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EI GHTEEN SECONDS1

In a street, at night, on the edge of a pavement, under a lamp


post, stands a man in black, gazing into space, fiddling with his
cane, holding a watch in his left hand. The hand of the watch
indicates the seconds.
Close shot of the watch indicating the seconds.
The seconds pass infinitely slowly on the screen.
At the eighteenth second the film will be over.
The time that passes on the screen is in the mind of the man.
It is not normal time. The normal time is eighteen real
seconds. The events which are to take place on the screen con
sist of images in the mans mind. The point of the scenario is
that although the events described happen in eighteen seconds
it takes an hour or two to project them onto the screen.
The spectator is to see the images which, at a certain point,
file through the mans mind.
This man is an actor. He is about to achieve fame and to
win the heart of a woman with whom he has long been in love.
He has been stricken by a strange malady. He has become
incapable of keeping up with his thoughts; he has retained
complete lucidity, but he can no longer give a shape to the
thoughts that come to him, he cannot express them in appro
priate actions and words.
He is at a loss for words; they no longer answer his call, and
all he sees is a procession of images, masses of contradictory,
disconnected images.
This prevents him from participating in the life of others and
from indulging in any activity.
Shot of the man at the doctors. His arms folded, his fists
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r
clenched. The doctor towering over him. The doctor passes his
sentence.
The young man is again standing by the lamp-post at the
moment when he becomes fully aware of his condition. He cur
ses; he thinks: just as I was about to start living and win the
heart of the woman I love, who has yielded after such
resistance!
Shot of the woman, beautiful, enigmatic, a hard, closed face.
Shot of the womans soul as the man imagines it.
Landscape, flowers, gorgeous lighting.
Gesture of the man cursing:
Oh! to be anything! to be that wretched hunchback news
vendor who sells his papers at night, but to be in full possession
of ones mind, to be really master of ones mind, to think!
Quick shot of the newsvendor in the street. Then in his room,
his head in his hands, as though he were holding the globe. He
really is in possession of his mind. He can hope to conquer the
world and he has the right to think that he really will conquer
it one day.
Because he also possesses i n t el l i g en c e. He does not know
his limitations, he can hope to possess everything: love, fame,
power. And in the meantime he works and he searches.
Shot of the newsvendor gesticulating before his window;
towns moving and trembling under his feet. Then again at his
table. With books. His finger pointed. Swarms of women in the
air. Piles of thrones.
He only has to discover the central problem, the problem on
which all the others rest, and he will be able to hope to conquer
the world.
He does not even have to solve the problem, he just has to
discover the central problem and what it consists of, in order
to settle it.
Ah! but his hump? He might even be relieved of his hump.
Shot of the newsvendor in the middle of a crystal ball. Rem
brandt lighting. And a bright point at the centre. The ball be
comes the globe. The globe becomes opaque. The newsvendor
disappears in the middle and springs out like a jack-in-the-box,
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his hump on his back.
And off he goes in search of his problem. He appears in
smoky dens, in gatherings where some ideal is being sought.
Ritual assemblies. Men make violent speeches. The hunchback
sitting at a table, listening. Shaking his head, disappointed. In
the middle of the group, a woman. He recognises her: it is she!
He shouts: hey! Arrest her! She is spying, he says. Hullabaloo.
Everybody gets up. The woman runs away. He is soundly
beaten and thrown out.
What have I done? I have betrayed her, I love her! he says.
Shot of the woman at home. At her fathers feet: I recog
nised him. He is mad.
And he goes further continuing his search. Shot of the man
on a road with a kick. Then, by his table, looking through
books,close shot of the cover of a book: the Cabala. Sud
denly there is a knock at the door. Policemen enter. They rush
at him. He is put into a straight-jacket and taken to a lunatic
asylum. He really goes mad. Shot of the man struggling with
bars. I shall discover the central problem, he yells, the problem
from which all others hang like clusters of fruit, and then:
No more madness, no more world, no more mind, above all
no more anything.
But revolution sweeps through the prisons and asylums; the
doors of the asylum are opened; he is rescued. You are the mys
tic, people shout, you are our master, come! And, humbly, he
says no. But he is dragged away. Be king, they tell him, accede
to the throne! And, trembling, he mounts the throne.
His attendants withdraw and he is left alone.
Vast silence. Magical astonishment. And suddenly he thinks
I am master of everything, I can have everything.
He can have everything, yes, everything except for his mind.
He is still not master of his mind.
But what is the mind? What does it consist of? I f only one
could be master of ones physical self. Be able to manage any
thing, to do everything with ones hands, with ones body. And
in the meantime the books accumulate on the table. He falls
asleep.
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And in the middle of his reverie, comes a new dream.
Yes, to be able to do everything, to be an orator, painter,
actor, yes, but is he not an actor already? He is indeed an actor.
And there he is, on the stage, with his hump, at the feet of his
mistress who is acting with him. And his hump is also false: it
is feigned. And his mistress is his real mistress, his mistress in
real life.
A magnificent auditorium, crammed with people, and the
King in his box. But he is also acting the part of the king. He
is king, he hears and sees himself on the stage at the same time.
And the king has no hump. He has realised that the hunchback
on the stage is none other than his own effigy, a traitor who
took his wife and stole his mind. So he stands up and exclaims:
Arrest him! Hullabaloo. A commotion. The actors call upon
him. The woman shouts: It is no longer you, you have lost your
hump, I do not recognise you. He is mad! And at the same
time the two characters dissolve into each other on the screen.
