Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Serge Daney in 2009

Happy New Year everyone. A quick look back at Serge Daney in 2009.

Despite a bunch of new translations earlier in the year, it sort of dwindled down. And there's no sight of new attempt to translate Daney, if anything, I'm hearing less and less about book projects. There has been a much larger audience on this blog. Unfortunately, despite having a few translations on the way, I struggle to finish them, so the pace of publishing will get even slower. If anybody is keen to help, do shout.

There were 8 new translations online this year:
Somehow, around 1000 of you (from 80 countries) managed your way to this blog (and did so several times in the year and stayed more than a few seconds). I consider you my true audience. It's kind of a big number and is enough to convince me this blog is worth continuing. I actually feel chuffed. So thanks a lot and happy new year!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What Out of Africa produces

Steve Erickson just published a new translation of Daney's review of Out of Africa. It was written in 1988 for the French newspaper Libération and is all about television, advertising and cinema.

Daney spotted a very odd moment, where John Barry's soundtrack actually covers diegetic Mozart. It actually sounds incredible. Maybe not a Kapo moment, but certainly a great find. I've not been able to check the actual scene.

What Out of Africa produces
Originally published in Libération, 11 October 1988. Reprinted in Devant la recrudescence des vols de sacs à main, Aléas, 1997. Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Serge Daney a "key thinker"

Serge Daney is included in a new book bringing together "the key thinkers who have shaped the field of film philosophy": Film, Theory and Philosophy.

Garin Dowd's article on Serge Daney has no new translation but provides a good, thorough overview of Daney's work and how it fits in the field of philosophy.

And the inclusion of Daney among prestigious other thinkers (Adorno, Cavell, Deleuze, Barthes, Bazin) clearly highlights the lack of translation of his work. The high regard that Deleuze had for Daney is also made pretty clear.

...and there's even a footnote mentioning this blog. Thanks for that...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cinema and 20th century memory

I'm feeling melancholic this autumn Sunday and I just found this interview where Serge Daney, commenting on the launch of his film review Trafic, does his usual trick with a brand new perspective: which of the memories from the 20th century will be filmed memories (as opposed to written memories) and what that means for cinema. It could be a good discussion thread for Girish's blog.

Jean-Michel Frodon: To say that cinema has hosted the memory of the 20th century implies this memory is not in the other arts.
Serge Daney: It's also partly in popular music, and it was there in jazz before it closed itself again, but not in the same way as in cinema. Cinema is the only "art" where, through the actors, we have watched ourselves grow old. That doesn't exist in painting, not after Duchamp. Nor is it in music after Schonberg. Nor in literature which seems to have resisted only within empires - the USA or Russia: the memory of the gulag will be a written memory (via Solzhenitsyn who is more a journalist than a writer). Cinema will only have caught some posthumous fragments or asides. Cinema is obviously not an exact memory of the century, but it's the only one that we will really miss. Because, by accompanying movements, even mass deliriums, it could try to work with "mass mournings". It did it in some rare countries, in the USA, in Italy.

JMF: How has cinema fulfiled this function of a guardian of memory?
SD: Probably because it camped between the subconscious and the conscious, on the side of what Freud called the pre-concsious for a time. That means it's not really a language but it's still a territory with rules. Cinema provides an account of what is about to come out. To come out of the bodies, of actors, of a situation, of a society. It reveals it by recording it. A great filmmaker is only someone who's better than others at giving birth. Jacques Tati didn't invent the world in which France was already absorbed in 1967, he saw it and he invented the ability to show it. It's Playtime, the last French film with a true grandeur. Cinema is not an art of visionaries, it's a nudge carried out with recording machines (camera, sound recorder) and recorded machines (the actors, the stories). It allows to move from the subconscious of society to a certain consciousness of the singularties that populate society, but nothing more. Too much consciousness kills desire, kills art. You can see it every time the militant or propagandist concerns come back to the fore. Cinema only allows to precise, no more and no less. It has helped many people to start their journey to a certain truth of time - and of themselves withing their time - through images, even if this truth didn't reside in the images.
Interview published in French in Le Monde on 7 July 1992. My translation.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Freeze-image / Arrêt sur l'image

Last translated extract from L'exercice a été profitable, Monsieur.

