Thursday, December 29, 2011

Serge Daney in 2011

2012 will mark the 20th "anniversary" of Serge Daney's death in 1992. What is perhaps remarkable is that, despite the lack of proper English translations, Serge Daney has not fallen into oblivion and remains somewhat a cinephilic reference - litlle known, but too important to be ignored. Mentions keep appearing, quotes keep proping up, translations seem to happen. There may even be a few events organised for the the 20 year mark (for example the Trafic, 20 years, 20 films exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on 11-30 January).

Serge Daney in 1968 at the Odeon theatre
Looking back at 2011, there are a number of signs that Serge Daney remains present in film criticism. Two books by Serge Daney were translated and published in Dutch, the 3-hour filmed interview "Journey of a Cine-Son" has been entirely translated and subititled in English, and a number of translations appeared (or re-appeared):

There were also two "disgressions": the translations of extracts from Louis Skorecki's Dialogue with Serge Daney and of some of Daney's postcards.

In France, a theatre play about Serge Daney, created in France in 2010, has enjoyed enough success that it continues to tour the country. Serge Daney was even the subject of a festival (The ethical point of view of film: Serge Daney, Croatia and Slovenia, December 2011 - if anybody attended, we're eager for ).

In all, reasons to hope, and to continue... despite the lack of time to dedicate to this blog. Humple apologies to the 2-3,000 people who came to this blog last year (and especially the 100 or so loyal followers who check out on new entries). I will try to do better in 2012.

Happy New Year everyone.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Welles in Power

Letter to Jane just published on line his latest copy of Cahiers du cinéma in English with an article by Serge Daney on Orson Welles.

Welles in Power (see page 16)

Cahiers du cinéma in English, 11, 1967 (originally published in Cahiers du cinéma, 181, August 1966).

The article was already available in a slightly different translation on Steve Erickson's website.

Merry Christmas every one!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The sap hunter

Actor Melvil Poupaud's book "What is My naMe", published this year in France, is a collage of memories, including of Serge Daney.
Between 1986 and 1992, I had the chance to know Serge Daney. He was for me like a godfather, attentive and benevolent, who taught to me, with cinema as primary material.
Together, we had invented an imaginary character, who became a kind of guide in our relationship. S.D. had decided to trace back this "Swine", chasing him around the world. He kept me informed of the progress of his secret investigation with the postcards that he sent to me regularly.
Over time, the "story of the Swine" and my story with Serge Daney became one, with only one character in my mind, between Mr. Arkadin and Jeminy Cricket.
Melvil Poupaud, Quel est Mon noM ?, Edtitions Stock,  2011.
Daney had something for postcards:
Something I should have said, by the way, at the beginning: for me, the absolute image is the postcard, it's not cinema. I have a love of postcards that has never slackened. I've sent tons to everybody throughout my whole life. The postcard is my true relationship to the image, there, it's the postcard. For deeper reasons, more deeply buried, than cinema: which is to say that I already found that cinema was very basic, very popular. Postcards are even lower. They're on their stalls and everyone sends them and writes on the back. And you can write postcards in very coded language, you can write poems, you can write love stuff. All you need to do is write it in a way that even those who read it won't understand it. So it was the maximum possible elitism, possible singularity, and the maximum "let's do with the normal material people use. We're not using great culture." There, that's a digression on postcards. 
Serge Daney, Journey of a Cine-son.
Here are some of these postcards.

They almost forced me to pay YOUR phone bill for upstairs! 
You did well to go. Everybody ended up freaked out after one week. 
I owe you (at least) one meal.
Signed :  The Swine (1)
(1) resuscitated. 

I know - from a reliable source - that the Swine and his son have abandoned the family kitchen and are on their way to Malta. Despite the heat (in Syracuse, people are dropping like flies, and the flies themselves feel rather down), I'm tracking them. Already, today, I found the proof (see opposite) that the Swine exists since Antiquity! I'll tell you more later. Not a word to Lauzon!
The sap hunter (ex. S.D.) 

I traced back the Swine in the Dominican Republic. He has an unfortunate tendency to take himself for Christ. He told me how he has suffered from our mocking remarks but he's still pleased that, despite your minimal spelling, you got your baccalaureate. He salutes, respectfully, the steadfast Poupette.
And me, I'm in Paris.
* SD 
Dear Melvil,
After smashing my personal record (1) for the 11 meter sluggish breaststroke, I took a lovely little train to Vevey, going from lake to lake, and gliding to my last festival before returning to Paris after the summer break. I stayed in an old Ruizian hotel, the Three Crown Hotel. Barely arrived, I asked: "where's the sailor? - What sailor, Sir?" mumbled a fat man at the reception desk. I saw his confusion and started to explore the hotel, stamping hazardously on some old indebted billionaire ladies. "Stupor!" is what I shouted in the corridors, a fork in my hand, sure of myself. And on the second day, I spotted a sailor's collar fleeing in the corridors. "Where do you think you're going, shitty sailor" I shouted harshly while clinching a thin vicious-looking boy.   Harried, he barely struggled, looking mean, and replied, in Italian: "Che vuoi?" It was him all right, the horrible Swine of Taormina... (to be continued)
(1) of slowness. 
"- Lead me to your father, I told him while stabbing him with a fork, I have a message from Melvil P...." I spare you the details, the end was horrible. Swine-father ended up employed to look after the wharf's toilets. He was hiding. He called for our forgiveness for having despised us in Taormina and refused to serve us another portion. He admitted he had fled to Malta, to no avail. He promised me he'll go see - as a form of punishment - all of Raoul Ruiz's films.
"- Too late! I told him while I pushed him in the frozen lake. Your adventures were merely a pretext to amuse Melvil Poupaud and I'm afraid he's too old now to enjoy them. Sink, Swine, and stay at the bottom of the lake. On that note (see opposite), a storm broke. Terrible, is it not?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Louis Skorecki: Dialogue with Serge Daney

Louis Skorekci and Serge Daney met in high school, wrote in the same publications and ended up as two of the most original film critics in France - although quite different from one another.

Their first texts were published in the early 60s in Visages du cinéma (amazing texts, on Hawks and Preminger). They joined Cahiers du cinéma together after a trip to the USA to interview MacCarey, Keaton, Hawks, Sternberg and others. They then moved (separately) to the daily newspaper Libération where they wrote their best articles before continuing their own adventures (Trafic for Daney until he passed away in 1992 and Blogging for Skoreki).

Louis Skoreki rarely talks about Daney (here, here and here) but he did publish a book called Dialogues with Daney, a selection of short texts from his daily column in Libération between 2002 and 2007. And it's an amazing read.

You can judge by yourself thanks to the generosity of the Presses Universitaires de France (PUF) who have given me permission to publish the translations of four texts from the book. A really big thank you to them.

Rouge published an excellent portrait of Louis Skorecki in 2007.

I Didn’t Kill Lincoln

Two boys, still young. Let’s say they are cinephiles. Or ex-cinephiles. One is dead, the other alive. They ramble on a bit. Let’s call them Serge and Louis. Louis is the first to talk.
― Do you know who talks best about Ford?
― Lourcelles, you said it already.
― True, I forgot.
― Parkinson?
― Parkinson yourself.
― Calm down Loulou. And tell me what The Prisoner of Shark Island looks like.
― Baroque and cruel, like its title.
― He’s prisoner of what?
― Of Shark Island. The island of sharks.
― It’s a better title than I Didn’t Kill Lincoln*.
― You said it, my nephew.
― I’m your nephew?
― You didn’t know?
― First news.
― I’m your uncle. The one telling stories, beautiful stories.
― Uncle Paul’s beautiful stories, right?
― No, friendly Louis’ beautiful stories.
― Friendly Louis, who’s that? I forgot. I’ve been dead for a while, you know.
― You’re more alive than ever. It’s all about you. Books, PhD theses, articles, festivals, DVDs.
― What’s that?
― DVDs. It’s like a video tape on a CD, if you see what I mean.
― No.
― It’s all about you. You’re the idol of boys and girls.
― I don’t believe you.
― I swear it’s the truth. Tell me you like it.
― I do. But I’d rather be alive.
― Each to his own life and each to his own death.
― So, this Ford?
― You don’t remember? It’s the story of a good doctor, wrongly accused of having helped Lincoln’s assassin escape.
― Warner Baxter in jail? That’s it, I remember. With John Carradine as the sadistic prison guard. His head as long as a knife.
― I love this one.
― Me too.

* Title of the French release (translator’s note)

Rancho Notorious

Two boys, not so young anymore. Let’s say they are cinephiles. Or ex-cinephiles. One is dead, the other alive. They ramble on a quite bit. Let’s call them Serge and Louis. Serge is always the first to talk.
― I keep coming back to Fritz Lang’s incandescent cinema. Was he gay or straight?
― I never knew. I thought for a long time he was 100% gay. Today I don’t know.
― There’s something strange with his films. Not only this hate of women. Something stranger.
― Oh yes, very strange.
― A desire for murder?
― There’s something else.
― What?
― A cross-dressing of the body and the soul.
― Both?
― Yes.
― You’re right, Louis.
― What is this ménage à trois in Rancho Notorious?
― Yes, what is this ménage à trois?
― I don’t know. A scale riddled with deadly indecision.
― It’s almost Chinese, this refinement of love, this love torture.
― That’s right. Marlene tortures herself. Who else otherwise?
― It’s her. It’s her.
― She plays the man. It’s obvious.
― Who plays the woman, then?
― The other two.
― Both?
― Mel Ferrer protects her.
― And Arthur Kennedy attracts her, right?
― Right. She can smell the woman in him.
― How?
― His love for his wife has left traces. She was raped, you remember?
― Yes. Raped and killed. It’s one of the most terrifying beginnings of any movie.
― Arthur Kennedy’s love was interrupted.
― Like coitus?
― He smells like sperm and death. You understand?

