Monday, October 17, 2016
Sunday, October 16, 2016
This essay will examine the writing of Jacques Audiberti that appeared in Cahiers du Cinema from 1954 to 1956 and how his writing represents a unique approach to cinema for his period and how he perceived it to evolve over the two years. The film writing of Audiberti, who was born in Antibes in 1899, is unique as it emerged from experiencing its bourgeoning half-a-century first hand as well as coming to it from a journalist, novelist and theatre background. Audiberti was especially important at Cahiers, perhaps more so than other guest contributors, as he would leave a profound mark on François Truffaut, who had asked him to contribute, and who would be inspired be his prose, published work, world-view and friendship for his entire life (for example, one of the portraits in La Chambre verte is of Audiberti). Audiberti’s seventeen billets in Cahiers were a regular series of article that were subjective ruminations on what were topical films, debates, attractions, technological developments along with descriptions of personal experiences and memories. This research is important for providing a framework to better understand the films of the fifties period and how they were received at Cahiers and to the analysis of one individual critic and how they were able to impose themselves at the magazine. The keys Audibertien ideas that will be analyzed are his thoughts on cinema as expressed through his prose, the importance of actors and especially actresses, cinema memory, his theoretical understanding of cinema, and his filiation to Truffaut.
The French film critic Noël Herpe describes Audiberti’s writing as, “Through reading his articles… it’s confirmed that only cinema could have aroused such a singular form of criticism through its archeological depth. What is unique is the variety of subjects that he involves and the freedom he allows for imagination” (Positif, October 1997). Audiberti’s prose is that of a personal writing whose film analysis emerges from his own relationship to the cinema screen as he has experienced it. Though there are some more important films that are analyzed through multiple paragraphs what Audiberti prefers discussing are the actresses on the screen, small details, humor and all of their relationships to the world. It is a profoundly French specific form of writing that brings to it its own cultural and literary heritage as well as references to its urban spaces and social practices.
Audiberti first contribution was in the Christmas 1953 issue which was dedicated to La Femme et le Cinema and his piece was entitled Greta, Marlene, Ninon. The quality of this essay led to Truffaut asking Audiberti to regularly contribute a series of articles that were to be his perpetual chronicle about the women, actresses and heroines of the cinema as he experienced them. Audiberti would agree to the project thought he insisted that the theme would be broader then just that of women, which he thought would be too limiting (Le dictionnaire Truffaut). These billets would be prioritized at Cahiers by usually being placed at the front of the magazine.
But actresses would still be a subject that inspired several of Audiberti’s following contributions. In his first essay he describes seeing Greta Garbo in person, “I saw her, in full form, as impressive as you would imagine her to be, from the back, on Boetie street, from Miromesnil. She had beautiful black hair, was carrying a straw bag and was dressed in maroon” (Cahiers, Christmas 1953). Marlene Dietrich seduced him in Der blaue Engel. There would be more articles on Garbo, Joan Crawford and Audrey Hepburn (Billet VII). He especially liked Crawford in Johnny Guitar, Sophia Loren would charm him in Pane, amore e... and so would Ninon Sevilla in La Professionnelle. The importance of this is how Audiberti theorizes how the faces in cinema that one has seen over the years have a profound impact on personal memory, and how it is one’s life that one reflects upon when they see and think about those faces. Though he got frustrated with unsubtle overacting and expressed his disappointment with Curd Jürgens work in Helmut Käutner’s Le Général du Diable (Billet XVI). The attention Autiberti gave to the different roles played by the different actors, highlighting their strength and weaknesses, and how a filmmaker used them was in a way anticipating star studies.
Audiberti’s writing is full of what Annette Kuhn would later describe as cinema memory as it springs from remembered images, situated memories and memories of cinema-going. Audiberti, a figure who had lived through the history of cinema, represented someone who had an authoritative perspective onto it. The cultural memory of an intellectual cinephile for the epoch emerges through Audiberti’s articles. There were at first the serials from his childhood, the classic silent films of the twenties, the two world wars, to the emergence of television. Audiberti’s personal biography and how it intersected with history are all parts of his writing repertoire. On Battleship Potemkin, “I haven’t seen it for thirty years, when we used to take the taxi-cab to Ursuline as if we were mythological Christian figures on a rite of passage. Seeing it again reanimated into me who I was in 1927 and the context of those times” (Cahiers, July 1954). On eros and cinema, “In the small electronic game shops that are still operating in Pigalle there were two Edisonian kaleidoscopes, where through its binoculars you could watch, after putting twenty francs into its slot, things like Nuits de noces and Folle passion and so on. This was before the war...” (Cahiers, December 1954). These are just some examples of how his writing was personal and how cinema memories were essential to it.
