nicolebrenez1

A conversation with Nicole Brenez

nicolebrenez1

Each film is a laboratory”
by Raul Arthuso and Victor Guimarães

At least since 1997, when the letters which later would make the first chapter of Movie Mutations (a book organized by Jonathan Rosembaum and Adrian Martin and published by the BFI in 2003) first appeared in the important french magazine Trafic, Nicole Brenez has been recognized as one of the most influential voices in contemporary cinephilia. In Brenez’s letter (part of a group of cinephiles who were “the children of the 1960s”, which also included Martin, Kent Jones and Alexander Horwath), it was already possible to outline some of the features of her lasting critical personality: a rejection of the great theoretical axioms accompanied by an “principled empiricism”, crystalized in the desire of “always placing your confidence in the film, always presuming that a film can think as well as a theoretical text”; the archeological vocation manifested in an endless search for movies that were doomed to the trashcan of traditional historiography, making her work as a historian one of the most valuable in our time; the keenness for bombing (or broadening) the usual canon (both the films and the analytical tools) that make her year end lists as well as her propositions of critical approach a constant source of vibrant discoveries.

But if in 1997 – a year before the publication of the must-read De la figure en general et du corps en particulier (Ed. De Boeck, 1998) – Nicole Brenez was some sort of enfant terrible of worldwide cinephilia, today her voice sounds strong and assuring (and, at the same time, always curious and in constant motion), as it was possible to witness during the 16th International Short Film Festival of Belo Horizonte, the event that allowed us to have this interview with her – thanks to the entire crew of the festival, represented by program coordinator Ana Siqueira. Fully aware of her positions of responsibility – whether it’s as a professor at Paris 3 University (Sorbonne Nouvelle), as the programmer of the avant-garde screenings at the Cinematheque Française, as one of the most demanded names by film critic magazines such as La Furia Umana and Lumière, or as the visiting curator of institutions as diverse as the Anthology Film Archives, Tate Modern, Viena Filmmuseum and Cinemateca Portuguesa -, Nicole knows that the history of cinema is constantly being written (and acknowledges her chance and capacity to interfere in this process), while still showing absolute sincerity in her delight before a new movie (like Dellani Lima’s Aquele Cara, which she saw in Belo Horizonte).

Nicole Brenez is a restless historian in her fascinating heterodoxy, a brilliant curator (as shown in her program “A free history of cinema”, that was part of the International Short Film Festival of Belo Horizonte) and a theoretician whose thought is in constant effervescence. At the same time, she is also a person of extreme generosity – willing to joyfully talk to us for more than to hours on a Sunday morning, after teaching two courses at the Festival, as well as answering emails with unbelievable readiness – and of a contagious sincerity (to witness her emotional transformation at the mere mention of John Carpenter’s They Live and Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale remains as one of the most lingering impressions of this interview). To the readers of Cinética, we hope that the experience of reading this can be as thrilling and fascinating as our time with Nicole was.

Cinética – In your book De la figure en general et du corps en particulier (Ed. De Boeck, 1998), there is a Deleuze quotation that says: “experimentez, n’interprétez jamais” (“experiment, never interpret”) . And you take it as a “formule irrévocable”. Do you maintain that? And what do you think of the critical approach to a film today?

Nicole Brenez – Yes, the Deleuze formula was a kind of motto, meaning that we have to invent ways of experimenting and analyzing a film. I tried to elaborate a methodology coming from the films themselves, but since De la figure has been published, in 1998, I think there is a magnificent part of cinema itself that was more and more devoted to film analysis. Of course this has always existed: in 1923, Marcel L’Herbier, Jean Epstein and others made conferences about cinema, and L’Herbier made a montage between sequences of his own films, in an analysis about editing and space. It’s a very long history, but today the studies in film, by film, for films, is absolutely flourishing. I think someone who doesn’t want to study film at a university can just see what is happening in experimental film. For me the visual bible is of course Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1969), by Ken Jacobs, but since then Ken himself made a lot of masterpieces, Harun Farocki made some of his beautiful essays – Respite (2007), Images of War (1988) – and so on. We could write a book only about this field of film activities. From this point of view, I’d say that the real initiatives taken by these authors and films are not synthesized until now. Even the main tendencies, proposals, ideas raised by this corpus are not really encapsulated. There is a big, big work in front of us.

