Moving Pictures and Renaissance Art History 9789048551620

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Moving Pictures and Renaissance Art History

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Moving Pictures and Renaissance Art History

Moving Pictures and Renaissance Art History

Patricia Emison

Amsterdam University Press

With thanks to libraries and librarians, especially Interlibrary Loan and the National Emergency Library of spring 2020. To the readers, Dr. Ben Thomas and an anonymous one, for their insights, corrections, and generosity—many thanks. Thanks also to David Feldman, generally knowledgeable, insightful, and curious, and to the late Dr. Thomas Elsaesser, editor of the series to which this belongs. I gave a first talk on these matters at the MedievalRenaissance Forum at Yale University in 2007: thanks to all those who have listened and responded over the years, not least both of my parents, whose various reminiscences grace the text. Appreciation also to the Dean of Liberal Arts and to the Center for the Humanities, University of New Hampshire, for a publication subvention. My apologies for the errors and insufficiencies I have failed to recognize.

Cover illustration, front: Spoof of School of Athens, featuring Fred and Ginger in place of Plato and Aristotle, and Agnès Varda and Charlie Chaplin in place of Heraclitus and Diogenes. By Chloë Feldman Emison. Back: Cabiria (Giulietta Masina), with Ivan (Alberto Sordi) and others at fountain by Giacomo della Porta, 1589, in the Piazza di Campitelli, Lo sceicco bianco, Organizzazione Film Internazionale, 1952, screenshot; and two angels in final scene of Cabin in the Sky, posed in the manner of Raphael’s angels in the Sistine Madonna (though in reversed order; images spliced), MGM, 1943, screenshots. (The hand of Ethel Waters appears at left.) Cover design: Kok Korpershoek Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout isbn 978 94 6372 403 6 e-isbn 978 90 4855 162 0 doi 10.5117/9789463724036 nur 670 © P. Emison / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2021 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.

Israhel van Meckenem, Self-Portrait with wife, Ida, c. 1490, engraving, 13 x 17.5 cm, Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Godfrey and Irene (William Powell and Carole Lombard), My Man Godfrey, Universal, Gregory La Cava, 1936, screenshot.

To my father, John C. Emison, in honor of his hundredth year, a member of the first generation to grow up with movies, as I was with television and my children, Chloë and Linnea, with personal computers.

Films are more ebullient than phosphorous and more captivating than love.1

1 Antonin Artaud, in Theater and Film: A Comparative Anthology, Robert Knopf, ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 390.

Table of Contents

Foreword 11 Prologue 17 1. The New and the Old in the Art of Cinema


2. The Machine Aesthetic


3. Competing with Text


4. After Eve


Epilogue 479 Bibliography 513 List of Films


Index 559

Foreword Abstract Our distance now from ambitious early filmmaking allows for a newly critical analysis of both its historical and artistic significance. In certain broad aspects, early filmmaking, a new art made for a more inclusive public, recapitulates both the challenges and the accomplishments of Renaissance imagemaking, which began as craft and evolved to the status of liberal art, relatively little of which was privately owned in unique examples. Keywords: cultural memory, genre, periodization, 20th century, Vasari

‘Cinema’ is what cannot be told in words.1

I came to the art of cinema late. I cannot remember how I happened to watch my first Bergman, but it was on DVD (digital versatile disk); after having been raised on Hollywood films, it was a revelation. Similarly, my first Buster Keaton movie was on DVD, and a revelation. By the time I learned that Ingmar Bergman considered The Navigator (1924) ‘one of my favourite films’,2 I was hooked. Could this art of telling stories to the widest possible audience—sometimes with engrossing realism, sometimes ingeniously idealized or fantasized, a rapidly evolving tradition peopled by social upstarts rubbing shoulders with the powerful—not be taken as a recapitulation, in some ways, of Italian Renaissance art? Did it not thereby offer a chance to rethink that distant modernity called the Renaissance, as well as to recalibrate 20th-century modernity? Vasari assembled the biographies of Italian Renaissance artists as Florence was in decline, and although the present project has more modest 1 Clair, Reflections, p. 11. 2 Bergman on Bergman, p. 157.

Emison, P., Moving Pictures and Renaissance Art History. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021 doi 10.5117/9789463724036_fore


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

aims, some similarity may indeed be proposed between the flourishing of Renaissance art and that of cinema in the period between the 1920s and the mid-1960s. By the late 1960s, filmmaking had entered a new phase. A postwar generation for whom film was no longer novel was maturing, and the expectation was that films would be in color. The world had changed along with the business and style of films; budgets were bigger and the structure more corporate,3 not unlike what happened in the transition from Renaissance to Baroque. Michelangelo Antonioni wondered: ‘Perhaps we are the last to produce things so apparently gratuitous as are works of art’. 4 A glorious phase of founding and formation had ended, and many of the period’s greatest accomplishments, not to mention its minor corners of excellence, were threatened with obscurity. Which films had grossed the most money, which films had won the most celebrated prizes: these crude though often-cited measures of what had been at stake and what had been achieved often provide untrustworthy measures of excellence and long-term interest. Kevin Brownlow, for one, began to try to assemble a less haphazard record of the new medium that helped to define the period into which he had been born.5 Serious retrospection had begun: the early (‘primitive’) phase was over.6 As the capacity to transcend mere prettiness was essential to the accomplishments of Renaissance art—the plainness of Masaccio’s figures as opposed to the mere delicacy of Fra Angelico’s and the charm of Fra Filippo Lippi’s—so also with film. Der letzte Mann (1924), up until the epilogue, is as grim as its contemporary, Kafka’s short story ‘Ein Hungerkünstler’ (1922). 3 Cf. Lewis, American Film, pp. 233–237, 279–287. Already in 1944, René Clair wrote, ‘The age of exploration of unknown lands has given way to that of industrial organization. The pioneers in high boots have made way for the financiers with eyeglasses. Hollywood, which used to be a sort of flea market of the moving image, full of the unexpected, the ridiculous and the charming, has become like a big well-polished shop in which mass-produced merchandise is sold from one end to the other’, Yesterday, p. 192. 4 Sarris, Interviews, p. 8, speaking to Godard in 1964. See also Schickel, ‘High Art’, The New York Times, 5 Jan. 1969, on the loss of the original broad public for film, replaced by one more dominantly young and middle-class. 5 Brownlow, Parade’s, on silent film. Brownlow said the first time he saw the rapid cutting in the snowball fight of Napoléon (1927), ‘Napoleon and I’, BBC, was like finding an unknown Leonardo notebook. On the development of film studies, and its shift in the 1960s in the hands of a generation that wanted to rebel against the old bastions of culture, see Polan, Scenes, pp. 1–8. 6 Fifteenth-century art used to be known as ‘primitive’, but in this sense even High Renaissance art could be said to have a toe in the primitive—the crucial divide being when artists became self-conscious of their historical importance, which again takes us to the Baroque, or at least to late Michelangelo, who burned his drawings before he died so that no one would know how hard he had worked (according to Vasari).



I do not mean to imply that art needs be tragic, only that it must offer more than escapist entertainment. Fra Filippo Lippi and Fred Astaire have a legitimate share in these histories of art, but as part of a larger whole, as making the phenomenon of art gratifying to a broad spectrum of the public while generally declining to address major issues of the time in anything other than an indirect or glancing way. Comedy can be exceedingly poignant, akin to the Renaissance depictions of Madonna and Child that are often both delightful and at the same time tinged with sadness and foreboding. Comedy can also be exceedingly pointed, as when Fred Astaire’s character in The Sky’s the Limit (1943) exposes the ignorance of a manufacturing mogul about the deficiencies of the fighter planes from which he profits.7 The cloak of comedy can enable the creators to make more barbed societal criticisms than in another genre, as both Molière and Frank Capra knew well. In the history of film, the trajectories of comedy and tragedy significantly intertwine—a parallel, arguably, to shifting balances between the secular and religious themes in Renaissance painting, or more generally between the less and the more weighty themes. As René Clair’s collaborator, George Berr, wrote, ‘we play with illusion; we are not professional liars’ (‘nous sommes des joueurs d’illusion, non les professionels du mensonge’).8 Leonardo’s smiles do not convey happiness; instead, those smiles convey ‘all the troubles of the world’, as Walter Pater put it (1869). There are such smiles in Hiroshima mon Amour (1959). Leonardo, like Alain Resnais and his team, understood how natural pain and dissolution were. Renaissance art was obliged to sell religion, sometimes patriotism; film had to sell itself, as well as sometimes patriotism, and in general a morality that the Catholic League and/or the Hays Code would condone.9 In both traditions, when the works excelled, they did so by conveying something vital—and not always pleasurable—to their viewers. Hiroshima mon Amour, for instance, turns a blend of searingly painful retrospection and love into an experience of immediate though tolerable anguish, anguish at a level one can think 7 Cf. Goya’s mockery of the aristocracy in Spain in Los caprichos (1799) and Cary Grant’s role as a navy commander approached by government defense contractors in Kiss Them for Me, 1957, based on a play based on a novel, with the film having the mildest anti-war-profiteering message of the three. 8 Berr, L’art, p. 63. 9 See Bordwell and Thompson, History, pp. 160, 239–240. Talbot, Entertainer, pp. 150–162, describes the Hays Code and its context. The eventual replacement for Hays, voluntary ratings, G–X, came into effect on 1 Nov. 1968. These avoided the stigma of censorship, the presumption being that only children required shielding, although studios could negotiate to shift a rating by excising certain bits.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

through, a level that can be narrated in voice-over. When we watch it now, we may do so for its historical content and/or for its artistic worth, but we also gain from it some skill in dealing with the emotions its protagonists feel—fear, isolation, horror—because we watch them more immersed in those feelings than we are, while we partially share them at a cushioning distance of both time and place. Sometimes it is because we do not fully believe ourselves to be in the moving picture, but instead watch ourselves watching it, that the film’s power can be a healing one. Although wide-ranging, this study makes no claim to comprehensiveness. It leaves to one side, for example, experimental film, and its reach does not regularly extend beyond North American and European films, despite the cinematic richness during this period in Japan and India, among other places. Quite apart from geographical limitations, the study is meant more to open up a subject than to complete it, and to utilize a variety of kinds of sources, contemporary and not, scholarly and not. The goal is to begin to consider the history of Western art together with the history of cinema—in both cases, looking not only at the pinnacles of achievement but also at typical or even eccentric efforts—and to consider those two histories as sister endeavors that partly complement one another. Works of art, including films, are the quintessential tree in the forest: being seen ensures their reality. The present effort is meant to expose sometimes forgotten works to ways of viewing quite different from those current at the time of their making, and to suggest the possibilities of a blend of art-historical and film-historical methods of interrogating the past, casting an eye (and ear) for a whole range of transfusions between the various layers of more or less mass culture. Despite its association with patronage by the wealthy, Renaissance art began as an art meant for public view, and via printmaking, it spread far and wide. The four central chapters each address a basic yet wide-ranging question about the history of cinema and its relation to the history of art. How did the invention of moving pictures change the tenor and rank of shared visual experience? How did making art by machine change creativity? How did authorship adapt to telling stories more visually? And how, particularly in a medium often conceived with female consumers in mind, did the presentation of women reflect societal changes, both the realities and the ideals? The 20th century marks the beginning of film as integral to our culture,10 and that century will continue to be thought of in part by what we remember 10 Godard and Ishaghpour, Cinema, p. 91, cite the Russian Revolution, Nazism, and cinema as the three most important developments of the 20th century.



of it from the history of film. Art history ought to be able to enrich and refine that process, beginning by broadening the focus on Hollywood that tends to dominate American film history.

Bibliography Bergman on Bergman, Paul Austin, trans. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973). Berr, Georges, L’art de dire (Paris: Hachette, 1924). Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson, Film History: An Introduction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994). Brownlow, Kenneth, The Parade’s Gone By (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968). Clair (Chomette), René, Reflections on the Cinema, V. Traill, trans. (London: William Kimber, 1953). ————, Cinema Yesterday and Today, S. Appelbaum, trans. (New York: Dover, 1972). Godard, Jean-Luc and Youssef Ishaghpour, Cinema: The Archaeology of Film and the Memory of a Century (New York: Berg, 2005). Lewis, Jon, American Film: A History (New York: Norton, 2008). Polan, Dana, Scenes of Instruction: The Beginning of the U.S. Study of Film (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). Sarris, Andrew, ed., Interviews with Film Directors (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967). Schickel, Richard, ‘Movies are Now High Art’, The New York Times, 5 Jan. 1969. Talbot, Margaret, The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012).

Prologue Abstract Cinema began primarily as a folk art, and remained a popular art, so there tended to be a considerable gulf between film and fine art. The history of cinema often exhibits a casual attitude toward stylistic innovation, while the history of art has traditionally tended to emphasize exactly that. The combined effect has tended to exaggerate the difference between the two traditions. Yet they do not operate in total isolation. The makers of cinema, even if scarcely students of the history of art, have absorbed certain of its precepts and examples. The emotional life prompted and supported by the new narrative imagery was crucial to the development of Renaissance sensibilities; cinema constituted a new chapter in this kind of enhancement. In both cases, effusive delight was expressed for the new imagery. Keywords: Calvino, City Lights, Fellini, Giotto, Surrealism, ut pictura poësis

Heraclitus it was who first perceived that all life consisted of, and tended towards, change: and change is the first principle of all cinematography.1

The history of art has traditionally been conceived of as a history of style interacting with genre, or of patronage and markets, display practices, and critical reception, but only relatively rarely has the history of art been organized according to medium. Since films have seldom been made primarily for the sake of exploring style, and their critical reception has in large part been the stuff of ephemeral journalism, their history has often been considered to lie outside the bounds of the history of art.2 The gulf between fine art 1 Betts, Inside, p. 14. 2 Though see Mathews, Moving Pictures, e.g., on D.W. Griffith’s interest in making a movie inspired by the Edwin Austin Abbey murals in the Boston Public Library, p. 70.

