Inner City Blues


By Charles Burnett

Originally appeared in ‘Questions of Third Cinema’, edited by Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (1989), as found on Kino Slang. A selection of films that were part of the LA rebellion movement will be shown as part of the Courtisane 2015 festival (1-5 April 2015).

If one has any interest in film as a means of transforming society, one can certainly sympathize with the frustrations of the main character in the novel Bread and Wine by Ignacio Silone. The hero, who is a revolutionary hiding from the police, disguises himself as a priest; the villagers mistake him for a real priest. He attempts to explain that their social condition could be improved, that certain things — food and shelter and the right to happiness — belong to everyone, but the villagers can’t conceive those things as a part of their reality; that is something to be obtained in heaven. The question is how does one who is dissatisfied with the way things are going set about transforming society? To whom and to what should one direct the message and what will be the spark, the messianic message, to motivate people into altering their habits when reality hasn’t made a stir, when the realization of death itself has failed? However, time and again, you find in the testimony of ex-addicts and alcoholics that what made them stop and go cold turkey was that after years of destroying themselves, they looked in the mirror one day and did not recognize the person staring back at them. And having tried to change drug addicts, I was warned that no matter what logic, no matter what emotional appeal I used, it would have no effect on that person until he or she was ready to change; it is when the person has arrived at the conclusion that he or she needs help.

For a film to act as an agent for altering people’s behavior in a way that makes a neighborhood safe, another dynamic has to have occurred and it is an ongoing process; a politicization must be taking place. There is a polarization and issues are clear-cut, ambiguity is at a minimum and there is a moral outrage if things don’t change. Because the situation in the black community lacks leadership, it lacks direction. The inner cities are virtually infernal regions where the most inhuman behavior manifests itself in the “Rock House”, a house where one can buy a cheap high from cocaine; it is like a black hole in space which sucks in the youth. For those of us who still have senses to offend, not to attempt to find a solution will be participating in genocide; the problem of drugs, with babies being born with a drug addiction, is horrendous. When the middle class moved away and over the years a vacuum formed and an isolation, people of daring gained control and the irony is that there was a conspiracy to hide the situation.

Particularly in films that were sounding the alarm and realistically trying to dramatize concerns that were eroding the very foundation that makes a society a society, the response was, ‘This makes us look bad’. To bring to light that which troubles us was being uppity, no home training, etc. The middle-class blacks wanted to emphasize the positive and the inner city wanted ‘Superfly”; neither had any substance, however, both were detrimental. There is a difference between illusion and inspiration. The difference in concerns clearly marked the direction in which consciously or unconsciously the people who lived on the opposite side of the tracks were going. Surprisingly, politically speaking, there is a large reactionary and/or chauvinistic point of view in the inner city.

The commercial film is largely responsible for affecting how one views the world. It reduced the world to one dimension, rendering taboos to superstition, concentrated on the ugly, creating a passion for violence and reflecting racial stereotypes, instilling self-hate, creating confusion rather than offering clarity: to sum up, it was demoralizing. It took years for commercial films to help condition society on how it should respond to reality. In the later films that strove for a reality, the element of redemption disappeared, and as a consequence the need for a moral position was no longer relevant. There was no longer a crossroads for us to face and to offer meaning to our transgressions. The bad guy didn’t have to atone for his sins. He could go on enjoying life victimizing innocent people. In essence this cinema is anti-life; it constantly focuses on the worst of human behavior to provide suspense and drama, to entertain. The concerns are generally about a young white male and the rest of society is anathema. Any other art form celebrates life, the beautiful, the ideal, and has a progressive effect — except American cinema. The situation is such that one is always asked to compromise one’s integrity, and if the socially oriented film is finally made, its showing will generally be limited and the very ones that it is made for and about will probably never see it. To make film-making viable you need the support of the community; you have to become a part of its agenda, an aspect of its survival.

A major concern of story-telling should be restoring values, reversing the erosion of all those things that made a better life. One has to be prepared to dig down in the trenches and wage a long battle. The problem is that we are a moral people, and the issue need not be resolved by a pushing and shoving match or taken in blind faith, but should be continuously presented in some aspect of a story, as for example in the negro folklore which was an important cultural necessity that not only provided humor but was a source of symbolic knowledge that allowed one to comprehend life. The issue is not necessarily to lead one to become a saint or a to make the world a paradise but simply to remind us that our acts not only weigh on our souls, but also that by putting them in a narrative we make them human. A good summation on this theme would be in Men in Dark Times by Hannah Arendt, who in her chapter on Lessing states that ‘however much we are affected by the things of the world, however deeply they may stir and stimulate us, they become human for us only when we can discuss them with our fellow…We humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it and in the course of speaking of it, we learn to be human.’ Solidarity and humanity occupy the same space. And nowhere is a common bond more necessary than in the inner city. It seems that the object of all films should be to generate a sense of fraternity, a community; however, for an independent film-maker that is the same as swimming against a raging current.

One of the features of my community is that it does not have a center, does not have an elder statesman, and more important, does not have roots; in essence it is just a wall with graffiti on it. Life is going to work, coming home, making sure every entrance is firmly locked to keep the thugs out, thinking on how to move up in the world or being a member of a street gang standing at neighborhood corners, thinking about nothing and going nowhere. In both cases what is missing is not only the spiritual but mother wit. Even though there is a church on every other corner, it only holds services once a week and it is not a dominant part of the life of the community. It is like a ship that has lost its rudder. It seems that those of us who observe tradition and have a sense of continuity can at least see the horizon. External forces more than internal forces have made the black community what it is today. There has always been the attempt to destroy our consciousness of who we were, to deny the past, and to destroy the family structure; and, since for us each day has not a yesterday or a tomorrow, to make the use of experience a lost art.

Those who live a healthy existence, meaning those who live on the other side of the tracks, gain knowledge through learning, and those who live on my side of the tracks learned about the world through conditioning based on pain and pleasure, and what has developed as a consequence is that man is wolf to man and every night is a full moon. We have always lived in a hostile environment, but not one where parent and offspring turn guns on each other. The inner city is characterized by people with irrational behavior. The perception is that people are dangerous. Everyone is paranoid and rightfully so. It isn’t the schizophrenia that is disturbing. It is that multiple personality type, people with two people inside them and more. You can witness them changing character in a breath. How do you place a chair for someone who can’t sit still? In trying to find the cure, what person do you address? It is not a matter of informing someone of the truth, the facts, reality; it is only when he finds that he can’t live with himself, when he has stopped deluding himself. The way back is redemption.

