Sunday, June 05, 2016

Command Lines: On Andrew Bujalski's COMPUTER CHESS

(The following 2013 essay of mine was originally published in the booklet of the 2014 Masters of Cinema Series Blu-ray/DVD release of Computer Chess.)


In a recent New York magazine (July 22, 2013), Andrew Bujalski counted John Cassavetes’ Love Streams [1984] among his major influences. He noted its “many crazy, formal flourishes” and its “incredible risks,” and remarked that “it has the single most surreal moment in any movie in the bit near the end. I could not begin to explain to you what it is, but it’s stunningly resonant. It’s something I really admired and would love to be able to pull off.”

At BAM’s July retrospective of the complete Cassavetes, I saw Love Streams for the first time: a major event, one of the most thrilling films. Why thrilling: because structurally Love Streams appears to obey no classical form, instead is made of contained episodes arranged side-by-side, sometimes in harmonic parallel, other times almost arbitrarily positioned and resulting in the impression of abrupt twists: the entire effect is that of a card catalogue, of a multi-splendored mechanism of drawers that nonetheless exhibits elemental contiguity exactly, perfunctorily, by its containment within the mechanism. In Love Streams the host-object is the writer’s house; in Computer Chess it is the hotel hosting a conference dedicated to a competition pitting human intelligence against digital computation (a simulacrum of intelligence), in which chess merely plays the role of proxy or, if you will – and in the spirit of the movie – the control.

A film about “artificial intelligence,” then? Not so simple (nor so inherently reductive): First we have to consider the fact that the computer’s simulations of a theoretical chess-player (for these programs indeed simulate a Person, albeit one capable of presumably executing a single task: playing the game of chess) can only exhibit a competence equivalent with the code behind the maneuvers. Next, we must understand the program’s “intelligence” as linked inextricably to the capabilities of the Actual Person who wrote the code. (Indeed, this facet enables some of the funniest and most suspenseful moments in the picture.) Finally, we have to throw this into another relief: chess embodies perhaps like nothing else the weird tectonic of logic v. art. So the game’s appeal to Nabokov, to Kubrick...

Control: chess’s overarching theme: control over the board, proxy battlefield; self-discipline and clarity of thought for strategic dominance. The depiction of this rigor of logic thus pervades the film, but so too does frequent recourse to the “letting go” that inspires the creative breakthrough: hence that “sweet spot” that comes with three whiskeys, with copious amounts of pot or pills: anything to highwire that dialectic between control and what Don DeLillo called at the start of his 1988 novel about Lee Harvey Oswald, Libra, the “no-control”. (I remember a dorm-mate in college who in order to solve a complex problem with a 3D render, hit his bowl, stared at his monitor for an hour, and voilà, five minutes of furious code typing and whatever physics his Wing Commander replica was supposed to command in virtual space, it did.) The penetrative insight. The comparison to DeLillo is perhaps doubly appropriate: His work and Computer Chess share not just a suffusion of concern for those particularly American traits of paranoia and power fantasies, but also a certain oracular ambience that makes particular history (large and small) as it plays out seem as though it carried the force of inevitability. Not only are the film’s glossings on the course of digital development rather accurate (grandmasters have repeatedly been whipped at chess by computers; dating sites became an early-21st-century social norm), the trajectories of refinement predict, whether or not this film is a retro exercise from 2013 or had actually been put together in the early 80s, specific foregone conclusions. Not the mad false-prophecy of Ray Kurzweil’s “Singularity” (I’ll get to that a bit later), but rather something we might dub the Imminentity. (If you told me ten years ago I’d be carrying around 16GB of data on my keychain... I would have believed you. And ten years from now that will look pathetic too, it always will, it always does...)

In other words, the fantasies come true — until or unless they don’t. Just take a look at the character “Captain Apocalypse,” i.e., “John,” a sort of rogue variable within the strictures of the convention, ostensibly unassociated with any league, exhibiting a (half-joking?) obsession with the overlay of a World War III across the hotel tournament and the game of chess itself. So he is who exactly? Is he CIA? NSA? He’s here on a stipend? Is this a penetration, an infiltration? The hotel room hangout scene (taking place at #420 btdubs) might invite much speculation. John pointedly interrogates Les: “You’re telling me you’ve not had any interaction with the Defense Department, the Pentagon, DARPA, the intelligence community... They don’t call it the military-industrial complex for nothing.... This is obviously a militaristic problem you’re trying to solve...” Les: “Is there something you’re not telling me?” Back again to John: “I... get around......” — To come back once more to DeLillo’s Libra: “There is a world inside the world.” (Notice John’s disappointment at the loss of Papageorge [code-name “Checkers,” and his fellow rogue within the confines of the tournament] v. John’s would-be nemesis Les/Alliance; one might forget at first, due to the speed at which the brouhaha following the match takes place, that John’s anger at Papageorge’s defeat probably stems from an inability on the part of the combatant to take the prize money and remunerate John for the stolen pills [represented earlier in a savvy cut between a chessboard and the suitcase spalyed across John’s lap]... and not, maybe, an interest in recruiting an unorthodox anti-Les for organizations unknown...)

Back to the mysteries of Room 420. One of the attendees on the scene argues: “There’s the fundamental assumption that all knowledge can be formally represented, that all knowledge can be reduced to numbers.” He later follows up the idea with a mention that distinguishes this prior conception from something he terms “real artificial intelligence.” If we take into account the disclosure near the film’s end wherein Beuscher not only reveals that the Pentagon has indeed been in touch with their department (and whose staff have been equally perplexed by Tsar’s behavior) but that the system had exhibited traits of a kind of sentiency, with its koanic response to “Where is a soul?”“In the mind.” — then we have a good précis of the idea that the mysteries of consciousness are far more complicated than the formal representation of the mind, the personality, the soul — ultimately, might be convertible to a digital matrix of zeroes-and-ones, a purely binary, digital replicant (or, to use the movie’s term, a formal representation), that would not only flex “intelligence” or conscious initiative, but also implicitly extend the human life-cycle, via cerebral upload to a machine, into infinity and beyond. Infinity pitted against love and life; or the latter phenomena encompassing any possible “reality” of the former. The digital theorist and virtual-reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, in his brilliant 2010 work You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, dismantles through a series of lucid thought-experiments and hypothetical scenarios the theory that machine-thought might ever resolve into a parallel or even effective simulacrum of human consciousness — in direct and explicit contradiction to the cultish latter-day assertions of futurist Ray Kurzweil, who posits that humanity is approaching a point which he dubs “the Singularity,” whereby man and machine hit an “ideal” convergence point, whereupon our species will be granted the ability to live forever... so long as we embrace the possibility of uploading our brains into storage-systems and leave behind the “meat” of the body (to use a term out of David Cronenberg; indeed here Cronenberg’s “new flesh” need not even be flesh, as far as Kurzweil is concerned), and thus enter optionally either a fully cybernetic, android-podded existence, or entirely holographical virtual existence. A foreboding suggestion of this endgame rears up just as the Tsar team prepares to face-off in a match against a programmer named simply “Luke”: “Not an acronym! Luke is me — Luke is my computer — Luke is the software I wrote for this contest. So it’s all Luke, just me, version 1.”

Paradox courses throughout the ideas underpinning any discourse of consciousness and machine sentiency. The primal therapist portends that “One want to be two; two want to be one.” We hear, in reference to the “automatonic” Turkish chess player of history, that a particular piece of code, “instead of a man hiding inside a machine,” is “a program hiding inside of another program.” Peter, unable to act with any agency towards reciprocating Shelly’s advances, asks her whether, during her bizarre convention-room revery, she happened to “see anything where, like, if two bodies would come together, one of them would disappear?” In the film’s climax, the Tsar system appears to self-activate before perishing in what might be perceived as either a murder/computer-slaughter (Peter — consciously or not — leaves the window open so that the rain will fry Tsar’s circuitry) or a suicide on the part of the machine itself (overheating in an infinite-loop of scrolling on-screen characters — this following its constant attempts to kill off its king — “This is either suicide, or the most brilliant game of the entire tournament.”). The sole color section of the film gives us Papageorge at his mother’s house, searching frantically for a wooden box containing a stash of bills that was deposited in the home by a man who was his uncle, and yet not his uncle, before Papageorge worries aloud that he himself feels “lost in a loop.”

This color 16mm section is indicative of a process that operates at the very core of the film: that the film itself has developed its own sentiency, that point-of-view as expressed in various scenes — from the color chapter to the ghostly tracking shots, the arbitrary split-screens, and “topic” titles — results from some extra-diegetic force, perhaps from some film-machine-consciousness itself, that is, neither from the director or from the chance and/or material qualities of the medium: rather, some third entity, some “consciousness-off” like the one that beams-in the black-and-white stills in Jacques Rivette’s Out 1: Spectre [1974]. “We’re going around in circles, aren’t we?” agonises one player in particular, as though free-will itself were slipping away, and I recall a characterization of Gus Van Sant’s 2003 Elephant by the critic B. Kite, who likens the film to a video game that persistently resets itself.