Emison, P., Moving Pictures and Renaissance Art History. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021 doi 10.5117/9789463724036_pro


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

and cinema can seem immense. While Picasso was devising what came to be called Cubism, an art radically stripped of affect, early cineasts were Romantically gripped by pantomimes of love in dire circumstances (e.g., Gli ultimi giorni di Pompeii, 1913), and while Pollock was daringly beginning to drip paint, Mr. Blandings, the adman, was building himself a house in rural Connecticut (Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, 1948) and learning that country folk sometimes did things differently. Early cinema comprised not only folk art that purveyed sophistication but also a modern, mechanized art that often portrayed pathetic poverty.3 In either of these guises, film may have been supposed to have had as little to do with high modernism as did art deco movie palaces. Pulp fiction and the movies had many points in common;4 high art and Hollywood, seemingly rather little.5 Cinema’s mainstay lay in imagery for the multitudes, as had been the case during the Renaissance with the sometimes pedestrian but often nevertheless beloved altarpieces, frescoes, and devotional paintings. Along with them flourished the more extraordinary works, such as Giorgione’s Tempesta (c. 1505) or Botticelli’s Primavera (c. 1480), though few would have had access to those exceptional paintings. What was most noticed at the time may differ from what the historian’s eye finds revelatory: that is one of the reasons that we value history. In Chris Marker’s documentary Le joli mai (1962), the interviewer asks a clothes salesman, standing with his wares on the sidewalk outside of the shop, about cinema and gets little response. There isn’t much on now, says the salesman. The interviewer mentions Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) and L’année dernière à Marienbad (1961); the clerk, who has heard of both, is willing to try the former, but of the latter he says that he’s a simple man who doesn’t want to be puzzled when he goes to the cinema. He tells the interviewer that he likes Superman, historical 3 Erwin Panofsky, writing in 1936, found cinema of note because it was the result of a technological innovation and constituted a genuine folk art; ‘Style and Medium’, in Three Essays, pp. 91–125. Cooke, ‘The Critic in Film History’ (1938), in Davy, Footnotes, p. 254: ‘It is this identity of the spectator with the performer in an emotion which is often simple but always intense which makes us think constantly of the movies as a probable folk art’. Michael Powell quoted his own art director for the epigraph to his autobiography: ‘Movies are the folklore of the twentieth century’; Hein Heckroth, in Powell, Autobiography, v. Cf. William Hughes, ‘The evaluation of film as evidence’, in Smith, Historian, pp. 49–79, on Lévi-Strauss’s relevance to film. 4 This is not meant to disparage the excellent Hodgins, Dream House, 1946, originally published as ‘Castle’, pp. 138–143, 179–189 (the title alludes to John Ruskin). Nobel, ‘Who Built’, sees the story mostly as evidence of eroding prestige for the architectural profession. 5 King Vidor said he looked at modern paintings by ‘Leger, Picasso, Matisse, and Chirico’ for ideas about what to express on-screen, as well as to cartoons for their use of sound; ‘Audible Films’, 1929.



films, stylish people shooting each other and then making phone calls. He knows what he wants: folk art purveying sophistication. Marker’s rather recherché film, incidentally, is dedicated ‘To the happy many’, an ironic reference to Stendhal’s practice of dedications ‘To the happy few’. But if cinema has seemed a mere stepsister of fine art because filmmakers were not consistently hungry for stylistic innovation, or because the use of montage seems a discountable pair to Cubist redefinition of pictorial composition, we ought to ask ourselves whether we may not have overemphasized style as the driving force in the history of art. During the Renaissance, authors of novelle, beginning with Boccaccio, might explicitly deny having stylistic ambitions—yet their works contributed greatly to the history of literature (considerably more so than did grand but ultimately sterile efforts to revive epic). In the same vein, filmmakers contributed to the history of imagery without necessarily being motivated by stylistic ambition. The history of style is but a subset of the history of imagery, and the history of images belongs within the history of ideas. It is within this more comprehensive context that I would like to understand cinema—and ultimately, the history of art as well. All the cinema wished for was for the spectator to lose his footing.6

Although images predate writing, in Western culture they have traditionally been outranked by poetry and history, beginning with Homer and the Bible. As the icon was incomplete without a prayer (the wonder it excited being properly transferred to the attentive inhabitants of heaven), so the narrative picture invited commentary, whether on subject, composition, closeness to the appearances of life, or the handling of materials. Accordingly, for much of the history of Western art, the image was laden with words, whether the words that inspired it or the words incited by it. In either case, the image was barely able to breathe apart from words; often, there were even captions or inscriptions indissoluble from the image. The Ten Commandments having forbidden idolatry, the status of the image was radically reduced to mere illustration or to mere prompt for words.7 To put it more positively, word and text existed symbiotically, each enhancing the other, as good illustrations do. But always in the beginning—ideologically—was the Word. On occasion, particularly since the High Renaissance, images have wriggled free of text and breathed freely, offering implication, atmosphere, 6 Benjamin Fondane (1930), in Abel, Theory, II, p. 48. 7 Cf. Nagel, Controversy; Nagel and Pericolo, Aporia.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

and textless potentiality of their own. Architecture perennially was an art of making visual experiences independent of text;8 it was also consistently the most prestigious of the arts, and (not coincidentally) the most costly. The more convincingly pictures and sculptural reliefs conveyed three-dimensional spaces, the more independent they too became, potentially, of the need for textual justif ication, because they created their own cosmos rather than existing as a satellite of the text. Medieval artists did not want to compete with text and did not put effort into creating f ictive spaces; instead, they often created hybrids of text and image. They made text beautiful. Renaissance artists instead made the world appear beautiful. The expectation that images refer to textural sources, whether specific or generic, directly or indirectly, long persisted. Images were judged to be excellent if they served the text well; the whole concept of decorum, as explicated by the Roman orator Cicero early on, depended on the dignity and weight inherent in words. Since texts themselves were understood as representations of the natural world, there was no reason why text and image should not be understood as complementary. Yet meaning (the expression of our efforts to understand our experience of the world) always seemed to be dominated by logos, by word; images functioned as colonial extensions of text. Donatello composed his pictorial spaces in part to be free from narrative structures, in particular from the specificity of narrative climax; he used continuous narrative (which of course actually means discontinuous) in his Dance of Salome (Siena, Baptistry, c. 1427), creating an engrossing journey for the eye—one that anticipates a sort of montage effect. Alternatively, the narrative climax could be reinforced by the perspectival focal point—with the depth of focus, as we would say, of Jean Renoir or Alfred Hitchcock. In Leonardo’s Last Supper (c. 1498), we see the consternation that follows Christ’s announcement that he will be betrayed by someone present in the room, his head being coincident with the vanishing point. Widespread alarm is more vividly conveyed visually than verbally—in this case by the clumped, framing expressions of dismay and disbelief. In Raphael’s School of Athens (c. 1510), we see the juxtaposition and mutual interaction of thinkers that any Renaissance reader of philosophy would have tried to construct virtually, in the mind’s eye. The image has become metatext; philosophical debate has come alive. Thought created cinematically was given a name by Alexandre Astruc: caméra-stylo, who explained that, 8

Or dominant to text, where there were monumental inscriptions.



After having been successively a fairground attraction, an amusement analogous to boulevard theatre, or a means of preserving the images of an era, it [cinema] is gradually becoming a language. By language, I mean a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel.9

In the Renaissance, too, paintings had been made for the sake of stimulating thought via formal innovation. The age-old rivalry of image versus word found a new dynamic in the 20th century. In 1924, W.B. Yeats wrote of theater, ‘if we are to restore words to their sovereignty we must make speech even more important than gesture upon the stage’.10 As Yeats’s concern indicates, something fundamental had been shifting in the traditional preference for language. A defense of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake in 1929 asked, While painting […] has proceeded to rid itself of the descriptive, has done away with the classical perspective, has tried more and more to obtain the purity of abstract idealism, and this led us to a world of wondrous new spaces, should the art of the word remain static?11

The Surrealists’ focus on dreams, on the marvelous, on the art of William Blake and of Hieronymus Bosch, and on Murnau’s Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) emphasized the possibilities of sight over language. By 1985, Italo Calvino was warning that the ability to visualize on the basis of text was endangered in a culture ‘inundated by a flood of prefabricated images’: we were, he predicted, in danger of losing ‘the power of bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut, of bringing forth forms and colors from the lines of black letters on a white page, and in fact of thinking in terms of images’.12 Those who have read a book and then seen a movie based on 9 Astruc, ‘Camera-stylo’, 1948, pp. 603–607. 10 Geduld, Actors, p. 363. 11 Jolas, ‘Revolution’, p. 82. In the same volume, Samuel Beckett championed Joyce by comparison to Dante and in contrast to the classical Milton. 12 Calvino, ‘Visibility’, in Memos, p. 92. Cf. Will Self, ‘our culture hasn’t simply privileged the visual, but made vision worth far more than all the other senses’, ‘A Point of View: Has the World Become Too Visual’, BBC, 27 Feb. 2015; Clark, ‘Modernism’, p. 161, ‘a new form of visuality spreading like a virus through the culture at large—a new machinery of visualization, a tipping of the balance from a previous regime of the word to the present regime of the image’; Classen, Color, p. 143, writes: ‘In the twentieth century, the Western world in general, and the academic world in particular, can be said to have a fixation with the sense of sight’; and Carroll, Philosophy, p. 225:


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

the book often find it difficult to retain the imagery they gained from their reading in the face of the screen version. Calvino warned us of a certain cognitive passivity, one to which we are more prone the more readily images are available—and our age is defined in no small part by the ubiquity of images, in particular of talking, moving images. Our imaginations, Calvino warned, were being infiltrated by professional makers of images whose objectives were not always purely aesthetic. Making images, he exhorted, ought to be a universal skill, such as articulating thoughts in language, even if those images remain merely internal, ‘airy nothings’. The primacy of text had developed in a culture in which images were rare, in which widely shared images were even more rare. Now, we live in a culture in which images have become ubiquitous, so much so that the polarity of image and text may easily suffer (or achieve) reversal. Already in 1963, Alain Robbe-Grillet acknowledged the accusation that ‘contemporary novels were merely abortive films’.13 As Calvino worried, text may struggle to keep up. Calvino’s doubt about the ongoing power of words marks a change in the tide by which artists, for centuries, had looked to language to find both subjects and standards. The Roman poet Horace (65–8 B.C.), in a highly influential text about poetry, Ars poetica, made a passing reference to painting, perhaps the most cited comment on the visual arts ever made, one usually boiled down to three words: ut pictura poësis. This was used from the midfifteenth century onward to counterbalance Leon Battista Alberti’s theory by which painting was based in rules, geometry, and teachable skills cribbed from rhetoric. Instead, painting might be a matter of inspiration, of freedom, of serendipity, as was poetry, despite its reliance on rules of prosody ‘We are becoming a moving image culture’. Cf. also Yve-Alain Bois’s comment that recently (since the fall of the Berlin Wall) he can muster ‘far less confidence in the power of words’, in Earnest, What, p. 62. Walter Benjamin quoted Georges Duhamel, writing of film in 1930: ‘I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images’, ‘Mechanical’, p. 238, and Nicoll, Film, p. 109: ‘We moderns are, it seems, much more deeply moved by visual symbols than by words’. In a book whose first edition was in 1915, Lindsay proclaimed, ‘A tribe that has thought in words since the days that it worshipped Thor and told legends of the cunning tongue of Loki, suddenly begins to think in pictures’, Moving, p. 213. Biggers, Seven, comments that ‘the noble art of fiction has come to lean more and more on its illustrators’, p. 192, or ‘like a moving picture film the story of that weird night unrolled itself’, p. 233. Wilde, in 1890, Critic, p. 24, warned ‘since the introduction of printing, and the fatal development of the habit of reading amongst the middle and lower classes of this country, there has been a tendency to appeal more and more to the eye, and less and less to the ear which, from the standpoint of pure art, it should seek to please’. The character Rouvier in Deux hommes dans Manhattan (1959) observes, ‘History is no longer written, but photographed’. 13 Robbe-Grillet, Novel, p. 145.



and genre. Gotthold Lessing during the Enlightenment, James McNeill Whistler a century later, and Wassily Kandinsky as the spokesperson of modernism, all worked to undo Horace’s entrenched advice-cum-exhortation, because—despite having been cited so often to defend license—they felt it bound the visual arts too closely to the verbal arts.14 Whistler was not alone in preferring music to poetry as a valuable analog for issues of visual composition, both for its emphasis on mood (sometimes a very tranquil, incident-free mood) and for its abstractness, its content being its form. During Romanticism, music had arguably already displaced painting as the foremost art, both intellectually demanding for its public and widely practiced by amateurs. Twentieth-century art continued to erode centuries of verbal hegemony: modernism took little interest in narrative, but much interest in color, rhythm, and harmony or dissonance.15 Between the fall of the academies of art and the rise of television, visual narrative was largely relegated to the domain of theater and its younger cousin, film. I have too much conscience to take a million dollars and make a film that would please only me and the critics […] our medium happens to have a universal appeal. I would say that it is a harder to make a film that has both integrity and wide audience appeal than it is to make one that satisfies one’s own artistic conscience.16

The general populace, those who would have craned to see frescoes in the Renaissance, began to go to the cinema in the 20th century.17 The sense of ending that cinema customarily embraced, at least until the 1960s, has a correlate in fresco cycles that led either to martyrdom and a heavenly vision or to the Last Judgment. They provide a sense of closure and finality that is not necessarily that of death, but which certainly has an analogy there.18 14 Marshall in Cambridge, pp. 681–699, also for defenses of images as potentially clearer and more striking than words; e.g., de Piles, ‘painting shews truth in a more lively manner, and moves and penetrates the heart more strongly, than can be done by discourse’ (p. 692, in 1708). Theater offered a sort of synthesis; as Jonathan Richardson opined, ‘There we see a sort of moving, speaking Pictures’ (p. 698, 1715). Richardson praises painting for its duration; Du Bos and Diderot both prefer the poetry of the theater as offering numerous tableaux. 15 On connections between the experience of viewing f ilm and abstraction, as well as for attention paid to Ash Can and other 20th-century realist painting, see Mathews, American, p. 128. 16 Hitchcock, Interviews, p. 37. 17 L’Herbier, Tête, p. 63, reports that Delluc wrote in his review of El Dorado (1921): ‘une belle fresque’. Salle, How to See, p. 224, of Piero della Francesco’s cycle of the Legend of the True Cross: ‘the lyrical sweep of these frescoes is like CinemaScope five hundred years before the event’. 18 Cameron, ‘Antonioni’, p. 12: ‘Antonioni has said that working on location puts him in a similar position to a painter who has to fill a certain wall with frescoes’.


