Tuesday 28 February 2023

Streaming on HBO channels and on DVD - THE GILDED AGE (Julian Fellowes, USA, 2022)


Agnes Von Rhijn (Christine Baranski), Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon)

You have to give credit to Julian Fellowes. After six series and two movies devoted to the British aristocracy he has moved on. Some said the the series Jumped the Shark way back in about the third season but, as the feature length spinoffs showed, punters couldn't get enough.

Fellowes next stop is New York in the 1890s and the tension between the rich, represented most notably by Agnes Von Rhijn, and the nouveau riche represented by Bertha Russell. Agnes is a widow, supporting her impecunious spinster sister Ada Brook and hoping for good marriages for her son Oscar (a closet gay) and her niece Marian Brook. 


Both  the Van Rhijn and the Russell households have an array of servants, many of them with secrets that are going to take years (seasons) to uncover. It’s very familiar territory and it’s done with a panache that seems to accompany anything that Fellowes has done from Gosford Park onwards.


So while waiting for series two to emerge I pondered equivalences.


As mentioned there is an acerbic witty quality to Agnes Von Rhijn (Christine Baranski) that clearly matches up with Maggie Smith’s grandmother Violet Crawley. Each is adept at tossing off vicious bon mots and asserting class superiority. "My dear I may be many things but I am never wrong." has probably been uttered by both.


George Russell (Morgan Spector)

While Google tells me that the Russells are based on the Vanderbilts, I think George Russell (Morgan Spector) surely has more than a touch John D Rockefeller. “Grandfather was never charged with a crime” said one of Rockefeller’s grandsons in a TV series devoted to the development of American capitalism. Maybe so but reining in what Rockefeller did  to so-called compete with other business, formed the basis of today’s US competition and anti-trust law. George Russell has no qualms in destroying his business enemies – everyone from a fellow railroad operator who refuses to sell out to him, to his stenographer who betrays him for money. He’s a tougher egg than Robert Crawley the lord of Downton Abbey and a business naif mostly concerned with preserving his estates in the face of declining revenues. “There’s this fellow called Ponzi in America. Maybe I should invest with him” said Robert at one stage.


There are three butlers to consider. Carson is the unflappable adviser to the Crawley family and a stickler for protocol. He would never do what Bannister, Mrs Von Rhijn’s butler, does when he secretly accepts $100 from the despised Russells to advise and supervise a dinner which will be one of their stepping stones into the New York 400. In so doing he manages to get up the nose of Bruce, the Russell’s butler who doesn’t know the etiquette associated with English table layouts. “ The English never eat their salad separately and thus do not require a separate knife and fork”. Bannister is worldly and far more tolerant than Carson a man who knew his place and lauded old-fashioned virtues such as total obeisance to the ruling class. 

Ada Brook (Louise Jacobson), Peggy Scott (Denée Benton)


Bannister and Carson are both however stout defenders of other staff when unfairly attacked. Bannister is most keen to let the staff know whenever any racial slight occurs towards Miss Scott, the young black woman who lucks into a job as Mrs von Rhijn’s secretary. Miss Scott is the equivalent of Tom Branson the interloper Irishman who sweeps one of the Crawley daughters off her feet.


The closet gay characters are in different classes. The valet Barrow in Downton runs parallel to that of Oscar, who is on the hunt for a pliant rich wife and has his eye on Gladys Russell who will inherit fabulous wealth. I fear a sticky ending…

Berttha Russell (Carrie Coon), Donna Murphy (Caroline Astor)


Finally one big difference that leads to the best joke of the season. The Russells have a French chef who talks like an American actor doing an Inspector Clouseau accent. There was no equivalent in Downton, just Mrs Patmore the no-nonsense cook. But to succeed in New York society in The Gilded Age  a French chef is a requirement and Bertha Russell has found one. He  feigns incredulity when asked to cook an English style meal for the visit of Ward McAllister the gatekeeper to the New York’s most esteemed member of society Mrs Astor, but trouble is afoot. I can say no more…

Saturday 25 February 2023

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema - Bruce Hodsdon continues his series - 6(10) France - Part Two - The Left Bank/Rive Gauche Group and an Independent

Part 2 The Left Bank/Rive Gauche Group: Franju, Resnais, Marker, Robbe-Grillet, Duras, Varda. Independent: René Allio


The Left Bank group of filmmakers was described by Raymond Durgnat as “harbingers of the New Wave, [the group’s] tightly integrated socialism, humanism, high culture and poetic formalism contrasted with the modern bourgeois ethos of the ‘Cahiers’ group.” (MFB May 1987)

Georges Franju

Agnès Varda spoke of “a certain way of thinking, a certain complicity between friends.”  She came to making films as a still photographer with little previous interest in viewing films.  Marker was an established writer, the reputations of Alain Resnais and Georges Franju (1912-87) were made in documentary film although once they had made features neither of them returned to documentaries.  After making more than a dozen shorts, 1949-58, beginning with the disturbing ‘poetic realism’ of Les Sang des betes/The Blood of Beasts, Franju came to feature filmmaking in 1958 - 10 features, 1958-78.  Horror and fairytale are merged with a special sense of the poetic in his second, Les Yeux sans visage/Eyes Without a Face (1959).  He sought cinematic resonances in literary adaptations such as Thérèse Desqueyroux (1962) and an adaptation of Cocteau’s Thomas L’imposteur  (1964). In what he described as “pure form,” Judex (1963) is a remake of a classic Louis Feuillade silent serial. Franju worked consciously in the surrealist tradition “as a kind of self therapy,” a way of dealing with anxiety and chronic depression with which he suffered (Alan Williams 367).  Much of ‘rive gauche’ filmmaking, with a persistent interest in dream-like states, shows a debt to Surrealism (ibid). 

Alain Resnais

Alain Resnais
 (1922-2014) began directing feature films already an experienced film editor (he assisted Varda in editing her first film La Pointe Courte).  Of his first four features - Hiroshima mon amour (1959), Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Muriel (1963) and La Guerre est finie (1966), three of the four filtered through memories of war - in four unique writer-director collaborations exploring the theme of memory interwoven between levels of narrated time.  His fifth feature, Je t’aime, Je t’aime (1968), was written in collaboration with SF and fantasy novelist, Jacques Sternberg. In the film 16 years of a man’s life are audaciously relived, not in flashback but almost simultaneously (Armes 130). 
Resnais denied that he was the author of his films, that it was “not his ambition to write his own screenplays “ and that he “hated the idea of working alone” (interview in Through Parisian Eyes,  Melinda Porter) 

In his later works Resnais modified his interest in formal experiment in modernist fictional works, without abandoning experimentation. Two decades later, for example, his adaptation of Mélo (1986), his eleventh feature, is based on an almost forgotten boulevard tragi-comic melodrama first performed on the stage in 1929. Resnais masterfully integrates cinema and theatre in a four hander to intimately convey finely elaborated thought and feeling which, in its confined intensity, brings to mind Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud.

