It covers broadly the time when Daney started edited Cahiers du cinéma (1974) before moving on to the daily newspaper Libération (1981). It also has good pieces on the power of the image, French cinema, new images (already talking about CGI and 3D in 1992!), Kapo and morals, the visual... in short, it's perhaps the best episode of the three. Shall I say it's essential viewing for many cinephiles?
See my earlier post for some background on the full interview
And here is the full translated transcript;
From Cahiers to LibéTranslation and transcript by "nletore & newland @ KG" with only minor edits by me.
Regis Debray: You become editor of the Cahiers in 74, at a time of particularly acute theoretical and political delirium. Roughly speaking, Maoism, theoreticism, all those -isms that have become, maybe not history, but let's say of the past. How do you land again when you're on such a UFO?
Serge Daney: Landing is slow and painful, as slow and painful, let's say, as taking off had been care free and light. Having said that, I lived through 68 somewhat differently from the Cahiers people. To make it short, it played like reality truly hitting me in the face. So after the events, which I lived through on a very literal plane, very... It's a good memory for me, May-June, a wonderful memory, but slightly solitary... After, I left for India, inaugurating the great third world travels where I had, one after the other, the shock of illness - I came back with tuberculosis, badly hit - and the shock of the third world, which I had never seen in my life. And there, I did have the feeling of being more worldly wise, but very late, really very late. Well there was the sanitorium, all of that, I got better. I travelled again, I spent almost a year in Africa, on the road. I was really disconnected, without any plan. It was really like Rimbaud: I went to Harare. I did it all. I didn't take any pictures, but I sent postcards.
Something I should have said, by the way, at the beginning: for me, the absolute image is the postcard, it's not cinema. I have a love of postcards that has never slackened. I've sent tons to everybody throughout my whole life. The postcard is my true relationship to the image, there, it's the postcard. For deeper reasons, more deeply buried, than cinema: which is to say that I already found that cinema was very basic, very popular. Postcards are even lower. They're on their stalls and everyone sends them and writes on the back. And you can write postcards in very coded language, you can write poems, you can write love stuff. All you need to do is write it in a way that even those who read it won't understand it. So it was the maximum possible elitism, possible singularity, and the maximum "let's do with the normal material people use. We're not using great culture." There, that's a digression on postcards.
I came back - somewhat calmed down - from the far-away countries around 1970-1971. And maybe that's when I realize that I have only one family anyway, that it was that of the Cahiers, whatever happens. Even if I had abandoned it, forgotten it and that I'd thought of something else for all these years. I came back a bit... I thought, slightly sobered up, by my travels, but in fact still as naive and still as suicidal with regards to society. We lived, after all, with the idea that everything was going to blow up, in those years. That's been forgotten.
The Cahiers seemed heading - after a period of flirting with Tel Quel and the Communist Party - for an even more radical way, which was called Maoism, roughly speaking, pro-Chinese. One day, Jean Narboni, who was a very important character - I haven't talked of the Cahiers people one by one, but God knows if there are stories... But one can't do everything. Narboni, who was by far the most important person in the Cahiers, who had the most emotional and intellectual impact, who was a bit older than us etc. One day Narboni told me "come on, let's have a drink". I would have cried for joy, because Narboni never spoke to me: that's sects, groups for you. And he told me, "I do think it's wrong, the Communist Party, it's a sidetrack, all of that; we have to be more resolute." Roughly speaking, he was the admiration of Sollers and Tel Quel, so the Cahiers had an evolution absolutely parallel to that of Tel Quel at the time. So we pretty quickly found ourselves Marxist-Leninist.
And I said yes, in a way about which I think a lot at the moment, because I've become rather a man of goodwill and a sincere humanist with age, but at the time all those discourses bored us to tears, it wasn't worth much. So I tell myself that we must have been quite desperate, individually, to opt for something as obviously screwed up. And on top of that, I don't give a damn about better tomorrows, I never believed, out of a total incapacity to imagine anything other than what is going on. But I like this situation where we found ourselves hated by everybody and feared by everybody. Because people were scared, at the time, you mustn't forget that people... Well not everyone, but in the intelligentsia people had been shaken by 1968. And I told myself, why not go on with the Cahiers, of course with something absolutely... already condemned by history, already ridiculous to many people, very dislikeable, for sure, seen from the outside, but which after all fitted quite well with the "we don't do anything like anybody else!" side. So it didn't last very long, it lasted two years. The delirium, obviously. We went pretty far with the auto-maceration, since the idea was "we won't be filmmakers", which was fine with us, because none of us was a born film-maker. So we'd found a justification: we won't be film-makers because there are much more important things to do which are to create a great Chinese-style cultural front, with a mass line etc. As soon as reality entered the picture, it fell apart. I'll only note, without knowing whether it's in our honor or whether on the contrary it's a sign of absolute collective baseness, that we plunged politically collectively. Which enabled us not to belong to any group since we became our own group. And to go on washing a lot of our dirty laundry in private, all of our heritage etc. We did it with a lot of naivety, we did go pretty far, up to where afterwards it's pathology, but we stopped in time.
