Monday, July 28, 2014

Two Departures at Cahiers (Serge Toubiana and Charles Tesson)

Everything good comes to an end. And there’s always something next. Serge Toubiana, who miraculously re-launched Cahiers in the late Seventies, and then spent over twenty years there as the chief editor, sometimes with others, spearheaded it to the forefront of relevance, reconnecting it to is past glory, and successfully made it more international. His legacy is important there today in the Stéphane Delorme years even though this influence is invisible. It is one of unabridged cinephilia, generosity, seriousness and criticality. As the director of the Cinémathèque he brings the heritage of the magazine and of cinema to a national and international level. As his recent interview in Cahiers (N.699) attests he continues a tradition started with Henri Langlois. Toubiana might be less known for his criticism (though some of his critiques are amazing, the one on Deconstructing Harry comes to mind) than for the guiding and composing of the issues, evolving with the times, and recruiting and refreshing a good team of film critics. He imposed himself on the issues through his pressing editorials, Cannes coverage, and by the implementation of the Le Journal section. Serge Daney would be his intellectual and spiritual counter-part. So where Daney kept on the Godardian tradition of cinema as a tool of social protest where images held a Bazinien ontology that interrogated the world, Toubiana kept the Truffautian tradition of spectatorship reverie, biting polemics, and of an optimism mixed with melancholy. The book Postcards from the Cinema (unfortunately out-of-print), which is a lengthy interview between them, concludes their beautiful friendship. When the magazine updated it’s format in the early Nineties and they featured Jacques Doniol-Valcroze it was a subtle reminder of this mise en page tradition that Toubiana himself was keeping on. As well with Antoine de Baecque’s two-part history being published in this period this was when a Cahiers self-consciousness was emerging.

If one looks at the subsequent chief editors one can make certain assumptions of their guiding taste by the representative American directors they most associate with: For Thierry Jousse (‘91-‘96) it is David Lynch, Antoine de Baecque (’96-’98) it is Tim Burton, Charles Tesson (’98-’03) it is Martin Scorsese, Jean-Marc Lalanne (’01-’03) it is James Cameron, Emmanuel Burdeau (’03-’09) it is M. Night Shyamalan, Jean-Michel Frodon (’03-’09) it is Clint Eastwood, and for Stéphane Delorme (’09-’14) it is Steven Spielberg.

If Tesson’s editorialship is so highly regarded it’s for the generosity of his prose, knowledge of Cahiers history, and openness to a social and poetic cinema. It stands in opposition to his successor. Some problems with the Frodon editorialship includes: a self-important tone, too much reliance on the business instead of the art of cinema, too much reliance on journalism instead of criticism, not having too strong of a personality, being guilty of a weird favoritism, poor economic practices and unsuccessful managing of the magazine, and branching out the magazine too thin by exploring new outlets, publishing and distribution. His contribution to the Les petits Cahiers on “Film Criticism” is especially unnecessary. But it was also a complicated post-9/11 period with the rise of the internet and its new register of digital images, the growing DVD market and the autodidact cinephile, and the declining relevance of cinema as a social-communal past time.

Tesson, on the other hand, is a pure Cahiersiste. It is a spirit that animates the magazine from within (see how he refers to the magazine as having a heart) and it comes from a place that holds the magazine at a very high esteem – an instrument and measure of the cinema and of our times. In his texts he shares the personal experience of being within – almost like a making of (c.f. Fissures at Cahiers). Tesson now programs at the Critic’s Week at Cannes which continues his criticism in a different register. He has a close relationship with the Delorme editorialship as he programs the films Cahiers champions and sometimes contributes to the magazine, notably his piece Peut-on être rohmero-rivettien? in the Rohmer memorial issue (N.653).

