Notes on Leaving the Movie Theater
Film School Time
Back and Forth Between the Cinema and the Classroom
Herman Asselberghs is currently working on a long-term film project at the film department of the LUCA School of Arts, where he has been teaching for two decades. Through the realization of a film essay, he probes the relationship between attention and distraction in the film theatre and the classroom. Throughout the creation process, Sabzian reports on his accompanying reading and writing. On a regular basis, Asselberghs selects an existing text that interests him and that he himself provides with an accompanying text. In the first instalment he focuses on Leaving the Movie Theater [En sortant du cinéma] by Roland Barthes.
It is the tone of his text that appeals to me. From the first sentence, he takes pleasure in a game of drawing in and fending off. First, he pretends he’s someone else, not an “I” (“the subject who is speaking here”),1 yet “he” immediately makes a personal confession. He acknowledges rather than confesses, and it feels like an obligation (in the original: “il doit reconnaître une chose”). Not because someone or something obliges him, but because he can’t wait to admit openly what he has understood all by himself: in the mid-1970s, the esteemed Roland Barthes likes to leave the film theatre. Before the end of the film, no less, from what I read between the lines.
Barthes belongs to the last century, that much is clear. Who else could sing the praises of the sinful potential of the film theatre as well as he did? From a voluminous biography, I remember his youthful memories of the screening of Un chien andalou (which played in Parisian theatres in 1929) and his presence at a private screening of L’empire des sens (in 1976, in the company of Lacan). Scandal films, however, appear to be the exception to the rule. Throughout his entire life, he regularly goes to the cinema in company. “Once a week at most”, he says in an early-1960s conversation with Cahiers du Cinéma. More often doesn’t seem necessary, but most of all he would like to go on his own, released from social duties and cultural pressure, at random, to whichever film, “guided by the obscurest forces of my inner self”.2 More than a decade later, his wish appears to be fulfilled. In Leaving the Movie Theater he gives a detailed account of his unbridled cinema visits.
Leaving the Movie Theater appears in the 1975 theme issue Psychanalyse et cinéma of the journal Communications, published by the prestigious Parisian educational institute École des hautes études en sciences sociales, renowned for its transdisciplinary approach at the crossroads of sociology, anthropology and semiology. In addition to contributions from famous names such as Félix Guattari, Julia Kristeva, Thierry Kuntzel and Raymond Bellour, the publication boasts at least two key film-theoretical texts: Le signifiant imaginaire by Christian Metz and Le dispositif by Jean-Louis Baudry. Barthes joins this notorious and, to him, familiar company with the necessary caution. He fills three pages and a few lines with eight compact, elegantly separated paragraphs. For comparison: Raymond Bellour uses 115 well-filled pages, including 161 photograms, four well-wrought diagrams and seven full-page charts (mapping the “paradigm of movement in segment 14”, or the famous scene with the crop duster) for his exhaustive demonstration of the presence and absence of Oedipal codes in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Christian Metz, for his part, fills 53 pages with his groundbreaking study of the “imaginary” nature of the film “apparatus”, without mentioning a single specific film title.3 Excess is what characterizes film theory of the 1970s, excess of analysis, of interpretation, of jargon.
It’s the disarmingly simple title that intrigues me. It makes me curious about the thoughts of an author I like to read about a habit I have been fond of for a long time and that I don’t practice often enough these days. The piece, however, appears tougher than its heading promises. I learn little about the recharged feeling with which I often leave the cinema. Rather, the title pinpoints the moment of sweet memories of what has happened in the theatre. While leaving the theatre, the writer tries to get a grip on the place where he has been cheerfully bending film-watching to his will. We don’t even need to know which flick he bought a ticket for.
Barthes and film? However much or little one reads about that precarious relationship, one always runs into the same mantra. The sensitive, erudite essayist who passionately surrenders to literature, theatre and photography, but also to music and painting, offers lasting resistance to the moving image. His extensive oeuvre indeed contains few texts in which he studies film, always in a very careful way, but also cautiously and on his own terms. Two striking titles of early pieces from his structuralist period mark cinema as a crisis area to be thoroughly analyzed: Le problème de la signification au cinéma and Les unités traumatiques au cinéma (both from 1960).4 In a later and important contribution to film theory, Le troisième sens (1970), he manages to tackle the problem of film through an artifice. He stops the projection, as it were, interrupting the flow that cinema inherently is, and bases his study solely on the photogram.5 In Leaving the Movie Theater he no longer fixes his gaze on the image. The projection is back, as a moody light source this time, in the form of a cone and a beam. The flow is that of the moment and of the place.