We didn't do anything base in relation to cinema. Which is to say we never said anything good about, I don't know, an Elio Petri film, or a "left-wing-Italian-committed" film, as all the leftists liked them. We always said good stuff about Straub and Godard and everyone told us off, because those films were considered indigestible by everyone - and they were indeed quite difficult films. Absolute fidelity to our tastes in cinema, our Cahiers tastes, even if reduced to a very Jansenist base: Straub, Godard.
Godard, at the time, was also very naive, very Mao. He was more active than us, he did lots of stuff and we followed him a bit. As for Straub, he was a very important film-maker to us and still very important to me - even if, well, we're all twenty years older. We went on, on a little minuscule line that should have broken down a hundred times, and that didn't break, which just goes to show it was solid after all. Anyway, when we tried to form a great cultural front in Avignon, it was absolutely disastrous. We realized that we weren't capable of animating three ants, and that anyway, we were going to form an alliance with people we didn't like much, who were the cultural animators, who needed dogma, and we were the little Parisians who provided the dogma. Always the same thing.
And it broke. It broke, which is to say that the people who had backed this kind of passage to a more than chic radicalism, first of all chic, then lumpen chic. We had arrived at a state of complete hatred, we were cut off from the whole world - and it was very unpleasant. We found ourselves back at square one. And the people who had backed that - Comolli and Narboni - who had followed that movement... They split, they made their films, they left.
And there was, for me, an unforgettable meeting at the Cahiers du Cinéma - there were about ten of us to have lived through that from A to Z, not many, we were always together - we said, does someone have a bit of time to do the editing on a part-time basis, because everyone's leaving. And I said, me, there was only me, there was only me who had nothing to do with my life. I said yes, I'll do that. It was paid 700 French francs a month, at the time, 1974, which even at the time was very little. And there you go, I started doing the Cahiers like a sleepwalker: I didn't know how to format a page, I didn't know anything, I didn't know how to make a text. In the Maoism of the time, we'd got hold of one or two young people who were very politicized students, who didn't know much about cinema, but who were sharp and intelligent. There was one called Serge Toubiana. He learned to read, to write, he learned to watch films: he learned everything at the Cahiers. He unlearned, without great difficulty, his political culture which was useless, because he'd understood that all of that was ending and he was the only one with whom I could talk.
RD: What was the film critic most like: a poet, a psychologist, a psychoanalyst, a philosopher?
SD: No, in my opinion... It's sad to say, because these are harsh words, but a film critic is a failed priest. It's a guy who is in between; a film critic is someone who is between an experience which he absolutely doesn't want to give up and a certain idea that it's his duty. So that it goes through him and it reaches people: there, so it's the problem of any mediator. When I said priest, it's because in our culture, it was that image for a very long time… - but you could say he's a psychoanalyst, a para-psychoanalyst, a para...
For example, Godard had attacked me one day, nicely, in public, by telling me that I was like a lawyer. It was the moment when I wrote a lot, I was starting to perorate about cinema, I was getting a bit too comfortable. And I took it badly, because, well, I was touchy, but I thought about it again afterwards, and I think he's absolutely right. And it's true that even today I take it in my stride, I say, it's true that I've had the feeling, for a little while, that when people come and ask me questions - like today - it's maybe not me who interests them, or else they would have been interested earlier, so it means that it's what I represent, it's a certain fidelity to a fixed idea: it's that cinema, roughly speaking, is good. So you start by saying it's good and you end up saying it's on the side of Good.
Which is where I'm at today, I tell myself "there is something in cinema that is worth something, that has a moral worth, that has an ethical worth," which is why the world without cinema worries me. Because I don't see at all what could play a comparable role, because public space was anonymously, simply, occupied by films and people who watched them like that, slightly on the sly, on top as well as at the bottom of society, and that I loved that anonymity, and that it made of me, despite my fears, in the end an acceptable citizen of my... of France.
So I say yes, I'm the advocate of cinema, I never stop telling what a wonderful thing it was. So my problem, my own specific problem, is that of course, it's the Minerva’s owl aspect, which is to say that I'm incapable of telling you what tomorrow will be like and I dread the worst, and I can tell you, maybe by embellishing a lot, how extraordinary it was yesterday. And that, I wonder - whereas it must partly be due to me, there are people with a melancholic character - it was always better before. Not nostalgic, I have no nostalgia, but melancholy, which isn't the same. Secondly, isn't this melancholy inherent to cinema? It's a question I ask myself all the time.
