‘The first news any of us had of Artavazd Pelechian was through an article that the French critic, Serge Daney, published in Liberation in 1983, following a trip to Soviet Armenia. I say “any of us” because Daney´s text was in a way an announcement to the City and the World, urbi et orbi, like the proclamations of the Roman Emperors: “In Armenia”, he said, “I have discovered a missing link from the true history of cinema.” That it was in Armenia added an archeological pedigree to the find. At the foot of Mount Ararat, where other European expeditionaries said that they had found the remains of Noah´s Ark; there on the Black Sea where the cultures of the Caucasus were the “very book from which the first men took their lessons” (Nadesha Mandelstam); there where Sergei Paradjanov tried to find refuge from the Soviet Big Brother; that is where Daney discovered Pelechian.
‘Pelechian´s films began to be seen outside the orbit of soviet influence from 1988. This was the year of the joint retrospective of his work and that of Sergei Paradjanov, which was held during the Amsterdam Festival. The following year they arrived at the Nyon Festival and the Panorama Section of the Berlin Festival. One cold Spring night the director of the Nyon Festival showed for Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Mieville the somewhat clandestine copies, “in the soviet manner”, that had been produced of his films. As a result of that session, Godard fixed for posterity the idea that the cinema of Pelechian was “a language from the time before Babel”, which was to say that in order to describe the Armenian film-maker the only worthwhile ideas were those of geological eras and of myth and not those of humanity´s ordinary rhythms nor, of course, those of cinema´s own history. His films bring to our notice something tremendously distant (something emotional, a feeling), something difficult to capture, and so difficult to make clear. In the September 1990 edition of Cahiers du Cinema, dedicated to soviet film, the name of Pelechian now appeared with those of Klimov, Shepitko, Tarkovski, Paradjanov, Sokurov or Muratova in the pantheon of the great soviet film-makers of modernity. The following year the USSR disappeared.
. . .
‘The most beautiful words that have been written about the work of Artavazd Pelechian seem like the sayings of archeologists or astronomers, or even of prophets, but not of critics or cineasts.
‘The “missing link” to which Daney referred had a first historical-critical interpretation connected to the fortunes of the Soviet Russian vanguard following the official establishment of Socialist Realism at the beginning of the thirties. It was especially striking that before Pelachian became known, whilst in the West the cinematographic vanguard of the sixties, especially in the United States, had rehabilitated the great heterodox, Dziga Vertov, (the inventor of the Cine-Eye, of the perception of matter, of the interval, of the film-maker´s own body), in the USSR itself Vertov´s influence seemed to have disappeared without trace. It was not an easy problem to unravel, taking into account the obscurity of the long Stalinist period.
‘Pelechian burst onto the soviet scene at the end of the seventies, with a “as we were saying yesterday. . . . .” that restored the great imaginative figures of the school of soviet montage, especially Vertov, but drawing inspiration from a landascape of films that went back directly to Dovzhenko and ultimately to Eisenstein. The fruit of that effort is his text Distance Montage or Theory of Distance, that was published in 1973. By these contributions to theory, Pelechian also helped to connect up the secondary and alternative networks of Russian cinema, whose pathways seemed to have been untrodden for the last forty years.
‘In any case, the significance of his work rests not only on his reconstruction of the dynamited bridges of Soviet Russian cinema, but also on the mysterious and fascinating place he holds amongst his non-soviet contemporaries. Pelechian joins, without being aware of it, the community of unknown equals that reflect on the physicality of cinema, on its realism in the present, on its rhythmic and synaesthetic values. Pelechian maintains an ironic distance with respect to the supposed true documentary, he suggests a second reading of the materials in the archive, he considers the possibility of its repetition and inversion in the structuralist manner, he reflects on the poetry of science and the antiutopia of progres, he regenerates the way we look at landscape. . . . From all these strategies spring unsuspected links with film-makers apparently as far apart as Michael Snow, Bruce Conner, Peter Kubelka or Chris Marker. Paul Virilio placed Pelechian’s medium length work Nas vek/ Mer dare (Our Century) in the center of the exhibition Ce qui arrive…, at the Cartier Foundation hosted in 2002 and in this film the philosopher sets out his theory of catastrophe. In that context Our Century was converted into a powerful black sun, like a new Black Square from Malevich that projected a blinding light, critical and disenchanted, over the century of progress.