Resnais’ Nuit et Brouillard/Night and Fog (1955) is an hour long meditation on the anguished collective memory of the Nazi death camps and the inadequacy of its communication, with a commentary written by Jean Cayrol, the first of Resnais' collaborations with leading writers. The ominous impotence suggested by the music score and images, of chains of accumulation in the seeming overabundance of information is conveyed in his next film, on the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Toute le memoire du monde/ All the Memory of the World (1956).  

Chris Marker

Chris Marker
 (1921-2012) expanded his writing talent as a political documentarist and film essayist in Sans Soleil/Sunless (1982), a complex reverie linking images and thoughts in the form of letters from another world on subjects such as memory and time. He only once ventured into fictional narrative, memorably with a short film, La Jetée (1963) in which Marker uses still images to reflectively in terms of cinema, evoke the story of a man wandering in time. In the same year Marker also completed Le Joli Mai a cinema verité study structured around interviews with Parisians asked open-ended questions such as “Are you happy?” in the 'lovely month of May' . 

Alain Robbe-Grillet

Two of Resnais’ early collaborators, practitioners of the nouveau roman, Marguerite Duras (Hiroshima) and Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) 
(Marienbad), continued their own experimentations on film. The latter extended his formal concerns as a writer by deploying the 'presentness' of the film image as a mental landscape filtered through a character's consciousness. In L'Immortelle (1963) psycho-sexual elements are set in highly stylised Istanbul locations. Reality and imagination are merged, in the process of creating a narrative in Trans-Europe Express (1967), and in L'Homme qui ment / The Man Who Lies (1968) merged with 'a realism of the mental processes’, yielding to full-on bizarre eroticism in L'Eden et après (1970)

Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras 
(1914-96) developed a writing style identified as post existential, the writing and the struggle to write co-existing as she worked herself into her books as a writer trying to write them, as Godard works himself into his films as he makes them. When she began to direct films in 1966 she claimed her films were the same as her novels. 

The control of her deliberately minimal means was absolute, the writing involved in the process of her filmmaking follows her own course.  In Le Camion /The Truck (1977),  “striving to create a kind of anti-cinema which assumed a variety of forms” (Williams 373), she does an onscreen read-through of a film script seated at a table with Gérard Depardieu reading the part of a communist truck driver who in the script picks-up a hitch-hiking older woman. They have a mostly one-sided conversation about politics and philosophy. Every so often we see the truck driving along the highway at night or see the landscape passing. The woman, in Duras' voice, insists that the revolution is dead and “there is nothing but the void.”  Pauline Kael found it “an ornery, glittering achievement.”  

As has been noted by another critic, in reviewing The Truck, Duras “uses the medium to condemn our very expectations of the medium yet she still tells a story, she gives us an up-and-coming star and shows us the truck...[giving us room] to imagine our own mind-movie from the table-read [… ] Without the exteriors of the truck it would be a filmed play. With them it becomes cinema, banal but beautiful in its rhythms,[…] She didn't hate the audience, she disregarded it, yet she also knows the movie isn't complete without us.” (Ron Gonsalves eFilmCritic online)

As a committed Marxist, Duras saw mainstream cinema first and foremost as an instrument of social control. Well-made cinema, she argued, “mirrors precise subservience to dominant social codes.” Her special interest was in an unusual privileging of sound (voices, the spoken word) over image, the two not in any way illustrating the other. In her best known film, India Song (1975), camera movements are reduced to a minimum in long takes, including repeated images, in an attempted annihilation of visual pleasure. A simple narrative in fixed tableaux of a single group in India Song, reinforces the thematic and structural importance of death in the film. For the receptive viewer, the deathly stillness engulfing the images combined with vocal musical repetition and off-screen cries can be hypnotic. Her aim, as she described it, was 'to create a mass of sounds turning around minimally varying images'. French feminist critic Francoise Audè has argued that, in the context of the general austerity of her work, “Duras' characters are too intent on being engulfed in ‘submissiveness’ for feminists to adopt them wholeheartedly” (quoted Guy Austin 83).

Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda
 (1928-2019) was from her first film Le Pointe-Courte (1954) a genuine original experimenting with structure and launching her notion of “cinécriture” (film writing). Her feature films are informed by skills learned in making experimental documentaries and her earlier experiences as photo-journalist, painter and sculptor. Although always very much her own person Varda also productively exemplified the 'new wave' characteristics of independence as well as originality, “a highly personal vision, a continuing research into the language and syntax of film, with sustained attention to forms of narrative organization.” (Flitterman-Lewis 31). The detached contrapuntal editing in her first film central to her work, is unique, as Hayward suggests, was  adapted most notably by Godard and Resnais. Throughout her career “she continued to explore all the parameters of cinematic story telling... [working] with parallelism, contrast/alternation and juxtaposition, examining and re-evaluating  the (ideological) categories of documentary and fiction along the way.” (F-L 31) This amounted to a contesting of traditional cinema's mode of organising meaning.  Varda seized upon an issue and proceeded to document it in a non-conflictual way. “Although consequential, her films are non-ideological but replete with social realism.” (Hayward) The integration of “documentary” material into fictional structures suggests new uses for improvisation and new functions for a written scenario in delimiting and defining specific processes of cinematic meaning; experimentation with story-telling makes new demands in the reactivation of space between the viewer and the screen (ibid).  

Varda's continual preoccupation with constructions of the “feminine” is given full expression in Cleo de 5 à 7 (1962) and, in what Sandy Flitterman-Lewis calls its “remake,” Sans toit ni loi/Vagabond (1985) which is focused within different contexts, on a deconstruction and examination of how a woman's image is produced in the cinema. Varda challenges those cultural representations “by refusing to take cinematic language for granted.” Flitterman-Lewis concludes that “these two films provide a textual focus for the highly significant feminist issues raised in and by all of Varda's work” (32). This she achieves by foregrounding the process by which meaning is constructed, then restructuring film language in gender terms.

Cleo de 5 á 7 is a reflection on female identity, combining explicit feminist intent in transitioning from the objective representation of Cleo's closed world as a successful pop singer. The woman-as-image that is fetishised in traditional cinema, fixed, eternal and unchanging as spectacle, is increasingly subverted in her films. Varda asks questions, repositioning the viewer away from identification by juxta- posing fact with fiction. In Cleo, the detailed filming in the streets of Paris is set over two hours seen through Cleo's eyes. In her growing acceptance of others, combined with the self-awareness of a woman in crisis facing a hospital report possibly tracking towards her death, there is what Flitterman-Lewis terms “a crisis in representation as the heroine struggles for authorship of her own image. “The film's episodic structure and its emphatic division into chapters, posit each instance of growing self-awareness as a dramatization of the of the visual.” (ibid 38).