Tom, Tom the Piper's Son, Ken Jacobs
Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1969), Ken Jacobs

When you brought this quotation were you reacting to some analytical approach you didn’t approve? What was your motivation to think about experimental forms of analyzing film?

Yes, of course. First, there are the disciplines that are using cinema just as a material, like History, Sociology. There are very superficial ways of considering films. Usually they only see the surface, or the stories. Most of them are considering films as symptoms, but they never reach the illness, if I can say that. That part is very interesting, but not specific and not deep enough. Then there are the methodologies that are working in the cinema studies themselves: semiology, psychoanalysis, narratology etc. For me all these methods are interesting and valid, but in a way they are also not in the heart of what a film is. Any kind of attempt to go to the core of the film – the visual and the acoustic proposal of the film – is important and necessary, but they are very, very rare. In the very precise methodological field of film analysis – not theory or history – I don’t see a lot of good work being made, at least not in France. Maybe there are many things abroad. In France, now, the more interesting and living part of cinema studies is more about conceptions of cinema – the history of ideas about cinema. The films are very far – it’s more about the texts -, but this is very, very interesting.

A theme that is very common here in Brazil is about the character of the critic. Harold Bloom in some of his writings talk about cultural studies invading art criticism, and he disapproves this. What do you think about this in film studies? What do you think of these other disciplines approaching cinema? And do you think it’s possible or valid to practice pure formalist criticism like in the yellow-cover Cahiers?

One thing that is very loveable about cinema is that any discourse is legitimate. Because it’s accessible, because it’s made to be popular… I will always remember that one of the most beautiful discourses I have ever heard about cinema was made by a greek cook in Aix-en-Provence. I was reading a book about cinema at his restaurant and he started to talk to me. And I was… “Wow!”. It blew my mind. It was enthusiastic, precise. That was a structuring moment for me. Anyone can say something true, interesting, enlightening about cinema. Cinema is so rich and so generous and this is wonderful. So… Why not use more gymnastics to study cinema? Science? We never read the technical discourses about cinema, but they are very rich and precise.

But probably the most specific problem I’m aware about is formal analysis. I’m not sure that the yellow Cahiers were strictly formalist. They were more generalist and also moralist (in the good sense, of Merleau-Ponty or Bazin). What they did about how to see and explain the values that are working in a film was absolutely crucial. But formalist, in the true sense of this adjective, the russian term, like Chklovski or Balász, that in a way is now integrated in the introduction of cinematic studies, when you learn to study parameter by parameter, component by component. But it’s like when a doctor is learning anatomy, but not learning how to bring life again. When you do only this, when you are formalist in the didactical sense of the term, not in the inventing sense of formalism at the 1920’s, of course, you are just dissecting, you are just mutating the film into a corpse. But then what is interesting is: how is it breathing? How is it alive? For me you have to invent an ad hoc analysis for each film. If you are taking seriously the formalist analysis, each film or each body of work requires a singular analysis. It was like an intuition forever, and then progressively I discovered that the most beautiful accomplishment of such principle is – well, it’s always him, but… – Walter Benjamin, when he analyses, for example, the work of Baudelaire, and everything is invention. He takes a text and then submit it to many different questions – philosophical, sociological, iconographical etc. It’s not that you can read it and then apply it, of course, but I would say it’s a structural model. You can’t reproduce it, but you can reproduce the principle: each film is a laboratory, if you want to be faithful to it. You’re not obliged, you can take a superficial look, there are many things to do. But the most beautiful way to be formalist is to be benjaminian.