The whole auditorium trembles with its columns and candel
abra. It trembles more and more. And against this trembling
background all the images file past, also trembling, the king,
the newsvendor, the hunchback actor, the lunatic, the asylum,
the crowds, and the man finds himself on the pavement under
the lamp-post, his watch in his left hand, his cane swinging.
Hardly eighteen seconds have elapsed; he contemplates his
misery for the last time and then, with no hesitation or emo
tion, takes a revolver from his pocket and fires a bullet into
his head.
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TWO NATI ONS ON THE BORDERS
OF MONGOLI A. . . 2
Two nations on the borders of Mongolia are quarrelling for
reasons incomprehensible to Europeans;
They want to start a war which would put a match to the
powder-keg of the entire Far East;
the League of Nations send one dispatch after the other, but
only confuse the issue;
Russian gold is at the bottom of it all, of course;
the French consul flounders amongst infinitely complicated
deals in this pointless conflict;
a lama tells him that the psychological reason for the conflict
rests on tone and sound rather than form;
the only way of settling everything would be to send them
a surrealist poem;
an attempt is made to send it by telegram; but the mutilated
inflammatory poem puts a match to the powder-keg;
hostilities are about to commence;
one method remains:
air mail;
the poem reaches its destination after numerous mishaps.
Scene between the lama and the consul in which he tells
him what to say to them;
the consul is converted to surrealism.
French diplomats shrug their shoulders:
amusing scenes between Poincare and Briand who rush off
to Montparnasse;
intervention of love
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REPLY TO AN I NQUI RY9
1. What sort of films do you like?
2. What sort of films would you like to make?
1. I like the cinema.
I like every sort of film.
But every sort of film still has to be made.
I believe that the cinema should keep to a certain type of
film: the film which utilises every sensual effect.
The cinema implies a total reversal of values, a complete
disruption of optics, perspective and logic. It is more stimulat
ing than phosphorous, more enchanting than love. It is im
possible to destroy its galvanating force indefinitely by using
subjects which neutralise its effects and belong to the theatre.
2. So I demand phantasmagorical films, poetic films in the in
tense, philosophical sense of the word, psychic films.
And this does not exclude psychology, or love, or the display
of human feelings.
But I demand films in which feelings and thoughts undergo
a process of trituration, in order to adopt that cinematographic
quality which still has to be found.
The cinema demands extravagant subjects and detailed psy
chology. It requires speed, but above all repetition, insistence.
Every aspect of the human soul. At the cinema we are all
[ ]10and cruel. The superiority and the power of this
art arfe due to the fact that its rhythm, its speed, its withdrawal
from life, its illusory aspect require close sifting and the distilla
tion of the essential nature of all its elements. That is why we
need extraordinary subjects, culminating states of mind, a
visionary atmosphere. The cinema is an amazing stimulant. It
acts directly on the grey matter of the brain. When the savour
of art has been sufficiently combined with the psychic ingredi
ent which it contains it will go way beyond the theatre which
we will relegate to a shelf of memories. Because the theatre is a
betrayal. We see more of the actors than of the workat any
rate, it is they who affect us. In the cinema the actor is merely
a live symbol. He alone is the stage, the authors idea, and the
sequence of events. That is why we do not think about him.
Chaplin acts Chaplin, Pickford acts Pickford. Fairbanks acts
Fairbanks. They are the film. It would be inconceivable with
out them. They are in the foreground where they do not get in
anybodys way. That is why they do not exist. So nothing in
terposes itself any longer between the work and the spectator.
Above all the cinema is like an innocuous and direct poison, a
subcutaneous injection of morphine. That is why the object of
a film cannot be inferior to its power of actionand why it
must have an element of magic.
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CINEMA AND ABSTRACTION11
Pure cinema is wrong, as are all efforts to reach the principle of
any art at the expense of ones means of objective representa
tion. The principle that things can only act on the mind through
a certain state of matter, a minimum of sufficiently substantial
shapes, is essentially terrestial. There may be an abstract paint
ing which can dispense with objects, but the pleasure to be ob
tained from it retains an element of hypothesis with which the
mind may, admittedly, be satisfied. The first step in cinemato
graphic thought seems to me to be the utilisation of existing ob
jects and forms which can be made to mean everything, be
cause nature is profoundly, infinitely versatile.
The Shell and the Clergyman plays with created nature and
trie to make it yield an element of the mystery of its most
secret combinations. So we must not seek a logic or a sequence
which things do not contain, we must interpret the intimate
meaning of the images, the inner meaning which moves in
wards from without. The Shell and the Clergyman does not
tell a story, it develops a sequence of states of mind deduced
the one from the other, as thought is deduced from thought
without this thought reproducing the reasonable sequence of
facts. The clash of objects and movement produces psychic
situations which wedge the mind in and force it to find
some subtle means of escape. Nothing exists except in terms of
shape, volume, light, airbut above all in terms of a detached
and naked sentiment which slips between the paths paved
with images and reaches a sort of heaven where it bursts into
bloom.
The characters are only brains or hearts. The woman dis-
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plays her bestial desire, assumes the shape of her desire, the
ghostly glitter of instinct which makes her the same and con
stantly different in her continual metamorphoses.
