Monday, December 21, 2009

MoC Year-End

I've more or less polished off a spate of work deadlines for the pre-New Year holiday stretch, so I can devote a few minutes to posting something — an overview, essentially, of what we've released on MoC over the course of the October to December timeline of this past year. But first, I'd like to tip the cursor toward Home Cinema Choice magazine in the UK as grateful acknowledgement for their having voted Masters of Cinema "DVD Label of the Year" in the publication's current issue — also, for their nod to our Blu-ray edition of F. W. Murnau's Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans as "Best Remastering." On top of that, an equally flattered and collective thank-you goes out to Time Out London, who voted our editions of Maurice Pialat's La Gueule ouverte (which is accompanied by nine other Pialat films) and Al Reinert's For All Mankind as the #1 and #2 DVD releases of the year, respectively.


Soul Power [2008] by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, available in both Blu-ray and DVD editions. Levy-Hinte's film assembles 93 minutes of the 16mm footage shot in 1974 by cameramen Albert Maysles, Paul Goldsmith, Kevin Keating, and Roderick Young to chronicle the Zaire '74 concert event organized in Kinshasa in tandem with the (subsequently postponed) Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle." A documentary, not a 'doc' (no voice-over narration, talking-head interviews, or animated-interlude window-dressing to muddy proceedings), that follows 'classical' narrative structure: there's a beginning and an end, but also the "will-they-pull-it-off-in-time?" second-act. A lynch-pin of modern television 'reality' programming, the device resides in Soul Power as a document of the logistics, imprecision, and magnitude of the task of concert-stage assembly. Made possible by cigarettes and rotary phones, Levy-Hinte's picture serves as aide-mémoire for a period when have-at-it haircuts and brute determination outshone 'organization' and the other panic-structures that would calcify into the slickly efficient, sedately productive, and woefully unobstreperous Modern. Included on-disc: an exclusive video-interview with Levy-Hinte; thirty minutes of deleted behind-the-scenes footage; more Zaire '74 performances by artists that appear (and do not) in the feature; the original theatrical trailer; and optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired. A full-color, production-still-heavy booklet contains a director's statement from Levy-Hinte and a selection of remarks by Zaire '74-affiliated personages. Ali: "I've never felt so free in my life."



For All Mankind [1989] by Al Reinert, available in both Blu-ray and DVD editions. More footage largely enabled by Marlboros and rotary cradles, the shoestring props that catapulted man from his planet, onward through bent and vacuous space to the surface of another world for the first time documented and circulated on film. The Foley-enhanced soundtrack and several Brian Eno cuts lend a redundancy to the miracle; these are already, after all, the awesome images of the inconceivable event. (With the shots taken of nearby UFOs having been, conceivably, suppressed.) The film is maybe just as absorbing in its capacity as a study of the transition from Amateur to Professional and back, what with its context of the event that made a neophyte of every participant. Training is everything: new areas of expertise had to open, new specialties become concentrated, anyone can do anything with time and practice and steady application of the faculties. The honky-tonk loving Texas boys had to learn to operate 16mm cameras. This is the best Howard Hawks film never made by Howard Hawks, and it makes me wish he'd lived to direct The Right Stuff even though I've never seen the thing. Included on-disc: an audio commentary featuring Al Reinert and Eugene A. Cernan, the last man to have set foot on the moon to date; a making-of documentary featurette; a gallery of astronaut Alan Bean's artwork with commentary and a filmed introduction; liftoff footage and various audio clips courtesy of NASA; and optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired (in addition to optional on-screen identification of the film's presiding figures). A full-color booklet includes essays by Reinert, a new interview with Brian Eno, and a bevy of production-stills and NASA imagery.



A double-feature/double-disc set containing Phantom [1922] and Die Finanzen des Großherzogs [The Grand Duke's Finances, 1924], both by F. W. Murnau. This coupling constitutes the pair of oft-overlooked Murnau works that happened to fall between the landmark Nosferatu. Eine Symphonie des Grauens. and Der letzte Mann.

Phantom: A Germanic dream-rhapsody replete with 'suffusion': spilling forth l'amour fou and a woman in a double-role, Murnau teases out a template for both Vertigo and Eyes Wide Shut then carpetbombs the chamber with Thea von Harbou intertitles. It's an unusual and key work in the master's output, best viewed in the company of Lieder or Satie.

Die Finanzen des Großherzogs: One of the films about which almost everything that's ever been written in the out-of-print survey works or Internet message-board hiccups has turned out to be merciful hogwash. Sprightly-spry (an opposite of lowering Phantom) and sunbeam-dappled (an opposite of muslin-maculate Herr Tartüff.), Murnau's most undervalued gem has less to do with the vicissitudes of an audit than the ministrations of would-be parlor buccaneers. This is the most complete extant version of Murnau's stab at the serial adventurer — albeit one conceived as a single episode for feature-length. Recommendations for musical accompaniment: anything by Mulatu Astatqé, or Annie's "The Breakfast Song" set on repeat.

Both films include the original German intertitles (reconstructed), with optional English subtitles. Also on the Finanzen disc: a feature-length audio commentary by the engaging David Kalat. A 40-page booklet comes with the set, and features a new essay by Janet Bergstrom, titled "Murnau at the Crossroads: Phantom and Die Finanzen des Großherzogs" — the first extensive critical and historical treatment of both films, supplemented by numerous frames from the features. Also herein: a slew of publicity stills and collateral from the time of release of both productions.



It was a long-time dream of ours to bring together for a boxset the rights-scattered three films in Lang's "Mabuse" trilogy, and this past year we were finally able to do so via The Complete Fritz Lang Mabuse Boxset, with the pictures appearing in their integral, restored forms.

Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler. [Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler., 1922]: The four-and-a-half-hour dexter/sinister silent epic that owes as much to Louis Feuillade as Norbert Jacques — aside from the resurrectional structure, the heavy reliance upon the 'alcove room' (in addition to Feuillade cf. Lubitsch's Das fidele Gefängnis): the cubby punched non-periodically throughout the movie's temporal progression for the sake of secreting not scumbag-magician Mabuse but waxen moody toad von Wenk whose bodily procedural demeanor itself suctions lacunae out of accepted human vitality. (Lang provides the reverse-process a few years later with the character of Lohmann in M and Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse.) Probably FL's most pornographic event, Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler. does something with Gertrude Welker's Dusy von Told that both can and cannot be sanitarily countenanced. Soundtrack recommended is La Mar Enfortuna's Conviviencia.

Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse [The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, 1933]: One of the ones. Breakdown to the max, 1.19. Quintessence of paranoia film, Mabuse movie, makeshift-escape-piece ("against all odds"). An obvious double-feature with The Wizard of Oz, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse packs its witchcraft more densely, an absolute erasure of King Vidor's virtues. It's also the apotheosis of Langian enchaînement, which a keen spectator in '33 might have already felt fully activated and ritualized for M. The director will come back to the linking technique effortlessly in —

Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse [The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, 1960]: The last Fritz Lang film — the one that outside of Testament or Die Nibelungen or Spione or M perhaps makes 'best' on the promise of the revival one-sheets for any uninitiated (including myself in 1995) of what the essence of the Fritz-Lang-Film will muster. If the opening titles had been the only finished element of the picture, they alone would have sufficed as the closure of the circle, or dilation of the pupil. Incredibly (incredibly only because things hardly ever work out for the happier) we have an entire movie, and one that needs to be presented as one-third of a triple-feature that includes Hitchcock's Psycho and Renoir's Le Testament du Docteur Cordelierles trois films gris.

Included across all four discs: new and absorbing and exclusive feature-length audio commentaries for each film by David Kalat. On the Spieler release: three Transit Film-produced featurettes surveilling the '00s musical score affixed to the film; the Norbert Jacques lineage; and Mabuse-motifs. On the 1000 Augen release: a 2002 video interview by Uwe Huber with star Wolfgang Preiss, in addition to the alternative ending to the film taken from an original French-release print — which extends the duration of the last scene beyond the customary fade-to-black and sheds new dark on the heroine's fate. (It's never been clear whether this constituted Lang's "integral vision" for the close of the picture; in anticipation of the Nibelungen restoration, we might now take the opportunity to coin the phrase "Kriemhild's spear.") A 32-page booklet for Spieler includes an English-translation-from-the-French of Lang's 1924 lecture "Kitsch: Sensation-Culture and Film", along with excerpts of Lang remarks across the years. A 32-page booklet for Testament includes "The Silences of Mabuse", the major portion of a chapter in the great 1982 La Voix au cinéma by Michel Chion in Claudia Gorbman's translation, along with more Lang remark-excerpts. A 36-page booklet for 1000 Augen presents "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey", a new piece by David Cairns about Lang's toy chimpanzee Peter; more Lang-remarks still about the film; and a Lotte Eisner excerpt about the filmmaker's final, unrealized projects — a classification that sadly incorporates the biggie re: L S D. Needless to say all three booklets also contain a host of frame reproductions, production-stills, and then-contemporary marketing bric-à-brac; a note from Lang's friend Eleanor Rosé to the director's longtime partner Lily Latté at the time of his 1976 death closes things.



Friday, December 11, 2009

The Christmas Spirit

Abel Ferrara and Madonna Ciccone in attendance at the IFP Gotham Awards in 1995, on the occasion, I'm presuming, of Ferrara's The Addiction. Ciccone starred in Abel's 1993 masterpiece, Snake Eyes (released in the US as "Dangerous Game").

