On Jean Renoir, et al.
I've got about a million comments from this jam packed piece but I'll try and keep it short. I have to ask if you're familiar with Paul Schrader's idea of "Transcendental Style," which he wrote a book on in 1972. He specifically focuses on the films of Bresson, Ozu, and Dreyer, and I think you're describing something similar in section 4 when you talk about the "downward motion" of art being connected with technological progress. His main idea (at least in my understanding) is that the films of Bresson et al. are about putting the viewer into time, while "entertainment" or what we now call "content" is about taking the viewer out of time - speeding up time - via quick cutting, soundtrack, and camera movement. The films in "Transcendental Style" seem to me more about the consciousness of the characters as opposed to plot; at one point he calls this "being there" vs. "getting there."
Also very interested in this Henry James piece, as my favorite genre of novel is what I call in my head "Americans Abroad." I also put James Baldwin and Patricia Highsmith in there and I'm curious if they'll get any mention in your essay. There's a fantastic moment in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" when Ripley, aboard a steamer to Europe, absentmindedly picks up "The Ambassadors" and then puts it back after flipping through a few pages, the implication being that Ripley's trip to Europe won't engender the sort of self-knowledge that it does for Strether. I prefer "The Ambassadors" as a novel, but as a depiction of an American sensibility I find that Highsmith is spot on...
“Surrealism is nothing but an evasion.”
I think this is a little strong. If this is a line of internal dialogue, perhaps channeling your granny (I channel my hillbilly forebears, so no snide implied), that’s one thing. But as a plain statement, I think it goes too far.
I feel just the same about Dalí, but I think Buñuel is great, and a great contrast to the former (he and Dalí are antagonists, not similar or defined by ‘Catholic hang ups” whatever that might mean. Buñuel’ se best films. Los Olvidados; Viridiana. They don’t evade. And they are not exploitation in your sense
I like that the first part of this piece is numbered “0”. I love your writing on film. Cheers!
In using Oliphant Chuckerbutty as a "McGuffin", you seem to be paying homage to a
plump master of British and American cinema.
We are about the same age, and I was also astonished in my late childhood - teenager - young adult years by the incredible wealth and vitality of movies ("cinéma") from the 1920's to the 1970's. There were so many brilliant directors, writers, actors, composers, photographers etc creating masterpieces in so many different countries...Even many of the bad movies were good.
In the 1980's and 1990's, there were still some nice leftovers from the wealth of the previous era, so much that we could make ourselves believe the good times would last forever. With hindsight, cinema in 1995 was like those aristocrats in 1939, replaying rituals from a dead era. Like those Burgundian dukes organizing knightly tournaments in the post-Gutenberg XV century.
And then, around 2001, poof. Was it 9/11, the internet, or both? The magic was gone. The movies got smaller, as they prophesized in Sunset Boulevard. For a few years - around 2010, maybe - Hollywood still made a few funny comedies. No longer, the need for ideological conformity killed that, too. And it's not just a USA problem: European cinema is as poor and awkward as the Hollywood sort. Nowadays when we find a half-decent new movie or Netflix series, of an average quality vaguely close to B-pictures that were churned out by the hundreds in any given year around 1961, it looks like a masterpiece.
It is so strange to watch in real time the decline of a world we thought it would last forever.
"Surrealism is nothing but an evasion" - maybe in the case of those artists/filmmakers with Catholic hangups like Dalí and Buñuel, but I find nothing evasive in the films of Švankmajer or Borowczyk!