DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Straub-Huillet Day *

* (restored/expanded)

 

Saturday, 10 March 2007, 2:30pm: a cinema located in the basement level of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. It is a screening of rare German short films dating from the 1960s and ’70s, as part of the 29th Cinéma du réel International Documentary Film Festival. Included in the programme is the 15-minute film essay, Einleitung zu Arnold Schönbergs ‘Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielscene’ (Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to an Animation Scene, 1972), made by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. As the encouragingly large number of spectators settles into their seats, a commotion can be heard from outside. Suddenly, a group of fifty or so activists bursts forcefully through the doors. Dispersing what look like pre-Photoshop-era leaflets throughout the audience, the group, made up largely of self-identifying unemployed young people, demands to be permitted to watch the film programme for free, incensed that a publicly-funded festival should be charging admission to its screenings, and advocating a more generalised divorce between art and commerce.

Affronted by this protest, the Festival director, after ordering the projectionist not to proceed with the screening, and enlisting physically intimidating security guards to make their presence felt in the theatre, intervenes personally, declaring to the crowd (to their credit, the paying audience sides almost unanimously with the protestors, despite the inconvenience) that she will not be “terrorised” into allowing the screening to go ahead, thus provoking a prolonged occupation of the salle. In the end, the planned programme of films never takes place.

Perhaps the Festival director should have been more careful with her words when equating the protestors with terrorists. Straub himself would no doubt have enjoyed the irony. Less than a year earlier, he had explained his and Huillet’s absence from the 2006 Venice Film Festival, where their last film, Quei loro incontri (The Meeting, 2006), was to be honoured, with the following missive: “I wouldn’t be able to be festive in a festival where there are so many public and private police looking for a terrorist – I am the terrorist, and I tell you, paraphrasing Franco Fortini: so long as there’s American imperialistic capitalism, there’ll never be enough terrorists in the world.” The statement shocked the festival-goers so much that Cameron Crowe, a member of the jury panel, even suggested that their prize for “invention of cinematic language in the ensemble of their work” be rescinded.

Such controversy was never very far away from the work of Straub-Huillet, whose collaboration was terminated with Huillet’s death due to cancer in October 2006, an event which caused an outpouring of grief from members of what Serge Daney dubbed the “Internationale Straubienne”. In 1976, West German television refused to air their adaptation of Arnold Schönberg’s Moses und Aron (Moses and Aaron, 1974) without excising the dedication to Holger Meins (a cameraman and imprisoned member of the Rote Armee Fraktion) appended to the start of the film. Their particular brand of Marxism, exhibited in films of theirs such as Les Yeux ne veulent pas en tout temps se fermer, ou Peut-être qu’un jour Rome se permetta de choisir à son tour (The Eyes do not Want to be Closed at all times, or Possibly Rome will allow itself to choose in its turn, more commonly known as Othon, 1969) and Geschichtsunterricht (History Lessons, 1972), incited fervent debate within European film circles. Even earlier, Straub-Huillet were mercilessly attacked for dedicating a film on the life of Johann Sebastian Bach to the Viet Cong, while the inaugural screening of their first feature, Nicht Versöhnt ode Es hilft nur Gewalt wo Gewalt herrscht (Not Reconciled, 1965), at the Berlinale provoked such an antithetical response from the audience of left intellectuals that Richard Roud was to say it made “the reception of L’Avventura [Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960] at Cannes seem like a triumph by comparison”. The film so baffled author Heinrich Böll, on whose story the script was based, that he stood by while his publishers threatened to burn the film’s negative.

Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle HuilletSuch opposition was matched by equally passionate defence of their work in other corners of the European cultural milieu. Darlings of the Cahiers du Cinéma journalists during their Marxist turn, as well as journals such as Screen and Filmkritik in the 1970s, Straub-Huillet also had significant portions of Gilles Deleuze’s seminal Cinéma books devoted to their work. Even today, critics such as Jonathon Rosenbaum and Tag Gallagher have made passionate pleas for the recognition of their contribution to the seventh art. And yet their output has had a singular failure to find even the kind of niche audience enjoyed by Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Pier Paolo Pasolini. Encouragingly, though, a revival of interest in their films is occurring. Recent DVD releases in the French-, German- and English-speaking markets have made their work far more accessible than it was even a couple of years ago. In France in particular, Straub-Huillet are presently the focus of unprecedented academic interest, with numerous monographs dedicated to them, and this interest is bolstered by continued retrospectives and public appearances by Straub.

And yet, while those critical of their work are quick to pounce on it as “unintelligible, inaudible”, or simply “boring”, even supporters of “the Straubs” are often ready to concede that their films are “intellectual, dry, difficult”. Adjectives such as “ascetic”, “rigorous” and even “Jansenist” preponderate in critical reviews, and their work is invariably conceived as combining a Brechtian politico-æsthetic programme with the cinematographic austerity of Robert Bresson and Carl Th. Dreyer. But, while these figures are certainly important influences on Straub-Huillet, such a conception unjustly narrows the scope of their work. D. W. Griffith, Kenji Mizoguchi and, as Gallagher has gone to great lengths to detail, John Ford are just as important precursors to Straub-Huillet as Bresson or Dreyer, while Schönberg, Friedrich Hölderlin and Cesare Pavese have featured just as prominently as Bertold Brecht as source material. Focussing purely on the rigour and anti-spectacular quality of their work overlooks the intense viscerality of the performances of their usually non-professional “actors”, and the equally sensual role of the material environment in their work: insect noises, mountainous backdrops, ruins of the ancient world, the rushing of a stream, the sun, the wind. Straub is fond of quoting Griffith that, “What the modern movie lacks is beauty – the beauty of moving wind in the trees.” — Senses of Cinema

