DORIS PETERNEL / Pierre Clémenti, cinéaste

 

 

 

 

La carrière d’acteur de Pierre Clémenti prend, dès son début, un envol fulgurant. A vingt trois ans, il joue dans Le Guépard de Luchino Visconti. Quatre ans plus tard, il apparaît en tant que Marcel, le criminel à l’allure mystérieuse et séduisante dans Belle de jour de Buñuel, avec qui il travaillera à nouveau dans La voie lactée en 1969. Aux côtés de Jean Pierre Léaud, il incarne le rôle principal dans Porcherie de Pasolini, une année plus tard.

A vingt huit ans, Pierre Clémenti peut déjà se vanter d’avoir joué pour les grands du cinéma de l’époque. Mais en rétrospective, ce n’est pas une carrière de star qu’il envisage. Ce qui l’attire dans le cinéma et le théâtre, c’est sa puissance d’expression en tant que médium contestataire. Dès qu’il peut choisir parmi les rôles proposés, il opte pour ceux qui coïncident avec ses convictions. L’argent ne l’intéresse pas; cela se confirme lorsqu’il sabote l’offre de Fellini en demandant un salaire exorbitant pour être sûr de ne pas être pris. Au lieu de jouer dans Satyricon, il apparaît dans La cicatrice intérieure mis en scène par son ami Philippe Garrel. Dans ce film à petit budget, Clémenti incarne le rôle du Christ qui refuse de se sacrifier pour l’humanité en voyant un monde qui l’effraye.

Dans l'intégrale de son oeuvre cinématographique y compris les films signés par lui en tant que réalisateur, l’esprit rebelle de 1968 s’y manifeste. Clémenti adhère ainsi de manière inconditionnelle aux idées de la génération béat qui se veut libertaire et cherche à rompre avec la société au pouvoir ne symbolisant pour elle qu’un conformisme et une hypocrisie insoutenable. Pour Clémenti, cet esprit représente pas uniquement une occasion parfaite pour vivre la phase révoltante de l’adolescence, pour lui, c’est sa raison d’être.

C’est en 1968 qu’il passe pour la première fois derrière la caméra et crée un film expérimental qui s’intitule La révolution n’est qu’un début, continuons. Comme l’insinue déjà le titre, on y voit des manifestations d’étudiants de mai 68 à Paris. Clémenti tourne avec sa caméra Beaulieu au milieu des mêlées et des affrontements entre étudiants et forces de l’ordre en prenant la position d’un participant actif aux côtés des étudiants tout en étant obligé d’esquiver les attaques des CRS; d’où les nombreuses interruptions et secousses dans l’enregistrement.

Dans ce film muet de trente minutes, les principaux éléments qui formeront le fil conducteur dans le travail cinématographique de Pierre Clémenti s’y manifestent d’ors et déjà.

Il s’agit avant tout d’une volonté du cinéaste d’y intégrer sa vie privée, car à côté des manifestations de 1968, on y voit notamment sa femme Margareth et son fils aîné Balthazar dans des scènes quotidiennes. Semblable à un journal intime, ces images d’une mémoire individuelle seront continuellement entremêlées à celles d’une mémoire collective montrant les batailles dans les rues. Le choix formel des surimpressions, l’utilisation de caches ainsi que de filtres colorés qui apportent un caractère psychédélique à l’ensemble du court-métrage en est un autre élément caractéristique.

 

Dans son prochain film Visa de censure N°X dont la phase de travail s’étend sur presque une décennie (de 1967 à 1976), il intensifie ses principaux intérêts énoncés plus haut. Durant ces neuf années, plusieurs changements au niveau de sa longueur, de sa mouture, mais aussi en ce qui concerne son titre ont été entrepris. La version finale comprend également le court-métrage Art de vie =Carte de voeux (1967) ajouté à la fin et dédié à sa femme et son fils. Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, lui même réalisateur de films expérimentaux, assiste à la première projection du film dans les années soixante, en précisant que la première mouture de Visa de censure N°X était plus courte que la version finale et s’intitulait Psychedelic. i

Clémenti opte cette fois pour l’emploi d’une musique durant toute la longueur du film qui aide à souligner le caractère de transe et d’envoutement des images. Il se sert également des surimpressions permanentes souvent de type radiale, de diverses formes lumineuses (étoiles etc.) et graphiques et de filtres colorés afin de créer cet effet psychédélique et kaléidoscopique. Cette économie du dispositif visuel rappelle partiellement le film de Roland Nameth Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable de 1967 ou encore Scenes from the life of Andy Warhol (1966) de Jonas Mekas.

Visa de censure est donc un événement audio-visuel hors du commun, et surtout non-verbal qui plonge le spectateur dans l’univers subjectif du créateur. On a l’impression d’assister à un trip, à une longue hallucination du cinéaste. Des cascades d’images qui montrent des réunions d’amis dont fait partie entres autres Etienne O’Leary ou Jean-Pierre Kalfon s’entremêlent avec celles de performances théâtrales à fort caractère métaphorique et contestataire. Une scène emblématique de ce genre est celle d’une communion de type chrétien, où l’hostie donnée à Pierre ne porte plus le symbole de la croix mais celui de l’impérialisme américain, l’icône de Uncle Sam. Après l’avoir reçue, Pierre est pris de fortes convulsions et vomit à plusieurs reprises une araignée noire, message qui passe sans ambiguïté.

A côté de l’expression de son engagement socio-politique se manifeste également sa conception de l’activité créative. C’est la réinvention de l’art et plus précisément de l’art dramatique, suivant l’idée du Théâtre de la Cruauté selon Artaud ainsi que celle du Living Theater selon Beck et Malina, avec qui Pierre Clémenti part, par ailleurs, en tournée entre 1967 et 1968. L'idée commune est celle d'un théâtre qui investit au niveau de l’affect, de l’inconscient et de l’organique. Par l’abandon d’une narration verbale qui n’est qu’un produit de l’intellect et empêche ainsi un bouleversement émotionnel, l’acteur ébranle le spectateur au plus profond de lui- même par une sorte de rituel dramatique.

Visa de censure N°X peut ainsi être lu comme un tel rituel dramatique qui évoque la concrétisation d’un songe, celui de Pierre Clémenti transmettant sa contemplation hallucinante, anarchique et utopique du monde.

 

Contrairement à Visa de censure qui a priori contient principalement des images de la vie privée du cinéaste, New Old (1978) se sert en grande partie de found-footage. On y trouve des images de l’actualité, des photos et des affiches historiquement signifiantes, des extraits de films et de représentations théâtrales où Clémenti a participé ainsi que des prises de vues que le réalisateurs éternise sur celluloïd lors de ses voyages à l'étranger dont notamment une à New York. Sur le plan sonore, la palette dont se sert le cinéaste devient également plus élaborée. Une multitude de bruits et d’éléments sonores, des textes poétiques et dramatiques, des extraits télé et radiophoniques et, pour arrondir le tout, de la musique y sont orchestrés avec grande attention.

Cependant, l’optimisme fortement ressenti dans ses deux premiers films a cédé sa place à une atmosphère davantage pessimiste. New Old ouvre sur un plan montrant un couple bourgeois d’âge moyen traverser le champs de mars. Ce qui suit est une chaîne d’images à fort pouvoir associatif. On voit les manifestations des étudiants qui sont violemment réprimées par les forces de l’ordre. Ensuite le spectateur assiste à une scène empruntée à L’affiche rouge (1976) de Frank Cassenti, où Pierre Clémenti incarne un membre de la résistance qui tue par balle un nazi durant la deuxième guerre mondiale. Le travail de New Old se fonde principalement sur une juxtaposition de deux mondes, opposant celui de la bourgeoisie, du capitalisme et du pouvoir en place - qui d’ailleurs est comparé par Clémenti au nazisme - à celui resté inexaucé de la génération béat où le désir de liberté flirte avec l’anarchie.

Dix ans après 1968, Clémenti nous dresse avec New Old un compte rendu des résultats de mai 1968 et la quasi absence d'amélioration au plan politique. Le résultat est un pamphlet qui dénonce le climat de répression et le pouvoir en place qui à l’époque était représenté par la droite modérée, la bourgeoisie. Le pigeon blanc qui apparait à plusieurs reprises dans Visa de censure en vol libre symbolisant l’esprit libertaire est néanmoins dans New Old enfermé dans une cage. Sur son image s’imprime celle de la transformation du personnage de Marie en machine issu de Metropolis de Lang. Les deux sont pour ainsi dire emprisonnés par le capitalisme.

Par conséquent, le ton du réalisateur a changé de l’enthousiasme à la déception. La révolution a échoué dans la mesure où les buts politiques n'ont pas pu être atteints. Nombre de ces défenseurs ont renoncé, quelques-uns sont passés à l’underground politique dans des organisations radicales tels les Brigades Rouges ou la RAF, d’autres ont sombré dans la drogue, un fait qui préoccupe également Clémentiétant donné que son entourage en est également touché.Dans New Old, on assiste notamment à une scène surréaliste où un personnage semblable au diable, incarné par le cinéaste lui-même, s’approche sournoisement d’une jeune fille dans un pré de coquelicots. Il lui offre une fleur qui s’avère être une seringue avec laquelle il la pique au bras. C'est l’allégorie même de l’addiction à l’héroïne, apparue en force à cette époque, qui détourne de nombreux esprits libres et prometteurs en les ligotant par une unique préoccupation.

 

Le thème de l’héroïnomanie revient dans A l’ombre de la canaille bleue (1987), unique film narratif de Clémenti basé sur un récit du tunisien Achmi Gahcem qui incarne également le protagoniste Hassan dans ce drame. L’histoire se déroule à Nécropolis, une ville peuplée par des morts-vivants, des junkies dépourvus de toute autonomie et résistance spirituelle. Cette ville est gouvernée par le gang du Dr. Speed et son allié le Général Corde à Couille. Afin de conserver leur pouvoir, ils soumettent la population à une constante répression. Ils tuent des gens gênant pour leur régime, falsifient des preuves et ont un état-major impressionnant d’indicateurs et de dénonciateurs. Au début, le personnage d’Hassan se profile comme adversaire possible face à leur organisation, mais il succombe bientôt à la drogue et devient une „machine à tuer au service d’un gang qui avait besoin de crime et de sang pour pouvoir se maintenir“. Hassan est arrêté et exécuté à coup de hache sans avoir eu de procès.