Photo credit: IFP, with thanks to Danielle DiGiacomo.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday, November 09, 2009

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"The Volume"

“You go into rooms with lenses on every surface of every wall. They give you a heavy spandex suit covered in dots that are read by some sort of beam that shines across the room you are in. This room is not called the set, but ‘the volume'.”

— from Dickens's Victorian London Goes Digital by Dave Kehr, The New York Times, October 30, 2009.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Questions Posed

Right after Maurice Pialat won the Palme d'or at Cannes in 1987 for the totemic Sous le soleil de Satan and gave that beautiful, legendary acceptance speech — "Si vous ne m'aimez pas, je peux vous dire que je ne vous aime pas non plus." ("If you don't like me, I can tell you I don't like you either."), a TV interviewer asked him one of the most intelligent questions ever posed to a film artist, occasioned by the catcalls and hisses directed Pialat's way when he took the stage to accept the award. —

"Did you react to these people's stupidity the same way Bernanos did when he was talking to idiots?"

Footage of the question posed and the response offered up will be included in the forthcoming MoC Series edition of Sous le soleil de Satan to be released early next year.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Pedro Costa Interview in LITTLE WHITE LIES

"At the time the experience of listening to something by Wire and PiL was amazing. It was like seeing a Godard film. It was another world where you would get out of the movie theatre. It was a time when the person next door would probably do something amazing, but it wasn’t a commercial competition. There was also a political revolution in Portugal at the same time, where the fascist dictatorship ended and the streets were full of anarchists, communists, and socialists, so from the ages of 13 to 22 I had everything, the music, the cinema, the politics, all at the same time. What this made me see was that John Ford was a hundred thousand times more progressive and communist than so-called left wing documentaries saying things like “film is a gun”, and “change the world”. It was Ozu, Mizoguchi and Ford that were saying that really, you just had to be patient to see it."


"The idea [for Ne change rien] then came for me to be there while [Jeanne Balibar] was rehearsing. When I filmed her in concert I didn’t want to do a film like [Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones recent 'concert documentary'] Shine a Light with the camera turning upside down, and I wasn’t interested in doing a ‘making of’ that you have on DVDs with guys in the studio telling jokes and drinking beer."


"The Warhol film I show [at the recent Costa retrospective + carte-blanche at the Tate Modern] is called Beauty, a film I saw recently and it’s just like In Vanda’s Room, the difference being that he made it without thinking for one second whereas I took two years of pain and blood."


Full interview is here.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009


Floater (Too Much to Ask)
by Bob Dylan
from "Love and Theft" (2001)

Down over the window come the dazzling sunlit rays.
Through the back-alleys, through the blinds — another one o' them endless days.
Honeybees are buzzin' — leaves begin to stir —
I'm in love with my second cousin — I tell myself I could be happy forever with her.

I keep listenin' for footsteps, but I ain't ever hearin' any.
From the boat I fish for bullheads — I catch a lot; sometimes, too many.
A summer breeze is blowin'; a squall is settin' in.
Sometimes it's just plain stupid to get into any kind of wind.

The old men around here, sometimes they get on bad terms with the younger men.
Old, young, age don't carry weight — it doesn't matter in the end.
One of the boss's hangers-on sometimes comes to call at times you least expect.
Try to bully you, strong-arm you, inspire you with fear — it has the opposite effect.

There's a new grove of trees on the outskirts of town — the old one is long gone.
Timber two-foot-six across burns with the bark still on.
They say times are hard; if you don't believe it you can follow your nose.
It doesn't bother me, times are hard everywhere — we'll just have to see how it goes.

My old man, he's like some feudal lord — got more lives than a cat.
I've never seen him quarrel with my mother even once; things come alive, or they fall flat.
You can smell the pine wood burnin'; you can hear the schoolbell ring.
Gotta up near the teacher if you can if you wanna learn anything.

Romeo he said to Juliet: "You got a poor complexion — it doesn't give your appearance a very youthful touch."
Juliet she said back to Romeo: "Why don't you just shove off if it bothers you so much?"
They all got outta here any way they could; cold rain can give you the shivers.
They went down the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee — all the rest of them rebel rivers.

If you ever try to interfere with me or cross my path again you do so at the peril of your life.
I'm not quite as cool or forgivin' as I sound — I've seen enough heartache and strife.
My grandfather was a duck-trapper; he could do it with just dragnets and ropes.
My grandmother could sew new dresses out of old cloth — I don't know if they had any dreams or hopes.

I had 'em once though, I suppose — to go along with all the ring-dancin' Christmas carols on all the Christmas Eves.
I left all my dreams and hopes buried under tobacco leaves.
Not always easy kickin' someone out; you gotta wait awhile, it can be an unpleasant task.
Sometimes somebody wants you to give somethin' up and, tears or not, it's too much to ask.


by Bob Dylan
from "Love and Theft" (2001)

The seasons they are turnin'
And my sad heart is yearnin'
To hear again the songbird's sweet melodious tone.
Won't you meet me out in the moonlight alone?

The dusky light, the day is losin' —
Orchids, poppies, black-eyed Susan —
The earth and sky that melts with flesh and bone —
Won't you meet me out in the moonlight alone?

The air is thick and heavy
All along the levee
Where the geese into the countryside have flown.
Won't you meet me out in the moonlight alone?

Well I'm preachin' peace and harmony,
The blessings of tranquility,
Yet I know when the time is right to strike.
I take you 'cross the river, dear —
You've no need to linger here —
I know the kinds of things you like.

The clouds are turnin' crimson,
The leaves fall from the limbs and
The branches cast their shadows over stone.
Won't you meet me out in the moonlight alone?

The boulevards of cypress trees,
The masquerades of birds and bees,
The petals pink and white the wind has blown.
Won't you meet me out in the moonlight alone?

The trailing moss and mystic glow,
The purple blossoms soft as snow —
My tears keep flowin' to the sea.
Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief,
It takes a thief to catch a thief.
Well whom does the bell toll for, love? — It tolls for you and me.

A pulse is runnin' through my palm —
The sharp hills are risin' from
Yellow fields with twisted oaks that groan.
Won't you meet me out in the moonlight alone?


Po' Boy
by Bob Dylan
from "Love and Theft" (2001)

Man comes to the door, I say, "For whom are you lookin'?"
He says, "Your wife." — I say, "She's busy in the kitchen cookin'."
Poor boy — where you been?
I already told you, won't tell you again.

I say, "How much you want for that?" — I go into the store.
Man says, "Three dollars" — "Alright," I say, "will you take four?"
Poor boy — never say die.
Things'll be alright bye and bye.

Workin' like in the mainline, workin' like a devil —
The game is the same, it's just up on another level.
Poor boy — dressed in black.
Police at your back.

Poor boy in a red-hot town,
Out beyond the twinklin' stars,
Ridin' a first-class train, makin' the round,
Tryin' to keep from fallin' between the cars...

Othello told Desdemona: "I'm cold — cover me with a blanket.
— By the way, what happened to that poison wine?" She said, "I gave it to you, you drank it."
Poor boy — layin' 'em straight,
Pickin' up the cherries fallin' off the plate.

Time and love has branded me with its claws.
Had to go to Florida, dodgin' them Georgians' laws.
Poor boy, in the hotel called the Palace of Gloom,
Called down to room service, says, "Send up the room."

My mother was a daughter of a wealthy farmer;
My father was a travelin' salesman — I never met him.
When my mother died, my uncle took me in; he ran a funeral parlor —
He did a lot of nice things for me — and I won't forget him.

All I know is that I'm thrilled by your kiss —
I don't know any more than this.
Poor boy — pickin' up sticks —
Build you a house outta mortar and bricks.

Knockin' on the door, I say, "Who's it? Where're ya from?"
Man say, "Freddy," I say, "Freddy who?", he say, "Freddy or not here I come."
Poor boy, 'neath the stars that shine,
Washin' them dishes, feedin' them swine.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Days Are Numbered

"I had a wonderful experience three or four weeks ago that I want to tell you about. I went to the Los Feliz Theatre to see a revival of George Cukor’s Dinner at Eight [1933]. My wife and I just wandered into the theatre by accident because we couldn’t get into various other shows around town. I said, 'I haven’t seen this film since I was 12 years old. Let’s go in and see it again.' We went in and sat there with a bunch of teenage kids and guys and girls in their twenties, who didn’t know Marie Dressler from the side of a barn, who hadn’t seen Lionel Barrymore or John Barrymore, or Billie Burke in their heydays.

"I was in tears by the end of the evening, because, when Billie Burke finished the great scene where she’s mad at the whole world — upset because the food hasn’t been prepared right for the dinner that night, when she finishes her big tirade which ran two minutes in the middle of the film — this audience of teenagers — to a person — broke into applause for this tour-de-force. My hair stood up on the back of my head, and I thought: 'A thousand years from tonight, the work you people did and that she did and all the people in this industry do will be immortal.' You are all immortal. You have beat death at the game because that scene is going to be repeated a thousand years from tonight and ten thousand years from tonight — and there’ll be other teenagers who don’t know any of you from Adam, but they’re going to break into applause because of something excellent you did once in your life, maybe — or twice, or three times when you had the breaks, and you had a good director, and you had the decent script, and you had these actors working for you and that magical thing happened.

"So I sat there and I broke into tears. I thought: 'Everyone in that film has been dead for 20 or 30 years. Marie Dressler died in 1934 — but she is still alive!'

"This is the science-fictional business you are all tied into. You’re really tacked onto the future — like it or not — so you’re going to be changing people 100 years from tonight and 500 years from tonight and a thousand years from tomorrow noon."

—Ray Bradbury, 1967, in an address to the American Society of Cinematographers. Taken from a post by Lawrence French at The Orson Welles Web Resource, Wellesnet.


Friday, October 09, 2009

New MoC Releases

La Camargue [1966] and Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble [We Won't Grow Old Together, 1972], both by Maurice Pialat, and included in this one release in their original aspect ratios of 1.37:1, and 1.66:1 anamorphic + progressive. La Camargue finds Pialat exercising his essay-documentary mode, condensing to six minutes' time that region in the south of France where cowboys and toreadors walked, then and forever a vision of Pialat's, not Hemingway's. For Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, Pialat shifts into an autobiographical story (which is, in turn, the story of all sincere expression) that sometimes takes place within this same Camargue region — hence the pairing — a story that details the disintegration of a couple already paired together, but for no good reason, as it often is in life, that is, with circumstance itself barely providing justification to man or morality. Possibly Pialat's most emotionally violent work, and unquestionably a grand masterpiece on every level (formal, scenaristic, performative), the film contains for me the single most upsetting shot in the oeuvre of this master — no — god — of the cinema. His miracle is that of the artist who can shake you with threat, who is not a provocateur, no von Trier, or Noé, or any mercantile asshole who trampled the Croix, the Alice Tully, and the .tiffs of 2009. Also included on-disc: a 19-minute 2003 video interview conducted by Serge Toubiana with Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble lead actress Marlène Jobert; 5-minutes'-worth of interviews with Pialat, Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble lead actor Jean Yanne and actress Macha Méril from the 1972 Cannes festival, with two scenes deleted from the film interspersed; a 1972 interview with François Truffaut about this then-latest Pialat film, shot in two parts totaling 8 minutes in length — one, before his having seen the film, and the other, directly after his (first) screening while he remains still shaken and teary-eyed; 12 minutes of footage from a 1972 conversation between Pialat and associates about Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble at a dinner; and the original trailer for the feature, along with the trailers for the six others in The Masters of Cinema Series. A 32-page booklet accompanies the release, and includes an exemplary new essay by former editor-in-chief of the Cahiers du cinéma Emmanuel Burdeau titled "Pialat n'est pas là", and excerpts from three interviews with Pialat about the film newly translated into English.


Passe ton bac d'abord... [Pass Your Bac First...] by Maurice Pialat, from 1979, presented progressively in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 anamorphic. What to say here about this film, Pialat's Strangeways, Here We Come? Maybe let them fight their own wars. Or that it's his Sixteen Candles — an inferno of genius. Included on-disc: an 11-minute 2003 interview conducted by Serge Toubiana with Pialat collaborators Arlette Langmann and Patrick Grandperret; a 35-minute 2003 piece by Serge Toubiana and Sonia Buchman that catches up with the cast and location of the film in the contemporary era; and the original trailer for the film, along with the trailers for the six other Pialat features in The Masters of Cinema Series. The release includes a 52-page booklet that contains a new essay about the film by me titled "The War of Art"; newly translated excerpts from three 1979 interviews with Pialat; and Pialat's explosive responses (newly translated) to a 20-question survey conducted in 1981 by the Cahiers. Also: Hieronymous Bosch.


La Tête contre les murs [Head Against the Wall / Head Against the Walls] by Georges Franju, from 1959, presented progressively in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The debut feature by Franju provides a glimpse into a c. '59 lunatic asylum presided over by Pierre Brasseur and Paul Meurisse. It approaches and at the same time eludes the classification of that other film of the mad that approaches then eludes — that is, approximates: the one signed both Melville and Cocteau — a mystery icing a mystery. (A mystery, then, requesting that another mystery grant it escape to a completed project. God bless the best of intentions.) No figure in Georges Franju's — that is, Jean-Pierre Mocky's — film is allowed to take events to their conclusions except for Charles Aznavour, who of course ends his own life with a hanging. The rest is a vacuum, with both protest and progress testing the limits of static walls before echoing back onto themselves in singularity's instant. Alas — a picture as intriguingly inert as life. "There are no more films about the insane." — Jean-Pierre Mocky (whose giant oeuvre has yet to really be discovered in English-speaking territories) speaking in 2008. On-disc supplements include this very video interview in which Mocky delivers the straight-scoop, for 10 minutes; and a 5-minute 2008 interview with Charles Aznavour in which Mocky pitches questions and comments from off-frame. A 48-page booklet includes a chapter about the film from Raymond Durgnat's 1968 volume Franju; a translation of Jean-Luc Godard's 1958 essay about the film; and newly translated interview excerpts with Franju.

Supplement this release with Criterion's double-feature package of Franju's Le Sang des bêtes [The Blood of the Beasts, 1948] and Les Yeux sans visage [Eyes Without a Face, 1959], and MoC's double-feature package of Franju's Judex [1963] and Nuits rouges [Red Nights, 1974].


Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans by F. W. Murnau, from 1927, presented progressively in its original aspect ratio of 1.20:1, with its original English-language intertitles and Movietone soundtrack — available variously (with identical supplements) in a double-disc standard-definition DVD package, and a single-disc high-definition Blu-ray package. Murnau's great masterpiece is a predominantly moral vision of the world distilled like the remedy for an era (1927, 2009) overcome by the images of profligacy, selfishness, and degeneracy espoused by a Tucker Max or a Kirk Cameron. On-disc: an audio commentary by cinematographer John Bailey; outtake footage from the film, with John Bailey audio commentary; Janet Bergstrom's documentary 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film, newly updated; the original theatrical trailer; and a truncated only-extant European version of the film at a cropped 1.37:1 aspect ratio with Czech intertitles (and optional English-language subtitles). The booklet: a 16-page piece for the SD DVD, and 20-page affair for the Blu-ray, both containing the same detailed notes on the restoration and the differences between the two versions of the film.


A PDF version of the new Masters of Cinema Series catalogue can be downloaded by clicking here.


Saturday, September 19, 2009


Extrait de Chez les Weil: André et Simone de Sylvie Weil envoyé à moi de Tag Gallagher:

Une fois terminées les diverses manifestations et cérémonies, les trois lauréats du prix Kyoto furent ramenés à Tokyo pour être présentés à l'empereur. Par une superbe matinée d'automne, nous étions rassemblés dans un salon de l'hôtel, à attendre les taxis qui nous conduiraient au Palais impérial. André s'ennuyait et trouvait le silence pesant. Il était assis sur un divan à côté de Kurosawa. Il se tourna vers lui et lui demanda:

— L'empereur aime-t-il vos films?

Il y eut un court silence. Puis:

— Sa Majesté est un grand empereur.

Et le géant du cinéma japonais s'inclina légèrement, comme pour donner plus de gravité à sa réponse.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Louise from Memory

A long poem I wrote in 2007, "Louise from Memory", has been published at The Auteurs Notebook.

Thank you.


Thursday, August 06, 2009


Canary by Alejandro Adams, 2009:

Now up at The Auteurs: a roundtable discussion between Dave McDougall, Michael Sicinski, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, and me on the subject of Alejandro Adams' great-and-important film, Canary. It plays tomorrow night (8/7/09) at Rooftop Films in Brooklyn. Adams' collaborator / producer / actress / spouse Marya Murphy will be in attendance. To read the roundtable, click here.

Location and ticket details for the Rooftop screening included inside the link.

To read a piece I wrote back in April about Canary, click here.

More at Cinemasparagus soon about Adams' debut feature, 2008's superb Around the Bay.


Radiohead have released a new song — "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)".

Recorded as a tribute to Harry Patch, the last surviving Englishman to have served in the first World War (at least, the last to have still lived on English soil — The New York Times reports another British veteran residing in Australia), who died days ago at age 111 and who, in his final years, lent a moving and forceful voice to the cause of pacifism. The recording preceded Patch's death by several weeks, and the band have decided to release it in the wake of his passing. It's available for download for £1.00 GBP. All proceeds go to the British Legion.

It is a gorgeous and powerful work. Details and download at Radiohead's site, here.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Manifesto by Jean Douchet

I've translated from French a recent text published at Independencia by the legendary and ever-vital Jean Douchet. (Kind thanks to Antoine Thirion.)

This past Monday, former contributor Stéphane Delorme was named the editor-in-chief of the Cahiers du cinéma, under the new ownership of Phaidon Press.


Notre combat
[Our Combat / Our Fight]

by Jean Douchet
Paris, 10 May 2009

Let's quit it with the psychodramas and come to an agreement about what, in 2009, a cinema revue should be.

The hot-button question of the day is that of the function of the image in an ultra-mediated and knowingly falsifying period. The new revue should impose its voice upon the current conversation, as the "young turks" once knew how to do. This doesn't mean an improved Premiere wrapped up in a super Studio. This doesn't mean a New Yorker for cinema written in the cosmopolitan language of The Economist. The new revue shouldn't be a revue of reference and expertise plopped down onto the cinema. That already exists; it's enough to translate Positif into English.

The new revue should be a revue of combat. An insolent, unfair, provocative revue. In short, partisan and scandalous. A revue that abandons the politique des auteurs for that of the fauteurs [troublemakers]. Fauteurs and even fouteurs de trouble [troublefuckers]. Thus a revue of youths, those youths upon whom a troubled vision of life, of their life, has been imposed. Thus, for those for whom the cinema once again becomes an existential necessity. A revue that would play favorites: on the part of the filmmakers: the function of seeing well (of presenting) in order to show; on the part of the revue: theorization, manifold reflections and their critiques in order to show that which has been seen well and felt well within a film. It's a start from scratch: a moral, and therefore aesthetic, affair. Donc, d'une politique. [Therefore, a political affair. / Therefore, a politic matter. {i.e./c.f., la politique des auteurs} ]

One year ago at Cannes, La Frontière de l'aube [Frontier of Dawn, Philippe Garrel] was booed because it held forth, metaphorically speaking, upon this discourse. A rather young man, a photographer fascinated by the image of a star, absorbed by her as one is by a roll of film [ / absorbed by her just as much as he is by a roll of film / by a film — absorbé par celle-ci comme par une pellicule], becomes unable to tolerate life, and commits suicide. What made the pricks at Le Figaro or Le Journal du dimanche snicker — to cite only two examples: that fecundity of the image, and its incessant apparitions that carry it over onto the real, speak to us, speak to us of nothing but the sickness of youth in a world where a trick-representation bears it away and gets imposed upon the present.

Time is pressing. It is essential that plans for a new revue be put out in the open and discussed, post-haste. That a united line be drawn and affirmed. That a small committee lead the discussions. That the business plan and the editorial plan be linked. In short, to insure that the heritage of militant criticism possesses a present-day feel.

From two things, one: either the Cahiers dreams on, or it bites the dust, as I said one year ago already, at the start of the revue's crisis. It has chosen to bite the dust. Our solution remains open to whoever wishes to seize it.


Some recent releases from The Masters of Cinema Series —

Il grido [The Cry / The Shriek] by Michelangelo Antonioni, from 1957. Antonioni's Odyssey in Grey — a man against the landscape, the performance of a theme in female variations. Presented in a new progressive transfer, with new optional English subtitles, and supplemented by the scenes excised from the original pre-censor cut of the film, which Antonioni never opted to reinstate into the distributed version. Also included is the original Italian theatrical trailer for the film, and a 52-page booklet containing an excellent and comprehensive piece of criticism on Il grido extracted from William Arrowsmith's posthumous work Antonioni: The Poet of Images, along with the 1959 essay by Antonioni "Making a Film Is My Way of Life", and a series of excerpts from interviews and discussions with Antonioni about the film that took place between 1958 and 1979.


Tokyo Sonata by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, from 2008. Possibly the greatest film to date (next to Sakebi [The Scream, aka Retribution, 2006] ) by possibly the greatest director with the surname "Kurosawa." Frequently summarized as a social diagnosis of Japan's modern malaise and late-'00s economic implosion, Tokyo Sonata is something much more complex, human, adventurous, by a filmmaker for whom the creation of a well-tempered shot is tantamount to, and as paramount as, existence itself. Available in a progressive presentation, with optional English subtitles, on both region-free Blu-ray and standard-def DVD. Both include a 61-minute making-of documentary; twelve minutes of footage from a September 2008 Q&A session with Kurosawa in Tokyo; fifteen minutes of footage from the Tokyo premiere; nine minutes of discussion of the DVD; and the UK theatrical trailer, cut by Nick Wrigley. The accompanying booklet holds a short statement by Kurosawa about the movie, and a brilliant new (and booklet-length) essay by B. Kite titled "Open Parenthesis on Kurosawa Kiyoshi", that elucidates Tokyo Sonata and contextualizes the film within Kurosawa's larger oeuvre-to-date.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Independencia Sampler

Raya Martin.

Pedro Costa.

Jean-Pierre Gorin.

Luc Moullet.

Interviews and images by Cyril Neyrat, Eugenio Renzi, Antoine Thirion, and Quentin Mével. Et al. Courtesy

In the final clip, Moullet's remarks in French are very funny. As happens at screenings and festivals, the English translator intermittently interjects with on-the-fly renditions of approx. one-fifth of what the maestro's saying, and is seemingly unaware of why it might be entertaining to make a special point in translating the funny stuff making the audience LOL. Then again, she might not have a sense of humor. Inutile, mais bonne projection.

Conversation avec Raya Martin 1 from Independencia on Vimeo.

Pedro remix from Independencia on Vimeo.

Vladimir et Rosa from Independencia on Vimeo.

Luc Moullet 1/2 from Independencia on Vimeo.

FID Ouverture from Independencia on Vimeo.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Short Response to Jonathan Rosenbaum's Recent CINEMA SCOPE Column

In the most recent issue of Cinema Scope, which should be hitting newsstands soon, Jonathan Rosenbaum was kind enough to single out some recent Masters of Cinema Series releases for praise and comment. You can read the column here — scroll down to somewhere around the middle of the piece to get to the MoC-related section.

I need to respond to one section in particular. Rosenbaum writes:

"In all three cases, it seems that many pertinent contributions are being made to scholarship, which makes me all the more regretful that Keller, who outdoes himself on Une femme mariée, can’t always distinguish between writing and blogging, and winds up raising perhaps even more questions, issues, and outright puzzles than he settles. Consider only the incoherent music credits that he offers on page 2, which list “Louis [sic] Beethoven,” “Dave Brubeck,” and “Claude Nougaro who turned ‘Blue Rondo à la Turk’ into ‘A bout de souffle.’” Come again? Even if he’s simply pulling our legs here in some elaborate fashion, it would be helpful to know how and why."

Rosenbaum seems to imply that one difference between "writing" and "blogging" is that the latter consists of playing fast-and-funny with the facts, whereby one indulges in following a notion to its (potentially non-)conclusion; whereas the former will exude a scholarly sobriety and exhibit a feeling that everything is explainable, that the artwork can ultimately be controlled. In "writing," the Critical Voice stakes its claim as authority — the artwork posited as a kind of mathematical conundrum or occurrence in the world, awaiting its own solution from the entity in 3D-space who can condition order... Such a delineation of Art and Criticism has never seemed too real, or really important, to me...

But there are some very simple reasons for the presentation of the Une femme mariée music credits in the book.

••• "Louis Beethoven" because that's how Godard presents it in the film credits; because everyone knows he's referring to "Ludwig van Beethoven"; because "Louis" is the French 'version' of "Ludwig"; because Une femme mariée takes place in a world where Louis XIV and Louis Armstrong both still exist — side-by-side; and because for Godard there's no delineation between 'high-art music' (Ludwig van Beethoven) and 'popular music' (Louis Armstrong).

••• "Dave Brubeck" because an arrangement of his composition "Three to Get Ready" from the famous Take Five album plays on the soundtrack in the film.

••• "Claude Nougaro who turned 'Blue Rondo à la Turk' into 'A bout de souffle' " — because Nougaro is also listed in the film's opening credits (and to whom the rearrangement of "Three to Get Ready" can likely be attributed); and because one of his most famous pieces is a rearrangement, with lyric, of Brubeck's "Blue Rondo à la Turk" (also from Take Five), which Nougaro then retitled — in homage to Godard — "A bout de souffle", the French title of Godard's first feature, Breathless, from '59. Everything comes full-circle.

So no leg-pulling, it can be blogged.

Une femme mariée, fragments d'un film tourné en 1964 et noir et blanc [A Married Woman: Fragments of a Film Shot in 1964 in Black and White] by Jean-Luc Godard, 1964:


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Passion Flower

A Reminder

The word "documentary" has taken on unpleasant connotations around its relation to a general cinema, no matter how inclusive, that must and will always define its force only by its own relation to the aesthetics of certain ontological givens. So let's not talk about Jarrod Whaley's 20-minute film from 2008, Passion Flower, with any more reliance on the term "documentary" (no 'readership'-taxonomies) than we would, say, for talking about Pedro Costa's In Vanda's Room — although we note the two films represent the work of wholly different personalities. Beyond the shudder of constructing a lazy lede, let's just say "documentary" really falls away in Passion Flower because the relationship between the movie-apparatus and its subject is like a membrane so permeable that inside and outside become indistinguishable, irrelevant even, all to the extent the idea of cellular-anything — in the case of the film, "the filmed" itself — dissipates in the second before becoming metaphor.

The film was made (is made) with a middle-aged woman who, in her recent past, had undergone procedures for a double-mastectomy on account of breast cancer. At the time of shooting she has arrived at a Chattanooga tattoo parlor for the application across her upper chest of the image of a sprawling and intricate flower.

Now I'll pull back to describe a wider interplay: the film (as though by osmosis) comes to take on the same qualities as the tattooing itself — a surface beauty; a formidable complexity; an openness to the act of exchange. The woman, or the "subject" (in documentary parlance), is 'without' the camera, that is, she's completely one with her own monologue as she relates to the tattoo artist, to the women at the business, to the film crew, the story of her self-process. There's a relentlessness in her speaking, but such is the presence-in-the-moment — of both the woman, and of the film itself — that, despite the focus on "writing," the viewer never feels exposed to a d(en)omination of the id. Her story is her story. And Whaley proceeds with artistry — forget "sensitivity," filmmaker and subject are, in Passion Flower, equals at last — as he homes in on the details of the parlor environment itself (in place of needling inks, he photographs colors like de Staël's), and arranges, via camera-angles and cuts masterfully spaced and unobtrusive, the woman's body in alternately foreshortened and elongated compositions as though it were being 'dressed' (in place of oils, he makes montage like Holbein) — and thus acknowledges, in tandem with this Woman-as-Body and this Woman-as-Voice, the ever-present vicinity of death to life. For the future's never known, just as every moment of the past dwells also in the here-and-now: and Whaley-and-subject tease the 'doubling' motif out most explicitly in the implicit echo of the prone, tattooed body with that same body once laid flat on the operating table (unseen, unfilmed, 'in the past') undergoing amputation. The buzz of the tattoo gun even has its own correlatives as it saws and dips beneath the woman's speech. One of which, to gauge from the shots where the blue cable of the machine crosses the frame (the gun's correlatives exist in opposition), appears strictly umbilical. A sign, then, a mark, of intercessory calm — in a film essentially as beautiful as Utamarô.

