Saturday, August 31, 2013

La rampe - Table of contents


[Update 13/03/2014: addition of a link to a translation of "On paper"]

[Update 03/01/2014: addition of a link to a new translation: Re-mise en scene]

In the past weeks, I've published Serge Daney's introductory texts to each chapters of his first book, La rampe. To give a sense of how much of the book is already translated (and what is not), here's the complete table of contents, with links to translations.

La rampe

Taking a view (1970-1972) – Violence and representation (saving the screen)
Points of view 1 (1974-1976) – Adding in the filmmaker’s eye (militant cinema)
Points of view 2 (1975-1978) – Adding in the filmmaker’s body (morality and engagement)
Vanishing points 1 (1975-1980) – Engima-bodies (paranoid politics)
Vanishing points 2 (1977-1981) – Language-bodies (It speaks)
La rampe (bis)

Postscript

Sunday, August 25, 2013

La rampe - Postscript

Serge Daney's postscript to La rampe.
La rampe - Postscript
We finish, of course, with theatre. The play could be called “History of Cinema?” with the tagline: “Hoping it exists!”. This book is like the boards. The author acted as if the key to his own story was in the sum of images that he has seen and in the series of films that, as Jean-Louis Scheffer says beautifully, have watched our childhood. 
The author is a cine-phile, a cine-son, who was born somewhere in a history of cinema, between two pages of Sadoul, between two wars or two war films. He knew in front of Hiroshima mon amour that there won’t be any other “home” than the little known labyrinth of the History of Cinema, capital letters included. And not only to live by proxy, to dream the world and write a book, but to tell his story, to invent his own genealogy through films. The very wild auto-analysis of someone born the year Rossellini began to shoot Rome Open City (1944) and who therefore is more or less the same age as modern cinema. 
This theatre is full of allegories, devoured by mostly legendary myths. No play could have taken place inside without the conventional characters named “classic cinema” and “modern cinema.” No representation could have happened without the firm belief that between “classic” and modern” there was a fight and an order, a just fight of adult against the immature, and a necessary order between classicism and modernity, with classicism coming first.
This scenario is linear, therefore naïve, but it’s a naivety shared by all: critics, film magazines, educators. We thought we were preparing mass audiences to have a more responsible relationship with images. We dreamed of an audience of workers, of good pupils, of well-behaved Oedipus. We won. By that I mean: “the culture of cinema as an art” won. But we lost too.
“Classic” cinema is today an empty model and a nostalgic wave. “Modern” cinema is a provocation without object and an endless mourning. The dispute between them is never-ending. They are chained.
One is left with picking up this scenario again, with attempting new periodisations. Not the one of this book where classicism played the role of the dream and modernity the role of the vigil, but with another curvature. 
For what do we see today? What is happening to the cinematic form? The most sophisticated experiments and the most popular dispositifs always end up meeting up again somewhere. Beyond its crisis, or perhaps its “death,” cinema is closing a loop started very early: a dialogue with silent films.
This is when we realise that the archaic and the post-modern have a family resemblance. 
August 1982 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

La rampe (bis)