The established conception of Barthes’s diffidence about the moving image is no more than a common opinion, a doxa.6 Admittedly, when the writer sporadically spells out his reticent approach to film, the arguments sound surprisingly consistent for a quarter of a century. Film is too limited due to its inescapable analogous expression of reality. Film is too literal, too steady, too fleeting, too much, too full. Film wants too much, also from its viewer. Film is tyranny, dominance, manipulation, indoctrination. In an often-quoted lemma in his fragmentary autobiography, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes [Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes] (1975), he himself emphatically launches the notion of resistance. Films run and give, on and on. As a devoted reader, Barthes doesn’t constantly need to get everything, he doesn’t need to receive everything non-stop, he doesn’t want to be seeing everything: “Of a man walking in the snow, even before he signifies, everything is given to me; in writing, on the contrary, I am not obliged to see how the hero wears his nails.”7 One well-noticed line on the opening page of his last book, Camera Lucida [La chambre claire] (1980), introduces another, last-minute contradiction, this time between film and photography.8 Elsewhere, in a short reflection on Éric Rohmer’s Perceval, he expresses in no uncertain terms his irritation about the “barbaric” behaviour of the audience in the theatre. The audible laughter about the costume drama’s alleged simplicity hurts him. Why is laughing out loud permitted in cinemas, he wonders, if there is also a smoking ban?9
And yet. Yet, despite his notable objections, I never consider Barthes’s resistance to cinema as opposition or reluctance, even less as mild revulsion or outright aversion. On the contrary, his reticence seems to me to be persistently affirmative. He dismantles film with great care and from a genuine concern. Resistance, therefore, as opposition and objection, as appropriate disobedience and stubborn rebellion. Resistance as a revolt. Isn’t dismantling the methodological thread running through his entire work? Whether it be theatre or literature, photography or his own course of life, the uncovering of mechanisms, systems and ideologies consistently forms the core business of his writing, throughout changing, accumulating intellectual frameworks (of a phenomenological, semiological, structuralist, and poststructuralistic nature). Reading Barthes means learning to relish critical distance. As a modus operandi, the theory of distance is an integral part of the toolbox he uses to consciously make all familiar and self-evident things look strange and problematic. With Brecht, he supports the political potential of the strategy of estrangement: critical distance activates the reader or viewer and thus forms alert citizens, the antipodes of the dozed off bourgeois. Disenchanting didactics has its limits, however. In the fight against doxa Barthes sees no reasons for complacency. His later text production, in particular, has been unabashedly drenched in a deeper existential distance, residing beyond critical theory and capable of finding shelter in the film theatre as an integral part of the dissident cinema experience.
The standard course of a visit to the cinema belongs to the tradition of 20th-century modernity and is still widely known. “Going to the movies” usually means walking in the city, keeping an eye on the screening hours, presenting yourself at the ticket booth, buying a ticket, entering the theatre, seeing the lights go out, witnessing the film’s beginning and end, seeing the lights come on, leaving the theatre, and ending up on the street again. In Leaving the Movie Theater, Barthes fiddles with the chronology of this secular ritual. His story starts after the facts (“this is often how he leaves a movie theater”), then sheds light on the very beginning (“even before he went into the theater”) and subsequently tackles the actual event in the theatre (“whenever I hear the word ‘cinema’, I can’t help thinking ‘hall’, rather than ‘film’”).10 That theatre is more than the decor, more than the interior, more than the architecture. It’s a situation in which the various components of a complex system are optimally positioned in order to make the spectator forget that the film only exists by virtue of a projection. The convincing effect of these circumstances rests on the fitting combination of three key elements: the materiality of the screen and the projector and the psychological mechanism of denial, according to the apparatus theory whose notorious French supporters publish some of their key texts in Communications.
For this branch of film theory, which had its heyday in the second half of the 1970s,11 “pretending” is one of the basic conditions for watching film: I know that what is displayed on the screen is not reality, but I still pretend it is for the duration of the projection. Only through persistent denial will I be able to end up on the edge of my seat during an action film, to scream during a horror film or to brush away a tear during a romcom. If I want to be able to temporarily suspend my disbelief, then my mental apparatus needs very precise aligning with the technological apparatus. The cinema apparatus is the solid order in which film takes place. In order to ensure maximum operation, the arrangement of interdependent components can and must be further expanded with a dark theatre, spatial sound reproduction, seating, and an audience. When Barthes thinks of “a theatre” he refers to this very constellation, albeit with resistance in mind.
