My Gleanings

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Jean-Luc Godard tribute to Jacques Becker April 1960

The April 1960 issue of Cahiers du Cinema (table of contents) featured some tributes to Jacques Becker who had died on February 21 of that year. Among the tributes was one from Jean-Luc Godard published on page 4. Below is my translation of that written eulogy.

NOTE: rose du Fontennelle "it is within the memory of the rose not to see the gardener die"

"As Molière, Jacques Becker died on a field of battle, incredible and terrible, that of artistic creation. It was the hour when Caroline regretted bitterly having ditched Edouard. When Casque d'or (L'or du Cristobal, plainly) held back tears as Manda mounted the scaffold. It was Saturday night. The studio telephoned to say that the mixing of Le Trou was done. Our brother Jacques took another breath. Mortally wounded for I do not know how long a time, he could now leave the field of battle with no dishonor, And a few moments later, Jacques Becker indeed ceased being alive. It was Sunday morning at the hour when Max played his preferred '45s, when Lupin rejoined the princess at Maxim's and day broke,at last, on 7, Rue de l'Estrapade.
There are several good methods to make French films. In the Italian style like Jean Renoir. In the Viennese style as Max Ophuls did. Or a la New York such as Melville. But only Jacques Becker was, and remained, French in the French style, French like the rose du Fontennelle or the bande à Bonnot.
During the recording of Le Trou, I crossed paths with him by chance. Already ill, he was more beautiful that ever. He talked to me about the Three Musketeers. Quickly, I understood, The black moustache, the grey hair, this was the d'Artagnan of Twenty Years After. And it was Arsene Lupin, also. One only need to compare a photo of Becker at the wheel of his Mercedes 300 SL with the opening shot of The Adventures of Arsene Lupinto see that Robert Lamoureaux was his spitting image.
Thus, Jacques Lupin, alias Artagnan Becker is dead. We pretend to be moved, for we know, since The Testament of Orpheus that poets only pretend to die."

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Three thumbnails from Cahiers "New Wave" special -- Malle. Lelouch, Bernard-Aubert

These are the thumbnail critiques from the December 1962 special "New Wave" issue of Cahiers du Cinema for Claude Bernard-Aubert (whose Patrouille de choc (1957) and Les Tripes au soleil (1959) were precursors of the New Wave), Louis Malle and Claude Lelouch.

Claude Bernard-Aubert
Cinema also has its Jacques Brel and one is tempted to include the director of Les Lâches vivent diespoir in the small group of "grandiloquents"; "grandiloquents" only film performers full-bore and have them strive about in paroxysms; they deliver grand messages and hide somehow or other a secret penchant for incoherence. The fact is that the two poorest films of our auteur are those that do not take as their theme, war, racism and their absurdity.
Let's not be too severe on our shock-patroller who has just with Poliorkia (Les Moutons de Praxo) succeeded in making his best film, a new parable on the absurdity of war, shot in Greece with, this time, a "terrible sweetness" which we know from Resnais
to be more effective than a violent indictment.

Louis Malle (page 75)
(described as "preparing" Assez Champagne)

He likes achievement: the underwater photography, the work with Bresson, the unwavering lovers, the cinema of effervescence. the truth about Bardot, the Tour de France and the war in Algeria. Serious research fascinates him; but he is still in quest of "a subject", worried, honest worker, he is looking for "his" vision of the world. But everything takes place as if the world is obstinate about refusing this to him. All the while, speaking loudly of film and its objectives. If his films resembled what he says about them, he would be the phoenix of the New Wave.

Claude Lelouch (page 74)
Le Vie en château (interrupted)

Screenwriter, dialogue writer, director, cameraman, in brief the total auteur; this is the most recent example of the gawky disciple, Taking Godard for an improviser and Rouch for a long-distance runner, he wanders that streets at any good or bad (lucky or unlucky) hour filming anything anyway. "If you don't like this, don't disgust the others with it", seems to be the thinking of American television which has proposed to him to show America in the way he has shown Paris. A fat lot of good that will do.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Walt Disney as auteur

In his biography Walt Disney : the triumph of the American imagination, Neal Gabler explains how in Disney's first feature length animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the animators were shuttled where they were needed while in the next feature Pinocchio teams of animators concentrated on one character or aspect to the exclusion of the rest of the film. On page 315, Gabler writes this about the result of this:

He admitted that because some animators could draw only Pinocchio and others only the cricket, certain scenes didn't "jell so well." Worse, because directors and animators were working exclusively on their own sequences without much coordination among them, they were blind to the rest of the film, especially since Walt, who had provided this coordination on Snow White, was preoccupied at the time with The Concert Feature.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Bruno Nuytten on working with Jean-Luc Godard

This is a tidbit from cinematographer/director Bruno Nuytten concerning Jean-Luc Godard whose film Detective, Nuytten had DP’ed.

from Four Perspectives on French Cinema by Sheila Steeples & Allen Katona
Film Quarterly Volume 49 No. 4 Summer 1996 (page 5)
The complete article is available on-line if you subscribe to JSTOR or can find a library that offers access to that service.

“Working with him [in 1985, on Detective] was a great trial, so great that it completely washed me out. It was a violent meeting, with Godard both bringing me into the project and rejecting me. He reigned on the set with enormous authority and didn’t want anyone to be reassured. He publicly used me and broke me on the set, but since the experience was close to a certain purity in film-making. I decided not to react. It upset him and forced him to take a more violent attitude toward me. It must be added that all the crew and the actors who worked with Godard in the 1980s were terrified by the myth surrounding Jean-Luc Godard; they put him on a pedestal, and this really irritated him. I doubtless made the same mistake, by having this attitude of looking up to him. I tried to handle the shoot well, which is what he reproached me for. The fact that I accepted the situation such as he had created it, meaning conflicted, made him almost nasty, since that is not what he wanted.
Godard was at this time, and still is today, seeking a visual form for his films that is as minimalist as possible. When you watch a Godard film, this is its primary interest. This is for me the great art of Godard’s modern films: minimal technique to achieve an extreme wealth of intellectual possibilities.“

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Raymond Durgnat "catalogues" the New Wave -- 1963

In 1963, the critic Raymond Durgnat published one of the first critical studies of the "new wave", Nouvelle Vague: the First Decade . Given the debate which continues more than 40 years later, it is interesting to consider the directors whom Durgnat "catalogued" as New Wave and the films of this phenomenon that he considered as "indispensable".

The indispensable films:
Les Cousins, Le Sang des bêtes, Hôtel des Invalides, Le Grand Méliès, La Tête contre les murs, Les Yeux san visage, A bout de souffle, Le Bel âge, Les Amants, Nuit et Brouillard, Toute la mémoire du monde, La Chant du Styrène, Hiroshima mon amour, Les Maîtres fous, Chronique d'un été, Les Quatre cents coups, Tirez sur le pianiste, L'Opéra mouffe
and perhaps: L'Eau à la bouche, Paris nous appartient, Jules et Jim, Cléo de 5 à 7

The directors he catalogued:
Jean-Gabriel Albicocco, Alexander Astruc, Jacques Baratier, Claude Bernard-Aubert, Michel Boisrond, Philippe de Broca, Peter Brook, Michel Camus, Claude chabrol, Jacques Demy, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Georges Franju, Jean-Luc Godard, Marcel Hanoun, Robert Hossein, Pierre Kast, Louis Malle, Jean-Pierre Melville, Robert Ménégoz, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Edouard Molinario, François Moreuil, Marcel Moussy, Paul Paviot, François Reichenbach, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette, Jean Rouch, Jacques Rozier, François Truffaut, Roger Vadim, Jean Valère, Agnès Varda, François Villiers, Henri Zaphiratos


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Positif at Cahiers -- Roger Tailleur and Paul-Louis Thirard Dec. 1961

In their annual year-end special issue in December 1961, Cahiers du Cinema spotlighted "La Critique" (Criticism). The issue featured the responses of 36 French film critics to a battery of 14 questions asked by Cahiers. Question 14 was, "Speaking frankly, what to you is the contribution -- positive or negative -- of Cahiers du Cinema?". Among those who replied were 4 Positif regulars. What follows is my translation of the reaction of two of those Positif critics Roger Tailleur and Paul-Louis Thirard.