Two Rode Together

Two boys, not so young. Let’s call them Serge and Louis. Are they old friends? Cinephiles? Who knows? Serge is always the first to talk. They talk while walking.
― I love this Ford.
― Me too.
― Me before.
― Me first.
― As you like.
― I know that Two Rode Together is the film that brought you to Ford.
― True.
― A filmmaker you don’t like much.
― Let’s say that I don’t understand him. He’s an enigma to me.
― He’s an enigma to everybody.
― You think?
― That’s why he’s the greatest.
― Greater than Mizoguchi?
― Yes.
― You exaggerate.
― No.
― Has Ford made a film as beautiful as Uwasa no onna?
― Yes. Seven Women.
― I had forgotten that one.
― You’re frivolous.
― Perhaps.
― You’re dead. How can you talk about cinema with such aplomb?
― All dead people talk with aplomb.
― Really?
― It’s the only thing they have.
― Aplomb?
― Yes.
― What do you like in Two Rode Together?
― James Stewart, Richard Widmark, slow speed, frontalness, friendship that lasts a long time.
― Do you believe in friendship?
― Yes.
― Do you believe in cinema friendship? I mean true friendship.
― I’ve never believed in human relations.
― That’s true. You always said that HR was overestimated.
― I still think that way.
― Me too.
― You’ve changed.
― Yes.

Trois ponts sur la rivière

Two boys, not so young anymore. Serge is dead, Louis is alive. Louis is the first to talk.
― Do you know who talks best about Biette?
― Not me. I struggle to speak about friends.
― That’s new?
― No, always.
― Why?
― Because of me.
― You? But you love talking to friends.
― Talking to them or about them is not the same.
― That’s true. I forgot
― You get on my nerves. Talk to me about Biette. I heard that he’s dead.
― You didn’t know?
― No, I didn’t.
― You haven’t seen him up there?
― It’s rather big up there, you know.
― That big?
― That big. This Biette, which one was he? I can’t remember.
― That’s normal. You were dead.
― Did he make a lot of films after?
― After you died? Let me think. You died in 1992, right?
― Yes
― I think he made two. No, three. There’s also the last one, Saltimbank.
― That’s a lot.
― For Biette, yes. For Pierre Léon, that wouldn’t be much.
― Pierre Léon? Our Pierre Léon?
― Yes. He films faster than his shadow.
― I’m sure it’s good.
― Yes. It’s a bit Biettian.
― I wouldn’t have thought so.
― You see, one can be wrong. It’s very light, very original.
― Sentimental?
― No, original.
― And Trois ponts sur la rivière?
― It’s the best Biette.
― Why.
― There’s Amalric, the son.
― So?
― I cried.
Thes texts are published in Dialogues avec Daney et autres textes by Louis Skorecki. They appear here with the permission of the publisher, © PUF, 2007. Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar, 2011.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Serge Daney: new books (in Dutch)

The Dutch are taking the matter in their own hands. Two books of texts by Serge Daney translated in Dutch have just been released by Octavo:
The books were launched on March 28th at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Solange de Boer, the woman behind Octavo, worked for months to secure the tranlation rights as she realised the lack of clarity around the Daney estate (basically it's mightily unclear who owns what between the Cahiers texts managed by Phaidon and the Libération texts owned by POL). Huge credits to her for taking the initiative and seeing it through.

Here's the table of contents of the second book. I've added links to the texts available in English.
  • Solange de Boer, Preface
  • Pieter Van Bogaert, 'Introduction: Serge Daney - Image-espace'
  • Jacques Rivette, 'De l'abjection', Cahiers du cinéma, nr. 120 (juni 1961), p. 54-55.
  • Serge Daney, 'L'écran du fantasme (Bazin et les bêtes)', Cahiers du cinéma, nr. 236 (maart 1972), p. 30-41; La rampe. Cahier critique 1970-1982. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma / Gallimard 1983, p. 34-42.
  • Serge Daney, 'Un tombeau pour l'oeil (pédagogie straubienne)', Cahiers du cinéma, nr. 258 (juli 1975), p. 27-35; La rampe. Cahier critique 1970-1982. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma / Gallimard 1983, p. 70-77.
  • Serge Daney, 'Le therrorisé (pédagogie godardienne)', Cahiers du cinéma, nr. 262 (januari 1976), p. 32-40; La rampe. Cahier critique 1970-1982. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma / Gallimard 1983, p. 77-84.
  • Serge Daney, 'L'orgue et l'aspirateur (Bresson, le Diable, la voix off et quelques autres)', Cahiers du cinéma, nr. 279 (september 1977), p. 19-27; La rampe. Cahier critique 1970-1982. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma / Gallimard 1983, p. 138-148.
  • Serge Daney, 'La rampe (bis)'. La rampe. Cahier critique 1970-1982. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma / Gallimard, 1983, p. 171-179.
  • Gilles Deleuze, 'Optimisme, pessimisme et voyage. Lettre à Serge Daney'. Serge Daney, Ciné journal 1981-1986. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma, 1986, p. 5-13; Pourparlers 1972-1990. Parijs: Minuit, 1990, p. 97-112.
  • Serge Daney, 'Sayat Nova. Serge Paradjanov', Libération, 29 januari 1982; Ciné journal 1981-1986. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma, 1986, p. 72-75.
  • Serge Daney, 'Vers le Sud. Johan Van der Keuken', Libération, 2 maart 1982; Ciné journal 1981-1986. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma, 1986, p. 131-135.
  • Serge Daney, 'Coup de cœur. Francis Ford Coppola', Libération, 29 september 1982; Ciné journal 1981-1986. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma, 1986, p. 123-126.
  • Serge Daney, 'Zoom interdit', Libération, 3 november 1983; Ciné journal 1981-1986. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma, 1986, p. 185-187.
  • Olivier Assayas, 'Notre reporter en République de Chine', Cahiers du cinéma, nr. 365 (december 1984), p. 57-66; Présences. Écrits sur le cinéma. Parijs: Gallimard, 2009, p. 156-173.
  • Serge Daney, 'Après tout', La politique des auteurs – Entretiens avec dix cinéastes. Parijs: Cahiers du cinéma, 1984; La maison cinéma et le monde, dl. 2. Parijs: P.O.L, 2002, p. 543-548.
  • Serge Daney, 'Le cinéma et la mémoire de l'eau', Libération, 29 december 1989; Devant la recrudescence des vols de sac à main. Lyon: Aléas Éditeur, 1991, p. 161-165.
  • Serge Daney, 'Montage obligé. La guerre, le Golfe et le petit écran', Cahiers du cinéma, nr. 442 (april 1991), p. 50-54; Devant la recrudescence des vols de sac à main. Lyon: Aléas Éditeur, 1991, p. 187-196.
  • Serge Daney, 'Bébé cherche eau du bain', Libération, 30 september en 1 oktober 1991.
  • Jean-Luc Godard, 'À propos de cinéma et d'histoire', Trafic, nr. 18 (printemps 1996), p. 28-32.

Friday, April 01, 2011

1978 interview with Serge Daney

KINOSLANG has an interview of Serge Daney and Serge Toubiana in 1978 where the look back at the politically radical period of Cahiers du Cinéma.

Serge Daney and Serge Toubiana with Fabrice Ziolkowski
Originally published in ON FILM, No. 9, Winter 1978-79 (ISSN - 0161-1585)

I find surprising to find Daney so lucid about that period only a few years later. A lot of what he will say in 1992 is already there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Daney on Losey

I often use Serge Daney’s texts to learn about new films or directors which I know little about. Bizarrely, I had never seen anything by Joseph Losey. Puzzled by watching The Damned and The Boy with Green Hair on DVD, I found these texts by Daney. They are written over a period of 20 years and, despite some contradictions (Accident is rubbished in 1967 but praised in 1984), they show an amazing consistency of taste and judgement over 20 years. Daney, like Cahiers, really stuck to their line, it’s quite impressive…

These texts may also defuse a myth that the late Losey (for example the films with Harold Pinter) was unconditionally beloved by Cahiers. Serge Daney is quite specific on what can be salvaged from Losey’s films.

The four texts are:

Joseph Losey, Accident

A new variation on perversion, lies, fascination and spinelessness. We recognise Losey’s tropes and habits: gazes sometimes empty, sometimes ambiguous, often protruding, actors-mascots faithful to themselves and finally reunited (Bogarde and Baker), relations between masters and pupils, fascinating and fascinated, etc. In an English university with beautiful colours, a young professor (Bogarde) complicates his life unnecessarily. He silently loves Anna, who is courted by a young man and has already been seduced by a third one. Out of cowardice, incapable of playing a true part in this story, Bogarde slowly becomes confident, organiser, matchmaker. He thinks he is pulling the strings when he is merely subjected to events. Bogarde’s character eventually becomes fascinating because Losey’s cinema is more and more like him. A cinema whose trademark has always been the quest (both suspicion and fascination) of the Natural, spontaneity and first degree. All qualities which we must admit have abandoned Losey when he arrived in Albion (except for brilliant instants: Chance Meeting). Only the effects are left, in all their forms, from the comic book to a certain “English accent”. Watching Bogarde, we can see the workings of the alchemy, how the Natural becomes fabricated, how immediacy changes to ulterior motives, how the obvious becomes tortuous, etc. One can find all these effects unbearable or ironically moving. Accident is a vain and sophisticated film with the appearances of rigour. Each scene is articulated around a small “significant detail” joyfully highlighted by zoom shots. The overall impression is of flabbiness (with stiff moments), not to say derision.

