Monday, December 31, 2007

Daney in 2007

Happy New Year everyone.
Sadly, I finish the year on a hesitant note in regards to the future of Daney in English.
2007 seemed an encouraging year. It started with the first Daney book to be published in English and I was hoping for some more translations to follow suit. But Postcards From the Cinema - Daney's posthumous "biography" which contains little of the film criticism that made him famous in the first place - was always going to be an odd choice as the first book by Daney in English. And the publication didn’t seem to generate any surge of interest for Daney. Only a handful of new articles have been translated (The Serpent’s Egg, In Stubborn Praise of Information, Elephant Man as well as extracts from an interview).
If this blog is any indication of the interest in Daney, it received almost twice as many visits than in 2006 but only to a total of 3500 visits for the whole year. The only bit of good news is that there do seem to be a small but expanding core of interested people. a few hundred people visit this blog more than 10 times a year and visitors are coming from more countries.

Google Analytics, 2007

Perhaps the most encouraging fact of the year was that the publication of a Portuguese translation of La Rampe for the Sao Paulo International Film Festival which has generated a a lot of discussion in the Brazilian blogosphere and a strong interest for this blog from Brazil (the second country in terms of visits after the USA). I see it as the proof that a translation of Daney’s film criticism does generate interest and that the translation work in English is still needed.

Let's hope exactly this for 2008.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Kapo and Montage Obligatory articles - New translations?

I just found that Sternberg Press in New York published an exhibition catalogue in December 2006 containing two articles by Serge Daney: 'The Tracking Shot in Kapo' and 'Montage Obligatory.'

The publisher's website does not say if these are new translations or if they have used existing ones. It doesn't mention the name of any translator.

As a reminder, The Tracking Shot in Kapo was published in English in Senses of Cinema in 2004 and Montage Obligatory was published in Rouge in 2006.

The extract of the Kapo article on the website leads me to believe that they have used the same translations but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

The exhibition looks interesting, taking "the distinction that French critic Serge Daney made between the “image” and the “visual” as a starting point for a selection of artworks, films, and discussions."

Does anyone have a copy and confirm if these are new translations?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Serpent's Egg (now available online)

UPDATE JUNE 2019: post replaced by this one.

Updated post with a link to the text, thanks to Steve Erickson.

The English edition of Cahiers du cinema has translated the special issue on "Two great moderns: Bergman and Antonioni" which has a translation of Daney's review of The Serpent's Egg (Bergman, 1977).

The Serpent's Egg
Cahiers du cinema, Special issue "Two great moderns", October 2007, pp. 35-36, Translation by Tom Mes. Initially published as "L'oeuf du serpent" in Cahiers du cinema, issue 285, February 1978, Page 45

Daney doesn't like the film but makes an interesting analysis on how this movie about the rise of Nazism takes the wrong approach:

"The entirely reactive The Serpent’s Egg is left-wing anti-fiction. The investigation, the will to solve the mystery is not driven by a hunger for truth, or by the desire to denounce and have clarity of vision, but by fear.


A film on the active nature of fear. As a form of resistance, it doesn’t amount to very much. "

Monday, October 22, 2007

Daney in other languages

The lack of English translations of Daney has just become more apparent after I’ve found many books of Daney in other languages.

With Daney’s key texts available in German, Italian and Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese, one wonders if the English-speaking film lovers are the only ones missing out on his writings.


Argentinean publishers have released Daney’s texts from three of his books (La Rampe, Ciné Journal as well as the whole of Persevérance).

  • Cine, Arte Del Presente, 2004, Buenos Aires, Santiago Arcos Editor
  • Perseverancia: Reflexiones Sobre El Cine, 1998, Buenos Aires. Editiones El amante


A book called “Of the World in Pictures proposes late texts and interviews, including Perseverance.

  • Von der Welt ins Bild, 2000, Berlin, Vorwerk 8 Verlag


Italian publishers have made the most consistent effort with no less than four books released since Daney’s death and covering his key texts from the time of Libération to Perséverance.


The Sao Paolo 31st International Cinema Mostra is publishing a Brazilian/Portuguese translation of La rampe.

The English speakers are in fact in the same positions as Japanese speakers with only Perseverance – the only Daney book with no film criticism – available.

Let's have a thought for the South Korean students who contacted me to translate Daney from English to Korean. Publishers, one more effort. Please.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Stubborn Praise of Information (now online)

This text is now available online. It's a fantastic piece, one of a pair of articles written after the first Gulf War (the other one is here) which marked the time when Serge Daney decided to quit writing about television after years of doing so for the French newspaper Libération .

