June 17, 2010

by Luc Moullet

Many people take the habit of current cinema as laws imposed by the profound nature of the cinematographic spectacle: thus the breaking up of the film into tiny fragments, the consistency f the dramatic situation and the developments of the camera, the musical filler, shimmering images, the abundance of sets, the audibility of the dialogue, the notions of a beginning and an ending, the credits, the willful scam (even in excellent films like LA GUERRE EST FINIE the principle of the scam is respected, a principle which consists of insuring that actors and fiction be taken for real characters and action) are only the expression of the civilization of petty bourgeois who arrange beautiful paintings on their walls. It is a cinema of masks: the filmmaker avoids difficulties by means of artifice; he hides reality – their reality – from himself and from the spectator through decoration and apparent order. Current cinema artificially reintroduces beautiful elements in a universe which is unaware of this beauty. When I go from the Gare du Nord (Euston Station) to the Gare de l'Est (King's Cross), I don't pass through the Bois de Boulogne (Hyde Park). Still it's pretty. Well, most filmmakers pass through the Bois de Boulogne. In this way they offer a false conception of life. They make the exploited person believe that beautiful external elements can be integrated into his sad actual life. Insofar as the discovery of beauty creates happiness, it is important to discover true, rather than false, beauty within normal life.

That is why repetition – the same gestures without obvious interest, daily washing, shaving, dressing, walking – variety – the lack of dramatic ordering of the human day – the absence of poetry – modern decor and rhythm of life, invasion of the Civil Code – all must be sources of emotion, interest, and beauty. Modern music (Antoine, Dutronc, Gall, Sheila 62 and 66, Vartan) offers an example by basing its beauty on anti-poetical words and sounds and on repetition. I would even say that the value of a film is connected to the degree to which it creates beauty through repetition, and that the aim of cinema is to allow the spectator to pee every day in the literal sense without getting pissed off in the figurative sense.*

Analysis, opposition, reflection, all methods are good. I prefer exaggeration: the careful accumulation of uninteresting elements provokes a certain dizziness, a source of beauty and humor, which allows us to beat the modern world and its henchmen at their own game, to anticipate their absurdity, to disconcert and thus to defeat them. That is why in shot 163 (c) of BRIGITTE ET BRIGITTE, Colette Descombes says that it's logical for man to "prefer human absurdity, to which he must contribute in order to adopt it."

The predominance of bourgeois values in films originates in the success of the cinema of the past: the first filmmakers all became big businessmen. Then, in order to enter the milieu of cinema it was necessary to belong to an equivalent milieu. That's why 41 % of Frenchmen, but 0% of filmmakers, have a father who is a worker or an agricultural wage-earner; 71 % of filmmakers but 7.8% of Frenchmen have fathers belonging to the upper classes of society. Today [1967], the minimum salary of a director is around $9000.00. He shoots a film every two years, on the average. Nevertheless, only 6% of the French earn more than he does. Wherefore the crisis of the cinema: as long as the salary of the director is not identical to the earnings of the average Frenchman, he will be cut off from the average spectator and from reality.

Add to that the betrayal of the other sectors of the C.G.T. and F.O. (organized labor) by the actors' and technicians' unions: The industry bringing in so much, they require gigantic salaries (an average of $160 a week) and personnel which the State tends to render obligatory, even for small-budget artistic films. Thus directors, having to spend more, are forced to respect commercial demands, derived from tastes which the bourgeoisie impose on the exploited class, with the help of advertising, demands which they wouldn't have to respect if films only cost what they were supposed to. They are forced to avoid taking political or artistic risks.

Currently, leftist labor unions glorify right-wing films which alienate the exploited class, like LA GRANDE VADROUILLE or IS PARIS BURNING?, films which cost millions of dollars and bring in plenty. They sabotage incisive films which only cost $10,000 or $20,000 and don't bring in much. An actor who resents being offered $240 a month as a travelling salesman wouldn't even suspect that this contact with reality would make him a better actor. As with the novel and painting, 70% of the time film must be a moonlighting job, in which a person condenses what he's acquired in the course of his main work. Pecas or me, Patelliere or Godard, we're too professional, too marked by the cinema to give it new blood: Everyone, agricultural worker, baker, coal-merchant, dock-worker, elevator-operator, fireman, garage- mechanic, hospital-attendant, ice cream vendor, journalist: there aren't any. knife-and-scissors grinder, locksmith, miner, nickel-plater, office-worker, postman, quiz show host, railroad worker, secret agent, ticket-puncher, urbanologist, veterinarian, watchmaker (there aren't any), must make his own film. Each person can realize a good film at least once in his life. Therefore, access to film-directing for 50 million Frenchmen must be facilitated, especially since there is room, each year in France, for thirty films costing one million dollars, but also for at least five hundred feature length films costing $6000.

Today, if a studio film like BRIGITTE ET BRIGITTE costs much more, a French feature film made under normal conditions, without useless expenses (remember that insurance, the office, and the staff are the founding fathers of bankruptcy) costs $9,800, $6000 with real ingenuity (but I think by 1970, with a little bit of organization we'll be able to arrive at this figure normally), $3000 for 8mm (a format sufficient for 200-seat theaters). We must democratize the cinema. Here we have a prodigious possibility of growth for culture, for industry, which can’t help but develop through the multiplication of clients, and also for employment: 500 films, that’s 4000 new jobs.

The more the stooges of diverse bourgeoisies and trusts – Messieurs Goebbels and Fourre-Cormeray – struggled against the free access of the individual (Jew or amateur) to film production, the more the individual rebelled, wanting to take up the challenge and do the forbidden thing. That is why we mustn’t protest the absurdity of the current cinematic policy, which will one day produce a hilarious comedy, and which has already given us a good laugh. If a National Center of the Novel were created, many more people would all of a sudden want to write. There are disadvantages, but many more advantages to the fact that the current status of filmmakers is identical to that of smugglers.

Cahiers du cinéma, No. 187. Translated by Sandy Flitterman. From the FILM AT THE PUBLIC program, "The Cinema of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet", November 2-14 1982.

*This is an untranslatable pun on “se raser,” which is slang for “being bored.” (Trans.)


Unknown said...

Thank you–sensical to see Moullet as a political filmmaker. Do you have a copy of the program/ can you put up more?

Daniel Kasman said...

Beautiful, thank you.

Andy Rector said...

I'll be putting up more of the program; much of its essays are already available: Giberto Perez's piece on HISTORY LESSONS in his MATERIAL GHOST; Daney on TOO EARLY TOO LATE; Rosenbaum's great article TRANSCENDENTAL CUISINE, which is in his book FILM THE FRONT LINE.

craig keller. said...

Yes. (To the Moullet.)

Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

Thanks for posting this, Andy, and for your comment about "Transcendental Cuisine". But, for whatever it's worth, that piece appears in FILM: THE FRONT LINE 1983 only in a censored, truncated form that the publisher insisted on. It's not a version that I'm at all happy with. (Someday, maybe I can copy and put the correct version on my own web site.)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Luc Moullet is the Marley's Ghost of the Nouvelle Vague.