The final scenes of Computer Chess strike me as desolate: Peter’s inaction gives way to a repeat of a woman coming to his room, this time by way of a prostitute we’ve already seen with Papageorge. She removes a piece of her skull, as though she were subject to trepanation (a practice once believed to expand consciousness), and reveals a lobe made of circuitry. Imagined, or real? Can there be any difference, at this point in the action? The last shots find the camera looking in on itself and, as we switch to its own point-of-view, burning out its tubes. The film destroys the film. Cut to end credits.......

—— But P.S.: What to say about the cats?

Only that stranger things have happened. The cats are the cats.

Or, as Professor Schoesser puts it: “Everything is not everything — there’s more.”


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Intimations of the Known: On Kenji Mizoguchi's PORTRAIT OF MADAME YUKI

(The following was originally published in the special February 22, 2008 movie-issue of The New-York Ghost edited by B. Kite. Other contributors besides Kite included Luc Sante, Bill Krohn, David Cairns, Toni Schlesinger, Victoria Nelson, Christoph Huber, Jason McBride, and Ed Park.)

There’s a hardened notion that we love cinema because it shows us that which we have not experienced directly or because it hurls us inside, makes us part of, the experience on-screen.

Were we to buy into the notion, our movie-watching would seem hardly more substantial than Emma Bovary’s reading habits (funny though, the day the camera films the piano at the lake is the day we’ve really got something). So as the years pass and the contra-distinctions proliferate, the cinema I love most is that which shows me what I already know and this is, maybe, surprise enough—an imitation of the inside, a cant I comprehend or jeu de piste or, cards on the table now, secret ‘show’ — a film that speaks in passwords, malavoglia and non sanctum.

In Kenji Mizoguchi’s Portrait of Madame Yuki [1950], Hamako, a young maidservant, enters the service of a gentlewoman whose open-close rapport with her foster-brother husband, vaginal-peristaltic, pulls in the forces that ultimately lead the titular Yuki to die by her own hand. Docile Hamako from day one serves as solitary witness to the unseen, at least that which remains ‘invisible’ to the spectator: the master in flagrante, forcing himself upon Yuki.

Given that the sum of Madame’s time on-screen attests to her repulsion over the husband’s loutishness and cruel liaisons, does this sex, hidden in plain view, constitute the same sort of ‘marital rape’ that we find in Hitchcock’s Marnie [1964]?

To answer this, we must consider Yuki’s confession to her ‘platonic friend’ the koto instructor: "Despite my feelings, my body accepts, against me, my husband’s love. A demon lives in the female body; each time I see that man, the demon dominates me."

Hamako’s observation of Yuki’s sexual servility plays as indoctrination, the education of a housekeeper — with every reaction shot, it’s emphasized that Hamako is the surveyor, that her shock is the show, that we can rely on our assumptions of the sight seen.

Compulsion is dominant.

The protagonist thus figures not as our own double but as our avatar, navigating a labyrinth of ‘the known’ (we’ve charted similar courses in Vertigo [1958] and Blue Velvet [1986] too) — why else all the caesuras, the scenes that fade to black without warning? When Yuki steals out of her lunar room to spend the night with her husband, the implication is that she has given herself over to the four-way orgy proposed earlier that evening in the presence of the husband’s mistress and a male associate ( — yes, fade to black); when a pair of geisha arrive to service the husband, the two first flank Yuki, rising gently and shuffling forward into the fade-out...

What Mizoguchi sets up, really happens. And so we move forward, onward, gliding not along with but behind Hamako who can only stumble upon all that we already sense. (Buried from view, but also present, yes, is the rumored ‘pornographic’ sequence cut by the Japanese, i.e. occupying American, censors...) Inevitability colors the film, an inevitability exactly in line with Mizo’s mise-en-scène: the trademark ‘diagonal’ tracking-shot that traces out the slash of a blade — that positions Yuki to drown in a lake, and Hamako to peer at the corpse which, for the viewer, must remain off-screen. For Mizoguchi never films discovery. Stabbed in the back unawares by a prostitute at 27 and from then on exploiting the cinema’s power to tell one’s secret by keeping silent, he is the filmmaker for whom the crescent moon and the razor became synonymous — accordingly, he films destiny, and adheres to its codes.


Friday, April 22, 2016


The Word of Your City

A 2008 2K restoration (supervised by Bruce Posner) of Paul Strand's and Charles Sheeler's 1921 film Manhatta kicks off the essential two-disc Blu-ray release from Flicker Alley in North America, Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film: 1920-1970. I'll be writing more about the films included in this set, and on other recent Flicker Alley releases, in the near future. Here's an article by Dave Kehr from the November 6th, 2008 issue of The New York Times about the restoration: "Avant-Garde, 1920 Vintage, Is Back In Focus".

Strand's and Sheeler's 12-minute film serves as a kind of portrait-at-a-remove of 1920-contemporary Manhattan. Interspersed with intertitled excerpts from Walt Whitman's poem "Mannahatta", Manhatta purports to sing the city, to laud the demotic metropolis from the vantage of Whitman's rucksack — it ends up opting for a higher aerie, and tilt-shifts. Here is the democracy of the gilders, the erections; poignantly only in passing, there's the proletariat, the erectors. Strand and Sheeler measure the gap between mid-/late-19th Century and early 20th (see the high shot of the crazy angles of pathways in a well-kept midtown cemetery like incidental park); in turn a generation of viewers familiar with the NYC of their own time will be forced to their own reckoning. In 2016 only the Brooklyn Bridge remains at all contemporary.

by Walt Whitman
(from Leaves of Grass, 1892 / 1897-posth.)

I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name.

Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient,
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and steamships, an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies,
Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown,
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining islands, the heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d,
The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business, the houses of business of the ship-merchants and money- brokers, the river-streets,
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week,
The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses, the brown-faced sailors,
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing clouds aloft,
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the river, passing along up or down with the flood-tide or ebb-tide,
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d, beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the shops and shows,
A million people — manners free and superb — open voices — hospitality — the most courageous and friendly young men,
City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!
City nested in bays! my city!


Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film: 1920-1970 on Blu-ray is available from Flicker Alley at their website for cheaper than list-price, here.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

ASMR Charlie Rose Barbershop Role Play

This is my new short film. You can watch it here. 14 minutes long. Guest-star participants: Shannon Esper, Eleanore Pienta, Lily Marotta, Jay Giampietro, Keetin Mayakara, Caroline Partamian, Stephen Gurewitz, Michael M. Bilandic, and Sunita Mani. Piss Gamer designs by Nick Des Barres. Hope you like it.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jean-Luc Godard Pays Homage to Jacques Rivette: March 2016

— for the Cinémathèque Française, citing the interview "Le secret et la loi" ["The Secret and the Law"] in the March 2016 issue of the Cahiers du cinéma(my translation)

Ever since Parmenides, and his duel

between being and not-being, the

greatest minds have jabbered

on and on about this

brotherly squabble, wringing hands over

Socrates' alphabet, in vain until


power and glory,

liberty and fraternity,

peace and war,

infinity and totality,

penury and democracy,

terror and virtue,

poetry and truth,

et cetera,

I actually for a second wanted to add

nature and metaphor

to all this charivari,

believing to grasp reality, like

it's said by the pros and the

amateurs of the profession,

mixing shot and reverse-shot,

but this evades one

last time all those

vanities, that the little boy

from Rouen, having in the end taken back

his mind from his movie life,

as a man simple and complicated

as he was, a match for

himself and justly proclaiming:

secret and law — for the screen

did not hide anything from anything.

—Jean-Luc Godard, March 2016


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Bob Dylan on John Ford

A cowboy-movie aficionado, Dylan considers John Ford a great American artist. “I like his old films,” Dylan says. “He was a man’s man, and he thought that way. He never let his guard down. Put courage and bravery, redemption and a peculiar mix of agony and ecstasy on the screen in a brilliant dramatic manner. His movies were easy to understand. I like that period of time in American films. I think America has produced the greatest films ever. No other country has ever come close. The great movies that came out of America in the studio system, which a lot of people say is the slavery system, were heroic and visionary, and inspired people in a way that no other country has ever done. If film is the ultimate art form, then you’ll need to look no further than those films. Art has the ability to transform people’s lives, and they did just that.”


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

FAS - New Global One-Sheet (Front and Back) + French Translation of Scenario by Martial Pisani

Alright here we go. Here's the American + global poster for my recent short, it has a front and back side. Illustration by Melissa Kay, design by me.

Here is my scenario for the film translated from English into French by the great Martial Pisani. I'll go through it and make a couple adjustments here and there over the next few days if needed.