. . .
‘The theory of Distance Montage is the art of fugue. It is this in its evocative way of connecting the technological aspects of the film with the film´s musical language. The films of Pelechian grow from conductive motifs; from a theme and its variations, making use of repetition and involution; from the combination of melodic voices as they are exposed step by step; and from the effect of counterpoint (think, for example, of the wrench of the Offertorio from Verdi´s Requiem that sounds repeatedly in Vychod/Zin/Life).
‘Besides this, his cinema is the art of escape also in a literal way, because Pelechian´s idea of the Distance Montage is not a theory of how to link shots, but about how to let them free to work on their own. Regarding the escape of images the film-maker himself has explained, “The originality of the theory of Distance Montage lies in the following: the difference from the montage of Kuleshov or Eisenstein, who arranged images in order to create meaning by their conjunction, is that I try to maintain two images that individually make sense separate from each other; the Distance Montage produces tension in the relation between them and makes for dialogue across the sequence of shots that separate them”.
‘Pelechian understands that nature is not put together in one smooth continuous sequence, neither is it organised on principles of shock, nor with a definite purpose, nor for narrative effect; nature is a constant goodbye, a permanent farewell in which each shot, each image, each instance, distances itself from the following one until they meet in a certain but indeterminate future. In this way the poetic cosmos of Pelechian, as it was called by François Niney, emerges to interlace the rhythms of nature and of history, the two mythic poles that provide the backbone of his filmography. The first is a cultural projection, stimulated by a certain kind of faith that travels along the ways of linear time towards redemption or utopia (not necessarily political). The second is an ancestral echo that returns to the circularity of time and the constant return to nature, a nature not indifferent to the human being. The “diptych” with which his filmography closes (at least for the time being) responds precisely to this double idea; the line and the circle. Konec/End is the line; Vychod/Zin/Life is the circle: the two rhythms of the world.
. . .
‘That said, let us return to Daney. The mention of the “missing link” was also a way of identifying a sensation of emptiness connected to the education of feeling produced by Pelechian´s films. The work of Pelechian signalled an emotional amputation in the spectators most secret places, something deficient in the way we have learnt to see, to feel, to live the film. Why, before the works of Pelechian, does the spectator experience a certain type of excess of feeling that can not quite be grasped, as if he had not developed the organ with which to absorb the far-off reminiscences that Pelechian´s images carry along with them? It is a feeling of sensory loss, as if his language, effectively, was from the time before Babel, as Godard first said. It is as if the films of Pelechian bring us news of a forgotten language, of the spoken word (or of a cinema) that we knew in some remote time but which now, for reasons which remain obscure, we have forgotten.
‘Were we once Armenian shepherds? Did we once risk our lives daily for a lost sheep? At one time were we completely undifferentiated from nature? The answer is yes. So is it in that we feel some remote ache for the forgotten ache language of the time before Babel? Certainly; such is the cinema of Pelechian. When Osip Mandesltam visited Armenia in 1930 he wrote: “I have developed a sixth sense, Aratian: the sense of being attracted by the mountain. I shall carry it with me wherever my destiny takes me, it comes with me now and it will never abandon me.” Such was the emotional link that Daney also found.’ — Carlos Muguiro
Artavazd Peleshyan @ Wikipedia
ARTAVAZD PELECHIAN SITE (in French)
The Visionary Cinema of Artavazd Pelechian
The View From Above: Films Of Artavazd Peleshian
Artavazd Peleshyan page @ PARAJANOV-VARTANOV INSTITUTE
Qui est Artavazd Pelechian, le cinéaste qui écrit ses films comme des poèmes ?
Book: ‘Artavazd Pelechian: Une Symphonie du Monde’
Conversation entre Artavazd Pelechian et Jean-Luc Godard. Un langage d’avant Babel
Montage with Images that Don’t Exist: Interview with Artavazd Pelechian
The legendary Artavazd Pelechian unveils a much-anticipated new film
Artavazd Pelechian’s Nature by Nicholas Elliott
Pelechian, Artavazd @ Senses of Cinema
Artavazd Pelechian sur le tournage des Saisons, 1972 1975
RENCONTRE AVEC ARTAVAZD PELECHIAN
Swans (a tribute to Peleshyan) by Patti Smith
Artavazd Pelechian, Cineaste Et Poete Du Reel : Notre Siecle (Excerpt)
François Niney: The thing that characterizes your films is that they’re composed like music. . .