L’intérêt central de ce film profondément subversif se fond dans la volonté d’établir des liens entre le gouvernement français et une dictature brutale et barbare. La peine de mort n'est abolie en France qu'en 1981 et il est fortement probable que Clémenti parle dans son film de cette époque où les gaullistes étaient encore au pouvoir avec une majorité absolue. Leur couleur est le bleu, même couleur que la canaille du titre. De même, le nom du Général Corde à Couille qui s'occupe des affaires internes de façon martiale, pourrait faire allusion au Général de Gaulle ayant donné l'ordre de réprimer brutalement les manifestations de 1968. Ces indices permettent ainsi de parler de ce film comme d'un règlement de compte de Clémenti avec Charles de Gaulle et ses partisans, la bourgeoisie réactionnaire. A l'ombre de la canaille bleue n'est pas seulement un pamphlet dénonçant la politique et les méthodes gaullistes, il s’agit également d’une métaphore sur les raisons de l'échec de la révolution. Le film se clôt sur un épilogue où apparaît Pierre Clémenti comme junkie dans un hospice, un rescapé de l’an 2001 qui est soigné par le Dr. Speed, son médecin traitant. Il note dans son journal: «Je me suis shooté dans une chambre avec un matelas par terre. Je crois que l’on m’a assassiné cette nuit

 

L’ultime film de Pierre Clémenti s’intitule Soleil. A l’origine, il est destiné à être projeté lors d’une pièce de théâtre du même titre écrit par Henry Miton et avec Clementi dans le rôle principal. La première a eu lieu en 1986. Durant les deux années suivantes, Clémenti retravaille le film et y rajoute d’autres images, notamment des fragments de ses films précédents et, en outre, une bande sonore d’un texte qui sera à l’origine de sa propre pièce de théâtre Chronique d’une mort retardée terminée en 1992. Ce film est avant tout une réminiscence de sa vie. On peut y distinguer quatre parties, les «  quatre actes de l’âge  » qui sont divisées par des fermetures au noir. La première partie élabore l’incarcération de Clémenti en Italie. En 1971, la police s’introduit dans son appartement à Rome et y trouve des stupéfiants. Il est arrêté et passe presque un an et demi en garde à vue dans une prison italienne. Les raisons de cette incarcération restent mitigés car il y aura jamais de procès. Dans cette première partie, on voit des plans montrant Clémenti menotté, accompagné de deux policiers en civil. Beaucoup de répliques renvoient à la désolation en prison et à l’incision profonde de sa vie de jadis face au quotidien carcérale. Remis dans ma cellule le soir de ce jour, j’ai écrit: la tendresse, le calme, le privilège de rêver. J’ai rencontré des frères tout au bout de l’impasse où le chagrin dévore le jour des condamnés. De retour à Paris, à sa vie ancienne, Clémenti se remémore les débuts, les belles années qui introduisent la deuxième partie de son film. Le réalisateur se souvient de sa jeunesse pleine de vie et d’idéaux. On assiste à la reproduction d’un grand nombre de scènes issues de Visa de censure et de New Old centrées avant tout sur sa vie familiale et amicale. Songe à nous deux, aux jours d’autrefois. J’aimerais tellement mourir et vivre l’instant parfait. Révolte-toi. Révolte-toi, réveille-toi. Le cinéaste remonte aux origine de ses valeurs et idéaux et les redécouvre en même temps. J’ai confiance de ne m’être pas trompé. Mais cette phrase n’est pas une affirmation, plutôt une question sur laquelle suit la troisième partie du film, les années de doute. Dans cette partie, Clémenti procède par une juxtaposition d’images de valeur contradictoires. Des impressions de la guerre, de la torture et de la destruction se contrastent avec celles symbolisant l’harmonie, la vie familiale et des images d’amour et de reconnaissance. Ces impressions d’une lutte pour une vie meilleure prennent finalement le dessus dans la dernière partie et sont dominées par l’image du soleil, symbole récurant dans tous ces films, ayant ici le sous-titre Paradise now. L’ épilogue de Soleil se clôt avec les phrases: Je crains que ma douleur vous intéresse. J’irais jusqu’à vous avec moi, l’ombre du passage est passé et dans mon sillon une flamme, j’ai observé un soleil vivant avec les mêmes habitants qui ne se laisseront pas faire devant l’arrogance, devant la fin d’un monde ne se finissant pas.

 

En 1999, à l’âge de 57 ans, la flamme de Pierre Clémenti s’éteint suite à un cancer du foie et la révolution de 68 perd avec lui un de ses plus fidèles enfants.

 

 

Doris Peternel

 

 

iNicole Brenez, Christian Lebrat (dir.), Jeune, dure et pure! Une histoire de cinéma d’avant-garde et expérimentale en France, p. 275, éd. Mazotta, 2001

 

A.S. HAMRAH / We need to confirm that you know Gregory Arkadin

 

 

Mr. Arkadin’s decadence looks like vitality now; its poverty looks like riches; what William S. Pechter called its “half-baked profundities” don’t jar and clash so much as fall like snow falls in the film. If Mr. Arkadin once seemed sad because it seemed amateurish and a like come down for Welles, what is sad about now settles into it like the cold. If for some people the film used to be terrible, now it points in the direction of something terrible outside of it.

 

The film has had defenders since it came out in 1955, but misgivings accompany their praise. In 1958 Cahiers du cinéma called Mr. Arkadin Welles’s greatest film and one of the 12 best films ever made, but for André Bazin it was “a film of only secondary importance.” We owe Jonathan Rosenbaum a debt of gratitude for all the work he has done in bringing the various versions of Arkadin to light, but for him the film’s problem is Welles himself. Welles’s performance in the title role is “debilitating,” defined by falseness, variability, and silly moments. Richard Brody, in The New Yorker, has recently been “struck by the anguish and self-loathing the film displays” and identifies “the film’s intense confessional pathos, the drama of a man who doubts that he could be loved for the person he knows himself to be.” These key observations bookend the comments of another New Yorker writer, who, between the two Brody write-ups, called Mr. Arkadin “Welles’s unfinished botch of a film.”

 

In contrast to glossier Cold War paranoias that came later, like The Manchurian Candidate, Welles’s version is sewn by hand or nailed together; it’s crafty. Arkadin’s black-and-white images, shot through an 18.5mm lens, pop big heads into the frame. The 18.5mm lens provides great depth of field in vistas with Spanish castles in the background and in small rooms that are extra-cluttered or that house only one old chair. The most modern things—airplanes, telephones, speakers, sunglasses—compete with the junk-shop detritus of a broken Europe more splintered and random than The Third Man’s Vienna.

 

A typical camera move follows a worn-out character—one of Arkadin’s old friends–and reveals a bed pole capped with a swastika across from an upside-down portrait of Hitler. Welles doesn’t linger over these things yet he makes us expect them. Then he gradually removes them until, at the end, he disappears, too, a bulky mannequin thrown overboard so that the film can rise into an empty gray sky.

 

The film is self-consciously a fable; Arkadin is a king. The fable goes like this: Gregory Arkadin, an international financier with shady past and a beautiful daughter, sits atop a fortune. He claims he can’t remember anything that happened to him before a night in 1927 when he woke up in a Zurich street with pockets full of cash. He hires an American grifter named Van Stratten to dig into his past, telling him he wants to find out who he is and where he’s from. Traveling the globe, Van Stratten uncovers a frowsy network of aging criminals living quiet, sometimes weird lives—Arkadin’s ex-cronies. Murdered by Arkadin one-by-one as Van Stratten locates them, the detective realizes his investigation is a manhunt Arkadin has started so he can eliminate anyone who knows his secret; Van Stratten will be his final victim.

 

The tragedy, or the joke, is that Arkadin’s old friends and ex-lovers are past caring; ignoring them would have been enough. Arkadin laughs when he finally comes face-to-face with the last survivor. Akim Tamiroff’s tragicomic Jacob Zouk, an ex-con hiding in a bed in his underwear, shivers alone in a small room, Arkadin’s whole world shrunk down to a pinpoint, a black dot like a flea in the flea circus we visited earlier. “So what’s funny?” asks Zouk. “Old age,” Arkadin answers. “Old age,” he says again as he glides out Zouk’s door. Which doesn’t stop him from killing Zouk later.

 

Time has added a new layer to this film’s encrustations. Mr. Arkadin looks different in the age of digital social networking. We don’t lose track of people from our pasts like Arkadin did, and if we have lost track we can find old friends just by typing in their names and “friending” them, and they can find us, too. If we want to eliminate them we can de-friend them and with a keystroke they disappear. The Internet has replaced the need for a Van Stratten to find people for us, and we can get rid of them by ourselves. It’s a form of “murder by remote control,” as Humphrey Bogart says in The Big Sleep, describing a hired gun. Where Gregory Arkadin needed a vast system of spies with binoculars hiding being trees and on parapets, and a staff of secretaries to keep files in rows of black file cabinets, the Internet has eliminated the need for a staff and made us all into little Arkadins.

 

In Mr. Arkadin we can feel Welles trying to do away with a younger version of himself, embodied in the “cornball” Van Stratten and in the way Welles disguises himself as the Neptune-like Arkadin. This basic Wellesian theme starts in Citizen Kane. The over-confident Wellesian protagonist forgets his younger self even as this earlier version is always present; tragedy strikes; surrounded by doubles and mirrors he ages before our eyes; the past catches up with him and engulfs him. “I drag my myth around with me,” Welles told a critic, explaining why he could never make a new start, why preconceptions and misconceptions about him hurt his career.

