This week, our selection consists of three films that look at the artistic process and its concurring work rhythms. In every film, we witness the birth of an artwork, in three different fields: cinema, painting and music.
In Où gît votre sourire enfoui? Pedro Costa portrays Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub during a workshop held at Le Fresnoy in Tourcoing (France) and during the editing process of their film Sicilia!, capturing them in a constant back and forth between theory and craft. In the rhythm of their dialogue, the hesitations and thoughts on their editing is mirrored. Here, a lesson on the filmmaking process and an ode to two filmmakers are umbilically linked.
In El sol del membrillo [The Quince Tree Sun] by Victor Erice, yet another creative work process is revealed.The point of focus of the painter in Erice’s film is the ripening of the fruit of a quince tree and, in a broader sense, the sunlight touching it and thus the passing of time. The painter’s struggles clearly reveal the similarities between the disciplines of painting and filming. A subject as compact as a small quince tree is at the basis of a subtle and exciting trajectory, bringing painter and filmmaker together – and perhaps even in competition with each other.
Capturing the aftermath of May ’68, One Plus One derives from when Jean-Luc Godard set off for London to make a film about power, revolution and art. We witness the different stages in the recording of the Rolling Stones’ song “Sympathy for the Devil”. The transformation that occurs in the shifting of rhythms changes the track from a florid, slow folk ballad into the now well-known apocalyptic rock samba. Several long, uninterrupted shots, in which we see the band polishing the song, give insight into the inner dynamics of the original Rolling Stones. Next to Godard’s edit, which did not show the final track, another version of the film – titled Sympathy for the Devil – was presented by the producer, resulting in Godard punching him after this revised version was revealed at the London Film Festival in 1968.
Où gît votre sourire enfoui? (Pedro Costa, 2001) is available on Projectr.tv.
El sol del membrillo [The Quince Tree Sun] (Victor Erice, 1992) is available on Tenk.
One Plus One (Jean-Luc Godard, 1968) is available on La Cinetek.
Undaunted by a commission to make a film about his mentors and aesthetic exemplars, the filmmaking team of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Costa records with great sensitivity and insight the exacting process by which the two re-edit their film Sicilia!, discussing and arguing over each cut and its effect. Incorporating comments about the influence of figures as diverse as Chaplin and Eisenstein, about the ethical and aesthetic implications of film technique and such matters as rhythm, sound mixing, and acting. The film becomes a tour de force, immersing us in the mysteries of cinema as practiced by some of its greatest creators. Costa calls the film both his first comedy and his first love story.
Huillet: That palm tree is a nuisance.
Straub: Let it sway.
Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub in Où gît votre sourire enfoui?
“There are those who stick close to reality and do not put their imagination in there, their limited imagination of limited creatures. And then there are those who distort reality for the sake of the so-called wealth of their imagination. The result is that the imagination is much more limited in the work of the second family than in that of the first. Because there is less patience in the work of the second family and, as someone once said, genius is nothing more than a great deal of patience. Because if you have a great deal of patience, it is charged with contradictions at the same time. Otherwise it doesn’t have the time to be charged. Lasting patience is necessarily charged with tenderness and violence... There’s a temptation to show a mountain. Then one fine day you realize that it’s better to see as little as possible. You have a sort of reduction, only it’s not a reduction, it’s a concentration and it actually says more. But you don’t do this immediately from one day to the next! You need time and patience. A sigh can become a novel.”
Q&A with Pedro Costa and Chris Petit, following a screening of Où gît votre sourire enfoui? (2001), Costa’s revealing study of the filmmaking process which captures Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at work in the editing room on their drama Sicilia! (1999).
- 1. Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, editing Sicilia!, in Où gît votre sourire enfoui? (Pedro Costa, 2001)
The artist Antonio López tries to capture the sunlight hitting his quince tree all autumn, but the struggle seems futile.
“I’m in Tomelloso, in front of the house where I was born. On the other side of the square there are some trees that never grew there. In the distance, I recognize the dark leaves and golden fruits of the quince trees. I see myself among those trees, together with my parents, accompanied by other people whose features I don't manage to recognize. The murmur of our voices reaches me, as we chat peaceably. Our feet are sunken into the muddy ground. Around us, suspended from their branches, the wrinkled fruits hang ever softer. Big blotches make inroads upon their skin, and in the still air I notice the fermentation of their flesh. From the place where I observe the scene, I cannot know if the others see what I see. Nobody seems to notice that all of the quinces are rotting beneath a light that I don’t know how to describe: bright, and at the same time somber, which turns everything into metal and ash. It isn’t the light of night, nor is it that of twilight, nor that of dawn.”
An account by Antonio López in the “Painter’s Dream” sequence of El sol del membrillo
You must know I’m one of the admirers of your film The Quince Tree Sun. I know that when you and Antonio López were making the movie, the attention of the two of you was focussed on the quinces that remained under the tree, rotting, at the end of the film.