Audiberti, as an older figure similar to André Bazin and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze at Cahiers, also theorized on the uniqueness and medium-specific qualities of cinema. He would cite how cinema was built upon the other arts (e.g. the novel, painting, theater, radio) and describe how it would evolve with technological developments from sound, color, and larger screen formats. For Audiberti, technological developments only prolonged the trance-like anomaly that it instills in the spectator that was there since its origins. Cinema could, according to Audiberti, “allow man to double himself. He would become a specter in front of the celestial gazes of those on the screen. He becomes, more than himself, enriched, free and strong. It was through them that his fullest life resided” (Cahiers, Christmas 1953).
If François Truffaut, who was born in 1932, and the ‘Young Turks’ represented the emerging voice and taste at Cahiers during this period, then Audiberti was of course on the side of the older generation at the magazine. As an only child from a troubled home, Truffaut would seek father figures in older kindred spirits and Audiberti was a prime candidate for this (even as early as 1951, Truffaut would admire Audiberti’s Le Maitre de Milan so much that he would send his copy of it to his childhood friend Robert Lachenay from prison). So event though the two had different thoughts on what constituted an emerging modern cinema there was still an important filiation between them. Audiberti’s taste included the films of Henri-Georges Clouzot (Les Diaboliques), Federico Fellini (La strada) and Max Ophüls (Lola Montès). He also admired some American films (The Barefoot Contessa, Scarface, The Big Knife), Mexican and Italian ones. Tuffaut, who had admired Audiberti’s film criticism in Comoedia during the Occupation, would get inspired by his unique personal prose when he would write his first critique in Cahiers on Sudden Fear, Les extrêmes me touchent (Cahiers, March 1953).
This survey of Audiberti’s writing at Cahiers illustrates how through the analysis of multiple texts by a single author a unique theoretical understanding of cinema could be expressed, the importance of film history to the magazine, and how there could be there a possible filiation between two different generations. The historical distance between the period that Audiberti was writing in to now has already led his work being studied and appreciated. There’s an association for him, a literary prize, a published volume of his film writing (Le Mur du fond) and he’s contextualized in La critique de cinema en France. For Audiberti cinema was: le pensé d’un spectator devant le blanc et noir de l’écran dans une salle obscure. How would that look like when the world has gotten a lot more complex and the whole infrastructure of cinema has changed?
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Eagles fly overhead, guarding their nests with extreme jealousy. These are some of the most dangerous, yet beautiful animals on Earth; their wings stretch into the distance, and their talons are sharper than scissors. Such beautiful creatures are elegant, destructive and fascinating; beings to admire from afar. So, how is it that for centuries, native people from the wilds of Kazakhstan have trained eagles to hunt for them? In Otto Bell's film The Eagle Huntress, we are treated to a detailed account of the methods used, and the way eagle hunters take advantage of eagle's natural instincts to create a partnership that is beneficial for the interests of both humans and eagles.
The focus of The Eagle Huntress is one particular eagle trainer; a passionate 13-year-old girl named Aisholpan. (At least, she was 13 years old during most of the filming.) As soon as she sees any eagle, a change comes over her eyes; she sees life, beauty, and magnificence. She interacts with her father's eagle with the same natural ease as if it were one of her own two siblings; later in the film, when she catches and trains her own eagle, it is as though she is dealing with a child of her own.
Aisholpan and her eagle have natural chemistry. It is amazing to watch her call to her eagle and ride horseback with bait, and to see the love in her eyes when the eagle catches the bait. Similarly, when she is the one releasing the eagle from a cliff top, she watches closely, with great affection and determination, as the eagle finds bait quickly.