For example, people who like theatre. I think that if theatre was stronger today, if it had the strength that everyone would like it to have, the strength it had at certain moments in history, in the XVIIth century, or the Greeks, or England, that's the true public space. When people go to the theatre they go to purge themselves, to purge passions, to play out very violent antagonisms, gods against men, classes against classes, and I've never lived that. A bit, the National Popular Theatre, when I was small. I've never lived it, but somehow I miss it, I tell myself, that's public space, absolutely occupied by people whose function is to give themselves, to belong to others, the actors, but the public has its own role. That, in my opinion, has trouble existing in theatre, because it's going through the same, the same attacks, let's say, as all the traditional arts, by... Media kill, media kill. Well, they don't kill, they devitalize, like teeth. There, it's a devitalization of everything, but the corpse is a good likeness. There's the light comedy theatre, and even, even filmed operas with people on playback on TV. There are even lots of films on TV. But it's devitalized, which is to say it's not on the grounds of passion. And collective. I may be very individuatlistic, it was always the collective that I hoped for from cinema. Today, I'm the advocate of that. And at the same time I tell myself that it's not reasonable, there is, in cinema, something that's always already lost.
The image that has affected humanity the most deeply, it's the train in Ciotat station. Since then, they all affect us a little less deeply. Every day, every day, every day, it's an hourglass, cinema images lose their capacity for wonder, their capacity to dazzle us. People have thought that way for a long time: they've actually thought that way since the New Wave arrived, because the New Wave arrived with that consciousness. And I would even say that the father of them all, Rossellini, had it before everyone else. And even Renoir had it. Which means that in fact, it's very old, this consciousness, that perception was going to... That you were going to have to work a lot, sweat a lot, invent a lot, to create simple effects to wonder at, magic lantern effects, as strong as what cinema must have produced, and very quickly, in the whole world and in the space of a few years, with those first... Baby's meal, the passion of Christ, the Czar's coronation... because cinema started with that. And straight away! It's extraordinary. It started straight away. It didn't wait, Lumière sent people everywhere: that's an extraordinary reflex. Anyway, so that's being lost. So at one point, we said - and it was Bazin's naivety, it was his strong idea and his naive idea at the same time, Bazin said: "Long live Cinemascope, long live color films, long live 3-D films!" Because he thought that each time that man will again face the problem of realism that is inherent to Western art, even to art full stop, he will face this problem again, and he will redefine it within parameters that will change: "don't be old school!" So we were very Bazinian: we were for Cinemascope, which was after all a ridiculous format that didn't hold up to history and which now causes enormous problems. We said, it's more reality, obviously the quality is less good, since we're going to have to learn how to make the great films of Cinemascope. And one day we'll be able to make the great films, the great artistic problematics of Panavision, which is much more beautiful, and why not of 3-D cinema, and why not... And you end up with the Géode, and you end up with Trumbull's sixty-images-per-second things which are extraordinary when you see them, but it costs insane amounts of money and nobody commercializes them. It's been about thirty, forty years now that the lazy discourse on cinema consists of saying - it's true that cinema will have trouble finding its charm again.
In my opinion, the last film that had the effect of child-like wonder - and that's why I place its author higher and higher in my personal hierarchy - it's Kubrick, it's 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 must be - 1968, and Playtime, 1967, but Playtime wasn't a success. 2001 was a success. 2001 is the last encounter between art - and serious art: I mean, who can say they've understood 2001? I didn't understand the ending. The kids loved it. Loved it. The guy saw more or less what was going to happen in ten years time, what a space shuttle was going to look like. Not fifty years, ten years. Realist: he saw, he extrapolated from three or four things. Gutsy: creation of the world, the monkeys. And... the film critics, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, when they saw that, aged ten, they said: "I'll redo that one day", and they redid it. It seems to me that since then, I'm thinking but I can't find anything as spontaneously ravishing, whatever the aesthetic tastes. No need to draw you a map: "Good God, we're going to live that." Kubrick had that feeling, we're going to live that. That's for sure. And he's right, we're living that. It's almost already behind us, the computers, the first computer to talk and die in cinema, it's Kubrick, there's never been a better one after. In fact, things are born very strong and then subside. I didn't think that before but now I think it. So it's always at the beginning that you have to see something. So I've participated, half-heartedly, because I didn't believe in it too much, but without asking myself the question too much, for the last thirty years, in that question: admittedly, the cinema we so loved won't be the spontaneous wonderment it has been, but so what, since anyway, technically, this story will continue, and it will continue in an extraordinary fashion. It will continue... You shouldn't be on the side of the old farts who say "No no, I only love my black and white" etc. No, we said, "On with!", like Bazin, "On with!". And that's where there is a great difference with the Qualité Française and with people like René Clair and Co, who thought that cinema would never be as good as in the silent era, which by the way is defensible, from their point of view, but prompted them to make completely worthless films. You should believe in the future of your tool, when you're an artist: you shouldn't believe that tomorrow it's condemned because the market doesn't want it anymore, or else it's not an artistic tool, it's something else, and we were daydreaming and that's a bit hard!
RD: You made your name with pertinent attacks, or amusing, in any case, the target was the Qualité Française. Let us say, the chow, the national grub. To give names, Delannoy, Tavernier, Berri etc.
SD: Oh yes!
RD: So I'd like to know, why this grudge against this kind of cinema.
