What follows here are my translations of the thumbnail critiques which Jacques Rivette wrote for the Dec63/Jan64 issue of Cahiers du Cinema.
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 117).
“The point-man for the departure: with “Shadows” the New York School, which had been talked of for a long time with nothing grat being shown, becames reality. At the center of the film, play finds its motor role which, more more than the equivalent of a Greenwich Village comedia dell’arte
is the backside of the drop everything rigor of a Charlie Mingus. “Too Late Blues” admits its sources. An improvisation on a sentimental lullaby, Miles Davis known by heart, Cassavetes is a naif playing the old fox. He films naive old foxes and disillusioned ingenues, who rush to strike blows which they fear being on the receiving end of. He is the Marivaux of an accessory slackness.
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 117)
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 118)
“The Connection” intrigues; “The Cool World” justifies. Closed universe of drugs or gangs, Shirley Clarke in the beginning shuts herself up with her subject, this is, more than any bet, test or literature, only an expedient, the legitimacy of the initiates. Then, the adventure. There is a game of identity being played here. But so squarely, so absolutely, the physical contact becomes a rite of knowledge: Dissolving herself in it, watching them, mimicking them, all the way to madness. She is repaid one hundred-fold and it is, around the young blacks of “The Cool World” that a society knits itself, discovers itself, and recreates itself around us with its codes, its class structure, its language and customs, anthropological synthesis in action, maybe. But also, the truth of the legendary confrontation between the Greeks and the Trojans, and, surprisingly, the Wolves and the Pythons “signify” nothing other than themselves. This is a news item and not a tragedy, a life lost and not an inquest. For America’s tradition is that of a physical cinema, which expresses nothing which is not mingled of the flesh and blood of heroes. This is where today, it maintains direction.”
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 118)
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 128).
“Minor, domestics chronicles: marriage, kids, quarrels, reconciliation.
Something like an intimate diary. A genealogy, a family album, a tale of deeds and again New York, always a new beginning. The principle is simple: let us share in the action, one way or another -- at once the concierge and the friend, taking this one’s side, then that one’s, knowing no more, strolling, eyeballing the passers-by, returning, meeting up with mama who overwhelms for fifteen minutes with her eloquence and her tears, going out again, crossing through this world reconciled, feeling in the way, returning home, The End; something similar. Everyone gets what he or she wants, no one is forced, you like it or you do not. Ruth and Morris do not begrudge you. Who worries about you? ( It may seem so, but they do not lose sight of you out of the corner of their eyes.)”
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 128)
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 131).
“He has (let’s overlook the discredit which is that of all yes-men) a sense of the times. “The Manchurian Candidate”, six months ago, was no more than a wild fantasy, its track and intent ill-defined: and now, as we know, it is History. Will current events dominate the ad campaign for “Seven Days in May”? Let us hope that this is not the intention of those two old crows, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster... Meanwhile, this little honest Johnny knows the art of drowning fish: the unbelievable is strange but true, or so it seems. (But, in Hitchcock, it is the opposite; it is the truth that is unbelievable and the art is in fishing it out.)”
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 131).
Two notes. First, the December63/January64 appears to have gone to press on (or shortly after) November 26 1963, four days after the assassination of John F Kennedy. Second, the parenthetical reference to “yes-men” in the first sentence from the way in which Frankenheimer was brought in as the director of “The Train” replacing Arthur Penn who spoke of this incident in a short article which appears in the “Petit Journal du Cinema” section of the September 1963 issue of Cahiers du Cinema.
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 133)
“This is not someone, this is not anyone. For years at Fox, the Jack-of-all-trades who shot and edited unflappably, as he was paid to do. Then, every five years, he awakens and he dreams while awake. This was “Niagara”, pure article of sex and Technicolor, and maybe, “North to Alaska” a pure rodeo where all doings are allowed, only their number counts, it was “Legend of the Lost” where the extravagance of appearances is only the false likeness of a dream. A Borges of the wild state. A meteoric filmography, but where is Henry hiding?
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 133)
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 136)
“The geometric place of fifteen years of misunderstandings, it might be simpler to consider, once and for all, this ex-screenwriter as an “illustrator“: some appreciate the refined eclecticism of his readings, others regret that he does not abstain from showing off his intelligence. A dilettante from another century stumbling through ours, he escapes his world by virtue of Bogart and dark humor. But, this hoax, which begins so easily, only the Lord know how to halt. and one must be diabolically stronger than this petty demon to return parry his thrusts. From too serious to pure humbug, but always all one or all the other. yielding up only the inertia of his dialectic and not its process. But it is precisely those who re-arrange the sober sequencing of the pages of books and compromise the binding, to whom goes, more and more, the essential of its cares.”