Ruiz: Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting
Serge Daney's "concluding" text at the end of La rampe.
La rampe (bis)
We call “classic” the rather short moment in the history of cinema – thirty years? – during which filmmakers knew how to create the illusion of what seems to always be missing in cinema: depth. It was the golden age of scenography, the paradoxical triumph of a scenography without stage. The advent of talking cinema made disappear the place of live musical accompaniment: orchestra or piano. After talking cinema, this scenography will be haunted by the memory of the studio set, of the stage used for shooting, necessarily lost, now fragmented, vanished, brutalised by the montage, by the vagaries of the frame, by cuts and closer frames. This brutality was called “mise en scène,” the art of marking out itineraries for the audience in a game of chicanes and stepped walls, of losing the audience in a labyrinth of shots. All this is well known.
We’re now quite removed from this filmmaking. We no longer know how to make it, and for that reason, we love it more than ever. From the place where we’ve been, where we’ve abandoned ourselves, we realise that the only possible depth – the illusion of which was created by classic cinema – ought to be a “desired depth,” as one talks of a “desired child.” The title of one of Fritz Lang’s American films sums up well this scenography and this desire behind the door: Secret Beyond the Door. The desire to see more, to see behind, to see through.
What was it about all this time? About the differed moment when we’ll see what was behind, behind anything. The pact with the audience is about one thing: there is indeed something “behind the door.” It could be anything. It may be sheer horror. But this horror is better than the cold and disenchanted observation that there is nothing and that there couldn’t be anything since the image of cinema is a surface with no depth. That’s what we’ll call modern cinema, which broke the pact.
The scenography of classic cinema therefore consisted in laying out obstacles in a studio, then lights, then rails for the camera, and finally, actors. Great actors of this cinema are simply the ones that least bump into obstacles. Or, like Cary Grant, who do it with such elegance, that this secret, too, has been lost. Good filmmakers are those who can transform any object into a temporary mask, full of the promise that there is “more to see.” Pivotal objects: doors and windows, gazes and mirrors, bodies about to move, door frames. And this immaterial object, the word, when it begins to function as a pun or a rebus. 
This cinema captured audiences more lastingly than any other because it never ceased to offer them exits, such as breathing windows or reassuring endings. It knew how to push the spectator out of the scene of the film, only to make him return to enjoy the happy ending of false exits. Hence the relative indifference of classic cinema to the “contents” of its film, the only real content of a film residing in the art of not discouraging the audience to come back to see another film, which will only be another variant of the same film.
What is the limit of classic cinema? That eyes, doors, words, pivotal objects and cover-objects no longer open up onto anything. This is already the case with Hitchcock: slashed eyes, sealed doors, intransitive and flat language. Nothing hides anything because everything is there to see. And what happens if there’s nothing to see “behind”? An accident: the looping of the scopic drive. The gaze no longer gets lost between obstacles and depth but is sent back by the screen, like a ball bouncing off a wall. The image ebbs back toward the spectator with the acceleration of a boomerang and hits him with full force. 
I would call “modern” the cinema that took on this non-depth of the image, that claimed it as its own, and that thought of making it – with humour or fury – a war machine against the illusionism of classic cinema, against the alienation of industrial series, against Hollywood.
This cinema was born – not by chance – in destroyed and traumatised post war Europe, on the ruins of annihilated and disqualified cinema, on the fundamental refusal of the fake, of mise en scène, of the stage, of a divorce from theatre, strongly expressed by Bresson.
This refusal only makes sense if one doesn’t lose sight of this: the great political mises en scène, the state propagandas that became living pictures, the first mass movement of humans, all this theatre had – in reality – ended up in disaster. Behind this warring theatre, like its hidden side or its shameful truth, there was another stage which has not since ceased to haunt the imagination: the stage of the extermination camps.
So, regardless of how different they are from one another, the great innovators of modern cinema, from Rossellini to Godard, from Bresson to Resnais, from Tati to Antonioni, from Welles to Bergman, are those who radically keep their art separate from the theatrical-propagandist model that was omnipresent in classic cinema. They have in common to foresee that they are no longer dealing with the same bodies as before – before the camps, before Hiroshima. And that it’s irreversible.
What scenography for modern cinema since we are in presence – dark humour – of a “new man,” a survivor of post-industrial societies, a weightless body shown on television through a weak and pale radiography? It’s not surprising that painting, and not theatre, had been the first reference, the first witness of modern cinema. The bestowing of “auteur” as a status, with its associated “politique,” came at a timely moment to signal that the old profession of “metteur en scène” [stage or film director] will never be innocent anymore.
