Film, Media and Music

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Phil Powrie

After La lune dans le caniveau, Jean-Jacques Beineix worked on a script for a vampire film, based on the novel La Vierge de glace by Marc Behm. This project, for which Beineix bought the rights, and has continued to pay them annually, was shelved because American producers felt that the budget of $20 million was too high. Beineix worked on the adaptation, this time alone, over a period of two months in Saint Cyprien, near Gruissan, on the Languedoc coast. Gruissan is the site of the 1930s beach houses on stilts which are one of the more startling images of the film. Disenchanted with his experience of the producers of his two previous films, he had created his own company, Cargo Films, in November 1984, and tried to associate with some Swiss producers for 37°22 le matin.

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

This chapter introduces Jean Renoir's life and his highly uneven career. It demarcates his vision of his films, craft and ideological evolution and draws substantially on his writings and interviews. Renoir was born in 1894 in Paris, and his first project was Catherine ou une vie sans joie for which he hired Albert Dieudonné to direct his wife. As he made films addressing different audiences with varying degrees of freedom in shifting production and socio-historical contexts, the chapter identifies the periods when the contextual factors remained relatively stable. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, mon père is the text most frequently drawn upon to fill in his early years. Renoir celebrated the popular commitment that led to the victory of the revolutionary armies against the Prussians at Valmy. His discussions of cinematic creativity during the Popular Front period are an intriguing blend of left-wing collectivism and inherited definitions of the creative process.

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Three allegorical fables

Boom! (1968), Secret Ceremony (1968) and Figures in a Landscape (1970)

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Colin Gardner

Joesph Losey's involvement in Secret Ceremony, Boom! and Figures in a Landscape was a case of blatant economic necessity. The films are perched precariously between these Puritan and Marxist extremes. At their best - Secret Ceremony - Losey was able to foreground moral questions in light of their cultural constructs, producing a didactic distance in which basic instincts such as incest can be simultaneously felt and critically examined through both Freudian and Marxian frameworks. At their worst - Boom! - Losey tends to confine his protagonists within hermetically sealed environments so that serious ontological issues of life, death and sex are divorced from all social and political (i.e. class) relevance. The films can be usefully grouped together because of their stylistic and thematic similarities. In each case, Losey supplements his trademark baroque mannerisms with an overt, fable-like narrative structure, all the better to polarize his latent Manichaeism.

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Douglas Morrey

This chapter considers why Jean-Luc Godard's late 1980s films have often attracted a negative response, looking at their claustrophobic settings and offputting themes of failure and regret. A consistent complaint develops across these films whereby Godard seems to argue that art, or even civilisation itself, have been consigned to the past. It is this discourse that has led to the characterisation of the director as a grumpy hermit, an image Godard willingly plays up to in his own roles in Soigne ta droite and King Lear. The chapter argues that even if Godard's citational aesthetic is in some senses postmodern, his films maintain a critical stance with regard to the post-industrial cultural economy. It also shows how Godard continues to search for images of resistance to this economic organisation, and finds them in images of the body as well as elemental images of fire and water.

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Douglas Morrey

In the 1990s, Jean-Luc Godard's work was marked by a distinct turn towards the past, by a new concern for history. The hypothesis of the end of history has been most famously asserted in recent times by Francis Fukuyama. Godard's Allemagne neuf zéro can be seen as a response to the kind of triumphalism surrounding the reunification of Berlin and the victory of western capitalist democracy. JLG/JLG: Autoportrait de décembre presents an image of Godard at a moment in time, engaging in such typical activities as working on films and walking by the lake. In Hélas pour moi, Godard aims to give his story a completely different status to the kind of information that is easily assimilated but quickly forgotten in the contemporary sphere of audiovisual media.

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A second exile

Losey in Europe

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Colin Gardner

In April 1975, Joseph Losey officially became a tax exile after relocating himself from Chelsea to Paris because of tax problems. In his The Assassination of Trotsky and Les Routes du Sud, the two political exiles, Leon Trotsky (walled up in his Mexico City compound) and Jean Larrea, Semprun's French-based Spanish loyalist, are reduced to mere shadows of their former selves and they led hermetic lives of purely textual production. Much of this dearth of topical relevance is rooted in Losey's own exile, in particular his lack of active political affiliation with the British left, as well as his estrangement from working-class culture as a whole. By 1976, Losey had settled into the non-activist niche of 'personalized politics'. He admitted that his youthful need for the ideological safety net of a rigid political organization had been replaced by a more fluid political contingency.

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Douglas Morrey

Le Gai Savoir marks, within Jean-Luc Godard's œuvre, the mythic return to zero that had been repeatedly called for over the preceding two years. If this is the case, it is doubtless largely because the film is articulated around the rupture represented by the student revolt and accompanying strikes and demonstrations associated with May 1968. Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's collaborative approach is bound up with a certain rejection of auteurism on Godard's part, which he considered to be incompatible with radical socialist politics. Pravda, filmed in Czechoslovakia by Godard and Gorin with a Czech documentary team, but edited by Godard alone, is perhaps exemplary in this regard. Tout va bien, co-directed with Jean-Pierre Gorin, was Godard's first broadly commercial film since he turned his back on the mainstream film industry in 1968. The scene is filmed in one long tracking shot behind the checkouts at this enormous supermarket.

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Douglas Morrey

Jean-Luc Godard once famously remarked that writing film criticism was, for him, already a kind of filmmaking. A mixture of playfulness and reverent cinematic homage is to be found in the film language that Godard employs in A bout de souffle. The film became famous for its use of jump-cuts, and it may be difficult for today's viewers, familiar with the ultra-rapid editing of music videos and advertising, to appreciate how disruptive this technique appeared to contemporary spectators. The playfulness of À bout de souffle is visible, too, in the lengthy central scene between Michel and Patricia in the latter's hotel room which constitutes by itself around one third of the whole film. This tendency to balance his generic action narratives with extraordinarily long sequences representing the domestic life of a couple is one that characterises the whole of the first period of Godard's career.

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

Jean Renoir is widely seen as the greatest French director and one of the major figures of world cinema. Hence, he has become a plum prize for critics (especially French ones) to fight over. This chapter deals with Renoir and his leftist critics and the auterists. His challenge to critics of the left comes from his move in and out of commitment. He is a challenge to auteurists because of his commitment and his many changes of direction. Cahiers was a polemical journal, and the Cahiers critics were far from uniform in their general outlook or their specific response to Renoir. If left-wing criticism of Renoir has been indelibly marked by a reaction to the auteurism of Cahiers, then subsequent auterist analyses have had to respond to the Renoir of the left. The chapter lingers on the rich and challenging existential auteurism of Serceau before exploring essentialist auteurism.

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

Critics seem to assume a dehistoricised and homogenised America that is somehow the antithesis of France. Perhaps this is because 'Renoir américain' was seen on European screens when the cold war was raging and the world seemed polarised between two monolithic blocs. This chapter retains Christopher Faulkner's notion of the ideological shift in Jean Renoir but suggests a more complex toing and froing before Frontist values are finally abandoned. Renoir experienced the United States as a refuge, a haven of freedom in a world where freedom was increasingly in short supply. The chapter suggests that Swamp Water and The Southerner can be seen as an outsider's engagement with myths of America. This Land is Mine and Diary of a Chambermaid, while noticeably inflected by Hollywood, have clear links to Renoir's Popular Front films. The Woman on the Beach and The River show men psychologically or physically maimed by the fighting.