For this reason maybe you didn’t realise that there was a branch with a quince on it in the street that was seemingly to have another fate. In our culture, if the fruit hangs outside the four walls of a garden it belongs to the people passing by. Here we see two boys who are a bit older than Antonio López’s grandchildren and who are more interested in eating the quince than in painting it. And they turn it into a target.”
“We didn’t actually talk very much at all. Remember that the task of a painter is a solitary process, totally in contrast to a filmmaker. Time, too, is different for a painter; he has his own time and so can use it with impunity. But for the filmmaker, it’s closer to an industrial process. He’s surrounded by people and doesn’t have the privilege of individual time. It’s collective time and counted out in pennies. I was aware that our presence – the cameras, sound people and so forth – was modifying both the way Antonio could work and his private experience with the tree he was painting. Though I tried to respect as much as possible this relationship between painter and tree – obviously very mysterious, and something which I tried to express at the end of the film – I felt that the crew, while we were only six, could not but interfere in some way. This is why I showed a film camera at the end, to show my work-tool, as it were. I even insinuate that it is our artificial lighting rotting the fruit on the tree.”
“After the childish reveries of The Spirit of the Beehive and The South, The Quince Tree Sun marks the moment of the amicable confrontation ofthe cinema with its eternal rival, painting, which Erice takes to be the outright winner. In the little garden of a suburban house, while some workers busy themselves on a building site, Antonio López attempts to paint a quince tree. The film chronicles this labour from day to day, yet without claiming a neutrality it cannot in any case lay claim to. It is perhaps the artificial lights used for filming that have caused the fruit to go rotten before the painter was able to finish his picture. The more the camera approaches, the more the image is adversely effected, because the camera “rots the natural”, says Erice. The quinces are akin to memories, with the lustre of the first day of the cinema, and if The quince Tree Sun is a treatise on joyfulness it also recounts the weight of things (the white paint marks on the yellow skin of the quinces, which serve to mark the progressive sagging of the tree bending beneath the weight of its fruit) and the death to come.”
“Erice, who has always liked to have actors and non-actors performing together, has, in The Quince Tree Sun (1992), made a film in which it becomes impossible to distinguish between the real people (who play their own roles) and the fictional aspect that turns them, despite everything, into film characters. When Erice films the painter’s dream, he behaves like a pure fiction filmmaker, this dream being an absolute creation of cinema, as arbitrary as the dreams of Buñuel’s or Hitchcock’s characters.”
“Dismantling genres, shattering narrative structures and the ‘naturalness’ of filmic expression; distancing the cinema from the narrative tradition of literature, uniting it with the common ground it shares with pictorial representation; investigating, tautening, capturing time; involving the viewer by means of ingredients other than surprise, suspense, artifice – this is a programme, modernity’s own, that Erice lays claim to.”
- 1. Abbas Kiarostami, “The Quince”, Erice-Kiarostami: Correspondances, (Barcelona: Actar-D, 2006), 84.
- 2. Víctor Erice in conversation with Geoff Andrew, “The Quiet Genius of Victor Erice”, Vertigo, 2004.
- 3. Jean-Philippe Tessé, “On the difference between an image”, Erice-Kiarostami: Correspondances, (Barcelona: Actar-D, 2006) 25.
- 4. Alain Bergala, “Erice-Kiarostami. The Pathways of Creation”, Rouge, 2006.
- 5. Casimiro Torreiro “Los trabajos, los dias, el tiempo”, El Pais, 10 January 1993, p. 33. [Traduction by Alberto Elena.]
While The Rolling Stones rehearse ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ in the studio, Godard reflects on 1968 society, politics and culture through five different vignettes.
“Godard’s documentation of late 1960s Western counter-culture, examining the Black Panthers, referring to works by LeRoi Jones and Eldridge Cleaver. Other notable subjects are the role of news media, the mediated image, a growing technocratic society, women's liberation, the May revolt in France and the power of language. Cutting between three major scenes, including the Rolling Stones in the studio, the film is visually intercut with Eve Democracy (Wiazemsky) using graffiti which amalgamates organisations, corporations and ideologies. Godard also examines the role of the revolutionary within Western culture. Although he believes Western culture needs to be destroyed, it can only be done so by the rejection of intellectualisation. ‘There is only one way to be an intellectual revolutionary, and that is to give up being an intellectual.’”