Judged eagle hunting contests take place every year in a central Kazakhstan city, and one of Aisholpan's greatest desires to take part in a competition. Technically, Aisholpan doesn't have to take part in any competition in order to be an eagle hunter, but she sees it as a chance to prove her worth to the community as a whole, and as a way of challenging herself. She also thinks it will help her eagle become a more confident hunter in a real situation. There is also another issue; one that she never directly comments on, but one that has deeper implications not only for her interest in eagle hunting, but on the eagle hunting community as a whole. Eagle hunting in Kazahk society is seen as a profession for men only. Men find the food, women cook the food and take care of the house. No exceptions.
Due to her love for eagle hunting, many see Aisholpan as an anomaly at best, so when Aisholpan aces the competition there is a certain amount of disbelief. There must have been people outside Aisholpan's family, friends and circle of acquaintances who approved of her entry into the trials. However, we don't hear from them because of the requirements of the film's narrative. The idea that a female could perform so well at the eagle hunting trials is not only an affront to certain tribal elders' ideals, it is also an example of cognitive dissonance. The elders who heard the news (and believed it) reacted mostly with stunned silence, although one suggested that the judges went easy on her because she was female. The idea that any female could perform at such a high level is astonishing to them, even when the proof is in front of their faces. Aisholpan herself doesn't care either way; she performed the trials, she got her scores, and now she's comfortable taking her eagle to the wild and hunting for real.
In this amazing documentary, we get to see Aisholpan evolve from eagle training neophyte to confident hunter, regardless of the biases of the society she lives in. She stands atop a cliff with her eagle, in search of prey, and watches with pride as her eagle soars.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Rebeccah Love’s Drawing Duncan Palmer is finally getting its first public screening at the MDFF screening series and it should be memorable. It’s a touching short film as it peels away the superficial rhetoric of Toronto to focus on more honest emotions: what’s it like to lonely and what it’s like to be sad. In it Miriam (Chloé Hung) and Zoe (Love) had organized a fundraiser for a scholarship in the memory of their recently deceased professor Dr. Crawford and which their fellow student Duncan (Andrew Spittal) had outbid everyone else to win the opportunity to have Miriam draw his portrait.
Drawing Duncan Palmer begins with Miriam spending time alone preparing to hang out with Zoe to go over the results of the silent auction. There’s an elegance to this scene as Miriam takes her time baking cookies and preparing some snacks. You see her get all of the ingredients ready, mix them in an ornamented bowl, put the batter in the oven and quietly drink some water while waiting for everything to be ready. Love’s camera captures an appreciation for the smaller moments of life and the reserve of having to do it alone, which is only heightened by Thomas Hoy’s elegiac score. When Zoe does finally arrive (talking about gardening, almost in anticipation to Acres) they have fun and she encourages Miriam to ask Duncan out on a date (why else would he spend so much on a portrait?) on the Saturday when he comes over. She’s eager and nervous and courageous when she finally poses Duncan the question but as it turns out he only bid so much for the portrait so that he could put it up in his apartment beside that of another one of a person whom he truly misses.
With an official filmography of just a few short films: Drawing Duncan Palmer along with Abacus, My Love, Pitching for the Heights, Circles (which she wrote and art directed) and the upcoming Acres Love already has an impressive oeuvre. But as it turns out it also includes a series of videos that can be found on her YouTube channel beccahlove.
These videos reveal almost an experimental filmmaker stage in Love’s oeuvre as these home movie-style works include stylistic effects that further heighten everyday experiences to the level of poetry. In them the world, Love’s relation to it and its filming become organically intermingled so that an imagination becomes the starting point: people get out of their comfort zones to be freer to enjoy and live life. What especially stands out is how Love is able to joyously capture communities coming together and the casual articulation of a philosophical idea. Behind these modest works with their emphasis on a joyousness and imagination is the expression of an egalitarian politics and democracy: access to community and country is a moral right and everyone has a role to play in the pursuit of the common good.
If there are negative repercussions of a gender imbalance in the Canadian film industry: it’s that there aren’t more films like those of Rebeccah Love that have such a kindness to them (though Mes nuits feront écho by Sophie Goyette that’s premiering at FNC or Sofia Bohdanowicz’s Never Eat Alone that’s premiering at VIFF are steps in the right direction). Rebeccah Love’s films are a reminder of how the gift of intimacy can speak volumes.