A new scenography was needed now that the image functioned as surface, with no simulated depth, with no games of chicanes, with no exits. A wall, a sheet of paper, a canvas, a blackboard, always a mirror. A mirror where the spectator could catch his own gaze in the same way that he would catch the gaze of an intruder, as an additional gaze. The central question of this scenography is no longer: what is there to see behind? But rather: can my gaze sustain what I’m seeing anyway and which happens in a single shot?
It’s a scenography of obscenity, very different to the sacred pornography of the old star system. What made Garbo or Dietrich stars was that they looked something far away which wasn’t unimaginable. Modernity begins when the photo of Bergman’s Monika transfixes a whole generation of cinephiles without making a star of Harriet Andersson; or when the furtive and insisting look to camera in Bresson’s Pickpocket influences the whole of the New Wave cinema even though the name of the “actor” who carried that look is forgotten. 
What changed? These looks place us in an unbearable situation, unbearable at least for the “great” and “good” public of cinema: to be the witness of the jouissance of another: another who’s not a star but anyone, another who “knows nothing of it” and who looks through us, without seeing us. It’s erotic but very Bataillean: excess and suffering. 
In that respect, if modern cinema was born with Rome Open City and the torture scene witnessed by a third person, it ends perhaps with the eternal question-denial of Godard’s latest films: why do we always see victims facing us but the back of torturers? It’s very much a question of scenography, with, at its centre, the look to camera that denies the existence of the spectator and breaks all possible identification. Because if torturers were filmed facing us, it’s the spectator that they would be torturing. QED.
Today, it’s possible to propose the following: “modern” cinema, with its flat image and its scenography of the look, is rescinding. Not because it would have withered or because it would have definitely lost the spectator it had defied. But because it would have been relayed, generalised and somewhat “automated” by another medium: television. On television, the lack of depth and the spectacularisation of everything are the rule. As a surveillance tool, television has accomplished modern cinema. But it has also betrayed it. The horror in front of the indifference that gave Godard’s films the pathos of moral jolt has become, on television, pure and simple indifference in front of the horror.
And cinema? The most inventive filmmakers of the 70s have stopped denouncing the illusions of the stage. Less hysterical, more genealogical, they reveal its mechanism, not to demystify it but to give back to cinema this complexity lost with the advent of talking movies. The cinema stage, with its theatrical reminiscences, is complex. The bodies of cinema, real or effigies, are necessarily heterogeneous, unpredictable, made of bits and pieces.
Neither the simulated depth of the flat image, nor the real distance between the image and the spectator, but the possibility offered to the spectator to slowly slide along images which are themselves sliding on one another. With delight and with irony. One of the great moments of this scenography of the third type can be found at the beginning of Raoul Ruiz’s beautiful The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting. The camera frames, in front view, a painting along which it slides imperceptibly, sideways, creating its anamorphose, moving behind it and taking us along. And what do we find? Neither something, nor nothing, but a dark mess which will turn out to be a museum, a museum of scenography.
We are back in the wings of the image, in the attic of cinema. And in this no man’s land, the different systems of illusion can function next to each other. It’s the democracy of demolition: living pictures, “real” actors who move and talk, small puppets in a drawer, real paintings, etc.
This scenography is neither classic nor modern but relates to the “guided visit.” The History of Cinema, should such a thing exist, is taking this baroque bridge. In Syberberg’s films, the deep end of the image is always already an image, an image of cinema. Between this image and us, in the thin apron of the cinema studio, the illusion is being created in front of our eyes, exactly like in Méliès’ films.
At stake in Syberberg’s work is the utopia of a primitive cinema, where heroes would be children or puppets. This utopia is played in front of the hysterical spectacle of the old cinema, the cinema of propaganda, of Hitler, of Hollywood. From now on, cinema is the backdrop of cinema. 
And the spectator, invited to these film-ceremonies as if in a museum of his own illusions, is no longer the stakes or the target of this laminated and baroque scenography which takes the form of a slide show. He is the spectator in the front row, the one closest to an imaginary footlight, neither theatre nor cinema but this ambivalent place that is the studio. 
Syberberg and Ruiz are full of culture. I could have quoted Duras, Schroeter, Carmelo Bene or Oliveira. Strangely, at the other end of the industry of cinema, in the new Hollywood of young nabob-cinephiles, it’s the same question that is being asked through the return to special effects, to Walt Disney and to the phantasmagoria of silent cinema. 
So, Baroque? 
Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar and Otie Wheeler, 2013.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