SD: It's not a kind of cinema, it's a part of the portrait of France which I don't accept. It's the academic part, artistically you can say it's academic, it's the least inventive part of cinema. But above all it's of obviously... There is a grudge, effectively, which is to say there might be a certain excess, but I think that considering how often we've broached the subject by association, you understand a bit better. I haven't digested stuff that I found at my birth, in France, and still today, no. So I think that the French "quality" cinema is absolutely contemporaneous with a certain period that lasted from 1940 to late in the 1950s: which was a stifling period, absolutely stifling, which was the period of after the Collaboration. So I'm not at all saying that the film-makers I don't like collaborated, and I'm not vindictive. It's very annoying, in fact Autant-Lara himself used to say - Autant-Lara used to complain, and God knows that he complained a lot, that the golden age of French cinema was 1940-1945. And it was true for him, it was very good, he made all the films, many films, some of them very good. It's true that it was a time when they gave Carné enormous resources to make the only, well one of the only very big, very ambitious films that took a long time to shoot, which was Les Enfants du Paradis. So all these films have something in common, they're studio films. France is occupied and the studio, the studio represents for me the Occupation in the field of cinema. The Occupation, of course... I mean the studio creates a certain aesthetic which is only interesting, in my opinion, if you're in the question of true and fake. Which means that there's nothing as beautiful as a film that's obstinately fake, in studio settings and that mimes what isn't part of the setting. There's something very poignant that takes place, in certain Orson Welles films, or Josef von Sternberg, or Jean Grémillon, for example, to pick a film-maker I admire a lot, and which I absolutely wouldn't place in the "Qualité Française". Very great film-maker, and in my opinion, there you go. It's because I love Grémillon so much - not for that long, he's a film-maker I discovered late - that I have the feeling that a guy like him was somewhat the victim and the loser in the game where all the others unashamedly won. And Grémillon, because he was very vulnerable, as a man, is a much greater film-maker. There, it's interesting to see through him all the contradictions of the time, including the political contradictions. Le Ciel est à vous is a very extraordinary film, that is still very, very surprising today. So it's not at all me saying "Long live the sublime resistance", which by the way didn't film anything, and "Down with the skivers!" It's that, sorry, but Vichy cinema looks like Vichy France. And France has had greater periods in its history. It seems so obvious to me that I'm even a bit ashamed of having to say it, but because it's coming back very strongly.
On things which are closer to the Cahiers aesthetics, all of that, it's something I've already said, it's that all these film-makers are in wrapping effects, in pre-television-drama effects, which means they're always talking about stories which are already inscribed in culture, in literature. The problem is how to make the nth Pot-Bouille, the nth Germinal, the nth... All of XIXth century literature was run through it, as if there was a notsalgia for this very strong period, and very terrifying, this very harsh period, whereas this cinema was made in a much more spineless period and which continually gave itself images of Balzac, a lot of Zola. It's a cinema that's already in the digestion of its loss of illusions. The theme of the loss of illusions is more or less the one running through all these people: Autant-Lara, Allégret, Delannoy and Clouzot. And it's not the loss of illusions which is a problem.
Flaubert has a terrible quote in his letters where he says, "Poor people are those who say they've lost their illusions", as if to say, "As if it were interesting!"
What's interesting, it's that precisely, from then on, there are people who go on believing in things without any illusions, and it's... there's a difference between beliefs and illusions. So that's more a cinema of a great decorators, great costume-makers, with some rather beautiful things in fact. I have no taste for that. I have no taste for French cinema of the forties. I'm like Godard, I copy him, I say like he does: when I hear, in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, Elina Labourdette, say at the end of the film, she's about to die, and Paul Bernard tells her "Stay", and she says "I stay", and she says "I fight". Godard, who always interprets everything his own way, says "yes, it's the only word of resistance that was heard during the war in all of French cinema, the way in which Elina Labourdette says I fight." She says it in an expressionless voice, no one talks about Bressonian neutral voices yet. And it moves me deeply, because of course I feel that at that moment Bresson is inventing a cinema, and Bresson is neither a resistance fighter, nor a left-wing man. It's not at all in ideological terms. He's inventing with Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, which is one of the most extraordinary French films ever made, something for me which ridicules for ever all of Autant-Lara. Well, because it's not the same scale, it's not the same scale. There's something, there's the sound of a voice that you hear. And so it turns out that it's not that one, because Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne I saw it later, great... great official critic.
But it's Pickpocket, for me, when I was fifteen. It was Pickpocket, it's 58 - it came out in 59, it's not that far, I've never gotten over Pickpocket. There, but I think there's no need to draw you a map, you won't find anyone to tell you "I really hesitate between Le Mariage de Chiffon and Pickpocket", no, it's people of a different kind. I'm not saying this to say that I would have been virtuous and resisted etc, I don't know at all. But I am surprised that French cinema continues to crow about an absolutely minor, decorative, and rather spineless period, in terms of ideology, of its history.
So there are people who have a lot of talent, like Autant-Lara, like Clouzot, like Clément, and in my opinion, something rather sad happened to them, but they were also foolish enough to not understand what happened to them, which is that the New Wave arrived, they thought it was a revolt by underlings, as in Zéro de Conduite. They forgot that they were squatting French cinema, that they had prevented, by excessive unionisation, and an ideologically very developed professionalisation, they had also somewhat prevented French cinema from renewing itself. So for ten years, you have people rebelling on the side bench, called Franju, Melville, Leenhardt, Rouch, and who were never within the normal circuits. Astruc! Those people are considerable people. All of them had careers that were somewhat aborted. And then there was a little group that had more energy than the others, and the times suddenly pushed behind them.
