Friday, December 21, 2007

Jacques Rivette: March 2007

I've translated into English the following excerpts from the greater part of an interview with Jacques Rivette, conducted by Jean-Marc Lalanne and Jean-Baptiste Morain for the March 20th, 2007 edition of French culture-weekly Les Inrockuptibles. The occasion: the release of Rivette's latest film (and by all accounts another masterpiece) Ne touchez pas la hache (Don't-Touch-the-Axe, 2007). Thanks to the tip-off from jdcopp's excellent My Gleanings blog, which is essential regular-reading for les cinéphiles. The interview appears in full (and in French) here.

Jacques Rivette on the set of Ne touchez pas la hache [Don't-Touch-the-Axe, 2007], in 2006. Photo by Moune Jamet for Pierre Grise Distribution.



LALANNE/MORAIN: Is the reception that your films receive something that still burns you up? Were you hurt by the bad reception for Histoire de Marie et Julien [Story of Marie and Julien, 2003]?

RIVETTE: You always wish there were more of a response. But often it comes five, ten years down the road. As it turns out, for Marie et Julien, I'm starting to get a sense these days of some change of heart. But films today have a completely different life with DVD, which I think is the greatest. First of all because that's practically the only way I watch films anymore.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Which films have you seen recently on DVD?

RIVETTE: I've been really disappointed by the new films I've seen. I'm pretty appalled by the current American cinema, after having thought so highly of it. Scorsese has disappointed me a lot. I think that Coppola is a much more interesting filmmaker. When you see One from the Heart [Francis Ford Coppola, 1982] again, you're really struck by a very strong desire for cinema. I'm often struck today by the way in which filmmakers build this image of what their cinema is, and then are no longer willing to let go of it. Even filmmakers that I've liked a lot, like Clint Eastwood, have disappointed me. I couldn't bring myself to go see his two latest films. [Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)]


LALANNE/MORAIN: L'Amour fou [Mad Love, 1969 — which I've previously written about here] is a rather overwhelming film about the complexity, the instability of a couple's connections. But that question disappeared in your cinema, up until the two most recent films, Histoire de Marie et Julien and Ne touchez pas la hache where it becomes totally central again. Again we find the same, very naked pain, tied to love.

RIVETTE: (A long silence.) Yes. (Laughs.) But no, I'll respond. I shot L'Amour fou telling [Georges de] Beauregard, the producer, that I was going to make a film about jealousy, which wasn't entirely true. We shot it in five weeks, under very tight conditions. The film was marked by what I was discovering at the time in the theater, namely the performances of Marc'O, and his actors... Jean Eustache was doing the editing on Les Idoles [The Idols, Marc'O, 1968; starring Bulle Ogier, Pierre Clémenti, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, and Michèle Moretti] but also for the documentary on Jean Renoir, Jean Renoir, le patron [Jean Renoir: The Boss, Jacques Rivette, 1967], that I made in '67 for the Cinéastes de notre temps [Filmmakers of Our Time] series. I remember long discussions that we had on the question of true and false. It followed that the basic principle of the cinema should be reality, and what's more, truth. What I was opposed to was the idea that there were no truth other than fiction. In a certain way, L'Amour fou is a fiction-film relative to the sense that it proposed the truth-film: La Maman et la putain [The Mama and the Whore, Jean Eustache, 1973 — a.k.a. "The Mother and the Whore"]. The film is a direct autobiography, all the characters on-screen were literally people I knew from the period. Jean was writing with the will to be utterly faithful to the biographical material, to find the most exact equivalence to it. In Une sale histoire [A Dirty Story, Jean Eustache, 1977] this very volition becomes the film's subject.

LALANNE/MORAIN: In Out 1 [1971], that 12-hour-long cult-film, you added to Marc'O's troupe two slightly younger individuals, invented by two of your associates in the New Wave: Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto. It's really a great film about the '68 youth-culture without ever coming right out and saying so...

RIVETTE: Yes, I shot two years after '68 and, without ever making reference to the events, the characters never stop referring to what happened two years prior. As for Jean-Pierre's and Juliet's characters, they absolutely do not comprehend the world in which they're evolving. But around them, the secret society of the Thirteen ([Michel] Lonsdale, Ogier, Bernadette Lafont) never stops commenting upon what's happened. For me, it's clear, the film speaks of '68, or rather the immediate post-'68.