Roger Tailleur (page 83)
Positive contributions: news, research (filmograhies, interviews), unintentional humor. Negative contribution: the orientation of its research, its consequent "systems", - premature, partial and false. The resulting blindness and bad faith: covering over errors of "track-switching" (Rossellini), badly compensating for childishness (Hitchcock), and aggressive empiricism by an academic totalitarianism increasingly invasive, undertaking promotions of little profit, chaotic wastefulness which only reaps the wind (Fuller, Ulmer), annexing on the other hand shamelessly the sacred, and rather superficial, celebrities (Fellini, Franju, Resnais, Antonioni, soon Wajda, maybe tomorrow Autant-Lara or Le Chanois), enticing too many bad filmmakers into an uncertain vocation, poorly equiped much more than Mallarméan, (it suffices to compare them to the "foreigners", Kast to Doniol-Valcroze, Resnais to Chabrol or to Godard). In short, after some interesting flashes, to have relapsed into seriousness, to have simply (and quite rightly) wanted to have film taken seriously, embalming film rather rather to have revealed its fragrances, to have slept rather to have awakened, to be less critics than curators, to have run with the hare while hunting with the hounds, of eclecticism and engagement, of the avant-garde and the commercial; but you have asked me not to be too prolix.

Paul-Louis Thirard (page 84)
Contribution important and negative: they have succeeded through omnipresence and repetition in getting bad films to be taken for good ones and vice-versa. (An example of the first case: Breathless, A Woman is a Woman, L'eau à la bouche ... Example of the second: Tu ne tueras point). As the tendency seems to reverse itself, some take their precaution, an attitude which makes one think of the amusing manner of turnarounds of Mr Guy Mollet vis-a-vis the general. So look at the unassertive lot of the latest Chabrol. Also, look at the editor in chief of Cahiers du Cinema screaming at the betrayal of, and intrigues against, the New Wave. Now, to what measure, given the state of French society today, was the phenomenon of Cahiers du Cinema unavoidable? That is another question. It requires, for there to be an answer to it, a historian or a sociologist.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Francois Truffaut on Max Ophuls

On May 15, 1957, Arts published François Truffaut's article "You are all witnesses at the trial, French cinema is breaking apart under false legends" and the following week it published his article "Cannes: a failure dominated by failure, schemes and faux pas". These two articles at that time were probably more responsible for his notoriety as a film critic. Because of these two articles, he was not invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 1958. What follow here is the opening of "You are all witnesses..." which actually is a paean to Max Ophuls. It is my translation and that article was reprinted in "Le Plaisir des yeux" on page 212.

Is cinema an art?
In the majority of cases the conclusion is summed up in the word, "yes". There are always exceptions which prove the rule.. And in that case, the conclusion is this: cinema is not an art, since films are the result of a collective work, film is the work of a team.
One could declare quite clearly that, contrary to what is written in all film histories, contrary to what is asserted by directors themselves, film is no more the work of a team than a novel, a poem, a symphony or a painting.
The great directors, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, Alfred Hitchcock, Max Ophuls, Robert Bresson and a great many others write the films that they themselves direct, even when they find inspiration in a novel, a play, or a true story, the point of departure is only a pretext. A filmmaker is not a writer, he thinks in images, in terms of mise-en-scene and writing bores him.
The role of the scenarist/dialogue-writer compared to the director is limited to that of technician -- the finishing touches on the dramatic design, a trick to "clinch" a complicated plot, some guidelines for the dialogue. The screenwriter talks with the director and "passes the ball back to him"; in the end, the titles mean nothing and that is so. Cécil Saint-Laurent and Annette Wademant who are, respectively, credited with the screenplay and adaptation of Lola Montès aver to me that Max Ophuls preserved nothing of their work. Both are no less great admirers of the film in question and of Max Ophuls.
If I cite Lola Montès, it is because this film constitutes a perfect example of a film whose director is the unique responsable (the only one in charge).
and One day, I visited Max Ophuls. He welcomed me to view the "rushes"; This was a lengthy shot of the Nice road, artificially reddened by Ophuls, the leaves themselves had been tinted. Max Ophuls was not in the projection room and Christian Matras, the first-class cinematographer of the film, did not conceal his disgruntlement, "You never see a red road, and these leaves, they aren't natural". The cinematographer of Lola MontèsOphuls' closest collaborator was in the dark on the film-maker's intention. He did not even know why Ophuls had him paint the road and the leaves. (Each episode in Lola Montès corresponds to a season, the sketch of the adventure with Litz had to be autumnal.)
Thus, it is no exaggeration to claim that Max Ophuls was his own cinematographer, in as much as you find the same style of photography in all his films while Christian Matras shot for Till L'Espiègle, as an example, color photography which was first-rate but very different.