Apparatus theory focuses on the cinema apparatus without necessarily naming or even watching actual films. Its unmasking analyses apply to the ideological apparatus itself. Its research concerns the possible relationships between (day)dream and cinema, the effect of identification and voyeuristic desire on the part of the spectator, the fantasmatic cycle of the passion for watching and the film image. The discourse leans heavily on Lacanian psychoanalytical concepts. Barthes, for whom “imaginary” is standard vocabulary, also juggles this jargon. Few other authors will open their autobiography as he did: with a photo of his own mother with baby Roland on her lap, captioned “The mirror stage: ‘That’s you.’”12 Surprisingly uncharacteristic, he calls his relationship to psychoanalysis “undecided” and “not scrupulous”13 later in the same book. In Leaving the Movie Theater he unleashes the appropriate terminology on the “cinema situation”. “Lure” and “mirror” are but two of the central concepts he borrows from Lacan. In the penultimate paragraph he penetrates the latter’s territory most deeply, but at the same time he distances himself from it. The way the film viewer is glued to the image, tricked into it really (because “leurre” can be translated not only by “lure” but also by “trap” and “delusion”), he says, “the historical subject, like the cinema spectator I am imagining, is also glued to ideological discourse.” That is to say, I too, Barthes, the author of this piece, the supporter of this theoretical apparatus, cannot escape “its naturalness, its truth” (“it is a lure, our lure”). Assuming that Barthes is always and everywhere firmly struggling against “naturalness” and “cliché”, this cutting outburst about “the Cinema of a society” expresses a pretty harsh attitude towards his fellow theorists and towards himself.14 The original states, “le Cinéma d’une société”, which can also be understood in the sense of “Quel cinéma!” or “What a fuss!”. Or as a fine demonstration of his proven method of merciless dismantling, applied to his own Text.
The apparatus that apparatus theory bears in mind doesn’t allow for much room for manoeuvre. The emphasis on the tight-knit, stationary constellation of space, time and subject (film theatre, film duration and film viewer) produces not only an immobile but also a passive spectator. In this discourse, the film viewer appears as an effect of the situated cinema experience, in extreme cases as a product of a watertight, or indeed throttling system. In Leaving the Movie Theater, Barthes reacts against both apparatus and theory. At the beginning of the last paragraph, in one simple question, albeit soaked in Lacanian jargon, he formulates the idea of his text: “How to come unglued from the mirror?”15 In other words, how to escape being held hostage in and by the cinema? To begin with, the author (in the second paragraph) significantly extends the cinema situation, beyond the film theatre. Before and after the cinema visit, the spectator is already and still in a (pre- and post-) hypnotic state, which has its peak in the operation of the actual apparatus, in the theatre. On the way to the film, the spectator already adopts a receptive attitude. Like a sleepwalker, he or she is guided remotely by the alluring call of the dream play in the darkened theatre. During the phlegmatic stroll through the streets afterwards, somnambulism still shimmers. Hence the need to go to the movies alone. On his own (“sluggishly”) the spectator can more easily enter a state of “availability”. During the solitary walk after the screening (“heading for some café or other”), the last scraps of twilight reverie are shaken off. In the beautiful collection Memo Barthes, in which the Dutch translation of Leaving the Movie Theater figures, the illustration of an empty cobblestone road, shining in the street light, expresses that unreal feeling that “precedes the darkness of the theatre” and accompanies the walker afterwards.16
Barthes’s sensitivity to situated experiences does not so much spring from a theoretical impulse as from a personal feel for the interwovenness of people and places. In a spring issue of Vogue Hommes from 1978, he gives another wonderful example of his ability to unravel the apparatus of a place and describe its operation in great detail. Three years after Leaving the Movie Theater, he takes a close look at the discotheque in At Le Palace Tonight [Au « Palace » ce soir]. Once more he opens with a confession: “I confess I am unable to interest myself in the beauty of a place if there are no people in it (I don’t like empty museums); and conversely, in order to discover the interest of a face, of a figure, of a garment, to savor the encounter, I require that the site of this discovery have its interest and its savor as well.”17 The dance hall the writer enters in clear and full knowledge is not just one among many. In the late 1970s, Le Palace in the 9th arrondissement (Rue de Faubourg-Montmartre, these days a venue for popular concerts and shows) is a phenomenon. In the trendiest mega club in Paris, more than 2,000 people feed upon the dance floor every night. They marvel at the spectacular laser light show and the impressive, constantly changing decors.