The following is Toubiana’s farewell letter from when he left the magazine in 2000 and Tesson’s when he would leave too a few years later. – D.D.
Aux lecteurs,

It’s with sentiment and friendship that I inform you of my departure from Cahiers du Cinema. I’m leaving in effect, at the end of February 2000, my post of chief editor, as well as co-runner of Editions de L’Etoire. This decision has been brewing in me for the last few months. I needed to make this decision, and it was difficult to make. One never easily leaves a magazine, especially this one, where one has spent twenty-five years of the important years of one’s life. But it is now the case… I’m relieved that others, those who are younger and newer, are assuming to be in charge and to guide, orient, and enliven this magazine that we hold in such high esteem, you and me. Cahiers imperatively needs a new spirit, a new perspective, because the cinema is changing, evolving, transforming, just like its environment. A new spirit and a new dynamism, founded on a critical approach and oppeness, because at Cahiers, more than elsewhere, is entrenched in this experience for half-a-century. The history of this magazine, rich and fecund, allows to imagine the present and the future with serenity and confidence. There is then all the reason to believe that Cahiers will soon be ready for this new start, that its rendezvous will be met this year, 2000. Its writers see themselves as reinforced by the arrival of Franck Nouchi, who will be in charge of the direction of the magazine, with beside him Charles Tesson. He is coming back to prepare a new format to the magazine, to respond to your expectations, and those of the cinema. I wish them good luck, and I address you, dear reader, my most loyal thoughts.

Serge Toubiana
Aux lecteurs des Cahiers

The editorial that I wrote for the summer issue (N.581) ended with serious thoughts about the obstacles that was shaking up the magazine last January (a project to reorganize the editorial team) where we proposed to share our solutions in September. The editorial of September, which was signed by Jean-Michel Frodon, who was named the director of the magazine on the first of July, was itself an answer to the previous editorial. His nomination to a poste that was removed since the return of the magazine to Le Monde where Franck Nouchi ended entirely my functions as chief editor all the while giving them to Jean-Marc Lalanne. Since then, there has been more changes: departure of Lalanne, which was voluntary or was expected by several writing comity members, and instead there was the nomination of a new chief editor, Emmanuel Burdeau, who himself was an old member of the writing committee…

At the time of leaving this magazine, I wanted to saw a few things. My first thought goes towards the reader, numerous, anonymous, and familiar. There is the writer that one imagines and that we are addressing when we put together each issue. There is the other one (the same?) who is there (even though he might be invisible) when we write. We can write a review by addressing the film, cinema in its entirety, to be read by the director, or even with the desire (crazy, but actual) to be read by such and such actor or actress. There is no true art of aimer without a certain (critical) sense of declaration, for its form and its depth. We can also write for those who are no longer with us (the dead) or just for oneself (a long monologue to help guide the cinema or to thank, ad infinitum, the vital pleasure that is procured of renewing one’s relationship with cinema). We can be attached for one’s whole lifetime to only one aspect of this writing or by changing, according to the nature of each film or the times or one’s relation to them. Adressing others, however the form it takes, seems to me to be essential. Without this conscience towards others (to convince, enlighten, share an emotion, build upon its foundation, etc.) there is no veritable critical impulse. History, in its long form, and not being lonely, and to share with words, with films, is one of the pleasures that makes life livable.

My second thought goes towards those who I've worked with at the heart of this magazine (who I've met and learnt to appreciate, and to those that have I've become friends with, which I'll need to thank Cahiers for bringing us together at an important time in our lives) as well to those that I've had the pleasure to meet, whether it is in France or at the four corners of the planet, through the function that I've occupied. A great moment of happiness for me were the exchanges with those, who were really attached to the magazine, that wanted to dialogue with those that contribute to it, and not only through written correspondences. That said, internally, once we start to have some responsibility in creating this magazine, everything changes. Because the job of being the chief editor is one that is learnt and it has strictly nothing with that of the exercise of criticism. Because the pressure is there, and it's enormous. Because one has to learn within the heart of these multiple tensions, between the divergent points of views and the sensibilities of the writers expressions. And especially, being able to accept and overcome them, as soon as they manifest themselves at the interest of the magazine, so that it can become a living space, that is also rich in contradictions. So that it is not a space that is too homogeneous (the terrorizing and terrorist phantasm of a sole editorial line, where truth is incarnated in only one person, with an uncomfortable corollary, which leads to a written film criticism that is cloning and uniform, within an absolute and unique model) nor too heterogeneous (the heteroclite cohabitation of diverse interests, in a Proteus form, for a reader that can't make sense of everything, who is usually a minority, and who would not be able to draw pleasure). In the context and with the conditions that were particular to my experience, between the participation and majority financial takeover of the magazine by Le Monde in 1998 and my nomination to an important role of responsability that lasted until July 2003, I've tried to bring my best all the while sharing the task and responsibility with others. Between 1998 and 2003, amongst a changing team, I've with Antoine de Baecque (up too April 1999), with Serge Toubiana (up to January 2000), with Delphine Pineau (up too September 2001), with Frank Nouchi (from February 2000 to December 2001) and then with Jean-Marc Lalanne, starting in October 2001.