Another time, i went to the studio to see Ophuls: he was preparing a shot which he would film that afternoon. The setting portrayed was the apartment of Martine Carol in Nice where Peter Ustinov came to ask her to re-enact her life in his circus. Along the staircase -- Ophuls work is loaded with staircases since the action of climbing steps is much more physical than walking -- there were small clear tiles. Ophuls was arguing with the production-manager, his old friend, Ralph Baum. "Ralph, I want colored tiles, in different colors, in place of these tiles." The production-manager does his job by conciliating the artistic desires of the director with the financial imperatives of the producer.
"Max, we don't even see these tiles on the screen since the crane's movement is so rapid that we very quickly see Ustinov appearing at the top pf the stairs."
"Ralph. I absolutely need these tiles to be colored."
In my mind, Ralph Baum was justified as it seemed evident that this detail was unimportant.
On the day that I saw the film for the first time - a day to mark with a red-letter - I noticed that after my departure from the set, Ophuls had won his point.
I saw Ustinov's silhouette, profiled behind colored tiles, climbing the stairs with a heavy thread - like an elephant - accompanied by circus music and I understood Ophuls' intention. Ustinov is a man of the circus and his arrival in Lola's life had to evoke the ambiance of the circus, not only, through the music, but also, through the different colors, the multicolored ambiance of the circus ring, the tinted spotlights.
The directors whom I have already said think in images are averse to explaining themselves in words. They as modest as the scenarist is not, whence Ophuls refusal to explain his his intentions to his closest collaborators.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

A Truffaut census of French directors - 1955

This is from "Les Critiques de Cinema" by Pierre Ajame (pages 70-71 my translation) published in 1967. However, it is mostly a quote from an article by François Truffaut published in Arts in 1955.
[Note: Ajame quotes a figure of 99 directors, in Philippe Mary's La nouvelle vague et le cinema d'auteur and Serge Toubiana/Antoine de Baecque Francois Truffaut quote a figure of 89 directors]

On March 30, 1955, Truffaut offered an opinion piece entitled "The Crisis of Ambition of French Cinema". In it, he wrote significantly:
I have surveyed 99 French - or working in France - directors and divided them into 4 groups.

1. the Ambitious -- Yves Allégret, Alexander Astruc, Claude Autant-Lara, Jacques Becker, Robert Bresson, Marcel Carné, André Cayatte, René Clair, René Clement, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean Cocteau, Abel Gance, Jean Grémillon, Roger Leenhardt, Max Ophuls, Jean Renoir, Jacques Tati. Right there is the true "French quality" for you. Here are 17 filmmakers who can tell themselves, "I am in the process of making the best French film of the year." They have that right. Let it be specified that ambition faultlessly brings quality but not success (examples: L'Air de Paris, L'Amour d'une femme, Mam'zelle Nitouche, La Beauté du diable). The films of Yves Allégret, Claude Autant-Lara, Marcel Carné, Andre Cayatte, René Clément are in the first place the films of Charles Spaak, Jacques Sigurd, Aurenche and Bost. Now the cinema termed "scenarist" is called upon to fade away.

2. the semi-Ambitious -- Marc Allégret, Hervé Bromberger, Norbert Carbonnaux, Yves Ciampi, Louis Daquin, Jean Delannoy, Leo Joannon, Alex Joffé, Jean-Pierre Melville, Marcel Pagliero, Marcel Pagnol, Carlo-Rim, Georges Rouquier, Claude Vermorel and René Wheeler.

3. the honestly Commercial -- Raymond Bernard, Bernard Borderie, Henri Calef, Maurice Cloche, Guy Lefranc, Léonide Moguy, Richard Pottier, Jean Sacha, Robert Vernay, Henri Verneuil, Jacqueline Audry, Pierre Billon, Le Chanois, Jean Dréville, Robert Darène, Georges Lampin, Jean Devaivre, Christian-Jaque, Jack Pinoteau, René Chanas, Kirsanoff, Swoboda[sic], Henri Decoin, Sacha Guitry, Julien Duvivier, Georges Lacombe, André Hunnebelle.
Let's regret finding here the names Raymond Bernard, Christian-Jaque, Sacha Guitry and Julien Duvivier who prior to the war knew how to demonstrate themselves to be bankable, but better yet to be artists.

4. the deliberately Commercial
(I cite as examples) -- Raoul André, André Bertomieu, Jean Boyer, Marcel L'Herbier, Gilles Grangier, Maurice Labro ...