Serge Daney, Cahiers du cinéma, issue 191, June 1967

Joseph Losey : The Go-Between

1. That The Go-Between won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Festival is only insignificant in appearance. If the film teaches nothing new about Joseph Losey, its success and the approving murmur around its release should prompt a few questions. For example: what is an academic film today? Or: how to tell a story in 1971 and be loved by film festivals?

2. Answering this question will only be possible once we will know a bit more about the workings of these fictions – teleological but complex – which “classic” cinema has got us used to. This endeavour, which we started here (Young Mr. Lincoln, Morocco, etc.), will need to be continued. Let’s say for the moment that in any fiction, the reason for the passage of a thing to another can very well reside in what we still call a “character”, because a “character” is a significant element with non-negligible properties: he creates relations between different locations and extras; being mobile, he sets things in movement, he gets things into gear.

3. The choice of transparency in classic Hollywood cinema, the refusal of editing (in its strict sense) as an attack on continuity (the guarantee of “truth”), forces to make the diegesis of movements – given as “realists” – rely on certain extras. “Cinema-vérité” itself has never left this necessity (see La Punition). In The Go-Between, where the camera field is constantly crowded with a bric-a-brac of realist notes and true little facts intended to prove that a social analysis is happening, Leo Colston is primarily the messenger between the front of the stage and the depth of field which is often the depth of the fields, very green, crossed diagonally and nervously.

4. Of course, not everyone can set things into gear. It is not even sure that this fiction must be always occupied with the same character (it is rather the contrary). The essential is that there is no fiction outside the mise-en-scene of a desire played – interchangeably, interminably – over scenes of sex, knowledge and money. As for the one carrying this desire, he must never have access to its promise. In any case (and the naivety of Losey’s film appears here), the messenger never understands the content of the message. Thus, the problem which the film hints at (will the child learn about sexual relations?) is a false problem. When the film starts, Leo Colston has refused a long time ago to know anything. The proof is this existence of this “other” knowledge, magical and parodic, and his step back when Ted finally decides to speak. (Nothing is more suspicious than the old Colston’s story about his childhood, a story not of the original scene but of the retrospective effect. Here’s a warning to the good souls who still think that one can soil a child’s soul.)

5. So it is rather misleadingly that Losey chooses Hartley’s novel, the story of what typically constitutes any fiction, or rather: of what is missing for the story to at least barely function, and that we propose to call the gearing function for the time being. If the reasons behind Losey’s choice are not theoretical, they are nonetheless personal and necessary, inseparable of Losey’s conception of childhood as sub-development and/or/thus mutation (The Boy with Green Hair, The Lawless, The Damned, etc.). Leo Colston has access neither to knowledge, sex or money since he is a child (and he is usable by Marian and Ted as long as he is castrated, as it is heavily underlined in the scene where he hurts his knee on a stump where an axe is planted).

6. We shouldn’t attribute only to Losey what is a more general phenomenon about the difficulties we meet today to build credible fictions. If it is difficult to bring ourselves not to tell stories anymore, it is just as unsatisfying to rely (after all, Losey has known Brecht) to the magical, resolutory, value of fictions. We can even think that no one could develop a fiction as complex and rigorous as, let’s say, Uwasa no onna (Mizoguchi) or The Leopard Man (Tourneur). Not by lack of talent but because today, a fiction (for reasons we will need to uncover) needs less to play on – and therefore conceal – the overdetermination of events. Today, everybody (except a few retarded) knows that a fiction is made neither from chance nor from innocence.

7. This is how we end up designating with a certain rage some of the mechanisms of fiction, indulgently accepted as real, like this gearing function, which is so difficult to see working in old films but becomes the very subject of The Go-Between. This murmur (even shocked, even bored) of satisfaction which accompanied films like L’Enfant sauvage, Le Souffle au coeur, Death in Venice or The Go-Between indicates that we have simply recognised that it was more profitable than ever to devise fictions where the gearing function would rest entirely on the frail shoulders of a child. (On childhood as the underlying theme and the primitive scene as countdown teleology, also see The Clowns and The Conformist).

8. The phallic-child – so small he can go anywhere, but so pure that he doesn’t understand anything – allows the audience, seeing what the child doesn’t see (such as Margaret Leighton’s glottal movement) or seeing him not seeing (or not seeing well, and therefore infinitely pitiful), to fantasise delightfully in the alternating roles of the deceiving-master and the mystified-victim. The “purity” of the child is here only as the myth allowing the return of the homosexual repressed. But where Visconti, caught in the same problem, theorizes it by relating it to the mechanism of paranoia, throwing his gaze over Venice as the master who knows he is mad, Losey, who was more lucid at the time of The Boy with Green Hair, feels obliged to attract the attention in terms of social relations toward a visual mechanism which was always designed to conceal these relations.

Serge Daney, Cahiers du cinéma, issue 231, August-September 1971

Joe Losey: 5 paradoxes

First paradox. Of all the American filmmakers who’ve had troubles (at home), Joseph Losey is the only one who has had a second career, the only one to have contradicted this unwritten rule saying that, outside the Hollywood system, the filmmakers trained for this system decline in the Old World (at our home, in Europe). If only for this, Joe Losey is important. To the point that, among those who discovered him late, he came across as an English filmmaker (the man who gave the most beautiful roles to the likes of Stanley Baker and Dirk Bogarde, an implacable painter of the English lifestyle). And from a fake English, he slowly became a true European, meaning the well-rounded-star for great cultural things: from Proust (a film he didn’t do) to Mozart (which he dongiovanised). His longevity had come – ironic history – from his status as refugee-victim from McCarthyism, and eventually got us to forget that he was an American filmmaker (from a good family), born in 1909 in Wisconsin.

Second paradox. Of all the American filmmakers rediscovered and rehabilitated by French film critics in the 1950s, he is the only one to have been rehabilitated (albeit late) by the cinephiles who were politically the furthest from him: the “MacMahonians”. Thanks to them, Losey’s American career (from The Boy with Green Hair to The Big Night, only three years from 1948 to 1951) was finally visible. These were progressive films where, in the film noir genre, a man cast a terrified gaze over racism, the violence of lynching or corruption. Purists of the mise en scene abandoned Losey (with Eva) when he stopped being a series filmmaker and became an auteur, convoluted and a tad pretentious.

Third paradox. Of all the American filmmakers who started in Hollywood in the late 1940s, Losey is one of those (but not the only one, see Nicholas Ray and Kazan) who didn’t come from the film industry but from theatre. And not from any theatre, but from the politically engaged art of the 1930s, from the avant-garde. This fascinating but too little known period of American intellectual life saw the future young filmmakers of Hollywood travelling to Moscow to meet Meyerhold, Eisenstein or Okhlopkov and coming back with their head full of ideas on the relation between stage and audience, the desire to work with Brecht or to do street theatre. The result of all these paradoxes was that Losey was never understood as a whole in his career (we’ve had to wait for Michel Ciment’s book, Conversations with Losey, 1979, before we got a less partial vision of his singular journey).

Fourth paradox. Leaning toward Marxism, obsessed with classes, their struggle and hateful relations, an analyst of power struggles between males (with their constant conflict between social class and gender), Losey took the risk to be, up to a certain point, a (leftist) well-wishing filmmaker. But his sincere progressive tendencies led him to find an interest in a more volatile and less easy subject: servitude (involuntary, then voluntary). Singing future utopias interested him less than the stagnating present, trapped in decors full of resentment and humiliation. For human drives are not necessarily progressive. “At the base (correctly writes Deleuze, in the Movement-Image), there is the drive, which by its very nature is too strong for the character, whatever its character”. So much so that Losey’s cinema is primarily a surprising gallery of “fake weak” and “fake strong” characters, caught in the well-known scenario – scripted by Hegel – of the master and slave dialectic.

Fifth paradox. Right-wing fans of the Hollywood Losey admired in him the expression of a certain violence. Not a shiny violence, but a murderous one: Lang’s violence, without the rigour, the violence of a moralist. But a moralist is by definition someone who is less interested in his characters’ actions than in their acts. If the term “action movie” best defines the greatness of American cinema, the catalogues of acts are the strength of European (auteurist) cinema. And Losey, not by chance, oscillated between the two, belonged to the two worlds. “Violence in act, before entering in action” also writes Deleuze. “Static” violence, he adds. And even: “trembling”. There has been some “trembling” with Losey, for example in the way his very catholic career has a logic, and in the way he drops his actors like neurasthenic predators in the over-signifying shackles of a mise en scene inherited from the politically engaged theatre of his beginnings. Some of the trembling was complacent, flabby, senile or academic (let’s move on) but some of the trembling was exact, overwhelming, seismographic (The Boy with Green Hair, The Lawless, The Gipsy and the Gentleman, The Damned, Accident, Mr Klein). Thus goes the human carcass.