Serge Daney's concept of "arrêt sur l'image" is a tough one to grasp and is difficult to translate. It's a pun on "arrêt sur image" (the French term for "freeze frame") but means much more than this. To translate it, I've been hesitating for some time between "stop on the image" (which I've used in The Tracking Shot in Kapo) and "freeze-image" (which I'm trying here). Daney develops the concepts more fully in 1989 article From Movies to Moving.

Hopefully, the text translated below - Daney's 1988 computer notes for the 1989 article - will help.
6 April 1988 - Freeze-image. We were immobile in front of images that moved. We move along immobile images. Immobile like those men and women who "walk the streets" and who, for that matter, strike a pose. "Propositions" (as we say in fashion). The more an image is in simultaneous competition with all the others, the less it has to move (the street corner, the ad 'space' is expensive, one has to occupy his space and be his own logo). To watch again in this light Fellini's films (City of Women) and the idea of 'parading' in his films and in Godard's (Here and Elsewhere).

A history of the freeze-image would be instructive. For me, it starts with the final shot of The 400 Blows. But there's also a fantastic freeze-image at the beginning of Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (a fascinating film). The freeze-image (return to the inanimate - death drive) means that there are images beyond which movement does not continue. They can be one of the 24 ordinary moments in a second of recorded film. But at one point they are no longer ordinary at all: they are - by essence - 'terminals'.

The 'terminal'-image is the signifier which demands its due, a petrified movement, a pose, an image with no Other (another image, off-screen), it is maybe in that respect a pious image. In reverse, cinema knew for a time how to welcome and organise unfolding images. In the two poles formerly seen as opposites (let's say Rossellini-Eisenstein) there was the same concern to articulate (famous question: how to move from a shot to another), to modulate time, to pay attention to the metamorphoses of an image into another, to accompany the movement while reorienting it slightly (movement of the words as well, metaphorical, literal). To see something move was therefore the best bit of my love for cinema: to see it endure as itself while transforming itself for good. Pushed to the limit: the absolute gaze of the one who sees each thing progress at its own speed (from the clouds to actors, from ideas to emotions). That's why, even in bad films, the "gimmick" of time passing-by and of the actor made up to look artificially aged always touches me (Cavalcade, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Giant, Paradis perdu, etc.).

Today's image is bound to immobility, to freeze. It's not because it's animated that it is "in motion". Television is the realm of animation, not movement. TV sees the animation (as little as possible) of emblems, figures, logos, brands. These have no specific future, apart from being replaced by others. They can't evolve much because it would be detrimental to their "image". They are used until they're no longer useful. The best that can happen to them is to "be an image" and become transcendent to their support so to be always recognisable. It's the meaning of Andy Warhol's genius stroke with Marilyn "and" the Campbell soup.

But more generally, the image is not subject to anthropomorphism. By presuming that images have adventures, gather speed, develop their own story and organic development ("our friends the images"), we make images the equivalent of the characters (real or fictitious) that the image used to provide. Known situation: to tremble for what happens to the character, then for what happens to the image of the character. Possible morality (Godard as always).

Today, we are more and more dealing with a virtual moment in a simulation. It's, even in future perfect, a freeze-image which will have allowed to eventually actualise such or such stasis of a process from which it is possible to anticipate. "looking" no longer comes first but, in the best of scenarios, second. To see first (mystical?), to see after (pragmatical?).
pp. 38-40, POL, 1993, my translation

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Twin Peaks

Online coincidence.

Jonathan Rosenbaum just published on his blog his 1990 review of Twin Peaks as I was finalising the translation the notes Serge Daney took on his computer when the series was broadcast on French television a year later.

Both reviewers see something in Lynch's young characters. But where Rosenbaum admits being "bored stiff by most of the teenagers in Twin Peaks" and prefers "the adolescent eye trained on the other characters", Daney feels an "intense curiosity for the way young and seducing beings, boys and girls, seem to succeed under our very eyes at the passage from the fashion catwalk to the psychological TV series."

And where Rosenbaum refers to Peter Greenaway, Daney mentions Hitchcock and Tourneur.

Anyway, I let you make the connections. For more by Daney on David Lynch, see his review of The Elephant Man.
25 May 1991 - Lynch. I saw, a bit by chance, with S.P., an episode of Twin Peaks on TV. I had already seen one and had been intrigued (in a good way). Same feeling yesterday. Same pleasure to let myself into the "chain" of the film, once I am (vaguely) related to the plot and once I am in the passage, always stimulating, from a scene (a shot) to another. Ah! Here's some cinema, one notices. It constantly articulates something.

