Glimpses at WRITING

RONNY GÜNL:

Ein einfacher Zettel, geschrieben in der bekannten Schrift des Leibkalligraphen der Firma Pathé, meldete ganz einfach: ‚Und so setzen tagaus tagein die Islandfischer ihr gefährliches Handwerk fort, unbekümmert um usw.‘ O, ein paar sehr gute Zeilen, die mein Schriftstellerherz höher schlagen machten, denn endlich sehe ich der Sprache, meinem Liebling, den bloßen Worten, offensichtlich den Oberrang über Photographieren und alle modernen Techniken zuerkannt.“ – Max Brod, Kinomatograph in Paris

Es ließe sich denken, für das Schreiben sei im Film kein Platz. Bilder und Töne drängen darauf hin etwas zu vereindeutigen, anstatt beschreibend zu umfassen. Gleichzeitig scheint ein geschriebener Satz unumstößlich, der Film aber beweglich. Den Schreibenden im Kino kommt dabei die Rolle ihrer Person zu und weniger ihrer Tätigkeit. In Le Magnifique von Philippe de Broca ist der Autor François Merlin wie gefangen an seinem Ort des Schreibens, von dem er sich in seinen rauschartigen, zügellosen Fantasien entzieht. Der Film übergeht die Grenzen der eigenen Vorstellungskraft und versetzt ihn in einen Zustand aller Möglichkeiten. Es ist nicht viel von Nöten, sich vorzustellen, dass dies auch einen heimlichen Traum des Filmemachens selbst darstellen könnte.

Dann verkörpert sich das Schreiben aber doch in Form einer Sehnsucht wie etwa in Claude Sautet Les Choses de la vie. Ohne seine Hinwendung für sie zu verstecken, zeigt er Romy Schneiders Rücken sowie ihr umgewendetes Gesicht. Sie erwidert den Blick, der sich in Michel Piccoli personifizierte. Während sie nach den richtigen Worten einer Übersetzung sucht, bleibt der Text, den sie in ihre Schreibmaschine tippt, ungesehen – ungelesen. Für einen Moment erinnert der Film so vielleicht auch an die Texte, die nie geschrieben oder nie veröffentlicht wurden, weil sie sich nur an einem einzelnen Blick festhielten: Was hätte wohl Antoine Doinel aus François Truffauts Les Quatre Cents Coups in seine gestohlene Schreibmaschine getippt?

Womöglich kommt gerade dort, wo sich der Film durch die Schreibenden seine eigene Fiktion begreift, einen Augenblick lang das Wirkliche zum Vorschein. Etwas, das Georg Stefan Troller in seinen zahlreichen Personenbeschreibungen aufsuchte, sei es bei Thomas Brasch, Peter Handke oder Leonard Cohen. Diese Filme sind den Personen zugewandt, aber letztlich dem Schreiben verpflichtet. Jedoch zu zeigen, was das abstrakte Schreiben für das konkrete Leben bedeutet, hat vielleicht nur Georg Brintrup mit seiner Arbeit Ich räume auf über Elsa Lasker-Schüler verstanden. Gisela Stein spielt und zitiert Lasker-Schülers Streitschrift: „Ich räume auf! Meine Anklage gegen meinen Verleger“. Statt zu schreiben, streift sie durch die Straßen Berlins, von dessen Mauern im Hintergrund die Parolen prangen. Schreiben als eine Minimalform, das Unglaubliche zu bewältigen?

IVANA MILOŠ: The trouble with artists depicted in cinema is manifold. To my mind, however, it mostly centers around the portrayal of the unportrayable – trying to lend form to that which evades form, instead swishing around edges, flowing in daunting, meandering directions, careening off the charts, off the map, moving off the known world. This, in a manner of speaking, can be called creation. But I am not sure as to how much of it can be shown, recorded, reproduced – especially not when it comes to an art as abstract and solitary as writing. Still, there are enough examples of biopics focused on artists, or films where the main characters are supposed to be visual artists, where we find ourselves looking away with embarrassment once their “art” is actually shown (it seems as easy enough solution, not showing the artist’s work, but apparently it is hard for film directors to resist the temptation) or the process of making is played out by actors. This is one of many reasons why poet-filmmaker Margaret Tait occupies such a unique position. Her depictions of writing are simple, yet unswervingly nuanced, not shying away from the action itself, but also never crossing the line towards the awkward. She is, after all, a writer herself, and well aware of the pitfalls of creation in words as well as images, seeing as she is a filmmaker too. Her film poems are perfect vessels of plurality, a bringing together of layers, an unearthing of the visible and invisible all at once. In Where I Am Is Here, her stunningly beautiful film poem made up of stanzas/parts/chapters, there are several instances in which the act of writing comes to the fore. Experienced in all their intricacy, these communicate the truest feeling of writing in cinema that I am aware of. The first arrives in the part simply called “Complex,” where a hand is poised at the edge of a page, about to write. The hand is unmoving – all movement is reserved for the camera trying to capture the scene. In the very moment the hand begins to write, the shot ends, shifting to the motion of drops creating rings on the surface of water. Here is the motion beyond all motions, words and images conjoined seamlessly, the invisible shifting into the visible, calling to the viewer as well as the writer, the reader, the dreamer: Here is your world, don’t shy away.

SIMON WIENER:

…through all of this
you’re knowing that I’m here
while you’re there…

In Joseph Bernards Film for Untitled Viewer wendet sich der Filmemacher direkt an mich, den Zuschauer. Er schreibt mir eine Nachricht, Wörter, Satzfragmente, die auf dem Bildschirm aufflackern. Es gibt nur uns zwei; die Nachricht bahnt sich einen Weg, nicht nur durch Zeit und Raum, sondern auch durch den Film selbst. Wie ein Flussbett trägt der Film die Worte, transportiert und präsentiert sie, hält sie zusammen; zugleich aber setzt er ihnen etwas entgegen; stört sie, die sie Wasser sind, unmittelbar alles zu durchträufeln, in all Erde einzudringen, überall einzusickern.In Kurven, Umwegen, sich zuweilen spaltend, um Binneninseln zu umsäumen, lässt es das Wasser dem Meer entgegenschlingern, hindert es daran, geschwind, geradlinigst dem Meer zuzuströmen. Das Flussbett: einerseits das Film-Material, zwangsläufig mit der Zeit sich abnützend; andererseits ein Arsenal filmsprachlicher Effekte und Eigenheiten, die uns das Gefilmte, oder hier: Geschriebene aufbereiten, die ihm dienen oder es konterkarieren. Die Unterlage formt das Geschriebene, bestimmt dessen Textur und Schärfe. Wie Tinte auf Gestein wirken auf uns die Worte in Bernards Film; zerklüftet durch den Film, durch dessen Flickern, Auf- und Abblenden, Schärfenverschiebungen. Der filmische Rahmen, den gitterartige Strukturen im Bild nochmals echoen, zerschneidet die Worte in Fragmente. through all of this, lesen wir immer wieder. Das Geschriebene behauptet sich, bohrt sich durch all Filmisches hindurch. Die Tinte behauptet sich bei aller Härte und Schroffheit des Gesteins; mäandernd durchfliesst das Wasser die Erde.

SEBASTIAN BOBIK

Victor Erice’s Sea Mail is part of a series of short films called “Correspondences”. This series consists of 10 filmic letters, that Abbas Kiarostami & Victor Erice sent each other from April 2005 – May 2007. Over the course of this exchange we see amongst other things: children drawing a tree, a quince streaming down a river until it’s found by a shepherd and a rainy day photographed through several windshields. In Sea Mail however we see only a simple scene. It is the 6th film in the series. Erice sends it to Kiarostami on the 10th of August 2007. In the film we see Erice sitting at the seaside, reading poetry and writing a letter to Kiarostami. The film is only 4 minutes long, yet it seems to tell about the length, care & time it takes to write a letter. It only shows us some steps in this progress: Erice sits at a table reading a book of poetry by a 12th century Persian poet (on the cover of the book he is spelled as Omar Jayyam, though in the English language one seems to mostly finds the spelling Omar Khayyám). In the background we see another book, this one with poems by Forough Farrokhzad. After drinking a glass of water Erice starts writing. We can only make out the opening words of the letter before the film cuts into wider shot again, showing us Erice writing against the backdrop of the sea and a mountain. After finishing the letter he carefully rolls it together and puts the paper into a glass bottle, which is then thrown into the ocean, where the waves will take it to unknown shores.

ANNA BABOS: Sonia in Ernst Lubitsch’ The Merry Widow is a great diarist. Her desires are deep and conflicted, which makes for a meaningful subject to write about. Nevertheless, the typical hardship of isolated writers casts a shadow over her as well. She encloses herself in her bedroom and has no experience of life, she cannot relate her lovesickness to impressions that could be formulated into thoughts. The great object of writing, pain, becomes the obstacle itself. Thus Sonia’s sentences get shorter and shorter, simple, unexpressive, and unnecessary. Then – without any apparent external change –, she gets out of bed, frees herself from the space of self-pity, sits down at the table, and starts to write; in fact she writes as much as a glass of ink, as suggested by Lubitsch’s elegant dissolve. From the synchronized rhythm of her singing and writing, it seems that what she puts on paper is the lyrics of her song. This song contains imagination, speculation, introspection, conditional sentences. What changes is the extent of her unhappiness. Lubitsch asks the question: how can one write about the sentiment if the endurance of it is so tiring and uninspiring. As he answers, he depicts time and the process of Sonia distancing herself enough from the disappointment to be able to write self-reflectively.

JAMES WATERS:

There is a scene in the final part of C.W. Winter’s and Anders Edström’s The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) in which an elderly man describes his process of writing postcards. He emphasises the fact, multiple times, that he writes them by hand at the encouragement of his calligraphy teacher. He began this ritual many years ago, writing to various friends and family members – likely among the 48 people in total among the Shiotani community, up in the mountains of Kyoto prefecture. We’ve seen some of these people earlier in the film, sharing a land that doesn’t seem demarcated by neighbouring sections or designated housing. He describes the process of writing these postcards – when he began many years ago – as somewhat difficult, initially struggling to write more than one a day.

This is of no concern after enough time, however, as he now finds an immense pleasure in picking up a pen and exerting part of his days’ time and effort into these postcards and can write up to ten of them a day (spending one minute on each). Having received an expression of concern, a question or compliment, the recipient has been reminded that someone nearby is thinking of them. Regardless of a response, the writer will have already engaged in the now decades-long ritual of stimulating his mind; asking questions and making observations that – with the years – have become increasingly succinct. The man’s own articulation and clarity of perspective will no longer be so hard to reach.