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Particularly when visual art was adjusted to architectural display, the first and last impressions, entrance and exit experiences, have a prominence and emphasis analogous to the opening and closing scenes of a film. These pictures speak. In church as in cinema, the viewer generally remains silent, as though listening. Some sort of text lies behind the film, as with frescoes, yet the visualization assumes a self-sufficiency. Large-scale and public, such images readily acquire a certain cultural authority. The ending of City Lights (1931) descends, however remotely and inadvertently, from the Annunciation: one f igure reaches out to another in a general atmosphere of tentativeness and incomprehension, a white flower figuring prominently. (Figure 1) The analogy is inexact; the Tramp turns back to face the Girl, as the Virgin turns in response to Gabriel, while the Girl, who extends her arm like Gabriel, can be seen by stages to be having a revelation (the Tramp has already had a moment of recognition). Despite its date, the film is silent, and the score Chaplin composed, like the imagery, expresses sentiment without clear resolution. No announcement is made: the real exchange is tactile and visual, made all the more poignant by the theme of blindness in the preceding narrative.19 But the scene is all the more memorable because it echoes the Annunciation, not only in the two figures but in some of the Girl’s complex and shifting emotions: she is blithe and busy, then disconcerted, even pained, and seems, f inally, irresolute. By contrast, the Tramp has received gratifying news; in this, again, he resembles the Virgin more than does the lithe Girl. The image of Chaplin as the Tramp was a primary image between the two World Wars: compassionate and curious, yet pitiful; a failure and yet unbeaten, the Tramp was the new Everyman, battered by the same modern urban environment that supported cinema.20 Analogously, the image of Fred Astaire, ever spry and ever courteous, spinning in top hat and tails, is as indelibly printed on at least portions of Western cultural consciousness as that of St. George: both figures of lithe gallantry. Viewers of Fred Astaire—‘a thing of beauty and a boy for ever’, as Alistair Cooke dubbed him—may well never have consciously related 19 Clair, Reflections, p. 74, opined that only Chaplin could have made this scene without its becoming ‘ridiculous’. Agee, ‘Era’ (1949), p. 77, was more reverential: ‘it is enough to shrivel the heart to see, and it is the greatest piece of acting and the highest moment in movies’. 20 Arnheim, Film, pp. 144–145, describes how the scene of eating a boot in the Gold Rush (1925) has the effect it does because he eats in the manner of a rich man at a f ine meal: ‘the great artistry of the invention lies in that such an elemental, profoundly human theme as “hunger versus good living” is presented pictorially by objective means that are so truly filmic. Nothing more purely visual can be conceived than such association of the shapes of things’.



Figure 1: Tramp and (formerly) Blind Girl (Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill), City Lights, Charles Chaplin Productions, Charles Chaplin, 1931, screenshot.

him to St. George.21 Yet the degree of cultural primacy in both instances is comparable, and the Astaire–Rogers courtships savored as much of artificiality as those of knights and ladies of yore. In the late 1930s, Fred Astaire was as capable of slaying figural dragons for the sake of his lady as the knight, though his modern lady could be a good deal more prickly than a princess, and the dragon might be merely a rival suitor or the correspondent in a divorce case (Gay Divorcee, 1934). Or Audrey Hepburn flying down the stairs of the Louvre in red with the Winged Victory of Samothrace behind her in Funny Face (1957):22 that image exemplifies how 20th-century cinephiles reveled in the distance between then and now, rather than utterly cutting off the past. Sergei Eisenstein remembered indelibly (if not totally accurately after 20 years) the passerby who interrupts the first meeting between the boy and 21 Cooke, Movies, 1 Dec. 1937, p. 65. 22 One of the statue’s hands had been recovered by archaeologists in 1948, with much attention from the press. Fred Astaire, playing a professional fashion photographer, is snapping her photo as she flies downward.


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the girl in the modern segment of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance: Love’s Struggles Throughout the Ages (1916) (0:48).23 André Bazin said he could never forget the dust as the eponymous tramp walks along the river path at the end of Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932).24 Such memories function as memorized poetry did before: as touchstones of cultural identity, whether individual or communal. Psychiatrists interested in understanding the structures of consciousness, physicists focused on understanding space-time, authors trying to register the changing pace and patterns of urbanized and industrialized life, and makers of cinema attempting to capture flow rather than a single significant moment were all engaged in at least vaguely homologous projects—understanding a reality whose structure was increasingly taken to be plastic rather than adamantine. The continuity of film imagery across projects as well as its capacity for convincing mimesis, two qualities that tie it structurally to the history of art, are both demonstrated in what I like to call the Fellini moment, though it might be fairer to call it (with a nod to Truffaut)25 a privileged moment, one in which the structure of the plot is erased by the overwhelming verity (calculated on some rubric, often a subjective one) of an ostensibly subordinate episode. As the events of Federico Fellini’s Lo sceicco bianco (1952) are winding down, Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) and her fellow prostitute wander into a dark, deserted square in Rome (Piazza di Campitelli) (back cover), only to find the disconsolate Ivan slumped at the base of the fountain, having long since lost track of the bride he had wed that very morning. Cabiria compassionately tries to interest him in the performance of the fire-eater who has happened by, but Ivan will not rouse himself and wanders off with her companion while Cabiria continues to be enthralled by the fire-eating. This little aperçu into late-night street life has an almost documentary flavor. It is both compellingly 23 Eisenstein, ‘Dickens’ [1944], p. 149. It should be noted that the old man is rudely interruptive, definitely a moment to catch the eye of an advocate of disrupting narrative continuity. Michael Powell also wrote about how impressed he was by this film. He saw it on the pier at Folkstone and ‘it was the greatest experience I had had. There has never been a film director like Griffith’; Autobiography, p. 94. 24 Bazin, Renoir, p. 623. See also Burgin, Remembered, pp. 58–73: ‘Today, what we share in common in cultural experience is increasingly derived from the image envelope’, p. 66, where private and public, conscious and unconscious, interact. 25 Truffaut, Letters, p. 407, 21 July 1974, to Jean Gruault. Truffaut was basing his thoughts on Henry James’s essay, ‘The Art of Fiction’; see also, Horne, ‘James’, p. 36. Truffaut, Hitchcock, p. 15, explains suspense as using the ‘manifest clarity and persuasive power of the image’ to create ‘“persuasive moments”, those highlights that linger in the viewer’s memory’. The term acknowledges the power of sight to create a sense of reality; in 1974, Truffaut called such a moment ‘our real reason for wanting to make the film’. It is worth noting the temporality of the act of sighting that is so valued, not unlike Virginia Woolf’s ‘moments of being’.



realistic and it creates an eddy in the flow of the narrative. From this scene, Fellini developed Le notti di Cabiria, in which this very minor, cheery character in the 1952 film becomes the tragic and heroic protagonist of the 1957 opus. That scene in the darkness by the marble fountain would have worked nearly as well in a silent film; the basic story is almost entirely visual: Ivan tells the women about his bride by showing the snapshots he has in his pocket, and their responses are as visual as they are verbal. And it is because it seemed so very real to Fellini (as it does also to us, the viewers) that the character Cabiria was still alive in his mind five years later. Fellini was not filming a book; he was writing (with some assistance from Antonioni) what he wanted to see filmed—like Jean Renoir in La règle du jeux (1939), in particular the sequence in which the theatricals are presented. They hint at the real threat present at this frivolous house party, as well as in the host’s maniacal character. The mobility of Renoir’s camera dazzles the viewer, who then regains a bit of balance while watching the host lose his equilibrium. But more than this, like the scenes in Sceicco and Chaplin’s City Lights, they are like little miracles in themselves, in that we the viewers allow ourselves to believe the celluloid. The crucial thing about the scene at the fountain in Sceicco is not that a subordinate character carries over into a new film in which she is the protagonist, but that the interaction of those people is captured so compellingly, beyond mere verisimilitude. We set aside our right to be canny consumers in a post-Enlightenment society. We experience what some would call absorption and what Truffaut would call privilege. In 1956, Robbe-Grillet recognized that, in film, what affects us, what persists in our memory, what appears as essential and irreducible to vague intellectual concepts are the gestures themselves, the objects, the movements, and the outlines, to which the image has suddenly (and unintentionally) restored their reality […] it is as if the very conventions of the photographic medium (the two dimensions, the black-and-white images, the frame of the screen, the difference of scale between scenes) help free us from our own conventions.26

Those scenes have the power to mean to us what they would have had we actually lived them, which is like what Renaissance art was meant to be: a supplement to our lives rather than a series of entries on our art life-list. But whereas historically the most one could hope for was the implication of ongoing action and flowing consciousness, from the Greek invention of 26 Robbe-Grillet, Novel, pp. 20–21.


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the contrapposto pose to Leonardo’s advice that the movements of the body should serve to convey the movements of the soul, film made possible instead the sharing of a time-space, of a segment of experience, an episode rather than the fossilized and irremediably silent and static image. Ingmar Bergman did not need to study Leonardo’s writings to affirm that he was ‘passionately interested in human beings, the human face, the human soul’27—though Bergman and Leonardo would have understood one another perfectly. The scene in Sceicco recalls one in Fellini’s Luci del varietà (1951), which showed Checco, a mediocre vaudevillian in his late 40s, wandering a deserted Rome in the middle of the night with a hefty trumpet player from the United States, a Black man who has given up being a chemical engineer because he loves music and the freedom he finds in Italy, where he celebrates living among the crazy and impoverished musicians of the street. Residents who want to sleep shout at them from high windows and call them vagabonds; they call themselves artists. A female Brazilian singer (Vanja Orico) with a guitar sings for them on the steps of a church (Sant’Agostino),28 a police officer on a bicycle listens appreciatively while cautioning them to sing quietly, and the jazz trumpeter compares his life as an artist to that of the swallows. A middle-aged and frowsy woman, presumably a prostitute past her prime, dances to the song, and the camera lingers with her, the Brazilian, the policeman, and a bus driver who never speaks, while Checco and the trumpeter wander off to a hostel in search of another performer, one who can shoot a fly from a tremendous distance. (Figure 2) Visually, this colloquy of low-life types offers a microcosm of Fellini’s films: the familiar theme of the harshness of the life of the artist who has not sold out, but also the artlessness and poignancy of a mutually resonating collection of characters (what Alberti would call his istoria, a complex figural composition), plus the added tincture of absurdity cheek by jowl with sympathy for the down-and-out (a lesson Chaplin had made familiar). It bears thematic comparison with the work of Fellini’s contemporary, Ingmar Bergman, whose various players (e.g., Sawdust and Tinsel, 1953) negotiate the territory between temptation and authenticity, both at work and in private life.29 27 Dick Cavett interview, 1971. 28 Thanks to David V. Feldman for the identification. 29 Back in Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934), it is the carefree scamp on a bicycle, the peddler/performer, who ruffles the calm of the newly wedded bliss of Jean and Juliette, a figure probably remembered by Fellini when he wrote the part of The Fool in La Strada 20 years later, a tightrope walker who similarly embodies an artlessness that is full of the promise of art (‘il Matto’, the same label the jazz trumpeter gives himself in Fellini’s Luci del varietà, 1951). Cf. the self-confessed serial murderer in Marcel Carné’s Drôle de drame (1937), a charmer on a bicycle, played by Jean-Louis Barrault, who courts the wife of the protagonist.



Figure 2: Checco and Johnny walking away from Moema and others, (Peppino de Filippo, John Kitzmiller, Vanja Orico, and others), Luci del varietà, Capitolium, Federico Fellini, 1950, screenshot.

The public of a thriving narrative art comes to hold in common new experiences and ideas, and possibly even new emotions, or at least the reassurance that one’s emotional life has correlates in the lives of others. Giotto and his successors created worlds in which individuals, even humble individuals, acted with agency and moved in such a way as to imply a world of nuance, quite beyond anything demanded by textual sources.30 The stories were meant to be exemplary; presumably they, like films centuries later, affected how people thought and acted. In the Arena Chapel (Padua, c. 1305), Giotto showed the concern Joachim’s shepherds have for their employer, devoting many square feet to a scene about emotions, and putting the feelings of anonymous peasants nearly on a par with those of the Virgin’s father. Giotto devoted four compositions to the Virgin Mary’s wedding arrangements: an unprecedented expansion of the narrative for the sake of human, rather than theological, interest. Movie stars were to the 20th-century public—roughly—what saints were to the medieval public:31 exemplary figures understood to offer impractical role models. Like saints, they came in a variety of heroic types: from the 30 Rancière, Fables, p. 184, also compares film to frescoes in the Arena Chapel. 31 Cf. Leslie Howard, ‘Holy Hollywood’, 1927, p. 21, who sarcastically bemoans the new call for exemplary behavior by stars off-set: ‘Hollywood is preparing to offer the world its new religion


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

bashful Gary Cooper (Figure 3) to the brawny John Wayne, or the delicate Lillian Gish with her glowing hair. In John Ford’s Who Shot Liberty Valance? (1962), the counterpoint between the apron-wearing, bookish lawyer Jimmy Stewart and the more worldly-wise Wayne is contrived as mutually sympathetic,32 even though they are both—predictably—courting the same girl. Unintentionally, we may be sure, the film offers us an analogy to Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine (Florence, 1583, see Figure 29), a sculpture a contemporary source (Borghini’s Il Riposo) tells us was carved with no particular subject in mind, but merely as an exercise in composing a tour de force featuring the three basic types of contemporary art: mature man, young man, and nubile woman. In both set pieces, the younger man wins. I can report, merely anecdotally, that a friend of mine who grew up in what he described as the slums of Chicago in the 1930s, the son of an immigrant railroad worker, avers that he was elevated by the films of Fred Astaire, which taught him to aspire to better things—not as it happens, a life in the arts, but a career as a sociologist interested in access for the nonwealthy to fine art, performing as well as visual.33 Italo Calvino described a different effect from avid Hollywood film-watching during his adolescence in the later 1930s: ‘It satisfied a need for disorientation […] a particular misrepresentation, different from our misrepresentation’. Wholly removed in his mind from the experience of literature, nevertheless it nurtured not only his imagination but his sense of multiple, parallel ‘realities’: ‘I never took it for true, but only as one among the possible artificial images’.34 Hollywood was, in other words, a relative of sixteenth-century Mannerism: its polished naturalism could be embraced for its very artificiality. For cinema and its audiences, as for the viewers of fresco cycles, neither uniqueness nor originality was paramount; plots were often predictable and graced with improbable coincidences, as in Shakespeare. Calvino describes how regular moviegoing provided new arrangements of faces he was fond of seeing, the character actors as well as the stars. A comforting cultural prop, films offered elegance, that 20th-century version of grazia;35 they often touted […] we shall get a religion which reaches everyone, which is really universal, the followers of which will not have to be induced to go to church, but will go because it amuses them to do so’. 32 Stewart had gotten off the stagecoach in Destry Rides Again (1939) holding a parasol and a bird cage. 33 Melvin Bobick, 1926–2020. 34 Gary Cooper, for Calvino, signif ied ‘cold blood f iltered by sarcasm’, i.e., The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) rather than Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936); Calvino, ‘A Cinema-Goer’s Auto-biography’, in San Giovanni, pp. 35–73. 35 Cf. Mac Carthy, Grace; Emison, ‘Grazia’.