If film is to aid in this process of redemption, how does it work its magic? It seems that old question of why are we here, and not getting a satisfactory answer, makes man’s fate intolerable. I think that it is the little personal things that begin to give a hint of the larger picture. The story has the effect of allowing us to comprehend things we cannot see, namely feelings and relationships. It may not give you answers but it will allow you to appreciate life and maybe that is the issue, the ability to find life wonderful and mysterious. If the story is such, film can be a form of experience, and what is essential is to understand that one has to work on how to be good, compassionate. One has to approach it like a job. Until there is a sharing of experiences, every man is an island and the inner city will always be a wasteland.

The Brain is the Screen


Interview with Gilles Deleuze

Originally published as ‘Le cerveau, c’est l’écran’ in Cahiers du cinéma 380, February 1986, the result of a roundtable with Alain Bergala, Pascal Bonitzer, Marc Chevrie, Jean Narboni, Charles Tesson and Serge Toubiana on the occasion of the publication of Deleuze’s ‘Time-Image’ (Minuit, 1985). Translated by Marie Therese Guirgis.

One often hears it said, here and there, like the echo of a pessimistic leitmotif, that there will be no more theoretical advancements in cinema. The publication of the second volume by Gilles Deleuze, The Time-Image, is very much proof to the contrary. If the cinema, by means of genre, by narrative flow, or through the writing styles of singular auteurs, is the manifestation of a thought in motion, its encounter with philosophy was therefore inevitable. The important work accomplished by Gilles Deleuze shows that the relationship between thought and cinematographic art is rich in interactive shocks, vibrations, and influences—whether underground or visible—because a common necessity is at stake: the necessity to recount life itself. This second work, like the first, proves extraordinarily fertile for those who love the cinema and who attempt to reflect on and to ponder its history, its fractures, or its auteurs. Besides the specifically philosophical work, which consists of producing concepts that explain movement, this book also reveals Deleuze as a critic who delineates each auteur’s place, his proper aesthetic configuration relative to key concepts: light, space, time, and signs. This interview is the fruit of a long conversation between Cahiers du cinema and Gilles Deleuze, one that was rearranged by him in more of a synthesis and therefore rendered more dense.


How did the cinema enter your life, both as a spectator and, of course, as a philosopher? When did you begin to love cinema and when did you begin to consider it a domain worthy of philosophy?

I had a privileged experience because I enjoyed two separate phases of filmgoing. Before the war, as a child, I went to the cinema rather often: I think that there was a familial structure to the cinema because of subscription theaters like the Salle Pleyel. You could send children there by themselves. I didn’t have the choice of program, sometimes it was Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton, sometimes Les Croix de bois (The Wooden Crosses)—which upset me; they even showed Fantomas, again, which made me very scared. It would be interesting to find out which theaters disappeared after the war in a given neighborhood. New theaters sprang up, but many disappeared. And then, after the war, I returned to the cinema, but in another manner. I was a student of philosophy, and although I wasn’t stupid enough to want to create a philosophy of cinema, one conjunction made an impression on me. I liked those authors who demanded that we introduce movement to thought, “real” movement (they denounced the Hegelian dialectic as abstract movement). How could I not discover the cinema, which introduces “real” movement into the image? I wasn’t trying to apply philosophy to cinema, but I went straight from philosophy to cinema. The reverse was also true, one went right from cinema to philosophy. Something bizarre about the cinema struck me: its unexpected ability to show not only behavior, but spiritual life [la vie spirituelle] as well (at the same time as aberrant behavior). Spiritual life isn’t dream or fantasy—which were always the cinema’s dead ends—but rather the domain of cold decision, of absolute obstinacy, of the choice of existence. How is it that the cinema is so expert at excavating this spiritual life? This can lead to the worst, a cinematic Catholicism or religious kitsch [sulpicisme] specific to the cinema, but also to the greatest: Dreyer, Sternberg, Bresson, Rosselini, and even Rohmer today. It’s interesting how Rohmer assigns to cinema the study of the spheres of existence: aesthetic existence in La Collectionneuse, ethical existence in Le Beau mariage, religious existence in Ma nuit chez Maud. One thinks of Kierkegaard, who, well before cinema, already felt the need to write in odd synopses. Cinema not only puts movement in the image, it also puts movement in the mind. Spiritual life is the movement of the mind. One naturally goes from philosophy to cinema, but also from cinema to philosophy.

The brain is unity. The brain is the screen. I don’t believe that linguistics and psychoanalysis offer a great deal to the cinema. On the contrary, the biology of the brain—molecular biology—does. Thought is molecular. Molecular speeds make up the slow beings that we are. As Michaux said, “Man is a slow being, who is only made possible thanks to fantastic speeds.” The circuits and linkages of the brain don’t preexist the stimuli, corpuscles, and particles [grains] that trace them. Cinema isn’t theater; rather, it makes bodies out of grains. The linkages are often paradoxical and on all sides overflow simple associations of images. Cinema, precisely because it puts the image in motion, or rather endows the image with self-motion [automouvement], never stops tracing the circuits of the brain. This characteristic can be manifested either positively or negatively. The screen, that is to say ourselves, can be the deficient brain of an idiot as easily as a creative brain. Look at music videos: their power was in their novel speed, their new linkages and relinkages. Even before developing their strength, however, music videos had already collapsed in pitiful twitches and grimaces, as well as haphazard cuts. Bad cinema always travels through circuits created by the lower brain: violence and sexuality in what is represented—a mix of gratuitous cruelty and organized ineptitude. Real cinema achieves another violence, another sexuality, molecular rather than localized. The characters in Losey, for example, are like capsules [des comprimes] composed of static violence, all the more violent because they don’t move. These stories of the speed of thought, precipitations or petrifications, are inseparable from the movement-image. Look at speed in Lubitsch, how he puts actual reasoning into the image, lights—the life of the spirit.

The encounter between two disciplines doesn’t take place when one begins to reflect on the other, but when one discipline realizes that it has to resolve, for itself and by its own means, a problem similar to one confronted by the other. One can imagine that similar problems confront the sciences, painting, music, philosophy, literature, and cinema at different moments, on different occasions, and under different circumstances. The same tremors occur on totally different terrains. The only true criticism is comparative (and bad film criticism closes in on the cinema like its own ghetto) because any work in a field is itself imbricated within other fields. Godard confronts painting in Passion and music in Prenom Carmen, making a “serial cinema,” but also a cinema of catastrophe, in the sense corresponding to the mathematical principle of René Thorn. There is no work that doesn’t have its beginning or end in other art forms. I was able to write about cinema, not because of some right of consideration, but because philosophical problems compelled me to look for answers in the cinema, even at the risk that those answers would suggest other problems. All work is inserted in a system of relays.


What strikes us in your two books on cinema is something that one already finds in your other books, but never to this extent, namely, taxonomy—the love of classification. Have you always had this tendency, or did it develop over time? Does classification have a particular connection to cinema?