 

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Stills




































































 

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Further

Straub-Huillet Website
‘Authenticity as a Political Act: Straub-Huillet’s Post-War Bach Revival’
Obituary: Danièle Huillet
Visual identity, book and website for the ‘Straub-Huillet’ film show
Serge Daney on S-H’s ‘Too Early, Too Late’
Serge Daney ‘Une Morale de la Perception’
S-H interviewed @ Jumpcut
S-H Facebook page
‘Resistance: Danièle Huillet Tribute’
‘Encountering Elusive Cinema: Tati, Straub-Huillet and Antonioni’
‘One Frame Apart: On Straub and Huillet and Pedro Costa’s Where Does Your Secret Smile Lie?
Jonathan Rosenbaum’s ‘Once it was Fire’
‘Class Relations’ @ cineaste
‘Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet talk about Ford, Fassbinder and their own films’
‘”Danger menaçant, peur, catastrophe”. Huillet-Straub-Farocki: une éthique du cinéma documentaire’
INTERNACIONAL STRAUB-HUILLET
‘Sound: Moses and Aaron’ @ Film Comment
‘A propósito de Straub-Huillet’

 

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Extras


Gilles Deleuze on Straub-Huillet Cinema 1987 English Subs


Straub & Huillet at work


Jean-Marie Straub et Danièle Huillet in debate with Paul Virilo & Philippe Quéaut (French)


Pedro Costa films Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet during their editing of Sicilia!


Danièle Huillet by Gérard Courant – Cinématon #343


Jean-Marie Straub by Gérard Courant – Cinématon #342

 

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Materials


Annotated script for Une visite au Louvre (Visit to the Louvre) (2004)

 


Camera position for Act II of The Death of Empedocles, based on Straub’s screenplay sketch.

 


Shooting notebook for ‘Klassenverhältnisse’ (Class Relations) (1984)

 

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Interview: Direct Sound
from douban

 

Italy has, to the rest of the world, the reputation of being the country that dubs ‘the best.’ The Italians don’t just dub the foreign films, but Italian ones as well: they are shot without sound, or with an international sound track, then they are dubbed. You are members of that group – and they are few enough – who film directly with sound; that is, who film the images and record at the same time the sounds of those images.

Straub: Dubbing is not only a technique, it’s also an ideology. In a dubbed film, there is not the least rapport between what you see and what you hear. The dubbed cinema is the cinema of lies, mental laziness, and violence, because it gives no space to the viewer and makes him still more deaf and insensitive. In Italy, every day the people are becoming more deaf at a terrifying rate.

Huillet: The thing is still sadder when you think that it’s in Italy that, in a certain sense, Western music, polyphony, was born.

Straub: The world of sound is much more vast than the visual world. Dubbing, as it is practiced in Italy, does not work with the sound to enrich it, to give more to the viewer. The greatest part of the waves that a film contains come from the sound, and if in relation to the images the sound is lazy, greedy, and puritan, what sense does that make? But then, it takes courage to make silent films.

Huillet: The great silent films give the viewers the freedom to imagine the sound. A dubbed film doesn’t even do that.

Straub: The waves that a sound transmits are not just sound waves. The waves of ideas, movements, emotions, travel across the sound. The waves that we hear in a Pasolini film, for example, are restrictive. They do not enhance the image, they kill it.

There are filmmakers like Robert Bresson or, better, Jacques Tati who use dubbing intelligently. Certain Tati films would be much less rich if they didn’t have artificial sound.

Straub: You can make a dubbed film, but it is necessary to use a hundred times more imagination and work to make a direct-sound film. In effect, the sonorous reality that you record is so rich that to erase it and replace it with another sonorous reality (to dub a film) would take three or four times the amount of time needed to shoot the film. On the contrary, the films are usually dubbed in three days, and sometimes in a day and a half, there is no work. It would make sense to shoot without sound and then make an effort with the sound, in counterpoint to the image. But filmmakers tend to paste the background noises to the silent images that give the impression of reality, the voices that don’t belong to the faces we see. It’s boring, vain, and a terrible parasitism.

Filming with sound costs less than dubbing.

Straub: Yes, but that would kill the dubbing industry and it violates the local customs.

Huillet: Directors prefer to dub out of laziness: if you have decided to make a film with direct sound, the locations that you choose have to be right not only in terms of the images but also in terms of the sound.

