Daily Archives: April 6, 2014



First a soupcon of film scholarship by way of a very famous essay by Jacques Rivette that originally appeared in Cahiers du Cinema #120 (June 1961): p. 54-55.

On Abjection
by Jacques Rivette
(translated by David Phelps with the assistance of Jeremi Szaniawski):

KAPO, Italian film by GILLO PONTECORVO. Script: Franco Solinas and Gillo Pontecorvo. Cinematography: Alexander Sekolovic. Music: Carlo Rustichelli. Cast: Didi Perego, Gianni Garko, Susan Strasberg, Laurent Terzieff, Emmanuelle Riva. Production companies: Vides, Zebro, Francinex, 1960. Distribution: Cinédis.
The least that one can say is that it’s difficult, when one takes on a film on such a subject (the concentration camps), not to ask oneself certain preliminary questions; yet everything happens as though, due to incoherence, inanity, or cowardice, Pontecorvo resolutely neglected to ask them.
For example, that of realism: for so many reasons, all quite easy to understand, total realism — or what serves as realism in cinema — is impossible here; every effort in this direction is necessarily unachieved (that is immoral), every attempt at reenactment or pathetic and grotesque make-up, every traditional approach to “spectacle” partakes in voyeurism and pornography. The director is bound to make it tasteless, so that that which he dares present as “reality” is physically tolerable for the viewer, who can’t help but conclude, maybe unconsciously, that, of course, it was troublesome (those Germans, what savages!), but ultimately not intolerable, and that if one were just wise enough, with a bit of cunning or patience, one ought to have been able to get away with it. At the same time everyone unknowingly becomes accustomed to the horror, which little by little is accepted by morality, and will quickly become part of the mental landscape of modern man; who, the next time, will be able to be surprised or irritated at that which will in effect have ceased to be shocking?
It’s here that one understands that the force of Night and Fog came less from records than from montage, from the art with which the brute, real facts (alas!) were offered to our gaze, in a restless movement that is precisely that of a lucid consciousness, somewhat impersonal, that is unable to accept or understand or admit this phenomenon. One could see more monstrous records elsewhere than those retained by Resnais; but what isn’t man able to accustom himself to? Yet you cannot accustom yourself to Night and Fog; the point is that the filmmaker judges that which he shows, and is judged by the way in which he shows it.
Another thing: a phrase of Moullet’s has been constantly cited, left and right, and usually foolishly enough: morality is a matter of tracking shot (or the Godard’s version: tracking shots are a matter of morality); one has wanted to see in it the height of formalism, so that one could criticize its “terrorist” excess (to reclaim Paulhanien terminology). (1) Look, however, in Kapo, at the shot where Riva kills herself by throwing herself on an electric barbed-wire fence; the man who decides, at that moment, to have a dolly in to tilt up at the body, while taking care to precisely note the hand raised in the angle of its final framing — this man deserves nothing but the most profound contempt. For several months, people have been breaking our balls over false problems of form and content, of realism and fantasy, of script and mise en scène, of the free actor or the regulated actor, and other dichotomies; let us say that it is possible that all subjects are born free and equal by law; that which counts is tone, or emphasis, nuance, as one will call it — that is to say, the point of view of a man, the auteur, badly needed, and the attitude that this man takes in relation to that which he films, and therefore in relation to the world and to everything: that which can be expressed by a choice in situations, in the construction of the storyline, in the dialogue, in the play of actors, or in the pure and simple technique, “indifferently but as much”. (2) There are things that should not be addressed except in the throes of fear and trembling; death is one of them, without a doubt; and how, at the moment of filming something so mysterious, could one not feel like an imposter? It would be better in any case to ask oneself the question, and to include the interrogation, in some way, in what is being filmed; but doubt is surely that which Pontecorvo and his ilk lack most.
To make a film is to show certain things, that is at the same time, and by the same mechanism, to show them with a certain bias; these two acts being thoroughly bound together. Just as one can’t have absolute mise en scène, for there is no mise en scène in the absolute, cinema will never be a language: the relationship between sign and signifier has no recourse here, and only accomplishes the similarly sad heresies of the little Zazie. Every approach to the cinematographic act that proceeds by substituting addition in the place of synthesis, analysis in the place of unity, immediately sends us back to a rhetoric of images that has nothing more to do with the cinematographic act than industrial drawing has to do with painting; why does this rhetoric remain so dear to those who call themselves “critics of the left”? — maybe, after all, they are primarily hardcore pedagogues; but if we have always detested, for example, Pudovkin, de Sica, Wyler, Lizzani, and the ancient combatants of IDHEC (3), it’s because the logical culmination of this formalism calls itself Pontecorvo. Whatever the daily journalists think, the history of cinema isn’t revolutionary every day. For a mechanic like Losey, the New York avant-garde doesn’t disturb him any more than the waves on shore disturb the peace of the depths. (4) Why? It’s because some people don’t ask themselves anything but formal questions, while others resolve them entirely in advance and will ask none afterwards. But what do those who actually make history say instead — those whom one also calls “men of art”? Resnais will avow that, if such a film of the week gets the audience interested in him, nevertheless he has the feeling of being nothing but an amateur before Antonioni; Truffaut would say the same, no doubt, about Renoir, Godard about Rossellini, Demy about Visconti; and as Cézanne, despite all the journalists and reviewers, was slowly imposed by the painters, so the filmmakers (les cinéastes) will impose into history Murnau or Mizoguchi…
Jacques RIVETTE.