Yes, there’s nothing more fun than classifications or tables. They’re like the outline of a book, or its vocabulary, its glossary. It’s not the essential thing, which comes next, but it’s an indispensable work of preparation. Nothing is more beautiful than the classifications of natural history. The work of Balzac is based on astonishing classifications. Borges suggested a Chinese classification of animals that thrilled Foucault: belonging to the emperor, embalmed, domesticated, edible [cochons de hit], mermaids, and so on. All classifications belong to this style; they are mobile, modifiable, retroactive, boundless, and their criteria vary from instance to instance. Some instances are full, others empty. A classification always involves bringing together things with very different appearances and separating those that are very similar. That is the beginning of the formation of concepts. We sometimes say that “classic,” “romantic,” or “nouveau roman”—even “neorealism”—are insufficient abstractions. I believe that they are in fact valid categories, provided that we trace them to singular symptoms or signs rather than general forms. A classification is always a symptomology. What we classify are signs in order to formulate a concept that presents itself as an event rather than an abstract essence. In this respect, the different disciplines are really signaletic materials [des matieres signaletiques]. Classifications will vary in relation to the materials considered, but they will also coincide according to the variable affinities among materials. Cinema is at the same time a very uncommon material, because it moves and temporalizes the image, and one that possesses a great affinity with other materials: pictorial, musical, literary…. We must understand cinema not as language, but as signaletic material.

For example, I’m attempting a classification of light in the cinema. There is light as an impassive physical milieu whose composition creates white, a kind of Newtonian light that you find in American cinema and maybe in another way in Antonioni. Then there is the light of Goethe [la lumiere goetheenne], which acts as an indivisible force that clashes with shadows and draws things out of it (one thinks of expressionism, but don’t Ford and Welles belong to this tradition as well?). Yet another light stands out for its encounter with white, rather than with shadows, this time a white of principal opacity (that’s another quality of Goethe that occurs in the films of von Sternberg). There is also a light that doesn’t stand out for its composition or its kind of encounter but because of its alternation, by its production of lunar figures (this is the light of the prewar French school, notably Epstein and Gremillon, perhaps Rivette today; it’s close to the concepts and practices of Delauney). The list shouldn’t stop here because it’s always possible to create new events of light; we see this, for example, in Godard’s Passion. In the same way, one can create an open classification of cinematic space. One can distinguish organic or encompassing spaces (in the western, but also in Kurosawa, who adds immense amplitude to the encompassing space); functional lines of the universe (the neowestern, but Mizoguchi above all); the flat spaces of Losey—banks, bluffs, plateaus that allowed him to discover Japanese space in his last two films; disconnected spaces with undetermined junctions, in the style of Bresson; empty spaces, as in Ozu or Antonioni; stratigraphic spaces that are defined by what they cover up, to the point that we “read” the space, as in the Straubs’ work; the topological spaces of Resnais … and so on. There are as many spaces as there are inventors. Light and spaces combine in very different ways. In all these instances, one sees that these classifications of light or space belong to the cinema yet nonetheless refer to other domains, such as science or art, Newton or Delauney—domains that will take them in another order, in other contexts and relations, and in other divisions.


There is a “crisis” regarding the concept of the cinematic auteur. Current discourse about the cinema might go as follows: “There are no more auteurs, everyone is an auteur, and all of them get on our nerves.”

Right now many forces are trying to deny any distinction between the commercial and the creative. The more that we deny this distinction, the more we consider ourselves clever, understanding, and “in the know.” In fact, we are only betraying one of the demands of capitalism: rapid turnover. When advertisers explain that advertisements are the poetry of the modern world, they shamelessly forget that no real art tries to create or exhibit a product in order to correspond to the public’s expectations. Advertising can shock or try to shock because it responds to an alleged expectation. The opposite of this is art produced from the unexpected, the unrecognized, the unrecognizable. There is no commercial art: that’s nonsense. There are popular arts, of course. There are also art forms that require some amount of financial investment; there is a commerce of art, but no commercial art. What complicates everything is that the same form serves the creative and the commercial. We already see this in book publishing: the same material format is used for both Harlequins and Tolstoy. If you compare a great novel and a best-seller, the bestseller will always win in a market of quick turnover, or worse, the best-seller will aspire to the qualities of the great novel, holding it hostage. This is what happens in television, where aesthetic judgment becomes “that’s tasty,” like a snack, or “that’s too bad,” like a penalty in soccer. It’s a promotion from the bottom, an alignment of all literature with mass consumption. “Auteur” is a function that refers to artwork (and under other circumstances, to crime). There are other just as respectable names for other types of producers, such as editor, programmer, director, producer … Those who say that “there are no more auteurs today” suggest that they would have been able to recognize those of yesterday, at a time when they were still unknown. That’s very arrogant. No art can thrive without the existence of a double sector, without the still relevant distinction between commercial and creative.

Cahiers did a great deal to establish this distinction in the cinema itself and to show what it means to be an auteur of films (even if the field also consists of producers, editors, publicity agents, etc.). Paini recently said some interesting things about all this. Today, people think they are clever by denying the distinction between the commercial and the creative: that’s because they have an interest in doing so. Every [truly creative piece of] work, even a short one, implies a significant undertaking or a long internal duration [une longue duree interne] (it’s no great undertaking, for instance, to recount recollections of one’s family). A work of art always entails the creation of new spaces and times (it’s not a question of recounting a story in a well-determined space and time; rather, it is the rhythms, the lighting, and the space-times themselves that must become the true characters).
A work should bring forth the problems and questions that concern us rather than provide answers. A work of art is a new syntax, one that is much more important than vocabulary and that excavates a foreign language in language. Syntax in cinema amounts to the linkages and relinkages of images, but also the relation between sound and the visual image. If one had to define culture, one could say that it doesn’t consist in conquering a difficult or abstract discipline, but in perceiving that works of art are much more concrete, moving, and funny than commercial products. In creative works there is a multiplication of emotion, a liberation of emotion, and even the invention of new emotions. This distinguishes creative works from the prefabricated emotions of commerce. You see this, oddly, in Bresson and Dreyer, who are masters of a new kind of comedy. Of course, the question of auteur cinema assures the distribution of existing films, films that can’t compete with the commercial cinema, because they require another kind of duration. But auteurism also makes the creation of new films possible. In this sense, maybe cinema isn’t capitalist enough. There are financial circuits of very different lengths; the long term, the medium term, and the short term have to be distinguishable in cinematographic investment. In science, capitalism has been able to acknowledge the importance of fundamental research now and then.


