October 8, 2015



Philippe Garrel: A week ago in Paris I showed "Actua 1" (1968) before Regular Lovers (2004)-- so I showed the newsreel right before the re-creation-- and the two really blended together. I think that from now on I will show "Actua 1" before Regular Lovers, which is from 2004-- 35 years after "Actua 1" -- and in which I actually redid shots from "Actua 1" when I thought that that film was lost. That duo works much better together. 

But in this case [the 2015 New York Film Festival screening] seeing "Actua 1" with In the Shadow of Women (2015), what does work is when you see the Resistance footage, the Liberation of Paris, because here you see history being written into the screen. It's a bit like what the people who saved France from Nazism said, "From the Resistance to the Revolution"-- and the master of that question was, of course, Eisenstein, who in 1927 re-created the Revolution of 1917. The effect of truth he achieved was that he got Lenin to come and play himself among the extras 10 years later, and that was, I believe, in the film October. What I'm giving now is a kind of cinema lesson-- I'm a professor first and foremost. I used to be a student of the New Wave, now I'm a professor.

As we were speaking of future generations earlier, when future generations see the Eisenstein films they think they are watching actual news footage, that they're watching newsreels of the Revolution, because Lenin is there; he has a little bit less hair but, for all the rest, it's Lenin.

What actually happened to me is that I got a phone call from someone who told me they'd seen a shot from 
Regular Lovers on French TV, when there were riots in the Paris suburbs, where they just inserted a shot of cars burning from Regular Lovers and used the fiction in the news. So, artists make objects that are proof of history.

It's like, for instance, the French director Jean-Paul Le Chanois, he made a movie Au cœur de l'orage, In the Heart of the Storm (1944-45), 
in which you see shots of the Vercors, the remote resistance dens, the Maquis, and what happened there is that he had filmed in that area but his film was damaged by humidity. So right after the war, when he found that his film was damaged, in '45, he asked real Resistance fighters to recreate what they had done and he filmed them. And today that footage is considered news footage, newsreel footage. It's like here in the US, you venerate Angela Davis, some shots of Angela Davis, some shots of the Berkeley riots, but there are very few actual, real documents and it's artists who reconstruct things, reconstruct objects, and who tell something of histories and ultimately make the news.

Caroline Deruas: [Regarding In the Shadow of Women:] Philippe, as always, has a very, not masochist but… He has a very masculine gaze and this time I wanted him to try to look on the other side...

Philippe Garrel: As Freud said we know very little about women's libido, because, as he said, women don't say as much when they're on the therapist's couch. It's an interesting search for a man to do… this is why I admire the New Wave. As I was saying earlier, because of its political side as it relates to "Actua 1", but also as proof of the communication between one man and one woman, whether it's a man filming a woman or… The New Wave was really a history of cinema as communication between man and woman. While I was watching the movie earlier, I was thinking of Cléo from 5 to 7
, naturally, because Agnès Varda is here. It's something that was very powerful for our generation-- and it was for Chantal Akerman too-- which is that cinema was useful in our life. It's not that cinema helps to heal the wounds of love-- reality is reality and films can't change that-- but it's really something that shows the communication between man and woman, and I think that's the most interesting thing in life.

Caroline Deruas: I just want to say: there is a book behind the script of this film, a book by Mario Soldati, The Capri Letters, which has the same shape as the film, a parallel between women's libido and men's…

Clotilde Courau: [On working with Garrel:] I felt that the film is also about the notion of sacrifice. I remember talking with Philippe, talking a lot about the notion of sacrifice in love-- and resistance. Do women have that quality more than men? I don't know. We've been talking a lot about it. Working with Philippe, the great thing-- and I wish all the directors were doing the same thing-- is that we have to be together for maybe seven weeks, eight weeks; once a week we meet, and its not really rehearsing. It's not a play. We're spending time together. In Philippe's work it's not about finding the emotion, it's finding the truth of the situation and then the movements, and then everything will come from the truth of that moment. Finding the right place of that moment (…) We talked about libido. I also think it's a question of generation. I don't know if we have the same answers today. I don't know...