Serge Daney, Libération, 23 and 24 June 1984

The small fin: Joseph Losey, La Truite

One shall be wary of social phenomenon films: they are rarely good and age badly. On shall be wary of the sociological gaze, the one that stays when nothing is left of the film. One shall be wary of Roger Vailland’s “cold gaze” because the only coldness worth of attention in cinema is the one that burns. Watching La Truite, the 1960 Liaisons dangereuses came back to my mind. The 1960 version, signed by Vadim, with the late Gerard Philipe and (already) Jeanne Moreau, and adapted in balck and white for the screen by Roger Vailland himself. At the time, the gaze of the ex-Stalinist dandy over Laclos’ heretical world had the bitter taste of scandal, although quickly gone. A few years later, Vailland published La Truite, and a few years later, Joseph Losey, now a European, dreamt to make a film of it. In 1982, Gaumont granted him his wish.

Whatever (some will say), the subject is eternal. In La Truite, one can see that money and sex are running the world and that the only “moral” consists in never forgetting it. Otherwise, it’s the vulgarity of the feeling (ugh!) or the catastrophe of the passions: Vailland cast his cold gaze over all this. Today, no doubt, he would cast his gaze on the adventure-seeking and dubious neo-bourgeoisie, setting up deals between Paris and Tokyo, with its sexual parades, its nouveau-rich culture and the soft pleasure of a vulgar and international “art de vivre”. Fine. But if the subject is eternal, the film isn’t. A film is always “at present”, always an indirect documentary on the desire which has produced the film. And for La Truite, this desire mustn’t have been very strong since the fishes, small and big, fooling and fooled, smart and only half-smart, who are playing the extras in this tragic fish tank, are not interesting. And that’s a problem.

Never mind (some will reply): we don’t care about this mediocre and rather rotten world, what matters is the gaze cast over it, Losey’s. And here there are two possibilities. Either the author loves his characters despite their faults and he endears us to them, one by one, round about a shot, a gesture, a nothing. Or he doesn’t really like his characters, less in any case than the social mechanism that they represent, which surpasses them and crushes them. For they are all Don Giovannis with small feet and small fins.

But this oscillation is typical of Losey. There are two Loseys. The Losey who believed in the heaven of ant-racism and American progressive tendencies (first period, before McCarthy, with beautiful films like The Boy with Green Hair). And there is the Losey who believed in Marxist sociology, in the unfolding of class contradictions, in Brecht which he staged. The Losey who, in this old master-and-slave story, preferred the dialectic to its elements. He sometimes managed it (Accident, Mr Klein) but generally he weighed everything down, confusing complication and complexity, overlaying to his mise en scene a permanent “don’t be fooled, follow my gaze” giving simple minds the feeling to understand everything there is to know about class struggle.

So, which Losey filmed La Truite? An old man who didn’t chose. The “trout” is perhaps, in the book, a cold and vicious heroin, doubled with an ex-little girl who has forgotten nothing of the “stupidity of the country life”, but the film so clumsily (it’s a scandal) multiplies explanatory flashbacks that, in the end, all is left is a vixen pulling the strings of an ordinary plot. In brief, the “trout” is not J.R.. We can’t really hate her. She’s not an absolute, just a headline act.

The game of anti-bourgeois massacre is a difficult one. Without true hate, one better be judge and jury, both bourgeois and appalled by the stupidity of bourgeoisie, dazed little fish and distant fishbowl.

Losey looks at this small world, this modern fish tank, with a slightly indifferent tenderness. He continues to pretend undoing the terribly tangled web of the plot, even though it is no more important than mishmash. He can’t help it if Huppert is only good when she avoids comedy (the two little scenes with Alexis Smith – the red-dressed lady of the Tokyo Hotel, fantastic – are excruciating), if Olbrychski badly dubbed looks pale, if Lisette Malidor is better than her ethical act, if Moreau only has one real scene to play (she dies of it), if between the film poster and its flat reality, a thousand things complicate everything with no gain for anyone.

La Truite is therefore a vain film. We simply get tired following the plot: everything lacks, the stakes are vague, details are absent, one forgot to film too many things. Great filmmakers, when they grow old, should have gained the privilege of painters: to film what they want and who they love. Only. When Losey films bowling or a Japanese taxi, we dream about the simple and pleasant film which he could have pulled off from the simple exhibition of the cast amidst beautiful sets, in Ginza or in the French countryside. Enshroud in Alekan’s truly magnificent light, they would have looked beautiful.

Of course, it wouldn’t last two hours, not even one. To film successful people doesn’t mean you succeed in making a film out of it. That’s moral.

Serge Daney, Libération, 22 September 1983

Monday, February 28, 2011

Journey of a Cine-Son - Part 3 (with transcript)

Part 3 of Serge Daney's Journey of a Cine-Son interview is online at Vimeo (see my earlier post for some background).

I must say it's the strangest of the three parts and the one that puzzles me most. Daney's tone is different; there's this strange "crepuscular" feeling where he mixes his own destiny with that of cinema. In some sequences, he almost seems to be rambling about, clearly taking risks by talking about changes in society rather than the old familiar territory of cinema. But on the other end, there are some really strong ideas. Here are two of my favorites:
  • "Television is a big hospital telephone"
  • "Television is teaching you how to at last sell your experience"
As with the first two parts (1, 2), here's the full translated transcript:
The Channel-surfer's gaze
Regis Debray: The move to Libé is, I imagine, the return to reality for you. I mean, living among the non-cinephiles. You can't just enjoy yourself, you also have to make yourself understood. Did you live through it as something pleasing, the public, news, travel, or as something ascetic?

Serge Daney: Oh no, for me it... I was very... At first I was very scared, because I'd never in my whole life thought that I could be on a daily paper. It hadn't occurred to me, so it was - but equally, Libération was my newspaper, in the sense that I read it every day. I'd even written a bit, in 74, 75, very dogmatic things, it wasn't a good period. But Libé, traditionally, had no-one for cinema, had left cinema up for grabs, for whoever wanted to pick it up. In 81, July must have done… There was a putsch, I really see now just how much of a putsch it was, headed towards, let's become acceptable, let's become presentable, let's have some art critics worthy of that name, so there had to be cinema, enough kidding around. And he knew that I was fed up with the Cahiers, I had reached a point - I couldn't bear the Cahiers anymore. I'd decided to stop before, and he suggested it, and in the end it happened quite quickly and quite well. I wrote insane amounts. It liberated me, it's not a pun, Libération liberated me. But it wasn't at all, before I enjoyed myself, now I'll make myself understood.
I never really enjoyed myself writing for the yellow Cahiers. It was a relation to jouissance, which has nothing to do with pleasure: jouissance is something else, it's stronger but it's more dangerous. You stand to lose a lot. Pleasure came at Libé, because pleasure meant realizing that, if I said "I" and I stopped saying "we", if I dropped the Cahiers thing, I was capable - which no one had told me, which I hadn't guessed myself, which I'd repressed, etc - of entertaining people, i.e. of making quite complicated texts, with exactly the same content as in the Cahiers texts - I didn't compromise on that at all. I had an enormous head start of culture, of thoughts - I had all the texts not written because of the Cahiers; the Cahiers were terrifying, you wrote one paper a month, you had no feedback from anybody, it was terrible. You wrote for the Cahiers, you didn't write for the Cahiers people who didn't say anything: there were secret rivalries, terribly narcissistic writing, just like anywhere. After five years you say no, I need someone to tell me that I exist, I'm dying! It happened in Libération.
But I had the feeling of having a huge head start of unwritten texts, of, of non-communicated emotions, of little stories, which had been left stranded, which hadn't been written. So I found - I had the cheek, for the first time in my life, to say I exist, and the proof is, I write. But fundamentally, I didn't adapt anything to anything.
It just so happens that at the time, Serge simply wanted a cinema section. His dream was that on cinema posters, there would be the Libération critic. There, that's what he saw. And at the time, we were far from it. Afterwards, it became the rule. So that's what I had to bring him. It didn't matter with what I brought him that. It just so happened that what I wrote moved some people, or surprised a bit. And so, for five or six years, I recycled like mad - well, not only recycling, there are also things that I figured out like that - I liberated myself. And I wrote a lot. After all, it was articles of five or six times the basic 1,500 characters units, because at the time we didn't have any advertising at first, so we did the whole page. I've even had that extraordinary pleasure of writing an article, spending almost the whole night on it, of bringing it the next day to the paper, following it through to the press, of leaving, at the time at one in the morning, and I saw it composed, and I even helped the editor to put on a title, a caption etc. When you've known that, you can't really complain about journalism.
Personally, I mean. Because it might be every journalist's dream which is to, one, do something he believes in, two, it... it's gratifying, because people read it and like it. Three, he's the absolute master of his page. For me, my page was like, like a film. I did the captions, I did the title, I did everything. Also because I hadn't learnt otherwise, at the Cahiers I also did everything. I did the cooking, I did the grub. And it was very very liberating for me. When - so it really wasn't for a wide public, Libération was a marginal paper, with strange tastes about lots of things, and my whims about cinema were accepted just as Bayon's on rock music were. Because it was still 19th century art criticism, with quills. And that's what was missing so cruelly at Libération, and what Serge wanted. Not by any love of quills; because he thought, and from his point of view he was right, that at that moment Libération needed to start existing in art criticism, and in bourgeois art criticism. So cinema isn't only bourgeois, but for example, the failure of classical music at Libération means that because it was truly a very elitist sector, very protected, well we weren't lucky enough to have someone tell us "Well, that's my thing, and I'll do it for you, Libé-style" In the right time, in real time. And there are lots of people, I know that thanks to Hervé Gauville, I started going to see dance, and I realized I was really stupid because I should have gone earlier and that it really did me good.
For me that's the golden age of Libé. I have the feeling of having known a golden age of Libé that I would date until 85-86, in 86. There. So for me it's a lot of work, a lot of anxiety, the usual things... but absolutely, the feeling of having access to pleasure at last, and not simply being the slave of jouissance anymore, to stay slightly Lacanian.

