Monday, October 29, 2007

La coquille et le clergyman - Germaine Dulac (1928)

"Pure cinema is an error, just as in any art it is an error to try to reach the principle of that art to the detriment of its objective means of representation. It is a peculiarly terrestrial principle that things can act on the mind only by way of a certain state of matter, a minimum of substantial forms that are adequately realized. There may be a kind of abstract painting which dispenses with objects, but the pleasure that is derived from it retains a certain hypothetical quality which may, it is true, be satisfying to the mind. The foundation of cinematographic thought seems to be the utilization of existing objects and forms which can be made to say everything, for the patterns of nature are profound and truly infinite.

The Seashell and the Clergyman manipulates created nature and tries to make it yield a little of the mystery of its most secret combinations. One must not, therefore, try to find in it a logic or a sequence that does not exist in things; one must interpret the images that follow one another in terms of their essential, intimate significance, an inner significance that goes from the outside to the inside. The Seashell and the Clergyman does not tell a story but develops a series of states which are derived from one another just as one thought is derived from another without this through reproducing the reasonable sequence of events. From a collision of objects and gestures are derived real psychic situations among which the cornered mind seeks some subtle means of escape. Nothing exists in terms of forms, volumes, light, air - but above all in terms of the sense of a detached and naked emotion that slips in between the paved roads of images and reaches a kind of heaven where it bursts into full bloom.

The characters are merely brains or hearts. The woman displays her animal desire, she has the shape of her desire, the spectral glitter of the instinct that drives her to be one and constantly different in her repeated metamorphoses.

Génica Athanasiou has succeeded in identifying herself with a role which is entirely instinctive and in which a very curious sexuality acquires an air of fatality that goes beyond the character as a human being and reaches the universal. Similarly, I have nothing but praise for Alex Alin and Bataille. And finally, I want to address a very special thanks to Germaine Dulac, who was able to appreciate a screen play that seeks to penetrate the very essence of the cinema and is not concerned with any allusion either to art or to life."

- Antonin Artaud, Cinema and Abstraction, (first published in Le Monde Illustré, No. 3645, October 29th, 1927)

The Surrealists "... turned out to support Artaud's protest of the film The Seashell and The Clergyman. Although the film had been made from Artaud's own screenplay, he had been angered by director Germaine Dulac's poor realization of the project. For the February 2 [1928] premiere at the Studio des Ursulines, Breton came armed with a copy of Artaud's original scenario, which he read aloud to the packed house during the film's projection, pointing out differences between Artaud's intent and Dulac's results. (Artaud, meanwhile, sat in another section of the theater with his mother, but took no active part in the demonstration.) The audience tried it's best to ignore Breton and watch the film, but then another voice - probably Desnos's - shouted in the darkness "Who made this film?," to which a third voice replied: "Madame Germaine Dulac." "And who is madame Germaine Dulac?" Whereupon Breton rose and, in his most courteous tone, announced: "Madame Germaine Dulac is a cunt." Madame Germaine Dulac herself fainted away in the front row, while the cinema's owner, Armand Tallier, had the Surrealists duly ejected - shouting obscenities and smashing the house mirrors as they went."

- Mark Polizzotti, "Revolution of the mind. The life of André Breton".

A conundrum: what happened between the glowing praise Artaud wrote on October 29th, 1927 an the premiere on February 2, 1928? Did Artaud see the film die on the cutting room floor? Or did the Surrealists hijack the premiere, did they take advantage of some critical remarks Artaud might have made about the film to create a row? Certainly, the fact that Artaud's mother was present points towards such a scenario. Would Artaud really have taken his mother to see a film he regarded as a total failure?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wish you all the best for 2008, too.
Very interesting topic. I have some further material on it which I plan to use in a future post.

See you