January 25, 2019

Griffith, Franju, Moullet, Godard, Miéville

at the
Echo Park Film Center

January 26, 2019
Doors at 7:30pm
$5 Suggested Donation

Echo Park Film Center 
1200 North Alvarado St. 
Los Angeles, CA. 90026 


THE SONG OF THE SHIRT  (D.W. Griffith, 1908)

MONSIEUR AND MADAME CURIE  (Georges Franju, 1956)

MORE AND MORE  (Luc Moullet, 1993)

LESS AND LESS  (Luc Moullet, 2010)

THE DARTY REPORT  (Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville, 1988-89)

D.W. Griffith, 1908. Cinematography: Billy Bitzer. Based on the poem "The Song of the Shirt" by Thomas Hood. Players: Florence Lawrence, Linda Arvidson, Arthur Johnson, Robert Harron. Studio: American Mutoscope, Biograph Company. Production: October 19 and 20,1908. Released: November, 1908. 8 minutes. 

Oh, men with sisters dear! Oh, men with mothers and wives! It is not the linen you're wearing out, but human creatures' lives!   (The Song of the Shirt, Thomas Hood)

"A simple and intensely pathetic story based on the poem of Thomas Hood, that of a poor working girl slaving at her sewing machine to earn a bare existence for herself and her dying sister. But she labors in vain. The work is declared unsatisfactory by the unfeeling factory employer, the girl returns to her hovel to find the invalid close to death, while the employer is enjoying in high living the wealth wrung from the sweat and lifeblood of the white slaves in his employ."   (New York Dramatic Mirror, Nov. 28, 1908) 

"Whereas the power of the technical innovations on which Griffith's reputation largely rests has been diluted by a century of cinematic conventionalization, the depth of his emotions and the force of his vision of humanity has been preserved intact."   (Evelyn Emile)

"Reality and fable: between them, there is something that satisfies the public’s desire to be confronted with reality, and at the same time offers to themcondensedevery possible emotion.   (Luc Moullet, "Ah Oui, Griffith Was a Marxist!")

"Do you see this garment that I wear? 
It was knitted by the fingers of the dead
The long and yellow fingers of the dead... "   
(D.W. Griffith)

Georges Franju, 1953. Scenario: Georges Franju, based on Marie Sklodowska-Curie's Pierre Curie. Cinematography: Jacques Mercanton. Music: Beethoven (Piano Sonata no. 26, Les Adieux). Actors: Nicole Stéphane, Lucien Hubert. Production: Téléfilm, Armor Films. 14 minutes. 

A biographical engraving of Marie and Pierre Curie, a love story and lucid account of their discovery of radioactivity told through the words of Marie Sklodowska-Curie and the meticulous cinematography of Franju. "I want to bring the void to life," Franju has said of his films.

An element is discovered by a couple, before its commodity life as electricity, power, and annihilating weapon. The Curies' study of radioactivity is an important factor in science and medicine. Their research on Becquerel's X-rays (1895, concomitant with the invention of cinema) led them, through grueling and hazardous work as depicted in this film, to the discovery of both radium and polonium, and the coining of the term "radioactivity". Their research on the penetrating rays in uranium and radium launched an era of using radium for the treatment of cancer; the first peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Curies' discoveries were key to a basic change in our understanding of matter and energy.  

1993, Luc Moullet. Cinematography: Lionel Legros. Montage : Isabelle Patissou-Maintigneux. Assistant director: Luc Leclerc du Sablon. Producer: François Buraux. Production: Les Films d'Ici/ Canal+. Broadcast program: "L'œil d'un cyclone". Music: Gilbert Bécaud, Bach. 24 minutes.

"Today, supermarkets are built in place of cinemas or churches. A normal evolution since consumerism is the religion of our century."   (Luc Moullet)

Why is Luc Moullet—neglected Cahiers du cinéma critic and filmmaker of the French New Wave—panning and zooming, tracking and making inserts shots in Villiers-en-Bière (Ile de France) and Toulouse? These towns hold the biggest "hypermarkets" (super-stores, big-box stores) in France in 1993. MORE AND MORE is an uninvited exploration-film and comic documentary of these behemoth merchandise centers: their layouts, symbols, colors, tools (a treatise shopping carts, a spread of cash registers), their means of distribution, persuasion, parking lots, vagabonds, outlying fields, and attempted placement of employees, customers, and commodities. In Moullet there is a taste for enumeration, "without a doubt childish and elementary, but a good point of departure." As Godard has said, "it's the childish people who end up being important."