La rampe - V. Vanishing points (1977-1981)

Serge Daney's introduction to the fifth chapter of La rampe.
V. Vanishing points (1977-1981) - The language-bodies (It speaks)
Last chapter. Too close to us to be contextualised. I was saying: the human body is an enigma? Quite, but sonorous too, especially at the cinema. It speaks endlessly and sometimes even with the voice of another. French cinema, more than any other, is the story of a word-by-word rapidly turning into a body-by-body (and vice versa). That’s its strength (and its weakness), the sign of its modernity, its originality.
The dialogue of cinema (among all sounds) is a paradoxical object. It’s difficult to study it without studying at the same time the one who pronounces it: the actor of course. And, late, emerges the great loser of modern cinema, repressed from our cinephilia and from this book. A modest emergence: Bresson’s “model,” Biette’s living riddles or Truffaut’s mascots are some distance from Errol Flynn or Rock Hudson in a Walsh film, and yet…
The actor of cinema (among all sound sources) is a paradoxical object. One cannot dissociate the image of the actor from all the films where he played, “where he has been.” For today’s filmmakers (Wenders), he is a sort of legitimising emblem, the proof that they belong to the History of Cinema. He’s the bit of the film that belongs to other films, a precious impurity, a waking dream. Not only is he saying his text, but he is himself text, from head to toe.
This text introduces the following articles:
Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar and Otie Wheeler, 2013.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

La rampe - IV. Vanishing points (1975-1980)

