Sunday, February 18, 2007

VIVE L'IMPÉRIALISME CINÉPHILE!

I caught a few more films at the WHC festival yesterday: a film made by Pasolini about a film he wanted to make about India (1968); a film by Agnès Varda about The Black Panthers in Oakland (1968); a silent film of very deliberately paced images involving a man, a woman and their child, by Philippe Garrel, a short made by French film actor Pierre Clementi in Paris and Rome (where he was acting in Bertolucci's Partner) during May and June '68.

In comments after the Varda film, Prof. Hazel Carby took issue with the extent to which the Eurocentric choices of the festival excluded film-makers of color. And that the New Wave-influenced projects of Pasolini and Varda, as documentaries, were made as outsiders directing a European gaze on "the others" in these postcolonial situations. This was so obviously the case that it did indeed need to be said. But, that said, the festival was intended to be about Europe and its cinematic response to the crisis year of '68. No American film-makers -- of North or South America -- were in the festival, neither were the British. So it seems, in a sense, beside the point to decry, as Carby seemed to, the absence of film-makers who didn't fall into the festival's purview and who, from what she said, made their notable works after the nexus of '67-'69 that the festival explored.

But her larger point was still to the point, I had to concede. We were watching another version of the Eurocentrism of Comp Lit/Film Studies and that in itself is indicative of the fact that "the world" certainly did not change in '68. The 'cultural imperialism' of Europe, if losing ground in some areas -- notably in painting and popular culture -- kept its hold on "le cinéma" (despite the fact that the New Wave auteurs were all enthusiasts of '40s Hollywood films). Feeling guilty-as-charged myself, I only sat through films by film-makers whose names I knew due to la nouvelle vague.

Pasolini's film struck me as a quaint attempt by an older, humanist form of inquiry to come to terms -- terms which are already suspect -- with a vast situation: the state of post-independence India. The "humanist" element was found in the fact that he expected to get some insight through a) a story of a Maharajah who sacrificed himself to a starving tiger and her cubs (certainly intended as a kind of allegory), b) direct questions to people who reply on camera. What mainly emerges is the power of the camera, and a special kind of Western presence on the streets of India. Something similar happens in Varda's film on The Panthers, the narrating soundtrack of which sounds like one of those educational movies we used to have to watch in Social Studies. In fact, the film wouldn't have been out-of-place in such a course. In both cases, the documenting presence had the aura of Dylan's Mr. Jones. And yet, in both cases, the footage itself was well-worth seeing.

Le Révélateur (1967), by Garrel, is something I would've loved as a young man. When my friend Tim Gilfillan and I used to sit around in art class in high school planning movies we'd like to make, this is the kind of thing we were groping toward: no sound, no dialogue, no music, just images. In this case the images were about a little nuclear family, with the young boy as the main focus. Some of the sequences were incredibly effective despite the obvious limitations of the film-maker. In such a film (as Tim and I understood even back then) everything is a matter of location, pacing, cutting and lighting. Garrel used lighting and location to considerable poetic effect. Moi, I would've preferred a bit more imagination (and rigor) in editing and pacing. Both Le Révélateur and Godard's La Chinoise went on too long, producing a fatigue that more nimble editing (and a willingness to shorten the film) could have avoided. That said, I was glad to see both these works.

Clementi's La révolution n'est qu'un un début: continuons le combat was a lot of double-exposed film which at times approached stock footage of hippydom. The only really interesting part was the actual footage of "les événements de Mai" looped into the collage -- which bore labels that shouted at us things like "L'IBERTÉ" (sic), "LA RÉVOLUTION PERMANENTE," "POUVOIR DE L'IMMAGINATION" (sic). It too was longer (at 24 minutes) than it had to be, but as a curio of the time it had some interest. My gripe with the festival was that it would've been much more interesting to show the "big name" film that Clementi was working on with Bertolucci. Partner -- with its send-up of (or is that homage to) many Godardian effects -- would've fit right in and then, of course, we would've been able to watch Clementi on the other side of the camera, where he truly belongs.

And, while I'm at it, if Britain had been deemed a part of "Europe," a showing of Lindsay Anderson's excellent "if..." (1968) would've fit into the theme of "revolution" better than some of the other films in the proceedings. If nothing else it would've shown that such fulminations even found their way to Britain! . . . home of "sleepy London town" and "the well-respected man about town," and those "dedicated followers of fashion."

In any case, I have to admit I avoided most of the discussions. In part because, unlike a literary conference where we may not have read the books under discussion, or not mere moments ago, discussion of films we are about to see or have just seen strike me as, in the first case, irrelevant (I tend to ignore "forwards" in books too) and, in the second, impertinent -- if only because, after seeing a film, we all have something to say about what we saw and prepared statements clash with the mood of spontaneous response.

Hey, professor, could you turn out the lights?
Let's roll the film...

--Laurie Anderson, "Big Science" (1982)

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