America after first being denounced by the Nazis in the 30s, so Makavejev too was scorched twice over, once by a socialist nomenklatura unamused by his sexualized and irreverent take on supposedly serious political matters and later by a western audience perfectly at ease with his depiction of the pomposity and absurdity of communism but rather less happy with his ambiguous and explicit portrayal of sex, particularly the scenes of child seduction in Sweet Movie. This latter prurience had significant consequences both for the distribution of the film and for the lives of its participants: the British Board of Film Censors denied the film a U.K. cinema certificate in 1975. One of the film’s main actresses, Anna Prucnal, was exiled from Poland, her native country, for seven years on the basis of her role as the revolutionary seductress–murderess. The erotic scenes she performed with several boys offended audiences who would prefer to see children as delicate creatures to be protected from desire rather than sexual beings in their own right. If Makavejev feels a kinship with Wilhelm Reich, however inexactly he depicts Reichian ideas, it is because he too finds himself at odds with the prevailing morality, even as it twists and turns into the twenty-first century.
Although some of Makavejev’s ideas and formulations now seem outdated, particularly the gauche depiction of sexual expression, his wilful refusal to provide a secure answer to the problem of how to reconcile the imperfections and contradictions of human desire with the drive toward fault less systems—whether they be socialist, fascist, or capitalist— remains deeply relevant. The materiality of Makavejev’s work, its blunt cuts and disconcerting juxtapositions, as well as its damaged utopianism, remind us that beneath the surface of both the everyday and the universal lies a dark force—like a mischievous child, hopped-up on sugar and desiring destruction. Revealing this barely concealed chaos is, Makavejev slyly posits, only the starting point if one is to harness sexual instincts for organic and nonviolent social ends. If Yugoslavia represented a now-defunct way out of the libidinal dead ends of communism’s striving for perfection and capitalism’s commodification of desire, then Makavejev, as perhaps the republic’s most important director, is the lost prophet of a more hopeful age, never mind that his Yugoslavia was itself a fantasy. In a New York Times interview with Cynthia Grenier from 1971, Makavejev remarked: “The whole world is obsessed with the United States today, the USSR above all . . . Ideally, the perfect society would combine all the pleasures of the American consumer society, which Americans themselves don’t yet know how to enjoy, and the joys and creativity of the October Revolution—pure and truly communal.”
Man Is Not a Bird, Makavejev’s first feature, was made in little more than a month on a tiny budget in Yugoslavia in the mid-1960s. Industry rumbles along in the background as a doomed love affair, marital strife, drunken violence, and every day poverty play themselves out in crowded bars, marketplaces, street circus performances, and housing estates. But, as with all of Makavejev’s films, Man Is Not a Bird quickly reveals itself to be far more than this bare description would indicate. Its subtitle, A Love Film, might lead us to believe that the film is chiefly concerned with its two main characters, Jan Rudinski (Janez Vrhovec), a highly skilled mechanic brought into the town (the film is set in the copper-mining basin of Bor) to oversee a project, and Rajka, a tough-minded and humorous hairdresser (played by the astonishingly beautiful Milena Dravic, who will also star in WR: Mysteries of the Organism). While the pair do fall into an odd sort of love— with Rajka renting out a room in her parents’ house to the silent and dour older Jan, and seducing him after a hypnotist’s display before having an affair with a younger man— there is nothing “classical” about this romance. Indeed, its very modernity forces us to rethink what cinema understands a “love story” to be.
Man Is Not a Bird opens with a curious indication that this so-called love film shouldn’t be understood straightforwardly. A bizarre figure, Roko, “the youngest hypnotist in the Balkans,” provides some “opening remarks on negative aspects in love,” warning against various kinds of superstitious behaviour. After reeling off a list of such practices—placing bats’ wings on chests to stop people moving, eating frescoes to aid fertility, and so on—he concludes, “you see how we unconsciously use magic in the twentieth century.” The film is a meditation on older and newer forms of hypnosis, on the mass control of people by powerful ideas. But the ambiguous role of hypnosis in the film points to a further problem: what happens when one superstition (or ideology) gets replaced by another? The role of magic, and the fine line between exceptional human activity—strongmen, circus tricks, swallowing snakes, and so on—and sheer manipulation means that all systems are under suspicion. This goes just as much for local cures for warts as it does for entire political regimes. Makavejev’s hypnotists, acrobats, and “men (and women) of steel,” who perform marvels to entertain but not to become role models, are in part a critique of the Stalinist images of Stakhanovite workers, with their perfected bodies and relentless drive. But they are also a more straightforward celebration of the absurdities and wonderments of embodied life. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s materialist question “what can a body do?” is also Makavejev’s: what are the mysteries of the organism? Or, as the intertitles ask in Love Affair, “Will there be a reform of man? Will the new man retain certain old organs?” But the question of bodies is not merely restricted to human beings, for it applies just as much to the many animals and objects captured by Makavejev, whose frames are joyously filled with broken eggs, soap bubbles, sugar, plaster, flour, milk, and chocolate, and, as time goes on, increasingly intimate substances. And Makavejev’s fascination with the limits of materials—how far they flow, how easily they fall apart, how they interact—extends to the material of filmmaking itself. How does a documentary interact with an allegorical fiction? How does propaganda footage relate to a closed domestic scene?
Against the backdrop of an intensely cruel and stark landscape, both in its nature and its industry, Man Is Not a Bird looks for moments of laughter and oddness amid the misery. Roko the hypnotist returns to perform his show in the town midway through the other stories of infidelity and burgeoning romance which unite the two main women, Rajka and Burbulovic’s wife (played by Eva Ras, who will go on to play the lead in Love Affair), in a shared enjoyment of watching men kiss one another, hypnotized into believing they are sweethearts. If Makavejev’s women up until Sweet Movie are almost uniformly liberated, modern, and playful, his men are often extraordinarily uptight. They are Party men, decent men, but men repressed and dampened by work and politics nevertheless. The hypnotist’s show induces those on stage to become afraid of nonexistent tigers, then to playact at being cosmonauts (“now we’re all cosmonauts . . . you are bodiless and weightless,” declares Roko) before asking his captive performers to flap their nonexistent wings like birds. The sublime leap between cosmic ambition—between, say, the Soviet space program during the Cold War, and the harsh realities of everyday scarcity such as that experienced by the residents of Bor—is beautifully illustrated by this scene. The hypnotized fail to be both weightless cosmonauts and birds: man is not nor ever could be a bird, however many times he sends himself into space. As Makavejev put it in an interview in this very magazine (winter 1971–72): “I was trying to explain [in Man Is Not a Bird] that you can have global changes but people can still stay the same, unhappy or awkward or privately confused.”
In Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator, Makavejev tells another unconventional love story, this time between a minority Hungarian switchboard operator, Isabella, and Ahmed, a Muslim Slav who works as a rat catcher. Despite their potentially “outsider” positions, Makavejev doesn’t really play on their status in this sense—they are good workers, good citizens, and very fond of one another for the majority of the film. Yugoslavia, at least in its utopian moments, has risen above petty ethnic and nationalist concerns. Isabella takes in good cheer the one joke Ahmed makes about the supposedly over-sexed nature of Hungarian girls—she is indeed happy to be a sexual being. The shocking darkness of this film comes from the tension-destroying flash forwards in which we see Isabella’s body being raised from a well and carried into a mortuary. Before she even has sex with Ahmed she is dead: the love story is at the same time a tale of murder. The whole setting of the film takes place under the guidance and aegis of two experts, a sexologist and a criminologist, who cut into the story at key moments, including before the main narrative begins.
THE EARLY YEARS, 1965–68
In Man Is Not a Bird the sex scenes, as touching as they are, were extracted from their surroundings, shrouded in darkness, as if the couple were somehow removed from the everyday during the act of lovemaking. Here Makavejev takes a more realistic approach, and is all the more successful for it. When Isabella invites Ahmed back to her house (she lives alone after the death of her mother), she makes him coffee, resourcefully using an iron to heat the liquid as her oven is broken, before offering him a stronger drink and smilingly telling him to come through to the bedroom because “there’s a good program on television.” It turns out to be Vertov’s 1931 Enthusiasm, specifically the scenes of churches being toppled by the crowds which are themselves taken from Esther Shub’s The Fall of the Romanovs. Thus we have a fictional couple watching a documentary within a documentary as a form of seduction: the cinematically informed viewer is thus seduced three times over. “It’s more intimate” this way, Isabella suggests, resting her head on Ahmed’s shoulder as they watch Vertov. Makavejev’s signature technique should in principle undermine the narrative comforts of the love story and the linear progression of a series of events, yet his technique of layering “fact” or documentary footage over the top of fiction, what Dina Iordanova calls (in an interview included on the DVD) “associative montage,” serves only to reinforce the ambiguous domesticity of the modern relationship. Even within the frames of domestic life, images of political leaders are dotted around the walls: again, the personal is political—if the great systemic projects of the twentieth century attempted to transform humanity all the way down, then the bedroom is either the final place of minimal resistance or the place most symptomatically colonized: it is Makavejev’s unwillingness to force the issue one way or another that allows him to treat sex as a political allegory but also as an intensely private act.
INNOCENCE UNPROTECTED: STRONGMAN LOVE STORY
© 1968 Dušan Makavejev. DVD: Criterion Eclipse.
Behind all of Makavejev’s playfulness is a relentless and politicized aesthetic project: what is cinema capable of showing? How can it affect us viscerally? Jean-Luc Godard’s claim that “I don’t think you should feel about a film. You should feel about a woman, not a movie. You can’t kiss a movie” is the very antithesis of Makavejev’s manifesto for cinema. Despite certain formal similarities between the two directors, Makavejev’s entire output, from the uniqueness and beauty of the early films to the later explicit film essays on sexuality and politics, we can say that Makavejev is, above all, going to get a reaction out of you, whether you like it or not: Makavejev is the anti-Godard.
But perhaps Makavejev’s best film about love is not really a love story at all. Innocence Unprotected (1968), which finishes with a kiss, is, more than any other of his films, Makavejev’s paean to cinema and Serbian cinema in particular. It retraces and remixes the story of the first Serbian talkie, the Innocence Unprotected of the title, which was released under occupation in 1942. Its director and star, Dragoljub Aleksic, is a strongman, a true “man of steel,” banned from performing by the Nazis, who uses a rather clunky romance to showcase his physical abilities. (Similar themes are later resurrected, knowingly or otherwise, by Werner Herzog in his 2001 feature, Invincible, in which a Jewish strongman grapples with the paradoxes of his position under Nazi rule.) Makavejev reunites the remaining cast of Innocence Unprotected, including Aleksi´c, who is still able to bend metal with his teeth and perform various hair-raising stunts, despite the inter vening decades. As Lorraine Mortimer points out in her extremely insightful and comprehensive recent book on the director, Terror and Joy: the Films of Dušan Makavejev (University of Minnesota Press, 2009), Innocence Unprotected represented a novel direction in his work: after the relative success of Man Is Not a Bird and Love Affair, Makavejev could have made a feature that extended his international profile. He would of course go on to do this spectacularly with WR: Mysteries of the Organism and Sweet Movie, but at this point Makavejev explored the touching, local story of one man, Aleksic, of “the artist as industrial laborer,” as Paul Arthur puts it (Cineaste, July 2005). But Aleksic’s story, and the story of the making of the original Innocence Unprotected, is not without its serious political dimensions: not only the dangerous nature of making a film under occupation, however seemingly lightweight its content, but also the subsequent disapproval for having released a film during this period meant that the film itself had been hidden from sight for many years. Makavejev’s “rescuing” of the film in the guise of an atypical making-of restores the humanity as well as the history surrounding the original release, particularly that of Aleksic, perhaps one of the most unusual directors cinema has ever had—neither particularly intellectual nor wealthy, yet able to make this film and get it screened in impossible circumstances. When Makavejev adds flashes of color to the older stock, he stresses the vibrant strangeness of Aleksic’s strongman universe, and the world of a cinema without context. Innocence Unprotected is a trip into the “publicly non-existing” realm of films without peers and without defenders: by focusing on this anomalous event in Yugoslav cinematic history, Makavejev unwittingly presages his own future nonconformity within even the most avant-garde circles.
NINA POWER is the author of One Dimensional Woman (Zero Books, 2009), a critique of contemporary feminism.
ABSTRACT A reconsideration of the fruitful 1965–75 period in Yugoslav director Dušan Makavejev’s career, arguing that Man Is Not a Bird, Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switch board Operator , Innocence Unprotected, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, and Sweet Movie raise questions about sexuality and politics which remain important.
Keywords Man Is Not a Bird, Love Affair, Innocence Unprotected, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, Sweet Movie
DVA DATA Dušan Makavejev: Free Radical [Man Is Not a Bird, Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator, Innocence Unprotected]. 1965, 1967, 1968 © 2009 Dušan Makavejev. publisher: criterion eclipse, 2009. $44.95, 3 discs.
WR: Mysteries of the Organism. © 1971 Dušan Makavejev. publisher: criterion collection, 2007. $39.95, 1 disc.
Sweet Movie. © 1974 Dušan Makavejev. publisher: criterion collection, 2007. $29.95, 1 disc.
Mick Eaton and Colin MacCabe
At the time when the social debate is getting angrier and angrier — yet more coherent and specific, he looks very like a man huddling in the shelter of his gadgets mid only through gadgets, and machine-like presentation to admit that human warmth exists.
From a review of Numero Deux Janomy in the Observer, 30 Jan 1977
The lords of imperialism have transformed technology and sexuality into instruments of repression.
From Le Gai Savoir
excerpt from: Godard: images, sounds, politics
Laura Mulvey and Colin MacCabe
'Do you know, madame, that despite your very light brown hair, you make me think of a beautiful redhead. La Jolie Rousse is a poem by Apollinaire. "Soleil voici le temps de la raison ardente..." Well, that burning-bright reason which the poet is looking for . . . when it does appear, it takes on the form of a beautiful redhead. That is what can be seen on a woman’s face, the presence of awareness, something which gives her an different, an extra beauty. Feminine beauty becomes something all-powerful, and it’s for that reason, I believe, that all the great ideas in French are in the feminine gender'.
from Une femme est Une femme
Are there objects which are Inevitably a source of suggestiveness as Baudelaire suggested about women?
'Following this line of thought, one might reach the conclusion that women have escaped the sphere of production only to be absorbed the more entirely by the sphere of consumption, to be captivated by the immediacy of the commodity world no less than men are transfixed by the immediacy of profit . . .
In the twenty years that Godard has been making movies one of the remarkable features of this work is its closeness to the contemporary moment. Perhaps the most striking example of this is La Chinoise, apparently aberrant when it appeared, yet confirmed in its actuality less than a year Iater by the events of May 1968. But all his films are inextricably locked in with the moment of their making, existing on the sharp edge between observing the world taking and changing share and, in giving it concrete form in representation, being part of the changing shares.
Godard's commitment to a political cinema was signalled in one of his very earliest articles, ‘Towards a Political Cinema’ (Godard on Godard, pp.16-17). Of all the early enigmatic articles it is this one which has proved the most opaque; the English translator commented ‘while most of Godard's early article; are fairly cryptic, this one is almost impenetrably so' (Godard on Godard, p.24). In fact, however, certain clear terms emerge from Godard’s discussion. Talking of a shot from Gerasimov's The Young Guard which he claims sums up the whole o Soviet cinema, he writes:
. . . a young girl in from of her door, in Interminable silence, tries to suppress the tears which finally burst violently forth, a sudden apparition of life. Here the idea of a shot (doubtless not unconnected with the Soviet economic plans) lakes on its real function of a sign, indicating something in whose place it appears.
Godard's insistence that politics in the cinema is a question of signification, the affirmation that the aesthetics the political are intimately linked, an affirmation aided by the linguistic coincidence, lost in translation, that French has the same word for shot and plan, the emphasis on a moment of emotion as the articulation of the political and the personal — all these can be understood as providing some of the crucial terms for Godard’s film-making.
It is not usual to consider A bout de souffle a political movie; the conventional wisdom is that Godard does not reflect on politics until le Petit Soldat, and yet the terms of the problems of politics are already assembled in the first film. While Michel and Patricia talk and play in Patricia's room, the radio brings them news of the visit that Eisenhower is paying to Paris and to the recently installed Général de Gaulle. The lovers' international affair thus finds a political analogue. And yet the analogy is formal and empty; the distance from the personal to the political is understood as infinite. Later in the film, Michel and Patricia separately descend the Champs Elysees, Michel reading yet another edition of France Soir and Patricia trying to evade the policemen who are following her. Their descent is impeded by crowds of people and the policemen controlling them and as the camera pans across from the pavement to the road we see that the politicians' motorcade is ascending the Champs Elysèes. In fact, we never see the politicians' faces: the motorcade and the police are enough to signal their presence. In the movement of the pan Godard demonstrates the distance between the personal and the political, which is also the distance between the form of the thriller and the form of the documentary. The form of the thriller reduces politics to a momentary lure in the narrative: our only interest in the motorcade is that it explains the presence of so many policemen in terms other than the hunt for Michel. In parallel fashion, any newsreel in which the motorcade figures as a central meaning would see Michel and Patricia only as part of the public gathered to observe the two national leaders.
Throughout Godard early films the search for a form of politics is also the search for a form of cinema which could discuss politics: the thriller again in Alphaville, the war movie in Les Carabiniers. But as Ihc political pressure of the 1900s grew more intense, and particularly the pressures of the war in Vietnam, Godard's search for a form adequate to the demands of politics which would also constitute a politics adequate to the demands of form became increasingly desperate. N o film poses the dilemma more clearly than Masculin/Féminin. The protagonist, played by Jean-Pierre Leaud, occupies the position of the oblique stroke in the title caught between the masculine world of party politics in which his Communist friend, played by Michel Debord, moves so comfortably and the feminine world of teenage magazines and pop music inhabited by his pop singer girlfriend (Chantal Goya). His own desire somehow to unite and transform these two disparate elements of his experience with the aid of fragments of the traditional discourses of Western culture leaves him without listeners in a solitude emphasised when his only audience is provided by a record-your-own-voice booth. The popular forms of art, despite their appeal, are increasingly shown as incredibly ruined by their relation between producer and consumer, epitomised in the cinema audience's indifference to the quality of the projection and the idiotic formula questions that Chantal Goya is asked on behalf of her audience by the interviewer for a pop magazine. At the same time, there is a liberating novelty in the pop music world completely missing from the habitual politics of the French Communist party, frozen in a repressive stereotype which ran not Admit the demands of art or sexuality into the language of politics. For Godard, it is not a question of posing the problem of politics in terms of popular art, nor of posing the problem of popular art in terms of politics. In Masculin/Féminin and the two films lie made concurrently immediately afterwards, Deux ou Trois choses and Made in USA, the problems of politics and art are articulated in the same terms: the terms provided by the forms of cinema.
Godard has never simply accepted the form of the political. So used are we to the daily diet of political information at the international, national or local level that we rarely question the form of politics, the way in which communal decisions are taken and social transformation consciously pursued. It is, of course, the fundamental heritage of the revolutionary tradition that the question of the form of politics is itself political. However, if Leninism was an attempt to hold together this revolutionary truth and the necessity to intervene h» the given form of the political, the party being the new form of organisation which allowed of such a double engagement, the historical subjection of Communist parties to the most narrow definition of the political is a testament to the bankruptcy of the Leninist tradition in the developed world. For us in the advanced capitalist countries there it perhaps no instance so evident of the failure to theorise or practically act on the form of the political as the lack of engagement with the new information media that have developed throughout the century. The effects of this media on the form of the political remains, still, largely unchallenged in theory or in practice. One way in which it is possible to view the whole of Godard’s work is as such a challenge and a challenge that operates at the level of both theory and practice.
If you want to write a book about me then there is one thing you must put in: money. The cinema is all money but the money figures twice: first yon spend all your time running to get the money to make the film but then in the film the money comes back again, in the image.
Godard in conversation
Before starling work ou Sauve « jui pent., Godard had spent over six months trying to persuade Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton to star in The Story. Difficulties in the negotiation s finally decided him to .start work first on Sauve qui pout but by then he had already written an extensive script of the projected American film. This script is itself a remarkable document, as Godard illustrates the development of the narrative with a montage of photographs, mainly pulled from previous Keaton and De Niro films. The story’ of the title refers to Godard’s film itself, to the fictional blind child that Keaton and De Niro have in the film, who is, in some sense, the story of their broken relationship, and, finally, to a film Bugsy that a mutual acquaintance of theirs. Frankie is making. It is their work on Frankie’s film thaï brings Keaton, as a researcher. and de Niro, as a cameraman, together again in Las Vegas after years of separation. The film concentrates on the historical links between organised crime and Hollywood but Bugsy will never be made because Frankie dies in a road accident arranged by the Mafia. But we learn a great deal about the projected film and about the character Bugsy Siegel, a legendary Mafia figure who was a friend of Hollywood stars and was engaged in the various film-union rackets before being shot to death. At the beginning of Godard’s film, Frankie comes to the airport to meet Diane and as they drive into town he talks of his film. He says that
'It’d be a good idea to start the story in a documentary style, at the very moment that the evening lights go up like the desire in people’s eyes. People have been working all day long for the industry of the day, in factories and offices. Now they're going to work for the industry' of the night: the money earned during the day will be spent on the night of sex, of gambling and of dreams.'
The text continues with the cryptic phrase. ‘ Let the images flow faster than money does’. It is the relation between money and images and the work and desire implicated in that relation which can provide a starting point for an analysis of Godard’s films.
Frankie, a film-maker, wants his images to hide their financial determinations, to escape their economic basis so they can function effectively as a phantasy. Godard's project is the direct reverse — Co slows down the images until the money appears and (tie phantasy displays its very constitution. And although there can be no question of a simple development — a linear progress towards an ever more comprehensive view — it is undoubtedly the case that the significance of money in Godard's work undergoes a series of transformations. Initially, two images of money are opposed — on the one hand, there is money in is a normal social function where it is understood within a context of work and frustration and, on the other, (here is criminal money which functions within a context of desire and liberation. These initial images which were, and still arc, current in the commercial cinema were transformed by Godard until they produced a critique of the image itself. The relation between desire and money in the image was connected to the relation between desire and money which is the very condition of the image and thus to the position of the spectator. The move from a particular film lo the institution of cinema and the question of the political conditions of existence of that institution are traced particularly clearly in Godard’s work. The condition of this movement is an obsession with the position of woman in the image which leads inevitably to the question of the economic conditions of existence of these images. Nothing more clearly indicates Godard’s later preoccupations than the fact that criminal money in The Story does not appear in relation to a particular character’s desires but in relation to the institution of cinema: the early financing of Hollywood.
In A bout de souffle (Breathless) the narrative development turns around the fact that the money which Michel Poiccard, the character played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, came to Paris to collect and which will allow him to flee to Rome is in the form of a crossed cheque which he cannot cash. This money caught up in a social nexus of financial institutions is opposed to the cash which Belmondo steals from both friends and strangers and which enables him to satisfy his desires without delay, be they to take Patricia (Jean Seberg) out to dinner or to buy himself breakfast. These two types of money set up an opposition between a restrictive social world and one of individual freedom, a series of relations understood within the film as the opposition between normal ‘cowardly' lâche behaviour and abnormal ‘ normal’ behaviour. This opposition is mapped on to sexual difference through the contrast between Patricia's concern with work and a career and Michel’s determination lo live only for the moment. Patricia's final betrayal of Michel is no surprise to the spectator because Michel has already told us that the attraction of her physical appearance cannot disguise the fact that she is a lâche. Woman's attractive appearance hides the reality of her attachment to the social relations which men wish to escape. It is m these terms that one can understand Godard's repeated statement that it is one of his films that he likes least and that he finds it fascist. Its fascism resides in its refusal of the reality of social relations and the propagation of the myth of an existence outside those relations. If A bout de souffle represents the criminal as someone who has abolished any restraint on desire, Godard’s later films reveal this image as too simple, as indeed an image of money which disregards the money in the image.
excerpt from GODARD: IMAGES, SOUNDS, POLITICS by Colin MacCabe
A man (Gary Cooper) is in a little local train when it is attacked by bandits. Along with two chance travelling companions, a professional gambler (Arthur O'Connell) and a saloon girl (Julie London), he tries to get back civilization. All three land up at the bandit hideout (among the bandits, the tubercular book-lover from Johnny Guitar), and we suddenly discover that the Man of the West is none other than the chief's nephew, who used belong to the gang but gave it all up to lead a more Christian existence under other skies. But the half-crazy old man (Lee J. Cobb) who leads the outlaws believes that his nephew has really come back. Not to disillusion him is according to our hero, the only way of avoiding disaster for his companions. Unfortunately, a cousin turns up unexpectedly. He proves to be much Iess credulous than the uncle. This odyssey finally ends in terrible slaughter in a deserted town. Gary Cooper and Julie London escape unharmed. But not being in love with each other (kissing figures no more prominently in Man 0f the West than in The Tin Star), they decide to go their own ways as the end-title comes up.
The script is by Reginald Rose, who also wrote Twelve Angry Men. So you can see that Man of the West belongs, a priori, to those 'super-Westerns' 0f which Andre Bazin spoke. Although if one thinks of Shane or High Noon, this is likely, still a priori, to be a defect. Especially as, after Men in War and The Tin Star, the art of Anthony Mann seemed to be evolving towards a purely theoretic schematism of mise en scene, directly opposed to that of The Naked Spur, The Far Country, The Last Frontier or even The Man from Laramie. In this respect, seeing God's Little Acre was as depressing as it was catastrophic. Yet this unmistakable deterioration, this apparent dryness in the most Virgilian of film-makers ... if one looks again at The Man from Laramie, The Tin Star and Man of the West in sequence, it may perhaps be that this extreme simplification is an endeavour, and the systematically more and more linear dramatic construction is a search: in which case the endeavour and the search would in themselves be, as Man of the West now reveals, a step forward. So this last film would in a sense be his Elena, and The Man from Laramie his Carrosse d'or, The Tin Star his French-Cancan.
But a step forward in what direction? Towards a Western style which will remind some of Conrad, others of Simenon, but reminds me of nothing whatsoever, for I have seen nothing so completely new since - why not? - Griffith. Just as the director of Birth of a Nation gave one the impression that he was inventing the cinema with every shot, each shot of Man of the West gives one the impression that Anthony Mann is reinventing the Western, exactly as Matisse's portraits reinvent the features of Piero della Francesca. It is, moreover, more than an impression. He does reinvent. I repeat, reinvent; in other words, he both shows and demonstrates, innovates and copies, criticizes and creates. Man of the West, in short, is both course and discourse, or both beautiful landscapes and the explanation of this beauty, both the mystery of firearms and the secret of this mystery, both art and the theory of art ... of the Western, the most cinematographic genre in the cinema, if I may so put it. The result is that Man of the West is quite simply an admirable lesson in cinema - in modern cinema.
For there are perhaps only three kinds of Western, in the sense that Balzac once said there were three kinds of novel: of images, of ideas, and of images and ideas, or Walter Scott, Stendhal, and Balzac himself. As far as the Western is concerned, the first genre is The Searchers; the second, Rancho Notorious; and the third, Man of the West. I do not mean by this that John Ford's film is simply a series of beautiful images. On the contrary. Nor that Fritz Lang's is devoid of plastic or decorative beauty. What I mean is that with Ford it is primarily the images which conjure the ideas, whereas with Lang it is rather the opposite, and with Anthony Mann one moves from idea to image to return - as Eisenstein wanted - to the idea.
Let's take some examples. In The Searchers, when John Wayne finds Natalie Wood and suddenly holds her up at arm's length, we pass from stylized gesture to feeling, from John Wayne suddenly petrified to Ulysses being reunited with Telemachus. In Rancho Notorious, on the other hand, when Mel Ferrer makes Marlene Dietrich win on the lottery-wheel, the SUdden feeling of the intrusion of tragedy in a Far West saloon is not so much reinforced as created by Mel Ferrer's foot tipping the wheel - and with it we pass from the abstract and stylized idea to the gesture. With Ford, an image gives the idea of a shot; with Lang, it is the idea of the shot which gives a beautiful image. And with Anthony Mann?
If one analyses the scene in Man of the West where one of the bandits holds his knife to Gary Cooper's throat to force Julie London to strip, one will see that its beauty springs from the fact that it is based at once on a purely theoretical idea and on an extreme realism. With each shot, we pass with fantastic speed from the image of Julie London undressing to the idea of the bandit imagining he will soon see her naked. So Mann need only show the girl in her underwear to give us the impression that we are seeing her naked.
With Anthony Mann, one rediscovers the Western, as one discovers arithmetic in an elementary maths class. Which is to say that Man of the West is the most intelligent of films, and at the same time the most simple. What is it about? About a man who discovers himself in a dramatic situation; and looks about him for a way out. So the mise en scene of Man of the West will consist - here I almost wanted to write, already consists, for Anthony Mann is beginning to express in form what among his predecessors was usually content, and vice versa - of discovering and defining all the same time, whereas in a classical Western the mise en scene consisted of discovering and then defining. Simply compare the famous pan shot which reveals the arrival of the Indians in Stagecoach with the fix-focus shot in The Last Frontier of the Indians just appearing out of the high grass to surround Victor Mature and his companions. The force of Ford's camera movement arises from its plastic and dynamic beauty. Mann's shot is, one might say, of vegetal beauty. Its force springs precisely from the fact that it owes nothing to any planned aesthetic.
Let us take another example, this time from Man of the West. In the deserted town, Gary Cooper comes out of the little bank and looks to see if the bandit he has just shot is really dead, for he can see him stumbling in the distance at the end of the single street which slopes gently away at his feet. An ordinary director would simply have cut from Gary Cooper coming out to the dying bandit. A more subtle director might have added various details to enrich the scene, but would have adhered to the same principle of dramatic composition. The originality of Anthony Mann is that he is able to enrich while simplifying to the extreme. As he comes out, Gary Cooper is framed in medium shot. He crosses almost the entire field of vision to look at the deserted town, and then (rather than have a reverse angle of the town, fol· lowed by a shot of Gary Cooper's face as he watches) a lateral tracking shot re-frames Cooper as he stands motionless, staring at the empty town. The stroke of genius lies in having the track start after Gary Cooper moves, because it is this dislocation in time which allows a spatial simultaneity: in one fell swoop we have both the mystery of the deserted town, and Gary Cooper's sense of unease at the mystery. With Anthony Mann, each shot comprises both analysis and synthesis, or as Luc Moullet noted, both the instinctive and the premeditated.
There are other ways of praising Man of the West. One could talk about the delightful farm nestling amid the greenery which George Eliot would have loved, or about Lee J. Cobb, with whom Mann succeeds where Richard Brooks failed in The Brothers Karamazov. One could also talk about the final gunfight, since this is the first time that the man shooting and the man shot at are both kept constantly in frame at the same time. I spoke earlier of vegetal beauty. In Man of the West, Gary Cooper's amorphous face belongs to the mineral kingdom: thus proving that Anthony Mann is returning to the basic truths.
excerpt from the book Godard On Godard
by David Trotter
Hitchcock liked assembly lines. In the long, consistently revealing interview he gave to François Truffaut in the summer of 1962, he described a scene he had thought of including in North by Northwest (1959), but didn’t. Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) is on his way from New York to Chicago. Why not have him stop off at Detroit, then still in its Motor City heyday?
I wanted to have a long dialogue scene between Cary Grant and one of the factory workers as they walk along the assembly line. They might, for instance, be talking about one of the foremen. Behind them a car is being assembled, piece by piece. Finally, the car they’ve seen being put together from a simple nut and bolt is complete, with gas and oil, and all ready to drive off the line. The two men look at it and say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful!’ Then they open the door to the car and out drops a corpse!
The putative scene has the makings of a classic Hitchcock prank or hoax. ‘Where has the body come from? Not from the car, obviously, since they’ve seen it start at zero! The corpse falls out of nowhere, you see!’ Hitchcock was just short of his 63rd birthday when Truffaut interviewed him. He had remained staggeringly inventive throughout a long, prolific and highly profitable career, and there were seven films yet to come, including The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964). Two American television series – Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62) and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-65) – converted the ‘master of suspense’ into an international celebrity. Since his death in 1980, his reputation has continued to soar. He must by now be the most written about film director of all time. In 2012, Vertigo (1958) displaced Citizen Kane at the top of Sight and Sound’s list of the best films ever made. But his art owed a great deal to its affinity with the assembly line.
Even the biographers, watching the life ‘start at zero’, have struggled to establish where the motivation for the inventiveness came from. The most popular hypothesis, not least because Hitchcock himself promoted it so vigorously, concerns timidity. ‘The man who excels at filming fear is himself a very fearful person,’ Truffaut observed, ‘and I suspect that this trait of his personality has a direct bearing on his success.’ The most substantial biography to date, by Patrick McGilligan, includes plenty of anecdotes about fear, but supplies little by way of evidence of its ultimate cause, and draws no conclusions. Peter Ackroyd, however, is firmly of the Truffaut school. His Hitchcock trembles from the outset: ‘Fear fell upon him in early life.’ At the age of four (or 11, or …), his father had him locked up for a few minutes in a police cell, an episode that became, as Michael Wood puts it, the ‘myth of origin’ for his powerful distrust of authority. Ackroyd rummages dutifully for further evidence. Was young Alfred beaten at school by a ‘black-robed Jesuit’? Or caught out in the open when the Zeppelins raided London in 1915? Did he read too much Edgar Allan Poe? It doesn’t really add up to very much. And yet – or therefore – the strong conviction persists. Fear is the key; and not just to the life. Interview the films, he once told an inquisitive journalist. Those who have interviewed the films often conclude that, like their creator, they too tremble. ‘Hitchcock was a frightened man,’ Wood writes, ‘who got his fears to work for him on film.’
For Wood, the question of fearfulness arises most pressingly when it comes to the tortures meted out to the women whose death or danger is a dominant feature of almost all the movies. ‘Is it sadism, as the dark view of Hitchcock proclaims, a pleasure in seeing beautiful women in harm’s way? The solitary joy of the otherwise uxorious director? A revenge on the mother the child thought might leave him for ever?’ Wood doesn’t believe that the motive was sadism. Nor does he think, like Hitchcock’s first biographer, John Russell Taylor, that Hitchcock, far from enjoying the distress he was able to inflict on them, identified strongly with his victims. The women in the movies are, Wood proposes, ‘whatever we most fear to lose’. This ‘we’ may be just a bit too comfortable. There presumably were and still are those, even among Hitchcock’s most ardent fans, who feel that they could get by in life without a regular supply of blondeness. Still, it seems possible to agree that the women in harm’s way represent whatever was most at risk, not just for Hitchcock, but for a culture heavily invested in blonde iconicity. At any rate, I find it difficult to disagree with Wood’s further conclusion. The lingering over the heroine’s demise could, he says, be masochism. ‘But it could also be just an act of thinking the worst, an act of propitiation to the gods who take these treasures away.’ Hitchcock’s films are at their most Hitchcockian, Wood proposes, when they think the very worst. They are certainly lavish in their propitiations: it takes Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) 45 seconds to die in Psycho, but the scene required seventy different camera set-ups. Ceremony enough, surely. But Hitchcock knew that the gods who took the treasures away were not the kind to be propitiated.
The best commentary on this aspect of Hitchcock’s films (and on a great deal else besides) may be Philip Larkin’s ‘Aubade’, a poem about the specific, all-consuming fear aroused by the most general and unavoidable (that is to say, banal) of all conditions. This is the fear not so much of dying, as of death, of mortality. Waking at 4 a.m. to ‘soundless dark’, the speaker sees ‘what’s really always there:/Unresting death, a whole day nearer now’. His mind ‘blanks’, not inwardly, in remorse or despair, but outwardly,
at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
‘And soon’: the mildly querulous bit of time-keeping tucked away among the sonorous negations strikes the authentic Larkin note. For the blankness he has in mind is ‘a special way of being afraid/No trick dispels’: not faith, not courage, not the sound a poem makes.
‘I work all day, and get half-drunk at night’ is how ‘Aubade’ begins. That’s pretty much what Hitchcock did for most of his life, except that as he grew older the drinking encroached increasingly on the work (champagne with lunch, vodka and orange in a flask on set). The justification for the briskness of Ackroyd’s account (259 pages of text, where previous biographers have required twice as much, or more) is that Hitchcock didn’t linger either. He liked to think he could complete one film in the studio while starting another in his mind. The transitions between films became almost as swift and as seamless as the transitions within them. ‘He already had another project in mind’ is Ackroyd’s constant refrain. By the same token, the rare periods of ‘suspended animation’ during the course of a long career, when there were ‘no stories to consider, no treatments to contemplate, no stars to pursue’, became a ‘form of torture’. The final months of his life seem to have been truly harrowing for all concerned.
As far as I’m aware, Hitchcock himself only ever approached the topic of our sure extinction obliquely, and in relation to his films. For example, he reassured Truffaut that staging violent death all day hadn’t given him nightmares. He would go home afterwards and laugh about it:
And that’s something that bothers me because, at the same time, I can’t help imagining how it would feel to be in the victim’s place. We come back again to my eternal fear of the police. I’ve always felt a complete identification with the feelings of a person who’s arrested, taken to the police station in a police van and who, through the bars of the moving vehicle, can see people going to the theatre, coming out of a bar, and enjoying the comforts of everyday living; I can even picture the driver joking with his police partner, and I feel terrible about it.
I think the police are a red herring here. All the vividness of the anecdote lies in the detail of the activities visible from the van, now conclusively beyond reach. Hitchcock identifies not so much with the suspected criminal as with the person (any person) whose number is up. The person taken out of circulation – it could be by a police van, or by an ambulance – sees, perhaps for the first time, what the world will be like when she or he is no longer in it. Hitchcock had already incorporated a version of the incident he so vividly pictures here into The Wrong Man (1956), a very good, uncharacteristically neo-realist film about a New York musician under arrest for a crime he didn’t commit. As he’s driven away by the police, the musician (it’s Henry Fonda) glimpses his wife, who doesn’t yet know he’s been arrested, moving around in the kitchen. When describing this scene to Truffaut, Hitchcock dwelled on details that either weren’t in the film to begin with, or got edited out.
At the corner of the block is the bar he usually goes to, with some little girls playing in front of it. As they pass a parked car, he sees that the young woman inside is turning on the radio. Everything in the outside world is taking place normally, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and yet he himself is a prisoner inside the car.
It’s not just that the normality will soon be gone for ever. It’s that it seems to be making precious little effort to stay in touch. The jovial policemen merely perform the indifference society at large is now understood to feel at the removal from circulation of one of its members.
The second film Hitchcock directed on his own was The Pleasure Garden (1925), a British-German co-production made in Munich. At its climax, an alcoholic husband gripped by delirium tremens is shot as he’s about to stab his wife. ‘When he is shot,’ Wood notes, ‘he comes to his senses, no longer drunk at all; he mildly says, “Oh, hello, Doctor,” to the man who has interrupted his fury and dies.’ The version of the film I’ve seen has no intertitle at this point, so I can’t be sure of the exact words. But it’s hard to mistake the jauntiness on the man’s face. The German producer complained that the scene was impossible, and in any case too brutal to be shown. Hitchcock kept it (he may have sacrificed the clarifying intertitle by way of compromise). ‘There is a sense, though, in which a casual, almost negligent registering of one’s last moment is scarier – not brutal or incredible as the German producer thought, but too natural for art, as if the erratic truth of death’s timing were more than we could bear in a story.’ I think that’s dead right. Except of course that nature has little to do with the way people die in Hitchcock’s films.
It took a very special kind of invention to get an awareness of the ‘erratic truth of death’s timing’ into a medium of mass entertainment. In the course of a shrewd and properly demanding analysis of Vertigo, Wood draws attention to sequences of shots in the first hour of the film that mark a narrative threshold: a step-change in its relation to its audience. During these moments, our eyes and ears are ‘co-opted’ for the ‘sense of the world’ somewhat precariously maintained by the agoraphobic private detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), whose old acquaintance Gavin Elster wants him to trail his (apparent) wife, the luminous Madeleine (Kim Novak). We don’t exactly see what Scottie sees, Wood says. Rather, we see what he would see if his eyes were a camera. If Scottie can establish to his own satisfaction that Madeleine is prey to fugue states in which she assumes the appearance and personality of an ancestor, Carlotta Valdes, who committed suicide in 1857, he will feel justified in taking the job, and falling in love with her. In the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco, Madeleine sits absorbed in a portrait of Carlotta, the bouquet on the bench beside her matching the one Carlotta holds. Scottie watches from across the room. As his gaze narrows, the camera moves in on the bouquet on the bench, and then by a swerve and sudden ascent, on its equivalent in the portrait. Scottie subsequently tails Madeleine home. He peers at her car, across the courtyard from him. Is that a bouquet on the dashboard? It’s as if he believes he could get closer just by wanting to. In the event, the camera does it for him, not by moving in, but by a new set-up, from a different angle, halfway across the courtyard. Yes, it is a bouquet. In Wood’s view, the sheer ‘extravagance’ of these manoeuvres ‘beautifully and scarily exploits the possibilities of the medium’, making our dependence on such possibilities ‘something like an addiction’. We become complicit with everything that has already happened, and everything that will happen, to Scottie.
Such moments had long been a feature of Hitchcock’s film-making, as much of an authorial signature as the famous cameo appearances, if a lot less obtrusive; and a great deal more consequential than the various motifs, riddles, visual puns, and other traces he is sometimes said to have scattered throughout his films. The earliest I can think of occurs in The Lodger (1927), which he himself described as the ‘first true “Hitchcock” film’. Quite distinct from the fluid, intricately choreographed camera movements which have been taken to exemplify his virtuosity (his ‘art’), these five-to-ten-second tracks forward – or, alternatively, the abrupt transition to a new and noticeably discrepant camera set-up within the space originally defined by an establishing shot – are strictly functional. In most cases, the dolly in or the discrepant angle follows a narrowing of the protagonist’s gaze, as it does in Vertigo. In Notorious(1946), for example, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), dining in Rio with the Nazi super-scientists among whom she has been planted, notices a commotion around the bottles of wine stood on the sideboard. A dolly in on a label shows us what she would like to see, but can’t quite from where she’s sitting. Now she’s truly hooked; and so are we. In The Birds, after the avian invaders have swept en masse down the chimney of the Brenner house and laid waste to the lounge, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) watches Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy), the mother of the man she’s fallen in love with, picking up broken crockery and straightening a picture on the wall, while her son bickers with the sheriff, who’s come to inspect the damage. After a couple of medium-long shots of Lydia from Melanie’s point of view, a third shot, now from a position she very evidently doesn’t occupy, takes us in much closer. The change of distance and angle is an act of moral and emotional intelligence. While the men bicker, Melanie, noticing Lydia’s distress, has understood something both about her, and about the scale of the catastrophe they all face. It’s the sort of awakening conventional in melodrama. On this occasion, however, awakening has been outsourced to a machine.
The changes of distance and angle sometimes arise out of the fiction’s premise. The protagonist of Rear Window (1954), L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart), is a photographer who finds himself confined to a wheelchair by a broken leg, so it makes sense for him to put down the pair of binoculars through which he has been scrutinising the suspicious goings-on in the apartment directly opposite, and pick up a telephoto lens instead. The closer view afforded by the telephoto lens reveals a man wrapping a saw and a butcher’s knife in some newspaper. It doesn’t in fact generate a great deal by way of additional detail; but we think it must do, because we’ve seen Jefferies swap the binoculars for a telephoto lens. Even more interesting are those cases – Blackmail(1929), Suspicion (1941) or The Wrong Man – in which the camera’s swift forward movement or repositioning doesn’t stem directly from the protagonist’s immediate point of view, but nonetheless takes place as it were on her or his behalf. In Shadow of a Doubt (1943), for example, a dolly in on Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) from a position other than that occupied by the person currently talking to him, his niece Charlie (Teresa Wright), confirms starkly to us, but not to her, that he is indeed the killer we already know him to be. In such cases, an alliance has been created between audience and camera, an alliance in suspense: sympathetic to the protagonist, but apart from him or her.
These threshold moments are engrossingly human. They engage us fully in the protagonist’s first full engagement with the world’s meaningfulness. We, too, have been reanimated – thanks to the surrogacy of a machine’s-eye view. The something too natural for art that Wood discerns in the death scene in The Pleasure Garden has found a means other than jesting last words to embed itself in the narrative. Hitchcock, who never forgot what he’d learned as a director of silent films, understood that he didn’t need words at all, jesting or otherwise. For all the light at their disposal, his threshold moments have something of the feel of Larkin’s ‘soundless dark’. They all occur either without a word spoken, or deliberately against (or over) the distractions of speech. Their discrepant soundlessness puts us back inside the police van. The threshold moment could be our last glimpse of the ‘comforts of everyday living’: a world in which a bouquet is a bouquet, a bottle of wine a bottle of wine, a saw a saw, and a woman tidying a tidy woman. We know that the people on the streets are talking to each other as people ordinarily do, but we can’t catch a word of what they say. Psycho confirms the soundless dark of the 4 a.m. hiatus. We expect the threshold to announce itself during the scene in which Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), having just set foot in the Bates motel, fences warily with Norman (Anthony Perkins) in a room full of stuffed animals. But this is a heroine who will be dead before she’s had a chance to notice anything truly suspicious. Hers is a post-mortem awakening. The camera starts on her lifeless face pressed against the bathroom floor, pans to take in the bedroom, and then speeds forward and up until it arrives at the newspaper on the bedside table which conceals the money she had stolen earlier in the day: the grim remnant of her all too human aspiration to a better life.
Of course, there are other kinds of Hitchcock film. He spoke sometimes of the need to adjust the ‘dosage’ of humour from one to the next, and the more humorous among them concern the special fear of dying only in so far as they resemble a trick used to quell it. In the films about nothing very much at all, we learn soon enough to stop worrying about what the villains have in store for the hero and heroine, and start worrying about what the hero and heroine have in store for each other. To demonstrate that romance, like danger, can keep us on tenterhooks, Hitchcock included in Easy Virtue (1928) a scene in which a switchboard operator eavesdrops on a marriage proposal. Pleasurable suspense, and its adroit resolution, took up a lot of space in his bag of cinematic tricks.
Hitchcock was an inveterate practical joker. Mercifully, the jokes themselves now seem too boring to merit much attention. But they certainly had a part to play in the publicity campaigns which transformed a film director into a media brand. Jan Olsson has shown in great detail how Hitchcock consistently manipulated celebrity gossip in order to project the image of a creative genius who was as much ‘prankster’ as ‘master craftsman’. The biggest prank of all was his own body. Despite periodic bouts of binge-dieting, Hitchcock remained until the end of his life mountainously fat. In the mid-1930s, as his ambitions turned increasingly towards a career in Hollywood, he began to parlay his corpulence – and the appetites which had brought it about – into an instantly recognisable public persona. ‘His film fame, food reputation, and fabulous physicality were supreme assets,’ Olsson observes, ‘when he signed up for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1955, on the cusp of Hollywood’s television era.’ His Englishness, too, presumably: no more of a mere hoax than Larkin’s, it had nonetheless to be kept in full working order, like the corpulence, by constant reiteration (the sober suit and tie worn to work every day, regardless of the weather). Not everyone would accept Olsson’s linking of the food and the physicality to the films. Introducing the most recent of the two indispensable collections of articles, essays and stories by Hitchcock and interviews with him that he has edited, Sidney Gottlieb notes that he has chosen to exclude material concerned primarily with food, weight and family life, topics ‘perhaps worth investigating’ as an element in the construction of a public persona, but not as important as the comments on cinema. Still, the cameo appearances did put the corpulence on ample display in the films; while it’s the confirmed pranksters, like Melanie Daniels in The Birds, who undergo the most rigorous examination by 4 a.m. hiatus. Even when he was at his most serious, in his commentary on cinema, Hitchcock had the air of a conjuror explaining his tricks.
He thought that montage was cinema at its most pure. In theory, his method involved a subordination to the capacities of the camera upheld with such completeness and consistency at each stage of the production process, from script and storyboards through principal photography to editing, that it became a kind of mastery. Before cinema, montage meant the action of assembling mechanical components. Hitchcock defined it as the ‘juxtaposition’ of ‘pieces of film that went through a machine’ in such a way as to create ‘ideas on the screen’. His own conjuring was by sleight of machine rather than of hand. ‘Emotions of many varying sorts, shades, degrees and colours have to be manufactured,’ he said, ‘and all must be photographically clear.’ Montage used the machine against itself, creating out of its excess of indifference (the seventy set-ups for the shower scene) a spectacle guaranteed to wring the heart.
The best of the films about nothing very much at all end superbly, the fulfilment of the romantic fantasies they explore achieved by small miracles of montage. In his Hollywood memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade (1996), the scriptwriter William Goldman offers an admiring analysis of the conclusion of North by Northwest. When we recall what happened at the end of the film, Goldman says, we suppose that it must have taken a narrative age to get from the moment at which Eve Marie Saint dangles helplessly from Cary Grant’s hand on the face of Mount Rushmore – while America’s implacable enemies stand poised to tip them both over the edge and make off with the state secrets they’ve been safeguarding – to the moment at which he pulls her up beside him into a bunk in an express train about to enter a tunnel. In fact, it takes a mere 45 seconds, so economical is Hitchcock’s editing. North by Northwest was modelled to some extent on The 39 Steps (1935), which permits itself three minutes to get from the climax of a national emergency involving the design of a new warplane to the blissful union of hero and heroine. Both films conclude at a lick: the pieces don’t so much fall into place as cascade. There’s a kind of heartlessness in that, too. Montage has become cinema’s indispensable, delightful, futile prank. It’s not just corpses that tumble out of the vehicles rolling off the Hitchcock assembly line, but pairs of newly-weds, in radiant, fully automated succession.
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Let’s not speak of his death; let’s speak of his life. Sing of it, even! Pier Paolo Pasolini was one of the great practitioners of a Marxist thought in action. All of his concepts came from practice, as a teacher, poet, novelist, journalist, film-maker, and media provocateur.
His original and perceptive theory of neo-capitalism came from direct engagement with the problems of making a postwar, post-Fascist culture. His commitment to the Grand Old Cause of the people was both moral but also erotic, even carnal. He wanted – needed – to cock-suck the world. Such was his “rash love of reality.” (226)
A celebrity in his lifetime, the public drunk him in, and his posthumous reputation still suffers the hangover of that immoderate fame – although as I noted elsewhere he is a point of reference for Maurizio Lazzarato. The poems, novels and films are still marvels, and the unfinished (unfinishable) book Petrolio is strikingly prescient. But here I want to focus on the theoretical work of the sixties collected in Heretical Empiricism (New Academia, Washington DC, 2005).
In the sixties, Pasolini was already counter-programming against those such as his contemporary Louis Althusser who would appear to read Marx’s texts as a “Gospel” (38) even though as he says Marxism is, “the only ideology that protects me from the loss of reality.” (72) He had a distinctive take on just what that reality might be, which in good Bogdanovite fashion we can see as something he arrived at via substitution from his own practice, particularly as a film maker, as we shall see later on.
As one might expect from a poet, Pasolini had excellent antennae for what his contemporary Raymond Williams would call an emergent cultural formation and its causes. In hindsight we can say that he correctly predicted certain transformations in the mode of production we still charmingly refer to by the old handle of ‘capitalism.’ He had no interest in merely submitting new phenomena to the old conceptual grids, however.
Pasolini: “The typical operation of common sense is to defend oneself from uncomfortable novelties by making them pass for old.” (39) Hence what one finds in Pasolini is not the old theory of capital’s eternal universals detected under new appearances. Rather, he is an exemplar of how to start from practice, from experience, and bring the concepts into alignment with that experience by changing the language of conceptual writing itself.
Heretical Empiricism begins with questions of language. Pasolini’s early poems were not in Italian but in the Friulian dialect. He was from the beginning directly involved in the politics of language. The progressive movement in postwar Italian literature tried to enlarge the linguistic space of the national-popular through a literary and cultural campaign. The culture of the wartime Resistance, generalized and popularized after the war, attacked the petit-bourgeois faux-classicism of the Fascist period from the bottom up.
It is astonishing to see him, by the sixties, confidently criticizing the writing style of Antonio Gramsci, whose Prison Notebooks of the 30s were newly discovered in the 50s and had become something of a cult text on the left. Gramsci, Pasolini says, was not a precocious writer. His cultural formation was expressive and humanist, overlaid with a rather too sincere apprenticeship in a more ‘scientific’ language of Marxism. Only in his late letters does Pasolini think Gramsci came close to synthesizing such influences. In short, his writing could not be the basis of national-popular counter-hegemonic language for the post-war period.
Postwar literature had three ways of using language. Middle brow writing was rather staid and academic. The high style tended to be rather too sublime: “the bourgeois introversion that equates the world with interiority.” (5) Perhaps alluding to his own early novels and stories, Pasolini sees the core achievement of the era as combining the high style with a low one, with roots in dialect and regional structures of feeling.
Of particular significant for him is free indirect discourse, where the author speaks from the point of view of the character. On the one hand this obliges the writer to blend the authorial voice with the character, including the experience of peasants and workers, and on the other, it enables the writer to address not just the reader but classes of readers, in something like an epic style. It was a way of getting out of the chamber-pieces of bourgeois literature, even if some of the best writing of the time was from the point of view of bourgeois characters expressing their internal dissatisfaction and alienation from bourgeois culture – for example in Alberto Moravia’s novel Boredom.
Something like free indirect discourse was also the technique of postwar neorealist cinema, including Pasolini’s own Accatone. But the attempt to create a counter-hegemonic national-popular culture from below ran aground by the sixties. In Pasolini’s severe judgment “we must also admit to having worked for the enemy.” (46) It may have created some of the conditions of possibility for a quite different culture, an expression of a quite different political economy.
As someone who works in and through language – understood very broadly – Pasolini’s worldview sees everything through the prism of language. His own labors become the means via which to understand initially quite subtle changes in the mode of production, understood through its cultural effects. At the same time, as a militant worker on language, Pasolini is critical of the formal linguistics coming into vogue in his time. All his interventions into the theory of literature and media are attempts to pose critical questions about language as practice.
For example, Pasolini accepts the key distinction in the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure between langue and parole, which he understands as, on the one hand, the formal structure of the language considered as a totality (langue) and on the other, specific instances of the enacting of language (parole). It is a distinction he thinks applies to any language, including cinema and much else, as we shall see. He then goes on to distinguish what he calls spoken-written languages, and spoken-only languages. Both spoken-written and spoken-only language have the double aspect of langue and parole.
His example of a spoken-only language is the dialect of Friuli, which had almost no written form at all before Pasolini and some colleagues got to work on it. Pasolini’s goal is to understand such languages socially and politically rather than formally. He is contemptuous of linguists who go looking for ‘pure’ speakers of undocumented dialects “like gatherers of lichens.” (58) Linguistics has a colonizing aspect, and it infects its conceptual apparatus. It takes the spoken-written language of a powerful state as a norm.
Spoken-only languages are a “a kind of hyper- or meta-structure.” (58) They are prehistoric and unconscious, they mediate between the human and nature. On the other hand, spoken-written languages belong to a superstructure. They are the product of a certain stage in the organizing of a productive base, a moment after liberation from necessity (and the invention of new ones…). Pasolini takes the point of view of the provincial, subaltern Friulian for whom the spoken-written language of Italian is something coming from above and without.
Some, like Alice Becker-Ho and Giorgio Agamben would insist that national languages don’t exist. A people and a language are only ever made to conform to each other by a state. Pasolini’s way of expressing a similar idea is to insist that a national language was only ever a superstructural project, particularly in an Italy only unified as a state since the 1870s. Italian, in Pasolini’s time, was still a plethora of dialects at the bottom, and a literary and official language on top.
Neo-capitalism brings into the plural space of languages a technical language. It comes not from the state, from schools, from literature. Its “creative centers, processors, and unifiers of language are no longer the universities, but the factories.” (15) It is a language machined down for communicative efficiency; expression is left to advertising. It is communicative but not rational. It is unifying in a way neither church, bourgeois or bureaucratic language succeeded in being. It developed in the North, in Milan and Turin, where advancing industry forged a typical new way of life. It simplifies the sentence, eliminates hifalutin Latin constructions and drives out the old dialect communities on its new autostrade.
Pasolini: “Now the guiding spirit of language will no longer be literature but technology.” Here he overlooks the extent to which the old literary forms were themselves technologies. Pasolini is no Friedrich Kittler. He does not perceive culture as always already technical – just the new forms of it. Still, as a rough diagram of what was coming, it does make sense to see the old attempt at a ‘national’ language as superstructural, an artifact of state and school, and the new one as infrastructural, a direct outgrowth of new techniques of production.
The old humanistic petit-bourgeois language never quite managed to be hegemonic or unifying, and produced only administrative and literary language, centered on Rome. The acceleration of productive power thrust the North into contention as a hegemonic power. The instruments of the new hegemonic language would be be radio, television, newspapers. The application of science to production does not stop there in terms of influence on language.
All this comes about because the external revolution has not come to pass. By external, Pasolini means the revolution of the social, the revolution of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. Rather, what is taking place in as internal revolution, a revolution within the forces of production, resulting in a transition from capitalism to neo-capitalism. This revolution stems from the application of science to industry and the anthropological mutations it implies. Of these two competing revolutions, the external revolution transformed languages from the spoken-only on up; the internal transforms those from the spoken-written on down. What follows is the “substitution of the languages of the infrastructures, as a linguistic model, for the languages of the superstructures.” (63)
This is as big a change as that of agricultural civilization, thousands of years before. Pasolini: “what is new is the ‘technological spirit’, that is, the spirit of applied science that tends to substitute its own data for those of nature, and therefore tends to a radical transformation of human habits.” (38) The new hegemonic language is that of a neo-bourgeoisie. Pasolini: “technological language can be understood as the language of industrial eternity… a world completely occupied at the center by the production-consumption cycle.” (37)
Technical language achieves a consistency that in Italy at least, national language never had, and even over-shoots it. “The interregional and international ‘signing’ language of the future will be the language of a world unified by industry and technology (if Marxism, it’s understood, has lost the ways of revolution…).” (43) This analysis of what was then only a tendency turned out to be prophetic.
Pasolini’s response is twofold. On the one hand, these essays on neo-capitalist media, written for various popular journals, are themselves ‘technical.’ They are a sort of détournement of the then ascendant technical language of sociology and linguistics, applied to the project of renewing a Marxist theory of culture. On the other, Pasolini tries to intervene not just in the politics of literature and its language, but the problem of cinema and its language as well. Cinema, or rather audiovisual language, is the terrain of struggle in neo-capitalism analogous to the struggle over literary language in the immediate postwar years. The difference being that it is not a language that descends from the superstructures of state, school, church and literature. It emerges within the infrastructures of production itself.
In cinema history, the period from the talkies to the state-subsidized art-house films of seventies is often taken as one of ‘national’ cinemas. But for Pasolini, cinema is not part of a national language at all. “The structures of the language of cinema… present themselves as trans-national and trans-classist. They prefigure a possible sociolinguistic situation of a world made tendentially unitary by complete industrialization and by the consequent leveling which implies the disappearance of particular and national traditions.” (124) But while potentially a trans-national and trans-class language, cinema actually ends up being merely an inter-national and inter-class language. It became the leisure time activity that expressed the common dream of the technocrat and the technical worker.
In the cinema of the early sixties, the petit-bourgeois character of neo-capitalism, shared by technocrat and technician, reveals itself. The Marxist inspired culture of the Resistance and its fellow-travelling literature of Sartrean commitment has lost its power. “The problematic individual, who was the alibi behind whose acceptance the bourgeoisie had been able to hide its bad faith, had the right to citizenship in Italy for a certain period by presenting himself as ‘committed.’” (125) Now the problematic individual reveals itself as itself as the standard ‘neurotic’, and ‘alienated’ character of modern culture (on which see Franco Berardi).
Pasolini mentions Michaelangelo Antonioni in passing, and surely his films of the early sixties, all starring Monica Vitti are the masterpieces that most clearly picture this new dispensation. In L’Avventura she is the girl from a poor background lost among feckless bourgeois. In La Notte she is the rich girl who fascinates the vaguely leftist writer, now that his mentor is dead and his wife no longer loves him. In L’Eclisse she leaves the enervated leftist writer for the exciting young stockbroker – also a disappointment. Most famously in Red Desert she is the bourgeois wife who in schizophrenic moments loses herself in the beauty of the industrial landscape of Northern Italy, before recoiling from it in panic. She is, in a way, alternately Antonioni, who was indeed fascinated by neo-capitalism; and Pasolini – who recoiled.
Pasolini too made brilliant cinema in the sixties, and arguably unlike Antonioni even flourished in the seventies. But after putting symbolic end to neorealism in Mamma Roma, his films took on a mythic and hallucinatory quality. He was perhaps trying to find a way to translate an entire civilization, born with the rise of agriculture and dying with the rise of neo-capitalism, into a form that could survive it. Hence his Gospel of Matthew, his Oedipus Rex and Medea, the parable of Hawks and Sparrows, on to his justly celebrated Trilogy of Life versions of Decameron, Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights. It was a way of struggle in and against the audiovisual, particularly television, with is endless representations of petit-bourgeois life as ‘good examples.’ “It is for this reason that television is at least as repulsive as concentration camps.” (135)
From a reading of Roland Barthes on Bertold Brecht, Pasolini arrives at a new version of commitment as suspending meaning, which Barthes will in turn conceptualize as the neutral. Cinema has to find its way through new problems that contradict the accepted narratives of history of both bourgeois and Marxist rationalism: the revolt of the ‘neurotic’ bourgeois against himself, the rise of the third world, decline into repressive bureaucracy of the socialist states, the continued presence of Nazism.
Pasolini found in cinema a technical language, part of the infrastructure of neo-capitalism, which could light the embers of something archaic, because of the very nature of the cinematic sign itself. Cinema too is language, but not like spoken or written language. “Cinema does not evoke reality, as literary language does; it does not copy reality as painting does; it does not mime reality as drama does. Cinema reproduces reality, image and sound!” (133) And hence can potentially reproduce a reality beyond neocapitalism.
Strikingly, for a writer, Pasolini does not privilege the written or the spoken word in thinking about cinema. Linguistic signs (lin-signs) are always in the context of gestures and situations. Film language is animal-like, “on the border of what is human.” (169) Not unlike a spoken-only language like Friulian dialect. Cinema reveals the language of reality just as writing revealed the language of speech.
Images (or im-signs) have no dictionary, or perhaps an infinite one. The film maker does not take im-signs from a structure or system but from chaos. Cinema may have stylistic conventions, but its grammar is open-ended. The irrational aspect of cinema cannot be eliminated, even if it Hollywood cinema it is pushed below consciousness. Cinema’s language of im-signs is both very subjective and very objective. The film-maker selects, but from reality itself.
Is free indirect discourse possible in cinema? Yes. It is naturalistic in that it implies the language of the character. The gaze of a peasant is not the same as that of a bourgeois, or even a worker. In Antonioni’s Red Desert, the world seen from point of view of Vitti’s character, who becomes at the same time a stand in for the director’s own delirious aesthetics, hovers between dissolution of the self and paranoia about its boundaries.
Antonioni’s films were an example of a poetic cinema, which for Pasolini are films that contain the temptation to make another film, détourned by love of the poetry of the world. Poetry is present in obsessive shots and editing rhythms, which are in tension with free indirect discourse. Poetic cinema “is, in other words, the moment in which language, following a different and possibly more authentic inspiration, frees itself of function and presents itself as ‘language as such’ – style.” (182) Something Pasolini’s cinema tried to minimize.
The cinema of poetry flourished in the sixties because a neo-bourgeois culture had opened up a second channel of cinema distribution specifically for the bourgeois audience. Poetic cinema tended to a certain neo-formalism that corresponds to the literary avant-garde. Cinema becomes irrational, stressing in poetic effects.
Where there is free indirect discourse, it is that of the petit-bourgeois character, who identifies itself with all of humanity. Hence free indirect discourse loses its capacity to show the difference between the viewpoints of the different classes. This cinema tries to replace Marxist culture and to be a part of neo-capitalism’s self surveillance and modification. It “ascribes to poets a late humanistic function: the myth and the technical consciousness of form.” (185)
By the sixties it had become a commonplace of the avant-gardes, of neo-formalist poetic cinema and of semiotic cultural theory that the split between language and real is absolute, and that language is an autonomous level with its own formal structures and rules. Both theory and art could then concentrate on the technical questions of language, divorced in the first instance from historical considerations, and bracketing off the problem of the real as always an after-effect of language itself. The novelty – and the fun – in Pasolini’s sixties theoretical texts is that they completely reverse this worldview, but from within the language of linguistics and semiotics itself. He embarks on his own détournement of one of the pastimes of cultural theory of the time – a semiotics of cinema.
In cinema as in linguistics, it is easier to know what langue is than what parole is. Likewise, one can study the overall structure of cinema as a totality (as langue) more readily than all the variations and innovations in individual films (analogous to parole). Cinema does not exactly have a language, but it does have a grammar. Shots are not composed of single objects, as there are no single objects in nature. They are composed of kinemes (analogous to phonemes). We can only choose kinemes that exist, but where phonemes are few, kinemes are inexhaustible. Kinemes – objects or forms of reality – are the elements of monemes – shots.
As in Walter Benjamin, cinema is a mechanical reproduction of reality, but it is not mimetic. It does not look like reality; it is part of reality. The grammar of cinema fishes kinemes out of the endless stream of reality. The film maker goes through four phases in the transformation of other-reality into cinema-reality: 1. reproduction, techniques of film making; 2. creating substances, making closed lists of kinemes which are a reality outside us; 3. qualification, whether pro-filmic or filmic, or the moment of subjective interpretation; 4. verbalization or syntax, such as editing, which can be denotative or rhythmic-poetic (connotative). These are the rhetorical figures of cinema.
Cinema is a part of the real made by the labor of film makers. Hence the semiology of cinema is just a chapter of the semiology of reality. Not being symbolic, cinema can’t be distinguished from reality. But reality – and this is Pasolini’s ingenious move – has its own language, and it is analogous to the language of cinema. “The language of the world is, in short, essentially a spectacle.” (239) Human perception is like a shot cut from the language of the real itself.
The language of natural reality produces data, but the language of human reality produces the example. Reality is cinema in its natural state, because reality is itself a language. Pasolini’s project is thus “something other than making the ‘semiology of cinema.’ It is the semiology of reality that must be made! Cinema is the written language of this reality as language.” (133) Reality expresses itself with itself.
Where literature allows reality to express itself as itself when it isn’t there, in cinema, every montage is a kind of contagious metonymy of a world in which it is in contiguity. Cinema is not metaphoric, a whole standing in for a different whole. It is metonymic – a part of a whole – one which is predicated on images rather than just linguistic signs. But it is not just cinema which is a metonymic art, so too is reality. Both cinema and reality are languages in which the paradigmatic – the set of possible signs – is infinite.
Both human perception and individual films are temporal orderings – the syntagmatic – cut from the real. “The ‘phenomena’ of the world are the natural ‘syntagmas’ of the language of reality.” (230) And so “… reality is, in the final analysis, nothing more than cinema in nature.” (198) This is a weird-realist semiotics that can function both descriptively and critically in a neo-capitalist world that has downgraded the word.
Cinema’s technique is its philosophy, which replaces words with actions and things, which runs on audiovisual “languages of the infrastructures.” (198) But which, paradoxically, and for all their endless repetition of petit-bourgeios obsession as if they were the sum total of the world – still cannot expunge the real entirely from its very mechanisms of communication.