Serge Daney's introduction to the fourth chapter of La rampe.
IV. Vanishing points (1975-1980) - The enigma-bodies (paranoid politics)
A word (“body”) had allowed everybody to eventually disengage from political jargon. Barthes, once again, was first. A great use and abuse of the word “body” will take place – in Cahiers, especially in the following texts. And not without reason. What other “politique” can a filmmaker film than that which, sooner or later, goes through observable and imaginable bodies? The body of actors predisposed to this affection, or the anonymous bodies collected randomly in documentaries?
These texts are a sort of Cahiers’ “retro period,” resolutely not naturalist, dealing with a series of disjointed, broken up, even burlesque bodies. It’s the end of the decade. Cinema is at the heart of a mutation: any certitude about the nature of the image is now collapsing. In a ricochet effect, television, video and electronic images bring the re-emergence of these archaic and raw things: theatre, cabaret, puppets, circus. The footlight is returning. Each film must somehow establish its own theory of the singular nature of its filmic objects. The chemical image tips over into the idea that it is “a thing of the past.” The computer-generated image realises the utopia (until now the exclusivity of cartoons) of an image without traces of the accumulation of something upon reality. The Bazinian issue and the associated ethics are, in worst cases, obsolete.
The “politique des auteurs” is still the order of the day. But it’s no longer joyous. As for the auteurs dearest to Cahiers, we should talk about them as Deleuze does, as single war machines, with cinema as one of their weapons, and a definition, each time personal, of their cinema.
Those mentioned here, far from the candid pleasure of narration, are concerned with known stories or cursed aspects of History. They are searching for a body of images for paranoid politics. They create it ex nihilo, or over the ruins of past cinema.
The body always remains an enigma as to what it can do or what it contains, as to what sets it in motion or what holds it down. An enigma with a thousand faces: erotic and political for Pasolini (the working-class body), smooth and inhabited by the demon for Spielberg (catastrophic and puritan America), playful and trivial for Syberberg (the puppets of Nazism), hypothetical and dreamed for Sembene Ousmane (the body of the African oral tradition), human, all too human for Straub and Fuller (even gods are an enigma!). 
This text introduces the following articles:
Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar and Otie Wheeler, 2013.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

La rampe - III. Points of view 2 (1975-1978)

Serge Daney's introduction to the third chapter of La rampe.
III. Points of view 2 (1975-1978) - Adding in the filmmaker's body (morality and engagement)
It’s the so-called “retro” period. Beyond the scandal of its scenarios (it was broadly about reminding that there was pleasure in servitude and that it was possible to love one’s torturer), the retro period may have been a first attempt at a return to fictional cinema, which, to be credible, needed an ostentatiously disrespectful vision of history, hence films such as Lacombe Lucien or The Night Porter.
Cahiers were anti-retro. In the same way that, later, they won’t much appreciate commercial attempts under Brechtian patronage - they called it “left-wing fiction” (L’affiche rouge, for example). In the same way that, even later, at the beginning of the ‘80s, they will be saddened by the return, unchanged in form and substance, of the old Qualité France.
The retro period was naturalist, with ambiguous characters, neither-entirely-evil-nor-entirely-heroes, enlightened by the easy and fashionable Freudian Marxism of the time. At no point in their history did Cahiers like naturalism in cinema, this art to confuse what is represented with reality, to naturalise contradictions, to resolve the heterogeneity of beings and things. They always enjoyed the effect of strangeness arising from the fact that cinema is an art of the present (of hic et nunc, of urgency).
In the middle of the decade, the mourning of Leftism comes to an end; the dialogue with the militant/filmmakers, the serious debates on the “point of view” had suddenly stopped, for lack of participants in the dialogue. Two original ones remained. Their names placed side by side formed the “sesame” of the period. Two tough radical regressive nuts, two irredentists that Pascal Bonitzer, in a beautiful text, had referred to via their initials: “JMS and JLG”*. In a word, the strobgodar, a duovidual which terrified quite a few.
Godard, Straub (and Huillet) didn’t settle for continuing to exist in the margins of the good old cinema being restored, nor for surviving to the indifference and the contempt of the public and the cultural establishment (you can read this both ways), nor for being involved in controversies with dominant cinema – Cahiers playing the role of a weak and slightly fanatical spokesperson. They continued as if there were still lots of things to think through and to say about Cinema (and cinephiles are the talkative type), bets to take, dreams and idées fixes which mustn’t be given up.
In his text, Bonitzer didn’t hesitate to talk about “sainthood.” An exaggeration?  How shall we understand it? Simply, I think. The strobgodar-cinema doesn’t aim for the spectator’s desire (at least, not only) but for his capacity for jouissance. And the cinema-jouissance has little to do with recipes for pleasure. Lacan, still very much read at the time, talks of a “black hole.” The jouissance of the cinema-thing set against the pleasure derived from the cinema-effect? Yes, except that in the past the two were not always opposed; at the beginning of cinema (let’s say Keaton or Feuillade), one didn’t have to claim to be a materialist to give (mass) audiences the jouissance of the material. By 1975, it had changed a lot. 
Pleasure at the cinema is linked to the triumph of an illusion – the spectacle of a combined character-actor-body-voice – to the plenitude of this confusion, to the return of this plenitude. Pleasure is, let’s say, Errol Flynn or Rock Hudson in a film by Raoul Walsh, charging as a block toward their fate. Psychologism and humanism united in one common fight.  
For a long time, from a thousand signs, we saw that this so-called “classic” cinema (born in fact with the big majors, so rather late) was haunted by the explosion of this too beautiful model, by its dysfunction at least. What if character, actor, body and voice began to leave their own lives? Independently? “Not reconciled”?
Already the notion of “character” had been cunningly mocked by Welles or Bunuel. The idea of actor was dryly rejected by Bresson or Tati. Porn cinema was going to “liberate” bodies and their organs from any “persona.” Finally, direct sound and the lightweight cameras of the Nouvelle Vague will rekindle all the inside games of the language and the voice: the Italian technique of perverse dubbing (Fellini, Pasolini), the French demand for a perfect synchronism (Rohmer, Pialat, Rivette, etc.).
What was “modern” in cinema was the implicit decision not to start with “humans” but with their environment. This way, the strobgodar is perhaps the monster that presided over the end of modern cinema (not that the demand for modernity has vanished, but it must be found again in television, video and new technologies and less in a cinema that has become cultural and nostalgic). They still believe, in a Sartrean way, in communication. Not as a self-evident thing, but as an experience. They practice, like surgeons, always the same operation: the disjunction. To make visible the original heterogeneity of the cinema-thing.
“In-between” is the word that runs through the following texts. We began with militant cinema – with the relation between the filming and the filmed, with uncovering the filmmaker’s powers – and what do we find ourselves filming? Discourse and text. Filmed, these discourses are mere grimaces and words. Recorded, these words become accent, voices with their texture, speech delivery, breathing on magnetic tapes, etc. Everything become always disjointed and reveals, in the midst of a game with no end or exit, the scandal of the jouissance-cinema, of the cinema-thing.
Even the old Kurosawa, after the failed suicide attempt following the commercial flop of Dodes’ka-den, teaches us to perceive the space between characters: as much space as there are characters! Robert Kramer, one of the very rare real-time ethnographers of yet another lost generation, makes the insert the burning side of a stifling world. Johan van der Keuken is searching for the “wrong place” to guarantee to himself that the distance between him and the object he is filming remains tangible. In other words, there is only jouissance “in-between.”
The question of the point of view slowly becomes an enigma. What’s the point of view of the one taking a position, as soon as he can, between things? And who, if it must be done, cuts a thing in two (the audience for example) to take place in-between?
* Cahiers du cinema, issue 264, February 1976. 
This text introduces the following articles:
 Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar and Otie Wheeler, 2013.