Your book contains a thesis that appears “scandalous,” that opposes everything written about cinema and that precisely concerns the time-image. Cinematic analysis has always argued that in a film, despite the presence of flashbacks, dreams, memories, or even anticipatory scenes, no matter what time is evoked, movement is enacted before you in the present. But you assert that the cinematic image isn’t in the present.

That’s funny, because it seems obvious to me that the image is not in the present. What the image “represents” is in the present, but not the image itself. The image itself is an ensemble of time relations from the present which merely flows, either as a common multiple, or as the smallest divisor. Relations of time are never seen in ordinary perception, but they are seen in the image, as long as it is a creative one. The image renders time relations —relations that can’t be reduced to the present—sensible and visible. For example, an image shows a man walking along a riverbank in a mountain region; in this image there are at least three coexistent “durations,” three rhythms. The relation of time is the coexistence of durations in the image, which has nothing to do with the present, that is, what the image represents. In this sense, Tarkovsky challenges the distinction between edit and shot, because he defines cinema by the “pressure of time” in the shot. It’s obvious if we consider examples: a still life in Ozu, a traveling shot in Visconti, and depth of field in Welles. On the level of the represented, it’s an immobile bicycle, a car, or a man traveling in space. But from the point of view of the image, Ozu’s still life is the form of time that doesn’t change, even though everything changes within it (the relation of that which is in time with time). In the same way, Sandra’s car in Visconti’s film (Sandra) is embedded in the past, and we see it at the same time as she travels through space in the present. It has nothing to do with a flashback or with memory, because memory is only that which was once present, whereas the character in the image is literally embedded in the past, or emerges from the past. As a general rule, once a space ceases to be “Euclidean,” once space is created—as in Ozu, Antonioni, and Bresson—space no longer contains those characteristics associated with previously accepted relations of time. Resnais is certainly one of the auteurs for whom the image is least in the present, because the image in Resnais’s films depends entirely on the coexistence of heterogeneous durations. The variation of relations of time is the very subject of Je t’aime, je t’aime, independent of any flashbacks. What is false continuity, or the disjunction between speaking and seeing in the films of the Straubs or Marguerite Duras, or even the feathery [plumeux] screen of Resnais, or the black or white cuts of Garrell? On each occasion, it’s “a little time in its pure state,” and not in the present. The cinema doesn’t reproduce bodies, it produces them with grains that are the grains of time. When it is said that cinema is dead, it’s especially stupid, because the cinema is at the very beginning of an exploration of audiovisual relations, which are relations of time and which completely renew its relationship with music. Television remains inferior because it clings to images in the present. Television renders everything in the present, except when it is directed by great cineasts. The concept of the image in the present only applies to mediocre or commercial images. It’s a completely ready-made and false concept, a kind of fake evidence. To my knowledge, only Robbe-Grillet revitalizes it. But he does so precisely with diabolical malice. That is because he is one of the only auteurs to effectively produce images in the present, but thanks to very complex relations of time unique to him. He is the living proof that such images are difficult to create if one isn’t content with that which is represented. The present is not at all a natural given of the image.

The most significant films of the decade (1970-1980)


By Serge Daney

Originally published as part of the poll ‘Les films marquants de la décennie (1970-1980)’, in Cahiers du cinéma nr. 308, February 1980

* Tristana, Dodeskaden, Parade
* Ici et Ailleurs, Milestones, Einleitung zu Arnold Schoenberg’s Begleitmusik zu einer Lichspielszene
* Im Lauf der Zeit, Boy, Des journées entières dans les arbres
* Salò
* Six fois deux / sur et sous la communication, Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland, La Région centrale

1. The childish pleasure of lists… let’s give in to it. And right away it’s to note that it has been the years 1960-1970 that have been rich, adventurous, generous. And not only in cinema. For these fifteen films of the poor seventies, there must have been fifty in the vibrant sixties. Has cinema become less great? So we whisper.

2. NB Scripta manent, filma incubant. Films only exist in our memory. One should make distinctions: those we declare decisive and those we forget quickly, those we thought we didn’t like because we loved them, those who follow their path in silence, neither reviewed nor well-known, those we think of with tenderness (like we do with people), those we love because we love those who love them (and vice versa), those we almost overlooked, those of which we suspect that we have definitely overlooked them etc.

3. Twelve films plus one, stil unclassifiable, PPP’s Salò. Four times three films. An appearance of logic.

4. First of all, three films at the end of a rich career, made by “great filmmakers” but without anything testamentary or academic about them. Films of men who are free – and playful. Buñuel’s play with the logic of narrativity, Tati’s play with the dissolution of narrativity subjected to the video effect.

5. Three political, leftist (radical and puritan) films, of a decade that hasn’t stopped burying its bodies and coming back from everything. Three films questioning cinema on its political effects. Propaganda (Godard), militancy (Kramer), commitment (Straub). At Cahiers, these films were often fellow travelers, or even like apples for the thirst (but an Arab saying suggests that if it’s a good thing to keep an apple for the thirst, one also has to keep a tooth for the apple…)

6. Three nostalgic films, moving forward while turning backward, eyes turned toward the trodden path, the lost childhood – ours, that of cinema. Three films about space, borders lost territories: empires (Oshima, Wenders), colonies (Duras, creole filmmaker).

7. Three previews, three “flashes” of tomorrow, of what may become of our relation to filmed bodies in the postmodern era (multiplication of media and formats). This body, viewed from too close up (Godard, once more), manipulated (Syberberg), missing (Snow).

Commentaries (in bulk)

8. All these films come from five or six countries. No new “national” cinemas in sight. The heroes of the 1960’s (those poor countries called “third world”) is the great stagnant of the 1960’s. Unequal exchange: the poor countries are also poor in images of themselves.

9. Almost all of the films have had a difficult production, marginal, often paradoxical. This wouldn’t have been the case ten years before (a film as difficult as L’Eclisse was produced in a normal way). We are witnessing an usure of the cinema machine, of the industry’s flight forward, at least there were it still exists, of the disappearance of series (A, B, C, etc.). Consequence: a cinema of prototypes that is not followed up, of “coups” that are not renewable: this the frame in which no experience whatsoever (and even no “métier”) is accumulated.

10. Event of the late seventies: the discovery of Ozu (who died in 1963). We seem to understand something of Ozu, but the cinema machine that has allowed Ozu to work on the same themes for forty years, like a painter, with a popular audience, is behind us. Of which we take note.