RD: You've said, "The evolution of media sounds the death knell of smugglers such as me". How do you see the future, say of Libé, the paper, its horizon, July, and cinema's place in all that. In a newspaper of the new era, the audiovisual era.

SD: I admit I don't know. Because when you're pessimistic - and I am a bit, by nature, I always tend to see things in black. I also try to be careful - because otherwise I'm very care free, so you mix the two and in the end it's ok. It's that in 85-86, I had the feeling that I was going to start repeating myself, i.e... And I was beginning to see the cinema that had made me, I was beginning to see the films that had seen me. I was beginning to be able to put a name, like in, like a psychoanalysis. If cinema is the century's psychoanalysis, as Guattari said, the century's mass psychoanalysis, I've done mine. And it maybe hasn't cured me, and anyway you always die cured, but still, very slowly, much more slowly than a normal psychoanalysis, it taught me things about myself.
And at some point I understood what I was telling you earlier on, for example: for me cinema will always be a question of time, not the image. And it's too late, that's the way it is, I'm not going to fight with people who go on thinking that Les Enfants du Paradis is the most beautiful, the most beautiful French film, because for me, Les Enfants du Paradis, if that's all there'd been in cinema, I would have chosen... watercolours. But there's La Règle du Jeu, and that for me remains unforgettable. There's a time when you stop, you stop... the better you know what makes you tick, deeply, the less you want to impose it on others.
Because it’s not fair. All you can do is explain as best you can, that's what I do now. For me, and for people like me. That's what cinema has been. But it's not all of cinema. There are people for whom cinema is the Marilyn fan-club to die for. I respect their wish to die for it, I almost died for it. But it's not me, I wasn't born for... There are some people for whom the love of cinema is to have the same boots as Monty Clift in a western. It makes me laugh. But I like Monty Clift a lot. But I mean, there are many houses. There are many rooms in the Father's house, in cinema too. Not that many, but many. There's a Les Enfants du Paradis room. People who don't like cinema usually adore it. But… well, I've stopped fighting. So at some point I said I'll stop fighting.
Otherwise, if I take the front page of the paper to say, Manoel de Oliveira's film is a great film – he's one of the last very great living filmmakers today, but he's Portuguese, his films will bring in 5000 people – July will give me the front page, or he won't stop me. So in a sense, I had the privilege of having the crisis of cinema all to myself, I had the beauty of it all to myself - only sons are quite harsh, they don't share! And I had the crisis all to myself. I said no, there's something that doesn't have a grip on reality anymore, no grip on reality. I see it around me, what I'm told about films in the corridors of Libération is worthless. One day, I woke up and... I'd written a very enthusiastic text about Fanny and Alexandre, which I consider to be one of Bergman's most beautiful films, even if it's his testament and it's very... it looks academic. Our culture would rather say, give us the little unknown Bergman. Anyway. It's still an absolutely magnificent film. The people in the paper - it came out in 84, 85, to give a date - and the same thing for Ginger and Fred. There was the thing about Fellini and Bergman. The two typical film-makers for people who only have literary emotions for cinema. Which is the reason why at the Cahiers we were never really Fellinian or Bergmanian: there were always people, Jesuits, the people from Telerama, to come up with literary emotions for those films which happened to be great films. And suddenly I hear people saying "Oh, no, Bergman, it's always the same, I've had enough, I'm bored. Oh, really, you think it's good?" And I say "Are you nuts? Go and see Fanny and Alexandre right now!" I told myself, ok. In 1980, you still want to fight for very difficult film-makers; in 1985 you tell yourself that even Bergman and Fellini, you have to shake your best friends up for them to go and see Ginger and Fred, but that they're offended when you tell them they don't go to the cinema anymore. Because they think that... And they're two absolutely... almost academic film-makers.
And recently, what, a year ago, I saw The Godfather III, by Coppola, which I found absolutely wonderful. It's a wonderful film. In my opinion, it's the best of the three, and it's, it's fascinating today etc. The Cahiers people didn't mention it, no the Cahiers talked about it, it's the Libération people who didn't do... anything, thinking that Coppola is over, it's out of fashion, you can... No one was going to stand up and say "Hey, you're forgetting Coppola". Coppola isn't fashionable at all any more, he's paying his debts, off with his head. Even Libé! It does piss me off quite a bit. It's the best of the three Godfathers. And I said, if today I wrote at Libération about cinema, well maybe I would have done it in a rage, and it would have made a good text, I would have said: "You, you absolute idiots, now it's Coppola you don't even see. We started with Straub and we end up with Coppola!" It means that in ten years, it's the whole of cinema you have to promote. And that's too much for me. Because I'm not used to promoting all of cinema; it's what I'm doing now for you, I'm praising cinema in general. That's because, well, it's the whole century, my whole life, ok. I can say I have reasons to like what I like and everyone, I hope, has them - I hope - but before you said yes, in cinema I prefer this, there are some who'll say something else. Today, I've got the impression that it's the whole of cinema that's swinging over into something else. So maybe I'm not the one - maybe I'm the smuggler for all that, but not the one who can find the way to say, ok, enough kidding around, media is the pits, or at least it's something else, let's be nice, it's something else, something deeply different.
Cinema goes from Lumière to, let's say Coppola, and up to you: everything is for grabs, almost equally. There's no modernity of Coppola and archaism of Méliès, it's not true. In fact Méliès and Jean-Cristophe Averty, they interact, video interacts with the beginning of cinema. What are the sublime proofs, who are the Jean Douchets of today, or the mes of tomorrow? I'm fine with having been a smuggler, but at a definite moment and that moment has tipped over, already. The Cahiers, of which we still hope that they'll have a good period in their life, who'll say and who'll find the right words to say it, the natural words, knowing that the kids are going to watch the video tape on TV, that they're not going to go to the Cinémathèque - and I'd rather they watched TV or the video tape: they're emotional things, they're... Long live the sect, long live the couple, long live the clique, enough of that democratism that brings, that leads to the junk you see now on television, La Nuit des Héros. Well, you'll rebuild an elitist culture for yourself, a film culture. Elitist, but since it's cinema it'll never be profoundly elitist, because cinema will always keep that side that comes from circus, it comes from cabaret, it comes from Muscle Man, it comes from the local vamp, and it comes from the avant-garde as well. Because what's the avant-garde, it's the little chemist who, on his own, tinkers... Resnais isn't... He's not an intellectual, Resnais, he's a little chemist: he does experiments since he's small, so people say, how complicated, yes, but it's as much part of cinema as... as Ava Gardner.
So I have a tendency, at the moment, today, hic et nunc, to say, stop shaming us with the spiel, "Oh, cinema, what a wonderful culture, but I don't know it, I'm not a cinephile, I haven't seen..." I mean, it's something with a lot of happiness and up to you to go, to go and see. I only hope that there will be smugglers. And I don't know what they'll be like, and they won't be like what I was, even if I was that for a while, and I'm not ashamed to say this, on the contrary, I'm happy. But for me it's finished. And they won't be like Poivre d'Arvor, they won't be like Claude Jean-Philippe, they won't be like... What else can I say... They won't be like the weatherman. Maybe they won't be in the media, maybe they'll know how to write, maybe they'll do magazines. Otherwise, cinema will disappear. It'll be recycled. It'll be recycled like many things in the 20th century.

RD: A world without cinema, is that possible? Should we talk about of cinema in the past, I mean if I see, for example, that in ten years it's lost 30% of its audience in France.

SD: 30%, yes.

RD: What is a world without cinema?

SD: Well I think we're beginning to see, i.e. I've been scared of it for a long time, but there was still cinema, well a bit, there were still beautiful films, they're rarely the ones people go and see, but there are still good films. So there still is cinema. There's still, much stronger than concrete cinema, the extraordinary funerary status of cinema which was elevated, especially in France, by all governments... French governments protect cinema, since Vichy, since Vichy. And it's a paradoxical situation, and troublesome, because you can't resent the state too much for keeping cinema's head above water, but if it were left to the market, like some things in television are, it wouldn't keep up: it would be squashed by America, which has the advantage of producing films for the only public left, i.e. the kids. American cinema hasn't made films for adults for a long time, so it's a cinema that has lots of qualities, because there are good things, even Terminator 2 isn't the worst thing ever. The problem is that you can't make a whole world and you can't build a civilization on the desires of an eight year old child. It's... God knows it's precious, because we've all been that child, and God knows if I've talked about it personally at the beginning, but cinema also promised that I would become an adult. Thankfully, it didn't keep that, but I believed in it very strongly.

RD: You walked a tightrope between cinema and television. Did one teach you something about the other, I mean does one understand cinema better from television?