What would be the proper, well-placed camera position—like a well-placed customer—in a hypermarket? You will not learn this from Moullet's film; he has his own particular route, driven by the reality and gags found in the making. Like all good exploration films, it is imperfect (Moullet has never been afraid of imperfection in relation to dominant or art cinema) and, as Bazin wrote of a different film, MORE AND MORE is "more moving (in its) flotsam, snatched from the tempest, than would have been the faultless and complete report..." 

The tempest here would be something quite awful and unfilmable as a whole: the total submission to mass production and the global capitalist market above all other needs, desires, and traditions, including life itself, particularly bowed to in the dismal 80's, just after which MORE AND MORE was made. The line between comedy and tragedy has always been thin, ungainly.

Luc Moullet, 2010. Scenario: Luc Moullet. Cinematography: Pierre Stoeber.  Sound: Olivier Schwob, Aurélie Valentin. Editor: Anthony "Mofo" Verpoort. With: Illiana Lolic, Isabelle Prim, Giacomo Abbruzzese, Balthazar Auxietre, Marion Billy, Hugo Hernandez, Zoltan Jakubiak, Benjamin Naishtat, Nicolette Picheral. Production: Bertrand Scalabre, Le Fresnoy. Narrator: Luc Moullet. 14 minutes.

"In 1993, I shot MORE AND MORE. Its indispensable complement was missing, LESS AND LESS (2010), my fortieth film. LESS AND LESS evokes in fourteen minutes the evolution and spread, from 1968 to 2010, of devices based on information technology, automated kiosks, terminals and so on, found in all areas of life. The goal of our current system seems to be to employ only one individual per industry. We are not there yet, but we are getting closer... A schizophrenic world since, at the same time, companies have to pay the cost of these deletions indirectly. It's impossible to shove millions of human beings into the streets. An observation at once bitter and funny: the means of this perpetual reduction are surprising, comical." (Luc Moullet)


Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville, 1988-89. Scenario: Miéville, Godard. Camera: Hervé Duhamel. Sound: François Musy, Pierre-Alain Besse. Voices: Godard/Miéville. Montage: Godard/Miéville. Production: Gaumont/JLG Films. Texts: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Pierre Clastres, Marcel Mauss, Karl Marx, Charles Péguy, Georges Bataille. Films: Perceval la gallois (Eric Rohmer), Faust (F.W. Murnau), Modern Times (Chaplin). Paintings: Gaugin, Klee. Music: Shostakovich, Barbara Streisand, Webern, Gabriella Ferri, Léo Ferré, Keith Jarrett, Agnes Buen Garnås, Guy Robert/Ensemble Perceval. 50 minutes. 

"We transmit this report to our children..." (Godard and Miéville in The Darty Report 

"A company, Darty (a chain of popular stores that sells televisions and washing machines) orders a report from a film production company. The filmmakers flee, leaving behind only a single secretary, Clio, and an old robot, Nathanael. These two undertake to make the film but, halfway through the process, Darty sends them a letter rejecting their work. We see this letter on the screen and we hear the two protagonists reading it and discussing it. An essential essay on the relationship between commerce and the image, The Darty Report develops before our eyes the state of the film: it brings together, superimposes, and confuses all at the same time the project, the rejection of that project, the execution, the exegesis, the evidence of its making, and the disintegration of the finished product. It is also a revealing work, since the film has been banned by Darty, who refuse to allow it to be distributed or shown."   (Nicole Brenez, The Forms of the Question)

Godard has long warned that once distribution takes precedence over production, or the plow and the soil become confused, the result will be AIDS. Or cancer. The Darty Report is a film in this alarming spirit and train of thought, addressing an illness in our society, interrogating, really interrogating, with video, what happens in the buying and selling of people, merchandise, and images, on a stage that we all recognize, a retail store, seen as if for the first time.

In the late-80s the French electronics and appliance chain-store Darty (the equivalent of a Best Buy in the U.S.) commissioned Godard and Miéville to make this video about the company and its 1988 annual report; "These people have a business but no story. What are they hoping for from us?" the filmmakers say in the film, yet they robustly seized the occasion to go head-to-head, out in the open, against a big middle-man of the means of production and distribution. All the more vital because at stake and under submission are Godard/Miéville's own video-audio means (Phillips and Sony machines), joined with the means of ordinary people (stoves, washing machines). Darty may have offered the commission in 1988 because it was that year the company decided "to launch a takeover bid to enable its employees to assume ownership of their own company, 90% of 6,521 employees take part, taking control of 56% of its capital," according to Darty's story today. Darty may have assumed that Godard-Miéville would be interested in this "success". 