1. Jean Paulhan (1884 – 1968), resistance leader and man of letters.

2. From Stéphane Mallarmé’s “One Toss of the Dice Never Will Abolish Chance,” the full phrasing reads, “IT WOULD BE/WORSE/no/more nor less/indifferently but as much chance.” (An alternate, freer translation could be “just as well, but only as much” – Ed.)

3. L’Institut des hautes études cinématographiques — a French film school, restructured in 1985 and now known as La Femis.

4. Rivette can be seen, sitting against a wall listening to Shirley Clarke talk in a New York City loft, in the Cinéastes de notre temps program on Clarke, “Rome brûle: Portrait de Shirley Clarke,” co-directed by André S Labarthe and Noël Burch. (DS)

The “take-away” from the piece is as follows: “Look, however, in Kapo, at the shot where Riva kills herself by throwing herself on an electric barbed-wire fence; the man who decides, at that moment, to have a dolly in to tilt up at the body, while taking care to precisely note the hand raised in the angle of its final framing — this man deserves nothing but the most profound contempt.”

That Rivette, a great champion of the deliberately rough-hewn cinema of Rossellini, should disparage the “pretty” is more than a matter of taste. “A tracking shot is a moral statement” — a catch-phrase attributed to Godard but, as Rivette notes, was coined by Luc Moullet is especially relevant in this context.

Here’s the shot in question:

Gillo Pontecorvo is an Italian filmmaker who made a considerable name for himself with The Battle of Algiers and Burn! (aka Queimada ).

His earlier film Kapo , not so much.

While Rivette doesn’t press the point in his piece an analogy can be made between Pontecorvo’s tracking shot and the work of actual KAPOS described thusly:

A kapo or prisoner functionary (German: Funktionshäftling) was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp who was assigned by the SS guards to supervise forced labor or carry out administrative tasks in the camp. Also called “prisoner self-administration”, the prisoner functionary system minimized costs by allowing camps to function with fewer SS personnel. The system was also designed to turn victim against victim, as the prisoner functionaries were pitted against their fellow prisoners in order to maintain the favor of their SS guards. If they were derelict, they would be returned to the status of ordinary prisoners and be subject to other kapos. Many prisoner functionaries were recruited from the ranks of violent criminal gangs rather than from the more numerous political, religious and racial prisoners; those were known for their brutality toward other prisoners. This brutality was tolerated by the SS and was an integral part of the camp system.
Prisoner functionaries were spared physical abuse and hard labor, provided they performed their duties to the satisfaction of the SS guards. They also had access to certain privileges, such as civilian clothes and a private room While the Germans commonly called them kapos, the official government term for prisoner functionaries was Funktionshäftling

Claude Lanzman has a new film about one such:

Naturally this leads us to today’s Gay KAPOS —

Frank Bruni


Patient Less Than Zero


and Jonathan Rauch


who in The World’s Worst Newspaper writes –

The online campaign that led to Brendan Eich’s resignation was intolerant and obnoxious. Also, stupid. But please don’t blame the gay community. Blame the people who did it and who do not represent or resemble mainstream gay America.





As for “mainstream gay Americans” that apparently means Rauch and his pals.

Two things are clear. One, a company is within its rights to dismiss a top executive who does not reflect its values or priorities. Two, activists are within their rights to criticize positions held by corporate executives. So what went wrong in the Mozilla/Eich case? A handful of hotheads forgot what the gay rights movement is fighting for: the embrace of diversity and the freedom for all Americans, gay and straight, to live publicly as who they truly are.

What “hotheads”? Do you have their names bunky? As for “the embrace of diversity” did you send a memorial wreath to the Phelps family when Fred bought the farm? If not, why not? Wouldn’t doing so “embrace diversity”?

This is why the mainstream gay rights leadership supports free speech. L.G.B.T. people win when both we and our opponents can speak out. It is why most ordinary gay Americans want nothing to do with efforts to silence our adversaries. It is why Andrew Sullivan, a pioneer of the gay-marriage movement, was quick to say, “If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.” That is where gay America’s heart is, even if sometimes the hotheads are noisier.

Yes, standing up to bullies is being a bully. Makes perfect sense, no?

