Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Issue Was It? (En Couverture at Nightswimming)

In the early eighties at the French film magazine Positif they ran a series entitled “le cinéma et nous,” which was initiated in a convivial spirit to get some of the magazines writers to answer two questions: What is the value for you of seeing a good movie? and, what exactly do you expect to take in from seeking out films, and seeing them at movie theaters? With one of the goals of this petit jeux to share with the reader what animates the individual writers and to better articulate the spirit of the magazine, Positif.

Well the writers jumped onto the challenge, usually with two- or three-pages-long responses, where they described with depth and breath what first turned them towards movies and how they feel about them at the time when they wrote the pieces. The questions are so fundamental, yet simple, that when one thinks of them, there is just so much that comes to mind, and the problem seems to be picking where exactly does one start. So to avoid banal repetition, with each new le cinéma et nous pieces the answers become all the more different, rendering the questions all the more complex.

The first le cinéma et nous was in March ’81 issue (N.240) and included contributions to it by Robert Benayoun, Emmanuel Carrère, and Paul-Louis Thirard. In their respective pieces Benayoun writes, “What do I expect from cinema? Not that this answer is exhaustive, but I want it to enlighten, for it to bring forth something new in myself. It's vital that its imagery be both stimulant and exalting.” Carrère writes, “I don’t know any better words to describe the cinema then those by Cocteau, who was amazed by its power to show, “death at work.” And Thirard writes, “The cinema brought forward my first political conscience. For many years, I saw no contradiction between my taste for engaged, militant films, [...] where eroticism and revolution were on the same plane.”

In the following le cinéma et nous in the May ’81 issue of Positif (N.242), Françoise Audé describes her youth at ciné-clubs, “Seeing a film at a film-club, was for me, the occasion of a nocturnal outing and an encounter with people. It was also now indistinguishable of a prolonged discussion where I started to feel the political tensions between the attendants. The cinema then is thus associated in my emotional memory to the euphoria of the Liberation – everything is possible – and to the idea of liberty and to the idea of engagement.” And Gérard Legrand on film-criticism, “Even though it's more ambitious when writing about cinema compared to other arts, I have never lost hope that it could enrich the mind, that it can be a beautiful criticism instead of only the sterile criticism of pointing out faults, like said François-René de Chateaubriand, and I would add how Jean Massin reclaimed it, the criticism should be that of a “embouchures” [mouth of a bay] over the criticism of “sources”[spring water].”

The next le cinéma et nous was in the June ’81 issue of Positif (N.243), where in it Alain Masson addresses the viewer's passivity while watching movies, “What do we go do at the cinema? First off, and essentially, nothing. When the guards of humanism blamed the movies of being lazy distractions, they were more on point then the zealots of modernity who blew wind about a “active spectator”." While for Petr Král, “The fever that I get from the images of a film are, in fact, less about a dramatic order then that of moral order.”

And in the last le cinéma et nous that I could find, December ’82 (N.262), for Alain Garsault from any film, "I expect what expected Joachim du Bellay from poetry: that it makes me feel: "angry, calm, happy, sad, love, disgusted, to admire, shocked, in short [that it] changes how I feel, twisting how I feel, like a good song"; forcing me to welcome it all in, I might add." And for Michel Sineux, “Like for many people of my generation, I had the chance to discover cinema in its temples – caves like unlike anything you’ve ever seen, between a rococo theater and a musical (Le Parisiana!) – and not in these multiplex, that are all over the place today and that are reducing the experience to a collective televisual spectacle.”

I haven't seen any more le cinéma et nous in the following issues, and I wonder how much longer the series lasted. But around this time a new feature also started at the magazine, which is “autour du cinema” that would eventually turn into “bloc-notes.” The first autour du cinema started in January 1982 (N.250), and two early ones that really stick out include: Michel Ciment wrote his first autour du cinema: 31 jours de Janvier in the March ’82 issue (N.252), where he would list his favorite films of the previous year, a tradition, that of putting forth his top ten films of the previous year in the January bloc-notes, that Ciment would continue onwards. While in the June ’83 issue of Positif (N.268), Robert Benayoun in autour du cinema: 30 jours d’avril, would really open up about having hemiplegia, which arose from a stroke, and the personal toll it had on him while still finding hope in the films of Resnais, Altman and Lewis.

This emphasis on the writers personal disclosure, and giving them space to do so, makes Positif unique amongst other film magazines. Their series, first off, le cinéma et nous, and then autour du cinema which would become bloc-notes gives their writer's a chance to break the fourth wall of a film review to discuss their other interest. While also for Positif this opening up of their space leads to the creation of new forms of film criticism.

The reason that I bring up le cinéma et nous is because of a new series organized at the French film-blog, Nightswimming, is doing something very similar. Edouard Sivière, who manages Nightswimming, started a series entitled En couverture de(s) Cahiers/Positif: Une couverture à soi, un numéro fétiche, where unlike in le cinéma et nous, where people discussed their cinephilia in relation to movies and movie-theaters, here the contributors are discussing their relationship with Cahiers du Cinéma and/or Positif, with one of its goals of being to explore the magazines with their own histories.

So far some of the highlights of the series include: Positif film-critic Fabien Baumann's Un pubis en vitrine, where he talks about a poster of a cover of Positif, that features a nude women from a still of Raul Ruiz's Klimt, that would go on their office window, and he was surprised by peoples response to it, “I don’t think an issue of Positif has ever had such an impact on such a varied public.” Phil Siné's contribution is of great interest as it discusses a readers response to Cahiers as it evolved and grew, and how Cahiers has a way to champion a certain kind of American mainstream cinema, and taking an anti-pedantry position: de Casino à Scream et de Martin Scorsese à Skeet Ulrich. While Oriane Sidre discusses the Septembre 2010 issue of Positif (n°595), Le visage de Yun Junghee, and that issues cover, Poetry by Lee Chang-Dong, and the magazine's championing of South-Korean cinema, as well as how the magazine looks today under Michel Ciment. More recently the contributions are becoming more complex, and esoteric with their references (which is a good thing) and in the most recent contribution by Pascal Manuel Heu, "Des Couverture et Trois Couleurs", he even gets reflexive about the whole En couverture series. This is film writing which is pushing the limits of what it can be - a fufillment of the Positif spirit of writing.


Edouard/Nightswimming said...

Good idea to talk about "Le cinéma et nous". And you're right, David, the last one is in the December'82 issue.

I'm glad you thought about linking this to my ("our", should I say) "En couverture des Cahiers/Positif". Thank you.

David D. said...

Yeah, the University of Ottawa (where I studied) Library's Positif collection goes as far back as '81, so I'm unfamiliar with its history prior to that. But yeah, discovering "le cinema et nous" was fun, and I just wanted to write about it and the "En couverture" series, which I'm having fun reading.