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 136)
Note: Even before Rivette became a critic, it was not unusual to dismiss a film director who was thought to merely “met-en-image” or photgraph the screenplay as an “illustrateur”
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 137)
“It is, first off, the organic, the biologic, and the corporeal that he wishes to depict, beginning with them (whence all the Calibans) or finding them in all uses and methods, then the conflicts of the former or latter and the confrontation of the quick and the dead, or who is being born and who is about to die. So, every time, a plan of variation of more or less great amplitude. This being the object of the film more than the poles. Since what it is about is the vitality, not the specters, who endeavor, somehow, to compel it or define it. This which, from the first period, the one of needs, still holds, and breathes under the rubble, has been for several years the subject of his work. That is to say that it is cinema, fixing it, moving it. the so-called eternal and assured bad present, which we lose, which we win in order to lose, in its turn and in the end of accounts, neither an ending nor an account. As they say, life, neither so good nor so bad, - lived.”
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 144)
“Fails completely to tell any story whatever. Her tricks are so naive, her efforts so exaggerated that they are moving, but at the wrong moment. Her strength: drawing with a few gestures, a female character who is defenseless or disarming and always the victim, in the final accounting of circumstances which she has created, the misfortune of virtue? Rather, its ambiguities.“
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 144)
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 152)
“Has remained in the lake in the eyes of French critics, too happy to be able to push Hollywood into the trap of set-mindedness. (But since we, without jealousy, admire in the novel what we refuse to admire in film, the charm of the declaimed “I”, whose center-absence restores the lens (objectif) to mystery). “Ride a Pink Horse” was a victim of his modesty, or more profoundly, the same ambition: to see the world indirectly or from the other side of the mirror. In order to see it as more true than the truth. And his latest film, exalting Admiral William Halsey, who saved Guadalcanal,is through the clearness of its execution an example of a war film reflected, thus reversed, as if Montgomery does not return images by chance.”
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 152)
Note: Montgomery directed “Lady in the Lake” in the first person. The photo of Montgomery that was published with this critique was a still from that film showing Montgomery’ reflection in a mirror.”
The French word “objectif” is translated either “lens” or “objective”
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 152)
“The least that we can say is: “He really took us in.” Who is the auteur of “Fear Strikes Out”? The producer?, the screenwriter?, the director of photography? someone else? Undoubtedly. But not this hard-working director who indifferently submits his knowledge of linking shots on a Clarence Brown-like axis to the last avatars of the Great Thinkers, Rock Hudson and Gregory Peck. He would have been a winner, before the war, at Irving Thalberg’s MGM. Today, with the major stars and producers, the Oscar candidates, he is the man of the hour.”
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 152)
Note: in 1957, when Robert Mulligan’s first film “Fear Strikes Out” was given a limited one-week run in Paris, Jacques Rivette became one of that film’s first French champions. His questioning of the ultimate authorship of Mulligan’s films is interesting. In 1964, Mulligan was the director half of the team “Pakula-Mulligan”. Some five years later, the producer half of that team, Alan J Pakula, took his place on the set as a director and Pakula became one of the major directors of the 70s and 80s.
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 162)
“Each of his films is built on a more or less brainless wager. Nobody speaks one word (but it is not a silent film, “The Thief ”); A little short pudgy man falls head over heels for a towering knock-out, an otherwise grim drama, “Wicked Woman”); Basques drive off a horde of Indians in a single bound, (but a turgid Western, “Thunder in the Sun”). By virtue of theory or obstinacy, he reaches a kind of well-polished obviousness of absurdity; aware or not, he has chosen, once and for all, excess.”
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 162)
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 164)
“Baby Face Nelson” is a masterpiece. An utter harmony of subject, material, writing and acting, all sufficient and necessary, from which arises an austerity which is pure poetry. Meanwhile, the same precision with no doubt but with no purpose, arises as much from a polished feeling of “I-could-care-less“ as from know-how. “Baby Face Nelson” is an riddle, but not one of the Sphinx’s.”
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 164)
Note: Another article in that “American Cinema” special issue, “Le Musée Secret” by Bertrand Tavernier reveals that some eight years after its release in America, Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” had still not been released in France.
from “Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 175)
“He is single-minded in the idea department, maybe, for want of having a lot of them. But “Dragnet” and “Pete Kelly’s Blues” (let’s ignore the rest) owe to this doggedness an imperturbable seriousness and a remorseless conviction which hangs on to the place of invention, and gives, in the absolute implementation of common places, the force of bias and esthetic wager. Who loses wins where innocence puts it full in the face and the pockets.”
“Cahiers du Cinema” Dec63/Jan64 (page 175)
Labels: "Elia Kazan", "Jacques Rivette", "John Cassavetes", "John Huston"