But the filmmakers, as implicated as the people they show in the chain of goods and capital, were not 100% onboard, and through this video they ally themselves with the people as fellow weary customers, with the workers who have to haggle about being paid for the time they work after hours (as in A Shop Around the Corner by Lubitsch), and they set-about defending them with all their video-might against capital by the humanity recorded and montaged. 

Here, after ten years of quite different work before this Darty, Godard and Miévilleas a couple, a cell, a unit, reengage their "video-scalpel", the social and lyrical eye developed in their 70s work (Ici et ailleurs, Comment ça va, Six fois deux/sur et sous la communication, France/tour/détour/deux/enfants), and with the same vehemence and care behave, as Serge Daney wrote of that older work, like "little powers, little states" seeing these political figures (Nixon, Golda Meir, blind journalists; here Darty) "as other filmmakers. A mad rivalry. It's a settling of accounts with the same weapons: money and power."

"This very charming grandmother who goes toe to toe against the harsh offensive of the prince or the knight's insurance plan. The taking of her wallet..." (Clio, the muse of history, in The Darty Report)

It's a serene and virulent critique of capitalism's turning warm human desires into things, and the exploitation and distribution of those things, while looking upon the enemy territory of the store and the merchandise, the hardened desire. The film is full of amicable propositions and modest proposals about what all this (the film, the world) is and could have been, mixed with boutades of miserablism, bursts of warmth about humanity, sudden elegies (the title A PLACE ON EARTH is opposed to IN MEMORIAM over an image of a dump full of Darty product, with a worker kicking scraps, another old worker throwing a knife into a tree, and a high yielding piano chord), reflections on sound (a stereo is but memory of sound), "the origins of exchange" and economic theory: 

"As soon as it was realized that it was useful for one person to have provisions for two, equality disappeared. Property was introduced, it became necessary to work, and the vast forest changed into laughing fields that needed to be watered with the sweat of men."

There are grave separations of form and content in verse: 

"Here are the ovens, but the buyer must bring the hunger. Here's the washing machine, but the mother must bring the fatigue and dirty laundry." 

The Darty Report is ardent, as ardent as Griffith. 

Its humor (there's much humor) in the middle of the re-frigerated tempest reminds that Godard has always been a student of Frank Tashlin ("They spend hours looking at objects that have courted them since childhood" recalls the character dilemmas in Artists and Models, Hollywood or Bust, and Who's Minding the Store) as well as Mack Sennett.

If you are repulsed by the mere mention that economic theory plays a part in this film (but so does a stuttering 2000 year-old robot of the "first wave" named Nathanael, spoken by Godard), or if it all just sounds like a game of provocations (pure and generous on both sides, I believe: Darty's for the commission and Godard/Miéville's for fulfilling it to the maximum, to extent of "lions, forests, science, and voyages. And love"), consider that this report, replete with findings and a conclusion, is one of Godard and Mieville's most melodious films, both videographically and in its use of popular songs. This is le psalmodier Godard, il cantante Godard, organ-grinder Godard, as he floods the picture with bits of Léo Ferré ("L'Oppression", "Le Conditionnel de variétés"); a Gabriela Ferri pianola number, "Dove Sta Zazà?" (Where is Zazà?), like a mini traveling-popular cinema in its evocation of a kidnapping during the feast of San Gennaro at the moment the band played "Parsifal" (which rhymes with the launch into Rohmer's Perceval later); and Barbara Streisand's "People", the first line of which will be one of the film's mottoes, and is employed no differently than the lines of Rousseau, Locke, or Marx: 

People / People who need people / are the luckiest people / in the world... 

This declares up front that their modus operandi will be, as Godard-Miéville scholar Douglas Morrey writes, "a desire to represent the real lives of real people and to see how they are formed and deformed by the economic structures of capitalism." 

