Here is another one of my Paris Journals for Film Comment – the first one, I believe, after the magazine shifted from being a quarterly to a bimonthly publication. Once again, I think part of the reason for reproducing this now is its value as a period piece. — J.R.
April 23: A screening of Dziga Vertov’s ENTHUSIASM (1930), organized by the magazine Cinéthique, at Residence de l’École centrale in Chatenay Malabry, a suburb of Paris. After taking a train and a bus, I find myself on an eerie, newly-built college campus — faceless buildings with hardly any windows or doors visible, each separated from the others by vast, empty spaces, like solitary islands: more creepy and ominous than anything in UCLA or Alphaville. After much wandering around, I find myself on the appropriate floor of the appropriate building and am directed down a long dark hallway. Each door in the hallway leads into a classroom, and each classroom — there are six in all — contains two television sets. Gradually, it becomes clear that the film will be shown close-circuit on a dozen sets, and one is free to pick whichever classroom and set one likes.
Vertov’s first sound film, principally concerned with the spirited group effort by miners of the Don coal basin, is a lyrical articulation of the exhilaration of that effort – the fusion of isolated energies and personalities in a common force.… Read more »
From the Summer 1972 issue of Sight and Sound. This was my first contribution to that magazine. — J.R.
Godard’s collected criticism (1) is many things at once: informal history (1950–1967) of the arts in general and film in particular, spiritual and intellectual autobiography, a theory of aesthetics, a grab bag of puns. For those who read the pieces when they first appeared — chiefly in the yellow-covered Cahiers du Cinéma and the newspaper format of Arts — it was frequently ill-mannered gibberish that began to be vindicated (or amplified) when the films followed, retrospectively becoming a form of prophecy:
Each shot of MAN OF THE WEST gives one the impression that Anthony Mann is reinventing the Western, exactly as Matisse’s portraits reinvent the features of Piero della Francesca . . . in other words, he both shows and demonstrates, innovates and copies, criticizes and creates.
For those who encounter the films first, it is likely to seem like an anthology of footnotes serving to decipher and augment what may have once seemed like ill-mannered gibberish on the screen. But for those more interested in continuity than cause and effect, it rounds out a seventeen-year body of work — from an article on Joseph Mankiewicz in Gazette du Cinéma to the “Fin du Cinéma” title concluding WEEKEND — that has already transformed much of the vocabulary and syntax of modern narrative film, further illustrating a style that has passed from avant-garde to neoclassical in less than a decade.… Read more »
From Sight and Sound (Autumn 1972). — J.R.
TRANSCENDENTAL STYLE IN FILM: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer
By Paul Schrader
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, $10.00
Modesty and caution are not exactly what one expects to find in a book with this title, on these three directors; but ironically, one of the chief limitations of this comparative study is that these qualities often seem to predominate over everything else. The first ‘step’ of transcendental style,for instance, is defined as follows: ‘The everyday: a, meticulous representation of the dull, banal commonplaces of everyday living’ or what [Amédée] Ayfre quotes Jean Bazaine as calling “le quotidien”.’ Not quite a double redundancy, but close enough to make one wonder why this passage and so many comparable ones suggest a critic walking on eggshells.
Although it is nowhere identified as such, Schrader’s extended essay has much of the look, shape and sound of a doctoral dissertation [2013 note: I believe that this was in fact a Masters’ thesis]. 194 footnotes are appended to 169 pages of text, and each step of the argument proceeds like a slow-motion exercise in which every inch of terrain must be defined and tested before it can be touched upon.… Read more »