There’s Nothing More International Than a Pack of Pimps

There’s Nothing More International Than a Pack of Pimps

A Conversation between Pierre Clémenti, Miklos Janscó, Glauber Rocha and Jean-Marie Straub convened by Simon Hartog in Rome, February 1970.

Simon Hartog: Well, as a way of beginning, Rossellini once said that the cinema is dead. What do you think, Glauber Rocha? (laughs)

Glauber Rocha: I don’t agree. For me … I don’t know what Straub thinks. (laughs)

Miklos Jancsó: You’re right, it’s a personal question. Maybe the cinema is dead for Rossellini … unfortunately. Because he did some wonderful things.

Rocha: Really there is a lot of discussion on this problem. In terms of the cinema, and the theatre too. Pierre Clémenti was telling me last week about his idea of dropping the cinema for some other activity … but it’s a problem.

Hartog: Well, in your opinion, what function does the cinema fulfil?

Jean-Marie Straub: I think the cinema will only begin when the film industry is dead. I’m waiting for it to go all the time, but it’s going to hang on for at least another twenty years. And in this sense I agree with Rossellini.

Hartog: The industry in what sense. In terms of economics or structure?

Jancsó: In the Hollywood sense …

Straub: Not only in the Hollywood sense because Europe is Hollywood now. Hollywood is dead. In the same way that the American cinema is dead. The cinema which really got its teeth into American society, which was profoundly American, is dead. So, all Hollywood is trying to do at the moment is colonise Europe, and not only Europe … The Italian industry would have disappeared years ago, and the German one too, if there hadn’t been a massive input of American capital. These gentlemen are under the illusion that they are making international films. OK, what we’re trying to do is certainly not make international movies.

Hartog: What exactly are you trying to do?

Straub: We’re trying to make films which are the opposite in every way of international products. At least I do, I don’t know if the others agree.

Hartog: It seems to me that the New Cinema is now going in two directions: one more or less experimental, the other political. Is this so?

Straub: How should I know? These arbitrary classifications …

Rocha: For me it’s a matter of personal experience. I don’t like generalisations at all. Take Miklos for example – he’s a filmmaker in a Socialist country. He works within a different economic and political structure. And Jean-Marie and Clémenti are Europeans who work within another structure. And I’m Brazilian, and although I’ve made a film now within a European structure, I work all the time within another structure. What I’m getting at is that this question of the death of the cinema or the problems of the film industry is a different question for all of us …

Straub: If there is no cinema in Latin America, it is obvious that it must begin.

Rocha: For Jancsó, where there is a state cinema, it’s another kind of problem. Fundamentally I agree with Jean-Marie, that the industry always exists as a powerful dictatorship. Even in South America, where there are no national industries, there is the strong dictatorship of the American industry … The Americans as well as the Russians. Because you see a lot of Italian co-productions …

Straub: And the Americans are the ones who started off the Brazilian cinema, that’s obvious.

Rocha: In all of Latin America … In Africa the cinema is underdeveloped because the whole territory is occupied by the French industry, by the English and American cinemas. That is, I think it is the whole idea of an industry which is really very dangerous. The cinema is the only artistic activity which is dependent on a system of production and consumption. Because it costs money: you don’t need a producer to write a poem or a novel, although you do need a publisher to print it, but I think a film script is worth nothing if it’s not shot – it can’t be published. And this is the most important problem for a filmmaker today – to overcome this contradiction. I don’t think the problem is confined to the capitalistic world – it exists in the Socialist world as well.

