My Gleanings

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Robert Bresson on Jean-Luc Godard (1970)

This short exchange is from a Robert Bresson interview which is available on-line

Interviewer: That reminds me of Godard. He makes bad films, but he defends them so interestingly.
Bresson: His films are interesting. He upsets the official cinema, which cares only for profits. He taught films how to use disorder.
Interviewer: Don't you think his purpose is more important than the individual results - which aren't very good?
Bresson: When he uses professional actors, I don't like his films, but when he doesn't, he makes the best that can be seen.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Positif and Robert Bresson

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the publisher G K Hall put in print a series of books on film directors in the A Guide to References and Resources series. All sources of information about the director was gather together, including a bibliography of the major writings about the director. In 1983, Hall published Robert Bresson, a guide to references and resources by Jane Sloan. What follows is a list of the articles in that bibliography that either appeared in Positif or were written by a major Positif contributor of that era for another magazine and Jane Sloan's resumes of those articles.

The earliest, and probably most favorable, article (actually, articles, as it was published in installments spread out from the 2nd to the 5th issue of Positif) was by the founder of the review Bernard Chardère. Jane Sloan, the author of Robert Bresson a guide to references and resources takes up a little more than a page summing up critique of Bresson which she describes as "a wide-ranging series of essays on 'classic cinema', defined as an ideal cinema of revelation"

Positif 1/57 Ado Kyrou reviews Un condamné à mort s'est échappé (A Man Escaped) by Ado Kyrou. Sloan's summation is "a diatribe on Un condamné à mort s'est échappé. Kyrou first states that Bresson makes so few films because he has only contempt for cinema. Condamné is a "beautiful subject" that Bresson has destroyed by eliminating all elements that might suggest passion; there are no characters, ideas, truth, time, or space in the film. However, Bresson might have a "brilliant career as a director in radio".

Positif 1/57 The review published Kyrou's review with another review by one Marcel Ranchal. Sloan writes "Positive review of Un condamné à mort s'est échappé focusing on the morality and courage of Fontaine's actions."

Positif 4/60 Louis Seguin reviews Pickpocket. "In a very negative review, Seguin discusses Bresson's ideas as 'simplistic.' Only Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne deserves Bresson's exalted reputation as a nurturer of 'debates on high-altitude metaphysics'.''

Positif 4/60 Roger Tailleur reviews Pickpocket. "Negative review: 'Dostoyevsky written by an abusive disciple of Hemingway. . . . A perfect exercise in style if one accepts a definition of style as the act of jumping over intermediate ideas, points, and words.'"

Positif 7/62 Robert Benayoun. Jane Sloan comments, "Short notice bemoaning the selection of Procès de Jeanne d'Arc as the French entry at Cannes."

Positif 7-8/63 Paul-Louis Thirard reviews Procès de Jeanne d'Arc. Sloan comments, "Wrap-up of the attitudes of the always hostile Positif critics towards Bresson and criticism of Procès de Jeanne d'Arc for being overly intellectual."

Positif 10/66 Robert Benayoun reviews Au hasard Balthazar . Sloan comments, "Attacks Bresson's audience as a passive minority who wish to turn cinema into a 'a sort of non-Actor's studio for neurasthenic zombies'."

Positif 4/67 Michel Ciment. Sloan comments, "Essay review of Drouget's Robert Bresson which is admired for its 'fresh approach', having been written by a nonspecialist."

Positif 6/67 Robert Benayoun. Sloan comments, "Review of Mouchette. Benayoun praises the bumper-car scene ('when Bresson wants to, he knows the technique') and ridicules the rest as 'ritual masturbation'."

Positif 1/71 Jean-Paul Torok Sloan comments, "Negative review of the film [Une Femme douce] which merely gives evidence of Bresson's continuing mental deterioration."

La Quinzaine Littéraure Jan 15 1972 Louis Seguin. Sloan comments, "Review of Quatre nuits d'un rêveur contrasting it with Visconti's version of the same story. Seguin argues that Bresson, by his use of minimalist imagery and metonymy, reduces coherent reality to a contradiction. Bresson 'burns the bridges' of accumulated culture, but replaces it with 'nothing'."