Mademoiselle Athanasiou fully succeeded in identifying her
self with an entirely instinctive part in which a curious sexual
ity takes on a fatal aspect, goes beyond the character as a
human being, and becomes universal. I have nothing but
admiration for Monsieur Alex Alin and Monsieur Bataille.
And finally I would particularly like to thank Madame Ger
maine Dulac who acknowledged the interest of a scenario
which enters the very essence of the cinema and makes no
allusion to the art of life.
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THE SHELL AND THE CLERGYMAN12
The Shell and the Clergyman, before being a film, is an at
tempt or an idea.
When writing the scenario of The Shell and the Clergyman,
I considered that the cinema possessed an element of its own,
a truly magic and truly cinematographic element, which no
body had ever thought of isolating. This element, which differs
from every sort of representation attached to images, has the
characteristics of the very vibration, the profound, unconscious
source of thought.
It surreptitiously breaks away from the images and emerges
from their association, their vibration and their impact, not
from their logical, connected meaning. I thought it was possible
to write a scenario which ignored knowledge and the logical
connection of facts, and would search beyond, in the occult and
in the tracks of feeling and thought for the profound motives,
the active and obscure impulses of our so-called lucid acts,
which always maintaining their evolutions in the domain of
sources and apparitions. It is to show how far the scenario can
resemble and ally itself with the mechanics of a dream without
really being a dream itself, for example. It is to show how far
it restores the pure work of thought. So the mind, left to itself
and the images, infinitely sensitised, determined to lose nothing
of the inspirations of subtle thought, is all prepared to return
to its original functions, its antennae pointed towards the in
visible, to begin another resurrection from death.
This, at least, is the ambitious idea behind this scenario
which, at any rate, goes beyond the structure of straightfor
ward narrative, or problems of music, rhythm or aesthetics cur-
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rent in the cinema, to present the problem of expression in
every domain and to its full extent.
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WITCHCRAFT AND THE CINEMA18
It is said that the cinema is in its infancy and that we are only
hearing its first cries. I admit that I do not understand why.
The cinema has arrived at an advanced stage in human
thought and benefits from it. There is no doubt that it is a
means of expression that has not yet been materially perfected.
There are several ways, for example, in which it could be given
a stability and a nobility which it does not possess. One day we
shall probably have a cinema in three dimensions and even in
colour. But these are accessory devices which cannot contribute
greatly to the substratum of the cinema which is a language,
as much as music, painting and poetry. In the cinema I have
always distinguished a quality peculiar to the secret movement
and matter of images. The cinema has an unexpected and mys
terious side which we find in no other form of art. Even the
most arid and banal image is transformed when it is projected
on the screen. The smallest detail, the most insignificant object,
assume a meaning and a life which pertain to them alone, inde
pendently of the value of the meaning of the images themselves,
the idea which they interpret and the symbol which they con
stitute. By being isolated, the objects obtain a life of their own
which becomes increasingly independent and detaches them
from their usual meaning. A leaf, a bottle, a hand, etc., live
with an almost animal life which is crying out to be used. Then
there are the distortions of the camera, the unexpected use it
makes of the things which it records. Just as the image dissolves,
a particular detail which had escaped our attention comes to
life with singular force, moves out to meet the expression re
quired. There is also a sort of physical excitement which the
rotation of the images communicates directly to the brain. The
mind moves beyond the power of representation. This sort of
virtual power of the images probes for hitherto unused possibili
ties in the depths of the mind. Essentially the cinema reveals a
whole occult life with which it puts us directly into contact.
But we must know how to divine this occult life. There are bet
ter means than a succession of super impressions for divining
these secrets of the depths of consciousness. Raw cinema, taken
as it is, in the abstract, exudes a little of this trance-like atmos
phere, eminently favourable for certain revelations. To use it to
tell a story is to neglect one of its best resources,, to fail to ful
fill its most profound purpose. That is why I think the cinema
is made primarily to express matters of the mind, the inner con
sciousness, not by a succession of images so much asi5y some
thing more imponderable which restores them to us with their
direct matter, with no interpositions or representations. The
cinema has arrived at a turning-point in human thought, when
language loses its symbolic power and the mind tires of a suc
cession of representations. Clear thought is not enough. It allo
cates a world which has been utterly consumed. What is clear
is what is immediately accessible, but what is immediately ac
cessible is the mere skin of life. We soon realise that this over
familiar life which has lost all its symbols is not the whole of
life. And today is a time for sorcerers and saints, a better time
than ever before. An imperceptible substance is taking shape,
yearning for light. The cinema is bringing us nearer to this sub
stance. I f the cinema is not made to interpret dreams or what
pertains to the realm of dreams in conscious life, it does not
exist. There is no difference between the cinema and the theatre.
But the cinema is a direct and rapid language which has no
need for a slow and ponderous logic to live and flourish. It must
come closer and closer to fantasy, to a fantasy which appears
ever more real, or else it does not exist. Or else it will come to
the same end as painting and poetry. What is certain is that
most forms of representation have had their day. For some time
good painting has only served to reproduce the abstract. It is
therefore not only a question of choice. There will not be one
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cinema which represents life and another which represents the
function of the mind. Because life, what we call life, becomes
ever more inseparable from the mind. A certain profound do
main tends to appear on the surface. The cinema is capable of
interpreting this domain more than any other art, because
idiotic order and customary clarity are its enemies.
