Monday, July 28, 2014

Whoa ! (Serge Toubiana on France Inter)

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost....” – Charlie Chaplin

“Is your spirit melancholic?” asks Éva Bester*, and Serge Toubiana**, in a lucid manner, describes how sadness can take over him, though never in a debilitating way, and how he eventually overcomes it and finds pleasure. The conversation brings to mind the tape-recording scene in Manhattan. One can sympathize with Toubiana as he shares not-usually-discussed real human anxieties on life. Some conclusions that he draws is that being melancholic is normal and solitude is important, but regardless one must experience life and engage with the world. One comfort: films. Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, “Which is made all the more relevant today with what is going on in the world.” Chaplin’s speech of peace and acceptance, spoken to the world against the darkness that would befall Europe, has urgency and is inspiring, traits that he feels are lacking today. Toubiana describes Chaplin as “an absolute genius of the 20th century”, and has worked on the MK2 Chaplin DVDs. Listening to him brings to mind Jean Narboni’s great book on the film Pourquoi les coiffeurs? (Capricci), Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes (which has a still from it on its cover), and the upcoming The Charlie Chaplin Archives (Taschen). Toubiana then transitions the conversation towards Chaplin’s last film A Countess from Hong Kong, which was a commercial and critical failure, but that is actually one of his favorites and that's what he told to one of its stars Sophia Loren when he saw her. It's a passionate cinephilic gesture that recalls Henri Langlois' contribution on Land of the Pharaohs in the Fifties Cahiers Hawks dossier. Toubiana’s blog at the Cinémathèque is a great resource, too. Toubiana continues on Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, one of the key films of his life, and La Strada, a terrifying experience that he elaborates on in Cahiers N.700 (which aligns him with the stradistes). His childhood in Tunisia. How he forgets. Jerry Lewis. La Maman et la Putain, “One of the greatest French films.” 

There is a great story about François Truffaut, which Toubiana describes as being an important experience for him. In 1975, after taking over Cahiers a year earlier with Serge Daney, they go see Truffaut, who was angry at the magazine, and after they speak Truffaut tells them, “You should never have made Cahiers an ultra-leftist Maoist magazine. It’s unreadable and too theoretical. That’s not what Bazin wanted. You should have created another magazine.” And, “I’ve listened to you, and moving forward I’ll have an open neutrality towards the magazine.” This was Truffaut’s way to test them and to see if they would change. It was the start of the magazine’s return towards its original cinephilia (Truffaut would help them get financing, too). Toubiana describes how the Eighties Cahiers interview with Truffaut was a highlight of his career and it was the start of a truly valued friendship. Since Truffaut’s untimely early death (he was only in his fifties), Toubiana at the time featured an issue of Cahiers on him, wrote a biography (with Antoine de Baecque), and now there’s an upcoming Cinémathèque exhibition. One can see the Truffaut influence at Cahiers in this period through their reconnection with the original nouvelle vague but also on some of their miscellaneous interest, in particular that of a sensitivity and representations of childhood. For example, there is the cover feature they dedicated to E.T., which after seeing it at Cannes, Truffaut reportedly send Spielberg a letter that said, “You belong here more than me.” (Godard, on the other hand, aligned himself more with the American cinema of Woody Allen, who he would cast in his King Lear). Spielberg is also important at Cahiers today and whose reevaluation started in the Two-thousands (in face of reluctance since some of its past chief editors like de Baecque and Emmanuel Burdeau would never be described as Spielbergian.). Toubiana is a big fan of Raymond Devos, Andy Warhol (“he understood that we’re living in an era of reproduction;” and Toubiana also owns a revolver drawing and a Campbell Soup painting), Aragon (he recites a great poem), Charles Trénet (they play the song Boum, and Cocteau was also a fan), Sils-Maria (and the new Assayas film), and (finally) pastis. The episode of Remède à la mélancolie ends with Toubiana in a charming manner asking Bester out for a drink. If the weather’s nice, try to enjoy it!
* Bester’s interview with Antonin Peretjatko is well worth listening, too.
** The France Inter interviews with Toubiana are a lot better than those on France Culture especially the one with Michel Ciment, which was poorly put together. The episode of Le Festival en 18 Palmes on Billie August’s The Best Intentions is especially good.

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