The Jacques Rivette Collection

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All the Best People
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Re: The Jacques Rivette Collection

#526 Post by All the Best People » Sun Jul 09, 2017 4:27 am

I polished off the collection with Merry-Go-Round, and I must say that despite its flaws <cough>Joe Dallesandro</cough>, I liked it much more than anticipated, certainly given its reception by the likes of Rosenbaum (who said it was Rivette's weakest film to date) and Rivette's own public expressions of disappointment. Faced with a frayed production, Rivette (and Schiffman and de Gregorio) go back to some wells here, which to me was actually rather appealing as the relative narrative incoherence perfectly provides a narrative coherence with his overall body of work; this is in many ways the missing link between Paris Nous Appartient on one hand and Secret Defense on the other. As such, it appears to provide something of a transitional position in Rivette's career, including the fact that (if I'm not mistaken) this is the last of his films to entertain a notion of mysticism until he rebooted Marie and Julien two decades later, and as the conspiracies and mysterious plots now move to the domestic (there was of course also a sense of this in Celine and Julie Go Boating/Phantom Ladies Over Paris). It can be trying at times, sure, but perhaps my low expectations were a good thing here.

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Satori
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Re: The Jacques Rivette Collection

#527 Post by Satori » Wed Sep 06, 2017 8:52 am

I felt inspired to write a bit about Duelle after rewatching it for class a couple of times over the past week and thought I would share it here.

Douglas Morrey and Alison Smith make a great argument in their book that Rivette’s films are caught in an eternal dialectic between Lang and Rossellini; between the cold logic of conspiracy and warm improvisatory humanness. I’ve been wondering if there isn’t an even deeper cinematic opposition at play: the cinema’s original opposition between the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès.

The Lumière pole of realism can be found in the mise-en-scene, especially the way his films show Paris throughout the decades, including plenty of documentary-like street scenes. While perhaps more directly attributable to Rivette’s interest in the work of Jean Rouch, this documentary aspect of Rivette’s can be traced all the way back to Lumière. The most overt example in Duelle is during the train station scene in which we meet Viva and her sidekick as they walk through crowds of people going about their daily life. These “extras” clearly have no idea what is going on, often turning to stare at the camera as Rivette tracks by. These scenes pop up frequently in Rivette’s films: the flabbergasted diner patrons in Out 1 when Leaud demands money, or the sidewalk shoppers during the opening chase sequence in Celine and Julie . I’m reminded a bit of the Mitchell & Kenyon film in which the kids run alongside the car, mugging their way into every shot. These improvisatory moments in Rivette’s films temporarily set aside the narrative to bask in the beauty of life itself in all its strange unwieldiness. In Duelle, this also manifests itself in the piano soundtrack improvised by Jean Wiener on the spot, gesturing towards the silent film era while also maintaining a realism by placing the pianist within the frame itself, even in the most unlikely situations (like Viva’s seduction of Perriot).

The other pole of Rivette’s films is not only Lang, but also Méliès. The “control” in Lang’s narratives—Mabuse controlling the fluctuation of stock prices, the Nazi conspiracies in the American films, or even Edward G Robinson’s masochism—allegorize Lang’s own mastery of his mise-en-scene. Similarly, the raw improvisatory humanity of Lumière can be contrasted with the carefully constructed fantasies of Méliès, a magician who knows how to hold his audience’s attention. In this reading, the suspense generated by directors like Lang or Hitchcock is equivalent to the magician’s sleight of hand—a manipulation of the audience to deliver the big payoff.

This opposition becomes literal in Duelle, in which the actual fantasy elements in the narrative create a marked contrast with the documentary-like presentation of reality. Like Méliès, Rivette is not interested in a “realistic” presentation of fantasy that would integrate it into the narrative; the fantasy stuff is delightfully hokey and over the top. The glowing jewel is ridiculous and the shot in which we cut to the gods in their magical outfits elicited more than a few laughs from my students. When Viva is chasing Lucie and Perriot in the subway, Rivette uses a simple cut to show Viva “teleporting,” recalling all those trick films by Méliès. The narrative of Duelle deals with conspiracy: the two gods are tricking the humans to figure out the location of the missing jewel that will allow them to stay on earth. But this conspiracy is fantastic (in the French sense), a presentation of a whimsical other world that probably shares more with the strange other worlds of Méliès than the disturbingly realistic conspiracies in most of Lang’s work.

While Duelle is probably one of the most forthrightly Langian (and Hitchcockian) films in Rivette’s oeuvre, I think it might also be a key text in uncovering Rivette’s links to early cinema, particularly the opposition between the Lumière brothers and Méliès. I’m wondering if this will hold up with other films, or if it is Duelle’s self-conscious invocation of silent film through the improvised piano score that brings it to the forefront.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: The Jacques Rivette Collection

#528 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Sep 06, 2017 9:41 am

Satori -- very interesting observations. Doesn't one of Rivette's acknowledged (via intertitle styling -- among other things) influences, Feuillade, display the same mix of Melies and Lumiere?

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Satori
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Re: The Jacques Rivette Collection

#529 Post by Satori » Wed Sep 06, 2017 11:23 am

Oh, great point. I totally agree that Feuillade is everywhere in Rivette, from the direct citations (my favorite is the library caper scene in Celine and Julie) to the way his films engage Paris as a space. Feuillade also introduces the problem of narrative structure, something that isn't as apparent in the Lumière/ Méliès opposition. There is Rivette's segmentation of narrative time with intertitles, which corresponds to the parts of a serial, something that reaches its apotheosis in his own serial Out 1. Interestingly, Duelle only has an introductory intertitle; it doesn't use them throughout. Perhaps it returns more fully to the original Lumière/ Méliès opposition rather than mediating it through Feuillade or Lang/Rossellini?

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