Straub: And that is translated into a thorough analysis of the whole film. For example, our last film, Moses und Aron, the Schoenberg opera, we shot in the Roman amphitheatre of Alba Fucense, near Avezzano, in Abruzzi. But we weren’t looking for an ancient theatre. What we wanted was simply a high plateau, dominated, if possible, by a mountain. We started to look for this plateau four years ago, in a borrowed car, and we put 11,000 kilometres on it, driving more on back roads and country lanes than on paved roads, through all of Southern Italy, down to the middle of Sicily. In the course of this research, we didn’t see one plateau, no matter how beautiful, that was good for the sound, because when we found ourselves on a plateau, everything was lost in the air and the wind. And, if there was a valley, we were assaulted by the noises from below. We were therefore obliged to reconsider our intentions and we discovered what we wanted, which was a basin or crater. And in the end, we saw that to film in a basin, in our case the amphitheatre, was better for the images also, because we had a natural theatrical space in which the subject, instead of being dissolved, was concentrated. We followed the opposite course of the Taviani brothers or Pasolini, who look for pretty spots, postcards such as you see in magazines, in which the subject of the film is dissipated instead of being localised. For us, the necessity of filming with direct sound, of recording all the singers you see in the frame, of getting at the same time their songs and their bodies that sing, led us to discoveries that meant we arrived at an idea that we would never have had otherwise.

Filming in direct sound means also editing in a certain way, rather than in another.

Straub: That’s obvious. When you film in direct sound, you can’t allow yourself to play with the images: you have blocks of a certain length and you can’t use the scissors any way you want, for pleasure, for effect.

Huillet: It’s exactly the impossibility of playing with the editing that is discouraging. You can’t edit direct sound as you edit the films you are going to dub: each image has a sound and you’re forced to respect it. Even when the frame is empty, when the character leaves the shot, you can’t cut, because you continue to hear off-camera the sound of receding footsteps. In a dubbed film, you wait only for the last piece of the foot to leave the range of the camera to cut.

Many filmmakers don’t believe in an empty frame with sound that continues off-camera, because they want cinema to be a frame: it should have nothing outside. They deny the existence of a world outside the frame. In your films, the off-screen space is something that exists and is materially felt.

Straub: That’s another illusion of the dubbed film. Not only are the lips that move on the screen not the ones that say the words you hear, but the space itself becomes illusionary. Filming in direct sound you can’t fool with the space, you have to respect it, and in doing so offer the viewer the chance to reconstruct it, because film is made up of ‘extracts’ of time and space. It’s possible to not respect the space you are filming, but then you have to give the viewer the possibility of understanding why it has not been respected and not, as in dubbed films, transform a real space into a constructed labyrinth which puts the viewer into a confusion from which he can no longer escape. The viewer becomes a dog who can’t find its young.

In sum, direct sound is not merely a technical decision but a moral and ideological one: it changes the whole film and especially the rapport that is established between the film and the viewer.

Huillet: I must say this: when you arrive at the conclusion that you must do a film like that, you cut yourself off from the industry, more or less completely. If you refuse to film with just a general sound track, if you refuse to dub your film, if you refuse to use such and such an actor because he’s been seen too much and it’s absurd to always use the same faces, it’s over. You cut yourself off completely. In fact, the main reason for dubbing is industrial: only by accepting the dictatorship of dubbing can you use two or three stars from different countries in the same film.

Straub: And the result is an international product, something stripped of words, onto which each country grafts its respective language. Languages that don’t belong to the lips, words that don’t belong to the faces. But it’s a product that sells well. Everything becomes illusion. There is no longer any truth. In the end, even the ideas and emotions become false. For example, in Allonsanfan, and I mention this film because it’s not worth talking about Petri’s or Lizzani’s, there is not a single moment, not one instant where there is a true, human emotion. Not even by accident, by chance. It’s trash. It has only the illusion of a comic book.

Many filmmakers identify the international aesthetic with the popular aesthetic, and accept dubbing, stars from different countries, and the rest, because they think it’s the only way to make successful films.

Straub: The international aesthetic is an invention and weapon of the bourgeoisie. The popular aesthetic is always a personal aesthetic.

For the bourgeoisie, there is no art that is not universal. The international aesthetic is like Esperanto.

Straub: Exactly. Esperanto has always been the dream of the bourgeoisie.

 

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15 of Straub-Huillet’s 24 films

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Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules (1965)
Not Reconciled (Nicht versöhnt) is a 1965 West German drama film directed by Jean-Marie Straub. It has the subtitle Only Violence Helps Where Violence Reigns (Es hilft nur Gewalt wo Gewalt herrscht). The film is an adaptation of the 1959 novel Billiards at Half-past Nine by Heinrich Böll. Richard Brody of The New Yorker reviewed the film in 2008: “Straub and Huillet make the layers of history live in the present tense, which they judge severely. The tamped-down acting and the spare, tense visual rhetoric suggest a state of moral crisis as well as the response—as much in style as in substance—that it demands.”‘ — collaged


the entire film w/ commentary by Richard Brody

 

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The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968)
‘In February 1968, a fateful year perhaps better remembered for its political upheavals, student uprisings, assassinations and the escalation of the Vietnam War than its cinematic achievements, a curiously backward-looking film premiered at the 1968 Cinemanifestatie Festival in Utrecht. The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, reconstructs the life of Johann Sebastian Bach through an examination of his music and documents, and stars the Dutch harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt as the composer. The film, which consists mainly of musical performances of Bach’s music, is narrated from the perspective of his second wife, portrayed by Christiane Lang-Drewanz, who recounts the activities of their day-to-day life in Cöthen and Leipzig. How could an austere film about Bach’s life and music, set in a remote eighteenth-century sound- and landscape, have been produced in the midst of the ferment and discontent of the late 1960s?’ — Kailan R. Rubinoff


the entire film


Straub & Huillet-The Making of Anna Magdalena Bach (1967)