Lest we forget, the campaign against Eich was not launched by gay rights groups. It was launched by an online dating company called OKCupid. Even OKCupid’s leaders had no plan other than to “raise awareness.” In other words, they were freelance activists engaging in moral grandstanding. Well intentioned? Maybe. Dumb? Assuredly. (Should we boycott every company whose leadership does not support gay marriage? Did these guys think for even 10 seconds?) But, whatever else this may have been, it was hardly the work of the “gay community.”

Aha! So Rauch suddenly remembers the fact that gay rights groups played no part in the Mozilla imbroglio.

But it’s their fault anyway — see?

It’s a big country and there are intolerant and intemperate people on all sides of every issue. This won’t be the last time activists and publicity seekers call for the head of someone they don’t like. When gay-marriage opponents claim that a new reign of terror is abroad in the land, however, please remember that the large majority of gay and lesbian Americans share with the large majority of conservatives and Christians a desire to live and let live, and it is those large majorities that will prevail in our majoritarian country.


The 3 AM Guy has no interest in paying court to “Majoritarians”

Pet Gays
By the3amguy on July 3, 2013
America, I’m not your pet gay.
America, I never said I wanted to marry you. Can’t we just live together?
America, I’m not a Care Bear on your suburban lawn with an adopted Guatemalan baby in my arms and my legal-in-twelve-states-and-DC husband weeping beside me and humming the score of Rent through his grateful tears.
America, I’m not a happy happy drag queen sent to earth by Jesus, Cher, and Harvey Fierstein to teach joy and love and endurance to straight people in tour buses.
America, have you ever met a drag queen? On a Monday morning, out of make-up and cigarettes? Do you think her first thought is to teach you to love?
America, “straight allies” is an oxymoron. Were you never in high school gym class?
Do the words “dodge ball” mean anything to you, America?
America, don’t raise a faggot and expect him to vote Republican.
I love gay Republicans, their even tans, their lovely sweaters, their faces tight as Barry Manilow’s, their violated houseboys, their Paula Deen black-butlered-ante-bellum lawn parties, mute servants in and out through the back door, and I mean the pun.
America, I’d rather there were gay Republicans in the world because they’re proof at least that people are different from each other.
You don’t seem to know that, America.
America, when will you uncloset your Congressional queers?
America, when will you give Lindsey Graham a Senate page with a cell phone and directions to the airport Men’s Room?
When will you cancel your subscription to The New Yorker?
I’m obsessed with The New Yorker. My mother papered the walls of our kitchen with New Yorker covers. When I graduated from college, my gift was the cover of The New Yorker from the week I was born.
The New Yorker leers at me from my iPad, laptop, newsstand, mailbox, coffee table.
America, Jonathan Franzen owns a coffee table! I know because he said so in the New York Times Book Review.
I’m obsessed with Jonathan Franzen.
I’m obsessed with straight writers who publish in The New Yorker. Here’s something they don’t know: they are published in The New Yorker and elsewhere because they’re straight.
They get reviewed in The New York Times and elsewhere because they’re straight. They win prizes because they’re straight. They don’t have to be good, they just have to be straight. Advocacy publishing.
All those straight people winning fellowships, first book contests, arts grants, tenure track positions, editorial positions, international writers awards: do they know the rumors? Do they hear the whispering? “If he weren’t straight, no one would read him.” “If she weren’t straight, she wouldn’t have gotten that job.” “Okay, they’re in pain, who isn’t? There’s more to life than being straight.”
America, when will your straight writers stop being straight?
Can’t they write about anything else?
Something more universal? Something everyone can relate to?
America, I don’t want to be universal.
It’s not my job to be someone you can relate to.
America, I refuse to be equal.
If black people can’t vote in Alabama, or Pennsylvania, or Miami, or the Bronx; if my elderly mom can’t find her birth certificate; if war vets with prostheses can’t pull the voting lever; if college kids are sent home from the polling place because they’re voting out-of-state; if farmers in Texas don’t have a day free to drive one hundred miles to the nearest state-issued-photo-ID stand; if migrant workers who have a hard time convincing a white guy with his arms crossed behind a big desk that they’re citizens; if women who speak mostly Cantonese:
If these people can’t vote, America, I don’t want my rights back.
How dare you presume to “give” me what you stole from me in the first place.
America, do you think I’m stupid?
Homosexuals can be fired from their jobs in 29 states, America.
Transgender people can be fired from their jobs in 33 states, America.
Women can be told to feed and carry the bio-product of the men who violated them, America.
America, why isn’t there a cure for AIDS?
Go sequester yourself.
America, you made me.
America, I know how to quit you.
Go fuck yourself with your equal rights.
I’m taking my faggoty-assed faggot ass to your polling places, America.
I’ve got my eye on you. My gay gaze.
I’m putting my limp wrist on your voting lever.

Cue Tom Robinson