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A collection of various documents, such as transcriptions of conferences, readings, discussions.




Viennale Logo.

Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet
and John Ford

The Viennale invited to a discussion with Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, Hartmut Bitomsky, Tag Gallagher, Jean-Pierre Gorin and Hans Hurch who moderated the debate. In the framework of the Talent Press Project, Andy Rector and Charles Leary attended the event and report about their impressions: It Is Not Clear What Was At Stake (Andy Rector) and Out of the Past with Straub/Huillet (Charles Leary).

Copyright: Viennale.
Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet.
Photo: Ruth Ehrmann.

It Is Not Clear What Was At Stake
By Andy Rector

It is not clear what was at stake. Was it a defence of a certain kind of cinema, as though it were on trial? If so which kind, Straub/Huillet's cinema or John Ford's cinema? Was it an enquiry into being a small versus a large filmmaker (Straub: "I'm not that important. a little boy. irrelevant")? Was it too much to say that they both issue from the same tradition: cinema?

A gang of people got together on October 19th and brought these questions to mind: Jean-Marie Straub, Daniele Huillet there to discuss John Ford's films with Hans Hurch moderating, Harmut Bitomsky, Tag Gallagher, Jean-Pierre Gorin and a full house rapt audience, all this as part of the Viennale's huge Straub/Huillet/Ford retrospective in collaboration with the Filmmuseum.

Tag Gallagher spoke of Straub/Huillet's renewed roots in Western tradition with resultant gasps in the audience; Jean-Pierre Gorin of their making cinema count in the world with resultant hope and warmth; Harmut Bitomsky of a liberation from history. suddenly you can breathe, he said. Then there's what Straub said, which comprised the bulk of the evening, on Bismarck, Northwestern France, Hans Hurch, Filmkritik, "the Lincoln Center mafia", Une femme mariée (Godard), Renoir, and of course John Ford, who he and Huillet only discovered after beginning to make films.

Did Ford's cinema need to be defended to an audience unsympathetic to Straub and Huillet's claims for it? They both spoke their minds freely to a mixed room, perhaps with the same quality that Straub admired in Hans Hurch, as being a "free person" who "found himself in Ford's films" and wrote about them. Ford believed in what he was doing and yet showed everything crashing down on some General he believed in.

Straub recounted Ford's admiration for Renoir from an old interview precisely (and even mentioned this a second time later to evoke their "elective affinities"): when asked which films Ford liked of Renoir's, he said "all of them", not La grande illusion. He did not play the game. Straub paired Le casque d'or and Donovan's Reef. Ford is different from us, added Huillet, he didn't have to fight for cinema, to fight against the way films are made. Stagecoach is the greatest experimental film in history according to Straub, nobody has the courage at present to film like that. Everything is concrete, there are no metaphors in Ford, at least "I don't think so", Straub went on.

How Straub said all this has been the subject of many anecdotes now floating around Vienna; anecdote, the thing often deliberately cut away from Straub/Huillet films themselves. There certainly was a dramatic unity to Straub's "performance", beginning with his reflection on his own name as a once living Flemish verb and the history of the class struggle in his place of birth (Metz), to his spoken delivery of his will, in the form of Hölderlin's poetry.

There were the great leaps and proclamations that both Straub and Huillet are known for, of the same sort that required Jump Cut magazine in 1976 to promise a separate interview with them devoted entirely to addressing what "many readers" call their "frustrating" and "even. evasive" discussion of politics. Leaps, like that from The Searchers to French colonialism in Algeria (Huillet), but leaps which serve to better understand the political/aesthetic front as one.

The indignation of the Straub/Huillet is too amply provided for and passionate not to reach into the present; the world continued to be offended more and more brutally, therefore how can they relax the moral lines in the sand of 1968? It was Straub's dismissal of contemporary cinema (Huillet corrected him, there were a few they liked last year) that provoked the most reaction from the audience.

When Rivette, who sees everything, was put to Straub he added that when Rivette hates a film he's generally right, but that he admires too many films. Gorin mentioned that for young filmmakers it is difficult to make films because there is no sense of community between them.

Huillet: "Everything has a motive, in the military too. They are not devils or criminals. It's too easy to say Bush is crazy — to understand the thing is the only way to combat it, not to apologize for it. In Bush you know what you're dealing with, with progressives you don't always know."

It comes down to the works themselves, in order to detail why a film is fascist (Fassbinder, all of his films except for the last one where he really had to think, said Straub) or not (Ford) one must have the film right in front of oneself to tell. The best thing is that Viennale and the Filmmuseum have been showing nearly every existing Straub/Huillet film, and quite a few of Ford's, so that we can know exactly what we're dealing with.

Andy Rector
© FIPRESCI, Viennale, 2004

Copyright: Viennale.
Jean-Marie Straub, Photo: Ruth Ehrmann.

Out of the Past with Straub/Huillet
By Charles Leary

On Wednesday (October 20th), the Viennale was abuzz with tales of the previous night's panel discussion featuring Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. It was, while a reflection on their own work and that of John Ford, also a performance capped off thus by Straub: "I'm never coming to Vienna again!"

There was a certain informality to the panel, as Straub began the evening with a twenty minute history lesson on Lorraine and the Franco-German War of 1870, before festival director and moderator Hans Hurch even had a chance to introduce the other members of the pane. As the discussion became more heated, Straub fled the confines of his chair and paced about the left side of the stage, lecturing the audience in both the pedagogical and disciplinary connotations of the word. Asked to shift away from Ford and note any achievements of contemporary film culture, Straub announced there were none. A Fassbinder fan submitted her idol's name for consideration, to the disgust of Straub who declared Fassbinder's films to be fascist. That didn't win over the crowd, but ultimately, with the exchange of provocations, the audience was performing as much as Straub was.

While I can appreciate some of the audience's negative reaction, sincere or not, to Straub's defiant yet often evasive remarks, this type of question is often asked with the expectation of a particular answer: the validation of contemporary cinema (and film criticism) by the heralded master filmmaker, which can leave one equally mired in nostalgia. It was Straub/Huillet's reminiscence of 1960s film culture that was probably the most enjoyable part of the evening, followed however by accusations that an obsession with Ford left them living in the past. But of course they are of the generation when watching a film from the past was a rare pleasure, and a pleasure that engendered contemporaneous filmmaking as well as the subsequent canon formation in academic film studies. This consumption of the past is of course taken for granted today, because so much of film history is dispensed at the video store. We don't have to go to some remote repertory theater, to the home of an idiosyncratic film collector, or to Paris.

In his long goodbye to Vienna forever, evoking a story of Howard Hawks' visit to Ford on his deathbed, then reciting a Hölderlin poem as his will, Straub concluded, "I say goodbye to you." Of course Straub/Huillet were quick to note that the Viennale retrospective did not mark the end of their career. And we can recall, as Serge Daney once noted, that mourning is a constitutive aspect of cinephilia, and, when called on to defend their use of quotation and reference, Straub said they often prefer working with the dead. Sure, the Ford film that Straub chastised us for not seeing is not even actually on the program, but that's not the point. There are others. In archival programs like the Paul Fejos series or the surges of memory in Hirokazu Kore-eda films, there is the chance that the dead will never leave us.

Charles Leary
© FIPRESCI, Viennale, 2004



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