Figure 3: Gary Cooper in An Album of Film Stars, John Player and Sons, c. 1933, chromolithograph, 6.7 x 3.5 cm (the card), collection of author.

a natural elegance that could erase class boundaries (like nobility, which Renaissance humanists understood as potentially independent of birth). From the imposition of the Hays Code until the early 1960s, many films affirmed the power of trusted and reassuring moral precepts, prime among which might be themes of the triumph of pure love, the ancestry of which is at least as old as the vernacular.36 Hollywood plots often had remote roots in Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura—the woman pure and inspiring, the man troubled yet ultimately redeemed. If modernist painting since Cubism had boldly erased the history of art and tried to start again from scratch, sans nostalgia, there remained plenty of nostalgia in film for a world in which love was more important than war or money. Being recognized as new required no effort for those early filmmakers, and so borrowing from precedent did not bother them. They were, in some ways, more free as artists than their manifesto-defined modernist brethren, who were so intent to shake off tradition—as printmakers in the Renaissance were free to attempt almost anything they could think of, uninhibited by either the expectations of the public or the decorum of ecclesiastical display. And 36 That the effect of films on public morals was an issue, see Adler, Prudence, pp. xi, 206–211.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

whereas the modernists generally endorsed or at least adorned high society (they needed those capitalists to buy their work, after all), in film the many could variously laugh at the powerful, admire the worthy poor, or fantasize that they themselves were elegant and rich—or better yet, adventuresome. We have gradually yet definitively developed from a culture that knows certain texts thoroughly to a culture that knows images as much or more than texts. Within the fictions of film, a parallel course of cultural history can be traced. In earlier films, the cultural reference point is often poetry; in later ones, the references tend to be visual. In the gruesome and not at all highbrow Mad Love (1935), Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are both quoted, as is Oscar Wilde. Fred Astaire’s love interest in The Sky’s the Limit (1943) describes her male ideal by quoting Wordsworth; Katharine Hepburn quotes T.S. Eliot to Spencer Tracy in Without Love (1945); in Roman Holiday (1953), Audrey Hepburn quotes Shelley’s ‘Arethusa’.37 Even the gruff Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1941) quotes The Tempest, albeit approximately: ‘the stuff that dreams are made of’ (‘we are such stuff as dreams are made on’, Act IV).38 In later movies, the references are typically less literary and more visual. In Victim (1961), a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David (with fig leaf) hangs on the wall of the apartment of the blackmailer; it fills the screen, to the accompaniment of dramatic music, after the departure of the villain, who has just lashed out at a boxing ball: presumably a clue that the blackmailer of homosexuals himself is not immune to the attraction of the nude male.39 When the young sailor in Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) dreams of the woman he would love (‘l’idéal féminine’), he makes a painting, an imagined portrait with ‘le regard innocent’ of a Botticelli. 40 The plot of the movie is set in motion by the absurdity of a name, ‘Monsieur Dame’. Because of this name, the café owner would not marry the man she loved long ago, as though Demy is himself mocking language and the trouble it can cause. In Topaz (1969), Hitchcock composed a shot of torture victims to recall a Pietà, specifically Michelangelo’s, and in Bergman’s Cries 37 Joe, the journalist, knows the poem is by Shelley; the princess mistakenly attributes it to Keats. In the German original of Das Testament der Dr. Mabuse (1933), Detective Lohmann doesn’t want to be late for the opera; in the dubbed American version, he’s concerned about missing the beginning of a boxing match. 38 A line not in the 1931 version nor in the Hammett story, 1929. 39 It was groundbreaking to use the word homosexual at the time (in the United States, the film was denied approval by the Motion Picture Association of America because the word was used); it would also have been very early to suggest publicly that Michelangelo’s art might gratify homoerotic desire. 40 Demy, Rochefort, p. 34.



and Whispers (1972), the servant Anna comforts the moribund Agnes in the posture of a nursing Madonna with a sleeping Christ Child. Bergman’s red swathes of fabric recall Baroque paintings, and his emotional range reinforces that reference. 41 The great precedent for the ascendancy of visual reference is the use of classical reference in the hands of Renaissance artists, such as Raphael’s Christ Child in the stance of the Apollo Belvedere (Madonna del Cardellino, Uffizi Gallery, c. 1506). By referring to ancient art, Renaissance artists lessened the need to legitimize what they were doing by reference to texts. The teenage Michelangelo, even when advised by Poliziano to think in terms of the myth of Lapiths and Centaurs, was more interested in emulating sarcophagal reliefs than in storytelling. Filmmakers, like Renaissance artists before them, relied on the development of a visual language as counterpoint to the established melody of narrative text. If the invention of the painted altarpiece prompted the artistic revolution of the whole range of Renaissance painting, then how much more effect did the camera have? Photography and advertising mushroomed along with moving pictures, an evolution that has rendered imagery both ubiquitous and, at times, cheap. From early on, the cinematic imagination encompassed everything from documentary to science fiction and the magical, as well as the basic task of mimesis that freely edited nature—an imaginative range comparable to that of Renaissance artists. Whereas the main point for Byzantine artists was to make impressive, readily recognized, iconic representations to reinforce pre-existing tenets, Renaissance artists beginning with Giotto focused on the interactions of individualized figures—their psychological as much as their physical interactions. The potential for variation was boundless. At the other end of the arc from Giotto lay Veronese, who painted the confusion of Darius’s widow as she kneels to ask for clemency without being sure which is Alexander and which is his alter ego, his friend Hephaestion (The Family of Darius, National Gallery, London, c. 1565). He tackled this subject because the task of recognition was understood not to present any insurmountable challenge to an artist, not since Leonardo placed Judas on the interior side of the table at the Last Supper (c. 1498), or since artists stopped relying on halos. The world of Renaissance artists tended toward greater clarity and power (and also greater potential for subtlety) as the visual tradition developed, whereas in the 20th century the profusion of imagery, especially of advertising imagery, eventually yielded Pop Art, in which subtlety was utterly and deliberately 41 Bergman studied art history at Stockholm University; Young, Persona, p. 35.


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renounced. We can understand the careers of directors such as Bergman and Tati as an effort to support subtlety in visual worlds, to ask the viewer to linger over details for reasons other than verisimilitude. There was cinema before and after ‘La Roue’, as there is painting before and after Picasso. 42

Vasari introduced the idea of the history of art as the locus of a series of powerful innovations occurring at intervals distinct from (at times troublesomely distinct from) the epochs of Christian history. Himself nothing if not a courtier, he nevertheless portrayed Giotto, Brunelleschi, and Michelangelo as daringly unfettered by convention. This basic scheme has persisted until Romanticism and beyond: its linchpin has been the conviction that the history of art is formed by the careers of radically innovative geniuses. Yet the history of art can frequently be understood as a history of conformity. It feeds on patronage, and patrons are generally the established foci of power and privilege who may dabble in tolerating transgression—like a king with his fool—but who generally support art because they suppose, in one way or another, to buttress their regime. Although artists may have more often served as courtiers than they have operated as revolutionaries, the idea of the revolutionary artist has sometimes been co-opted to function as one more buttress in the usefulness of art to those in power. Patrons (including museums) have long participated in a conceptual art of their own, making sure that what was displayed and promoted would be understood in terms of their own hegemonic ideologies. By concentrating the study of the history of art on persons rather than ideas, tribute might be paid to the idea of nonconformity (often in the guise of its unreliable cousin: excellence), though routinely subordinated to the basic project of biography and not infrequently featuring tributes to wealthy patrons and institutions that had favored the said artist. Giotto, for instance, is more likely thought of as working for the wealthy Enrico Scrovegni than for his highly innovative portrayals of the shepherd servants of Joachim in the Arena Chapel—illiterate, impoverished people who clearly have their own emotional lives and sensibilities. The same could be said of Anna’s servant, busily spinning on the porch while her mistress is visited by an angel announcing an unexpected pregnancy. The maid anticipates Chardin’s in the eighteenth century, for she possesses a personhood far beyond her narrative significance, or more accurately, 42 Cocteau, Art, p. 132; see also Abel, ‘Neglected’, pp. 26, 39. Jean Epstein said of La roue, ‘with this film, the first cinematic symbol was born’, Afterimage, X, (Autumn, 1981): p. 28.



insignificance. Yet the Chapel is usually presented as serving Scrovegni’s purposes, exculpating the family from the reputation for usury, exactly as Scrovegni intended. In its parallel universe, film, for all its adulation of stars, has often depended upon character actors to shed a modicum of authenticity within a celluloid confection. In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), a cinematic hymn in honor of ordinary people, in particular the simple folk of the fictional town of Mandrake Falls, Vermont, we can find correlates to Giotto’s minor yet narratively innovative servants. A case of idealization in a new key, the film presents unpolished people who may speak the truth, rather than humans who look like gods. The climactic courtroom scene hinges on the testimony of two elderly sisters, longtime neighbors of Longfellow Deeds. These neighbors declare in court that Longfellow Deeds is ‘pixilated’; with that testimony, they seem bound to land him in a psychiatric hospital where his greedy bankers want him conf ined, until Longfellow Deeds gently asks them who else in the room they consider to be pixilated. Everyone, of course! Reversal is as old a device as theater itself, but in this case, two minor characters, the dotty and presumed malicious old ladies, are revealed to be unwittingly wise and quite genial, since they recognize the world as a ship of fools, everyone slightly daft. Still, this is Frank Capra’s film, working at the relatively small studio Columbia. More often, Hollywood teaches us that the rich and powerful are essentially good (though the rich featured in these films may be as self-made as many of the Hollywood producers themselves). Commercial cinema of the 1920s–1960s usually didn’t set out to display rebelliousness, nor did it assert genius on the part of its makers. Much of it was still locked into the traditional competition with literature (or mere best sellers). It was created in answer to the opportunity to make money by telling stories. In the midst of experimenting with how to make narrative using celluloid, communities of viewing that didn’t necessarily align with pre-existing cultural patterns were inadvertently created. The roots of social networking might be found here, as well as, even more remotely, a correlate to one of the important innovations of the Renaissance: the realization that one’s culture need not be limited to the local. Rethinking the history of art as part of a larger and more pervasive history of images, and as a history of conformity as much or more so as of innovation, brings cinema from the periphery to the center of the subject. The project here is to explore that connection, and with it, to consider cinema as part of the epoch-engendering transition away from stable logocentrism toward a more chaotic society whose sense of shared knowledge is as fluid, fleeting, and


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

evanescent as vision itself. In film, a character’s thoughts may be represented by ghostly images that float across the screen or figures reflected back from glass: thought is thereby represented as bound to consciousness rather than as Platonically stable, both within particular films and in general by film as a medium. The passage of time has become the matrix for thought; the world can no longer be supposed to exist sub specie aeternitatis, as God would see it. Jean-Luc Godard summarized cinema’s attraction with disarming simplicity: ‘I like to see people move’.43 It was both a small step, predicated on artists’ many attempts to show movement (the depiction of which was the great achievement of Vasari’s third period), and a giant leap into a new arena. As narrative imagery helped to create the world we call the Renaissance, a world in which visual perception was newly valued, studied, and put to both scientific and creative purposes, so has cinema—in many ways the fulfillment of the naturalistic narrative art of the Renaissance—helped to form our time. Abel Gance, never one for understatement, called it ‘the first peaceful bomb of the universe’, 44 and Jean Epstein declared that film was ‘gradually educating our spirit’: The magnification of the screen lets us examine it as in a magnifying glass. There the most alluring falsehoods lose their force while the truth bursts forth on first sight, strikes the spectator with the unexpectedness of the evident, and arouses an aesthetic emotion, a sense of infallible wonderment and pleasure. 45

His declaration of the ‘sense of infallible wonderment and pleasure’ echoes the delight expressed by equally amazed Renaissance viewers, such as those who—men and women, young and old— flocked for two days to see Leonardo’s cartoon (large-scale, preparatory drawing) for a painting of the Virgin, St. Anne, Christ, and St. John the Baptist 46. If there were two phases in the history of art in which viewers were overwhelmed not simply 43 Ross, ‘Godard’, 9 Oct. 1965. Ingmar Bergman told how, as a child, he had been transfixed by the first moving picture he saw, so much so that he went to bed with a fever from the excitement. A few years later, he was fascinated by being able to control the rate of movement in a hand-cranked toy projector. 44 King, Gance, p. 158. Ford, Feyder, p. 105, in 1944 called film ‘l’instrument le plus puissant du monde, une machine à digérer l’univers’. 45 1935, quoted in Abel, Theory, vol. II, pp. 189, 192. 46 ‘Come si va a le feste solenni, per veder le meraviglie di Lionardo, che fecero stupire tutto quel popolo’ (‘as you see for solemn feasts, to see the wonders of Leonardo, which astonished the entire populace’), Vasari, Life of Leonardo.



by a single project or a single artist, but by a newly introduced modality of making art, they would be the art of Florence and that of Hollywood before the Second World War.

Bibliography Abel, Richard, ‘Abel Gance’s Other Neglected Masterwork: La Roue (1922–23)’, Cinema Journal 22:2 (Winter, 1983), pp. 26–41. ————, French Film Theory and Criticism: A History/Anthology, 1907–1939, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). Adler, Mortimer, Art and Prudence: A Study in Practical Philosophy (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1937) Agee, James, ‘Comedy’s Greatest Era’, Life, XXVII:10 (5 Sept. 1949), pp. 70–88. Arnheim, Rudolf, Film as Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957). Astruc, Alexandre, ‘The Birth of a New Avant Garde: La Camera Stylo’, (1948), in Scott MacKenzie, Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures: A Critical Anthology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), pp. 603–607. Bazin, André, Renoir (New York: Da Capo, 1992). Benjamin, Walter, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Hannah Arendt, ed., H. Zohn, trans. (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), pp. 217–251. Betts, Ernest, Inside Pictures: With Some Reflections from the Outside (London: Cresset Press, 1960). Biggers, Earl Derr, Seven Keys to Baldpate (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1913). Burgin, Victor, The Remembered Film (London: Reaction, 2004). Calvino, Italo, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Patrick Creagh, trans. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988). ————, The Road to San Giovanni, Tim Parks, trans. (New York, Pantheon, 1993). Cameron, Ian, ‘Michaelangelo Antonioni’, Film Quarterly, XVI:1 (Autumn 1962), pp. 1–58. Carroll, Noël, The Philosophy of Motion Pictures (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2008). Clair, René, Reflections on the Cinema, V. Traill, trans. (London: William Kimber, 1953). Clark, T.J., ‘Modernism, Postmodernism, and Steam’, October C (Spring, 2002), pp. 154–174. Classen, Constance, The Color of Angels: Cosmology, Gender and the Aesthetic Imagination (London: Routledge, 1998).