 

Oh, I’ve been photographed,” Arkadin explains to Van Stratten. “But usually I break the photograph.” What does the mean, to “break the photograph”? To break the photograph instead of the camera? We accept that without thinking about it when Welles says it in Arkadin’s Russian accent. His accent deflects the strangeness of the phrase break the photograph. Is it some king of crypto-allusion to film editing, to cutting out of the scene?

 

We see a couple of photographs of Arkadin before he was Arkadin, when he was still Waclaw Athabadze, young-ish criminal on the make. These photographs come back to haunt Arkadin like the high-school photos people post of us on Facebook, or ones from last night’s party. The photos they post give the lie to whichever photo we choose for our profile picture just like they do to the carefully constructed face of Arkadin—one constant of Arkadin criticism is how phony Welles looks in it. We drag the past around with us whether we want to or not, getting tagged like in Mr. Arkadin’s game-of-tag plot. Until we do, we sit there unknowing, waiting, shimmering somewhere in cyberspace without names to go with our faces.

 

It makes sense that in the age of social networking, vampire movies would become popular again. When we accept these email requests from the people who have found us, we become members of a new clan. Poor Bella Swan, who frets about aging while her boyfriend stays 17 forever, is like someone who can’t decide whether to join Facebook or not, because quitting would be awkward. The teenage vampires of the Twilight saga aren’t carriers of evil infections like the vampires of the past. Today’s vampires are more of an after-school club that has lots of rules and regulations about membership. They confer a kind of Facebook immortality on each other and get defriended not with stakes through the heart so much as by not observing social cues and being careful about boundaries.

 

New Moon, the second movie in the Twilight series, gurgles with an unintentional Wellesian undercurrent. The characters recite Shakespeare and wander moors. The film is moody, self-conscious and aimed at the arty kids. There’s even a Arkadinian jet plane to Europe in it. It could use more Mercury Theatre and less X-Men, however, because it lacks drive and purpose. Arkadin is eventful. It’s filled with commentary, quips, maxims, stories within stories; the camera follows Van Stratten and Raina, Arkadin’s daughter, along fences and past ruins like it has somewhere it has to be. New Moon’s emo-gotho-depresso pop-hits soundtrack replicates the experience of someone listening to music while working on a computer who isn’t really concentrating on anything, just updating her status to read: “It’s raining outside. Dating a monster is hard. I am sad right now,” like maybe the movie is based on a haiku, not a 600-page novel. It’s unformed characters lack the sweep of any kind of history, even though some of them have supposedly been around for hundreds of years. They are tied to dreary Forks, Washington, even though they can defy space and time.

 

Around the time I saw the Twilight movie and rewatched Mr. Arkadin I was reading a book I found on the street, a book by Rsyzard Kapuscinski called Travels with Herodotus. Near the end, Kapuscinski quotes a passage from T. S. Eliot’s 1944 essay on Virgil. For me it summed up the link between New Moon and Mr. Arkadin in the Facebook era, so I’m ending with it too: “In our age, when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom and knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try to solve problems of life in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism which perhaps deserves a new name. It is a provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which have served their turn and been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares. The menace of this kind of provincialism is, that we can all, all the peoples on the globe, be provincials together; and those who are not content to become provincials, can only become hermits.” Arkadin jumped from his plane, Bella Swan will become a vampire, I’m posting this link to Facebook.

 

 

A. S. Hamrah

 

 

 

JAMES NAREMORE / Hearts of Darkness: Joseph Conrad and Orson Welles

 

 

As I’ve argued elsewhere, there are several reasons why Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) could be regarded a distant ancestor of the film noir:i Conrad employs a first-person narration that involves subjective focalization and a good deal of shifting back and forth in time; he calls attention to the narration by dramatizing it in a manner roughly analogous to the first-person openings and closings of movies like Double Indemnity, and Murder My Sweet; and he gives a great deal of attention to a shadowy, somber mood, so that the meaning seems to lie on the atmospheric surface—in Marlow’s famous words, on “the outside, enveloping the tale.” Conrad’s plot has a family resemblance to 19th-century adventure stories about British imperialism, but his style is hallucinated, onieric, greatly concerned with the psychology of the narrator, who says at one point, “It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream.” Hence, no less than any of the classic film noirs, which often contain dream sequences, Heart of Darkness has provoked psychoanalytic interpretation. Perhaps the novella’s most general affinity with noir, however, is that although it belongs to the genre of bloody melodrama, it strives to seem un-melodramatic. It does so through a familiar device of gothic fiction that can be seen in such movies as Laura, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Blue Steel, and Basic Instinct: everyone is a bit guilty, and the ostensibly “good” character representing reason and ordinary decency is in some ways a double of the manifestly evil or guilty character. This “secret sharer” theme, combined with Conrad’s foregrounding of style and pessimistic view of Western progress, gives Heart of Darkness a liminal position in modern culture: like most noirish fiction and film, it blends popular adventure with certain traits of modernism. As Fredric Jameson says, it belongs in a zone somewhere between Robert Louis Stevenson and Marcel Proust, and it enables us to sense “the emergence of what will be contemporary modernism . . . but also, still tangibly juxtaposed with it, what will variously be called popular culture or mass culture, the commercialized cultural discourse of what, in late capitalism, is often called media society.”ii

 

Heart of Darkness became a sort of ur-text for Anglo-American modernism, influencing T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and the novels of William Faulkner. In the realm of popular fiction it had a similar influence, especially among sophisticated writers of thrillers and their Hollywood adapters. Raymond Chandler’s first-person narrator is named Marlowe; Graham Greene’s “entertainment” novels, all of which became film noirs, were inspired by his reading of Conrad’s novella; and Greene’s script for The Third Man not only borrows its narrative structure from Heart of Darkness but also contains a minor character named “Kurtz.” Where later movies are concerned, the novella also became an intertext for pictures about US imperialism in Vietnam: Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is modeled on Heart of Darkness and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket has distant echoes of the same source. Surprisingly, however, few film makers have been interested in adapting the novella itself. A canonical work known by virtually every college student in the English-speaking world, Heart of Darkness constitutes a “pre-sold” commodity, and by virtue of its brevity might seem to present fewer problems for a screenwriter than the novels of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, who have been adapted many times. Yet to my knowledge only one film is based directly on the story: Nicholas Roeg’s adaptation for Turner Network Television, starring Tim Roth as Marlow and John Malkovich as Kurtz, which was filmed in Central America and broadcast in the US in 1994. This picture was nominated for a Golden Globe by the international press, but it rarely achieves the haunted, dryly ironic quality of its source, and in most other ways is a disappointment.

 

Perhaps Heart of Darkness hasn’t been filmed more often because it has no heroic action, not much dialogue, and a great deal of what F. R. Leavis called “adjectival insistence” on horror.iii Leaving aside its racist and patriarchal implications, which create another set of problems, it holds our attention through a kind of spellbinding trickery, the literary equivalent of smoke and mirrors. But I suspect there is also another reason. Any cinematic adaptation of the novella is likely to be overshadowed by a legendary film that was never made: Orson Welles’s 1939 Heart of Darkness, which was developed at RKO, the most noir-like of the Hollywood studios, in the period immediately before Welles began work on Citizen Kane. The very idea of such a project is enough to fascinate cinephiles and create an anxiety of influence in later directors.

 

We can never know if Welles’s adaptation would have succeeded; nevertheless, Robert Carringer’s The Making of Citizen Kane provides tantalizing details about its, and Jonathan Rosenbaum and Guerric DeBona have each written essays that provide further information. Welles’s script and production-company records have survived, giving us a good sense of his plans. His version of Heart of Darkness would have been an intriguing picture by any measure, of interest not only for its political and aesthetic qualities but also, in secondary ways, for what it suggests about the tension between modern literature and Hollywood, and about the problem of fidelity in adaptation.

 

In 1938, when Welles was offered a three-picture contract at RKO, a Gallup poll conducted by the studio determined that audiences most wanted him to appear in a “man from Mars” film related to his War of the Worlds broadcast. Welles countered with an offer to film Heart of Darkness and a couple of Hitchcock-style thrillers on contemporary political themes. RKO agreed, and Welles brought most of his Mercury Theater organization to Hollywood to prepare for the Conrad production. He had already directed a moderately successful one-hour radio adaptation of the novella, starring Ray Collins as Marlow and Welles as Kurtz, which aired on CBS only a week after the Mars-invasion show, and he seemed enthusiastic about a film version. His associate, John Houseman, was paid $15,000 to assist in developing a script, but was frustrated by the job. “I never understood why Welles had chosen such a diffuse and difficult subject,” Houseman wrote in his memoirs. “Joseph Conrad had used all sorts of subtle literary devices; the evil that destroyed [Kurtz] was suggested and implied but never shown. In the concrete medium of film no such evasion was possible.”iv Under the circumstances, Houseman grew increasingly frustrated and withdrew from the job.

 

Welles wrote the script alone, and despite Houseman’s reservations there were several reasons why Heart of Darkness was a logical choice for his initial film. His theatrical reputation was based on spellbinding, somewhat gothic stagecraft; “The Mercury Theater of the Air” was initially subtitled “First Person Singular” and was devoted to experiments in subjective narration; and in the Conrad novella he saw a good opportunity to do something rather like his stage production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which he had transformed into an anti-fascist parable. Notice also that many of Welles’s most important stage projects, including the Harlem Macbeth in 1936 and Native Son in 1940, were concerned with the theme of racial blackness; indeed one of the actors he planned to use in the Conrad film was Jack Carter, who had played Macbeth in Harlem. Besides all this, Heart of Darkness was well suited to what Michael Denning has identified as the “middlebrow” cultural project of the Mercury Theater—a project shared in slightly different ways in the 1930s by the Book-of-the Month Club, the Modern Library, and NBC’s radio symphonies, all of which attempted “to popularize and to market high culture.”v Denning, somewhat like Pierre Bordieu, mounts an effective defense of middlebrow art, at least where Welles’s Popular-Front activities are concerned, pointing out that under the right circumstances it can serve as a vehicle of class struggle and social progress. Thus, just at the moment when Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer were developing their savage critique the culture industry, Welles tried to use the mass media as a democratic weapon, popularizing high culture on behalf of left interests, mixing Shakespeare with thrillers and science fiction, blurring the boundaries between the classic and the vanguard.