 

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Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter (1968)
‘Three sequences are linked together in this short film by Straub; the first sequence is a long tracking shot from a car of prostitutes plying their trade on the night-time streets of Germany; the second is a staged play, cut down to 10 minutes by Straub and photographed in a single take; the final sequence covers the marriage of James and Lilith, and Lilith’s subsequent execution of her pimp, played by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.’ — IMDb


Excerpt


the entire film

 

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History Lessons (1972)
‘Set in contemporary Rome, the film shows through a series of encounters with “ancient” Romans, how the economic and political manipulation by ancient Roman society led to Caesar’s dictatorship. The end of history. Analog and digital recordings have forced history to produce its own history, thus turn it into a very mortal thing: like a person who lives and passes. There’s no longer a writer and myth in between. History Lessons shows this loss and conflict ruthlessly. One of the true wonders of cinema that came out of the Straub/Huillet collaboration. History as labyrinth and cities as the realization of that maze.’ — muni


the entire film

 

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Moses und Aron (1973)
Moses und Aron is based on the unfinished opera of the same title by Arnold Schoenberg. During its 1975 run at US festivals, it was also known as Aaron and Moses, and was frequently reviewed as such. It is one of three films based on Schoenberg works Straub and Huillet directed, the other two being Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielscene, a short film made directly before Moses und Aron, and, over two decades later, an adaptation of the one-act comic opera Von heute auf morgen. The film retains the unfinished nature of the original opera, with the third act consisting of a single shot (with no music) as Moses delivers a monologue based on Schoenberg’s notes.’ — collaged


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Every Revolution Is a Throw of the Dice (1977)
‘For spectators who don’t know what to do with their films, Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet offer a rigorous program that’s all work and no play–a grueling process of wrestling with intractable texts, often in languages that one doesn’t understand, without the interest provided by easy-to-read characters or compelling plots. But in fact every one of Straub-Huillet’s 15 films to date (10 features and 5 shorts) offers an arena of play as well as work, and opportunities for sensual enjoyment as well as analytical reflection. In Every Revolution Is a Throw of the Dice, (1977) a group of nine men and women recited Mallarme’s “A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance” while seated in Paris’s Pere Lachaise cemetery near a plaque commemorating the Paris Commune victims of 1871; but the delivery was comically poker-faced.’ — Chicago Reader


the entire film

 

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From the Cloud to the Resistance (1979)
‘Straub/Huillet’s From the Cloud to the Resistance has been summarized by Straub as follows: “From the cloud, that is from the invention of the gods by man, to the resistance of the latter against the former as much as to the resistance against Fascism. The film is based on two works by Cesare Pavese, falls into the category of History Lessons and Too Early, Too Late as well. It, too, has two parts—a twentieth-century text and a text regarding the myths of antiquity, each set in the appropriate landscape. Pavese’s The Moon and the Bonfires looks back on the violent deaths of Italian anti-Fascist resistance fighters; Dialogues with Leucò is a series of dialogues between heroes and gods, connecting myth and history and returning to an ambiguous stage in the creation of distinctions, such as that between animal and human, which are fundamental to grammar and language itself.”‘ — worldscinema.org


Excerpt

 

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En rachâchant (1982)
En rachâchant is a comic tale based on Marguerite Duras’ story Ah! Ernesto, about a young boy who refuses to go to school because they only teach him things he doesn’t know. 1982, France, in French with English subtitles, 35mm, 9 minutes.’ — Walker Art Center


the entire film

 

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Too Soon, Too Late (1982)
‘Opening upon one of the most memorable shots ever filmed, Too Soon, Too Late is an essay on the often tentative, yet urgent conditions of revolution. Shot in France and Egypt, the film employs a diptych structure as it attempts to (quite literally) catch the wind of past revolutions, using the writings of Friedrich Engels and Mahmoud Hussein. Too Soon, Too Late inverts the usual relationship in a Straub-Huillet film between landscape and text – the landscape becoming the film’s central text, the verbal text becoming the film’s “setting”. Practically speaking, this reduces the relative importance of the verbal texts in the films – although when I mentioned this notion to Straub, he countered that nevertheless the film could never have been made without those texts.’ — collaged


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Class Relations (1983)
‘A high point of Straub-Huillet’s cinema, this adaptation of Kafka’s first novel Amerika fuses the writer’s dreamlike vision with a Marxist analysis of master-servant relations; the result is hypnotic, provocative, and often surprisingly funny. Scrupulously drawing all of its dialogue directly from the novel, Class Relations recounts the fate of young German immigrant Karl Rossman, who accepts his nouveau riche uncle’s invitation to move to New York (Hamburg stands in for Manhattan, though the Statue of Liberty makes an iconic appearance), where he encounters an increasingly strange America of unwarranted optimism and quickness to assign guilt. Kafka’s working title for the novel was The Man Who Disappeared, and if Karl doesn’t exactly vanish in the New World, he maintains an inexpressive dignity in the face of its many humiliations, before finally setting out for Oklahoma and what is certain to be more misadventure. Performed with Bressonian precision, and featuring a supporting cast that is a cinephilic treasure trove (Harun Farocki, Laura Betti, Thom Andersen!), Class Relations is “a great film — which is to say, a film like any other, only greater…. See it!” (Gilbert Adair, Sight & Sound).’ — tiff