It's true that I'm not reconciled with those people, because when the situation got beyond their control they were incapable of adapting to smaller budgets, to start again. Some of them were still very creative, a guy like Clément, he's making Plein Soleil. Plein Soleil was an old film, but it's a wonderful film. It's a film which still today, because Delon... Well, let's say that Clément saw Delon, as Vadim, who isn't a great film-maker, saw Bardot. It's the problem of vision, it's the problem of the visual. There, that's how I'll answer you, with the visual.
What happened, at one point, in 1955-1960? You have film-makers, who aren't necessarily great film-makers, who see something happening before their eyes. For example, Roger Vadim, very bad film-maker, as time confirmed - but at the beginning, why not, Sait-on jamais wasn't that bad - he sees Brigitte Bardot. Bardot is the most important thing to happen in French cinema in 1954-55. Lots of people miss that, starting with me - I was ten, but I could have been a bit sharper! It doesn't interest me, I found her stupid. And still today, I again have no sympathy for Bardot, for what she's become, so there we're really in a sort of tail-end of history. But Vadim sees Bardot and he films her - badly, but it's genius. He falls in love with her, obviously, but he has the intelligence not to make an artist's film but a teensy little film that doesn't go down in any history. Where, nevertheless, it's something wonderful, Et Dieu créa la femme is a wonderful film, where you have Curd Jürgens, experienced actor, Trintignant, rising young lead. Vadim, on top of it all, also recorded their astonishment at acting with this young girl who breaks all the known acting modules and who visibly invents a dialogue of her own, which is profoundly stupid, but unforgettable. "What a dumb rabbit": no man from the qualité française could write anything like that, and there you go, that's it. And at that moment, she's obviously the one who's right since the whole of France is going to look like Bardot. So she's brilliant, at that moment. I didn't see it then, but she's brilliant.
I mean, three years later, old Carné - not that old - still a great, very much idolized film-maker, announces that he will make a film about youth: I don't know if you remember, Les Tricheurs. Which is a film everyone's forgotten now. It was a gigantic event, everyone talked only about that. It was 58, it came out in 1958, so made in 1957, so two years before the New Wave, so really just-just. People said "It's terrible, Carné shows us a horribly cynical world, young people aren't human anymore, they're monstrous, they sleep together, they play truth or dare, are they really our children?" And others would answer: "But you're silly, don't you realize, it's full of humanity, they need love, who must talk to them." There's a pre-Ménie Grégoire style debate, atrocious, in the very, very backward France of the late 1950s, which is ridiculous today when you see the film which is completely insignificant. Insignificant! It's a film which is completely uninteresting, apart from the fact that it was talked about a lot then. And when I say, Carné saw nothing, it's not to say that his conception of youth is dated, because after all, why not, old people aren't always wrong. But he had auditions, he saw Belmondo, he hesitated, he didn't take him, he took Charrier. There! I mean, a year later Godard or Truffaut, which one of the two, sees Belmondo. There, like Bardot!
So I would answer through actors. You have to see, film-maker is a job where it's better to see than to not see, and among the other things, it's something of a riddle, there are the actors. I don't know what people who went on watching Gabriel d'Orza and Saturnin Fabre could see of France. So yes, Guitry is wonderful, he didn't compromise. But the others, no. Guitry only wanted to see himself so he didn't go wrong, he said what the deal was. And sometimes Michel Simon. So there, it's through realism. I think there's a line beyond which cinema doesn't go, beyond realism. I didn't always think so in such a definite way, but as far as I'm concerned that's what it is. And I'm quite doubtful as to whether there are other possibilities.
RD: New images, it's something of the same story, it's a tool without a creator, without a producer.
SD: Yes. New images are the best example, because for all the time that people have been talking about them, it's enough, we don't see a thing, when we do it's not interesting because what's wonderful with new images, is that, is that there are people who have a technique to make a nail out of... To represent a nail from software. From their point of view, it might be sublime, I can't imagine. I mean I know how to film nails with a 16 mm camera. So there's a moment when we say listen, all of this is very nice but when does it become really interesting for others, and really staggering? It has to be really staggering, in terms of the image, for all your inventions to be useful, or at least artistically. And as, in general, they're technicians, they have scientists' imaginations, i.e. quite trivial, or very playful, med students, not very far-reaching. And I don't know how it'll end up, and it's something that no-one can anticipate, about new images, etc. There will of course be stupefying uses, I think they will enter domestic life directly, and there won't be any mediation of Art...