Author-activist Didier Lestrade still remembers the exciting mix of people spread over three floors and as many bars (“In the country of Giscard, mixing the rich and the poor, whites and blacks, heteros and gays was simply revolutionary”) as well as their collective ecstasy to the strains of delirious disco. He underlines how the emancipating capacity of the dance floor and of disco in particular (“Disco had become such a popular musical phenomenon that it united society as a whole, consecrating gay liberation” and “Against the asocial side of punk, disco was a musical trend that encouraged diversity, sociability, excess and sex”) is part of the agenda of manager Fabrice Emaer, owner of the first openly gay bars in the capital (Le Pimm’s in 1964).18 With Le Palace, the French impresario is brewing a grand sequel to his infamous previous club Le Sept (Rue Sainte-Anne, today a Japanese restaurant). With its minuscule but always overheated dance floor in the basement and an exclusive restaurant on the first floor, the trendy spot is the epicenter of gay Paris in a neighbourhood with quite a few bars, saunas and street prostitutes. Yves Saint Laurent has a second office there, as it were. Barthes regularly dines there with Emaer, an old friend. Less than two months after the official opening, the entrepreneur sees how his newest venture is consecrated in a popular fashion magazine by one of the most prominent intellectuals of the time. Le Palace not only makes homosexuality visible and acceptable, but downright fashionable with a wider, heterosexual audience.
The topographical survey in At Le Palace Tonight revolves around watching. The architecture of the restored 17th-century theatre with 1930s interior gives the author, from all sides, the imperial feeling of controlling the business with his gaze. “The pleasure of what is seen” (“jouissance de la vue” in the original), that’s what he calls his ecstatic view of the club-goers and of the play of “lights and shadows”. The dance floor in this nightlife temple “dedicated to looking” is lost on him: “At Le Palace, I am not obliged to dance in order to sustain a living relationship with this site. Alone, or at least somewhat apart, I can ‘dream’.” Watching and being transported in a dream state, it’s almost as if it’s a cinema. The spectacle is, of course, not limited to the screen or the stage; “the whole theater is the stage”.19 And as befits a stage, the immobile Barthes takes part in this total event through meticulous observation. The story goes that he spends many an evening motionlessly stationed on the second floor, alone in a corner, almost one with the decor, indulging in hour-long intense watching. To the strains of Patrick Juvet’s “Paris by Night,” Alicia Bridges’s “I Love the Nightlife” and Michael Zager Band’s “Let’s all Chant”. Ooh ooh!20
Brecht and disco? At first glance, it appears to be a stunningly productive combination. Barthes’s ode to one of his favourite nightlife spots (the first floor of Café de Flore could certainly qualify too) could just as well be an ode to critical distance. Crucial distance may fit even better. We’re not far removed from Von Aschenbach’s pathetics on the beach of Venice; only the strawberries are lacking. Were it not for the fact that he explicitly parries the Brechtian strategy at the very end of Leaving the Movie Theater with a particular form of distance: “I am hypnotized by a distance; and this distance is not critical (intellectual); it is, one might say, an amorous distance.”21 In all his self-imposed, voyeuristic desolation, the amorous distance allows him to see things with new eyes. “In this humanized space, I can exclaim to myself now and then: “How strange all this is!’”22 As if every night the entire spectacle appears to him for the first time and keeps appearing throughout the night as something new and thrilling. His relentless attention to this “Cinema of a society” leads him to the enthusiastic conclusion that Le Palace is more than a profitable club. It is nothing less than a total work of art that gives the impression of “something very old, which is called la Fête and which is quite different from Amusement or Distraction: a whole apparatus of sensations destined to make people happy, for the interval of a night”.23
“How to come unglued from the mirror?” According to Barthes, a second, unexpected answer to that question lies in the rush ahead. In addition to the expansion of the “cinema situation”, he argues for complete surrender. Opposite the Brechtian awakening, he resolutely places enchantment, twice over, “by the image and by its surroundings”. Referring to the feeling of an airplane taking off and to the moment a drug kicks in, he places the excitement of the cinema experience not only in the entire apparatus but equally inside the spectator’s body. Done with the glued, immobile spectator. To watch is also to grope. The drifting walks before and after the screening turn out to be mere fore- and afterplay for an intense immersion in “a dim, anonymous, indifferent cube where that festival of affects known as a film” takes place. Whereas Barthes originally liked to fantasize about an empty cinema in order not to be confronted with other spectators’ responses, he now swears by the “diffuse eroticism” of bodies sliding down into their seats “as if into a bed”. In the semidarkness of the black box, he pricks up his ears for uncontrolled ambient sounds welcomely disturbing the predictably synchronous sound track of the film, “yet without distorting its image”. The (materially and mentally) projected image acts as lubricant for the “invisible work” in the theatre, and vice versa. “I must be in the story, but I must also be elsewhere” can also be read in reverse: it is necessary to be elsewhere to be able to be seated in the story. Or: rapture as the ultimate rule for cinema visits.24
I love the ambiguity of the text, both veiled and unvarnished. The theoretical provocation of providing the analytical apparatus theory with physical subjectivity excels from the outset in double entendre. The remarkably sluggish, somewhat disturbed but saturated body leaving the cinema seems to me to have ended up there in the first place because it felt like it. It didn’t matter which film was on the poster. The author remains tight-lipped about opening and closing credits. I think he enters and leaves the “movie house (ordinary model)” in medias res, regardless of the screening hours. “In this urban dark, the body’s freedom is at work”: availability and surrender meet in the twilight of the projection beam, “unperceived” while it “pierces the darkness”, “glancing off someone’s hair, someone’s face”. In French I read “le jet impérieux rase notre crâne, effleure, de dos, de biais, une chevelure, un visage”. The French “effleurrer” covers a wide range of sensual meanings, from “to caress” to “to touch lightly”. In “le jet impérieux”, we hear both an “urgent need” (“un besoin impérieux”) and an ejaculation, or in cinematic terms: a cum shot.