Philippe Garrel: There's something that relates to our species' evolution, something much slower than the movement of other ideas and gestures, but this movement exists over our whole lives, and we ourselves participate in our lives, in our evolution. Freud said that, and it's actually a scary thought, to think that things don't change so fast. 
Now, when I was in psychoanalysis with an older Moroccan analyst I told him I wanted to do a film about women's libido being as strong as man's and because he was a 92 year-old, he simply responded: "probably". If the speed of the species in our lives changes, if it moves in our life just a quarter of a millimeter, that's already very impressive: we're monsters of change. That's Godard who thinks that: we're monsters. At the end of his film France/tour/détour/deux/enfants he says "the monsters will go home", "the monsters will eat dinner"… But maybe it's also possible that we can't change the world at all when it comes to love.

(From the French interpreter's [name unknown! Please inform me if you know...] immediate translation of the post-screening talk by Philippe Garrel, Caroline Deruas, and Clotilde Courau following the October 6, 2015 screening of "Actua 1" and In the Shadow of Women at the New York Film Festival. Video  here.)

September 10, 2015

September 1, 2015

for E.E.

The first frame of the third version of La Madre (J.-M. S.)
and the first frame of the second version.

July 24, 2015

The Iron Mask (1929) by Allan Dwan   
The Testament of Doctor Cordelier (1959) by Jean Renoir. 

These two filmmakers, in these exemplary films, the first following Griffith, the second Chaplin, give us the key to the vault in the great quest undertaken by the cinema: the human face.  Each illustrates in an exemplary way the fiction of a split. The man in The Iron Mask is twice cursed by the Sun-King: his face, because it is identical, must disappear from sight. The rule of dramatic balance in cinema (familiar faces and the hierarchy that follows) is reversed: "secondary elements" (sets, background characters, decoupage… here: the axis of the camera in relation to the table, an almost metallic light that equalizes the pitcher, the cup, the dish, the plate and the mask) are all there to serve what the missing face goes on to say.

At the other extreme: Opale, the nocturnal embodiment of Doctor Cordelier (this is not twin against twin, competing for divine right and disputing the throne, but a man alone -- a modern Jekyll and Hyde -- torn between the order of decency and the overflowing plunder inside of him), threatens to explode the frame: by his swollen face (that of J.L. Barrault), deformed, horrifyingly ugly, by his menacing growls, by these gestures that escape the body (the trampling of a little girl, the caning of an old man and a cripple over the course of the film), all these are "secondary elements" trembling at their base: at the dawn of the TV drama, Renoir, sensing the innumerable procession of quiet daubs that could be born of this technique, does not shake the coconut tree (never failing to pay-off) and makes the televisual version of Monsieur Verdoux.

Tails: Hollywood and its drapery in a patient search (abandoned today) for origins. Heads: the restorative destruction of any reference or reverence. Griffith and Chaplin, kept alive in the work of Allan Dwan and Jean Renoir, fill out a definition, each in his own way, of the face as a reflection and love of human history.

                                          Jean-Claude Biette

Cahiers du cinéma, spécial PHOTOS DE FILMS, Dec. 1978. Translated by Andy Rector.

April 14, 2015

Letter from Jane

by Tag Gallagher

In April of last year (1974), Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden and director Haskell Wexler (Medium Cool) made a trip to North Vietnam (they were refused visas to the South). Introduction to the Enemy is a film they made of their interviews with a cross-section of the people. It cost $20,000. 

Some years ago I travelled in Algeria, and from that experience I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of this portrait of Vietnam. There is nothing quite like a long and successful revolutionary war to invigorate and unify a people. Nor is it surprising that the Vietnamese are gracious and friendly to Americans, or the Algerians to the French. I suspect that today in North Vietnam one could have the unique experience of seeing an infectious paradigm of a society at its euphoric peak. For a sympathetic American such an encounter would place him or her in the position of a starving peasant gazing into a King's banquet hall.      