And there's something very simple with cinema, that cinema represents, let's say, in the history of... It's that cinema is maybe one of the moments - so here I'm going for it - when human beings are in the position of being a spectator, the one who comes afterwards and watches. And who's faced with the finished fact, that's very important. He’s not interacting. Maybe he is on another level socially, but he's the one in front of whom something is presented, he's the one to whom something is shown. It's very important, because the act of showing is certainly the essence of cinema - and not of images. Images are maybe the essence of media and television. But the act of showing, as an act, in the sense that if it's an act a morality becomes possible - if there's no act there's no morality possible. Well maybe cinema is a very important moment, that we were quite right to love - and maybe wrong to under-estimate, let's say philosophically. Let's say there are moments, in the history of civilisations, where there was a good ecology of questions and answers, where people made good serves and there were good returns. Maybe I was good at returning, with regards to cinema, but I never served, I didn't make any films. So I was taken up in this story and I'm happy to have been taken up in this story. It's this story which I'm afraid will disappear. History, to serve, that's a beautiful word, in tennis, it's to help out. People ask what public service is, think of tennis, see what a service is: it's someone who’s here to help you, it's simple. Don't look for anything complicated, don't ask Pascal Joseph, he doesn't know. Don't ask Cotta, she doesn't know. Ask the dictionary, do what Godard does. Serving means there is some one who'll receive, who'll return. If I was able to return with words, that's good. But there are people who could return with their lives, cinema enabled some to return with their lives, with theirs, with their stars, with those they wanted to look like, with their dreams, we're not going to judge that, that's people's lives. Maybe that didn't always exist - maybe in the 19th century, it existed in the 19th century, in theatre, in farce, I don't know, I don't know the history of 19th century popular culture very well. It's for certain that cinema is the absolute follow-up to it. It lasted fifty years. From 1900 to 1950, cinema kept our childhood interests alive, but not only biological children, children in relation to a civilization. I.e. we want to be flattered about our face, our existence, our identifications etc; and the other arts didn't do that anymore, they'd become something else, cinema went on like that until the Second World War. It woke up in 1945, with the hangover from Roma, città aperta, and very quickly Nuit et Brouillard. It didn't prevent people from trying to make literary adaptations of Radiguet, with contrasted shadows for the good bourgeois people of France, but it was over, the worm was in the fruit, the virus was there. And from then on, cinema lived its adult years: forty years.
Now it's senile. Or it's infantile. In America it's infantile, here it's senile. We have Berri, for the elderly, they have Terminator, for children. There's no adulthood in cinema: it's past, so of course I'm in trouble. But it did happen that cinema was, if I show you something, you tell me something. You tell me something: it's good, it's no good. It's maybe this fundamental thing that is being blown away. They show people - you think they show on television? On TV you programme stuff. It's not showing, so people don't see it. If you tell me, this is a lighter, I show it to you, I'll say I don't like, I don't like the orange, but it reminds me of a lighter I had, actually it might be mine, that was taken from me... And we make a story, from an action. It's not visual, it's the actions, it's the action that counts. Afterwards there’s visual, but there are thirty-six ways of visualizing this lighter, including that strange way we call cinema, which consists of placing a camera, setting the lights and making sure that this lighter is the one that will be filmed. And the day when it's a computer-animated image, how do you show a computer-animated image? We will face the question. If we don't face it the computer-animated image won't participate in art. After all, maybe art will pass somewhere else, or art will pass nowhere, or it will disappear. But I mean the act of showing, in cinema, was where cinema and theatre, in the end, were never really differentiated. Where cinema and photography, because what's powerful in great photos is that the act of showing is more important than what's shown - there's still someone saying: watch that, I saw that. And it's in this sense that cinema is impure, because the act of showing is impure. Showing is impure. Because by showing, you're sticking your neck out. You can show something and have people laugh at you. On TV you never get laughed at because they never show anything. They throw out stuff that ends up directly in the bin. Or they show people who get ousted after ten years because you're sick of seeing them. It's ridiculous: there's no possible morality, there's no possible morality of images with TV, so no possible criticism of TV. That's how I found it. On the other hand, criticism of cinema has been possible. But it was possible because cinema was possible, because cinema was the art of inventing transitional objects and inventing distances.
So when I watch the way Fritz Lang organizes, around Glenn Ford, in The Big Heat, an interlocking of spaces that is incredibly sophisticated for a film noir that showed in neighborhood cinemas, well I know, then, whether I'm ten years old or twenty years old or my current age, I know that I'm there, in this mesh of spaces, in time, in this time, in this very space-time. I know where I am, I can only be where Lang put me. Because Lang is a true film-maker who won't put me just anywhere. And I'll say that cinema, fundamentally - and that's why you shouldn't bad-mouth auteur theory too much, even though it has huge flaws. Rather than the culturalist conception of cinema, which likes anonymous art, because it enables it to rule through statistics. Yes, there has to be a man, there has to be someone who at some point, takes us by the hand, and tells us: "There, you're going to watch this scene, which is horrible, I'm called Hitchcock, you're going to be very scared. But you'll see this scene from a place that is your place, which is the place for you, and this place will be constructed through mise-en-scène. You won't be alternately here with the camera, then up there, then there, then there. You're a specific height, you're with the camera there, and the camera has its rules and it follows them, and you'll see that space is vectorised. And you'll see, and you'll understand, and you'll be scared, or not, from a position in the world."