Excerpt

 

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The Death of Empedocles (1987)
‘Noted modernist German filmmakers Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub are behind this evocative minimalist retelling of the tragic story of Empedocles, a Greek philosopher and statesman who lived in the fourth century BC. To prove himself a god and therefore, immortal, Empedocles hurled himself into the burning caldera of Mount Etna and survived. There are four slightly different versions of the film available.’ — worlds cinema.org


Excerpt

 

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Sicilia! (1999)
‘A dude (credited as “the son” but I believe named Silvestro) talks with an orange seller about meals. A man on the train complains about the poor. Yelling, always yelling! Everyone is yelling. He’s on a trip, stops to have conversations with people he meets (appropriately, this is based on a book called Conversations in Sicily) which sound like recitations. It wasn’t until I rewatched some scenes from this within Pedro Costa’s documentary on the making of the film that I appreciated the recitations, their strange cadence – the first time I was just reading the subtitles, following the conversation, but apparently there’s more to it than the words being spoken. More on the fate of Sicilians, and some over-my-head philosophy. The sound sometimes disappears.’ — deeperintomovies.net


Excerpt

 

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Une visite au Louvre (2004)
Une visite au Louvre begins with a long panning shot along the bank of the Seine, then moves on inside to examine works by Ingres, Veronese, Giorgione, David, Delacroix, Tintoretto and Courbet. The soundtrack consists of a text by the poet Joachim Gasquet, which evokes comments attributed to Cézanne. His words are spoken in a deliberately artificial manner by Julie Koltaï. The imaginary Cézanne is gruff, quarrelsome and inspiringly meticulous as he comments on his colleagues’ paintings. He attacks the period painters, and purposefully takes sides with the modernists, whose work is characterized by their realist power of expression, light and use of colour.’ — argosarts.org


the entire film

 

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Quei Loro Incontri (2006)
‘“It’s come too soon for our death —too late for our life”. The statement which Danièle Huillet (1936) and Jean-Marie Straub (1933) gave the day after they were honoured at the youngest film festival of Venice for “innovation in the cinematographic language”, still resounds, albeit even more bitterly: on 9th October 2006 Danièle Huillet came to her end. Their most recent film Quei loro incontri (‘Those Encounters of Theirs’) has turned into a worthy testament, through which a number of the basic elements from their lifework resound: the references to the philosophical materialismo of Marx and Engels, the visual asceticism, the use of direct sound and the adoption of existing work.This film, like Dalla Nube Alla Resistenza (‘From the Clouds to the Resistance’, 979), is based on Dialoghi con Leucò (‘Dialogues with Leuco’) by the Italian author Cesare Pavese. In five chapters two characters are presented, reciting philosophical conversations from the book.’ — collaged


Documentary about the film

 

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Kommunisten (2014)
‘”[…] and also, indeed more, perhaps in those who were in no way exceptional and have left no trace, there was something that went beyond the struggle against Nazism, something – be it only for a moment, the last one – that contributed, whether they knew it or not, to the “dream of a thing” which men have had “for so long,” to the enormous dream of men.” These words of Franco Fortini, spoken in Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub’s Fortini/Cani (1978), are a kind of summation of one of the major themes of their work. From one film to the next, they return to this “dream of a thing”: the day Camille dreams of in Eyes Do Not Want to Close At all Times (1969) when “Rome will allow herself to choose in her turn,” human’s desire to commune with the gods in From the Cloud to the Resistance (1979), the “new duties, higher duties, other duties” the Gran Lombardo desires in Sicilia ! (1998) and the village the characters try to re-build that winter in Workers, Peasants (2001)—“this reunion of people could become the best thing or also the worst thing.” Every major character in a Straub-Huillet film is a wild, crazy dreamer. This is no less true of Kommunisten (2014), Jean-Marie Straub’s newest feature, comprised of 6 sections, one shot recently and 5 selected from earlier Straub-Huillet films. It is a matter here not of Kommunismus (Communism), of something abstract, of an—ism—it is never so in Straub-Huillet’s work as Tag Gallagher has argued.* Kommunisten, then—the word translates as communists—which is to say, living and breathing men and women. Even in the most cinetract-like of their films, it is always a question of men and women doing specific things, acting in concrete, material circumstances: Arnold Schoenberg’s letters to Wassily Kandinsky in Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s Musical Accompaniment to a Cinematic Scene (1972) or the electric power that killed the two boys in Europa 2005 – 27 October (2006) or the philosophers hiding in in their beds in Joachim Gatti: variation of light (2009) while the “women of the markets” are the ones who stop people from slitting each others throats. Their greatest film, Workers, Peasants (2001), has nearly an entire reel (the 6th) in which the characters, primarily the Widow Biliotti, recite a recipe for ricotta cheese and discuss the best wood to burn for cooking it. The Communists of the Kommunisten’s title, then, are not political philosophers but characters, wonderfully brought to life by Straub-Huillet’s brilliant cast of actors, who work day by day to try to realize or reach “the enormous dream of men” even if it kills them (Empedocles, Antigone). No theoretical, waxing poetic, no prescriptive politics, but tangible discussions of imprisonment, survival, sex, work and relationships.’ — Ted Fendt, MUBI


