A chatty Minnelli movie - Vincente Minnelli, Home from the Hill
If images are things, then the channel hopper descended from the apes and Jean-Baptiste Mondino is right. The channel hopper is a bulimic and unsatisfied monkey who checks out everything because he wants everything, right now. His mental prison is made of all the TV channels and schedules. But if images are beings, with the gifts of speech and memory, then the monkey becomes a human again, and the channel hopper a simple cinephile. The monkey channel hopper earned its wage as an audiovisual guinea pig, the cinephile lives off his private income of cinema knowledge. And when old playfellows pay him a visit, he gives them a warm welcome. “How are you?” is the first sentence they exchange, “What are you up to?” the second, and “I didn’t recognise you”, the worst.
Absent-minded, half-asleep, bored by Jean Guitton’s screams on the Bernard Pivot show, I was watching vaguely familiar images late night last Friday. A hunting scene in Texas in Panavision, with Mitchum on the lookout and the camera floating above the thicket. A film? Yes, since there were subtitles and that, reading them, I had a hallucination.
“You don’t recognise me?” said the film (and I could feel it was sad to have failed to immediately impress).
“Of course I do”, I lied.
“I’m Home from the Hill” said the film, which had felt that I lied. “I know, the French title: The One who Brought the Scandal, is ridiculous, so cinephiles call me by my English name.”
“My God, a Minnelli!” I shouted, now totally awake. “Excuse me, I didn’t recognise you.”
“How could I be upset?” said the film kindly. “With my edges missing, I must only make a tiny impact compared to the one I used to make in theatres. And I’m not even talking of the two black bands within which I’m floating like an invitation card…”
“That’s all right”, I said, “I have good memories of you, and I’m going to watch you until the end.”
“That’s kind of you”, said the film, “but don’t forget that I’ve always been criticised for being too long: I last 150 minutes.”
“I know. You’re one of Minnelli’s great melodramas. You’re even known as one of the most unbearable.”
“Note that I’m slightly embarrassed to be returning on the small screen of television” it added. "But you know us, films, we’re real hams, and the thought of no longer being seen totally depresses us. This being said,” it added with pride, “even my enemies have always accepted that I possess a few strong moments. My boar hunting scene for example, I think is quite good…”
“Of course. And the final reconciliation between Mitchum and Eleanor Parker. And the character of Rafe, as the bastard son, when he proposes to Libby in the drugstore scene. And this shot of…”
“A shot? You really remember of shot?”
“Of course. When the legitimate son returns to the party with his bunch of flowers and we spot him behind a group of black kids in a wood!”
“You’re reassuring me. I was told that, because of all the Texan TV series based on Greek tragedy that are shown on this machine (he meant: ‘on television’), I no longer had a chance to make an impact.”
“It’s true,” I said with critical honesty, “that young people won’t see you as I saw you, in the early ‘60s. You tell in two hours the type of story that they are used to follow over two years. They’re inevitably going to find either too short, or too long.”
“Note” said the film with modesty, “I’m not the best Minnelli.”
“Don’t be silly and let’s watch you for a bit.”
The film was reassured and did its best to show itself on television. There were no ad breaks, Mitchum’s voice sounded good, and the emotion was present, right at the end of a series of family catastrophes. But we had to part.
“You have no idea,” said again Home from the Hill, “how many of us there are in this purgatory called ‘history of cinema’ waiting for a TV scheduler to gives us another chance. Of course, going back to work as a miniature hurts our pride, but one gets used to it.”
“Home” I said firmly, “I liked seeing you again. And I’m probably not the only one. It’s quite possible that this machine (I meant: ‘television’) allows films like you to continue to give us signs – I mean to signify something.”
“You really think so?” said Home as the snow started to fall on the screen.
“I’m sure of it” I said with a certainty that surprised even myself.
“Will you talk about us?”
“Every day, promise. And to prove it to you, I’m throwing away this sad instrument (I meant: ‘the remote control’). Anyway, I’m tired of hopping between channels.”First published in Libération on October 10th, 1988. Reprinted in La maison cinéma et le monde, volume 3, POL, 2012, pp. 163-165. Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar, 2013.