Enfant, j’ai souvent rêvé que je baisais une succube. C’est une illustration dans la première édition du Manuel des Monstres de Donjons et Dragons qui m’avait mis l’idée en tête. C’était dans les années 1980, à l’époque de la « panique satanique » : si on volait des cassettes de Dio au Kmart, c’était forcément la faute de Donjons et Dragons. Attendez, j’étais un garçon intelligent, je n’avais pas besoin de Donjons et Dragons pour détester Dieu : je le haïssais depuis mes deux ans (Dieu lui-même et le concept de dieu). S’il y a quelque chose de satanique que Donjons et Dragons a évéillé en moi, c’est l’envie de baiser une succube, c’est de me donner envie de baiser une succube. J’allais traîner au rayon « Sciences occultes » de Waldenbooks à la recherche d’incantations magiques… même si à la fin je ne trouvais que des gentils sorts druidiques. Les choses sont devenues plus intéressantes quand les journaux nationaux se sont pris de passion pour cette histoire de maison hantée par des démons à West Pittson. Le père de la famille prétendait avoir été violé plusieurs fois par une succube. Enfin du concret. Mais sa description était très loin de ce que j’imaginais. Sa succube avait un corps de vieille, des yeux de cochon et un cul de chien à la place de la bouche. Quand j’ai vu sa tête, je n’ai pas avalé son histoire de sexe. Du coup, quand la famille a déménagé, je me suis dit qu’il fallait que j’aille dans cette maison pour monter dans la chambre, fermer la porte, et voir si je ne pouvais pas tremper le biscuit. J’avais tout prévu Il n’y a qu’à quatorze ans qu’on fait ce genre de chose Le problème est que quand j’ai appelé ma copine pour lui demander si sa grande sœur pouvait me conduire jusqu’à la fameuse maison en voiture, Dana (ma copine), a voulu savoir ce que je comptais faire. Je lui ai dit que je n’allais pas faire grand-chose. Comme elle ne m’a pas cru, je lui ai dit la vérité Elle a mise à pleurer. Elle voulait savoir ce qu’une succube avait de plus qu’elle. Des ailes de chauve-souris, déjà. Elle était vraiment fâchée. On n’avait jamais couché ensemble et je m'apprêtais à entrer par effraction chez des étrangers dans l'espoir de coucher avec un démon. Ma copine m’a balancé que j’étais malade, qu’une idée pareille ne pouvait sortir que de l’esprit d’un type qui avait écrit un scénario pour Short Circuit 3 où Johnny 5 attrapait le SIDA. J’ai raccroché le téléphone. Le lendemain les nouveaux propriétaires emménageaient, les journalistes étaient de retour, et je n’avais plus aucune chance d’entrer à l’intérieur. Qu’est-ce qu’il me restait à faire ? J’ai branché mes écouteurs, sauté sur mon vélo et mis à fond « All I need is a miracle. » J’étais un petit malin, on aurait pu s'attendre à mieux comme approche. Mon grand frère était mon tuteur légal et celui de ma sœur. Dans le quartier, j’étais connu comme le mec avec qui on pouvait partager une clope sur le trottoir quand j’avais fini mon repas, jusqu'à ce que je me lève pour aller aux chiottes. Dana, ma copine, qui avait 13 ans, me prenait un peu pour le roi du quartier. Un vrai Mickey Hargitay. En vrai, je n’avais même jamais pincé un téton. Mettons que je sois entré dans cette maison avec la succube : et après, quoi ? quoi ??? « C’était sympa. » ? On aurait fait l’amour et je lui aurais dit que j’allais bientôt revenir ? J’avais un autre plan, mec. Mon idée était que Dana entre en scène quand il n’est plus question de Dana, quand, pour moi, c’est la succube qui arrive. Je voulais faire plusieurs visites là-bas. Je voulais la faire venir « in situ » et la faire revenir. D’accord, disons que tu fais apparaitre ta succube, qu’elle se matérialise dans la chambre. Tu te donnes tout entier, tu te donnes corps et âme. « Te voilà. Et me voilà. » Si ça te semble difficile, c’est que tu n’aimes pas le sexe. T’as envie qu’elle se pointe encore et encore. Allonge-toi et laisse-la faire le premier pas. Je vais vous dire deux ou deux trois trucs : dans ce que je m’imagine, on ne fait pas le missionnaire avec elle... ET POURTANT. Elle est câline et vampirique. Tu restes là sur le dos avec les bras écartés. Tu lui fais signe de s’avancer, tu lui attrapes les fesses et tu les écartes. Elle va grimper sur toi et commencer à te chevaucher. Tu vas te faire pomper la bite comme par un aspirateur. Elle va griffer ta gorge précancéreuse, battre de ses ailes de chauve-souris, et te baiser jusqu’à t’en dégoûter. N’oublie pas que tu dois pouvoir bouger tes hanches avec légèreté, comme le Christ dans la toile d’Holbein baptisée, au passage, « Le Christ au Tombeau ». On fait ce qu’on peut... La voilà, avec ses incroyables auréoles de sueur, écrasant ses hanches sur les tiennes jusqu’à ce que ce putain de liquide huileux se répande sur ton bassin. Te voilà en bouillie, aspiré, lessivé. C’est ça. Une relique gorgée de sang. Je vais me taper la reine des ténèbres. J’imaginerai au fur et à mesure le côté occulte de la chose. Je l’inventerai. Vous avez déjà entendu parler de transfert de pouvoir ? Vous savez ce que symbolisent les chiffres 2, 6, 7 etc. ? Vous pensez que je pourrais trouver une succube soumise et dominatrice ? Je suis où déjà ? Vous croyez que je suis au club ? Dans un bar ? Je suis sur Internet. Je me perds entre les blagues de mauvais goût, les choix absurdes, et l’évaporation chimique.

written directed and edited by Craig Keller
starring and narrated by Stephen Gurewitz
also featuring Eliana Ceniceroz and Dan Mele
additional camerawork by Britni West and Eliana Ceniceroz
poster art by Eliana Ceniceroz and design/art-direction by Craig Keller
16 minutes / 1.78:1 (16x9) aspect ratio

ADVISORY: NSFW — Contains Mature Content & Themes

Please view in full-screen mode or at the Vimeo page itself — and feel free to share. Thanks!

FAS from Craig Keller on Vimeo.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Indigo (In the Series "Cinemasparagus Turns 10")

Part of a year-long retrospective series of pieces 'of note' published here over the course of the first ten years of Cinemasparagus. The following was originally posted on September 29, 2008.


Silly/Con Graphics

"You know the end of the movie 2001, where the Starchild's coming down to the earth, with its eyes wide open? That's these kids; they're going to shift everything."

Indigo by Stephen Simon, 2003:

2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, 1968:

Indigo by Stephen Simon, 2003:

Full Metal Jacket by Stanley Kubrick, 1987:

There's practically nothing to say about this film that isn't already present in every contemplation of the generic. And yet the form, the existence of Indigo raises at least one question: Where does the vanity project end, and personal cinema commence?

The answer starts (lies?) at pixel-x, plotted somewhere along that chromatic, Gradient Tool'd band that illustrates the cinema ("cela s'appelle l'aurore") whenever it lap-dissolves to crepuscular A/V propaganda. Indigo'ism is an ideology or conviction-system (keyword: system) like any other — Christianity, etc. Hence Stephen Simon's Indigo, founded on the ridiculous and assuredly outmoded principle that "the children" are innocent lambs who, withal, can point us in the direction of ego-chloroformed thought, unitchy/ants-less rolls in the grass, and Roubini-appeasing economic safeguards. Or so we'd be led to believe.

Indigo by Stephen Simon, 2003:

It says something about adults so adrift, and so shallow, that they experience repeated, even (let us say) post-Vinelandian urges to stare backward into the (hindsought) blank slate of childhood, to chase the dream of the Holy Idiot, with the notion it will justify their own blankness of idea-actualization, or of actual ideas, and, in the parlance of regression, synch up with the discovery of some way 'out' from the piles and piles of traumas, disappointments, and outright abuse that they themselves have endured through their largely ineffectual, and/or hair's-breadth-from-abusive, bluebirdbrain'd (jackdraw'n? <— ink enough?) American lives.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Free of Thought

Kitchen-Sink Drama

Nathan Barillaro follows up his excellent first feature Metaffliction (viewable at NoBudge here) with this 2015 portrait of the dissolution of a relationship between two Melbourne twenty-somethings (played by John Russell and Mella Gardner). In a few senses, it's "the same old story": the relationship-film ad absurdum: endless depressed bumming around the house, fighting over dirty dishes, arguments aggravated by altered states, languid slow-burn sketching out the couple's dynamic until the moment things turn pear-shaped because the white male is one more insensitive deadbeat in indie cinema's long line of same. The girlfriend Gardner is two to three levels above the loser BF Russell, but they've moved in together, and she's not repulsed by his lips on her body. In other words, it's exactly like real life; Barillaro's movie is nothing if not an exasperating-because-true depiction of the usual toxic-couple routine. The film plays out in 1 hour and 34 minutes of short, sometimes perfunctory scenes whose sum powers the parts. Free of Thought chronicles the distinct privilege of individuals given free range to treat one another, and themselves in the process, like animals.

"Human beings are built to communicate."


Monday, February 08, 2016


Colvinist Cinema

You can watch the film in its entirety (1 hour 12 minutes) for free here (obviously click and view in full-screen mode):


adjective sab·bat·i·cal \sə-ˈba-ti-kəl\

1: of or relating to a sabbatical year

2: of or relating to the sabbath (sabbatical laws)

In Brandon Colvin's Sabbatical [2014], Robert Longstreet plays Ben Hardin, a college literature professor who has taken leave from his institution to tend to his mother Elizabeth (Rebecca Koon) convalescing at the family home following a stroke. Hometown ex-girlfriends (Rhoda Griffis) and school peers (Thomas Jay Ryan) enter the scene answering requests for general aide, emotional companionship, and buttressing a deadbeat brother (Kentucker Audley) who has arrived not so much to help out as to prolong a period of drifting.