Flitterman-Lewis notes that the chapter organisation is typical of Varda. In addition to Cleo, Le Bonheur (1966), Lions Love (1969) and L’Une chant, l’autre pas/One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977), all have structures that “incorporate strategic distancing into their narrative forms” (298). Her writing on film (cinécriture) draws attention to the process of film-making. “Varda saw it as closely allied to the technique of painting in its structural composition, texture and tonality... In Vagabond she talked of cine-painting the texture of solitude” (Hayward).  She is equally detached from her characters not subscribing to the conventions of psychological characterisation so, as Hayward points out, ”they have no depth.” This led to criticism of her cold detachment and obsession with camera technique through écriture, “something they praise in the work Bresson or Resnais […] Some feminist critics see her work as perpetuating the European art cinema (i.e. male) style,” but others such as Flitterman-Lewis argue that she continues the heritage of early French feminist filmmakers Alice Guy, Germaine Dulac and Marie Epstein. (ibid).

Two decades later in Vagabond  Varda again takes up the exploration of “the intersecting issues of feminism and  representation...through a double deconstruction of the myths of romantic freedom and the enigmatic woman.”  The film begins in Languedoc with the discovery of a woman's body in a ditch   and then proceeds to retrace the last weeks in her life as an itinerant vagrant called Mona. She strongly rejects any attachment as well as the material and social structures that define our lives “without roof or law” - the translation of the French title of Vagabond. A diverse cross-section of society played by a mix of actors and non-professionals, create what Varda called “an impossible portrait.” This accumulation of descriptions keeps us outside the character, Varda scrupulously avoiding both the empathy of traditional narrative and the moralising of a feminist manifesto. The accounts of the wanderer by others suggest no positive model of resistance or hint at any cause or ideals. Instead Varda presents a series of questions prompting attempts to explain Mona's existence. “Against the invisible, naturalizing movement of classical cinema's fictions, Varda poses a discursive process that emphasizes contradiction” characterised by Flitterman-Lewis as “a contemplative film of 'psychic wandering'” (39).

Mona is the inverse of Cleo. The latter, from being excessively self-absorbed, “finally learns to see herself through others in a prism of the social.” Mona lacks such vision altogether, unable to “see herself through others” which finally leads to her destruction. By refusing a traditional character psychological depth, Varda challenges the viewer to discover “a new type of discourse permitting her to write/film in the feminine...Through these self-conscious strategies of resistance [such as denying traditional modes of looking at the female body in favour of a camera that is both analytic and direct] Varda is able to achieve a profoundly engaging cinematic reflection on the related problematics of feminism and representation” (ibid 38-40). Bordwell takes a more detached view, seeing Vagabond as Varda suggesting new possibilities for what many art films do in creating what he terms “a game of form,” as here first inviting the viewer to construct the story, then following Mona's death creating a poignantly ambiguous narration deploying disjunctive editing and misleading camera positions in presenting a series of incompatible judgements made about her by diverse characters (165-9).

 René Allio

An authentic voice in French cinema, independent writer-director René Allio (1925-94) made 8 features, 1965-84, beginning with two remarkable character studies, the immensely successful The Shameless Old Lady/La Vielle dame indigne (1965) based on a story by Bertolt Brecht about an old lady deciding to use what money she has to live her last years to the full, and L'une et l'autre/The Other One (1967) in an explicitly theatrical setting but showing  Allio's same mastery in the capturing of everyday details and the tiny gestures by which people relate.”  Susan Hayward places The Shameless Old Lady in the tradition of moral fiction in the 60s in “holding up a mirror of non-conformity to challenge the safe images of the dominant ideology” (262) linking it to several of Louis Malle’s films such as Les Amants (1958) in which the female protagonist (Jeanne Moreau) refuses to conform to bourgeois values.  

Allio made two films inspired by the 'Annales' school of historians encouraging study of the lives of ordinary people in community structures in the regions in French history, this shift of emphasis was given new relevance new by the events of May 68. Les Camisards (1972) is an historical study using voice-over and authentic contemporary documents made on location in the central mountains of France about the failed revolt led by young people of Protestant Huguenots under persecution by Catholic Royalists in the 17th C.  Moi Pierre Rivière... (1976), is similarly described as a remarkable historical study of a crime based on a confessional recovered by Michel Foucault, written in prison by a Norman peasant explaining why, in1835, he decided to kill his mother and two siblings. His mother was the central victim, as are women in general, for 'being in charge.' She was blamed by Rivière for his father's miserable life, and other things 'against whom he had to take up arms'. Originally he intended to write it prior to committing the murders before killing himself. The film was made with “exemplary naturalism” in the actual locations with real peasants, the legal and medical officials played by professional actors. 


Paul Monaco, “Marguerite Duras” Critical Dictionary vol.1 ed. Richard Roud pp.311-13                                                                                                     

Roy Armes, “René Allio”  and “Jean Rouch” in Dictionary of French Cinema vol. 2  1970                                                       

Brian Winston  “Jean Rouch” Oxford History of World Cinema  Ed. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith p. 529                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Sandy Flitterman-Lewis To Desire Differently Chapters on Agnes Varda  

Susan Hayward “Agnès Varda” World Cinema Nowell-Smith ed. p757.                                                                            

David Bordwell “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice” in Poetics of the Cinema 2008                                         

 Peter Wollen “Jean Rouch”  Paris Hollywood: Writings on Film 2002                                                                                        

Jill Forbes The Cinema in France After the New Wave BFI 1992                                                                            

Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike  Black African Cinema  UCLA Press 1994                                                                                 

Alan Williams   Republic of Images 1992

James Monaco The New Wave 1976

Susan Hayward French National Cinema 1993

Michael Walker, Robin Wood  Claude Chabrol  Movie Paperbacks 1970 

Dudley Andrew, entries on Astruc and Leenhardt in International Dictionary vol 2 Directors  ed C. Lyon 1984 


There are career essays online in Great Directors, Senses of Cinema, on Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer, Demy, Marker, Varda and Rozier. Other contributions on directors can be found in Senses of Cinema, eg.,John Conomos, “Godard: Only the Cinema” June 2001, and  Robert Farmer, “Remembering the Left Bank Group: Marker, Resnais, Varda” September 2009.


Previous entries in this series can be found if you click the following links

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema: 1960-2020 - Tables and Directors Lists to Accompany Bruce Hodsdon's Series

Notes on canons, methods, national cinemas and more

Part One - Introduction

Part Two - Defining Art Cinema

Part Three - From Classicism to Modernism

Part Four - Authorship and Narrative

Part Five - International Film Guide Directors of the Year, The Sight and Sound World Poll, Art-Horror

Part Six (1) - The Sixties, the United States and Orson Welles

Part Six (2) - Hitchcock, Romero and Art Horror

Part Six (3) - New York Film-makers - Elia Kazan & Shirley Clarke  

Part Six (4) - New York Film-makers - Stanley Kubrick Creator of Forms

Part Six (5) ‘New Hollywood’ (1) - Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Pauline Kael and BONNIE AND CLYDE

Part Six (6) Francis Ford Coppola: Standing at the crossroads of art and industry

Part 6(7) Altman

6(8) Great Britain - Joseph Losey, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Richard Lester, Peter Watkins, Barney Platts-Mills

6(9) France - Part One The New Wave and The Cahiers du Cinema Group

Friday 17 February 2023

On UHD Disc - David Hare awaits the new editions of WINGS OF DESIRE (Wim Wenders, West Germany, 1987)


Just as I ordered the UK Curzon UHD disc of this 4K restoration, Criterion has snuck up on me and also scheduled the new restoration for its May slate.