The Shell and the Clergyman is part of this subtle search for
a hidden life which I have tried to make plausible, as plausible
and real as the other.
To understand this film we must simply look deeply into our
selves. Give in to a form of plastic, objective and attentive ex
amination of the inner self which has hitherto been the exclu
sive domain of the Illuminati.
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DI STI NCTI ON
BETWEEN FUNDAMENTAL AND FORMAL
AVANT-GARDE14
Those interested in true cinema, who are awaiting the work
that will break with the routine of commercial cinema and
launch cinematography in a new direction, are aware of the
existence of the first film to have been based on a really new,
really profound idea:
The Shell and the Clergyman
Various parochial or personal interests have hitherto pre
vented the public from seeing this film. The directors of two or
three cinemas in Paris known as Studios, which seem to have
been created to launch new, powerful and truly original
works,15have given way to highly obscure, or maybe over-pre-
cise, threats and, after some timid attempts and vaguely shady
deals, have refused to show it.16
But for the first time, the coalition of all interests and evil
forces must have yielded, and the public will be able to see,
from . . . to . . ., in the Salle Adhyar, a really significant work,
the originality of which does not reside in numerous technical
devices or external and superficial sequences of shape, but in a
profound renewal of the plastic matter of images, a veritable
liberation, by no means hazardous, but intricate and precise, of
all the dark forces of the mind.
68
PLAN
FOR SETTI NG UP A COMPANY
FOR THE PRODUCTI ON OF SHORT FI LMS
WHICH WI LL PAY OFF
QUI CKLY AND SURELY17
One of the main obstacles in making a film, whether it be
good or bad, is the cost. Furthermore, the necessity of having a
film pay off as quickly as possible when it has often cost several
millions obliges the producer to make films for wide distribu
tion, which can be shown everywhere and appeal to all audi
ences. This stifles all initiative, however original, and
explains why we so rarely see a film which is an interesting
or durable work and which we would be prepared to see a
second time.
One of the main mistakes of producers, and especially French
producers, is to think that a film must have been made at a
high price to be able to sell it at a high price.
Without trying to make great films cheaply, for which France
now lacks the directors, the scenario-writers, and the appropri
ate services and organisations, we can suggest a new formula
for making short films of:
500 to 1000 metres,
costing:
50,000 to 150,000 francs,
which can be shown as the first of a programme and, because
of their cost, will soon pay off.
One of the original elements of this formula, and of any film
based on it, is that it allows a special type of film, known as
avant-garde, to be made. These films have so far been con
sidered unsaleable and incapable of paying their way, and
cannot obtain the meagre funds necessary for making them.
Experience has proved that when these films are good, and
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successful in their field, they can also be financially profitable
and can, at any rate, pay off rapidly. In any case they have a
public which gets larger day by day. The public responsible for
the financial success of un Chien Andalou can certainly be
found for a similar film.
There are several specialised cinemas in Paris. There are
some in other French towns. There are also some abroad. An
association of avant-garde cinemas is being formed. When it
has been formed every film, avant-garde or revolutionary, will
be sure of an audience and will be able to pay its expenses.
The only problem is to work out these expenses and the
means of meeting them.
In the present state of affairs I consider that an avant-garde
film not costing more than 100,000 francs is a deal, and I have
already worked out a scheme for financing these films.
Of course, this company would not only deal with avante-
garde films, it would specialise in short films, whatever their
trends.
These films would only have two or three sets and employ a
small number of actors. Most of the scenes would be shot out of
doors. And, in view of the few elements involved, the films
would cost little and be made rapidly:
Two or three weeks work, for most of them, hence a further
decrease of costs.
This formula could be applied primarily to comic films, and
would give rise to interesting experiments in this field. The
French cinema, which lacks every sort of film, lacks comic films
above all. There is a type of humour which has never really
been utilised here and which could provide French scenario-
writers with numerous opportunities. The public would defi
nitely enjoy this type of film and would like to have a French
equivalent of the American comedies of Mac Senett, for in
stance. There is a specifically French kind of humour which
exists in literature and the theatre but which is completely miss
ing in the cinema.
Any experiment now made in this field could have a great
commercial success.
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DIRECTORS, ACTORS
I think I can say that there would be no shortage either of
scenario-writers or directors. It would simply be necessary to
avoid eliminating them systematically, as all French companies
do. One of the objects of our company would be to give young
scenario-writers and directors a chance to produce their work.
And its new angle would be to employ young men who need
to prove themselves. They do exist, and several of them are
known to us personally.
It would be highly advantageous to employ them for many
reasons.
1. Primarily because of their financial demands, which would
be very moderate and would reduce the cost of each film ac
cordingly.
2. Because few, even of the well-known directors and scena
rio-writers who demand high prices, are worthy of their repu
tation and their price. . . . In each case they are members of the
old school of the expensive, spectacular film, which is almost
always a tremendous financial failure. They are all old-
fashioned scenario-writers who neglect the quality of their work
and rely on a well-known title for their film, the actors reputa
tion, sumptuous sets and a large cast.
They are obsessed by the idea of the American film made
with dollar bills.
With considerably reduced means they only manage to give
us a parody of these films, and their works, which lack any per
sonal genius, are all second-hand, and usually failures.
And yet these directors and scenario-writers are the only
people to whom the producers lend their ears and they have
therefore monopolised the trade for fifteen years to the ex
clusion and detriment of all new talent.