11. The crisis of cinema, leitmotiv (as well) of the seventies is always that of the industry. The role of modern cinema (from Rossellini to Godard, from Bresson to resnais) has been to contest – from the inside – a classical model that was supposedly in good health. Today, from all over, resounds a plaintive and embittered cry, nostalgic and vindictive: what have we done with our play toy? Have we broken it? And accusing the Nouvelle Vague of having killed cinema…

12. Does the cinema machine reproduce itself from above or from below? Born on the bottom of the social ladder, cinema has soared: it is gentrified. Film has become a cultural value destined to circulate (the establishment of an industry and mass cultural networks is the big event of the decade) and to be rated. Consequence: framing films by way of discourse and alignement of this discours with that who dominates it: advertising; inadequacy of old specialized magazines (the Cahiers being one of them) who don’t know anymore how to carry out a work which seems to be no longer necessary (waging, judging, selecting). Image of this crisis of criticism: the slew of stars and the rare white squares each week in Pariscope.

13. American vitality. The machine has been able to reproduce itself from below, by way of television and series Z (let’s not forget: Coppola started to work for Corman) and from above (by way of hyper-spectacle and technology).

14. In France, these are the years of advance on revenue + Gaumont. Decline of the idea itself of “production”. We want to save cinema “through the top”, with prestige, culture, authors. Mistake: this leads to the weak Don Giovanni. Pyrrhus victory of the old “politique des auteurs” of the yellow Cahiers: a myriad of young filmmakers – less and less young however – who have only their title as “author” – more or less assisted – as consolation price. Television doesn’t seem to have played its role in the reproduction of the machine. No “factory of filmmakers”, no collective movement.

15. End of the 1970’s; the amateurs of cinema mainly recognize themselves in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Young, urban, educated audience, who suddenly accept to recognise themselves on the screen. Logic of the sociologist. The cinephile becomes a probable comical type.

16. The films of the Nouvelles littéraires type are not bad: they take note of a certain gentrification of taste; In the disposal of embarrassing films, it’s the Positif-taste that wins.

17. For the first time, cinema enters a decade without discourse, without strategy, without flight of prophesy. We are wrong to take this half-heartedness for wisdom. Filmmakers have always had ideas (more or less crazy) on cinema and its future, on the transformation of forms etc.

18. Today the voice of those who continue to think that cinema “is the art of our times” carries less.


Here’s Pascal Bonitzer’s response to the same poll, as found online (edited):

(in no order)
Man of Marble, Perceval le Gallois, Le Diable probablement, Ludwig – Requiem for a Virgin King, The Passenger, Moses und Aron, New York New York, India Song, Conversation Piece, Star Wars, The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting.

One will notice how there are actually eleven films in this list. It is to underline the restrictiveness of this list. A visceral and quasi-inevitable “politique des auteurs” dominates it, and at the same time a futile worry for a distributive justice: I could have easily included Perceval as well as La Marquise d’O…, Le Diable as well as Lancelot du Lac etc., but one had to choose one film per author, to not exclude the others, or to transform this list of ten best films into a list of ten best auteurs. On the other hand, I need to confess, to my shame, of not having seen, for diverse reasons but always bad ones, some films that I believe would be at the top: like American Graffiti (and for this reason I’m including Star Wars), Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, L’Innocente (same thing here so that is why I included New York, New York – which could easily have been replaced by Mean Streets – and Conversation Piece). Finally, there are some films of which I’m surprised myself not to have included on this list, like Amacord, Monsieur Klein, The Other, La Maman et la putain, In the Realm of the Senses, Ici et ailleurs, Ill-Fated Love, Tristana, Nathalie Granger, Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter, but that’s just how it is.

The violence of the gaze


by Johan van der Keuken

Excerpt from a conversation with Robert Daudelin in Cinématheque Quebecoise, Montreal, October 1974.

As a filmmaker, I thus inhabit the world of the image, a world halfway between myself and reality. I believe that, ideally speaking, the film viewer is in a comparable position. For a variety of reasons, we have abandoned the idea of reality as a self-contained entity existing outside and independently of us. So if you don’t wish to take the position of someone watching an external reality from the outside, but rather of someone who is observer and participant at the same time, then you’re facing the problem of how to define yourself as an individual, or how, as an observer, you are to see yourself. Who is the person who makes, and who is the person who sees?

Of course you can not deny that there is subject matter. A film is about very clear things, living conditions, modes of production, power relations. . . . But they are not established facts that you then simply translate into a film. On the contrary, whatever knowledge there is, is acquired by making the film. So there is no point in asking me anything else about the subject matter, since everything I know is already in the film. The film is the result of the learning process. And the learning process, you might say, repeats itself in the viewer. The viewer is to the film what the film is to reality. Reality consists of infinite numbers of images, infinite numbers of lives. And yet there are long passages in my films where hardly anything happens at all, the long shots of the windows at the end of The Spirit of the Time, the long corridor in Diary, the endless observation of three beds in The New Ice Age. To me, those are very important moments, because the film no longer provides information at a “normal” rate, and the viewer is left to his own devices.

He has to realize he is looking at a screen. He has to define his own position. I think the viewer faced with this situation–if and when he is willing to go along with it–is able to acquire a kind of knowledge that differs, in its very essence, from the kind of knowledge acquired in conventional education. There the knowledge comes ready-made from an outside source, whereas here the viewer can go look for it himself by consciously taking a stand with respect to the reality of the film. To me it has to do with the idea of “democracy at the basis,” where everyone occupies an approximately equal position regarding the knowledge available. Knowledge does not come from above, everyone can go for it.

The complete interview (in French) can be found in ‘Voyage à travers les tours d’une spirale‘ (dossiers de la cinématheque Quebecoise nr. 16, 1984)

A Discussion with Johan Van Der Keuken


In conversation with Ron Burnett. Published in Cine-Tracts, Vol. 1, No. 4. (Spring-Summer, 1978)

So much of what you are trying to do in your films is a response to the history of the documentary . . . the way in which the documentary has tried to set up a false window/mirror on the world and presumes itself to be showing what is happening in the reality around us but never really trying to bring out the complexity of what it is showing, never bringing out the political, economic and social context and conjuncture of which it is a part. The window presumes a clarity on the part of the filmmaker, a unified view of the world, a homogeneity, a lack of contradiction — all these are perspectives which I think you are trying to work against. There are two levels at which we perceive you operating. One is at the level of the reality that you are trying to depict and show and the other is a level of discourse in which you try to comment upon and politicize the way reality is understood and seen. We would like to understand how you are affected by what you are filming and how you feel you are affecting, politically, that which you are showing. You are trying to include two sets of complex elements simultaneously in the act of filming, does the history of representation, the history of the documentary, the way television works for example — television news — overwhelm the spectator’s capacity to recognize the level of critique which you are trying to construct?