Through Barthes’s succulent, suggestive choice of words, the entire cinema experience grows into an erotic adventure in which all spectators “peer through the keyhole”, the author “flings itself upon” the image “like an animal" and whose climax is audible in “the grain of a voice milled, up close, in our ears”. Am I to understand here that this infectious ecstasy activates the image on the screen? It says, “The image captivates me, captures me,” which means that the image registers me, even films me (in addition to “to catch” and “to apprehend”, “capturer” also means “to capture”, as in “the camera captures images”), in short, the image is watching me. And then there’s that phrase in the middle of the text that first escapes me because it passes so casually, but that I begin to understand, after re-reading it, as an unreal reversal of roles: “the artifact – like the dancing beam of the projector – bluring the scene imitated by the screen.” The film on the screen imitates the recorded scene? Yes, but I also and above all hear the following suggestion: it is not the events in the theatre that are inspired by the captivating activity on the screen (that too, I suppose), but the other way around: the screen mimics the enchanted events in the theatre. That is to say, the same ecstatic scene takes place in the theatre and on the screen. In Leaving the Movie Theater Barthes is leaving the porn movie theatre.
Mainstream films promise sex, porn films don’t beat about the bush and give value for money. The pleasure of voyeurism so sophisticatedly dissected in film theory appears here in an unadulterated form. To watch is also to grope. Watching porn in the theatre implies having sex, with oneself, with others. With men, even when the screen shows straight sex. Porn films show how it needs to be done, how it can be done. Especially when it concerns gay sex, especially in the 1970s. In the mid-1970s, a brand new film genre appears in French theatres: homegrown gay porn, filmed on 16 mm. The films run in “specialized” cinemas in the capital and in the province. In Le Dragon, the first gay cinema in Paris (Rue Dragon, later Club Vidéo Gay and now a frozen food store) and in a dozen other theatres, rising from the ground amid the art & essai halls in the Latin Quarter. Le Dragon: an elongated theatre measuring 24 by 6 metres (“the narrow range in which can function the fascination of film”; in the French text: “la plage étroite”) with 350 seats (“it is said that the spectators who choose to sit as close to the screen as possible are children and movie buffs”, “however far away I am sitting, I press my nose against the screen’s mirror”), no supporting programme, and a single film screened continuously between 2 p.m. and 2 a.m. Barthes lives five minutes away and Le Flore is around the corner.25
In his posthumously published literary text Soirées de Paris, Barthes reports unequivocally about one evening in Le Dragon: “I leave the house again and go see the new porno film at Le Dragon: as always – and perhaps even more so than usual dreadful. I dare not cruise my neighbor, though I probably could (idiotic fear of being rejected). Downstairs into the back room; I always regret this sordid episode afterward, each time suffering the same sense of abandonment.”26 Judging from the enchanted tone in Leaving the Movie Theater, not every visit ends in sorrow and certainly not in a “private screening” in the basement. Loneliness is a source of both continuing worry and fleeting pleasure, and is thus touched on in all of Barthes’s later writings.27 In Soirées de Paris, the desire for contact with others takes shape in frequent walks through the streets of the kind Leaving the Movie Theater opens with (“as a response to idleness, availability, free time”). The flâneur is a dragueur [a cruiser]. The seemingly aimless dérive may not have any direction, but the browsing around certainly has a purpose. Just look at the numerous street gigolos on a first-name basis with the eminent professor. Barthes is not only a regular customer at Le Palace, at Le Flore and at Le Dragon. In Leaving the Movie Theater, he describes the idleness of cruising, which finds its match or sometimes culminates in the cinema experience, “which best defines modern eroticism, that of the big city”.28
Barthes walks out of the cinema at the end of the heyday of cinema.29 A year after his text in Communications, VHS is launched. Barely a few years later, remote controls and video recorders follow. The juncture at which apparatus theory demonstrates the grip the cinema apparatus has on its spectators (or at least intends to have) is, therefore, the moment when those same spectators get hold of the apparatus at home in order to possibly resist any incoming stream of images (by stopping, pausing, fast-forwarding, rewinding, zapping, zipping and muting). Barthes’s sneer at the living room-cum-gogglebox is merciless (“television doomed us to the Family”),30 doubtless motivated by his perception of it as a bourgeois, heteronormative bastion. In retrospect, without losing sight of the immense difference between the cinema situation and the television apparatus, his improper use of the film theatre (or his correct operation of the unusual film theatre) may also be read as an early and individual example of a viewing practice where attention and distraction form a new alliance.