 

Having caused a nation-wide panic with a radio broadcast, Welles also saw the autobiographical resonance of stories about demagogues who manipulate the masses. Citizen Kane was designed to suggest certain ironic parallels between Welles and Charles Foster Kane, and the film version of Heart of Darkness would have contained similar parallels between Welles and Kurtz. Like Kurtz, he and his voice had recently shown what Marlow calls “the power to frighten rudimentary souls.” An idealist and a liberal, Welles was often regarded by the press as a Byronic type; perhaps for that reason, he was attracted to stories about the Faustian temptations of political power, and he sometimes used these stories as a form of indirect self criticism. In his preliminary notes on the script for Heart of Darkness, he describes Kurtz as “the Byron of a totalitarian state, what Byron would be if he had become president of Greece.” On a more covert level, according to John Houseman, he also considered modeling Kurtz’s fiancée, “the Intended,” on Chicago socialite Virginia Nicholson, to whom he was married. In his notes for the film he names this character “Elsa Gruner” and describes her as a woman with “a tremendously appealing and lovely kind of gravity . . . She is not militantly honest, she is simply without guile. There is probably only one thing she doesn’t know about Kurtz, who is her lover, and that is how little any woman must mean to such a man.”vi

 

Welles’s method of writing the script was similar to the one he and his staff had used in adaptations for the Mercury Theater radio show: he found a copy of the novella in a pocket-sized anthology, cut out the pages, pasted them onto sheets of typing paper, and began deleting material, retaining a good deal of narration but changing a phrase here and there in marginal notes. On the first few pages he eliminated Marlow’s listening audience--the unnamed narrator of the opening paragraph, the lawyer, the accountant, and the Director—and altered certain lines in Marlow’s opening speech. An important passage in the original reads, “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much, What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to.” Welles changed “flatter noses” to “slightly different noses,” to remind his audience of anti-Semitism, and rewrote the last sentence to give it a more skeptical, less imperialistic tone: “What redeems it is the idea at the back of it; sometimes it’s a sentimental pretense, something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to.”

 

In his book-length interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Welles says he believed his adaptation of Heart of Darkness might have been a success because it made considerable use of Conrad’s language, mostly as off-screen narration. “I haven’t got anything at all against a lot of words in movies,” he explained. “I don’t see how you can do Conrad without all the words.”vii Nevertheless, Welles always took liberties his sources and his adaptations were interesting precisely because they weren’t slavishly faithful. The Magnificent Ambersons transforms Booth Tarkington’s genteel fiction into a Freudian melodrama; Chimes at Midnight is a “digest” of several Shakespeare plays; and The Trial conducts a sort of quarrel with Kafka. Heart of Darkness was no exception. Some of the changes Welles made were motivated by his political aims, some by his desire to make the novel more dramatic or “cinematic,” and others by the need to make a popular Hollywood entertainment. One of his most significant decisions was to set the film in the present day and to make Marlow an American, thereby translating the novella into what he called a “political parable,” an “attack on the Nazi system,” and a “psychological thriller” about a representative man thrown into the midst of “every variety of Fascist mentality and morality.”viii

 

The screenplay opens in New York on the Hudson river, with Marlow’s voice speaking of a “monstrous town marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in the sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars,” while a series of lap dissolves show lights being turned on across Manhattan at dusk—the bridges, the parkways, the boulevards, the skyscrapers. The camera tours the length of the island accompanied by a montage of sounds—snatches of jazz from the radios of moving taxis; dinner music from the big hotels; a “throb of tom-toms” foreshadowing the jungle music to come; the noodling of orchestras tuning up in the concert halls; and finally, near the Battery, the muted sounds of bell buoys and the hoots of shipping. Next we enter New York harbor, where we find Marlow leaning against the mast of a schooner, smoking a pipe and directly addressing the camera. “And this also,” he says, “has been one of the dark places of the earth.”

 

In the process of changing Marlow into an American, the script deletes his chauvinistic remark that in the British colonies “some real work is done” and gives his story a more thoroughgoing anti-colonial implication. Marlow’s politically well-positioned aunt is also deleted. Aimless and romantic, Marlow applies for a job in what the script describes as a “Central European seaport town,” at a trading company that occupies a vast building “in the best Bismarck style.” The company doctor examines his cranium in the interests of confirming the superiority of the Aryan race and sends him off to an unnamed, generic “Dark Continent,” where the landscape and tribal customs derive from a mélange of African, Stone Age, and indigenous American cultures, all of which had been elaborately researched by Welles’s staff at RKO. The exploitation and murder of the black population is carried out by obvious proto-fascists. “This shouldn’t surprise you,” one of them says to Marlow. “You’ve seen this kind of thing on city streets.” Kurtz, the most successful of the fascist types, has been installed in the jungle by his political opponents, who want him removed from Europe, and as a result of his unlimited authority and will to power he has become a ruthless demagogue. “I have another world to conquer,” he says when Marlow finally meets him. “Five more continents and then I’ll die.” When Marlow asks, “Is that all you want?” Kurtz replies, “I want everything.”

 

A good deal of dialog has been invented for the screenplay and its rhythms are carefully stipulated, to the point in many scenes of specifying the precise words on which the actors are supposed to interrupt or speak over another. The result is a distinctive style of rapid, fevered, almost musical overlapping of voices, similar to what we hear in Citizen Kane and most of Welles’s other films. In keeping with the political allegory, the array of characters Marlow meets on his journey along the river has also been altered and elaborated. Most of them join Marlow on the riverboat in search of Kurtz. At the outer station Marlow encounters Eddie (Robert Coote), an effete British citizen who has brought a piano and several cases of champagne to the jungle, where he acts as an ineffectual spy on the European interlopers. “They’d like to own the country, I guess,” Eddie says to Marlow. “It’s ours, you know . . . England’s. That’s why I’m here. To keep my eyes open. Never can tell, you know, when they might take a plebiscite among the cannibals.” At the next station Marlow comes across de Tirpitz (John Emery), a Germanic aristocrat with a club foot, who harbors an intense hatred of Kurtz because, as Welles wrote in background notes for the production, “Kurtz is to him the perfect example of the ascendant lower-middle class which has stolen his inheritance.” Aboard the riverboat, Marlow’s steersman and assistant is called simply “the half-breed” (Jack Carter) and is described as “an expatriate, tragic exile who can’t remember the sound of his own language.”

 

One of the major differences between the screenplay and Conrad is in the character of Elsa, “the Intended,” who in the novella makes her only appearance in the climactic scene and is presented as a figure on a pedestal--guileless, naïve, and, like most women in Conrad, incapable of facing the stern truths known to men. Partly to give the film the suggestion of a romantic interest, Welles transforms her into a more active woman who goes to the jungle in search of her lover. Marlow meets her at the outer station of the Dark Continent, where she smiles and remarks on a striking physical resemblance between him and Kurtz. While Eddie plays his piano, she uses a pencil and a rough pine board to draw a crude map of the river journey Marlow is about to take, marking all the stations along the way, explaining what he can expect to find, and creating a mood of suspenseful foreboding. Despite everyone’s protestations, she insists on traveling down the river aboard Marlow’s steamer. During the trip she and Marlow have a conversation in the pilot house, and from Marlow’s perspective we see his face and hers partly reflected in the front window, mingled with the changing patterns of the jungle. She explains that she waited in Europe four months without letters from Kurtz: “I was afraid. He was almost too popular. There was no good reason for sending him to the Dark Country—except to get him out of Europe . . . I didn’t like him at first. I thought he was--I don’t know what. Cruel—ruthless. First Impressions. I wasn’t very intelligent or grown up . . . It’s not easy to refuse him anything. He wanted to know me—I got to know him.” She remains on the boat until it almost reaches its destination, but when scores of headless dead bodies are discovered in the jungle Marlow sends her back in a canoe manned by a couple of his crew members. She then reappears in a climactic scene like the one in Conrad’s story, with Kurtz’s ghostly image hovering behind her as Marlow tells her a lie.

 

In addition to using a great deal of off-screen narration, Welles wanted to create a cinematic analogue for Conrad’s narrative technique, and to this end he planned a radical innovation: the story would be told almost entirely from Marlow’s point of view, with a first-person camera. The device had been used intermittently in previous Hollywood pictures—the first ten minutes of Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932), are told entirely through the eyes of Jekyll—but Welles appears to have been the first director to attempt it for an entire film. Given his unorthodox approach, he intended to begin Heart of Darkness with a brief prologue “designed to acquaint the audience as amusingly as possible with the [subjective camera].” The prologue has been discussed and completely reproduced in Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Discovering Orson Welles, ix so I’ll describe it here only briefly. It opens with Welles’s voice heard over an entirely black screen. “Don’t worry,” he announces, “There’s just nothing to look at for a while. You can close your eyes if you want to.” He explains that he is about to “divide this audience into two parts—you and everybody else in the theater. Now then, open your eyes.” Iris into the subjective viewpoint of a bird looking out of a cage at Welles’s hugely magnified chin and mouth. “You play the part of a canary,” Welles says. “I’m asking you to sing and you refuse. That’s the plot.” Welles’s chin moves down until his fiercely glaring eyes become visible. “Here is a bird’s eye view of me being enraged,” he says. “I threaten you with a gun.” He slides the muzzle of a pistol through the bars of the cage until it looks like Big Bertha. “That’s the way a gun looks to a canary,” he says. “I give you until the count of three to sing.” He then goes on to create a series of other dramatic situations, some of them wish-fulfilling, as when you are granted the ability to fly, others nightmarish, as when you are strapped to the electric chair. Finally, looking straight into the lens, he says, “Now, if you’re doing this right, this is what you ought to look like to me.” Dissolve to the interior of a theater seen from the point of view of the screen: the camera pans around the room and we discover that the audience is made up entirely of motion-picture cameras. “I hope you get the idea,” Welles says. Fade to black. A human eye appears at the left of the screen, an equal sign appears next to the eye, and at the right appears the first-person pronoun. The eye winks and we dissolve to the beginning of the picture.

