Saturday, 24 October 2009


Tuesday, 8 September 2009


Mark Shivas interviewed Claude Chabrol for Movie, No. 10, published in June 1963.

MS: Les Bonnes femmes is perhaps your most "symmetrical" film.

CC: Symmetrical? From the symmetrical point of view it's symmetrical!

MS: In the montage or what?

CC: In my last version there was a final quarter of an hour of flashes of people in the street leaving their work between six and seven. That was cut. At the outset it was more symmetrical. The whole thing came full circle.

MS: Most people either think that Les Bonnes femmes is a masterpiece, or they're violently against it.

CC: I wanted to make a film about stupid people that was very vulgar and deeply stupid. From that moment on I can hardly be reproached for making a film that is about stupid people. I don't think that it's a pessimistic film. I'm not pessimistic about people in general, but only about the way they live. When we wrote the film the people were, for Gégauff, fools. It was a film about fools. But at the same time we could see little by little that if they were foolish, it was mainly because they were unable to express themselves, establish contact with each other. The result of naïvety, or a too great vulgarity.

People have said that I didn't like the people I was showing, because they believe that you have to ennoble them to like them. That's not true. Quite the opposite: only the types who don't like their fellows have to ennoble them.

MS: But the cinema is an art of identification and that makes it annoying for the spectator. And that is perhaps the reason for the film's failure commercially.

CC: As the film shows vulgar people, who explain themselves instinctively without any kind of mask, so spectators and critics talk about "excess." But the girls aren't shown as idiots. They're just brutalized by the way they live. They're simple girls who are impressed by savoir-faire, by people who do things, tricks and conjurors for example. Maids and shop girls love this sort of thing. The poetical side doesn't really interest them. You see much more grotesque things going on every day than you do in Les Bonnes femmes. Actually it wasn't a group of girls in the film. In effect it was one.

Les Bonnes femmes is the one I like best of all my films. I like Ophelia too, but I prefer Les Bonnes femmes.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Charney on Benjamin's 'Now of Recognizability'

Leo Charney, 'In a moment: film and the philosophy of modernity', in Leo Charney and Vanessa R Schwartz (eds), Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 279-295 , p. 284

Charles Shiro Tashiro on datedness

Charles Shiro Tashiro, Pretty Pictures: production design and the history film (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998), p. 56

Richard Allen on pastness

Richard Allen, Projecting illusion: film spectatorship and the impression of reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 110

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Unsentimental Education: Transcript

The text of the voiceover commentary for the video essay 'Unsentimental Education: On Claude Chabrol's Les Bonnes femmes' by Catherine Grant:

Claude Chabrol's 1960 film Les Bonnes femmes/The Good Time Girls opens in the Place de la Bastille in central Paris. We see the statue erected to the Genie of Liberty: not a statue of Eros as many commentators on the film have thought. The film thus opens with an image of freedom, and it is freedom and tyranny that will be its central concerns.

We pass through the Arc de Triomphe and gaze for a while at the image of the Eternal Flame before moving down the Champs-Élysées to the first main location of the film. Here we find ourselves outside the Club Grisbi, the Grisbi striptease club on the Champs-Élysées .

We've gone from the height of the statue to the low level of the street. And in the distance Chabrol is signalling someone who will be a protagonist in the film. Through the window of an appliance store André Lapierre, the man of stone, has caught sight of what he seemed to have been waiting for. And the woman he was waiting for can also sense him - captured once again behind glass and taken by the feel of his tiger skin seat.

Jacqueline is the first of the four 'good time girls' we see in the film searching for love. During the day she works at a different electrical appliance store in a different part of Paris along with three other young women, all searching, like her, for excitement and love, as well as an escape from the tyrannies of time and commerce.
Even in these documentary scenes, André Lapierre still lies in wait.
Liberated once again, they escape into the Parisian night. And nocturnal Paris is the space in which the film is free to explore the distinction between watching and being watched.

The animal postures and attitudes of the nightclub scene are echoed in one of the most famous sequences fin the film: the trip to the zoo. In this sequence, spectator and spectated upon are once again divided by a thin layer of glass. In this way, the film questions the distinction between 'captured' and 'captors', between 'predators' and 'prey'. And it traces the literal distance between those dangerously on the same side of the glass.

