Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Louis Skorecki: Dialogue with Serge Daney

Louis Skorekci and Serge Daney met in high school, wrote in the same publications and ended up as two of the most original film critics in France - although quite different from one another.

Their first texts were published in the early 60s in Visages du cinéma (amazing texts, on Hawks and Preminger). They joined Cahiers du cinéma together after a trip to the USA to interview MacCarey, Keaton, Hawks, Sternberg and others. They then moved (separately) to the daily newspaper Libération where they wrote their best articles before continuing their own adventures (Trafic for Daney until he passed away in 1992 and Blogging for Skoreki).

Louis Skoreki rarely talks about Daney (here, here and here) but he did publish a book called Dialogues with Daney, a selection of short texts from his daily column in Libération between 2002 and 2007. And it's an amazing read.

You can judge by yourself thanks to the generosity of the Presses Universitaires de France (PUF) who have given me permission to publish the translations of four texts from the book. A really big thank you to them.

Rouge published an excellent portrait of Louis Skorecki in 2007.

I Didn’t Kill Lincoln

Two boys, still young. Let’s say they are cinephiles. Or ex-cinephiles. One is dead, the other alive. They ramble on a bit. Let’s call them Serge and Louis. Louis is the first to talk.
― Do you know who talks best about Ford?
― Lourcelles, you said it already.
― True, I forgot.
― Parkinson?
― Parkinson yourself.
― Calm down Loulou. And tell me what The Prisoner of Shark Island looks like.
― Baroque and cruel, like its title.
― He’s prisoner of what?
― Of Shark Island. The island of sharks.
― It’s a better title than I Didn’t Kill Lincoln*.
― You said it, my nephew.
― I’m your nephew?
― You didn’t know?
― First news.
― I’m your uncle. The one telling stories, beautiful stories.
― Uncle Paul’s beautiful stories, right?
― No, friendly Louis’ beautiful stories.
― Friendly Louis, who’s that? I forgot. I’ve been dead for a while, you know.
― You’re more alive than ever. It’s all about you. Books, PhD theses, articles, festivals, DVDs.
― What’s that?
― DVDs. It’s like a video tape on a CD, if you see what I mean.
― No.
― It’s all about you. You’re the idol of boys and girls.
― I don’t believe you.
― I swear it’s the truth. Tell me you like it.
― I do. But I’d rather be alive.
― Each to his own life and each to his own death.
― So, this Ford?
― You don’t remember? It’s the story of a good doctor, wrongly accused of having helped Lincoln’s assassin escape.
― Warner Baxter in jail? That’s it, I remember. With John Carradine as the sadistic prison guard. His head as long as a knife.
― I love this one.
― Me too.

* Title of the French release (translator’s note)

Rancho Notorious

Two boys, not so young anymore. Let’s say they are cinephiles. Or ex-cinephiles. One is dead, the other alive. They ramble on a quite bit. Let’s call them Serge and Louis. Serge is always the first to talk.
― I keep coming back to Fritz Lang’s incandescent cinema. Was he gay or straight?
― I never knew. I thought for a long time he was 100% gay. Today I don’t know.
― There’s something strange with his films. Not only this hate of women. Something stranger.
― Oh yes, very strange.
― A desire for murder?
― There’s something else.
― What?
― A cross-dressing of the body and the soul.
― Both?
― Yes.
― You’re right, Louis.
― What is this ménage à trois in Rancho Notorious?
― Yes, what is this ménage à trois?
― I don’t know. A scale riddled with deadly indecision.
― It’s almost Chinese, this refinement of love, this love torture.
― That’s right. Marlene tortures herself. Who else otherwise?
― It’s her. It’s her.
― She plays the man. It’s obvious.
― Who plays the woman, then?
― The other two.
― Both?
― Mel Ferrer protects her.
― And Arthur Kennedy attracts her, right?
― Right. She can smell the woman in him.
― How?
― His love for his wife has left traces. She was raped, you remember?
― Yes. Raped and killed. It’s one of the most terrifying beginnings of any movie.
― Arthur Kennedy’s love was interrupted.
― Like coitus?
― He smells like sperm and death. You understand?

Two Rode Together

Two boys, not so young. Let’s call them Serge and Louis. Are they old friends? Cinephiles? Who knows? Serge is always the first to talk. They talk while walking.
― I love this Ford.
― Me too.
― Me before.
― Me first.
― As you like.
― I know that Two Rode Together is the film that brought you to Ford.
― True.
― A filmmaker you don’t like much.
― Let’s say that I don’t understand him. He’s an enigma to me.
― He’s an enigma to everybody.
― You think?
― That’s why he’s the greatest.
― Greater than Mizoguchi?
― Yes.
― You exaggerate.
― No.
― Has Ford made a film as beautiful as Uwasa no onna?
― Yes. Seven Women.
― I had forgotten that one.
― You’re frivolous.
― Perhaps.
― You’re dead. How can you talk about cinema with such aplomb?
― All dead people talk with aplomb.
― Really?
― It’s the only thing they have.
― Aplomb?
― Yes.
― What do you like in Two Rode Together?
― James Stewart, Richard Widmark, slow speed, frontalness, friendship that lasts a long time.
― Do you believe in friendship?
― Yes.
― Do you believe in cinema friendship? I mean true friendship.
― I’ve never believed in human relations.
― That’s true. You always said that HR was overestimated.
― I still think that way.
― Me too.
― You’ve changed.
― Yes.

Trois ponts sur la rivière

Two boys, not so young anymore. Serge is dead, Louis is alive. Louis is the first to talk.
― Do you know who talks best about Biette?
― Not me. I struggle to speak about friends.
― That’s new?
― No, always.
― Why?
― Because of me.
― You? But you love talking to friends.
― Talking to them or about them is not the same.
― That’s true. I forgot
― You get on my nerves. Talk to me about Biette. I heard that he’s dead.
― You didn’t know?
― No, I didn’t.
― You haven’t seen him up there?
― It’s rather big up there, you know.
― That big?
― That big. This Biette, which one was he? I can’t remember.
― That’s normal. You were dead.
― Did he make a lot of films after?
― After you died? Let me think. You died in 1992, right?
― Yes
― I think he made two. No, three. There’s also the last one, Saltimbank.
― That’s a lot.
― For Biette, yes. For Pierre Léon, that wouldn’t be much.
― Pierre Léon? Our Pierre Léon?
― Yes. He films faster than his shadow.
― I’m sure it’s good.
― Yes. It’s a bit Biettian.
― I wouldn’t have thought so.
― You see, one can be wrong. It’s very light, very original.
― Sentimental?
― No, original.
― And Trois ponts sur la rivière?
― It’s the best Biette.
― Why.
― There’s Amalric, the son.
― So?
― I cried.
Thes texts are published in Dialogues avec Daney et autres textes by Louis Skorecki. They appear here with the permission of the publisher, © PUF, 2007. Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar, 2011.