March 20, 2007

Two Notes — Hermine, Nevermore, Lip- and Lap- kina

Wildly different climates when.... 1977, Jonathan Rosenbaum is moved to say:

"I can only hazard the personal conviction that, with the passage of time, both films (Duelle and Noroît) will be recognised as significant extensions of (and advances in) Rivette's explorations - even if, from the present standpoint, the former seems to hark back to some of the illusionist premises of Rivette's earliest work..." (Introduction to Rivette: Texts and Interviews, now thankfully available here )

...and in 2003 Jonathan Takagi is moved to report:

"The moods (of Histoire de Marie et Julien) range from troubling and disturbing to lighthearted, especially in Julien’s interaction with his cat, Nevermore. Originally the cat was to have a speaking part. Some have reproached the film for the scenes in which the cat obviously makes some “mistakes” such as watching the boom microphone or scrambling back from the approaching camera." (from Jonathan T.'s wonderfully lively Paris Journal on Film Journey )

The twists and turns of fate in the life of anti-illusionism since Duelle are too much for me, though it does seem right absent in Rivette after the unheralded frame lines of the final showdown/lesson in Le Pont du Nord (1982). One thing is for certain: anti-illusionism in general has been utterly co-opted since the era of Duelle to aggrandize the power of advertising, cynicism, reveling in the "lie" of it all, but telegraphing loud and clear nonetheless (this is probably the relief that's felt in seeing home and cell-phone video on YouTube, they're "saying nothing", seeing/hearing everything).

Duelle itself has aged magnificently (my copy thanks to Travis Miles): a story of sun and moon goddesses, seers, and one girl-detective (only in flashes, like Jerry Lewis in It$ Only Money [Tashlin]) played Hermine Karagheuz, with a face, and some gestures, straight from the silent period. There's second-rate magic/illusion by way of tonic lighting changes, and anti-illusionistic but pro-hypnotic richness in the variations of music and body (musical improvisations blatantly played onscreen by Jean Weiner who is consistently surprising when he appears), radical shifts in acting, posture, and costume (Berto's extremely diverse donning  is such a shock each time, that this alone has the odd effect of strengthening the fiction on the one hand, and blaring it's artificiality on the other). Every move of the body and trembling of the fiction threaten to tear the screen to ribbons (one of Karagheuz's screams out of nowhere nearly does). In any case, Rosenbaum seems excited (at least I was) in his footnote on the film and what came after:

"While Duelle might be described, from a strictly commercial standpoint, as a film 'aimed' at a particular kind of audience which no longer exists, the more ambitious and radical procedures of Noroît suggest both an acceptance of the fact of this 'lost audience' and a subsequent liberation from this frame of reference -- thereby marking a return to the sort of experimentation and 'pure research' largely abandoned by Rivette after Spectre."

Alas, 30 years on, Rivette gets reproached when in Histoire de Marie et Julien (2004) he crystalizes some of his former narrative terror and anti-illusionism into one brief shot of a cat on a man's chest recoiling from the camera and the boom, the whole appartus bearing down on them in a tracking shot. A Bazinian anti-illusionism. Once the camera settles, the cat stares up at the boom mic. Perhaps the man (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) is "covering" for the cat when he looks up too and says "nosing around upstairs again? Don't lie, I can see it in your whiskers." This being a film by Rivette the line is sinister (what fiction/terror hovers overhead of our forward stare?), the scene tells a terrible truth on at least two levels, and Rivette once again revives the stakes of the tracking shot to a life or death situation.


On another note, I was recently struck by Ossos (1997, Pedro Costa), the films ineffable "lead" Mariya Lipkina, and the resemblence of her name to Marfa Lapkina, the "lead" of Eisenstein's The General Line. Mariya Lipkina was not one of the real-life inhabitants of Fountainhas, the district where Costa has been making films for 10 years; she had in fact acted in six Russian films prior to Ossos (quite a few considering her young age). What one wonders is why exactly her filmography stops at Ossos?

Marfa Lapkina, of The General Line, was cast according to the Soviet practice of "typage" (consider the difference in meaning between the word "types" in a capitalist society, and a society attempting communism). In Helen Grace's brilliant article "Hegel's Grave" she describes "typage" as: "a theory which gives a place in the history of the image to figures who are invisible to history."

"If however this face and this body (Marfa's) should disappear from cinema, then it would mean that all human bodies like it are doomed to disappearance not only from the space of representation but from life itself, all these bodies in the name of which an entire moral economy has been formed in the last century and a half. Yes, of course they will die, but I'm speaking more of the prospect of an impression that they never existed at all and that it is only the great men - the Eisensteins, the Hegels - who deserve to be remembered. It is also the concept of a particular ideal cinematic figure - the mass hero - whose future is at stake here."

A similar plea could be made for every face and body in Costa's cinema post-Ossos, namely those that inhabit No quarto da Vanda, Ou git votre sourire enfoui?, and Juventude em marcha. But where has that left Mariya Lipkina? I don't know. Costa obviously stays close those in his films; Thom Andersen reports that Alberto Barros, "Lento", had to explain one of Juventude em marcha's major plot points to Costa after the premiere at Cannes.
Marfa Lapkina did not see Eisenstein's film until fifty years after its making (apparently, in 1978, a film was made of Lapkina's first viewing).

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