There's a thing I recount very often, so I'll repeat myself, but never mind. The article that made me understand, not cinema, which made me understand where I was in cinema - I knew it very well, but I hadn't understood it - it's an article by Rivette. And I must have told you this story, because for me it's... it's the matrix for everything. It was in front of a Pontecorvo film called Kapo, which was a film about the concentration camps made in 1960...1961. Pontecorvo is a left-wing Italian film-maker, bad film-maker, but good guy, against the Algeria war and everything, but really a bad film-maker. And Rivette writes an extraordinary article. Rivette was thirty at the time, I must have been fifteen or sixteen. He tells the ending of the film and he says: On Emmanuelle Riva's corpse - who's dead, she died on the - I haven't seen the film, I haven't even seen the film, it's as if I'd seen it, and there was this image in the Cahiers, but you see it in so many films, that visual cliché, that visual, that it's as if I'd seen it.. So she dies, and the camera reframes her face so that it fits right into the top of the screen and the shot is more balanced. But she's a Kapo in a camp, and she's wearing a striped pajama and she's certainly a bit too chubby for the role. There, that's it. And Rivette says: "The man who, at that precise moment - at the moment when she dies - does a forward travelling shot to fit her more nicely in the frame is worthy of the deepest contempt." Rivette wrote that, as Rivette can write, very jansenist, and I remember, I said "Obviously! Obviously he's right: you don't do that, you just don't do that!" It's... For me it's really the absolute crime. So you say it's really the interests of a cinephile gone crazy. It's the absolute crime, someone who does that... For years, I forgot that, because it seemed to be the obvious truth; and the idea that it wasn't quite done first came back to me when I saw some film-makers redo the Kapo travelling shot, without people yelling. So I told myself, well, you're the one being hyper-moral about this, who doesn't tolerate it, who might even be personally blocked on this, on this scene, on this primitive scene. That's maybe my primitive scene, something that happens in the camps, and maybe a lot of people from my generation, even if they don't realize. But after, we don’t know. For the younger people, we don’t know. Because we don't have much information, I don't have any information on the historic imagination of a twenty-five year old boy. When they make films, even when they're not bad, they talk about their friends, they talk about lifestyle. That's fine, that's what you do in general at that age. And then, maybe not much information on the original scenes: are they still in history, or does it apply to me and already not for them anymore?
Anyway, that's an aside. The fact remains that I asked myself the question of Kapo again when I saw other types of images arrive. For example, computer-generated images, and for example I saw on television all the charity things, Band Aid, all the first things on... Singers who passionately listen to themselves singing with eyes closed and smiling to the angels, so that we don't see instead the little children with the big tummies. I.e. the swapping of the market for charity. And of course that disgusts me, even if I have nothing against... I like Stevie Wonder a lot. But I find it a bit sad that we're reduced to this, that we're reduced, really, to charity and so the type of images, the type of aesthetics, that goes with charity, which, precisely, isn't cinema. Maybe cinema, from a Christian point of view, was in relation with compassion, at least with empathy. I have a lot of compassion for the Japanese middle-age peasants who get killed in Mizoguchi's films. Because he has a way of filming them - in the 12th century, they speak Japanese and I don't understand a thing - so that I know that it's true. There, I know that's it's true, that that's how it happened. That the movement is true. Not the scene, not the costumes. That the movement was true, that the camera movement Mizoguchi does then - a sort of slightly sad Buddhist, cynical, Mizoguchi - the movement is correct. As long as cinema does that, I'm a citizen of the world and even of the world that's past, of history. The day I don't have that anymore, and not in Japan, at home, in my culture, the day when I have the singer showing himself singing so that we don't see that it's still a horrible sight, I tell myself, do I want to watch him? I'm willing to pay not to see him, I'm very generous, I'm willing to pay not to see this worthless singer singing a song, pretending to believe in it, so that I don't see... I.e. we're already in a sort of third non-image: we no longer want to see the state of the world, whereas we have the means to see as we never have, the state of the world, i.e. a lot of not very nice things. They replace the state of the world with the charity of the state of the world, it makes show-biz work, it makes television works. I've said, I don't want to see that. Maybe I don't have the courage to watch the state of the world today. Children dying of hunger is very sad: they all look alike, it's a very bad show, it's very monotonous. The first who does it, wonderful, it’s an act of courage; the twenty-third, it's some poor chap on television saying "Oh, man! Enough, let's go home!" You can't resent him, you'd do the same. The one who edits doesn't even watch, he doesn't even watch. And the one who shows, he doesn't even show. Well, all this is a finished economy. It's an economy of, there's still a fellow man, there's still an Other.
RD: Ultimately, the visual, what you call the visual, it's what is used to not watch the world.
SD: There. I call visual the image of the singer instead of the children. I call visual - for me, I'm trying to put a little bit of order into this - the image that comes instead of another, that you don't want to see anymore - I'm not saying I'm better than the others and I want to see it - but that you don't want to see. Because it wouldn't be effective any more. It's lost - it's like the Ciotat train. It's not only the Ciotat train which has lost, today trains are less scary, and the TGV doesn't look like the Ciotat train.