In Springtime, the economist Claude Ménard plays a crucial part. The documentary for me is only part of what I am trying to do. I am trying to account for a thinking process. The portrait of Claude Ménard is a double process: my inquiry into a certain set of problems and his self-reflexive attempt to formulate an answer to these problems. Film as a finished product only presents, the strongest stages, the most effective moments, of a long process; that is, it puts together strong points, and this does not allow for insight into the whole itinerary. Claude Ménard’s interview-section in the film contains moments of uncertainty, where you may feel that he is not in the right setting perhaps, but I include that uncertainty so that the spectator may see where the whole process comes from — mine and his. Everytime I watch Springtime with an audience I get tense because I don’t know if it works, whether or not people will accept this intrusion on their normal viewing
experience. Audiences expect results, polish, they cannot accept weak phases in a product. This is where the history and ideology of representation is so strong. To me it was important to evolve the process and go through these uncertain phases and try and give them a place in any discussion of the film.

Shouldn’t the audience be allowed to have that desire for a finished product?

That depends on the phase you are in yourself as a filmmaker and for me it changes from film to film. Springtime brought resistance when it was shown on T.V. and in the Cinémathèque in Holland, but my next film was well-received. All my films have breaks within them to try and alert the audience to the fact someone, in this case a filmmaker, is presenting them with a point of view but the images also have to touch the audience.

Do you try and provide the audience with tools to unravel the ideology of the documentary? Or do you think that it is the way that the film structures its meaning, frames its enunciations that determines the unraveling? In The Palestinians there are a lot of events presented in terms similar to what we might see on television. How do you try and make the audience understand that what you are doing is a construct — your construct — and not just an objective representation of reality? Is there a means within the film itself for understanding the woman who stands besides her bombed out house for examp le? (ed. note : there is a crucial scene in the film during which the camera examines a bombed out house in Lebanon; we see some older women crying and moaning, they talk of having once lived in a house that is now rubble; the shot is a relatively conventional one and seems derived from cinéma-vérité.)

From one film to another you may even diametrically change your own point of view. I feel there is a strong theme of unity between my films. In fact I sometimes get the feeling that I am doing the same thing in all my films! Always the same story, but taken in different directions, from different viewpoints, and even different viewpoint inside my self . . . although each new film starts at a point opposite from the last one. My film on the Palestinians was responding to the immediacy of the situation and was therefore less concerned with itself at the level of self-reflexivity. And this is an important moral choice and perhaps also an important political choice. Whereas in Springtime it seemed necessary to be outspoken thematically and restrict feeling, in The Palestinians there was certain need to make the film available to a specific group of people . . . the committee in support of the Palestinian cause in Holland. . .a country by the way that has never understood its guilt as being a major cause in its lack of understanding about the Palestinians. . . a guilt, the result of Holland’s policies during the Second World War …

With The Palestinians the play between the representation and what is being shown, between the filmmaker seeing and reproducing, is now shifting to the level of politcal utility. What is the utility of these images in relation to the overall Palestinian situation? Can you ever escape the problems of representation, that is, fictionalizing every situation you enter into?

I fictionalize in order to arrive at truth. In Springtime you have people speaking. There is the pretension of truth — because that is the commitment of the filmmaker — to go and see these people, listen to them talk etc. . . . I cannot guarantee that what they are saying is true but I can establish relationships between the people speaking. In this way I try to create a comprehensive framework for the different speeches. But where the framework is brought in the use of the means is made clear. I mentioned, in relation to The Palestinians that at the beginning of the film there is a photo of an old Jew in the Ghetto. I had each frame printed five times. It is on the screen for two minutes with a small text and phase-like music. I think that this in itself goes against the ethos of the documentary tradition. Here the image is totally flat, it cannot deliver more information than it did at first glance. So you are presented with an image that empties itself out so to speak, and the text that is spoken by me has the characteristic of being a text spoken by a person. I think that in this way you establish a very different relationship to the documentary. It is quite clear that the photo is not there for two minutes to prove anything. It only gives a material basis, an image and a text to the spectator. It also leaves things open, it leaves things unsaid which the spectator can fill in and which establish a framework in which the more truly recorded elements find their place. Also, what I have tried to do in The Palestinians with the commentary was never to present commentary as such over a determined action but to make a separate place for the commentary, so that it would speak over the more aesthetic, passive elements in the film — not dynamic elements. In this way the commentary itself would never interfere with the action itself. In the whole construction (but I think this is more hidden to the audience) there is one important aspect on the level of the didactics of the film, that is, that all the things which are said to people by people somehow refer to spots in the general commentary. The schoolmaster goes over the history of Palestine, the coming of the Jews and the policy of the British — this all reflects back to a commentary spoken much earlier in the film. So you have different angles, mine which is fictional in a way (and the fiction becomes fiction because this guy is telling the same things out of his practice) — the understanding of what is happening is quite different from my enumeration of these facts, or supposed facts in a commentary, which never coincides with an image. The image is a limited set of stock shots which have been designated by a printing process and which are repeated, and to some extent do away with the historical or supposed historical chronology…. I think these are some tools which may enable an audience to see that here there is no pretense to a claim to history or authenticity.

The very crucial difference between The Palestinians and the films that I did before is that with a subject like The Palestinians your moving space is much smaller. In a more pretentious film there is an element of play — the game between the filmmaker and every spectator which is much more in the forefront than the documentary content itself. In The Palestinians the element of play is at a less powerful level than the element of direct speech by the people concerned — and that is a moral choice. It is important to talk of reality in terms of relationships and not just facts. Normally they would be formal relationships, but here the form has shifted in some senses to the content — so that they become relationships of content. So the film has to deliver a set of relationships to the audience which make sense and I think that at that level the film works. As a film it is not authoritarian. It is not saying to the audience, you have been misinformed, this is the way it is. But it brings out a set of more or less disconnected images in a certain structure/construction of relationships and an audience can make sense, or get a certain tone out of it. That’s more important than what is being told exactly. Because I believe that lists of facts — and this is my experience when I see documentary films — are useless, hard to remember. But an overall image stays. To be able to communicate what is happening you have to downplay the facts somewhat to get people to realize that they are looking at a construct; the construct is there and if the spectator is interested or aware, he will see the constructs.

The problem of how you establish the overall tone . . . The desire on the part of many political filmmakers has been to collapse the multiplicity of meanings that are possible or desirable in imagery into one flat directed statement so that all the complexities which make up the process of coming to an understanding of something — all of the complexities making up the process of looking at a moment in history and trying to understand it — all that is collapsed into what appears to be a pure statement of and about reality. And that bind, the political filmmakers bind of, in the one instance wanting in one or two hours to convince an audience of something which has perhaps taken the filmmaker himself or herself many years to arrive at — that desire to completely obliterate all the mediators is a dangerous desire because it is ultimately a desire to objectify the audience.