 

This witty and sadistically entertaining opening, which would have contained a few shots in color, such as a “blinding red stain” that flows over the lens in the electrocution scene, creates a very different effect from the script proper—more like the “cinema of attractions” than like the immersive, hypnotic experience of Conrad’s story. Running beneath its playful tone is an implicit commentary on the potentially authoritarian nature of the film medium. By putting us in the position of passive subjects, Welles gives us a cinematic analog of the manipulation and demagogic deception practiced by Kurtz; but at the same time he occasionally gratifies our fantasies of power, subtly prefiguring a link the film will later establish between us and a fascist demagogue. As Rosenbaum puts it, “the multiple equations proposed by the introduction, whereby I = eye = camera = screen = spectator, are extended still further in the script proper, so that spectator = Marlow = Kurtz = Welles = dictator” (31).

 

The equations would have been reinforced by Welles’s plan to play both Marlow and Kurtz. His voice, and by this time his face, were so well known to the public that when the camera came eye to eye with a homicidal dictator in the jungle, a mirror-image effect would have been created. Welles intended to stage the scene in darkly humorous, somewhat anti-climactic fashion: Kurtz is discovered at the shadowy end of a vast wooden temple filled with skulls; as the camera/Marlow/spectator moves in to a close-up of his face, he looks back and asks, “Have you got a cigarette?” (Welles did makeup tests in costume as Kurtz, looking unusually gaunt and wearing a scraggly beard. He told Bogdanovich that just when the film was about to begin shooting he changed his mind and decided to have the character played by someone else, preferably an actor who was cast against type, thereby creating the kind of surprise and irony that the discovery of Kurtz generates in the novella; there is, however, no evidence that he followed through with this idea, and he confirmed to Jonathan Rosenbaum that, had the picture actually gone into production, he would have played the dual role as originally planned.)

 

One of the most important questions posed by the un-filmed production is whether the subjective camera would have been dramatically effective. Historians often argue that Robert Montgomery’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake (1946), in which the camera becomes Phillip Marlowe, offers proof positive that the first-person device inhibits identification, eliminating the suturing effect of ordinary continuity editing and making the audience excessively aware of the apparatus. This argument may be correct, but it doesn’t take into account Montgomery’s leaden direction, nor the fact that Chandler’s private eye is a very different sort of character from Conrad’s sailor. Marlow in Heart of Darkness is largely an observer rather than a participant—at any rate he’s never punched in the face or kissed by a beautiful woman—and his narration creates the feeling of a waking dream. Welles’s plan for the subjective camera was therefore more technically and affectively complex than Montgomery’s straightforward literalism. The technique, he explained to Bogdanovich, was ideal for Conrad’s story, which consists largely of a man piloting a boat down a river; the film could minimize “that business of a hand-held camera mooching around pretending to walk like a man” (31). As Jonathan Rosenbaum has pointed out, the screenplay’s more flamboyant or gimmicky uses of the subjective camera are reserved for the early scenes, such as the one in which Marlow has his skull measured by a doctor; elsewhere, the camera seems relatively unobtrusive. Equally important, and despite both Welles’s and the Mercury publicists’ repeated claim that “the audience plays a part in this film,” Welles appears to have wanted to create a tension between identification and estrangement. His script is often moody and hypnotic in the manner of Conrad, but when it describes characters facing the camera, it feels as if Welles wanted to undermine the “keyhole” effect of conventional cinema; in strategic and somewhat Brechtian ways, it turns the audience into guilty participants rather than absorbed viewers.

 

Photographer Stanley Cortez later used a subjective camera for one of the long sequences in The Magnificent Ambersons, in which George Amberson Minifer walks through every room of the shuttered Amberson mansion and then kneels to pray at his dead mother’s bedside; RKO cut everything but the concluding image from this sequence, but Welles told Bogdanovich that he wasn’t troubled by the cuts because he was unhappy with the results Cortez had obtained. He thought Heart of Darkness was a more suitable story for the technique, and before production he shot one experimental sequence (involving Robert Coote as Eddie) that convinced him he had made a correct decision. “It would have worked, I think,” he said in the Bogdanovich interview. “I did a very elaborate preparation for [Heart of Darkness], such as I’ve never done again—never could. I shot my bolt on preproduction on that picture. We designed every camera setup and everything else” (31).

 

Welles’s screenplay, which was composed with the technical assistance of RKO script supervisor Amalia Kent, is one of the most camera-specific ever written, containing a detailed plan of the decoupage and even indicating the arrangement of figures in the frame for several of the shots. Only one sequence, involving multiple characters and chaotic action, is left for the director to work out on the set. To photograph a few scenes, Welles proposed that studio engineers equip a camera with one viewfinder for the operator and another for himself; but for many shots he wanted a hand-held Eymo equipped with a gyroscope, rather like the present-day Stedicam—a device he claimed had been employed during the silent era. He planned to construct most of the film out of long takes, the longest of which he estimated would run twelve minutes. This would have required the kind of deep-focus photography later used in Citizen Kane, but with a great deal more tracking, craning and panning. Temporal ellipses would be signaled with dissolves, which would occasionally shift us back to Marlow in New York harbor; but most of the subjective shots would be imperceptibly linked with what Welles described as a “feather wipe.” In shot A, Marlow’s “head” would turn and the camera would a pan across a wall or a stand of trees, ending at a precisely measured spot; in shot B, the camera would be repositioned at the same distance from the designated spot and the panning movement would resume. As Robert Carringer points out, one of the most elaborate and difficult series of these linkages occurs when Marlow arrives at the First Station: “Marlow as the camera was to proceed up the hill from the docks, pass the excavations, discover the dying natives, enter the settlement . . . , go to the British representative’s quarters [where he meets Elsa], have a conversation, retrace his steps through the settlement to the manager’s office, and have another conversation there—all continuously and without an apparent cut.” x

 

Welles’s experiments with duration and invisible editing would have delighted Andre Bazin, but his camera would also have been highly expressive and self-reflexive. In the script it occasionally shows things from an omniscient perspective, such as brief shots of Marlow’s boat moving down river; and like Conrad’s prose it shifts focalization within a scene, moving without a visible cut from a literal point of view shot to a poetic or symbolic image—as when it tracks backward with Marlow out of the manager’s office at the First Station, tilts down to look at a sick man dying on the floor, passes through the front entrance, cranes over the roof to show the jungle beyond, and tilts up to a starry sky. In many sequences grotesque faces bob in and out of Marlow’s view (one of the most eerie scenes involves a search for Kurtz across a marsh in heavy fog, with faces suddenly looming up out of a white limbo), and disorienting effects are created by off-screen sounds, especially when Marlow hears voices and turns to look at them or when he overhears scraps of heated conversation from another room. Mild shocks are administered whenever any of the characters look at the lens, and, significantly, many of these characters are black. At the First Station Marlow walks past a “big, ridiculous hole in the face of a mud bank, filled with about thirty-five dying savages and a pile of broken drain pipes. . . . Into some of these pipes the natives have crawled, the better to expire. . . . As Marlow looks down, CAMERA PANS DOWN for a moment, registering a MED. CLOSEUP of a Negro face, the eyes staring up at the lens. The CAMERA PANS UP AND AWAY.” Elsewhere, Marlow is confronted by the “half-breed” steersman, by the dark woman who is Kurtz’s lover at the Central Station, and by the anonymous black man who announces, “Mister Kurtz, he dead.” The film as a whole could in fact be described as a hallucinated white dream about blackness (Marlow suffers literal hallucinations toward the end, when he becomes ill with a fever), or, in terms of a Freudian critic such as Norman O. Brown, it could be viewed as a symptom of how white anxiety about blackness is sublimated into artistic discourse. Whatever interpretation we might offer, Welles’s Heart of Darkness would have been the first and only time in the history of classic Hollywood when a white gaze would have been troubled by a returning black gaze.

 

As plans for the film advanced, Welles had models constructed for the sets in order to determine camera angles, and he screened a number of films so that he could become familiar with technical matters. Studio records indicate that he watched John Ford’s Arrowsmith (1931), which is set in the tropics and which, despite its date, contains several wide-angle, deep focus shots exactly like the ones Welles and Gregg Toland later used in Kane. Welles also viewed Ford’s Stagecoach, Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (useful for the study of long takes) and Julian Duvivier’s Pepe Le Moko (filled with atmospheric North-African exoticism and grotesquerie). Meanwhile, RKO designers and special-effects technicians began preparatory work on the film. Marlow’s journey was originally designed in six stages involving six different kinds of jungle atmosphere. Welles wanted to send a photographic crew to the Florida Everglades for background imagery, but eventually he decided to use stock footage from jungle movies, with which he planned to create a back-projected collage of increasingly strange scenery. Among the films from which he planned to appropriate images were Chang, Four Feathers, Sanders of the River, Suez, and a couple of low-budget shorts called Congorilla and Baboona. He also screened such oddities as Jungle Madness, Crouching Beast, and Hold that Wild Boar. This may sound risible, but there is every reason to believe he would have used the appropriated material brilliantly. The matte photography in Citizen Kane is consistently fascinating (as in the nocturnal party in a Florida swamp, which involves sinister pre-historic birds from The Son of Kong), and Welles’s other films are noteworthy for the way they employ the process screen as a poetic rather than a realistic device—for example, in the surreal exoticism of the San Francisco aquarium scene in The Lady from Shanghai.