The history of communication can then be read, critically and retrospectively, from the point of view of its most advanced development. Pasolini can now say: When we live and act, what we make, and always have made – is cinema. Human praxis as a totality is cinema; any particular human act is a film. “It seems to me that the first language of men is their actions…. All of life in the entirety of its actions is a natural, living film; in this sense, it is the linguistic equivalent of oral language in its natural and biological aspect.” (204)
This natural cinema is made concrete in a common form, that of mechanical reproduction, which is the written form of ‘spoken’ everyday cinema of life. Hitherto, the language of action had been something like a spoken-only language; with cinema human action becomes a spoken-written language, an historically significant development. Again, this seems to me a striking anticipation of what was to come in our time, when neo-capitalism is no longer neo but perhaps needs another ‘language’ to name and describe it. Pasolini: “Audiovisual techniques are in large measure already part of our world, that is, of the world of technical neo-capitalism, which moves ahead, and whose tendency it is to deprive its techniques of ideology or to make them ontological; to make them silent and unrelated; to make them habits; to make them religious forms.” (221)
Here I encourage the reader to imagine the following remarks by Pasolini as if said by a politically and culturally astute Kim Kardashian, about her art of taking selfies, that free indirect discourse of the narcissistic self: “Certainly, it may be that I am obeying a delirious necessity of the contemporary world, which tends precisely to remove the expressivity and philosophical quality of language itself, and to dethrone as a linguistic guide the languages of the superstructures and to install in their place those from the infrastructures – poor, conventional, practical… [L]ife is unquestionably drawling away from the classical humanistic ideals and losing itself in pragmatics. The film (with the other audiovisual techniques) appears to be the written language of this pragmatism. But it may also be its salvation, precisely because it expresses it – and it expresses itself from the inside, producing itself from itself and reproducing it.” (205)
Pasolini: “Reality is a cinema of nature (I act out myself for you, you act out yourself for me)” and so “It is the semiotics of reality we must create!” (224) Cinema is neither arbitrary nor symbolic, as the semiotics of the time would have it, rather it represents reality through reality. “No matter how infinite and continuous reality is, an ideal camera will always be able to reproduce it in its infinity and continuity. As primordial and archetypal concept, cinema is therefore a continuous and infinite sequence shot.” (225) Cinema reproduces reality as continuous and unbroken reality – as a sequence shot.
The sequence shot, or the long take with a continuous action, is for Pasolini a little too naturalistic, and hence is a shot he uses with caution in his own cinema. The time of the sequence shot is the infinite subjective. It has a point of view, but just goes on and on, without resolution. “The language of action is therefore the language of the nonsymbolic sign of the present, and yet in the present it has no meaning, or if it has, it has it subjectively, that is, in an incomplete, uncertain and mysterious sense.” (234)
On the 22nd of November, 1963, Abraham Zapruder made what is surely the most famous sequence shot of all time, the 486 frame of standard 8mm Kodachrome known as the Zapruder Film, of the assassination of President John F Kennedy. Actually it is not quite a sequence shot. To the delight of conspiracy theorists, there is a pause in the middle of it. Zapruder took his finger off the trigger momentarily while his view was obscured. Nevertheless Pasolini attempts to analyze it as a sequence shot.
It shows the last “living syntagmas” in which President Kennedy was trying to form a relation with those around him, including his assassin(s). Pasolini imagines a future investigator – imagine an NSA or CIA analyst – with access to a ‘big data’ set of hundreds of such point of view sequence shots of an event. This analyst could compose an objective account of an event through a synthesis of all of the points of view. Pasolini’s empiricism might be heretical but it still excludes a knowledge of the thing in itself. The objective is the result of a practice, of either science or art, that takes the point of view of an apparatus as a point of departure, but tries to desubjectivize it. Such an objectivity may be imperfect, and may be a form of power, but can still be crucial to the practice of a kind of counter-power.
Such an audiovisual technique, with access to more than one point of view, could compose an infinite, objective sequence shot, as opposed to the infinite subjective sequence shot that is life. Editing, like death, ends the shot. The present becomes past, providing unity and meaning. “It is therefore absolutely necessary to die, because, so long as we live, we have no meaning, and the language of our lives… is untranslatable, a chaos of possibilities, a search for relations and meanings without resolution. Death affects an instantaneous montage of our lives….” (236) Editing does for a film what death does for a life.
The problem with the sequence shot is that its naturalism is, queerly enough, an obstacle to reality. “But is being natural? No, I don’t think so; on the contrary, it seems to me miraculous, mysterious, and – if anything – absolutely unnatural.” (240) The fear of naturalism – a reigning characteristic of avant-garde art – is a fear of being, or more precisely, a fear of the absence of a natural quality in being. Pasolini, on the contrary, risks a theological relation to the real, even if it is one that is emphatically without God.
In free indirect discourse, Pasolini stresses the strangeness of the real that is perceived, not the supposed ‘authenticity’ of the point of view itself. He is thus reducible neither to a standpoint theory or to a poetics wedded to the supposed authenticity of the identity of the perceiving subject. This is the crucial redeeming feature of Pasolini’s atheology. He wants to bind the artist and activist to the points of view of the popular and those points of view to the world. The difference created by cut made by a particular human action adds meaning to the world, but is only a dead residue of that world.
The transformation of the language of reality into the language of the cinema is an intervention into time, as it is not the shot but the cut that introduces the possibility of meaning, changing the shot from something happening to something that has happened: “To make films is to write on burning paper.” (240) Hence Pasolini’s disinterest in durational cinema, like Andy Warhol’s Sleep, a continuous record (apart from the reel changes…) of John Giorno sleeping. “The authors of the new cinema do not die in their works, they fidget in them.” (242) It’s a kind of cinema that reverses neorealism. For neorealism, that which is insignificant matters, whereas for Warhol, that which matters is insignificant. Pasolini wants to retain a sacred communist equality of all things as a way of refusing a banal world of the exchange of all things without making a fetish of specific points of view.
Where a certain tendency in art and criticism likes to insist that representation is unavoidable, that conventions color every attempt at language; Pasolini insists, with persistence and subtlety, in the opposite thesis. Even the most elaborately coded and stylized representation cannot help but communicate something of the real. In the terms of the semiotics of Charles Sanders Pierce, I take Pasolini to hold to the thesis that even coded signs like a language, or mimentic icons such as pictures are still for all that indexical signs as well. They are not metaphorically like (and unlike) the real, they are metonymically part of the real (and no more different to the real as any other part of the real is to any other part).
The real is inescapable, a nonhuman mystery outside the human. “Reality doesn’t do anything else but speak with itself using human experience as a vehicle.” (247) All communication is sacred. Whether it happens in linguistic or cinematic or even living language, communication puts a stop to things, through death or the edit, but time does not end. There is a fatal difference between the language of the real and all living languages, including that of life itself, expressed in this dilemma: “Either be immortal and unexpressed or express oneself and die.” (243) To live is to perform a moral action whose meaning is suspended until death. To be immortal is to be immoral.
The difference between language and the real is not ‘spatial’, as in semiotics; it is temporal. A difference in kinds of time. Cinema uses the unconscious and unexpressed code of reality “But what is it that make reality ‘naturalistic’ and therefore unreal? It is time.” (250) Cinema abolishes continuous time and makes instead time that is meaningful and moral. “Cinema, in actuality, is like a life after death.” (250) Individual films are imperfect ‘paroles’, speech acts, of this impossible cinema.
Films, like lives, are mortal, then. Cinema, like life, might not be, however. It might be closer to the endless and sacred real. “Cinema is an infinite sequence shot which expresses reality with reality. In front of each of us there is always an eventual and virtual camera with an inexhaustible base that ‘shoots’ our life from our birth to our death.” (249) Cinema’s infinite sequence shot “is the ideal and virtual, infinite reproduction made possible by an invisible camera which reproduces as such all the gestures, the actions, the words of a man from his birth to his death.” (245)
Pasolini’s hallucinated love of reality is religious but not theological. It is religious in a quite strict sense of being bound to something – to life, but in the absence of God. It is bound almost in the manner of a sexual fetishism. “The world does not seem to be other that a totality of fathers and mothers, toward whom I feel an absolute rush of feeling, composed of respectful veneration through even violent and scandalous desecrations.” (225) Pasolini was perhaps one of Charles Fourier’s omnigynes – those who experience all twelve of the passions equally.
This might be a far more important cue to his art than his sexuality alone, and much more queer. “Oh, I don’t have any regrets: whoever loves reality too much, as I do, eventually hates it, rebels against it, and tells it to go to hell.” (252) That to which Pasolini’s life and art bends like a heliotrophic plant is the real, an endless, nonhuman, indifferent time. “There was, okay, a being which never-always yesterday-tomorrow is. It doesn’t need anything. It doesn’t love! Love is no more than a small human requirement outside every reality.” (255)
In sum, Pasolini completely rejects the nominalism characteristic of cultural thought from the mid to the late twentieth century. In his own queer way he anticipates the return to the object of our own times. But he does so by understanding the nonhuman world by substituting onto it a language that comes not from contemplation, as in recent philosophies, but a practice – that of film making. The real is a cinema that makes itself for itself. Human-made cinema uses the inhuman apparatus of camera and editing table, and a four-fold practice of turning the language of the real into cinematic language, to make a parallel cinema of the real expressed as individual films that cut and stop and frame it: “the code of reality is analogous to that of cinema” (259)
Pasolini’s cinema is actually not exactly fetishistic, but it is perverse. It’s an erotic not of things but of acts, of jerking-off the world – or maybe sexting with it. But the one thing he does not want to turn into a fetish is language itself as an object. Past societies have considered all sorts of things sacred, but not language itself. Only bourgeois culture did, via symbolism and through it the avant-gardes. “The metalinguistic awareness which has in some way, for the first time, made language sacred has been a classist phenomenon of entropy. It has been a phenomenon lived entirely within the bourgeoisie.” (261)
Whereas for the working class and for Marxism, language retains a sense of function, but also perhaps of the sacred. Magic, for example, is an instrumental approach to language – and while Pasolini does not stress this, it may also be the beginnings of science. Yet semiotics, as a science of communication, has little to say about magic. It is a science of its time, like the linguistics from which it emerged, of a “pure, innocent Racism” which cannot take magic seriously.
Neither semiotics nor the neo-avant-gardes that parallel it have much to say about time, history, social struggle. The former treats popular speech as merely folkloric; the latter does not investigate how its ‘technical’ relation to writing is part of neo-capitalism. “Levi-Strauss in the poet of low salaries, as Robbe-Grillet is the poet of monopolies.” (58)
What particularly raised Pasolini’s ire is the ‘little friars’ of the neo-avant-garde movement called Gruppo 63. (I have written elsewhere about one of its central figures, who Pasolini particularly resisted – Eduardo Sanguinetti). Named after the year of its founding, Gruppo 63’s project as far as Pasolini was concerned was no longer against literature but against language, not against tradition but against meaning. They tried to subvert a language that under neo-capitalism was ceasing to exist anyway.
The neo-avant-garde is the final downfall of the decoy notion of commitment, which takes with it the whole culture of protest, non-conformity, etc. But in the process neo-capitalism makes a whole style of the different, the alienated, etc. It is an aggressive bourgeois culture of its own alienation cut off from Marxism and the party of the working class.
The neo-avant-garde separate the linguistic exercise from being and create a linguistic battle against the bourgeoisie. In place of protest against neo-capitalism itself is a protest against language. But by destroying language, these poets destroy themselves. They suppress the metaphoric capabilities of language. They offer an anti-literary language, but the page remains the page. It never opens or rises in relief. The only thing of which it speaks is on its surface, a battle against the bourgeois, or more properly petit-bourgeois, use of language – an obsessive and repetitive struggle. One still going on in certain circles today.
No matter how much it resists representational language, the texts of (for example) Sanguninetti still can’t help being an index of something – that they are written by a man of letters, which one might add is not in Gramscian terms something of a traditional intellectual function, leftover sediment from the old capitalist social formation. His writing reveals him as petit-bourgeois, and with the same aversions as the more classically oriented among that class: “Terror, taboo, the obsession of the avant-garde with naturalism as false target naïvely reveals terror, taboo, obsession with reality.” (130) Fear of naturalism is fear of reality – that which the petit-bourgeois intellectual is separate from and regards with horror.
In combatting the neo-avant-garde, Pasolini nevertheless concurs with them in the necessity for a detour through the specialized technical language of theory. But as in Stuart Hall, theory is a detour on the road to somewhere else. In Pasolini’s case, back to a certain commitment, maybe not to the narrative fables of old-style Marxism, but rather to a more indirect sounding of the depths of the real.
Pasolini’s pointed struggle against the neo-avant-garde is a struggle against the habits of thought and action of his own class. Like Guy Debord, he was always aware of himself as a provincial petit-bourgeois by origins. He understood that while the bourgeois (and then neo-bourgeois) might be a political-economic enemy, the cultural-social enemy of the popular culture of the Resistance is always petit-bourgeois. Despite its innocent, ‘don’t step on me’ attitude, the petit-bourgeois culture harbors great dangers: “Did Nazism ever die? Were we not crazy to believe it an episode? Isn’t it Nazism which defined the petite bourgeoisie as ‘normal’ and which continues to define it?” (138)
In the 1970s, Pasolini became increasingly despondent about the inroads petit-bourgeois culture was making into the earthy and – in the best sense – vulgar – culture of workers, peasants and lumpen-proles amongst whom be came to maturity, who he always identified with politically and spiritually – and amongst whom he went trawling for sexual adventure. He remained in a certain sense always a vulgar Marxist even as he moved away from many of the dogmas of postwar Marxist thought. He was ambivalent at best and hostile at worse towards the workerist and autonomist currents of leftist politics and culture in Italy from 1968 onwards.
All of this contributes to his two last, great masterpieces – the film Salo and the unfinished novel Petrolio. In Salo, even the earthy erotic of the sacred real in which he had taken refuge with the rise of neo-capitalism appeared to have been compromised by a ‘permissive’ culture that was really about not much more than commodifying the sexual preferences of petit-bourgeois straight men.
Petrolio is a complex allegorical history of both Pasolini’s own life decisions and of the Italian state. Carlo, its central character, has a double life, one Carlo is drawn to power; the other to raw life. This other Carlo inveigles twenty youth to barren ground to suck each of their cocks, and in the process Carlo transforms into a woman. It is as if here again there was langue and parole. Here parole is each individual cock to be sucked; langue is that abstract cock of the world of which each individual cock is but an instance. In Pasolini’s invert-Platonism, each cock he sucked was an instance of the mystery of the real itself.
In any case, by 1975 he was dead in what is now widely agreed to have been a murder sanctioned by some cabal of powerful forces, even if to this day nobody knows quite which. His life is now inevitably given meaning by that cruel cut. But I think there is much more to be said about Pasolini as someone who speaks to these times of which he anticipated not a few features. He deserves something more than to become a character in an Abel Ferrara film, for unlike Ferrara, Pasolini did not retain from Catholicism the dogma of original sin. To have one’s death become a Ferrara movie is to die one too many times.
I remember the first time I sat down and watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s lyrical, meandering sci-fi epic Stalker. It was a long time ago, before the advent of smartphones and tablets. I watched a beat-up VHS copy on a non-“smart” TV, and had no ability to pause every few minutes and swing by Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for some instant distraction and digital small talk. The almost three-hour film—with its long, languid takes and endless stretches of silence—is a meditative exercise, a test in patience that at times seems like its own reward.
I recall at the time thinking about how didactic Tarkovsky’s work is, in the best possible sense of the word. It teaches its viewers to watch, listen, and wait. It’s a course best taken alone, like the journey into the film’s mysterious “Zone,” since the presence of another, likely perplexed, viewer might break the quiet spell the movie casts. But while watching a Tarkovsky film—whether Stalker, Andrei Rublev, Solaris, or any of his other pensive creations (watch them online here)—may be a solitary activity, it need not at all be a lonely one.
The distinction between healthy solitude and loneliness is one Tarkovsky is particularly interested in. It’s a cinematic theme he pursues, and a pedagogical one as well. In the video above from The Criterion Collection, Tarkovsky offers some thoughtful insights that can only seem all the more relevant to today’s always-on, multi-screen culture. Unfortunately, the subtitles translate his words selectively, but Maria Popova at Brain Pickings has a full translation of the filmmaker’s answer to the question “What would you like to tell young people?” Like some ancient Pan dispensing timeless wisdom, Tarkovsky reclines in an old, gnarled tree—on what may very well be one of his wild, wooded film sets—and says,
I don’t know… I think I’d like to say only that they should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.
Though I speak as one who grew up in an analogue world free from social media—the only world Tarkovsky ever knew—I don’t think it’s just the cranky old man in me who finds this advice compellingly sound. As a recent Tom Tomorrow cartoon satirically illustrated, our rapid-fire, pressure-cooker public discourse may grant us instant access to information—or misinformation—but it also encourages, nay urges, us to form hasty opinions, ignore nuance and subtleties, and participate in groupthink rather than digesting things slowly and coming to our own conclusions. It’s an environment particularly hostile to mediums like poetry, or the kinds of poetic films Tarkovsky made, which teach us the value of judgment withheld, and immerse us in the kinds of aesthetic experiences the internet and television, with their nonstop chatter, push to the margins.
Tarkovsky’s general advice to young people can be paired with his challenging advice to young filmmakers, and all artists, in particular—advice that demands focused attention, patience, and commitment to individual passion and vision.
There's a Latin quote that goes "Timor mortis conturbat mea" which, roughly translated, means "The fear of death disturbs me." I think that death is the basis of all horror. For me, death is . . . very physical. There's where I become Cartesian, you see. Descartes was obsessed with the schism between mind and body, and how one relates to the other.
Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg, whose early films, Shivers and Rabid, provide frightening visions of deadly sexual epidemics and psychogenetic bodily mutations, is among the first cinematic explorers of (post)modern panic,2 where bourgeois individuals are attacked by viral forces and undergo mutations of mind and body. In Cronenberg's films both mind and body, in mysterious interaction, disintegrate or mutate out of control and wreak havoc in a hyperfunctionalized and hygenic social order unable to deal with frenzied metamorphosis and proliferating disease.
What we can now see as Cronenberg's middle films (The Brood, Scanners, and Videdrome) present psychotropic and telematic powers invading both the mind and the body. Although Cronenberg presents himself as a Cartesian in interviews, his films deconstruct the Cartesian opposition between mind and body, presenting the mind as ares extensa subject to control by both psychic and material forces, while presenting the body as a site of psychic and ideological invasion where res cogitans, often multiply reproduced, literally reifies the body to subjectified excess. Scanners, for instance, presents new drugs creating destructive psychic powers while Videodrome shows telematic invasion conquering mind and body at once in the creation of a new species which synthesizes the technological with the human. Goingbeyond McLuhan's vision of the media as the exteriorization of mind and body, Cronenberg explores ramifications of media interiorization in an era when media and radical semiurgy are said to produce a catastropic implosion of meaning, masses, and society which obliterates boundaries of the real and referential security.3
His most recent films The Dead Zone and The Fly focus more obsessively on the specific roles of politics, science and technology in a new technocapitalist political economy. Most of his films, in different ways, present technology out of control, intersecting with the imperatives of capital accumulation to produce disaster. Consequently, Cronenberg naturally comes to make use of the disaster, conspiracy, and dystopic genres which have become key forms of contemporary cinema. 4 While his style and use of genre is somewhat conventional, he can be read in retrospect as a pioneering cinematic auteur of aspecific version of Canadian/North American (post)modern social theory.
Cronenberg, Horror, and the Viral Body: Shivers and Rabid
Cronenberg's early films used the horror film to explore contemporary anxieties about the viral body andits frightening invaders. This is not surprising, for horror films have traditionally encoded some of our deepest and most unspeakable fears. The classical horror film articulated anxieties concerning sexual thralldom and depravation (Dracula and vampire films), worries about science and technology out of control (Frankenstein, The Invisible Man), fears of ancient evils (The Mummy), anxieties over psychological disintegration and metamorphosis (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and fears of uncontrollable bodily metamorphosis (The Wolfman and werewolf films) . Horror films allow the playing out of these multiple fears, and the classical horror film attempted to provide symbolic resolutions to primal andsocial anxieties, while offering reassurance that institutions, authorities, and society were capable of eliminating evil and restoring order.
Since the era of German Expressionism in the Weimar Republic, horror films have been the shared nightmares of an industrial-technological culture heading, in its political unconscious, toward catastrophe. In (post)modern theory, the catastrophe has already happened, and the contemporary horror film can be read as indication of a(post)modern society in permanent crisis with no resolution or salvation in sight. Recent horror films-and especially those of David Cronenberg-reveal a society in a process of mutation and crisis ; uncertain of its institutions, values, and way of life ; and undergoing the panic disintegration of subjectivities and the terrifying techno-viral invasion and re-making of the body.
Cronenberg's 1975 film Shivers, (They Came from Within in its U.S . release) has been aptly described as a "venereal horror" films A scientist who believes that the contemporary individual is "an over-rational animal that's lost touch with his body," has produced a parasite which is a combination aphrodisiac and venereal disease. This parasite will both stimulate sexual activity and infect its partner with similar intense desire, and the contagious virus will be passed on to further hosts.
The plot suggests that the virus is transmitted through blood and sexual activity. Early scenes show blood dripping through windows, being smeared on bodies, intermingling with sweat, in sexual tableaux which mix Eros with Thanatos, passion with blood, in a polymorphic perverse transgression of sexual taboos profuse enough to arouse the most jaded Sadean. The virus takes the form of phallic excrement: the perfect symbol of the wastes and excesses of excremental culture. The parasite violently transforms the body and mind of its host, and relentlessly passes from one individual to another; like sex itself,, it is impossible to avoid or resist . The mise-en-scene frames the Sadean rgies and sexual excess within the ultramodern architecture of a highly controlled apartmentscape, and against the cold, sterile urban cityscape the sign ofan overly functionalized modernity. Moreover Cronenberg periodically withdraws his camera from jerky, disjointed images of hysterized sexual panic within, to classical, well-framed and centered images of the apartment complex against the calm Montreal night . Canadian tidiness andcleanliness is befouled by filthy parasites who excrete noxious fecal matter and tiny droppings of blood-as if the excremental waste of a techno-utopic living scene refused repression and occlusion, and vomited up its material underside to remind the ultramodern denizens what decay and horror they were at once fleeing and engendering in their sanitized techno-environment.
The body invaders in the film obviously anticipate AIDS, though the parasites do not seem to kill the hosts but rather transform them into hyperactive sex machines recalling the frenetic sexual experimentation of the era. The film ends on an ironic note as the infected viral bodies drive off gaily into the night, ready to invade Montreal and take on its citizens who seem destined to assume the role of the sexual avant-garde.
Critics attacked the film as a manifestation of "sexual disgust," and the film was savaged in the Canadian magazine Saturday Night for its scandalous use of state funds provided by the Canadian Film Development Corporation .6 Yet the final scene is highly ambiguous, and can be read either as an horrific vision of sexual apocalypse (the destruction of civilization through sexual excess), or as a missionary attempt to share new-found sexual liberation with others. Cronenberg's text privileges the first reading, though I shall later examine the possibility of the latter.
Cronenberg's next film Rabid (1977) goes even further in linking body invaders with sexual parasites. The story features Rose, played by porn queen Marilyn Chambers who embodied innocent purity in Ivory Snow soap ads as a child: a modernist iconic inversion which becomes resonantly intertextual in Cronenberg's film . Rose is involved in a motorcyle wreck and requires plastic surgery. In the Keloid clinic, she is treated to an experimental skin graft with synthetic flesh, which is supposed to read the genetic code of its host and grow into whatever was there previously, producing a typically Cronenbergian synthesis of nature and technology which, in turn, gives birth to a new flesh.
The implant mutates, however, into a parasitic new organ. Avaginal cavity erupts under her armpit and gives birth to a penile syringe which both extracts blood from its host and transmits a form of rabies . While Rabid intimates that the production of mutated designer bodies is highly problematic and dangerous, it does not particularly villainize the scientists who inadvertently cause the viral mutations. Indeed, there are no real villains, nor any sharp distinction between good and evil, in Cronenberg's early films. Although there is a technophobic element in the depictions of technologies and experiments producing catastrophic consequencesas well as in the repeated images (literal and microscopic) of the menacing viruses in Shivers and Rabid - for Cronenberg the catastrophe is a product of the implosion of nature, technology, capital, and humanity, and it can thus not be blamed on any one factor.
In resisting an explicitly technophobic :reading of his films, Cronenberg prefers to explore the possible consequences of technology out of control in specific socio-economic contexts. Thus he always depicts technology as the product ofhistorically specific relations of production, deriving from institutions andindividuals pursuing economic as well as technological imperatives. This materialist contextualization distinguishes Cronenberg's films from films which merely blame technology for social disaster.
Within this context, Rabid challenges the technological rationality of high-tech society and portrays the unintended consequences of new technologies, as well as, the limits of technicisme as a project of dominating and controlling nature.
The Carcinogenic Body and Viral Images: The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome
The battle for the mind will be fought in the video arena, the videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physicalstructure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as new experience for those that watch it . Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television .
-Professor Brian O'Blivion in Videodrome
"Words begat image and image is virus."
-William Burroughs, Naked Lunch
The Brood (1979) continues Cronenberg's obsession with mutating bodies. Dr. Hal Raglan is the inaugurator of a psychic technique whichenables patients to externalize their rage in carcinogenic growths. The result is catastrophic for Toronto's Carveth clan. Their daughter Nola is Raglan's most sensitive and prolific patient, who is able to externalize her "psychoplasmic" rage into mutant children, the brood, whocarry out her unconscious and perhaps conscious anger. Accordingly, they beat her daughter when she misbehaves, they kill her deeply-hated mother, and they destroy her daughter's school-teacher with whom she imagines her estranged husband is having an affair.
Cronenberg's psychoplasmics provides a gruesome deconstruction of Cartesian mind/body dualism and is the ultimate manifestation of psychophysical disease or power. One of Raglan's patients, who has developed alymphosarcoma which hangs from his neck like a shrivelled breast, complains : "I've got a small revolution on my hands, and I'm not putting it down very successfully." The images also provide frightening manifestations of the cancer epidemic which is currently causing around 35% of deaths in North America, and whose carcinogenic cells are probably up to something in all of our viral bodies: radical metastasis as the fate of the West. Yet Cronenberg's disaster films are resolutely dialectical: the sexual epidemic in his first two films provides both miseries and pleasures, and the carcinogenic revolutions in The Brood are seen as embodying a new ecological environment whereby mind and body can co-exist in harmony as well as disharmony, and can exhibit new powers as well as dangers.
I read Cronenberg's next two films, Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983), from this perspective. While in Shivers and Rabid sexual viruses produced "abnormal" mental behavior, in Scanners a new drug, Ephemerol, which was intended to tranquillize mothers during pregnancy, produces paranormal psychics called "scanners," who can scan (i.e. read) other minds, much as one scans a computer system for information. The scanners are also able to externalize their psychic powers: exploding heads, causing fires, and producing a host of spectacular cinematic effects.
Scanners thus leaves the hermetic sphere of sexuality and the family which framed Cronenberg's early films, while moving out into the corporate-political world of techno-capitalism. A corporation Con Sec produces international security systems, weapons, andhigh-tech opticals, while experimenting with computerization and the exteriorization of the mind (which prove to be one and the same).
Scanners suggests that the new mental powers generated by corporate/economic excess can be used for power and domination or for empathy and community. While Darryl Revok wants to organize the scanners into a corporate-political force to take over the world, asmall scanner underground wants to use its unique powers for human empathy, solidarity, and creativity. Cronenberg thus tries to represent the new technoscape both as a catastrophe and as apotentially higher and better stage of evolution. In good Hegelian fashion, his dialectics of disaster reach a higher stage and new synthesis in Videodrome (1983)-his most complex and disturbing film . To the viral body (Shivers and Rabid) and the carcinogenic body and mind (The Brood and Scanners), Cronenberg adds viral images and the telematic body. Scanners concludes with a very McLuhanesque figure of one of the scanners using his central nervous system to scan andexplode the central nervous system of a mainframe computer, and Videodrome carries through Cronenberg's exploration of his fellow Torontonian's media probes.
In Videodrome, a video-machine produces viral images which create brain tumors and hallucinations, and a "new flesh" which is able to assimilate and generate technologies . The film thus thematizes the implosion of mind, body, and technology in the media society. Cronenberg pictures video at the center of social life, emblematic of (post)modern society as site of a radical semiurgy-a proliferation of viral images which produce a new techno-reality. In the film, Cathode Ray Missions gives derelicts free exposure to video to help socialize them . The shelter is run by Bianca O'Blivion, whose father (an obvious McLuhan figure) had evidently been the first victim of Videodrome. His daughter preserves thousands of tapes of O'Blivion and pretends that he is still alive by releasing his tapes to TV stations . For O'Blivion, "public life on television was more real than private life in the flesh," thus his death has no sting-as long as his videotapes and video image circulate.
The body invasion pictured in Videodrome produces psychic mutations which give rise to a new mode of perception where there is no distinction between video hallucinations and reality. We are in Baudrillard's world of simulations where representation and the real implode in an undifferentiated play of signifiers. While, like the carcinogenic body in The Brood, the telematic mind/body in Videodrome is presented as a sinister development, the film also suggests that the viral images of Videodrome might produce a new stage of perception and reality and a "new flesh"which are potentially positive for human experience .
Interestingly, while the mutations of Cronenberg's earlier films were primarily products of well-meaning scientists, the inventors of Videodrome are more diabolical . The Spectacular Optical Corporation intends to use Videodrome to produce a populace "tough" enough for the "savage times" envisaged in the techno-future. "North America's getting soft . . . and the rest of the world is getting tough, very, very, tough." To survive, North America must become "pure, and direct, and strong." To reverse the trend toward "rotting away from the inside," the inventors of Videodrome want to produce technologies that will generate a species which merges technology and mind, video and body, in order to preserve white male hegemony in North America in the world of the future.
Videodrome thus projects a future of techno-fascism some moments into the future, anticipating the 1987 TV cult series Max Headroom.7 In the final images, the TV programmer enters the video screen to make love to the video image of a woman with whom he is sexually obsessed. After watching his own simulated image blow itself away on the screen he shoots himself to enter the newvideo-sphere and become anewvideo-flesh. These virtually unreadable polysemic and surreal images recall the hallucinatory efforts of Nietzsche's Zarathrustra to use parables, puzzling images, and cries of distress to awaken the 19th century to the mutations which it was undergoing. Cronenberg's films pose the enigma of the fate of a society of proliferating images and mutating bodies where the dwarfs and moles on Zarathrustra's back become body invaders which enter our minds and bodies in a hyperreal new world that we are only beginning to understand .
Panic Films : The Dead Zone, The Fly, and The Resurrection of The Flesh
The truth, when it emerges, is more terrible than you could possibly imagine . . .
-David Cronenberg 8
The catastrophe has already happened . . .
The viral, carcinogenic, and telematic bodies in Cronenberg's films present images of a new organic-conscious being which replaces the "natural" body of evolution and the designer bodies of recent consumer society where the bourgeois body descended "into the empty site of a dissociated ego, [becoming] a `volume in disintegration,' traced by language, lacerated by ideology, and invaded by the relational circuitry of the field of (post)modern body." 10
For Cronenberg as well as for Baudrillard, the catastrophe has already happened-many times. The (post)modern body is invaded and remade, or unmade, not only by parasites of dead power, but by viral, carcinogenic, and telematic parasites whichare posing new challenges to bodily survival and human evolution. The bodies of the (post)modern have good reason to panic, as well as to meet the new challenges-first posed by Marx and Nietzsche-to remake the body corporeal and the body politic.
Within this context, David Cronenberg emerges as an auteur of panic films who uses and merges the horror, disaster, science fiction, and conspiracy genres to provide original meditations on the fate of the mind and body in the (post)modern scene. His films exhibit thematic inventiveness, philosophical complexity, clever irony, subtle humor, and nauseating gruesomeness in the context of Hollywood narrative codes, where such gestures are not often found. Yet the most astute afficionado of the contemporary horror film, Robin Wood, claims that Cronenberg's works are paradigmatic examples of the reactionary horror film ." For Wood, Cronenberg's films are anti-sex, anti-women, anti-life. Shivers, in his opinion, views sexual liberation with "unmitigated horror" and the "entire film is premised on and motivated by sexual disgust."" In a later text, Wood complains how, in a symposium on the horror film in Toronto, Cronenberg was univocally metaphysical and refused to consider the social and political elements of his films.'13 In his most recent critique, Wood refuses to revise his negative readings of the films, and steadfastly continues his polemic. 14 In the context of the previous readings-and in the light of those that will follow-I would argue that Wood's critique is vitiated by his failure to see how the metaphysical and the social, the artistic and the political, are interconnected in Cronenberg's films, and that his films are full ofsocial and political commentary that should be congenial to a critic with Wood's radical political commitments.
To begin, the major villains in Cronen.berg's films are corporate executives, and throughout his films there is sly and sometimes strong critical commentary on corporate capitalism and hegemonic class formations . The corporate apartment manager, technocratic doctor, and bourgeois apartment dwellers in Shivers are obviously the butt of Cronenberg's satire, as are the executives in the skin graft clinic in Rabid, who discuss setting up a chain of plastic surgery clinics around the country. (A dissenter states that he does not want to become the "Colonel Sanders ofplastic surgery.") Throughout his films, Cronenberg links capital accumulation and corporate hubris with the production of destructive technologies and sterile technourban environments . Thus his films can be read as critical visions of the production of designer bodies self-destructing in technocapitalism . Even more explicitly, the villains in Scanners are the corporate executives and functionaries who wish to take control of the world: an obvious allegory for the dangers of capitalism producing; a techno-fascist world order. Finally, the villains in Videodrome are Convex and his minion Harlan (the corporate executive and his flunky), while The Dead Zone attacks a power-mad politician.
Furthermore, Cronenberg's films embody contemporary tensions and conflicts between good and evil, the rational and the irrational, the old and the new, repression and emancipation, whichrarely privilege one side over another, and thus explore a wide network of contemporary oppositions in a proto-deconstructive vein. Although Cronenberg is clearly not a sexual emancipationist a la Reich, Marcuse, and Wood who see the undoing of sexual repression and unleashing of sexual energies as good per se, Cronenberg clearly is not a sexual conservative who comes down on the side of tradition, repression, and patriarchy. He is certainly critical of bourgeois normality and patriarchy (The Brood contains a compelling exploration of the conflicts hidden in the bourgeois family) . And he reserves some of his strongest criticism for patriarchs (Raglan, Dr. Ruth, and the most despicable characters in The Dead Zone and The Fly).