It is they who remove all real means of existence from speci
fically French films. These films, in accordance with the talent
of the French, would not be spectacular and would require a
small cast, the expression of moving and human feelings, few
sets, penetrating psychology and little money.
Without necessarily aiming so high just at the moment, I
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think that a company established along the lines I have just
suggested would clear the field and permit the realisation of
true French cinema.
THE BUTCHERS REVOLT
I have now assembled most of the material means for a first
experiment.
It is a scenario by me entitled The Butcher's Revolt for
which a specialised cinema has the sole rights and guarantees
to finance it to the amount of 30,000 francs.
The estimated costs show that this film would require
100.000 francs to be produced.
In the making of it, I am sure of the- co-operation of the
Societe des Studios de Billancourt (Sequana Film) which has
also produced, amongst other films, Jacques Feyders Les
Nouveaux Messieurs and Marcel LHerbiers Nuits de Prince.
This company is prepared to pay production costs to the
amount of 60,000 francs of which 30,000 are guaranteed by
the specialised cinema mentioned above on the strength of its
being shown in this cinema and its sale in Holland where it
will be distributed in agreement with a specialised Dutch com
pany: Films Liga.
So finally, to make the film pay off, we are left with:
the sale in France, outside Paris,
the sale abroad.
The Studios de Billancourt immediately supply the equiva
lent of 60,000 francs in studios and money.
So to make the film, about 40,000 francs still have to be
found.
These 40,000 francs contribute to the final costs together
with the 60,000 francs of the Studios de Billancourt, of which
30.000 are already guaranteed by a specialised cinema.
I must add that, however coarse the form and the mood of
this scenario, it can be filmed in such a way (particularly if the
images are clarified) as to draw a far larger audience than is
usual for this sort of film.
It will be up to the company that produces it to make ar-
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rangements for publicity, performance and sale in France and
all other countries, including Japan and America. At the
moment there are an increasing number of possibilities in
Japan (and we know that the mind of the Japanese, even of
the masses, is far closer to the unconscious than our own).
We must know how to make the most of it.
This film is basically silent, but occasionally uses words or
sounds in order to obtain certain effects.
These effects, which are of a new order, could also be used
in other films, and if this company ever comes into existence
the originality of these effects would add to its prestige.
73
THE POLI SH JEW
AT THE OLYMPI A18
Harry Baurs success in The Polish J ew, and above all the
quality of the success which even reached the noble orders (!)
of a feeble-witted and sheep-like audienceis a good indica
tion of the exhaustion of our epoch which, from the artistic
point of view, as from all other points of view of any impor
tance, has said its last words a long time ago.
I maintain that Harry Baurs performance in The Polish Jew
is a masterpiece of imbecility.
You must have seen Harry Baur, his stomach out, his hands
dangling at the end of his arms, his shoulders back, his head
turned to one side, and in that head turned to one side an eye
with a hilarious, fixed stare, to realise to what heights of
comedy the clumsy use of stereotyped, conventional expressions
can lead. In the middle of this unlikely imbroglio of contracted
and unnatural expressions I was unable to make out the sort of
madness with which Harry Baur was afflicted, or whether he
was not really a criminal. But I know that if I were the
police officer in charge of the investigation, I would find his
attitude so obviously guilty that I would not hesitate to arrest
him.
You must see him rolling his eyes, opening his mouth like a
figure crucified, trembling as he pours out the wine, the close
shots of his hands trembling, not imperceptibly, but like an
earthquake, at every turn, everywhere. You must see how a
gesture, a harmless word said next to him sends his head into
muscular contortions, appalling tics ravage his face with such
violence and exaggeration that Harry Baurs expressions of ter
ror take on the transitory and inept value of a harmless tooth
ache!
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You must see Harry Baur shrink and suffer to have an idea
of essential buffoonery, the buffoonery which has missed its
mark. You must see that face suddenly shooting off, as though
by chance, into monstrous muscular contortions as though it
were only a question of a simple play of muscles galloping like
horses in the midst of a moral expression of suffering, remorse,
obsession and fear. Throughout the film Harry Baur serves us
up a certain number of expressions which are priceless in their
torrentialand misplacedtragedy.
There is such a discrepancy between the atmosphere of
purely moral terror which should be the drama and the rude
means by which this terror expresses itself that it seems that the
whole film was made simply to enable Harry Baur to display
his imposture, his puffery and his insincerity.
When life reaches a certain degree of tragic expression it
makes a sound, the sound of a frenzy which is totally savage
rather than complacently and systematically turned towards
the exterior. The true dramatic performance is not a kaleido
scope of crudely defined expressions, dismantled muscle by
muscle and cry by cry. In The Polish Jew, Harry Baur aroused
a sort of integral hilarity in me, without the slightest tempta
tion to remorse.
75
, -
People have tried to establish a basic distinction, a sort of divi
sion of essences, between two or three types of film.
On one side there is the dramatic cinema where chance,
that is to say the unforeseen, that is to say poetry, is suppressed.
Not a detail that does not result from an absolutely conscious
choice of the mind, that is not established with a view to a
localised and sure result. The poetry, if there is any poetry, is
of an intellectual order; it only uses the particular resonance of
tangible objects subsequently, at the moment when they come
into contact with the cinema.
On the other handand this is the last resort for those who
believe in the cinema at all coststhere is the documentary.