SD: No, you understand television wonderfully well from cinema, no. To understand television, I think you need a distance that I don't have, that no one has. Maybe McLuhan had a few wonderful intuitions, and that's why in France, they did their best to not translate him and not cite him. Because visibly, in the slightly crazy things he said, some of them are unremittingly true. Anyway. No, I think that to take, to measure the scale of what television is or represents - since it's only the trailer for something - I think that in its actual form television will disappear. But what it's putting in place, what it's setting up at the moment, as we watch, it's maybe very considerable and enormous, in terms of its amplitude, and maybe it doesn't concern the zones that cinema covered. So inversely, having a culture of cinema, it's a bit like having done Latin for six years, you wonder what it's for, and one day, you receive some submissions and you see, these people don't know how to write French. Well never mind, six years of Latin help me to understand the mistakes in French grammar: it's that kind of discrepancy. And when I say, six years of Latin, it's not to play an elitist card: I'm saying, the directing... the setting up of a gag by Buster Keaton - who was a guy who barely knew how to read and write and who came from the circus - or of an Aldrich film noir is today much, much, much too complicated, and I would say, much too elitist, for the average perception, let's say the one that comes from television, which has reduced the basic grammar of cinema - which already wasn't very developed, but which was starting to have some very fine structures - which has reduced that to three or four possible cases. Which is to be explained by the fact that it's a broadcast machine, and so its problem is obviously not to refine procedures or language, but to be sure to reach everybody.
Television is of the family of the telephone, and it has more or less the problems of the telephone, i.e. it's only worth what the communications are worth, and they're all private. Which is to say that when Poivre d'Arvor tells the news, he's showing his boss that he's doing a good job. It's a private conversation. He's not speaking to me. When the people on Channel 5 talk about themselves, they're funny, suddenly they're beautiful, they explain, they get people to explain to them what a compulsory liquidation is and they do it turned towards the... They forget to turn toward the camera and the prompt, it's funny, and they're suddenly very interested because their daily bread is at stake and they're right, I'm on their side. I would have liked them to have done that all the time, on all of everyone's news. But they don't. It's that, I think, quite simply, that it's become impossible for television to take the individual into account. So it works on the basis of the individualist ideology, but it's only ever an ideology, it can't take the individual into account anymore: it's the individual that takes it into account, in a perverse way. So I switch channels, I follow my own whims, I do my own edits and I despise it, which isn't good either; it's wearisome. I was the first official channel-switcher, I chronicled it, I found it fun to... yes, to make fun of TV a bit, but there was still a lot of goodwill in my little books. And I wrote every day. Every day, I had to sketch a little something of television. Something domestic. And at some point, I got scared, scared for me, I told myself I was developing a ridiculous sense of superiority in relation to television. TV doesn't care about being superior or inferior to me, I'm not in its world, I only exist because I put myself there by force, I said: "Well, I enlighten myself every day, it amuses me, it amuses people like me." After that... It's not even understood. Beyond that.

RD: Which is to say that you can't criticize television –

SD: No.

RD: - without criticizing the public it's targeting?