Friday, August 16, 2013

La rampe - II. Points of view 1 (1974-1976)

Serge Daney's introduction to the second chapter of La rampe.
II. Points of view 1 (1974-1976) - Adding in the filmmaker's eye (militant cinema)
Between 1972 and 1973, Cahiers du Cinéma engaged in a “Cultural Revolutionary Front.” A belated and rather disastrous project. The texts that the magazine published back then (the famous period “without pictures”) didn’t age very well.
Needless to say, there existed a certain type of “cinema of intervention, agitation, testimony,” or as we preferred to call it: a “militant cinema.” Well-known filmmakers became fellow travellers; unknown militants took themselves for filmmakers.
While the French film industry, once the storm had passed, reshaped itself (1970: creation of the Path-Gaumont economic interest group; 1972: sale of UGC.; 1974: film production rights granted to channel 3; 1975: Daniel Toscan du Plantier appointed CEO of Gaumont), a retro dialogue seemed to develop between militants/filmmakers and members of the old magazine.
For Cahiers, deep down, it was not so much about verifying the social efficacy of the militant films than about searching for a certain quality in the relation between those filming and those being filmed. The shooting of a militant film reproduced “on a smaller scale” the great fantastical scenario of Maoism in distress, with its “people’s camp,” its “zones liberated in some way,” its “right to speak” and its “enemies of class.” It was tempting to politicize – or at least, to moralize – some of the old acquaintances: frame and out of frame, commentary and voice-over, naked speech and metalanguage, naturalism and typage.
The mana-word of this short period was “point of view.” After a reflection on the act of filming and a return to Bazin, after the infamous polemics of “technique and ideology” – which for the last time confronted Leftism in art (Comolli) with the exhausted experts of the communist party (Lebel) – the Cultural Front project proceeded to a concrete examination of the way in which some tried to “put forward” a political point of view in their films.
Luckily, the dice were loaded: “point of view” had at least two meanings. The first was part of the standard militant language: the point of view as the application of the political line of an organization (even micro) concerning a certain issue (even “specific” – another convenient word at the time). In that sense, it necessarily existed before the film was made, and nobody cared much about knowing how, at a certain point, it became a specific problem for the filmmaker.
The second meaning was broader. It implied the situation that a filmmaker, his team and his tools de facto occupied during a shoot, their contact with the “actors” whom they didn’t know, even (and especially) if they supported them and their just causes. “Situation” in the touristic sense of the travel guide or the military sense of the Ordinance Survey map. The “point of view” of a militant filmmaker on a protest was not the same as that of the police or of state television, who filmed a crowd from up high (to count it up, and, imaginarily, to machine-gun it); the filmmaker only captured feet, banners and cries. The temptation was great to dwell on this difference and to find it, from the outset, “political.”
Over time, this “debate” on militant cinema, that these three texts attempt to establish, appeared as an empty ritual, for a simple reason that has remained unnoticed: the imaginary of the ‘68-ers has been nourished by theatre and not by cinema. Speeches, dogmatic recitations, points of order, voicing opinions, memories of 1789, but no images. We had “taken” the Odéon, not the state television HQ.
However, by way of some tradition, since the great Soviet cinema (twenties) and the cinema of the Popular Front (thirties), everyone pretended to need images while no one had the means nor the taste to produce them, only enough to learn how to “read” them (hence, eventually, the academic success of the Leftist semiology). Already, in 1975, Godard and Miéville’s film essay on Palestine (Ici et Ailleurs) cut short a debate that it resumed admirably.
That being said, the issue of the “point of view” survived very well at Cahiers, on the condition of becoming once again a question of morality. Beyond the backward surge of militant activity and the withdrawal of every notion of a “Front,” we rediscovered what always had nourished the magazine: the morality of shooting, the effacement of the notion of actor, the emergence of the author.
More and more, we would ask “militant” filmmakers not to manipulate their images without having watched them, without having considered them both as their thing and as a thing, to lodge themselves in the gap of this dialectics, to cheat as little as possible, to make of every film a documentary on the politics of its conditions of production. Always radical-regressive. That is how the author of these lines, between 1972 and 1976, would go to Canossa and end up admitting that he prefers Antonioni’s Chung Kuo to Ivens and Loridan’s Yukong.
A filmmaker as a witness of his time? A filmmaker as a witness of his images? What does it matter as long as the witness is present, doesn’t stand in the way of his images, and somehow inscribes his flesh and blood in them.
Unfortunately, the three auteurs mentioned in this chapter were not present very long. Belmont filmed only a bit (and badly). Sokhoma abandoned cinema. Ivens in China was already directing his last film.
This text introduces the three following articles:
  • The political space (Histoires d’A)
  • On paper (nationality: immigrant)
  • Re-mise en scène (Ivens, Antiononi, China)
Translation by Stoffel Debuysere, with minor changes.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

La rampe - I. Taking a view (1970-1972)

