Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Nick and Sam

Cahiers had always approached American cinema from a detached European perspective. In this regard two of Daney’s most important critiques from his early Eighties period are the ones on Wim Wenders’ Lightning Over Water and Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One. These were important films and critiques for bridging the classic Cahiers jaune era with the modern cinema of the Eighties. Daney encouraged this external contemplation of Hollywood and this is why his favorite American films also implicitly participated in this. Other examples include the films of John Cassavetes, who made his home movies next door to the Majors in California, and Barbara Loden and her only film Wanda.

There was always a side film malade to Daney (Truffaut’s term to discuss Hitchcock’s Marnie). For Daney it is these sick films that are more representative of cinema globally and Daney personally. The documentary by Wenders met en place Nicholas Ray’s frail and dying body which for Daney offers a surrogate for the status of the Classical Studio era. Lightning Over Water is seen as a film about the politique des auteurs, where a director’s failure is seen as the more personal work than the success, which for Daney has now become corrupted as a marketing tool.

The new European director in this period that best addressed these concerns for Daney was Wim Wenders. There was Lightning Over Water but also before this The American Friend where Wenders would cast Fuller and Dennis Hopper. There is a Godardian, Le Mépris quality to these films in their reflexivity and criticality. Daney in his critique of Lightning Over Water highlights its perversity which is similar to Ray’s own cinema, “The subjects of Ray’s films is less revolt than the impossibility of revolt.” Daney’s description of the relationship between Ray and Wenders in Lightning Over Water can equally be read as a commentary on the relationship between different generations at Cahiers. “It’s about this alliance that is forced due to a filiation, where this filiation is experienced like an alliance. This is the cinema of Nicholas Ray. But also, this relationship, experienced at the beginning of the Eighties, becomes a way to recount the history of cinema.”

Serge Le Péron would pick up on Daney’s analysis in his critique of Wenders’s Hammett. Le Péron writes, “For another time it is a fiction about filiation that Wenders is confronted with.” To make the film, Wenders had to learn the old ways of studio filmmaking and the film, which is produced by Francis Ford Coppola, can be divided, according to Le Péron, with its story that belongs to its producer and its images that belong to its director. This emphasis on the director, framing and mise en scène leads Le Péron to concluding on its modernity, “For his tenth film, with its ancient narrative and retro production, Wenders’ preoccupations are never that far away from those of Godard and Antonioni.”
Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One, similar to George Cukor’s Rich and Famous (which was also featured in this period), is a late testimony film by one of the last old studio directors. Even though Daney laments that the four-hour version will never get properly released (which is no longer the case) he still describes Fuller’s The Big Red One as, “It’s the best film by Samuel Fuller, and nonetheless the most personal and ambitious.” Fuller’s mise en scène and morality remained intact and there’s a serenity to the film that comes from old age. Daney continues,

If Fuller was adopted at Cahiers like a modern filmmaker it’s because, more than any other American, he’s a filmmaker who is obsessed with the idea of the contemporary… Even when he was telling stories that were set in the past there was always the sentiment of ‘the first time’. This was new to the cinema. It was as if nobody had filmed before him… This came from how Fuller was both a wartime journalist and also a mad journalist.

Daney is building upon Godard’s earlier legacy as a film critic and filmmaker. He’s creating an explicit filiation with the author of one of the most famous Cahiers critiques which is that of Godard on Bitter Victory (“Nicholas Ray is cinema…”) and of Godard the director of Pierrot le Fou where he would cast Fuller in a small role to discuss his wartime experiences and cinema.

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