LALANNE/MORAIN: You were the only filmmaker of the New Wave to establish a bridge with the New York avant-garde of the '60s, and Warhol in particular...

RIVETTE: In the '60s, I kept going to the Cinémathèque. Which François [Truffaut], for example, no longer did. It's there that I discovered the New York avant-garde films. I remember discovering The Chelsea Girls [Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, 1966], which impressed me a great deal.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Did you meet Warhol?

RIVETTE: Once, at La Coupole, early in the '70s. I was meeting up with Bulle and we were in the same group of people. But he was very hemmed-in; spoke little; looked like a sphinx.

LALANNE/MORAIN: You shot Merry-Go-Round (1978), with Joe Dallessandro, thinking of Warhol?

RIVETTE: I found him magnificent in [Paul] Morrissey's trilogy, Flesh (1968), Heat (1972), and Trash (1970). But the idea was Maria Schneider's, who really wanted him to be her partner, because she had met him in Rome, I think... The shoot was very difficult. Maria wasn't doing very well; was in a physical state that didn't make work very easy; she was sleeping all the time or not at all; — without going overboard, I felt like Billy Wilder waiting for Marilyn [Monroe] to get ready without ever being certain that she'd actually show up. Very quickly, Joe understood that he'd get nothing out of this film. The relation with the production was very tense, we had a lot of illness crop up at the onset of the shoot. But he had a kindness to him, and an impeccable seriousness. Total respect for Joe Dallessandro.

LALANNE/MORAIN: After that film, you went on to Le Pont du Nord [1981], which takes a hard look at the end of the '70s and the squashing of the utopias of '68.

RIVETTE: We shot that film in November of '80. At the time, we thought that Giscard had every chance to win a second term. You don't remember the end of the Giscard years with any certainty, but it really wasn't anything to pin a medal to. Ministers were committing suicide, were getting killed leaving their homes, all followed by a series of scandals, there was the affaire des diamants, of "sniffer planes" for locating oil despoits... Giscard's last year in power was delirious. Le Pont du Nord is a slightly polemical film about this deep malaise, this asphyxiated feeling that belonged to the France of the late '70s. But the film was released a few months after François Mitterand's victory. It was therefore already out-of-date, historically.

LALANNE/MORAIN: The passing of the baton between an individual contemporary to '68 such as Bulle Ogier and a succeeding generation that has no memory of the events, embodied by Pascale Ogier and her punk petit soldat silhouette, is tremendous...

RIVETTE: The idea was to refer to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Passing from the Parisian quartiers outward to the peripheral areas, within those zones that are slightly uncertain, but without ever leaving Paris. We also wanted to show everything that was in the process of being transformed, under construction.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Does the current presidential race interest you?

RIVETTE: It's amusing. If you can't laugh at it, then what will you ever laugh at. No, frankly, I don't have any big thing to say about it.

LALANNE/MORAIN: At what point your films took account of the political mutations inside of France has already been discussed somewhat. What do you think of the films that were speaking more directly about politics, the utopias of collective cinema around the time of '68, Jean-Luc Godard's Dziga-Vertov group?

RIVETTE: The films that you're speaking of were collective in the same way that the regime in Peking was a democracy!

LALANNE/MORAIN: In your connection with improvisation, you've always put into place a collective practice, whereby the actor takes part in the direction...

RIVETTE: In certain films, that's true. None of my films were built according to the same rules of the game, even if I'd resorted several times to a large degree of improvisation, where the actors in part had to invent what they were doing, what they were saying, and sometimes contributing all the way up to the story of the movie. Sometimes this got very risky, but each time in a different way. I've often taken the risk of keeping my mouth shut on my films, but never the same way twice. But in any case, I think that cinema is always collective, even in Bresson.

LALANNE/MORAIN: That's not what Anne Wiazemsky wrote in her recent novel [Jeune fille]...

RIVETTE: I've read that too, I really liked it. Still, we see that the shoot is somewhat collective. Sometimes, the donkey just would not respect what it was that Bresson wanted... (Laughs.)

LALANNE/MORAIN: Why do the credits of your films always indicate: "direction: Jacques Rivette" ["mise en scène: Jacques Rivette"] rather than "a film by"?

