July 23, 2016

THE SHERIFF 
by Alexandre Astruc
Originally published in Paris-Match, 1108 (1 août 1970) as "'Le Shérif': Alexandre Astruc fait rendre justice à Howard Hawks". Translated by Dorothea Hoekzema.




A fascist is, as everyone knows, someone who despises men, believes only in relationships of force, manifests a pronounced taste for quarrels, considers women as subproletarian, privileged by the fact that they are given the pleasure of washing the dishes and wiping the kids. 

Besides, since American directors, and Howard Hawks in particular, are evidently, in so far as they are authors of Westerns, a heap of reactionary riff-raff, of rednecks, of cops, and of militarists, Rio Bravo, a sublime film, merits, without a doubt, the label of fascist. Moreover, Hawks is an old airman, and he must have the mentality of a general. His best pal was the racist Faulkner. Everything fits the pattern: we are at the height of a reactionary period!... Faulkner had an enormous admiration for Hawks, not just because he was his best friend and fought in the war with him. He adapted the war for him. He adapted for him the screenplay of To Have and To Have Not from a novella by this Hemingway who couldn't hold a candle to him. But the greater one is, the humbler he is. The same Faulkner (still for Howard Hawks) adapted detective dramas (like The Big Sleep). Don't be surprised if this The Big Sleep is equally sublime. Let's get back to Rio Bravo, which just came out, to tell--but everything fits the pattern--the profound raison d'être of this film. We are in 1955, and Zinnemann, a so-called leftist, a humanist, and a detestable director, just brought to the screen with Gary Cooper one of these traditional Westerns which permit armchair progressives, especially, to defend a genre which is counter-revolutionary.

This very bad film is called High Noon. In this film in the best tradition, the sheriff Gary Cooper, who is engaged to the Quaker virgin, symbol of the American woman's purity, played by Grace Kelly, future princess of Monaco, makes his exit, his job finished, on the exact day when a killer, whom he had arrested, is going to come back. 

Racking his brains, Cooper, just married to his Quaker in a nice wedding, is in the process of leaving. In the end, duty is stronger. He goes back to the city and tries to find someone to help him keep the dangerous bandit from killing him: naturally, as in all humanist films, men are too cowardly and, because of fear, are ready to collaborate with the killer. Which is normal, all humanism having as its first principle good personal conscience and contempt for the unfortunates who do not have the happiness of being visited by divine inspiration: the classic history of the saved. 

Cooper, finding no one, performs, against his wishes, his role as hero, and, to really show his disgust, before leaving, throws his sheriff's badge on the ground--what admirable audacity of Zinnemann! We are at the height of moralizing, of the traditional, hypocritical, and so-called progressive kind. 

The fascist Hawks is so disgusted with this film that he decides to do a remake of it with his friend Dean Martin. This is Rio Bravo

The only differences are:

1) The role of Grace Kelly is replaced by that of the barmaid Angie Dickinson. She performs honestly her woman's work, which is to love John Wayne. 

2) Put in the same circumstances as Gary Cooper, John Wayne doesn't ask for anyone's help. He has a job to do: he is sheriff; he is paid for that. He locks himself in his office, gets his guns ready and, with the help of a sixty-year-old man who acts as his assistant, awaits with determination the killer's brother, who promised to break into said office. 



3) Stroke of genius. There is a human wreck, a drunk, an alcoholic: Dean Martin. Dean Martin, it is evident, inasmuch as he is a drunkard, does not have a sense of honor, and the function of sheriffs is to despise alcoholics. Well, Wayne protects Dean Martin who, in an admirable scene (I even had tears in my eyes), drunk as he is--but it is well known that Hawks despises the man; he is not like Zinneman, the liberal--finds in himself the moral strength to refuse to pick out from a spittoon money tossed there by the killer. Then, he arrives at the sheriff's and offers to help him. He can't, his hands tremble, he sobers up a little, he succumbs and again touches the accursed bottle. Then John Wayne does this admirable thing: he smacks him in the face, proof of the greatest respect; one doesn't fight with someone he despises--but, evidently, this is again the fascist moral. Rio Bravo is only a Western: a Western is not enriching. This is not like the erotic and avant-garde films of Robbe-Grillet; this is nothing but two tired heroes of forty to fifty years, who criticize each other and drink whisky. 

But it is impossible to leave Rio Bravo (like El Dorado, another film of Hawks, which resembles it like a brother) without feeling proud of being a man. The people who make these films are not hacks, they are not manufacturers; they are moralists, in the true sense of the word. The films of Hawks, even the comedies that he made, like Man's Favorite Sport, go much further in the knowledge of man than the so-called Underground analyses and studies do. Why? Because Hawks knows what a man is, and that is why he can make films. One cannot make films if he does not like life, if he does not believe, above all, that the physical manifestations are privileged. The body does not lie, nor does the human face: this is the strength of the cinema and its health as opposed to literature. 



A supplementary reason for the glory of Hawks: he made comedies as well as tragedies. Bringing Up Baby as well as Red River and The Big Sky.

