Politics of Form,
Forms of Politics
Session 2: History and Ideology
Sam di Iorio,
Marco Grosoli (Habib University),
“The Unaccomplished Divorce. Comolli's writings in the first half of the 1960s”
While at pains to distance himself from the idealism of the earlier generation of Cahiers du Cinéma, Jean-Louis Comolli was ready, in “Technique et idéologie”, to give due credit to it; among others, by quoting Lenin that “intelligent idealism is more intelligent than stupid materialism”. More generally, whether that earlier idealism was still present in the later and “political” Cahiers du Cinéma, and to what extent (if so), are questions still nowadays worth asking to get an accurate picture of that historical phase of the magazine. In this regard, the first articles by Comolli are a good place to start. Somewhat unlike his later political pieces, the ones he wrote in the first half of the 1960s are explicitly “Rivettian”: his essay on Sergeant York (in Cahiers #135), for instance, relies indeed extensively on Rivette's “The Genius of Howard Hawks” (1953). As such, they are particularly indicative of the transitional character of the phase they belonged to, suspended between Cahiers’ past (Rivette, editor in chief between 1963 and 1965) and future (Comolli as a “mature” critic). My paper focuses particularly on Comolli's “Vivre le film” (Cahiers #141) and “Le divorce accompli” (Cahiers #146). By looking back at the first decade of the Cahiers du cinéma, recapitulating the assumptions that underpinned the aesthetics of that journal, and clarifying why that direction can no longer be followed, these two 1963 articles on the one hand shed a highly significant retrospective light on Rivette's own articles of the 1950s and thereby on the much-misunderstood politique des auteurs critical trend more broadly (which Rivette greatly influenced, as a half-hidden éminence grise); on the other hand, they foreshadow inclinations that will properly come to the fore only in the later “political” years.
Marco Grosoli is Assistant Professor of Communication and Design at Habib University (Pakistan) and the author of Eric Rohmer’s Film Theory (1948-1953): from ‘ecole Scherer’ to ‘politique des auteurs’ (Amsterdam University Press, 2018). After earning his doctorate from the University of Bologna (Italy) with a dissertation on French film critic and theorist André Bazin, Dr. Grosoli moved to the University of Kent (Canterbury, United Kingdom) in 2012 thanks to a three-year Postdoctoral Fellowship funded by the British Academy, which enabled him to carry out a research project trying to pin down (in theoretical, aesthetic and historical terms) the “theory of authorship” that was elaborated in the Cahiers du Cinéma journal during the 1950s.
Sam Di Iorio (Hunter College, CUNY),
“Detour #2: Jazz Direct & Indirect”
The first detour takes place in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma. In February and April 1969, Jean-Louis Comolli’s two-part article “Détour par le direct” returns to a filmmaking current that was initially called cinéma-vérité before virulent polemics around the connection between moving images and truth lead to its rechristening as cinéma direct. Comolli’s essay on what he simply calls le direct displaces its meaning yet again, this time moving the term towards fiction, and more specifically, towards the internationalizing new cinemas of the late sixties, and to filmmakers who were discovering renewed political meaning in its combination of developing technology and collaborative improvisation. The second detour occurs within Comolli’s writing itself. In 1964, soon after he started working for Cahiers, he also became a contributor at Jazz Magazine, where his ardent defense of what was just beginning to be called free jazz set a significant precedent for his articles on direct cinema. Like film during this period, jazz was also being transformed by a new aesthetic form based on a radical vision of improvisation, and as in film, the political implications of this transformation were the subject of bitter debate. Comolli found himself at the vanguard of both battles, arguing for the validity of derided work that he cast both as a break with and a historical fulfillment of the conventions of its medium. My talk explores possible relationships between these critical projects. What interests me is less the broad interaction between music and film than the understanding of improvisation that Comolli associates with each field and the conception of politics that he lends the work of art in this revolutionary moment. While jazz and cinema are not the same in his work, the presence of one discipline can be felt, directly and indirectly, in his writing on the other.
Sam Di Iorio is Associate Professor of French at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His recent publications include “Les vivants et les morts: Marker, Resnais, et Les Statues Meurent Aussi,” an essay for the French film journal Trafic, and “Material Turns: French Cinema and the Construction of Everyday Life,” a chapter in the new edition of Michael Temple and Michael Witt’s The French Cinema Book.
Elif Sendur (SUNY Binghamton),
“Neither Singular nor Collective: Cahiers du Cinéma’s Experimentation with Young Mr. Lincoln”
The collective reading of the film Young Mr. Lincoln appeared in the August 1970 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma. Helen Lackner and Diana Matias translated it into English for Screen, which published it in their 13th issue in October 1972. Since this initial English publication, the article has been one of the staple reading materials of film theory appearing partially or entirely in many film theory readers old and new. Yet the text itself is never read in its entirety: when scholars read this text, they often omit parts of it in order to provide it with a coherent narrative, while often warning the readers about the difficulty of reading it. I argue that the attempts to render the text clean by omitting sections or to subsume it under a genre of thought/writing misses the experimental, fecund nature of this text where multiple voices, creations and movements coexist. Through a re-reading of this text, not to subsume it but to find lines of thought in it, I aim to show that this text marks the chaotic moment of confusion, experimentation, and various desires to create a political cinematic writing. As a collective text, this article resists being subsumed under a unified interpretation, denies attempts to appropriate it under different theoretical frameworks and forces the reader to work, to move, and to think. Even the aim of the writers may not be the case; in the end, the resulting product, the collective text John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln, is an archetypal experiment, where many lines of thought become possible all at once where the result of the reading is utterly unexpected.