the entire film

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Armando, Hi. I don’t want to get into this thing between you and Steve anymore. It sounds like guys might have sorted it out or reached a conclusion yesterday, and I hope that’s the case. ** David Ehrenstein, Yes, that would be good. I like the tree too. I like the three silent moving trees even more. Something about trees apparently. I’ll check the AE Housman piece, thanks a bunch! ** Bill, It is! Okay, I’ll be patient for details and, for now, I’m issuing hang in there vibes for your laptop. I’ve never liked an Aronofsky film, and it sounds like ‘mother!’ is everything I can’t stand about his films rolled into one. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Yes, the holiday of all holidays has taken its yearly grip! Mm, I always especially like the really simple ones for some reason. So I like the ‘moving trees’ one. I like the ‘crawling corpse’ one, mostly because I like seeing the mechanism move on its own too. But I like them all, honestly. Today Sylvain who plays one of the main characters Guillaume comes in to rerecord some lines. Tomorrow Benjamin (Roman) does the same. And there’s one scene where a little girl in a playground confronts one of the characters, and the girl we filmed looked right but her delivery is too fake, so we need to dub another girl’s voice over hers, and I think we’ve found one, and she will come in Thursday. So far my laptop is hanging in there, but the trackpad is dead, so I have to do this acrobatic trick to use the thing, and it’s no fun, so, yes, the new laptop can’t arrive soon enough. We will do the Fujiko Nakaya documentary, but it’s a long term project because we’ll need to meet with her first, and she lives in Tokyo. So we’re going to do another fiction film first. We have a really good, exciting idea for it, and now we just have to write a really good script. ‘Games’ … like what? Like role-play or mind-games kind of things? That sounds curious. My day was predictably all sound editing, which went well. We’re getting pretty far along now, and it’s starting to sound fantastic. Our producer is coming by today to check things out, and hopefully he’ll agree. What did Tuesday do for you? ** Alistair, My honor, man. And I saw some photos from the reading on FB, and it looked swell. And it made me miss Skylight too. Great, I’m so happy it was a big hit for you as well as for the assembled. Enjoy everything today. ** Thomas Moronic, There is no escaping Halloween now. Not now that it’s in the blog’s grip. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I’m glad that your thing with Armando seems to have resolved. Oh, okay, about ‘Western’. I’ll check what’s playing here. Excellent about the nearness of your film’s completion! And of course I’m super looking forward to your already legendary Argento piece. ** _Black_Acrylic, Well, banned in the US. It might still be sneaking through in the UK where, and correct me if I’m wrong, you guys don’t seem to be suffering the same US plague of easily triggered people acting like self-appointed cops. ** Chris dankland, Hey, Chris. Thank you, man. I’m very glad too, duh. I even considered going into the blog’s woodwork to give it a spooky design makeover, but it’s too complicated to do, and it would fuck everything up forever, alas. Mike Bushnell, interesting. I hope I’ll get the chance. Great day to you! ** Misanthrope, I like that wee mechanical lass too. Nah, the theater circuit is really conservative with their dough, or at least the circuit that can afford importing European stuff. Yeah, gotcha on finding the like-minded. It’s easier here in Paris, obviously. Ha ha, I don’t even know if those two books of mine have eBook versions. I don’t think Grove Press gives much of a shit about my books at this point. Great about the AF concert! ** Paul Curran, Hi, Paul! It’s so sweet to see you, my buddy! Stuff’s good with me. Film film film, mostly. Are you getting time to write at all? I love getting to see your photos on FB. And you have the most awesome son in the world, I think. Future superhero, that one. Love, me. ** Sypha, Ha ha ha, no! Really? No, I can’t believe it! ** Right. I decided to restore and slightly improve my Day based around the great filmmakers Straub-Huilet, and I obviously encourage you to forage about in what’s up there today. See you tomorrow.

19 Comments

  1. Hey, I didn’t conclude or sort anything out. I just couldn’t give less of a fuck if I tried. The words, aggressions, insults, libels and accusations from people like that mean and are worth less than nothing to me; only, due to the mental state and condition I’m in presently it took me a few days to react like I should and normally would. 🙂 And that’s that. I got the most recent restoration of Gance’s ‘Napoléon’, which is five and a half hours long. Really cool.

  2. The US indie distributor Grasshopper Film, which released a documentary about Robert Frank, Robert Greene’s KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE and NOCTURAMA, is planning an extensive Straub/Huillet reissue program at the end of this year. I believe they’re mounting a theatrical re-release of MOSES AND AARON in the US, followed by Blu-Rays of all their film from NOT RECONCILED through THE DEATH OF EMEPEDOCLES. (They’ll also be available for streaming.)

    The sheer negative energy of that interview is amazing. Like, I think the Taviani brothers and Elio Petri were just as talented!

  3. Thank you for this.

  4. Hi!

    I’m not familiar with their work so thank you for today’s Straub-Huillet day!