My last thought goes to two people, who if it wasn't for them my adventure at Cahiers, fabulous and unique more often than not, awful sometimes, would never have happened. Serge Toubiana, firstly, who, in May 1998, proposed to me to work beside him, as the director of the magazine and then as its chief editor. And afterwards Serge Daney. I started out just reading him, I followed at the time his courses on the cinema at the Censier and I've confided in him my desire to write at the Cahiers, a crazy dream (but true nonetheless) because I was really intimidated, see very perplexed, with the idea of concretely sharing the pages with those that I've enormously appreciated their writing  (aside from Daney there was Oudart, Bonitzer and Narboni). One day, Serge Daney sent me a message (I didn't have a telephone at the time), marvelously laconic, that only said this: "there are two or three films that Cahiers risks not discussing in their next issue. For you to see them." In this list of three films, there was a Japonese film, An Actor's Revenge by Kon Ichikawa. I saw it at the cinema on that day, and I wrote the critique in a rush, and Serge Daney accepted the text immediately, without any hesitation nor any modifications. It was published in the June 1979 issue (N.302). I was then the happiest that I can be. For a long time, a really long time, writing at Cahiers, being part of this magazine, to be installed more or less comfortably in its lifespan made me happy. What more could one ask for? Shortly before the death of Serge Daney in 1992, between other things, he confided to me his surprise and regret that I never got the chance to further excel and take on more responsibility at the heart of this magazine. He had his own thoughts on this issue. I explained to him the diverse reasons. Without knowing it, several years later, Serge Toubiana exercised Daney's wish, which was also my own, but sadly arrives negatively, because Daney didn't see this, which is a regret. The world is sometimes good to you even though life in general, under certain circumstances, with no relation to the other things that are going on, can show itself to be cruel.
To the reader of Cahiers, which I was once one, with fervour and passion, directly, starting in the mid-Seventies, month after month, and then the catching up as much as I can with all the ancient issues that were available. So before I even started writing and reading it, in a different life but with the same sentiment, then joining and participating in its elaboration, and becoming attentive in a different way to those that read it and to the remarks of those that write here. To be finally under the obligation to quit these responsabilities for good does not leave one indifferent, this goes without saying. But at Cahiers, where one becomes tied to an intricate bond with others and the network that one creates - with the past, present and future - never leaves one indifferent. Except when the unsaid makes on cringe (irritation, a bad conscience) and the explicit also bothers (unanimity, and the misplaced).

It was my status of a young subscriber to this magazine that I owed my first visit to the Cahiers offices, which was already at Boule-Blanche, because I need to ask for why each month I was getting the magazine so late when it was already on the newsstands. Going through the office doors has become for me a regular ritual with slight variations depending on the occasion: bringing in an article, to learn about press screenings, to take part in a group meeting or to attend an informal discussion on a film that’s puzzling the magazine, with the desire to discuss or to run the risk (sometimes) of bothering them, depending on the availability. Before knowing how it is like from the other side, to live through the transition into the team, as a paid writer. I don’t need to get into what it’s like to join Cahiers and what that experience was for me (that’s another affair, another story, which is really complex, and that I’ve interiorized. I have the feeling of having lived there during those months, constructing its table of contents and pages).

To be a reader of Cahiers, that is what I’m returning to, like before, but also not like before. It will be a new pleasure, that I haven’t experienced for a while (that of not knowing what will be in the next issue), which will be richer because of what I’ve experienced at the heart of the magazine.

It’ll be a new chapter for me of reading Cahiers, attentive, exigent and engaged, like always: reading it is a critical activity in itself, a prolonguement of the gesture that created this magazine, transmission.

Charles Tesson, December 2003.

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