Sunday, 6 May 2018

Vale Pierre Rissient

Pierre Rissient (r) with Justine McGlone and Dave Kehr,
breakfast at the Tre Vecchi, Bologna
(ph: Neil McGlone)
Pierre Rissient was a good friend and it’s sad to hear that he has died at the age of 81. He had been in failing health in recent years, his mobility very limited. The mind remained as sharp as ever and when I ran into him in recent times staying at the hotel Tre Vecchi in Bologna, sitting in the courtyard at the Cineteca di Bologna or catching up in Paris.  He remained instantly ready to give recommendations about the Bologna program or indeed anything showing anywhere. He had favourite Australian directors and followed their careers closely. Jane Campion, Bill Bennett, Frank Shiels and Rolf De Heer were particular favourites.

I first met Pierre when he first came to Canberra in 1976. He wanted to see some of the films held in the National Library’s film archive (this was prior to the establishment of the NFSA). In particular, he wanted to see Clarence Badger’s Rangle River (1936). Badger was on Pierre’s radar after he saw his silent film It(1927) starring Clara Bow. Completism was one of Pierre’s great characteristics. If he had a favourite film-maker he wanted to see everything they had made, no matter how lacklustre some of their work might have been. He was also intensely loyal to many film-makers  right up to the present and championed their work relentlessly.

Back in 1976, Karen invited Pierre home for dinner. Somehow or other that night turned into a lifetime friendship. “If you are in Paris ring me, early in the morning”. We always did and shared meals and movies endlessly. There was always a preview he could get us into, always something on the repertory radar. He was always keen to see films at the beloved McMahon, one of which was Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair. He marched us past the usher and took up a seat where he could hook his feet onto a seat in front. The film was quite a revelation and we spent some time talking particularly about Friedrich Hollaender/Frederick Hollander, the composer of the score and of the songs sung by Marlene Dietrich in the movie. 

Only a few weeks later I ran into him in London and he invited me to come along to the BFI where he had arranged a private viewing of The Only Girl, the only film directed by Hollaender, a 1933 musical starring Heinz Ruhmann and Lilian Harvey. “Not so good” was the judgement.

Pierre’s visits to Australia were generally well-flagged in advance. Karen and I would go up to Sydney and catch up. He used to lump me with David Stratton and Scott Murray and, to my embarrassment would say to both strangers and friends we were Australia’s three leading cinephiles. Oh well. He always knew where to head for a meal in Sydney. Late at night the Golden Century down in Sussex Street was a particular favourite.

Karen and I will be among many around the world who will miss him greatly.

I plan to shortly publish another page of tributes to him pillaged from Facebook posts and elsewhere. If you would like to contribute please do so by sending any memoir to me at

In the meantime, friend David Bordwell has been trawling the web and has sent through these links to notices that have been published since Pierre died.


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