 

The complex choreography of camera and players required what Welles described in a note to the studio as “absolute perfection of preparation before the camera turns.” He brought composer Bernard Herrmann into the process quite early and wanted the Mercury players to record the entire script so that Herrmann would have a guide for the composition and placement of music. (Besides the actors already mentioned, other members of the cast included John Hoysradt, Vladimir Sokoloff, Gus Schilling, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris, and Erskine Sandford.) In a memo to RKO, he argued that this careful pre-planning would save time and money; but studio executives probably raised their collective eyebrows when he also noted that because of the camera technique he wanted to use, the completed film couldn’t be shortened except by cutting whole sequences. As if in compensation, he offered a great deal of spectacle: a giant snake landing on the deck of the steamboat; cannibal natives firing metal arrows and pinning one character’s hand to the boat rail; a severed head on a pole; hundreds of blacks bowing down to Kurtz and forming long serpentine lines to haul ivory out of the jungle; a temple erected on stilts in the midst of a jungle lake; a cloud of bats scurrying down from the ceiling of the temple; Kurtz’s throne surrounded by a wall of human skulls similar to the bizarre wall of human faces in Welles’s 1938 stage production of George Buchner’s Danton’s Death; Kurtz crawling on all fours into the jungle; Kurtz’s frail body lifted from the ground by servants and silhouetted against a campfire as he murmurs “I was on the verge of great things”; a tremendous conflagration in the jungle; and a climactic lightening and rain storm inspired by Conrad’s Typhoon, during which Kurtz keeps repeating “The horror! The horror!”

 

One of the most amusing documents in the Mercury files is a somewhat disingenuous list of spectacular elements and enticing “story angles,” probably written by Mercury Theater publicist Herbert Drake, which was intended to be used in selling the film to RKO executives and ultimately in publicity by the studio marketing department:

 

The story is of a man and a girl in love . . . There is a hell of an adventure going up the river. There is an unhappy ending which we won’t need to mention. . . . There are cannibals, shootings, native dances, a fascinating girl, gorgeous, but black, a real Negro type. She has an inferred, but not definitely stated, jungle love-life with our hero. There is a jungle in flames and heavy storms of a spectacular nature. . . . We don’t know who [will play the white girl] but she is going to be a great beauty . . . sexy without waving her hips around. She is to have a calm, half-smiling face, perhaps over a full bosom, for instance. . . . Theory of the story is two moderns who have a hell of an adventure in the dark places of the earth. The idea is, more or less by implication, that this is the God-damnedest relation between a man and a woman ever put on the screen. . . . Everyone and everything is just a bit off normal, just a little oblique . . . in surroundings not healthy for a white man.

 

RKO probably had doubts about all this, but it kept faith until December 5, 1939, when a detailed budget and day-to-day production schedule was submitted. The picture would have taken thirty weeks to complete at a cost of approximately $1,058,000, which was considerably more than RKO intended to pay. After a week of intense work, the Mercury organization offered cost-cutting suggestions that reduced the budget to $985,000. This was not beyond the means of the studio (Citizen Kane cost approximately $750,000), but it was too much for a picture that, from their point of view, had other problems. It was still unclear who would play Elsa. (Welles tried to obtain Ingrid Bergman, who had yet to appear in a US film; he eventually decided to cast Dita Parlo, whom he had seen in Grand Illusion, but she encountered difficulty getting out of France). There were few close-ups, no shot/reverse shots, and the director/star would only briefly appear on screen. An even bigger problem for RKO was that Welles wanted to photograph lots of black people. He resisted the studio’s proposal that extras in blackface could be used in crowd scenes and he planned to suggest a sex relation between Kurtz and a black woman--this despite the fact that miscegenation was strictly forbidden by the Production Code.

 

The end came on January 9, 1940, when Variety reported that Heart of Darkness had given the studio cold feet and that Welles’s organization had been paid $160,000 to shelve it. Conrad’s novella nevertheless remained one of Welles’s preoccupations for long afterward. In1945 he produced a second adaptation for radio and announced during the broadcast that perhaps he would some day be able to make it into a motion picture. It seems to have influenced various aspects of his later work, including the narrative method of Citizen Kane, the Latin-American scenes in The Lady from Shanghai, and the elaborate tracking camera in The Trial.

 

As important as Conrad was for Welles, however, his attempt to adapt Heart of Darkness for the movies had brought at least three irresolvable contradictions uncomfortably to the fore. First was the contradiction between modernism and mass culture, which became apparent when Welles added expensive spectacle and a love interest to an oblique narrative technique that subsumes adventure within an introspective, serpentine monologue. Second was the potential contradiction between Welles’s democratic idealism and his fascination, even partial identification, with Byronic individualists such as Kurtz. Third, and most significant, was the contradiction between Welles’s often courageous opposition to fascism and racism and his interest in a story that expresses what Chinua Achebe has identified as a conservative and racist ideology.

 

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is an implicit attack on Rousseau; although it shows the cruelty of Belgian exploitation in the Congo, it approves of a “good” colonialism that represses Africa’s putative savagery and controls the ancient bestiality in the human heart. As Patrick Brantlinger has observed, it offers “a powerful critique of at least certain manifestations of imperialism and racism, at the same time that it presents that critique in ways that can only be characterized as imperialist and racist.”xi Welles’s adaptation completely rejects colonialism, places the action in a Dark Continent of the mind, and tries to become a commentary on fascism; but it doesn’t avoid Conrad’s primitivism. From the opening moments, when jazz drums in Manhattan foreshadow jungle drums in the “dark places of the earth,” the politics of the film become confused. The effort to retain aspects of Conrad’s rhetoric only adds to the problem. Welles was a liberal activist, but like many white liberals of his era (and our own) he sometimes equated black culture with a kind of atavistic energy. His script seems to take melodramatic relish in Conrad’s references to a “black and incomprehensible frenzy” and a “night of the first ages,” and the film’s treatment of women would have been quite close in spirit to Conrad’s misogyny.

 

We might recall that in the 1897 preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus, Conrad described art as “a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe,” and his own task as “before all, to make you see.” D. W. Griffith adopted that last phrase as a motto, and Welles gave it a potentially subversive implication through his plans for a subjective camera. Welles’s Heart of Darkness was in many ways a brilliant visual experiment, especially when it updated the action of the novella, introduced cinematic effects homologous with Conrad’s prose, and suggested a link between European fascism and US racism. In my own view, however, even had the film reached the screen, it would have been caught on the horns of a dilemma, forced to be either too faithful to Hollywood or too faithful to Conrad. There is of course no reason why fidelity should always be a primary concern in film adaptations; but in this case neither a mass-cultural nor a high-modernist rendition of the original text, no matter how revisionist, could have avoided the ideological contradictions of Conrad’s novella. Any attempt to expurgate, condense, or modernize the narrative is faced with the choice of retaining these contradictions or of becoming some other kind of thing entirely. Orson Welles embraced the contradictions, which were part of his own artistic history. To borrow a metaphor from Conrad’s Lord Jim, we might say that he chose to immerse himself in the potentially destructive element of both Hollywood and Heart of Darkness. The results on screen would likely have been problematic at the level of politics, but there is no doubt they would have been cinematically fascinating.

 

 

James Naremore

 

 

 

i James Naremore, More than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts (Berkeley: University of California Press, rev. ed., 2008), pp. 47-48, 237-39.

ii Frederic Jameson, The Political Unconscious (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), p. 206.

iii F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books: new ed., 1993), p. 119.

iv John Houseman, Run-Through (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), p. 435.

v Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1996), pp. 392-94.

vi Heart of Darkness screenplay (November 30, 1939), Orson Welles collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University, box 14, folder 17. All subsequent quotations of dialog and description are from this screenplay.

vii Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles, ed. Jonathan Rosenbaum (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992), p. 31. All subsequent references are to this edition, and page numbers are indicated in the text.

viii Orson Welles collection, Lilly Library, Box 14, folder 19.

ix Jonathan Rosenbaum, “The Voice and the Eye: A Commentary on the Heart of Darkness Script,” in Discovering Orson Welles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), pp 28-48. All further references are to this edition, and page numbers are indicated in the text. For additional commentary on the screenplay, especially on the prologue, see Guerric DeBona, O. S. B., “Into Africa: Orson Welles and Heart of Darkness, Cinema Journal, 33, No. 3 (Spring 1994): 16-34.

x Robert Carringer, The Making of Citizen Kane (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 10.

xi Patrick Brantlinger, “Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?” in Heart of Darkness, ed. Ross C. Murfin (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), pp. 364-65.

DENIS LÉVY / Citizen Kane

 

 

Le sujet de Citizen Kane, c'est les États-Unis. Déclaration de Kane lui-même dès le début, dans le montage d'actualités : "Je suis un Américain" —venant après les affirmations successives "C'est un communiste" – "C'est un fasciste". D'emblée, l'Amérique est désignée dans son ambiguïté, prise entre l'utopie d'un communisme primitif et la tentation du fascisme.

Citizen Kane n'est pas issu de rien. Mais la grande nouveauté de Welles est de se situer en extériorité à tout humanisme chrétien : le véritable "scandale" de Citizen Kane est d'avoir désacralisé l'individu, notamment en s'attaquant au mythe américain du self-made man. Cette désacralisation ne pouvait s'accomplir qu'en redéfinissant le rapport du spectateur au film, et en particulier en refusant de l'installer dans le rapport classique d'identification.