For me, the next step in my thinking about methodology and film analysis would be to try to propose something a bit systematic about how to analyze les présupposés, the postulates of a film. How a film postulates what is it about? Not only the way it treats, for example, an animal, or a woman, or a garden, any motive, but what it postulates? Not what is in the film, but what a film has to think to exist? I’m not sure if I’m being clear. The présupposé is what you are thinking and considering before you make something. It’s the place of ideology, in a way. Everything that you are not explicitly saying, but what you think, what you believe before considering a phenomenon. Every film, radical or – of course – ideological, has its présupposés: the things that it doesn’t say, but that are working in the film. For example: what does a film postulate to represent a woman? What do you postulate about what is a war to represent a war? It’s amazing. It’s an enormous field of thinking. And it’s exactly where all the obviousness relies, and there is no obviousness in the world. Everything is a construction. But that’s something you can’t do if you haven’t made a true deep formal and structural analysis before of what is really in the film and what the film really is about. And only a deep analysis can decide that, understand that.

In one of your Movie Mutations letters, you propose some reflections about comparative studies. You say that “the best thing to analyze a film is another film”. How do you do this practically? How do you find the point of comparison?

It’s very empirical. As a specialist in this field, we have all the reference points. We know the official history. It’s like having the map, but not the country. When you are working with a precise group of films, you know immediately the historical context, the cinematographic context, the political context, but when you make a comparison, what is really eloquent and significant are the differences between images. You can make comparisons between films of the same time, by the same author, but what is more significant for me is when you make a comparison between the values or the treatment of the motives – the figuration – invented by a film, and they could be from very different times, nations, cultural contexts. And like in the Godard montage, the further apart the films seem to be, the more enlightening the comparison can be. You can try to make experiments to compare films that at first look have absolutely no relationship. In a little book called “Traitement du lumpenproletariat par le cinéma d’avant-garde”, I make a typology about the ways the history of avant-garde cinema has invented to represent the lumpenproletariat. I took films from many different contexts, authors, forms, visual proposals – from the allegorical films by Hans Richter to very naturalistic documentaries made in video -, apparently very different, but to see the logic, the treatment of this kind of motive. The lumpenproletariat, in Karl Marx’s work, has a very negative conotation – it was the poor population that betrayed the proletarian class, and you can see it in Strike (1925), by Eisenstein -, but even Marxist films have very different conceptions about it. The problem is: what can you do visually about the lumpenproletariat when it’s not a judgment? How a representation of the lumpenproletariat is opposed to another one? This is a very precise motive, but you can make comparisons regarding any other motive.

A Greve (1925), Sergei Eisenstein
Strike (1925), Sergei Eisenstein

In 1970, Jean-Luc Godard wrote a manifest around the question “Que faire?” (“What to do?”). Forty years later, what is the horizon for action in political and militant cinema?

Well, that’s a question for every hour, every day. Que faire de ma vie? What can I do to erase some injustice somewhere? Every day I ask myself: why am I not a doctor, or a nurse? Why am I not trying to fix people instead of trying to fix the history of images? It’s easier to fix the history of images, in a way. There is a need to reactivate such a question. The people – not only the people in the political sense, but any kind of people – has never had so many tools to defend themselves. Not in terms of AK-47, but in terms of representation. Today, I think the main task of a film historian, maybe the more exciting and demanding too, is to see what is really happening on the internet (and of course on the streets, but that was an issue for the 1970’s and until 2000) concerning political cinema. We all know about the images of the Arab Spring and the Arab revolutions, but we don’t know about all the forms, all the stylistic ways people express themselves. It’s obvious for everyone that the main political manifestation is direct cinema – you are in an event, and you just document it, and put it online -, but there are many more. In Tunisia, for example, one of the more efficient ways of defying power and censorship was to write songs, and then make clips, and then put them online. Some rappers were arrested for that, and this was an ignition to the protests and confrontations. The clips, because they are accessible, are maybe the most efficient part of political film today. And I’m sure there are many new forms of expression. As historians and curators, we have to swim into this ocean and find these new forms everywhere. It requires a lot of time, but we can do it collectively. 99,9% of film analysis is devoted to films from the commercial circuit, so maybe for once we can devote some time and energy to films that are not “culturally legitimated”, but that are rising from the people itself. And even if it takes one year to find only one masterpiece – a totally new, fabulous, unexpected film – I think it’s enough. I’m sure there are film treasures appearing on the internet every day, everywhere.

How can a film historian do this archeology of film treasures, considering that there are more images than people capable to see them?

