Excerpts from film writing on real/fiction

Alain Bergala (AB) – observations on the role of the real in films of fiction. Cinémathèque, Paris Sept 2011

AB talks about delving into the interior world of the film-maker to access those fleeting notions: the barely perceptible cinematic decisions, or those of great magnitude, that combine to form the aesthetic whole.  Our ‘delegate packs’ contain a load of prose selected by AB that highlights other cinéastes’ observations on the real and fiction. I picked out the following:

André Bazin – on editing:  “..il suffit pour que le récit retrouve la réalité qu’un seul des plans convenablement choisi rassemble les elements disperses auparavant par le montage.”

For a narrative to retrieve its reality, it only takes one aptly chosen shot (of ‘real’ footage) to reassemble the elements which may previously have been scattered through the processes of editing. eg. ‘Nanouk of the North’ mixing edited fishing sequences with long shots of uncut real Eskimo action. ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ street shots juxtaposed with shots of the main character entering into those streets.

Michel Chion – on sound:  “ .. ce qui sonne vrai pour le spectateur et le son qui est vrai sont deux choses très differentes. Pour apprécier la verité d’un son, nous nous référons beaucoup plus á des codes répandus par le cinéma lui-même … qu’á notre hypothétique expérience vécue.”

What sounds real to the audience and what constitutes real sound are two completely different things. To assess the reality of a sound, we tend to refer to widespread codes and conventions of cinema itself rather than to our own hypothetical lived experience. The sounds from our everyday experience are barely noticeable, they neither interest nor surprise us. Most likely it’s from our experience of film that we learn a version of what war sounds like, what a storm at sea sounds like, what the interior of a spacecraft sounds like – the ‘realistic’ post production sounds we hear in ‘Alien’ have been constructed to produce a feeling of tension and discomfort, not verisimilitude.

Serge Daney – on framing: “un film est un lieu de passage, comme un ciel où passent les nuages des personages et les éclairs du hors champ.”

Film occupies transient ground, like a sky where cloud-like characters pass, interrupted by lightening flashes from off screen.

Loïg Le Bihan – Un meteorologie du cinema: “Vent, nuages, ces ‘grains météorologiques’ sont les signes persistants de la qualité spéciale de l’image cinématographique dès ses origines.”

Wind, clouds, these meteorological elements, have persistently signalled the special quality of the cinematic image since its inception.

Robert Bresson – on reality, truth, creativity: “Deux sortes de films: ceux qui emploient les moyens du théâtre … et se servent de la caméra afin de reproduire; ceux qui emploient les moyens du cinématographie et se servent de la camera afin de créer”

There are 2 sorts of film: those that through theatrical means use the camera to reproduce; and those that through cinematography use the camera to create.

“Créer n’est pas déformer ou inventer des personnes et des choses. C’est nouer entre des personnes et des choses qui existent et telles qu’elles existent, des rapports nouveaux….. ta creation ou invention s’arrête aux liens que tu noues entre les divers morceaux de réel saisis”

Creating is not about distorting or inventing people or things. It’s about making new connections between people and things and reconnecting any existing connections.

“Ta caméra non seulement attrape des mouvements physiques inattrapables par le crayon, le pinceau ou la plume, mais aussi certains états d’âme reconnaissables à des indices non décelables sans elle.”

Your camera not only captures physical movement, which is already beyond the pencil, the paintbrush or the pen, but it can also capture certain moods with visual clues that would be indiscernible without it.

Johan Van de Keuken – on the violent gaze & framing: He doesn’t regard reality as something that can be fixed onto film but he looks on it rather like some dynamic kind of force field which results in a film being made.

“l’image filmée résulte plutôt d’une collision entre le champ du reel et l’énergie que je mets à l’explorer. C’est actif, agressif. Quelque part, à mi-chemin, on trouve un point fort et c’est également l’image filmée.”

The filmed image is rather a collision between the (force)field of the real and the energy I invest in exploring it. It’s active and aggressive. Somewhere, halfway, we find a significant moment (a strong point?) which is also the filmed image. When going for different takes of a shot, he’ll adjust spatial relations by moving furniture or some props around slightly so as to capture the total arbitrariness, ambiguity and infinite points of view that could be filmed… so that shots are almost the same but not entirely. Showing the real therefore consists of multiplying “the almosts”.

“à conserver presque le meme point de vue mais en déplaçant légèrement les relations spatiales à l’intérieur du cadre, pour précisément accentuer ce “presque” … Montrer le réel consiste donc à multiplier ces “presques”

To round things off AB selects some relevant short quotes/exhortations from film-makers (ran out of steam to copy all the French)

Hou Hsiao Hsien: Advises against making one’s opinions explicit in film. Although he has his opinions, he doesn’t seek to reveal them but to show the fire of their presence, so that the audience can feel that presence, the fire that burns, and make their own interpretation. In order to create, one shouldn’t start with the cerebral, the imagination or the ‘ocean of the brain’. Creativity always comes from the outside. My films are born out of the encounter between myself and the truth of the exterior.

Godard: You can’t invent in cinema. I didn’t invent the lake water or the blue of the sky. You can only place things in relation to each other, orient them in a certain direction. I’ve always made collages… it’s a way of receiving, to let things come to you, like the camera receives light.

Everything in film is a quote, not only sentences: when you film a tree or a car you quote them in the image. I don’t feel that I know how to invent, but I feel I know how to find things and assemble them. I’m happy to make any kind of film  about anything. If there are trees, why not film them, if there’s a street and there are people, you’ve got to make something of it.

In terms of the pleasure of film-making… pleasure is what the world offers you. You’ve only got to find the right spot. This window in front of us exists already. To film it, you just need to know where to stand.

Leave the world without a name, just for moment! “Laisse un instant le monde sans nom!”

There are 2 types of film-maker: one that walks along with their head lowered (cinéma libre) and one that walks looking up and around (cinéma rigoureux). Those facing downwards often have to raise their head quite suddenly, to the left or the right, embracing with a series of glances what is in view. They see. Their composition will be fluid, aerated (Rossellini). They are sensitive to chance (Welles). Those with their heads up don’t see anything, they watch; they fix their attention precisely on what interests them (Hitchcock & Visconti)

Bresson: What is all this intermediary work of the imagination when faced with what is real? Camera and tape, take me away from intelligence, which complicates everything! Once the real arrives in your mind it’s no longer the real. Our intelligent eye thinks too much.

Rodin: I can clearly state that I have no ideas when I don’t have anything to copy.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Filming is the most exciting part of the film-making process. There’s a tension which is demanding and exciting at the same time. Especially when unforeseen things happen. For example when the wind gets up.

What resists fiction? My own notes from discussions around the clips we saw …

Children/teen reflexes/reactions, animals being animals, non-actors, ‘madmen’, the weather, light, being at the mercy of the elements, nature, landscapes, eating, drinking, smoking, chance events, getting wet, physicality: performing a task or sport, bodies being tested somehow, filming people with their backs to you, crying, street scenes, public transport, real pain, overhead sounds, random objects, actors fiddling with objects (one of James Dean’s habits), improvisation, singing and dancing, speaking to camera, clips of real archive footage, prolonged scenes (that seem to run past their ‘normal’ capacity to retain attention) with no dialogue.

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