Salador TV ad
Serge Daney's introduction to the first chapter of La rampe
I. Taking a view (1970-1972) - Violence and representation (saving the screen)
1968: the events. Two years of exotic-obsessive travels and a real disease. Back to Cahiers, which had become Maoist (“Marxist-Leninist” to be more precise, “m.-l.”). These three texts are written by an already old cinephile between 1970 and 1972. Yet it’s still a disaster.
Something is going to be served up to mourning, to melancholia, and to re-reading. A little while ago, cinema was self-evident, life was edited in the rectangular frame, auteurs were crystallised in their “politique,” the waves of young cinema were hitting shores all over the world. And then, the gaze opens itself again, evidence breaks, a way of life cracks. A “politique des ôteurs [those who take away]” begins: taking away illusions about cinema and its powers. 
The dark room gets associated with obscurantism, there is suspicion at the very place that gave us pleasure. The cinephile’s loneliness is somewhat asocial and makes him ill-prepared for the seriousness of political work, for the militant’s modesty. A book* talked with contempt of the spectacular future of all things, and saw the world doomed to the irony of détournements and simulacra. We talked of “society of the spectacle” and not yet of the “media.” 
In front of these strange events demanding so much of the idea of spectacle, many showed common sense: re-politicise the contents of (the scenarios of) films and shoot, Italian-style, tons of Z “to help the struggle” – an easy and bankable option. Others had the idea to re-politicise the old question of the form, re-reading the epic Brecht-Eisenstein saga under the corrosive light of structuralism (Althusser, Barthes, Lacan). Cahiers took part in the latter. 
A period began that was marked by what Christian Metz gently called “theoretical raids.” Weak souls were terrified. The terrifying ones weren’t so sure either. They tried to convince jeering amphitheatres that the study of Nicht Versöhnt (Straub) and Vent d’Est (Godard) was useful to the revolution. Their loyalty to their tastes honoured Cahiers
The Chinese watchword “that the ancient serves the new” otherwise allowed to re-read “classic cinema” and to take, again and always for the last time, the path of unforgettable pleasure. We had to extract its essence and transmit it to the politicised students in new teaching modules at “red” universities, Censier or Vincennes.  
At that time, violence (even verbal) was accepted but representation was distrusted. For a long time it had been badly treated by modern cinema. Leftist politics relegated it to the bourgeois and the “révisios”**. Lacanian psychoanalysis and Althusserian Marxism were seeking articulations (not reflections) and overdeterminations (not simple causalities).  Nietzsche was being re-published and read again. As a result, we no longer knew what use representation was serving (the true question at the time was rather: “whose use?” and the answer, always the same: “The bourgeoisie!”). But we felt that this wasn’t right, and was already obsolete. We didn’t know yet how to say, with Barthes’ brilliant simplicity: what is represented is not the real. 
These three texts could be subtitled: “Violence and representation” or “Representation as violence.” They belong to a genre of that time: radical-regressive, or absolutist involution. To write in Cahiers was to inherit, even unknowingly, Bazin’s idée fixe, one which can’t be easily dismissed: cinema is a gaze upon the world. Bazin had said “Forbidden montage” and Rossellini had added “Things are here – why manipulate them?”. 
So we inherited the resulting aporia. For what allows this gaze to be set upon something – the screen, that is – becomes an impossible object, both window and hiding, hole and hymen. Invisible, it makes things visible; visible, it makes them invisible. At the beginning of the 60s, “MacMahonism” had already been a far-right fallout of Bazinism. These three texts belong to the side of the post-68 Cahiers (this “I” not yet pronounced) which took heart in attempting to get rid of this MacMahonism.  
The paradox is to have gone all the way to de-naturalise film representation where it was considered natural, self-evident. For example with Bazin who stuck to “the seamless garment of the real,” or with this fetish filmmaker of Cahiers about whom Rivette had written this definitive sentence: “Evidence is the mark of Howard Hawks’ genius.” 
These texts call on psychoanalysis to undo the false evidence of classic film representation, to reveal the type of desire that it betrays and inhibits at the same time, to say (blaring discovery!) that this desire is, structurally, obsessional, and that the cinephilic cult is akin to the eponymous neurosis. This writing is an exorcism. And this exorcism “saves” the screen. It saves it from the dubious violence that were then advertising (the violence of prostitution display: “On Salador”), circus games (Bazin, the beasts and “Nero’s complex”), and the obscenity of time eroding faces (“The one grows old”). 
* I’m talking of course of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle
** Translator's note: accused of revisionism of Marxist-Leninist theory, communists (party members) were called “révisios” in Leftist slang.
This text introduces the following three articles:
Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar and Otie Wheeler, 2013.

Monday, August 12, 2013

La rampe

La rampe is the first book that Daney published as a film critic. It's a selection of articles he wrote for Cahiers du cinéma between 1970 and 1982, surveying the landscape of cinema and film criticism over the '70s. It was published in 1983. Daney would have been 38 or 39 years old ("an already old cinephile" as he describes himself). He had already left Cahiers, where he started as a film critic at the age of 20, for the daily newspaper Libération.

Many of the individual articles gathered in La rampe have been translated -- most of them available online -- but what's missing is the overall narrative that Daney offers in the texts introducing each of the book chapter.