That’s the problem, but that’s also the responsibility. That’s the reason Henri Langlois used to say that “we have to keep everything”. Even if we don’t ever see it, because we don’t have enough time, even if it’s pure crap. That was, in a way, easy to do with argentic film. Jean Mitry could write a history of cinema alone, but today all living historians together couldn’t write the contemporary history. The quantity made it impossible to write any global history and we don’t have this horizon anymore. So it’s impossible, of course, but that’s why it’s even more necessary to do it.

We have to do what we can, see films totally outside of the usual circuits – the industry, of course, but also the festivals, experimental and underground circuits. There is a new sector of the images, the Fourth sector, maybe images that don’t intend to be seen, or that are made to be seen only by their own authors, and it’s a necessity to see what’s happening there. And even if there are only some little glimpses and fragments of this history, it’s more interesting to consider this new sector than to make an analysis of a well-known film, that have been commented before. And we can’t analyze these images – for example, the images of the Arab revolutions – with the usual western references. Like there is “the usual suspects”, there is “the usual analysis”. These people have their own philosophers, political thinkers… it’s not fair. But even if there are some methodological problems, we have to think about those images. And we are always thinking about the relationship between films and collective history and actuality, but there are also many initiatives in terms of intimate films, poetic films, of course. I suppose – maybe it’s just a présupposé – that most of these are made according to industrial models – storytelling, television presentation –, but I’m sure there are also many, many free artists. Not artists in the sense of profession or social status, but people who are free of mind and who are doing extraordinary formal inventions. For me the answer to Que faire? is to consider this sector.

In your seminar at the Belo Horizonte International Short Film Festival, you talked about political cinema, but you included in this field some experiences that are not usually considered cinema, like Indymedia or Democracy Now. What do you think of the boundaries between cinema and these other kinds of moving images today?

I think there are no boundaries. It’s the same history. All these are part of the history of recording and transmitting. The first recording technology was the sound recording. Film is part of this much broader history of recording. Of course there are aesthetic boundaries, different formats, but nevertheless it’s the same history of humanity making a portrait of itself, and transmitting it to others (or to oneself). It’s the same history, with different kinds of tools.

The discourse about the death of cinema has existed since cinema was invented. We know that Lumière said that “this invention has no future” – it was made to last only a few years –, but when television came, in the 1950’s, Rossellini also said that cinema was dead, and everybody has repeated that since then. Cinema was supposed to be dead a long time ago.

But for me one part one of the fabulous energy of Jean-Luc Godard is that he tried to incorporate to cinema all other technologies: video, when he made Numéro 2 (1975), digital when we made Film Socialism (2010). In a way, he tries to export cinema to every other tool so that cinema is not determined by any precise technology. Cinema is everywhere else. And it’s also as if cinema is the matrix of all the other filmic activities. That’s beautiful. The one who spoke the most about the death of cinema, in a very melancholic way, is the one who saved cinema the most, so that it can be alive forever. 

numero2
Numéro 2 (1975), Jean-Luc Godard

I use the term “arts filmiques” to say that I’m speaking altogether of cinema, in the traditional sense, video and digital art. It’s filmic art. So there is no boundary. There are artists and authors and people who devoted all their energy and work to invent crossing between the tools and the dispositives, and there are people at the other side of the panel, like guardians of the temple, that are strict defenders of the integrity of a tool, like Peter Kubelka or Béla Tarr. And in between there are all the artistic positions. For me, the most responsible people in this kind of situation are the artists or the people that are inventing their own tools, like craftsmanship, so they are not totally depending on the industry.