 

Ceci justifie que Welles renoue avec le montage, qui opère dans Citizen Kane à au moins trois niveaux:

- montage entre deux modes de représentation, la fiction et le reportage; par quoi Welles revient sur la "scission fondatrice", mais en faisant passer Méliès avant Lumière: tout le film sera ensuite une interrogation sur les rapports entre vérité et authenticité ;

- montage entre plusieurs narrations distinctes, dans lesquelles l'approche du personnage de Kane est chaque fois différente, interdisant toute possibilité d'en reconstituer une unité psychologique ou sociale ;

- montage, enfin, entre deux rythmes : d'une part, de longs plans-séquences qui se refusent au découpage ; d'autre part, des séquences au contraire extrêmement morcelées, qui poussent le découpage à son extrême limite, en mettant en avant la diversité des points de vue plutôt que l'effet de continuité. Dans l'un et l'autre cas, l'effet obtenu est celui d'une dilatation de l'espace, tandis que le temps se présente comme une reconstruction artificielle, où la chronologie est sans cesse malmenée.

La continuité vole en éclats avec le mythe du héros, le montage manifeste la présence du cinéaste, l'artifice de la multiplicité des points de vue avère l'unicité de l'énonciation. Quelqu'un, et non plus le monde, s'adresse maintenant au spectateur : on ne peut plus faire parler le monde, il faut assumer qu'il y a un sujet de l'énonciation ("My name is Orson Welles", effet de sujet qui fit crier à la mégalomanie, quand il n'y avait là qu'intégrité artistique). Ce qui s'énonce n'est toutefois pas un discours, mais une métamorphose du monde, la construction d'un espace et d'un temps abstraits, purement mentaux : le montage wellesien n'a pas une fonction démonstrative comme chez Eisenstein : il n'exprime plus un point de vue, il recueille des points de vue multiples, et s'il les organise, c'est selon un ordre non plus rhétorique, mais purement poétique, celui par exemple de la succession des rythmes.

 

C'est ainsi qu'il faut entendre l'ambiguïté de Welles : car le paradoxe de ce démiurge est qu'il n'use pas de son pouvoir pour juger. On ne peut tirer des films de Welles aucun jugement, notamment sur ses personnages, que le "He was some kind of a man" qui clôt Touch of Evil. Mais il n'y a pas non plus d'adhésion sentimentale : la multiplicité des points de vue la dissout.

La procédure du montage des points de vue est donc ce qui barre l'accès à l'identification affective, et du même coup, à l'identification éthique : le personnage central est appréhendé en stricte extériorité, comme tous les personnages interprétés par Welles dans ses propres films, et l'entrée dans le film se fait par l'intermédiaire d'un personnage neutre, celui de l'enquêteur, qui n'est que le fil conducteur du film. On assiste donc avec Welles à une destitution du Héros, par sa neutralisation affective : il y a là une entreprise de désidentification du spectateur, de "distanciation" si l'on veut, à laquelle il faut certainement rattacher le goût de Welles pour le théâtre —par où il annonce aussi la modernité contemporaine.

C'est en effet la théâtralité qui permet à Welles de tempérer les effets de fascination du regard, en même temps qu'elle les suscite : l'outrance des artifices, pour vertigineuse qu'elle soit, ne cesse de se désigner comme artifice, comme pure fiction.

 

Toute l'œuvre de Welles est structurée par cette torsion interne qu'il opère sur les normes réalistes, sur les rapports de la fiction à la vérité. La vérité conçue comme processus d'enquête, la fiction comme structure de vérité, la déposition du savoir, sont ce qui fait la modernité de Citizen Kane : il n'y a de vérité sur Kane que dans l'enquête qui constitue la fiction ; quant à savoir que "Rosebud" est le nom d'une luge, nous voilà bien avancés !

 

Citizen Kane ouvre une nouvelle époque du cinéma hollywoodien : la sérénité de la vision classique fait place à l'inquiétude, la clarté à l'ambiguïté, l'harmonie à la tension, l'unité à la division. Les situations représentées sont davantage ouvertes aux disjonctions irréconciliables; les tonalités sont plus volontiers crispées, incertaines. La confiance dans l'ordre divin du monde commence à s'ébranler sérieusement. Tout ceci a pour effet une remise en question des formes : on s'interroge sur les artifices, quitte à troubler la transparence et à bouleverser la continuité. On demande au spectateur non seulement de réexaminer le monde, mais aussi ce qu’en fait le cinéma.

 

 

Denis Lévy

PEDRO COSTA AND CHRIS FUJIWARA / Conversation about Jacques Tourneur

 

 

Pedro Costa and Chris Fujiwara

Tokyo, May 11, 2010

 

 

 

Pedro Costa: What was your first Tourneur film? Do you remember?

 

Chris Fujiwara: Cat People. It was on TV when I was a kid on the horror movie show on Friday night.

 

PC: But you didn't know it was Tourneur?

 

CF: I didn't know anything about Tourneur.

 

PC: But you remembered the film.

 

CF: I thought it was a great film. What was your first Tourneur film?

 

PC: I'm not sure. I probably saw a few on TV. I'm sure I saw The Flame and the Arrow, Way of a Gaucho, Appointment in Honduras.

 

CF: Those were on TV in Portugal?

 

PC: Sunday afternoon. Some guy I knew had recorded videos of the shows in the Betamax era. So I was not very young, but the first I saw in the theater, and the one that really, really impressed me, was Stars in My Crown. That was '81, around then, '79 maybe.

 

CF: So you saw Stars in My Crown before you saw the Val Lewton films?

 

PC: I think I saw all. A lot of Tourneur films and Fleischer and Walsh, because those were the Sunday afternoon pirate, adventure films. Probably I saw all of them before, but I think I saw Stars in My Crown before I saw Cat People or the other ones. But what was so special to you about Tourneur?

 

CF: The atmosphere of Cat People is very special, I think I must have appreciated that, and later when I saw Out of the Past and Berlin Express, then I could recognize that there was a common feeling to these films.

 

PC: To me it was the name. Perhaps because I speak French. I didn't associate immediately the meaning of "tourneur" in French, but just the word; there's something special about his name, isn't there? There are lots of Tourneurs in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Just "Tourneur." No first names.

 

CF: Have you been to Bergerac?

 

PC: No. Have you been there?

 

CF: No.

 

PC: But I guess you made Tourneur a little bit your own special man, no? Because I guess the first book written about him was your book. Well, I'd heard about your book before I met you, as you know, and actually I had a friend, I saw Stars in My Crown with him, who later went to film school with me. Later we talked about your book; for some reason we couldn't get it; this was before Amazon, I think.

 

CF: There had been some things in French. A special issue of Caméra/stylo.

 

PC: I have that, yes. But at that time I thought your book was a biography. I hoped. Probably true for every filmmaker, but in Tourneur's case, there's something about his life, not life, the absence of life, or something; there's a contradiction there between the guy and his films, or-- not at all, I don't know; I've never researched much about family, lovers; the French don't talk about that, they don't care about that. I read Walsh's biography, and a lot about Ford, and a lot about Lang, and even Richard Fleischer's biography, about Allan Dwan… Jacques Tourneur seems just this guy who drove his car back and forth to the studio.

 

CF: We don't know very much about him. The things we do know are very suggestive. He drank. His wife was maybe a bit of a problem for him.

 

PC: But did you talk with people? Where did you write your book?

 

CF: In Boston. But I went to LA to do a lot of research.

 

PC: Is Boston the city of David Goodis?

 

CF: Wasn't he from Philadelphia?

 

PC: Perhaps, yes.

 

CF: In LA, the best contact I met for Tourneur was Bert Granet, who produced Berlin Express. He was a good friend of Tourneur, and he introduced me to another guy who was a good friend of Tourneur, who was a make-up man, and Granet's wife, Charlotte, was also a good friend of Tourneur's wife. They told me what he was like. They liked him a lot, he was fun to be with, but he was very quiet.

 

PC: Shy?

 

CF: Somebody who wasn't really a Hollywood type, not aggressive, not loud. And Granet told me something interesting about Berlin Express, he said when you looked at Tourneur's rushes, you wouldn't think you had very much of a picture, because he would shoot exactly what he needed, just short shots. In fact when he was shooting Cat People, the studio wanted to take him off Cat People at first, from looking at the rushes.

 

PC: Really?

 

CF: And Lewton insisted on keeping him. Tourneur drank rather heavily.

 

PC: Alone? I mean, not socially, in bars, in Hollywood?

 

CF: He would go to parties and sit quietly drinking. On Way of the Gaucho, some of the crew said he was drinking on the set.

 

PC: Did he talk with other filmmakers?

 

CF: I don't know who his friends were among directors. One doesn't feel he was too close to other directors. Robert Wise was interviewed all the time, but he didn't seem to have too much to say about Tourneur; they don't seem to have been close. Dana Andrews was a friend of his. They would go yachting together. Some of the French people in Hollywood-- Victor Francen was a friend of his. The makeup guy who was Tourneur's friend said something interesting to me. He knew him for a long time. The makeup guy never realized that he was a significant director, just thought he was a guy who hung out and went on a boat.

 

PC: Was Simone Simon his choice?

 

CF: I don't know, but I assume not.

 

PC: Probably not, a guy like him wouldn't have the power to impose--

 

CF: He had a few years when he was a major director, '44, when he made Days of Glory, Gregory Peck's first film, until say '52, Way of a Gaucho, that was still a major picture.

 

PC: Did he ever take sides in the McCarthy era, did he say something?

 

CF: The only thing that he said was, he claimed that he was on a kind of gray list in Hollywood, and he said it was because he liked black people too much, he gave them parts in Out of the Past and I Walked with a Zombie. And Stars in My Crown.

 

PC: Sure.

 

CF: He didn't sign that famous petition in support of Mankiewicz. Presumably he was a liberal. Yet he made The Fearmakers, a very strange film, did you see it?

 

PC: No.

 

CF: An anti-Communist film with Dana Andrews. You're a big fan of Dana Andrews?

 

PC: Especially Night of the Demon. Well, of course, he's a bit more alive in the Preminger films, but…

 

CF: Night of the Demon really seems to be about Andrews more than a lot of his films, about somebody who is marked, who is doomed. Somebody who drinks; he's always drinking in that film. Somebody who's trying to deny something. Tourneur's characters are always in some kind of contradiction, they're trying to deny who they are. Dana Andrews in Night of the Demon is one of these people. All through the film he's denying something that the whole audience knows is true, and it's something inside him. One of the things that's special about Tourneur is the acting. It's a strange kind of acting, because you don't know how much he was responsible, how much he directed people to do this. Somebody like Dana Andrews is carrying someone inside him that he's trying to deny.