Jancsó: It’s the same problem where I come from … Because for both of us (to Rocha), the cinema is a means of expression. But in the hands of the producers, who are the only producers available. In our country we are in the hands of the state – it becomes something different. And so my friends, comrades, we must reflect carefully on what we’re giving the mass public. To make your kind of film, Glauber, in Hungary, you have almost the same problems …

Straub: In short, it’s the same mentality as that of the bureaucrats in Italian TV, who try to justify their whole mediocre output by prattling about the contadino …

Jancsó: Yes, that’s right. Because you’re always afraid, always afraid. There really is a huge difference. That’s what it is, the industry … All these things are in us, too. We in Hungary, we participate in the State’s power. So we can struggle together to do something. It’s not the same as here, but in the sense that there are some things which strongly resemble producers …

Straub: But all the same there is something very different. For example, there’s a Yugoslav filmmaker I like very much, whose called Matjas Klopcic. He makes films which are … I don’t know, somewhere between Cocteau and Mallarme. Well, he did one, at first, which was called A Story that Doesn’t Exist, and then a second, called On Paper Wings (1967). The first was a total failure, but all the same he was able to do the second straight away, and I think he’s just finished shooting a third. You can’t say his films are suitable for a mass audience – you can’t say they’d be successful. Although the first film was unsuccessful he was able to do his second without making any concessions to the myth of the mass public which doesn’t exist. This sort of thing can’t happen in Western Europe.

Hartog: Today the cinema has become in a certain sense a minority art form. Does this disturb you or not? Do you think it’s true?

Straub: I don’t know what a minority is … Lenin answered this question anyway, when he said that the minority of today would be the majority of tomorrow. So it’s meaningless … But then we can’t know … If the films which are accused of being made for a minority were given the same facilities of distribution and publicity as the films for the so-called mass market, the problem wouldn’t exist. But they’re not.

Rocha: On this question of minority audiences, there’s one thing I’d like to say. There exists a very paternal attitude towards the public. You find for example leftist intellectuals who are writers, not filmmakers, claiming that we are making films which are difficult for the public. And that is a very paternal point of view. Because you can’t decide without research … What it amounts to, is that only the bourgeois are sensitive or intelligent enough to understand a film. There is a mechanism of distribution, imposing a certain type of film product on the public, which has completely corrupted the public. The worst thing I’ve found – I have to say it again because people seem to be blind – is that … The first is that films speak a very precise language. The public is colonised by a type of language imposed by Hollywood, which unfortunately is the same as that imposed by the Russian regime. The public isn’t given the chance to choose because the distribution structure today in capitalist and socialist countries imposes the same type of product. And the critics go along with this judgement when they say that films are incomprehensible.

Straub: The critics who stick to that sort of language are nothing but whores working in with pimps, that’s all …

Rocha: Yes, because at that point there is a collaboration between critics and leftist paternal intellectuals who claim they don’t understand: they outlaw these filmmakers. But basically, I feel that the filmmakers who work outside the industry are much more democratic, much more revolutionary, since they respect the public more. I myself try to make difficult films – I don’t think I’m being paternal towards the public. I think peasants, workers, students, even the nobility – anyone you can think of – can understand a film … Above all, because the ‘reading’ of a film is such a complex process. Certain films, such as those which have a dialectic or an open structure, have created a language in opposition to the language of colonisation. So on that level we certainly shouldn’t be paternal towards the public. For example the other day on TV I saw a discussion where intellectuals were saying that Pasolini makes films which are very difficult for the public. After that some Milan workers spoke, and their criticisms were much more perceptive than those of the official intellectuals. Even when they were saying things like: ‘I wasn’t too keen on Gerson’s performance, or Maria Callas’ voice, I liked the script’ … You see the people know how to speak. Take Jean-Marie’s films – The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1967) for example. This is a film which should have been shown in music colleges everywhere, on every possible TV programme. But it was blocked by this complex from the moment the critics saw it: ‘It’s difficult’. The distributors won’t touch the films which are most accessible to the public. You have to fight against this absolute dictatorship of the distributors …

Jancsó: It’s a dictatorship of petit cons, of the petit-bourgeoisie anywhere in the world. It’s a well-organised dictatorship … For fifty years now we should have been destroying, simply destroying … We’re never allowed to give the public something. Because it’s an individual, and at the same time an internal dictatorship. It’s not split up around the world.

Straub: There’s nothing more international than a pack of pimps. Yes, all it comes down to is that we’re asking for our films to have the same opportunities as the rest. Nothing more. If people were able to choose between a film by Rocha and one by somebody else, someone who came up through the industry, if they were reallyable to choose, so that Rocha’s film had the same publicity and was shown in accessible cinemas, who knows what would happen? We don’t know. Because it’s never been tried.