ANDREW CHRISTOPHER GREEN: It took six years for Rita Azevedo Gomes to secure funding for the production of her first film, O Som da Terra a Tremer. You get the sense watching it that the script was written and unwritten and rewritten many times during those six years. The film is about a writer named Alberto (played by José Mário Branco, though originally intended to be Antonio Orlando, who died just days before shooting began). It begins with him narrating a story he’s writing (the namesake of the film), and one gathers that this narration is Alberto’s inner-monologue, indulging in a stream of thoughts about his life, his personal philosophy, what he sees through his window, and so on. We don’t assume it to be the content of a fictional story he’s writing. The camera’s movement over his shoulder out through the window above his desk seems to further establish our assumption that the voice is dictating the present, but then there is a cut and pictures of the blue ocean flood the screen, and the narrator begins talking about his life in the marshlands, far away from the location we just saw him in. This schism isn’t merely a disjunctive introduction but becomes the core dynamic sustained throughout the film: many layers of stories are compounded on top of and interwoven into one another. One of the plot lines deals with the character in the story Alberto is writing, a sailor, who has a missed encounter with a woman while on leave. This is the sailors backstory, though. We get a glimpse of his life before he is stationed in the marshlands where he’s taken up in Alberto’s story. Alberto’s writing is taking a toll on his life. He’s insecure about it. He tries talking to his friends, who are mildly supportive, but he claims he can’t explain his intentions for writing without them loosing their meaning. He ends up renting a hotel room across the street to see if anyone will come check in on him, and also to get a bit of distance from himself and his process. “I don’t know how to invent, all of this was already written by many others, long ago,” Alberto confesses. He claims to be searching for the unconscious, which he calls the “part of God”, and for it to narrate all this written by many others, long ago. Gomes’s script, too, was already written by others; it’s a loose collage made up of parts of André Gide’s “Paludes” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Wakefield.” There was already a great deal of resistance and fragmentation written into the patchwork script, but Gomes’s direction of it into a film became another opportunity to unwrite it all over again. She places a lot of value in the possibility of a chance encounter between speaking and seeing, between whats been written and whats being shown. There’s the hope, most acutely felt in the overlays and dissolves between scenes, that new associations might be unearthed in this interaction. “I like my epoch, for it is an epoch where everything is missing, and for this very reason maybe it’s the true epoch of fairy tales,” the narrator of her A Colecção Invisível begins the film saying. Similarly, Alberto insists that his character isn’t unhappy despite the loneliness of his situation surrounded by the swamps; he tries to make peace with his situation and wouldn’t trade places with anyone else. I sense Gomes doesn’t resent her situation either; the six years of dreaming and writing in an epoch where everything is missing lead to the creation of a beautiful film that feels like a half-remembered fairy tale, one that writes and unwrites itself on us through iridescent celluloid.


DAVID PERRIN: Denke ich an die ersten Bilder meiner Kindheit, fällt mir jenes von Jack Nicholson aus dem Film The Shining ein, auf dem er an einem riesengroßen Tisch sitzt und auf einer Schreibmaschine wieder und wieder den selben Satz herunterhämmert: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Das Geräusch der Schreibmaschine, ein stetiges Rattern, das gespenstisch durch die leeren Räume des Overlook Hotels hallt.

Die Schreibmaschine des Großvaters hatte ich auf dem Teppichboden des Wohnzimmers vor dem Fernseher gestellt, auf dessen Bildschirm Jack Nicholson seinen Satz endlos weitertippte, während ich als achtjähriges Kind versuchte, den Schauspieler nachzuahmen; ein ungeschicktes Stottern und Stolpern, ohne jene schöne Regelmäßigkeit der Bewegung im Film. Die kleinen Finger verpassen die Buchstaben, die Typenhebel der Tasten klemmen zusammen, die Wörter auf dem Papier bilden ein sinnloses Wirrwarr.

Jahre später: Der Großvater längst verstorben und die Schreibmaschine liegt verstaubt als Erbstück in einer vergessenen Ecke der Wohnung. Inzwischen wurde das Filmschauen auch zu einer Art Schreiben. Doch ab und zu lasse ich die Finger über die Tasten streifen, deren Buchstaben mit der Zeit verblichen sind, und erzeuge damit eine Musik, die durch die überfüllten Räume meiner Erinnerung ihren Nachhall findet.

PATRICK HOLZAPFEL: Ich war einmal im Kino mit einer Frau, die mich an Marguerite Duras erinnerte. Sie sprach schnell und langsam zugleich. Es war, als wollte sie vergessen, aber mir mitteilen, was sie vergisst. Kaum hatten wir uns gesetzt, es war irgendein belangloser Film über die Liebe, wurde der Saal abgedunkelt. Ich sah, wie ihre blasse Hand in ihrer goldenen Handtasche nestelte, um ein schönes altes Notizbuch mit ledernem Einband hervorzuholen. Es war, als leuchteten ihre Bewegungen in der Dunkelheit, ihre Hand, ihre Tasche, das Büchlein. Der Film begann und mit ihm das Schreiben. Diese Frau schrieb beinahe ohne Unterbrechung während des gesamten Films in ihr Notizbuch. Manchmal blickte sie auf, zum Beispiel, als auf der Leinwand geschluchzt wurde, so als wollte sie sehen, wer da weinte und dann schrieb sie weiter. Noch während des Abspanns ließ sie das Buch zurück in ihre goldene Handtasche gleiten. Sobald das grelle, ernüchternde Licht angestellt wurde, schenkte sie mir einen müde lächelnden Blick, als wäre nichts gewesen, als wäre nichts geschehen, als hätte sie nicht eben in ihr schönes Notizbuch geschrieben. Wir spazierten etwas in der angebrochenen Nacht, aber ich traute mich nicht, sie nach dem zu fragen, was sie geschrieben hatte. Erst als wir nach einiger Zeit in einer Bar saßen und sie sich kurz entschuldigte, wagte ich, in ihre goldene Handtasche zu greifen, um das Notizbuch mit dem ledernen Einband hervorzuholen. Ich schlug es auf. Als sie zurückkam, weinte ich. Das Notizbuch hatte ich zurück in der goldenen Handtasche verstaut. Sie sah mich verdutzt an. Warum ich weinen würde, fragte sie mich. Weil der Film so schön gewesen wäre, entgegnete ich.

