True to its title, the recently published Writings (New York: Sequence Press, 2016) by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet contains only a handful of the filmmakers’ interviews. It’s clear, though, that their oral exchanges are not only immensely interesting but also profoundly illuminating. They index some of their key ideas in a more indirect way than the published articles.
Certainly this makes sense. From the outset, these two filmmakers rejected the New Wave idea of writing original scripts, preferring instead to test themselves against artistic giants and their works. Central to Straub and Huillet’s praxis is the old-fashioned concept of learning texts by heart, an idea that largely went by the wayside around the same time that visual artists rejected working from models. From this orality anchored in their very bodies comes their considered reflections on humanity and what it means to be a filmmaker today.
The following two interviews are here published for the first time in English. The first, from 1976, with Claude-Jean Philippe holds a special place in exchanges with Straub and Huillet. The frequent laughter signals complicity and a longstanding friendship with their interlocutor, dating back to November 1954, when all three were students in a preparatory class to enter the national film school, IDHEC.
Claude-Jean Philippe (1933-2016) was born Claude Nahon in Tangier, Morocco. As a Jew, he was stripped of his French nationality under Vichy in 1940. After the war he studied theatre in Casablanca. In 1954 he moved to Paris. The following year, he entered IDHEC. In 1976 he created the broadcast, Le Cinéma des cinéastes, on the radio station France Culture, which remained on the air until 1984 when it was replaced by Serge Daney’s Microfilms. At the end of the 1980s, Philippe founded a popular, long-running ciné-club Sunday mornings at the Arlequin theatre in the 6th arrondissement in Paris. Philippe believed that cinematographic works were living entities.
Today, interviews on France Culture are often recorded live. Philippe’s interview, however, is constructed and highly edited. The exchange is interspersed with the interviewer’s editorial remarks that are here highlighted in red and italics. If Jean-Marie Straub’s parole dominates here as so often in their public exchanges, what Danièle Huillet says is nonetheless pertinent. And it is she who culls and offers up Straub’s memorable phrase: “Cinema must set fire to life.”
The second interview is no less important. An article remains to be written on the role of European film journals in disseminating the ideas of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. The Italian review Filmcritica holds a prominent place therein. A year older than Cahiers du cinéma, Filmcritica was founded in Rome in 1950 by Edoardo Bruno, who is still at its helm today.
Here are just a few highlights from the filmmakers’ collaboration with Filmcritica. Six months after their arrival in Rome, Filmcritica published Straub’s pamphlet “Dubbing is Murder” in January 1970. Three years later Huillet published her detailed filmography of Jean-Marie Straub. In June of 1981 Filmcritica published Danièle’s letter to Andi Engel. We can do no better than to cite Straub’s own encomium of the review:
“After the closing of Adriano Aprà’s Cinema & Film, Filmcritica is the only Italian journal (of cinema) that has never forgotten that we have been paying our gas and electric bills in Italy since 1969 – twenty years – that we are here, like Hyperion among his people spilling our blood […] dreaming and imagining – realizing – those presents that all the other Italian cinema reviews through the force of their inertia have always hindered from reaching those they were intended for: the Italians.” (Writings, 225).
Over the years Filmcritica published several interviews with Straub and Huillet. For inclusion here, Edoardo Bruno has selected one he did with Riccardo Rosetti in 1984, shortly after the filmmakers had finished Class Relations. Senses of Cinema is pleased to publish this exchange that has been generously translated by Daniela Turco, a longtime translator and collaborator of Filmcritica. Edoardo Bruno is the author of numerous books, including most recently, L’occhio, probabilmente (2016).
The interviews can be found by following the links below: