Wednesday, April 30, 2008

angels of the night, silverframe my candlelight

"White light lays above
The Henry Hudson riverbank

And you will see a lady standing
Stealing past a happy ending
Staring at the happy landing

Her heart beats loud and fast
Her love looks like a broken glass
White light lays above

The riverbank

A sinking ship has brought the light
Upon the land

And Henry Hudson knows not where
The lady's standing

A lonely shoulder must grow older

Waiting on the riverbank."


"The marvel of marvels was the close-up. I have never changed my opinion of this. Certain close-ups of Lilian Gish, of Mary Pickford and of Greta Garbo are imprinted on my memory for life. The enlargement enables us to delight in the texture of the skin, and a slight quivering of the lip tells us something about the inward life of the idealized woman. I am ready to bear with the most tedious film if it gives me a close-up of an actress I like. And in my passion for the close-up I have sometimes inserted perfectly irrelevant sequences in my films simply because they allowed me scope for a really good one."
- Jean Renoir, My Life and My Films, p. 45 (1974, trans. Norman Denny)

"Women, as amalgams of colour and sound in space/time, as paintings in motion, often impose their "show" onto the world around them, and onto their story world even more, a "show" of themselves. By their magic powers, they transform wherever they are into a set to enhance their performance, complete with men transformed into audience and supporting cast (simultaneously) or, sometimes, partners. "
- Tag Gallagher (on the films of Renoir)

"Garrel has succeeded in filming something we have never seen before: the faces of actors in silent films during those moments when the black intertitles, with their paltry, illuminated words, filled the screen."
- Serge Daney (on L'Enfant secret)

"The actor has his secrets as well -- of which the director is the spectator."
- Jacques Rivette

Two close-ups that have been reflecting off of each other in my mind as I happened to watch the films one after another: Renoir's Partie de campagne (1936, with Sylvia Bataille), and Garrel's Berceau de cristal (1976, with Nico), and I'm struck by the subtle gestural affinities on display - the movement of the eyes and lips as our respective heroine pulls away from a kiss or slowly blows smoke in the air - along with the dramatic dissolve/fade-to-black.

Garrel's film is the centre of a trio of 70s portrait films/mythic narratives/tableaux morts/narcotic reveries involving Nico, Tina Aumont, Jean Seberg, Zouzou, and others, and the only one to feature colour photography and sound; a deep cave where the liquid echoes of Ash Ra Tempel's organ/electronic drones move freely with the harsh light that illuminates all that is immediately important: faces, mesmerised by offscreen entities, remaining suspended in stillness and silence - the translucence of flesh and the geography of the images recalling the paintings of Georges de la Tour, which only deepens the relationship of Garrel's films to silent cinema. There is also the looming feel of diegetic exhaustion which haunts the spectator, perhaps owing more to the prolonged (vampiric?) stare of the camera (in one moment, Nico breaks down, as she does, overwhelmed, in Warhol's Chelsea Girls) than to whatever drug-induced stupor. Along with Les hautes solitudes and Le bleu des origines, Berceau seems to be an insistence upon the image as a concrete manifestation of the 'abstract' icon, while using the drama of tenebrism to rediscover the sensations possible to experience through the act of looking.

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