Thus I suggest that Cronenberg's panic film express legitimate anxieties concerning the machinations of corporate capital, technology, and the state in the contemporary scene of techno-capital . His films exhibit anxieties about body invaders, fascination with the changes and mutations produced, and critical visions ofthe corporate-technological forces behind the body invasion . While Cronenberg's films are negative and pessimistic, they deal with real anxieties and phobias. His horror films combine projections of the universal fears of death, and the bodily mutations, invasions, and disintegration which nourish the classical horror film, with fears of contemporary viral, carcinogenic, and telematic body invaders. The horrors often mutate into phantasmagoric nightmares of catastrophe and apocalypse, reminding one of the disaster films which became one of the 1970s proto-typical genres . And the critical takes on corporate capitalism remind one of the corporate conspiracy films of the past fifteen years, while the political fears beneath The Dead Zone, which I shall examine shortly, resonate with the political conspiracy films.
The limitations of Cronenberg's films reside in the limitations of his genres and his use of Hollywood narrative conventions-though he often inventively expands these conventions and uses them for incisive social commentary. Yet his social critique is often of a conventional liberal/humanist mode, lacking both radical negation and social alternatives, preferring cool dissection of the contemporary scene and imaginative projections of possible futures. It was, indeed, Cronenberg's use ofconventional genre and narrative cinema which enabled him in the mid-1980s to enter the mainstream cinema and make relatively well-bugeted genre films: The Dead Zone (1983), .The Fly (1986), and Dead Ringers (1988) .
The Dead Zone, based on a novel by Stephen King, utilizes the genre of the political conspiracy film, popular in the 1970s. Cronenberg's use of conventional genre and narrative cinema enabled him in the mid-1980s to enter the mainstream Hollywood cinema and make relatively wellbudgeted Hollywood genre films: The Dead Zone (1983) utilizes the genre of the political conspiracy film, popular in the 1970s. In Fredric Jameson's reading, the conspiracy films represent an attempt ofthe political unconscious to map the networks of economic and political conspiracy and power in the (post)modern world of multinational capitalism.' 5 Conspiracy films can thus be read as an attempt at a cognitive mapping of the unmappable, or as a representation of the unrepresentable.
The Dead Zone is one of Cronenberg's most overtly political films. The film articulates fears of not only political conspiracy but nuclear holocaust. Johnny Smith, an all-American everyman, detects through psychic visions that an opportunistic politician will start a nuclear war. He then proceeds to assassinate the politician . The film depicts Smith's powers as mostly positive, though difficult to live with . Johnny pays the price of isolation and assumes the burden of perceiving the horrifying spiral of history from the holocausts of World War II to post-nuclear destruction. Yet he copes and lives on and tries to use his powers to preserve and enhance human life.
Both The Dead Zone and The Fly continue Cronenberg's obsessive inquiries into mind/body mutation in the contemporary scene of technocapitalism . The films bring to the fore a tragic dimension less visible in the earlier films. Both Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone and Seth Brundel in The Fly are victims as much as agents as they cope (unsucessfully in the end) with their new minds and bodies, and both expire as sacrificial victims of the new flesh. Each embodies, however, a utopian fantasy of transcendence, of evolution to higher forms of life. Both show the risks involved in evolution to the new flesh, and both show how the conventional world threatens and resists their mutations. Like Max Renn in Videodrome, both go all the way to the end of their experiments and both perish along the way.
As Julia Emberley has argued, Cronenberg's films incorporate a radical discontinuity, incarnating a rupture with "life as we know it .-16 Metamorphosis is thus the theme and syntax of Cronenberg's films which portray mutating minds and bodies in fragmented narratives and discontinuous cinematic space ruptured with dead zones, shivers, quickly scanning camera movements, a videodrome of strange images, and broods of frightening horror. Perhaps only the horror film could capture the terror of radical metamorphosis, of fateful mutation of our minds and bodies in a society characterized by radical semiurgy and radical toxification . Yet The Fly also contains the desire for a higher mode of being, for transcendence, for a new energy and flesh, that is a recurrent theme in Cronenberg's cinema. Indeed, the very notion of metamorphosis so crucial to The Fly is utopian, though in the contemporary horror film, following Kafka, it more generally takes dystopic forms. A comparison with the earlier version of The Fly might help clarify the dual vision of metamorphosis in Cronenberg and his (post)modern break with an earlier world.
While the original Fly (1958) safely anchored the scientist's experiments within the bosom of the family-and centered on his devoted wifeCronenberg's Fly takes place in the post-familial singles scene. And while the original took place in a Montreal suburban home and garden that looked like a Disneyesque small-town U.S .A ., Cronenberg's film takes place in an urban loft filled with junk-food, computers, and other detritus of ultramodernity. While the metamorphosis machine in the earlier Fly looked clumsily mechanical, Cronenberg's teleportation apparatus is controlled by computers and operates according to the principles of genetic engineering. Embodying Baudrillard's (post)modern molecular model of life as a code, of genetic miniaturisation (DNA) being the ultimate constituent and aleatory determination of human life," Cronenberg's teleportation machine breaks down the mind and body into its primary molecules and encodes the molecular structure into on.e telepod while decoding it in another.
While the earlier Fly presented the teleportation experiment as ameans to bring food to the starving, Cronenberg's Fly presents the invention as an exigency of (post)modern life to overcome space and time: moving the body instantly from one place to another and thus overcoming inertia, entropy and bodily limitation . It also depicts mutation of the body as the evolutionary /devolutionary fate of the human species as it enters a new age and new world. Although Brundel/Fly is destroyed in a paroxysm of special effects, his earlier metamorphosis is presented as a synthesis ofwonderful new powers. Brundel/Fly is in touch with his body to an unparalleled degree, he discovers newphysical and sexual energies, and he is aware that he is the bearer of a new species being. Yet he is unable to synthesize the newand the old, and eventually destroys himself. At one point, Brundel/Fly complains: "I'm saying I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it . But now the dream is over and the insect is awake."
This inability to incorporate new mental and bodily phenomena runs through Cronenberg's films. In Shivers, one of the male characters tries to live and harmonize with the parasite virus living in his stomach, saying: "You and me are going to make friends. . .atta boy." And the characters in The Brood attempt to control their cancerous growths. Indeed, the feared concepts of carcinogenics andmestasis signify growth and development. Cronenberg's characters try to accept their viral and carcinogenic body invaders in the hope that the new flesh will be able to evolve to a new mode of existence. These would-be-Ubermenschen generally fail, but their efforts display fascination with and a utopian desire for rebirth and resurrection.
Dead Ringers (1988), by contrast, deals primarily with fears of mental disintegration and the loss of identity in contemporary techno-culture. Two identical twin brothers (both played by Jeremy Irons) become successful gynecologists and scientists and habitually share experiences. Consequently, both sleep with amovie actress with whom the more introverted brother becomes romantically involved . She is extremely angry when she learns they are trading her off, and her absence precipitates a disintegration of first one and then the other brother.
The film raises complex philosophical questions concerning identity and articulates panic over loss of identity in contemporary society. The sets are all ultra-modern and the high tech hospital /science scenes are framed with cool classical and ultramodern architectural design, picturing a rationalized and cyberneticized world without passion or intensity. Blue is the dominant color which permeates objects and lighting, connoting a cool technoscape where individuals are expected to act "normally" and predictably. The two ultra-intellectual scientists lose their cool and their identities in frightening scenes of psychological disintegration. Although Cronenberg depicts once again his obsession with mind/body interaction and personal identity, this time there is no suggestion of utopian rebirth or resurrection.
Yet, I wish to fantasize that someday Cronenberg will make a film which will follow the adventures of his sexually emancipated viral bodies who, at the end of Shivers, happily drive into Montreal . I imagine that they would produce new forms of sexuality, society, and technology. I imagine that they confront new challenges and disasters with good humor and good will, and maintain their social solidarity and individual integrity. Such a film would present the resurrection of the body, the new flesh, both positively and negatively, as the site of loss and new possibilities. It would embody the most progressive insights into a non-repressive (post)bourgeois civilization set out by Herbert Marcus' and Norman O. Brownin the 1950s, and would move beyond to a new modernity for which we do not yet have a Concept.''18
Such autopian vision seems, of course, impossible in the present situation of panic sex and techno-capitalism-and survival is no doubt the imperative of the moment. But radical philosophy-and progressive filmmaking-should contain a "dreaming forward" (Ernst Bloch) as well as an illusionless diagnosis and critique of the present grounded in historical comprehension of the past. As Herbert Marcuse put it, "Thought in contradiction, must become more negative and more utopian in opposition to the status quo." 19. Otherwise, it's unlikely that we'll have either a nice day, or a better one to look forward to tomorrow.
Department of Philosophy
The University of Texas at Austin
'Thanks to Steve Best for helpful comments on earlier drafts and to Frank Burke for multiple editorial metamorphoses of earlier versions .
1 . "David Cronenberg. Article and Interview by Paul M. Sammon," Cinefantastique 10 .4 (Spring, 1981): 22 .
2. On (post)modern society, see Arthur Kroker and David Cook, The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and Hyper-Aesthetics (New York : Saint Martin's Press, 1986). For my reservations about current postmodern theorizations, see Douglas Kellner, "Postmodernism as Social Theory : Some Challenges and Problems," Theory, Culture & Society 5.2-3 Qune 1988), 239270.
3. See Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (New York : ,5emiotext[e], 1983) and In the Shadows of the Silent Majorities (New York : Semiotext[e], 1983), discussed in Douglas Kellner, Jean Baudrillard. From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989).
4. Douglas Kellner and Michael Ryan, Camera Politica: ThePolitics andIdeologies ofContemporary Hollywood Film (Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1988).
5. David Chute, "He Came from Within," Film Comment, March-April 1980 : 36. The original title was Orgy of the Blood Parasites, followed by the title The Parasite Murders for English Canadian release and Frissons for French release. When the French version was more successful, the film title was changed to Shivers, though it was released in the U.S . as They Came From Within .
6. Sammon, p. 25 .
7. Is it an accident that Max Headroom takes on Max Renn's first name, and that Renn's Channel 83 becomes Headroom's Channel 83 in the TV-series? Someone who plays with words and names as creatively andintertextually as Cronenberg would certainly appreciate such a gesture. . . .
8. Cronenberg, in Chute, p. 39 .
9. Jean Baudrillard, Les strategies fatales (Paris : Grasset, 1983).
10 . Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, "Body Digest ;' Canadian Journal ofPolitical and Social Theory
11 .1-2 (Winter/Spring 1987): i . 11 . Robin Wood, American Nightmare: Essays on the Horror Film (Toronto : Festival of Festivals, 1979), pp. 24ff. I would further argue that Cronenberg's films, cited by Wood as paradigmatic of the reactionary horror film, do not generally exhibit the features he ascribes himself to the reactionary horror film . 1) Cronenberg's films do not designate the monster as "simply evil" and "totally non-human." Cronenberg's monsters always contain some humanity and are worthy of at least some sympathy more so as the films progress. 2) There is never any "presence of Christianity" or even religious transcendence in Cronenberg's films. 3) Although some of Cronenberg's films can be read as equating "repressed sexuality with sexuality itself," as I try to show here, other readings are plausible. Further, Cronenberg's monsters are products of existing bourgeoiscapitalist society-and not invaders from outside-and point to the "monstrosity" at the heart of "bourgeois normality," thus meeting Wood's criteria for a progressive monster figure.
12 . Ibid . CRASH FILMS
13 . Robin Wood, Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan (New York : Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 129-130.
14 . Robin Wood, "Cronenberg: A Dissenting View," in Shape ofRage: The Films ofDavid Cronenberg, ed . Piers Handling (Toronto : General Publishing Company, 1983), pp. 115-135 .
15 . Fredric Jameson, unpublished paper on conspiracy films.
16 . "Metamorphosis : The Fly," Impulse 13 .3 (1987) : 19-22.
17. Baudrillard, Simulations, pp. 103ff
18 . See Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955) and Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death (New York : Vintage, 1955). 19 . Herbert Marcuse, Negations (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968).
CRASH THEORY, (Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory/Revue canadienne de theorie politique et sociale), Crash Films, Volume 13, no.3 1989
by Mark Fisher
David Lynch’s two latest films — Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire — present a kind of acute, compacted weirdness. While often perplexing, Lynch’s earlier work, including the film Blue Velvet (1986) and the television series Twin Peaks (1990-91, with a third series currently in production), presented what at first glance could appear to be a superficial coherence. Both the film and the TV series were — at least initially — constructed around the opposition between an idealised-stereotypical smalltown America (not dissimilar from the one depicted in Dick’s Time Out of Joint) and various other- or under-worlds (criminal, occult). The division between worlds was often marked by one of Lynch’s frequently recurring visual motifs: curtains. Curtains both conceal and reveal (and, not accidentally, one of the things that they conceal and reveal is the cinema screen itself). They do not only mark a threshold; they constitute one: an egress to the outside.
In Mulholland Drive, released in 2001, the stability of the opposition which had structured Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks begins to collapse. No doubt this is partly because of the shift away from the small-town setting, and the new focus on LA. Lynch’s customary preoccupation with dreams and the oneiric is now refracted and redoubled by the mediated and manufactured dreams of the Dream Factory, Hollywood. The Hollywood setting proliferates embedded worlds — filmswithin-films (and possibly films-within-filmswithin-films), screen tests, performed roles, fantasies. Each embedding contains the possibility of a disembedding, as something that was at a supposedly inferior ontological level threatens to climb up out of its subordinated position and claim equal status with the level above: figments from dreams cross over into waking life; screen tests appear at least as convincing as the exchanges in the supposedly real-world scenes that surround them. In Mulholland Drive, however — rendered in the onscreen title as Mulholland Dr, with its suggestion of Mulholland Dream — the overwhelming tendency appears to move in the opposite direction: it is not so much that dreams become taken for reality, as that any apparent reality subsides into a dream. But whose dream is it anyway?
The “standard” interpretation of Mulholland Drive claims that its first half is the fantasy/dream of failed two-bit actress Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts), whose actual life is allegedly depicted, in all its quotidian squalor, in the second half of the film. In the first part of the film, Betty assists an amnesiac brunette (Laura Haring) — the victim of a failed murder plot — to recover her identity. The brunette assumes the name “Rita”, after Rita Hayworth, a name she sees on a film poster, and she and Betty become lovers. In the second part of the film, “Rita” is now Camilla, a successful actress, and the object of bitter jealousy from the failed and jaded Diane, who lives in a miserable apartment in Hollywood. Diane hires a hitman to kill Camilla, before apparently committing suicide. According to the standard interpretation, aspiring actress Betty — who arrives in Hollywood seemingly not only from a small town but from the past (she has just won a jitterbugging competition!) — is Selwyn’s idealised image of herself. The opposition between the idealised place and the underworld(s) that structured Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks has now become an opposition between two personae: naïve small-town Betty versus hardbitten LA-resident Diane.
In an online review, “Double Dreams in Hollywood”, Timothy Takemoto pointed out that one problem with the standard interpretation is that the second part of the film is, in its own way, as dream-like and as saturated in melodramatic tropes, as the first. “What is some woman in a run-down apartment in Hollywood doing having an affair with a movie star, that is about to get married to a famous director? Where does she get the money to pay for a hitman?” Takemoto’s view is that both the first and second part of the film are dreams. Diane is not the dreamer; the “real dreamer is elsewhere”, and Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla are all fragments of this (unseen) dreamer’s disintegrated psyche.
Whether or not this view is correct, I think that Takemoto is right to argue that there are two scenes in Mulholland Drive which merit particular attention: the scene about dreams in the diner, and the scene in Club Silencio (perhaps the most powerful sequence in the entire film). In the diner scene, a man called Dan is talking to someone who appears to be a psychiatrist about a dream he has had twice. The dream is set in the very diner in which they are currently sitting (Winkie’s, on Sunset Boulevard). In the dream, Dan is terrified by a figure with a blackened, scarred face, who lurks in a hinterland space behind the diner. In a bid to defeat the power of the dream, the two men walk out to the back of the diner — where the scarred figure is waiting, and Dan collapses, perhaps in a faint, perhaps dead.
The paradoxically entrancing Club Silencio scene acts as a gateway between the two sections of the film. With its red curtains, Club Silencio is evidently a threshold space. Betty and Rita enter the club, but they do not properly emerge from it; they are afterwards replaced/displaced by Diane and Camilla. I described the scene as paradoxically entrancing because it is ostensibly demystifying. Like some cinematic equivalent of Magritte’s This Is Not a Pipe, the Club Silencio performance tells us that what we are witnessing is an illusion, whilst at the same time showing that we will be unable to treat it as such. The host of Club Silencio, a kind of magician-compere figure, repeatedly tells the audience (those in Club Silencio, as well as those watching Mulholland Drive), “There is no band. It is all recorded. It is all a tape. It is an illusion.” A man emerges from behind the red curtains, appearing to play a muted trumpet; he takes the trumpet away from his mouth, but the music continues. When the singer Rebekah Del Rio appears to deliver an emotionally wracked version of Roy Orbison’s version of “Crying”, we are seduced by the power of her performance. So when Del Rio collapses but the music plays on, we cannot help but be shocked. Something in us compels us to treat the performance as if it were genuine.
There is of course nothing less mendacious, less dissimulatory, in cinema’s history of illusion than the scene in Club Silencio. What we are seeing and hearing — the film itself — is indeed a recording and nothing but. On the most banal level, this is the material infrastructure which the “magic of cinema” must conceal. Yet the scene haunts for reasons other than this. It points to the automatisms at work in our subjectivity: insofar as we cannot help but be drawn into Silencio’s illusions (which are also the illusions of cinema), we are like the very recordings by which we are seduced. Yet these illusions are something more than mere deceptions. Like the scene with Dan in the diner, the Club Silencio scene reminds us that dreams and “illusions” are conduits to a Real that cannot ordinarily be confronted. Dreams are not only spaces of solipsistic interiority: they are also a terrain in which the “red curtains” to the outside can open up.
Ultimately, Mulholland Drive is perhaps best read as something which cannot be made to add up. That is not to say that the film should just be considered fair game for any possible interpretation. Rather, it is to say that any attempt finally to tie up the film’s convolutions and impasses will only dissipate its strangeness, its formal weirdness. The weirdness here is generated in part by the way that the film feels like a “wrong” version of a recognisable Hollywood film-type. Roger Ebert remarked that “there is no solution. There may not even be a mystery.” It could be that Mulholland Drive is the illusion of a mystery: we are compelled to treat it as a solvable enigma, to overlook its “wrongness”, its intractability, in the same way that, in Club Silencio, we are compelled to overlook the illusory nature of the performances.
In Lynch’s 2006 film, Inland Empire, it is as if the kind of slippages, incoherencies and conundrums we saw in Mulholland Drive are pushed much further, to the point where there is no longer even the prospect of tractability. For all its many film references, Inland Empire does not even seem to resemble any Hollywood template. If the weird is fundamentally about thresholds, then Inland Empire is a film that seems to be primarily composed of gateways. The best readings of Inland Empire have rightly stressed the film’s labyrinthine, rabbit-warren anarchitecture. Yet the space involved is ontological, rather than merely physical. Each corridor in the film — and there are many of Lynch’s signature corridors in Inland Empire — is potentially the threshold to another world. Yet no character — the word seems absurdly inappropriate when applied to Inland Empire’s fleeting figures, figments and fragments — can cross into these other worlds without themselves changing their nature. In Inland Empire, you are whatever world you find yourself in.
The dominant motif in the film is another kind of threshold: the hole. A hole cigarette-burned into silk; a hole in the vagina wall leading to the intestine; a hole punctured into the stomach by a screwdriver; rabbit holes; holes in memory; holes in narrative; holes as positive nullity, gaps but also tunnels, the connectors in a hellish rhizome in which any part can potentially collapse into any other. The cigarette burn hole could serve as a metonym for the film’s entire psychotic geography. The hole in silk is an image of the camera and its double the spectating eye, whose gaze in Inland Empire is always voyeuristic and partial.
With Inland Empire, world-haemorrhaging has become so acute that we can no longer talk about tangled hierarchies but a terrain subject to chronic ontological subsidence. The film appears at first to be about an actress, Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) who is to play a character, Sue, in a film called On High in Blue Tomorrows. But there is no stability to these personae, nor to the hierarchy which would treat Sue as “less real” than Nikki. By the end, Sue appears to have subsumed Nikki, and seems not to be inside in any film that would be called On High in Blue Tomorrows. “Reflexivity without subjectivity”, that perfect description of the unconscious, is a phrase that is exceptionally apt for Inland Empire’s convolutions and involutions. Nikki Grace and the gaggle of other personae which Dern plays/Grace hosts (or fragments into) are like de-psychologised avatars: holes that we cannot help treating as mysteries, even though it is clear (to us, if not to them) that there is no hope of any solution.
“Something got out from inside the story”, we are told of the Polish movie which Nikki Grace’s filmwithin-a-film is remaking. In Inland Empire — which often seems like a series of dream sequences floating free of any grounding reality, a dreaming without a dreamer (as all dreams really are, since the unconscious is not a subject) — no frame is secure, all attempts at embedding fail. The temptation to resolve the film’s conundrums psychologically (i.e. to attribute the anomalies to phantasms issuing from the deranged mind of one or more of the characters) is no doubt great, but should be resisted if we are to remain true to what is singular about the film. Instead of looking inside (the characters) for some final key to the film, we must attend to the strange folds, burrows and passageways of Inland Empire’s weird architecture, in which no interior space is ever secure for long, and gateways to the outside can open up practically anywhere.
excerpt from the book: The Weird And The Eerie by Mark Fisher
by GLEN W. NORTON
Comment Ça va?: Un-writing the Image
Comment ça va?, another film co-directed with and starring Miéville, is also about learning to see, drawing upon Iessons learned in Ici et ailleurs. It is about finding our place within the global chain of images, and about how text and image can work together to either help or hinder this. The film takes as its focal point the still photo of a man (who may or may not be) shouting at a barricade of solders - The flim deals with the necessity of writing about this image - not only in a critical manner but also in an expository one, as a journalist, a producer within the global chain of images. The joumalist in this film has the same problem Godard had in 1970: he has a pre-conceived notion of what the image in question is saying. He knows beforehand the image is about the Portuguese revolution, therefore he "reads" the image accordingly, and writes:
The image of these soldiers in uniform, already an army for the people, whistling the international, surrounded by 20,000 people, is going to weigh heavily on the process.
But if, as the film suggests, "writing is blind work, hands can't see", one must look first, not let others control our Iook before one actually sees. From this one image, the journalist's associate, Odette (Anne-Marie Miéde) begins to iook in order to Iearn to see:
If I look at this picture, I see a civilian with a rather violent expression, which causes the other to raise his fist. Then there seems to be a row of solders - some fists raised but it doesn't seem very collective. One doesn't know what the relationship established is.
To see, then, involves much more ambiguity than one might think. To see, the receiver must do his/her own analysis first (with all the available weapons of memory and history) rather than be directed by someone else's 'look", which in this example takes the form of written text. The position of this "someone else" (namely the position of the journalist) must necessarily divide the effect of seeing the image from an interpretive discourse; as Baudrillard puts it, this is like having "'your eyes glued to the images, and your pen somewhere else".
This separation of words and images is something Godard takes great interest in. For instance, Yosefa Loshitzky claims that "the principal opposition of the film is . . . between the hands (writing) and the gaze (reading)". A clearer way to understand this opposition would be to say that the film operates within the "between", between the hands (writing) and the gaze (seeing). Seeing, as has already been shown, involves much more than reading; seeing works "in between" time (memory) and space (the pro-filmic), using one's own look rather than reading the look of someone else.
As Odette and the journalist listen to other people's recorded thoughts about the photo, another similar image slowly fades in to replace it. "Why the fuck is that photograph here?" shouts the journalist. 'Try to remember," replies Odette. And indeed he does remember - the new photo is one taken at a striking factory in France four years previous. The new photo is a memory, then, of the Portuguese image, a memory triggered by the Portuguese image. To begin to see the link (of the chain) between them, Odette super imposes one on top of the other in order to show not only their similar composition, but their sumilar ideological content. "Why don't you write what the image reminds you of so the reader can know where he is?" she asks the jounialist. To write about an image, then, more than revealing its "inherent" meaning, should reveal something about the relationship of that image to others in terms of memory, history, and the global chain of images.
The Sound of ideology
Sound, too, like text (or even sound as text) can prevent the immediacy of seeing an image. In Ici et Ailleurs, Godard uses the notion of sound as a metaphor symbolising an a priori interpretation of images by outside forces, usually a politically motivated third party beyond the notion of an image/receiver comection, Godard admits that this is what happened with the images from Jusqu 'à la Victoire. Godard and Gorin were controlling the gaze for their own political gain, "shouting" so loudly over the images that even they themselves could not really see what they had filmed. They had decided, well before any image was shot, just what their images would signify, a signification designed, and therefore assumed, to be absolute, direct, and unmistikable.
An exploration into the disruption of a pure image/receiver connection must use a method mirroring one's immediate and primary viewing (without, of course, ever king able to return to its innocence), and take into account the context (i.e. image chain) in which it is seen. A chain of three images fiom Ici et Ailleurs reveals how different aspects of social and political elements (all masquerading as sound) can suppress or overthrow the immediacy of the image:
1. Image of a man playing pinball:
The sound of the pinbali machine is quite loud compared to the sound of the people in the background. Drawing some conclusions upon our first look at this image, we might say that this could represent leisure time, or possibly the sound of memory/history, namely Godard's own film history.
2. Image of woman scrubbing the floor:
The woman turns up the radio to drown out machines in background. One might conclude that this represents work, as opposed to the previous shoot of leisure. This, then, could be the opposite image of memory: an image of forgetting, Forgetting work by turning up the volume of something else.
3. Image of man in taxi:
This man also turns up the radio to drown out the (other) men at work around him. This too is work, but now in the public sphere. One sees here the fact that men working use sound to distance themselves fiom each other.
In these examples, to tuni up the sound really involves two movements, or as Godard puts it, "two noises that move in relation to one another". One noise is used to drown out another noise, and this happens both publicly and privately, at work and at home (as when the daughter turns up the sound of the TV, drowning out the "noises of the school and the famiIy'). We are now beyond simple image-making and into the realm of socio- politiced interaction, a notion Godard seems reluctant to separate from the images themselves. Indeed, the intertextuality of these images questions whether or not there can be a notion of "pure" viewing at all, untainted by any third party beyond image and receiver. Much work has been done revealing just how deeply ingrained ideology is in image constmction, and even though Godard attempts to circumvent this, Ici et Ailleurs is in no way immune to an ideological reading. Any image is a pre-coded image; simply filming an image in a certain way embodies a certain ideology of course, the film asks us to see for ourselves rather than assume an already-chosen position (physical, ideological, political, spiritual) mirrored, through ideological interpellation, as our own. AIthough notions of images "speaking for themselves" may still be somewhat naive, Godard nonetheless makes a great stride with this film toward understanding not only how images can be defiled, but how he had contributed to a major part of the problem. The solution Godard eventually comes up with, beginning most forcefully with Numéro Deux, attempts to circumvent the problem by decomposing the image altogether, destroying the notion of its inherent, denotative meaning.
Numéro Deux: Beginning to Remember
The dornain of Numéro Deux is family life; an extended family (grandparents, parents, children) is analysed from the perspective of their relationships toward each other and society as a whole. With the aid of (what were then) new video techniques, Godard helps us to see the movement in between these relationships. The beginning of the film places Godard in front of the camera, talkhg about, amongst other things, what he believes the role of language to be in his work. In language, he says, there is movement, and in his work he highlights this movement through the use of puns which "slide", which cause "short-circuits" and "interference" in language. This is the "in between", where language "slides" between one word and another, one image and another. And this is where Numéro Deux exists: in the "+", in the "and" between all the binary relationships in the film: image and sound, image and text, male and female, husband and wife, parents and children, personal and political, sex and politics. And thk is where Godard's cinema exists as well, amongst a chah of signifiers continually sliding behind one another in a game of hide and seek with the object of cinema. It is the unfuring of the image which is at stake here, not of the image itself but of its signified, which is now relegated to a chain of signifieds all at once, a concept even more extreme than proposed in Ici et Ailleurs. If Ici et ailleurs is a blueprint for the representation of social interaction without repressive image construction, Numéro Deux is its fruition, a film which extends itself to the factory and to the landscape, the basic dichotomy of the film. A little girl wonders if her father is a factory or a landscape -- two diverse images, which, by incorporating video techniques into the film, can be compressed into one.
Video allows for more than one image to be on the screen at the same time; Godard achieves this by running images on two or more video screens at once and then shooting these screens together on film. But again, two images are not meant to produce dialectical synthesis - they are simply spatial and temporal links in the chain of images.
This two-image technique is used powerfully during a sequence involving the grandmother. Here the event of household chores is rendered in time as weil as in space, starting with a single image of the grandmother pealing potatoes. There is a cut, and this image is replaced by one of her making the bed. Added to this in the top right-band corner is a repeat of the previous image. There is a cut to her scrubbing the floor, and again the previous image of bed-making is repeated in the top right-hand corner. The images are repeated, doubled like memories of things that wilI surely happen again and again, things such as cooking and cleaning. Past and present become one and the same.
A more complicated image chain begins with the single image of a woman sitting at her kitchen table, smoking and drinking- she fights with her husband, who leaves for work, then tells her son she "hasn't shit for two weeks". There is a cut to a double image: in the top right-hand corner of the flame, the woman is sitting at her table, looking depressed, smoking and drinking as in the previous image; on the left, the image of her bedroom - she enters, throws herself on the bed, and begins to masturbate. Her husband comes in and asks her if she needs help; she tells him to get out. The sound during this double image comes from two sources: synchronous sound from the image of the bedroom, and the woman's voice-over describing how, upon arriving home, she is aggravated and needs to "relieve herself".
Numéro Deux, then, permits a greater freedom to explore various formations of image-chains. A chain becomes infinitely more flexible by embracing two or more images on the screen at once, working its doubling effect, dividing and enhancing itself through space and memory. This is an exploration of memory through the infant technology of video; not surprisingly, then, the next step in Godard's exploration of filmic memory would concentrate on children.
excerpt from CRITICAL THEORY AND JEAN-LUC GODARD'S PHILOSOPHY OF THE IMAGE by GLEN W. NORTON
by GLEN W. NORTON
After the tumuItuous events of May '68, in which he actively participated, Jean-Luc Godard joined with Jean-Pierre Gorin and others to create the film collective known as the Dziga Vertov Group. Highly informed by Althusserian Marxism and dedicated to the collective process, the Group envisioned dialectical materialism as a means to save cinema from an assumed and unquestioned dominant ideology of narrative. The process of dialectic inquiry was designed to lay bare what was (somewhat naïvely) understood as "the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence". Unfortunately, this notion of interrogation usually came with its own pre-supposed synthesis.
In the struggle to make political films politicaily (under the rallying cry 'No more narrative! Materialist dialectical fiction!"), any notion of what Godard (at his most polemic) termed "feeling" (what one might now, looking at Godard's work today, call transcendence, or possibly even jouissance - see chapters two and three) was dismissed by the Group as mere bourgeois" aesthetics. Take for example what Godard says in 1970 about One Plus One, a film he made in 1968, just previous to formation of the Group: "It's a wrong picture. If you like the Rolling Stones, you can see them work, that's all . . . There is nothing but feelings, an opposition of feelings, but no opposition of - it's not dialectic. It's metaphysical, not dialectic". Between episodes of revolutionary diatribe and the Stones rehearsal lies associative uncertainty, a notion not easily integrated into the linearity of dialectics. For the Dziga Vertov Group, then, dialectics was about certainty, about showing a reality aiready assumed to exist; it was on the level of production: not speculation, substantiating itself by re-producing a synthesis coming well before any discursive dialectic of the films themselves. In retrospect, the period seems one of little inquiry into actual cause/effect relations - the priority was to show things as they are and to attack the mot cause, not to question what that cause might be. This is not to say the films of this period are not interesthg or Fuitfiil in creating debate, just that the policy behind hem was rigidly dogmatic. Perhaps these films let slip too much of an irreverent attitude toward their own tenets to be taken seriously; perhaps in some way this lead Godard to ultimately question the assurnptions behind the practice of materialist dialectical fiction. The self-cnticism that ensues begins a struggle to see beyond the barrier of dialectics, the ciilmination of which supplants argumentative proof with the suggestion of a collective memory.
Ici et ailleurs: Seeing In-Between
This new struggle announces itself in force with Ici et ailleurs. The fllm is, ostensibly, about the unfinished Dziga Vertov Group film Jusqu'à la Victoire. In the spring of 1970, Godard and GOM (now Godard's only collaborator within the Group) shot footage in Jordan of Al Fatah, a militant, revolutionary faction of the PLO. Before they could finish the film, however, most or ail of the participants were kilIed by troops loyal to King Hussein. The footage was not assembled by Godard until four years later, now with a new collaborator, Anne-Marie Miéville.
The first section of Ici et ailleurs reveals how Godard had planned Jusqu'à la Victoire back in 1970. He wanted the film to be divided into five sections, each incorporating a set of images (pre)supposed to convey a singular ideological message. Running these images one after the other wouid (theoretically) produce the "right" dialectical synthesis.
Thus the progression of would have been:
1. Will of the People - typified by an image of an AL Fatah member's speech to his cormrades about taking back their land through armed struggle.
2. Armed Struggle - typified by an image of an AL Fatah member firing a large machine gun.
3. Political Work - typified by an image of a woman's speech about the need for direct involvement in the revolution by Palestinian women.
4. Prolonged War - typified by an image of girls training for future battle, what Godard calls the "Long Mach".
5. Until Victory - typified by an image of a drawing of an Al Fatah man wielding a gun. Superimposed over this is an image of Golda Meir (Israel's prime minister during this period), which then, in an interesting use of early video technology, dissolves. The technique vividly depicts this category as Godard's ''final synthesis".
After presenting the five categories in this order (the order he had, in 1970, concluded would produce the "right" effect) Godard then goes on to explain what conclusions would arise through a "correct" dialectical combination:
The Will of the People + The Armed Struggle = The People's War
The People's War + The Political Work = The People's Education
The People's Education + The People's Logic = The Popular War Extended:
It is true that reducing a film down to a few equations seems rather simplistic. However, when one starts to analyse not the just the thesis, antithesis and synthesis of these equations but also the relationships between these parts, one begins to understand a little of what Godard must have felt watching and editing the footage of these long-dead Palestinians four years after the fact. Here the critique of the past begins.