But enough about the 'cinema' of the piece. Passion Flower (a film without a score) makes an appeal above aesthetics. That is, all tribal trappings aside, don't let yourself be fooled by the shaman who says that happiness comes only from within. These cells are transitory and delicate: cherish the women that you love and hold dear, and take nothing of them for granted, — as this present's a gift.

Passion Flower by Jarrod Whaley, 2008:


Friday, June 05, 2009


les Larmes n'Ont pas du Lait

Joe Swanberg's second feature, sickly sweet as a liqueur, warrants many more words than what shows in this space — and at least as many as I gave to his first feature, Kissing on the Mouth [2005], written about here. The problem is that 'now' is not the time, 'here' is not the place, for any elaboration of my thoughts about LOL [2006]. It's a very good movie, underrated a lot, would connect with a wide audience. Let's leave it both at that, and at a passage I wrote in a notebook after watching the movie again a couple weeks ago. I apologize in advance if this makes no sense except to (if even then) the handful who've seen the film — but maybe others will look at it anyway (the film), as it's almost certain to entertain you better than the new Transformers thing, which'll be a hundred percent sucker-punch lemon-drop gadzooks.


Something amazing happens whereby the film seems to endorse the — via its form, by way of its relentless excerpts from these — insipid synthetic a cappella collages contributed by the characters' 'community of friends'. These segments — composed of cutaways to a miniDV + cellphone-cam + etc. patchwork — are clever and charming, make no mistake. (Okay, their accumulation eventually wears out their welcome, though this compounding coincides exactly with the gradual malignization of the Bewersdorf lead. Skip a few words ahead.) But LOL is unique in the fact that one's innate suspicions that the character Alex/Bewersdorf is a facile, vacuous prick whose 'identity' and appeal (as they were) come to be constructed only by his noodling-'artistic' pastime (cf. Kevin Pittman in Kissing on the Mouth), are confirmed full-bore in the film's second half, once the cutaways to Alex's After Effects-driven audiovisual work go away completely, and we're left to witness only the narcissism, the self-deception, and the pathos of an individual I'm (personally) tempted to label, from my own encounters in life, a total archetype. "Look at my artisticness; be spellbound." The total jagoff fraud-charlatan, finished by 42.

The 'foil' for said prick's meltdown comes in the form of net-gal "Tessa," portrayed by Kissing on the Mouth's Kate Winterich — she of the looking in the mirror and acknowledging she won't have the same body forever ambient-fame. That she performs this 'role' in the film, driving the close of the picture (all the way to the pathetic and unsentimental and honest last shot), is the 'reveal' which, on the first-viewing and up to the 50-minute mark or so, struck me as gratuitous and faux-provocative. Of course, first impressions are worthless, especially when the film's not close to over.

LOL is something to see, restitutive and all in spite of its own design, like the graveyard where our grandparents are buried.

LOL by Joe Swanberg, 2006:


Social Olympics from Craig Keller on Vimeo.


Hissy Fits

and Giggles

A short video-film at seven minutes forty-two seconds, — a sketch, really — and included on the Benten DVD for LOL as a kind of study for the main feature, Hissy Fits doesn't impress on a pictorial level, but provokes admiration for the economy in its development of a single idea.

Hissy Fits by Joe Swanberg, 2005:


"Not genuinely poor or an exploited worker, / Not sick with an incurable disease, / Not thirsty for justice, or a cavalry officer, / Not, in short, within any of those social categories depicted by novelists / Who pour themselves out on paper because they have good reasons for shedding tears / And who rebel against society because their good reasons make them think they're rebels. // .... // And I don't have the excuse of being socially concerned. / I have no excuse at all: I'm lucid. // Don't try to persuade me otherwise: I'm lucid. / It's like I said: I'm lucid. / Don't talk to me about aesthetics with a heart: I'm lucid. / Shit! I'm lucid."
—from "We crossed paths on a downtown Lisbon street" by Álvaro de Campos, c. 1930. From a translation from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith.


Social Olympics from Craig Keller on Vimeo.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Young American Bodies: Season 1

Unidentifiable Effing Objects /
Young American Spirits

I'm fulfilling a contract with myself here. Notes on the now-three-years-old first season of Joe Swanberg's web-serial. You can figure out how to find it if you want to watch it...

For Swanberg, there can be no right way to frame them for Nerve/, these UFOs. The imposition of dramatic heft at the moment of incidental music cues. Just have the characters talk about willpower, and in their talking pretend the feelings don't count. "You build yourself a structure," says Casey / Eve Rounds, the moral conscience of the show.

"A lot of my friends are going out with me, tonight, to a club, and I just wanted to invite you to come." "Okay..." — cut to Greta Gerwig, etc.

"You can go online, you can find your bed-and-breakfasts..."

The stairwell communal space is the Sign of the Dorm. It spills over no matter how many years you're out of the institution, because you'll keep building others, your own, to recapture. "You want to tell me what happened last night?" All of life is a fort.

And here's the word: "Fine." Even still there are others. And I'm glad I'm not 23 anymore.

Things presented via the word "they" as universals. But there's a gigantic divide between what's filmed, or narrativized, and what's actual. The sincerity of Ben/Swanberg pulls this apart. Every 'serial episode' here carries the danger and the step-to and step-back of a modern and early-twentysomething Eyes Wide Shut. "Communication's... what you don't have."

"I think so..." — Picking up from the sedimented balls-of-feet of Kissing on the Mouth. "I dunno, he really wants to, y'know?"

Free-jazz-like disasters and general vacuity make me throw up. And then you get a sense that human beings still care for each other —

"I want to do whatever it takes to make it work." You get tenderness, and perfect teeth.

"It's so crazy that people are starting to get married. ... It's like, adult. ... I guess I didn't think that I would be... that, that I would be, last... y'know... not like I'm sure I'd be last, but I guess I never thought..."

Theme-music cue-cut as self-dramatization of importance of totally transitory events. Swanberg cuts OUT of an episode the same way you can drop a chapter-stop at any random point in the drama of life's goings-on — really, everything has meaning.

Missed connections — followed by communication and discussion. Completely unlike the Hollywood movies where everything is irrevocable and "fate"-driven.

"I think it's definitely awesome that you guys are hanging out, I think it's really good for him." "Yeah, I'm a good influence, on everyone." "Not that he's like lame or anything — he's totally cool."

"Hey Casey, it's Ben, um... soooo... yeah, um, shoot, I was hopin' to talk to you, but um call me back, when you can, I want to make sure that whatever's going on, it doesn't get in the way of us hanging out and spending time together, because, I really like that... So... umm... hopefully I hear from you soon — and, if, oh actually maybe I hear you on the stairs right now, so, um, maybe I, will, see you in a second?, and if not, then, call me back?, when you can? Okay. Talk to you soon."

Jealousy'ish movement-things. It'll be okay. Just stop by.



No eyeline countergaze dénouements. Swanberg cuts at the end of the last episode before the eyeline takes hold. Noble ending to the season, inside-out version of a Sopranos season-end, — and very strong for the fact.

Young American Bodies: Season 1 by Joe Swanberg, 2006:


Something different (put it in your heart where tomorrow shines) —

Social Olympics from Craig Keller on Vimeo.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Social Olympics

Social Olympics from Craig Keller on Vimeo.

SOCIAL OLYMPICS - a new small-movie I made - 2009. SD / 15 frames per second / 1.33. Currently hosted at Vimeo. And currently the compression and blocky artifacts are pretty shit, which'll be remedied upon my upgrading to Vimeo Plus in the next few days, at which point the current version will be replaced with a less digi-blocky version — please be patient, and enjoy this at least as a preview version. The (slight) interlacing will be vanquished once I finesse the export settings, too.


For the time being, I'm extremely tired of writing here about movies. They're not saying anything to me right now, and I don't know whom I'm writing for — all I know is I've got no zealous compulsion (anymore? ever had?) to communicate via this blog with the Movie-Cultists, the Cinephiles, or the Aesthetico-Plastico-Dogmatists, who in spite of all sincerely good intentions describe one face of a pyramid I can no longer comprehend. This is not the fault of my readers, but of myself — and the fact that my readership is probably 96% male (again, nobody's fault but my own) makes me, theoretically, puke. The fact that I can describe the nuances of a Jerry Lewis movie that I find very beautiful (Lewis who, by the way, has been appropriated, like Ford, by the aforebrushstroked Aesthetico-Plastico-Dogmatists of Political/Moralistic Ordure) does not, never does, and I-don't-know-why-it-even-should, feed back into my actual non-virtual life. At the present, I only want to write for close friends and farther strangers — and write what? I don't know today. I have a good mind to devote myself purely to comic sketches and madrigals. Writing here about cinema exaggerates (in my own mind) a divide between my inner-life and that of those I'm near to — which divide, in all actuality, is a negligible, purely nominal chasm, — because the cinema is something I want (and need) to carry inside more than to proselytize, and does not regulate connections "as [with] a credit card, yes," or so once said Godard. If anything, when friends visit this blog, or pick up something I've written about a movie elsewhere, it's — all postures aside — as exciting for them to read as if they were thumbing through a copy of the fucking tax-code. Though a movie is direct communication, the writing about it's the obfuscation, — is that which precisely inhibits communication.

I reserve the right to think about, and to write here about, a film, films, etc., of course — and it's part of my job, which I care deeply about and which trumps this space — but the present fact is that the same-old-same broadcasts here at Cinemasparagus seem to me to parley in an echo-chamber, and this distresses me, and their reverberation sounds like "Rename it 'My Nebbish Hobby'."

