Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Improvised Notes on French Expanded Cinema

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Improvised Notes on French Expanded Cinema

Article excerpt

An earlier version of this talk was presented at the Museum Of Modern Art in Vienna, February 27, 2004, in conjunction with the exhibit "X-Screen: Film Installations and Actions in the 1960s and 1970s."-eds.

But let us not adopt these exclusive Entertainments which close up a small number of people in melancholy fashion in a gloomy cavern, which keep them fearful and immobile in silence and inaction. . .No, happy Peoples, these are not your festivals. It is in the open air, under the sky, that you ought to gather and give yourselves to the sweet sentiment of your happiness. . .Let the sun illuminate your innocent entertainments; you will constitute one yourselves, the worthiest it can illuminate. . .What will be shown in them? Nothing, if you please. . .Plant a stake crowned with flowers in the middle of a square; gather the people together there, and you will have a festival. Do better yet; let the Spectators become an Entertainment to themselves; make them actors themselves; do it so that each sees and loves himself in the others so that all will be better united.

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau, letter to d'Alembert (1758)

I am deeply thankful to Matthias Michalka, Bifst Ulin, Manuela Ammer and the Museum of Modern Art for their kind invitation, as well as for their great work on the most exciting part of cinema, and more generally of art.

I want to begin by apologizing to my distinguished audience for the complete change in the subject of my contribution. When Matthias Michalka and Manuela Ammer invited me to this event, I thought it would give me an opportunity to analyze one of my favorite films, Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which I screened at the Cinémathèque Française in its long, twenty-two minute version, then presented in its eleven minute version on Arte, the French-German public television channel. At that point, I received the catalog for the exhibit and realized that I could perhaps contribute more interestingly or rather, more usefully, to knowledge about the history of "out-of-screen" cinema, for it was indeed the third time I had noticed that this history was being told with its French chapter missing.

I am not the chauvinistic type at all; I am simply a native of France. And I am surprised when I read great art books such as Paul Schimmel's Out of Actions (the catalog for a major exhibit presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1998) or Rosalie Goldberg's Performance, both of which establish a history of performance, installations, and expanded cinema without mentioning French artists. The only exception is Jean-Jacques Lebel, probably because he was quoted both in Allan Kaprow's The Blurring of Art and Life and Gene Youngblood's Expanded Cinema; but even more likely because he participated in a famous happening at the Knokke-Le-Zoute's festival in Belgium along with Japanese artist and future American superstar Yoko Ono. In any case, there appears to be a missing link and I take it as my duty, as a French native, to tell you about some names, some events, some films. Such necessity would, of course, not be so pressing if, as a cinephile, I was not also convinced of the magnificent beauty of masterpieces such as Maurice Lemaître's Un soir au cinéma (1962), Pierre Clémenti's Visa de censure #X (1967-1975), Daniel Pommereulle's Vite (1970), or Lionel Soukaz's Ixe (1980). These are major works of art, as rich and vital in my opinion as Ronald Nameth's Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

Three major tendencies coexist in the French tradition of expanded cinema. All three feed on rejecting the distinction between the symbolic and the real, and much of their activity centers on the possibility of short-circuiting the gap between the two spheres.

* The first tendency consists of a technical process of immersion. Cinema becomes a global environment where images are mobilized to invade bodies and minds. In this instance, the image refuses its condition as a local phenomenon and establishes itself as a concrete reality, in the manner of a temporal monument. …

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