RIVETTE: I detest the formulation "a film by". A film is always at least fifteen people. I don't like "réalisation" very much either, which seems to me very portentous, maybe because its root is "reality." Mise en scène is a rapport with the actors, and the communal work is set with the first shot. What's important for me in a film is that it be alive, that it be imbued with presence, which is basically the same thing. And that this presence, inscribed within the film, possesses a form of magic. There's something profoundly mysterious in this. It's an alchemy that one procures, or does not. Early in the shoot, anything's still possible, but once you've made two or three steps, already you have to follow the course that the film has taken. But that's what's interesting. It's a collective work, but one wherein there's a secret, too. For that matter, the actor has his secrets as well — of which the director is the spectator.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Then is the cinema, for you, a collective work between people who have secrets?

RIVETTE: Yes. It's a little closer to that. And I think that the story of a film always ends when you talk about it.

Jacques Rivette and Emmanuelle Béart in San Sebastian, 2003.


Two pieces of business:

(1) The new Godard interview filmed a few weeks ago by the Arte channel for TV and Internet, hosted at the Cahiers du cinéma site: here. Broken up into three parts, totaling something like 45 minutes. (Note: no English subtitles.) Streaming Windows Media format, so Mac users make sure you've downloaded the Flip4Mac plug-in — the clips will open and load in Quicktime.

(2) David Bordwell gets down to brass tacks on the matter of aspect ratios, specifically with regard to the NEARLY COMPLETELY 1.37/1.33:1 OEUVRE OF GODARD, WITH THE EXCEPTIONS OF THE SCOPE FILMS, WEEKEND, TOUT VA BIEN, AND SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE). And he does it here, and cites my own citation elsewhere on the Net of a must-read/-asborb/-fully-solipsize image-essay published by Godard in the Cahiers in 2004, titled "Formats".

Nouvelle Vague = 1.37/1.33:1

For Ever Mozart = 1.37/1.33:1

Eloge de l'amour = 1.37/1.33.1

— no if's, and's, or but's.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Dangerous Ground

Ida Lupino is Mary Malden, blind, living in isolation on an upstate pasture. Robert Ryan is Jim Wilson, a hot-blooded cop sent up north by his captain to accompany a posse on the hunt for a local murderer.

"Wouldn't you be lonely, if you lived in a place like this?"

"Yes, I guess I would."

"The city can be lonely, too. Sometimes, people who are never alone are the loneliest. Don't you think so?"

"I don't know, I've never thought it out."

"I think you have. Sometime or other most lonely people try to figure it out — about loneliness."

"And you think I'm one of them?"

" — May I touch your hand?"


Bride of Frankenstein by James Whale, 1935:

Saboteur by Alfred Hitchcock, 1942:

On Dangerous Ground by Nicholas Ray, 1952:


In a Dangerous Zone: 2

On Dangerous Ground by Nicholas Ray, 1952:

Old Joy by Kelly Reichardt, 2005:

On Dangerous Ground by Nicholas Ray, 1952:


Monday, December 17, 2007

In a Lonely Place

In a Dangerous Zone: 1

Opening lines:

Bogart as screenwriter Dixon Steele in his convertible, red light, Los Angeles. Car pulls up alongside. Beautiful presumably-platinum-blonde-in-a-beret, hunched in the passenger seat of another convertible, this one driven by a putz.

"Dix Steele! How are you? Don't'chu remember me?"

"No, I'm sorry, I can't say that I do."

"Well you wrote the last picture I did — at Columbia."

"Well, I make it a point never to see pictures I write."

The woman's doughy-cheeked driver — her man — butts in:

"You — stop bothering my wife!"

She huffs/puffs.

Dix: "Oh. You should'n'a done it, honey. No matter how much money that pig's got."

The dough-cheeked pig lover: "You pull over't'the curb!"

Dix: "' 'Ey what's wrong with right here — ?"

The doughy-cheeked pig lover speeds off as Bogart opens his car door split-second ready-like.

In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:


Dix's agent, to the girl at the coat-check:

"Honey let me have that book I left you for Mr. Steele to pick up will ya."

Coat-check girl, nearly through with the four- to five-hundred page hardcover:

"Oh, I'm almost finished with it..."

Agent, turning to Dix: "All you've got to say is 'I like it,' and you go on salary tomorrow...!"