As Jacques Aumont points out, "the striking thing is that for Godard, seeing is less an analytical activity than an immediate, synthetic relation (and relation also means 'between')". To begin to ask what constitutes this "between" means to go beyond the dialectical conclusions of Jusqu'à la Victoire, for as Godard says in Ici et ailleurs: 'It is too simple and too easy to divide the world into two". To understand what went wrong in the process of making Jusqu'à la victoire, Godard focuses upon what lies between the images of his equations, in the "+", thus revealing what had been effaced by dialectics: the movement fiom image to image. Godard, in voice over, tells us that when it comes to film, each image does not quite replace the next: "A new image keeps more or less the memory of the image before. This is because the film is moving. And on the whole, time has replaced space, speaks for it, or rather space has inscribed itself on film in another form". This other form is memory, or as Godard puts it, a totality of "translations and feelings". For Godard, then, film no longer consists of the sum of images but a chain of images - an image- chain can speak (in the plural) whereas dialectics can oniy produce (in the singular). Extrapolate upon this chain of images and one discovers a plurality of images, a disorder of images (rather than the neat, fixed order of dialectics), images that cannot remain self-contained within any single nIm, images that combine in a chain of global images that refer us to ourselves and to others: "mon ton son image".
So in Ici et Ailleurs, Godard (with direct support from Miéville) returns to his five images, not to "read" them but in effect to re-read - to see them. By refusing to give images a singular meaning ("read" them) Godard comes to understand the problem of using different images to represent the same category. These five images, then, had not been used as images at all, but as factors in an equation: any one image in a given category was inherently presumed to have the capacity to represent the category as a whole. Something had been lost between the gathering of images (ailleurs) and the re- see-ving of images (ici), between the space of the image (the pro-filmic event) and the time of the image (the memory of the event, the event as history). In 1970, Godard had not seen these images - he had a pre-conceived notion of what they should be saying and then read what he wanted into them and out of them.
It would be wrong to exclude the effect of Miéville on this film (and on Godard's artistic output as a whole); one might say she, and not Godard, initiates and enunciates the criticism in Ici et ailleurs. It is her voice near the end of the nIm asking questions of the images, interrogating the image and the image-maker, laying bare the ideology that had usurped these images before they had any chance to sign as images. This critical act continues into Godard's later work, in films such as Soft and Hard (A Soft Conversation on a Hard Subject Between Two Friends). Here Godard represents iinear, self-assured meaning and MiévilIe the doubting, hesitating force of critique (especiaiiy in an analysis of Détective, telling Godard he is "too timid" when it cornes to the love scenes). Much could be said here (and has ken said already) about dîviding "hard" production and "soft" seduction dong gender lines, something Godard bas been severely chastised for, but I will leave this for now, to bring it up again in chapter four.
excerpt from the CRITICAL THEORY AND JEAN-LUC GODARD'S PHILOSOPHY OF THE IMAGE by GLEN W. NORTON
Godard ON Godard
Letter to my Friends ...
Fifty years after the October Revolution, the American industry rules cinema the world over. There is nothing much to add to this statement of fact. Except that on our own modest level we too should provoke two or three Vietnams in the bosom of the vast Hollywood-Cinecitta-Mosfilm-Pinewood etc. empire, and, both economically and aesthetically, struggling on two fronts as it were, create cinemas which are national, free, brotherly, comradely and bonded in friendship.
excerpt from the book: Godard ON Godard by Jean-Luc Godard
Godard ON Godard
I don't write my scripts. I improvise as shooting goes on. But this improvisation can only be the result of previous inner preparation, which presupposes concentration. And in fact I make my films not only when I'm shooting but as I dream, eat, read, talk to you.
Deux au trois choses que je sais d'elle is much more ambitious (than Made in U.S.A.), both on the documentary level, since it is about the replanning of the Parisian area, and on the level of pure research, since it is a film in which I am continually asking myself what I'm doing. There is, of course, the pretext of life itself - and sometimes prostitution - in the new housing complexes. But the real purpose of the film is to observe a huge mutation.
For me, to describe modem life is to observe mutations, and not simply to describe, as certain newspapers do, the new gadgets and industrial progress.
Basically, what I am doing is making the spectator share the arbitrary nature of my choices, and the quest for general rules which might justifY a particular choice. Why am I making this film, why am I making it this way? Is the character played by Marina Vlady representative of the inhabitants of these housing complexes? I am constantly asking questions. I watch myself filming, and you hear me thinking aloud. In other words it isn't a film, it's an attempt at film and is presented as such. It really forms part of my personal research. It is not a story, but hopefully a document to a degree where I think Paul Delouvrier himself should have commissioned the film.
Actually, if I have a secret ambition, it is to be put in charge of the French newsreel services. All my films have been reports on the state of the nation; they are newsreel documents, treated in a personal manner perhaps, but in terms of contemporary actuality.
To return to this film about the housing complexes, the thing that most excited me was that the anecdote it tells coincides basically with one of my most deep-rooted theories. The idea that, in order to live in Parisian society today, at whatever level or on whatever plane, one is forced to prostitute oneself in one way or another, or else to live according to conditions resembling those of prostitution.
During the course of the film -in its discourse, its discontinuous course, that is - I want to include everything, sport, politics, even groceries. Look at a man like Edouard Leclerc, a really extraordinary man whom I would love to do a film with or about. Everything can be put into a film. Everything should be put into a film. When people ask me why I talk - or have my characters talk - about Vietnam, about Jacques Anquetil, or about a woman who deceives her husband, I refer the questioner to his own newspaper. It's all there. And it's all mixed up. This is why I am so attracted by television. A televised newspaper made up of carefully prepared documents would be extraordinary. Even more so if one could get newspaper editors to take turns at editing these televised newspapers.
This is why, rather than speak of cinema and television, I prefer to use the more generalized terms of images and sounds.
My Approach in Four Movements
As I have said, the story of Juliette in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle will not be told continuously, because not only she, but the events of which she is part, are to be described. It is a matter of describing 'a complex'.
This 'complex' and its parts (Juliette being the one I have chosen to examine in greater detail, in order to suggest that the other parts also exist in depth) must be described and talked about as both objects and subjects. What I mean is that I cannot avoid the fact that all things exist both from the inside and the outside. This can be demonstrated by filming a house from the outside, then from the inside, as though we were entering inside a cube, an object. The same goes for a human being, whose face is generally seen from the outside.
But how does this person himself see what surrounds him? I mean, how does he physically experience his relationship with other people and with the world? (Malraux said: 'One hears the voice of others with the ears, and one's own voice with the throat. ') This is something I would like to make people feel throughout the film, and have inherent in it.
If one now analyses this project for a film, one sees that my approach can be divided into four principal movements,
1. Objective Description
(or at least attempt at description, Pongel would say)
(a) objective description of objects: houses, cars, cigarettes, apartments, shops, beds, TV sets, books, clothes, etc.
(b) objective description of subjects: the characters, Juliette, the American, Robert, the hairdresser, Marianne, the travellers, the motorists, the social workers, the old man, the children, the passers-by, etc.
2. Subjective Description
(or at least attempt)
(a) subjective description of Subjects: particularly by way of feelings, that is through scenes more or less written and acted.
(b) subjective description of objects: settings seen from the inside, where the world is outside, behind the windows, or on the other side of the walls.
3. Search for Structures
(or at least attempt)
In other words, 1 + 2 = 3. In other words, the sum of the objective description and the subjective description should lead to the discovery of certain more general forms; should enable one to pick out, not a generalized overall truth, but a certain 'complex feeling', something which corresponds emotionally to the laws one must discover and apply in order to live in society. (The problem is precisely that what we discover is not a harmonious society, but a society too inclined towards and to consumer values.)
This third movement corresponds to the inner movement of the film, which is the attempt to describe a complex (people and things), since no distinction is made between them and, in order to simplify, people are spoken of as things, and· things as people; and I do not neglect conscience, since this is manifest in the cinematographic movement which directs me to these people or these things.
(As Sternberg and his fish would say: I think, therefore the cinema exists.)
In other words, 1 +2+3=4. In other words, having been able to define certain complex phenomena while continuing to describe particular events and emotions, this will eventually bring us closer to life than at the outset. Maybe, if the film comes off (I hope it will; if not all the time, at least in certain images and certain sounds), maybe then will be revealed what Merleau-Ponty calls the 'singular existence' of a person - Juliette's in particular.
Next, all these movements must be mixed up together.
Finally, I must be able sometimes, not always but sometimes, to give the feeling of being very close to people.
Actually, when I come to think about it, a film like this is a little as if I wanted to write a sociological essay in the form of a novel, and in order to do so had only musical notes at my disposition.
Is this cinema? Am I right to go on trying?
Letter to my Friends to Learn how to Make Films Together
You think there 'are
Rules for the game
Because you are a child
Who does not yet know
What is a game and what is
Reserved for grownups
Which you already are
Because you have forgotten
That it is a child's game
What does it consist of
There are many definitions
Here are two or three
Looking at oneself
In the mirror of other people
Forgetting and learning
Quickly and slowly
The world And oneself
Thinking and speaking
Godard/ Godard ON Godard
Godard ON Godard
Filming Le Petit Soldat: Suzanne Schiffman. Raoul Coutard. Godard
88: Frere Jacques
Like Moliere, Jacques Becker died on a strange and terrible battlefield: that of artistic creation. It was the moment when Caroline bites her finger till she draws blood because she has left Edouard when Golden Marie (Cristobal's Gold, of course) forces back her tears as Manda climbs the scaffold. It was Saturday evening. The studio telephoned to say that the mixing of Le Trou was complete. Our brother Jacques breathed again. Mortally wounded for so long, he could now give up the struggle without dishonour. And a few minutes later, Jacques Becker was no longer alive. It was Sunday morning, the hour when Max plays his favorite record when Lupin meets the Princess at Maxim's when the day finally dawns over 7 rue de I'Estrapade.
There are several good ways of making French films. Italian style, like Renoir. Viennese, like Ophuls. New Yorker, like Melville. But only Becker was and is French as France, French as Fontenelle's rose and Bonnot's gang. I happened to meet him during the sound mixing of Le Trou. Already ill, he was more handsome than ever. He talked about Les Trois Mousquetaires, and suddenly I understood. That dark moustache, that grey hair ... he was d'Artagnan in Twenty Years After. And he was Lupin too. Just compare a photograph of Becker seated at the wheel of his Mercedes with the opening shot of The Adventures of Arsene Lupin and you will see that Robert Lamoureux was his spitting image.
So Jacques Lupin, alias Artagnan Becker, is dead. Let us pretend to be moved, for we know from Le Testament d'Orphee that poets only pretend to die.
89: Le Petit Soldat
It was under the benevolent eye of script-girl Suzanne Schiffman that we shot scene 7/2b of Le Petit Soldat, a film whose theme is not real but newsreel: in other words, with hand-held camera (fist clenched, like the Spanish Republicans in L'Espoir), a good deal of tracking, some over- and underexposed shots, one or two rather blurred, to tell the story of a French secret agent who refuses to carry out a mission, but eventually does so after misadventures which include his capture and torture by a rival network. A story, in other words, for the benefit of distributors, which once deciphered becomes that of a man who feels that his reflection in the mirror does not correspond with his own image of himself, a man who thinks women should not be over twenty-five, a man who loves dear old Haydn's music, a man who wishes he too were able to carve his way with a knife, a man who is very proud of being French because he loves Joachim du Bellay and Louis Aragon, and who yet remains a little boy - so I have called him The Little Soldier.
The Ten Best Films of 1960
Les Bonnes Femmes (Claude Chabrol)
The Savage Innocents (Nicholas Ray)
Give a Girl a Break (Stanley Donen)
Sansho Dayu (Kenji Mizoguchi)
Moonfieet (Fritz Lang)
Nazarin (Luis Buiiuel)
Poem of the Sea (Alexander Dovzhenko)
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
Le Testament d'Orphee (Jean Cocteau)
Tirez sur Ie pianiste (Francois Truffaut)
Godard/ Godard ON Godard/ Marginal Notes While Filming: August 1959-August 1967
Background: Hurry up! Places, everyone!
Godard: Angela wants a baby right away. Like many women, she might suddenly have wanted to go to Marseille, to have an expensive new dress, or a chocolate eclair or something ... a sudden yearning which she would rather die than leave unsatisfied. Which is silly. But there it is: a woman is a woman. And after all, for a woman of twenty-four, wanting a child within twenty-four hours is a noble notion. Now ... now since, as Bazin said, the cinema usurps the role of our eyes to present a world consonant with our dreams, it was extraordinarily tempting to make a Mitchell 300 usurp the gaze of this young Parisian, and so prove, while proving that a woman is always a woman, that the cinema is always cinema. Wait though, here she is. Angela Recamier is her name.
Anna: Lights! Camera! Action!
Godard: Two blue eyes: Giraudoux. A red umbrella: Aragon. That is Angela.
Friday afternoon In Strasbourg-Saint-Denis
Music: theme tune
Anna: Hello! How are things?
Music: theme tune Boy: Haven't you anything a bit more sexy?
Anna: Are you still angry?
Brialy: No, my angel.
Anna: Do you love me, then?
Brialy: Yes, my angel.
Anna: Look, isn't this a pretty postcard, Emile ...
Music: theme tune
Godard: Emile is a bookseller. He likes Dashiell Hammett and Marie-Claire.
Angela leaves him to go to the Zodiac.
And this naive Bayadere.
Is very nearly as beautiful.
As Ava Gard-ner.
Music: Anna's song 'Everyone wonders why?'
Godard: The invention of the cinema is based on a gigantic error: that of recording the image of man, and reproducing it by projecting it till the end of time. In other words, believing that a strip of celluloid is less perishable than a block of stone or even memory. This strange belief means that, from Griffith to Bresson, the history of the cinema and the history of its errors are one: the error of trying to paint ideas better than music, to illustrate actions better than the novel, to describe feelings better than painting. One may say, in short, that errare cinemato graphicum est . ... But this error akin to Eve in the Garden of Eden becomes fascinating in a thriller, arresting in a Western, blinding in a war film, and alluring in what is normally called a musical.
Music: Dance-hall jazz
Godard: Here the audience realizes that Emile plus Angela plus Alfred= Design for Living.! That Alfred Lubitsch, in other words, would like to make it with Angela. Very much so. But also that, like Paula Illery in the superb 14 Juillet, he cherishes a vain dream.
Insult scene (Belmondo)
Belmondo-Anna scene: 'Why didn't you wait for me?' Belmondo: Is that why you're sad? Anna: No. Music Belmondo: Why, then?
Anna: Because I'd like to be in a musical ...
Godard: Before, it was here. Now it's there.
There, as Angela pays homage.
In doing her housework.
Homage to whom?
To My Sister Vera Ellen ...
Godard: So American comedy is dead. Let it go at that2 since everything goes at twenty-four frames a second. But I shall often look back. Witness the fact that Angela is an old-fashioned girl, oddly so. The opposite of Madame Express, naturally. Agreeing with the Pope about birth control. Of course.
Anna: Studying the Fertility Chart.
Music: theme tune Anna (continuing to read the prospectus) with theme music: November the 10th ... what's the date today?
Godard: Emile takes Angela at her word because he loves her. And Angela lets herself get caught in the trap because she loves him.
Brialy: What's the matter now?
Anna: Before a performance, one should bow to the audience.
Music: minuet Brialy: What is it now?
Anna: You don't love me. Anna-Brialy scene: 'I love no one but you.'
Anna: Emile, why don't you sweep up a bit ...
Emile (sings): 1 love no one but you ... [Football match on the radio, with Jean Domarchi's voice commentating (Barcelona-Real Madrid)]
Music Anna: I haven't finished yet.
Godard: These enfants terribles who live Far from Rueil are building between themselves the same relationship as that between nature and the camera. The latter, after all, is first and foremost an apparatus for taking views, and directing is first and foremost humbly seeing things from their own point of view.
Anna-Brialy scene: 'Yes, Angela, if we had a child.'
Anna: Why is it always the women who suffer ...
Brialy: Look at Anquetil during the Tour de France.
Scene up to: 'I want a baby.'
Brialy: I don't see why, all of a sudden ...
Anna: I shall ask just anyone ...
Brialy: Go on. It will do you good.
End of scene with police [End of first side of record]
Anna: Emile! Music
Anna: Farewell Camille, return to your convent.
Brialy: I'll be back.
Godard: Angela thinks that death justifies men. But that life justifies women. But - once again - rather than have Angela look at children on the Boulevards and Pecuchet, make her look at old people, particularly old people who make a fantastic impression on her. For she does not distinguish between documentary and fiction. Just like me. So Angela finally gets the impression that Alfred ... Angela gets the impression that Emile ... Angela, that is, gets the impression that she is being taken for a ride. In a coach, of course. For, rather like Camilla in Renoir's marvellous films, Angela will soon be wondering where the theatre ends and where life begins.
Anna: You disgust me ...
Anna: In comedies as well as tragedies, at the end of the Third Act ...
Godard: Angela is alone once again. No one is less capable than this sincere young girl of that sort of grandiloquence which deliberately dramatizes the most insignificant adventure. Thus Angela resembles a comic version of Chantal in Bernanos's novel.6 At this point, a telephone call from Alfred. He absolutely must speak to Angela about something very important which happened last night.
So Angela gallops to the Cafe Napoleon. Blue coat, white fur, red beret, for her the day of glory is come. It's strange. I meant to have a lot of gags in the big scene between Alfred and Angela, but in the end there is nothing. They talk almost without moving, sitting on a seat, each in twelve sober frames of mind.7 Because this is a talking picture. Besides, I have noticed in the cinema that one almost always does the ea' opposite of what one had planned and yet it still comes out in the . .. as one had first imagined it. What does this prove? It proves that Chabrol is right: the important thing is not the message but the vision.
Belmondo: This morning in Paris-Jour (story of the telegram) ... up too. 'I thought she was a girl a bit like you.'
Godard: Angela returns home to Emile in tears. She announces that she has slept with Alfred. Emile hits upon a Socratic phrase to serve as conclusion to this marivaudage - though marivaudage isn't the right word. If Angela were called Marianne, it would be Musset - after all, it is story of a caprice. Anyhow, all I wanted to say was that Cosi fan tutte. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell Michel Legrand to compose a variati or two on that. Oh well, no matter. Listen to this, it's the moment wh Emile is so unhappy that he feels to hell with it.
Music: theme tune
Brialy: So it is that people are unjust and cruel.
The three blows are struck
Brialy: I don't know whether it's a comedy or a tragedy, but in any case it's a masterpiece. ?
Anna: Put on the Aznavour record.
Anna-Brialy scene: 'Ti, ti, ta, ti.'
Anna-Brialy scene: 'Shall I put the light out to 'Yes, it's sad.'
Anna: I'm sorry, my darling (music: minuet)
Godard: Where does cinema begin? No doubt like the other arts when form becomes style. But let us be clear about style, for style is a matter of meaning. It's ... I don't know. For instance, it's the perspective of Mizoguchi, the aggression of Orson Welles. Style ... how can I express it? It is the reality which the mind claims for itself. I think, too, it is also the definition of liberty given by Hegel. One day, in defence of Chaplin's A King in New York, Rossellini said: 'This is the film of a free man.' Basically, that's it. To create cinema, all one has to do is film free people. Like Emile and Angela. Right, music!
Anna: Can't you read, you idiot? If you don't love me, I love you.
Brialy: And suppose you're pregnant?
Anna: Yes, it's terrible.
Anna-Brialy scene: 'It's suddenly given me an idea .. .' to:
Anna: Let's go.
Music: theme tune
Brialy: That was a tight spot ... [whole scene to the end] 'You are infamous'.
Anna: I am not infamous. I am a woman.
excerpt from the book Godard On Godard
Lynch had his first movie experience in 1952 at age six, when he saw Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie (Henry King, 1952) with his family. We can easily predict which two scenes he remembers to this day: a little girl accidentally swallows a button, her father panics, her little brother screams and yells, and the dog adds its continuous barking to the cacophony; and a man reclining in a barber’s chair for a relaxing shave is killed by machine gun fire that suddenly comes blasting through the shop’s front window. Situations in which a realm of safety is invaded by chaos have fascinated Lynch throughout his life, and he still responds to them in other directors’ films. In 2002, he excitedly told me about a scene in Gregory Nava’s Selena (1997), the biography of the twenty-four-year-old Tejano superstar singer who was shot to death by her female fan club president. The moments that captivate Lynch occur at Selena’s (Jennifer Lopez) huge outdoor concert in Mexico. The singer, her guitar-playing boyfriend, and her overflow audience are bubbling with joy as she performs her most popular song, spinning and prancing back and forth. But in the next second the plywood stage is splitting and lurching beneath her feet, the crowd pressing forward, pinning a woman beneath the stage front as the happy music stops and screams fill the air.
Lynch consciously recalls the scary parts of Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie, but the film contains other details that relate to his work. The picture, which takes place in the late-1800s Midwest, is a small-town, neighborhood story (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, The Straight Story). The starfield of a night sky is emphasized (Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Industrial Symphony No. 1, Sun Moon Stars commercial, The Straight Story). A man is nervous and agitated about his wife having a baby (Lynch’s own life, Eraserhead). Lynch has emphasized the color blue throughout his career, and Nellie features a woman wearing a brilliantly blue dress who stands up at a party and whistles bird song in a moment of small-town surrealism. Another key Lynchian color, especially in his films, is red, which he often iconically relates to women in the forms of lipstick and/or blood, and Nellie has a woman prominently applying red lip rouge. Nellie’s central emotional dynamic, in which one person’s freedom and aspirations are curtailed and squelched by a powerful, dominating individual, is certainly familiar to Lynch-watchers, and as in Eraserhead and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the sound of a far-off night train whistle has the ring of potential escape to an entrapped soul. As in most of Lynch’s fictions, two of Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie’s characters are having a secret emotional relationship behind the back of someone who trusts them. The film, like Blue Velvet, features a youngadult son character who’s drawn into a netherworld of morally suspect behavior. Nellie first showed Lynch the image of a stage with draped curtains, a church at night with its windows lit up (as in Blue Velvet), and a flaming wooden structure being tended by firefighters (The Straight Story). Like Blue Velvet, Nellie ends with a sense of darkness banished and wholesome small-town values reaffirmed, though a woman paid a terrible price in the process.
The children’s book Good Times on Our Street (Gates, Huber, Peardon, Salisbury, 1945), which Lynch says he cherished “about a hundred years ago,” is a compendium of the benign spirit and imagery of his boyhood life, and a key to themes and motifs in his adult artwork. On the first page, we find a tree-lined street of a small town that’s surrounded by woods: the archetypal setting for many “neighborhood stories” to come. Naturally, the welcoming front yards are bounded by white picket fences, against which brightly colored flowers bloom. The boy protagonist (wearing a horizontal-striped T-shirt like young Lynch did) always has a girl companion, with whom he experiences exciting adventures, at his side.
The book’s town is full of appealing little shops like the hardware stores in Blue Velvet and The Straight Story, and blue-collar workplaces like Twin Peaks’ gas station and Lost Highway’s car repair shop. The presence of smiling firemen and child guardians recalls the opening and closing of Blue Velvet. The book’s way of calling characters The Little Boy, The Grocery Man, The Bread Man, and The Farmer’s Wife probably inspired Lynch’s method of giving some of his characters names (The Boy, The Man From Another Place, Curious Woman, Little Girl) that have the evocative resonance of archetypes.
An episode in the book is a forerunner of the scenes in Lynch’s fictions (especially Blue Velvet’s ending) where people get together, the human and natural worlds are in harmonious balance, and all is right with the world. At the conclusion of one Good Times on Our Street story, characters gather on the grass to share food and radiate their love for each other. The similar concluding backyard communion in Blue Velvet is preceded by a huge close-up of a robin on a branch, the bird signifying the triumph of light and love over darkness and evil (malevolence symbolized by the black insect in the bird’s beak). After showing the close view of the robin, Lynch has his young hero and heroine gaze out the window at it in wonder. The director’s use of this robin motif is a prime example of the way a long-buried, forgotten memory “can be released into your conscious mind, and it seems like a new idea.” For as a six-year-old, looking at Good Times on Our Street, Lynch saw a full-page illustration of a robin on a branch. On the next page, the book’s boy and girl peer at it from their window with enchanted looks on their faces. The book speaks of the robins’ springtime return as a breath of fresh air, the end of the dark season, the flourishing of new life. In Lynch’s film the birds are first spoken of regarding the heroine’s dream of long-absent robins returning like a blessing to their benighted town. The birds in Good Times on Our Street hold no devilish bugs in their beaks, but in the book’s only instance of violence and pain, a boy is repeatedly stung by insects.
Remaining in the animal kingdom, the book presents a twenty-page story about elephants, which contains a picture of a pachyderm looking angry and scary, like the nightmarish elephant that menaced Mrs. Merrick in The Elephant Man. And did Good Times on Our Street’s trickster monkey and the frequently mentioned name of the book’s leading female character (“Judy”)100 combine in Lynch’s subconscious to produce Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’s mysterious monkey whispering, “Judy”?
The kids in the book have plenty of playtime, but Good Times on Our Street also emphasizes that work can be fun, especially when you pursue your heart’s desire. Like Lynch’s father did with David, the book’s Father shows the main boy character, Jim, how to organize and carry out a project using wood and tools. Jim and young Lynch both want to devote themselves to making things with their minds and hands.
The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939), which Lynch has seen many times from boyhood on, maps major portions of his artistic territory. With its opening-credit cloudy sky and evocative wind sounds, the film vividly conveys the enthralling, transportive power of cinema, a force that director Lynch, with the help of some of that same whooshing wind, communicates so well. And, in Oz’s sepia-toned opening moments, as Dorothy walks down a desolate-seeming, farm-country dirt road, Lynch felt the quiet magic of “America’s nowhere places” touch him, and he absorbed the sense of film, and life, as being a road trip, a journey, a quest. The rounded shapes of brown earth that flank Dorothy’s road and form humps in her aunt and uncle’s farmyard seem to answer Lynch’s lifelong question of where his “love of mounds of dirt” comes from. The barren, denuded trees that adorn Lynch’s drawings and paintings, animations (drawn and computergenerated), and films also populate the landscape of Dorothy’s Kansas. If we note the gaunt, leafless tree sprouting from the earth mounded over the Gales’ storm cellar, we see a prototype of Eraserhead Henry’s bedside earth-mound-with-bare-tree-branch, which today Lynch displays like a sculpture in his home.
Lynch took to heart The Wizard of Oz’s narrative dynamic of having a sympathetic character overwhelmed by darkness, assaulted and trapped by forces more powerful than her, and in desperate need of a way out. Like Lynch and so many of his characters, Dorothy is a dreamer, and she showed young David that having the imagination to envision a brighter tomorrow, and the courage to go out and find it, can transform the mundane and threatening world into a charmed and rewarding place. The possibility of a magical deliverance from trouble and pain thrilled Lynch as he first watched The Wizard of Oz, as did the idea that the means of attaining it was mysterious: “you can’t get there by a boat or plane; it’s far away beyond the moon, beyond the rain.” After Dorothy sings her reverie of yearned-for escape (“Somewhere, Over the Rainbow”), we hear birdsong and see glowing shafts of light break through dark clouds, a passage which could easily have inspired Blue Velvet’s Sandy’s recitation about robins and the pure light of love banishing the evil of her small town.
One of the most influential concepts Lynch absorbed from The Wizard of Oz was the idea that Dorothy’s vivid, super-detailed adventures in the Land of Oz take place within her own mind, yet are as real as life—they are her life. The emotional authenticity and dramatic validity of Dorothy’s dream journey showed Lynch the wondrous way that film scenarios can externalize a character’s psychic conflicts and interior narrative: the portal to the greatest storyland of exploration and discovery is the human head. In Lynch’s cranial-centric cinema characters often receive head wounds, and Dorothy’s trip begins with a bump on her noggin. Throughout his career, Lynch has been fascinated by the idea of multiple selfhood, which The Wizard of Oz visualizes with Dorothy’s single face becoming many as she slips into dreamland. (Lynch has Betty’s and Rita’s faces flutter multitudinously in Mulholland Drive.)
The Wizard of Oz is a resonant parable about a child learning to grow up and cope with a world that’s both “not very nice” and “beautiful,” and Lynch reflects its core dynamic in Blue Velvet as Jeffrey comes to see that life can be “horrible” as well as “great.” Dorothy’s surrogate parents are weak and unable to keep evil at bay (like Jeffrey’s folks), so she has to take action. In her dream she confronts the Wicked Witch, which represents her own capacity for darkness (as does Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth for Jeffrey), and destroys her nemesis (as Jeffrey does), thus affirming her ability to choose goodness. In her dream, Dorothy’s self-perceived lack of a smart-thinking brain, a feeling heart, and courage to act for what’s right are externalized as the needy Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. At story’s end she’s fully integrated, realizing that she already possesses, and has exercised, the inner-resource qualities she needs to get home: The house of her psyche is resoundingly in order and able to withstand the most wicked Kansas twister.
Secrets and revelations drive Lynch’s fictions, and a key Lynchian moment occurs in The Wizard of Oz when the great and powerful Wizard is discovered to be not a fearsome giant head surrounded by fire and smoke, but a non-supernatural man hiding behind a curtain, pulling levers. This showman who creates illusions is a metaphor for what Lynch does with his life: dreaming up realities and using technology (movie cameras, paint brushes) to project them onto screens and canvases. The way that the Oz Show director is hidden behind a masking curtain reinforced Lynch’s sense that there are veiled realities working behind/beneath the obvious ones we perceive, concealed forces pulling the strings of our lives. Eraserhead’s lever-pulling Man in the Planet, Twin Peaks’ Leland-possessing BOB, and Lost Highway’s Mystery Man are certainly kin to The Wizard of Oz’s man behind the curtain.
Other Wizard of Oz elements are reflected in Lynch’s work. Dorothy asks a seminal question: “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” just as The Other Wizard of Oz elements are reflected in Lynch’s work. Dorothy asks a seminal question: “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” just as The Elephant Man’s Treves wonders, “Am I a good man or a bad man?” and Blue Velvet’s Sandy ponders whether Jeffrey is “a detective or pervert?” As Dorothy proceeds into the Land of Oz she has to learn the place’s special physical and metaphysical properties, its games and rules, and the balance of its powers, just as do many of Lynch’s stranger-in-a-strange-land protagonists. As in Lynchland, there are dark forests with creepy trees (complete with a spooky owl), threatening fires in various forms, and menacing animalism (in the Wicked Witch’s subhuman flying monkeys.) In The Wizard of Oz, a sudden snowfall, provided by angel figure Glinda the Good Witch, saves Dorothy and her friends, just as an unexpected rainfall blesses the ending of Dune, and showers of space dust do in Eraserhead and Industrial Symphony No. 1. Glinda’s snow drifted down after the suffering characters entreated the skies for help, just as, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Ronette Pulaski is released from a dire predicament after praying to her angel for help.
There’s a harbinger of Lynch’s characteristic emphasis on the colors blue and red in an iconic close-up of Dorothy’s blue ankle socks and ruby-red slippers. And the lightning-shaped sparks that the slippers emit, beyond showing Lynch the power hidden within objects, have zapped the air in a number of the director’s films and TV shows, lent their form to the patterns of floors, and leapt from the electric guitar Lynch plays in his website Thank You Judge music video. The Wicked Witch, like Dune’s Baron Harkonnen, Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth, and Twin Peaks’ BOB, is a villain who fiendishly enjoys her evil work. In the Wizard of Oz, she speaks words that could sum up the world as Lynch often sees it, with one pole of reality hidden inside another: “something with poison in it, but attractive to the eye.”
The Wizard of Oz showed Lynch how affecting a happy ending based on a literal or metaphorical homecoming could be, and exemplified the dramatic power of a story that centered on the dark and light aspects of womankind.
excerpt from the book by Greg Olson 'Beautiful Dark'/Chapter 12: Man of the World
In both his art and life, David Lynch tries to keep a tight control over what is revealed and what is hidden. Naomi Watts says, “Our minds create everything that’s in our dreams, from a table leg to the texture of someone’s coat; we are our dream.” With Lynch, a deep-delving, intuitive, resolutely personal artist, he is all the extreme rage and consuming love, physical pleasure and pain, hellish entrapment and euphoric spiritual transcendence that fills his films, TV shows, paintings, and songs. Always sensitive to dualities, Lynch knows that he lives a double life: His essence is in his art, but it also dwells with the body he moves toward his meditation chair, through his son’s bedroom, and into press conferences in Los Angeles, California. His artist’s mind, manifested in his work, is here and there for everyone to experience; its passion and inventiveness are both his bliss and our gift. But his public persona constitutes a genial, well-mannered barrier that hides his motivations and intentions about his work, and the detailed, day-to-day life process that generates them. Lynch’s head is his most precious, sovereign territory, and he will decide who, where, and when anyone else can have access to it, and for how long. In one of his late-2001 thirty-second Sony PlayStation 2 commercials, an artistic-type man wearing dark sunglasses is being interviewed by an insistent off-screen voice, which keeps requesting that the man remove the glasses so we can see his eyes. As many times as the interviewer makes the request, the arty man says, “No, I can’t do that,” clearly reflecting Lynch’s own guarded attitude about self-revelation.
Two months after Lynch shared Mulholland Drive with us at the Director’s Guild screening and then vanished from the room, Julee Cruise appeared in Seattle, where she performed and talked to me about some troubling truths that have been hidden behind the public perception of her and Lynch’s heavenly collaboration.
Cruise, the child of alcoholic parents who’s suffered physical illness and feels she’s “led a tragic life,” has a habit of “latching onto men who are brilliant and who inspire me,”4 and who give her the extra measure of approval she needs. Lynch certainly seemed capable of meeting all these qualifications. But as they began to work together, in the mid-1980s, he treated her “as though I was a nobody, naïve and moldable,” even though she had “many awards and accolades” to her name and a substantial professional track record. Characteristically, Lynch knew what he wanted, and single-mindedly strove to transform Cruise, who considered herself “a Broadway belter,” into a thirty-something teen angel whose ethereal voice could channel the music of the spheres. Before meeting Lynch, Cruise, who feels she’s “incredibly angry and aggressive,” had been rewarded for letting those harsh emotions power her work (she had done a knockout portrayal of 1960s rock queen Janis Joplin). Just as Lynch sensed that Mulholland Drive’s Naomi Watts was capable of playing Diane’s darkness as well as Betty’s sunshine, he felt that Cruise had a “soft, sad side” that could rain down in songs of tender yearning and aching loss. “He’s intuitive; he understood that I was damaged.” Cruise says Lynch knew she was the perfect “musical actress” to be the tear-stained song-voice of his films, TV shows, and records.