This does not edify. Or, at least, does not bring as much comfort as Murmur, Fables of the Reconstruction, Automatic for the People, or The Reminder — which is a problem.

That said, here are some song lyrics from a notebook of mine I found. Enjoy. —


Oak Tapped-Barrel Song

The guests have walked in.
It's time for me to leave.
They're reading Bakhtin.
Really time for me to leave.
I'm leaving early —
I'm leaving old —
I'm leaving with a girl on my soul.

Square-jawed vacationers,
And it's time for me to leave.
Outlaw sensations
Or just time for me to leave?
If they're leaving confused —
Or if they're leaving on time —
They can't leave those abuses behind.

"It's just a Category 2," they said in a huff.
I know storms well — I've smelled them enough.

Someone mentions that payola talks,
And it's time for me to leave.
Cigarettes in the Crayola box —
Now it's time for me to leave.
I'll leave by myself —
I'll leave with a friend —
I'll get left on the shelf till the end.

Boston prick's got a charter,
Claims it's time for me to leave.
Can't tell if he said "Carter" or "Cotter,"
But it's time for me to leave.
I'll leave here alive —
I'll feel fortified —
There's not one man alive with God on his side.

A hundred percent of emotion's invisible.
The atoms between us have proven divisible.

I've been waiting for hours.
Now it's time for me to leave.
Been drained of my powers,
So it's time for me to leave.
But I'll leave you something —
I'll leave it inside.
I'll leave you something about breadbox-size.

The onslaught of arrows
Says it's time for me to leave.
And Inês de Medeiros
Says it's time for me to leave.
I'll leave in a dust-cloud
The way some leave in a Hearse,
But I'll make sure I'm loud when I curse you.


Friday, May 08, 2009


[Vimeo video was removed]

HD trailer for the new film by Jean-Luc Godard. True 1.78:1 ratio. Shot in 24-frame HD. Alain Badiou. Patti Smith. Silence is golden.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Une femme mariée, fragments d'un film tourné en 1964 en noir et blanc

Released this past Monday by The Masters of Cinema Series, at the same time as Pialat's La Gueule ouverte: Jean-Luc Godard's long-unavailable-in-a-proper-DVD-edition 1964 masterpiece Une femme mariée, fragments d'un film tourné en 1964 en noir et blanc [A Married Woman: Fragments of a Film Shot in 1964 in Black and White]. The release contains a high-definition transfer of the film, based on a new Gaumont restoration, with new and meticulously edited (removable, white) English subtitles. Also included, and being presented on home-video for the first time ever, is the original 3-1/2-minute trailer for the film (approx. two minutes longer than that listed in the filmography of the Centre Pompidou's 2006 volume Jean-Luc Godard: Documents), created and edited by Godard himself, which was telecined (and is also presented in a progressive, high-definition transfer) at MoC's express request and expense.

Accompanying the disc: an 80-page perfectly-bound book that contains:

— A carefully crafted cover.

— Film-credits for both the feature and the trailer.

— An editorial preface on the release, on "Godard-style" graphic pastiches in JLG-related media collateral, and on the commodification of cinema and physical/virtual "home video" media.

— A short inquiry into the nature and use of "production stills" in media and press.

— A new two-page 'overture' to the film by Luc Moullet (whose new film, La Terre de la folie, debuts next month at Cannes, and which in a perfect world would be the most anticipated work of the festival, alongside Pedro Costa's Ne change rien, Almodóvar's Broken Embraces, To's Vengeance, Tsai's Face, Resnais' Les Herbes folles, Coppola's Tetro, and Hong's Like You Know It All, among others — including Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which features my friend Tina in a small, this-is-just-the-beginning role).

— A new 20-page roundtable discussion on the film, and its relationship to the entirety of Godard's oeuvre from the '60s to the '00s, between Luc Moullet, Bill Krohn (of "Kinbrody and the Ceejays" notoriety), and me.

— A new 21-page investigation into and analysis of the film, by Bill Krohn.

— A new statement about the film by its star, Macha Méril.

— A new and exclusive English translation by me, running 12 pages, of Godard's genius 1978 lecture on the film, and its relationship to Ingmar Bergman's work, to Flaherty's Nanook of the North, to Rossellini's Francesco giullare di Dio, and to the world and the Image at large, as originally transcribed and presented in the long-unavailable and absolutely vital Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma.

— JLG's Hitchcock collage.

— The relevant excerpts from Jean Racine's Bérénice, presented in the original French, with new parallel English translations by me.

— Endnotes, featuring remarks by myself and Andy Rector.

Stop at nothing to acquire your copy today.

On a personal note: my own work on the DVD and the book would have been completely impossible without the presence and support of the Google-string-evadable J. C. (who is not Jesus, though she has the same initials) — to whom this release is, at least on my part, in any case, sincerely dedicated.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Ten Films by Maurice Pialat

Today marks the release of the latest installment in Masters of Cinema's ongoing series of the films of Maurice Pialat — with a two-disc package that collects ten of the supreme master's films from the first half of his career. Included, and presented in their original aspect ratios with new removable English subtitles:

Drôles de bobines [Funny Reels, 1957]

L'Ombre familière [The Familiar Shadow, 1958]

Janine [1961]

Bosphore [Bosporus, 1964]

Byzance [Byzantium, 1964]

La Corne d'or [The Golden Horn, 1964]

Istanbul [1964]

Maître Galip [Master Galip, 1964]

Pehlivan [1964]

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug, 1974]

Also to be found across the release's discs: a 12-minute video interview from 2004 with Pialat's ex-wife and longtime collaborator Micheline Pialat, conducted by Serge Toubiana; an 8-minute video interview from 2004 with Nathalie Baye; 11 minutes of footage from the shoot of La Gueule ouverte featuring Jean-François Balmer and the late Jacques Villeret, neither of whom appear in the finished film — the footage is accompanied by new commentary recorded in 2005 by Balmer; a 16-minute video interview from 2004 with cinematographer Willy Kurant discussing Pialat's six early "Turkish films" (see above); a 14-minute 1987 film interview with Pialat, discussing the role played by the Cinémathèque Française in his cinema education; a 10-minute excerpt from video footage shot in 2002 of Pialat discussing Maître Galip; and the original French theatrical trailers for the seven Pialat features released-to-date and soon-to-be-released in The Masters of Cinema Series.

The package also includes a 32-page booklet with a brilliant new essay on La Gueule ouverte by Adrian Martin, titled: "Devastation". Small excerpt:

"[I]t is the case that Pialat's films concern themselves, almost single-mindedly, with the fact, the process, the event of devastation. Slow, gradual, irremediable. Devastation of a relationship, a marriage, a family, a community, a way of life.

"Pialat's films lay waste to all of this — not in the spirit of critique (he is not a political filmmaker in that sense), but in the name of a realism, a profound sense that 'this is just the way it is'. Every anchor, every support system goes, one by one. Characters are, by the end, left alone, bereft, inconsolable, untouchable. But what passionate, angry, violent, grumpy resistance in Pialat to this 'fact of life'!
We won't grow old together — that is the emblem of the cry of every Pialat character, refusing to 'go with the flow' of irrevocable devastation. But undergoing it all the same."

The booklet also includes contact-sheet images from the Balmer/Villeret sequence unused for La Gueule ouverte; a brief interview with Pialat from 1973 at the time leading up to La Gueule ouverte's release; and remarks from 2002 by Pialat on Janine and Maître Galip.

Now, here's what's not in the booklet, because I didn't (re)discover it until we had gone to press: a long interview with Pialat from 1974, conducted by Stéphane Lévy-Klein and Olivier Eyquem, on the subject of La Gueule ouverte. Because its absence has been eating up my conscience, and because it's the record of a compelling discussion with the great director, and because every discussion with Pialat is different from every other discussion with Pialat (he never retreads 'talking points' or a single immutable opinion), I've translated the interview, and present it here:


Maurice Pialat on the set of La Gueule ouverte, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: The first rough-cut of La Gueule ouverte came in at four hours in length. The distribution print doesn't run any longer than 1h 20m. What happened between then and now?

PIALAT: That rough-cut couldn't be edited in any case such as it is. When I'm cutting shots out, so I can see whole sequences, the reason for it is simply this: it's because I find them bad or I find them good — and here I'm criticizing my way of shooting — because, not having taken enough care to make matching shots, I find myself sitting before scenes that slow the film down, distract and detract from the logical continuity of the narrative. (I'm not saying "of the plotline," as there's not any action, properly speaking.) The film could be longer. The first cut was nearly two hours and those who like it in its definitive form maybe would have even preferred it in that first version. But the whole first section seemed too long to me; you got bored waiting for the next part. Certain sequences messed up during the shoot make for an imbalance. Matching shots became impossible — we weren't able to cut them together with anything that came before.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: You said in a previous interview that you sometimes have problems with matching shots?

PIALAT: Yes, and there are two reasons for this. The main one is that, without a doubt, I don't devote enough time to preparing my scripts. At the beginning of my career, I thought that you could take your time shooting and do as little preparation as possible. To prepare was to get caught up in advance in something literary. Less and less do I think that's the case; with experience, I notice that things which are written out, or which are at least conceived in advance, most of the time get filmed in a more satisfying manner. Unfortunately, I don't have a sense of brevity. As a scenarist, I only have success with chronological narratives which more or less always stem from my own life. I repeat the same thing in several scenes and it's only during shooting that I take notice of this dispersal. This autobiographical inspiration is one of the consequences of Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble [We Won't Grow Old Together, 1972]: in this film, I didn't want to go into what actually took place, I wanted to stay faithful to my memories, and I thought that transposing several scenes or, when all was said and done, concentrating on a single sequence of events very closely (which is, dramatically speaking, the thing to do), came back to orienting the film toward a sort of theater in which I was denying myself. Frequently, I fight to recreate certain events that I've lived through, that seem to me to be moving and strong, and I realize that the emotion was only a product of my imagination and that there's no other way to get it back, and this for good reasons: shortcomings of the director — this can happen; problems with the actors; deficiency in the material allowing the scene to develop; etc. In short, moments that I thought were strong turn out to be unusable. The consequence is that in the editing I'm really very hard on myself, too much so maybe, since I've never had the temptation on one single film to keep elements in that didn't satisfy me. Here, the editing is entirely Arlette [Langmann]. She edited the film all by herself. I had complete confidence in her.