That’s a true problem and it’s one of the answers about the question “que faire?”, because, even talking about internet, we’re just experimenting what industry or technologies are giving us. I mean “ok, you have these tools, let’s play with the tools!”. So, I think one very important step is to understand the historical question created by this industry and make a step beyond: to be disobedient to the technology and to try to become autonomous. All over the world are people trying to use all tools, like super-8, and trying to make these tools function again and again. You have this marvelous example of the music lovers who made vinyl alive again. Everybody was condemning vinyl and people said “no, we need vinyl, it’s a special support, nothing can replace it”. What is more important to me is also to think outside this curse of the industry. For me, in a way, it is very humiliating to be dependent of the latest technology, of what the market would allow you to use. Maybe because basically I’m working in the field of literature; so I dominate everything I need to do it, I just need a pen and a paper. But, for many filmmakers, financially first, it’s ontologically difficult to be so subordinated to the industry. And one of the very frequent objections from the official media to the counter-cinema, the counter-information and the political-radical cinema to not show their films is that the technical quality is too low. So, there’s a battle for the tools, always. I mean, every tool is political. You have to be in control of the tools, like Godard: he has a new tool and learns how to use it. One of the energies of Godard’s work is to always acquire the latest technology, to use it and then to throw it away. But he likes to be the first to experiment it.

And of course the other political position is to be as autonomous as you can with your tools to the point you have to construct them. For example, in France there is an artist I love very much, Jacques Perconte, a professor of informatics and artist that creates a lot of logical problems to make a new kind of degradation of computer-based images – and subversions of every kind. And there are, as always in the history of cinema, people who are able to construct their own camera, and that’s always a crucial gesture. I call that a “desobéissance technique” (“a technical Disobedience”). Because, in a way, technic is very oppressive, and a main factor of inequality in the world.

We want to ask you about the concept of avant-garde. What does it serve us today?

Well, I made a very short history of this word, avant-garde. Of course, it’s a military word: avant-garde supposes there is an army behind it. But also we know that there are many avant-gardes without any army behind them, for example, the guerrillas and, of course, many artists. So, for me it’s important to maintain this word into our mental landscape because after 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall there was supposed to be no more avant-garde. I mean, all the avant-garde are supposed to be dead, and for many of my colleagues in France, the avant-garde was finished after the 1920’s. When you say avant-garde in France, it’s mainly the 1920’s. But for me, in a way, that is the most reactionary and conservative way of thinking what avant-garde, because there’s not only the military model, there are many ways to be ahead of your time, to be free for your own determinations in terms of ideology, identity, everything.

What can also be criticized in the term avant-garde is that it’s a very offensive way of thinking about cinema. I mean, there is an enemy and you have to defeat it. And, of course, there are many fully constructive ways of being avant-garde. Jonas Mekas was polemical about Hollywood but there are also many people that are inventing forms, styles and gestures that don’t think of themselves as antagonists of anything. They are fully affirmative people and that’s very important. There is the pure principium of pleasure: a big part of experimental cinema is of libidinal expression. There are many authors that are making films about their sexual fantasies. In a way, all cinema is about that, especially the industrial cinema. For example, there are sexual fantasies and representations that are so tabu that the film can’t be seen. We think that history is the western world’s history, and it is a history of liberation and there are less and less tabus, but it’s not true. In the world, there are more and more sexual tabus, more and more marketing about fantasies. Of course, I don’t want to defend that but, for example, in the 1970’s some very beautiful and free films were made about love for children, because in the 1970’s there was a kind of sexual liberation explosion. But these kind of film can’t be shown even if they are very beautiful, very experimental, very serious about the matter. It would be a crime to show them today. There’s no sexual intercourse in them, but only the verbal and visual expression of love for a child is a totally repressed thing. So, all this field of libidinal expression was always a very strong motivation to what then would be called avant-garde or experimental film. But they were made only for a person to express his desires. Of course, the very glorious and famous examples were Jean Genet and Jack Smith. In France, some very radical filmmakers are making films about their sexual fantasies, but they are so singular and maybe violent for others that they can’t be shown in public. And, in that motivation, there’s nothing that makes one think of them in terms of avant-garde, but it falls under experimentation and avant-garde because of moral and legal context.

So, avant-garde is a very historical and moving term, meaning it has a many different meanings throughout history. The thing is we must not reduce this word to a main model or a main time. The two main reductions about avant-garde is that it’s military – more precisely leninist avant-garde, meaning it is structured and has the right way of thinking – the military idea of an army before us. And of course this kind of avant-garde was very important, but also a bit disastrous, because it was authoritarian. The second reduction is the purely formalist avant-garde of the 1920’s, mainly the one that has worked into the specificity and the properties of the filmic substance, or pure cinema. There are these two very important moments and significations, but there are also so many others.

