Wednesday, June 25, 2008

song of the earth

Words and sounds from the sixth and final movement - 'Der Abschied' - of Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (1908), the last few verses of which appear, accompanied by a black screen, in Jean-Marie Straub's Le Genou d'Artémide (2008). This version is conducted by Otto Klemperer with vocal work by Elsa Cavelti; accompanying text translated by Lionel Salter:

The Farewell

The sun is setting behind the mountains.
In every valley, evening is falling
with its shadows, full of coolness.

Look! The moon is floating upwards,
like a silver ship, on the blue lake of heaven.
I sense a soft breeze stirring
behind the dark pines.

The stream sings melodiously through the darkness,
the flowers turn pale in the twilight.

The earth breaths deeply in rest and sleep.
All longings now turn to dreaming;
weary mortals plod homeward

to find again in sleep
forgotten joys and youth.

The birds roost silently in the branches;
the world is falling asleep.

In blows cool in the shadow of my pines.
I stand here, waiting for my friend,
waiting to bid him a last farewell.

My friend, I long to savour the beauty
of this evening at your side.
Where are you lingering? You have left me alone so long!

I wander to and fro with my lute
on paths swelling with soft grass.
O beauty! O world eternally intoxicated with love and life!

He dismounted from his horse and handed him
the stirrup-cup. He asked him
where he was going, and also why it had to be.

He spoke, and his voice was veiled:
O my friend,
fortune did not smile on me in this world!
Where am I going? I shall wander in the mountains,
seeking peace for my lonely heart.

I shall journey to my native land, to my home,
I shall never stray abroad.
My heart is still and awaits its hour!

Everywhere the dear earth blossoms forth
in spring and grows green again!
Everywhere and forever, distant horizons gleam blue:

forever... forever...

*** *** ***

Endymion, the mortal shepherd granted immortality in his sleep, recounts his nocturnal encounter with Artemis, the virgin goddess of forests and hills, to a stranger in Cesare Pavese's 'La Belva'/'Lady of the Beasts' from Dialogues with Leucò (1947, trans. William Arrowsmith) :

(...) I had fallen asleep one evening on Latmos, propped against a tree. It was dark - I'd been wandering late. The moon was shining when I woke. In my dream I felt a shiver of dread at the thought of being there, in the clearing, in the moonlight.
Then I saw her. I saw her looking at me, looking at me with that sidelong glance of hers. But her eyes were steady, clear, with great deeps in them. I didn't know it then, nor even the next day, but I was already hers, utterly hers, caught within the circle of her eyes, in the space she filled, the clearing, and the hill. She smiled at me, timidly. "Lady," I said to her, and she frowned, like a girl, like a shy, wild thing, as though she understood that I was amazed, somehow dismayed, to find myself calling her Lady. The dismay I felt then was always between us.

Then she spoke my name and stood beside me - her tunic barely reached her knees - and stretched out her hand and touched my hair. There was something hesitant in the way she touched me, and she smiled, an incredible, mortal smile. I thought of all the names men call her by, and I would have fallen to my knees but she held me up, as one holds up a child, by putting her hand under my chin. Look at me, I'm a grown man. And she was just a wild thing, a slight awkward girl. Except for her eyes, those eyes of hers. I felt like a small boy. "You must never wake again," she said. "Don't try to follow. I'll come to you again." And she went off through the clearing.

I walked all over Latmos that night, until dawn. I followed the moon everywhere, through the gorges and the scrub, up to the peaks. I listened, listened, and all I could hear was her voice, like the sound of sea water, a hoarse voice, cold and maternal. Every rustle, every shadow stopped me. I caught glimpses of wild animals, running. When the light came - a livid, veiled light - I looked down on the plain, on this road where we're walking now, and I knew that my home was no longer among men. I was no longer one of them. I was waiting for the night. (...)

*** *** ***

Danièle Huillet: Take the example of Pavese. Ultimately, about Pavese himself we couldn't care less by the end of the film. What interests us are the good people who say Pavese's texts, what they do in life, how they say these texts, the problems they have saying what they say – which makes what they say all of sudden no longer belong to Pavese but to the good people who say it – who at the outset had never heard of Pavese. The only interest that the text or what you call the culture has is that the person who wrote it did a certain work, he produced something which touched us and which subsequently has resisted – from which one can judge that he did his work well.

Is the world still habitable? Deeply felt absences (both in front of, and behind, the camera) haunt, descend upon Straub's Le Genou d'Artémide in the form of a sighing forest, but the human voices remain absolute and the forests still breathe: living testaments to the alliance of the mysterious and the realist image that Huillet championed. This mystery, this wind in the trees, however, is something closer to, say, D.W. Griffith's One is Business, the Other Crime (1912) - the final image of which has already been called out to by the final image of Straub/Huillet's Quei loro incontri (2006) - than to, say, M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, which seems to answer the question above, with its own awkward melancholies, in the negative.

Engaged in this dialogue of insomnia, of the fear of desired divine energies afloat in the night, are two men, at least one of whom is mortal (and perhaps it's not too difficult to tell them apart even without prior knowledge). The discovery of a 'human image' within a documentary on landscape as "a place of inscription of struggles, empty theatre of operations", what stands above it and what lies within: we are shown after a series of breathtaking pans, a path amidst the trees that leads to a mysterious grave, but not before we are conveyed, through the Stranger, the sensation of touch, as his hands come to rest upon the moss-covered tree, while Endymion talks of Artemis' untouched knee.