In Stubborn Praise of Information
Originally published as "Eloge têtu de l'information" in Libération on 31 October 1990 and reprinted in Devant la recrudescence des vols de sacs à main, cinéma, television, information, Aléas 1991. Published in English in Continuous Project #8, CNEAI, France, 2006.

It's one of the best translations I’ve seen along with Chris Darke's piece. It really conveys the sharpness of Daney's style in English

Many thanks to the anonymous comment on this blog pointing to this piece and to Seth Price, the translator, for allowing this text to be available online.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Book reviews of Postcards from the cinema - updated

Update of this blog with Steve Erickson's review of the book published in the Fall issue of Cineaste Magazine.

Like the other reviews of the book, Steve's points to the limitations of Postcards From the Cinema (not the ideal introduction to Daney, lack of actual film criticism, difficult translation). But since Steve - unlike the other reviewers - has actually done quite a bit to increase Daney's recognition in the English-speaking world through his website, he brings some needed perspective on the lack of translations of Daney and I find him a little more credible in his reservations.

Steve is also startled by the fact that Daney never saw Kapo and accepted Rivette's comment blindly. I must say that I totally miss that point. First taking Rivette's word for anything sounds great fun. Plus a single glance at the shot should convince anyone that Rivette is indeed "absolutely right".

On the other hand, Steve makes really excellent remarks about what it would mean to apply Daney's approach to current cinema, television and other audio-visual forms.

Joining the choir, he also hopes there will be more translations.


A number of reviews of Postcards from the cinema (the English translation of Serge Daney's last "book") have been published. I've been reluctant to post a blog commenting on the reviews of a translation of an interview, but it is the only way we have to assess the reception of the book. And the reactions are mixed. Most of them praise The Tracking Shot in Kapo article but have reservations about the rest of the book which is not proper film criticism but Daney's attempt at his cinema-biography in an interview with his Cahiers du cinéma friend and colleague Serge Toubiana.

In Sight & Sound, Jonathan Romney, finds the Kapo article "essential reading", showing Daney's "brilliance at extrapolating an argument from a single image" but finds Daney's interview not "of obvious interest from a strictly cinematic point of view". Much worse, Kent Jones, in Film Comment, has a strange rant at Daney, saying the autobiographical aspects of the book gave him the "heebie-jebies", considering Daney's account of a film he never saw (Kapo) "troubling and wincingly juvenile" and his "self-historicizing as musty and outdated as a radio ad jingle". Both called for more translations of Daney's actual film criticism.

Two kinder reviews are published online. Anna Dzenis in Screening the Past, finds "fascinating" these "insights into the life of a true cinephile." Tony McKibbin in Senses of Cinema pinpoints the irony of publishing a book by a film critic which contains only one article of actual film criticism (and on a movie the film critic didn't even see) and finds this a good example "that the lines between cinema, life and art aren’t easily drawn – nor would Daney want them to be". Again both called for more translations!

I'll update this post if more reviews are published

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Daney on television

Below are short extracts from an interview Daney gave to the French magazine Les inrockuptibles in March 1992.

Daney talks of the difference between cinema and television as the difference between projection and broadcasting (see also his "From Projector to Parade" article), of why he stopped writing on television (see also his piece on the TV coverage of the Gulf War) and what he meant when he was zapping between channels. It has the strange mix of assertiveness and bitterness charaterising the last months of his life. My translation.

Magazine: Is the death of the movie theatre necessarily the death of cinema?

Daney: No. For me, the love for cinema has never been confused with the love of the movie theatre. In the theatre, there was still too much society, too much consensus. I’ve always nestled against the screen. I have a relationship with a movie which is independent of everything, as if I had internally digitalised it before everyone. And I’m the only one by the way who has tried to see in detail how movies stood the test of the small screen. To say “you know, it’s not what we think.” One movie gains, the other loses out. For example, The Ten Commandments is great on television. Whereas India Song is made for an empty theatre. I was very happy with my paradoxes. And I had the hope, eventually a bit dashed, that it will trigger in people the desire to compare. No, really, I don’t care about movie theatres. I saw movies alone in a theatre. Well, it’s embarrassing. Especially comedies. To laugh alone, what anguish! The dilemma is therefore not between theatres and television, but between projection and broadcasting [“diffusion” in French]. And projection is not insignificant. To project oneself in a personal psycho-analysis, to have a project… Words are superb. What do young people have today? “Plans”, good or bad. The word “project”, they don’t dare pronounce it anymore. Personally, I have projected myself so much into the space of the image - this strange gaping hole - that I know something about projection that I will never forget. And I also know what it is to have a projector behind me.