Notiz zur Sprache (João César Monteiros)

Wer spricht wie aus Büchern, gehoben und archaisch, dem sagt man, mit der um sich greifenden Genugtuung jener, die sich kollektiv im Recht sehen, gern nach, weltfremd oder dekadent zu sein. Das Beispiel João César Monteiros, der sich um einen Ausdruck bemühte, der mehr an Luís de Camões erinnerte, als an die verstaubten Straßen, auf denen er drehte, beweist, dass dabei nichts gewonnen wird. Schließlich verändert Monteiro das Licht der Dinge, wenn er spricht.

Die sogenannte „schöne Sprache“ wurde längst vom Diktat des Massengeschmacks aus Literatur und Kino entfernt, dort wo sie noch aufblitzt, hängt sie wie ein verblassendes Gemälde in der Nische, für all jene, die daran noch Gefallen finden (alle anderen haben sicher besseres zu tun).

In Filmen, das sagte schon Maya Deren, dürfe ohnedies nicht schön gesprochen, geschweige denn gedichtet werden und man fragt sich, was diejenigen, die der Poesie der Sprache jene des Bildes gegenüberstellen, gewinnen und was andersherum verloren gehen würde, wenn man beides nebeneinander stellte, wie das etwa bei Manoel de Oliveira, Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, Marguerite Duras oder Chris Marker der Fall ist.

Der vielerorts verpönte Voice-Over, der mehr sein will als Information, der im Zwischenspiel von Sprache und Bild seine Bestimmung findet, ist so viel stiller als der aufgesetzte Lärm, mit dem das Kino uns seit Jahrzehnten Handlungen zeigt. Aber woher soll die Sprache auch kommen, wenn sich diejenigen, die ein Gefühl für sie haben, davor fürchten, dass sie nicht verstanden werden? Jenseits der wirklich guten Lektoren wird in impressionistischer Sekundenschnelle an ästhetischen Verfeinerungen gearbeitet, die gleich einer Asphaltwalze alles ebenerdig und teerduftend in der angenehmen Bedeutungslosigkeit versenken. Lieber lebensnah als wahr, lieber klar als kompliziert.

Sie alle haben Recht, denn anders werden sie nicht verstanden, egal ob sie ein wirkliches Bild machen oder einen wirklichen Satz sprechen, all das in den Augen und Ohren derer, die entscheiden: angestrengt, verkopft, prätentiös und abgehoben. Lieber also nur möglichst leicht verständlich das nachsagen, was erwartet wird und zufrieden sein, weil man dafür gestern wie heute das meiste Lob bekommt.

Oder schweigen.

Shared Experience

Cruel sometimes, but only out of tenderness.”[1]

André Bazin

“Just as in the theatre the lightning, the set, faithfulness to nature and other incidentals must play a subordinate role to the word, so in films the words, the technology and the technique and the logic of the visible must be secondary to the image, subordinate to the vision containing untold wonders within it, which, in cinema, can be the bearer of artistic truth.”[2]

Max Ophüls

Ist das vermessen, mein Gott, vergieb.

Aber ich will dir damit nur sagen:

Meine beste Kraft soll sein wie ein Trieb,

so ohne Zürnen und ohne Zagen;

so haben dich ja die Kinder lieb.

Rainer Maria Rilke (Alles noch nie Gesagte, excerpt)

 

In Jean Renoir’s The River the life of an English family peacefully rolls on along the Ganges, until war veteran Captain John arrives in their home. The life of Harriet, the young lady of the house, is turned upside down, and the presence of this charming young man has an impact on her friends Valerie and Melanie, too. The girls’ coming of age story is set in Indian gardens of tender romances and low-key quarrels, but the death of Bogey, Harriet’s brother, a young explorer casts a dark shadow on their worriless days.

Being a student of Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola in the Basque Country, I was glad to be in the extremely privileged position of watching The River in a cinema-screening despite all the restrictions last year. Surrounded by film students, remembering their impressions of other films we have recently watched, having in mind all the movie experiences I had during the Fassbinder and Rohmer programmes of the Basque Film Archive in Donostia, my head was full and I felt rather agitated, but still, the film immediately swept me away.

Many of my film-going-experiences from last year took place as part of university projections. Learning more and more about their taste and what other film students deem important, the presumption of their potential reception of the film started to impact my own anticipation before the screenings. The significance of watching cinema as a shared experience and getting to know the others’ perspective revealed – perhaps with even greater contrast than many other aspects I was already aware of – the immense difference between one film studies program and another. It made me think about the aching, nonsensical situation of many schools – my former, Hungarian university among them – which can’t or don’t even make the effort to organize screenings and subsequent events, to provide a possibility for students to acquire an understanding of one another.

On a big screen, the meandering choreography prevailed along the nuanced settings, the film came alive in its original duality – the plot was streaming to several different directions, nestling the audience in the beauty of everyday life while the details obliged us to keep an eye on every gesture and movement. This quality, the symbolic Technicolor and the unexpectedly changing tone of the film reminded me of another film I first saw for a university class as well. As I recall, the experience was quite confusing. The Trouble with Harry was presented as an atypical Hitchcock film, as a film of minor importance in his oeuvre, which can be best appreciated by searching for the narrative units which structure it. The impossibility to categorize and label a film within a genre or frequently used terms blocks everybody, including teachers, which inevitably results in treating films like a riddle, ignoring their richer aspects. Fortunately, the incapacity of a Hungarian university class didn’t deprive The Trouble with Harry of its complex set of virtues.

While at first glance the two films might seem very different (and maybe they are) the dominance of imagination and the simple principle that death enlists the creation of life tangle them on a deeper level. Imagination is the basic motor of the two films. In The River, India instead of representing itself serves as the visually rich scene of childhood imagination, and in The Trouble with Harry the story is building upon the fantasies and speculations of all the characters. All the nuances, like the carefully painted leaves[3] in The Trouble with Harry or the arranging of the characters in The River, and the decision of making a movie in Technicolor point to a differing intention from the documentary-like exploration of reality. That being said, the on-location photography and the non-professional cast of The River carry the film with palpable urgency, preserving an atmosphere of India – India, whose truth remain undiscovered for the English people, except, as Bazin writes, Bogey.

There is at least one character who incarnates the mystical temptation of the Orient, and this is Bogey. Remember his games with his little native friend, as a mysterious and taciturn as a bronze statue? He is the only witness to Bogey’s death, and he is the only one at the burial who does not grieve, because he alone understands the vanity of the tears and the ignorance which the Westerners’ love conceals: ignorance of the profound secret to which ‘The Unknown’ has initiated Bogey for eternity.”[4]

There is truth in The Trouble with Harry too, the tension that makes the black comedy charming and restlessly intense at once, is the constantly present idea of rebirth which comes from the tragic certainty of death. „From the opening credits, virtually every detail figures forth the renewal of the natural and human world.[5]

The universal thought of renewal and constant change in The River becomes unmistakably clear in the depiction of the Bengal, done with the directness of a documentary. It reminded me of a Hungarian poem, A Dunánál (József Attila), one I have first read in a dusty high school class but nonetheless I memorized with great enthusiasm and joy, as the romantic idea of seeing, understanding and uniting with past generations through the image of the river had a great impression on me, and as I remember, all the other youngsters of my class.

József Attila: By the Danube[6]

I.

I sat there on the quayside by the landing,

a melon rind was drifting on the flow.

I delved into my fate, just understanding:

the surface chatters, while it’s calm below.

As if my heart had been its very source,

troubled, wise was the Danube, mighty force.

 

Like muscles when you work and lift the axe,

or harvest, hammer, excavate a grave,

so did the water tighten, surge, relax

with every current, every breezy wave.

Like Mother dandled, told a tale, caressed,

laundered the dirt of all of Budapest.

 

A drizzle started, moistening the morning

but didn’t care much, so it stopped again.

And yet, like someone who under an awning

watches the rain-I gazed into the plain:

As twilight, that may infinitely last,

so grey was all that used to shine, the past.

 

The Danube flowed, and like a tiny child

plays on his fertile, dreamy mother’s knee,

so cradled and embraced and gently smiled

each playful wave, waving hullo to me.

They shuddered on the flood of past events

like tombstones, tumbling graveyard monuments.

 

II.

For hundred thousand years I have been gazing

and suddenly I see what’s there to see.

A flash, and time is fully-grown, embracing

what generations scan, and show to me.

 

I see what they’ve not seen, for they defended,

embraced, dug, murdered, their living to ply,

and they see now, in cold matter descended,

what I can’t see when I’m to testify.

 

We all relate, like blessed to the damn’d,

Mine is the past and theirs is the today

We write poems-my pencil in their hand,  

I sense them and remember what to say.

 

III.

Mother was Kun, Father was Szekely, partly,

and half, or maybe, pure Romanian.

From Mother’s lips the food was sweet and hearty,

from Father’s lips the truth was radiant.

They embrace again when I am stirring.

This fills my heart with deep melancholy-

we are all mortal. It’s me, re-occurring.

„Just wait, we’ll soon be gone! …“ – they talk to me.

 

They call, I know we are now one: this one-ness

has made me strong, for I remember well

that I am every parent in the boundless

succession to the primal lonely cell.

I am the First, who splits, proliferating

till I become my father and mother,

then father splits and mother, procreating

the multiplying me and none other!

 

I am the world – the ancient, endless story:

clan fighting clan for creed or crazy greed.

I march among the conquerors in glory,

I suffer with the conquered in defeat. Árpád and Zalán, Werbőczi and Dózsa –

Slavs, Mongols, Turks and other variants

in me, we shall redeem the long foreclosure

with gentle future-new Hungarians!

 

…I want to work. It’s hard for human nature

to make a true confession of the past.

The Danube, which is past, present and future

entwines its waves in tender friendly clasps.

Out of the blood our fathers shed in battles

flows peace, through our remembrance and regard,

creating order in our common matters,

this is our task, we know it will be hard.

 

There is only one particular detail in the contemplation of the present moment, the descending melon-rind, then the Danube is evoked by associations and emotions structured in different rhythmical unities displaying the waving and streaming rhythm of the river.

In Renoir’s film Harriet (Patricia Walters) is the poet writing about the river. Her role and the director’s relation to it is quite similar to the young female characters in the universe of Éric Rohmer, which I got close to again during the retrospective dedicated to him in the Basque Archive last year. As for instance in Rohmer’s Le genou de Claire or Pauline à la plage Laura (Béatrice Romand) and Pauline (Amanda Langlet) are presented as morally integrated personalities, in The River Harriet and Melanie (Radha Burnier) are undoubtedly the most mature ones. While the young girls’ uncontaminated morals and innocence prevail in the frustration of the adult world, they possess a lot of qualities that come from their position and age, which seems close to the directors’ own emotional positioning in their stories. Besides, in these films the conversations are depicted in a classical, theatrical way – the actors are positioned comfortably for the spectator, in the middle of the composition and in front of the camera. This technique results in wild openness as it allows us to see through the people’s pretentions.

Another crucial similarity was the current reception of the films that I experienced in the company of a film student audience. Unfortunately, the exclusive will to detect white-male misbehaviour would leave a mark on the post-screening discussions, which in case of Rohmer emerged in the form of unforgiving rigidity. In The River, Captain John’s character was excused because of the actor, Thomas E. Breen’s actual disability. While our personal background naturally defines our elemental stance in the process of reception, to enable a true appreciation of a film’s inner rules and world, we must let go of prejudices and look for experiences beyond what we know, experiences that don’t only mirror a version of ourselves on the screen. All the central characters have to say goodbye to their innocence, including Captain John, who is stripped of his childhood by the war. For Valerie (Adrienne Corri), the kiss with the Captain means the fracture in her world while, for Melanie, it means understanding her position between different cultures means the change. Harriet’s drama gets to be emphasized, as losing Bogey is a trauma for all of the family. As viewers we follow Harriet’s personal path from the idyll of the gardens and her facing the cruelty of everyday life.

The other criticized facet of The River was the depiction of India, even if the film is clear about its own take on the country. What geography adds is more a „religious spirituality”,[7] not a sociological aspect. While Renoir’s amusement and attraction to India is obvious, he remains more interested in morals and in the world of youth. It becomes especially clear when Harriet tells the story of Krishna, her story, which feeds upon the mysterious traditions and land of India, but is entirely liberated from any coercion of telling the truth.

The figure of the young poetess, the overwhelming emotions of youth, the actual colliding into the universal makes me think of the Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne), a figure of a woman narrating the images in Marguerite Duras’ voice. Aurélia Steiner is an 18-year-old Jewish girl, writing letters to someone, who, in the Melbourne letter, seems to be her lover, but later, in the Vancouver letter the addressee reveals the recipient to have been her father, murdered in Auschwitz. In Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne), the reading of the letter is accompanied by the pictures of a river. While at first glance we might think that the drifting tracking shot of the river result in discrepancy, the conflict between the agitated state of mind of the writer in sound and the fluent image, the river gives a shape to the rhythm of the poem and the sweeping sound of Marguerite Duras’ recitation. The river is not an evident symbol of Aurélia’s solitude and her feeling of undefined absence, it rather makes us sense the desire to get to know the invisible. The letter invokes the tragedies of history on a macrocosmic scale – at the same time an intimate dimension is given voice, a devotion to an addressee unknown to the writer and the audience alike. The real conflict lies between the temporal and the permanent, the concrete words and the constantly changing river, the body and the soul. We feel the need of a young girl to identify herself, somehow lost in the middle of the contradictions of all, becoming one with the river, with the world, searching for someone to answer her loneliness.

This film I watched alone, on the screen of my laptop. Aurélia Steiner stayed with me for a while, Marguerite Duras’ voice gave the rhythm of my next few days. I remembered it as a personal experience, I haven’t talked about it with anyone, maybe with the intention of keeping the experience to myself, or because I just didn’t have any articulable thoughts about it. Months passed by, when on a chilly day I had bumped into a friend on the street, and in a short conversation somehow the title came up. We barely touched upon the film, just mentioned that it is a beautiful piece which we both really liked.

I was so glad this encounter recalled this facet of films, poems and art in general, I tend to forget. Artworks give a ground for our discussions, these experiences self-evidently link us with people around us, and even from the past and from the future. Although Aurélia’s questions come from her uncertainty, by watching the film, we reassuringly answer them.

Aurélia Steiner (Melbourne)[8]

I’m writing maybe a thousand letters
you, to give to you
letters of my present life.
And you, you’ll do with them
what I’d like…
you to do with them
which is, whatever you want.
That’s what I desire.
That this be delivered to you.
Where are you?
How to reach you?
How can we come close
in this love,
cancel this apparent fragmentation
of time
which separates us,
one from the other?
Listen.
I’ll never separate you from your body.
Never.
It’s three in the afternoon
The sun is out behind the trees
the air is cool.
(…)
My name is Aurelia Steiner.
I live in Melbourne
where my parents are teachers.
I’m 18 years old.
I write.

 

 

[1] Bazin, André: A Pure Masterpiece: The River. In: François Truffaut (ed.): Jean Renoir. (trans. W. W. Halsey II, William H. Simon) London & New York: Howard & Wyndham Ltd. 1974, p. 108.

[2] Ophüls, Max: The Pleasure of Seeing: Thoughts on the Subject Matter of Film. In: Willemen, Paul (ed.): Ophuls. London: British Film Institute, 1978. pp. 33-34.

[3]Hitchcock had leaves painted different colours and pinned to artificial trees in the studio to create his own version of autumn in Vermont.” Haeffner, Nicholas: Alfred Hitchcock. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2005. p. 37.

[4] Bazin, André: A Pure Masterpiece: The River. In: François Truffaut (ed.): Jean Renoir. (trans. W. W. Halsey II, William H. Simon) London & New York: Howard & Wyndham Ltd. 1974, p. 114.

[5] Brill, Lesley: The Hitchcock Romance. Love and Irony in Hitchcock’s Films. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. p. 283.

[6] József Attila: By the Danube (trans. Peter Zollman), Reprinted by permission of Corvina Kiadó, 1997

[7] Bazin, André: Jean Renoir. (ed. François Truffaut, trans. W. W. Halsey II, William H. Simon) London & New York: Howard & Wyndham Ltd. 1974, p. 113.

[8] Marguerite Duras, 1979. (unknown translator)

Letters as Films/Films as Letters

Dear Garbiñe Ortega and Francisco Algarín Navarro,

(I am sorry for my English, it feels very hard to write a letter in a language that is not my own. Since I know English is also not your mother tongue I will nevertheless go for it, so we can meet on this huge island where we all think that we can understand each other.)

one of you I do not know personally, yet, after reading your publication Correspondencias. Cartas Como Películas my voice might seem strangely familiar to you. I can not write this letter as a stranger. Only letters having to do with money can be written as a stranger. Then we must keep a distance as if to make sure how important money is. The letters of filmmakers and people of the film world you collected and arranged beautifully in your book sometimes have to do with money. For example, Jacques Rivette writing to Henri Langlois or Joris Ivens to Jean Painlevé. However, they are not business letters in the strict sense of the word. They are incidents of reaching out and your book makes the point that this reaching out ultimately helps us readers to get closer.

You have to know that letters are very important to me. I didn’t want to read your book because I am interested in those little and great cinephile anecdotes that hide within those intimate offerings by filmmakers. Of course, I was fascinated by such exchanges and disappointments as between Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais concerning first the shooting of Hiroshima, mon amour (Resnais: “I have been in Hiroshima“) and later his rejection of La Destruction capitale. Still this kind of information is just a byproduct for me, something to brag about next time I get into one of those cinephile get-togethers in which it is all about who can tell what story. For me letters have a different meaning and this is why I was so intrigued when I first heard about your book and also the retrospective you organised during the Punto de Vista Festival. It is this idea of films as letters and letters as films that I have been thinking about a lot recently. There are three aspects concerning letters I am particularly interested in.

The first one is the impossibility of a letter. It is related to a silence. The silence of the person addressed, a silence that is also a waiting for an answer. In a couple of letters published in your book I can find this silence. It occurs when a letter does not ask for an answer. Such is the case with the letter Gregory J. Markopolous writes to Stan Brakhage. It is a curious letter because Markopoulos seems to need a silent reader in order to collect his thoughts about his own film. Does it really matter it is Brakhage he writes to? I think so because he feels an understanding. Another obvious example would be Manoel De Oliveira’s letter to the deceased Serge Daney. Here the letter is a rather beautiful pretence to lay out a personal film theory. There will be no answer and he knows it while writing. The impossibility of a letter for me has to do with the paradox of a dialogue which does neither necessarily get nor always need an answer. It is an imagined conversation, a reaching out that contrary to modern day communication never knows if the addressed has read the message or not. It is more like an invitation to correspond, an opening or offering as you label it. I didn’t quite understand why you decided to divide the letters into different chapters (Offerings, In the Battlefield, Collaborations, Processes, Cinema and Life). I would think that almost all the letters are about all of this things. They try to begin this impossible dialogue. Sometimes it is about admiration (this can go very far, in the letter Raymonde Carasco writes to Duras I had the feeling she was even imitating her style, something we probably all do after reading one of her novels; here admiration becomes inspiration and imitation, it is a sharing that can also go wrong as with Carolee Schneemann’s letter to Yvonne Rainer. I find it very cruel but honest how Rainer does not respond to Schneemann’s feelings concerning her work. Another kind of imitation, more playful, can be found in the letter of Vanda Duarte and Pedro Costa to Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. Here the imitation related to Robert Desnos’ letter that Costa adapted for his work), sometimes there is a real questions like when Peter Hutton writes to Warren Sonbert and wants to know about somebody he saw in Noblesse Oblige, sometimes it is a searching for soulmates, a way to overcome insecurities (I think about Orson Welles wanting to know if Robert Flaherty likes Citizen Kane), sometimes it is asking for help. Maybe Chris Marker’s statement in his letter to Alain Cuny helps us a bit to understand more. He writes: “Poets exists to offer a strength that is not inside us.“

Isn’t the silence after writing a letter like this poet? It only fits then that many of the letters are works of art in their own right. I am not sure if I can follow your perception that they are films but surely they are art. Maybe we can say that they are like the beginning of a film, like a shot without reverse shot, like a fade into a world we are allowed to discover. It is also no coincidence that many letters in your book announce a film to come. They are about the anxieties and fears that go into a film. I wonder how many letters can be found that announce films that will never come. How many films remain in this silence that is a letter.

The way you illustrated the book and also your choice of letters helps a lot to get an idea of the materialistic approaches to the art of the letter. You stress the work of assemblage, of montage that is of course a cinematic idea. As I had to read the English translations in the back of the book I most of the time lacked the possibility to read and see at the same time. Yet, sometimes I was able to discover more about certain letters in your book from the way they look (the handwriting, the color of paper which is also stressed in a letter from Sergei Eisenstein to Esfir Shub, the postcards used and so on) than from the writing. A core letter for your argument is maybe when Hollis Frampton writes to Brakhage about how to speak about a film with words. In this letter we may find the tension between letters and cinema, an impossibility that like good criticism lives in a gap that it always needs to overcome. I think your book looks beautiful. It may seem a bit peculiar but for me with letters it is as important to find them, have them rest on my table a while, to be a promise as it is to open and read them. Your book keeps that promise. Like with certain letters this beauty has nothing to do with perfectionism. Some of the pages give the impression of a rather hasty and sloppy work. Some names misspelled, letters missing in the overview and so on. This does not make it a worse book. It is just a reminder of what it means to sit down and write a letter. The time, the tiredness, the formality and the freedom.

The second aspect I think about concerning letters has to do with a practice of correspondence. Especially from today’s perspective writing a letter is an act of resistance. It would be so much easier to use any other mode of communication to bridge distances, to reach out. A letter demands more time, more thought. It also demands going to the post office, it demands deciding for a kind of paper, a postcard maybe, deciding for a pen or a typewriter. All these decisions say something or allow us to say something. Like analogue cinema today, it teaches something about what we lose. What I write to you now is not a letter. It is a bastard brother of a letter written on a computer. It is an imitation at best. After reading your book I felt like writing a real letter. I didn’t do it. Maybe it is laziness, maybe it is that I can not get out of my habits, maybe it is a hesitation, maybe this must be my last wrong letter. Yet, we must be careful as much as we must be careful with analogue cinema today. It would be dangerous to assume that the medium is already the message. Letters also carry with them the double-edged air of nostalgia. I am very glad that the letters you published are, like cinema, always in the present. I never have the feeling that they try to be conceived as romantic reminders of the thoughts that once we had. It also helps that you included very banal letters. Like a banal shot in a film they help to be reminded what is necessary and what could be too much. No matter in what medium writing takes place, I like to think that people sit at a table to do it. The silence I was writing about earlier can only be heard when one invests a bit of time. This is why the film critics in Cannes and comparable festivals often touch the ridiculous with their texts written sitting on the floor waiting for the next screening. But then maybe a review is not a letter. I think it should be, though.

The last aspect has to do with a personal crisis I faced about a year ago. It is related to the questions: Who do we write a text for? Who do we make a film for? I still have some problems imagining a reader or a viewer in the plural. As you might know I also make films. Sometimes in the middle of working on a film or text I wake up and wonder why I am doing it. Is it only for myself? It became apparent to me that I want to make a film or write a text in order to show or tell someone something. It is important for me that this someone is a specific person because depending on this person I choose what I show or tell. Lets suppose I make a film about the chocolate factory I live next to. It would be a completely different film/letter if I send it to my mother or you or the boss of the factory. In contrast to Jean-Luc Godard who writes so wonderfully to Philippe Garrel that he wants to see a film with his own eyes, I’d love to see films/the world through the eyes of others or even more in a kind of merging of gazes. I find it to be very strange that it is taken for granted that a film is for more than one person if a letter is not. I know about the social aspects of cinema, the importance of sharing and the self-satisfied insouciance related to it, yet, for me it proofed to be poisonous to care about more than one person while working on a film or certain texts. Your retrospective and your book gave me the courage to film a first letter. It is not addressed to you but maybe you can see it one day. Or another one will be addressed to you.

Jean Cocteau to Jean Marais: “Your last letter is wonderful. It gives me courage.“

The energy you spread for cinema is like the best letters an act of love that keeps us going. Thank you for that.

Yours,
Patrick

Liebesbrief an Jeanne Moreau

Liebe Jeanne Moreau,

ich habe dich gesehen, aber ich bin mir nicht sicher, ob du auch mich gesehen hast. Es muss in einer regnerischen Nacht gewesen sein, irgendwo, wo wir nicht zuhause sind. Ich muss dir einfach schreiben. Vielleicht sitzen wir eines Tages auf einem Golfplatz und du liest mir diesen Brief vor. Ich verspreche dir, dass ich mich daran erinnern werde, dass ich ihn dir geschrieben habe.

Eva Losey
Ich bin mir nicht sicher, ob du jemals kleiner bist, als die Leinwand, die dich zu mir bringt. In vielen Filmen bist du allein mit dem Licht und dem Schatten, selbst wenn du von Männern umgarnt wirst. Du wartest an Ufern, du scheinst nie auf etwas zu warten, sondern immer im Warten selbst zu existieren. Oft sind es reiche Männer, schöne Männer, die um dich tanzen. Du bist zwischen den Armen von Jean Gabin und Lino Ventura gehangen. Vielleicht muss das so sein in Frankreich. Aber ihrer maskulinen Art bist du mit einem Trotz der verführerischen Verachtung begegnet. Mit deinem herunterhängenden Mundwinkeln (ich fand es immer passend, dass du einen Film über Lilian Gish gemacht hast, die in der berühmtesten Mundwinkel-Szene der Filmgeschichte gespielt hat, ja du bist eine zerbrochene Blüte, aber auch ein blühendes Zerbrechen), der hohen Stirn und dem Gang, dem man Stunden zusehen kann. Für mich hast du deinen Kopf immer leicht im Nacken, deine Nase etwas in der Luft. In der Sonne, im Regen, in der Stadt. Du bist der Widerstand im Regen. Der Widerstand gegen die eigene Schwäche, gegen die Blicke, die dich verfolgen. Manchmal schäme ich mich fast, dich anzusehen. Du blickst zurück, ohne mich anzusehen. Du bleibst unerreichbar.

Du trägst eine natürliche Schwere in dir, die mal gelangweilt wirkt, mal arrogant, mal zerbrechlich, mal leidenschaftlich, mal aufrichtig und mal geliebt. Aber du hast auch eine leichte, verspielte Seite, ich habe sie gesehen zwischen zwei Männern, mit Musik, mit Mützen. Hast du mir da zugeblinzelt?

Eleveator Gallows
Du hast zu oft traurig gesagt: Je t’aime. Kann ich dir noch glauben? Ich bin mir da nicht sicher und jetzt muss ich dir ein Geständnis machen. Ich habe dein Tagebuch gelesen. Ich weiß, dass der Mann, der den Schuhfetisch hat dich mag. Der dicke Anwalt, der sich kaum aus seinem Bett erheben kann, mag dich auch. Du verwirrst mich. Ich versuche nicht eifersüchtig zu sein, aber ich würde dir gerne meinen Garten zeigen. Außerdem würde ich dir gerne meine neue Waschmaschine präsentieren, wenn du mal wieder gelangweilt in deiner Wohnung sitzt. In deiner Langeweile liegt etwas, was einen Blick in dich ermöglicht. Du öffnest dich für Zeit-Bilder, dein Spiel existiert immer mit der Zeit, die man nicht mehr sehen kann. Vielleicht hattest du deshalb Probleme älter zu werden. Du singst dann: Each man kills the thing he loves. Ich mag das, es passt zu dir.

Ich muss dir noch etwas gestehen, vielleicht ist es blöd: Ich mag dich lieber in schwarz und weiß als in Farbe. Es scheint für dich gemacht, es betont den Schatten unter deinen Augen, die minimalen Regungen in deinem Gesicht, die mir sagen, dass du dort ,wo du bist, nicht du sein kannst. Die Farblosigkeit unterstreicht deine Traurigkeit, die so viel Würde in sich trägt. Nur du kannst bei deiner Hochzeit schwarz tragen. Ein Trauerzug, wie alles an dir und mir dir, sich abwendend, hinfort fahrend in das Unbewusste einer Sehnsucht.

In der reflektiert ein Licht, das kein Licht kennt.

Nathalie Granger