In the swimming pool sequence, two of the film's many male figures of black comedy subject all of the girls to tormenting. But it is Jacqueline, alone, who is singled out by the film for danger. Here,
Les Bonnes femmes begins to explore the divide between life and death.

In another of the film's moves from high to low, Jacqueline's waiting 'protector' springs into action. Can she really be unaware, the film seems to ask us, that tall, dark strangers sometimes bring dangers of their own? It's not that film doesn't warn her, but rather that, like us, she seems to be dangerously drawn into its cautionary tale.
Here at this moment of physical intimacy and emotional trust, the film and André begin to explore the limits of his freedom and the potential for her acceptance of it. She passes his test with flying colours and we can see that both André and the film have successfully negotiated the distance between the two hand gestures that bookend this sequence, and which transport us, fatalistically, to the film's dénouement. And the beauty of this sequence, with its sweeping arch-like pan, might make us wonder about its creator: what does he want us to think as Jacqueline is led off, a virgin to be 'deflowered'? Or to be sacrificed?

His deed now done, and seen once again from on high, Lapierre seems more a mere tragic-comic mortal than some kind of almighty Genie of Liberty and death. The strange coda to Chabrol's film, which has so mystified critics, takes place in another nightclub. Another man waits and watches. Another woman waits and is watched.

Like the sequence in the zoo, the camera is tracking the distance between the two people. It's a slow to and fro motion which is underscored by the music of this final sequence of the film. To and fro. The 'pick up' here is depicted as a mutual process - a mutuality which makes everything which preceded the film's coda even more troubling.

Men of stone and women of glass? On high, the glitterball doesn't just glitter; it mirrors. It witnesses and fragments what lies beneath: the 'special occasion' that punctures the endless dull time which imprisons us all. But we are held by the spectacle, waiting for something to happen. And then it does: the troubling moment when the character - as in so many other New Wave films - returns our gaze. What does she want to happen? And what do we want to happen?

Also see Film Studies For Free and its homonymous Vimeo channel.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Invisible world

Monday, 8 June 2009


'I submit that we all are within a camera obscura. We all project upon the inner screen (the wake/dream screen) the images. story lines, sound tracks of our own "home movies". These are mingled with the perceptions of our outer world that come through a pin hole (touch, vision, kinesthetic, auditory stimuli, etc.) in the wall of the camera obscura.
In this "in between", this space of intersubjectivity, one can see within the co-mingling how the past lived experience of one's home movies might be restructured, redirected and reinterpreted. One can also see how one's interaction with one's environment can be influenced by one's home movies. Without one's home movies in the camera obscura there could conceivably be an immaculate conception/perception.

Therapeutic action is done by means of recognition scenes. One recognizes one's "me-ness" in the projections of both the external environment and one's home movies. […]

Nachträglichkeit [deferred action] is the theory of transference’

Donald J. Coleman "Nachträglichkeit" and "Mimesis“ (1997)

Thursday, 4 June 2009


Friday, 29 May 2009

Irrational Reflections

“the film essay enables the filmmaker to make the ‘invisible’ world of thoughts and ideas visible on the screen. Unlike the documentary film that presents facts and information, the essay film produces complex thought—reflections that are not necessarily bound to reality, but can also be contradictory, irrational, and fantastic."

Hans Richter, "Der Filmessay: eine neue Form des Dokumentarfilms" (The Film Essay: A New Form of Documentary Film) paraphrased by Nora Alter, “Memory Essays”, Stuff It: The Video Essay in the Digital Age (ed. Ursula Biemann, Zurich: Edition: Voldemeer, 2003), 12-23, p. 13

Thursday, 28 May 2009


"Digital technologies that enable the combination of images, sounds, and written text invite us not just to move critical discussion into a new presentational context, but demand that we re-imagine the very relationship between an object of study and critical commentary about it."

Christian Keathley, 'A Whirlpool of Things', in media res, May 14, 2007

Monday, 25 May 2009