Rocha: The principle of the art-house circuit is reactionary today, because it imposes a certain type of film and tends to create its own closed market. Right from the script to its projection, a film is earmarked ‘art-house’, and this is very bourgeois, very reactionary, very elitist … And the public coming to see the film does so with a very snobbish attitude.

Straub: But then you can’t expect the mass public not to go to these films, not to try to penetrate this ghetto, simply because it’s impenetrable. And further it’s in the art-house cinemas that the projection is worst. Because art-house distributors haven’t yet understood that the cinema is a very material art, even a materialist art, and that ‘art is not sufficient unto itself’. The more a film is said to be ‘arty’, the worse it gets projected. So you get this paradox. They say, it’s only an art film, it’s not worth taking any trouble, it’s projected anyhow, the image is hazy, you can’t see a thing, no one respects the screen ratio, you can’t hear the sound … sometimes part of the image is off the screen, to say nothing of the sound, since you hear nothing. OK. And then I agree with Glauber when he says, you can’t tell how peasants and workers will react to our films. I maintain with him that the cinema is precisely for them, that it corresponds to something … The cinema derives its impact from experiences which workers and peasants encounter daily, in their normal lives, while the intellectuals have no experience, it being understood that they don’t even live. That’s why films are empty for them. While the others see in films something which concerns them, difficulties which they have to overcome. Day after day.

Rocha: I don’t know what it’s like in Europe, but in Brazil the people have an extraordinary capacity for analysing reality – political reality, social events, etc. They’ve produced an amazing musical culture – in fact popular culture in Brazil is really a culture produced by the people. It’s really an extraordinary culture … The history of Brazil is criticised in a more modern way by the popular culture than by bourgeois culture. Why shouldn’t these people be capable of understanding a play or a film which debates things at the most polemical level?

Straub: Who brought Nazism to Germany? It wasn’t the people. The people only followed it later, when the Terror had already been established. It’s the intellectuals who were responsible. The parties which betrayed the people, the churches, the intellectuals, the people like Heidegger; they were the ones who made the Germans become Nazi. Even in 1942 Hitler was getting stoned in Cologne. The people put up much more resistance than the elites, or the intellectuals, who surrendered much earlier, who provided Nazism with its materials, who were responsible for the Terror which was later inflicted on the people. The CRS (French riot police) is the same.

Hartog: Jancsó, is the problem the same in Hungary? Are your films shown in a ghetto?

Jancsó: Yes, unfortunately, almost the same … but not exactly. I must think about this. The industrialisation is the same, but not serious. It’s not serious because it’s a very small country. And at the same time, if you like, it’s very democratic, which means that, as I’ve already explained, everyone participates in the State’s power. So when I fight for something, say, difficult films for the general public, I fight with the arms of others as well. So it is another structure … but fundamentally there are always the same problems, unfortunately …

Pierrre Clémenti: When the people discover the cinema, they will change by creating their own cinema.

Straub: And that’s exactly why they’re not allowed to discover it at the moment. Because those bastards know, they’ve got a good sense of smell at least. And it’s also because of this that it gets dangerous when intellectual critics start saying that what you’re doing is only for a minority etc. They align themselves with this prohibition. But when the people – I don’t like the word ‘masses’ – discover the cinema, then something will happen …

Jancsó: It’s almost the same treason as that of the intellectuals when confronted with Nazism. Because it’s clear that the critics, the intellectuals, are on the side of …

Straub: Unconsciously. Without being aware of it, they support the system by mouthing the same old stupidities …

Clémenti: When people see a film, they experience a sort of identification, and they file out of the cinema firmly under the influence of the star of the film. I think that when people start filming with their own cameras, when they point them at their families, their homes, their jobs, something’s going to click in their heads, because they’ll discover it’s not that way in the movies.

Straub: They’ll find out that everything they’re shown in films is completely irrelevant, that it’s only rhetoric. It’s rhetoric which turns into a vacuum. It’s what I’d call pornography. The people will find out that they get pornography thrown at them under the name of art, that commercial cinema is nothing but rhetoric, pornography, illusion.