Where the previous Blu-ray from Criterion and others was derived from sometimes sixth generation elements, the new resto is derived entirely from first gen with the color/B&W transition sequences all derived from an Eastman master, which gives the B&W far cleaner color temp, and the color sequences now ring out, one might say supernaturally.
I love this movie, among so many things as a testament to Berlin before the property developers and the hipsters started moving in. It and The American Friend are my favorite Wenders. And a film about Angels and acts of unsolicited kindness are the sorts of things this horrible modern world needs. Just as it does another film about a donkey by another ageing Polish director, recalling Bresson’s masterpiece about a saint, Au Hasard Balthazar.

Interestingly I am still waiting for my order to ship which suggests Amazon is waiting for the "fixed subs" refit to come in stock. Personally I couldn't care less. 

But....If you wanna go truly bananas lash out and buy the 20 disc Curzon Wenders complete boxset from the UK which I think includes the UHD of Wings/Himmel. For a mere 229 Pounds Sterling.

Watch the Trailer to get an idea of the remarkable restoration images.

Thursday 16 February 2023

Vale Ken Mogg - A Film Scholar of Renown - Freda Freiberg and Michael Campi pay tribute


Ken (r) with friends Peter Tammer and Inge Pruks

Ken Mogg died recently. When his death became known Melbourne film-maker Peter Tammer posted these thoughts. Following Ken's funeral Melbourne cinephiles and friends of Ken Freda Freiberg and Michael Campi have also compiled some thoughts to remember the life of a quite unique and dedicated Australian scholar.


I first met Ken at Coburg Teachers' College, where we both taught film in the English Department in the early 1970s, under John C. Murray. John was one of the pioneers of film studies in Victoria and we were all indebted to him for our initial training in teaching film. We were nearly all graduates of Monash or Melbourne University, where film was considered  a “Mickey Mouse” subject, not worthy of teaching at university at that time. It was taught at RMIT - not yet a university then – and  at Coburg as a result of action by enthusiasts of film who put it on the syllabus within the English or Art departments.  I had a BA with majors  in English and Philosophy from Melbourne University in the 1950s (then the only Uni in Melbourne) and a DipEd from Melbourne University in the 1960s followed by five years teaching English (language and literature) in government high schools;

Ken had an Honours degree from the English department at Monash where he was in the first intake of students. His thesis was on Dickens. So we shared a familiarity with, and love of English Literature and philosophy as well as film. Ken had joined the film club at Monash; I was an early member of the Melbourne Film Festival, attending annually from 1956  to the present day, and joined the club in Melbourne set up by the film enthusiasts who were involved with the Festival. Ken became a strong follower of the German philosophers Nietszche and Schopenhauer later in life, and found their ideas more useful to the study of Hitchcock than Freud and Marx and the trendy French theorists that were favoured by the academics who subsequently failed to support him. I too abandoned my academic studies because of lack of support so could sympathize with Ken and admired him for following his own path..

When I started teaching film at Coburg, I also enrolled in a course of Japanese studies at Melbourne University and decided to specialize on Japanese cinema. This interest was also shared by Ken, who was particularly interested in Ozu, one of the great Japanese filmmakers.  When I first befriended him, Ken had wide interests in film directors – including Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Bresson – but in later years he became exclusively occupied with Hitchcock, which could become tedious. However, despite his obsession with Hitch and his love of the entire Hitch oeuvre, he put up with volatile criticism from me – because, as a feminist, I found some of his films offensive to women, especially The Birds, and I didn’t like his treatment of some female actors. Surprisingly, my criticism did not spoil our friendship. We continued to meet regularly at my house or his, for walks, talks, meals and films, until the pandemic stopped everything. 

In his final year, Ken stopped writing on Hitchcock and spent his time doing crossword puzzles. He was already in poor health. In my old age, I too have stopped writing and spend my life doing crossword puzzles (and playing Scrabble). We communicated frequently by phone, until the end. I had organized to visit him last Tuesday with my son, but sadly it was not to be, it was too late.

I’d like to end with an anecdote:

My granddaughter Tash is studying “Rear Window” for VCE English. Her teacher used Ken’s  book, ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Story” as a reference for class notes last week. What a shame that I couldn’t tell Ken!          


Ken Mogg will be remembered as one of Australia's most intrepid researchers and writers on the topics which most dominated his life and thoughts: the films of Alfred Hitchcock and the works of philosophers Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. 


Ken's interest in the cinema began no later than the early 1960s when he started studying an arts degree at Monash University. It was in 1963 that I and some other film lovers undertaking tertiary studies would meet to share our enthusiasms and ideas as well as watching films together at Monash or Melbourne University campuses at various film society screenings.  A few of this small group wrote articles or programme notes for university film societies to which they belonged. Sometimes we saw films together in the city or suburban theatres.  As Ken didn't drive, there were times when we enjoyed a film or two at one of Melbourne's many drive-in cinemas of the time: two Hitchcock films come to mind SHADOW OF A DOUBT for example and NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  


At that time Ken's interest in the cinema was a broad one. He liked most of the available work from the French New Wave directors. We watched Agnes Varda's CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 in a Monash lecture theatre one day together with another film friend keen to see this praised film even without english subtitles. Ken was also keen to explore the careers of more established French masters like Georges Franju and Jean Renoir or LA RONDE, the one film available by Max Ophuls at that time. 


Ken was very much involved in the publication of the programme notes for the Monash Film Group.  It was approaching the time that he undertook his Honours degree on the work of Charles Dickens, a central figure of 19th century English literature. This period fascinated Ken, perhaps because Alfred Hitchcock was born in the final days of the Victorian era. Already, the work of Hitchcock held a very deep fascination for him and remained his paramount research for the rest of his life. Other filmmakers he held in high regard were Robert Bresson, Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick while he very much liked the work of the Japanese masters Ozu and Mizoguchi. 


Both Bresson and Hitchcock were from Roman Catholic families. Ken considered the influences of their religious beliefs on their films, sometimes making comparisons between them. 


Ken would be most interested in overlapping areas of investigation.  For example one of the most significant composers for Hitchcock's later films was Bernard Herrmann who had also written for Orson Welles' first groundbreaking films some years earlier.  Herrmann was also the composer for Robert Stevenson's 1943 film of Charlotte Brontë's JANE EYRE  (which featured Orson Welles in the cast) and had created an opera based on Emily Brontë's WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Both of the original 19th Century English literary works interested Ken.  When the first LP recording of Herrmann's opera based on WUTHERING HEIGHTS appeared in 1971, Ken was in the small group who listened to it in my home. 