It makes me doubt (a bit) about certain of my dictates. A certain number of things suddenly seem viable, a bit like movement is proven by walking. For example there's a possible use of advertising beauty in a story, outside the short scripts of advertising. I saw "advertising" to avoid saying "artificial". My old hate of the American-style artificial star (from Lana Turner to Dallas) is here transformed in an intense curiosity for the way young and seducing beings, boys and girls, seem to succeed under our very eyes at the passage from the fashion catwalk to the psychological TV series.

What is singular in them, is that their "look" stays the course, as we say a makeup or a lifting "holds on". It's the "perseverance in their appearance" which becomes the essence of these characters and it's maybe the liberty of the open TV series (and of a script that we lose sight of after so many de-multiplications) which allows to make us accept this.

I find two traditions behind these "looks". The tradition of Hitchcock and of a certain cloning specific to the B series (Tourneur). I've been thinking for some time that David Lynch seems to be a very serious heir to Hitchcock. The common points are obvious: same sexual obsession between bawdiness and phobia, same fluctuations between the unsavoury organic and the glaze of a smooth surface, same co-existence of dry logic and irrationality (which will remain so), same taste for the audience wherever it is (in front of the television), same talent of a visual artist generously releasing formal - or formalist - "ideas", same fashion designer's culture, same - sometimes zany - irony embedded in the form itself (it's the form that makes itself ironic - via a small excess, a minimal exhibition, just before it gets uneasy - and not the spectator that creates irony - from outside - with its cultural knowledge). The cop has the same acting rhythm as Gary Grant and I like a lot the way his caustic lines are lost to almost everyone. I like the French version of this (there's no particular desire to listen to it in English).

From B series, the film takes the Dana Andrews aspect of the same character (mineral, ultra-combed) and a certain cloning of the bodies. As if everything was seen through the star models of a unique catwalk, up to them to invent time, duration, acting that makes them last. This duration is subject to the blackmail of a suspense that mustn't be too diluted. But, for example, I like a lot the status of the flashbacks which come less to explain things than to play the role of footnotes or brackets in the middle of the text which, thanks to electronics, emerge and recede like attempts at Eisenstein or Vertov editing.

We enter Mannerism when we take (from inside) and we leave Mannerism when we animate (from outside). Mannerism is a game because it's very close to the pleasure of a child who plays at disemboweling his dolls or at dismantling his toys. Mannerism is therefore destined to a certain disappointment (no knowing how to put back together what has been broken). It's the moment when, from an aquarium - this cultural breeding ground and catalogue of existing effects - we pull out a few fishes and make them last a bit more, the time to watch them do a few movements outside their natural element. The proof is: what usually doesn't convince me in Lynch's films is precisely what I like in Twin Peaks. The spectacle of time is perhaps better "at home", where people waste their time in front of the TV.

These movements are very particular: convulsive, made as parody, self-generated and eventually deadly. Where the movement stops, it's enough to instill some from outside by treating them like inert toys, puppets, freeze-images (and that's perhaps what Pompier art is).

Two examples come to my mind. What I've written about Kurosawa's Ran: the energy stored in the bodies is made visible in their chaotic agony (the malefic-technical energy stored in the planet threatens this one). What I've written about Rumble Fish, a mannerist film, precisely with the two fishes taken out of their aquarium, the red and the blue.
L'exercice a été profitable, Monsieur, pp. 332-5, POL, 1993, my translation

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A trip to JLG's

9 March 1990 - A trip to JLG's. With S.T. in Rolle for the evening, in Nyons for the night (Beau Rivage hotel). Fifteen years ago, the two of us already (with A.C.) in Grenoble where JLG projected for us Ici et ailleurs on a wall (the emotion was so strong that I vomited on the way back). Today, the same ones, not that different. Only time brings us closer to the old monster from whom we no longer expect fine touches but rather almost a degree of affection. The ritual: Hervé D. (friendly, devoted and too close to the kitchen not to be critical) collects us by car in Geneva, then the hotel in Nyons, then rue du Nord in Rolle, then the the dark den and the engine room where JLG, alone, with tousled hair, puffing on a cigar, is alone with his images. Today the images of Nouvelle Vague which he is editing and of Rapport Darty which he has just finished. Chit-chat (he saw Pelechian's movies: very impressed), viewing, detour - unavoidable trip to the nearby restaurant where the unchanged menu promises fatty perch fillet, beer, expedited dinner, we leave each other in the Grand-rue: we can feel the solitude of the man, and in ricochet, ours, return to Nyons, Geneva and Paris.