Leaving the Movie Theater irrevocably belongs to the last century. Soon Barthes will have been dead for four decades. Hit by a van, just like that, right before the AIDS crisis broke out in full force. The porn cinema today is a relic, overtaken by the video cassette, then discarded by the internet. Going to the movies is still a popular activity but no longer a natural habit. But watching gropingly all the more: the touchscreen glues the screen user to the screen. Today, the film theatre apparatus is sporadically part of daily, mobile viewing situations in which compact, connected displays constantly require fleeting involvement. Today, fast-watching, whether or not in daylight, is very common in the streets, in the bedroom, in the workplace, in the classroom and in the cinema (before and after, but also during the film). If the cinema does everything to produce hyperfocus without interruption, then this current multitude of constantly changing viewing situations seems to operate through a logic of latent and acute interruption. The intake of moving images happens casually, between times, on the side, but no less attentively. Through an apparatus in which entertainment, information, communication and work appear alongside, on and through each other. Leaving the film theatre occasionally still occurs, but not necessarily along the city boulevard (the exit of the multiplex rather leads to the parking lot) and rarely without a smartphone in hand.
It reminds me of the first sentence from Barthes’s early conversation with Cahiers, more relevant than ever, it seems: “Perhaps one should begin by talking about one’s cinemagoing habits, the place of cinema in one’s life.”31
- 1. The quotes from Barthes’s Leaving the Movie Theater are based on the English translation by Richard Howard. Some of the quotes have been adapted for clarity. R. Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” The Rustle of Language (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), 345-349. Original: R. Barthes, “En sortant du cinema,” Communications 23 (Paris: Seuil, 1975), 104. Included in: R. Barthes, Oeuvres complètes IV (Paris: Seuil, 2002), 778-782.
- 2. “Towards a Semiotics of Cinema: Barthes in interview with Michel Delahaye, Jacques Rivette,” in Cahiers du Cinéma. 1960-1968: New Wave, New Cinema, Reevaluating Hollywood, ed. J. Hillier. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986) 276-285. Original: “Entretien avec Roland Barthes”, Cahiers du Cinema, 147 (September 1963): 20-30. Included in: Oeuvres complètes II, 255-265.
- 3. R. Bellour, “Le blocage symbolique” and C. Metz, “Le signifiant imaginaire,” Communications 23 (Paris: Seuil, 1975) 235-350 and 3-55.
- 4. R. Barthes, “Le problème de la signification au cinéma” and “Les unités traumatiques au cinema,” originally published in: Revue internationale de filmologie 10, no. 32-34.
- 5. R. Barthes, “Le troisième sens, notes de recherche sur quelques photogrammes de S.M. Eisenstein,” Cahiers du Cinéma, 222 (1970): 12-19.
- 6. In two recent academic publications entirely devoted to En sortant du cinéma, Barthes’s “problem” with film is extensively covered: A. de Baecque, M. Gil & E. Marty (direction), Roland Barthes: “En sortant du cinéma” (Paris: Hermann Editeurs, 2018) and P. Watts, Roland Barthes’ Cinema (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
- 7. R. Barthes, "Saturation of the cinema,” in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), 54-55. Original: R. Barthes, “Le plein du cinema,” in Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes (Paris: Seuil, 1975). Included in: Oeuvres complètes IV, 575-771.
- 8. R. Barthes, Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photograph (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982). Original: R. Barthes, “La chambre claire,” Cahiers du Cinéma - Gallimard - Seuil, 1980. Included in: Oeuvres complètes V, 785-892.
- 9. R. Barthes, “Perceval,” in Oeuvres complètes V, 647-648.