    Awesome, you’ve already started working with the actors! How did it go today, with Sylvian? It must be quite difficult to be a “voice-actor” while the actual role is played by someone else. I’m glad you managed to find a girl who seems like a good person for the task!
    Shit. I hope the new laptop arrives soon, soon, soon!!
    Oh I see! God, it’s exciting! I’m really curious about your new idea already! Please do share when it’s possible!
    Yes, yes. There’s a very high variety of these “games” (for lack of a better word – maybe “tasks” fits better): they might include actual acting (such as role-playing, yes), drawing, nonverbal games where the group members are forced to read each other’s facial expressions or movements to communicate, etc. We chose our particular “games” based on what we want to achieve with them: we’d like to strengthen the connection among the members, we’d like to facilitate communication skills, etc. The point is to “experience” instead of just using words to analyze certain topics and situations. It’s a bit like a drama class in a sense. … I have no idea if this made anything any clearer, haha.
    I’m so happy to hear the editing progresses so awesomely! Congratulations! Did your producer like what he saw/heard? I certainly hope he did!
    I had my job interview today (at a children’s bookstore) and I’m cautious to say this but maybe I aced the first round! At least the shop owner told me she’ll contact me again with a date when I can go in for a “test day” to see if the job really fits. Everyone was super-nice and I liked the shop a lot so my fingers are extremely crossed! (Even though it’d mean 10 hours of work 4 days a week + about 2 hours of commute…)
    I hope you had a lovely day too! Please do share!

  5. Back when I was a guard at the Met the Straubs came in one afternoon and spent hours in the gallery with the Cezanne paintings, then left without looking at anything else. Years later they made their “Cezanne” film.

    In the late 70’s I programmed a double feature of “Moses and Aaron” with Resnais’ “Je T’aime Je T’aime” and the Gordon here in L.A.

    The Straubs are reflexively compared to Bresson, but they’re not alike at all. They use non-professional players (and pros too like Howard Vernon and Laura Betti) but don’t treat them like “models” as Bresson did. They’re framing and cutting is likewise dissimilar.

  6. Thanks for the blog today. I miss the European cinema of the 60s/70s! At Beyond Baroque I showed a 16mm print of The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. And the interview with the pair about dubbing is fascinating as well. Good thing for me to read in the first thing in the morning.

  7. My favorite of their films are “Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach,” “Moses and Aaron” and “Not Reconciled” which takes a novel that in other hands would get conventional treatment and compacts it into 55 intense minutes.

  8. In these last days of the DVD rental era, there’s something available with Chronicle Of Anna Magdalena Bach, Sicilia! and Une Visite au Louvre on it so I’ve put an order in for that. No Class Relations which is a shame as this looks really good. Once I find a new DVD rental company then I’ll try and seek it out.

    In a few minutes I’m off out to meet Alex at the regular book quiz they have at Waterstone’s. I’ll try get some Yuck ‘n Yum chat in ahead of next week’s meeting at the Vision building, and we’ll maybe put together an agenda for it. But here’s hoping for a fun time whatever.

  9. I have the Chronicle/Sicilia/Visit DVD, and it’s well worth getting, although I no longer own a multi-region player so I can’t watch it again.

    Of the films I’ve seen, which is not all since Kiyoshi Kurosawa has remained quite prolific, I think BEFORE WE VANISH is his best since TOKYO SONATA. It’s a riff on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and motifs from his previous work (the apocalypse, a weird stranger asking people seemingly naive questions about the nature of concepts like “self” and “love”) that seems deadly serious in its post-humanism and is also often quite funny. The deep sense of dread that powered films like CURE, CHARISMA & PULSE is replaced by a fatalist sense that the human race is fucked and we may as well get some laughs out of it. Three aliens arrive in Tokyo, preparing the way for an invasion and stealing people’s souls while they’re at it. They look just like ordinary Japanese people, but they try to learn about the peculiarities of the nation’s culture- and the human race, in general – in order to invade it. This doesn’t quite have the exquisitely mysterious and disturbing qualities that CURE & PULSE had or the grasp on everyday life that TOKYO SONATA did (to name my three favorite K. Kurosawa films), but there’s something appealing about its disorienting refusal to settle on a tone. It insists that you take it seriously, as silly as it sometimes seems, and it has a few ideas in common with MARJORIE PRIME. A lot of them imply that technology has brought the human race to a crossroads with which we’re not coping very well, although this is subtext until the epilogue.

  10. We just had a severe earthquake here in my city. Some buildings and houses collapsed. There’s isn’t an official death toll yet.

  11. Hey Dennis – I’ve been MIA on the blog for a bit due to health issues. I keep getting migraines though it may not be related eye problems as much as a seriously infected sinuses. I’m on antibiotics now and hoping they finally clear things up. The last week or two has been a drag, surfacing long enough to do editing on my novel and my freelance work and that’s about it.

    Actually I did manage to see a film in the theater – friends dragged me to see Mother. Weirdly, every writer I know on FB seems to love the film while I couldn’t get beyond the fact that it’s a ham-fisted allegory of the Bible and some really obvious political ideas. And I can’t believe so many people with decent taste just shrug that off.