The JLG-effect today. Before we even have a chance to breathe a sigh of relief, the image and its sensual and screaming luminosity, the undergrowth, the lake, the bodies of the "actors" who are there as the sound punctuation of the landscape and who talk, more and more, in original version between inverted commas. This time (according to Hervé D.) the "dialogue" is entirely made of quotes ("Life could be sad" is from Renan) but so close to each other that they generate anxiety. The third reel, the one we see, shows some human beings engaging in the rare "actions" that JLG finds interesting: exercising power, giving a phone call, talking to no-one in particular, letting oneself drown (literally) in front of each other, being living reproaches. Nature is superb and indifferent. Delon is one of the extras, no more no less. From now on, what remains of the acting of the actors consists in placing an intonation randomly in a sentence that is strangely naked or, contrarily, literary.
pp. 196-7, POL, 1993, my translation

Follows a fascinating text inspired by the restaurant discussion on the parade (cinema, a thing after another, always new) and the round dance (theatre, when things end up returning) comparing Godard with Fellini, Fassbinder and Woody Allen... too much and too difficult to translate now.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Points of view

More from L'exercice a été profitable, Monsieur:
12 December 1989 - Old principle of "our" cinephilia: the point of view. For me, the "point of view" is precisely what comes in the place of a body which is elided in the image, what can be seen from the blind spot. The point of view refers to what could be seen by a character who would always be in the camera's place. To stick with this point of view immediatly means confronting problems of mise en scène (since there are forbidden images, which would not be consistent with the unique point of view). The question of the "point of view" comes down to asking who is looking. Who is the additional character? For example, in Depardon's film, another guard, a guard "who would know".

The cinema of the unique point of view is disappearing (in both senses of the term) in its (mystical, pictural) relation to the "real". It abolishes itself. It never has much success since it confiscates for itself what's imaginary (and deprives the audience of it: Antonioni, Depardon). Obsessive.

The cinema of the double point of view is popular cinema by excellence, since it firmly camps between the shot and the "reaction shot" (read Warren's book), playing the "objet petit a" between two objects caught in a power struggle (see my old idea on Jaws: the shark and the child's legs). It's popular because it creates a vertiginous identifying between two poles: active/passive, chasing/chased, torturer/victim, etc. Hysteria.

This leaves the cinema with n points of views, in the end the greatest. It sometimes is "popular" but not necessarily. It has to juggle with paranoia, law, madness. I can't imagine a greater film than The Night of the Hunter in this category, the category of polyphony, of carnival (along maybe with Ivan the Terrible, 2001, some Ford's movies).

Tiebreaker: is the cinema of zero point of view possible? No. We would need to analyse television not with visual but with tactile metaphores ("point of touch", tactile padding) and proxemics.
pp. 196-7, POL, 1993, my translation

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Demy: Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

More from L'exercice a été profitable, Monsieur:
23 July 1988 - DEMY (tv). The end of Les demoiselles de Rochefort. Stupid, devastated, definitive emotion. An emtion all the stronger that everything that I've always thought - and written - about Demy is still true. A hard film-maker, not at all sentimental, morbid and joyful.

Only one 'idea'. Melancholy is not nostalgia. Demy's world (mine too I suppose) is instant melancholy. There is no lost world, no ideal gone by, no previous state that we regret. For the simple reason (perversion oblige) that we want to know nothing of this world 'from which we come' (alliance rather than kinship, etc.).

Melancholy is as instantaneous as a shadow. Things become melancholy immediately, thanks to music and the music of the dialogue. It's the good mood with which the characters fail at everything (apart perhaps from the essential) which is terrible and moving at the same time. One does not fail at things because he didn't see them but because he found too quickly a way to empty them from their content, to circle around them, to dance. Darrieux learns who the sadist is and says: "And he was the one putting on airs while cutting the cake!"

The essential was love but it has kept losing its colours. In this film, already, the beauty of the 'last minute' because every happy ending is pure voluntarism. But later (Peau d'âne, etc.), it creaks more and more. And voluntarism is precisely the topic of Une chambre en ville.

Deny's absolute strength is to relate everything back to a prefect point of view: that of the mother. The mother who has never grown up, who is frivolous, who has forgotten to stop being a little girl. The world gets ordered from this blind task.

