Film Reading: Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet edited by Ted Fendt

With the first English-language book on Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub in over a decade Ted Fendt and FilmmuseumSynema could not do much wrong. What we get is less a deep inside into the work of the filmmakers, but rather an introduction, an overview. It is a fitting book for students or anyone preparing for a new life with Straub-Huillet. Especially since the book has a sort of inherent sexiness that tries to give back a certain underground mentality to the filmmakers that often lose their attraction to young film lovers because in university, they are often presented as a sort of establishment or worse, the past. Which is absolutely wrong. How to experience the radical, the poetic when you are not alone (also among others) or in love? The book allows for this love or solitude by giving a mixture of straight matter of factness, transparence and quotes by the filmmakers as well as images, documents and a perspective on certain gestures, written or said. In other words: It leaves open a space that asks for discovery.

@Österreichisches Filmmuseum

@Österreichisches Filmmuseum

The book offers mainly an American perspective on the filmmakers. That as such is not necessarily a bad thing. The publication is motivated by a traveling North American retrospective and retrospectives are among the most common reasons to publish books on artists. Yet with Straub-Huillet it is a different, difficult case as the publishing history on them, and that included film criticism (very much so) is also the history of injustice, of simplification. With the book and especially the very intensely researched essay by Ted Fendt “ Dividing Lines. The Distribution and Reception of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet‘s Films in the English-Speaking World“ this becomes clear. It is also mentioned that this kind of simplification has not only taken place in the English-speaking world. Nevertheless the idea of the book proposed by the 90-pages-essay “(Not Only) for Children and Cavemen. The Films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet“ by Claudia Pummer is more comprehensive than that. So, reading the book from beginning to end does not make much sense in this case. Better decide for one text and a week later maybe the next. It gives the impossible promise of being about all of Straub-Huillet while ultimately it decreases to an English-speaking perspective. It might have been more interesting to decide for such a limited approach from the beginning instead of mixing texts by German, French and American contributors and giving the idea of being about the whole career of the filmmakers. This criticism might feel a bit exaggerated and certainly some counter arguments exist that might have led to the publication as it is, but my problem is that such an approach ultimately leads to simplification. Again. Maybe it is inevitable to have those simplifications but then, why not admit from the beginning? No, Ted Fendt announces in his introduction a survey of each film, working methods and how the filmmakers have been considered and discussed over the years. I cannot help it but those things are not in the book.

That being said I have to admit that Pummer does more than all right in her comprehensive text that covers Straub-Huillet from their beginning up to now. It is entertaining, full of information and love. She manages to capture the spirit of Straub-Huillet‘s filmmaking while at the same time holding the necessary distance. If there was ever a text on the filmmakers in the spirit of Huillet‘s quote in Pedro Costa‘s Où git votre sourire enfoui?, “I am not afraid. I am watching.“ it certainly is this one. She manages because she writes with a rare confidence on the filmmakers that often are surrounded by mysticism and questions. With Pummer those questions are not neglected but somehow they are all part of the work, the work of the filmmakers, the work of the researcher. Of course, one would have to discuss about certain issues. For example, Pummer proposes a very short way from Straub-Huillet to Truffaut. While reading one almost gets the feeling that they share the same anger. With the noble exception of L‘Enfant sauvage touching points in their films are rare and just because there is an anger against a certain kind of cinema, it does not mean it is made of the same emotion. Of course, there are bridges like Daney who championed both, Truffaut and Straub-Huillet, but then, one should at least ask: How can the same anger lead to Antoine Doinel on the one hand and Anna Magdalena Bach on the other hand? Being a lover of both myself the thought that there might be a deeper connection than just being filmmakers from the same generation and country, knowing each other and so on, is seducing at first. It would need a closer view than possible in this article.

In its mid section the book contains three texts, love letters by filmmakers shaped or influenced by Straub-Huillet: John Gianvito, Harun Farocki and Jean-Pierre Gorin. Especially Gorin‘s piece on Où git votre sourire enfoui? is outstanding. It is not only full of great observations on Straub-Huillet, Mr. Costa and the film, it also shows that writing can be influenced by filmmakers. In the case of great filmmakers like Straub-Huillet this is possible as their philosophy is not the philosophy of images (God beware!) but of perception, of living. This becomes also clear in a section where co-workers like William Lubtchansky or Angela Nugara give short accounts of their experience in working with Straub-Huillet. Related to those accounts is also Barbara Ulrich‘s text about organizing the North American retrospective. It is related because working with Straub-Huillet is very much like working with their films and Ulrich knows both as almost no other person. It is about work, struggle and precision: Cinema. In my opinion, this demanded precision and ethical point-of-view makes it so hard to write about their films. Of course, there are some good texts but in good criticism there is always a sort of volatility, speed, it is a clash, a reaction, a perception and its mediation. Whereas Straub-Huillet take the luxury of time and patience. They give it back to us, no question. So writing about Straub-Huillet must be related to time and attentiveness. The second is rare among film writers, the first is impossible. It would be a revolution.

Filmmuseum München

@Filmmuseum München

The most seducing and dangerous text is a translated version of a great and divisive conversation of the filmmakers with François Albera. The interview was conducted at first by the Pompidou Center in 2001. Straub-Huillet refused to give in after those responsible for the publication demanded various cuts because among other things Straub makes a polemic comparison of the killing of animals and Jews. A conflict started with prominent Straub supporters such as Jacques Rancière taking the side of the filmmakers and the interview was turned down by the Pompidou Center while it was published in Hors-Champ in the same year. The interview is not necessarily great for its polemics, it is great because in it, the filmmakers give a very passionate and clear definition of what political cinema is in their opinion. The interview is crystal clear, thought-provoking as cinema itself, very passionate and tense. It also contains the observation many collaborators of Straub-Huillet (for example Thom Andersen) have made: Straub goes on and on, finds brilliant thoughts and then comes Huillet and sums it all up in one sentence.

Still, (somehow fitting) the most important part of the book is the materialistic part. It might seem superficial, yet it is so important to see that guy with his cigar, to see that woman sitting on the set of Moses and Aron with sandals, even to see their hidden smiles out in the open. To have it on a piece of paper. It‘s important to see their handwriting. This has nothing to do with illustrations, it has to do with sensual aspects of their cinema and way of living (which is the same as far as I can judge). It has to do with opening up to a cinema that is labelled so many things (even in the book), opening up to nowadays very difficult terms like radicalism. The idea of the terrorist has changed. When Straub repeatedly says that he is a terrorist there is no romanticism or sympathy in it anymore. Gianvito has some interesting thoughts concerning the terrorism of Straub in his text. He finds his personal way out with quotes by the filmmakers who say that their kind of rebellion is not for the apocalypse but for a better world. This better world beats at the heart of this publication. The Cine-Terrorists that Straub-Huillet are have nothing in common with the contemporary terrorist. It is about the way we work, about the way we live in and out of cinema. This is most touchable in the images the book contains, but also in the quotes and the gesture of writing about it, with it.

Does it matter with whom we watch our most formative films?

As of this very moment, I’m about to leave my mother [‘s house].

Within a couple of days, I will be somewhere somewhere else.

So it makes me think, after watching Dominique Auvray’s Marguerite, telle qu’en elle-même with her: have I been grateful enough for her openness to all the films which I did not show her, but what we watched in sync?

In sync not in the sense of intellectual comprehension. But more in the vein of: a life lived together. Jointly. Teamwise.

I somehow never truly experienced a physical form of cinephilia with my peers. For a long time, I asked myself: why? And more importantly: why was I not shipwrecked because of such a lack?

Yesterday I realized: because there wasn’t one. My mother was always there. Interested, open. Thoroughly invested. She was not able to understand everything, but she went along with whatever I had yet to see – though I also frequently showed her films I already watched, probably because it was a way of sharing or confiding something personal in her. What I grew to appreciate more and more, was how differently I started to see things. She noticed details, behavioural patterns that demanded life experience [of a different gender]. Especially when we saw films or movies that were so contrarian to her own history, I always knew we worked on our relationship in a way that was impossible to pin down. But nonetheless: some viewings felt like trials that confronted our differing sensibilities, specially because we always only had each other to share our lives with. No husband. No father.

The seperate act of watching a film with someone who, usually, would not take the time to seek such a film out, can result, depending on the context of both the viewer as that what is viewed, in a form of resistance. To circumvent the main ideology in which one is embedded takes effort (assuming we are all trapped in at least one). And if one does this with someone else – who also shares the wish to learn how to see otherwise – it enforces one to care for the viewpoint of, ideally, someone from the other end of a spectrum.

Cinema Blindspot: ‘’…A movie podcast where @midnightmovies [Tara Judah] and @timonsingh [Timon Singh] introduce films to each other that they wouldn’t normally watch (or have deliberately avoided).’’ Does exactly this. Both of them, with seemingly different agendas, do their best to build bridges by doing, basically, just one thing: caring. Or working (because I think it is also a question of labour) to learn how to understand and see at some point, in sync with another (not through the eyes of). Unsurprisingly, these rare moments are also the ones that keep me listening. Because this care-full (not careful) collision of realities is what leads to insights for both.

Working in logistics and as a housecleaner, my mother had so many other things to worry about. But she did care. Like Uncas Blythe recently tweeted: „What the difference boils down to is care. Langlois took ‚Care‘ to snag those cans; an algorithm has another agenda.“ She cared about the experience. Which is, I think, an incredibly fresh and empowering variation on traditional cinephilia, where one discusses and talks and talks. While with my mother, it was about feeling and sensing. For discourse, I had to go somewhere else. And I am sure I owe her for this. Though this doesn’t mean we did not watch films that did not, at points, imposes on one the necessity to evaluate critically.

All films tagged 'mama'

All films tagged ‚mama‘

These are all the films I remember watching in the presence of my mother, during the last three years at least. Which may imply her being in the kitchen while cooking or cleaning, and listening in. Shocked by the love-making scene in Je, Tu, Il, Elle. Or the opposite: watching while I’m in a dream state, herself fully immersed. Some of the inclusions may be made-up. There are a few doubts. But as I went through my film diary, an image appeared with almost every film I watched with her. The closing shot of Prénom Carmen, the tears she shed for Franz Biberkopf or the memories of her French vacations stirred up by Pialat’s Passe ton bac d’abord.

At their high points, these film viewings acquired… ‘’A vivid life of their own.’’

What attracts me to this, opposed to the usual forms of cinephilia, is that my mother knew things… And what matters to our mothers, also matters to us. ‘’…something perhaps we are very curious to learn.’’ Probably containing… ‘’things which have a vivid life of their own outside mine.’’

Therefore, they are hard to hold on to. Only now I start to know that this will form me more than a lot of other events. Sitting down. Spending time. Watching Jeanne Dielman making the bed. Or L’homme à la Valise, a film about a woman who is forced to share her intimate spaces with a man.  She recognized and talked and talked. Pointing out something here, telling me it was always such a fight to tell a man that he no longer had a place to stay.

What if I saw this film at some retrospective, or on television? Would there have been an imprint? The thought of my mother would have been inevitable, but in a cinemathèque that would have lasted only for a couple of frames. Now, it was picked out and freely spoken about. I do feel blessed.

What if our mothers can teach us cinema? What if they can teach us this like no other? That nobody ever said this before, does not at all mean it’s impossible. I’d even say that it is part of cinema’s being that this very beautiful and tender idea is being rejected… People used to go to the movies with their entire families… And nowadays young boys go to them with their dads. When do we ever hear stories about single mothers going to the movies with their sons? We did not go to the multiplex either. The idea did not even pop up in our minds. As if it was forbidden. We stayed home, the two of us. On the couch. Sensing cinema.




Ohne Sonne im Meer in Island liegt ein Film

In Island wurde ein Film im Meer gefunden: Filmisland

Sie haben einen Film aus dem Meer geholt. Fischer in Island. Ihre Hände. Netze voller Algen im Meer. Die gleichen Bewegungen im Sturm. Salz in der Luft. Plötzlich waren Filmdosen im Netz. Gefangen, geborgen. In Island im Sommer im Sturm. Derevenskij Detektiv heißt der Film. Ein russischer Film in Island. Man hat es herausgefunden. Man kann ihn sehen. Das Meer, Salz, Wind, Haie, sie haben ihn nicht berührt. Der Film im Meer in Island. Die Fischer, haben sie diesen Film gesehen? Haben sie den Film mit ihren salzigen Händen berührt? Sie haben gesungen, bestimmt. Ein isländisches Lied und dabei haben sie sich an das erste Bild in Sans Soleil erinnert. In der Kajüte in der Nacht steht ein Filmprojektor. Es war eine stürmische Nacht. Das Meer hat den Film gesehen. Jede Nacht. Jeden Tag. Die Fischer haben getrunken und gesehen. Den Film in einer Kajüte. Im Sturm, alles hat sich bewegt. Die Wellen waren die Leinwand. Das Bild hielt stand. Sie haben den Film nicht gesehen. Sie hatten Angst vor dem Film. Er war kein Fisch.

