Monday, July 29, 2013

Positif N.500: Bernard Chardère's Contribution

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Positif, for their 500th issue (Oct. 2002), the editors prepared a special issue. In it, the feature section was full of previously unpublished documents from famous filmmakers (e.g. Kubrick, Marker, Kiarostami, Cronenberg etc.), reflections by 87 collaborators on their participation with the magazine, and their favorite ten films from this period. The impressive roster of contributors included: Bernard Chardère, Gilles Jacob, Bertrand Tavernier, Michel Ciment, Michael Henry Wilson, Philippe Rouyer, Laurent Vachaud, Pierre Berthomieu, and others.

A noteworthy contribution to the section Cinquante Ans de Cinema is Bernard Chardère’s (which I translated below, along with his top ten). These early issues of Positif that he describes have long been shrouded in mystery since they are unavailable in Canada (cf. Positif in Canada). Luckily, they were recently re-printed as Les nouvelles éditions de Positif (Nouvelles Éditions Jean-Michel Place): Positif n° 1 à 15 and Positif n° 16 à 31. Now we just need to get them over here! - D.D.

1952: Bernard Chardère
For the sake of the cause (Cosa Nostra), if I had to evoke the year 1952, where to start? Perhaps with the projections "with a presentation and discussion," the heirs of the "conferences with a projection" from the times of the magic lanterns.The first orders for Positif came from the dense network of cine-clubs that were spread across the country (which dried out all of the original versions). In Paris, the profession was organized with an iron fist, without velvet gloves, by the unions, and for anyone interested in joining they would have had to first go through the L'Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC). Another thing to take into consideration, in regards to discoveries I mean, would be the lines of inquiry around the cinema, and there were two major camps: the Catholics, who went about it in their traditional ways - morality, censorship, etc. - looked for an emancipation, at least aesthetic (Téléciné, Henri Agel ...), and there were the communists, guided by historian Georges Sadoul and the French weekly L'Écran français, who professed their faith to denounce, in a herculean effort, any Hollywood production. The only exception, Orson Welles, who was both loved at a time, without reticence, by Positif and Cahiers.
The table of contents from the issues of this era are filled with a majority of texts about Italian Neorealism, English comedies, and the rediscovery of Soviet and German classics. While also highlighting the incredible mass of mediocre French films: it wasn't famous, our own Saturday night cinema. In the streets and in print, with a critical point of view such was our intellectual responsibility (Leenhardt, Astruc, Kast ...), to consider the unfortunate state of our cinema. What to do? But to escape with Avalanche (Segard), Le bagnard (Rozier) Bel Amour (Campaux), Bille de clown (Wall), Boite de nuit (Rode), Boniface somnambule (Labro), Bouquet de joie (Cam).

Let's stick to the letter B: for example, to highlight some directors that we championed. What to do, if not, to fall into the arms of American cinema? (which we are offered in France, only which that is deemed "worthy" to export, let's remember).

So in this context we decided to take out our pens. In the six issues from 1952, Positif devoted articles to L'Auberge rouge (Autant-Lara), L’Ange bleu (Sternberg) La Carrose d'or (Renoir), Le Christ interdit (Malaparte), Deux sous d’espoir (Castellani), La Grande Vie (Schneider), Le Fleuve (Renoir), Miracle à Milan (De Sica), Los Olvidados (Buñuel), Orphée (Cocteau), Othello (Welles), Pas de paix sous les oliviers (De Santis), Rashomon (Kurosawa), Subida al cielo (Buñuel), Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Tati). There was equally major studies on the national cinemas of Spain, Italy, Russia; articles on Bresson and Renoir, Donskoï, Duvivier, Epstein, Vigo, Welles and an entire issue on Huston (African Queen, The Asphalt Jungle, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Red Badge of Courage, We Were Strangers).

"You were the first, really, to liberate films from the intellectual empire of the Critics, to open them up towards life, and into the real world," reassures us today an obsever without any indulgences, Georges Goldfayn. It's true though that we believed in cinema as a generous humanism, which we put to use, in a random order, to discover life, and as a way to improve it, and at the same time, with a crazy love for this unique form of expression, and an appetite to learn its many-fold components and masters.

Positif's layout and format was conceived spontaneously.
There were excesses, omissions, blunders, certainly: the failings of youth. What has been done is done! Our choices as an emerging magazine must have corresponded to ... something: incomplete, they would contribute, one stone at a time, or if not towards a definition of a "general line", or at least to the creation of a common spirit. This all just happened as we were putting together more issues after its initial launch, it continues to be enriched today, as it was fifty year ago, a great response to the most skeptical of its founders.

Well we want to authorize this, after this message, the archaeology, to draw a personal reverence to film criticism, saluting, the chef editor Ciment, and the publisher Paul Louis Thirard and everyone else on the team, that I would have had the pleasure to read during the first few years of the second century of the cinema. The first years: always the best...
Bernard Chardère's ten favorite films of the past fifty years, in no order: Il Grido (Antonioni), Él (Buñuel), The Dead (Huston), Hamlet (Kosintzev), 8 ½ (Fellini), Lancelot du Lac (Bresson), The Night of the Hunter (Laughton), Smiles of a Summer Night (Bergman), 3 Women (Altman), Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Tati).

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