Rocha: This terrorism directed at the cinema is really bad. It’s bad right from the moment you classify a film as ‘art-house’. Because no one talks about ‘artistic’ paintings, or novels, or poems – yet they talk about ‘artistic’ films. It’s already a pejorative judgement …which certain contradictions … which comes about through this terrorism which has been imposed through economic interests. And then there’s something even worse: the total ignorance of producers, of the people responsible for making films. They are total illiterates when it comes to films – not all of them, but 99%. They don’t even know the basic mechanics of the thing …

Jancsó: No, it’s not because of this. For these people, the cinema is something altogether different. It’s power, it’s …

Clémenti: For the people, the cinema is what they don’t see on TV. Because if TV brought them what they usually got from the cinema, sooner or later they wouldn’t budge from their homes. They’d go straight to the factory. TV will be the new God-Machine which will provide for them, which will fulfil their every desire. The cinema will disappear. This is a possibility because I’m sure that if TV is taken over by very intelligent people, it will have to become something very powerful, even fabulous, colossal. When TV discovers all its powers, it will put everyone into a ghetto, everyone who works. It will alienate whole nations, people will never go out, except to the factory – they will be completely alienated by a machine, which will take the place of religion, of stories, those beautiful stories. I believe the only art capable of fighting this today is the cinema. At least the cinema as a logical extension of what it is today.

Hartog: There are many young people today who make films outside the structure of the industry. They claim that the idea of a ninety-minute film is a commercial idea. So they make underground movies, or newsreels, or something similar. Do you find this an intelligent direction or not?

Clémenti: I find that even in the field of positive cinema, there are negative elements. When people see an underground film, they suddenly realise that they could do the same, or better. And this is the stimulus they need to buy a small camera. These young filmmakers who take one or two years to find the money to finish their films … I feel that a Super 8 or 16mm camera enables them to do any sort of film they want and, if only because of this, the underground cinema is revolutionary. And the underground cinema is positive as well as in the way it releases … makes something click in the human consciousness.

Rocha: I go along with Pierre most of the way, but there are two ways of looking at the cinema. One is as a means of expression, the same as literature, which everyone has access to, and the other is as a profession. When cameras are as easy to own as typewriters or pens, people will use sound and images to write letters even. But in literature you’ve got people writing poems, essays, novels, plays … Me, I’m a professional.

Straub: And it was just for this reason that I wanted to do my last film (Othon, 1970) in 16mm. Just to point out that it’s not someone playing such and such a role in such and such a film, but that anybody can do it. It’s not hard – anyone at all could have done a film like that.

Rocha: You must see this film. It’s very important. It’s an evolution of technology …

Straub: And there were no sets – we shot it all outside. The only danger in underground cinema is that it is underground. Already there are monopolies and trusts which plan on taking over, transforming …

Clémenti: But that’s already happened. Books are finished. Books will disappear to make way for a Super 8 ‘film-library’. In America now there are Super 8 cameras which develop at 1000 ASA and blow up to 35mm. So I’m sure the film industry is going to change completely, and is going to get past this …

Straub: It’s going to colonise the underground …

Rocha: In the same way that you can’t show an underground movie on Broadway, you can’t get a Hollywood film onto the American campuses. Because that’s where the underground market is already …

Clémenti: You can show underground films on all American campuses.

Rocha: But already, you see, it’s a system, an industry …

Clémenti: It’s an alternative society which is still in its formative stages, and which attacks the system – it doesn’t matter if it’s negative or positive. For the moment, it’s positive.

Rocha: No, for the moment I feel that everything is against Hollywood. It’s very positive …

Clémenti: I think all the giants like Paramount are crumbling at the moment. Because of what? Because people have been making small budget films and earning millions from them. The big studios just don’t know what to do any more. They’re finished.

Rocha: But I feel the crisis in the American industry is only an illusory crisis, because underneath they’ve got it all very well …

Clémenti: No, it’s fucked, the American cinema … until it finds, until it reinvents a new filmic language. But under current conditions, all the big studios are wiped out.