 

PC: You're saying, something physical, that you can see.

 

CF: Yes.

 

PC: Bodies.

 

CF: Yes.

 

PC: Yes, that was my impression, something very very mysterious, almost a stiffness. I don't know how to say it, in English… Even the girls, sometimes. They don't move the arms like they do in other films, it's like they're glued to them, it's a tension.

 

CF: There's something very studied, mannered, self-conscious about the way they are posed sometimes. Ellen Drew in Stars in My Crown is a little this way. It's a beautiful kind of acting, it's very natural also.

 

PC: Was The Sun Shines Bright before Stars in My Crown?

 

CF: The Sun Shines Bright was '53, so three years after Stars in My Crown. There's a relationship.

 

PC: There is. But no common scriptwriters or producers?

 

CF: No, the writers and producers are different. Stars in My Crown was definitely inspired by Ford, it's based on a novel by Joe David Brown, and most of the incidents in the script come from the novel, and I think Brown must have been inspired by Ford films, such as Young Mr. Lincoln, and probably Judge Priest. What do you think of the Joel McCrea character in Stars in My Crown? He's different from a Ford character.

 

PC: He's a bit closer, a bit warmer in general than Ford's characters. There's no John Ford picture with Joel McCrea, so we'll never know.

 

CF: Tourneur liked the prewar Ford.

 

PC: Well, I have an affection for Stars in My Crown because it was really the first one I saw consciously, and it was a big screen, and it's a rural, small-world thing, I have an affection for those. Probably something to do with realism or something; not realism, but something there that-- Well, it's America, small town; all the other Tourneur films, they are not really anchored anywhere, or it's always kind of-- could be an imaginary [place], the islands, the ruins, all of them, I think. I don't know. You saw all of them, I didn't. Even London [in Night of the Demon]. It's too poetic, too vague, no, not vague, too misty. Stars in My Crown is probably a sentimental thing, and a visual thing; perhaps he cared a little bit more about detail, or he had more time. You can feel it. For instance, the sequence with the hay, and the boys, I don't think you can think about that at home. Perhaps, but… I don't know how he worked, if they had a storyboard, or… Do you remember that sequence?

 

CF: With the traveling shot from below, on the haycart--

 

PC: Yeah, that one, and everything that comes a little bit before and a little bit after. He probably had, I don't know, two or three days to do that; he could try some things, have the boys move a little bit… Even the camera thing, it's difficult, it's technically unusual, there's like seven shots or eight shots… It does not seem like a preconceived storyboard thing. Why do you think there are so many diseases and sicknesses and epidemics and all sorts of fevers going on in his films?

 

CF: You could say it goes back to this idea of denial of who you are, because the people are sick, but they live anyway. If you're sick you have to go on anyway. That means either accepting it or denying it, but in any case you carry it with you. Stars in My Crown is like Dreyer, everyone is getting sick.

 

Atsushi Funahashi: Did Tourneur have many disabled characters in his films, like the mute guy in Out of the Past?

 

CF: No, not so many. I guess being a zombie is a kind of a disability; he had zombies.

 

AF (to Costa): Do you like Berlin Express?

 

PC: Yes, it's not one of my favorites, but... It's like what Straub said, when I asked him about Tourneur: "He's a good watchmaker. We need that type of guys…" But the one I prefer is Nightfall.

 

CF: Why do you like Nightfall so much? Because of Aldo Ray?

 

PC: Probably, yeah. Night of the Demon, Nightfall.

 

CF: Late films.

 

PC: There's something exhausted, and helpless, and fragile, and old… They have a strange quality of-- I don't know where it comes from; I'm trying to think of some other films of filmmakers who walk that same land, films that seem to generate their own, some kind of oblivion inside of them. You tend to forget parts of the film, or--. For me it's always been difficult to tell the story of Nightfall, the continuity, even Night of the Demon.

 

CF: Both of those films are about oblivion, too.

 

PC: They are. I don't know, it feels close, it feels human. I mean, taxi, London street, taxi, library, taxi, countryside-- it's strange… And I think it works better for him in black and white, it's not that his color films are [failures], but there's something about this monochromatic, monotone, it's something to do with the way Aldo Ray or Dana Andrews in Night of the Demon or Mitchum of course -- but that's obvious, because that's the story -- the way they ruminate, their thoughts…

 

CF: The rhythms in those films are very close to a certain experience of life…

 

PC: There's something schizophrenic about them, also. Very very short shots, a succession of medium, or almost the same length, shots, and then-- it's a bit schizophrenic. Sometimes with no apparent reason, sometimes it almost seems shot hastily, too fast, because they didn't have time or something, almost like a TV, that's very obvious in Night of the Demon, the car shots, and things like that. There's a U-turn that I see over and over again. The girl's car coming to the séance, I think. And she arrives at the séance; they're not together, she makes a U-turn and calls him, he's on the sidewalk, I think. Or he's going to his hotel, or somewhere, and she calls him, and he gets into the car. I don't know if [Tourneur] was interested, or if he said, OK, now we're going fast, we have to do it; I think people will get the point if we just do seven seconds of that, very fast, and then we go on with the stupor or the limbo or whatever he's into. It's really the rhythm, yeah. Sometimes it seems a bit schizophrenic or--

 

CF: Like split, or removed, somehow?

 

PC: I don't know, in the psychological, I don't know. It's more probably depressive, paranoid, or… You're mostly in a catatonic state and you have these brief moments of enthusiasm or excitement or activity.

 

CF: There's something very sad about Night of the Demon.

 

PC: They all are.

 

CF: It's very strange, the relationship of Andrews and Peggy Cummins in that film, there's something so normal about it, completely unresolved, and on the train Karswell says, "I know there's something between you," and he tries to leave, but the relationship is completely unspecified. In a way's nothing between them. In Nightfall everything is about being able to make a contact with another person, being able to care about another person, to recognize somebody else. It's probably Aldo Ray's best performance. Something happened there that nobody recognized. This adds to the mystery of Tourneur for me. Tourneur was not highly regarded, he was somebody who was going to disappear soon, and there's a beauty in those films of being about to disappear, somehow that become part of the film itself, as if they knew.

 

PC: Because you think people in Tourneur films feel differently, or the characters, they think more, or you feel they are more tortured?

 

CF: The characters know they're already gone, like Mitchum in Out of the Past. In Nightfall, Aldo Ray.

 

PC: Don't you feel a certain absence? Perhaps for some films this is not true to say, because they're obviously studio things, or the adventure things. But the background is very empty. There's no extras, or there's few extras. Or he doesn’t use them, or he uses them in another way. Even [in comparison with] the same B films at the same time, it feels more lonely for the people walking around in the shots. Not Anne of the Indies because there's lots of pirates, or Way of a Gaucho, but Night of the Demon, Nightfall. In Nightfall it's terrible. I think I'm right, because it's so there, in Nightfall, when you see this guy, you know this guy's in trouble, and then there's someone that recognizes that for you, the investigator who sees him, and he says, uh-oh, I feel something for this guy. It's strange. In a Lang film, he would go after him. There's something gentle immediately, about this guy wanting to go follow this guy, or wait for this guy; he talks at home with his wife. It's rare. That's this sentimentality of Tourneur.

 

CF: It comes out of the void at the beginning of the film.

 

PC: It's a great thing how he managed to do films the way he did in that place at that time, that are not so utilitarian as other films that existed at the same time; they don't exactly serve… The thrillers, Out of the Past, they are not exactly… It's a little bit more complex than Edgar Ulmer films. Some of Ulmer's films are very good, some are very nice, some are so-so, sometimes when they're not so good they're just deranged, too deranged sometimes, they fall into some traps for me that date the films immediately, that paralyze the films. I'm not a big fan of Ulmer. Or Lang, actually. There's something probably very irrational [with Tourneur] in the way sentimentality is mis en scène, it's much more complex and subtle, it escapes a lot of traps, really, traps or codes. There are a lot of films with the same themes. Lang's a bit more intelligent than other guys, but they're more or less the same, I think, and Tourneur escapes that. I don't know if it's some sort of irrational thing, or suicidal, almost. Obviously these guys are already dead, or they're about to take the final trip; when the films start, it's the last part of their journey, always. The cars in Night of the Demon are terrible. It's the only film that makes me scared of cars, as silent films or things like that. I don't know if it's the sound; the sound is bad, it's post-synchronized… The way he organizes the taxis and the white convertible car… One day I talked with Philippe Garrel. He hates American films in general. I told him, You should watch Tourneur. I think he's a guy for him. He has something in common with Garrel, I think. It's probably the black and white, they're both very black and white guys, I mean, cinema is black and white…

 

CF: Out of the Past is a lot like a Garrel film.

 

PC: Yeah, it is.

 

CF: Did he watch one?

 

PC: No. He dismissed it, he said, yeah, I think I saw something, Cat People or… There's something else. Do you know Blake and Mortimer? It's a Belgian comic book, a great, great series of books, with Captain Blake, an officer, and Mortimer is sort of a detective. Both English, of course. The adventures are always in London. It's great, great, great. Night of the Demon is amazingly close to that. The most famous is called The Yellow Mark, about this creepy underground guy, Mabuse-Karswell sort of guy, he lives in the sewers or the subway of London, tries to steal the Crown Jewels or something, and he has this death ray somewhere. Some of Tourneur's films, there's a perfume somewhere that's close to that. It's the same time as Tintin, '40s, '50s, '60s. But we didn't talk about the most important thing. You betrayed Tourneur.

 

CF: How?

 

PC: By writing a book about Preminger.

 

CF: Yes, that's true.

 

PC: Preminger must have hated Tourneur.

 

CF: If he knew who he was.