Here a preponderant part is left to the camera and the spon
taneous and direct development of aspects of reality. The poetry
of objects taken in their most innocent aspect, from that side
which adheres to the outside world, comes into its own.
For once I would like to talk about the cinema itself, study
it within its organic function and see how it behaves when it
comes into contact with reality.
The lens that goes to the heart of objects, creates its own world
and the cinema may put itself in the position of the human eye,
think for it, sift the world for it, and, by this concerted and
mechanical task of elimination, let nothing but the best subsist.
The best, that is to say what is worth retaining, those shreds of
things which float on the surface of the memory while the lens
seems to filter their residue automatically. The lens classifies
life, digests it, it offers ready food to the sensibility, to the soul,
THE PRECOCIOUS OLD AGE
OF THE CINEMA19
and leaves us before a dry and finished world. Besides, it is not
sure whether it only releases the most significant, the best ele
ments of what is worth recording. Because its view of the world
is fragmentary, however valid the melody which it manages to
create between the objects, this melody has two edges.
On one side it obeys the arbitrary, the inner laws of the gaze
of the camera,on the other side it is the result of a particular
human will, a precise will which has its arbitrary side.
So in as far as the cinema is left alone with objects, it imposes
an order on them which the eye accepts as valid and which
responds to certain external habits of the memory and the
mind. And the question that now presents itself is to know if
this order would continue to remain valid if the cinema were
to delve deeper into the experience and offer us not only certain
rhythms of everyday life as they are recognised by the eye
and the ear, but the obscure, slow-motion encounters with that
which is hidden beneath things, or the crushed, trampled, slack,
or tense images of that which crawls in the depths of the mind.
But the cinema, which needs no language or convention to
put us in touch with these things, does not replace life; what it
unites are the pieces of objects, unfinished puzzles of things.
And, whatever we may think, this is very important because
we must realise that the cinema presents us with an incomplete
world, shown only on one side;and it is just as well that the
world should be set in its unfinished state because if, by some
miracle, the objects thus photographed, thus stratified on the
screen, could move, we dare not think of the void, of the hole
in appearances which they would create. I mean that the
image in a film is definite and irrevocable, and even if it allows
a selection, a choice before the presentation of the images, it
prevents the effect of the images from changing or surmounting
itself. It is incontestable. And no one can say that a human
gesture is ever perfect, that there is not some way in which its
action, its waves, its communication can be improved. The
world of the cinema is dead, illusory and split up. Not only
does it not surround things, not only does it fail to enter into
the heart of life and only retains the skin of forms, a restricted
77
r " v
view, but it prevents all resifting and repetition, which is one
of the essential conditions of magic, of the rending of sensibility.
Life cannot be reproduced. Live waves, inscribed in a number
of vibrations frozen for ever, become dead waves. The world of
the cinema is a closed world with no relationship with exis
tence. Its poetry is not on the other side, it is on this side of the
images. When it crashes into the mind, its dissociating force
breaks. Poetry did exist around the lens, but before being sifted,
being inscribed on the film.
Besides, with the talking picture the elucidations of the
spoken word have put a stop to the unconscious and spontan
eous poetry of images; the illustration and the completion of the
meaning of an image by the word show the limitations of the
cinema. The co-called mechanical magic of a constant visual
buzz could not parry the stop-hit of the spoken word which has
made this mechanical magic seem the result of a purely physio
logical shock of the senses. People soon tired of the hazardous
beauties of the cinema. Having their nerves more or less suc
cessfully tickled by abrupt and unexpected cavalcades of
images, a succession of mechanical apparitions which escaped
from the very laws and structures of thought, could appeal to
some aesthetes who admired obscurity and the unexpressed, and
searched for these emotions systematically, but without ever be
ing sure that they would appear. This hazardous and unex
pected element was part of the delicate and sombre spell which
the cinema cast on the mind. All this, together with a few more
precise qualities which we all hoped to find.
We knew that the most characteristic and striking quality
of the cinema was always, or nearly always, the effect of
hazard, that is to say of a sort of mystery, whose fatality we
could not explain.
There was a sort of organic emotion in this fatality where
the objective and secure creak of the projector mingled with,
opposed itself to, the comical apparition of images, as precise
as they were unexpected. I do not mean the displacement of
rhythms imposed on the appearance of the objects of reality;
but, as life passes in its own rhythm, I think that the humour of
78
the cinema springs partly from this security of a background
rhythm embroidered with all the fantasies of a more or less ir
regular and vehement motion (in comic films). Otherwise,
apart from this sort of rationalisation of life with its waves and
prattle partially emptied of their plenitude, density and extent,
of their internal frequency, by the arbitrariness of the camera,
the cinema remains a fragmentary and, as I said, a stratified
and frozen reproduction of reality. All fantasies based on a slow
or accelerated motion apply only to a closed world of vibra
tions which does not have the talent of enriching and nourish
ing itself on its own; the idiotic world of images, enveigled in
myriads of retinas, will never perfect the image which we may
have of it.
So the poetry that cannot break away from all that is only a
tentative sort of poetry, the poetry of what might have been,
and we cannot expect the cinema to restore to us the myths of
the man and the life of today.
79
THE LIABILITIES OF DUBBING20
The talking picture has witnessed the birth of strange activities.
Dubbing is [one]21of these hybrid activities which good taste
abhors, which satisfies neither the eye nor the ear, but which
the Americans impose on their films and the majority of French
spectators accept.