Dances: Gene Kelly.
pp. 102-103, 33, POL, 1993, my translation

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Verdict

More from L'exercice a été profitable, Monsieur:
26 March 1988 - Yesterday, between evening and night, in front of the TV. I quickly abandon 8 1/2 even though I've never seen it but which exasperates me and find myself following until the end a movie that I objectively find badly made, badly told, bad everything: The Verdict by Sydney Lumet. Television schizophrenia: not only we watch what is not good (not well made), but we see it even better than at the cinema (editing for example), and yet we can prefer to see a badly made movie to a well made one. Or rather: the concepts of "well made" and "badly made" are not relevant on television. Either the movie has such a strength that it imposes itself, or we are in the relativity of a world of images, of a bath of imaginary, where everything is interesting. It depends on the mood of the moment. Yesterday, I preferred to watch Mason and especially Newman "compose" with age, with everything. Lumet is the archetypal filmmaker who films from the point of view of no one, hence an abstract effectiveness, so abstract that it is reduced to the nonsensical script. He speeds up where there's no reason for it. One beautiful moment. Newman has finally found the nurse who "knows" what happened. She takes care of children in Chelsea. She has the beautiful face of a union saint. She is in the playground, Newman who arrives from Boston is approaching clumsily. Close-up on the Boston-New York ticket which sticks out from his pocket. And there, a small cinema trick from the old Lumet, a little bit of true speed: reverse shot on Newman who is no longer showing off: "Will you help me?" She will help him, not because the script requires it, but because we have been put in her place (by the mise en scène) and her in ours and because the desire for her to help him has been inscribed into the movie. Old things but which exists, for goodness sake!

(...)

The example from Lumet's film, a few days ago ("Will you help me?") sums it up. It's unrefined but it is enough. The shot of Newman - of a Newman who asks for help and asks it twice: to the other character (off) and to me who - for a second - have been able to put myself in the film in the place of this character absent from the image. And he will get help twice: in the script and from me (at this moment, I accept to go along with the film, and therefore to make it work).
pp. 26-27, 33, POL, 1993, my translation

Saturday, May 09, 2009

20 years to learn to watch a film

I've just started re-reading L'exercice a été profitable, Monsieur - a book gathering the notes that Serge Daney kept as a diary. Here's a first snippet.
Straub's sentence: "it took me twenty years to learn to watch film." He said it with the irritation of a factory worker who insists on this difficult knowledge. What does it mean in the end? To see and to hear what is (visible and audible). To see for example - in the same glance - John Ford's shot, the actual shooting of this shot, the horse, the actor distinct from his role, the character distinct from the body, the human being distinct from its social function. To hear the music and know that a Jew from central Europe fleeing Nazism composed some sub-Schoenberg to make a living, to hear the direct sound, etc. It's obviously a limit but it's the only possible materialist approach.

This is a mad programme. It's also this intensification of the perception of the heterogeneous below the homogeneous which makes some criticism possible. The critic sees something "edited" (or manufactured) where the others see the homogeneous (the natural). Barthes again. The critic (let's remain Straubian) would be the one who could discuss the film with its authors if he was capable of this exra-perception. He would talk as a craftsman. But as an very knowledgeable craftsman, able to identify all the levels of a Mille-feuille. Straubian limit: culture precisely. They couldn't do [...] because there is a general history of cinema, an history that says that Ozu has copied from Capra.

pp. 23-24, POL, 1993, my translation

More to come...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Daney on tennis

Serge Daney did not just write about cinema. From 1980 to 1990, he wrote extensively about tennis for the newspaper Libération. Several of these articles have been collected in a posthumous book: L'amateur de tennis, POL, 1994.

Andy Rector at Kinoslang publishes the firs
t English translation of a text by Daney on tennis. The article was part of Daney's daily column on television "The zapper's wage" (le salaire du zappeur) written for Libération from September to December 1987.

The smash of rage
First published in Libération, 16 September 1987, reprinted in Le salaire du zappeur, POL, 1993.

To give an idea of the originality of Daney's writings on tennis (which is also revealing of the risks Libération took when it was a really innovative newspaper), I'm translating below the table of contents of L'amateur de tennis. Unfortunately a lot of puns gets lost in translation.

