Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Faire Penser le Cinéma: Gérard Courant’s Cinématons

The filmmakers include Michael Snow, Marcel Hanoun, Manoel de Oliveira, Derek Jarman, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Kramer, René Allio, Roland Lethem, Jon Jost, Philippe Garrel, Wim Wenders, Raoul Ruiz, Maurice Pialat, Peter Kubelka, Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, André Téchiné, Volker Schlöndorff, Alexander Kluge, Terry Gilliam, Samuel Fuller, Barbet Schroeder, Claude Jutra, Lino Brocka, Marco Bellocchio, Nagisa Oshima, Jean-Pierre Lefebvre, Harun Farocki, Sergueï Paradjanov, Mike Kuchar, Pere Portabella, Jean Rouch, Ken Loach, René Vautier, Nico Papatakis, Gaspar Noé, Pip Chodorov, Gérard Blain, Yann Gonzalez, and Pedro Costa.

The French film critics include Jean Douchet, Serge Daney, Dominique Païni, Pascal Bonitzer, Serge Toubiana, Serge Le Péron, Danièle Dubroux, Yann Lardeau, Charles Tesson, Jean Narboni, Alain Bergala, Olivier Assayas, Michel Chion, Michel Mardore, Alexandre Astruc, Patrice Rollet, Pascal Kané, Noël Simsolo, Jean A. Gili, Jean-François Rauger, André S. Labarthe, Sébastien Bénédict, Jean-Sébastien Chauvin, Jean-Philippe Tessé, Jean-Pierre Rehm, and Michel Mourlet.

Cinématons are three-and-a-half minute screen tests that are shot in close-ups on a static camera with Super 8 film. Courant started making them in 1978 and since then on average has been making around 100 of them a year. The best period for them is the Eighties. First off for purely its visual pleasures: the anachronistic charms of the seeing the period details, the level of creativity in its participants, and for the heightened colors and the grainy texture of its film stock. Secondly for what is at stake in the project and the interesting people that decide to participate. The filmmakers that participate are the more political and challenging directors. While the many Cahiers critics that show up allows one to put a face to the writers of the time. They are also all be in their prime.

But there are more than just these two groups that are being documented. The Cinématons' near 3000 extended subjects, though principally from film, also include people from a wide variety of fields, backgrounds and nationalities. But a running constant throughout them is a creative personality. There are philosophers, writers and photographers. The actor ones are really good especially those in their early career by Sandrine Bonnaire, Laszlo Szabo, Julie Delpy, and Mathieu Amalric.

By filming these individuals there is something more than just their physical presence that's being caught. There is something that comes across between the lines. And that is two-fold: thought and life. By filming Straub or Garrel or Daney there is a certain idea of cinema that is reflected in their practices which is communicated by their presence. It is this ability to capture and incarnate such rich film thinkers and practitioners that make these Cinématons so rich. 

But if this was solely their reason of interest they would at best be just a footnote to film history. What truly makes them more universal than this is how they are able to catch something else that is happening between its images. An ephemeral moment of life is being documented: there are people standing in places who are being themselves - public persona's bleed into private selves. A fleeting observation can last forever.

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