A new reason, naturally, not to take him seriously. It is not serious to make people laugh; it is even shameful. Pagnol and Moliere are an evident proof. Moreover, people who cause laughter are reactionaries; it's well known: American comedy is fascist. 

You will excuse me this one time for having retold the plot of the film, which is not my habit. I did it purposely; I did it because it is simply a question of truth, of this truth which is seen as it is filmed. 


July 22, 2016

A MASSACRE IN SEQUENCE
by Alexandre Astruc

Originally published in Paris-Match, 1139 (6 mars 1971
as "Un Massacre par sequence: Rio Lobo de Howard Hawks


As he gets older, Howard Hawks--he must be something like seventy-five years old now--seems to take a mischievous pleasure in multiplying the number of corpses which litter his films' fertile-green carpet, scattered with cow-dung. 

To kill, to shoot, to cool off, to disembowel one's fellow creature by firing at him point-blank with one or another popgun stuffed up to the muzzle with avenging gunpowder was, until now, a pleasure reserved for a small, privileged elite. 

It was like a lord's occupation, a profession carefully protected by a a kind of closed group. Lords and masters delightfully abandon themselves, romping joyously in the tall grass, searching for two-legged game, while a small group of non-violent people, slaves and concubines, cook and make tortillas while raking or hoeing rutabagas or manioc. 

Alas, alas! This division of labor may have seen its last days. In the latest film of Howard Hawks, Rio Lobo, with the long-lasting John Wayne, everybody, absolutely everybody, without differentiation of age, sex, or race, everybody able to move forward while brandishing a harquebus or a catapult, joins the shooting gallery. 

Don't let all that keep you from immediately flocking to Rio Lobo, which is an excellent and marvelous film at the same time as a wonderful example of what a narration of pure cinematographic action can be. 

Unlike so many young people whom we know only too well, this old, super-silvered fox, Howard Hawks, is not going to permit his action to slow down and spoil our pleasure under the pretext of philosophizing or of making crocodile tears flow by lingering on rows of corpses which are barely cold and which he just lined up. 

Oh no! It's useless to stock up on Kleenex. One hardly has the time or the leisure to slow down in Howard Hawks' films, in Rio Lobo in particular, where gunpowder talks rather quickly and clearly.

In short, in this film, as the captain of Jacques le Fataliste by Diderot says: "Every bullet that leaves a rifle has its mark." 

All of this is rather inebriating and exciting for the soul, but it risks not being an especially recommendable spectacle for cardiacs. I greatly fear that I can't advise going elsewhere to all those heart specialists and psychological analysts, who seek in the Western only a new approach in the broadening of the knowledge of man. 



In Rio Bravo, indeed in El Dorado, between two performances of shooting and a drinking bout, Mr. John Wayne, tired as he was, still found time to exchange some condescending off-hand remarks with his partners, Mr. Dean Martin or Mr. Robert Mitchum. It's useless for you to flatter yourself because you are hearing anything other than the sputtering of blazing lead in so many voices coming out of so many mouths of fire. 
 
Psychology, lyricism, photography, explanations: Hawks, this time, has thrown everything overboard, including musical filler. Only a thin and dry guitar underscores, with a few Jansenist chords, a straight-lined production.

There seems to be nothing else on the screen. Nothing more than a fantastically played action, served by a black, ferocious humor, nothing more than the broken wire of a spring which expands and vibrates in the blue-gray sky of the forest. 

Nothing more. Nothingness, that's what. That is, nothingness successively and in the same film and the same breath: the attack of an armored train by Southern forces in flight, with anti-railroad terrorist commandos, bombardment with wasp-filled bags, train on the loose, pursuit in the branches and the marshes, bloody corpses thrown in the ballast, capture of John Wayne, ambush, John Wayne delivered by the yellow scarves, War of Secession continued and concluded. Camps of prisoners, search for the traitor, murder of a mountebank, arrival of a distressed orphan girl, reconciliation of John Wayne and the Southern son of Robert Mitchum, the orphan's assassination attempt, filling the four killers full of lead by the pair Wayne-Jim Mitchum (Robert's son), Rio Lobo in the hands of a sadistic and extortionist sheriff, love affair of the orphan and Mitchum's son, a ranch attack, occupation of the sheriff's office, sequestration, ransom, final explanation, splash in the water. Whew! Stop. John Wayne triumphs. No kisses. Nothingness, as I have the honor of telling you. Nothing: next to nothing. Nothing but great, admirable cinema.

The only question which still has to be asked concerning this marvelous film, the only mystery left unsolved, is the appearance of John Wayne. 

Thick, weighing at least a ton of bones and beef, heavy as an ox lost in the middle of a robbery of thoroughbred horses, a preeminent paunch, bags under the eyes, one wonders how he is able to hoist himself into the saddle, then be able to stay there... Not at all. A good shot of whiskey, then he is off again, dashing and lively. It's because he doesn't want to unleash the old man to give all these young people a chance. He stays in the spotlight. He hangs on, climbing the stairs four at a time like an ex-football player to keep in shape, and sleeping with his boots on. 

Burt Lancaster, with his young fifty-nine years, can talk about rest and think retirement. 