In The Palestinians the aesthetic is fully there. It is not being collapsed. It is more hidden, more subdued perhaps, but this has to do with a feeling towards the outside world you are dealing with. It is not the result of a calculation towards the audience but it is more or less an intuitive reaction towards the people and the reality in front of the camera . . . formal play should be there to help the communication but a film like The Palestinians is not the arena for me to discover and play with the aesthetic questions.

The Palestinians, by Johan van der Keuken… par medicitv

The tradition of the documentary can be turned around to work in your favour. One has to get away from over-emphasizing the actual effect of the aesthetic and begin to understand that there is a play between the aesthetic and between the history of the conventions of the documentary and a play between what is being represented and the history of representations. It is still possible as a result of the medium itself to use the power of duplication in a positive and political manner. To move too far to the other side has its dangers to, which is that one can over-emphasize, fetishize the way the aesthetic is operating and the way the medium is determining the enunciation. This can dilute the powerful effects that the tradition of the documentary film has had. And it is within that effect, that tradition, that one begins to change the rules of the game. But it can only be done to a point. It can’t be shifted entirely. It’s a really difficult problem. If you negate it entirely you end up with a film which is essentially incapable of moving beyond a limited group of people. If you shift it too much the other way you end up with a collapsing of all the mediators. In between these two poles is the place to be, but not to try and become fetishistic about the necessity of keeping the representation visible as representation all the time.

Whether or not it is possible, with The Palestinians you are faced with making a moral choice . . . Le film ne peut jamais dépasser le public. . . . The film can never get over reality. We can never make a better model than the realities that we are faced with. If we put form as a strong fence before the screen, in front of the audience, we still put it as a fence that shows the audience and ultimately ourselves as ourselves — our own limits of perception. This is also a moral choice. With The Palestinians we had to open up the possibility of perception to people who, up until that point were closed to any communication with anything that had to do with Palestinians. On the level of the écriture of the film, what is very strong are the images of the airplanes, machine-like and unnaturalistic. This image, cannot, within a certain style of writing of a film, be directly connected with the scenes that follow, where people tell how they have been bombed out etc. The truth of people’s speeches is almost naively accepted. I came here to take in what they had to say. It was a primary relationship. But the whole thing in its working, its mechanism as a dramatic representation is questioned by the shots of the airplane in black and white, while the other scenes are in colour. Many people in any given audience, are not consciously looking at what they see, concepts are linked up in the mind of the audience such that the planes are associated with bombing the people. What we deconstruct the audience reconstructs. On the level of what is there materially, you have two realities which on the one hand flow over, one into another and on the other hand are strongly separated from each other. I think these are the tools we use to make clear what we want to do. We came to take in what they (the Palestinians) had to say and not to question whether or not the bombed-out kitchen was in fact the kitchen of the woman showing it to us . . . and that framework in which we organized all these images remains the framework of a conjecture. . . . At times the film is on a more far away level which permits us to see the images which come most strongly towards us in another perspective. It can never be a game which is played, a game of signs or of interpretation of signs which can be separate from our particular attitude towards the subject matter at a given moment.

The way we experience films, or the forms of films that we have seen, particularly in the documentary tradition, is that the flow of rhythms generally speaking, is very difficult to contradict, mainly because even if one is conscious in the making (of a film) of a series of relationships of écriture, that the viewing somehow seems to collapse difference into unity, collapse obvious contradiction into homogeneity and so forth . . . and the problem then rises to another level which is: is it possible to build into the structure of relationships enough of a space, a gap between those relationships so that homogeneity is impossible to arrive at as a spectator? It is not now a question of aesthetics, it is now a question of the politics of communication. If the rhythm of the relationships ends up nevertheless generating unity, then the capacity to recognize it as text for example is lessened, the capacity to recognize the profundity of the work which has gone into generating difference; each coupe is pushed to the side. It is a question that political filmmakers have been struggling with for a long time. And it seems fundamental to film because in the theater at least you can open up those spaces, you can generate that silence, the silence that you try to generate for example in parts of The Palestinians, with the scene around the campfire . . . the moment of silence, which is one of the gaps that we are looking for. (Ed. note: the scene being described has the camera circling a group of Palestinians as they silently eat and rest around a campfire. . . the camera focuses in on their gestures, looks and reactions to each other . . . not a word is exchanged.) But that gap has to be a constant part of the way in which the film enunciates itself, so that it becomes a primary element of the enunciation, as important as the images of the reality being shown.

In response to what was said about silence: to me the silences are there in all my films. If I were able to take all my films some of these silences would be inescapable. Spectators are not accustomed to seeing films which are either silent or contain moments of silence within them. They are unaccustomed to hearing themselves breathe. What happens in front of a piece of silent film is that the audience becomes present again. You go into an inner space somehow by observing the outward appearance of someone in silence. The spectator who is willing to get into it has to project his own feelings into this silent image. It is a silence which represents a possible level of content — of what was already there. Before, I used to use silence in a kind of academic way, and at a certain moment you could state it as a problem of “lecture” — of the presence of a text. But it can also be the statement that goes beyond the overall communication of the film. For me, and this might be a false hope or a false justification, but I now experience it a small step to maturity that I don’t need to make statements separate or apart from the situations I am in. I don’t have to proclaim any philosophy over the heads of the palestinians for example, and Springtime is the most rigorous cut-back of left-over aesthetic, and may be even too much of a cutback. But I can always broaden up in the next film. There were weak moments in certain discourses, Claude Ménard’s for example where I felt the most tension between the fullness of what he has to say and the weak moments before he can say it . . . this is the same dialectic: fullness and emptiness, sound and silence. There the silence is not really silence but maybe a defect, something missing which might be filled in. With regard to the second part of the comment that you made if you could have the same thoughts expressed by someone who had an outward distance towards the role of the person — an actor for example — I’m not sure but I think that the portraits were more or less successful in that each person revealed himself through the process — again Ménard is a good example: In the beginning he is a person who is out of touch with his surroundings, he is pretty much an actor on the wrong stage, and you feel uneasy. Is this guy going to tell me how society functions? And then I think by the third day, he picks up a certain rhythm when he is bringing together different ideas and speculations he develops a certain type of continuity. I used to think of this part of the film as the situation of an actor really getting into his role and finally finding the right approach to that role. This ties into what I feel about the fiction of the documentary. Once he has found his rhythm, then the play of angles of the camera becomes very natural with respect to what he is doing — and the music kicks him in the ass from time to time. Further on I ask him a question and he gets a bit angry. It’s what we needed. These things are not predictable but they put the whole fiction as it were in its place. There is a shot of a cradle which turns out to be an advertising billboard in the street — one moment you are in one space — a huge image of a cradle — and suddenly the noise of the street breaks in. Once more we perceive the poster but this time we perceive it to be convex — it is not flat — it is convex. This also represents the different possibilities of the different degrees of reality of one single image. In Springtime each portrait was located in a definite space mostly enclosed ones. With Ménard a certain void or barrier was part of the portrait, as it was part of the portrait of the German girl. In Springtime you have compartments, there is a kind of overflow of meaning; the earlier stages of the film may seem the more insecure or weaker parts, but as they become retrospective, they work.