Chronologically, dubbing succeeds plain synchronisation.
The talking picture, which thinks it has perfected the synchron
isation of sound and image, but frequently sees them spring
away from each other just as they are going to be presented
and states that it has failed, resorts to ordinary dubbing far
more often than one thinks. It applies sounds to the images
after the event and asks actors to repeat scenes, which require
absolute simultaneousness, off the sets, before the microphone.
Ordinary synchronisation, has been used and abused. In talk
ing pictures in every language, even in languages with a stress
which forces the actor to indulge in amazing facial gymnastics,
an effort has been made to apply diction, uniform French
diction, monodic diction, and this gradually gave the impres
sion of a colossal organ giving out a mere buzz.
It was a time when ephemeral French firms, old charlatan
film peddlars still filming in some cattle fair, bought up thou
sands of yards of film and had them synchronised by [some]22
suburban star who never even left the suburbs.
When the German or American star exclaimed as she
corked a bottle, an oath would burst out of the amplifier; when
she pursed her lips and let out a slight whistle, we would hear a
hollow bass roar, a murmur, or anything. I f one of these films
was shown on the Boulevards, the audience booed, and they
80
were right. There were plenty of riots at the beginning of the
talking picture.
But the cinema learned from its mistakes, became astute.
Hardly anybody had ever thought of making good French films
in France: there was no tradition. But America had the tradi
tion and the technique. American talking pictures could not be
refused on the pretext that they were in a language which the
French could not understand. On the other hand the audience
could no longer be presented with approximate synchronisa
tions in which the text of one language is simply passed into
another. It was then that the Americans had a cunning idea, a
new idea: they invented dubbing. Dubbing by equivalence of
sound, equivalence of diction. It was simple! We had all
thought of it. But it had to be done and the Americans did it.
From then on the facial muscles of the actors were carefully
regulated at the shooting sessions. The facial movement in the
language of the synchroniser had to correspond to the mouth
movements in the original language. And this was the begin
ning of comedy. Comedy, not of the screen but of life: the
rush of every sort of actor who wanted to dub because
],23and the importance, misfortunes and absurdity of
dubbing.
To start with there is the tragi-comedy of Metro-Goldwyn,
Universal or Fox which take on actors at a miserable salary of
125 to 150 dollars a week and sack them after three months.
Who are these actors? Are they failures? Not at all. Are they
just unlucky? Maybe! Are they adventurers? Some of them.
Well-known actresses who are ill favoured by the times or the
plays, whose violent temperament no longer suits our theatre
which is aimed at the voyeur from the provinces or the unima
ginative retired sadist, and who travel to America on a second
class ticket with a wardrobe of dresses they were never to wear.
They put their French voices into Marlene Dietrichs heavy
mouth, Joan Crawfords pulpy mouth, Greta Garbos equine
mouth. For a woman used to acting with her body, for an act
ress who thinks and feels with her whole body as well as with
her head or her voice, for whom physique, charm and sex-
appeal are everything, it is a considerable sacrifice. But there is
something more terrible, to my mind positively diabolical: the
effect of dubbing on the real actors. The directors of American
film companies, and particularly Mr. Alan Beer of Metro-Gold-
wyn-Mayer in Paris, whom I interviewed on this matter, are
far from admitting this. But this is a point of view of the per
sonality, one might almost say of the soul, which the highly de
veloped civilisation of the Americas prefers to deny. Or
rather, it denies it when it is not in its own interest: when it is
dealing with more or less artificial personality, the darling of
the crowds, all other considerations are burnt on this person
alitys altar. The Americans think it perfectly justifiable that
this new Moloch should absorb everything.
82
I NTERVI EWS
ANTONI N ARTAUD24
I set off in search of Antonin Artaud to interview him for
Cinemonde. It was not easy, Antonin Artaud was nowhere to
be found. Wherever I asked I was told that he had not been
seen for a long time. And yet I was certain that, after acting in
Tarakanova, Antonin Artaud was back in Paris. I had given up
all hope of finding him when, one day, in a bar near the Place
Clichy, I heard a familiar voice behind me. I turned round:
it was Antonin Artaud. I was delighted.
''You! It cant be true!1I exclaimed in surprise. Now Fve
got you, my dear fellow, I won't let you go until you let me
interview you.
Antonin Artaud smiled.
Ah! these journalists are as insistent as ever. Besides, do you
really think that what I say will interest your readers?
But of course, otherwise I wouldn't have chased after you.
Finally, Antonin Artaud let himself be interviewed.
My record of service, he began.' First of all I played the
lead in Fait Divers, an avant-garde film shown at the Ursulines
which contained a slow motion sequence of someone being
strangledthis seemed a novelty at the time. Then I had small
parts in various films, Surcouf, Le Juif Errant, Graziella. And
finally Abel Gances Napoleon in which I played Marat. It was
the first part in which I felt myself as I really am, in which I
not only had to try to be a genuine, but also to express my idea
of a character who seemed to incarnate a force of nature, who
was both disinterested in and indifferent to all that was not the
force of his passions.
After Marat I played Brother Krassien25in Carl T. Drey-
85
ers St. Joan. This time I was a saint, no longer effervescent,
passionate and anguished, but calm, tranquil.