Positif 11/74 Michel Sineux. Sloan comments, "Negative review of this 'clichéd' film [Lancelot de Lac] made by a 'megalomaniac of the ellipse'. Sineux see the continuous averting of the eyes as 'aesthetic constipation'."

La Quinzaine Littéraure no date 1977 Louis Seguin. Sloan comments, "Review comparing the film [Le Diable probablement] with the tragic romanticism Goethe. Though Bresson does not allow himself to agree with the analysis he presents, Seguin wonders how he can compromise his reputation with so common a theme as ecology."

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In an interview in La Gloire de Pagnol, Jacqueline Pagnol -- Marcel Pagnol's widow -- speaks with Alain Ferrarri of Pagnol's problems with film critics. They discuss La Critique des critiiques published in 1947 (coincidentally at a time when the young turks were still teenagers) a book in which Pagnol launches a broadside against the film critics of that time and they also discuss the generally negative reaction of critics to Manon des sources in 1953. Ferrari, in a footnote, mentions as an example of a positive review André Bazin's review which Ferrari says is for the most part "elogious". In that review which was republished in What is Cinema? , Bazin said that Pagnol had done, in cinema, for words what D W Griffith had done for images (Why, Benny, do I get the idea that you will somehow interpret that as an insult?). Jacqueline Pagnol went on to say,

"Recognition of Marcel by film critics came later with François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard when they were writing for Cahiers du Cinema. Marcel was very touched by the fact that these young people spontaneously spoke of their admiration. He received several of them at our home."


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Whose screenplay is it, anyway?

I am returning here to a subject which I covered in a long report which I published separately last spring which can be found for anyone who is interested at:
The subject of that report was the letter which the novelist Georges Bernanos wrote in 1947 explaining his refusal of a script for his novel Diary of a Country Priest which was written by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost and its apparent influence on François Truffaut in the writing of A Certain Tendency of French Cinema and the place of that letter in the latter-day controversy which has arisen from certain charges which director Bertrand Tavernier has leveled against Truffaut for his use of that screenplay which Bernanos refused. This post restates some of my arguments in the early post intending hopefully to clarify those points.

A recap of the main events:

In 1947, screenwriters Pierre Bost and Jean Aurenche wrote an adaptation of Bernanos's novel which Bernanos rejected writing a long letter to the magazine SamediSoir detailing his complaints. In 1952, François Truffaut borrowed that screenplay (and three others) from Pierre Bost in preparation for the writing of his article
A Certain Tendency of French Cinema. From at least the mid 1980s, Bertrand Tavernier has on several occasions charged that Truffaut violated Pierre Bost in using material he borrowed from Bost to attack him. Antoine de Baecque in an article published in Cinematheque (Fall 1993) and again, this time, collaborating with Serge Toubiana in a biography of Truffaut discuss the incident but do not mount much of a defense simply because they were not aware of Bernanos's letter.

Some new speculation
As I have been rethinking my original thesis in the last month or so, I have found myself coming back to the question: Whose screenplay is it anyways?
Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost prepared an adaption of copy-written material. That adaptation was rejected (and not by a producer who contracted them for the adaptation, but by the holder of the copyright on the underlying material). They can't pitch that material to another producer (at least one would think not). They can't take it to an editor and see it published in print. As long as they were paid as contracted and as any effort to carry forward with that screenplay see them credited, they can't claim much else. This would seem to imply that the "intellectual rights" to that property remain with the holder of the rights to the underlying material. In this case, Georges Bernanos, and , after his death, his heirs. Thus, it would seem that it is most correct to say that Pierre Bost lent -at least in the case of the adaptation of Diary of a Country Priest - a sheaf of papers on which was printed a screenplay which belonged to the heirs of Georges Bernanos. In addition to the screenplay for Diary of a Country Priest, Pierre Bost loaned Truffaut three other screenplays. He let him take home the screenplay for The Pastoral Symphony which had been filmed in 1946. And that for Dieu a besoin des hommes (God Needs Men) which had been released in 1950. Truffaut was also allowed to examine the screenplay for Le Blé en herbe - from the Colette novel - which Truffaut reveals in an end-note had been prepared by Aurenche and Bost in 1946 but which was not filmed until a few months after Truffaut borrowed the screenplay. That film was released on January 20 1954, almost simultaneously with appearance on the January 1954 issue of Cahiers du Cinema in which A Certain Tendency was first published. In that same note, Truffaut discussing Claude Autant-Lara (for whom the Aurenche-Bost screenplay for Le Blé en herbe had been prepared) unsuccessful plagiarism suit brought against Roger Leenhardt for his similarly themed 1948 film Les Drenières vacances. Leenhardt, it has to be noted, was André Bazin's mentor as a film critic and thus could be considered something of an arrière-mentor of Truffaut's. Truffaut also reveals that the "profaned host" scene which Aurenche and Bost had prepared for their version of Diary of a Country Priest had been inserted into their screenplay for the similarly themed Dieu a besoin des hommes from Henri Queffelec's novel Le recteur de Île de Sein. It does seem to me that we have something for the magistrate's here. Whose screenplay was the Aurenche-Bost version of Diary of a Country Priest anyways? As I have said, it would seem to me that that screenplay is the property of the detainer of the rights to the underlying material. It would seem to me that if the heirs of Georges Bernanos (Bernanos died in 1948, about a year after his ennuis with Jean Aurenche) sued for plagiarism, that the fact that Aurenche and Bost cannibalized, partially at least, their screenplay for Country Priest to write the later film would go a great way towards making the case. The question needs to be posed, to what extent had the Aurenche-Bost screenplay for Country Priest morphed into the screenplay for Dieu a besoin des hommes? One person who had the chance to study that question was François Truffaut to whom Bost had lent both screenplays. This might explain the reference to a "police report" in Bost's note to Truffaut written after A Certain Tendency was published, "I only wish that none of the many details that you give should come from me (after all, I may have spoken to you too and your piece sometimes takes on the tone of a police report). Also, With his Benedictine memory of the films he had seen, Truffaut may have immediately picked up on the similarities between the two projects and his aim in borrowing both screenplays could have been to investigate just this point."

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Eric Rohmer on location

This is from Jean-Claude Brialy's memoir Le Ruisseau des singes as quoted in La Nouvelle vague et le cinéma d'auteur by Philippe Mary. Brialy is discussing making Claire's Knee directed by Eric Rohmer. (page 139 my translation)

During filming, he [Rohmer] led the life of a monk or an ascetic. He slept in the barn of the house on a litter which he himself made and he washed in a basin of ice-cold water. He ate a little salad, allowing himself a hard-boiled egg on feast days and rose before everyone else at 5 in the morning, going off to run by himself in the mountains and on the river banks. He was in fine shape.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Jean-Yves Goute points out the future

The review of Bob the Gambler in October 1956 issue of Cahiers du Cinema written by a certain "Jean-Yves Goute" ended with this paragraph. (page 51 my translation)

I am always asking why [Henri] Decaë is not officially recognized as one of the best French cinematographers. The reasons that I am given for this seem to me to be too petty and ignoble to be true. Yet, it is that Decaë is greatly a part of the final success of Bob the Gambler. The image is clean without being dry, beautiful without being refined, alluring without being hot. Certain small achievements are as agreeable to the eye and the mind as a beautiful phrase which is not made by the eye. Exactly suitable for an intelligent, poetic and charming chronicle like Bob the Gambler.

A little more than a year later, this "Jean-Yves Goute" began filming his first feature with Henri Decaë as his cinematographer. That film was Le Beau Serge and "Jean-Yves Goute" was a pen-name used by Claude Chabrol. Decaë would go on to light Les Cousins, A Double tour and Les Bonnes femmes for Chabrol, as well as lighting The Four Hundred Blows for François Truffaut.