Cruise had known Angelo Badalamenti before she met Lynch, and feels the composer, who had been a Nashville tunesmith before settling in the Northeast, “has the best ear in the music business.” When the three began to collaborate (Lynch writing lyrics; Badalamenti, music), Cruise says Badalamenti was “seeking technical perfection, while David was after more abstract qualities: beauty and emotion.” The song “Falling,” the trio’s most gorgeous and resonant song (as the theme of Twin Peaks), hides a secret that even David Lynch doesn’t suspect. “David wanted me to sing about love, but I didn’t love people. He never knew what my internal process was—he didn’t want to know. I sing ‘Falling’ to my cocker spaniel, Rudy, who died. He was my true love. People would wonder where the tears, the emotion of that song came from. They came from my dog.” Rudy may have been in Cruise’s heart when she sang “Falling,” but she feels Isabella Rossellini was in Lynch’s. “He adored her, he used to call her ‘Bellini’; I think all those songs were about her.”
Harmonious, tender feelings may have inspired Lynch’s lyrics, but sometimes, while trying to record his songs, more discordant emotions flared. “Once he made me sing a phrase eighty fuckin’ times, and I lost it and blew up at him.” Lynch’s gift for humorous understatement came to the fore as he strolled over to Cruise and calmly said, “Julee, I don’t like your energy.”
Lynch had shaped Cruise’s talent as a singer and actor into a persona that was like a work of art he had created: the musical soul of Twin Peaks, the romantic woman singer whose, pure, fragile, high-as-heaven voice sang the ecstasies and tragedies of love and loss. She was like something he had dreamed into being, so he had a hard time dealing with Cruise’s real-world assertions of her own creative needs and desires. She told Lynch that the rock-pop singing group The B-52s had asked her to go on tour with them, and said she wanted to accept their offer. “He said, ‘No,’ and I said, ‘Bye.’ I just wasn’t part of his loyal corps of people. I love Catherine Coulson dearly, but I was not going to be shut in a box with the Log Lady.”
Cruise broke out of Lynch’s box, hopping around the country with The B-52s, belting out loud, fast, up-tempo rock songs that were the antithesis of the muted, slow, mournful laments that Lynch and Badalamenti had carefully groomed her to sing.
I came off the road with The B-52s and I’d been making $5,000 per show for eight months. David and Angelo did not help me financially at the beginning, and I question that. I was waiting tables when I got the call to go on Saturday Night Live and sing “Falling.” I told David that with The B-52s I’d been living a different life—with respect. I said, “You and Angelo did not respect me,” and he said, “You have to earn respect.” He was right about that, but I sure thought I’d paid my dues with him by then.
Despite the tension simmering between them, Cruise and Lynch (with Badalamenti) started to work on a new record project (Julee Cruise: The Voice of Love). “On the second album, unlike the first, they didn’t include me in the creative process; they had me come in and read sheet music— that’s why we split. They mixed the record without me and then played me the mix, and I said, ‘This is crap.’ The project had my name on it, but it wasn’t my record. David got so mad he had to go out in the hall to collect himself. He is just as insecure as I am, his ego is just as big as mine. I hurt his feelings by saying I didn’t want to work with him anymore. That would hurt, coming from someone he’d given so much to. He said, ‘I gave you a gift,’ and that’s true: It’s this voice I never knew I had before he and I discovered it together, and the way that voice expressed parts of myself that I’d never tapped into in a creative way. And he got me a record deal and taught me so much, about recoding and how to approach my songs like an actress. But still, it was over. I couldn’t go on. He had no idea I could get out of my contract, but I did, I fucked the shark.” After they split, Cruise sent Lynch a card, from one dog lover to another. “I had said some awful, horrible things to David. The card showed a snarling German shepherd wearing a tiara—he’d understand that this was me—and inside I wrote, ‘I’m sorry I was such an asshole."
Today, Cruise still has strong, complex feelings about Lynch and Badalamenti. “They treated me like shit”22; “They really loved me, and I loved them.” As closely as she worked with Lynch in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she feels that “he’s a mystery; he’s not going to show you who he is.” But one time, “I saw a glimpse inside, just a glimpse. He told me about back when he was in grade school. There was a girl who was the least pretty girl in class, and a lot of the kids would make fun of her. One day the girl came to class wearing a beautiful string of pearls around her neck. David said that this just broke his heart.”
Cruise felt broken herself after her creative divorce from Lynch. “I don’t have children. Music and performing are my whole life, and my life stopped. My agency, William Morris, dropped me. The phone didn’t ring. No one wanted to hire the ethereal voice that David Lynch made famous all around the world. I get real depressed and angry when I don’t work. This went on for four years, and I had a nervous breakdown; I didn’t realize that show business could do that to you.”26 Rather than drowning in fear, rage, and self-pity, Cruise, whose father was a doctor, began to integrate her fascination with medical science and criminology into the process of songwriting. Now she would be the one dreaming up and crafting the songs, as well as singing them. “I discovered the joyful feeling you get when you create something, and to perform what you’ve created is really fun.”
Today Cruise calls herself a “Techno-jazz-diva,” and collaborates, makes records, and performs with the musician Khan. In demand from the United States to Paris to Moscow, and sharing the stage with the likes of Bobby McFerrin and John Cale, she says with a throaty laugh, “I want to hit my peak when I’m sixty-five!” Cruise has discovered that she can create her own good music, not just sing other artists’ compositions, and she knows that her hellish, and heavenly, time with Lynch was a vital part of her journey. “I’d be doing bad dinner theater somewhere if I hadn’t had my experience with David and Angelo. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t change fate. I don’t regret it one bit.” Speaking of their first album, Floating Into the Night, she says, “I’m so grateful we made a goddamn masterpiece. David molded my voice into a masterpiece. I think ultimately we were meant to work on one project. It was worth everything for that.”
When Cruise performs today she sings her and Kahn’s music, but she closes with “Falling,” the anthem of Twin Peaks and her time with Lynch, the song that best shows off the angelic, high voice he found within her. “People cry over ‘Falling.’ They come up to me and weep. One guy got down on he knees the other day when he saw me going into St. Vincent’s. It’s because of that record.”
Cruise has found her personal and creative balance in recent years and has reached the point where “I finally wanted to tell the truth about everything.” Still, the beautiful range of deep emotion in her songs and voice flows from the woman’s own essence, and when I thanked her for talking with me and asked if I might follow up with a couple of questions some time, she said no. “This has been really hard for me to go back over all this. It still hurts.”
Like everyone in Lynch’s orbit, she knew that he’d quit smoking in the early 1970s, but since she hadn’t seen him in years, she was “sad to hear he’s smoking again. When he got me the record deal to do our first album, he helped me get off cigarettes, so my voice wouldn’t sound gravely.”
As Cruise and I said goodbye, I asked her if there was anything she might like to have me say to Lynch for her. “Tell him I’m grateful for everything. And that I’m smoking again too.”
In Lynch’s art, smoky dark clouds are abstractions of evil, and a few days after Julee Cruise’s Seattle appearance, black clouds over New York shattered America. On September 11, 2001, Islamic-fundamentalist terrorists hijacked four U.S. commercial jet flights and crashed them into New York’s World Trade Center and Washington, D.C.’s Pentagon, destroying the Twin Towers and killing more than 3,000 people.
For the first time in history, the “friendly skies” above the United States became an ominously silent zone in which no commercial or private planes flew. Panicked by the probability of more attacks, Americans feared that every ordinary activity and place was now threatened. All shopping malls closed; Disneyland shut down; for the first time since World War II, organized baseball cancelled all games; for the first time since World War I, American financial markets closed. Churches were full of weeping people. The mournful sound of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which Lynch graced The Elephant Man’s sad story, emanated from radios and televisions. On the TV screen we saw, as though in a nightmare loop, the networks repeating the images of the planes exploding into the towers again and again, as horrified onlookers in the streets below raised their hands in the air as though they might stop the tallest buildings in the United States from falling. A well-dressed businessman, his face contorted with rage, yelled, “We should be bombing somebody now—I want to kill somebody now!” A man and a woman, standing tall in the Manhattan sky as the tower burned beneath them, held hands and jumped to their deaths.
Like all Americans, Lynch reacted with shock, terror, anger, and sadness to the literal and symbolic devastation that the United States suffered on September 11. Naomi Watts told me that she, Lynch, Laura Elena Harring, and the Mulholland Drive team were doing press interviews for the Toronto Film Festival when the south tower of the World Trade Center was struck by a jet plane. “We were each in separate rooms doing our interviews. The TV was on, and it seemed like a horrible accident. How could this happen? We all passed each other in the hall going to our next interviews, and when the second plane struck the second tower we realized this was something far worse than an accident. The interviews stopped. We all gathered in one room in front of the TV. There was a lot of crying.”
Before the tragedy struck, Lynch had agreed to meet more press in New York, but all arrangements were forgotten. Scared and grief-stricken, Lynch and his friends just wanted to get home to Los Angeles. David is queasy about flying even in the best of times, so even when planes started flying again, taking a bus back across the country seemed the best way to go. Lynch consumes massive amounts of nicotine even when feeling hunkydory, so we can only imagine the depth of his need to smoke in the wake of September 11. In this day and age, bus riding and smoking are mutually exclusive, so Lynch rented a car, drove as far as Colorado, then caught a flight to L.A. in what felt like the safer skies of the western half of American.
In the 1980s, Lynch supported President Ronald Reagan, the man who called the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire,” and at the time Jennifer Lynch said her father “has strong feelings about the enemies of America.” In his fictions, Lynch often deals harshly with perpetrators of evil, and he no doubt will continue to do so, but in recent years his attitude about how to address real-world international mayhem has evolved. Back home in the Hollywood Hills, Lynch told his ex-wife, Peggy Reavey, that “it’s a changed world, Peg.” His recurrent fictional dynamic of a zone of domestic safety being invaded and harmed by dark forces had just been enacted with unprecedented horror and destruction within the sacrosanct boundaries of his beloved homeland. America’s post–World War II sense of national-borders security and economic optimism, which had been Lynch’s baby-boomer birthright, had vaporized in the dust of granite, steel, and human beings that was the only remnant of the World Trade Center. I thought Lynch might be ready to pilot a retaliatory B-52 bomber over terrorist-harboring Afghanistan single-handedly, but the program of spiritual growth and purification that has motivated him to give up his cherished red wine and adhere to a strict Ayurvedic eating regimen has erased any vengeful feelings toward America’s attackers. More than ever, his philosophy was accentuate the positive. “Don’t throw fuel on the fire: wrong actions bring more suffering. We get caught in a vicious cycle like Fred Madison at the end of Lost Highway. Don’t worry about analyzing how we got to the point where September 11 happened. It’s so complicated to figure out, and we need simplicity. Negativity is so wrapped around this planet. We’ve got to stop this thing of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Don’t worry about the darkness, don’t try to figure it out—just simply turn on the light, and darkness automatically flees.”
The idea of the microcosm affecting the macrocosm, of the individual’s consciousness influencing the global consciousness, has been part of Lynch’s mindset for decades. In the late 1970s, he said that “we all have our own little thoughts, and those thoughts go out into the air. If you could see a picture of all the little thoughts, you’d have a picture of the world. And the only way you can change the world is to change each person’s thoughts.” This concept fits perfectly with the Maharishi’s idea that the individual’s spiritual practice can “influence the whole world consciousness towards positivity, towards harmony, towards higher intelligence.
Spiritual beliefs, from Christianity to Hinduism to Voodoo, rely on the practitioner’s faith that a certain philosophy is true. The Transcendental Meditation movement bolsters its philosophy with scientific, statistical studies, which show that rates of crime and violence decline in communities where people meditate. Since practicing TM is such a positive experience, we assume that a relatively unvarying number of people practice it daily worldwide, sending a constant quantity of healing vibrations into the atmosphere. How then do we explain the monumental difference between the comparatively placid weeks in Manhattan preceding September 11, and the horrific day itself?
Lynch, a believer in reincarnation and karma, has told me that “there’s a perfect justice in the world,” since the wrongs you commit “will visit you in exactly the same form in this life or future lives.” Victims are victims because, due to their “karmic debt,” they’ve got it coming. As the Maharishi says, “Everyone has to go sometime or another, and the basic principle about going or surviving is that no one—now listen to me!—no one is responsible for giving any difficulty or any pleasure to anyone. Problems or successes, they are all the result of our own actions, our karma.” So does this mean that 3,000 people, each who had killed someone in this or a previous life, were fated to gather in the World Trade Center on September 11 to pay their karmic debts by violently losing their lives?
When CNN TV interviewer Larry King asked the Maharishi about September 11 in May 2002, he said, “I have no time to look back. I have always looked forward, forward, forward.” When I asked Lynch about the karma of those who died when the towers came down, he immediately answered, “No, there’s no way. . . . They say it’s so complicated that you don’t even want to go there. It’s a terrible thing. It happened, and it puts all of us who are here into another whole mode, and that mode can continue the problem or accelerate it, or it can once and for all make a good, lasting result. It’s always the same. It’s always the same throughout history that people react by wanting revenge, but now we should take a look at the correct step.” I tried again: “What I meant was, was it an accident, a horrible happenstance that those particular people were in the towers that day, or were they fated to be there?” Lynch tersely replied, “I’m telling you, you know, you can’t even talk about it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re where we are right now this minute, and what are we going to do?” Even the horrors of September 11 couldn’t stop the forward momentum of Mulholland Drive, for on the evening of September 24, 2001, Betty Elmes/Diane Selwyn and Club Silencio’s Magician stepped out of the fog and entered my place of business.
As film curator for the Seattle Art Museum, I sometimes have the privilege of hosting the premiere Seattle screenings of new films in advance of their commercial release (everything from Moulin Rouge to Girl With a Pearl Earring). I don’t put in requests to try to get certain films; they just come to me via an unexpected phone call. So, thanks to what David Lynch would call fate, I was offered Mulholland Drive, accompanied by Naomi Watts. I instantly agreed, and made a call of my own to the film’s Magician, Richard Green, who’d become a friend since I presented the U.S. premiere of Chris Leavens’ beautifully sad, funny, touching Jack Nance documentary I Don’t Know Jack, which Richard co-produced with Donna Dubain. As soon as I knew Naomi was coming to the museum, I envisioned Richard, with his Magician’s cane in hand, introducing her on our stage before the film. With his warm, mellow, melting-butter voice in top form, Richard said, “I’ll be there.”
Plans for the screening were finalized in mid-August while the museum was presenting the annual Twin Peaks/David Lynch Festival’s film night, so I was able to tell Lynchophiles from all across the country about the Mulholland Drive screening. The showing would be free, but tickets were issued to assure that seats would be waiting for attendees.
Unlike in late September 1991, when Lynch and his cinematographer Ron Garcia were surprised by sunny, warm Seattle weather and had to adjust the look of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me accordingly, September 24, 2001, was perfectly Twin Peaksy with its pale oyster-shell light and clinging, chill mist.
Richard and Naomi had been doing publicity interviews for Mulholland Drive from the early morning on, and an afternoon phone call from the Seattle publicity woman representing the film emphasized to me that Naomi was “shy and not comfortable” with the idea of doing a formal questionand-answer session in front of a large group of people at the museum. I said that Naomi could size up the situation when she arrived and do whatever she did feel comfortable with. Thirteen days after September 11, a fear of flying paralyzed the North American continent, but intrepid Lynch fans from Canada, the American East Coast and Midwest, California, and Oregon joined Northwest devotees to form an overflow crowd that jammed into the museum auditorium.
Richard arrived first—warm, outgoing, and good-humored as ever, his arched eyebrows and Van Dyke beard perfect for his Magician persona. On his gray suit, he sported a dark blue enameled Mulholland Drive road-sign lapel pin that the film’s team wore at the Cannes Film Festival in May. He told me he’d be with Naomi for the question-and-answer session after the film, which would put her at ease.
Naomi, surrounded by her L.A. publicists, arrived after the audience had filed into the auditorium, and approached Richard and me, who were standing with a few others in the lobby. From my 6'2" height she was a truly diminutive woman, with long blond hair (darker than Betty’s), wearing a black cocktail party dress with a demure neck and hemline and black high-heeled shoes with vine-like tendrils that twined up toward her calves. She broke away from her escorts and stepped forward to me. Her salmonpink lips parted reveling two perfect white front teeth as she smiled, shook my hand, and said, “David said to be sure to say hello to Greg.” To which I replied, “And after that he probably said, ‘Tell him to play the movie loud.’” She laughed and said, “Yeah, he does have rather strong feelings about that.” She struck me as being very bright, down-to-earth, and modest about her beauty and talent.
Earlier in the evening, Richard told me that when he introduced Naomi he was going to say something that probably was going to embarrass her. When he took the stage (without his Magician’s cane), he declared to the crowd that “You’re about to see what I think is one of the best female performances in the history of the cinema.” Then, in his mellowest vocal tones, he asked her to join him. At the back of the auditorium, Naomi straightened her dress, took a swig from her Arrowhead water bottle, cleared her throat, and walked up to the stage. Thanking Richard for his effusive words and the crowd for their warm welcome, she hoped we would all enjoy the film and promised she’d have more to say after the screening.
Richard, Naomi, and her handlers went out for dinner while the movie played, and returned just after Diane blasted her life away and we saw the sad, fading images of her and Camilla, the lost lovers, smiling together in happier times. In the dim light, as the end credits rolled, Naomi came up to me and asked, “What did you think of the film?” Wanting to both be funny and compliment her on her deeply stirring performance, I said, “I’m still drying my eyes,” to which she responded, “Awww.”
Richard stepped onto the stage, pulled his black cane out of thin air, gestured with it portentously, and introduced Naomi again, this time to an ovation that went on and on. The two of them sat on the edge of the stage and asked if there were any questions. Due to the stunning effect the film had on the audience, only a few people raised their hands.
They both spoke of how easy it had been to tune into Lynch’s creative wavelength, and how they’d each done their best-ever work for and with him, how they had a strong sense of collaborating with a true artist. They stressed that David had never told them a single word about his own interpretation of the film, either in terms of its overall meaning or the significance of individual scenes, and how the director didn’t want anyone to know which parts were shot for the ABC TV pilot, and which were new footage.
Naomi offered her Mulholland Drive interpretation, feeling that the earlier parts with Betty are Diane’s fantasy of how she wished things were—a sunny view, whereas actually her world is dark and crumbling around her—the whole film is what’s flashing through her mind as she reached for the gun. Richard chuckled and said, “That’s exactly how I see it.” They both hoped this film would help them get better parts in the future, and knocked on the wooden stage for luck. They said they’d had a great time and thanked everyone for coming.
The pair had been talking about the film since early this morning, and it was now after midnight, but in the museum lobby they signed autographs and graciously stayed for as long as fans wanted to chat. Feeling like Santa Claus, I handed out the Mulholland Drive posters, key chains, and match-boxes that Universal Studios had sent. Naomi got to see the Film Comment magazine featuring Mulholland Drive for the first time and, sounding like an excited child on Christmas morning, was thrilled by the photos and glowing coverage of the film.
The genial Richard disappeared into the night, promising me a dinner “anywhere you want in L.A.” Naomi was interested in my book project and agreed to talk with me in the future about working with Lynch. She was about to give me her L.A. phone number when her publicity representative stepped between us and said all contact with Naomi would have to go through her business office. As we parted Naomi, sounding full of secrets, said, “I’ve got a lot to say about David Lynch.”
Over the next months, first in a formal interview and then (thanks to the phone numbers Naomi did give me) in casual conversations (once while she was doing her Sunday afternoon laundry), she was forthright, thoughtful, and humorous about her involvement in Lynch’s world.
She said Mulholland Drive was the most fun she’d ever had in her fifteen-year career. “David’s spirit, charm, and humor infect all of us who work with him: he’s a great energy. He chooses like-minded people to work
with, intuitively knowing that we can be a conduit for his art and properly express his messages, story, and emotions.”
Although it’s not directly stated, a number of people who watch Mulholland Drive get the feeling that Naomi’s Diane and the Woman in #12 (Joanna Stein) had had a lesbian relationship. Naomi said she was so focused on Diane’s truth and perspective that she didn’t extrapolate about that possible backstory, and Lynch didn’t give her any hints about a woman-woman sexual experience for Diane prior to her involvement with Camilla.
David never divulges what’s going on in his head, but I think he intended to emphasize the uniqueness of Diane embracing Camilla: “I want to do this with you.” Diane is in a precarious emotional situation. Camilla is the one person who lifts Diane’s spirits. So much of what Camilla has in her life Diane lacks, so she becomes totally dependent on her. Diane is so broken and vulnerable that she falls into a bad and dark place. In Diane, David created the most incredible character an actor could hope for. You could spend a whole career looking for a role like this, which gave me a chance to express the spectrum of emotions from Betty to Diane. What David said to me about this was, “These are two extreme people juxtaposed.” He loves to explore all sorts of contrasts. He was brave enough to address the way we all have light and darkness within us, inner battles, forces inside that we both fight and yield to. When we’re too good or too bad we don’t like ourselves. Sometimes it feels good to be bad and bad to be good. There’s always a striving for balance. It’s not interesting enough or creative enough when we’re too pure. We don’t want to admit this about ourselves. I love this about David’s work, that it is courageous and confronting. I think that sometimes artists need to offend people, especially in these conservative times when much of society feels it’s ugly to explore deep truths like Lynch does.
Lynch the intuitive seer realized that there were some deep truths hidden within Watts. As she says,
I think he sees things other people don’t see. I was at a very low point when I met David. I’d been in some films, but I was spending my time auditioning for shit parts I didn’t care about or believe one word of—and not getting hired. I’m shy, and I felt I had to pretend to be happy and perky with everyone in the industry. I was afraid of offending people, that they would think I’m strange. There were things in me that I spend a lot of energy trying to hide, and this affected my confidence, my career, my life, my sense of myself. You dilute your personality so much that there’s nothing left.
As much of her post–Mulholland Drive career (21 Grams, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, The Painted Veil, Funny Games) has shown, she has a supreme gift for expressing every wrenching nuance of human pain, anger, grief, and existential darkness. A talent that Lynch realized was begging to be released, and which contributed a golden dividend to his and her art, and gave sweet relief to her psyche. Betty and Diane showed the world a full portrait of Naomi Watts, and the world embraced it. “David loves women, and not just in the obvious way. He creates some of the best, fully complex female characters: They’re three-dimensional and true to life, and reality is sometimes violent and ugly. He was like my horse whisperer. He really got something out of me, in a subtle way. It felt like we were in this created world together and he was speaking a language with his hands; we were having an unspoken dialogue.
Lynch’s way of not spelling out plot details for his audience, and his artistic collaborators, stimulated Naomi to come up with some interesting Mulholland Drive interpretations. She feels that the two men in Winkie’s diner, the fellow listening to his friend telling of his scary dream, are a psychiatrist and his patient. And for her the blue box “is Diane’s mind. The box is opened, and out comes all the horrible darkness of her psychosis. She can’t face this part of herself, so that’s why her dream self, pure sweet Betty with everything wonderful, disappears from the room before the box opens.” Naomi says, “Sometimes I wonder if Diane is the Bum at the end. To me the Bum represents darkness, the depths to which you can sink.” Naomi was very much in tune with Lynch’s narrative-aesthetic method of having people, things, and event express a character’s state of mind and emotions. “They say that in your dreams you are everything and every person, the leg of every table, the textures of the fabrics that people wear. All the energy that goes into your dream comes from your subconscious, and Mulholland Drive is composed of Diane’s outer and inner stories.” Lynch and Watts may have communicated with almost telepathic ease, but when it came to one of the film’s major scenes, there was confusion in the air. It was time to film the climax, when Diane, wracked with guilt and fear, is chased by the old couple and, as Naomi says,
You hear a gun shot. I said to David, “Wait a minute. Is this me shooting them or am I shooting myself? Or is the couple shooting Diane? I’m not sure what it means.” There was a long pause. He scratched his head. I’d posed a question he really had to think about. Usually when you question him he has everything already worked out, and he smiles cause he knows what he’s doing and he’s not going to give it away. This time it struck him that perhaps he was creating more mystery for the viewer than even he was comfortable with, throwing things off-balance. We shot the scene various ways. Once I just scrambled for the gun. Then I said, “How about if I do this?” I picked up the gun and put it in my mouth. He saw that image, and I think he liked it. It’s such an image of self-loathing, as raw as you can get. So we filmed it that way too. When you see the finished film, there’s so much smoke in the room that it makes you wonder what’s happening. But I feel it’s definitely Diane shooting herself. That is the end of the story of Diane’s life.
And the Blue-Haired Lady—does she exist beyond/outside of Diane’s story? Naomi feels that’s “a really good question. I saw the Blue-Haired Lady and ‘Silencio’ as something metaphysical, symbolic, representational. Everything’s silent now. Diane can be quiet now. All the shit going around her no longer exists. She kills herself because she couldn’t cope, couldn’t function in her life. She needed that silence.”
Regarding the idea that Mulholland Drive is Lynch’s most L.A.-centric film, Naomi said, “I’ve always been shocked and surprised by how much David loves Los Angeles. Most people have mixed feelings about the place. Though he doesn’t leave his house much, so he’s not exposed to the everyday goings on in the city. He holds on to how Hollywood was, how he remembers it from movies and things he’s read: He taps into the old mythology he loves.” Despite Lynch’s reputation for being a stay-at-home type, Naomi invited him to her birthday party. “Everyone said he wouldn’t come, but he did.” Aside from being forever grateful to him on a professional level (“I’m spoiled for working with other directors now; he’s a hard act to follow” 61), Naomi enjoys a friendship with him and treasures the advice he gives her. Though he doesn’t like to be thought of as a father-figure to her: “he’d prefer ‘uncle.’”62 Sometimes she gives him helpful hints. Lynch has had a lot of back trouble, and one day when he was hurting she said, “You should wear a magnet. They say it changes the electro-magnetic balance in your system. I knew someone with chronic back pain who got better with magnets. He got excited: ‘Oh, really, really?’ Then he paused, his eyes narrowed, and he said, ‘I don’t know about that, Naomi. It might take away my ideas.’
In addition to living inside Diane’s emotional torment, Naomi suffered some physical pain of her own while making Mulholland Drive. Lynch set up the scene where Betty and Rita return from Club Silencio and are in the bedroom together. “David said to me as Betty, ‘You have to disappear, to suddenly not be here.’ I said to myself, ‘Why?’ I didn’t know, and David didn’t say.”64 In order to maximize the mystery of Betty’s departure, he wanted to film this occurrence in a single unbroken take, with no camera tricks or edits. Given the small space in which they were filming, Naomi had only one escape route that the camera wouldn’t see. “I had to do a backwards somersault over the bed. I tried it three times and everything was fine. But the fourth time I put my neck out of whack, and had to wear a brace for awhile.”
Despite all her travails, Naomi says,
I burn to play this complex a role again. David is a sensitive artist. He feels everything in an extreme way and that’s why he’s so good at what he does, why his work produces a visceral response in the viewer. His outlook on life is that of a creative person, so he hates to be controlled or stifled. He wants to get ideas, to build and grow, search, and explore. He delves into darkness to find humor, sexuality, and the seat of creativity. And he knows that some of the best things in life are things that can’t be explained. There’s nothing literal and linear about many of his films, including Mulholland Drive. It’s an expression of the whole human psyche. We who work with him are conduits sending out messages from David’s mind, his truth. Diane is like a symbol of the absolutely darkest place.
Like all of us, David likes praise. If there’s a positive reaction at a screening, he lights up. He’s like the little kid who gets the ice cream he wanted. But I think what gratifies him most is that his films are alive, first for him, then for others. People interpret them, argue about them, think about them. They live on. That’s his whole endeavor.
I stayed in touch with Naomi, chatting with her when she was up in the Northwest shooting The Ring and being buffeted by some of the worst November-December weather we’d ever had (none of the film’s gloomy skies and downpours were created by computers). One late afternoon I caught her as she bobbed around in a small boat on thrashing Puget Sound waters, being lashed with rain and wind. With a plucky laugh she said, “I can take it. I’m English.” Then her other, Australian, homeland came to mind and she added, “But I can’t wait to immerse myself in the ocean”: The warm Tasman Sea of Sydney was her Christmas destination. And she’d get to be with her family and best pal, Nicole Kidman. Kidman has known Naomi since they were teenagers and has given her stalwart support and encouragement through the worst of personal and professional times, always recognizing her talent and telling her “all you need is one big break.”69 Naomi is modest, and it embarrasses her to talk about how good an actress she is. But once she said that, “Nicole visited the Mulholland Drive set one day and watched us shoot some scenes. After we were done, she came up to me and said, ‘You are so Betty. You take my breath away.’”
Mulholland Drive brought Lynch some of the best reviews of his career; the film and Watts’ acting, placed high on many critics’ best-of-the-year lists. In January 2002, Naomi called me, nervous about the fact that she’d been tapped by the National Society of Film Critics to present David with their Best Film award at an exclusive dinner ceremony in New York. Her task involved making a short introductory speech, and she wondered what I thought would be some good points to touch on. I told her to think of the speech as some work she was doing for David, just like being in the film. To see it as a part of her journey, like portraying the arc of a character she was playing. I faxed her some thoughts about Lynch’s career, and off she flew to the east. Later, on TV, I saw a shot of her and Lynch emerging from the award soiree in New York. They were both smiling and carrying prizes (Naomi was voted Best Actress). When I asked Lynch how Naomi’s speech had gone, his words seemed to sum up everything she meant to him as a collaborator and friend: “She did a beautiful job.”
Naomi Watts’ performance as Betty and Diane was universally celebrated, garnering much Oscar buzz, but she ended up not being nominated (her pal Nicole Kidman was nominated for Moulin Rouge). Among the accolades she did win was the Sappho Award for Best Actress from the lesbian-culture magazine Girlfriends. Though Watts had been acting for years, she seemed newly minted, her complex performance unprecedented in revealing depths and nuances of female psychology. Once again, Lynch heard professional commentators and average moviegoers summing up his work with the same words they’d used for thirty years: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Lynch is indeed a trailblazer, an auteur with a unique vision, but like any artist curious about, and enthralled by, the world around him, he processes the work of other painters, writers, musicians, and filmmakers through his brain, if only subconsciously. Lynchian folklore incorrectly maintains that he doesn’t read books or see other directors’ films: He may not consume massive quantities of cinema and reading matter like Quentin Tarantino, but he’s no stranger to DVD players and printed pages. Lynch’s first wife, Peggy, has told me that when her husband was an early 1970s American Film Institute student he would come home after film screenings and tell her about the movies in great detail, thus sharpening his sensitivity to story structure, dramatic balance, imagery, and visual narrative. (Ironically, a film that Lynch loved to talk about in the period when he was unfaithful to Peggy was Claude Chabrol’s 1969 La Femme Infidele.)
Early in his career, everyone said Lynch must have been influenced by the great Spanish surrealist director Luis Buñuel (1900–1983), but at that time he hadn’t seen any of the master’s films. And I’ve often wondered if Lynch viewed the films of pioneering American avant-gardist Maya Deren (1917–1961), whose lyrically subjective, consciousness-manifesting pictures alter time and space and intermix dream and reality as hypnotically as Lynch’s do. When I asked him in 2004 if he had experienced Deren’s work, or even heard of her, he said, “No.”72 Of course, it’s possible for two artists to independently explore similar territory fifty years apart from each other. Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), like Mulholland Drive, is the inner emotional journey of a dead Hollywood woman, and features a metal key as a signifier of violent death.
Lynch’s reverence for artistic independence and integrity prompts him to say that consciously taking another person’s ideas would be “like eating somebody else’s food.” Lynch prides himself on being able to generate his own thematic and aesthetic concepts, but he understands that sometimes his preoccupations parallel or echo those of another artist, and he speaks of “identifying with someone else’s ideas”74 and how “thoughts and ideas come during the filmmaking process, and it doesn’t matter where they originated.”Lynch loves the feverish spontaneity of art-making, and when a sudden inspiration grips him, he doesn’t analyze it and comb through the Internet and a list of footnotes to find out where it came from. Because “ninety percent of the time while I’m making a film I don’t know what I’m doing,”76 Lynch feels that, subconsciously, he thinks he’s been influenced by other artists. The vagaries of human memory are also a factor in maintaining Lynch’s foggy view of his creative process, for I’ve discovered in conversations that he doesn’t always recall the details of films he’s seen and liked in the past. When Lynch was in production on the DVD for Blue Velvet, he viewed slides of scenes that had been deleted from the release version of the film, and he realized that he’d forgotten having shot some of them.
Director Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies, and videotape; Kafka; Out of Sight; Ocean’s 11) says he suffers from anxiety about being influenced by other directors. This is one fear that does not plague Lynch. The great Warner Brothers cartoon animator-director Chuck Jones (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, Roadrunner) consciously knew that he based some of his characters and their actions on Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Animator Matt Groening realizes that Chuck Jones’ The Three Bears was a thematic source for Groening’s The Simpsons. But Lynch, with absolute sincerity, does not remember most of the likely influences on his films.