SD: There. I think I'd always doubted, I'd always balked at that because I didn't like it, the idea that you have to criticize the public. But I think that today we have to because of the recent evolution of television.
And it seems, not for a very long time, since the last few months, because there have been economic crises, because the advertising boom is over, there's a page turning, so television is discovering not only that it's no better than the telephone, and on top of that it discovers that it didn't... that it didn't learn to work much during this whole, in the end quite euphoric period, when nothing was happening and it... it was flexing its muscles. So there's an acceleration of the, like that, a sort of uneasiness in TV which, on the one hand, pleases me, because I saw it coming slightly before the others, and at the same time is becoming to bother me a lot. Because I think that you shouldn't claim victory because public space is turning into a garbage can, because it will never be replaced by peer to peer private space, so we'll have that problem of the public space, which is the problem I'd wanted to evade in my hatred of theatre by cinema, and then from cinema to television, so which follows me: how to belong to a society through what that society produces, and not through the group affects that we'll leave to the son for the moment, but it's not too far off. When you're too abandoned and too lonely, what are the transitional objects? Is that lighter good, is that film good, is that television programme good? Can I read the other? There. It's my question, it's the whole century. Today I have the feeling that television is a trial version, or is itself trying to be, something it doesn't measure, because I don't think it measures anything, it's a blind machine, it's a machine... I mean TV is like society: society doesn't have any knowledge about itself, it needs sociologists, who are in general its parasites, who don't see any better than it does. So it's true that you can't ask TV people to have the awareness of something that passes through them and of which they're unaware. And me, maybe I can a bit because I have the memory of cinema and I'm not satisfied with cinema, there, that's my little niche. And maybe because I come from that tradition of the Cahiers, a tradition that in the end is fundamentally quite religious. I.e. we think that something connects things and connects people. It's the absolutely minimal definition of religion and in that sense, I'm religious. But I'm really not a believer. And religion went with cinema. People who handle communications always have a foot in religion, always. The people who make the communications machine work, without having any discourse on it, are in general miscreants. There's no one more miscreant than advertising people or creative people. Because they know very well how to create the illusion, they're in exactly the same situation as, let's say as the high clergy of the Middle Ages, the one that had studied, and as Lacan says, only theologists can say that they don't believe in God. They're well placed, they're paid to know. The others, they vaguely believe, and anyway they don't care. And so there's something that worries me today because TV, if you look closely, McLuhan wrote about media, and McLuhan is a rather twisted Canadian Catholic, if I've got it right. In cinema, it interested Rosselini, who had a religious past, even if he tried to secularize it, or rather to make a secular religion, in the second half of his life, not very convincing but totally heroic, totally kamikaze. And Godard, well; he's someone who, he's a good Lutheran, I mean he's someone who knows what a holy scripture is. And why not the Cahiers, and why not myself within that. It worries me because those people tended to be imprecators, they were people who said, well... and I'm part of that! And we'll get our hands dirty! I've said above how much I loved, in cinema, the money aspect of things, the power, all these things at which I'm not very good, I say never mind, what counts is that it's not forced on me personally, but I'm willing to be part of it, to be the careful spectator of it, because it settles into those objects that I like, which are films, I'm not prudish, I don't do my little, my little experimental cinema universe with my four masterworks under my bed, I hate that. On TV I select at random, I switch channels, and I wait for something to speak to me. So I'm really in need, I'm really a man of communication. Not like those who do it, I need it. And television is the idle, it's the sick, it's the elderly, it's all the completely dead part of the population. So it weighs a lot, all these people, it's the weight of the dead already on the society of the living. The living, active people, they do other stuff than TV. They watch the news and three or four talk-shows. So you have to see what TV is: it's a big hospital telephone.
So... I mean, I belong to the people who were interested in TV at some point, much to everybody's surprise: a lot of people like me... And I can't prove them wrong, they're sorry for me, they think "But he's crazy, television isn't an art", there are people who never hesitated on that, television isn't an art. It never will be. If it had been an art we would have realized, it's existed for fifty years, it hasn't created anything. It leeched everything, it destroyed everything, it saved a few things, it... ok, but it's no art. I'd say, I don't care whether it's an art or not, as long as it communicates a bit. I'd rather it communicated on television, badly, but it can be made better, than have it communicate very well in the ciné-clubs with Claude Jean-Philippe. Nobody's interested anymore. Or Michel Simon, stuff like that... Old administrators of something... Well it's my culture, I'm like them. But you sense that there's an aspect of, "I don't care what happens when I'm gone", because it's not going to happen again, people like that. And now I tell myself yes, TV is a question of communication. So, in the final analysis, a question of religion. Or of interested, religious people. But then the enemy's taken power, because in religion there's lots of room, there are lots of roles, there is a little theatre. Catechism has won. It's not the imprecators saying, we'll try - Godard said, let me do all that you don't like doing. For example, you don't like filming sports, you do it badly. You think you do, but you do it badly. I like football a lot, I can film it. So of course, they never gave him a football match to film, he would have been capable of not filming the goal when it happened, and France would have had a collective collapse. Or the variety shows, Godard would say. Well, I don't know if he said that, but it's funny to see if you could film a popular singer as they filmed Charles Trénet in 1930, i.e. in close-up, no playback, a real sound, the camera doesn't move, so that we can see what the guy has got. You'll realize that in general they don't know how to move any more. Which is normal, since the camera moves twice as quickly as they do. Someone who's under a Louma crane is protected. Guillaume Durand's show is interesting, they invite lots of people and tell them, you're gorgeous, stand up. So you see Besson stand up, saying I will die for Dubrovnik. And then Piccoli, who stands up saying, let's have a civil war, it's loads of fun. They're very moving, especially Piccoli. And then you say yes, but were they told that there was a crane swishing past at 800mph, and they looked absolutely grotesque?
You're not responsible for your own body on TV, so it's not worth having people who can film people's bodies better than others, because the question's beside the point. We are already, with our own bodies, because it's still our bodies, I'm not even talking about computer-generated images, we're lightened. There's a sort of... We're freed from this question of knowing that you can maybe film a sportsman better, because a sportsman has his body, and his technique, or even a singer, because he has, in cabaret, for a long time there was a real, a real physical thing, and it's got nothing to do with aesthetic tastes or new culture or non-new culture. Channel 7 obviously doesn't film a modern dance show better than Channel 1 does Patricia Kaas; simply, they don't have the same audience, one puts on a bit more airs and the other is a bit more lower quality. The question - it's a very difficult question. It seems to me that not too long ago - and it went through cinema a lot, through musicals, for example - not too long ago someone could understand that. Could understand that there are different ways of making, of making a body exist on screen.
So I say all this, to come back to catechism which is the thing that's bugging me at the moment, I have the feeling that in catechism, the question of the body isn't asked. In catechism, what's at stake is the question of attitudes. What do you do, when do you teach kids to get up, to kneel, to get down, mass, I've known that, I went to catechism. What do you teach them as the minimum basic religious knowledge, generally absolutely unusable and stupid, because theology, which is much more interesting, is kept for the bright kids? And that the priests, who weren't very beautiful themselves, and those kids, all of that, anyway. And it's a question of, will television find the formatting and the aesthetic of training necessary to make individuals, determined by the market, learn at last to move together, to make movements together, in relation to television, with television. With it, because they're full of goodwill. So, degree zero, games: games are, come and learn to shout for joy - because you've won a slipper, I don't know. People go to these games, they win things and they're disgraceful, I find them disgraceful: they behave very, very badly, i.e. as you would when you're at home and you're really not careful, when you're in front of your wife you've just beaten or your kids that you're not helping with their homework.
Games, well, games, ok, but things like reality shows - actually that's funny, we're so ashamed we've kept the English word - that are coming from America where they've had huge success. Still that perpetual thing, that runner-up's bragging recognition that television is integrally an American culture. Just as cinema was shared among different peoples, so television is born american. Well it could have been born Nazi, it was close, but they lost. And so it was always American, and still today, the programmes that are copied in France, and they boast of copying, it's extraordinary: "I'm the one who will adapt to France this programme that had a huge success in Phoenix, Ohio" - Arizona, not Ohio. They really have a low degree of pride, but anyway, moving on. But games, why not.
But reality show stuff, isn't it: television is teaching you how to at last sell your experience, what it's worth and how it should be sold, and how it should be shown, and it should be told, how it must be relived, and on what conditions. And if you don't learn, thanks to us - TV is a good daughter, it's really democratic - if you don't learn, thanks to us, to say tomorrow on television how having been saved from a mortal accident fifteen years ago by a nice neighbour made you reborn, isn't it, it's the reborn, all the Nuit des Héros scenarios, I was reborn and great, there was TV. Or there's TV today, so today I can have my baptism certificate. We're entering american culture, which is a culture where you're always being reborn - but it's more sincere with them, deeper, it's their religious streak, born-again Christian, all of that. You say on which conditions there's a rebirth. You also say on which conditions there's no more transmittable experience.
In general, when people live through a great experience, what do they say? They say, "I can't describe it." They all say that. War, they say "War, it's not what you think, I did it, we had a lot of fun." "Really?" "Yes, but it was also horrible!" "Really?" "We were very bored." "Really?" I haven't been in any war, but I guess that's what it's like. I think the great writers have talked about it well, I've read Jean Paulhan's Le Guerrier Appliqué, I've read books. It seems to me that the great books also had a bit of this function. And the great films: I've seen La Grande Illusion. I've understood things. They're things I've always known I would never live through. But the experience had passed into certain objects, which had themselves passed on, been passed on to me, and I'd said Roger that. Of course, if there's war tomorrow, it'll be useless, I'll discover my experience of war, but never mind, it makes me the imaginary Other or the real Other, the partner for the people who lived through that, including before me. Anyway - but in general, what they have in common is, you really have to work a lot to transmit an experience, to tell it. If there has been art, at least in modern, recent times, it's because certain people had the courage to go, to go and bring back experience, and experience is always human. In the final analysis, it can't be only one person's, it's not possible. Only one had it, but when he had it, if he managed to transcribe it, it was an experience that could be shared. Not entirely, a bit. In cinema, it was a bit. In television, not at all.
So what comes in its place? In its place, you tell people, no, don't give us the "I'm still thinking about it, I can't tell, it happened so quickly" spiel. I find it very moving. It's like, well, it's like porn films, what do you want to pick up, even if you capture the sperm coming out, you can't pick up anything. Everyone knows it, and mankind is eternally starting again with the same... Anyway. It's our destiny. You shouldn't be too stupid in relation to that. And you shouldn't let people manage it, you have to live as our, our graceful load. You shouldn't live it as something that you'll let Cabrol manage. And so, it seems to me that television is saying, "No, we don't want people's real experiences anymore, because they don't know how to express it anymore" - and it's true, we're very bad actors of our strongest experiences. Of course, after you redo them, you tell them, you write them, you make them into legends. Especially us, because we have access... But, when you're honest, sometimes you wonder, but what did I really think at the time? What did I think at that moment, did I think of anything? Why was I so calm, why did I lose my head? Well you're entering psychoanalysis, you're entering into a problem that sometimes art can touch. But not television, in any case, you need more time, you need more honesty. Sometimes, by chance, it passes through TV. Someone, experience passes. One thing that struck me a lot, recently, is d'Aboville. D'Aboville reaches America, and he's in a frightful state, and everyone can see that he's incapable of lining up two words. But it's very good, and the images, which aren't very pretty, speak for themselves. In media terms, it's a failure. But it's not important. D'Aboville, empty-handed. And it's very good, I find it wonderful that on something as considerable, really, as what he did, the least he could do is to not, on arrival, have the sublime quote. Three or four days later, somewhat better, he goes to a TV channel, and someone says, looking ecstatic and deeply moved, Gérard d'Aboville, what made you hold on? And there, he has an answer that I like, he says "In the end, pride. I didn't want to be defeated. Pride." Pride is a fault, it's a sin, but still, you shouldn't forget that sometimes, in life, pride can help a lot to make you hold on. Even if it's not only good. I say, this guy is good, he's not media-conscious, he's got an independent streak, I'll do what I want, which I don't find very nice, but I'm so fed up with nice people on TV that as soon as there's someone slightly dislikeable, I now look at him with love. Because you're so fed up with this or that person's frozen smile. A month goes by, d'Aboville comes back, this time on Guillaume Durand's show. This time we're deep in catechism. Of course, catechism is always made by a total adventurer. And, same question. Gérard d'Aboville, where did you find... And there, he did give the television speech, i.e. it was my dream, I wanted to be true to my dream, and he made a whole implicit speech, every morning little French kids should wake up, and they should have a dream, a child's dream, and of course it's useless, you're so much prettier when you're useless, and of course it doesn't save any lives, it's slightly sterile, but if everyone... And suddenly you end up with an almost Cressonian discourse, about France which, because it has two absolute weirdos, in tennis and there, who've won stuff, imagines itself pushing back the borders of its Frenchness. Well, I think it's exaggerating, it's not pushing back anything, and it should be careful. But it shows how, in two months, someone who tended to resist media and who wasn't very good at them, learnt the language, and this language is what I call the catechism. D'Aboville learned to behave, and he learned to shut up, and even he learnt to say what you're supposed to say. So he didn't talk about his experience anymore. Because experience is always the same thing. It's the aspect where you didn't live through it... He talked about the meaning of his experience, he talked about how it should be interpreted and lived through. And he put himself - his body had changed, he'd recovered - he put himself in the position of the mediator of his own life. So I think that what television will try to do, and it's not sure that it'll succeed, in which case it's other things, more sophisticated, which will do it, maybe through advertising, maybe through much more Big Brother-izing modes of social communication, it's the "learn how to sell yourself" aspect, how to sell yourself according to the rules of the market represented by television, how to sell your experiences. Don't let others tell them in your place. Which means, don't let actors act it, and then people are surprised that there's a crisis of cinema, that there's a crisis of stories. Actors are very bothered, they've had their livelihood taken away. It was their passion, to say, I will be d'Aboville. D'Aboville says no, I'll do it the TV way. And TV says aahhh, we love you. It's a true moral example. So individualism, and catechism.


RD: You have said, we're not in the civilisation of the image, but in the civilisation of the screen. What does it mean?

