Yearly Archives: 1980

A Lesson in Modesty: Speaking with Alain Resnais

From the Soho News (December 23, 1980). — J.R.

“This film was made in violent contrast to Citizen Kane,” François Truffaut once wrote of The Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles’ second feature, “almost as if by another filmmaker who detested the first and wanted to give him a lesson in modesty.” In comparable fashion, Alain Resnais — a rationalist surrounded by surrealist nightmares — has often described some of his films as being made in reaction (and contradistinction) to the ones that preceded them.

Thus the subjective, highly mobile camera of the apolitical Last Year at Marienbad (1961) was countered by the objective, stationary camera setups and political contexts of Muriel (1963). And similarly, the proliferating dreamlike fictions and Lovecraftian enchantments of Providence (1977) have led to the documentary, demonstration-style demeanor and scientific wit of Mon Oncle d’Amérique (1980), his latest film — a movie that also attempts to combine elements from his nonfiction shorts and previous fictional features.

It’s been seven years since I last interviewed Resnais — on a soundstage at Epinay-sur-Seine, a Parisian suburb where he was shooting Stavisky… Greeting him recenty at his Park Lane suite, I still found him almost awesomely handsome at 58, and no less delicate, modest, and cordial in his manner, despite a continuing shyness that he has come some distance in mastering.… Read more »


This intemperate outburst — possibly written at some point during my stint at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the mid-80s, but far more likely written closer to the book’s publication date (1979), perhaps when I was still living in San Diego — was wisely and tactfully rejected by Chick (Ernest) Callenbach when I submitted it to Film Quarterly. (He added, as I recall, by way of explanation, that Film Quarterly tended to be a “friendly” publication.) Had I written it while I was at Santa Barbara, it would have probably been motivated in part by the fact that the late Frank McConnell (1942-1999) was far and away the most popular English professor at the university. But I’m pretty sure that my objections to his book were textual and ideological rather than personal — even if I later grumpily reflected that his popularity at UCSB was partly predicated on his uncanny capacity to both validate and extravagantly flatter not only whatever was most popular at the time, but also (it seemed) whatever his students said during his lectures, no matter how ill-informed or inane.Read more »