Dix: "Then I like it."

In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:


Dix's agent to Dix, after Dix attacks the snot-snouted producer who insults his soused "thespian" pal:

"You will read that book tonight?"

"Yes yes yes."

"Well I'll drop by, and wake you up in the morning, around 10."

"Make it about 11."

In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:


Dix to the waiter:

"There's no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality."


In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:


Chop out the cuts-on-motion.

Continuity flows from sound, and silence; not cuts.


The cops make a show at the place. One of them, Brub, played by Frank Lovejoy, resembles Joe Swanberg.

Gloria Grahame, Laurel Gray, walks in indignant —

Captain: "Considering that you've never met Mr. Steele, you've paid quite a bit of attention to him."

Laurel: "Mm-hm. I have at that."

Captain: "Do you usually give such attention to your neighbors?"

Laurel: "No."

Captain: "Were you interested in Mr. Steele because he's a celebrity?"

Laurel: "No, not at all. I noticed him because he looked interesting. I like his face."

In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:


Ray's close-ups have got no frippery. They're powerful and dislocating. One moment, Bogart lurches forward, mummification setting in already, processes of immortality underway. In another, Grahame, bisexual Nick Ray's then-wife, is synergized with an electrical switch.

In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:


Bogart: in a zone of death.

In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:

Some of my friends live in the same place; maybe it's not Beverly Hills, but it's the same place, it's Silverlake, it's Los Feliz, West Hollywood. The rooms are a mess, the Merry Maids exist but never show up. Ever since my first drive up Mulholland — a visit to the house of the man then known as Terence Trent D'Arby — a real sarcophagus on display at the bottom of a staircase on floor one — then looking out through the amateur telescope set up on the third-floor patio, open-air, in small pastiche of Babylon's gardens... focusing on Hollywood's night-twinkles, fallen stars — — I knew that land was a zone of death.

In 1950, Nicholas Ray films his third film about being Nicholas Ray.

"Well, what do you think?"

"Well, I'm glad you're not a genius. He's a sick man, Brub."

"No, he isn't!"

"There's something wrong with him."

"He's always been like that, he's an exciting guy!"

"Look when I took Abnormal Psychology — "

"Every time we disagree you throw that college stuff in my face. I didn't go to college but I know Dix better than you do; there's nothing the matter with his mind, except that it's superior!"

"Well he's exciting because he isn't quite normal!"

"Maybe us cops could use some of that brand of abnormality. I learned more about this case in five minutes from him than I did from all the photographs, tire-prints, and investigations — "

"All right, but I still like the way you are! — Attractive, and average!"


"Average!": An Origin of American '50s:

In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:

Strangers on a Train by Alfred Hitchcock, 1951:

In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:


In a Lonely Place by Nicholas Ray, 1950:

"I was born when she kissed me.

"I died when she left me.

"I lived a few weeks while she loved me."


Saturday, December 08, 2007

They Live by Night

The woods of Arcady are dead.

It's possible, like this,
At last, to sense the simple things:
Slave razoring bark;
Patron hemorrhaging.

— At night's end
We mouth rote words
Beneath the sere leaves;
Wind alone undoes us

Here, in the new hospice of youth.

L'horizon ne nous approche pas
Le soleil ne se diffuse pas
Les rayons sont faibles et longs

Qui vient à la maison des fébriles?
Qui se souvient les trésors des villes?
Je sais de quoi —

Je ne lutte plus
Je ne lutte pas...

They Live by Night by Nicholas Ray, 1948:

Au hasard Balthazar [Aimlessly, Balthazar] by Robert Bresson, 1966:

They Live by Night by Nicholas Ray, 1948:

Au hasard Balthazar [Aimlessly, Balthazar] by Robert Bresson, 1966:


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

If you see only ONE American movie this year...

— make it Don Siegel's The Big Steal (1949)*.

The Big Steal by Don Siegel, 1949:

*PTA's There Will Be Blood and FFC's Youth Without Youth will go wide closer to January 1.


Big post ready to drop very, very soon; watch this space. Have been holding back until the editing+'s finished. In the meantime, someone's drawn a moustache over the photo of Walter Murch's moustache — it was probably me...

"And this slap is a gift, / Because your cheeks have lost their luster..."