The way Lynch presented Renee Madison’s corpse in Lost Highway seems to be inspired by the photographs of nude, segmented murder victim Elizabeth Short (“The Black Dahlia”) in Kenneth Anger’s book Hollywood Babylon II. The darker aspects of Mulholland Drive echo Anger’s Hollywood-dream-gone-sour tone in Hollywood Babylon II and Hollywood Babylon. Anger quotes early horror-film actor Lionel Atwill speaking words that encapsulate Lynch’s fascination with the duality of human nature. “See—one side of my face is gentle and kind, incapable of anything but love. The other side, the other profile, is cruel and predatory and evil, incapable of anything but lusts and dark passions. It all depends on which side of my face is turned toward you—or the camera.”77 (Atwill was voicing his personal beliefs, not talking as one of the characters he played.) Anger’s chapter title “Two Faces of Tinseltown”78 could be Mulholland Drive’s subtitle. Anger chronicles various Hollywood lesbian relationships and names another chapter “The Magic of Self Murder.”79 Anger devoted a two-page spread to the Black Dahlia’s body parts, and he gives similar large-scale coverage to an image that could have inspired the second shot of Mulholland Drive. Anger’s photograph of the bed Marilyn Monroe committed suicide in, with its lumpy pillow and lonely, disheveled sheets, could easily be the archetype for Lynch’s shot of future suicide Diane Selwyn’s empty bed, which was accompanied by the mournful sound of her depressed, sighing breathing.
Anger quotes some dialogue from the 1934 musical Moulin Rouge that sounds like a blueprint for the bubbly-Betty-to-anguished-Diane arc of Mulholland Drive. A young woman laments: “Oh, I guess it’s an old story. . . . There was a beauty contest in Little Rock. I won it.” (As Betty won her dance contest.) “Came to Hollywood to win fame. Instead—I’m on Hollywood Boulevard at two in the morning. And no place to go (sob). I thought Hollywood was a boulevard of beautiful dazzling dreams.” Dick Powell responds, “But I’m afraid you’re dead wrong!,” and then sings: “I walk along the street of sorrow/The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Elsewhere Anger characterizes the double reality of Hollywood: “It was Dreamland” (we recall Betty’s “I’m in this dream place”), and also a place of “ever present thrilling-erotic fear that the bottom could drop out of the gilded dream at any time.”
The final resonant correspondence between Anger’s books and Lynch’s film is a photo of a dead woman lying on rumpled sheets and pillow. This is Marie Prevost, a fading silent screen star who drank herself to death and was found stone cold in “her seedy apartment,”84 as was Diane Selwyn. Also like Lynch’s fictional Diane, Marie hailed from Ontario, Canada. Lynch may have first become aware of both the Black Dahlia and Marie Prevost when these victims of Hollywood were mentioned in Sunset Boulevard, and later incorporated them into his work, just as Billy Wilder may have chosen to have Sunset Boulevard’s Joe Gillis reside in the Aldo Nido Apartments before moving to the site of his murder, after hearing that Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, lived there a few years before Wilder shot his film.
The archetypal fiction chronicling the absurd gulf between Hollywood’s soaring dreams and sordid actualities is Nathaniel West’s (1903–1940) The Day of the Locust (1939). When a French journalist told Lynch that Mulholland Drive reminded him of West’s legendary novel, the director accepted the compliment with pride and said he loved West’s book. West’s portrayal of Hollywood as a town dedicated to gossamer make-believe and cold, hard cash, a soul-killing place that disregards the high human cost of frantically chasing success, is certainly in the spirit of Lynch’s film.
Lynch, who is galvanized by synchronicity, felt The Day of the Locust speaking to him beginning with page one, for the book’s protagonist (Tod Hackett), like Lynch, is a painter. And both Tod and Lynch are drawn to subject matter festering on the fringes of polite society: lonely figures with thwarted dreams, people nurtured on bitterness and suppressed fury, victims and perpetrators of crimes of the heart, those who can’t control sudden spasms of sex and violence.
Tod incorporates the vacant-eyed, resentful, silently raging people he sees on the margins of Hollywood society into an apocalyptic painting called The Burning of Los Angeles. Like Lynch, he cathartically transforms his fears and dark thoughts into art “to escape tormenting myself.”85 West’s vision of Hollywood is unrelentingly corrosive and despairing, whereas Lynch expresses his love for “the city of dreams” in Mulholland Drive, as well as his skepticism and animus.
A major parallel between The Day of the Locust and Mulholland Drive is the focus on an actress character who’s positioning herself for a fast climb to the top. At one point The Day of the Locust’s Faye Greener seems to sum up the trajectory of Mulholland Drive’s Diane Selwyn in two sentences: “I’m going to be a star some day”; “If I’m not, I’ll commit suicide.” Like Camilla Rhodes, Faye both enthralls people with her beauty, sensuality, and charm, and plans to give her love to someone who can advance her career. If you’re not Mr. Big (as Adam Kesher is for Camilla), watch out, because falling for Faye can be dangerous: “Her invitation wasn’t to pleasure, but to struggle, hard and sharp, closer to murder than to love.”88 This sentence certainly characterized the dynamic of Camilla and Diane’s souring relationship. And as Faye becomes bored and wants to move onward and upward beyond someone who loves her but can’t hold onto her, she, as Camilla does to Diane, sadistically flaunts her attraction to someone new right in the loser’s face. When Faye has trouble making ends meet, she falls back on her back, prostituting herself to help her get what she ultimately wants, as do (Lynch implies) Diane and Camilla.
Like Mulholland Drive, The Day of the Locust presents a cowpoke of the canyons above Hollywood Boulevard who behaves in a formal manner, though he’s not a supernatural oracle like Lynch’s Cowboy. Mulholland Drive’s Cowboy has the power, the potential, to dish out trouble, whereas Nathaniel West’s Earle Shoop serves it up raw, lashing out at a man who’s been teasing him. Tod Hackett finds “the seriousness of his violence” funny, just as Lynch couldn’t stop himself from laughing when a grave and intensely fervent Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet) sexually assaulted Isabella Rossellini. In Lynch’s world all-consuming love easily becomes dangerously obsessive (as it does for Lost Highway’s Fred Madison), and in The Day of the Locust West speaks of passion’s power to destroy. Fred is bedeviled by his possessive desire for his wife: his head is hot with jealousy and rage, which Lynch visualizes as a house burning down. While in The Day of the Locust West compares a man being swept away by out-of-control feelings for a woman to “dropping a spark into a barn full of hay.”
Aside from correspondences with Mulholland Drive, The Day of the Locust displays other similarities to Lynch’s world. There are red curtains, a railroad hotel (Hotel Room), a person has “a whole set of personalities, one inside the other,”91 two young women become prostitutes for a madam (like Laura Palmer and Ronette Polaski at Twin Peaks’ One-Eyed Jack’s), a backstage world of props, scenery, and costumed people is a surrealistic jumble of mismatched landscapes, time periods, and cultures, as is On the Air’s TV-production realm. A man wants to tear another man’s ear off (Blue Velvet), people possessed by a “demonic” force are likened to animals, a man feeling confused and emotionally “washed out” sits on the edge of his bed staring into space like Henry in Eraserhead.
Lynch was clearly dwelling within a Sunset Boulevard/Hollywood Babylon/L.A. noir mindset when he was creating his Mulholland Drive TV pilot and film. It isn’t likely that he happened to see a low-budget 1975 picture called Gemini Affair, but if he did, it could have had a subconscious influence on Mulholland Drive twenty-six years later. Both films begin with an aspiring blonde actress from the Midwest coming to Hollywood hoping to realize her dreams. Both have two blonde women living in the same abode, which is available because its owner is traveling. In each film the actress seems to be warmly appreciated by film industry authority figures, then rejected. In Mulholland Drive the actress performs in a steamy audition scene with a silver-haired man named Woody; in Gemini Affair the actress, trying the lifestyle of her call-girl housemate, turns a trick with a silverhaired man named Woody. Both films’ actress characters have sex with their female bedmates, though this doesn’t begin a love affair in Gemini Affair, as it does in Lynch’s film. Gemini Affair’s actress character is disturbed by this tryst and confused about her sexuality. After an emotional outburst on the subject, she apologizes for “acting like Camille,” referring to author Alexandre Dumas’ tragic heroine who was famously portrayed by Greta Garbo in a 1937 film. (It’s a short drive from “Camille” to Mulholland Drive’s “Camilla”). The survival sense of Gemini Affair’s actress is stronger than that of Mulholland Drive’s Diane Selwyn: she sours on the Hollywood life and heads back to her small-town home.
Mulholland Drive also shows the possible influence of Herk Harvey’s intriguing low-budget 1962-horror film Carnival of Souls. Lynch’s film, like Harvey’s begins with a car full of teenagers practicing dangerous driving and crashing. Carnival of Souls’ vehicle falls into a river, and three hours later a young woman who’d been in the car emerges from the water, to the amazement of the assembled townsfolk and police who’ve been searching for bodies. The woman’s name is Mary Henry, a conflation of Eraserhead’s lead characters’ names that Lynch would have seen as an enticing synchronicity. Like Mulholland Drive’s Rita, Mary “doesn’t remember” what happened. Like Mulholland Drive’s Betty, Mary is a gifted artist (a master organ player) who travels west to perform her art professionally.
In the last seconds of Carnival of Souls we realize that Mary, like Mulholland Drive’s Diane, has been dead all along, and that her trip to Salt Lake City and activity there have been a mental construct of her dying or after-death consciousness. Screenwriter John Clifford has Mary speak some double-meaning dialogue that refers to her dual alive/dead status before the viewer learns of it. Confronting a wooden gate, Mary says, “It would be easy to step around this barrier,” just as, unbeknownst to us, she has stepped around the barrier of a fatal car to enact the narrative we’re seeing. And Mary’s “I want to satisfy myself that this place is nothing more than it seems to be” hints at the multiplicity of reality and the hidden nature of truth that’s at the core of Carnival of Souls, and is the heart of Lynch’s view of life and art.
In Salt Lake City, Mary stays in an apartment with a friendly landlady, like Betty does in Mulholland Drive. And, just as Betty thrills her potential employers with a knockout audition, Mary’s organ playing greatly impresses the church minister. Mary’s doings, like Betty’s, are the psychic scenario of a dead person, and as both women experience “life,” they get disquieting, scary reminders that something’s not right, that there’s some hidden, threatening reality behind their situations that they’re not fully conscious of. A grandparently couple friendly to Betty begins to cackle with sinister intent, Betty trembles with fear when a performer appears to die onstage, and a supernatural Dark One, the Bum, infests the city with evil and makes young people drop dead. Mary has disturbing episodes in which she talks to people and they don’t answer, and look right through her as though she’s not there. (In Lynch’s Lost Highway script, when Fred is living his fantasy life as Pete, there are moments when other characters can’t see him.) When Mary is practicing a devotional organ piece at the church her hands seem possessed, and play eerie tones that the minister calls “blasphemous.” And like Betty, Mary’s psychodrama is haunted by a Dark One, a pasty-white-faced man whose presence terrifies her (this figure seems to be kin of Lost Highway’s white-faced Mystery Man). And, just as Mulholland Drive’s Bum and grandparently couple eventually push Diane through death’s door, so does Mary’s Carnival of Souls cadaverous phantom “prevent me from living,”.
Experiencing the world we all live in with an artist’s sensibility, Lynch lets his intuition (“that’s thinking and feeling combined”94) focus on the elements “that feel correct, that talk to me,”95 and then links and shapes them into works of art that no one’s ever seen before. Throughout his career Lynch has not calculatingly pored over other director’s films. Thinking, “Let’s see, I’ll throw in a dollop of Persona, sprinkle in a bit of La Strada, and warm with some Lolita heat.” When Lynch is actively creating, he likes to be in a mode of spontaneous discovery. “My reasoning mind doesn’t say, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ Making films is a subconscious thing. Words get in the way. Rational thinking gets in the way. It can stop you cold. Film has a great way of giving shape to the subconscious, when it comes out in a clear stream, from some other place.”It does not diminish Lynch’s unique artistry to note some correspondences between his images and themes and those of films, and a book, we know he’s seen and appreciated.
excerpt from the book by Greg Olson 'Beautiful Dark'/Chapter 12: Man of the World
Godard ON Godard
Hitchcock's most recent film will doubtless arouse controversy. Some critics will say it is unworthy of the director of The Thirty-Nine Steps and Shadow of a Doubt, others will find it mildly amusing and praise its qualities until they take on an air of false modesty. But those who have for Alfred Hitchcock, for Blackmail as much as Notorious, a vast and constant admiration, those who find in this director all the talent necessary for good cinema, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Outrageously decried by some while the rest ignore him - what is it about Hitchcock that merits attention?
Here is the subject of Strangers on a Train: a young tennis champion, already well known, in love with a Senator's daughter and wanting a divorce, meets a stranger on a train who offers to get rid of his wife - she refuses to divorce him - on condition that the tennis champion does away with his hated father. As soon as the tennis-player leaves the train he forgets his strange companion. But the latter, believing himself pledged, strangles the more than flighty wife and insists that the tennis-player fulfil his side of the bargain he believes was made in the train. Now free, but terrified by the stranger's audacity, the tennis-player eventually manages to convince the police of his innocence and marries the girl he loves.
This subject owes so little to anecdote or the picturesque, but is instead imbued with such lofty ambition, that probably only the cinema could handle It with so much dignity. I know no other recent film, in fact, which better Conveys the condition of modern man, who must escape his fate without the help of the gods. Probably, too, the cinema is particularly suited to record109 the drama, to make the best not so much of the myth of the death of God (with which the contemporary novel, alas, is by no means backward in takIng liberties, as witness Graham Greene) as the baleful quality it suggests.
However it was necessary that in the sign - in other words, that which indicates'something in whose place it appears; in this case, a conflict of wills - the mise en scene should respect the arabesque which underlines its effect, and like Dreyer or Gance, should use it with delicate virtuosity; for it cannot shock through mere empty exaggeration. The significant and the signified are here set so high (if the idea is involved in the form, it becomes more incisive, but is also imprisoned like water in ice) that in the exploits of this criminal, Hitchcock's art cannot but show us the promethean image of his murderous little hand, his terror in face of the unbearable brilliance of the fire it steals.
(Let me make myself plain: it is not in terms of liberty and destiny that cinematographic mise en scene is measured, but in the ability of genius to batten on objects with constant invention, to take nature as a model, to be infallibly driven to embellish things which are insufficient - for instance, to give a late afternoon that Sunday air of lassitude and well-being. Its goal is not to express but to represent. In order that the great effort at representation engulfed in the Baroque should continue, it was necessary to achieve an inseparability of camera, director and cameraman in relation to the scene represented; and so the problem was not - contrary to Andre Malraux in the way one shot succeeded another, but in the movement of the actor within the frame.)
Look at these stretches of heath, these neglected homes, or the sombre poetry of modern cities, those boats on a fairground lake, those immense; avenues, and tell me if your heart does not tighten, if such severity does not frighten you. You are watching a spectacle completely subjected to the contingencies of the world; you are face to face with death. Yes, invention holds sway only over language, and mise en scene forces us to imagine an object in its signification; but these clever and violent effects are so only to transmit the drama to the spectator at its highest level - I refer, of course, to the strangling in the wood and the struggle on the merry-go-round, scenes which contain so many astonishing realities, such depth in their fantastic frenzy that I fancy I breathe in them a gentle odour of profanation. The truth is that there is no terror untempered by some great moral idea. Should on reproach this renowned film-maker for flirting with appearances? Certainly the camera defies reality, but does not evade it; if it enters the present, it i to give it the style it lacks.
'It is useless to pretend that human creatures find their contentment in repose. What they require is action, and they will create it if it is not offered by life.' Could not these words by Charlotte Bronte equally well have been written by Kleist or Goethe? Today the most German of transatlantic directors offers us the most vivid, brilliant paraphrase of Faust - combining I mean, lucidity and violence. Since The Lodger, Hitchcock's art has been profoundly Germanic, and those who accuse him of revelling in false an pointless bombast, those mean spirits who are foolish enough to applaud the contemptible - whether in the work of Bufiuel or Mala parte - should consider Hitchcock's constant preoccupation with constructing his themes: he makes persuasion, a very Dostoievskian notion, the secret mainspring of the drama. From German Expressionism, Hitchcock consciously retains a certain stylization of attitude, emotions being the result of a persistent purpose rather than of impetuous passion: it is through his actions that the actor finally becomes simply the instrument of action, and that only this action is natural; space is the impulse of a desire, and time its effort towards accomplishment.
I wager that the pen of Laclos could not have bettered a look of hatred from Ingrid Bergman, the Australian of Under Capricorn, lips flushing with disgust, less with self-shame than from a desire to make others share her degradation; or a shot from Suspicion where Joan Fontaine, hair wild, face drawn, feeling that she might be happier and that it would be better to lose her husband than witness his inconstancies, resents feeling consideration and even love for him, resents feeling his arms hold her gently, offering him her mouth, exposing herself to danger without the secret desire to do so, wondering if she is loved enough. She prefers to grieve, to weep tears, to languish under offences, to consent to them, make an effort to yield her heart, be upset because she does so, weave an incalculable number of difficulties in the certainty of illuminating her doubts instead of living drearily with them.
One cannot call the director of The Paradine Case and Rebecca a descendant of the Victorian novel. This is why I would also not compare him to Griffith - even though I find in both directors the same admirable ease in the use of figures of speech or technical processes; in other words they make the best use of the means available to their art form - but instead class him with Lang and Murnau.
Like them, he knows that the cinema is an art of contrast, whether it describes life in society or in the heart. Murnau's Faust also revealed this incessant change in which the actor transcends his powers, taxes his senses. falls prey to a torrent of emotions in which extravagance yields to calm. jealousy becomes aversion, ambition becomes failure. and pleasure, remorse. If Shadow of a Doubt is in my opinion Hitchcock's least good film, as M was the least good of Lang's, it is because a cleverly constructed script is not enough to support the mise en scene. These films lack precisely what Foreign Correspondent and Man Hunt are criticized for. Is so rare a gift really to be questioned? I believe the answer lies in the innate sense of comedy possessed by the great film-makers. Think of the interlude between Yvette Guilbert and Jannings in Faust,! or on more familiar ground, of the comedies of Howard Hawks. The point is simply that all the freshness and invention of American films springs from the fact that they make the subject the motive or the mise en scene. The French cinema, on the other hand, still lives off some vague idea of satire; absorbed in a passion for the pretty and the picturesque, in a perusal of Tristan and Isolde, it neglects truth and accurac: and runs the risk, in a word, of ending nowhere.
Certain critics, having seen Strangers on a Train, still withhold their admiration from Hitchcock, the better to lavish it on The River. Since the are the same persons who criticized Renoir so loud and long for remaining in Hollywood, and since they demonstrate so lively a taste for parody, would ask them: do not these strangers on a train represent them in the exercise of their trade? (H.L.)
Godard ON Godard/Critical writings by Jean-Luc Godard/Early Texts 1950-1952
Godard ON Godard
One afternoon towards the end of a Gaumont newsreel, my eyes widened in pleasure: the young German Communists were parading on the occasion of the May Day Rally. Space was suddenly lines of lips and bodies, time the rising of fists in the air. On the faces of these young Saint Sebastians one saw the smile which has haunted the faces of happiness from the archaic Kores down to the Soviet cinema. One felt for Siegfried the same love as that which bound him to Limoges. Purely through the force of propaganda which animated them, these young people were beautiful. 'The beautiful bodies of twenty-year-olds which should go naked.'
Yes, the great Soviet actors speak in the name of the Party, but like Hermione of her longings and Lear of his madness. Their gestures are meaningful only in so far as they repeat some primordial action. Like Kierkegaard's ethician, a political cinema is always rooted in repetition: artistic creation simply repeats cosmogonic creation, being simply the double of history. The actor infallibly becomes what he once was, the priest. The Fall of Berlin and The Battle of Stalingrad are Masses for a consummation.
In relation to history, the Soviet actor interprets his role (his social character) in two ways: as saint, or as hero. Corresponding to these two basic agencies are two major currents in the Soviet cinema: the cinema of exhortation and the cinema of revolution, the static and the dynamic. 'In the former the expression outweighs the content, and in the latter the content outweighs the expression' (Marx). Whereas in Michurin or The Rainbow the plot takes first place and so articulates the movements of the characters, in Zoya and Ivan the Terrible 'the consciousness of self which transforms a class into a historical actor forms part of the revolutionary act. It engages itself in the drama of History through the spontaneous and passionate poetry of the event' (H. Rosenberg). And the reason I admire The Young Guard so deeply is that it oscillates between these two poles, a heart beating ceaselessly between the cult of the Absolute and the cult of Action. One remarkable shot sums up not only the aesthetic of Sergei Gerasimov (who tells his actors he will not be content unless he finds both Rastignac and Julien Sorel in them) but perhaps of the whole Soviet cinema: a young girl in front of her door, in interminable silence, tries to suppress the tears which finally burst violently forth, a sudden apparition of life. Here the idea of a shot (doubtless not unconnected with the Soviet economy plans) takes on its real function of sign, indicating something in whose place it appears. And it is curious that this sign acquires formal beauty only at the moment of its defeat: the village fleeing before the invader, the arrival of the Germans, shown in a single shot with fantastic virtuosity, the death of the young people, intensified in effect by repeating the same camera movement five times. These moments are brief, but their very swiftness seems everlasting, 'as the child creates a world out of a single image'. (By what strange chance are these heroes in their darkest hours arrayed in the vestments of our childhood? Zoya barefoot in the snow, Ivan rolling at the feet of the Boyars, Maria Felix with revolver in hand to prevent the great sacrilege, the violation of this woman who is as much part of us as the earth.)
Aside from the Soviet cinema, there are few films revealing such deep political experience. No doubt only Russia feels at this moment that the images moving across its screens are those of its own destiny. (Another significant shot in The Young Guard shows a young girl unable to cry because she is a poor actress, but one look at her actress-comrades weeping for the sacred cause is enough to bring tears flooding to her cheeks.)
If one excepts the Giralducian Kuhle Wampe by Brecht and Dudow,
(O dark young girl
Why do you weep so
A young officer in Hitler's guard
Has ensnared my heart)
the Nazi propaganda film might be defined in these words by Georges Sorel: 'an arrangement of images capable of provoking instinctive feelings corresponding to the manifestations of the war engaged ... against modern society'. It is impossible to forget Hitlerjunge Quex, certain sequences from Leni Riefenstahl's films, some fantastic newsreels from the Occupation, the baleful ugliness of Der Ewige Jude. This was not the first time that art was born of coercion. The last few seconds of Fascist joy may be seen through the bewildered smile of a small boy (Germany Year Zero).
The last shot of Rio Escondido: the face of Maria Felix, the face of a dead woman whom the voice of the President of the Mexican Republic covers with glory. In dealing constantly with birth and death, political cinema acknowledges the flesh, and metamorphoses the holy word without difficulty.
Unhappy film-makers of France who lack scenarios, how is it that you have not yet made films about the tax system, the death of Philippe Henriot, the marvellous life of Danielle Casanova?
Godard ON Godard/Critical writings by Jean-Luc Godard/Early Texts 1950-1952
Godard ON Godard
1958 marks a year of cardinal importance in Godard's development: the period of the last shorts before he made A Bout de Souffle, and of busy critical activity. Godard was in fact writing regularly for both Arts and Cahiers du Cinema at the same time.
29: The Killing
This is the film of a good pupil, no more. An admirer of Max Ophuls, Aldrich and John Huston, Stanley Kubrick is still far from being the bright boy heralded by the excited publicity surrounding this little gangster film which makes even The Asphalt Jungle look like a masterpiece by comparasion. Kiss Me Deadly even more so. I shall not mention Ophuls, who would have nothing to do with the matter except that Kubrick claims his influence through irritating movements of the camera resembling those beloved of the director of Le Plaisir. But what in Ophuls corresponds to a certain vision of the world, in Kubrick is mere showing-off.
The enterprise is not without its sympathetic side, however. An independent production, The Killing was shot quickly and on a low budget. Although the story is not particularly original (robbery of the Los Angeles race-track), and the ending very little better (banknotes fluttering away in the wind after a very badly filmed stroke of bad luck, exactly as in The Treasure 0f the Sierra Madre), one must praise the ingenuity of the adaptation: by systematically dislocating the chronology of events, it maintains one's interest in a plot which otherwise never leaves the beaten track. Once one has commended the newsreel-style camerawork and Sterling Hayden, there is little left to do but wait, not too impatiently, for Kubrick's next feature, Paths of Glory, which has been very highly praised by the American Press.
On 24 August 1956 the greatest of Japanese film-makers died in Kyoto. Or, quite simply, one of the greatest of film-makers, as has been proved by the Cinematheque Francaise's retrospective devoted to his work. Kenji Mizoguchi was the peer of Murnau, of Rossellini. His oeuvre is enormous. Two hundred films, so it is said. No doubt there is a good deal of legend about this, and one can be sure that future centuries will bring quite a few Mizoguchi Monogatari. But there is also no doubt that Kenji is extraordinary, for he can shoot films in three months that would take a Bresson two years to bring about. And Mizoguchi brings them to perfection.
Farther than the west
Since Japanese films appeared on our screens after the war, an aesthetic dispute has ranged the admirers of Kurosawa (Rashomon, The Seven Samurai, The Idiot) against those of Mizoguchi. A dispute made even more furious by the fact that both directors have been frequent prize winners at festival. Our thanks are due to Jean-Jose Richer for having cut authoritatively across the debate: 'This double distinction awarded in strict equality (to The Seven Samurai and Sansho Dayu, Venice 1954) is unwarranted. Not because of the mobilization of two Golden Lions, but because of the confused values is engenders. There can be no doubt that any comparison between Mizoguci and Kurosawa turns irrefutably to the advantage of the former. Alone among the Japanese film-makers known to us, he goes beyond the seductive but minor stage of exoticism to a deeper level where one need no long worry about false prestige' (Cahiers du Cinema 40).
Gallantry and metaphysics
If poetry is manifest in each second, each shot filmed by Mizoguchi, it is because, as with Murnau, it is the instinctive reflection of the film-maker's creative nobility. Like the director of Sunrise, the director of Ugetsu Monogatari can describe an adventure which is at the same time a cosmogony.
His heroines are all the same, strangely resembling Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles. The most terrible adventures befall them, one after the other. And if Mizoguchi shows a marked predilection for brothels, he refuses - unlike Kurosawa, who is merely a more elegant Ralph Habib - to become trapped by the false glitter of the picturesque. When he re-creates old Japan, he goes beyond tinsel and anecdote to give us the unvarnished truth with ai mastery equalled only by a Francesco, Giullare di Dio. Never have we seen" seen with our own eyes, the Middle Ages exist with such intensity of atmosphere.
A revolutionary technique of simplicity
Efficacity and sobriety are the characteristics of great film-makers. And Kenji Mizoguchi does not belie this rule. As Philippe Demonsablon pointed out in a pertinent article on The Life of O'Haru, his art is to abstain from any solicitation irrelevant to its object, to leave things to present themselves without intervention from the mind except to efface its traces, thus increasing a thousandfold the efficacity of the objects it presents for our admiration. It is, therefore, a realist art, and the mise en scene will be realist.
This simplicity is not without paradox, for it must achieve its austerity through an accumulation of matter. The compositions are guided initially by the laws of movement. But there is no Baroque embellishment, no purpose other than to allow the substance itself to reach us. No image is comic, tragic, fanciful, erotic in itself, and yet is all these things at once. Mizoguchi's art is the most complex because it is the simplest. Camera effects and tracking shots are rare, but when they do suddenly burst into a scene, the effect is one of dazzling beauty. Each crane shot (here Preminger is easily outstripped) has the clean and limpid line of a brush-stroke by Hokusai.
The most wonderful of films
Admired at the time at the Venice Festival, Ugetsu Monogatari is Kenji Mizoguchi's masterpiece, and one which ranks him on equal terms with Griffith, Eisenstein and Renoir.
The action takes place at the end of the sixteenth century, during the time of the civil wars. It tells the story of Genjuro, a humble country potter who is bewitched by the beautiful Machiko, and of his brother, a vainglorious brute who dreams of military prowess. After many disappointments in the city, they both return home to spend the rest of their lives in the fields.
Everything which made the power and magnificence of Chikamatsu Monogatari, the cool cruelty of Sketch of Madame Yuki, the jovial bawdry of Street of Shame, the tenderness of Naniwa Elegy, is here combined and the effect increased a thousandfold. It is Don Quixote, The Odyssey and Jude the Obscure rolled into one. An hour and a half of film which seems to last an eternity. Subtlety of mise en scene is here carried to its highest degree. Mizoguchi is probably the only director in the world who dares to make systematic use of 180 degree shots and reaction shots. But what in another director would be striving for effect, with him is simply a natural movement arising out of the importance he accords to the decor and the position the actors occupy within it.
Let me quote two examples of technical conjuring tricks which are the acme of art. Genjuro is bathing with the fatal enchantress who has caught him in her net; the camera leaves the rock pool where they are disporting themselves, pans along the overflow which becomes a stream disappearing into the fields; at this point there is a swift dissolve to the furrows, other furrows seem to take their place, the camera continues tranquilly on its way, rises, and discovers a vast plain, then a garden in which we discover the two lovers again, a few months later, enjoying a picnic. Only masters of the cinema can make use of a dissolve to create a feeling which is here the very Proustian one of pleasure and regrets.
Another example. Having killed the enchantress, Genjuro returns home. Be does not know that his loving wife, O'Hama, is dead. He enters, looks in all the rooms, the camera panning with him. He moves from one room to the next, still followed by the camera. He goes out, the camera leaves hint returns to the room and frames O'Hama, in flesh and blood, just at that moment when Genjuro comes in again and sees her, believing (as we do) that he didn't look properly and that his gentle wife really is alive.
The art of Kenji Mizoguchi is to prove that real life is at one and the same time elsewhere and yet here, in its strange and radiant beauty.
Seen in a cinema at La paz as the machine-guns rattled and rebels stormed the Bolivian government palace. This is Max's best American film. Roben Ryan plays a sort of Howard Hughes, brutal and tender, James Mason an admirably sad suburban doctor, and Barbara Bel Geddes a charming provincial gradually corrupted by dollars. As for the technique, it is already Le Plaisir.
People have often wondered why Ophuls was so anxious to film L'Mauvaises Rencontres. Just see Caught and you will understand. The synopsis in effect the same as that of the Cecil Saint-Laurent novel adapted by Astruc, except that there are only two male characters instead of three. By the basic situation remains the same: a girl arrives in New York and serve her apprenticeship as a city-dweller while passing from one man to the other. The title, Caught, is also the moral of this cruel and delicate film. Our model Eve, admirably played by Barbara Bel Geddes (the Simone Simon of Broadway), is finally well and truly caught after confusing love with what she thougth was love and falling into traps she herself had set. Caught is a Marianne made in U.S.A., or else simply a Lamiel, Stendhal revised by Marivaux.
33: Le Temps des Oeufs Durs
It is difficult to analyse Norbert Carbonnaux's comedy style. Pushed in one direction, it would end up as Jacques Tati. Pushed in the other, as Marx Brothers. But as Carbonnaux, one of the laziest of good French directors, never pushes things to their conclusion, one often finds oneself between two stools. With him we are faced with the sort of person who takes twentythree hours to get out of bed, works like mad for an hour, and then cries 'I've had a terrible day.' The worst of it is, he isn't exaggerating all that much. Put into terms of cinema, this means that Carbonnaux is incredibly lax and lazy at the script stage or in preparing gags, but wakes up during shooting, and by the time it comes to the editing has really collected all his wits. Witness his latest film: Le Temps des oeufs durs.
It has an excellent non-subject. Impossible but good. How could a producer have found commercial possibilities in this satire on failure? Difficult to say. But the fact remains that it was a subject imposed on Carbonnaux, whose dream was to do something different. Maybe, though, it is in this dislocation between dream and reality that one can grasp the Carbonnaux mystery. What I mean is that he transposes this dislocation to another level - no longer that of commercial success but of pure mise en scene. Curiously, in fact, Norbert Carbonnaux is a priori less an auteur than a pure metteur en scene. But with him more than anyone else, it is because he is first and foremost a metteur en scene that he becomes an auteur, in other words a complete film-maker. Le Temps des oeufs durs takes one even further in this direction than Courte Jete. Every quarter of an hour, some dazzling bit of poetic invention (Darry Cowl in the cafe, Altariba's strip-tease, the hammock, the garage at the end) makes the audience slip the brakes and introduces them into a universe which is semi-fantastic in that it is semi-real. If one had to suggest literary references, it is to Henri Calef one should turn, rather than Raymond Queneau as one might have thought after seeing Courte rete. The director of Corsaires du Bois de Boulogne has the same quicksilver irony, the same sharp and caustic touch which prevents laughter even while provoking it, as the author of L'ltalie a la paresseuse.
34: Rafles sur la Ville
One wonders how. And yet the fact remains. This routine little thriller is most engaging. Personally, I rate it third in my list, after Le Grisbi and Rififi. Why? Simply because French cops are for once shown as ordinary people with the same reactions as anyone else-trying to make a colleague's wife, for instance, if she happens to be pretty. It doesn't happen often, but here, given a hackneyed story, Auguste Le Breton has written some excellent dialogue. All the scenes between the inspector (Michel Piccoli, excellent) and the charming chick from the 16th (Danick Patisson, perfect) have an accuracy of tone, almost an elegance, which cuts right across the routine production. It is a too rarely in a French film that one finds characters who talk simply for the pleasure of it and not to tell us something. Is Pierre Chenal's direction responsible for all this? It isn't easy to say. There are some good ideas. The end, for instance, when Piccoli, seized by remorse, throws himself on the grenade hurled by Charles Vanel in the police-office, and dies amid his unscathed colleagues. 'A real film', says the publicity. I say, 'A real film.'
Godard ON Godard/Critical writings by Jean-Luc Godard/Struggle on Two Fronts, Arts and Cahiers du Cinema: February - December 1958
The problem is: to get back to zero.
From Le Gai Savoir
In 1968, alter a decade of the influential and prolific film - making, Jean-Luc Godard disappeared from view.
A narrative of his disappearance and the variety in of the film - making practices in which he has since engaged immediately introduces a set of terms that will enable us to understand his films both before and after ’68. The manner of his disappearance is instructive because it demonstrates some of the problems that Goddard felt were posed by traditional cinema. Godard didn't disappear by fleeing Paris (where he had lived and worked for twenty years) nor by going into hiding. He disappeared by refusing to make films as he had done before. This refusal did not mean that he abandoned film - making; indeed since 1968 Godard has completed twelve film and eighteen hours of television programs and is currently at work on three other projects. But if his films existed as material entities, most (though not all) simply didn't exist for the cinema. Without normal production or distribution, Godard disappeared, ill is disappearance demonstrating how films and film-makers have reality only within a very specific set of production relations.