- 10. R. Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” 345-346.
- 11. Two English-language collections offer a representative selection of texts and (French and Anglo-Saxon) apparatus theory authors: T. de Lauretis and S. Heath (eds.), The Cinematic Apparatus (London: The Macmillan Press, 1980) and P. Rosen (ed.), Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1986). The Korean-American writer and artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha has a more artistic, conceptual aim in her precisely calibrated publication Apparatus. Cinematographic Apparatus: Selected Writings (New York: Tanam Press, 1980). Her collection of theoretical texts (by Baudry and Metz, among others), textual contributions by filmmakers (Vertov, Deren, Straub & Huillet, among others) and visual interventions of her own making wish “its totality will serve as an object not merely enveloping its contents, but as a ‘plural text’ making active the participating viewer/reader, making visible his/her position in the apparatus”. The book’s opening text is Upon Leaving the Movie Theater by Roland Barthes.
In the Netherlands and in Flanders, the magazine for film and performance arts Versus guided and partly determined the development of cinema as an academic discipline throughout the 1980s. Within that passionate film-theoretical framework, extensive attention was paid to Barthes and to apparatus theory, for example in: Eric de Kuyper, “Barthes en de film,” Versus, 3 (1983): 85-91; Céline Linssen, “Het fotografiese. Foto/still/film,” Versus, 3 (1983): 92-103 and Paul Verstraten, “Het verleden en heden van de filmtheorie. Interview met Christian Metz,” Versus, 3 (1986): 101-114.
- 12. R. Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, 21.
- 13. The full quote is: “His relation to psychoanalysis is not scrupulous (though without his being able to pride himself on any contestation, any rejection). It is an undecided relation.” R. Barthes, “Relation to psychoanalysis,” Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, 150.
- 14. All quotes: R. Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” 345, 347-348.
- 15. Ibid., 348.
- 16. Ibid., p. 346. The Dutch translation [“Uit de bioscoop”] is included in: R. Hofstede & J. Pieters (eds.), Memo Barthes (Nijmegen: Vantilt & Yang, 2004), 56-63.
- 17. R. Barthes, “At Le Palace Tonight,” in Incidents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 45-48. Original: R. Barthes, “Au « Palace » ce soir,” Vogue Hommes (May 1978): 88. Included in: R. Barthes, Oeuvres complètes V, 456-458.
- 18. All quotes: D. Lestrade, “Palace: comportement 80,” Têtu, 32 (March 1999).
- 19. All quotes: R. Barthes, “At Le Palace Tonight”.
- 20. Before Barthes appears on the guest list of the official, much-discussed opening of Le Palace, Emaer gives him a private tour during the renovations. For the occasion, Emaer blasts a recording of an Italian aria into the empty space. See: Fréderic Martel, Le Rose and le Noir. Les homosexuels en France depuis 1968 (Paris: Seuil, 2008). Le Palace exerts an attraction on hedonistic Paris and occupies a prominent place in the creative and sexual lives of fashion celebrities such as Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Kenzo Takada, and their entourages. See: Marie Ottavi, Jacques de Bascher, dandy de l’ombre (Paris: Séguier), 2017. Barthes is not the only critical thinker who ventured into the nightclubs of the 1970s. His cautious steps next to the dance floor pale before the militant ode to disco by film theorist Richard Dyer or before the warm memories of gay clubbing in 1970s New York by art historian Douglas Crimp. See: R. Dyer, “In Defense of Disco,” Gay Left, 8 (1979) (included in: R. Dyer, Only Entertainment (London: Routledge, 1992)) and D. Crimp, Before Pictures (Brooklyn: Dancing Foxes Press/The University of Chicago Press, 2016). For a cartography of the (New York) dance floor as a breeding ground for contemporary intensity, cultural hybridity and emancipatory elan, see the three brilliant studies by Tim Lawrence: Love Will Save The Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970- 79 (Duke, 2003), Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-1992 (Duke, 2009) and Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980–1983 (Duke, 2016).
- 21. R. Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater”, 47.
- 22. R. Barthes, “At Le Palace Tonight”, 48.
- 23. Ibid., 458.
- 24. Quotes in this paragraph (and in the next two paragraphs): R. Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” 345-349.
- 25. Thiphaine Samoyault calls Barthes an ethnologist of rapidly disappearing phenomena: “He talks about a Latin Quarter, where he’s living, that offers cinematic shelters on the street, that still has porn cinemas (including the Dragon Club, a gay porn cinema where Barthes goes regularly), that programmes novelties as well as classics, entertainment as well as auteur films. [translation by Sis Matthé] [Original: “Il parle d’un Quartier Latin, où il habite, offrant des refuges cinématographiques à la rue, possédant encore des cinémas pornos (dont le Dragon Club, cinéma porno gay où Barthes se rend régulièrement), programmant des nouveautés autant que des films de répertoire, des divertissements comme des films d’auteurs.”], in: T. Samoyault, Roland Barthes (Paris: Seuil, 2015), 580. Scant details about Le Dragon here and here.