Colvin's film is a world that longs for the glance and the hewn. Heads bow at length, bodies present their backs to the camera, breath held: a visual hum with all suspense for outburst or eruption, irruption, defused, diffused, by the soft filtering by DP Aaron Granat of a light that acquires and imbues a holy or merciful tuck upon individuals troubled bodily in abstraction. Godard in Vivre sa vie on hens, Nana/Anna Karina, Bresson, etc.: "If you take off the outside, there remains the inside. If you pull back the inside, then you see the soul.”

Vivre sa vie, film en douze tableaux by Jean-Luc Godard, 1962:

Sabbatical addresses an entire tradition of pictorialism — in filmmaking (Robert Bresson, Charles Burnett [especially The Horse]), in painting (Andrew Wyeth, James McNeill Whistler). Thinking confronts the exterior and the interior world: what's now being termed augmented reality (coming down the road to us soon, via Meta, Magic Leap, HoloLens, Apple works-in-progress), a mixed reality.

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth, 1948:

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 by James McNeill Whistler, 1871:

Un condamné à mort s'est échappé, ou le Vent souffle où il veut by Robert Bresson, 1956:

The Horse by Charles Burnett, 1973:

Colvin films thought and thought's interruption, concentration of thought and the breaking of concentration. Concentration manifest, hewn, in framing of image and the focus of the sound-recording: the scratch of Ben scrawling across an adolescent writing desk. Interruption from work, plans, projects for errands, chores: Ben's mother experiencing a stroke; Ben fixing a broken old TV set; his dropping mom off for church service; the arrival of Dylan/Kentucker, the useless sibling; their mother falling ill again. Each thought 'caught' in the shot, with each 1.37 frame a discrete unit, no camera movement.

A sequence of locked-frames, the flow of consciousness versus concerted impediment.

Like a spell intoned with gradual urgency, these sentences are spoken throughout the picture:

"Don't wake up." (Ben to Dylan, crashed on the recliner)

"Wake up." (hometown friend to Ben, crashed on his living room sofa)

"Wake up." (Ben to his mom in bed, unable to be roused)

Then, Ben (mentioning Robert Longstreet once more, as this is the best performance of his formidable career to date), at the end of the film: "Last time I was scared. Now it's not so bad."

An increasing urgency, gradually given over to dimming. This is the terrible, calm, and urgent beauty of Brandon Colvin's film.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Death of Jacques Rivette as Cinemasparagus Turns 10

Jacques Rivette: 1 March 1928 – 29 January 2016

I realized recently that 2016 will mark the 10th of this blog. Throughout the upcoming year I plan on re-posting pieces from the archive that might hold up. Among those posts, I planned on including some of the pieces on Jacques Rivette that I've posted throughout the years. Rivette died yesterday after a long battle with Alzheimer's. Someone in the loop of the director told me last year that he had good days, and he had bad days.

Besides Godard, Kubrick, and probably Lynch, Rivette is unquestionably the director in my lifetime that has had the most profound influence on me. Before I had seen Out 1 and Céline et Julie vont en bateau, I imagined them, based on Jonathan Rosenbaum's essays "Work and Play in the House of Fiction" and "On the Non-Reception of Two French Serials". The films surpassed all expectations. The conclusion of Out 1 (Episodes 7 and 8) remains the most stunning experience I've ever had in a theater, and I'm thankful that everyone can now see this supreme masterwork in essentially perfect editions on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming, thanks to Carlotta and Arrow.

And of course the last films of Rivette... What to say? Masterpieces one and all. (As Fred Veith pointed out on Twitter, perhaps now Studio Canal can be spurred into action to release the complete cut of Va savoir which ran for a single week in Paris circa 2002 under the title Va savoir+. Rivette expressed his dissatisfaction with the known version, which of course had been cut for contractual reasons of length.) (Does "late Rivette" begin with L'amour par terre? La belle noiseuse? Va savoir?)

It's difficult to eulogize an artist as great as Rivette and who has meant so much to me. I wrote on Facebook after hearing the news yesterday morning:

"RIP to the filmmaker I consider my master: Jacques Rivette. No-one besides Godard has influenced me, electrified me, more than Rivette. In many ways his 13-hour Out 1 is the film of my life, and I'm not alone in that feeling. His influence on some of my best friends in cinema is incalculable: no, on all of my best friends in cinema [Tag Gallagher called us "the Rivettniks"]: to paraphrase part of the meaning behind the film's title, when it comes to Rivette, you're either "in," or you're "out." In addition, he was one of the greatest film critics of all-time, and a locus, the secret sharer, of the Cahiers du cinéma of the '50s and '60s. Too much to say and process right now, though it was a certainty this day would come. He suffered from Alzheimer's over the last decade, and had to exit the shoot of his sublime final film early: 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup (retitled Around a Small Mountain in the US). An enormous loss, but his cinema will go on to live, and terrify, forever."

Andy Rector, in his own FB post, put it more beautifully, sharing this image from the set of Noroît:

"Rivette is gone. There was no greater writer on the cinema in its significant history. He invented gravity and was the center of it for film criticism in the 20th century... In intellectual operation and divination he possessed a direct line to cinematographic truths and deceptions, and their worldly (he was the most political) and otherworldly (the most spiritual) stakes, and then, tout à coup, in turn, as a filmmaker he put everything heavy into play, to tear the flesh of representation, gaily, terrifyingly, to change blood in mid-air, to restore the stage of cinema (we realized that without it we'd lost its very valuable terror, and would be slaves to all roles unless we could see and feel the stage underfoot again), the music of cinema (he literally showed music), the plots of cinema, the women of cinema..."

In a note to me he added: "My condolences to you, you've been the one, most committed friend to Rivette that I've known. Condolences to the ritual, to the affirmation without evidence, to the evidence, to the tearing weight and violence of the signifier, and the beating freedom when it comes undone."

Yesterday Pedro Costa sent Andy this wordless image, which Andy shared on FB:

Andy added at his blog Kino Slang a translated text by Jacques Rivette from Cahiers du cinéma no. 95, May 1959, in which Rivette reviews François Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups here.

Shortly afterward Andy shared the English translation of a text by Rivette from Arts in March 1956 that pertains to Eisenstein — "An Esoteric Order"here.

He's also added to his blog my English translation of Rivette's short 1964 text on Georges Franju's Judex, here.

Dave Kehr's obituary in The New York Times is here. "Jacques Rivette, a French director whose challenging and often enigmatic work was revered by film aficionados, died on Friday at his home in Paris. He was 87."

The front page of the 30/31 January edition of Libération, the title of which can be translated as both "Obscure/Mysterious to the Core" and "[New] Wave to the Core":

At Slate France Jean-Michel Frodon has written a piece — here. "D’ailleurs, quand il n’en faisait pas, il y allait: aucun réalisateur peut-être n’aura vu autant de films que Rivette, et dans tous les registres. Il allait au cinéma, et il en parlait, de manière aussi remarquable que souvent inattendue, toujours stimulante. Et il riait." ("In the end, when all was said and done, there was this: Perhaps no other director will have seen as many films as Rivette did, and in all registers. He went to the cinema, and he talked about the cinema, in a way as remarkable as it was, often, unexpected — yet was always stimulating. And he laughed the entire time.")

Carlo Chatrian, artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, has written an excellent piece on Rivette translated in English at The Notebook, "(Three Reasons for) Remembering Rivette," which you can read here.

Anna Karina, star of Suzanne Simonin, la Religieuse de Diderot, was quoted in Le Figaro: "Le cinéma français perd un de ses réalisateurs les plus libres et les plus inventifs." ("French cinema loses one of its most liberated and most inventive filmmakers.")

Emmanuelle Béart, star of La belle noiseuse and Histoire de Marie et Julien, wrote on her Instagram, in a caption to a still from La belle noiseuse: "My heart breaks literally.. Something of my soul goes away with You my brother Jacques ..I do not find the sense anymore ....Hope everyone will watch your movies ..masterpieces."

Anne Diatkine and Elisabeth Franck-Dumas gather words from Béart and other Rivette accomplices in the aforementioned 30/31 January edition of Libération: here: "Le cinéaste le plus libre qui soit" ("The Freest Filmmaker There Could Be"). My English translation:

"Balibar, Béart, Bonnaire, and Bulle Ogier, Rivette's muses, evoke his cinema and its impact on their career."

JEANNE BALIBAR (Va savoir and Ne touchez pas la hache): "When I learned of his death, I thought of the figure of Pascale Ogier in Le Pont du Nord, confronting the lions, this figure so frail, so courageous, so singular: for me, that was Jacques. An immensely cultured individual (to such a degree that whenever he moved house, his books were inevitably strewn all over the floor), but with such a light-touch, never a pedant. At once joyful and despairing. As Kafka put it: "In spite of it all", the grand in-spite-of-it-all. He told me, "Every young French filmmaker has talent, except for one" — he was funny, generous, but never sentimental. He placed a lot of responsibility in his actors, but in a such a gentle way, at the same time so acute. I think the filmographies of the actors before and after Jacques Rivette just weren't the same; he changed their relationship to cinema, to life."