Magazine: Is this why you say you want to stop writing on television?

Daney: I have the feeling of having closed a loop. No, not a loop: it would be too sad. I hope it’s only the first round of a spiral. Although… Television is a formidable thinking tool. You are like an analyst to whom society’s subconscious would be offered wide open… A rather raw subconscious (…) But if one is in good form and a good analyst, here’s a formidable machine to make you think and write. There is one problem though: it doesn’t bite. There’s no feedback whatsoever. If I attack Michèle Cotta [the news director of France’s main commercial channel], she doesn’t reply. If I write twenty thousand characters on Benetton Toscani, it’s not picked up on or quoted anywhere. It doesn’t trigger any debate. It’s considered as my own problem, my strange – and eventually likeable – whim. Me, Serge Daney, I have this strange whim which consists in writing on television with a film maker’s morality. They don’t hold it against me but I may as well not say anything.

Magazine: And the “Zappper’s wage”, your weekly chronicle in Libération?

Daney: The “zapper”, it was a very small niche, very narrow, which cannot be made a genre. Even “zapper” was a poor choice of word. If I zapped between channels, it was from one day to another. But I still watched the programmes from beginning to end. It wasn’t the video-diary of a TV addict under the influence of visual neuroleptics! I had kept my habits as a cinephile who likes duration and time in cinema. Anyway, after having been round the issue, from the news mass to advertising and decoration, I stopped. Serge July [Libération publication director] was annoyed. Because as an editor, he thought he had found a good gimmick, A grand child of Barthes. July has the original edition of “Mythologies” in his office and sadly still believes that it will help us understand our times…

Thursday, May 03, 2007

For the sake of exhaustivity...

Doing another of my regular Google searches on "Serge Daney", I found that the Bernadette Corporation art collective allegedly published translations of Daney in what seems to be a short-lived fashion magazine called MADE IN USA in the Issue 1 Fall/Winter 1999-2000. At least that's what the Bernadette Corporation website claims. They don't say which text they have translated.

If a member of this collective ever read this, please consider making these translations available online. If anyone owns a copy of the magazine, can you give us the reference of the text transalted?

The quest for english translations of Daney is becoming really mysterious... It's time for more translations!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Serge Daney talks to Wim Wenders

Listen to a replay of one of Serge Daney's radio broadcasts where he interviews Wim Wenders at the time of the release of "The wings of desire." It's in French but we don't have many chances to listen to Daney's voice so I thought I'd mention it here.

Here's the blurb describing the recording:

"Serge Daney talks to Wim WENDERS, the German filmmaker about his movie "The wings of desire" which got the award for Best Director at Cannes. The interview is live and the conversation is held in French.
Wim WENDERS tells Daney that he invented the angel characters so as to reach humans more easily. His message isn't about being naively sentimental but about promoting kindness: "talking about Evil is a waste of time - time we could have used to talk about goodness; it's like talking about Jean-Marie LE PEN, you're giving him a platform he doesn't deserve".
Wim WENDERS explains to Daney that he invented the disembodied angels to show humans how lucky they were to be alive as opposed to immortals faced with the boredom of eternity. He tells about why he finally accepted to shoot in Berlin, after he understood that up to then he had been making movies trying to avoid "having to face his own country". He evokes the great changes undergone in Berlin which at last is coming to terms with its role in German history. DANEY and WENDERS both comment on the evolution of cinema.
Serge DANEY ends the interview by referring to the "rear-mirror" effect of WENDERS' cinema - a cinema which moves forward while it keeps looking back at the dissolving past?"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Daney's review of Elephant Man

A big thank you to Cinema Scope for publishing my translation of Daney's 1981 review of Elephant Man. A good text which, when reading it in Daney collection of texts La maison cinéma et le monde, I thought was worth translating. Thank you to POL editions as well for authorising the publication - although I felt they were not really eager to see many others. By some coincidence, Cahiers du cinéma have published the French version of the text on their website (which now has an English version so I'm going to investigate if they want to publish translations of Daney). The Monster is Afraid: The Elephant Man, David Lynch, By Serge Daney The text first appeared in Cahiers du cinéma, n° 322, Paris, 1981, and is reprinted in La maison cinéma et le monde, Volume 1 « Le temps des Cahiers 1962-1981 », Editions P.O.L, Paris, 2001, pp. 266-269.


