Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Aimless Reading: Anthologies, Part 2 (Cahiers du Cinema)

Cahiers du Cinema
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hillier, Jim, ed.
Cahiers du Cinema: The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave

I bought this online several years ago. It's a selection of essays from the first decade of Cahiers du Cinema, the film journal where most of the directors of the French New Wave began their careers as film critics. It contains essays by Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette, Bazin, Rohmer, Moullet, et al.

I used this anthology to discover some of the films of the French New Wave, and also to compile a list of other films worth watching. Even the films the New Wavers hated tend to be great in some way or another. If you happen to be hanging around a lot of film snobs, it can also provide a fine gloss to their vocabulary. All the essays that gave rise to terms like mise en scene and auteur are contained in this book.

It's remarkable how much impact Cahiers du Cinema has had. The films they talk about have become a kind of academic film canon, and the terms under which these films are discussed have not changed all that much in 50 years. A little depressing, I guess, or maybe evidence of strong ideas?

I'd like to read it again, as I think I have now seen all the films discussed in these essays, as well as most of the films by the directors of the French New Wave.

(Note to self: reread this book, taking into account the years of accumulated cultural knowledge that have accrued since you last read it, and give thanks that Netflix exists.)

Here's a snatch of Chabrol's discussion of Hitchcock's Rear Window:

In its first few minutes Rear Window presents us with an assembly of rabbit hutches, each of them completely separate and observed from another closed, incommunicable, rabbit hutch. From there it is obviously just a step, made with difficulty, to the conclusion that the behavior of the rabbits is, or should be, the object of attention, since in fact there is nothing to contradict this interpretation of the elements before us. We merely have to acknowledge that the study of this behavior is carried out by a rabbit essentially no different from the others. Which leads to the notion of a perpetual shift between the real behavior of the rabbits and the interpretation that the observer-rabbit gives of it, ultimately the only one communicated to us, since any break or choice in the continuity of this behavior, a continuity multiplied by the number of hutches observed, is imposed upon us. While the observer-rabbit is himself observed with a total objectivity, for example that of a camera which restricts itself to the observer's hutch, we are obliged to acknowledge that all the other hutches and all the rabbits in them are the sum of a multiple distortion produced from the hutch and by the rabbit which is objectively, or directly, presented.

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