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Cocteau, Jean, The Art of Cinema, André Bernard and Claude Gauteur, eds., Robin Buss, tr. (New York: Marion Boyars, 1994). Cooke, Alistair, Alistair Cooke at the Movies, Geoff Brown, ed. (New York: Allen Lane, 2009). Davy, Charles, ed., Footnotes to the Film (London: Lowe and Brydone, 1938). Demy, Jacques, Les demoiselles de Rochefort (Paris: Solar, 1967). Earnest, Jarrett, What It Means to Write about Art: Interviews with Art Critics (New York: David Zwirner Books, 2018). Eisenstein, Sergei, ‘Dickens, Griffith, and the Film Today [1944]’, Film Form, Essays in Film Theory, Jay Leyda, tr. (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949). Emison, Patricia, ‘Grazia’, Renaissance Studies, V (Dec. 1991), pp. 427–460. Epstein, Jean, ‘Bonjour cinéma and other writings’, Tom Milne, trans., Afterimage X (Autumn, 1981), pp. 8–39. Ford, Charles, Jacques Feyder (Paris: Seghers, 1973). Geduld, Harry M., Authors on Film (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972). Hitchcock, Alfred, Interviews, Sidney Gottlieb, ed. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003). Hodgins, Eric, Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House, illustrated by William Steig (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1946). ————, ‘Mr. Blandings Builds his Castle: A Simple $15,000 House, or Oil for the Seven Lamps of Architecture’, Fortune, XXXIII (April 1946), pp. 138–143, 179–189. Horne, Philip, ‘Henry James: Varieties of Cinematic Experience’, in Henry James on Stage and Screen, John Bradley, ed. (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000), pp. 35–55. Howard, Leslie, ‘Holy Hollywood’, The New Yorker, 14 May 1927, pp. 21–22. Jolas, Eugene, ‘The Revolution of Language and James Joyce’, in Our Exagmination Round his Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress, ed. Sylvia Beach (New York: New Directions, 1962), pp. 79–92. King, Norman, Abel Gance: A Politics of Spectacle (London: BFI, 1984). L’Herbier, Marcel, La Tête qui Tourne (Paris: Pierre Belfond, 1979). Lindsay, Vachel, The Art of the Moving Picture (New York: Liveright, 1970 [1922]). Mac Carthy, Ita, The Grace of the Italian Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020). Marshall, David in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Vol. IV, The Eighteenth Century, H.B. Nisbet and Claude Rawson, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Mathews, Nancy Mowl, Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1880–1910, exh. cat., Williams College, (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2005.) Nagel, Alex, The Controversy of Renaissance Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). —— and L. Pericolo, Subject as Aporia in Early Modern Art (Burlington: Ashgate, 2010).



Nicoll, Allardyce, Film and Theatre (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1936). Nobel, Philip, ‘Who Built Mr. Blandings’ Dream House?’ in Architecture and Film, ed. Mark Lamster (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000), pp. 49–87. Panofsky, Erwin, ‘Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures’, in Three Essays on Style, ed. Irving Lavin (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), pp. 91–125. Powell, Michael, Autobiography (London: Faber and Faber, 1986). Rancière, Jacques, Film Fables, Emiliano Battista, trans. (London: Berg, 2006). Robbe-Grillet, Alain, For a New Novel, Essays on Fiction (Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1965). Ross, Lillian, ‘Godard est Godard’, The Talk of the Town, The New Yorker, 9 Oct. 1965, pp. 43–46. Salle, David, How to See: Looking, Talking, and Thinking about Art (New York: Norton, 2016). Self, Will, ‘A Point of View: Has the World Become Too Visual’, BBC, 27 Feb 2015. Sjöman, Vilgot, Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (Swedish television, 1963). Smith, Paul., ed., The Historian and the Film (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976). Truffaut, François, and Helen Scott, Hitchcock (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984). Idem, Letters, Gilbert Adair, trans. (London: Faber and Faber, 1989). Vidor, King, ‘New Ideas in the Audible Films’, The New York Times, 15 Dec. 1929. Wilde, Oscar, The Critic as Artist (Vancouver: Bookmachine Editions, 2012). Young, Barbara, The Persona of Ingmar Bergman: Conquering Demons through Film (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015).


The New and the Old in the Art of Cinema Abstract Alberti initiated the task of articulating goals for narrative visual art, thereby rebalancing the traditional Christian emphasis on word over image. When the choice wasn’t made for them by a patron, Renaissance artists faced dilemmas about whether to appeal to a broader public (the faithful) or a more narrow one (collectors, humanists, and emerging connoisseurs). Film faced similar challenges and struggled to define its cultural place: art versus business, America versus Old World, capitalism versus Soviet communism. Hollywood specialized in romantic themes, often treated like fairy tales, though at other times addressing tensions of class and gender. Films were also used to present a version of war suitable for cultural memory, variously heroic or pacifist. Keywords: Chaplin, Gance, istoria, realism, Varda, Vigo

Probably I identify with the Renaissance artist who takes a commission from the pope or the prince and if he fails to deliver will be sent to prison or worse.1

Thinking involves images, words, or numbers. Words can be heard, unheard, or vaguely heard, in a language one knows, one knows somewhat, or not at all. Images can be static, moving, or suggestive of movement; at a realistic or an artificial rate; backward or forward; in some range of colors or tonalities; large or small; flat or three-dimensional; virtual or material. Numbers we shall largely relinquish to the realm of mathematicians and musicians, remembering all the while that, not for nothing, Goethe called architecture 1 Fellini on taking an advance as a way of making sure he makes a film; Muzzarelli, ‘Conversation’, p. 16.

Emison, P., Moving Pictures and Renaissance Art History. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021 doi 10.5117/9789463724036_ch01


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

frozen music, that since Leonardo—and especially since Whistler—painters have appealed to music as an analogous art, and furthermore, that in these digital times some images are essentially numeric. Cinema involves all three: images, words, and music, or put more abstractly, issues of visibility, audibility, and—pervasively—of rhythm. T.S. Eliot praised Chaplin for exactly that: ‘The egregious merit of Chaplin is that he has escaped in his own way from the realism of the cinema and invented a rhythm’.2 To be alive is to process such semantic entities. To be making them also for posterity is the business of authors, artists, and composers, including those of the theater, opera, and ballet. Words and images have competed for priority across the length and breadth of Western art. For many centuries, text held the undisputed primary position: among texts, the pride of place was held by the Vulgate, the translation of the Bible into Latin by St. Jerome (c. 400), long valued in Europe as a monument that could never be displaced, a text whose truth was beyond question—at least until the philology of Renaissance humanists and their successors. The visual arts, especially the figural arts, might never have amounted to anything in the Christian world. Not only was text considered sacred but images were condemned as sacrilegious: ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image [sculptile], or any likeness [similitudinem] of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth’ (Exodus 20, King James version). Icons, when they came into use, were accompanied by palliative theory—namely, the admonition that they were but signs indicating an immaterial object of prayer. Had the Ten Commandments been part of the New Testament rather than the Old, iconoclasm might have ruled. Instead, beginning with catacomb paintings, Christians appropriated parts of the local Greco-Roman artistic tradition. The two major episodes of iconoclasm—in Byzantium in the eighth century with a recurrence in the ninth, and then episodically during the Reformation—rank as isolated, though significant, incidents within a vast tradition of circumspect respect for images. The introduction of frivolous imagery, initially in remote architectural decorations or in the margins of manuscripts, introduced a second source of tension: images might either command too much respect or elicit too little. An early instance of a successful, frivolous work of art is the mock book that the Limbourg brothers gave to the Duc de Berry as a New Year’s present in 1411. This ancestor of a Rachel 2 Quoted in Seldes, Seven, 1957, p. 41. He also quotes John S. Sargent, who said of Chaplin, ‘He does things, and you’re lucky if you see them’, idem, p. 35. In the 20th century, ‘a work of art is primarily a vision expressed through rhythm’, Jolas, ‘Revolution’, p. 86.

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Whitehead looked like an illuminated manuscript, but the joke was on the Duke, when he discovered it was a solid object and could not be opened. In this novel case, the work provoked laughter—a most unusual reaction to a work of art at this time—even as it reaffirmed the basic paradigm by which images were mistrusted as cleverly alluring in their deceitfulness. Widespread illiteracy hampered a culture based on a book, and pictures importantly came to the rescue. Wall paintings, even if crude, aided the causes of conversion and conviction; their images of Christ the Shepherd, the Last Supper, and of orans figures (hands raised in prayer) offered comfort in a world full of barely comprehended threats. Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540–604) called painted images the books of the illiterate,3 and it was as such that narrative images were accepted by the Western Church, while the Eastern Church remained more centered on the icon. Even when physically separate from text, religious images served as illustration, derivative from a text and subordinate to it. Since images were deemed to have been understood when identified with a standard text, viewers were conditioned never to find pictures subversive, at least in a culture devoid of subversive texts. The shift in imagemaking away from the task of signaling text was therefore essential to the development of any anti-establishment visual art, as was also the development of the category of inexpensive yet ambitious art. Commissioned subversive art has always been a sparsely populated category, not surprisingly. Both phenomena—imagery not directly dependent on text and inexpensive yet ambitious art—came into play during the Renaissance, surged again during the Enlightenment (by which time subversive texts were a standard phenomenon), and then flourished during the development of cinema (inexpensive for the consumer, that is). 4 Centuries after Gregory the Great, the Franciscans and the Dominicans renewed his precept, converting the naves of churches and the walls and vaults of chapels into low-cost, large-scale narrative environments delivering religious content to a population unable to read the Vulgate.5 3 Pullman, ‘Comics’, ‘But what that pronouncement [Gregory the Great’s] did was to set up a hierarchy of esteem, so to speak: if you were clever you had words; if you’re not very clever you have pictures.’ 4 In 1939, Henry Miller looked back on the history of cinema and exclaimed with some exasperation, ‘the greatest films were produced at little expense!’, Talbot, ed., Anthology, p. 376. 5 For a broader view of the prehistory of cinema, not limited to Western examples, see Azéma, Préhistoire, which focuses on the ‘cinematic’ qualities of cave paintings, but also extends, e.g., to the first modern comic strip, Rudolphe Töpffer’s ‘L’histoire de Monsieur Jabot’ (1831), as well as to the photography of Eadweard Muybridge.


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These pictures and their immediate descendants helped to form western European culture during a particularly crucial period, one in which a bookish middle-class intelligentsia developed, originally in Florence but elsewhere soon after. By the end of the fifteenth century, printed, vernacular Bibles were available in Italy. By 1522, Luther’s New Testament was available in German, the complete Bible in 1534. At last, many artists could read the Bible, among other printed texts. Even as pictorial style became not only more naturalistic overall, but more proficient and varied, the content of art began to draw on the accumulated literary imagination of the Western world, with a bias toward what was available in the vernacular or otherwise already integrated into the general culture from Latin and Greek literature. It was a pregnant era for the visual arts, one with consequences for centuries to come. With their invention in the 1890s, moving pictures remotely reprised the startlingly lifelike effects that had amazed ancient viewers, as when Zeuxis tried to draw back the curtain Parrhasius had painted6. At the same time, they also replicated the phenomenon described so well by Erich Auerbach in the history of literature, whereby a lower, more realistic style was valued for its accessibility as well as for its traction in the mire of our messy lives.7 Without getting overly Hegelian, we can see cinema even from its beginning as achieving a sort of synthesis between, or at least a coming together of, the astonishing and the empathetic—as Renaissance artists had accomplished with the biblical and the Roman; for example, when shepherds approached the Christ Child housed within a magnificent ancient ruin or when the Virgin Mary took on the aspect of an ancient goddess. The key was that the work should succeed in being persuasively like life—whether by being idealized and lofty, or earthy and amusing, or some hybrid. When Leonardo’s Last Supper was engraved, a small dog was added in the lower right corner (c. 1500; another version has a cat), bringing the lofty—the sacramental—down to an accessible level; when Buñuel filmed Viridiana (1961), he had his rapacious peasants mimic for a moment Leonardo’s Last Supper, thereby momentarily supplanting their irreverence with parody. Unexpectedly, the low flashes 6 L’Herbier, Tête, p. 304, found in 1917 that the Americans used film artistically to reproduce life, but life devoid of art; the Italians lived artistically and had beautiful faces, yet their films lacked art; his aim was for French f ilm to unite the best of both worlds, France being ‘pays d’artistes’. 7 ‘Mimesis […] the birth of a spiritual movement in the depths of the common people, from within the everyday occurrences of contemporary life’, Auerbach, Mimesis, p. 43. Auerbach is cited by Kracauer, Theory, pp. 304, 310, in his explanation of the redemptive quality of f ilm; Kracauer discussed film with Panofsky; Michaud, Warburg, Appendix II.