The editing wasn't a technical problem. We were just dealing with a rough-cut of four hours in which a choice had to be made. We made this choice together while working, in particular, on the Parisian sequences, which hardly satisfied us, and which we were resolved to do away with after having taken a look at all the possible solutions.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: One thing strikes me: the suppression of any type of temporal, chronological, reference-point, especially with regard to the character of Philippe. One has the feeling that the film could just as well have been covering a period of 8 days as several months.

PIALAT: That isn't intended. These reference-points exist, but I've shuffled them around. There are even moments where this can pass for continuity flaws. Thus, at the hospital, Nathalie tells Monique: "I'm going on vacation for two months; I'll see you when I get back." And yet it's only much later that Philippe will announce to his mother Nathalie's return. In reality, the dialogue isn't far-fetched: he's lying to his mother for not having told her Nathalie's already been back for a long time, but that she can no longer bear seeing her.


LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: In the editing, do you keep the chronology you've defined at the level of the scenario, or do you end up shuffling scenes around?

PIALAT: I switch sequences around pretty often. Not so much on La Gueule ouverte, but this has happened on occasion.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: At the outset, when you conceived the script, was the radiography sequence already meant to open the film?

PIALAT: Not at all. It was at the editing stage that I decided on it, such as it is. One of the first scenes of the film (where you see Philippe showing up in Auvergne and meeting up with his mother, who shows him her tumor) went somewhere else at this point. If I wasn't afraid to make a film 1h 15m long — I'd even take out one more scene, the one of the encounter with the girl in l'hôtel de passe [i.e., a hotel specializing in 'quickies'], which now falls like a hair in the soup, and no longer carries any big meaning.

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: The scene where he solicits a prostitute at night would then become incomprehensible, as she constitutes a repetition of the first girl.

PIALAT: But all this is so weakly connected to what I wanted to do. We don't understand why this guy all of a sudden has sexual problems, whereas in the original scenario these scenes have a precise sense: he'd been involved in several fiascos and he quickly evolved because his mother was coming to her end. He wasn't really a cad, spending his time fucking, etc. It was closer to Turkish Delights [Turks fruits, Paul Verhoeven, 1973] than what you saw!

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: There are constant 'side-notes' regarding supporting characters, for example: the old woman in the hospital. Up to what point does it seem important to you to show these people?

PIALAT: That scene, where the old woman gets visited by her husband and his son, which begins with both of them arguing, anticipates the meeting between Deschamps and Léotard, but, at the point of departure, it was just a memory. I had lived a scene close to that one in the hospital. It was during shooting that I noticed that it was pure guignol — not that that aspect bothered me: it was an integral part of my bad taste. What's more interesting is showing people who come to the hospital at the last minute, not knowing what to tell themselves, and in the end blowing up on one another to let off some steam. My father died a few weeks ago. For some time before his passing, when he was getting really ill, I'd go off to the Auvergne frequently, suspending all business; once I was there, we'd say three words to one another.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: There's a scene about which I'd be curious to know whether it was done in one or several takes: it's the one in the kitchen, between Nathalie and the father.

PIALAT: No, that wasn't a single take.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: It's very strange; Nathalie Baye seems to be caught off-guard at one point by Deschamps' dialogue, and we have the distinct impression that a kind of complicity has been established between the one actor and the other.

PIALAT: That's exactly it, but it's a take which, once again, was done at the last moment. Anyway this film is full of this sort of thing. We never stopped having negotiation issues throughout the whole shoot and, while not lacking money, we still had to work with some haste. The hospital scenes — apart from the radiography — were wrapped in a single day; the one with the doctor was done in ten minutes. Each week brought about new problems. And yet I get things going pretty slowly, and they often go on into evening, and when this started to happen, I saw myself putting a stop on overage to avoid additional hours. The scene you're talking about was shot at the end of the day, and the take you saw was the third or fourth. The preceding takes were disastrous. As it so happened, the final one went off like clockwork, and it came out exactly as you've experienced it.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Does it often happen that you succeed with a shot the second or third time, whenever this sort of tension and urgency gets produced?

PIALAT: Yes, it happens because a director's energy, his availability, constantly varies. I'm very irregular.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: You've known Deschamps for a long time — ever since you made your first professional film with him [Janine]. How did you cast the other roles?

PIALAT: I think Mélinand was the only actress capable of holding the role of the mother, which is ultimately really thankless. I brought her on right away, without seeing anyone else. I thought of Hubert right away because I was looking for someone slightly uncouth. Deschamps is the total opposite of a country man (he's roved around Saint-Germain for years), but certain aspects of his personality agreed well with the role. What he does here has, it must be said, little relationship to what he typically does on the screen (and which he prefers, in any case).

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: He's supposed to love — this is a euphemism — to 'compose'...

PIALAT: Early on, I had some difficulty, because he had the tendency to 'make his voice carry'. You'd hear it from all over the place. I liked Nathalie Baye a lot in La Nuit américaine [American Night / Day for Night, François Truffaut, 1973]. At one point, I was hesitating between her and Miou-Miou, but I settled on Nathalie before Miou-Miou was even signed on to Les Valseuses [The Nuts, Bertrand Blier, 1974]. I picked Philippe Léotard at the last minute. For a long time, it was Depardieu who was supposed to do the film.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Did you do any rehearsals?


LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Do you throw people into the shot while only giving them the bare amount of what they need for the scene?

PIALAT: Often they only ever have a vague idea about what it is. Anyway this only bothers professionals, amateurs less so — quite the contrary.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: How does the rapport between professionals and amateurs get established?

PIALAT: The amateurs get on well with the professionals, but the reverse is rarely true. Deschamps really jerked us around. His leitmotif was: "So I've learned one profession, and you make me play a vintner; I don't know how to trim the vine, etc.," which is completely absurd. He was just angry to see the amateurs being better at it than he was!

In general we say that they "forget the camera's there." That's false, they're very aware of it, but if they're acting, it's without craft, without effects. It's not even necessary to cast them in their own roles; you can go very far with certain ones. It is, however, pretty difficult to get them to retake a scene.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Where did the idea come from to film the exit from the church with that slow advance tracking-shot?

PIALAT: Initially, I was just supposed to do a shot in front of this rough, dark church, with people shaking hands with Léotard who, in the end, broke up with purely nervous laughter.

In seeing these places, I changed my mind. Angles have been sought out, and it's at the last moment, in order to pass without a break from the shot of the crowd to the one of the family all around the van, that I did that tracking-shot.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: There are only about two or three other tracking-shots in the entire film, and we mostly notice the one of the departure from the town, which concludes the film as practically the last scene.

PIALAT: For me, the principal problem is avoiding placing the camera in places where it can't materially be located: thus behind a bed, when the bed is against the wall. Here, I went against my principles, since I put the camera in the back trunk of a car. This shot was made at the last minute, and I slightly regret the hurried aspect of the parting in the boutique. I had come up with a longer scene in which Philippe and Nathalie were more insistent on the father coming back with them. We were supposed to stay for a little while in the boutique and when they leave, instead of cutting, we move away with the car. In a certain way, it was a technical hoax, but nothing could better express the sort of abandon that this produced. Once more, we were pressed for time: five minutes later, it was nightfall.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: What's behind the phone call Philippe gets early on, during his lunch with his mother?

PIALAT: It's a call he gets from la Télévision, and which is supposed to hold some implications for later on. In the scenario, there was a scene that followed, where we even found Philippe helping out, and we saw him on the set of a film.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: How do you prepare a plan-séquence [sequence-shot/long-take without cuts] as long as that one — 8-1/2 minutes?

PIALAT: The scene took a lot to produce, to the degree that I decided to retake it three or four times later. But in doing so, Monique and Philippe weren't as good. At the start of production, the actors still aren't broken in, it's difficult for them to shoot in those conditions. Afterward, things go well for the most part. This type of scene rarely poses acting problems, which might seem surprising. Rozier asks me sometimes how I go about things, and is astonished that I don't experience the urge to intercede. Well, I don't! Once, though, on La Maison des bois [The House in the Woods, 1971], I found myself crawling underneath a billiard table to give a signal to an actor to stand up: you notice it in any case, because at that moment he sees me! With my two superstars, during a scene in Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, I had to cut and edit in shot-countershot because Marlène was frightened by the length of her text. And yet you can do anything in those instances — it's always possible to breathe a little in the course of a take.

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: How did you do the shot in the attic?

PIALAT: It was a shot I wanted to make for the sake of decor, to give some personality to the house. I had letters from my parents, back from the time of their engagement, certain ones among which were pretty nice: letters of the sort no-one writes anymore. Having forgotten about them, I had to be satisfied having them read a letter taken from the ones the town-folks had confided us with. There were three very long takes where neither Philippe nor Nathalie say anything very interesting and then, I don't know why, Nathalie starts crying during one of the takes. She had to have been down in the dumps, no doubt because I had been a little hard on both of them.