In the mid-1960s, some discussion sessions were held at either Melbourne or Monash universities, sometimes on Hitchcock or other cinema topics.  I believe Ken was responsible for organising some of the Monash events. 


In those student days and for a few years after, I remember long conversations, principally about the cinema, when I visited him at the Mogg family home in Caulfield on some Sunday afternoons before Ken moved to shared accommodation with mutual friends of the time such as Alan Finney, who had lived initially close to the Mogg family in Caulfield before Alan moved to an apartment in Queensberry St., Carlton. Later, around the early 1970s, Ken shared a large house with another film enthusiast and teacher Doug Ling and other Melbourne University friends in Flemington Rd. where apparently Ken showed his enormous enthusiasm for Kubrick's relatively new 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY by playing the film soundtrack frequently. Around the late 1960s, maybe at a time that Ken was living away from telephone communication, he could be reached on Saturday mornings at his part-time job at wine merchants close to the city. It's hard to imagine those days when some households didn't even have a landline. 


As one of our most rigorous researchers, Ken would follow every trail leading to and from his specific subject at the time. For example he would read all the original works that interested his favourite filmmaker, whether Hitchcock had produced a film from the books or not.  As with adaptations of literary works, Hitchcock's final film versions might vary considerably from the original source. Considering the reasons for these changes would delight Ken's agile and enquiring mind.  


For many years Hitchcock had wanted to make a film based on J. M. Barrie's play MARY ROSE, a work that fascinated if not obsessed him through his filmmaking life but which Hitchcock was unable to transfer to the screen.  Ken often spoke of MARY ROSE and why Hitchcock might have been so fascinated by it. There was a huge regret that the film had never eventuated. It seemed a palpable absence in both Hitch's and Ken's lives. 


By the early 1970s, my work in the health profession, family commitments and being involved in several film screening organisations simultaneously caused some changes in social networking so that I saw Ken much less for many years. At this point Freda Freiberg's friendship with Ken began. 


During the following years of intellectual considerations, Ken committed his ideas to the written page, producing the magazine The MacGuffin, from 1990. As a printed periodical, it appeared for almost thirty issues after which these writings of Ken's could be read on his website HitchInfo.net to which Ken added regularly his very considered writings until the start of 2022.  


In 1999, with Freda's encouragement, Ken succeeded in having "The Alfred Hitchcock Story," a handsome volume, published in the UK by Titan and revised in 2008. The book gained much praise for its coverage of all of Hitchcock's films.  He was apparently disappointed with the U.S. edition. 


Despite the depth of Ken's thoughts and publications, he was not appreciated by some of the academic world and yet was hailed by others. He mentioned communicating with a vast number of other Hitchcock enthusiasts all over the world. After Hitchcock's death in 1980, Ken's fascination not only remain undiminished but perhaps was intensified. He remained steadfast in following any leads to further define Hitchcock's mastery and enquiries. In the four decades since then, so many books on Hitchcock have been published or writings have appeared on line. At one point Ken mentioned to me rather wearily that he felt a huge burden each time new writings appeared as he felt it was expected of him to read everything that was made public on his favourite filmmaker. He felt under pressure as many people looked to him for opinions on these new publications. 


Through the decade or so leading up to the start of 2020, Ken and I would share our thoughts on many topics, cinema, some common musical interests and books that he had been reading. We arranged regular meals at restaurants in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. He was always on time, very prepared with notes written on cards, sometimes with a DVD or an article he had prepared for me. Often these generous gifts were unannounced and not always about cinema.  He was always most interested in my many overseas journeys during this period and would sometimes give me a travel programme he'd recorded from television relating to a place I had been to or one that was on the short list for the future. He was genuinely interested in what I, my close friends and my family were doing. Ken really enjoyed salmon and vegetables on those restaurant occasions, topped off with a glass of wine and maybe a shared dessert. As he was always quite thin, he was unconcerned about the sugar factor. We met usually around 6 or 6.30 so that he might drop into a local supermarket before he returned home, some distance from transport. 


The last time we saw a film together was just over ten years ago.  He'd been invited to a preview of HITCHCOCK with Anthony Hopkins playing the Master.  On that morning at 9am, Ken, myself and two young film writers were the audience for one of the first screenings of the film. I was very touched that Ken had asked me if I would accompany him to the preview. 


In the two or three years before Ken stopped going out at the start of the pandemic, our regular meal conversations could be more concerned with world affairs and his political interests which seemed to sharpen even more from 2016.


As has been reported elsewhere, from the start of 2020, Ken remained at home not allowing visitors because he felt his health was compromised after some previous hospitalisations. 


A week ago, I saw the new documentary on the life of Patricia Highsmith whose novel STRANGERS ON A TRAIN became one of Hitchcock's most popular films. Early in the film there are clips from the Hitchcock's film and rather automatically I made notes of them to let Ken know what was included before suddenly realising it was already several days too late to share them.  I do hope that somehow in recent months, he had found his own way to see this film. 



Tuesday 14 February 2023

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema - Bruce Hodsdon continues his series - 6(9) France - Part One The New Wave and The Cahiers du Cinema Group


Independent auteurs: Robert Bresson (73) b.07   Jacques Tati (69) b.08    Jean-Pierre Melville (71) b.17 Louis Malle (65) b.32     Cahiers du Cinema Group Eric Rohmer (72) b.20   Jacques Rivette (66) b.28   Jean-Luc Godard (74) b.30   Claude Chabrol (70) b.30   François Truffaut (64) b.32     Left Bank School Georges Franju (67) b.12   Marguerite Duras* b.14   Chris Marker b.21   Alain Resnais (73) b.22   Alain Robbe-Grillet b.22    Agnès Varda* (09) b.28     Originals Jean Rouch b.17   René Allio b.24   Jacques Rozier b.26  Jacques Demy b.31

Part 1 The New Wave: The Cahiers du Cinema Group

The above listing of directors of art films in audience reception, at times crossing into the mainstream, might give a misleading impression: that the French New Wave was an art film movement limited to a small group of filmmakers comparable to Italian neo-realism and German cinematic expressionism. But it was more than a cinema art movement not only because of the industry-wide dimension of the transformation that initially resulted but, as Alan Williams points out, (328) there was also “a wide range of highly diverse temperaments and goals within the ‘Cahiers du Cinéma’ group themselves.” , 

Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard in the offices
of Cahiers du Cinema

François Truffaut led the attack, in Cahiers, on mainstream French cinema of the 40s and 50s, “the Tradition of Quality,” labelled in Cahiers as ‘le cinéma de papa’ with its repetitively themed literary scripts based on psychological realism, smoothly photographed and edited star vehicles designed to more than compete with aspiring American product. The stories were either in period with a French emphasis or “focus[ed] predominantly on the lives and loves of young middle class characters. The working class which had been a strong motif in earlier periods of French filmmaking, was largely excluded.” (Temple & Witt 185).  

