My Gleanings

Monday, October 02, 2006

René Clair and Cahiers du Cinema

This is from pages 392-393 0f “Le Mystère René Clair” by Pierre Billard published by Plon in 1998. the translation is mine.
In fact, the conflict between René Clair and Les Cahiers du Cinema had already begun in the issue number 37 (July 1954) in the form of an anecdote precisely signed "François Truffaut". He had remarked in his "Short Private Journal of Cinema" that he had seen The Flame of New Orleans again, "You never laugh and rarely smile. The work strikes one in the first place by its dryness, the complete absence of zest... René Clair, for ten years, has cut himself the figure of the official entertainer. He shoots films for old ladies go twice a week to the cinema in their old chauffer-driven Delahaye, one of these two time to see the latest masterpiece of Sir Lawrence Olivier. For Sir René Clair, I think that the young prefer our friend Hulot and that is well." Truffaut proceeds further into caricature, revealing the "youthful prejudice" that critic will be assailed for. He adds that not one Clair film is equal in drolery to Jean Renoir's Tire-au-Flanc. The response could be that the drolery of Tire-au-Flanc owes much more, alas, to Mouezy-Eon than to Renoir and the most important invention of the film draws its source in the "poetic comedy" of the dancer Pomies who was directly inspired by René Clair. But, maybe, it is rather late to revive this polemic. All the more so because this quotation was not cited to open a heavy dossier of attacks committed by that revue of young cinema against René Clair. But, on the contrary, to contest the legend according to which, he had been a privileged target and the victim of the "terrorism" of the politique des auteurs introduced at Cahiers du Cinema with François Truffaut as pointman. Truffaut's great offensive against French cinema had been launched in the article A Certain Tendency of French Cinema in issue number 31 (January 1954). The name René Clair is not cited there and the two main targets are scenarists and "psychological realism", two elements which do not concern Clair. In issue number 53 (December 1955), the review of Les Grandes Manoeuvres by Jean-José Richer is titled, "A window is needed..." But, whether if, open or closed, Richer does not know the answer for the editorial staff never succeeds in reaching an harmony of opinion. Issue 71 (May 1957) is a special issue dedicated to the situation of French cinema. In its lexicon of directors, Clair received a exceptionally positive note. “A complete film auteur who, form the silent era has brought...intelligence, finesse, humor, and an intellectualism a bit dry but smiling and in good taste....In whatever manner that his career continues, he has created a cinematographic universe which is his own, a universe rigorous and not shorn of fantasy, thanks to which he remains one of the greatest film-makers.” What more could be asked? However, six members of the editorial staff debate fervidly the problems of French cinema. A discussion about Clouzot and Bresson, about Vadim and Delannoy, about Ophuls and Becker, about Clément, about Renoir, about Cocteau, and about many others: not once is Clair’s name spoken.It is necessary to wait until issue 76 (November 1957) to find an exhaustive appraisal Of René Clair in Cahiers du Cinema. To wit, a courteous, serious, thought-out, and most harsh review of Porte des Lilas by Eric Rohmer. Cahiers had taken a stand, but outside the polemic, within the framework a a normal exercise of criticism. They fall back into ambiguity upon the release of the next film. Cahiers does not publish a review of that film but returned the next month with an article by Carl Dreyer. In point, appearing in issue number 162 (January 1962), one finds an ensemble of old writings by the Danish filmmaker, among which is an article, dating from 1936, in which he puts René Clair in the dock for betraying his art by directing The Ghost Goes West. This trial in not the most straightforward, but, in any case, it is a long way from a frontal attack. The first great period of Cahiers du Cinema leaves us this balance sheet, certainly negative, but stripped of all relentlessness and from which François Truffaut virtually absents himself.

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