[UPDATE 22 Oct 2022: another version of this translation has been published here.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Daney in Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma DVD

Keep your fingers crossed! It looks like Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma are finally going to be released on DVD (region 2).

Since it will have English subtitles and since the episode 2A (Seul le cinéma) contains an interview between Godard and Daney, this means another English translation of Daney.

We've heard this news before only to see the release eventually canceled. Nonetheless, Amazon France announces it for March 20th and Gaumont has it on its website. I want to believe! I still remember watching the first broadcast on French television in the late 80s.

Godard deemed Daney worthy of featuring in his Histoire(s). Can there be a more definite reason to start translating Daney more consistently?

Good luck for reading the subtitles though. I'd hate not to speak French for this one.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Review of Postcards from the cinema

I’ve just finished Postcards from the cinema. It really is a strange book, bringing the same mixed feelings I had when reading it in French 13 years ago. Daney talks intimately of his life as the absolute cinephile but almost does not do the one thing which made him famous: film and image criticism.

First, let’s celebrate: this is the first book by Serge Daney published in English. A small event in the film world. Better late than never you might say: Serge Daney died 15 years ago, and although he is still influential in France where the publication of his complete works has yet to be finished, elsewhere he is more talked about than read. So, credit where credit is due: a big thank you to Paul Grant (the translator whose interview was published on this blog in December) and Berg Publishers for this effort.

But it is a strange cunning of history that the first book by Daney that English-speakers will discover is the posthumously published auto-biography of a film critic they know little of and whose writings are mostly unavailable. Probably a sign that the proliferation of quotes and mentions have generated a stronger desire for finding out who this mysterious French film critic is than for the slow assessment of his work. But that still leaves the English-speaking cinephile with a question: Is this book so good that it’s worth reading even though you don’t know Daney? How interesting can be the life of someone who spent his time watching movies? Or, to say it differently, can you really be someone if you are a cinephile?

For Daney, the answer is yes of course. And what a life that was! For the rest of us, aspiring cinephiles, it sets the bar rather high. Have we had shocks as strong as his reading of Rivette’s article on the tracking shot in Kapo – a movie he didn’t even see? Have we explored what makes us watch so many movies as deeply as he has when realising he was searching for his father whose voice may be registered on a reel somewhere? Are we ready to claim that we were born and we will die with the only truly radical art: modern cinema? To see how much one can live through cinema, the book is absolutely fascinating. For Daney, cinema (and other images such as postcards or maps) determined everything: how he saw himself in the world, what politics he would adopt, which jobs he would get, where he would travel… And everything in his life seems to retrospectively make perfect sense: from his first years as a schoolboy to his travels or his tenure at Cahiers or Libération. You can definitely sense that the book was compiled together (Daney only wrote the first chapter, the rest is an interview partly amended by him) with a sense that these were his last words

My mixed feelings come from parts of the book which make me feel uncomfortable (the egotism of the one who knows he will die soon and the arrogance of the intellectual) and from my sense that this book doesn’t quite show Daney at his best. For all the fascination generated by this unique text, I find his short pieces of film or television criticism far better. There’s little trace here of the humour and the creativity of some of his writing. And some of the comments are disapointingly ordinary in comparison to the visionary aphorisms he used about the evolution of the image in the latter part of his career.

Nevertheless, the translation of any work by Daney is worth celebrating. Enjoy the book, test how true a cinephile your are, discover Daney and know that he is even better than that. So keep asking for more translations!

Note: Steve Erickson – the original promoter of Daney on the internet – will do a proper review of Postcards from the cinema in the Winter 2007 edition of Cineaste.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

2006 blog usage

For your information as readers, here is the popularity of this blog in 2006 (the blog was created in November 2005).

I take the low usage reflects more the poor quality of this blog than the actual interest in Daney. I found many people ignore this existence of this blog but find it useful once they've discovered it. For 2007, I'll try to make sure its existence is at least known.

Key figures

* 136 visits per months on average, increasing towards the end of the year - 40% of which are returning visitors.

* 46% of visitors arrive to the blog via Google, while the rest arrives either directly (RSS feeds or bookmarks), via Steve Erickson's website or via the Daney entry on Wikipedia (which I sort of maintain).

* Half of the visitors come from North America (US primarily), a third from Europe, 15% from Latin America and only 5% from Asia.

I've just received my copy of Postcards from the cinema. Expect a review here soon. Read my interview of Paul Grant if you want to know more.