Straub: Yes, but they’ve been fucked for five years now. And it will take another ten for them to give up.

Jancsó: This is a very important problem for us – we’re always blocked by the worldwide distributors. It’s the truth, it’s obvious. I don’t know what we should do. But we have to do something. We have to destroy …

Rocha: So in the end it becomes a political problem.

Clémenti: At the moment I can tell you that ten million copies are being produced of one record, and there’ll be …

Rocha: Next year with cassettes coming on the market, they’ll be a system for distributing films the way books are handled now.

Clémenti: Yes, there will be this system, but it will only be for consumer films, that is, films which have contaminated everybody, the whole of human nature. More and more the cinema is becoming an industry of cretinisation. Except for a majority cinema which is related to cine-clubs and that sort of thing, where everything that gets projected is completely negative, because you can’t hear the sound, the image is heavy, the prints are terrible. Why? Because the young distributors don’t have the money to make good prints, or don’t believe in them. And so you’ll have bookshelves of Super 8 films, fifteen three-hour films, millions of copies of them. I believe it’s just about the end of the film industry … All these revolutionary shake-ups there’ve been. The cinema in France is becoming more and more alienated, more in harmony with TV, with the television chains. And I feel that a cinema that is really trying to relate to people, to alter their consciousness, will be pushed to one side. The worker who wants to buy a book, will buy a film. But this will be isolated, because society knows very well that …

Rocha: I feel there will always be a dominating system. Even in the field of literature it’s the same thing. There’s Joyce, there’s themalavita 

Straub: But the domination will be more intense. It will get to the point that …

Rocha: But the problem is this. It doesn’t matter who the publisher is. Even in Brazil he takes a risk today – whoever comes across a young unknown author who might write a novel much better and more modern than Ulysses. But even Joyce has become a commodity, with a market value, in this society. The problem lies in the structure of capitalist society, and unfortunately Socialist society too. It comes back to general consumer politics. You can cretinise the public on several levels. Because when the public has reached the stage of consuming intellectual production, it is on this level that the public needs much more critical, more dialectical, more revolutionary stimuli, to open the doors to a knowledge of human experience. And it’s at this point that the system will always impose itself, because it becomes a question of structure …

Straub: The system has its own instincts of self-preservation …

Clémenti: I’m beginning to feel more and more that it’s necessary to go to the people, and not wait for them to come to you. Why? Because of the fact that a worker spends eight to nine hours a day in a factory, and just doesn’t get the chance to say, I must see such and such a film. The whole system has to be rebuilt.

Straub: But these people are walking clocks, clocks …

Clémenti: No your films will always be made for a privileged minority of intellectuals, who’ll be the only ones to see them. While the films are supposed to be for the people, the millions of people …

Straub: But that’s why I shot the Corneille (Othon) in sixteen … I had the wild dream of taking it round and showing it in factories. But this is just as much an abstraction since you can’t load people with films when they’ve been working nine hours a day …

Clement: I think these films should be handled by cooperatives, which are just being formed in Europe now and already exist in America.

Straub: Yes, but if we’re going to have these cooperatives we’ve got to start them now, because there are others who are already trying to take over. Cassavetes and all that …

Clémenti: Because this whole deal of art films will always be a minority …

Rocha: But it’s not a question of going to the factories, because if you take your films to the people there, you have to realise that they’re the same people who go to the cinema. They’re people conditioned by this. It’s a question of a much more profound cultural revolution which must be brought about by a political revolution. This is the big problem we’re facing today, because after all everyone talks of the technological society today, the consumer society. It’s the same in Russia as in New York. This discussion for example, is ultimately useless, because we’re just a few people knocking a system which couldn’t give a stuff …

Clémenti: The revolutionary actions of a whole American generation, the youth of America, have overthrown a system which was one of America’s greatest strengths. If the people were able to overthrow this system, it means it was something positive. While in Europe, nothing happens.

Rocha: I don’t agree.