Morrey continues: "Serge Daney has remarked upon the scarcity of images of fatigue or aging on television which tends instead to transform bodies into 'patterns and living logos'." (The attempt of corporations to achieve this in reality are part what's shown, thwarted, and gagged in the Luc Moullet films on this program.) "Godard and Miéville's images tend instead to emphasize the fragility, the mortality of bodies." Particularly in a startling sequence and "the most simple montage in the film: a series of shots of customers caught, in slow motion, at their most tired and vulnerable: a baby in a carrying harness bows its head on its mother's chest; an old man rocks back on his heels and a woman mops her brow as she passes through the store; a bored child gazes into the middle distance, and and a young couple steal an embrace amongst the washing machines." (Godard Bataille Darty)

Cinema as a social x-ray, or even more simply put, cinema that helps us see: this is one of Godard-Miéville's main strivings and achievements in their work together. It's a role that cinema should play in our lives, one that Godard says has been betrayed—"cinema has become something else, seeking less to see the world than to dominate it." Its a role they put into action in The Darty Report.

"I have always thought that cinema today is a bit like music was in earlier times. It shows in advance, it impresses in advance the great changes that are going to take place. This is the sense in which it shows sickness beforehand. It's an exterior sign; it's something a little abnormal. It's something that's going to happen, like an eruption." (Godard in 1979)

This absolutely describes what Godard is still trying to do today, what he did in Film Socialisme (2010, then the sinking of the decadent Costa Concordia; the flowering of the Arab Spring) and what he may have achieved in his latest film Le Livre d'image (The Image Book, 2018, which begins its two-week Los Angeles run at the Aero Theater on February 15th). In it, film fragments are impressed upon reality, and vice versa, as in several moments in The Darty Report. One feels deeply, however, the absence of Anne-Marie Miéville in Le Livre d'image, an absence Godard even shows (through images of Bécassine and her silence, and Miéville's book of poetry, Images en parole); one feels the lack of colloquy with a comrade his equal, or better. The verbal dialectic.

It is very moving see Moullet, Godard, and Miévillecaught in the middle of the crushing process of total domination by the spectacle and market which was taking place internationally in the 80s, which killed and co-opted many their friends (Godard made a film about the casualties: Grandeur and Decadence of a Small-Time Film Company, 1986)—sneak or charge into the belly of the beast and do lucid battle and observation of it, despite complaints that to deal with something so obvious and humiliating as our daily subordination would be "embarrassing" or facile. Can you imagine, today, James Gray and Quentin Tarantino pausing their feature production to make shorts about Amazon-Bezo's worker-consumer prisons?

It's clear that these filmmakers were anguished, yet went forth. "“People believe mystery creates anguish. But it is anguish that creates mystery. If I show something, it’s because I’m anguished about it," said Georges Franju. The first thing we "see" in Le Rapport Darty is a grand overture by Shostakovich ("see the sound, hear the images"), it is not really an overture but a fragment of a Shostakovich score for one scene in a film called Pirogov (1947) by Grigori Kosintsev (the Soviets will always be a reference); a scene of a giant group of doctors trying to save a man who has just lost his pulse. In Pirogov the Shostakovich is played presto, as in a race against time; in the recording that Godard/Miéville use it is played andante. I played both versions for a musical composition student at the California Institute of the Arts for his thoughts; without hesitation he said: "In the Russian film, it's says 'something is happening now.' In the Godard film it sounds like the beginning of a mystery movie." Godard and Miéville went forth as detectives, poets, doctors. They begin to pierce the mystery, which may be no mystery at all.

"Comparing Darty to just art, we make everything explode, that was our right, our duty, as scientific observers. Explode space and matter and look at the traces. Then find a constant."  
"It is up to us to us to perform a classification through experiments. To see for example if a chain is formed. From the victim to the executioner. From the mother to the child. The salesman to the customer. From the prairie to the trees and fruit. We know that everything is connected. More or less."      (Clio/Miéville in The Darty Report). 


The Sklodowska children

Kino Slang at the Echo Park Film Center
Program total running time: 2 hours 
There may be no introductions. 
Doors open at 7:30pm, film at 8pm. 
$5 Suggested Donation.

Special Thanks to Chloe Reyes, Luc Moullet, Evelyn Emile, Sean Batton, Lisa Truttman, Ted Fendt, Paulo Davanzo, Douglas Morrey, Michael Witt.

"Kino Slang" is a regular series of cinema screenings at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles. It continues the cinematographic investigations, excavations, proceedings by montage and association, silent alarms and naked dawns of this twelve-year-old blog.