I can imagine this, partially, but I cannot find it in this film. Rather than respectful contemplation, these pictures bear a resemblance to the breezy sort of TV news report, complete with an on-the-spot commentator. The wisdom of this approach for Vietnam seems most dubious as one watches the ubiquitous Ms. Fonda gesturing and struggling to translate the simple French phrases of a Hanoi author whom she is interviewing. I am always happy to watch Jane Fonda, and to listen to her, and I am glad she was awestruck, but she tended to overwhelm the vibrations of the country and its people. The result of this is a sort of Alice in Wonderland, without the wonderland. 


A woman -- the commanding general of the Viet Cong forces -- says that the U.S. lost because it tried to fight guerrillas with regular tactics; guerilla warfare is a people's war; the U.S. used helicopters to speed troops where they were needed; it failed to realize that the people are everywhere. But, unfortunately, nearly everyone Fonda and Hayden talked with seems to have responded by parroting the official line, and in the most ideological terms. I say "unfortunately" not because the filmmakers accept these replies unquestioningly, but because these verbal cliches are, for the most part, the closest the film gets to the souls of the people. It is not enough for a documentary to show smiling faces and to freeze a few close-ups. And a good documentary needs all the potent and concise editing that is lacking in these lackadaisical 65 minutes. 

A few years ago, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin made a short called Letter to Jane (1972) which, by studying a magazine photo of Jane Fonda with some North Vietnamese soldiers, reached the conclusions that the culture gap was too vast for her to cross, and that her response, as shown on her face, was a reiteration of a cliched response going back to the New Deal. (Godard's later confession that he himself could never be anything but a bourgeois filmmaker clarified the meaning of his short.)


Well, it seemed to me that Introduction to the Enemy proves Godard and Gorin correct, for essentially the film is a sequel to that infamous still photo, and makes explicit a critique which had appeared too hypothetical. So I asked Jane Fonda what she thought of Letter to Jane:

"I never saw it," she replied, "but I read the script and then I filed it away as an example of..." (here ensued a choking 15-second struggle for the right words while swinging her arms like a helicopter) "...narrow-minded male chauvinist sectarianism." 

Tag Gallagher

Originally published in Take One, Jan-Feb 1975.


Editor's Note
Furthering a conflation of cinema, the image, reality, renown, ideology, history, and revolution -- part and parcel of both Introduction to the Enemy (seemingly in the negative) and Letter to Jane (in the positive) -- it's worth mentioning that Jane Fonda later chose to title her published journal of the Vietnam trip "Birth of a Nation".  Today, the film Introduction to the Enemy is completely unavailable, as if expunged: impossible to find commercially or in the underground trade. There is an entry for it, almost ironic, in the [Ted] Turner Classic Movies database; with the listing's empty "genre" and "user review" fields we are told less than: this film exists or existed. 

The same expurgation from history is true of another 1974 film made by a woman, a film in dire need of revival, and I'll take this opportunity to bring it up in the hopes that others will be interested and help make it available: Attica by Cinda Firestone, about the 1971 revolt of prisoners against unbearable conditions at Nelson Rockefeller's Attica Correctional Facility (near Buffalo, New York), where inmates successfully took 40 guards hostage, held discussions and spoke with press in the yard, practiced unheard of racial unity, and put forth a manifesto demanding the removal of the warden, better conditions, and amnesty. Rockefeller approved nothing but a military attack on the occupied prison, a repression and massacre that killed thirty-one prisoners, with the remaining inmates being beaten and tortured by guards after the restoration of the State's order. All of this is in Firestone's film... The importance of Attica today is inestimable.


January 13, 2015

I hate it as you hate God.


October 8, 2014