Clémenti: I feel that an American generation has left us a heritage, and it would be stupid not to profit by it …

Rocha: Wait a minute! I read an interview with John Frankenheimer a few years ago – it might have been in Cahiers or Positif – and they asked him what he thought of the Nouvelle Vague. He replied like any worker in the American industry: ‘As soon as we find certain of, say, Godard’s experiments … interesting, we can do the same things in Hollywood. That’s to say, if you like, that everything on the level of the cinematic language that was being done around the beginning of the New Wave, around the beginning of Italian neo-realism, things like that.’ It doesn’t matter what director in the US – Peter Yates, Mike Anderson – they produce this … toying around with flashbacks, editing techniques … The underground will be absorbed by this. For example John Schlesinger’s film Midnight Cowboy (1969) – it’s a very commercial inventory of the Nouvelle Vague and the new language. Because they are in a crisis … because Easy Rider (1969) made a fortune. They industrialised this almost immediately, they absorbed it, you follow? What I’m trying to say is that there is this system that has to be destroyed. I said that this discussion was useless, because we all want this, but can’t do anything about it … The political activists work in the fields of economics and politics … They don’t care about the problem.

Straub: Even if we can’t overthrow it, we can at least screw the system all we can – just go against the rules, that’s all. Godard is right in this sense. But I’d like to come back to something that Jancsó said a while ago. Glauber pointed out that what was happening here in Europe as well as in Eastern Europe was monolithism. And after – Miklos put it nicely – ‘We are struggling in the same way, but with the arms of others’. Now I’d just like to know if I’m right in thinking that in Hungary there’s still an opening for dialectics … I’d like him to explain his phrase.

Jancsó: Now we’re into the real problems of the cinema today. Now I’m sure that helping ourselves means helping others, and that there is a solution: struggle. So, if we organised ourselves to go into the factories, to give our films to the people, then this doesn’t depend on discussion, but on our organisation. But with us it’s another situation. In our country you can really do what you want to do, or almost … in the film industry. But in this situation too there is a growing petite bourgeoisie. Both we, and the public, are faced with big problems, but the cinema is still going. And for this we rely on our organisation.

Straub: Yes, but for example, do the films you make get a normal commercial outlet?

Jancsó: Of course, but …

Straub: OK, your films in Hungary have the same rights as so-called commercial films.

Rocha: In a socialist society there is an evolution with respect to capitalist structure. On that level I don’t think there’s anything to discuss.

Straub: Yes, but it’s useful to point it out, because people have fallen into the habit of saying the opposite. And it’s good to remind them …

Rocha: I find that Miklos is very honest when he talks about his problem. You find many socialist filmmakers adopt a critical attitude towards themselves, a petit-bourgeois attitude, which makes them come up with picturesque criticisms. But in his films Miklos tries to avoid these picturesque criticisms, and carry the discussion forward onto a more polemical level. This I find is the most important characteristic of his cinema, even on the level of language as well. I feel that Socialist cinema, the cinema of eastern Europe, has become the victim of petit-bourgeois, schematic, a bureaucratic criticism – the sort you find in a lot of Czech films, Russian films, or Hungarian too. Like Polish films proclaiming themselves as revolutionary because they’re a little to the right …

Straub: But they’re social-democratic films …

Rocha: I feel that in the socialist cinema, the most important films are those which lead to a dialectical discussion of socialism. If the Bureaucrats don’t understand, then that’s their problem …

Straub: Or else savagely cut films, which are seen to be cut but appear only poetic – that’s almost blasphemy.

Hartog: Do you think the cinema can play a political role?

Jancsó: What a question! (laughs)

Straub: Of course it has a political role. Everything is political, everything you do in your life is political. So the cinema, which is the art with the closest ties to life, is the most political art. That’s not to say that the so-called ‘agitprop’ films are any more political – often they’re the least political. But the cinema is the political art par excellence.

Rocha: The American cinema is heavily political. The American cinema has to take a lot of the blame for Third World colonisation. That is to say the American cinema created the framework for the national inferiority complexes of the peoples of the Third World. On the political level no other cinema in the world is as efficient as the American cinema. It’s a reflection of Wall Street ideology, applied with fantastic know-how.