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high. Marcel Carné’s Le jour se lève (1939) draws on ancient tragedy, giving us a working-class hero, played by Jean Gabin, in place of the usual noble one, and substituting love intrigues for history-making conflicts.8 A poor, good, and capable man, caught up in a web of circumstance, is lamentably destroyed. A choir-like group of witnesses gathers in the square below. The same basic scenario applies to the Montgomery Clift character in A Place in the Sun (1951). Although less sympathetic and less blameless than Gabin’s character, nevertheless a poor youth is destroyed by the whim of fortune.9 The spectacle of a person who seems bound for happiness being brought down is common to both French and American films, even if what the observers feel does not rise to catharsis.10 David Lean’s Oliver Twist (1948), told in a style that emphasizes the high moral significance of the tale, yields a happier outcome, while featuring low-life types, criminals, and the poor.11 When Sergei Eisenstein—himself a master of casting the proletariat in heroic roles—wanted to argue for the importance of Dickens to cinema, to D.W. Griffith in particular, he suggested that the parallel action in Oliver Twist, the novel, anticipated montage effects.12 He also praised the startlingly realistic and highly memorable portrayal of characters in both Dickens and 8 The music was by Jaubert. That the film was described in 1938 as like Greek tragedy, see Lagny, ‘Gaze’, n. 15; Turim, ‘Psychoanalytical’ pp. 63–77, analyzes both the similarities with Le Crime de Monsieur Lange (1936), also written by Prévert, and the difficulty the film had upon release due to the deteriorating political situation, the film owing some of its postwar resuscitation to Bazin. It was not released in the United States until 1964. It was suppressed in Dec. 1939 in France, and in 1946, RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) bought the rights to it and destroyed as many prints as possible to enhance the market for their derivative film, The Long Night (1947); Turk, Child, 1989, p. 175. 9 In Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel, An American Tragedy, on which the film was based, the character is even less sympathetic, though still not fully guilty of murder. Josef von Sternberg’s An American Tragedy (1931) is referred to in the Marx Brothers’s Horse Feathers (1932): ‘You know, this is the first time I’ve been out in a canoe since I saw The [sic] American Tragedy’ (though the ‘accident’ as the perpetrator, Clyde, calls it, happens in a rowboat). 10 Eisenstein worked on a scenario for a film of Dreiser’s novel in 1930, for David O. Selznick, who found it ‘the most moving script I have ever read’, but not good as entertainment. It would be ‘vanity’ to pursue the project ( See Robbe-Grillet, ‘Nature, Humanism, Tragedy’, Novel, pp. 49–75, writing in 1958, who disavows tragedy as belonging to the past; Seldes, Great, p. 36, opined in 1950 that ‘the background against which tragedy was written in the past does not exist here’; Lawrence Alloway (sometimes credited with introducing the term ‘Pop Art’), Violent, pp. 66–71, analyzes film as post-Aristotelian in large part, because its increasingly unrestrained violence is often endorsed rather than renounced. 11 That it was accused of anti-Semitism by American censors and much cut, so that the director believed the film had thereby been made into an anti-Semitic one, see Geduld, Film Makers, pp. 284–285, and Seldes, Great, pp. 100–101. It was not released in the United States until 1951. 12 Eisenstein, ‘Dickens’ (1944), pp. 195–255.


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D.W. Griffith. Cinema was, for many of its admirers, an art both endowed with artlessness and deeply attached to literature—as had been the art of the Renaissance. Facts are a very inferior form of fiction.13

Early in the Renaissance, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472)—humanist, functionary at the Papal court, enthusiastic art theorist, highly innovative architect, practicing sculptor and painter—challenged artists to join forces with the project of literature by devising narratives, what he called istorie, and later centuries developed under the esteemed genre of history painting: pictures of human actions (factual, fictional, or legendary) that might serve to inspire. As Horace had said of poetry (delectare et docere), so Alberti said of painting, that it should both please and also convey worthwhile ideas—indeed, it ought to please in order better to convey those worthwhile ideas. The icon had presented saints and even God himself for the purpose of exciting reverence; the istoria displayed human action as a stimulus to virtue, which increasingly encompassed virtù (i.e., might) within the context of the active life, now viewed competitively with the contemplative (i.e., monastic) life. Even as he called for a new and expansive pictorial art, Alberti avowed that merely the verbal description of the subject of a painting sufficed. Visualization enhanced the pleasure, yet the signif icance of the work remained essentially verbal. He cited a lost painting called the Calumny: Apelles’ allegorical self-defense against charges of treason at the court of Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.) as described by the Greek author, Lucian. Alberti asked, rhetorically, ‘If this historia seizes the imagination when described in words, how much beauty and pleasure do you think it presented in the actual painting by that excellent artist?’14 Even as he expounded a revolutionary new importance for painting, Alberti continued to anchor himself on the engrained belief that language had priority. Alberti was a professional man of letters, an amateur artist, and somewhere in 13 Woolf, ‘How Should One Read a Book?’, in Second Common (1932), p. 240. 14 Alberti, On Painting [1435], p. 97. Alberti is often characterized in terms of the metaphor of painting as a window onto reality, which then dominates Western painting until Cubism and its acknowledgment of the artificiality of the painted surface. In my view, this theory exaggerates the importance of linear perspective construction (which, like literary and psychoanalytic theory today, lends intellectual respectability to the efforts of artists and helps nonartists respond to visual objects), renders Renaissance artists more naïve than their works show them to have been, and furthermore discounts the very fruitful rivalry of image and word.

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between as an architect; Leonardo, who led a bolder challenge to the primacy of text, had read Alberti, doubtless in the Italian version. He fully adopted the goal of an expressive—or even thrilling or mysterious—visual art. Traditionally, not only did the immaterial soul take priority over the visible, but so did language, or what the Gospel according to John had rarefied as logos, ‘the Word’, Verbum. Man might be made in the image of God, but the Word was God. The place of the visual arts, of objects made under contract, essentially as church furnishings, had long been restricted in such a world, a world dedicated to the mystery of the Eucharist, a world famously celebrated in Raphael’s Disputa (c. 1509), a fresco that depicts the great theologians of various centuries gathering around an altar on which stands a monstrance. Those eloquently gesturing figures are shown to be secondary to the mystery at the center of the image, which extends vertically up the central axis to the Godhead. In one of the great ironies of history, the Reformation, which had itself been made possible in large part by the increase both in the literacy and the literateness that the printed book had supported, developed a whiplash effect by which certain radical elements called for the abolition of all religious imagery as a return to the strictures of the Second Commandment. Without the help of images, the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of those same iconoclasts would barely have known the rudiments of their own religion—but this was easily forgotten. Visual storytelling existed long before Alberti. Subsequently, many artists composed stories without a thought for Alberti. Yet Alberti was the first to intimate at the level of the patron class (humanists belonged there by the prestige of their trained intellects even if many of them were not rich enough to commission works) that images should be thought of as intellectually comparable to texts. Despite associating art and virtue, Alberti himself was the proud author of a literary forgery, a dialogue he presented to the world as a rediscovered work by the Greek author Lucian. He made no profit from his deception; the point (as with Fritz Kreisler’s musical compositions in the 20th century, or Michelangelo’s drawn and sculpted forgeries at the beginning of his career, or Goltzius’s mock Dürer) was to acknowledge the work as his own once it had been accepted as that which it was only imitating. He would thereby prove his own creative ability (virtù). Still, that bit of chicanery might encourage us to read his high-minded advice in the beginning of Book III of On Painting with a touch of skepticism: the artist, he allows, ought to foster a reputation for being a good man (both a good man and learned in the liberal arts; ‘in


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primis esse virum et bonum et doctum bonarum artium’),15 so that the patron will esteem and trust him. In Alberti’s view, forgery was no obstacle to goodness, moral or artistic; on the contrary, it proved his worth by showing that his style matched that of the esteemed ancients. That was the goal, to match the ancients (not until the sixteenth century did writers begin to suppose that artists might surpass the Romans and Greeks). Instilling belief in the value of the thing made, not only by reference to some divine truth but potentially qua fiction, was the new project.16 The category of poesia, variant on the historia, enlarged the allowance for fiction to mix with truth. Although he didn’t use the word poesia, Alberti had the basic idea; he included mythological and allegorical subjects as comparable to historical ones. Both poesia and historia displayed characters arranged in co-ordinated movement made intelligible by posture, gesture, clothing, attributes, setting, and facial expression. The viewer was supposed to believe them because they seemed to be present, living beings. The role of the viewer as a person solicited rather than awed began, coeval with the rise of fiction. It went without saying that the viewer ought to respect an icon, but respect for such narrative inventions instead had to be earned. Making art became competitive, as befitted the early capitalistic culture to which it belonged. And often, to be competitive, the image became alluring—or what Vasari would call soft and sensuous (morbido, dolce). Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (c. 1510) provides an early and blatant example of a general trend toward cultivating the viewer, as in film the type of the unconventional woman, the bold, and often sexually liberated woman, would become a type; for example, Clara Bow with her ‘it’ in the 1920s,17 or Mame in the 1950s. It has been suggested that economic pressure on the film industry encouraged a taste for more licentious or more extreme storytelling from the late 1960s onward, although long before that, Ben Hecht commented on the ‘Peeping Tom complex’ audiences brought to the movies: ‘Our American preference for skyscrapers over cathedrals is possibly reflected in our excitement over a VistaVision breast, three feet in diameter’.18 15 Alberti, On Painting, pp. 94–95, beginning of Book III. 16 See Emison, ‘Did the Early Moderns Believe Their Images’, Res, 75/76 (Spring/Autumn, 2021), forthcoming. 17 For interviews with young people on the effect of movies in general and Clara Bow in particular on dating behaviors, see Talbot, Entertainer, pp. 103–106. See also extensive interviews with high school and college students about how they responded to movies: Blumer, Conduct. He includes a statement from a convict about his fascination even as a ‘tot’ with ‘crook pictures’, p. 29. And for more recent interviews with British members of the public about their moviegoing during the 1930s, see Kuhn, Magic, with much evidence about enthusiasm for Fred Astaire. 18 Lewis, American Film, p. 272; Hecht, Charlie, p. 186. In 1931, Léger commented on how sexualized film was, with its 1.5 meter-wide mouths in close-up kissing; L’Herbier, Intelligence,

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Twentieth-century cinema, like Renaissance painting and printmaking, at its best expanded the range of human thought and feeling beyond what texts could readily convey. As Éric Rohmer wrote, It [cinema] does not say things differently but says different things. It has a unique beauty that is neither more nor less comparable to that of a painting or a sheet of music than a Bach fugue is comparable to a painting by Velasquez.19

One goal was to make the experience of a story communal, shared by a broad audience whose response was dynamic with respect to one another as well as to the plot. Fritz Lang said in 1960 that his first involvement with film was in 1904, at age fourteen, during a showing of The Great Train Robbery at which he and other audience members stamped their feet to make the sound, as the figures on the screen used a log to try to knock down a door.20 Together with theater, film recovered, admittedly at a considerable remove, something of what had been lost when Homer’s poetry was set down rather than sung: it re-established the role of the audience. In Men Are Not Gods (1936), scenes of which were filmed in the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square (London) just before it was demolished, the actor hails the secretary who admires him as ‘the representative of the great public, the symbol of the unreserved seat, the gallery with its capacity for enthusiasm’. This interest in the unspoiled taste of the mass audience was the silent partner to high art’s admiration of African masks. Both implied a degree of doubt about cultural sophistication. Walter Benjamin invoked film when he wanted to explain the ‘tremendous shattering of tradition’ that was entailed in the making of an art for a relatively classless society, an art of closeness rather than of distance, though also an art to which the concept of authenticity was alien.21 He p. 338. In 1929, Vigo lamented ‘those two pairs of lips that take three metres of film to come together and almost that long to come unstuck’, ‘Towards a Social Cinema’, Complete, p. 13. The Surrealist poet Jacques Baron counted as the revelations of cinema: ‘the beauty of women’s faces and bodies which appeared greatly enlarged upon the screen, and a kind of humour that was totally without restrictions of any kind’, Ades, Dada, p. 226. 19 Rohmer, Beauty, p. 73 (1961); see also p. 113. 20 Interview by Erwin Leiser, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Criterion Collection DVD. 21 Benjamin, ‘Work of Art’, p. 221; cf. Emison, `Aura’. Josef von Sternberg, ‘The World of Josef von Sternberg’, BBC, 1967 (on Criterion Collection DVD, The Scarlet Empress, 1934), ‘I don’t value authenticity […] authenticity has no existence’. For an attempt to situate Tati into this theory of Benjamin, see Ockman, ‘Distraction’, pp. 170–195. Braudy, World, p. 26, in 1976 comments on a dialectic between art and artifice that dates back to the Renaissance: ‘theater and theatricality


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perhaps underestimated the length of the history of the inauthentic. We might recall what Paul Veyne wrote of myth: ‘These legendary worlds were accepted as true in the sense that they were not doubted, but they were not accepted the way that everyday reality is’.22 There are wonderful thoughts in his eyes.23

The change Alberti envisioned might have proved relatively moderate: simply that more kinds of texts, literary and historical texts as well as religious ones, could yield eloquent pictures. Masaccio’s Tribute Money (c. 1427) had already been painted in Santa Maria del Carmine and seeing it surely spurred Alberti in his writing. Although its subject matter was biblical, both the actual topic and the approach were new to visual art, and standing in the Brancacci Chapel must have helped Alberti to imagine what painting might become. For us, the Tribute Money’s broad pictorial field anticipates a wide cinema screen, as does its visual sensibility: individually striking figures arrayed coherently yet casually within an expansive space. It even implies sequence; Peter appears in three different narrative subepisodes within a single field. Seemingly, and quite forgivably, Alberti failed to foresee what actually came to pass—namely, that painters would sometimes work themselves free of texts altogether, usually by developing norms of pictorial excellence other than expressivity achieved via dramatic action. Alberti can be forgiven for his limited powers of prognostication: the scales did not decisively tip against coherent narrative pictorial content for a long time. What Giorgione and Altdorfer began working on in the early sixteenth century was still the project of Paul Sérusier, disciple of Paul Gauguin, in the nineteenth and Kandinsky in the 20th—namely, a picture in which emotively powerful color and composition were primary, rather than those clear and distinct ideas such as Descartes (1596–1650) and other rationalists, not to mention academicians, admired. As far back as Aristotle, the theory of narrative art had emphasized the audience’s moment of recognition, the ‘click’ when the world came into focus and listeners suddenly understood both what had happened in the past and what was happening in the present; are specific examples of the general Renaissance conflict between art and artifice, a conflict actually between Siamese twins, each of whom need the other for self-definition and life’. 22 Veyne, Believe, p. 17. Cf. idem, Veyne’s description of mythology as ‘basically nothing but a very popular literary genre, a vast realm of literature, mainly oral in character’. 23 The artist Lukey, in Odd Man Out (1947), of Johnny. The response by Tober is, ‘Take care, you might find something you don’t understand. It might frighten you’.