In contrast, heroes of loosely structured New Wave films lacked personal or social integration. The New Wave's resistance to Hollywood's commercial domination coupled with inspiration drawn from the vitality and formal excellence of auteur directors, contrasted with Cinema de Papa's studio-bound creative conservatism which was in financial crisis. This prompted the introduction of government financial incentives favouring independent film production. 

Neither a genre nor a school, the New Wave initially gained strength from its divergency and an imperative to experiment with narrative on low budgets. A hundred new filmmakers made their debut from the mid-fifties to the early 60s, filmmakers often beginning with short films. “The New Wave can be seen as a continued attempt to establish the main codes of classical American cinema and to subvert, undermine, and rework them.” (Flitterman-Lewis 31)

Alexandre Astruc with his essay on “Le Caméra stylo” (‘writing with the camera’), and Roger Leenhardt, were important influences on filmmaking ambitions. Leenhardt’s influential essays on cinema in ‘Esprit’ are seen to have initiated modern film criticism in France. They were responsible for first luring Cahiers’ editor and theorist André Bazin into studying film (Dudley Andrew). In terms of the actual filmmaking, Melville’s Bob le flambeur (1955) and Agnès Varda's Le Pointe-Courte (1956) are the widely considered precursors to the New Wave.  Although Varda's first feature failed to find an audience her experiment in narrative with an audience-distancing dual structure, exemplified the subsequent commitment to low budgets to preserve freedom of expression over the compromises generally required to reach a mass audience. 

Jean-Pierre Melville

Only given its full critical due in retrospect, Bob le flambeur is the first of five personal entries to the gangster genre by Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-73), spanning nearly two decades peaking with the masterpiece of the series, Le Samourai (1967). David Thomson describes Bob le flambeur as a “lyrical documentary-thriller...made astringent by the casual humour, the remarkable eye for honour, friendship   and double cross, and the pleasure at a world that Melville made his own.”  Independently produced on low budgets - Melville had set up his own studio in Paris - he achieves a kind of generic purity, a finely understated tough romanticism revivifying as policiers the American gangster film, atmospherically filmed on location with emergent actors of the time.  

The original phrase nouvelle vague was applied by a journalist in the weekly L'Express in October 1957 to a whole generation formed culturally and politically after Liberation in 1944.  In relation to the film industry the term New Wave was adopted to identify a brief period of upheaval and innovation in the French industry. Audiences for the New Wave films peaked during this flood of releases and then in the course of 18 months fell by 50 per cent. The first features of Cahiers critics Chabrol, Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (L’Eau à la bouche/A Game for Six Lovers) were released in 1959. Their approach to the conventions of mainstream cinema was, on the whole, more inventively casual and freewheeling than outright subversive.

Initially the “real new wave auteurs”, relied on enlightened producers, intent as they were on making films in improvisational mode rather than from well prepared scripts required by the state support scheme established for more 'difficult' films (Kovács 306). The period after 1962-3, it is suggested, should be referred to as the post-New Wave. The film industry recovered from its crisis in the late 50s, structurally largely unaffected. The aesthetic impact of the New Wave filmmakers - deployment of Godardian fragmentation and  improvisation in camera technique and performance -  was more permanent, both across Europe and internationally.  

Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard
 (1930-2022) early brought an adventurously spontaneous approach to genre-based narrative. Breathless (1959), Godard admitted, emerged not as the realist narrative he had initially intended to have been more linear like his second feature, Le Petit Soldat, (1960).  In Godard's fourth feature, Vivre sa vie (1962), his interests in female subjectivity and formal manipulation - the radical exploration of film's sound-image relationship - are most apparent. It also soon became clear that Godard was the most political of the core Cahiers group. Initially, however, he showed anarchic disinterest in taking a political position on the Algerian war in Le Petit Soldat, preferring a confused identification with the right-wing militant Michel. The anti-terrorism position taken in Le Petit Soldat transmutes into the detached political didacticism of his fifth feature, Les Carabiniers/The Riflemen (1963), foreshadowing his shift into a radical dialectic of fiction and documentary modes .  More on Godard will follow in 6 (11-13).

François Truffaut 

François Truffaut
 (1932-84), after the autobiographical Les Quatre Cents Coups/ The 400 Blows (1959), made an ironically playful, inventively contradictory genre picture with Charles Aznavour playing a caricatured gangster in Tirez sur le pianiste /Shoot the Piano Player (1960).  Its failure with audiences prompted Truffaut to mute the clash of tones and authorial markers in his third feature Jules et Jim (1961), uniting the “innocence” of his first feature with the “experience” of the second, as he described it (Monaco 47). He settled into a varied, modified classicism in a more relaxed semi-autobiographical stream with Baisers Volés/Stolen Kisses (1968)  counted among Truffaut’s best films, the second of four features in the Antione Doniel /Jean-Paul Leaud series beginning with The 400 Blows. One of his most underrated films, La Peau Douce/ Soft Skin (1964), is the first of three features made across more than two decades on the theme of frustrated passion, Truffaut in effect establishing his own ‘non-genre’. 

His inheritance from Renoir can be felt in a number of his films. In various on-going collaborations with four writers Truffaut’s more overt attempt to evoke ‘pure’  Hitchcockian cinema fails to overcome their differences in temperament in La Mariée était en noir /The Bride Wore Black (1968) but is better realised in the combining of genres in La Sirène du Mississippi / Mississippi Mermaid (1969).  He also made a succession of exploratory historical - literary adaptations:  L’Enfant sauvage/ The Wild Child (1970) in which Truffaut also played the lead role and narrates, Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent/ Two English Girls on the Continent (1971), an adaptation of a novel by the author of Jules and Jim, Henri Pierre Roché,  L’Histoire d’Adèle H / The Story of Adele H (1975) an account of sexual alienation based on the diaries of Victor Hugo’s daughter, and La Chambre verte/ The Green Room (1978) a  further example of Truffaut’s capacity for self-renewal in an adaptation of a dark short story by Henry James with Truffaut again playing the lead.  Bordwell notes “that Truffaut exemplifies the degree to which the norms of classical and art-cinema narration can peacefully co-exist […the] synthesising of certain Hollywood norms with art-cinema notions of psychological realism” ('Narration' 316). 

Claude Chabrol

Claude Chabrol
 (1930-2010) played an important part in launching the New Wave when between 1958-60 he financed short films by Rivette and Rohmer, with whom he collaborated on the first serious book length study of Hitchcock’s films. Monaco describes the films of Hitchcock and Fritz Lang as “Chabrol’s paragons.”  He financed Rohmer’s first feature, Le Signe du lion (1959) Philippe de Broca’s first, Les Jeux de l’amour (1960), and helped finance Rivette’s Paris nous appartient (1961) more than two years in the making. Chabrol formed his own company which served as a nucleus for the early cooperative efforts of the ‘Cahiers’ critics-turned filmmakers and Chabrol deserves more credit than he received for the practical intelligence he showed in financing the early New Wave films (Monaco 254).  