We have to broaden our point of view about the way an avant-garde has been and can be organized. And that’s why, also, I do a lot of work on guerrilla’s films, because the conception of avant-garde is not at all the same for a portion of the guerrillas. For example, there is this wonderful film about El Salvador in 1981, La decisión de vencer by Colectivo Cero a la izquierda, in which you can see a whole village, a whole community, a whole region organizing itself to fight against fascism and repression. It’s almost biological, like a body with a tact, organizing itself, and there’s a repartition of functions. So there are the people who are carrying arms, the ones who are making bread, but they are all fighters. There’s not an avant-garde and an arrière-garde; they are all avant-garde. Because eating is as important as shooting. So it’s very exemplary of all the ways of organizing a front and thinking in a non-hierarchical way.

For me one of the most exemplary thoughts about the avant-garde is the famous Third Cinema Manifesto, by Solanas and Getino, because one of the things they said is that everyone involved in the making of a movie must know how to do everything, everyone must know how to be a cinematographer, editor, engineer, metteur en scène, producer, projectionist. At that time, they were all different skills, now it’s all the same, everyone can be autonomous about making a film. But nevertheless it remains a very exemplary form of non-hierarchical and poli-skilled practice of organization to think, to be creative, efficient and innovative. One of my mottos, even if not a good reference because of the awful dictator he was, is the Mao’s formula that was so used by the maoists in the 1970’s: “be autonomous”. Don’t depend on anyone else if you want to be a good fighter. Ne compter que ses propres forces. It doesn’t mean you have to be alone and isolated but, in a conflict, in a symbolic conflict, you have to be autonomous, not to depend on any other fighters. So, everyone can be avant-garde for oneself, know how to defend oneself. This model is effective today in both the field of cinema and practical life.

You talked about avant-garde and not to reduce it, and that recalls Peter Burger’s theory of avant-garde. He wrote about Duchamp’s gesture of destroying the art institution inside the art museum and market. So, what are the possibilities of destroying “cinema institution” inside the industry?

It’s a good question because it’s also a very well known guerrilla tactic: it’s sabotage. Subversion. Maybe one of the most important books for me is Cinema as subversive art. Of course for Amos Vogel it was a subversion of society in general, cinema as a subversion of the society, but also in the industry as a local field. Well, there are three phenomenon of relationship between avant-garde and industry.

The first one is that we are supposed to think that the industry is the higher level of technical perfection. And that’s not true at all. There are many technicians in the history of cinema who felt repressed, because the producer or any kind of authority prevents them from using the tools as beautifully as they would expect. So the industry is not the summon of perfection and both in the industry and outside the industry there are authors of every kind, technicians or filmmakers who are using the tools much more brilliantly than the industry itself. So the industry as a landmark is a pure myth. It’s only a common reference.

Then, there are all the people who are inside industry trying to subvert it, and that’s like the hijacking of a plane, like having to take the industry apart, hijack it and making amazing critical films. For me, that’s even more important and more brilliant than to make a film at all. Hijacking industry requires many talents, like for example in Starship Troopers (1997), by Paul Verhoeven, for me one of the most amazing examples that needs to be analyzed again and again, not only the film but all the process and the reception, which was so funny because American critics didn’t understand at all what happened. 

Tropas Estelares (1997), Paul Verhoeven
Starship Troopers (1997), Paul Verhoeven

There are also examples in the margin of the industry, which in a way are part of the daily industry. There are many fabulous sectors which are so critical, so innovative, like, for example, science-fiction films that are sometimes very critical, also the B-series in which there were a lot of communists from Hollywood and many of the screenplays were very critical, humanistic and pro-proletarian.