1980 - Roland-Garros
  • Connors saves two match points and ousts Caujolle
  • The birth of the tennis aficionados
  • The time factor
  • The peculiar sound of Borg's racket
  • Hana Mandlikofa easily eliminates Ivana Madruga
  • Gerulaitis unleashes himself against everybody
  • Women play seriously
  • Virtuosity paid
  • No pathos at Roland-Garros
1980 - Wimbledon
  • Borg-McEnroe or the beauties of pure reason
1981 - Wimbledon
  • McEnroe got almost madly angry against Frawley
  • Power change
1982 - Roland-Garros
  • Vilas' perpetual metamorphosis
  • Women's tennis: when one attacks, the other doesn't
  • The story of an acceleration that didn't come
  • Vilas is in the final, without losing a set
  • Tsetse final at Roland-Garros
1982 - David Cup
  • Noah-McEnroe: the aces of aces
  • Davis Cup: a tennis symphony in five movements
1983 - Davis Cup
  • USSR-France: great beach tennis against world-class
  • The immobile Soviet tennis
  • Davis cup: the French not as dull as the Russians
1983 - Roland-Garros
  • Entire afternoons on the central court
  • Roger-Vasselin, the smallest of the quarter finals
  • The Swedish syndrome
  • The French scripts
  • Vilas-Higueras: even the weather got depressed
  • The Wilander mystery
  • Wilander-Higueras: three hours without thrills
  • Noah-Wilander: 15h08 - 17h32
1983 - Wimbledon
  • And McEnroe found out the flaw
  • McEnroe has learnt to be bored
1983 - Davis cup
  • Davis cup: Noah goes through, Leconte doesn't
  • Davis cup: The French eat the grass
1982 - Roland-Garros
  • The privileged ones must sit down!
  • Where one can see the other tournaments in transparency
  • Bouncing emotions on red earth
  • On the eighth day, courts in-between raindrops
  • The image pit
  • Slices of today's matches
  • Lendl the executioner beats the elegant Gomez
  • Navratilova: grand slam in her sights
  • Lendl-Wilander: the hypnotizer trapped
1985 - Roland-Garros
  • High end Benhabiles
  • The two-head machine and the referee's madness
  • Refereeing: the year of all the troubles
  • 3 hours, 5 sets, 49 games: Leconte is good
  • A too quiet day under Swedish influence
  • Leconte, check Mats
  • Connors: no suspense for the last elected in the four aces
  • A real big moaner in the dinosaurs' pit
  • Jimmy Connors is less terrestrial than Lendl
1985 - Wimbledon
  • Wimbledon: the final gives birth to a little genius
1987 - Roland-Garros
  • When cracks get their fangs out, little crocodiles crack.
  • Mats Wilander, listen to indifference
  • Tyranny in three acts
  • Mecir, non-standard exchanges
  • Graf pins out Sabatini at the finish
  • Mecir trips over Lendl's soft shots
  • Ivan Lendl: bis
1988 - Roland-Garros
  • Yannick Noah gets the audience on his knee
  • Henri Leconte, intermittent tennis
  • Yannick Noah fighting on red clay
  • Andrei Chesnokof gobbles up Pat Cash
  • Wilander carves a break for himself
  • Half pint for Henri Leconte's thirst
  • Leconte in final, cracking? No.
  • An afternoon in red white and yuck!
1990 - Bercy
  • Sad day with second rank players
  • A killer on the road, two victims by the roadside

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Daney interview: A Movie Maven's Farewell

I've just found an interview with Serge Daney conducted a few months before his death in 1992 and translated in English in Art Press. Not a huge amount of new stuff and too much of the melancholia which characterised Daney's last year (when he started to close more doors than he was opening). I've put some interesting snippets below.

Serge Daney Cinephilia: A Movie Maven's Farewell
Interview by Jacques Henric and Dominique Païni, published in Art Press issue no. 182, December 1993 (out of print). Translated by J. O'Toole.
There's another reason for launching Trafic. The cinema makes us write and think. There will never be a television review, impossible. Scholarly reviews can take television as a "poor object of little interest," you'll never have a review that runs on television the way you would say of a car that runs on gasoline or diesel.

For a long time, particularly when I was working for
Libération, I thought you had to talk about the image in general. Those were the days of crosscurrent approaches and I didn't like the way film appreciation was wrapped up in itself. We talked about advertising, video - no privileges, we proclaimed, let's treat film on the same footing... Trafic breaks with that. We only talk about the art of motion pictures.

(...)