Straub: I’ve known little leftist intellectuals who dreamed – who were savagely anti-communist of course, the way you have to be now – who dreamed of using the means of the American film industry against the capitalist system. That is, use the cinema in a Machiavellian way. And this was because they’d perfectly understood that the American cinema is politically very efficient. But even so it’s allowed more things to go on inside the system than any European cinema. For example a film like The Naked and the Dead(1958) by Raoul Walsh, which is virulently anti-military (I don’t like that word) and which would never have got past the European censorship.

Rocha: Kubrick’s film Paths of Glory (1957) is still banned in France, just because it says some nasty things about the French army. There, politics is always right or left …

Straub: For example John Ford’s movies are profoundly political.

Rocha: The problem always comes back to: what is political cinema? This seems to be Godard’s main preoccupation today. In all his later films he’s tried to revise, to work out a definition of just what political cinema is. Now he’s discussing whether it’s Dziga Vertov, or if it’s Eisenstein. This is very important. But there are so many different social structures, that you can talk about several political cinemas, or several ways of making political films. And there’s no need to stress this too much, since all communication activities make up part of the psychological war we live in today, this information war … and why not go the whole way, this armed war. Because logistic propaganda is the key to armed struggle, to revolutionary struggle, you see … It’s always political … the cinema, the press, television, pamphlets – any physical action whatever … I think the way people talk about the cinema, about politics, is a critical vice, perhaps of the filmmakers … And that is of putting themselves in a slightly superior position. Of saying, we make films so we have a powerful tool …

Straub: Right. ‘Strumentalizzare il cinema’ (Make an instrument of the cinema), as some Italians say, is false too. It happens sometimes that an entirely … let’s say poetic … film plays a more political role than a film whose subject is obviously political. Which is not to say that a poetic film would have the impact of, say, Das Kapital by Marx. But a film like this can, to take up your expression again, play a much more important political role than some little leftist social-democratic …

Hartog: Do you feel the cinema can change anything?

Straub: Yes! The cinema can change things the way anything else can, the way a political pamphlet can, only more so. It’s not a question of turning the cinema into a myth – it’s just that the cinema is nearest to, is most closely tied to, life, and so to politics, nothing more. But it’s no use dreaming, or wanting to believe … Glauber has put that strongly …

Clémenti: But the cinema is capable of changing people, and if this is so, it can change life, that is it can be a …

Straub: Renoir said, I did La Grande Illusion (1937) and it didn’t stop war breaking out. And yet people who have seen La Grande Illusion …

Clémenti: It’s not a myth in that a whole American generation brought up on television, that is on old movies by a preceding generation, has changed the whole way of life, of thinking about things, of that generation. It’s in this sense that I think the cinema has a truly positive action, in the way it can alter, or awake, consciousness.

Rocha: This discussion tends to be ridiculous at times, because you could have had exactly the same sort of discussion at any point in history, around the novel, or poetry, opera, music … Now it’s the cinema, a technological fact. Straub mentioned Marx and Das Kapital. It wasn’t a question of the book, or the writing, but rather of a man named Marx who wrote a book called Das Kapital. It had nothing to do with the book. The cinema is a technological means of communication. When it is used as expression, it becomes particularised in the hands of a few people who can make of it something poetic, didactic, or agitational. I don’t think it’s possible to define the cinema in general terms without mystifying it, because basically, filmmakers read books. For example the ones fighting culture today, the ones who say: it’s all gotta come down – they learnt these things in books. Of course you’ve got to keep yourself informed, it’s very important …

Clémenti: But people are going to read less and less, and if that’s so, they’re going to see more and more films. Because basically a film has more to give than a book. We are still library-ridden, we’re a book-ridden generation. We’ve got Marx, we’ve got Lenin, but think of fifty years away. The filmmakers will go much further than Lenin, than Karl Marx. This is normal. It’s evolution, natural evolution …

Straub: Because their only means of expression will be the cinema.

This discussion was transcribed by Patrick Letessier, translated by John Mathews and published originally in Cinematics no. 4


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