Pierre Clémenti (2)
Staying with French 'underground' cinema: Five of the rarest and most personal films directed by Pierre Clémenti through the sixties and seventies have recently surfaced on DVD with English subtitles - an event that should not go uncelebrated. The two discs contain five radical works of concrete poetry that range from his first experiences with a Beaulieu 16mm camera to his years-in-the-making feature-length fiction, In the Shadow of the Blue Rascal. Clémenti eventually completed Blue Rascal after serving a 14-month jail term in 1977-78, and continued to perform in films and theatre until his death in 1999 at age 57. These films, a cascade of impressionistic, psychedelic images interlaced with diaristic narration and rock-and-roll, coalesced over years of filming within the Parisian underground art scene, with actors, musicians, friends, lovers serving as subjects, performers, technicians. In my attempt to describe these films, I can't do any better than quoting the one and only Nicole Brenez, whose following paragraph from her essay on the films of Peter Whitehead also largely applies to those of Clémenti's:
From plastic abstraction to documentary reportage, from psychic investigation to political pamphleteering, from the autobiographical essay to a demonstration of the powers of montage, from graphic and textural work to militant revindication – Whitehead's work accomplishes an exceptional synthesis, open to every different dimension of avant-garde cinema, tending towards perceptual explosion and euphoric fusion with phenomena.All the films included on the discs are special in one way or another: New Old (1979) is a poetic journey through Clémenti's career - visible as an actor, invisible as a filmmaker - and chaotic stray images (some of which would later come to be part of Blue Rascal) shot from the very beginning, exist as multiple superimpositions that form Clémenti's fragmented and intensely personal ruminations on media, art, politics, relationships (Warhol Superstar, Viva features prominently), memory and rock-n-roll. The Revolution Is Only the Beginning, Let's Continue Fighting (1968): "Half family photo album, half ciné-tract, the film was shot in Paris during the events of May '68 and in Rome where the actor was featuring in the film Partner* by Bertolucci." Rediscovered in a basement in 1999, this silent film appears to be one of Clémenti's most purely beautiful and concentrated works, at times recalling Brakhage and Eisenstein. À l'ombre de la canaille bleue / In the Shadow of the Blue Rascal (1978-85), the only purely fictional film here, deserves its own separate post after subsequent viewings. Strangely, it reminded me of Ossang's Treasure of the Bitch Islands, with its absurdist humour and voiceover narration, perpetual wanderings in the night, its pre-industrial rock soundtrack. This also features one of the coolest end titles ever, a true testament to artistic fraternity and homage to Clémenti's frequent collaborators: Jean-Pierre Kalfon, Valerie Lagrange, Margareth Clémenti, Yves Beneyton, and many others. Le Soleil (1988) is Clémenti's favourite among his own works. I understand it forms a cinematic complement to his autobiographical final play, Chronique d'une mort retardée / Chronicles of a Delayed Death, a search for beauty and meaning in his life in the form of lengthy monologues, again, to the accompaniment of a wealth of images, trembling, superimposed with each other and with the author's thought processes. Clémenti at his most vulnerable and Rimbaud-esque (refer to Jeunesse from Illuminations).
And, most astonishing of all, Visa de Censure and Carte de voeux, both of which form Certificate No. X (1967-75), a shadow of a precursor to the films of Étant-Donnés. In these hardcore masterpieces, the screen attains the status of a giant perforation through which naked ritualism and elemental textures must dance: it's like witnessing the birth of Ecstasy! The film's rapturous use of colour brings to mind Kenneth Anger's Invocation of My Demon Brother. It is this violent, hypnotic, defining presence of colour that is the film's driving energy, propelling bodies, texts, abstract figures, light, into each other, into new rhythmic forms. Clémenti: "The youth of this film (1967) was the emotions, the events, the reflections, the course of time... For the assembly, a selection of scenes over several years, like old wine, fragmented of new inventions, discoveries, new rates/rhythms gave to this first film all innocence and the joy of rediscovering intact the mystery of the cinematograph."
* According to Philippe Azoury, Garrel admires Bertolucci's Marx-/Freud-/Godard-inspired Partner and, of course, Clementi himself [the latter appeared in many of Garrel's experimental films (Le Lit de la vierge, La Cicatrice intérieure, Berceau de cristal)], and made his own masterpiece on the events of May '68 two years ago, Regular Lovers.