Pagnol interview - Cahiers du Cinema - Dec 1965
The December 1965 issue of Cahiers du Cinema was dedicated to Marcel Pagnol and Sacha Guitry. In that issue a long interview of Pagnol conducted by Jean-André Fieschi, Gérard Guégan and Jacques Rivette was published. This is a slightly abridged translation of the first two columns of that translation.
PAGNOL: When I shot “La Gendre de Monsieur Poirier”, I was the same age that you are. I was editing a magazine, “Les Cahiers du Film” in which I offended the people who made silent films who dragged me through the mud in the leading newspapers. Essentially, I was doing what you are doing now. Only, in my case, I was pitted against the pseudo-talkie. the posters read 100% talking; but, there would only be a child who would say, “Papa” and the rest was the sounds of doors, of spoons in a coffee cup, of explosions, of exclamations. They were sonorized films. “La Gendre de Monsieur Poirier” did not earn me a living but I did not care as it was the argument which was important. I had chosen this impudent slogan “First, we will receive literature into cinema. Then, we will receive cinema in literature.” Thus, I shot “Poirier”. It was a very good film. The negative burned during the war.
. . .
There were people who were prominently placed in the silent industry who thought that there fortune was made. Especially actors and actresses who were good-looking and who did not have to open their mouths. Did you ever see a silent film being shot. It was irresistible. Seated looking at the actor, the director screams, “Go there, old friend, that’s it, come his way, get out of town”.
. . .
CAHIERS: In your films, the quality of the direct sound is impressive. . .
PAGNOL: Our microphone were so heavy that the current transmitted was insufficient. So there was a pre-amp coupled to the microphone that gave that microphone the dimension of a fifteen inch stove-pipe. You often see it on the film or, at least, its shadow appears on the faces of the actors. arguments were forever flairing up between the camera operator and the sound engineer. when an actor was to unfold a newspaper, it had to be moistened. If it was not, it would sound like a machine-gun burst.
From the point of view of sound, some things have always bothered me in my films. Cicadas, they are very poetic cicadas, that is when you do not record them. Then they make you think of a grinder. But when recorded, they do not sound anything like that. So every time you began to film, you had to have four or five propmen grab maces and knock around at the base of the pines, to force them to go. But, they still come back. you can hear them in “Angèle” and “Regain”. It’s just that it seems to be background noise.
I faced obstacles in the film world because I came from the theater. At the debut of the talkies, I stated admiringly, “But this is a means of expression much more felicitous and more lavish than theater.” First off, you can have the actors redo the scene and you can change the background every two seconds. you don’t need to have the characters enter of exit. In theater, there is too much dead time. A character speaks, then exits, another enters and says, “Oh, I was passing through by chance. . .” A quick look there and I saw that by removing the dross from the play, you could save a half-hour.
But, except for the sound equipment, the people of the silents controlled the equipment. The cameras, the studios, the distribution network, the theaters. On the other hand, at the beginning of the talkie era, it was common to read articles that ended, “It’s a carnival attraction that will only last six months.” When I offered my services, they showed me the door. They said to me, “but, sir, you write plays, you are a man of genius.” And then they pushed me outside. This lasted a long time. So we made photographed theater and these films, which are thirty to thirty-five years old, still play on screens. But all the big awards, I have never gotten an award for cinema. I never asked for one, but, in the end, there isn’t a need to ask. The other day, I read a statement which brought great pleasure to me. My friend de Sica was being interviewed - he created the role of the town councilman in the Italian stage version of “Topaze” - “Italian neo-realism,” he said, “is Pagnol who did it in 1934 with “Angèle”.” But there are those who do not support these assertions. they still consider that I was a joker who have done better to return to the popular theater. Now, there are young people who passionately love film who, in the end, have no preconceived theories. They do a little of whatever and that is very well. Cinema can do it anything. But even though it can do anything does not mean that it must do anything
Cahiers du Cinema , December 1965 page 39 My translation