Springtime, Three Portraits par medicitv

There is a lyricism which seems to pervade all of your films, a lyricism born out of passion/conviction. It is more sometimes than what the film is trying to say . . . what is the specific kind of relationship which you want to establish with your audience?

What can I say about the level of meaning? To me it is hard to talk about . . . why would a piece of music move you? A marxist analysis is the most valid tool for understanding . . . to talk about reality . . . why is a painting, a song, a film, to some extent understandable to so many people? Another thing about my work, is that I find reality or the experience of life very bewildering. I think that the activity of making films is also the need to create some kind of order in all of this and to find some entry into reality, ways of understanding. Sometimes this happens more on an intellectual sometimes more on the level of intuition. . . or of construction. For me the element of construction is very strong, whether it be the verbal approach or let’s say, relationships of connotation or expected meaning. All that works together to make a construction. The experience of time has always been important to me.

What I am striving for in Filmmaker’s Holiday for example, as far as I am concerned as a person is to get to something which will explain the relativistic aspects of my life. On that level the problem is to have this possibility of relativity without stopping to speak socially — which is also a conflict. Because if you take a stand politically or socially you cannot afford relativity too often. On the other hand it is true that in the development of the individual he should acquire a certain degree of relativity in order to develop or see. Showing a clock is a matter of relativity. Putting it there and seeing that it is only a clock — and in between having the joy of speculation as to what it might mean. Also it’s fun. We shouldn’t forget that an element of play is important even in the most serious of subjects.

I want to see film aesthetics as a relative thing. If I have an aesthetic it functions in a relative way. It is a set of relationships — but as related to outside reality, its quite relative too. This is the core of the matter. The problem is not to annihilate yourself when you are confronted with ugly reality, but sometimes accept the fact that you do not have the power to solve all the problems — or make all the relationships come off. Paradoxically, my main problem as a filmmaker is to overcome the fact that for an audience acceptance of what the filmmaker is saying is fundamental to their experience of the film.

The Filmmaker's Holiday, by Johan van der… par medicitv

That is the bind that Godard got into, which is in evidence in much of his work of the early seventies — the bind of the recognition of the contradiction and yet the desire to suppress that contradiction for the audience. Part of the whole process has to be not fearing the visibility of that contradiction for the audience. For example, in Numéro Deux there is an intensity in the way in which he begins to try and talk about the media, about film, which in one sense becomes demagogic. He seems unable to avoid it and yet he is trying to move away from it. The demagogic becomes a way of continuously re-affirming one’s own statements, of validating one’s, premises. . . .

I saw Numéro Deux as being of the utmost honesty and modesty trying to show what was going wrong with western capitalism.

It seemed more complex than that, in which the image ceases to be an image and becomes a series of signs. Each inner frame is its own sign, becomes its own symbolic expression, its own system of meaning, inter-related to the others but now separate, possibly read as separate, possibly read as part of. . . and that complexity doesn’t deal with the fact that the audience is placed in a difficult position. You have the overall frame operating as a meaning and in it is an implicit narrative; and then you have the subdivisions of the frame which begin to comment on the narrative and comment on the framing itself of the narrative. Then you have the double exposures and the splitscreen which comment on the relationship of exterior and interior space — the relationship of meaning to expression. You have all these things happening, and guiding all if it is the relationship of the typewriter to the written word-langue-parole. It was hard to see within all that how Godard was attempting to make contradiction evident and obvious. It seemed that he wanted to, in a sense, come to a statement as fully as possible, and even though it is the play of a puzzle, it ultimately becomes too powerful.

I still felt that the fragmentation was stronger than the unity of the whole construction . . . the point that he couldn’t get it together was to me the strongest impression. . . the relationships were there but they were breaking off at the same time.

In regards to Filmmaker’s Holiday, I wonder if it is possible to recover the purity of one’s own experience — my experience of making the film is now in the past but my seeing the film recovers the past — and recreates it, constantly negating to generate a new present — this for me is fundamental to film.

Yes, in fact no political film can expect to interact with an audience without dealing with the circuit of exchange of memory and the present. Subjective history is a part of the film both in the filmmaker and in the spectator.

I was looking at it from another angle which is complimentary. Film is completely different in different contexts. Some French critics found Filmmaker’s Holiday to be the example of what my work was about. Dutch audiences were very touched by it. A kind of relief operated, as if to say, he can also be like this. This seemed to be a response to what a lot of people consider the lack of subjectivity in political film…. You can only be objective if you include the subjective moment. Claude Ménard in front of the window is a moment of subjectivity during which I cut in to say, well I’m here too. . . . . I interfere with his speech. I flatten him out literally! The same goes for the use of music . . . someone watching the film once said, Hey someone is playing a piano in the other room! That is the effect. I did go out of the room and play piano, metaphorically. . . . In Filmmaker’s Holiday I ultimately appear as a middle class person — given to middle class pleasures — going out on holiday in more or less touristic setting. I think it is important to show this because it is an important level of my existence . . . it influences what I say elsewhere. . . to negate it would be to negate that level of my films which is always defined by an absence.



“In surveys of the economic situation one is very seldom confronted with the effect it has on the individual, on his perceptions and emotions. I wanted to give a personal dimension to this rather abstract economic situation, which is often perceived by the public as a kind of natural phenomenon. I wanted to show how isolation and loneliness, inherent to our production system, make themselves more painfully felt in a period of crisis.

In the films which I have made over the past few years, the problems caused by the prevailing economic system, capitalism, are shown in a world-wide perspective. In this film Springtime I wanted to see things on a smaller scale and look more closely at a few characters within the somewhat more homogenous society of Western Europe. Without neglecting the cultural differences in this smaller field, I wanted to show that the contrasts between rich and poor, between powerful and powerless, though they may be much smaller in absolute terms, also lay a great strain on the people. . . .

While in most of my films I have used the image and spatial sound as driving forces, in the present film I have mainly worked on the basis of the spoken word. In my view anything can serve as the basis or material for a filmic composition: in this case words.

Thus in Springtime we have five characters, each in his own surroundings. Three Dutchmen and two foreigners, three workers and two intellectuals; together they make an overall picture that could be endlessly enlarged. Technically it is not without interest that I was doing the interviews while holding the camera. But while I was working in this very direct manner I wasn’t out to take reality by surprise. I was rather trying to construct a viewpoint through a series of definite visual compositions that were found spontaneously: a kind of instant shooting script, between vérité and fiction.”