His first feature, generally regarded as the first feature of the New Wave, Le Beau Serge/ Handsome Serge,(1959), with autobiographical elements filmed in his town where Chabrol spent his adolescence during the Occupation, was financed with inherited money. It served  as a practical demonstration to aspiring New Wave filmmakers of how a feature could be made on a small budget. Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins (1959) are thematically companion films and the latter was the beginning of a collaboration with writer and friend Paul Gégauff - on-going collaborations both in front of and behind the camera was central to Chabrol’s accomplished craftsmanship and mode of working.  Les Cousins (1959) was the only major commercial success in his first filmmaking phase of 8 features 1958-63 which can be identified as Chabrol’s ‘art film period’. His fourth feature, Les Bonnes Femmes / The Good Girls (1960), which Chabrol nominated as his best film, is centred on four Parisian shopgirls entertaining dreams for a better life, but ending in a murder. Subtle ironies unexpectedly emerge with emotional affect through a complex formal structure.  Chabrol’s achievement in this initial personal phase of his filmmaking career was better understood retrospectively in light of the ironic subtleties in “a distillation of Chabrol’s preoccupations” almost universally praised by the critics in Le Boucher/ The Butcher (1970). 

The survival phase of 6 commercial assignments 1964-8 ended with the breakthrough, critically and commercially, of Les Biches (1968) beginning Chabrol’s fully mature phase in 9 features 1968-73 all variants on the psychological thriller genre pioneered in the French cinema by Henri-Georges Clouzot*, usually centred on triangular relationships. In the films most fully realised in this phase such as La Femme Infidèle/ The Unfaithful Wife (1969), Que la Bete Meure/ This Man Must Die (1969)  and Le Boucher, culminating with Les Noces rouges/ Wedding in Blood (1973), Susan Hayward sees Chabrol as providing “a social document of contemporary France that is far from flattering in its continuous criticism of bourgeois morality.” She further sees, as a constant, Chabrol’s obsession with the very fine line between good and evil, morality and madness, stupidity and frustration, “the way that social/bourgeois hypocrisy papers over that (260-1).” Chabrol is described by Alan Williams as a Left, no longer practicing, Catholic “who associated with Right anarchists” (344), his Catholicism seemingly displaced by the films of Lang and Hitchcock. He and Rohmer have been identified as forming Cahiers’ “Catholic wing.” Hayward describes Rohmer’s films as “more intimist” than Chabrol’s - “his moral fiction does not particularly address the social questions of the time but does paint the social mores of a certain intellectual middle class [and their] practices of self-deception (ibid 262).”  See also René Allio below. 

* On genre Monaco writes :  “There are seldom identifiable protagonist/antagonist relationships in Chabrol films…His world is internal and global rather than dialectical. It is not ratiocination [conscious reasoning] that fascinates Chabrol, but guilt, psychopathy, and violent passion. His films, then, are much closer structurally to the Films Noirs of the late forties, and early fifties.”  Monaco suggests they be called ‘Films Noirs en coleurs’ (256).

Jacques Rivette

Jacques Rivette
 (1928-2016) in some ways closer in his filmmaking to the Left Bank group especially Resnais, Rivette was initially the least prolific of the core Cahiers group in terms of individual films but not in screen time. The original Out One (1971), screened publicly only once, ran 760 minutes edited with the intention of it screening as a serial on television but rejected by O.R.T.F.  Rivette then recut the film to 255 mins as Out One Spectre (1974) with a different narrative, from the more than 25 hours of film he had shot for Out One.  These two films are more closely related to the traditions of Louis Feuillade and the silent film serial which Feuillade pioneered, the story not following a straight line. Two unresolved story lines largely improvised - one a mystery story involving 13 conspirators, two theatre groups and two crazed outsiders, the other a realistic story involving the same people that makes no sense.   

La Religieuse/The Nun  (1965 ) is a classical literary adaptation starring Anna Karina based on a story by Diderot and also a play which Rivette had directed in the theatre. It was originally banned on the grounds of blasphemy (the banning apparently initiated by Madame de Gaulle), to become Rivette’s only financial success after the ban was lifted years later. Céline et Julie vont en Bateau/ Céline et Julie Go Boating (1975) more accurately translates as the less active ‘Celine and Julie Taken for a Ride’ running 3 hours. The pleasurable, innovative narrative play on fictive mystery in the House of Fiction - a concern with fiction as an end in itself- is linked also to Rivette’s love of cinema showing that, relaxed and assured in his direction, Rivette could make a potentially successful art film deploying a similar framework of split narratives to that of Out One Spectre*.  

In an experimental narrative such as the 256 minute L'Amour  Fou /Mad Love (1968) Rivette combines 35 and 16mm filming, merging fiction and documentary elements. The initial element of the film is actors rehearsing a play by Racine. Then follows the psychodrama of the breakdown of a marriage and the descent into madness filmed on 35mm. The third element is the rehearsals for the psychodrama of the couple filmed on 16mm by a “documentary crew.” James Monaco describes it as “like La Religieuse  - an essay on the psychological aspects of individual freedom ” (318).  The psychology is simpler and more direct “without the fictive mystery” of Out One Spectre and Celine and Julie. “ The result is that the dialectical tensions between the various combinations of cinema, stage and television in L’Amour fou  are vividly clear, whereas the comparable oppositions in [his first film] Paris nous appartient/ Paris is Ours (1960) are “muddy and indistinct,” and those in La Religieuse were only implied” (ibid). Monaco notes that by this time Rivette has completely rejected the concept of filmmaking conventionally divided it into three distinct motions - script writing, production and shooting, and montage -  the stages in Rivette’s words “should be be totally interactive.“

Eric Rohmer (as he appears in Jacques Rivette's 
Out One)

A fellow ‘Cahiers’ critic and close friend of Rivette’s, Eric Rohmer (1920-2010) began to more clearly focus on a neo-classical style in building up a personal universe on the screen filmed with a love of natural light, a series of elegant, deceptively simple explorations of his characters' emotions, sexual urges, hesitations and moral dilemmas. In the six ‘contes moraux’ through the sixties, 1962-72, each “a story,” as he explained “which deals less with what people do than with what is going on in their minds while they are doing it.” The moral tales come to full fruition with third and fifth of the series, Ma nuit chez Maud/ My Night at Maud’s (1969)  and Le Genou de Claire/Claire’s Knee (1970) which Molly Haskell aptly sums up as “breathtakingly subtle and brilliantly cast and enacted amorous skirmishes” (Cinema vol 2 ed. R.Roud). In characterising Rohmer’s breakthrough with the international arthouse audience Rohmer additionally gives us time, through his film series, David Thomson concludes, “to consider how people are beautiful.” (Biographical Dictionary 898).