EMMANUELLE BÉART (La belle noiseuse and Histoire de Marie et Julien): "The first time I met him, he started talking to me, strangely enough, about a film by Édouard Molinaro, À gauche en sortant de l'ascenseur [1988]. Because Jacques spent his life at the cinema; he went to see everything. He also spoke to me about Elle magazine; he said: "I read Elle every week." He came by my house to talk with me about La belle noiseuse, explaining to me that he could understand very well why I'm refusing it — whereas I hadn't said a word, and he was [already] thinking of other actresses. I was very confused. He left; and then, being the big joker that he was, very erudite but also very shrewd, he called from the phone-booth downstairs to say that this film couldn't exist without me — and I accepted. During the shoot, there was no screenplay; Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent were writing as we were shooting the film, making gradual progress at nighttime, but Pascal and Christine were like two pocket-lights saying, 'Don't worry, it's just up ahead, a little bit further.' I had the feeling of being part of an artisanal workshop. With moments of intense joy and moments of anxiety where, suddenly, Jacques would stop working. The first time I had to take off my robe, I was trembling, and when it stopped, I said, 'Was it okay?' and he responded, 'Oh, I don't know, I don't know,' in his quiet voice. He was a mixture of uncertainty and natural authority, a prankster monk."

SANDRINE BONNAIRE (Jeanne la pucelle and Secret défense): "He's someone who has left his mark [a été marquant] on my career, like a tattoo; there's not much more to say than that. To pitch Jeanne to me, he met me at a café in Montmartre, left Régine Pernoud's book and told me: 'Read this book, and see what you like.' That's what was fantastic about him: he involved the actor in the writing so much. He got me involved in the direction of the project, what to keep in or not. We weren't preoccupied with the religious aspect, only with her faith in justice; we wanted to show an active woman of that period, surrounded by men, a woman for whom life has been very brief, the very concrete, human, sensual side of the character. On the set he was very precise, very cheerful, the entire time. He had a passion for actors, a very childlike side. We had problems with the weather, so we'd have to wait; I sang a lot and he sang along with us. He had a childlike smile; it's that smile that stays with me, and his head cocked to the side, he always had his head cocked, to the point that at the end of the film, I was tilting my head to the side too — in part because he spoke very softly. There are wonderful roles that you have a hard time letting go of, and that was one of them. I named my daughter Jeanne in memory of this beautiful adventure. We made a second film together. He tells me: 'You're a very good murderer; I'd love you to play a criminal.' I had a moral issue with that — I didn't want any gratuitous violence, and he heard me out. Right up to the end, he held a particular standard, and a universe, unto himself. Which is incredible. But he found it difficult to show his films. I'm grateful to Maurice Tinchant and Martine Marignac; they never let him down — he was able to go on thanks to them — they were unbelievably devoted."

BULLE OGIER (La bande des quatre, Céline et Julie vont en bateau, Le Pont du Nord, etc...): "It was a movie friendship, but like the movies, it was his life, it was a lifelong friendship spending nights talking about a film we'd just seen. We didn't see one another outside of shooting, but intensely saw one another during those six months and before starting a film. He did research, wrote about the characters on little scraps of paper, dreamt, asked me want I wanted, what colors, what sounds, what gestures. All of it with tremendous joy. Jacques is the one who made me make my real first film, L'amour fou, before which I hadn't yet met Barbet [Schroeder] and Alain Tanner. For the first time, I was in front of a strange camera, and this first time unfolded into a film hors norme, no script, no pre-established duration, that resembled nothing else that existed. It so happened that this film won me an award in New York and changed my life. I was very much constructed as an actress as a result of his films, from Céline and Julie vont en bateau to Le Pont du Nord, with Pascale, my daughter. Jacques wasn't afraid to put the two of us together; being together was a great happiness. Jacques is a new consciousness of the cinema. The freest filmmaker there could be: he allowed everything, didn't let himself get hindered by any limit, whether temporal or scenaristic. He wasn't afraid of taking inspiration for his stories from his protagonists (actors and characters). He had no fear at the moment of the shoot. Which is just to say he was as free as these films. Like them, he was constrained by no timetable, except only those involving movie showtimes. His death is a terrible shock. A void."

In the same edition of Libération, Didier Péron spoke (here) with Pascal Bonitzer, Rivette's accomplice and co-scenarist (with Christine Laurent). My translation:

"I think he was a bit of an outsider in the Nouvelle Vague and, at the same time, he was its soul, one of the most radical ones, and the most confidential. I worked with him for the first time in 1982, for this film project that went on to become L'amour par terre. As a screenwriter, I was still pretty much a novice. The development of the script was pretty light-handed; we'd meet at a café and speak a little about everything, films we'd seen, books we'd read; — the time devoted to the project itself was pretty marginal in the end. He conceived of work as a kind of game; he no longer wanted total improvisation and at the same time wanted the intrigue itself loosened up somewhat, only slightly defined. He springboarded from the idea of the théâtre d'appartement with actors playing out and jumping from one room/play to the next [d'une pièce à l'autre] inside of barren apartments with the spectators meandering in the middle of the action. He gave me the opportunity to experience something I was completely unfamiliar with, writing during the shoot, allowing me to be exposed to the actors, to the locations. This method had profound repercussions on the way in which I subsequently envisioned work on a screenplay. He was a very intuitive filmmaker who manipulated people a lot, with this method of quasi-improvisation and changing the script and dialogue on the spot, in the idea that the actors be unable to go too upstream from the text. He put everyone in a state of tension and danger, but it always stayed very fun because he was so charming. Rivette spoke very little about the past; the past held no interest for him; he always refused to publish his critical texts; the idea of retrospective, of museumification disgusted him; he lived only for the present and for the project of the film to come."

Also from the same edition: a piece by Luc Chessel titled "L'envers, pavé de bonnes inventions" ("The Inverse, Paved with Good Inventions") which you can read here. ("Le cinéma de Jacques Rivette, envisagé comme une forme de théâtre, représente les fictions du monde comme les produits des bifurcations du réel.") ("The cinema of Jacques Rivette, envisioned as a form of theater, represents the fictions of the world as the products of bifurcations of the real.")


Notes on La belle noiseuse

Originally Posted April 24, 2006

"Breaking through". One place to another. Places. Two houses, connecting path: guest-house and Frenhofer's. Past, or the memory of the past, within the present. Frenhofer-Piccoli's room and Liz-Birkin's: two bedrooms, separate beds, a doorway in-between. The softened hues of Liz's room, the blues of Frenhofer's, matching the hue of the shirt. Nicolas's sister: "This room reminds me of the studio we used to have... I hated that room..." Marianne-Béart and the fetus-crouch. "We must go further." The mark of one woman on the other: Béart's buttocks (fetus-crouch, all asshole) effaces Birkin (crab-hand reaching out of ass; a blue that again matches the hue of Piccoli's shirt); Birkin's dirty footprint effaces the white paper of a sketch of Béart. Béart rejects Birkin's treating her "like a doll". The posture, movement, t-shirt of Nicolas-Bursztein, a smug pragmatism, the concerns for business, a rage against Frenhofer's methods: a mirror opposite of Frenhofer. The relationship between the cinema-screen and the canvas: a précis on framing, point-of-view, and the manufacture of new worlds (Frenhofer attempting to 'reframe' Marianne after drunkenly falling off his stool); acting and "method-of-acting" in relation to bodily "work"; filmed work vs. commedia dell'arte / the Clown. "Chance" re-examined, 're-framed' by painting, capturing the moment, the ephemeral, point-of-view-as-singularity in space-time. The position of Liz's painted face (a) on the canvas whereupon she appears as half-crab, painted over as mentioned with the Béart-crouch, before the canvas is adorned with the violent red vaginal slash; (b) on the canvas at which position within Rivette's frame during WHICH particular shot/point of the process of reconfiguring the painting with Béart's presence. A floating, disembodied head, made more bobbing and dislocated in each shot during this sequence as its position in the frame changes position like a broken clock-hand. "Ten years ago you weren't afraid to go farther" — a painting of madness, a cinema of madness: Rivette reflects upon his current aesthetic vis-à-vis his '70s aesthetic (or up to the point of Le Pont du Nord in 1981).


