My Gleanings

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sacha Guitry and the" young turks"

Axel Madsen on page 132 of his William Wyler: the authorized biography describes A Certain Tendency of French Cinema as
". . .an attack on a segment of French Cinema dominated (in Truffaut's view) by a tradition of verbal tyranny. The target was the well-upholstered, literary, well-acted, carefully motivated films usually scripted by the Prévert brothers, Jacques and Pierre, Michel Audiard, Pierre Bost, Jean Aurenche, and the more illustrious Sacha Guitry. In France, the connection between the cinema and the intelligentsia had always been close. (Jean Cocteau, André Malraux, Marcel Pagnol) Against this "Tradition of Quality", Truffaut listed Jean Renoir, Max Ophuls, Robert Bresson, Jacques Becker, and Jacques Tati as authentic auteurs."
This is so typical of what is written about that period in French film criticism. It is incredible how many mis-statements one can pack into so few words. But let me try to correct a few of them.

Truffaut in that article identifies "the core of the Tradition of Quality" as residing in the work of "Jean Aurenche et Pierre Bost, Jacques Sigurd, Henri Jeanson (recent work), Robert Scipion, Roland Laudenbach, etc..." No Michel Audiard, no frère Prévert, no Sacha Guitry. Not only are not not listed but toward Jacques and Pierre Prévert and of Sacha Guitry, so-called "young turks" seemed to have cast a respectful glance.

The December issues of Cahiers in that era were generally "special issues" and in 1965 the December issue was dedicated to Marcel Pagnol and Sacha Guitry.
The introduction to the spread honoring both film/theater legends reads
"To pay homage to Sacha Guitry and Marcel Pagnol, as two genuine filmmakers, and nothing less, does not go without paradox and challenge. The paradox applies obviously since both men are men of the theater before, pre-eminently, before being filmmakers. And more so, since they consider cinema as an intermediary, an intermediary at the service of the global art of drama. Thus, they are filmmakers a little bit in spite of themselves. What is admirable is that while taking cinema as nothing more than a medium, at a time when everyone had eyes only for the image and looked for the specificity of cinema only in the plastic, they served it as much through their films which begin precisely where theater ends. The exemplary is that passing beyond rules, conventions and techniques, they have invented a new language (and there lies the challenge) where the New Wave, as much as they do in the Americans, Renoir and Cocteau, should find its reason to be." (page 22-23 my translation)

Jacques Bontemps writing of Guitry in that issue wrote,
"It does not elude me that the fact of dedicating this special issue to Sacha Guitry and Marcel Pagnol will assume much an aspect of a provocation, or a paradox at the very least. If, with the latter, it is a case of one of the greatest auteurs in French cinema, the case of the first named is more complex. The object of a strong admiration previously at Cahiers, and more recently, but more rapturously, in cinephile circles, Guitry remains somewhat (and there where, next to reason, lucidity dwells) more yet than rejected, unrecognized. Unrecognized due in great part to a work itself literary and, let's agree here, a lot more legitimately,dismissed with the double label of "Parisian wit" and "boulevard theater". (again, it is convenient to ask ourselves on the legitimacy of the pejorative tone which freely coincides with the use of these expressions. But such is not our intention.) Thus, the filmmaker is accused of participating in a wit and a theatrical genre globally despised. He participates exactly a great deal too much in order not to find himself by that quiet elsewhere." (page 103 my translation)
But, in cinema, Guitry had no patrimony. Without doubt, this is why he did it so well. Going completely against the grain, being naively content to film his own plays, he found himself an innovator and he remains one. While others wore themselves out exhausting all the possibilities of a new invention while being, in fact,unheedful of its profound mission, some, among them, Guitry and Pagnol , lost interest in its workings and placed themselves well within the cinematic in order to land on both feet on the bend of a secret road."(page 103 my translation)
Almost ten years earlier, not long before his film Si Paris nous était conté. This film was roundly panned by virtually the whole Paris critical establishment. The February 1956 noted the release of the film in its "released last month in Paris" section in the back of the issue with a short negative note and in that month's conseil des dix, the film earned 8 bullets - from both older Cahiers regulars like Bazin or non-Cahiers critics like Jean de Baroncelli and Henri Agel. Only Jacques Rivette and the producer Pierre Braunberger dissented and both only abstained. That might might have been the end of it except that in the next issue -March 1956- there was published a review of the film written by François Truffaut. that review was introduced with this editor's note,
"No one here is being taken in, but there is to be found one advocate of this film where Paris was forgotten. His name is François Truffaut. To this lone wolf, this outsider, let's give the floor."
(page 52 my translation)
Truffaut wrote,
"But a critic who possesses the qualities - verve, cult of the master, fantasy, imagination and fluency - of Sacha Guitry would be unthinkable."
"Let's be serious, the daily critics to whom I am tied by feelings confraternal can not at the same time reject Astruc for being primarily a technician and Guitry for flouting technique . . . In any History of Cinema worthy of that name, Sacha Guitry would, with no reservations, find a place in the chapter, "Auteurs of Films", his name alongside that of Cocteau and Malraux and then of Bresson, Astruc, Gance, Ophuls and Renoir. French cinema would be diminished if some of these titles which I will conclude by enumerating were expunged.
Ceux de chez nous
Le Nouveau testament
Le Roman d'un tricheur
Faisons un rêve
Ils étaient neuf célibataires
La Poisin
Si Paris nous était conté."
Cahiers du Cinema March 1956 page 53 my translation

continues on "The Prévert brothers and the 'young turks'"

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