Film magazines are one of the big problems in our household. "Are you really going to go on keeping them?" my wife asks. There is the spark of auto-da-fe in her eye. She nods in the extensive direction of shelves bowed beneath the gravure paper, the surface of which has nearly rubbed away from use. My Sight and Sounds, for instance. They go back to the late 1950s, and there's a treasured item - the issue for autumn 1955 - where the tattered cover is separate from the body of the magazine. But I can't let that cover go: it's Francoise Arnoul and Jean Gabin dancing together in a still I've never seen elsewhere from Renoir's French Cancan. As for the inside, it has "More Light" by Josef von Sternberg himself, a memoir that would appear later in his book, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, and there's the second of two essays on Fritz Lang in America by Gavin Lambert.
It's absurd, with all the pressures on space we have, and it was sillier, decades ago, to ship the collection back and forth across the Atlantic when I wasn't sure where I was going to be. I daresay they're all on microfiche and the web now, but I love the silky things themselves, and the memories they bring back. "But what about the videotapes," my wife interrupts, "most of which are absolutely unfit for the children to see. Or me!"
Well, I winced a few days ago when I read in Variety (bulky, but essential) that Cahiers du Cinema was being revamped with "a snazzier design". The circulation, it seems, was down to 25,000 and that has inspired the ownership - ultimately Le Monde - to employ a more up-to-date "look" and to have more stories on box office, strike measures, deal-making, and so on. All this was being done as part of an effort to help the magazine "break even". I winced not at that vulgarity being imposed on Cahiers' dense texts, but that my collection of it stopped back in the 1980s. I can only read stuff I don't understand for 20 years or so.
Except that, even schoolboy French could make enough of the yellow-covered days of Cahiers in the late 1950s and early 1960s to know it picked the right pictures to rant about and was a treasury of ravishing stills. If you wanted a quick education in movie sensibility then, you had only to compare the stills in Cahiers with those in Sight and Sound. How could that be? For film stills, famously, came from the companies that made and distributed the movies. How could there be two quite different styles at work? Today, when the stills put out with movies have never been more drab and heartless, to look at Cahiers is like a journey into the French dark. …