The avant-garde of the seventies? Garel, Duras, Straub and so on? They're modernists, yes, but not in the sense of avant-garde. The avant-garde is the twenties. And unlike Americans such as Mekas, who couldn't and wouldn't go to Hollywood, the Straubs had a cinema, and therefore a public space, to project their films in - even if the projection had an underground air about it and was tantamount to engaging in political activism. And they had a TV channel ready to fund and program their work. The underground is something else. Anyway, I don't think the cinema can go very far with solitude. With their well-oiled war machine, their sacred egoism, their fine vitality, too and the clear ideas they have concerning their work, the Straubs are probably the last to create a cinema for loners that can nevertheless be brought into regular theaters. They are squarely in cinema and I would have given up on them long ago with their garbled political ideas, had I not understood that they were the last great film-makers of the history of modern cinema, perhaps of the history of cinema, period. I harbor no illusions about the receptability of their work; they set out to teach people something and people will always hate them for that. People are partly right, moreover, to have kept that great bad memory of school. I'm a good pupil; I've always enjoyed learning.

The American underground and the now-dead French experimental cinema are not cinema for me. They belong to the sphere of the fine arts.

(...)


For me, image/writing is an unreconciliable pair that is very tolerable. Let's come back to
Trafic: what's not written will not be published. Lots of people would have interesting things to say about the cinema, but they have no link to writing. Publishing interviews, for example, is out of the question.

(...)

Will the cinema disappear one day? Is it economically viable? Wouldn't too much solitude really screw it up? I repeat, the image is not made to be seen by an individual alone. As long as you're dealing with the audio-visual recording of the world, you're in an emission of light, your suffering is infinite. When we move on to video art, television and computer-generated images, nobody suffers. The fact of being in light belongs to the past. There are maybe four crackpots out there ready to sit through the Straubs' films, but that's important because all four come from the same light. What I'm saying there is a bit religious but that's my conviction. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, cinema and photography have represented the persistence of one question, why me? Why aren't I also in the bright light? Light implies making the body openly available. That can go very badly if the market suddenly answers no. As soon as you're working with light (is the fact that light sculpts a correlative?) you say, Why not me? To work with light and not be in that light explains maybe why all film-makers want to go to Cannes. Every single one. Straub, Boris Lehman, Godard... I'm beginning to be less of a blockhead than before: I used to believe that there was a certain number of film-makers who would say, "No, no, not me - just a little, me.

Those who get along the best are the director-actors. It's better to be Dubroux, Moretti, or Monteiro and to lay your body as it is on the line, at the risk of that being a flop, obscene. That's the question raised by Rivette's latest film: there's a man who is extraordinarily photogenic, has a beautiful face, admirable gestures, yet he doesn't dare put himself at the very center of his own world, as Godard has done a little. Rivette is in a blind alley because he is a pure director. He continues to film a world where light is essential, and he films it very well, but he continues to uphold (heroic stance) the idea that he won't figure there, that he'll remain in the position of a man in the shadows.

In the New Wave there was great resentment with respect to the actor. There's a question as well: at what point does an author wish the death of his actor? Of course Truffaut created Léaud, but when he shot
La chambre verte, his best picture, it didn't occur to him to give Léaud the part. He played it himself and he played it sublimely.

I am convinced that the moment light disappears, the moment it is no longer a pertinent tool of creation, the moment it comes from somewhere other than the sun (as when you rework the computer-generated image), we lose a part of our humanity. All kinds of hokum are then possible.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Daney: Genealogy of the Nouvelle Vague

Serge Daney on comparing the time of the Nouvelle Vague with now:

"In the present context we can see how much cinema has changed and shrunk: today it's misplaced to speak of a generation, a group, a school or even a pack. A young filmmaker now, from fear of being unnoticed, quickly becomes a fighting machine geared only to self-defence and self-celebration."

Daney wrote this in 1992. Has this changed today, especially with all the film writing happening on the Internet? Can a Nouvelle Vague-type moment happen again?

A Genealogical Approach
Originally published in French in Jean-Louis Passek (ed.), D’un cinéma l’autre (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1998), translated by Jim Cook.

Many thanks to staff at the Film Studies Department at King's College London who have translated this text for their academic use and kindly accepted to put it online.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Daney interviews Rohmer

This review at DVD times indicates that one of the features of The Green Ray DVD (much cheaper on Amazon) is an interview between Serge Daney and Eric Rohmer subtitled in English.