I dont want to bother about what happened to the film, to
my part in the film, in the so-called commercial version. I have
unforgettable recollections of my work with Dreyer. I was deal
ing with a man who succeeded in making me believe in the
justice, beauty and human interest of his idea. And whatever
my ideas on the cinema, poetry and life may have been, I rea
lised for once that I was no longer dealing with aesthetics, with
a preconceived idea, but with a work, with a man determined
to elucidate one of the most agonising problems that exist:
Dreyer was determined to show St. Joan as the victim of one
of the most painful distortions: the distortion of a divine prin
ciple which has passed into the brains of men, whether they
call themselves the Government, the Church, or anything you
like.
The means, the pure technique of this film were also thrill
ing, because even if I considered Dreyer demanding, I did not
regard him as a director, but as a man in the most tangible,
human and complete sense of the word. Dreyer was determined
to insinuate the spirit of a scene into the actor and then leave
him room to realise it, to give his own personal touch, provided
he remained faithful to the spirit required. In the final scene
of the moral martyrdom of St. Joan, before the execution, be
fore the communion, when Brother Krassien asked her if she
still thought she was sent by heaven, Dreyer was sure that,
even if the exaltation communicated to Krassien by Joan, by
the situation and the scene, was not indispensable, it was dic
tated by the very emotion of the facts, and he, Dreyer, would
certainly not hinder it.
I would have much more to say about Carl Dreyers film.
But I am simply pleased that the release of his complete ver
sion should have changed the general opinion of such a re
markable film.
Since St. Joan I have played the intellectual in Verdun,
Visions dHistoire by Leon Poirier; Mahaud in Marcel
LHerbiers VArgent; and a Bohemian in love in Tarakanova,
86
which I have just done under the direction of Raymond Bern
ard.
Although I have not recently been able to play the decisive
parts which I played in Napoleon and St. Joan I am now in
contact with various directors and I am sure that one day I
will be able to act a complete part.
The cinema is a ghastly profession. Too many obstacles pre
vent expression or realisation. Too many commercial and
financial contingencies get in the way of the directors I know.
Too many people, too many things, too many blind necessities
are defended. That is why I would certainly leave the cinema
if I saw myself repressed in a part, invalidated, or cut off from
myself, from what I think and feel.
On no account compare me to Conradt Veidt, as many
people do. He tends to specialise in paroxysm, in excess, which
I try to avoid more and more.
A last point about the acting profession. Every day I hear
directors, who lack a true dramatic feeling, praise, at the ex
pense of the professional, the part-time actor who, in a film
like Finis Terrae, is made to act scenes from life better than a
professional.
*This idea is simply based on a misunderstanding.
On the screen the part-time actor does what he does in real
life, something which he can be made to act with a little
patience. But the cinema actor, I mean the good one, the real
one who feels and thinks directly, spontaneously, without act
ing, in an artificial sphere, a sphere of art or poetry, does what
nobody else can do, what he himself cannot do in a normal
state.
That is the whole problem. I would be most grateful to you
if you could devote more of your article to my ideas than to my
parts. The first are more likely to interest your readers than the
second.
But why, Artaud? Not necessarily
And thereupon I left him. It was late, but that did not mat
ter. I had my interview.
G. F.
ANTONI N ARTAUD
TELLS US ABOUT GERMAN CI NEMA28
He made his debut in the theatre and was then drawn by the
cinema. Now, when it reopens, he is going to direct that
theatre patronised by the Nouvelle Revue Frangais which
everyone is talking about. So it was interesting to know
whether Monsieur Antonin Artaud was going to abandon the
cinema so soon. Evidently, he is not. I n reply he showed me
about thirty photographs from his last film, Coup de fer a
laube, which he has just made in Berlin for Ufa. I t is based on
a detective play which had a great success in Berlin. And Mon
sieur Antonin Artaud is going to play an extremely important
part: that of a sham murderer who makes his hands tremble
so much that the police do not suspect him. In the German ver
sion the part is played by the great actor Theodor Loos.
As he told me about the film, Monsieur Antonin Artaud ex
pressed his admiration for the German cinema, the sort of
cinema school formed round Ufa, which is based on Hegelian
dialectics.
The Germans, he assured me, make commercial films in
the best sense of the word, that is to say that their films are of
a high technical and artistic quality, are very human, and ex
tremely saleable.
But how could German films fail? Do you realise that be
fore writing a scenario, a writerbecause the writers work for
the cinema theredoes systematic research on those feelings
which move an audience, on what they consist of, and on the
psychological springs which have to be unleashed.
On the whole the German film actors come from the
theatre and bring all their dramatic talent to the cinema. At the
moment there is a sort of school, or rather a group of tragic
actors in Germany, which has no equivalent in France: Albert
Bassermann, Fritz Kortner, Theodor Loos, Fritz Rasp, Peter
Lorre. All these actors are trained, and this is obvious from
the way they act, from that subtlety which our actors lack.
Besides, our actors are incapable of making a lyrical speech, of
talking in a subtle way. So we have no great actors in France.
So you think cinema actors should come from the stage?'
Yes, if you want to make a very good film. And French
camera-men should take short courses in Berlin. And then,
instead of simply using current successful methods, they might
start looking for something more individual. In Germany there
is a whole group of camera-men who have unparalleled light
ing devices. They are trying to discover the logical effect of
light and to create a sort of luminous psychological environment
connected with the atmosphere of the stage. I noticed that
they are now trying to unify the production. You have no idea
how much they care about significant pictorial and psycholog
ical details.
Henri Philippon
89