Certain 'Catholic tendencies' in the politics of the Cahiers group reflected critical thinking based in the realist film theory of its founding editor and spiritual father, André Bazin. Their filmmaking was an extension of their criticism – a politique des auteurs  inspired by the talent of many directors working in Hollywood genres. The main rival, Positif, also auteurist but with an anti-clerical left-wing stance, attacked Godard's and Bresson's films while supporting the Left Bank filmmakers' literary-based modernism and leftist politics as well as the work of others ignored by Cahiers in the early part of their careers such as Cavalier, Sautet, and Pialat (Nowell-Smith ed. 578).                                                                                                        

Jacques Rozier

One of the neglected films of The New Wave Jacques Rozier's  Adieu Philippine (1961), has affinity with the gracefully lyrical, humane cinema of Jacques Demy (1931-90) in, for example, Lola (1960), Les Baie des Anges/The Bay of Angels (1962) and Les Parapluies de Cherbourg/ The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). Rozier’s film exemplifies some of the more memorable qualities of New Wave cinema: street shooting with non-professional actors, emphatic visual devices capturing something of the post-war Americanisation of French culture and the forced hedonism of mass tourism, yet in the shadow of the Algerian conflict as we are reminded in the opening credits. Adieu Philippine failed at the time, not helped by money problems which delayed its completion for two years. For Rozier's subsequent work including five feature films 1973-2007 see Wikipeda. Adieu Philippine was acknowledged in Cahiers du Cinema for its pioneering application of cinema-vérité techniques to a fictional subject - the loss of teen-age innocence - with rare lyrical sensibility. The title derives from a French kid's wishing game in which “philippine” means “sweetheart.” 

Jean Rouch

Jean Rouch
 (1917-2004) was one of the pioneers of ethnographic filmmaking which, as Brian Winston points out, came from “a French tradition which concentrates on cosmologies with a kinship to surrealism, rather than a scientific study of kinship patterns.” His documentary practice, like that of Chris Marker, came from a French style of personal film that moves beyond using the camera for other than documenting objectively observed processes and behaviour. Rouch was an avid filmgoer who attended a film club, Cercle du Cinéma, founded in 1934 by Georges Franju and Henri Langlois which led eventually to the founding of the Cinémathèque Francaise. Rouch's consuming enthusiasm for cinema was closely connected to his interest in the Surrealism of Buñuel and Dali. Peter Wollen notes that these interests, “mixed with the solvent of ethnography,”  Rouch began film-making after the war having worked as an engineer in Niger. He bought a 16mm Bell & Howell camera and returned to Africa where he made films concerning cosmology – magic, possession and children's games – topics with a strong surrealist resonance in addition to their ethnographic interest. He liked the way Robert Flaherty mixed documentary and fiction in Nanook of the North (1922) and Rouch followed Flaherty's practice of screening his films to those who appeared in them. He also had them contribute to the post synched soundtrack. Improvisation became central to Rouch's practice as he discarded altogether the rhetoric of scientific objectivity using new sound technology to foster interactivity. His interest became the exploration of film's double nature in a form of ethno-fiction erasing what he saw as the false line between fiction and documentary (Wollen).

Rouch's pioneering work in ethnography shading into ethno-fiction has not been without its African critics for wrongful portrayals of Africa and Africans who see his films as perpetuating the exoticism and exploitation initiated by colonialism, most notably by Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike who has called into question a whole tradition of ethnographic filmmaking as Rouch and others practised it. At the same time Rouch worked with black actors with whom he jointly produced scripts and who later acknowledged his role in them becoming filmmakers themselves.  Both Oumarou Ganda (in Moi un noir) and Safi Faye (in Petit à petit) said they disliked some of the falsifications made by Rouch in these films. Strongest criticism by Africans has been directed at Rouch's most controversial film, Les maîtres fous, in what is claimed to be his falsification for subversive effect of the significance of the images of religious ritual and possession among the Huaka sect in Ghana. Teshome Gabriel charged that Rouch's “obsession with penetrating the African mind” reached its climax in Les maître fous and in “the growing tendency to personalise and fictionalise” in Rouch's later films” (Ukadike 51).

Rouch influenced, and in turn was influenced by the New Wave. Kovács notes “that right from the beginning Godard's style was strongly influenced by Jean Rouch's self-reflective direct style of La Pyramid Humaine (1959),  a form of psychodrama made with students in Abidjan applied to Paris in Chronique d'un Été/Chronicle of a Summer (1960) co-directed with Edgar Morin.” Godard was attracted by “the way visual segments from real life, can be loosely put side by side and organised by a subjective voice-over or onscreen narrative.” Rather than representing reality socially, as in neorealism, in cinema-vérité “subjective views are expressed through images that give the impression of a direct relationship with reality.”  Kovács further notes that after 1967 such cinema-vérité style  disappears from Godard's films as he entered a new political phase in his filmmaking (170).

Not the poster used in Australia

* Myself and Film Alert editor Geoff Gardner can both attest to the existence of a substantial ‘found’ art house audience for Celine and Julie in Australia.  As a cinephiles’ investment and as regard for the film we jointly bought the Australian theatrical rights after its screenings at the Sydney and Melbourne Festivals 1975 failed to attract local distributor interest. We recovered more than several times over what, by today’s standards, was a fairly modest outlay for rights advance and the 35mm print (we later also acquired a 16mm print courtesy of the French Embassy) then paying the producers a further 25% of rentals and gross receipts after recovery of our initial outlay. The growing local cult following was apparently not exceeded internationally, even in France. This seemed to us a mysterious if welcome windfall given that we had almost no promotional material, mainly depending on positive reviews and word of mouth from festival, other single screenings and short seasons in independent cinemas. The 3 hour running time may offer part explanation for lack of distributor-exhibitor interest.  Celine and Julie is best seen to weave its magic, I think, without an interval break for which there was no provision on the release prints. In the decennial world poll just published it was voted by the critics at 78th position, from 127 in 2012. BH


Previous entries in this series can be found if you click the following links

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema: 1960-2020 - Tables and Directors Lists to Accompany Bruce Hodsdon's Series

Notes on canons, methods, national cinemas and more

Part One - Introduction

Part Two - Defining Art Cinema

Part Three - From Classicism to Modernism

Part Four - Authorship and Narrative

Part Five - International Film Guide Directors of the Year, The Sight and Sound World Poll, Art-Horror

Part Six (1) - The Sixties, the United States and Orson Welles

Part Six (2) - Hitchcock, Romero and Art Horror

Part Six (3) - New York Film-makers - Elia Kazan & Shirley Clarke  

Part Six (4) - New York Film-makers - Stanley Kubrick Creator of Forms

Part Six (5) ‘New Hollywood’ (1) - Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Pauline Kael and BONNIE AND CLYDE

Part Six (6) Francis Ford Coppola: Standing at the crossroads of art and industry

Part 6(7) Altman

6(8) Great Britain - Joseph Losey, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Richard Lester, Peter Watkins, Barney Platts-Mills