Monday, July 28, 2014

Serge Toubiana on 40 Years of Cahiers

When I met Serge Toubiana it was at the gift store that I work at. It’s in a cultural organization and I just got the job of also ordering the books and DVDs. He was just a customer and he was talking about visiting from France to see the Burton exhibition and that it was going to travel there. He introduced himself Toubiana, Serge.” Cool! “I read your blog!” I ask him, like I do to every French cinephile (there aren't many that come through here), do you read Cahiers? What do you think of the new Cahiers editor and team (without knowing that he used to be there for a long time). Oh you like it? Still young, I thought that people were just meant to criticize Cahiers because that's what the older American critics did (cf. Cahiers Criticisms) and I bring up that one of its past writers was complaining about them on the internet – something regarding how they were wrong about their rave reviews of The Other Guys and Machete. He laughed it off. But I still feel bad that I criticized them and since then I've tried to make it up by talking and writing about their recent years. Every new issue is really good and it's my favorite monthly film magazine. If at the time I knew more about who I was talking to and more about what Stéphane Delorme was trying to bring to the magazine I’m sure the conversation would have been different. Anyways, Mr. Toubiana was nice and I purchased the copy of Truffaut that, by chance I prominently displayed, and he kindly signed it. There aren’t many direct bonds between Toronto and French cinephilia (with a few exceptions on social media) so if I blog a lot about French film criticism and on Cahiers today it’s to create and strenghen a bond and to make up for that earlier gaffe. 

Right now I'm working on my MRP which will be on Cahiers in the Eighties and their relationship to American cinema. This period is too little explored and I think it’s essential to understand the magazine today. As I plan to argue Toubiana and Daney’s reconnection with Truffaut was the catalyst for their shift from purely intervention and third world films towards cinema in its entirety, and they needed to catch up and the media landscape had rapidly evolved. Daney on Toubiana when he left in 1981, “He has a precise idea on the magazine: to return it towards the center of cinema. This idea has a future. My idea is less clear, not really defined, more vagabond. It is better if he realizes his goal, even though I don’t share with all of his decisions.”

The following is Toubiana’s essay ten years onwards after taking the helm, L'âge de déraison (The age of unreason), it's one of his most reflexive pieces, from their special 40th anniversary issue (May 1991, N.443-44). - D.D.

L'âge de déraison

Cahiers is now forty years old! We had to get ready for this anniversary during the last few months and we wanted to avoid the “commemorative” aspect of it. Instead we wanted to seize its joyous pretext to further enliven this magazine towards the present. Cahiers like a site of passage, and not like an “institution”: that’s it, this is what we were thinking. And then, people’s sentiment about the magazine are not the same, and I’ll assume vary from the old writers to the contemporary ones. Amongst the young ones, I bet that they can’t even imagine being attached to a magazine for forty years! They are hardly even half of that! For me, being the age of the magazine, and having grown with it, it’s different.

What astounds the most, is this strange sentiment that Cahiers, is never more than a small group of people, during each period, who decide to be responsible. By choosing how it will brand itself by picking who it will identify with. This has not always happened without there being tensions and creating friction amongst people. These groups don’t always get along with those that have contributed to it in the past, the “Cahiers family” is large. Truly, how many successive generations are there really to have passed through this “site of bearing witness,” which is Cahiers?

This magazine is a site of passage and of writing, or of cinema apprentice for those that take the leap to the “other side of the mirror.” For this current generation, there is the sentiment of speaking or writing in a long history that includes those who have already spoken, and already written. Differently, depending on the period and by temperaments. This is what makes us feel that there actually exist a “history” to this magazine, with its past, the glorious and non-glorious years, and a present that is unfolding, but which is harder to define. There is a tortuous filiation, that even though there are changes and an evolution, there is a common unifying trait to defend and love: the cinema.

These forty years for Cahiers, we wanted to mark them with this sign that animates its writers for the last ten years: openness, curiosity, and questioning. Two issues divide this period, but presented in a unique form, emerges at the occasion of this anniversary. In one, more than one hundred filmmakers, actors, artists and producers tell their memories about cinema. The ensemble draws a strange constellation that is deep down harmonious: the “I remember…” becomes a pretext to share a little story, a brief movement, that is intense too, where each of us and others get to tell our story…

This other issue – the one that you are holding in your hands – there is also this movement, deep down, which returns towards the past, and which draws several points of passage between the different periods of the magazine. And which returns towards the present: the present of cinema and the present of Cahiers.

What surprises, is to what point being part of Cahiers changes that trajectory of people, individual paths and those of collectives. They don’t always resemble their period, but usually they do. The Nouvelle Vague, for example, which associate so well with this passage, this major shift, from the black and white of the after-war years and the end of the Fifties, towards the bright colors and euphoria, towards the “new cinema” of the early Sixties. But also the other periods, where the heart of the writers use the magazine as a tool of investigation, an arm of combat, a space of passage. With each new group, there are strong relations, and a passion for cinema. A gamble of “all or nothing.” All the way towards and even during the Seventies, where Cahiers lived their “maoiste” period, alone against everyone, after severing themselves from an established cinema. Of course, with patience, we were able to return to an equilibrium.

To be forty years old in 1991 necessarily forces us to interrogate the future of cinema. To ask ourselves if there are still a few good cards to be played, to live new adventures. Are we optimist? And at what cost? Cinema no doubt has a big field in front of it, on the condition that it does not trip too much on itself. That it does not fall for the game or looks too much at itself, which is caused by a “catch-all” audiovisual terrain. That it knows that through a facilitation towards new funds and mediums, it’s its identity itself that could be put into question. For ever. Its horizon would only enlarge on the condition that cinema remains on its guard and remains vigilant. Cahiers counts on helping this.

To turn forty in May (some will no doubt notice a light shift in the history: our first issue actually came out in April 1951), is to say right during the Cannes festival, implies the idea of a celebration. With its friends, Cahiers proposes an rendezvous on May 18th, to celebrate this unreasonable age.

Serge Toubiana

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