SD: That's something that I probably took from Virilio or someone else, because it's an idea that's been around. But what's for sure, is that, to take television, which is the latest known image system, let's say, and in which vast masses of people take part, it's difficult to talk about television now as you did before, as if there was a conscience behind it, a black box, or people who decided, who offered things to us, or who wanted our wellbeing, who were producers. There's still a bit of producing on TV. Variety shows is still producing. As long as that was there it was like cinema. So we thought that behind the programmes, there were still people who thought the programme through, which is difficult, which is different from cinema. To think a programme through is different from thinking an object through. But you can still maybe conceive a programme intelligently, the people from Canal + have proved that you can have a talent for programming. Which is an absolute novelty, we didn't know what talent for programming was. But it's not indispensable, since Canal + managed to score some points, deservedly so, by thinking just a bit about... about their public. I.e., by being somewhat appropriate to the way people live. Actually, by breaking with the mass, to go back to the religious metaphor. It's because Canal +, at one point, thought that breaking with the mass wasn't a suicidal idea, economically, that they gradually unlocked two, three million subscribers. I was one of the first, so I wasn't affiliated with the mass and I was happy that there was a TV channel like me. But as long as the idea of programming is there, the idea of production, the idea of people who want our well-being - even if they line their pockets - all of that was like cinema. And then, the emptier it gets on the other side of the screen, i.e. behind the images, the people who make them, the waltz of responsibilities, "it's not me, it's not my fault, we didn't see it coming" - it's ridiculous on Channel 5. I mean, those are people who would get thrown out of any packaging company, but they last for years on TV and everyone watches them with tears in their voice. So you say really, it's not the market law of the jungle that's lost, it's something else. There's a sumptuary economy in television, which means that Lagardère can risk ruining Hachette not having thought of anything, or having surrounded himself with people who don't think of anything. Because it's obvious, even from a commercial standpoint, that he didn't have the shadow of a chance. So it makes the question of what moves people interesting. What is it that today there are people, for example, who can't stand to see Channel 5 disappear, people from the public. Just like not too long ago they'd gone out to defend NRJ. One of the last great demonstrations. It's very strange, the evolution of... So that, it's not my thing, it's politics or sociology, but you can see the evolution. But all these evolutions are heading the same way. The centre of gravity is moving towards the viewer. Which is to say that television will be more and more on the spot.
It will be indexed to its whims and fancies, and the exchange will be, you come and do your own television, and in exchange television will do what I said it did earlier, which is to give a few lessons in manners, which you badly need. I think there's a sort of exchange, really basic, happening at the expense of everything television was when they tried for quality. But when I say quality, I don't like that word, I mean... To answer your question, are competent people condemned? Yes they're condemned, of course. Because it's a completely useless skill, and even discrediting one, since it forces you to sell your singularity. If I sell myself as Mr Cinema on TV - they won't want me anymore - I'm selling a singularity. And that's unacceptable. It's unacceptable. It's in that sense that we're becoming American. Because Americans loathe – they love individuality, they love personality - everything must be very personal - but they only like clichés. So you have to be personally like everyone else. And that, Americans manage it quite well. How to be personally average. Above all, how to never be in the minority. Americans have a rather strong culture of democracy, and us, much weaker. So you don't want to be in the minority. And you don't know what it means. So you want to be part of the winners' group. And the winners' group is society. So when society is the winners' group, with the means to test it night and day, with opinion polls, satisfaction polls don't cost anything. It... It means nothing. I mean, they don't even ask people to say I liked it, they ask them to say I'm rather satisfied. I'm rather satisfied of J&B's whisky. There. But I know it's very inferior to the whisky... There. Such and such a whisky with a sublime peat taste. But I'll be judged based on my "rather satisfied". Which represents no particular love. Ultimately, it sounds pretentious, but lack of love has a cost. It means that channels disappear and there's no one to say "It's me! I loved it, I made it. I watched it." The people who defend it are those who didn't watch it, I mean, they don't want it to disappear, but they didn't watch it. They say, a channel without news isn't a real channel. But news was never a commercial factor. News is a ruin for all TV channels.


About the screen, if you will, I think it's the only reality we are absolutely sure about today. I.e. between us and the place which, before was the place of the Other - one of the places of the Other, great or small - there is, for sure, a screen. And this screen can either connect us to people who want our well-being, who would be the people making TV, so who still broadcast something, who produce and broadcast, but I think it's... That's what television was until now but it's not obvious that it'll be that way for ever. And then you can use a screen because you have a VCR and the possibilities for domestic uses of images are incredible, total, and that we're only beginning. So no, when I see the screen - everybody's probably like me and in fact I'm rather late, because I'm still watching television almost in the situation of someone waiting for the serve to send the ball back. So often I wait a very long time. So, do you use for tapes or rather to see if, by chance, on the Hertzian networks, there isn't something interesting, fun, or unexpected. Information is what keeps us in that idea of the global village. That's why, even badly done, we value it a lot. Because we tell ourselves, today, the world will have been like that. It's TV telling you. It's obviously not true, but it's the images of the day. So we know they have tampered with them but still, they're careful, they say “Archive footage”, they say... and that's it. We'll have to make our feeling for the present differently. We'll have to make it ourselves. Will it be through screens, I don't know.

RD: It's the question I would have liked to ask you: ultimately, literature will have made the 19th century, i.e. it made the imaginary, the ideals for identification of the 19th century. Cinema did it for the 20th. End of cinema: where will it happen, now? The role model? I.e. the James Stewart of your childhood?

SD: I have no idea. I think the weight of the imaginary of which we are the sons, or the cine-sons, is so huge that... that I don't have much imagination, I don't know. When you see Terminator 2, it's a lovely script, it's a shame that the film is lazy, because you see a machine arrive that's simply stronger. The machine is the stronger one. Schwarzenegger is weaker. And this machine is perfectly unpleasant, it's a real machine. There's no anthropomorphism there. The bad Terminator is really not someone you can associate with. So you look at Schwarzenegger, with sadness, as someone still... It's a machine capable of making itself human. So the film, with its huge success, with the kids and everything, it does say that we're at a loss there. With myths. But I'm pessimistic all the way because I think that there are myths being patched up, but that you need... But that they're real myths, i.e. myths somewhat like in primitive societies, or African tales: cosmogonic myths. I think you need - so for better or for worse, I think it's out of our hands - I think Man needs to tell himself again under what conditions there is the human and the non-human, for example. I thought that the human was a battle we'd won, since I came after inhumanity. And many of us had this kind of illusion. So humanity had been won. The unity of mankind had been won. Racism was ridiculous. Today I think all of that will be asked all over again. For example, I think that the question of knowing whether we are the sons of our parents or of the dolphins, which is a serious question, which is in the children's unconscious, is a mythological question. When it's told by the griots, the Fula and the grand-parents, we say, what sublime stories. I think we'll have to deal with them. Not me, I'll really be history's posthumous child. The only myth we had, probably you too, was History with a big H, we were ready to do the stupidest things for that myth. It kept us, and cinema was in History. In History. You lived in cinema as in History. Of course, you wake up one day, you tell yourself it was Yalta, it's over, now you don't understand a thing, you're like everybody else. "Ah, what a shame, it was a nice story", it lasted fifty years. So I'm not ahead. You wake up, you wake up at the foot of a world where you'd again have to have mythology, without bigotry, without religion, wow... That seems somewhat hard. Anyway, what's rearing its head is somewhat worrying, I mean the first mythology that appears is of course the vitalist earthly mythology, the one that's been used a few times already in history, including once recently under Nazism, and I don't think much of it. Recently, I was very shocked, there was, in Libération and Le Monde, there was an ad for a Yoplait foundation, did you see it? It was in the papers, it was written in a kitchen-sink French, there was a Moon sect aspect to it, manipulated. And it's Yoplait foundation for young sportsmen with Olympic ideals. I don't know what the link with yoghurts is. And the text is terrifying. It went through, in fact, it went through, Libération included. It was terrifying, either in its thoughtlessness, or in its clumsiness, it was thought through but clumsily expressed. It was: Article 1: Earth is naturally beautiful. Article 2: Earth belongs to all men. It was Earth, the planet. She was the star. There was never the word "man", there were fifteen, twenty... There were problems between men but that's a question of world government, never mind. Moral values still needed to be respected, and the slackening... And I said, but how quickly do you move from that to Leni Riefensthal? I was scared. Because the ecological ideal, on that side, I'm not talking of environmentalism, which seems to me to be a good thing, at least hard to fight today. But ecology, in the sense that the first measure that Hitler took was to declare the Black Forest sacred, that ecology, which has already had its go in the limelight, in modern history, and I don't see why it wouldn't just be a first go. Even if we always lived it as "never again, it can't come back, and anyway we'll fight it." We were ready to... We yelled fascism will not pass, we studied how Reich had seen fascism rise, how Brecht had seen it, how Thomas Mann had seen it, how the communists hadn't seen it... You won't catch me out on that, on how fascism rose everywhere... But it's rising now and we're very weak, there are few of us, our ideas are jumbled, we whine... But it's rising. 30% less cinema in one decade, 30% more of Le Pen's ideas. So, no doomwatching, but I mean it should inflect what we say differently from what we said five, ten, fifteen years ago, I mean we, we who speak through... That's all we have to do. I think that within that, cinema is part... of the beautiful part of the heritage, but slightly thrown out. There. Now, mythologies, yes, cinema, I'm in a fix because I never approached cinema from its mythological side, it doesn't interest me. I took it on its, let's inhabit history, let's inhabit the geography map and history. And it seemed possible, and it made me live, and I travelled the world thanks to that, so I at least inhabited it. But I'm not interested in mythologies. There were sociologists who wrote the myth of Bambi in fifteen volumes, they said "but in fact!", there are oafs who never stop doing that, they say "ha ha, you rancid intellectuals, absolutely incorrigible clerks, you make fun of Dallas which you find horrible, whereas it's exactly like The Odyssey." You're ashamed for them, because you say yes, there are four or five stories on earth, we've known that for a very long time. We've known it for a very long time, there are very few stories going round. What is it that means that The Odyssey isn't Dallas, that if people don't know anymore we're in a fix? Do we know it ourselves? Do we know it well, can we talk about it, can we pass it on? Can we pass it on, this idea, have we reread The Odyssey, recently? That's where we're at, if we're somewhat honest.
So I tell myself, I don't think much of the first mythology coming up. It's, our mother Earth, little sister Earth, our little sister. And she has all the rights. And we have none. And mankind, it's debatable, it's negotiable. There are human populations, they scare us, we're stronger, they're, in many ways, also stronger, in other fields, it could go wrong. So will it go wrong because cinema will be dead, no, that's not enough, it's a symptom, it will go wrong because we won't have created sublime myths. But man doesn't create myths because someone at the UN said we'll make up two or three myths and save the world. I think that we should be careful when talking about mythology; it's been a very, very, very long time since any new myths have been created. Literature created three or four. Since Faust, Don Quixote, that's it. You can tell hundreds of stories, and as long as you tell stories you're alive, as long as there's someone to listen to them. That, yes, that's a question of hygiene, telling stories. Putting oneself in the other's place. But myths, that's something else. I feel very helpless in relation to that.
Translation and transcript by "nletore & newland @ KG" with only minor edits by me.