III. Points of view 2 (1975-1978) - Adding in the filmmaker's body (morality and engagement)
It’s the so-called “retro” period. Beyond the scandal of its scenarios (it was broadly about reminding that there was pleasure in servitude and that it was possible to love one’s torturer), the retro period may have been a first attempt at a return to fictional cinema, which, to be credible, needed an ostentatiously disrespectful vision of history, hence films such as Lacombe Lucien or The Night Porter.
Cahiers were anti-retro. In the same way that, later, they won’t much appreciate commercial attempts under Brechtian patronage - they called it “left-wing fiction” (L’affiche rouge, for example). In the same way that, even later, at the beginning of the ‘80s, they will be saddened by the return, unchanged in form and substance, of the old Qualité France.
The retro period was naturalist, with ambiguous characters, neither-entirely-evil-nor-entirely-heroes, enlightened by the easy and fashionable Freudian Marxism of the time. At no point in their history did Cahiers like naturalism in cinema, this art to confuse what is represented with reality, to naturalise contradictions, to resolve the heterogeneity of beings and things. They always enjoyed the effect of strangeness arising from the fact that cinema is an art of the present (of hic et nunc, of urgency).
In the middle of the decade, the mourning of Leftism comes to an end; the dialogue with the militant/filmmakers, the serious debates on the “point of view” had suddenly stopped, for lack of participants in the dialogue. Two original ones remained. Their names placed side by side formed the “sesame” of the period. Two tough radical regressive nuts, two irredentists that Pascal Bonitzer, in a beautiful text, had referred to via their initials: “JMS and JLG”*. In a word, the strobgodar, a duovidual which terrified quite a few.
Godard, Straub (and Huillet) didn’t settle for continuing to exist in the margins of the good old cinema being restored, nor for surviving to the indifference and the contempt of the public and the cultural establishment (you can read this both ways), nor for being involved in controversies with dominant cinema – Cahiers playing the role of a weak and slightly fanatical spokesperson. They continued as if there were still lots of things to think through and to say about Cinema (and cinephiles are the talkative type), bets to take, dreams and idées fixes which mustn’t be given up.
In his text, Bonitzer didn’t hesitate to talk about “sainthood.” An exaggeration? How shall we understand it? Simply, I think. The strobgodar-cinema doesn’t aim for the spectator’s desire (at least, not only) but for his capacity for jouissance. And the cinema-jouissance has little to do with recipes for pleasure. Lacan, still very much read at the time, talks of a “black hole.” The jouissance of the cinema-thing set against the pleasure derived from the cinema-effect? Yes, except that in the past the two were not always opposed; at the beginning of cinema (let’s say Keaton or Feuillade), one didn’t have to claim to be a materialist to give (mass) audiences the jouissance of the material. By 1975, it had changed a lot.
Pleasure at the cinema is linked to the triumph of an illusion – the spectacle of a combined character-actor-body-voice – to the plenitude of this confusion, to the return of this plenitude. Pleasure is, let’s say, Errol Flynn or Rock Hudson in a film by Raoul Walsh, charging as a block toward their fate. Psychologism and humanism united in one common fight.
For a long time, from a thousand signs, we saw that this so-called “classic” cinema (born in fact with the big majors, so rather late) was haunted by the explosion of this too beautiful model, by its dysfunction at least. What if character, actor, body and voice began to leave their own lives? Independently? “Not reconciled”?
Already the notion of “character” had been cunningly mocked by Welles or Bunuel. The idea of actor was dryly rejected by Bresson or Tati. Porn cinema was going to “liberate” bodies and their organs from any “persona.” Finally, direct sound and the lightweight cameras of the Nouvelle Vague will rekindle all the inside games of the language and the voice: the Italian technique of perverse dubbing (Fellini, Pasolini), the French demand for a perfect synchronism (Rohmer, Pialat, Rivette, etc.).
What was “modern” in cinema was the implicit decision not to start with “humans” but with their environment. This way, the strobgodar is perhaps the monster that presided over the end of modern cinema (not that the demand for modernity has vanished, but it must be found again in television, video and new technologies and less in a cinema that has become cultural and nostalgic). They still believe, in a Sartrean way, in communication. Not as a self-evident thing, but as an experience. They practice, like surgeons, always the same operation: the disjunction. To make visible the original heterogeneity of the cinema-thing.
“In-between” is the word that runs through the following texts. We began with militant cinema – with the relation between the filming and the filmed, with uncovering the filmmaker’s powers – and what do we find ourselves filming? Discourse and text. Filmed, these discourses are mere grimaces and words. Recorded, these words become accent, voices with their texture, speech delivery, breathing on magnetic tapes, etc. Everything become always disjointed and reveals, in the midst of a game with no end or exit, the scandal of the jouissance-cinema, of the cinema-thing.
Even the old Kurosawa, after the failed suicide attempt following the commercial flop of Dodes’ka-den, teaches us to perceive the space between characters: as much space as there are characters! Robert Kramer, one of the very rare real-time ethnographers of yet another lost generation, makes the insert the burning side of a stifling world. Johan van der Keuken is searching for the “wrong place” to guarantee to himself that the distance between him and the object he is filming remains tangible. In other words, there is only jouissance “in-between.”
The question of the point of view slowly becomes an enigma. What’s the point of view of the one taking a position, as soon as he can, between things? And who, if it must be done, cuts a thing in two (the audience for example) to take place in-between?
* Cahiers du cinema, issue 264, February 1976.This text introduces the following articles: