Michelangelo Antonioni’s Cannes Statement for L’Avventura (1960)

Today the world is threatened by an extremely serious split between a science that is totally and consciously projected into the future, and a rigid and stereotyped morality which all of us recognize as such and yet sustain out of cowardice and sheer laziness. Where is this split most evident? What are its most obvious, its most sensitive, let us even say its most painful, areas?

Consider the Renaissance man, his sense of joy, his fullness, his multifarious activities. Those were men of great magnitude, skillful craftsmen and at the same time artistically creative, capable of recognizing their own sense of dignity, their own sense of importance as human beings: the Ptolemaic fullness of man. Then man discovered that his world was Copernican, an extremely limited world in an unknown universe.

And today a new man is being born, fraught with all the fears, terrors and stammerings that are associated with a period of gestation. And what is even more serious, this new man immediately finds himself burdened with a heavy baggage of emotional traits which cannot exactly be called old and outmoded, but rather unsuited and inadequate. They condition us without offering us any help, they create problems without suggesting any possible solutions. And yet it seems that man will not rid himself of this baggage. He reacts, he loves, he hates, he suffers under the sway of moral forces and myths which today, when we are at the threshold of reaching the moon, should not be the same as those that prevailed in Homeric times, but nevertheless are.

Man is quick to rid himself of his technological and scientific mistakes and misconceptions. Indeed, science has never been more humble and less dogmatic than it is today. Whereas our moral attitudes are governed by an absolute sense of stultification. In recent years, we have examined those moral attitudes very carefully, we have dissected them and analyzed them to the point of exhaustion. We have been capable of all this, but we have not been capable of finding new ones. We have not been capable of making any headway whatsoever toward solving the problem of this ever-increasing split between the moral and the scientific man, a split which is becoming more and more serious, and more and more accentuated.

Naturally, I don’t care to, nor can I, resolve it myself; I am not a moralist, and my film is neither a denunciation nor a sermon. It is a story told through images whereby, I hope, it may be possible to perceive not the birth of a mistaken attitude but the manner in which attitudes and dealings are misunderstood today. Because, I repeat, the present moral standards we live by, these myths, these conventions are old and obsolete. And we all know they are, yet we honor them. Why? The conclusion reached by the protagonists in my film is not one of sentimentality. If anything, what they finally arrive at is a sense of pity for each other. You might say that this too is nothing new. But what else is left if we do not at least succeed in achieving this? Why do you think eroticism is so prevalent today in our literature, our theatrical shows, and elsewhere? It is a symptom of the emotional sickness of our time. But this preoccupation with eroticism would not become obsessive if Eros were healthy, that is, if it were kept within human proportions. But Eros is sick; man is uneasy, something is bothering him. And whenever something bothers him, man reacts, but he reacts badly, only on erotic impulse, and he is unhappy.

The tragedy in L’Avventura stems directly from an erotic impulse of this type: unhappy, miserable, futile. To be critically aware of the vulgarity and the futility of such an overwhelming erotic impulse, as is the case with the protagonist in L’Avventura, is not enough or serves no purpose. And here we witness the crumbling of a myth, which proclaims it is enough for us to know, to be critically conscious of ourselves, to analyze ourselves, in all our complexities and in every facet of our personality. The fact that matters is that such an examination is not enough. It is only a preliminary step. Every day, every emotional encounter gives rise to a new adventure. For even though we know that the ancient codes of morality are decrepit and no longer tenable, we persist, with a sense of perversity that I would only ironically define as pathetic, in remaining loyal to them. Thus, the moral man who has no fear of the scientific unknown is today afraid of the moral unknown. Starting out from this point of fear and frustration, his adventure can only end in a stalemate.

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An Interview with Buster Keaton

As I compose an article on Andre Bazin here is a short excerpt of an interview with Buster Keaton.

Our readers would be very interested to know how you got into motion pictures.

Well, I was born with a show. My parents were already in vaudeville. When I was four years old I became a regular. When I was twenty-one we decided to try another branch of show business and told our representative to see what he could do and he immediately got me signed to the Winter Garden in New York, which was the Schubert’s Theater for “The Passing Show of 1917.”

This was an annual show?

Yes, it always started in the summer and generally ran for, oh, about six months in New York and a year and a half on the road. The Winter Garden was Al Jolson’s home, and the show I was supposed to go in would have starred the Howard Brothers. But anyhow, they signed me for that show and I was walk- ing down Broadway-down along Eighth or some place-and I met an old vaudevillian, and he was with Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle and he told me that he took his make-up off for awhile and was going to try running a mo- tion picture company for Joe Schenck who was producing pictures with Norma Talmadge and Constance Talmadge at the Colony Studio on 48th Street in New York, and that he had just signed Arbuckle from Sennett. And Roscoe asked me if I had ever been in a motion picture, and I said no I hadn’t even been in a studio. And he said, well come on down to the studio Monday and do a scene with me or two and see how you like it. I said, well rehearsals don’t start for another week or so, so I’ll be down. I went down there and I worked in it. The first time I ever walked in front of a motion picture camera-that scene is in the finished motion picture and instead of doing just a bit he carried me all the way through it. (1.)

 

(1.)   Christopher Bishop and Buster Keaton, ‘An Interview with Buster Keaton’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Autumn, 1958), pp. 15-22, p. 15.

Kevin Cournoyer On The Auteur Theory

Why do you reject the idea of film director as an Auteur?

 When you see credits like “a so and so film” or “a film by so and so”, you’re seeing an ego on parade. Nothing more. To belabour the obvious, filmmaking is a collaborative enterprise. There’s absolutely no rational basis for the possessory credit on any film in the history of cinema. It’s amusing that this illusory precept – director as auteur – is derived, in large part, from a group of film critics at Cahiers du Cinema who aspired to be directors. Here were film lovers who dreamed of being filmmakers. You could view La Politique des Auteurs as a form of wish fulfilment. An American critic, Andrew Sarris, simply reified this grand delusion by affixing the word “theory” after it. No one filmmaker solely “authors” a film like a writer “authors” a novel. Filmmaking is not the pure, organic process of fiction writing. (1)

 

(1). M, Pramaggiore & T, Wallis. (ed), Film A Critical Introduction, London: Laurence King Publishing, (2007), pp. 402.

Francois Truffaut on Film Criticism

Personally i found this highly interesting and thought it was worth posting.

Before beginning to make films, you wrote film criticism for the periodical Arts. How would you evaluate your former critical beliefs today?

In my articles in Arts, I would essentially repeat and popularize the critical positions taken in Cahiers. This happened especially at the start, for little by little my criticism became more personal, especially since I began to be interested in films that wouldn’t have interested Cahiers in the least. At the same time, I learned to submit myself to certain obligations. In Cahiers, telling the story of each film could easily be dispensed with. In a weekly journal, the story must be told, and for me, this was an extremely good exercise. Also, I think that in Cahiers, the critic feels the obligation to criticize each film on its own level, that is, to try and adapt the critical criteria to the film. For one film it may be necessary to speak abstractly of the directorial concep- tion, for another, to analyze the scenario itelf – each film demands its own particular treatment. In any case, the necessity to tell the story of a film every week was very good for me. Before that, I didn’t really see the films. I was so intoxicated with the idea of “cinema” that I could see nothing but a film’s movement and rhythm. In fact at the beginning I had such trouble summing up the stories that I had to consult a plot synopsis. This experience helped me to realize the faults of certain scenarios, certain gimmicks, certain easy ways of telling a story. I began to recognize anything in a film that had been copied from another film. For me this was an immensely worthwhile period – my experience in it corresponded with what must be the experience of a scriptwriter. It helped me to see things more clearly, and to become more aware of my own values, tastes, and proclivities. However I ended up becoming much too cutting in my criticism. During my last year with Arts, my criticism was no longer that of a film critic, but already that of a film di- rector. I would only get excited by those films related to what I myself wanted to do. I became too partisan, and, as a result, too vicious. Paradoxically, in my directing today, there remains something of the critic’s frame of mind. For example, when I’ve finished working on a scenario, I feel that I know, if not its faults, at least its dangers- especially in regard to what is trite and conventional in it. This knowledge guides me, gives me a direction to take against these dangers during the shooting. With each film I have done, the danger has been different. In the 400 Blows, the danger was becoming overly lyrical about childhood. In Shoot the Piano Player, it was creating too much hero-worship for a man who was always right. In Jules and Jim, it was portraying the woman as an exquisite shrew who could do no wrong. I was well aware of these dangers while shooting these films, and a large part of my work then consisted of trying to keep each film from succumbing to its inherent weakness. It so happens that my efforts in this direction caused all three of my films to end up being sadder films than planned, since seriousness, it seems to me, permits greater sublety of expression. Something that becomes more serious becomes more true. If one were to read, for example, the original scenario of the 400 Blows, one would discover the plot of a comedy. And in Shoot the Piano Player, where the danger was having the central character become too sympathetic, I tried so hard to point up his artist s egotism, his desire to isolate himself from the world, and his cowardice, that I made him finally rather hard and unattractive  – almost antipathetic. Doubtless this is one of the reasons for the film’s failure. The same thing happened with Jules and Jim: since I didn’t want the audience simply to adore the character played by Jeanne Moreau, I rendered her finally a bit too hard. Nevertheless, my improvisation on the set has always been in an effort to counteract the danger I sensed while reading the finished scenario. That’s what still remains of my formation as a critic.1.