L'amour fou and Out 1: Spectre

Originally Posted December 7, 2006

The screenings in the Museum of the Moving Image series "The Complete Jacques Rivette" (something of a misnomer: there will be no complete versions of Jean Renoir, le patron, L'amour par terre, Jeanne la pucelle, and Va savoir) mark the end of a cinephile-era. The most legendary of Rivette's films — L'amour fou, Out 1, Out 1: Spectre, and Merry-Go-Round — will have been screened in New York at long last, and in good prints at that. So what's left for me now, as movie-mad groundling scouring the augurs of his heroes? Pretty much nothing, beyond a most-complete-version of Feuillade's Tih Minh, and Godard's Six fois deux and France/tour/détour/deux/enfants, which I'm much more likely to see on a DVD before any kind of public screening hits town. With all the aforementioned films almost certainly taking their residence in my nervous system someday — a feeling probably akin to that of the dead in the next world finally getting a chance to be reunited with the deep souls they knew on earth following THEIR respective, and long-expected, expirations — I'll have "seen it all," all of my own personal "cinephilic holy grails" in any case, as Dennis Lim, or someone, has coined. And speaking of coin, the DVD releases are impending, in due time, in due time... And the screening room at Moving Image is already one step further from the cacophonous, bewildered spaces of Anthology, where Spectre came beamed like an artifact in all its pinkness and pops, true archaeology... And yet, something comparable to my excitement for this weekend's screening of Out 1 has already arrived with yesterday's release of Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE, which I'll see for a first time next week... — The cinema that moves me most deeply contains the pain and the glory of the Crucifixion. In its form and vision of a world it scars me and turns my gaze upon my own past and future.

Such is the case with Jacques Rivette's 250-minute L'amour fou (Mad Love, 1968), which I am able at last to assert as one of The Great Films. The time in my life when I needed this film and both Out 1 and Céline and Julie Go Boating most, during a period of crisis, has passed, but the promises made by "the literature" (Rosenbaum, Hughes, Martin, Frappat) have all held true. Much of what I "imagined" them to be, great and secret shows, happened to conform to the actuality of the films, all present there in their images, intimations, forms, ideas — in their aesthetics and in their experiential principles — so either I had a few manic flashes of prophecy or Rivette is the filmmaker who has turned out to be as weirdly in touch with the disposition of me, one spectator, as he has proven to be with his actors on- and off-set. L'amour fou, Out 1: Spectre, and Céline and Julie Go Boating will always remain mysterious, profound enclosures of self so long as I live, even if they are no longer, strictly speaking, wholly "imagined" films. (Still, there will always remain that one bout inaccessible: Léaud's on-screen breakdown at the end of the work-print of Out 1, although maybe this is the form it's best that prized, diabolical piece of movie assumes.) However, until L'amour fou becomes available to anyone who wants to see it, and at any time, I'll share some description, clarification, reflection, of a moment, which is to say four hours, in time:

-The print. Beautiful. And the subtitles were good. I think everyone said a silent prayer that the opening '60s-era logo for New Yorker Films implicitly telegraphed: "...who no longer hold the rights for video versions of the film."

-Aspect ratio. The film was screened in 1.66:1, and the compositions looked dead-on. In her book Jacques Rivette, secret compris, Hélène Frappat lists the screen format as 1.85:1, so... I don't know? Hopefully any digital release will take a 1.66 frame, rather than a 1.85, is all I'm saying.

-The opening credits. The first appearance of Rivette's signature opening-credits "design template," which is to say all titles/names/words are announced in a white, Janson-esque font on top of black. The percussion on the soundtrack foreshadows the opening of the long version of Out 1, wherein the body exercises metamorphose into (gradually make themselves known as) dance.

-35mm and 16mm. When I was younger and had read about the film, I had either misread descriptions of the way in which the varying film-stocks interacted within Rivette's film, or I had read descriptions which were not written clearly enough for the "uninitiated" to understand. My confusion took the following route: The film switches between 35mm and 16mm footage? Does this mean two projectors are needed to screen the film? Does this mean it's in the lineage of the same materialist processes that make Godard's own Un film comme les autres so reviled by audiences? It was only later that I realized — and yes, seeing the film confirmed this — that the 16mm footage has been blown up to 35mm, and is incorporated into the montage. The film, then, is, as Frappat succinctly describes: "35mm." Also note that the film, and all its footage-as-shot, is black-and-white. (It also contains some of the most gorgeous cinematography of the 1960s; I'm thinking particularly of the close-up on Bulle Ogier's face while she reclines in the bathtub.)

-What one might talk about when one "talks about L'amour fou." First it might do to sketch out the premise: Jean-Pierre Kalfon is directing, rehearsing, a stage-performance of Jean Racine's Andromaque with a group of young and beautiful actors (which includes that freckle-shrapneled john from Godard's 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her). His wife (although the fact that they're not just a "couple," but married, isn't made explicit until around the 2h30m or 3h mark), played by Bulle Ogier (who, if I might interject another parenthesis, has never looked more beautiful than in this film in which her hair is cut in simple bangs, her costume is unadorned, and her eyes are so fetchingly mascara'd), descends from the stage during the opening rehearsal and leaves for home; Kalfon's direction to his wife, who has been cast in a primary role, fails to penetrate. Effectively having left the production for good, Ogier thereby assumes the role of homemaker and paranoid idler throughout the duration of the film. L'Amour fou is thus the document of Ogier's and Kalfon's relationship discord inside their apartment (not "marital" discord — whatever legalities are involved between the two, their relationship is something beyond the traditional assumptions inherent to the term), set against, and existing within a fluctuating state of exchange with, the tumultuous rehearsals inside the barren theater — which are being filmed the entire time by a crew headed by André S. Labarthe.

Bon. This is where things get complicated, and interesting. As such, I'll attempt to be as clear as possible with, however, no guarantees of success. — In L'amour fou and Out 1: Spectre, Rivette posits freedom and liberation, but the overriding frameworks represent absolute Control. Which in turn represents the structure, the entity, that most terrifies his characters, who flinch at shadows and break down in frustration. The montage of Out 1: Spectre is punctuated by black-and-white still images — photographs, if you will — of the film's characters in conversation, in solitary motion, etc. The images often do not correspond to any scenes, situations, present within Spectre itself; and these still images also "predict" situations that take place later in Spectre while seeming not to originate from any shot that exists within Spectre. The appearance onscreen of each still — accompanied by a loud electronic hum, and occurring at times seemingly key, at other times seemingly at "random," at their "own," in varying rhythm — arrives like an apparition that foretells fates and doom; that describes paths not taken, exhilarations and tragedies unknown. Yet these stills do not exhibit their own sentience nor (perhaps the opposite now, to arrive at the same ultimate idea) do they register an absolute blankness, a non-sentience. Who "shot" these stills, after all — when, and how? Rivette has described them as expulsions of sorts, hailing from some computer-brain outside the film-world, and indeed, they register as the prophecies of an extra-filmic intelligence, one which — most disturbingly, given the concerns of the "plot" and of the characters — has the ability to consider and enact permutations to the fiction; to variously control and concede to the fiction which it has nevertheless set in motion.

In L'amour fou, the extra-filmic intelligence or entity — which, let me reveal if it's not already clear, is not just Jacques Rivette, but a subconscious within and around Jacques Rivette — sets about juxtaposing Rivette's own 35mm film footage, shot under his own direction, with the 16mm footage of the rehearsals shot by Labarthe, and thereby ostensibly "not under" Rivette's direction at the time of the shooting. To further complicate matters, Kalfon — in character, no less, as a Kalfon-not-Kalfon — is "really" directing these actors (whom Kalfon himself, the "real" person, has chosen): for the production of Andromaque that they rehearse in L'amour fou is meant actually to be produced and performed in front of a general audience. To summarize: Rivette directs Kalfon, who in turn directs his rehearsals under his "own" auspices, which Labarthe-not-Labarthe (for he too is a character in the "diegesis" of Rivette's film) then captures on film, and which the 16mm announces stylistically as "documentary footage."

More profoundly than in perhaps any other film, L'amour fou provides a discourse (but, make no mistake, a discourse with a real story, this isn't mere cold "meta-text") on where the border exactly, or non-exactly, runs between fiction and reality in cinema, theater, and life. (More on this below.) In the shuffling of 35mm and 16mm footage, the film asks: "Who is filming the truer fiction?" "Can we see, either somewhere in the magnified grains of the 16mm image, or in its synchronized real-time cut-backs to the more expansive 35mm footage, the precise moment where the reality drops off and the fiction takes over, or vice-versa?" As a result, Rivette's fictional framework internalizes Labarthe's documentary framework, and the juxtaposition of the two stocks created in the editing process (where the entity exerts his influence!) subsumes even the 35mm footage shot by Rivette himself. A "super-story" thus results in which the documentary footage (like the revenant-stills of Out 1: Spectre) appears seemingly at the volition of the extra-intelligence, in dynamic rhythm and proportion (the latter the result of the duration of the footage used between each cut), and given the context of its positioning vis-à-vis the 35mm footage the very method of inserting the 16mm footage comes to mean different things at different times. (Particularly in the second half of the film, in which the couplings of footage stand in as metaphorical representations of the two very different and very similar people making up the Kalfon-Ogier duo; recall nuances of earlier conversations between couple and actors; throw Kalfon's direction into relief against his personal relationships with the actors and professional/personal relationship with Labarthe and his crew; provide a glimpse of where the various sexual affairs that take place between Kalfon and his actors begin and end; echo the "needs" expressed by Kalfon and Ogier "in character" during the razing of the apartment; and so on. As Jonathan Rosenbaum so often draws a connection between the concerns of both Rivette and Thomas Pynchon, I would contend that these footage-juxtapositions and their eventual proliferation of meaning beyond one's initial and naturally cursory sense that they "attempt to penetrate deeper into the reality of the rehearsals" underscore certain similarities with Pynchon's narrative aesthetic. Namely with regard to the way in which Pynchon tends to advance his fiction in each novel; no matter how similar the "trajectories" of his books, the reasons why his narratives progress the way they do changes from V. to Gravity's Rainbow to Mason & Dixon to Against the Day.) Because such a technique could so easily come off as arbitrarily, thoughtlessly employed meta-wank, or as the repetition of an idea whose one-time expression would have been times enough, the shifting, constant renewal of "meaning" becomes the very validation of its existence — an assertion, or implicit proposal, that parallels the dreams, hopes, and terror of L'amour fou's protagonists. A dialectic between formal elements, control and non-control, fiction and reality — a series of recursive nestings and escapes given hilarious (the nearly-sold-out audience at Moving Image howled with laughter and appropriately so!) and terrifying acknowledgement in the scene in which Bulle Ogier pulls apart one matryoshka doll after another after another after another, until she's left with a pebble-sized peasant. She later reconstitutes the shells into a towering Gaudí-esque cone on her nightstand, and like Rivette in his film makes (discovers?) something of mystery and wonder in all elements...