Artavazd Pelechian: I think that what you see, you must hear. And what you are supposed to hear, you must see. These are two different harmonic processes. The pioneers of silent film, like Griffith or Chaplin, were afraid that the coming of the talkies would destroy the cinema that they had developed. But I believe they were wrong. Those who were not afraid were wrong too, because they used sound badly; they were content with a synchronous cinema, as in life, of sonic illustration. No one noticed that sound could take the place of the image, and that then the latter could merge with the former.
Niney: Your cinema is also a cinema without actors and without words. . . .
Pelechian: I am convinced that cinema can convey certain things that no language in the world can translate. One can speak of things, but there is a threshold beyond which words do not suffice to get to the heart of the matter. The fact that the word appeals to a thought, to an analysis or to psychology contradicts my conception of cinema as intuition or emotion, as grasping what you see. The existence of the word comes from human relations, while our existence as human beings comes from nature. And as for me, I insist on dealing with our natural being.
Niney: Do you see a link between your cinema and modern physics, in which determinism is no longer absolute but relative and probabilistic?
Pelechian: Montage at a distance offers probabilities without end. We know that scientists like Einstein were strongly influenced by music, or by painting, in the discovery of certain things. The lifetime of the cinema is still short and I am quite convinced that if cinematic art evolves in a good direction, it will inspire scientists in the very explanation of the universe and the organization of life.
Niney: These are considerations that were very valuable in the era of Epstein or that of the surrealists for example, but that seem archaic today from the point of view of the almost exclusively distinctive evolution of the cinema.
Pelechian: When I said that music had inspired scientists, I had in mind beautiful music, real music, not supermarket music. It’s the same thing for cinema. It’s become a commercial industry, but there are the jewels of cinema that can and will be able to be sources of inspiration and knowledge. Films that take cinema seriously can inspire serious scientists. But there is also the market of science. . . .
I myself am also dependent on the cinema market, but there will always be people to fight for true cinema. What is required of cinema today?
Niney: Your films incorporate original camerawork as well as archival images, direct sounds as well as music. How do you con- struct your work in concrete terms?
Pelechian: I have an idea for a screenplay and before everything I see the film in its entirety. The music is not necessarily determined in advance, but I hear its rhythms and tonalities. And when I sense that it fits, that it exists, I begin to write the script. But for me the film is already ready, only its technical production remains to be settled in order to convince other people that it can be made. It’s a matter of recreating stage by stage- writing, shooting, montage- the film that I’ve already seen in my head. And there are very few things that can change, some details, but the composition doesn’t change. Now, I’ve already seen the film, but I want others to see it too.
There is an internal, formal necessity in the choice and the arrangement of the different elements. If you break this dish on the ground, with the pieces you can only reconstruct this dish, or else a mosaic, a collage. My goal, when I use archival images, is not to set them out in pieces but to melt them into a primary matter in order to recreate a new form. The camerawork, mine or that of the archives, be present.
Niney: How do you explain the fact that it’s taken so long for your films to be discovered?
Pelechian: One has to believe that some of those in the Soviet Union who had seen my films had not wanted them to be seen elsewhere. Perhaps after seeing my children, the licensed doctors of social realism judged them to be abnormal. So they put them in a drawer. They grew up there. And then there are visitors who came to see these children and they found the children normal, useful to humanity. All I can say is that the pathologist was mistaken.
Niney: Are the pathologists in question still in office?
Pelechian: They change because time has gotten the better of them.
Niney: Your last film, Notre siècle, dates from 1982 in its initial version. Can you talk about your next film, Homo Sapiens, a project dating back to 1987? Will it resemble the others?
Pelechian: It’s still too soon. It will have a cozy air, there will still be no speech, but it will not resemble the others. It’s perhaps because we’ve talked too much about it that it’s not yet made [ laughter ]. I can say one thing: its production requires means other than those available in the former Soviet Union, including co-production and special effects.