- 26. R. Barthes, “Soirées de Paris,” Incidents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992) 68. Original: R. Barthes, “Soirées de Paris,” Incidents (Paris: Seuil, 1987). Included in: Oeuvres complètes V, 977-993.
- 27. Barthes does not shy away from considering his own solitude. Two examples: “The asocial nature of bliss: it is the abrupt loss of sociality, and yet there follows no recurrence to the subject (subjectivity), the person, solitude: everything is lost, integrally. Extremity of the clandestine, darkness of the motion-picture theater.” (R. Barthes, The pleasure of the text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975), 39. Original: Le plaisir du texte (Paris: Seuil - Tel Quel, 1973) and “He had always, up to now, worked successively under the aegis of a great system (Marx, Sartre, Brecht, semiology, the Text). Today, it seems to him that he writes more openly, more unprotectedly; nothing sustains him, unless there are still patches of bypassed languages (for in order to speak one must seek support from other texts).” (“The image-system of solitude”, in: R. Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), 102).
- 28. R. Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” 346. Thiphaine Samoyault makes no secret of Barthes’s sexual appetite, his changing sexual contacts and visiting of prostitutes: “Barthes was always looking for immediate satisfaction, frequenting saunas, porn cinemas, specialized clubs. It’s not new behaviour for him, nor miserable conduct. In addition to the more or less regular lovers he frequents in his different small groups (of friends), he has always loved meeting gigolos, loving the eroticism of simple eye contact, of some words.” [translation by Sis Matthé] [Original: “Barthes a toujours été dans la recherche de satisfactions immédiates, fréquentant les saunas, les cinémas pornos, les boîtes spécialisées. Ce n’est pas un comportement neuf chez lui, mais non plus une conduite malheureuse. En plus des amants plus ou moins réguliers qu’il fréquente dans ses différentes petites bandes, il a toujours aimé rencontrer des gigolos, trouvant érotique le simple contact des yeux, de la parole parfois.”] In: T. Samoyault, Roland Barthes (Paris: Seuil, 2015), 708. He himself demonstrates his insights into one-off sexual encounters in his preface to Renaud Camus’s novel Tricks (Paris: P.O.L., 1978) and he processes his own adventures in that field in literary form in Soirées de Paris (see footnote 26). For at least one specific moment in that short “intimate diary”, Eric Marty, a former student of Barthes and editor of his collected works, offers a beautiful counter shot of his late mentor’s cruising. See: “Mémoire d’une amitié”, in: E. Marty, Roland Barthes, le métier d’écrire (Paris: Seuil, 2006).
- 29. From the 1960s onwards, cinema has to cope with television, video recorders, games, the internet and social media. An excerpt from the most recent edition of the Flemish Regional Indicators (VRIND 2017, published by the former Study Service of the Flemish Government) outlines the local situation: “The fact that a strong concentration has taken place for cinemas is evident from the number of cinemas. In 2015, there were 473 film theatres in Belgium, about half of them in Flanders. In the 1960s there were about three times as many. In the early 1990s, the negative evolution came to a stop. The number of film theatres in Flanders has been fairly stable in recent years. The same applies to the number of screenings. In 2015, there were on average 1,250 screenings per theatre. In 2015, Flemish cinemas sold around 10.4 million tickets, which is a slight increase compared to the previous years. The Flemish Region remains the Belgian region with the smallest number of cinema visits per inhabitant. In 2016, 6 out of 10 Flemish people go to the movies. This means that the participation rate is slightly higher than in previous years. The majority of visitors participate several times. There is no difference by gender. Young people in particular visit a cinema. 9 out of 10 18- to 24-year-olds are participants. This systematically decreases when age increases. There are major differences according to educational level. For the lower educated (lower secondary school) about 4 in 10 are participants and 20% are regular visitors, for the higher educated (college + university) more than three-quarters are participants and more than 4 in 10 regular visitors.” [translation by Sis Matthé]
- 30. R. Barthes, “Leaving the Movie Theater,” 346.
- 31. “Towards a Semiotics of Cinema: Barthes in interview with Michel Delahaye, Jacques Rivette,” 276.
This text is part of the doctoral research carried out by Herman Asselberghs within the Intermedia Research Unit of LUCA School of Arts.