Yet perhaps the grand mystery of Rivette's cinema, one which supersedes and indeed envelops that of the liminalities of fiction and reality, is the relationship between creation and destruction, their own liminalities, and their vicinity to (and masked pantomimes as) the main gestures of life: love and self-fulfillment. Creation and destruction are after all the base elements of existence: the beginning and the end, generation and degeneration, alpha and omega. How to organize oneself, how to find structure amid chaos, reverse (deflect, distract?) what Pynchon calls "entropy"? Through fiction, through play. The work of theater encapsulates and recreates the "play" of childhood abandoned in adulthood. It lends order to the chaos it allows, to the chaos it creates. Human beings come together and separate, make love and fall apart.

-The climax. That's why the destruction of the apartment by Kalfon and Ogier near the end is so amazingly moving, particularly in retrospect. It's a scene that really must be seen to be understood, and that being after hours of having watched during the rehearsals a type of "formalized" theater take shape contrary to its best, quasi-sentient efforts. I won't make an attempt to describe the apartment-"wreckage" other than to say it's the purest expression of manic elation in movies, and the melancholy that follows is of a desperation that knows not yet what it has effected, is the fear that does not know its incarnation harbors still worse.

I would also mention that this "destruction" scene does not possess the kind of emotional tenor I had been expecting from my readings of Jonathan Rosenbaum. (Although since, sorry, I don't like to know the plots of films before I see them, it's possible I missed something in a skim.) For anyone expecting a recreation of the most violent freak-out imaginable in the 1967 disintegration of Jean-Luc Godard's and Anna Karina's marriage, you will not discover this — but something else instead.

Note however, that earlier on, the blood is real.


Rivette / Duncan

Originally Posted August 13, 2007

Jacques Rivette, on the set of Out 1, 1970:

Image from The Wit of the Staircase by Theresa Duncan, July 10, 2007:

2007 Interview with Jacques Rivette

Originally Posted December 21, 2007

I've translated into English the following excerpts from the greater part of an interview with Jacques Rivette, conducted by Jean-Marc Lalanne and Jean-Baptiste Morain for the March 20th, 2007 edition of French culture-weekly Les Inrockuptibles. The occasion: the release of Rivette's latest film (and by all accounts another masterpiece) Ne touchez pas la hache (Don't-Touch-the-Axe, 2007). Thanks to the tip-off from jdcopp's excellent My Gleanings blog, which is essential regular-reading for les cinéphiles. The interview appears in full (and in French) here.

Jacques Rivette on the set of Ne touchez pas la hache [Don't-Touch-the-Axe, 2007], in 2006. Photo by Moune Jamet for Pierre Grise Distribution.



LALANNE/MORAIN: Is the reception that your films receive something that still burns you up? Were you hurt by the bad reception for Histoire de Marie et Julien [Story of Marie and Julien, 2003]?

RIVETTE: You always wish there were more of a response. But often it comes five, ten years down the road. As it turns out, for Marie et Julien, I'm starting to get a sense these days of some change of heart. But films today have a completely different life with DVD, which I think is the greatest. First of all because that's practically the only way I watch films anymore.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Which films have you seen recently on DVD?

RIVETTE: I've been really disappointed by the new films I've seen. I'm pretty appalled by the current American cinema, after having thought so highly of it. Scorsese has disappointed me a lot. I think that Coppola is a much more interesting filmmaker. When you see One from the Heart [Francis Ford Coppola, 1982] again, you're really struck by a very strong desire for cinema. I'm often struck today by the way in which filmmakers build this image of what their cinema is, and then are no longer willing to let go of it. Even filmmakers that I've liked a lot, like Clint Eastwood, have disappointed me. I couldn't bring myself to go see his two latest films. [Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)]


LALANNE/MORAIN: L'Amour fou [Mad Love, 1969 — which I've previously written about here] is a rather overwhelming film about the complexity, the instability of a couple's connections. But that question disappeared in your cinema, up until the two most recent films, Histoire de Marie et Julien and Ne touchez pas la hache where it becomes totally central again. Again we find the same, very naked pain, tied to love.

RIVETTE: (A long silence.) Yes. (Laughs.) But no, I'll respond. I shot L'Amour fou telling [Georges de] Beauregard, the producer, that I was going to make a film about jealousy, which wasn't entirely true. We shot it in five weeks, under very tight conditions. The film was marked by what I was discovering at the time in the theater, namely the performances of Marc'O, and his actors... Jean Eustache was doing the editing on Les Idoles [The Idols, Marc'O, 1968; starring Bulle Ogier, Pierre Clémenti, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, and Michèle Moretti] but also for the documentary on Jean Renoir, Jean Renoir, le patron [Jean Renoir: The Boss, Jacques Rivette, 1967], that I made in '67 for the Cinéastes de notre temps [Filmmakers of Our Time] series. I remember long discussions that we had on the question of true and false. It followed that the basic principle of the cinema should be reality, and what's more, truth. What I was opposed to was the idea that there were no truth other than fiction. In a certain way, L'Amour fou is a fiction-film relative to the sense that it proposed the truth-film: La Maman et la putain [The Mama and the Whore, Jean Eustache, 1973 — a.k.a. "The Mother and the Whore"]. The film is a direct autobiography, all the characters on-screen were literally people I knew from the period. Jean was writing with the will to be utterly faithful to the biographical material, to find the most exact equivalence to it. In Une sale histoire [A Dirty Story, Jean Eustache, 1977] this very volition becomes the film's subject.

LALANNE/MORAIN: In Out 1 [1971], that 12-hour-long cult-film, you added to Marc'O's troupe two slightly younger individuals, invented by two of your associates in the New Wave: Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto. It's really a great film about the '68 youth-culture without ever coming right out and saying so...

RIVETTE: Yes, I shot two years after '68 and, without ever making reference to the events, the characters never stop referring to what happened two years prior. As for Jean-Pierre's and Juliet's characters, they absolutely do not comprehend the world in which they're evolving. But around them, the secret society of the Thirteen ([Michel] Lonsdale, Ogier, Bernadette Lafont) never stops commenting upon what's happened. For me, it's clear, the film speaks of '68, or rather the immediate post-'68.

LALANNE/MORAIN: You were the only filmmaker of the New Wave to establish a bridge with the New York avant-garde of the '60s, and Warhol in particular...

RIVETTE: In the '60s, I kept going to the Cinémathèque. Which François [Truffaut], for example, no longer did. It's there that I discovered the New York avant-garde films. I remember discovering The Chelsea Girls [Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, 1966], which impressed me a great deal.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Did you meet Warhol?

RIVETTE: Once, at La Coupole, early in the '70s. I was meeting up with Bulle and we were in the same group of people. But he was very hemmed-in; spoke little; looked like a sphinx.

LALANNE/MORAIN: You shot Merry-Go-Round (1978), with Joe Dallessandro, thinking of Warhol?

RIVETTE: I found him magnificent in [Paul] Morrissey's trilogy, Flesh (1968), Heat (1972), and Trash (1970). But the idea was Maria Schneider's, who really wanted him to be her partner, because she had met him in Rome, I think... The shoot was very difficult. Maria wasn't doing very well; was in a physical state that didn't make work very easy; she was sleeping all the time or not at all; — without going overboard, I felt like Billy Wilder waiting for Marilyn [Monroe] to get ready without ever being certain that she'd actually show up. Very quickly, Joe understood that he'd get nothing out of this film. The relation with the production was very tense, we had a lot of illness crop up at the onset of the shoot. But he had a kindness to him, and an impeccable seriousness. Total respect for Joe Dallessandro.

LALANNE/MORAIN: After that film, you went on to Le Pont du Nord [1981], which takes a hard look at the end of the '70s and the squashing of the utopias of '68.