sans soleil

Wer hat den Film ins Meer gebracht? Geworfen, verloren. Eine Frau, sie trägt keinen Lippenstift, sie spielt im Film. Sie steht auf einem Schiff und fährt. Ein schwarzer Mantel, ein schwarz/weißer Schal, ihre Hand auf der Reling, eine kurze Verzögerung bevor sie winkt. Ich kann die Bewegung nicht festhalten, weil das Schiff fährt. Sie mit dem Film. Es war diese Frau, die den Film ins Meer gebracht hat. Sie ist nach Island gefahren. Durch die Nacht. Sie ist nach Island gefahren, um sich zu vergessen. In der Nacht hat sie getrunken, viel getrunken, sie wollte ihre Erinnerungen von Bord werfen. Es war Nacht in Island. Sie hat die Filmdosen genommen, sie waren schwer, sie hat sie geworfen. Ihre Hand ist dabei ausgerutscht. Man kann dort noch heute eine kleine Narbe sehen. Zwischen Daumen und Zeigefinger. An der Reling. Sie hat nicht gehört wie der Film auf das Wasser getroffen ist. Das Boot war zu laut, die Wellen, die Schreie im Meer. Dann hat sie getrunken. Mit den Fischern. Sie haben gesungen. Den Film hat es nie gegeben.

Es ist geschehen, als niemand geblickt hat. Das Meer hat den Film verlangt. Es ist etwas in dieser Fassung, in dieser Kopie, was nie gesehen werden sollte. Es ist ein Bild, nur drei Sekunden, ein flüchtiger Kuss, der alles verändern könnte. Ein Kuss, der herausgeschnitten wurde. Ein Kuss auf dem Boot im Meer in Island. Algengeruch. Die Fischer in der Kajüte hätten diesen Kuss sehen können. Für sie hätte er nichts mehr bedeutet. Sie haben gesungen. Er war nicht für alle Augen bestimmt. Das Meer hat den Kuss geschluckt, gesehen, es hat ihn verlangt. Er hat seinen dicksten Mantel angezogen, eine Mütze. Er hatte Angst. Es war Winter in Island. Er stand auf einer Klippe im Wind. Er hat die Filmdosen zusammengebunden, damit keine entkommen kann. Sie haben geschrien, die Filmrollen in den Dosen, dieser Kuss hat geschrien. Der Mann wusste nicht, dass Filme Kiemen haben. Er hat ihn ins Meer geschleudert. Für ihn war der Film nur der Verräter einer geheimen Leidenschaft. Er starb trotzdem. Der Kuss nicht.

sans soleil2

Könnte das Meer den Film auch beschützen? Vor dem Feuer, im Meer könnte er nicht verbrennen. Die Fischer in Island rauchen nicht. Sie halten ihre Hände im Salzwasser und ihre Augen verdursten. Ein Verrückter ist auf dem Schiff gewesen. Die Frau mit dem schwarzen Mantel hat ihn gesehen. Er hat den Kuss gesehen. Nur drei Sekunden, ein kleiner Schnitt, es tut nicht weh, es tut so weh. Er wollte sich anzünden. Mit Benzin ist er über das Schiff getorkelt, hat geschrien, wir haben ihn nicht gehört, da das Boot zu laut war, die Wellen und die Schreie des Ozeans. Nicht dieser Film, nicht dieser Film, dachte ein Produzent, der nichts mehr sonst hatte außer Derevenskij Detektiv. Er hat den Film genommen, in Panik mit aller Kraft, und ist mit ihm ins Wasser gesprungen. Seiner Frau und seinen zwei Kindern hat man es nie erzählt. Der Film hat ihn auf den Grund gezogen. Als seine Lungen platzen sah er den Kuss, der ihm seine Karriere gekostet hätte. Der Filmproduzent, der gegangen ist. Es erinnert ein wenig an Humbert Balsan, an Le Père de mes enfants . Aber welcher Produzent muss nicht ins Wasser springen und mit seinen Filmen sterben? Dieser Film in Island im Sturm ist keine besondere Geschichte. Nur die Geschichte des Films im Meer in Island im Sturm.

In diesem Film ist das Meer. Um diesen Film ist das Meer. Als wären in und um im Film nicht immer das Gleiche. Die Fischer haben den Film verstanden. Sie konnten nichts verstehen, es war russisch. Aber sie haben das Meer gesehen und die Frau und sie haben verstanden. Den Kuss haben sie verpasst. Der Schatten einer Welle hat das Bild überdeckt. Die Kinder am Anfang von Sans Soleil sehen diesen Film nie, sie kennen diesen Kuss nicht. All die Filme im Meer, all die verlorenen Bilder, die wahre Geschichte des Kinos. Das Kino, das verschwunden ist, das man nie gemacht hat. Im Ozean. Wie viele Filme liegen dort, wie viele Küsse und Träume?

Aus der Donau wurde kürzlich auch ein Film geborgen. Flaschenpost, weil das Wasser durch die Zeit fließt. Man findet sie. Fischer finden sie. Sie tragen keinen Lippenstift. Mit ihren Algenhänden.