    All to say, it’s really nice to see this expanded Straub-Huillet day and some serious cinema that deserves to be showcased. Their work is really remarkable, though it took me a film or two to become fully attuned to what they’re doing. Still need to watch ‘Not Reconciled’ and maybe if the antibiotics grant me enough attention I’ll pull out my copy in the next few days.

    Glad to read you and Zac already have a new idea for the next film. Was it something you brainstormed together or did one of you already have the seeds for the idea? Anything you can share about it, even in the abstract? Always curious about how different people navigate those initial steps in the collaborative creative process.

  12. Handmade merchandise for the goat Black Phillip from THE WITCH on Etsy, courtesy distributor A24 (who say they missed out on an official merchandise opportunity!): https://a24films.com/notes/2017/07/black-phillip-is-an-etsy-king?utm_source=FB&utm_medium=linkclicks&utm_campaign=etsy_post

  13. Dennis, I should check and see if there are e-versions of those two books. I didn’t even bother when she told me that. Of course, if there aren’t, I can always say, “Read ’em now, woman!”

    My God, how much does it cost to put on a show like, say, “Jerk”? I guess I’m naive -or just ignorant- about the cost of such things. Actually just started adding in my head what I would assume are costs, and yeah, I think I’m probably naive or ignorant, hahaha.

    My friend Jullion wants to get together again, so maybe he and I -and his bf- can do “Call Me by Your Name” in the District. That’d be fun. Fuck, I’m gonna turn that guy into a pervert before you know it. Not really. He’s already a pervert, thank the stars.

    Have you heard about this Rock Game? It’s big where I live. It’s like the rabble’s version of Pokemon Go. People paint rocks and leave them wherever. If you find one, you collect it, and then replace it with one of your own painted rocks. People paint pics or just colors or “inspirational” quotes.

    So I had an idea…yes, paint a bunch of rocks with dicks and pussies and titties and people fucking. I haven’t read where that isn’t allowed.

    I bet someone would fingerprint those fuckers and try to get me arrested, though.

    Have you heard that Taylor Swift has a new album out and it’s…wait for it…DARK! Sooooo dark. I think she sings about some breakups or something.

    Being into the stuff I’m into -and that most here are into- gives one a sort of privilege, in the sense that when other people think something like a Taylor Swift album is dark, we can just sit back and nod and not say a word and know that they haven’t a clue. That’s kind of fun. Besides, the stuff we are into is better, and I’ll stand my ground on that.

  14. Excellent day, Dennis, on totally fascinating!

    Yeah, thanks, he’s a good kid for sure, and 10 now, gone very fast. I think he was about one and a half when you met him in Paris.

    It must feel amazing the way your films have been coming together. That’s very cool you’re planning a Fujiko Nakaya. Did I tell you we went to the Tate exhibition in March? Also realized the kiddo had been to her Children’s Park in Tachikawa a few years ago. You guys should come over here and make a Tokyo fiction film one day too!

    Things have been mostly sorted and settled down. I’ve been working on my J-novel pretty regularly, but slowly. Mainly because of my own mad techniques. I’m basically writing an English translation of this ‘fake’ Japanese novel (‘Burn You Golden Idols’) that may or may not exist, but apparently influenced a load of real novels and stuff, translated by someone who can’t speak Japanese. I was writing notes for a couple of years, but now I typing out the whole thing without looking back at them. It’s long and I’m probably only going to use incorrectly annotated excerpts of the English translation anyway, but I want to write the whole thing first, kind of tricking myself it’s ‘real’. If I can, I’d like to get a quarter done by xmas, and finish a good draft next year…

    Love to you too xx

  15. I’m starting to think about casting CULTURE SHOCK, and I approached an actor whom I talked with a few years ago. Back then, he sent me two shorts in which he appeared: one is a benign Whit Stillman-esque romantic comedy, the other is a very dark film in which he plays a serial killer obviously based on Jeffrey Dahmer (based on a play he wrote.) He clearly has talent and range, and I E-mailed him last night about CULTURE SHOCK. There are two reasons I’m reluctant to work with Dave, the actor who appears in THIS WEEK TONIGHT, in CULTURE SHOCK. One: he has a lot of trouble memorizing monologues, as opposed to more conventional film and theater dialogue where he bounces lines off other actors. Two: as I’ve mentioned, he’s Arab-American and although he had no problem with me casting him as a white, Jewish character in THIS WEEK TONIGHT, I don’t think the section where his character in CULTURE SHOCK talks about getting cast as an Irish-American cop on a TV show in his 20s would be believable given his looks. Maybe I should change the ethnicity to Italian-American and it would be believable? There’s also an increasing demand in the LGBT audience for queer actors to play queer characters and Dave is queer. But out of the 5 shorts I’ve made so far, the worst performance came from a gay actor playing a gay man. This is not because he was gay, it’s because I allowed him to drink real wine during filming, but such demands come from a kind of politics that knows nothing about what it’s like to actually direct and cast a film. I actually don’t know anything about the sexual orientation of the actor I E-mailed yesterday. But I’ve seen people criticize CALL ME BY YOUR NAME for casting two heterosexual actors and (more legitimately) because the director only came out after the film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival (although I’m not sure if he was actually in the closet or if people just didn’t know widely about his sexuality.)

  16. Who is muni and why have they “borrowed” from my blurb on History Lessons?

    Great blog entry on Straub-Huillet, by the way.

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