From 1985 to 1990, Daney hosted a weekly broadcast called Microfilms on French radio station France-Culture. He interviewed Rohmer in September 1986. The French recording is available from the French Audio Visual Archives.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Last Thoughts; birth of a journal (now online)

Thanks to the generosity of Vertigo Magazine, this text is now available online.

Last Thoughts; birth of a journal
Translated by Tom Milne, Vertigo Magazine, Vol. 1 No.1 Spring 1993. Originally published in French in Trafic, no. 1, Winter 1991.

After leaving Libération and "television criticism" in 1991, Serge Daney's ultimate "positive act" (in his words) was the creation of the film review Trafic, which continues to publish today. This is the translation (of extracts of?) the text Daney wrote in the first issue.

I remember reading it with all the excitement of discovering a major new film publication. The issue contains texts from Godard, Monteiro, Robert Kramer, and others. Now, I find the text a bit too symptomatic of Daney's last writings. There's a lot of melancholy. But he still manages to explore further one of the concepts he was keen on: resistance.

Anyway, enjoy! And thanks again to Vertigo.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Critical Function

With all the debates on film criticism in 2008, I thought it was interesting to release this article by Serge Daney on problems film criticism thought it had back in 1974!

This text needs a word of warning though. It was written at a particular moment in the history of Cahiers du cinéma, at the end of an intense political period which led the magazine to an impasse and just before Serge Daney and Serge Toubiana took charge of the magazine and organised a 'return to the cinema'.

As Antoine de Baecque describes in his history of Cahiers:

"With the magazine facing the void, only Serge Daney is left. He accepts to take charge of Cahiers, publishing almost immediately, in the issue 248 which strangely is not dated (a sign of the malaise, the no man's land where the magazine is), a text rehabilitating the 'critical function.' All films are of course the ideological expression of the dominant culture, writes Daney, but to say only this is no longer enough. One must also describe how this bourgeois culture imposes its domination via films and how another (popular) culture could divert it, or extract itself from it. It is in the elucidation of this 'how' and its enunciation that lies the critic's work."

So, let's not forget to put into context the 27 occurrences of the word "bourgeois", the quotes from Mao and Engels and the dreary Marxist vocabulary. Daney was happy to see the back of that period when he moved from Cahiers to Libération and he didn’t include this text in his first book (La Rampe) gathering his articles from 1970 to 1982.

I find the third part, called 'Anti-retro (continued)', the most interesting. Daney's comments on the place of spectator in The Night Porter shaped his later thinking (up until The tracking shot in Kapo). And his analysis of who has the most knowledge (the spectator, the character, etc.) is at the centre of his views on advertising. Beside, who else could find Hitchcock's North by Northwest a fine metaphor in a Marxist text!

Translated by Annwyl Williams in Cahiers Du Cinéma: Volume Four, 1973-1978 : History, Ideology, Cultural Struggle : an Anthology from Cahiers Du Cinéma, Nos 248-292, September 1973-September 1978, By Jim Hillier, David Wilson, Nick Browne, Bérénice Reynaud, published by Routledge, 2000, 323 pages. Originally published as ‘Fonction critique’ in three parts in Cahiers du cinéma issue 248, September 1973-January 1974, issue 250, May 1974 and issue 253, October-November 1974

And let’s simply hope that none of the film criticism written today will age as badly as this one!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Minnelli: Two new translations (now online)


* * * Updated post with links to the texts via Google Book Search * * *


Surprise New Year present!

Joe McElhaney just announced via the comments on the last blog entry that his upcoming book Vincente Minnelli: The Art of Entertainment will contain new translations (by Bill Krohn) of two Daney articles:

The Pirate isn't just decor
Originally published as 'Pirate n'est pas que décor' in Libération on 15 October 1988 and republished in Devant la recrudescence des vols de sacs à main, Aleas, 1991.

Minnelli caught in his web
Originally published as Minnelli pris dans sa toile' in Libération on 21 October 1988 and republished in Devant la recrudescence des vols de sacs à main, Aleas, 1991.

With several others translations coming soon, 2009 is starting well!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ici et ailleurs

Andy Rector at Kinoslang just posted a series of texts and pictures around a 1977 New York film festival that Daney helped organise. It includes the translation of an unpublished piece by Daney on Godard's Ici et ailleurs. The text was unearthed from Bill Krohn's personal archives.


A big thank you to Andy for the idea and initiative and to Bill for helping with the translation.