« Il s’installe à l’hôtel Hilton, le 30 mai, accompagné de Gérard Fromanger, rencontré entre-temps pour la confection du film-tract Rouge. Ce dernier, qui travaille sur un projet avec l’Institute of Contemporary Arts, se souvient d’un Godard en pleine déprime post-Mai 68, fuyant les journalistes et peu intéressé par son travail avec les Rolling Stones. « Dans les ascenseurs, il me prenait la main et me serrait. Il était totalement coincé, angoissé, tellement seul. Avec moi, il était bouleversant, enfantin. C’était une belle amitié, chaste et émouvante. Je n’avais rien à lui demander, rien à lui offrir d’autre que ma présence. Il était terrorisé, à ce moment, de devoir quelque chose à quelqu’un, ou de devoir donner des gages, tant sur sa condition d’artiste que sur le plan politique. » »
Antoine de Baecque2
“An English-language movie by Jean-Luc Godard, opened theatrically yesterday at the Murray Hill. If you go on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, you will see Godard’s film, which is properly known as 1 + 1. On other days, you will see a film popularly advertised as Sympathy for the Devil, which exactly resembles 1 + 1 except that in the latter part of the last reel a complete version of the song ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ which the Rolling Stones have been rehearsing and recording in cuts throughout the film, is played on the soundtrack. Several monochromatic stills of the film's last shot are added to fill out the song's time. The changes and additions are the work of the producer, Iain Quarrier.Why anyone, given the choice, would prefer a producer's version of a movie to a director's escapes me. The movie to see at the Murray Hill is 1 + 1.”
“The 1960s also saw one of the London Film Festival’s most notorious moments when, in 1968, it showed Godard’s first English-language film, One Plus One, as a London Choice. When producer Iain Quarrier took to the stage to explain why he had tinkered with the ending, the director launched across the stage and punched him in the face.”
"The one of One Plus One is a Rolling Stones rehearsal session: a cool, mesmerising, circling camera, pale blubbery faces, and the nagging, broken, repeated phrases of a pop song. It clearly fascinated Godard; and perhaps it doesn't quite so much fascinate us. The plus (maybe) is a Black Power encounter on a Battersea scrap- heap—slogans, texts, guns passed from hand to hand and back again over the corpses of crushed cars and white girls in whiter nightdresses. Other fragments – a pornographic bookshop with Hitlerian quotations; a marvellous, tantalising interview in a sunlit glade with Anne Wiazemski as the speechless spirit of democracy – fulfil their exact, elliptical Godardian function. But this time the slogans seem to remain word games, the images cut-outs without shadows; Black Power is a black, bland game for a sunny day in Battersea, pop music a trip through a labyrinth of recording booths. The impression the film leaves is of a bleak, tinroofed hangar, echoing faintly to the sound of switched-off engines: the dilemma perhaps of a born filmmaker confronted by lack of real impetus behind what he wants to film, of an intellectual (the dispassionate, long-take style is very cerebral) arguing the toss against intellect. Godard has got nearer than most people ever do to recording history with a camera. This chapter reads like the record of a hiatus, a dictatorial dialogue with futility.”
« Dans le studio où ils répètent, les Rolling Stones sont filmés plusieurs jours (ou nuits, il n’y a pas de fenêtre) de suite. D’une séquence à l’autre nous observons le changement des vêtements, des humeurs, des postures, des instruments choisis par les musiciens et nous entendons la chanson se transformer. Une continuité forte est installée par le travail collectif, par le lieu clos où il se déroule et par l’enregistrement cinématographique qui rejette toujours la coupure aux limites de la séquence. La caméra balaie l’espace en de longs panoramiques qui s’immobilisent parfois, suivent l’échange des regards, reviennent sur leurs pas, changent de focale ou se métamorphosent en travellings, mais elle ne cligne jamais sous nos yeux. Si la caméra s’arrête, c’est par-devers elle, hors champ. Pour préserver l’intensité que donne au regard la continuité du plan, intensité grâce à laquelle il est en phase avec le son et l’apparition progressive de la chanson, chaque interruption forme une rupture franche qui entraîne un changement complet de décor, d’action et de personnages. »
“For 1 + 1 is a heavily didactic, even instructional, film, like much recent Godard, and it builds upon repetition, or, if you will, addition. The Rolling Stones’ repeated assays upon ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ in their recording studio, the rote repetitions of passages and slogans passed back and forth among black-power revolutionaries in their river-side automobile junkyard, the mere adding up of questions and answers in the interview sequences, juxtaposing words to make new combinations (such as “So-Viet Cong”) and finding new words in old combinations (such as SDS in Sight and Sound; LOVE in All About Eve) – all suggest a concern with ways of putting things together, to the film seems determined to be the prospective text of some ultimate, infinitely complex collectivism.”
- 1. Gary Elshaw, Storyline "Sympathy for the Devil (1968)", IMDB.
- 2. Antoine de Baecque, Godard: biographie, (Paris: Grasset, 2010).
- 3. Roger Greenspun, “Screen: 'Sympathy for the Devil' ('1+1'),” New York Times, 27 April 1970.
- 4. Nikki Baughan, “A brief history of the BFI London Film Festival,” 23 August 2018.
- 5. Penelope Houston, “Cinemarxmanship ARTS,” The Spectator, 29 November 1968.
- 6. Hélène Raymond, “One Plus One: Sympathy for the Devil,” 2 January 2007.
- 7. Roger Greenspun, “Screen: 'Sympathy for the Devil' ('1+1'),” New York Times, 27 April 1970.