Godard's concern to abandon and question this reality implied an engagement with two aspects of cinema, aspects which seem evidently separate but which Godard analyses as indissolubly linked. On the one hand the financing of films, the methods of production and distribution and, on the other, in the organization of sounds and images which compose the films themselves.
Both these aspects present themselves as so evident, as so natural, that it requires a real effort to understand how Godard was trying to transform them or why he felt that it was so essential to break with them. However, the fact that the production of films is financed through specific forms of national and international distribution, the fact that the audience has no existence for the makers of him except as an audience which goes to the cinema and pays money and thus has no identity except a commercial one, these features of what might be called the institution of cinema are a major determinant of the organization of sounds and images in particular films. Crucially this requires a fixed relation of dependence between soundtrack and image whether priority is given to the images, as in fiction film (we see the truth and the soundtrack must come into line with it) or to the soundtrack, us in documentary (we are told the truth and the image merely confirms it). In both cases what is presupposed is the possibility of direct address to the audience bin as the audience is not addressed either as individuals or as members of particular collectivities (family, work, school) they find their place to see and hear only as members of a cinema audience. The only available évidence is that of immediate sight and sound and the film’s activity is to make the two coincident.
The effect of this coincidence of sound and image is to offer us images of ourselves as men and women, workers and bosses, motherland fathers but images that address us in the cinema a rather than in any other of our activities. This is not to deny that these images have a reality and a force in our existence but to indicate that their production is completely divorced from the everyday business of our lives.
Godard’s refusal to continue to make films as lie had done before was a much more radical refusal of the cinema than that made by those directors who for political or artistic reasons abominate the distribution system and its control over production. Normally such directors merely demand to control of the production process rather than asking what relations are at work in the production process itself as it is evidently understood. In 1968 many French film makers radicalized by the experience of the strikes and demonstrations wished to find new methods of distribution for the political films that they now wanted to make. Godard refused to see distribution as the major problem because that presupposed that it was evident how one should make political films, it was this more basic question that Godard was to ask and it is summed up in one of the slogans adopted by the Dziga-Vertov group: ‘The problem is not to make political films but to make films politically'.
One of the major differences between Godard and other political film-makers, and one on which he is keen to insist, is that Godard's political concerns grew out of his work on film and were not imported into his film -making. When in 1959, Godard achieved immediate fame with his first feature film À bout de souffle (Breathless), he was classed as part of nouvelle vague, the generation of young film-makers which included Rivette, Rohmer, Truffaut and Chabrol. His films seemed to share their fascination with Hollywood cinema and what singled him out for the critics was a pessimistic romanticism and a particularly elliptical cutting style rather than specifically political concerns. If in retrospect, the politics of the image very quickly come to the forefront of Godard's work in the form of an obsession with advertising and the relation between sound and image, critics continued to read Godard in the light of his earliest concerns until in 1966 with Masculin/Feminin Godard began a series of explicitly political films which ended with his withdrawal from the traditional cinema.
The necessary link between politics and the image which illum inates the whole of Godard's work but which critics found so difficult to see finds one of its clearest stateivents in the film that Godard shot for French television before May 1968 but only edited in 1969. Entitled La Gai Savoir (Joyful Knowledge), the film was proposed as an adaption for television of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's eighteenth - century treatise on education, Emile. Rousseau chose to set out his ideas on education by writing a novel about the perfect education of the eponymous child, Emile. The film consists of a series of conversations in a darkened television stu d io between two characters (played by Jean -Pierre Leand and Juliet Berto). Although it may seem to have little to do with Rousseau's eighteenth - century novel, in fact it is very close to the spirit of Rousseau's text is that it takes a contemporary form (in Rousseau's case the novel, in Godard’s the television programme) to set out the problems of education.
For Godard , and for the characters in the flim, the central problem of education is to provide some uuderstancing of the sounds and images that bombard us in our daily lives. Such an understanding must be based on grasping the relation between sound and image bccausce until we grasp that we will not, in the words of La Gai Savoir, be able to make real television or cinema. Instead, all that we can engage in is a repetition of sounds and images in which we are con trolled by a language that we do not understand - and ignorance that applies just us much to the makers of television or film as it does to viewers. Just as Rousseau's novel offers an imaginary ideal curriculum, so Godard suggests a three-year course which would enable us to answer the question of who is speaking in any image or articulation of images. The mythical th ree-year course proposed in La Gai Savoir not an unreasonable description of Godard’s own activity in the three years after 1968. Taking his film at its word: that it was neccssary to start from zero; more exactly, as Juliet Berto points out, to get back to zero, Godard began un investigation in to the language of film which is perhaps the most conscious and most rigorous in the history of the cinema.
The immediate aftermath of May ’68 was, however, composed of a series of false starts. After shooting La Gai Savoir and before editing it, Godard had to finish shooting a film with the Rolling Stones which was to appear as Sympathy for the Devil (Godard's own version of the flim was entitled One Plus One and included no final complete version of the song). In the immediacy of the May events he had collaborated in the production of Cinetraets, short silent anonymous montages of stills made very quickly for insiant distribution, and in August of that year he made Un Film comme les autres (A Film Iike Any Other) which combined images of May with a soundtrack predominantly composed of conversations between workers and students. Godard then went to America to make a film produced by the American cinéma - vérité film-makers, Leacock and Pennebacker. Provisionally entitled One A .M . (One American Movie ) Godard abandoned this project after disagreements with the producers, whose own attachment to the simple truth of the documentary image was in direct contradiction with Godard’s own investigations. Pennebacker subsequently edited the material that Godard had shot and some footage o f his own in to One A .M . (One American Movie). It was only after a further abandoned project in Canada, provisionally entitled Communications, that Godard was able to continue the investigations that he had mapped out in La Gai Savoir in a film shot in England and entitled British Sounds.
Commissioned by London Weekend and produced by Kestrel Films British Sounds was never shown in its entirety on television. As the title suggests the film is concerned with sounds and how sounds can be used against the image of Britain provided by the Union Jack. The film refuses the defining relations of documentary in which (he im age functions as confirmation of the sound; instead there is a struggle between the two which composts the film. The correct sound, provided by a Maoist analysis of British capitalist society, is kept in tension with a variety of other sounds and a series of images, none of which provides the correct image of society am which, in their juxtaposition, provide the material on which the spectator must work. In its emphasison the soundtrack, in its refusal of the notion of a correct image, in its explicit Maoist politics and in its financing by a television company which then refused to show it, British Sounds bears a close resemblance to the next four films that Godard was to make: Pravda (1969), on Czechoslovakia; Vent d’est (Wind from the East) ( 1969), a revolutionary ‘western’, Lotte in Italia (Struggles in Italy) (1969), on a young woman militant in Italy; and Vladimir et Rosa (1970), on the Chicago conspiracy trials. These films were not signed by Godard but by the Dziga-Vertov group.
Ever since making La Chinoise in 1967, Godard has been in contact with Maoist militants from the French Union of Young Communist' (Marxist-Leninist). On both British Sounds and Pravda he collaborated with such militants and from Vent d’est onwards this collaboration became formalised in the creation of a group which was named after the Soviet film-maker Dziga Vertov and in which Jean-Pierre Gorin was to play the leading role. Dziga Vertov was chosen as a name to indicate a break not only with Hollywood but also with the tradition of Soviet film - making identified with Eisenstein. Eisenstein’s décision in 1924 to make a historical film about the battleship Potemkin instead of analysing the current class struggle was defined as a decisive moment of defeat in Soviet cincma. Vertov’s importance for the group was two fold: on the other hand he continued, much longer than Eisenstein, to insist that the film -maker's prime concern must be the current state of the class struggle; and, on the other, his emphasis on the importance of montage before, he shooting coincided better with the group's practice than did notions of montage in Eisenstein’s writing.
The culmination of the Dziga -Vertov group's experiments was to be a film entitled Jusqu'à la victoire (Until Victory), on the Palestinian revolution. Material for the film was shot in Jordan in (he first half of 1970. The analysis proposed in the film (the success of the Palestinian revolution) was, however, cast in doubt by the events of September 1970. when the Palestinians were crushed by the Jordanian army. This, coupled with an in creasing disintegration of the Maoist movement in France, led to the abandonment of both the Dziga -Vertov group and Jusqu'à la victoire in favour of a commercial film Tout va bien (Everything’s O K ) directed jointly by Jean-Pierre Gorin and Godard. This project, delayed by a very serious motor bike accident in which Godard was involved used major stars (Yves Montand and Jane Fonda) to investigate the effects of May 1969 on conceptions of subjectivity and politics in France and thus to pose, from a nonsectarian position (there is no explicit Maoism in the film ) the problem of the relation between intellectuals and theihc revolution. Later in the same year, 1972. Godard and Gorin made a film called Letter to Jane, which through the analysis of a photograph of Jane Fonda in Vietnam raised again the difficulties of the intellectual’s role in the revolution and partially criticized Tout va bien for remaining caught within the dominant forms of cinema.
excerpt from the book Godard:Images,Sounds,Politics. by Golin MacCabe/ Part1 : Godard since '68
by Antonina Derzhitskaya, Dmitry Golotyuk
There is no need for special reasons to remember Godard, but December 3 is a special day: the classics are 86 years old. Seance congratulates the beloved director and publishes an interview, taken from him six months ago in Switzerland by Dmitry Golotyuk and Antonina Derzhitskaya.
- Many people were inclined to perceive "Goodbye to Language" as your "farewell, cinema". Fortunately, this is not so, and you already talked about it. But is it any coincidence that you seem to track your film path in the film? You quote your article from the times of Cahiers du cinema, when you just shot short films; Take the same Aragon and the same Apollinaire as in "At the last breath" - your first full-length tape; The dispute at the washing machine is reminiscent of "Number Two", the scene of violence in the soul is even less ambiguous about the "First name: Carmen and the formula ”Abrakadabra, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara”, is borrowed from the "King Lear" and indirectly refers to your "Maoist" period. Finally, we hear a fragment of the soundtrack of your past film - the girl's voice Florin, who says a quote from Beckett. It might be like an artistic testament.
- "Yes, but I did not think of anything like that." Of course, I have some memories, sources, to which I return, phrases that could be called loved ones. If I can use them, I use them. By the way about Beckett, I read that when he was just starting to print, his audience numbered only two or three hundred people. Fame came to him much later. And ""Goodbye to Language" I thought how ... It's still about the language. I read a book by a German philosopher of the beginning of the century, which is called "Language". In general, it says something like ... how it was ... wait, I'll bring it. (Brings the book of Fritz Mautner.) At the end he says: "We would make an atoning act (the" redemptive "sounds a bit Christian, but ...) if we could carry out criticism right up to the voluntary, quietly desperate death of our thinking-speaking (How we think and talk - LIL) and if for the implementation of this criticism we did not need words that have only the appearance of life. " I wanted to say this in relation to the movie or the image that we live in an era when words or what people call "language" refer to images rather than proceeding from them to achieve speech (parole). Words always cover themselves all the time - we see it on television and not only. That's what I meant. "Goodbye to Language" is "farewell, our way of thinking-talking" (if it is possible if I succeed ...). And in Switzerland - in any case, here in the province of Va (in the canton of Vaud, which is usually called "the edge") "farewell" ...
- Yes, yes, it means also "hello".
- Yes. What is your name?
- "If we meet on the street, I'll tell you:" Adieu, Antonina. " And the same, if I want to say goodbye - it all depends on the tone.
- In the film, you also recall the thoughts of Kirillov about suicide ...
- Yes, when I was very young, I was very interested in this issue. Later I returned to him. By the way, I called Kirillov one of the characters of the "Chinese women". This is from Dostoevsky - from the "Demons", if I'm not mistaken, which I have never read in full. His other novels were read, but this one was not. In addition, when I was still a schoolboy, one of Camus's first philosophical essays, The Myth of Sisyphus, was published. It began with a phrase that I used in a movie - For Ever Mozart, it seems: "Suicide is the only truly serious philosophical problem."
- And in 'Our Music'.
- Perhaps. Yes, these are phrases that have ceased to be quotations and have become a part of me. I pronounce them as if I had invented them myself. (Laughs.)
- But do not try to create any continuity between the films.
- No, no, absolutely. More precisely, some connection inevitably arises, but sometimes it is a bridge to what was, and sometimes - to what will be.
- Anyway, between the "Film Socialism" and "Goodbye to Language"" there is one obvious - witty and slightly outrageous - a bunch: in the first film the boy Lucien declares that when it comes to equality, he will talk about shit, and in Second, Marcus and Jédeon fulfill his promise.
- Yes, Yes. This story with shit also refers to Antonin Artaud, who argued that when speaking of being, we are talking about shit (he was still an anti-Heggedian). In addition, in French, when someone makes a mistake or is stupid, one can also say: "This is shit." That is, what flies out of your mouth is akin to what comes out of your ass.
- In the credits "Goodbye to Language" is absent Anne-Marie Mieville.
- Yes, we are just talking now. Sometimes she expresses her opinion, but ...
- That is, you still continue to discuss with her what you are doing?
- Not too active, but, as they say, this is not silence.
- And as for the new music in the film - the fresh records of Dobrinka Tabakova, Valentina Silvestrov - did she show it to you?
"No, no, she had nothing to do with it." This is the music that I get from ECM. From time to time it affects me. They regularly send me their notes, and I sometimes use some fragments. Especially since with ECM it is then easier to negotiate about copyrights.
- But still have to pay?
"Oh yes, I have to pay." As Eddie Constantine in Germany says "nine zero": "Always love, always suffer, always pay". (Laughs.)
"So you listen to everything they send?"
"Not at once." When I'm working on a film. Mainly during installation. At some point I say to myself: "Music is needed here," and I'm going to look. It would be nice to make something out of the music ... Do not use it as an accompaniment, as in American films, where it is completely unbearable. Even Hitchcock's music is unbearable - at least for me.
"For our part, we really appreciate how you work with music, with sound in general." Being musicians, we consider you as such.
- No, I'm not a musician, because I do not listen for myself. Maybe earlier I listened to a lot - especially classical music - but not now. I listen only when I search for something - a sound that would be equivalent to the image and closer to speech in the deep sense of the word. After all, neither Germans nor Americans have such a thing as "speech" (parole), they say Worte or words. Even Hamlet says: Words, words, words. And the speech ... I remember, Malraux wrote (I used it in one movie ... in "For Ever Mozart" ... no, I do not remember which one): "When we hear your voice ..."
"... where does he come from?"
- "... we listen to it not with our ears, like someone else's voices, but ... When we listen to our voice, it comes from the throat". Not from the brain or from somewhere else. I forgot in what movie it was. But it was "For Ever Mozart" that became the turning point, from which my gradual approach to this "Goodbye to Language" began, which continued in three or four subsequent films.
- I like the ironic and pompous beginning of Mozart: the title of the film arises with the first - taken on the fortissimo - the chord of a classic concerto for piano and orchestra. But the most remarkable is that it is not Mozart, but Beethoven.
- I do not remember.
- As if we easily confuse one with another. I still therefore focus so much on this comic dissonance between the visible and the audible that in his own way it reflects the key opposition to the film for biased and pure art, because we know that Beethoven was a much more politicized figure.
- Yes, yes, he saw the emperor Napoleon, when he went to Russia. But these are not even quotes, but, rather, archaeological remains. The film that I'm doing now, I call ... If it was a literary work, I would call it "an experience of moral archeology". But "experience" sounds too literary, so I limited myself to "moral archeology". These are collected fragments from different films in which we are looking ... Like that Italian couple - I do not know if they are familiar to you - which is engaged in archaeological research. I forgot my name. Representatives of the underground. No, I do not remember ... Names are now often escaping me, but that does not mean that I lose memory. I just have faces or phrases in front of my eyes - but not as sounding words, but as pictures. Even in everyday life, when I say to myself: "I'm going to smoke a cigar," I first see the image of this cigar, and the word comes later. Or I say: "I'll go eat lunch in a restaurant" - but before I can mentally see this restaurant.
"It's closer to what you call language."
- In the 80's, you seem to have moved from politics to more general, non-historical topics, but have never ceased to be biased by the surrounding reality - including the political one, which since the mid-1990s began actively reclaiming its positions in your films. It can be said that now both of these beginnings have joined in you - both Mozart and Vicky.
- Vicky, director from "For Ever Mozart".
- Oh, yes, Vicky, Vicky ... Yes, but it also came with age. And then I always ... from my youth, when due to the fact that I grew up in a very reactionary environment - Protestantism and all that - I had to discover World War II for myself ... I did not even know ... I remember I was interested in Tolstoy, "War and Peace," after the Germans invaded Russia. In those years, my parents did not tell me anything, although they worked in the Red Cross, they helped the children. I remember that I knew equally well the names of German and Russian generals, put flags on the map and so on. I remember the names of some battles-for example, the capture of Rostov. All this remained in my memory because the period between my 15th (or even less) and 25th years I discovered for myself, hindsight. And if for some time I have been politically activated, then after. I was always more interested in - and over time, I just got it - to appear after, not in time. To go to Sarajevo after all was over, to go to Palestine at the very moment when everything began to end - the Palestinian revolution and so on. While all political activists ... In the 68th in Cuba many intellectuals gathered to honor Castro and the company. I also received an invitation. But I did not want to go there with everyone, I went alone, with my own money. Like this. Always after, after.
- I think there were exceptions. For example, Raoul Coutard says that by shooting "Passion", you wanted to annoy Giscard d'Estaing ...
"Pff ... Maybe I said something like that." But Raoul, of course, did not understand me well. And in my own way he interpreted my words. He is a veteran of Indochina, like Shenderfer and others. I remember, on the set of "Mad Pierrot" ... I was still not quite determined with my position, and it was equally irritated both Jews and Arabs. He slightly preferred Jews to the Arabs, but he could not tolerate either of them. (Laughs.)
- If I'm not mistaken, you first hoped to finish "Train the right" for the parliamentary elections of the year 86.
- And the main characters were to be two policemen - one right-wing, the other left-wing.
- I do not remember. But this is all external. I often lag behind others. I started making films only by the age of 30, and my life and my thoughts always lagged behind the movies. If you imagine it in the form of a train, the movie was a locomotive, and politics and everything else is the last car. Only from "Mozart" and especially from "Film Socialism" did one level with the other, as in my personal life, as my personal life combined with the cinematic.
- In the final of "Mozart", we are witnessing how the so-called "pure art", l'art pour l'art, takes precedence over the biased (in the person of Vicky with his "Fatal Bolero"). It's irony?
- I do not know.
- Do you think that art, too attached to political reality, bears defeat in itself?
- I think, yes. In what movie was it? I forgot the name of the film that I did in Sarajevo ... "Our music". There is filmed one little-known philosopher, Jean-Paul Ciurnier ...
- Yes, yes…
"He recently wrote an interesting book called "Pirate Democracy." I do not know if it's published already or not. It says that real democracy existed at the time of the pirates, in their circle. Or on ships, among sailors who rebelled and became pirates, about which in Hollywood a lot of films such as "Mutiny on the Bounty" were shot and that ended up settling somewhere in Polynesia with girls and so on. (Laughs.) But they had something that does not exist now. So, I instructed Ciurnier the phrase of one of Sartre's contemporaries, less famous, by the name of Claude Lefort, who spoke ...
- "Contemporary Democracies ... "
- Exactly. "Contemporary democracies that make politics a separate field of thought are predisposed to totalitarianism." This is one of those phrases that are now called key. But I like to object that they, perhaps, are keyholes, and not key ones. Because when we say "the key to the dream" ... Even Freud constantly forgets about the castle. In other words, he forgets about the image.
- In "Goodbay to Language," you quote also Jacques Ellul, who speaks of Hitler's second victory by means of technology and techies. Towards the end of the movie, you bring a dialogue from Frankenstein, during which the protagonist, despite threats, refuses to create another monster (one might say - a technical monster). A couple of minutes later, in the frame appears a drawn Lorraine cross - a symbol of the Resistance.
- Yes. He was a symbol of de Gaulle, even before the Resistance.
- "In any case, you fit in with the Resistance, but on the territory of art."
- Yes Yes.
- "It reminds me of Jean-Marie Straub, who believes that Webern's abstract music is more politic than Berg's music with his Wozzeck, and one of his most political films calls The Chronicles of Anna Magdalena Bach."
- Yes, I understand what he is talking about. By the way, Straub lives here.
- Here - is where?
- In Rolle. Perhaps he is seriously ill, I do not know. He has a girlfriend who has lived with him since Daniel Yuue died. We saw him occasionally. Now - and even less, because we have nothing to say to each other. Like this. From time to time he sends me his films.
- Do you appreciate his new films?
"I appreciate his work, unlike the rest." I see him rather like a sculptor who carves from a stone. I'm confused that he always comes from the text, but the text for him is like a stone that he is polishing before our eyes. However, this is my personal opinion. He then made a small film about Montaigne, which everyone finds useless and unbearable - with these endless plans where nothing happens. (Laughs.) But I believe that there is something in him about the sculptor ... something from Michelangelo. Now, acting as a critic, I resort to the language from which I myself try to get rid. But I would say something like that.
- There are those who advocate the purity of the cinema language, in order to free it from the effects of other forms of art: to move away from painting, not to use music, and so on. You go rather in the opposite direction, your cinema is a kind of crossroads of the arts.
- Yes, you can say that.
- "And sometimes you purposely blur the boundaries between them, comparing "Our Music" with the book, defining the "Film Socialism" as a three-part symphony or talking about your new project" Tentative de bleu ", that the viewer is inside the sculpture . Are there really three screens involved?
- Not yet. If I manage to finish it, then, perhaps, we will try to shorten it, but shorten it by distributing it on three screens, that is, by dividing by three. (Laughs.) And to do ... as it's called ... an installation, which is very easy. I am inclined to such a decision, because I am concerned about the flatness of the screen. We lost a little (and not even a little, but it's normal, nothing stands still) the sense of space that was inherent in the early films, before World War II. Then everything became more flat and not at all like in painting. Sometimes a good photo expresses more than a movie. And even than treveling. I remember that Cocteau said that it's foolish to do the tracklings, because they immobilize the image.
- Do you now mount during the filming?
"Not really." Sometimes ... Now, at any rate, I start with a script - more precisely, with what Americans call a storyboard, only the sequence of plans in it is determined not by chronology, but rather by something unconscious. It's like a sketch for a classical artist. I often prefer the sketches of Delacroix to its large canvases, because the sketch feels movement, openness, whereas the picture is static, and text is superimposed on it. We say: "Freedom leading the people." But when he makes a sketch, we see freedom in action.
- "So you have not started editing a new film yet?"
- I'm just starting. Following what I call the idea of the script, the outline of the script. Where there is nothing but photographs. Earlier, too, so did. I know that Fritz Lang, when he was preparing his first American films, began with a report about the chosen region or something else. And only then took up the script. He did not try to write at once. I think it can be compared to a musician who works for a piano before writing his symphony, because writing is writing. That's why I always liked free jazz (although I never really got used to it) - there's nothing written there.
- "Blue Trial" - the current name?
- No, now it's just "Image and Speech" (Image et parole), and in brackets: "Papyrus". As if we found an old papyrus, glued it from pieces. Those two Italians do just something like this: they collect a whole from fragments of other people's films, shot at 35 mm. Look at them frame by frame. That is for them it is an archaeological find. So they can find out some details - fragments of a broken vase and so on. Then they, archaeologists, clean them with their brushes and see what it is. Their approach reminds me of what is called archaeological excavation; He allows them to discover that once there was such a city, there was such a thing - to create a sense of reality. And I'm doing the same now. I find it very stupid that all the films that are shown here at the Nyon festival ... (Laughs.)
- Such like exist?
"Yes, and it's called Visions of Reality."
- What you are talking about, as a rule, is denoted by the English-speaking term found footage.
- Yes, yes, found footage.
- Some Austrian directors work in this genre, for example, Gustav Deutsch.
- I do not know him. I'm not looking at anything. Sometimes I read a movie about a movie and ask it to be sent to a DVD. To stay a little in the course. Anne-Marie does not even do that.
- And how do you choose these films?
- "I say to myself: "Perhaps there is ... "It's a bit of utopia or nostalgia, but I hope to find in films something that we once discovered there and, to some extent deceived, were extolled in Cahiers du Cinema. At some point, we suddenly said to ourselves: "So, it's possible" - regarding the French cinema on which we grew up. I came much later than others - Truffaut, Rivette or Romer. I followed them, watched, did not say anything.
- But "Breathless" appeared less than a year after "Four hundred blows" - not much later.
- Yes, but after. Let's just say I'm second best.
- The past title of your new project - "Blue Trial" - suggests the idea of painting.
- Yes, I think that in the end there will be a reference to painting, but, in general, it is not so obvious, because I am making a very long introduction. As if, before we see the whole hand, we should consider each finger individually. So, I give first five elements: war, travel, law (according to Montesquieu, "On the spirit of laws") ... even some last one, called the "Central Region", in memory of one of the films of the American underground, and then already goes hand. This is a small story, borrowed by me from one interesting book and entitled as "Happy Arabia" - an epithet of travelers of the XIX century (for example, Alexander Dumas) awarded this now poor region, the Middle East. The action takes place in one of the local countries where no oil is found; People are satisfied with this state of affairs, but their ruler wants to gain dominance over other Arab countries. He is plotting a pseudo-revolution, which eventually fails, and everything returns to normal. I shoot without actors, they do not need me here. But there is a narrator, as if reading fragments from the book, and we in general understand the history, which is a kind of parable.
- So, there will not be any actors at all?
- No one. My assistant, Jean-Paul Battaglia, said to me: "Look, you could take as the narrator Jean-Pierre Leo, it would be very good." But I answered that Leo will read like an actor, but I do not need actors. So either I do it myself, or I'll invite someone unknown.
- "Since you mentioned Leo, I remembered Anna Vyazemsky and one very strange related project." You are aware that Michel Hazanavichus...
- "Oh, I do not even want to hear about it!" I do not like it. Although, in fact, do not care.
- "It seems like a rather stupid idea."
- Yes, Yes. But it's the same firm, Wild Bunch, that produced my last films. They did not even dare to talk to me about this. (Laughs.) Stupid idea, stupid.
- But from you in this situation nothing depends?
- No, no, it's people, people are free.
- Do you follow what is happening in contemporary art?
- No, I do not.
- "I mean the last forty-fifty years." Relatively speaking, after painting.
- Very coarsening, we can say that contemporary art brings to the fore the idea and spares the form - more precisely, the beautiful. How important is a beauty for you now, do you seek consciously beauty?
- Now there is no. Maybe some kind of fidelity of transmission, but not necessarily. And as for all these modern things ... When I look at them, I see that first comes to the word, and then - the execution. They say: "We will make an installation that will mean this and that." This is now being done by Agnes Varda, she was doing it ... what was her name ... Belgian filmmaker who recently died ... Chantal Ackerman. But it's all words, it's not good.
- "I like the definition of beauty that the German composer Helmut Lachenmann gives:" Beauty is a rejection of habit. " In my opinion, it is applicable to what you are doing - especially since the "Film Socialism".
- In "Our Music" you put into the mouth of a Bosnian student the question: "Can small digital cameras save a movie?" Does this mean that you already then assumed the possibility of using them?
- "Well, then they did not exist, did they?" But I almost from the outset gravitated towards small things - to 16 mm and so on. To simplicity and minimum of means. Now we are making a triple film, and that's quite enough. If I had to ... Sometimes I even wanted to ... Some time ago I tried to make a movie in Hollywood, but nothing came of it ...
— The Story?
- "No, much earlier." Although no, not so long ago. On one sensational book - I do not remember already what it was. Something very good. I said to the producer-American: "I would like to make this film, but only as a director. You will pick up the actors, the scenery, everything else, and I'll do the production. " He did not agree.
- "And when was it all the same?"
- "About ten years ago."
- Why did you want to put yourself in such a framework?
- To try to work with what remains. But this is also a matter of fatigue, age. I'm tired of being on the run all the time, doing a thousand things. I'm not interested, I do not want to. Even the three of us work tiresomely. Because the other two are my good friends, irreplaceable in everyday life, but as for talking about movies, they simply do not exist. I do not have enough. At such times you begin to talk to yourself. And this also becomes a habit. (Laughs.)
- Can you say that these small digital cameras give you what you wanted to get in your time with the help of "Aaton 35-8".
- I think, yes.
- The combination of compactness ...
- And quality? Now I do not care. Because what I'm doing in the new film is more archeology, I do not care about the quality of the image.
- In general, you have two approaches to the figure. On the one hand, you start from marriage to create on its basis rich textures - what could be called "digital expressionism" ...
- And on the other hand, you use it in the usual way, continuing to do what you did before by 35 mm. Does this mean that a film like "Our Music", for example, could be taken down to a figure?
- Yes it is possible.
- So, you do not care now?
"I do not care, and then the figure asks for less money." In my new film Wild Bunch gives (promises) 300 thousand euros. To make it it is necessary for two years (term rather small - all year on five fingers and year on a hand). If this is not enough, I give the producer what I get from TV shows in France, and I do not ask you to return it. That is, having 300 thousand, we must make a film and pay for the work of three people, including myself, for two years. But if I pay to us from the money of the film, it will go for 9 thousand a month, and months - 24. And the film, so nothing remains. Therefore, I have to give my money to the producer - fortunately, I have a small amount. I do not want to ask him anything. That's what the economy of the film is. It would be interesting to see if a large economy can function in this way.
- But in terms of the image - light, depth of the frame - the figure is different from the film?
Yes, yes. But it's still important whether we light up or not, and so on. If so, I always use only what is available. We clean it only in case ... I try to keep everything. But with Fabrice and Jean-Paul it is not easy, because they behave like a real band - they come and scatter their things everywhere. I tell them: "This is a decoration, you do not have to touch anything, but things are better to be taken away somewhere far away." But there is much that we can not do. And we do not try to do it, that's all.
- Why did you change the format of the image?
- Yes, simply because all the TVs are now.
- However, a few years ago you sent a sheet to Cahiers with two frames from "Our Music", presented in three different formats; You wanted to show how 16: 9 enslaves the person and disguises the truth.
- Yes, this is not a good format, but it belongs to our time. I want to say that artists always proceeded from what was at their disposal. For example, the appearance of tubes of paint greatly changed the impressionism and so on. We are dealing only with reality, and what it is is not so important. And then, if I record a movie on a DVD, it's reproduced normally, everything suits me. Whereas in cinemas there can be a thousand different ... Yes that far to go - you will not find two TVs that show the same. It would have to be somehow unified so that we knowingly know what we are starting from and what we are striving for, if you want.
- In the beginning "Goodbay to language" we see some mysterious object with elements of the 3D-camera. He appears for only a few seconds in a wandering ray of light, and shortly before the end of the film appears on the cover of Van Vogt's book, and that you put it there - the real cover looks different.
- Yes, I changed the cover of Van Vogt, because I needed a title, and the picture did not fit. I replaced it with an image of an Indian totem or something like that (I do not remember already where I found it) - it seemed to me that this is better. If I were the publisher of this book, I would release it.
- There are many famous tandems director/cameraman. You have in the 60's formed such a tandem with Raoul Coutard. I think that Fabrice Arango will stay with you for a long time - especially since he is not only an operator.
- Oh, Fabrice is engaged in everything little by little. He answers - technically - for the final installation. Sometimes I ask him to do something in his own way, and this gives me new ideas. Or we leave his version, and he, let's say, brings it to the standard. On the set, he answers not only for the image, but also for the sound. As in documentary films. I was always amazed at documentary films, where there is a journalist who speaks and the cameraman who shoots - I do not understand why one person can not do this.
"Is that why you stopped working with François Musy ?"
- No, it's a long time already. I do not like his methods anymore - he works according to the classical scheme, voices classical films. This is a separate process. But we got on very well, I was always pleased with our cooperation. And now ... I'll show you what I'm working on here - it's very old equipment, which often fails, or even does not start at all. I could, of course, instead of messing around with seven or eight cars that occupy the whole room (and which are already 10-15 years old), learn how to use a tablet and all these installation pieces. Fabrice even offered me some kind of program that mounts according to the principle of chance, and where nothing is required of you - it does everything by itself. But it's not ... In general, no.
- Musy was a sound engineer for "Film Socialism".
- "Yes, the last time." Because we shot in ... I do not even remember if he was ... Although yes, that's right, he wrote the sound, because I wanted to have a quality sound in the episode with the garage. At least, that everything was legible. I was not very sure what I was doing. As well as he. In addition, Fabrice was not yet here really, if you want.
- Over the past 35 years, you have worked with many operators - in addition to Kutar this is, in particular, William Lubchansky, Carolyn Champetier, Julien Irish ... Why did you change them? Why, for example, you did not continue to cooperate with the same Kutar, although he, in my opinion, was very good in "Passion" and "First Name: Carmen"?
- Well, we made a lot of movies with him. Then I went on, and he stayed where he was. It's the same with Lyubchanskiy and others. There were many of them. We started together. At some moments ... Lubchansky had Caroline in the assistants, Caroline had Julien, so I moved from one to another until it stopped ... (Laughs.)
- You sometimes left Carolyn Champetier alone on the set, you even sent her to Moscow to shoot scenes for the movie "The Kids Play Russian."
"Yes, yes, and she did an excellent job." This is the person who wanted to do everything, discuss everything. I told her: "Want? You are welcome. Here's a bundle of money for you, go to Moscow and take off Anna Karenina's death. I will not do this."
- She was very frightened.
- Still would.
- Regarding the new film, you said that you will have to go to St. Petersburg ...
- It was at the very beginning, even before I started to work. The fact is that the second episode, the second finger, is based on the book of a French writer whose name is ... You see, the name is spinning in my head, and the book stands before my eyes, and I can not remember ... Which was the French ambassador to St. Petersburg in the time of Napoleon ...
- Joseph de Maistre.
- Joseph de Maistre. This is a book about a right-wing war, absolutely Nazi. In general, I use it. And at first, when the project was completely different, I thought that I would go to Petersburg, we would find a young couple ... But, I do not know why I gradually abandoned this idea.
- The last question: when do you plan to finish the film?
- I still hope to catch it by the end of the year, according to the contract. Although we are, of course, already a little behind.
Rolle, May 22, 2016
Translated from russian by Dejan Stojkovski