Emphases on the intonation and rhythm of the actors' delivery (and both Andrea Bacci and Dario Marconcini have performed in previous Pavese adaptations of Straub/Huillet), on the 'thereness' of living human bodies, their audible breaths mingling with the wind - creating that classic S/H intensification of the text to which nearly everything else seems to respond - capture and preserve a certain form of authenticity (what Barton Byg calls their "romanticism" in their German films). The rapidly drifting clouds above Buti that alter the light patterns in this forest so extraordinarily come across as accomplices and not mere witnesses. And I'm moved, again, by Straub's use of the diagonal composition here, as if the 'characters' had nowhere else to go but end up as spatial expressions of their irreconciliations (permanent insomnia from a state of heightened emotion!), surrounded by further verticals and diagonals of the surrounding trees.

But, in the end, let's not forget what Serge Daney has said of their films (I paraphrase): "If one considers that a filmmaker is important insofar as he looks, in film, a certain state of the human body, the films of Straub will remain as documentaries on two or three body positions: to be seated, bending to read, to walk. This is already a lot."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good post, and very helpful for a full understanding of what I take to be a very moving but full of discretion (she is everywhere, but goes unnamed) tribute to the present memory of Danièle Huillet. It might sound desperate, but it seems to me an affirmation of life, serenity, beauty. As Dylan Thomas said "but death shall not prevail". Strange how little attention was paid at Cannes to this brief, Griffith-Mizoguchian film. Congratulations,
Miguel Marías

12:16 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

I second Miguel's emotion! Great work.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

This is an excellent post.

I've been trying to find this film for a year now.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

Really nice piece Murbarak, you give voice to a lot I saw in the film but couldn't express. Where did you see it? Where you able to catch the other Straub/Huillet that played at Cannes too?

2:25 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

By a year, I mean two months.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Miguel and Adrian - thanks for your words, truly...

Miguel, indeed, and I think this film is deeply connected to our times with its questionings, its ways of looking, its necessary affirmations of "the awake" and all that it entails. Also, it seems to me that Cannes has never given Straub/Huillet films the attention they deserve. In any case, Straub's two films (one of which is also Danièle's final film, as reported) were ostensibly in good company in the ever-courageous Director's Fortnight sidebar, with films by Kramer, Skolimowski, Serra, Alonso, Martin, Gomes.

Daniel, this was screened on Rai-Tre on June 7, and the parallel modes of distribution were set in motion immediately after, it would seem. Itinéraire de Jean Bricard hasn't screened (yet?).

Michael, I'd guess if you live around Toronto or New York (or, certainly, select European cities), you'll probably be lucky enough to see this projected soon. If you begin to get desperate, email me!

12:17 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I'd expect a NY screening sometime around the fall, perhaps at Views from the Avant-Garde. I'll scope around the "parallel modes of distribution" as well.

Also, I heard that this film includes outtakes from "These Encounters of Theirs." Could you tell if this was the case?


2:32 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Michael, where did you hear that? I don't think that any outtakes from These Encounters were used for Artémide, I wouldn't really, but I'm not sure of this. According to new filmkritik, scenes for the new film were shot around Il Seracino, Buti, in June 2007, following an on-stage recital (rehearsal?) in front of an audience at the end of May 2007 (of which there are some wonderful first-hand accounts scattered on the internet). If anyone else has any further information...

1:16 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I heard the outtake chatter from a friend who attended a screening of "Artémide" in Cannes. He said that there was, in his broken English, mention of this by attendees and he went with their word. Of course, I shouldn't have believed this and passed it off as truth, but I could've sworn I've heard this from others.


10:51 PM  
Blogger Andy Rector said...

Dear Mubarak,

your posts are proclamations of life and light. With the exception of "c"'s, I find nothing else like their sense of revelation and sensitivity to the image out of all this online stuff. Your post "angels of the night, silverframe my candlelight" is an emotional landmark for me. Deep thanks for this post on the new Straub, which I haven't seen...

Wanted to say too that Itinéraire de Jean Bricard has had at least two screenings to my knowledge: one at the LTC lab in Saint Cloud (a tradition of the Straubs' to screen their newly struck prints there for "the friends") and (testament to how little coverage of Straub/Huillet there was at Cannes) at Cannes - with Genou.

Daniel was being modest; he wrote on Genou and Bricard here:

a bit of information on Bricard from Klaus Volkmer (I hope he doesn't mind my posting it [where are you Klaus?]):

"The sound is Bricard's original recording, his testimony from 1994 - the sound is problematic, it's distorted all over - this was no professional recording - but Straub said at the screening of the work print at the LTC lab that I could attend in March - just paraphrasing - 'This is the first of our films where the sound is bad, really bad. But it will remain as it is, because this is the original sound, and I don't give a damn about it.'"

11:26 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Andy, I started to reply to your comment above, but, overwhelmed, couldn't really express myself well. I will say, however, that the many times I have had doubts about continuing with blogging for whatever reason, I look at your work and see what is possible, what can be done, and I'm back here, ready to battle the effort it takes me to write in English what I must say... It's late here, I'm exhausted, and I fear I'm not making much sense - I'll write to you tomorrow!

Immense thanks for sharing that precious information on Bricard. The world needs more Straub anecdotes.

Also, I realise now that I had neglected to mention Daniel's wonderful and inspiring piece on these two films, which I'm glad you draw attention to. And: this ("C’est déjà beaucoup"), courtesy of Bruno Andrade.

1:45 PM  
Blogger noni said...

this is wonderful...thx for sharing it.
have not seen the film....of course with images it supposed to be magical.

5:54 AM  

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