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.

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