My interview with Alain Resnais in New York in December 1980 yielded three separate articles, written for Soho News, American Film, and Omni. This is an unedited draft of the latter; I can’t recall now whether or not it was ever published in some form, but I think it probably wasn’t. The other two, which were published, are posted elsewhere on this site, here and here. -– J.R.
From the 42nd floor of Manhattan’s elegant Park Lane Hotel, where French director Alain Resnais has been holding court, Central Park in the winter looks remote and unfamiliar, like the terrain of another planet. It resembles Resnais’ unexpected smash hit Mon Oncle d’Amérique -– a unique, original blend of art and science –- by resisting precise description almost as confidently as it invites contemplation and wonder. And if the angle of vision that helps to account for this strangeness faintly suggests the vantage point of an amused yet saturnine deity, gazing down almost nostalgically, something of the same ambiance seems to inform the relation of the 58-year-old Resnais to his haunting comedy.
A master director who’s also a master of indirection -– always electing to tell a story in a different offbeat manner -– Resnais has never scripted any of his own features, But all of them are unmistakably personal reflections, generally about the past.… Read more »
Commisssioned by the bilingual, semi-annual Spanish journal Found Footage Magazine for their second issue, published in April 2016.
One good reason for reposting this essay now is that Thom Andersen recently read it for the first time and has pointed out a few errors. I’ve added his comments as a postscript. — J.R.
The rapidly and constantly expanding proliferation of films and videos about cinema is altering some of our notions about film history in at least two significant ways. For one thing, now that it has become impossible for any individual to keep abreast of all this work, our methodologies for assessing it as a whole have to be expanded and further developed. And secondly, insofar as one way of defining work in cinematic form and style that is truly groundbreaking is to single out work that defines new areas of content, the search for such work is one of the methodologies that might be most useful. In my case, this is a search that has led to considerations of two recent videos, Mark Rappaport’s 33-minute I, Dalio—or The Rules of the Game (2014) and Thom Andersen’s 108-minute The Thoughts That Once We Had (2015). Both are highly personal works that also define relatively new areas of on-film film analysis, forms of classification that can be described here as indexing (in this case, indexing and commenting on the career of a French character actor, Marcel Dalio) and taxonomy (in this case, illustrating portions of a taxonomy offered by a French writer, Gilles Deleuze, as applied to a partial and idiosyncratic yet fairly comprehensive history of cinema). … Read more »
From Film Comment (July-August 1999). I’ve done a light edit, trimming part of my original conclusion. It’s worth adding that at least two additional pieces about this film have recently turned up on the Internet — a new essay by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (the first part of an ongoing series) and a detailed account by the late Gilbert Adair that was originally published in 1987, not long after Affaires Publiques was rediscovered in Paris.
I apologize for the poor quality of most of the illustrations from Bresson’s short film, which are the best that I could find. — J.R.
Ten years ago, I flew all the way from Chicago to the San Francisco Film Festival for a weekend to see Robert Bresson’s first film, which had been discovered in incomplete form at the Cinémathèque Française, bearing the title Béby Inauguré. Shorn of three of its musical numbers and now totaling 23 minutes, this rather elaborate piece of slapstick and surrealist tomfoolery was written and directed by Bresson and released in 1934, a full nine years before shooting started on his first feature, Les Anges du péché, and I had been hearing about it for years as an irretrievably lost curiosity.… Read more »
From Film Comment (March-April 1974). — J.R.
December 7: To enter the sound stage at Epinay-sur-Seine, a Parisian suburb where Alain Resnais is working on his new film about Alexandre Stavisky, you have to go through a heavy door that resembles the entrance to a bank vault, where you’re promptly greeted by Alexandre, a friendly dog who seems to be serving as the crew’s mascot (a younger dog named Sacha figures in the cast). Continuing past Alexandre, you weave your way through a labyrinth of construction that eventually resolves itself into a gargantuan neo-Lubitsch set comprising Stavisky’s office complex — a rather awesome 1933 décor the size of a country house that took forty people a month to build, even though it’ll only be used for a relatively short part of the film.
It’s the kind of set you can get lost in, with multiple exits and three separate stairways leading off of a giant central conference room with golden chandeliers, a large semi-circular table, light-green walls, tall windows with pink drapes, and no ceiling; a set where long hallways on the second landing go past doors that open on nothing, and members of the lighting crew move about in obscure corners carrying equipment and muttering to themselves.… Read more »
From Film Comment, November 1974. I suspect that one factor that may have kept me from scanning and posting this column until now, at least in its complete form, is my dissenting view of CHINATOWN and WHAT?, even before the former became fully canonized as Holy Writ. -– J.R.
Moving across the Channel, a profound difference in the cinematic climate becomes immediately apparent. How could it be otherwise, considering that the lifestyles that go with each city are so strikingly antithetical? Paris is all adrenalin and shiny surfaces, hard-edged and brittle and eternally abstract, the capital of paranoia (cf. Rivette) and street spectacle (cf. Tati), where café tables become orchestra seats as soon as the weather gets warm — the city where everyone loves to stare. London is just the reverse, a soft-centered cushion of comfort where trust and accommodation make for a slower, saner, and ostensibly less shrill mode of existence: relatively concrete and prosaic, more spit and less polish, a city more conducive to eccentricity than lunacy. Relatively speaking, London isn’t a movie town. It’s considerably easier to go out to films in Paris and to be more selective about what one sees, because the area is smaller and the action tends to be more concentrated.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 22, 1999). For my earlier take on this film, written when it was released in London, go here. — J.R.
The Mother and the Whore
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed and written by Jean Eustache
With Jean-Pierre Leaud, Francoise Lebrun, Bernadette Lafont, Isabelle Weingarten, Jacques Renard, Jean Douchet, and Jean-Noel Picq.
I have a friend who had a wonderful idea: he wanted to have his right hand amputated. Very seriously. Went to see a surgeon, said, ‘How much does it cost, I’m ready to pay.’ He wanted to have a porcelain hand made to replace it. And in his home, in a room, in the very center of the room, to place his real hand in formaldehyde, with a plaque reading, ‘My hand, 1940-1972’. And people would come to visit, like they’d go to an exhibit.
— Alexandre in The Mother and the Whore
Is it permissible to disapprove of a masterpiece? I find Jean Eustache’s obsessive, 215-minute black-and- white The Mother and the Whore, playing nine times this week at Facets Multimedia Center, every bit as mesmerizing today as I did when I attended the premiere at Cannes in 1973. I must have seen it four or five times since, the last time in the early 80s.… Read more »