10 of Artavazd Peleshian’s 11 films
Mountain Vigil (1964)
‘About the struggle of man’s will and muscles against nature, about the rock-climbers who prevent landslides and eliminate their consequences. Peleshyan’s first film has the least amount of transcendence but sets up his viewpoint perfectly.’ — PARAJANOV-VARTANOV INSTITUTE
Zemlya lyudey (1966)
‘Essay praising human life and work, the everlasting beauty and expression of human thought.’ — IMDb
‘Beginning is a cinematographical essay about the October Revolution of 1917. One of the unique visual effects used in this film is achieved by holding snippets of film still on a single frame, then advancing only for a second or two before again pausing on another, resulting in a stuttering visual effect.’ — ArtReview
‘The motif of energy conversion infuses the formal structure of Artavazd Peleshian’s film We. Assimilating two basic laws of thermodynamics, movement, pressure, temperature smelt images down to refined, low entropy nuggets of kinetic exhortation. Huge telluric chunks smash into jarring seventh brass chords, each one coded explosion and collision. The Eisenteinian tractor ploughing abstract patterns of revolutionary ardour into the psyche has been nuclearised. A long fuse burns retroactively from Peleshian’s undulating masses into the jagged insurgents that rampage across the editing cuts of Stachka (Strike, 1924) and Oktyabr (October, 1927). The conversion of energy is not just a metaphor that underlies the transformations of a revolutionary body politic, it also manifests the pathos of history, of time, and of memory as a kind of collective heat loss, an infinite sum of the finest gradations of temperature, each one a scintilla of the collective furnace of history hungry for fuel, desperate for ignition. These seeped quanta of barely perceptible warmth are sheathed in image-sound processes, that is oriented images and sounds, temporary associations, an architecture of movement. Cinema can transform this pathos into a glimmering throng of shining moments. The frenetic effort on screen does not dissipate into an entropic pool but rather resonates across a web of taut processes: faces linked with façades linked with shuddering avalanches, hands that wield the steal and coal of heavy industry fused to outstretched arms supporting a coffin, rivulets and currents in an ocean of bodies that resemble the laminar flow of lava cross-hatched across a violently erupting volcanoe. In a central image of the film a bobbing mass of heads on screen flow smoothly forwards then backwards, pivoting on an abrupt inflection. This edit point is a singular point, the core of a primordial gif. That dimensionless point houses…’ — Paul Macovaz
‘About Inhabitants, Peleshian said: “Many people were offended or insulted by We. After that experience, I was mad at mankind and decided to make a film about animals. Animals don’t get upset, but at the same time, by focusing on them, I could say the same things as I was saying about people”.’ — Letterboxd
Seasons of the Year (1972)
‘Artavazd Peleshyan’s Seasons of the Year (1975), a film-essay about the contradiction and the harmony between man and nature, was the the 2nd and the last collaboration with Mikhail Vartanov, who had directed Autumn Pastoral (1971) from Peleshian’s screenplay. In the Seasons of the Year (1975), for the first time, Artavazd Pelechian did not use any archival footage thanks to Vartanov’s exquisite cinematography and his wizardry in the lab. The film was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale), the Venice International Film Festival La Biennale, TIFF and the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam IDFA.
‘Peleshian’s Seasons of the Year (1975) is one of the 3 most important documentary films made in Armenia, along with Sergei Parajanov‘s Hakop Hovnatanian (1967) and Vartanov‘s Paradjanov: The Last Spring (1992). Seasons of the Year (1975) was voted by BFI British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound among the Greatest Films of All Time as well as the separate poll of the Greatest Documentaries of All Time.’ — PARAJANOV-VARTANOV INSTITUTE
Our Century (1982)
‘In no other Pelechian film has the ecstasy over human achievement mingled with the agony of existence in such an intricate fashion. The point is not the establishment of a simple irony, but of an exploration of what makes humanity go on, against all odds. “Our Century is a film about us, about me. It’s about what I’m striving for, what we’re all striving for- every person, humanity. But the wishes and desires of the people to ascend, to transcend, are literally carried out by the cosmonauts” – Artavazd Pelechian.’ — play-doc
‘During a train trip from Moscow to Yerevan, Artavazd Pelechian films the passengers, men and women of different ages and origins. This collective journey, steadily unspooling against an uncertain horizon, can be seen as a metaphor for life, a certain notion of destiny.’ — Fondation Cartier
‘A poetic essay on the beginning of life and its symbolic meaning. The director works with the images as if they were a musical score. His films are odes symphony that speak of humanity, nature and the cosmos.’ — rise-kult
‘More than 25 years after Artavazd Pelechian’s previous film, the now 82-year-old director has surprised the world with a new work. The simple title masks a film of great complexity about the magnificence and destructive power of nature. The film is made up of found footage sequences that cast humankind as a puny match for the great forces of nature, such as volcanic eruptions, roiling floods, hurricanes and tornados.
