Once upon a time in France, long, long before The Artist and all it represents was even a blimp on distant horizons, film culture had an altogether different dimension and orientation. That orientation can be summed up, perhaps too simply, in one phrase: “the politics of film”. And its effects were felt at all levels of film culture, from the mainstream industry to the independents and all manner of production modes in between; from filmmakers to audiences; from ciné-clubs to film schools; from film journals to film scholars. No strata of film culture remained untouched.
In part 1 of our interview with Jean-Louis Comolli that period and its political agitations are evoked in exacting detail. For Comolli, this is no nostalgic stroll down memory lane, but a portrait of an era that defined him and, as a thinker and filmmaker, set him on a course for life. As editor of Cahiers du cinéma between 1965 and 1973 he was on the frontline in setting an agenda for the film culture of the era. And it was not contained to France, the theoretical work conducted at Cahiers by Comolli and his colleagues was soon enough translated and disseminated in English language journals that in turn had its influence on Anglo-American film studies.
At the time, Cahiers was undergoing its so-called “Marxist-Leninist” phase, with a heavy overlay of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. Put simply, at stake was the demystification of the “cinematic apparatus” to demonstrate how ideology was both embedded within the technology of cinema and an effect of its representational modes. A valuable collection of this work can be found in the Nick Browne edited volume Cahiers du cinema 1969-1972: The Politics of Representation. It is an important historical era of the journal (and the times) and should not be forgotten, Comolli’s reflections bear testament to that.
In the backwash to France’s celebration of The Artist and the inevitable nostalgia for looking back at the golden age of Hollywood cinema, all manner of things have surfaced. When our Paris based contributor Zafar Masud proposed writing an interview-based piece in the wake of The Artist on the “fascination that the French have always entertained for the golden age of Hollywood”, I was intrigued on receiving the piece that it had uncovered the little known story of the MacMahon theatre and the cinéphiles who congregated there.
In time, a select hard-core of the devotees of the theatre began programming screenings and established their own magazine, Présence du cinema, principally edited by Michel Mourlet. In effect, a whole other historical era of French film culture is evoked with its own fascinating backstory.
On a sad note, we wish to acknowledge the passing away late last year of David Sanjek. As it happens, we were between issues when news arrived of his death and did not have the opportunity at the time to acknowledge the tragic occurrence. David was a long-time and esteemed contributor to Senses and we held his work in high regard. In particular, he was one of our most regular contributors to the CTEQ Annotations on Film.
Hope you enjoy the new Issue!