Tradition of Quality Cinema

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evillights
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#1 Post by evillights » Sun Jul 23, 2006 12:15 am

HerrSchreck wrote:Dreyer's PASSION, you may be fascinated to know, is the highest grossing silent film on the arthouse-silent circuit. So you're way off on that one.
Way off on what? I was writing about tradition-of-quality cinema, as Truffaut dubbed it in "A Certain Tendency of French Cinema." The term refers to the sort of vacuum-sealed, scenaristically-balanced, mise-en-scène'less (and therefore "literary" -- which was at least a pejorative term before the Cahiers roundtable on 'Hiroshima mon amour') type of cinema which by its sheer "sheen and polish," and "nicely tied loose ends" alone, tended to win the hearts of the mainstream critical establishment, who commonly demonstrated no emotional response to those lunatic ontological qualities of the cinema such as space, light, sound and dream, and who in turn urged the public that Carné/Prévert embodied French cinema in all its glory. The situation was kind of like the sort of films that win at the Oscars (and are nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars) in 2006.

'The Passion of Joan of Arc' does not belong to this tradition. Nor does 'A Story of Floating Weeds.' 'Cabiria' and DeMille's 'King of Kings' do, although both have their hysterical, beautiful moments. This classification is obviously subjective (to a degree) -- but what isn't. And while 'Passion of Joan of Arc' might be a big grosser on the silent-film-circuit (the popularity of these films with the public had nothing to do with what I wrote about, incidentally), to my knowledge it quite often screens with that wretched Richard Einhorn score, ruining the whole thing. Almost as bad as once-in-five-years screenings of Feuillade in which the exhibitor has hired a pianist to rinky-tink ad-lib for five hours straight.

For what it's worth, Scorsese comes out for lots of films which are epic entertainments, but which I don't find very interesting. Did you learn about any Italian films you -hadn't- heard of in 'Il mio viaggio in Italia' (and did you learn anything new about the ones you did know)? I didn't. While I like the man, I don't see why his opinions should be ascribed any more heft by anyone in "the public" than, say, my own opinions, or yours, or Cinephile X93.

And just as an addendum -- When I wrote "polished, global masterpiece," I was referring to all of the tradition-of-quality traits that I run through in my post before this one, but I was also, perhaps too circuitously, I don't know, making a comment about 'masterpieces ordained as such by the mass-public and David Thomson, Anthony Lane, Pauline Kael, et al.' The "popularity" of a film with audiences isn't something, maybe not-so-needless to say, which bestows canonical greatness on it. So the public likes 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' with the terrible Richard Einhorn score -- wonderful. Will they still like it as much if it played before them in complete silence? Maybe, maybe not -- but that's how the film should be seen, and I would argue that, in that state, the film forces an audience to come to rather meditative terms with some issues, truths, emotions and sublime awkwardnesses that the score in some way, I believe, sands away. Would the same audience care for 'Gertrud'? In either case -- fully silent 'Passion' or simply resplendent 'Gertrud' -- the public's opinion is nothing in the great and theoretical god's-eye-view decision of whether a film should be held and saved and treasured and passed on to future generations. Or whether it's something I myself respond to and think about forever-on-end after viewing and re-viewing.

Frankly, in a present day-and-age which gives us a "mass public" and, resultingly, distributors and DVD publishers largely not-going-too-far-out-of-their-way to educate movie-goers in the cinema of Straub-Huillet, Jacques Rivette, Abel Ferrara, Pedro Costa, Philippe Garrel, Jerry Lewis, Naomi Kawase, and on and on and on -- what good are receipts? No good at all. What they do is allow the perpetuation of certain distributors flaunting a 'The Informer'* in place of a 'Doctor Bull,' 'Wagon Master,' 'The Sun Shines Bright,' or '7 Women.'

* -- A film which is not without its moments. (Namely, everything with McLaglen drunk on the town. But it will remain Ford's 'A Woman of Paris' till the end of days -- thanks to one era's mass public.)

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#2 Post by david hare » Sun Jul 23, 2006 12:47 am

Youve let so many cats out of the bag I dont know where to start.

For one I agree the pompously imposing Eichorn score is nothing but a self-serving distraction from the Dreyer movie, so I never play it.

However you seem - correct me if Im wrong - to be endosing that very Cahiers round table rejection of so-called "cinema of quality", holus-bolus , without regard to the actual qualities of many of the very filmmakers, like Prevert and Carne for instance, and many others, who most definitely have a distinct mise-en-scene and a crucial place in ANY canon of classic French cinema. Let alone where it was coming form and going to. Of course it takes plain old research and dogged hard work to actually get and watch these directors, writers, DPs etc and make one's own evaluation. But this is precisiely what a number of us have been trying to do in these very pages - particularly in regard to the cinema of 30s France.

The Cahier orthodoxies are frankly so empty of actual meaning now they need completely discarding and the actual movies revisited, just as much as a post auteuerist critique is needed to recapture directors and other creative artists in American cinema who were buried in a general sea of early auteurist point scoring. The writers for instance.

EDIT: Again I agree with you about the Scorsese Italian doc. Nothing on it is in any way surprising, except pehaps his unbounding admiration for 8 1/2 which has one of the most critically bloated reputations of all time. Surely SOMEBODY has to take this movie apart some day?

I think I see what youre getting at, and I think I agree but there are so many dangers in adopting the old Cahierist line - if indeed you are (and there have been so many more interesting ones since it.) As a total antidote to commonplace auteurist writing on American cinema I have to recommend Jean-Pierre Coursodon's "Cinquante Ans du Cinema Americain" from 1990 as a great starting point.
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evillights
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#3 Post by evillights » Sun Jul 23, 2006 1:02 am

HerrSchreck wrote:As for what anybody considers a minor release-- that's pure subjectivity. Maybe KOKO is, since it's interlaced, which for them, says something.
One last P.P.S., specifically in response to the above -- I don't know what 'Koko' being interlaced says -- (a) except that some of the more snap-judgment forum-posting Criterion fetishists who have an opinion about every teeny move the company makes (such that if I were running the company, and decided to take a majority of online-shoutery to heart in the decisions we made, I would be utterly paralyzed into inaction) have decided that Schroeder's film can't possibly be of any interest because it's a doc about a monkey and is taking up a release-slot which could have been reserved for [insert your own crucible-filmmaker here]; (b) given that other Criterion discs which are, unfortunately, interlaced include the 5-hour version of 'Scenes from a Marriage'; 'Aleksandr Nevsky'; 'Ivan the Terrible' I & II; and 'Häxan.'
davidhare wrote:However you seem - correct me if Im wrong - to be endosing that very Cahiers round table rejection of so-called "cinema of quality", holus-bolus , without regard to the actual qualities of many of the very filmmakers, like Prevert and Carne for instance, and many others, who most definitely have a distinct mise-en-scene and a crucial place in ANY canon of classic French cinema.
I'm endorsing it only insofar as the ideas behind the label "tradition of quality" seem to me pretty on-the-mark (though not necessarily absolute) at least with regard to matching my own feelings about great cinema. Although I don't like Carné's films, I'll concede that a lot of their judgements around who belonged and who didn't -- who was an auteur and who a metteur en scène -- are in retrospect rather arbitrary. They did -- and many so-called auteurists do -- take wild craps on Wilder, Minnelli, Huston, Clouzot, Clément, etc. But what's tended to stay on the record for the young-turk critics were -- naturally enough, since their critical output diminished at the time they all started to put together their own film productions -- their tastes up to around 1958-63, and none of the changed opinions afterward. One of the most fascinating interviews in recent times, and which maybe holds a kind of 'classic' place for my generation of cinephiles, is the one Rivette did with Bonnaud, which appears translated by Kent Jones on Senses of Cinema, from 1998 after 'Secret défense' was released. (And which you're probably well-familiar with, David, from hanging around on a_film_by.) And Rivette's probably changed his mind on things two or three times since then. (Maybe Hou Hsiao-hsien no longer has to marry John Woo -- or was it James Cameron, I forget.)

Godard, for his part, practically hasn't done an interview in the last two years where he hasn't praised Gallo's 'The Brown Bunny.' (A film I'm really looking forward to finally seeing, as I haven't yet.) For all we know, were Godard still writing printed criticism regularly, the new 'Artists and Models,' 'The Quiet American,' and 'The Wrong Man' -- all canonized in part by their Godard reviews -- could well be (based on recent and frequent praises) 'The Brown Bunny,' 'The Apple' by S. Makhmalbaf, 'Demi-Tarif' by Le Besco, 'Les Passagers' by Guiguet, and, um, the part where 'American Beauty' "for ten seconds, becomes 'Faces'."

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#4 Post by david hare » Sun Jul 23, 2006 1:32 am

Schrecko - leave the cigarettes to Uncle David.

Craig - yes I figured. I think your posts on the Gance have opened up what probably needs to be half a dozen separate threads of their own. One of them is surely Gance's own reputation.

I also have an inbuilt aversion to this kind of "monumental" cinema, and my own taste bears me out with, say Carne's Enfants du Paradis which is his best known and most compromised film. But I would happily post pages on Carne AND Prevert AND Spaak at some time.

One great moment in the cesspool of the 30s French movie industry was Renoir's virulent attack on Carne and Prevert after the prem of Quai des Brumes, in essence because of the movie's perceived "Decadence" (and by very direct inference, Renoir's probable homophobia towards Carne.) Renoir was of course toeing the Parti line. By way of this I've just been watching (interrupted by this digression) Gremillon's Maldone, which is fascinating to compare with Renoir's la Fille de l'Eau from the same year, as seeming to begin as another "barge picture" - but it takes off in all sorts of directions (like all of Gremillon's great movies) until he ramps it right up with a ball scene (including miraculously rescued and recorded - his own accordeon score.) Totally imperial mastery of cinema at every level and wildly superior to the Renoir (although you shouldnt really compare them.)

Renoir himself is perhaps the subject most in need of revaluation by French and other critics, in particular his post war French movies which - to my old eyes now badly need revaluing downwards, from the lofty heights probably all of used to hold them in. So here's another sacred cow, we don't talk about. I agree with you we need to deal with them all. But systematically. I also - claiming age - insist that your ideas and opinions, not necessarily your taste, change markedly over time. If they DONT you're in trouble.


EDIT: Craig I hope you get more out of Brown Bunny than I did. Will be a very happy man if I never see Gallo's dick again. And I speak as a connoiseur.
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Steven H
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#5 Post by Steven H » Sun Jul 23, 2006 9:17 pm

Davidhare wrote:Renoir himself is perhaps the subject most in need of revaluation by French and other critics, in particular his post war French movies which - to my old eyes now badly need revaluing downwards, from the lofty heights probably all of used to hold them in. So here's another sacred cow, we don't talk about.
Do you think that Renoir's post WWII french films fall under the category of "Tradition of Quality" in a way? His (Criterion dubbed) "Stage and Spectacle" series does, in many ways. According to Truffaut's article (and for the record, I have a really hard time taking anything Truffaut says as a film critic seriously) Tradition of Quality films are "impure" "scenarist" works, formulaic, "filthy", and abosorbed in "scholarly framing, complicated lighting effects, and 'polished' photography." Godard called Paris Does Strange Things "the most intellgent film in the world", Rivette said "the art of life and poetry" filled both French CanCan and The Golden Coach, and Truffaut had nothing but praise for the latter. Craig said the line between who was an auteur vs. metteur en scene was "arbitrary", but in this case it seems downright hypocrtical. I found an interesting quote (circal 1962) from Robert Benayoun, at Positif, who seemed to regard the anti-Tradition of Quality stance with more than an ounce of scepticism:
Benayoun wrote:I always mistrust those who display complete indifference to anything in the sphere of ideology. an inquiry in cahiers du cinema imagined that the difference between right-wing and left-wing criticism could be removed; it would be done by "the removal of ethics to the advantage of aesthetics."...This is the kind of furtive hide and seek that eventually reveals the most treacherous characteriitcs of right-wing thinking. There are not many intellectuals nowadays who avouch reactionary ideology. But the subtle talkers who are deaf to their own words, the over-zealous champions of form as opposed to content... all unfailingly reveal a nostalgia for arbitrary power.
It's almost comedic to read someone comparing those who advocate "pure cinema" as near-fascists, but I just wanted to throw that out there, food for thought.

As for the sacred cow, I can't say that I was terribly taken with most of the post WWII french Renoir films, though I'd say Picnic on the Grass might be my favorite (and it also seems the most closely connected to his earlier work, Toni, The Crimes of M. Lange, Boudu) with a little science and mysticism thrown in for good measure.

note: translations and quotes are from two sources, "Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film" By Adam Lowenstein, and "Jean Renoir" by Andre Bazin

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#6 Post by david hare » Sun Jul 23, 2006 10:32 pm

[/quote]Do you think that Renoir's post WWII french films fall under the category of "Tradition of Quality" in a way? His (Criterion dubbed) "Stage and Spectacle" series does, in many ways.

I absolutely agree. A god of pre-war cinema, and of course from the left (in an enitrely different way to Carne and Prevert and Gremillon) his last films become untouchable for Cahierists despite extremely serious problems in many of them. Even with Dejuener sur l'Herbe I find the accretion of the arificial insemination/scientific" material almost embarassingly laid on, just as the almost faux Tati-esque "le Cireuse Electrique" episode of le Petit Theatre which is unbelievably literal and flat.

Elena et les Hommes plays entirely without humor for me - and it's not as though there is some redemptively refined mise-en-scene encasing the whole project. French Cancan needs a glorious Technicolor print to show off its visual beauties to the fullest, and with something less than this (like the so-so Criterion disc) it's impact as a celebration of theatre and spectacle is weakened. There are good things in both le Testament du Dr. Cordelier and le Caporal Epingle, and moments in le Petit Theatre. But all these movies seem to me like pale reflections of 30s Renoir. Certainly a handful of Becker's movies far outshine them - Edouard et Caroline, Casque d'Or, Grisbi and le Trou.

Another typically muddle headed consequence of the cahierists was the outright dismissmal of Carne, based - not undeservedly - on the 50s pics, which are atrocious (excepting always l'Air de Paris which is really a special case.) And I don't doubt for a minute the same sort of "pure" leftist stance accounts in part for this - even despite the fact that both Carne and Prevert were FAR from the right. Other directors to get the nod of disapproval like Duvivier and Clair simply have careers that can't be pigeonholed into a single theoretical thesis.

Similarly the qualitative distinction between "auteur" and "Metteur-en-scene" by which some purists would relegate directtors like Powell, Minelli or Cukor to some lesser plane of being simply ignore the strengths of directors working in unpopular mediums, like the musical, which are by definition dependent on the contributions of numerous "auteurs".

I also have to admit to a strong aversion to post 60s Godard, and I honestly find his critical assessments of other movie makers entirely untrustworthy.

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#7 Post by Steven H » Mon Jul 24, 2006 12:20 am

davidhare wrote:Similarly the qualitative distinction between "auteur" and "Metteur-en-scene" by which some purists would relegate directtors like Powell, Minelli or Cukor to some lesser plane of being simply ignore the strengths of directors working in unpopular mediums, like the musical, which are by definition dependent on the contributions of numerous "auteurs".
Ugh. To the cahiers crowd Mizoguchi is admired and revered as an auteur, correct? Within his own society, I can't imagine anyone who's more "Tradition of Quality". He worked with "scenarists", did adaptations, was a traditionalist in many senses, and worked on a grand scale (sounds like Ford's westerns, actually). Were they ignorant to his working methods, and if so, why did it have that effect? Is this a case of overlapping ideologies? He's a key figure in the world of mise en scene and working with depth, yet, falls into the category of cinema du papa for the Japanese. Maybe this is comparing apples and oranges (out of context), or it could be indicative of the trappings/failings of taking such broad statements as bible truth (not that anyone here is arguing that it *should* be taken as bible truth, there's a little straw man I'm talking to here.)

This thread has me thinking about what I expect out of films, both new and old. I try and keep an open mind about collaborations, large and small budgets, etc, but it's impossible. You always expect the best films to come from auteurs, individuals with "infinite" control over the product, and such a purity of heart (and ignore the idea of catering to an arthouse crowd, or appealing to critic fanbases a la Weinsteins), but no medium is perfect and shielded from reality. When I watch King of Kings, I don't really register the spectacle, specifically, I mostly concentrate on the intangible rhythm and world it creates (and in that case, I didn't care for it) exactly like I would Dreyer's work (it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to call Passion of Joan of Arc a Tradition of Quality film, either, now that I think about it). Not to sound boringly Mickey Rooneyish, art appreciation is at it's best when complex and thoughtful, not boorish and spiteful, which seems to be what gave birth to many widely accepted New Wave theories (which, in some circles, are now being quietly laid to rest).

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#8 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Jul 24, 2006 1:25 am

My problem initially with the launch of this subject-- Dr. Hare-o, meine guten fervent tobacconist-- was craig's beating me over the head with a categorization which I never invoked. The Cahier's/Cinemateque crowd and their writings yawn me to no end, and what I was invoking when discussing JOAN was the reputation the film has in the global consumerist circle-- even among CC, Kino, BFI buyers, etc (and even among this site) you'll find very few individuals who carry these very individual, localized, and highly specific debate-residuals/terminoliges around with them (you yourself said to me that craigs one of the few folks around here capable of discussing this material in these particular terms).

I find myself, as usual-- across the spectrum of all the arts, as a practitioner of four of them-- very skeptical of the attachment of theory, labels beyond the merest generalities, used as descriptives, when discussing fine art as well as popular art. That is, unless the creators themselves declared themselves to be practitioners of a particular movement or scene. Ex post facto critical appellations (i e whether or not this or that filmmaker fits into a Tradition of Quality) are so often means by which critics form "teams" predicate to a debate, and in many cases serve nothing else but to embellish the discussion, rather than clarify anything about the works themselves.

I mean this not as a conversational pose, Dave, but as a near religion to which I've held on to dearest life since my youth. Tradition of Quality-- whose quality, whose tradition.. already we've moved away from the works at hand, the vehicles for advancing the expression of screenwriters, actors, and directors, and have to scrunch our asses aside on the seat to make room for the mind of the critic looking to stake a historical claim on the works of brilliant men.

If I say, "XYZ Film is a fine silent film that deserves a place in the collection, it has a near unmatched reputation zooming out into the stratosphere of awesome myth, and it has consumer recognition CC looks for" and someone comes reeling in on fire saying "HO WHOAH HOLD! How does XYZ FIlm at all fit into our Tradition Of Quality"... Dave-- what the hell is this man talking about? What tradition does the entire sum of the CC fit into? The unit that is the sum of all these films, from GRAND ILLUSION to the last Campion film announced? They are films perceived as having a certain exalted entertainment value-- HAXAN has nothing to do with KICKING & SCREAMING has nothing to do with QUAI DE BRUMES... they are all just films that common folks believe are really really great. Invoking a barrier of technical qualification based on an argumentative, iconoclastic & egotistical phase of French critical discourse... this to me represents the absolute worst impulse in humanity vis a vis art. It's the purest pollution, I can't go near it in front of myself; one can only, to my mind, describe-- when a fan, like we here are discussing-- our love for these works. Is this one an auteur, is this one a leftist, is this one queer, does this one do musicals, what is the size of the budget of this or that director's typical "good" or "beloved" film, all of these after-the-fact topics for debate whereby debaters debate within the realm of Pure Cinema, these things considered, they are going to allow themselves to "fall" for the works discussed owing to the part these elements play. Half of it is fucking pseudo-gossip from angry men.

If you want to discuss whether Renoir's postwar work is "worthy" or "overrated" or not, I could never in front of myself speak from anything but my own personal terms of enjoyment or lack of enjoyment. And these usually have something to do with how I felt about each film, film by film, rather than how the man fits into an externally applied label of grand scheme tradition. It depersonalizes the man-- that is, unless these were his wishes, i e he publicly announced "I, Jean Renoir, would heretofore like my works HIJK to WXYZ, to be seen as a contributing subset to the sum total tradition school _____________ Tradition". Some, like the avowed Surrealists, Avante Garde-ists, DaDa, etc, absolutely warrant these categorizations because they directly and willfully and regulalry saw themselves as parts of a movement.

But coming on with all this criticspeak to debate one posters assertion that one film is or is not "worthy" according to a Grand Scheme Template of What's Worthy In Cinema is impersonal, and sounds to me like a substitution for individual passion and love. If a person is filled with love for cinema, he should have his own terms based on his own relationship, exactly like his love for his romantic partner, family, chocolate, coffee, food, etc. One doesn't rhapsodize and pine for a lover using someone else's language. The truest love is individual, and most of the truest and greatest, and most individual artists in the world have absolutely no relationship with this sort of discourse. The greatest and most influential artists make the mark that they do because they seem to land from outer space, having nothing to do with those around them-- absolute and utter originality. I'm reminded of Charlie Parker's A NIGHT IN TUNISIA, anything by Billie Holliday, Weine's CABINET CALIGARI, Renoir's RULES OF THE GAME, Vigo's two features, Matisse, Stravinsky's RITE OF SPRING, and on and on: works where, after learning a certain level of professionalism, these folks had the epiphany of letting the spigot of pure origninality open, that they had to let the work of their idols go and stop imitating, that the more unique, the more people listened.. that up was down, down up. Read interviews with old bluesmen or someone like Frank Zappa: "What do you think of (Current Pop Act #1)" FZ: "Never heard of him," "How about (CPA #2)" "Never listened to him," etc. etc.

These critical discourses are the byproducts and aftereffects of somebody else's love, which was so amazingly strong that they would like to see it adopted as Film Love Esperanto. I just can't take it in. My film love (and love for art in general) is too odd, variegated, contradictory, and strong, to make room for someone else's.

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#9 Post by neuro » Mon Jul 24, 2006 2:00 am

Steven H wrote:Not to sound boringly Mickey Rooneyish, art appreciation is at it's best when complex and thoughtful, not boorish and spiteful, which seems to be what gave birth to many widely accepted New Wave theories (which, in some circles, are now being quietly laid to rest).

HerrSchreck wrote:But coming on with all this criticspeak to debate one posters assertion that one film is or is not "worthy" according to a Grand Scheme Template of What's Worthy In Cinema is impersonal, and sounds to me like a substitution for individual passion and love. If a person is filled with love for cinema, he should have his own terms based on his own relationship, exactly like his love for his romantic partner, family, chocolate, coffee, food, etc. One doesn't rhapsodize and pine for a lover using someone else's language. The truest love is individual, and most of the truest and greatest, and most individual artists in the world have absolutely no relationship with this sort of discourse.


Beautifully stated, gentlemen.

*******************

In terms of the Cahiers argument, I can't help but think of an old Manny Farber quote on 1960's criticism (Farber's opinions are as just as old as the Cahiers' but, to my mind, seem much more reasonable and applicable to my own personal filmgoing habits; and while we're all making confessions, the fact that I'm referencing him probably stems from the fact that I've been rereading his collections of essays all week). In regard to the Cahiers/auteurist question at hand, I'd like to quote from one of his essays entitled "The Subverters":
One day someone is going to make a film that is the equivalent of a Pollock painting, a movie that can be truly pigeonholed for effect, certified a one-person operation. Until this miracle occurs, the massive attempt in 1960's criticism to bring some order and shape into film history - creating a Louvre of great films and detailing the one genius responsible for each film - is doomed to failure because of the subversive nature of the medium: the flash-bomb vitality that one scene, actor or technician injects across a grain of film.


Perhaps the "Tradition of Quality" may be a reasonable way to gauge one's personal filmgoing tastes, but to assign a certain principle to all of filmgoing is flat-out dogmatic. It may have been an invention of later critics - those who ended up viewing the films the Cahiers made when they finally picked up the cameras for themselves - but the main selling point of the Nouvelle Vague was rebellion, and with rebellion comes something to rebel against. The Nouvelle Vague was arguably the last bit of film criticism that made a palpable impact on the international filmgoing scene, but as evilights noted, their criticism remains frozen in time, with little new light shed on the subject, no room for reappraisal (at least in a way which made the same sort of palpable impact). Although I don't respond to the Carne films either, it's unfortunate that for many cinephiles, a particular period of French cinema will remain frozen in the Cahier's vision of it for what seems like forever - the vision of an old, archaic, traditionalist way of making films. All in all, I find deep irony in the fact that no one will ever make this hallowed film that clearly exemplifies auteurism by adhering to any sort of preconceived theory, whether auteurist or otherwise.

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#10 Post by david hare » Mon Jul 24, 2006 3:41 am

This may or may not be a useful exercise but someone has urged me to make comparisons (which have to be personally value based I suppose) between two 30s French directors, Gremillon and Renoir in projects with some degree of similarity.

Here goes: In Gremillon's astonishing Maldone from 1928 - the mise-en-scene and the written music to accompany it are astoundingly kinetic (the latter largely diegetic.) The huge revelation of the Grem (like all Gremillons) is the gradual unpeeling during th course of the narrative of the central character as a complex, even split personality. Thus Grem begins Maldone with a barge scene, as does Renoir in la Fille de l'Eau from the same year. However Maldone himself, after becoming allured by a gypsy woman, Zita (here read signals for exoticism etc) revelas his own insoluble duality after he returns to an abandoned family chateau (shades of Pattes Blanches 30 years later) to undergo an oppressive life of bourgeois misery and denial. In the Renoir the characters seem conceived from a Griffithsian model (indeed Griffiths and Broken Blossoms in particular were huge influences on 20s avant gardists including Renoir and Gremillon.) But Renoir's four characters in Fille remain consigned to their roles, and his movie plays out as a "fantastic" mise-en-scene" with the characters relatively preordained.

IN Grem's la Petite Lise the formal quality of the movie - revolutionary use of sound, again riotous use of music and frenzy in a massively kinetic display in the prison and final jazz club scenes - ramp the movie right out of an already noble Spaakian melodrama into a total prediction of oneiric Poetic Realism. Again the characters and their gradual unpeeling through waves of personal expression and mise-en-scene. In Renoir's la Chienne again from the same year- a very fine picture - Renoir seem in comparison to stitch the characters up within the destiny ordained by the screenplay. Thus narrative and form become subservient to the screenplay.

Gremillon - a revolutionary still underappreciated and underseen.

Renoir - a great filmmaker still revered at the pinnacle of French cinema.

60 years of cinephilia and learned criticism.

By all means lets abandon canons that don't work, but the value of cinephilia is continuing viewing and discovery and revaluation.

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#11 Post by GringoTex » Mon Jul 24, 2006 7:51 am

Steven H wrote: Ugh. To the cahiers crowd Mizoguchi is admired and revered as an auteur, correct? Within his own society, I can't imagine anyone who's more "Tradition of Quality". He worked with "scenarists", did adaptations, was a traditionalist in many senses, and worked on a grand scale (sounds like Ford's westerns, actually). Were they ignorant to his working methods, and if so, why did it have that effect?
Steven H wrote: You always expect the best films to come from auteurs, individuals with "infinite" control over the product, and such a purity of heart (and ignore the idea of catering to an arthouse crowd, or appealing to critic fanbases a la Weinsteins), but no medium is perfect and shielded from reality.
Your scorn for the Cahiers critics may have something to do with your total misunderstanding of their auteur theory: it had nothing to do with infinite control over the product and everything to do with stamping their vision on the product in spite of their lack of control.

Their attack on the French film industry was something else entirely and had little to do with auteurism: they wanted to bring the whole system down. The auteurists were their inspiration; not a model of production they would use when making their own films.

And you're a little late in the game not to take Truffaut's criticism seriously- it was monumentally influential and changed the course of world cinema. This doesn't mean it's not ripe for re-evaluation, but if you're going to address it with any meaningful purpose, then you better approach is seriously.

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#12 Post by David Ehrenstein » Mon Jul 24, 2006 1:24 pm

David Hare wrote:
One great moment in the cesspool of the 30s French movie industry was Renoir's virulent attack on Carne and Prevert after the prem of Quai des Brumes, in essence because of the movie's perceived "Decadence" (and by very direct inference, Renoir's probable homophobia towards Carne.)
Glad you pointed this out. So much for Renoir's pose of bonhomie.

Everyone would do well to remember that the "Tradition of Quality" refers to something terribly specific -- the screenwriting team of Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost. "A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema" was a noxious right-wing screed in which Truffaut attacked Auenche and Bost for their percieved "blasphemy." To counter it Truffaut promoted Renoir, Bresson and other auteurs uncontaminated by the left as he percieved it. Years later he came to regret his words -- to his considerable credit. But "A Certain Tendency" was the piece that launched him.
Last edited by David Ehrenstein on Mon Jul 24, 2006 3:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#13 Post by Steven H » Mon Jul 24, 2006 2:58 pm

Langlois68 wrote:Your scorn for the Cahiers critics may have something to do with your total misunderstanding of their auteur theory: it had nothing to do with infinite control over the product and everything to do with stamping their vision on the product in spite of their lack of control.
I'm pretty aware of the categories and subcategories of auteurship, etc that the cahiers critics worked with, and I admit I was tossing the word around loosely, at some points using it to describe the "stamping" and at others the idea of being an "auteur", and how it's evolved (in making film the critics themselves evolved the idea(s).) I don't have scorn for all the french critics, I love their work and read and reread it regularly. During both of my posts, I was talking about the specific "Tradition of Quality" hypocrisy that I might have erroneously identified according to Mr. Ehrenstein.
And you're a little late in the game not to take Truffaut's criticism seriously- it was monumentally influential and changed the course of world cinema. This doesn't mean it's not ripe for re-evaluation, but if you're going to address it with any meaningful purpose, then you better approach it seriously.
I've appreciated a great deal of Truffaut's writings about film, but when I hear "the greatest filmmakers are over fifty", or his saying that women are "governed above all by love and sensitivity", part of me stops taking him seriously in some ways. I never said he wasn't interesting and inspiring though.

As an afterthought, the idea of "bringing the whole system down" is interesting in active filmmaking, but it makes for poor scholarship, and is hurtful in a "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" kind of way in the long run, apparently. There was a similar flushing of the past (except for a few cases) in Japan's new wave film revolution. Many of these critics would, and have, second guessed their extreme past views on a multitude of films they panned for political reasons. I loved HerrSchreck's post about doctrines and the danger of "schools of thought". If ideas like this gain wide acceptance, which in the cahiers world they certainly did, it can be harmful and should be reproached.

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#14 Post by GringoTex » Mon Jul 24, 2006 8:36 pm

David Ehrenstein wrote: Everyone would do well to remember that the "Tradition of Quality" refers to something terribly specific -- the screenwriting team of Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost. "A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema" was a noxious right-wing screed in which Truffaut attacked Auenche and Bost for their percieved "blasphemy." To counter it Truffaut promoted Renoir, Bresson and other auteurs uncontaminated by the left as he percieved it. Years later he came to regret his words -- to his considerable credit. But "A Certain Tendency" was the piece that launched him.
Please refer me to where Truffaut said he regretted "A Certain Tendency." Yes, he certainly regretted specific attacks he made on specific individuals (in his sentimental later years), but never once to my knowledge did he forsake the piece.

It may seem novel today to take the article at literal face value as a specific citation on individual leftists, but Positif trotted out this approach 50 years ago. Positif failed because they didn't understand that an uneducated, lower-class twenty-something has nothing meaningful to say about politics: he's only interested in revolution. And that's what Truffaut brought about.

"A Certain Tendency" was a call to arms against the whole of French cinema. Radical change followed. Frankly, I don't care if Aurenche's feelings were hurt in the process. Call it a tragedy of nostalgia, if you like, and put it in song on a jukebox to cry to.

(btw- David- I'm a big fan of yours!)

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#15 Post by GringoTex » Mon Jul 24, 2006 8:44 pm

Steven H wrote: As an afterthought, the idea of "bringing the whole system down" is interesting in active filmmaking, but it makes for poor scholarship, and is hurtful in a "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" kind of way in the long run, apparently. There was a similar flushing of the past (except for a few cases) in Japan's new wave film revolution. Many of these critics would, and have, second guessed their extreme past views on a multitude of films they panned for political reasons.
I agree with all this and probably misunderstood your intial post. I'll be the first to admit that Truffaut was a poor scholar, and his "The Films of My Life" was the most pathetic excercise in self-re-evaluation I've ever seen. I mean- if you hated John Ford films your entire life, then admit it and don't try to reconcile via an obituary!

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#16 Post by David Ehrenstein » Mon Jul 24, 2006 9:01 pm

I can't give you the specific citation . it was kind of offhand in an interview -- saying there are things he said in his youth he wouldn't today.
It may seem novel today to take the article at literal face value as a specific citation on individual leftists, but Positif trotted out this approach 50 years ago. Positif failed because they didn't understand that an uneducated, lower-class twenty-something has nothing meaningful to say about politics: he's only interested in revolution. And that's what Truffaut brought about.
Truffaut brought about nothing of thre kind. He made several very good films, and several very routine ones -- that's all.

Positif was right -- especially in Gerard Gozlan's "In Praise of Andre Bazin."

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#17 Post by GringoTex » Wed Jul 26, 2006 12:55 am

David Ehrenstein wrote:
Truffaut brought about nothing of thre kind. He made several very good films, and several very routine ones -- that's all.

Positif was right -- especially in Gerard Gozlan's "In Praise of Andre Bazin."
Positif was so wrong that they've spent considerable resources over the past 50 years deciding on how to apologize.

You can claim that Truffaut didn't precipitate a revolution, but history is against you, so I need a little bit more.

"Now we have lost our protection." - Jean-Luc Godard, 1984, commenting on Truffaut's death.

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#18 Post by David Ehrenstein » Wed Jul 26, 2006 9:30 am

We actually Godard lost his protection in the elaborate Good Cop/ Bad Cop game they had been playing on the world stage.

The New Wave was an innovation. I don't regard it as a revolution, though many do. French cinema of the 30's was far freer and in many ways far more interesting (Gremillion, Vigo, pre Rules of the Game Renoir, etc.)

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#19 Post by mikebowes » Wed Jul 26, 2006 12:52 pm

I remember the quote (possilby wrongly) as ending with "projection" not "protection." I.e. the filmmaker most adopted by the main stream. The New Wave's most visible director.

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#20 Post by jdcopp » Thu Jul 27, 2006 6:27 pm

If François Truffaut came to regret his early criticisms, it certainly does not show up in his introduction to James Reid Paris "The Great French Films" published in 1983, an introduction which he had to tone down as the letter from him to Jim Paris which is collected in "Correspondence 1945-1984/Truffaut"

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#21 Post by Gordon » Sat Jul 29, 2006 6:09 pm

I have never understood the talk of the "revolution" in Cinema that the French New Wave or any other 'movement' "brought about". Did films suddenly become 'better', of a higher quality than before? More powerful? That is all that matters to me, that the artform increases in quality, power, to have a greater psychological effect on the perceiving subject. It is easier to make the case with Music, from Mozart and especially in Beethoven onwards, through Wagner, Mahler, Brahms, Debussy, Shoshtakovich, Bartok and more besides; the elevation of all forms of Music that had hitherto relied on interfering patrons and the Church, gave way to an Dyonisian assault of expressions of supreme power and magnificence, untrammeled by preconceived notions of what Music 'should be' and how it should be performed. There is no strong parallel in any of the other arts, as I see it. Cinema, at its most abstract, without dialogue can sometimes aspire to those heights, but narrative melodrama (in the traditional sense) within the medium has great difficulty in having an overpowering, transfixing effect on the subject, as I see it, in comparison to the greatest Classical Music of the 19th and early 20th centuries. With Music, the composer does not have to express features or aspects of human life (love, war, sadness) or the natural material world (landscapes, animals, etc) but express the eternal, immaterial, unknowable forces and mysteries of possible realities; none of the other arts can express what pure music (ie. no lyrics or instruments imitating natural sounds, ie. The Rites of Spring) can, in the hands of genius, express. Films generally require too much attention and cognitive performance of the viewer; it is rare for one 'lose' oneself whilst watching a film - 'it' changes too quickly due to editing, this is especially the case in dialogue scenes that are not presented purely in a two-shot or master-shot. Expressions such as the Stargate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when viewed for the first time, has an altogether different, curious and more powerful effect on the viewer than dramatic scenes, which are fundamentally the province of the Theatre - and Cinema has to be something more. Filmmakers like Murnau, Dreyer, Bresson, Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Herzog, in their mostly original work seem to strive towards expression of metaphysical truths or states using cinematic techniques, not stating the theme(s) of the work flatly, but nevertheless expressing them in a way that can be inferred by the perceptive viewer. This is the trait of all great works of art, I feel. The more literal an artistic expression is, the less power it often has. In literature, this is where poetry can succeed where prose fails or falls short. In any dramatic work, I feel that alluding to the source of the human condition rather than its effects is a worthy goal; this is something Hitchcock never did, for all his bracing presentations of humanity under the siege of desire and fate. Accounting for the realities of 'the World' is the task of Philosophy, but I have always felt that Cinema is the most accommodating medium for philosophical ideas, concepts or at least investigations, especially in the Computer Age. Cinema is, fundamentally, all about perception, so the tradition of Plato, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer and perhaps Wittgenstein would find a custom-built home in the World of Movies.

Cinema is now at the stage where it can be anything we can conceive, but there is still a strong sense of what it 'should be'.

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#22 Post by tryavna » Sat Jul 29, 2006 6:48 pm

Gordon McMurphy wrote:With Music, the composer does not have to express features or aspects of human life (love, war, sadness) or the natural material world (landscapes, animals, etc) but express the eternal, immaterial, unknowable forces and mysteries of possible realities; none of the other arts can express what pure music (ie. no lyrics or instruments imitating natural sounds, ie. The Rites of Spring) can, in the hands of genius, express.
Wow! You really are a hard-core Schopenhauer-ian! (I'm not sure that any ethnomusicologists would agree with you, though. :wink: )

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#23 Post by Gordon » Sat Jul 29, 2006 8:54 pm

Ha-ha! Yes, I have found that there are profound insights to be found in Schopenhauer's aesthetics. Among many other things, he is the perhaps the only great thinker to seriously address art within a philosophical framework/system. His writings on art are often exilirating and give one a new perspective on art; on reading his work, Wagner's approach to his music was greatly transformed - he said that discovering Schopenhauer was the mostly important moment in his life; he certainly had an immense impact on my own worldview and outlook.

For me, the question is: What is the artwork trying to express and what is its effect on the subject? When you approach art that way, one is usually disconcerted and most literature, paintings, music and films reveal themselves to be trifling, superfluous; merely a means of diversion to 'pass the time' - great works of art appear to make Time stand still. The 'passing' of it is not perceived. This is most powerfully felt in the great symphonies of the German composers of the 19th Century, I feel. Are there equivolent examples in Cinema? The advantage that Music has, is that one can close one's eyes while experiencing it and enter state of transfixion.

Unfortunately, I often habitually enter a milder state while I use a telephone and if certain words are used by the caller, they can create images in my mind, unrelated to the conversation! In person, face-to-face, my concentration is solid enough. Unless intoxicated. On a similar note, I find Asian languages irritating and I have difficulty in watching some Japanese and Chinese films. Spanish, especially when delivered by hysterical women (is there any other kind?) also provokes constrenation in me. Most dialogue in films is utterly extraneous, superfluous; silent Cinema proved that before the fact!

We really must make a list of things I have claimed to find irritating or destructive in filmmaking! :wink:

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#24 Post by David Ehrenstein » Sat Jul 29, 2006 9:22 pm

"Zip
I was readingSchopenhauer last nigt
zip
And I think that Schopenhauer was right."

--Lorenz Hart

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#25 Post by david hare » Wed Aug 02, 2006 10:54 pm

It's hard to resist the idea of an earlier "Cinema of Quality" in the 1930s, some of whose practitioners continued to work in this Literary/Stage bound vein, past the interruption of the War and Occupation. Delannoy, Colombier, many others. (Other posters may well disagree with this appraisal.)

It's hard to say much meaningful about them as so little of their work is around, or indeed seen, but certainly Duvivier drifts in and out of such safe "respectability" to come up with the goods elsewhere, even as late as 1939 (la Charette Fantome, as against the all-star la Fin Du Jour, although the latter has its moments.) Certainly Feyder and l'Herbier's work frankly deteriorates, at roughly the same time Carne (with and without Prevert) is heating up.

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