My Gleanings

Monday, January 22, 2007

Was there ever a "cinema de papa"? Part 1

If you were to go right now to a search engine and type in the query -- "cinema de papa" "François Truffaut" -- asking for results in the English language only and you will return with any number of hits which inform you that François Truffaut "derided", "disparaged", "rallied against", "attacked", "fulminated against' something which he "defined", "termed", called", labeled" the cinema de papa. I can say this; I have had my hands on every issue of Cahiers du Cinema from the time when Truffaut and the other "young turks" held sway at that review and I never read any article in which that term was used by Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard or Jacques Rivette or Claude Chabrol or Eric Rohmer or Jean Domarchi or Louis Marcorelles or Michel Delahaye or Jean Douchet or Luc Moullet or Charles Bitsch or Fereydoun Hoveyda or any one of the other young critics who wrote for Cahiers between 1953 and 1965 when Jacques Rivette ceded the editorship to Jean-Louis Comolli. The lone instance I have come up with of the use of this term is by Jean Narboni in the introduction to an interview of Claude Autant-Lara in the March 1967 issue of Cahiers. Narboni's actually uses the term <cinema de "papa"> and not <<"cinema de papa">>.

One would imagine that everything which Truffaut wrote from April 1953 when his first review was published by Cahiers and 1958 when he began the filming of The Four Hundred Blows and he forsook film criticism could be recapitulated as, "Never trust a director over thirty". But, if it is the truth there was no generalized use of the term by these critics, it would also seem to be to summarize their grievances as an assault on a "cinema de papa" is to demonstrate a misapprehension of the issues which they were grieving. In A Certain Tendency of French Cinema, Truffaut writes,

“But why“, I am still going to be told, “ why can you not bring a similar admiration to all the filmmakers who work making the core of this tradition of quality which you mock so freely? Why not admire Yves Allegret as much as Jacques Becker, Jean Delannoy as much as Robert Bresson, or Claude Autant-Lara as much as Jean Renoir? ”

If the cinema of Allegret, Delannoy, Autant-Lara and the others (Pagliero, Carlo-Rim, Aurenche and Bost, Sigurd etc.) is the "cinema de papa", how does one characterize the cinema of Bresson, Becker, Renoir and the others ( Jean Cocteau, Abel Gance, Max Ophuls, Jacques Tati and Roger Leenhardt, Sacha Guitry and, later on, Marcel Pagnol) whom Truffaut exalts? As the "cinema de the big,bad wolf"?

So now you may want to ask me, "Well, where did this "cinema de papa" start?" Well, I can only speculate here, but my answer to where is Oberhausen, Germany in February 1962 at the annual short film festival. What happened ? A group of young German film directors issued the Oberhausen Manifesto (English translation) declaring -- well, the legend is that it states "Papas kino ist tot" ("Papa's cinema is dead"). But what it does say is "Der alte film ist tot" ("The old film is dead"). However, the legend continues that they plastered Oberhausen with posters that read "Papas kino ist tot" ("Daddy's cinema is dead"). That element of the legend I must believe carries some truth with it since a quarter century after these events, one of the participants in them, Edgar Reitz, made a mini series for German television and he portrays young film plastering walls with posters which read "Papas kino ist tot".
And what did those "young turks" at Cahiers du Cinema have to say about this movement. One of them, Andre S Labarthe attended the Oberhausen Festival that February. In the short piece which he published in Cahiers that spring, he mentions nothing about the manifesto, nothing about any "alte film" or "papas kino" going "tot". His closest trajectory to any of this a favorable mention of a film by Herbert Vesely, one of the manifesto's signatories, among four films which impressed him. For the remainder of the 60s, Cahiers payed only a modicum of attention to these directors with the only exception being a film by Ferdinand Khittl called Die Parallelstrasse (La Route Parallele) which Khittl had made in 1962 and which was shown in Cannes in 1964. Jacques Rivette placed on his 10 best films list for the year 1968(!). But there never seems to have been any mention of the Oberhausen Manifesto or "Papas Kino".
But, obviously somewhere in the mid-60s, this slogan of these young German directors somehow became cross-threaded onto the Cahiers group.
The argument is pursued here

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