I kept the shot, of course, and I cut it just after the sequence with the injection, with that glance of Nathalie's that turns away from the mother, before she gets up and heads off toward her room.

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: You've said that La Gueule ouverte got a little too close to Bresson, adding "alas." What did you mean by this?

PIALAT: I was thinking of its form, which in the end is pretty elaborate. It's a rather cold film, and one whose qualities rely for a good while on its aesthetic. For me, as a general rule, the text and the acting have to take the first position. I'm happy that the quality of the photography is satisfactory, but this isn't what I'm looking for above everything else. There's always too much aestheticism. What I'd like to do some day is a film where we'd shoot in the most natural way possible, sticking as close as we can to reality. My ideal is the single shot in which a point of view is expressed upon a thing being produced in the same instant. As soon as you cut it up, as you start to fragment it, as you come back on it from another angle, that truth slips away, since you're starting over again upon what can only, by definition, be produced just once. That isn't to say I was looking to let cables get into the shot, but there wasn't any particular thought put into the framings. If I liked working with Almendros a lot on La Gueule ouverte, it's because he went further than any other cameraman in the preparation of the natural lighting. In the colors, there are still a fair number of problems; we'll have to wait many years before getting to something satisfying, and, in particular, before doing away completely with those lights, the introduction of which seems to me to be a bothersome artifice.

Dressing a location is, of course, a necessity. You always have to do it at the last minute and too late. If I were shooting in this room, I'd start by moving this table, I'd arrange these chairs in a different manner, and little by little I'd arrive at the tableau, at artifice...

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Let's talk a little about the locations in La Gueule ouverte. How did you select them?

PIALAT: It was really easy. I wanted a big residence, the sort where you wouldn't have to choose any lens other than a 40 or 50mm. In interiors, I like to be able to constantly take characters from the feet up. The house we chose in Auvergne was being lived in; therefore you don't sense the intervention of a set-decorator, which is always perceptible, whatever its benefits.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Is the sound completely direct?

PIALAT: Yes, you hear the creaks, the groans, save for one shot, and that's due to technical reasons.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: And the music, or rather the absence of music?

PIALAT: I didn't want to put any in, outside of that short excerpt at the beginning from Così fan tutte [Thus Do They All, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1790]. Before doing the film, I was careful to use more music coming from natural sources. It's true that this always poses technical problems, not to mention rights issues.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: In its final version, the film is organized a bit around a Paris-to-province commute.

PIALAT: That's right. A double commute in the beginning, since Mélinand, at first, came to see the doctors who then reassured her and gave her balms, with everyone there already knowing she was a goner. She went back home for a month or two and, obviously not having experienced any relief, got worried and came back to Paris. It's here that the film starts, in its definitive version.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: You end up only showing the village a very little bit.

PIALAT: I would have liked to shoot in my own village. The one we chose is more modern. It gave us some decent, interesting elements, a market, for example, that for an instant I thought about using. I also intended to shoot a scene in a brasserie. There Philippe would have discovered, in the middle of the night, a choir. He picked up one of the girls and made love to her in the toilets. There's nothing to regret.

I don't like working across a slew of locations. Running back and forth to shoot is disastrous. I get the best results filming in one precise spot. By the time we wrap up, half the day is spent just with commuting. You have to choose between taking your time and taking your money, on one hand, and safeguarding the essential things on the other.

In a few years, I'll no doubt discover why I'm not satisfied with La Gueule ouverte. With Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, it was just sabotage carried out on the part of an actor. It's not the same thing with this one. Throughout the entire shoot, I wielded absolute power. I could have shot all the sex scenes I was planning between Philippe and the girls, and I didn't do it. It had nothing to do with fatigue; the crew were perfect; as for the actors, you can't ever speak of perfect success, as there are always problems (we're not dealing with robots, or with androids), but the situation as a whole was fine. So there was nothing other than those scenes to shoot, and I didn't do them. How come?

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Maybe there were problems with the acting?

PIALAT: Partly. I had the impression that Léotard had progressively lost the desire to film these scenes, whereas at the outset, he seemed ready to charge like a bull. But here again, it's myself that's to blame.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Isn't it also because the film had deviated toward something else?

PIALAT: Yes, perhaps. We felt quickly enough that we wouldn't attain the desired tone in those scenes. It wasn't enough that Philippe already had that tone in a few isolated passages — he needed it for the entire film. You really feel that the father is a guy who drifts through life, who's always tried to fuck, to get shitfaced. This needed to already be tangible in the case of Philippe. In the end, the perspective of the film veered toward the father, especially in the final scenes. In the original script, the couple, as soon as they've left the village, start having a very violent argument. Up to the end of production, there was the question of doing this scene. Anyway, there was supposed to be one week of additional shooting, but, before setting out upon this, I decided to do some editing. Then while starting the editing, we dreamt of developing the hospital scenes in particular. (I also thought it would be a shame to end on the single final shot of Hubert in his boutique, and I wanted to show more of what a guy can go through, abruptly alone in a house, with the person he loved for thirty years at the bottom of a hole.) That argument scene not having been shot, you feel the friction between Philippe and Nathalie less. There's no longer that violence that I had envisioned. You're supposed to think that this couple, who are already barely holding together, are gonna break things off once and for all. The ostensible subject of the film was the story of a guy who takes things out on other people because his mother is dying, but the actual subject was the the story of a couple already too old, not close enough to one another and who detonate because the man is liberated.

La Gueule ouverte [The Mouth Agape / The Slack-Jawed Mug] by Maurice Pialat, 1974:

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Does a subject like this one, at the current moment in France, pose particular problems with production?

PIALAT: You bet! Already, on paper, while it carried some "commercial attributes," it was difficult to have it be accepted. If I had presented it in its actual form, I definitely wouldn't have been able to shoot it, or rather would have had to shoot it with a pathetic budget.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: When did you come up with the subject?

PIALAT: I wrote it in '71.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Was there an order, at the level of having conceived the project, between the three films you've shot [to date]?

PIALAT: La Gueule ouverte was written after the script for Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, but with the idea of shooting it before, just because I had to wait one year for my two superstars, and because I was bored sitting there with nothing to do. In the end, this didn't happen, in part because I knew that the shoot was going to be a particularly rough one.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: At the outset did you stick to inscribing your films within a precise chronological sequence: childhood, the early part of adulthood, and maturity?

PIALAT: No. If those three films form a triptych, it's not premeditated.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: What's Philippe's profession?

PIALAT: He's — and I was one, among other things — a medical rep. A profession he doesn't believe in, that he does to earn his bread. At one point, he was also supposed to do some theater. I'm bored seeing in half the films out there today characters practicing professions in the humanities: novelist, architect, etc. But, when it comes down to it, I've rubbed out every professional indication concerning him. It's very delicate establishing a character professionally with believable dialogue. In every film, mine included, the characters are rarely anchored in a sufficient way within their profession. In Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, the couple was in an all-consuming brawl, and yet, in the course of a screening for the readers of Elle, I was reproached for showing characters who spend their time napping in the sun. It was entirely the opposite: they have constant problems, and spend their nights in chambres de passe [i.e., rooms in hotels for "quickies"], because they were cheaper. And yet Marlène changed her outfit incessantly, while Yanne sported brand-spanking-new get-ups. If a girl who earns four sous succeeds in being elegant, you have to take pains to create an equivalent for the guy.

At one point in La Gueule ouverte, Nathalie says: "I'm gonna ship myself back out in a box if I stay with you any longer." It's too pat: the weight of that reality needs to be felt more. In the beginning, I wanted to provide her with a precise profession she could be attached to.

LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: Wouldn't this be getting away from the subject?

PIALAT: The real problem is inserting this within given limits, as I have the tendency to elaborate, to go overboard, very quickly. Getting caught up for an hour or two on one meticulously controlled shot is so difficult — every auteur knows it. It's why, nowadays, I almost feel the necessity of shooting with a predefined framework that I wouldn't finesse more than a smidge.


PIALAT: Now, I'd like to make (but I no doubt wouldn't ever get to, for financial reasons) a chronicle of France from 1934 to 1950, that is, approximately from the period preceding the Popular Front to the one following the Liberation. What keeps me thinking about this project is doing it almost in the manner of a simple spectator. I would be in the film, but above everything else it would be the painting of an era. Once again, it would be autobiographical but, I think, having sufficiently taken some detachment vis-à-vis the autobiography, so as not to repeat the errors of Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble. There is, in a certain way, someone who succeeded over Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble: and that's Eustache, with La Maman et la putain [The Mama and the Whore, 1973]. There's what I should have made: a four-hour film, a genuine catharsis letting you puke out your guts. And then refusing the stars anything that might sterilize it.


LÉVY-KLEIN / EYQUEM: [What are your thoughts on] collaborative work?

PIALAT: Up till now, I wrote all my scenarios by myself, but you never work in solitude. On La Maison des bois, I worked with Arlette, who rewrote the dialogue, along with Yves Laumet. On La Gueule ouverte, I really worked alone. It's very difficult to find someone who agrees with you, but it's certain that if I had a collaborator who was capable, taking off from my ideas, of building a script that was more produceable than the ones I deliver, I'd be very happy about that, and I'd have a lot less worry during production. This would give me a freedom I don't have, since the writing problems would be resolved in advance and not at the last minute, as is often still the case with me.

I've had the fear of the blank page for a long time. Because of this I wasn't able to write. It was a conditioned reflex: I saw myself as a schoolboy again, before I'd have even come up with anything. I needed a major event in my life to occur for me to decide to write my novel. Now, I feel the desire once again to write and to build...