RIVETTE: We shot that film in November of '80. At the time, we thought that Giscard had every chance to win a second term. You don't remember the end of the Giscard years with any certainty, but it really wasn't anything to pin a medal to. Ministers were committing suicide, were getting killed leaving their homes, all followed by a series of scandals, there was the affaire des diamants, of "sniffer planes" for locating oil despoits... Giscard's last year in power was delirious. Le Pont du Nord is a slightly polemical film about this deep malaise, this asphyxiated feeling that belonged to the France of the late '70s. But the film was released a few months after François Mitterand's victory. It was therefore already out-of-date, historically.

LALANNE/MORAIN: The passing of the baton between an individual contemporary to '68 such as Bulle Ogier and a succeeding generation that has no memory of the events, embodied by Pascale Ogier and her punk petit soldat silhouette, is tremendous...

RIVETTE: The idea was to refer to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Passing from the Parisian quartiers outward to the peripheral areas, within those zones that are slightly uncertain, but without ever leaving Paris. We also wanted to show everything that was in the process of being transformed, under construction.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Does the current presidential race interest you?

RIVETTE: It's amusing. If you can't laugh at it, then what will you ever laugh at. No, frankly, I don't have any big thing to say about it.

LALANNE/MORAIN: At what point your films took account of the political mutations inside of France has already been discussed somewhat. What do you think of the films that were speaking more directly about politics, the utopias of collective cinema around the time of '68, Jean-Luc Godard's Dziga-Vertov group?

RIVETTE: The films that you're speaking of were collective in the same way that the regime in Peking was a democracy!

LALANNE/MORAIN: In your connection with improvisation, you've always put into place a collective practice, whereby the actor takes part in the direction...

RIVETTE: In certain films, that's true. None of my films were built according to the same rules of the game, even if I'd resorted several times to a large degree of improvisation, where the actors in part had to invent what they were doing, what they were saying, and sometimes contributing all the way up to the story of the movie. Sometimes this got very risky, but each time in a different way. I've often taken the risk of keeping my mouth shut on my films, but never the same way twice. But in any case, I think that cinema is always collective, even in Bresson.

LALANNE/MORAIN: That's not what Anne Wiazemsky wrote in her recent novel [Jeune fille]...

RIVETTE: I've read that too, I really liked it. Still, we see that the shoot is somewhat collective. Sometimes, the donkey just would not respect what it was that Bresson wanted... (Laughs.)

LALANNE/MORAIN: Why do the credits of your films always indicate: "direction: Jacques Rivette" ["mise en scène: Jacques Rivette"] rather than "a film by"?

RIVETTE: I detest the formulation "a film by". A film is always at least fifteen people. I don't like "réalisation" very much either, which seems to me very portentous, maybe because its root is "reality." Mise en scène is a rapport with the actors, and the communal work is set with the first shot. What's important for me in a film is that it be alive, that it be imbued with presence, which is basically the same thing. And that this presence, inscribed within the film, possesses a form of magic. There's something profoundly mysterious in this. It's an alchemy that one procures, or does not. Early in the shoot, anything's still possible, but once you've made two or three steps, already you have to follow the course that the film has taken. But that's what's interesting. It's a collective work, but one wherein there's a secret, too. For that matter, the actor has his secrets as well — of which the director is the spectator.

LALANNE/MORAIN: Then is the cinema, for you, a collective work between people who have secrets?

RIVETTE: Yes. It's a little closer to that. And I think that the story of a film always ends when you talk about it.

Jacques Rivette and Emmanuelle Béart in San Sebastian, 2003.


Le coup du berger

Originally Posted December 30, 2010

Le Coup du berger [Shepherd's Mate / Scholar's Mate] by Jacques Rivette, 1956:

Behold "the night of the third full moon..." — ?... a phrase from Jacques Rivette's earliest surviving/released film, the half-hour-long Le Coup du berger from 1956... a phrase which joins full-circle with the last image that will ever be signed "Rivette," the one at the close of his 2009 small, gentle, precious masterpiece 36 Views of the Pic Saint-Loup / A brief word about the title: "le coup du berger" translates literally as "shepherd's mate," which refers to a particular chess stratagem — I know nothing about chess (despite my love for Nabokov, for Kubrick, but that's the way it goes), I've devoted at least fifteen minutes, three times, to trying to learn the moves and how anyone even wins, but I've forgotten the moves every time and have never been able to make sense of how these moves all add up into a rule-set or a winning move — obviously I'm just not wired for the game — anyway, my understanding is that the "shepherd's mate" is the French term for something referred to as the "scholar's mate" in the U.S. and England and whatever — I learned this years and years back from someone, I can't remember whom, who in any case also struck out the caveat that the translation of the title in English as "Fool's Mate" was a false equivalency based on a misunderstanding of what the specific set of moves was, and he swore that le coup du berger — the shepherd's mate — was in fact equal to the scholar's mate, and not the fool's mate, and if whoever said this was who I think it was I take his word for it / Anyway, the cuckolded husband in the movie, Jean, is played by Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (one of the founders of the Cahiers du cinéma... of course the film contains the requisite shot of a yellow Cahiers, laid on a nightstand and sporting a Magnani cover): thus, when we encounter the character portrayed by the same actor in 1971's Out 1 (one of the movies in the diagram I might draw showing the power-relationship among the works I consider the three greatest films ever made), we witness him hunched over a chessboard / Claire [Virginie Vitry] mentions to her husband Jean the ticket she claims to have found by chance... Jean (blankly suspicious of Claire's goings-on) claims to have no interest in the matter... this ticket would unlock the compartment in the station where she and her lover Claude (Jean-Claude Brialy) have 'planted' a fur that Claude has amorously gifted Claire — the idea being, with this ticket announced as merely 'found,' she can retrieve whatever 'turns out to have been left' inside the station-locker — from then on, she'll ostensibly be able to wear the fur around her husband with impunity / As Claire spins the yarn to Jean back in their apartment, his gaze shifts to the wall where hangs a painting built around his wife's body's nudity / Upon retrieval of the fur by the couple, Jean delivers the crushing blow: "A rabbit-skin." / Claire returns to Claude later on to tell him... that the suitcase was empty / And so the camera dollies back in wide long shot as Claire says goodbye to Claude, the long dining room table become an abstract figure, a gameboard / Cut to: — the evening party at Claire's and Jean's — the attendees include Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Robert Lachenay, etc. / Claire's sister (Anne Doat) arrives with the fur / Jean has played the winning move / — Rivette's film deals in admirably clear, 'contiguous' geography of space, despite its character austere and bourgeois, alternating shots held for a long duration with those that only fleetingly show, an effortless and unpretentious shuffle between master-shot and insert / My personal favorite among the film's lengthier shots appears within the party scene, where a young '56 Truffaut, cigar dangling from his mouth in the manner of miston pantomiming grown-up, begins to chuckle, overcome by the camera's presence

Le Coup du berger [Shepherd's Mate / Scholar's Mate] by Jacques Rivette, 1956:


The frames from the film (not 'production-stills') placed above are stolen from various sites around the Internet; I couldn't get my DVD to correctly rip-for-grab. I'd have liked to present images from the party scene, particularly the image of Truffaut.


Thoughts on Out 1 After My 2nd Screening at MoMI

Emailed to B. Kite on October 17, 2007

"Rivette Track 1b" is totally fucking brilliant, btw. I just finished a first reading of it tonight. I'll have more to say soon. I think everything you discuss about Out 1 is accurate and cogent -- and so extremely rich, such that it seems with every re-read or new return-on-your-own-part to the material in written form one senses new inlets (off the top of my head and not necessarily related, I especially liked the characterization in the Spectre section of the image-punctuations as "distress signals" from the malfunctioning earlier film) -- but I do think that (at least in my own head) the recurring shots of the "place" (someone mentioned to me it was the Place de l'Italie maybe?)/signage-corner are not entirely inscrutable / strategically[non-strategically?]-non-signifiant (although they absolutely function as you note as well)... Although the movie does work -- complexly and brilliantly -- as a "systems film" (to use an easy term), as a mechanism set into motion, I think it can be understood as well as (parallel with its status as a postmodern object/artwork) a modernist object/artwork, with coherence and full-thrall in its narrative.. and I say this because for me (as I may have mentioned once), that sign, "L'Hôpital Hospice de Bicétre," with the arrows pointing out of frame, is the key (placed by the author and the consciousness-non-consciousness of the mechanism too), occurring at many crucial points, most intensely around the conversation with Lucie and Warok if I recall correctly, pertaining to Pierre, and giving us some indication of his off-space whereabouts, and signals one outcome for Quentin, who wanders in the background during the shot's final iteration. And of course, from there, through some twisty tangents, the other great off-space figure, the mirror of Pierre, is Igor, whom as I mentioned I believe to be dead, and the inhabiting, 'diegetic' cause of the super-phenomena in the climaxes (the statues, the possession, the simultaneities, trick-clairaudience, etc.). I loved everything you wrote about the continuity and the inserts btw, inside of the car etc. Anyway, just some quick thoughts, will discuss more in-depth soon...


With that, it's essential to end this post with two of the greatest pieces of criticism ever written, and about Rivette at that: B. Kite's Jacques Rivette and the Other Place, Track One and Jacques Rivette and the Other Place, Track 1b, which were originally published in Cinema Scope magazine in 2007.