‘Although much of the footage was plucked from the internet, Pelechian shapes them in such a way that they merge seamlessly with his own utterly unique style, one that he has been steadily refining throughout his career. In short, the images are black-and-white, free of dialogue, and tend to have a monumental quality. They gain meaning when subjected to Pelechian’s celebrated “distance montage” technique, with repetition and subtle variation generating the work’s poetic intensity.
‘Using this highly individual but nonetheless timeless film idiom, in La Nature Pelechian presents us with an utterly contemporary and urgent film that shakes us from the illusion that humanity can control nature.’ — IDFA
p.s. Hey. ** Dominik, Hi!!! It’s really good. Give your doggie a behind-the-ears ‘you’re welcome’ scratch for me, or, wait, for Love, very different. Now that’s a question for the ages. Love surely has it within his powers to find the original person who looked at that admittedly quite beautifully shaped creamy white object extruding from a chicken’s posterior and thought, ‘Hm, I wonder …’. I wonder if people back then subsequently became very curious and started nibbling at everything that came out of non-humans’ butts. I wonder if it was like the scat equivalent of the gold rush. Hm. Love using that same power to find the first person who picked his or her or their nose and ate it, G. ** David Ehrenstein, Thank you! ** Misanthrope, Do, it’s his best in my opinion, as I guess I already said. Do you have some kind of inside information that Nadal is going to win Wimbledon then? ‘Cos it sure sounds like it. ** _Black_Acrylic, It’s really good, dude. I’ve never heard of ‘Slow Horses’. Hm, maybe I can find a bootleg. ** Bill, Was Kyle Muntz a d.l. here? Hm, I don’t recall. I do like his work, so his being a DC’s vet would be cool. I’ll get that new one. ** ANGUSRAZE (prrrrp), I’m fine, thanks. And thanks about ‘Frisk’. Chuffed hat you feel connected to it. Obviously, share the promo shoot if you do it. Ace! Uh, the film … we’re scrambling to get the last funding. We’re interviewing potential crew members. The film is about a family who turns their home into a haunted house attraction, to give you the simplest explanation. Lots of things happen within that. Max out that free time, and I know you will. Victory is within your grasp! ** Jeff J, Cool, it’s really, really good. I loved it. Mm, I think DCTV is either on hiatus at the moment or in the past, I’m not really sure. I’ll ask him. Obviously all the luck breaking the novel’s logjam. Hm, I don’t think I have one particular method of getting through the stuck parts other than putting it aside and just thinking about it rather than labouring over it. And inputting as much exciting prose and film or art or music or whatever as possible until the inevitable breakthrough. I guess it’s really just getting past the psychological stuff and reenergising. Pretty basic? I still don’t know precisely what Michael’s health problem is, but I have been told he’s on the mend, which is great. I don’t know about Bookworm’s restarting plans. I’m aiming to find out more, of course. ** Steve Erickson, They are? It’s true that it’s been ages since anything they put out was of seeming interest to me. MRI, that’s serious. I don’t think I’ve ever had one. Wait, I must’ve. The term MRI does have a costly vibe about it, but maybe not? Yes, we are stuck with the difficult one for the foreseeable future. I’ll look for the Jace Clayton book, interesting. Thanks! ** Okay. Artavazd Peleshian’s films were/are much beloved by the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, by Godard especially, and yet they’re not widely known. A bit more in France where’s there been recent resurgence of interest in him of late. Very beautiful work. Very worth experiencing and knowing. And that’s the blog’s suggestion to you for today. See you tomorrow.