Sadly, children dying of hunger or illness looks a lot like what it was a century ago, it doesn't change that much. So it has lost a lot of its strength. And the cameras are everywhere, you can now film death in close-up, and it's disgusting because obviously it's worthless, it's a bad show.
Even death, you had to deal with it, people in the Middle Ages made a show out of it, they lived with it and they had more courage than us because they weren't scared. At the same time, they laughed because they knew it was part of life. Today, we're forced to tell our kids who saw Le Grand Bleu and, to our great dismay, find it good, because we find it not good, that, "it's great: death exists, we'd completely forgotten to tell you, it exists, it's even desirable." That's even why it exists, why a child can understand that it exists. The child doesn't understand death, he understands suicide. One day he understands that you can want to die, any child has been through that, and that's when he understands death. Le Grand Bleu is a kind of praise of suicide, what's more enticing, and modern. Cinephile parents - I don't have any children, but I would have been no better - say: "It's not a good film, you're rebelling against society, little one, then go and see Zéro de Conduite." No, that's a repertory film, it shows in film clubs! Vigo's force is lost, it's a real shame. And the little one isn't rebelling, he's saying death exists, there is the Other.
And really a great Other, with a capital O. You want to tell him, yes, there is an Other, but anyway it's non-negotiable, everyone will die sooner or later. And there's also a smaller Other, you're friend, who is of course your worst enemy. Your parents, very important, but you'll spend your life fighting with them. And there are the Belgians, your neighbours, but we could stop despising them. And then there's, there's Ethiopia, and then there's China. To wrap up my Doctors- Citizen of the world thing. When I travelled, I tried not to disturb, I really wasn't a bothersome traveller, I travelled in 4th class and I said there, I made them a gift of my plain humanity, of someone who's trying to expiate his parents' colonial crimes. We did what we could; it didn't impress them too much.
They then, incidentally, became crazy. But it's the "there is an Other" aspect. And today, I call visual when you can't stand to see the Other because you know him too well - it's true that we've had the time, for a century, maybe even thanks to cinema, to see him, and to see what he looks like, it's true that, at one point, we had a lot of cheek, in cinema, to play with fire. We showed very ill people, we showed people dying, we showed corpses, we trampled Hollywood's code, which was very puritanical. We showed sex in close-up shots, and we realized that it was very boring, and at the same time that we wanted to watch that. I mean, now you have to assess all of that. Well, in all this, the Other has disappeared a bit, and there's an enormous enterprise, which goes through television a lot, but which maybe goes beyond television, which will tell you: there's a market for replacement images. For example you like such and such a singer, he's nice and on top of it he's like you, he cries when he sees the children dying of hunger. Look at him. And it's free! And all the ads will come. I want to say, it's disgusting. Let him sing alone in his bath, and let him try to... And, when he sings for television, let him be filmed well. Obviously, it seems trivial, in relation to the emotional blackmail of "Oh, but if you say that, it means..." I want to say, I have AIDS, you could do an AIDS rally. But no, instead I'm ready to pay so that you don't do it, to tell you how much - because I don't want to see Poivre D'Arvor. I've seen him enough as it is, he's a flunkey, I don't want to see a flunkey. So I'm faced with these images. So we can call that visual. We could also temporarily call visual, the sum of the replacement images for very precise reasons. No replacement because we would have the choice and the fun, for playful reasons, it would be wonderful if we could know about such and such a situation, that we can make this image, but also this, but also this, but also this. That's not what happens.
In all the events that happen in the world, there's an image that very quickly comes to cover up all the others: so what happens on the television news, when suddenly the images... Even the most beautiful image we've seen recently, which is the little man in front of the tanks in China, which makes me cry. For once, there was an image of liberty - of liberty. But even that image, it ended up preventing all the others from China. Now China is that. It could have been worse: when it's Yugoslavia, we can't even manage to make one. So then, there's none at all. There's none at all. There you want to say, it's been useless, cinema: because we have people close to us, we have a powerful television - it's there, under fire, it gets killed, and in fact it's very heroic. There's Dubrovnik, which is also very beautiful, so we could also invest in the tourism yet to come. And then no, because suddenly you don't understand anything anymore. And when you don't understand anything anymore, when there's no conception of where the Other is and where I am as an Other - because I am the Other of the Other, of course - when the question of the Other is gone, all the images are gone and all that's left is the visual.
So the visual can be anything. So you zoom. It's the zoom. The zoom is masturbation, what masturbation is to love. So a bit of masturbation is good, I'm really not - but there's more than that, we are a little, a little Big Brother. So the cameramen zoom. They zoom. The Pope, they zoom. The Panzani pasta - no, Panzani no, Panzani no, because they've paid a lot, so there there's someone who knows you mustn't zoom, because it was written somewhere. The holy scriptures, the only ones left, are advertising storyboards. To sell Panzani pasta. How could we be proud?