Over the next two weeks, I'll be publishing the translation of these introductory texts, following the chapter structure of La rampe, at the rhythm of one every other day. It's the fruit of a big translation effort with Otie Wheeler, to whom I owe a really big thank you. We start today with Daney's introduction to La rampe (which begins mysteriously with a dedication to "Stuff and Thing" and a whole page of pictures of lepers in Fritz Lang's Indian Tomb).
La rampe*
First there was fear, of course. Imagine Paris at the beginning of the 1950s, a movie theatre that might well be called the Cyrano-Roquette, and a child who simply needed to go downstairs and up a street to be at the movies, hidden away. I was this fearful child.
We didn’t “go see a film,” we would “go to the cinema.” There was a small film and there was the big film. There were Fox-Movietone news as well (we said “mauviétonne”), and the wall full of local ads, and a series of “coming soon to a theatre near you.” And the interval. While the useless curtains closed over the grey screen and the usherette shouted with no conviction “Candies, caramels, ice-creams, chocolates!”, the stage – quiet horror – was being populated by what we then called the “attractions.”
Insignificant singers slowly took possession of “the stage.” The microphone was not set up correctly; the sound of floorboards signalled the – horrific – return to reality; the theatre became again a miserable shed. A meagre repertory of old songs (“Etoile des neiges”), of easy magic tricks, of bawdy hypnotisms was presented to an embarrassed and weary audience. In this audience were my mother and I, nearby neighbours. 
Attractions didn’t last. Ghosts soon announced their arrival in the audience, moving swiftly between rows, calling on our generosity. The child saw them wandering, hands open, with a different voice, so horribly real. These living dead, busking in the name of the thousands of obscure performers who died on all the stages of the world, were coming toward him. 
What to do? Which attitude to adopt? Bury oneself underground? Glance emptily? Give them a lot of money so they never return? Too late. The movie theatre was a delicious trap for the child, and the “attractions” the bitter side of these delights (later he will call them “their inhibited side”). Anyway, the big film was about to start, the most dilapidated copy would look sumptuous, and darkness would offer the most beautiful refuge. Poor cinema would make up for misery theatre, as would the film titles soundtrack for the buskers’ microphone. We would be irremediably saved. So, for darkness to come back quicker, by fear of the light and its monsters, we gave a little bit of money to the “attractions,” not much (we too were poor).
As a cinephile and a film critic, I’ve established my pleasure of images and sounds over the oblivion of this theatre of shame. I’ve learnt to take pleasure from my fear, to play with it and to write about it. It’s almost a profession. I regularly come across interval attractions in films. In 1960, for example, Fritz Lang’s lepers in The Indian Tomb almost came toward me in a suburban theatre in the north of Paris. They held out their stumps like hands and called for my generosity in the same way. Thankfully, “in my place” was Sabine Bethmann, lying on a patch of blue-grey sand, looking at them with the quiet horror I knew well. It wasn’t the same fear: cinema had become for me the place of off-camera, of montage, of stitching, of “the place of the spectator,” the opposite of theatre, in a sense. Besides, in the film, the cave collapsed on the band of lepers and the loyal Asagara sacrificed himself to maintain his too-real actors in the cave of cinema, in the tomb of the frame, in the dark.
La rampe is a bit of all this. The number of an archaic fear. The still theatrical architecture of the cinema: a bit of stage here, a floorboard there, what’s left of backstage, a pit without orchestra, threatening balconies, curtains. La rampe is the separating line in the scenographic cube that the grey ghosts (grey because no longer basking in full light) will walk to get out of the screen and crawl toward me as in a bedlam, requiring my pity, laughing at my embarrassment. La rampe is the limbo of cinema, the seedy place of a dreaded kidnapping. 
It doesn’t take much to become a cinephile in this context, and a moralist too, a Bazinian, a reader then writer then editor then “in-chief” of Cahiers du cinéma. In order to avoid becoming this cinephile (there are other types), one should have shouted back to the attractions, played “theatre” with them, mocked them, pushed them back, sent them a dead cat as in Fellini’s films. But it was too late. The shame to have seen but not spoken out carries the challenge to see everything, to sustain everything with one’s gaze, to follow cinema in its most absurd adventures. To see everything like in a zoo, “everything” doubly locked in the cage of the screen. And, from the retrospective fear to have been called out in the theatre of charity, the child begins to expect everything from the cinema of cruelty. It lasted a long time, it may never end.
All the articles in this book were written between 1970 and 1981 for Cahiers du cinema. The idea to work for another magazine simply never crossed my mind. The paradox of these texts – barely altered – was that they were written to take stock of the situation of the magazine throughout the decade, between its spontaneous likes and dislikes, between the legend of yesterday and the recent past, from one fashionable term to another. There’s a strange “we” in these texts, an easy “one” and a weird “I”. To follow one by one, theorising every step, the dead ends and the metamorphoses of a “household” issue inherited from 1968, Bazin and the yellow Cahiers, reformulated with the language of structuralism (Lacan especially), now appears as a rather strange fancy. Embryonic theories can be found next to rancid debates, wild appraisals mix with boring pedagogical bits, etc. 
This heterogeneity is perhaps a good thing. If it’s true that, in France, film magazines had the privilege to better carry the great political and aesthetic frenzies of that time, I hope that through La rampe it will be possible for today’s reader to follow the avatars of two or three ideas – naiveties or obsessions – that allowed Cahiers to resemble, once more, its era (the arid 70s) and the author of these lines to get closer to himself. 
August 1982
* Translator's note: The "rampe" is literally the set of footlights at the front of a theatre stage, lighting up the actors from below. In French, it's closely associated with the expression "être sous les feux de la rampe" which means "to be in the limelight". 
First published in La rampe, Cahiers du cinéma / Gallimard, 1983. Translation by Laurent Kretzschmar and Otie Wheeler, 2013.

For more on Cahiers, film criticism and Daney in the 1970s, see the interview Bill Krohn conducted with Daney in 1977.