As for John Wayne, he will leave as the brave do, those shooting-off-at-the-mouths, the veterans. 

He will enter the grave as he always lived. 

On horse. 








July 4, 2016

June 21, 2016

May 18, 2016



I kill the living...
and I save the dead.

It is written for everyone to die.
              It makes no difference.

Yes. Except for that little
matter of when, and for what.


Bitter Victory (1957)

May 1, 2016

MAY DAY

for Danièle Huillet...

























































































































































































































































































                 












Question: The idea of ​​modernity can only be associated with barbarism?

Danièle Huillet: If it is handled by the bourgeoisie, certainly...




















In May, 2003, Huillet sent a letter to the Brussels Cinematek (here), in reply to their interest in including Straub and her films in a themed program called Paysages"The theme 'Landscape' is madness," she wrote, and listed the films of others that could be shown:

TROUBLE WITH HARRY (Hitchcock)
UNE NOUVELLE AVENTURE DE BILLY THE KID (Moullet)
DIE NORD KALOTTE (Peter Nestler)
and Nestler's latest film on the VAL D'AOSTE.
















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COMPLETE ANIMALS




Contemporary with Erich von Stroheim's THE MERRY WIDOW (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), John Ford directed KENTUCKY PRIDE in 1925 for Fox (6597 feet).


Ford made four films in 1925: LIGHTNIN', KENTUCKY PRIDE, THE FIGHTING HEART, and THANK YOU. 

KENTUCKY PRIDE is the story of a horse through a horse menaced by money, exploitation, and physical injury--which of course can mean death for a horse at the hands of man--and loved by stableboys and life's gamblers, to the point of fame.

KENTUCKY PRIDE was a popular film. It played at the Seattle, Washington, Pantages Theater preceded by the short "Hungry Hounds", a Pathe newsreel, and a Vaudeville musical program; at the Majestic Theater in Houston, Texas, with Pathe "Aesop's Fables" cartoons...

For no particular reason KENTUCKY PRIDE is one of the rarest, least screened of Ford's films, though MoMA New York holds a fine print...


The following is an English translation of an excerpt about KENTUCKY PRIDE from an interview with Huillet and Straub entirely on John Ford from the Ford Cahiers du cinéma hors serie of 1995.




Huillet and Straub on 
John Ford's KENTUCKY PRIDE


STRAUB:     In Ford there is an absolutely insane social acuity with every character. After having seen KENTUCKY PRIDE and LIGHTNIN', both equally magnificent, I finally understood the question I'd asked myself for a long time about Ford. While there is a story, a fiction, a narrative that proves itself more and more rich as the film progresses, this does not prevent Ford from beginning in an extremely documentary manner, poor at the level of story, as if there weren't going to be any narration -- one also finds this in DR. BULL. Take a look at KENTUCKY PRIDE: for how long do we see the horses? (In the film we see many shots of horses before their "professional" life --Ed.) And it's even more amazing with the text on the screen, and to think of what Bresson said to us when we visited him in 1954 and told him about our project CHRONICLE OF ANNA MAGDALENA BACH. We talked a little and he let fly: "It is the word which creates the image." Danièle started getting pissed off. These horses, they're there and they tell a different story.

HUILLET:     Ford, in his shots, doesn't tell the story that's in the text of the intertitles. We have the shots and understand what's going on between the characters. 

STRAUB:     One understands a silent Ford with Czech intertitles better than a Mizoguchi without subtitles. 

HUILLET:     He doesn't try to mimic something about horses that would correspond to the text. Ford and his horses, that was the technique of the miracles in MOSES UND ARON. That was Fordian, indeed. 

STRAUB:     It wasn't me who said it (laughs. Silence). He filmed his horses as we filmed the snake.

HUILLET:     And Ford, who didn't love camera movement, here, because of the horses, moves a lot. Just as we did with the snake. It forced us to move.

STRAUB:     We had planned a fixed shot with a snake crossing the frame, but that doesn't exist. We filmed 985 feet times three with a constantly moving camera. With horses it's the same. Incidentally there's no narration, just the documentary, a film begins. Slowly, the narrative becomes richer and it never kills the documentary, it doesn't vampirize it. With Ford, the fiction is never pretentious, it's not a parasite that kills the tree of cinema, an acid that eats everything, a smoke that gets in your eyes, but a thing set at the level of children's stories while still being extremely rich, with the full weight of reality.

HUILLET:     That was the whole problem posed by MOSES UND ARON, namely, that one must not let the images block the imagination; it's like that with Ford from the very beginning, that's the way he breathes. Ford doesn't saturate the imagination or reality with anything he shows or tells, and that is extraordinary. 




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Past May Day Commemorations of Danièle Huillet on Kino Slang


2007 - Examine Caesars 
2008 - Song of Two Humans, But...!
2009 - This Land is Mine
2010 - Men Without Women
2011 - Freedom
2012 - Small Grasses
2013 - That's Just What We Intend
2014 - The Lizards
2015 - (no post -- misery)
2016 - Free Horse



April 10, 2016



Viaduct in Los Angeles 
photographed by F.W. Murnau

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