1. François Truffaut and Paul Ronder, ‘François Truffaut: An Interview’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Autumn, 1963), pp. 3-13 pp. 4-5.

Interview with Jean-Luc Godard

In my rather long post about A Bout de Souffle I mentioned the affect on the film the dedication to Monogram Pictures had. Here is an interview in which Godard explains his reasoning behind dedicating A Bout de Souffle to Monogram Pictures:

Godard, why did you really dedicate Breathless to “Monogram Pictures”?

 

I did it to prove that you can do pictures that are both interesting and cheap. In America a cheap picture is not considered interesting, and I said “Why not?” because actually there are many American directors who do B and C pictures who are very interesting. Vivre Sa Vie I dedicated to B pictures, because in my opinion it is a B picture.

 

You’re being dead serious now?

 

If it’s less than $100,000, it’s a B picture. The trouble is that in Hollywood the B budget is all they consider; it can be a B or Z budget, but even with a Z budget you can attempt to make an A quality picture. If you talk to a Hollywood producer-if you make a B picture then you are a B director. You are only an A director if you make films with A budgets. … I think this idea is wrong. But if you go to see bankers or producers in America they still think in Hollywood’s way.1

 

1Herbert Feinstein and Jean-Luc Godard ‘An Interview with Jean-Luc Godard’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Spring, 1964), pp. 8-10 p. 8.

Eastwood’s Position Concerning the Western and the Western Protagonist

In my post about Coogan’s Bluff i mentioned briefly the motivation for choosing the western protagonist. To back up my position that the Western is popular with both movie-makers and movie-watchers here is a short quote from Clint Eastwood concerning what he believes makes the Western so resilient.

I guess because of the simplicity of the times. Now everything’s so complicated, so mired down in bureaucracy that people can’t fathom a way of sorting it out. In the West, even though you could get killed, it seems more manageable, like a lone individual might be able to works things out some way. In our society today, the idea of one person making a difference one way or the other is remote.1

Essentially it is the dream of sorting things out and having a strong individual do it. Although in the mythic world of the West the western protagonist could exist without too much friction, in the world of today, like in Coogan’s Bluff, the existence of a loner clearing up problems is problematic.

1. Kenneth Turan ‘A Fistful of Memories: Interview with Clint Eastwood’ in Jim Kitses and Gregg Rickman (ed), The Western Reader, New York: Limelight Editions (1998), pp. 245-249. p.249.

Clint Eastwood on Dirty Harry

This is an excerpt from an interview with Clint Eastwood, this concerns what he thought about Dirty Harry. I thought it was interesting that he wanted to communicate that Dirty Harry was not political. The introduction question seems to be a bit leading however that is the nature of the beast concerning interviews.

Gentry: All that business years ago, about Harry being a right winger or a neofascist, as some critics said, it seems to me that they were failing to see Harry in the larger context, this pattern where conventional references for morality is rather obscured.

Eastwood : Well, yeah, there were no conservative over- tones. Actually, it was just critical people who took everything in political terms at that time. We weren’t telling a conservative story. We were just doing a story that involved victims, victims of violent crime. Harry asks the authorities, How come you let the guy go? And they say, Because that’s the law. And Harry answers, Then the law is wrong. That doesn’t mean you’re a fascist. If fascism is blind obedience to authority, then Harry was really the opposite of fascist. He differs with the law in this case. And a lot of people differ with the law, have questions about it. We read about decisions every day that make us ask, How could they do that? There must be some kind of balance there where you can pre- vent a psychopath from going back out on the street and potentially committing another violent crime, which in the story he does. The times have caught up with Harry to an extent. Nowadays there’re organizations for the victims and the families of victims of violent crime. But in those days, when Dirty Harry was first released in theatres, there wasn’t any of that. The tendency was to look at it in terms of the rights of the accused, Miranda and all that. We were merely suggesting that this was a case, an extreme case, where no one was taking the victim into consideration, and there was a serious time factor pertaining to her survival. I don’t think anybody really believes a police officer would go that far for somebody in trouble. I mean, that’s kind of going overboard. Most of the time you figure, Well, you’re off the case. It’s closed. But here was this guy who lived alone and was obsessed with following it through. That was the romance, I think, be- cause who believes there’s some guy out there with that kind of tenacity? I don’t know necessarily agree with Dirty Harry’s philosophy all the way down the line. I don’t disagree with the importance of rights for the accused, either. But we were telling a story, an incident in one man’s life. It was a story worth telling. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t turn around and do a story about someone who’s been falsely accused or something.1

 

 

1. Ric Gentry, ‘Clint Eastwood: An Interview’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Spring, 1989), pp. 12-23. p. 23.