And also, of course, there are authors who are independent but who are using the code of genre film for making absolutely amazing pamphlets, like John Carpenter, when he made They Live (1988), and Kinji Fukasaku, in Japan, who made Battle Royale (2000), which is a masterpiece. For me, that’s the Japanese version of “Que Faire?”, meaning you’re a Japanese teenager, you will enter a fascist capitalist society… what would you do? Of course there’s this allegory, the teenagers that are going to an island and they are supposed to kill each other to be the winner, and each of them has to invent a solution to survive. And it’s exactly “Que faire?”. There are teenagers who are watching this film and enjoying it as a videogame, but you can also understand that, when it’s time to enter the working society, will they follow the example of the one who kill each other or will they follow the example of the one who commits suicide or will they follow the example of the one who is analyzing the logistic of the repression and tries to pirate the system of communication which is the dominant model for political teenagers? – which is the Anonymous’ model, which, in a way, was programmed by Battle Royale. So, it’s a very important film for me in the history of representation. This kind of subversion of the industry is for me absolutely brilliant, crucial, because cinema is made to be popular, mainly for teenagers. So, when a film is both critical, funny, structured and efficient, what else can you really expect? It’s fabulous. So, when I discover such a film, when suddenly I see such a film reaching the screens of the world, like Battle Royale in 2000 or They Live in the 1980’s… wow! I feel so good! Well, cinema should be like that every day, that is what it was made for. Even when I’m talking about it I almost cry, it’s like happiness, it’s like what the world should be. I am so grateful to John Carpenter, Kinji Fukasaku, Paul Verhoeven and many others for making such beautiful and amazing films. 

Battle Royale (2000), Kinji Fukasaku
Battle Royale (2000), Kinji Fukasaku

And one of the strangest cases in the history of cinema is George Lucas. Because Lucas made this absolute masterpiece, THX 1138 (1971), which is one of the most wonderful and radical films ever… the most visionary, critical, plastically and formally perfect film ever. And then, he was also the one who killed all the freedom of the 1970’s by making Star Wars and a number of other awful films. I wonder how he deals with that in his mind, being the best and worst thing that happened in Hollywood. Of course THX 1138 was made independently, with the energy created by Coppola to come up with an independent economical way of creating films. But, anyway it’s so strange: how can you make Star Wars after making that? And there are, of course, many links between the films, it’s really the same author, not just schizophrenia. THX 1138 wasn’t made by another man. It’s often the case in the industry: someone who signs the film is the apparent author, but the real author is the screenwriter or the actor or someone else. I have a wonderful colleague in the USA, Louis-George Schwartz, who is totally against the politics of authors in cinema, and he says that each time we talk about the author of the film we have to quote all the credits. Everyone is the author. It’s difficult, but it’s a beautiful idea. In THX 1138 and Star Wars, it’s obvious that Lucas is the author. I don’t know of any other creative case that is this strange. Someone who made what might the best, the most radical and beautiful within the industry and then kills all the wonderful creative energy of the 1960’s and 1970’s with his stupid Star Wars. It’s very interesting. 

THX 1138 (1971), George Lucas
THX 1138 (1971), George Lucas

But, there’s a history still to be written of the industry critical masterpieces. Of course there’s a history of, for example, B-film as a critical pole of the industry and there’s also a wonderful book in France written by two of the greatest anarchists filmmakers in France and Belgium, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and Roland Lethem, who made amazing experimental, radical and most of the time very funny films. They wrote a book, La science fiction au cinéma, and in this book they are pointing all the critical dimension of science fiction and they analyze and comment the most interesting and critical science fiction films. But, I don’t know any synthetic international all-genre and all-time recapitulation or anthology of critical films made inside the industry. That would be a very interesting history, a dictionary maybe, to be made.

The third one is also that we have to think of an industry also as a very material thing. And there is always secret and clandestine activity in the industry, meaning that there are many people, for example during the night or during their days off, who are using the tools of industry – whether it’s financial, technological or communications – to make their own films. They are like parasites. And so the industry is very important for all these people who have no money. For example, there’s an experimental filmmaker, Morgan Fisher, an editor in the industry, who recovers some found footage and makes his own absolutely marvelous films about the garbage of industry. It is also a guerrilla tactic, because most of the guerrilla has no money, no arms, and so the technic is to recuperate the arms from the enemy.

This interview was originally made in English. A translation to Portuguese was published in February 2014. 

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