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in other words, when the experience of art yielded exceptional insight. To give up narrative structure was to create an art more conducive to prolonged rumination than to that click of recognition, an art whose excellence lay as much in indicating the ineffable as in any representation of what was concrete and recognizable, and, normally, nameable. The moment of crisis or of recognition, functioning as the raison d’être of aesthetic experience, the pivotal moment, allowed the visual artist to pick a narrative focus, such as Laocoön in his moment of direst resistance though on the verge of despair, or Christ announcing his betrayal at the Last Supper, or Liberty leading the People to the top of the barricade. These examples all subscribe to the idea that a single climactic moment can encapsulate an entire narrative arc. What cinema permits instead is the temporal succession of images, a naturalistic effect, since it is how we experience the world. Arguably, we experience the world as visual more basically than through word, so that the opening to the book of John (‘In the beginning was the Word’) had been meant to rearrange our native sense of reality. Alberti urged his readers, patrons and artists both, to recognize that narrative content, naturalistically rendered, offered the most effective route to ‘moving the soul of the spectator’, the new goal of visual art (echoing Horace on poetry) and one honored for centuries afterward. ‘Moving the soul’ implied convincing the spectator both that the image was sufficiently lifelike to be credible, and that the subject effectively conveyed grandeur or elegance or purity—some quality that might distinguish it from the ordinary run of daily life. Renaissance art was primarily meant to change peoples’ state of mind, as medieval art had been meant largely to anchor it. Film, since it transpires over time, was highly suited to the task of changing (or ‘moving’, as Leonardo would say, following Alberti) the mind of the viewer. Many films have a narrative climax; some films include stills, but it was also possible to think of film as a medium whose essence resides in the displacement of one image by another, as fully anti-iconic and inextricable from elapsing time. As Abel Gance put it: ‘Very beautiful films do not need to have beautiful images. They act through a kind of secret emanation which passes between them’.24 Like painting during the fifteenth century, film was greeted as a medium affording new opportunities to whomever could grab them. Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934) was innovative rather than deeply and personally original: the script was imposed on the director by his financial backer, though Vigo wrote the screenplay and there was apparently plenty of improvisation 24 King, Gance, p. 73.


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during the filming, not least in response to weather conditions.25 He used the movie camera to trace the disquiet in characters’ minds and to chart the small infelicities and oddities of daily life, in a kind of evocation of an empathetic Everyman not on a road to heaven or hell but simply on a road (in this case, the Seine). The male lead, Jean, could not be counted as the hero of the piece, nor could Juliette, though she is fully the narrative equal of Jean. We follow them from wedding through first quarrel and reconciliation, or one might say, from the villagers’ small-minded resentment that she had married an outsider to the old salt’s sympathy with the young couple and willingness to help. The story, like the barge itself traveling along the river, is primarily an armature for the imagery, both that which approximates documentary footage and that which involves experimental use of the camera (such as the underwater shots Vigo had become proficient at while making Taris, 1931, about a champion swimmer). The project was to make a picture that integrated sound and movement: self-evidently an important, challenging, and sensitive project. Life is seen as droll and art, too, need never become sentimental nor sententious. There is, however, real political bite to the scene in the office of the barge management, during which a fellow employee is berated as a nobody and fired. Likewise there is real distress in Juliette’s predicament when the barge leaves without her and she must fend for herself. L’Atalante is an ensemble piece, a medley, with Michel Simon in a crucial role that earned him a better credit than that of the barge’s young captain; it is an exploration of medium rather than a vehicle for anyone’s personal virtuosity. In particular, it explores the fluidity of the medium, using the river, the changing feelings of its characters, the fleeting expressions on their faces and their postures (even as they dream or have visions), the squirming kittens, the layout of the barge (alternately claustrophobic and free, compartmentalized and expansive), and the variety in the ages of its small cast. It is as though each actor is a color—no more and no less—alternately harmonizing or clashing on the support that is the riverscape in its changing light and atmospheric conditions.26 Juliette wears dotted fabric, on a dress and on her dressing gown, which ties in visually (though understatedly) with the much-discussed scene that shows her, alternately with Jean, lying in their respective bed as dots of shadow flow over them and suggest their disturbed states of unconsciousness. L’Atalante is dedicated to fluidity, and so—conceptually—a work of abstract art, a mélange of space and time rather than a reification of a text. At the same 25 Jean Cocteau’s Le sang d’un poète (1932) also had a patron, the Vicomte de Noailles. 26 Chion, Sound, p. 59 cites Henri Langlois’s description of L’Atalante as like stained glass.

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time, its photography makes it a record of a real time and place, convincing the viewer of its basic authenticity—or its plausibility, as Aristotle would have said. Since the circumstances of its release meant that the film was little known until after the War, or at the earliest 1940, it would always have been seen as a work conveying a sense of that recent yet vanished past.27 L’Atalante is moving and memorable in part because the director’s presence is unobtrusive. He is the new Masaccio, making imagery that seems real, that makes us think about elapsing time and changing emotions, and whose effect depends upon an observant viewer. When humanists introduced artists to Horace’s phrase, ‘ut pictura poësis’, they granted to painters the power associated with the songs of poets, all the way back to the blind Homer, whose epics described bards who made heroes weep. Horace’s comparison with poetry promised license—potentially freedom even from the rules of nature. Much could be harvested from that short phrase. Two generations earlier, Giovanni Bellini had similarly told Isabella d’Este that he liked to follow his own inclination and so could not paint according to her command (he was limiting the whims of a patron as much as he was asserting the prerogative of the artist). As early as the midfifteenth century, Benozzo Gozzoli—not the most innovative of artists—had noted Horace’s adage in his sketchbook. It was thus ironically by a text, an ancient text—a school text no less—that artists were freed from following Scripture, to wander as they willed. Artists might affect a spectator’s state of mind by their choice of text, or by their visual interpretation of that text, or by creating an image independent of text. What was requisite was that they affect the viewer. By the time Giorgio Vasari wrote his Vite (1550), the notion of artistic freedom, exemplified in Michelangelo, had become complicated, problematic, rich, and less tied to the example of literature: according to Vasari, Michelangelo had invented a license that exceeded the bounds of rule and yet nevertheless was not in opposition to rule and order (‘una licenzia, che, non essendo di regola, fusse ordinata nella regola e potesse stare senza fare confusione o guastare l’ordine’).28 Moviemakers who considered moviemaking to be an art, as opposed to those who concentrated on profit, shared the goal of moving the soul of 27 Two films from the 1940s, Antonioni’s short Gente del Po (1947) and Ealing Studio’s Painted Boats, or The Girl of the Canal (1945), treat similar material in a documentary or semidocumentary manner. 28 Vasari and Bettarini, Vite, V, p. 5, in both editions (‘a license that, not being by rule, was in alignment with rule and was able to exist without making confusion or breaking orderliness’).


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the viewer. The actor Paul Muni, who appeared as Émile Zola and as Louis Pasteur, not to mention as a fugitive from a chain gang, wrote in 1937, By re-creating the lives of characters which had been potent social forces in their own time, perhaps the actor can reach people and influence them so that they will go forth with a new strength and a new vision in combating the evils of our own society.29

Julien Duvivier told The New York Times in 1942, ‘I believe that a motion picture should entertain, of course. But it should also have a theme and it should have meaning. In short, a film should have something to make people think’.30 He seems to imply something quite like what Alberti and Leonardo aimed for: a work of art that adheres to a whole intellectual world, that functions as a piece in the great puzzle of human thought. As Duvivier wanted viewers to think about films, Alberti likewise wanted people to think about paintings; rather than merely to admire them, he wanted people to focus on the importance of their textual basis, since for him, thinking was centered in language. ‘Didactic’ (in Horace’s language, docere, to teach) in this sense might connote thought-provoking—like Apelles’ Calumny—rather than meaning ideologically aligned. Even the impresario S.L. Rothapfel (Roxy) wanted ambitious, rather than merely money-making, films: All you hear about these days [1914] is the everlasting cry of theatre managers that they are looking for ‘what the people want’. That idea is fundamentally and disastrously wrong. The people themselves don’t know what they want. They want to be entertained, that’s all. Don’t ‘give the people what they want’—give ‘em something better.31

In 1919, Waldo Frank wrote of Chaplin’s films, of Shoulder Arms (1918) in particular, ‘there is social criticism in his antics: and of a sort far deeper than the multitudes who laugh may know’.32 Amédée Ozenfant blamed the cinema proprietors for not showing ‘good films’: ‘the proletariat, who can 29 Actors, p. 530. 30 ‘Gentleman from France, Julien Duvivier, Director of Tales of Manhattan, Revives the Episode Film’, 6 Sept. 1942. 31 Quoted by Hall, Seats, p. 37. 32 Frank, America, p. 215. Seldes, Seven, reports [1924] that Chaplin is better appreciated in Paris or Berlin than in New York, where ‘you have to go to squalid streets and disreputable neighborhoods if you want to see Chaplin regularly’, p. 21. In 1924, in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock (filmed by Hitchcock, 1930), Act II, the disreputable Boyle opines that ‘real Dublin

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no longer exist without the screen, would refine their taste as the result of seeing them, and ask for more’. The best works of art could be appreciated by everyone, he believed: ‘are not the greatest works of art those in which every man who is sane of mind and body finds manna for the soul regardless of his cultural level?’33 Early cinema, with the glorious freedom of a medium unfettered by tradition (like early prints), tested out many possible paths: the surreal, the stereotypical, the pretentious, the prosaic, the sincere, the magical, and the serendipitous, to name a few. Aldous Huxley, writing about films in 1925 and analyzing how film’s potential differed from literature’s, cited how films might be ‘super-realistic or dream-like in their fantasy’.34 An early stop-motion animation, a short by the Polish-Lithuanian émigré resident in Paris, Wladyslaw Starewiczé, titled Fétiche (The Mascot, 1933), fits both parts of that description. It includes scenes of the gutters of urban life along with scenes that connect back through the centuries to images of witches’ sabbaths. It uses intricate means to tell a child’s tale, populated by a range of characters for which the word ‘vivid’ is utterly inadequate. They are nearly hallucinatory. The story is basic; the visualization is rich, both surreal and Gothic, with a touch of slapstick.35 Cinema required a wide public; it sometimes aspired to a cultured public; and it often attempted, as Renaissance visual art unselfconsciously had, to be ubiquitous without always having to commit to being high art. In King Vidor’s Show People (1928), a comic actor responds to the aspiring starlet’s envy of a dramatic John Gilbert film—one directed by Vidor himself. She sighs, ‘That’s real art’, to which he retorts, ‘make ’em laugh and you make ’em happy!’ Abel Gance himself had argued that the artistry in film had little to do with the subject matter, and everything to do with the quality of the proffered eye: ‘style constitutes […] the whole basis of cinema’s value. The event in itself counts for nothing. The way it’s observed is all that matters. people […] know more about Charlie Chaplin an’ Tommie Mix than they do about SS. Peter an’ Paul!’. 33 Ozenfant, ‘Serial Art’, trans. P. Shand, in Evans, Object (1937), pp. 49–51. 34 Huxley, ‘Where are the Movies Moving?’ Essays, I, p. 175. Felix the Cat is his favorite, and he admires the silence and the black and whiteness. Adler, Prudence, p. 570, proclaimed that ‘the motion picture can be at once more realistic and more fantastic that other types of narration, even though it cannot be as realistic as the stage or as fantastic as the novel’. He cites in support Mickey Mouse, Chaplin, Battleship Potemkin (1925), The Deserter (1933), Tabu (1931), Riefenstahl’s The Blue Light (1932), Fury (1936), The Scoundrel (1935), and The Informer (1935). 35 Cf. the work of George Pal, who emigrated from Hungary to Hollywood in 1939. His wooden puppets for stop-motion animation were called Puppetoons, and he started to use Technicolor by 1938.


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And hasn’t that always been the case in all the arts?’36 Gance’s ponderous epic effort, Napoléon (1927), the correlate we might say to Petrarch’s failed Latin epic Africa, was daring in its camerawork and heroic in its scale and ambition, if cursed by having been conceived as a silent film just as the silent era was ending.37 But despite Gance’s disclaimer about subject matter, he failed to acknowledge modernism’s rejection of what Vidor’s character called ‘real art’. The modernists’ insight that rigor and seriousness did not guarantee greater art had been anticipated during the Renaissance; for instance, when it was acknowledged that a mere line sufficed to demonstrate art (and by implication might show more artistry than an elaborate altarpiece),38 an insight that depended upon redefining the raison d’être of art from ideological to intellectual. There will never be any real money in those galloping tintypes and certainly no one can expect them to develop into anything which could, by the wildest stretch of imagination, be called art.39

Cinema provided a forum in which culture was shared across social class, as had been true to some extent of the Paris Salon in the late nineteenth century, particularly on the days when it was open to the general public, providing an occasion for lively debates about matters of taste and national identity. The art of the early Florentine Renaissance, commissioned as it often was by civic guilds, funded by the fruits of early capitalism, similarly addressed a broad public. Practitioners earned fame, riches, and the palaces they coveted, both in the sixteenth-century Renaissance and in Hollywood: Raphael, for example, lived in a mansion designed by Bramante near the Vatican; Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford famously had Pickfair in Beverly Hills. Their houses attracted attention in part because the press awarded actors an inordinate amount of attention, as Vasari and Pietro Aretino had made publicity for artists in the sixteenth century. 40 As memorably exclaimed 36 In 1929, King, Gance, p. 63. Cf. p. 60: ‘he must at all costs possess the eye of a painter, of a sculptor, and the skill of a photographer always on the look-out for new effects’ (1917). 37 Like von Stroheim’s Greed, it was intended originally to be at least nine hours long. In 1927, he told his viewers he was aiming for a cinema that would avoid the faults of childishness on the one hand or lack of soul on the other; Gance, Napoléon, p. xxi. 38 Castiglione, Cortegiano, Libro I, ‘una linea sola non stentata […]’. 39 William de Mille to David Belasco, in Pickford, Sunshine, p. 146, c. 1912. 40 If the star system of Hollywood echoed (and multiplied) the celebrity of Michelangelo and Bernini, Renaissance condottieri anticipated the sport stars of the 20th century.

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by the loud peroxide blonde Lina Lamont, a silent screen star trying to make the transition to talkies in Singin’ in the Rain (1952): ‘“People”, I’m not “people”! I’m a shimmering star in the cinema firmament’. Several prominent figures in the making of Renaissance art were born as illegitimate members of families of status (Alberti, Leonardo), and some actors comparably had less-than-sterling social credentials, yet became prominent and respected (e.g., the illegitimate Alec Guinness; Charlie Chaplin grew up without responsible parenting and with very little education). But the phenomenon had two faces. In Busman’s Honeymoon (1937) by Dorothy Sayers, the housekeeper Mrs. Ruddle’s greeting: ‘H’mph! […] film-actors, by the look of yer. And-’ (with a withering glance at Harriet’s furs) ‘no better than you should be, I’ll be bound’— this addressed to none other than Harriet and Peter Wimsey, demonstrates how louche actors were often thought to be.41 Acting, like being a Renaissance artist, was eccentric enough a calling to provide a haven for homosexuals during a time in which such behavior was illegal. The extraordinary social mobility which has often characterized people in the arts since the Renaissance has proved a phenomenon quite useful both to sparking ambition and to selling tickets: artists’ lives were the stuff of self-made success stories, even as their cinematic vehicles often told of poor people rescued and made comfortable, or even elevated to riches. When Adele Astaire married into the British aristocracy, or Grace Kelly became a princess in Monaco, 42 the phenomenon was, at a distant remove, not unlike Raphael’s ambition to marry the niece of a cardinal. The problem of cinema’s market had no neat solution: one needed enough market success to matter and to stay afloat, without necessarily going the way of Hollywood and seeking to maximize profit. Even for those making films in Europe, the American market affected their prospects. None other than Abel Gance was advised: Keep in mind the American market […] which means you must not make your pictures too serious and convey them in as light a vain [sic] as possible, since the American theatre-going public, and I believe it will be universal in time, prefer to take their entertainment humorously rather than seriously. 43 41 Sayers, A Love Story with Detective Interruptions, 1937, p. 38. Cf. the maid’s comment in Night Must Fall (1937), describing the platinum blonde missing woman, ‘a regular red hot momma’; when asked what that means, she replies to her elderly mistress, ‘Don’t you ever go to the pictures?’. 42 Cf. Audrey Hepburn and Sarah Churchill for the reverse, the well-born person became an actor, as Baldassare d’Este became a painter. 43 Letter to Gance in 1924 from Albert Banzhaf; King, Gance, p. 226, n. 57.


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Filmmakers needed a broad but also a discerning public, and the combination was not easily achieved. The critic André Bazin would declare that, ‘No art, not even a popular one, can do without an elite’,44 a curious comment that might remind us of how Petrarch reported that Giotto’s work was not loved by the many. One can only surmise that his art was too novel; the public of 1300 was not accustomed to looking for something new in art. Rohmer, a follower of Bazin, claimed cinema as a popular art—moreover, the last popular art—but one that might nevertheless achieve moments of real originality. 45 Had Bazin and Rohmer known more about the history of prints, they might have cited fifteenth- and sixteenth-century printmaking as impacted by the taste of the general public and nevertheless able to foster important and innovative ideas. 46 Filmmaking, like prints, grew symbiotically with the development of a critical elite distinct from the hierarchies of political and economic power. Whereas printmaking relied on the theory by which disegno was more important than mere grandeur, for film there developed the criterion of the ‘cinematic’ or, sometimes, the ‘filmic’. The cinematic exalted a visual language made by an amalgam of man and machine, 47 a language that described what was local and then distributed it worldwide, a language capable of great subtlety although also sometimes prone to sensationalism. Concerning ‘those things which could not be done with any instrument but the camera, and could appear nowhere if not on the screen’, Gilbert Seldes in 1924 recommended slapstick: ‘everything in slap-stick is cinematographic’.48 The association of f ilm with a lively, or even frenetic, pace was not uncommon: ‘Film is movement. It reflects the modern age of activity and 44 Bazin, Resistance, p. 56. 45 Rohmer, Beauty, pp. 113–114. André Malraux called it the first world art in 1959 at Cannes (‘le premier art mondiale’); 46 Alloway, Violence, p. 31, compares prints and movies, as well as ‘young hero’ and ‘old warrior types’ in Renaissance art and the movies, p. 7. 47 The kinship with Futurism was evident. Jolas thought the Futurists too centered on movement, too little cognizant of rhythm, ‘Revolution’, p. 86. On Pirandello and Futurism, in particular in Si gira!, see Nichols and Bazzoni, Pirandello & Film, pp. 204–205. 48 Seldes, Seven, p. 7. Cf., though Man of the World (1931), in which William Powell is a man of disreputable past, and a bit of a dandy, who seems about to shake it off and start again with the Carole Lombard character who is willing to forgive and forget, only to have his inner voices, in the person of his old worldly flame and his new love, haunt him (visually), so that eventually he decides he cannot reform, and yet he has, which is demonstrated when he tears up the blackmail check. Mary is doomed to being a businessman’s wife in Pittsburgh: a melodrama, in which Powell gets slapped, the most cinematic moment might be the concluding sight of the scraps of torn paper falling into the ocean.

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of constantly stepped up tempo’.49 P.G. Wodehouse opened his novel of 1919, A Damsel in Distress, by observing that in these days of rush and hurry, a novelist works at a disadvantage. He must leap into the middle of his tale with as little delay as he would employ in boarding a moving tramcar. He must get off the mark with the smooth swiftness of a jack-rabbit surprised while lunching. Otherwise, people throw him aside and go out to picture palaces.

By the 1950s, ‘cinematic’ connoted not so much speed as flow. It had become an important adjective of praise, often augmented by words such as ‘purely’ or ‘authentically’; it provided the readiest answer to the pressing quandary of how film might achieve popularity and yet function as an art. It would be true to its medium; it would cultivate a discerning yet sizable following that would be sensitive to the technical properties of the camera and the prevailing conventions of cinematography—as those that followed the art of painting were increasingly enamored of the palpability of paint and insistent upon the flatness of its support (both qualities ill-served by photographic reproduction). Bergman, Rohmer opined in 1958, might seem ‘resolutely provincial’ or old-fashioned, but at least he was capable of thinking ‘in terms of pure cinema right from the start’;50 he communicated effectively through poetic images that exuded meaning independently of the words of the script; his images possessed a kind of ‘fundamental opacity’; he demonstrated a refusal to dramatize; and he built from one scene to another in a kind of musical way in which pacing and volume were carefully judged. That ‘fundamental opacity’ conveys the resistance of the images to translation into language. ‘To film is to insert language into reality’, avowed L’Herbier in describing how he freed himself from the screenplay in Feu Mathias Pascal (1926)51—exploiting the advantage of extensive location shooting to help the process. Bergman’s films demand that the viewer keep an accordion-like succession of images in mind rather than fastening upon one, so that the meaning of the film is as complex as its means, never finding resolution. In Summer Interlude (1951), the dramatic climax (Henrik’s diving accident) 49 Gassner, Twenty, xiv. It should, however, be noted that there are very slow passages in silent film, when appropriate. 50 Rohmer, Beauty, pp. 166–167; cf. Arnheim, Film, 1968, Foreword, ‘How hopelessly artificial looks the puppet play of pretentious mystery-making in the Swedish manner’, unpag. 51 L’Herbier, Tête, pp. 118–121: ‘Filmer c’est donner la parole à la réalité’.


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is separated by fifteen minutes from the visual core of the movie, Marie’s confrontation with the mirror, goaded on by the ballet master. Rather than simply a tragedy in which our sense of foreboding is fulfilled, the f ilm shows us a woman’s reluctant confrontation with the self she has gradually, insensibly, become. The ballet master (who is a bit reminiscent of Father Time in a Tiepolo etching, to her Venus) orchestrates the climax of a day that is not so much fateful as merely grim. Marie’s self-realization is not at all dramatic: it is a matter of seeing, partly in the mind’s eye and partly in the mirror—seeing cumulatively. She is prodded by what she is forced to hear, but the real crux is her own reflected image. Bergman’s films, this one included, are as Rohmer stated, ‘resolutely provincial’, at the same time that they push the medium of film to be as refined and as searing as possible. They are art films—what Bazin would presumably call suitable for an elite—and yet popular too, to a degree. Made by a band of players not unlike the medieval actors portrayed in The Seventh Seal (1957), and distributed (with subtitles) to an international audience, they were never hugely profitable, although they weren’t merely critics’ favorites. Bosley Crowther (that ‘eternal straw man’),52 writing in The New York Times (27 Oct. 1954) about the film soon after its American release, found the American title Illicit Interlude ‘cheap and unpleasant’; he did not bother to look up the Swedish title (Sommarlek, summer interlude or frolic). He was moderately impressed by the film, in which he found ‘many subtle suggestions of feminine nature’. He does not mention the ballet master, that Mephistophelean presence. Werner Wiskari, also writing for The New York Times (20 Dec. 1959), but after the more popular Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) had its American release (December 1957), reported that Bergman lost money at the Swedish box office, interest in religion having waned in Sweden and viewers there wanting only to be entertained: ‘Bergman asks too many awkward questions for the taste of the mass Swedish audience’. His movies are deemed ‘provocative’, even brutal, though admirable for their technical finesse. A minority of critics admittedly find them ‘crude, pretentious, morbid, monotonous, adolescent’. Wiskari’s expectation is that an international audience may be required for Bergman’s f ilms to make money; meanwhile, the managing director of Svensk Filmindustri, Carl Anders Dymling, considered the work worth supporting even if it was not profitable. To be gazing constantly into the mirror of future history fundamentally changes the character of an artistic enterprise. It makes Macbeths of us all, 52 Bordwell, Rhapsodes, p. 1.

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and it can produce a heavy-handed or stale result.53 Renaissance artists, like moviemakers during the early decades, were uninhibited by much thought for their own posterity. Renoir was typical of filmmakers in the early period in that he had no idea how respected La règle du jeu (1939) would eventually be while he was making it—contemporaneous Hollywood movies bombastically declared their immediate and pressing importance in the trailers (‘One of the most dramatic stories ever screened’, claimed—of all things—with regard to 42nd Street, 1933), while the more artful films were made with the expectation of but a brief and barely noticed existence, like a Buddhist sculpture made of butter. In the case of Renoir, the immediate reaction was one of opprobrium; he had to wait until 1959 to be able to think of the film as anything but a terrible failure.54 Although he said of Règle that he turned to Musset, Beaumarchais, Marivaux, and Molière for ideas, it was to learn from them what he called the classical spirit rather than because he expected to be incorporated into that tradition.55 Similarly, we can only imagine that Giotto, who refused to be saluted as ‘maestro’ because he found it pretentious, would never have conceived of the idea of himself as the founder of modern art, as Vasari would cast him 250 years later. That unselfconsciousness, that innocence that Jean Renoir had in common with Giotto, enabled each of them to work freely, unencumbered by the expectations that weighed down Picasso, for example. For a filmmaker setting out in the 1920s, it was all new, ready for pristine imagemaking. Renoir is reported to have said, ‘You have to make a film thinking that you’ll change the course of history. You need that arrogance. But you must also be humble enough to think if you touch two people you’ve done something extraordinary’.56 The humility was the essential pair to the ambition. 53 Calvalcanti, ‘Comedies and Cartoons’, in Davy, Footnotes, p. 80, ‘Unfortunately Chaplin came to realise that he was great’; and also from 1938, Cooke, ‘The Critic in Film History’, idem, p. 259, of Capra, after having his work ‘recognized as “classics”’ was ‘beginning to feel the responsibility’. Cf. Loos, Good-by, p. 73. ‘At that time [the 1920s] London swung without being self-conscious about it, as in the Sixties’. 54 The director’s cut was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1942. An 85-minute print was recovered in 1946, but it was only in 1956 that enough material was gathered to try to reconstruct nearly the original version (106 minutes), shown at the festival in Venice in 1959 and widely in Paris in 1965. 55 Jacques Tati’s now-admired Playtime (1967) examined—comically—the ordinary citizen of Western democracy as a highly manipulated entity. Like Renoir’s Règle, which had critiqued haute-bourgeois society, it was received poorly, so much so that he was bankrupted. He liked to say that the elaborate set was his star, and no more expensive than Sophia Loren; quoted by Jonathan Rosenbaum, ‘The Dance of Playtime’, booklet with Criterion DVD. 56 Tavernier, Voyage.


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Part of the magic of film, when the tinsel aspect wasn’t out of control, was the promise of an art that would suit a democratic people, one whose population increasingly had a least a modicum of leisure and spending money. W.G. Griffith, at the opening of Way Down East (1920), included the inscription ‘A Simple Story for Plain People’, beneath his directing credit. In 1924, he predicted that, in one hundred years, cinema would have been a major factor in eliminating armed conflict all around the world, for ‘the universal language of moving pictures [would have taught] the true meaning of the brotherhood of man’.57 Erik Satie, collaborator with René Clair, explained in 1924 that he didn’t care who his music offended. He declared: ‘There is only one judge I defer to: the public. It will recognize these [bawdy] themes and not be in the least shocked by them’.58 He had in mind a new public, drawn from those not already trained to staidness, whose taste might be developed in ways unencumbered by tired norms. Moholy-Nagy in 1934 wrote of the historical uniqueness of the situation in which ‘even the most primitive member of an audience is in a position to exercise criticism of the film’.59 Marcel L’Herbier aligned l’Art with the right, with privilege, and le cinématographe with the left, with the wider public.60 Octave, the character played by Jean Renoir in La règle du jeu (1939), fervently explains to Christine on the bridge how he had hoped when younger to achieve ‘le contact avec le public’. An admirer of Chaplin writing in 1919 emphasized the dependence of the art on the capacities of its public: Charlie Chaplin meets America on the one level where it can be sincere: speaks to America in terms which it best understands, since they are essentially its own. Charlie Chaplin is therefore our most significant and 57 Griff ith, ‘The Movies 100 Years from Now’, in Geduld, Film Makers, p. 49, from Colliers, May 3, 1924. Cf. Faure’s description of what movies would accomplish in the future, written in 1922, quoted in L’Herbier, Intelligence, pp. 276–278, which includes comparisons with Rubens, Goya, and Michelangelo. Grieveson, Wealth, studies the Americanization of cultural capital through film in the wake of the decline of the British Empire, and implicitly in parallel with Russian film of the Revolution. Somehow, the involvement of Ford Motor Company (Chapter 6) in sponsoring Free Cinema and in supporting the work of Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson is not mentioned. For the Free Cinema manifestos, see MacKenzie, Manifestos, pp. 149–152. 58 He disdained in particular the ‘reactionary “sourpusses” [têtes de veau]’; Baker, Caught, p. 298, from the program for Relâche, 1924, the ballet at which Clair’s Entr’acte was screened. On the context for the latter, Christie, ‘Avatars’, pp. 143–161. 59 ‘An Open Letter to the Film Industry and to all who are interested in the evolution of the good film’, in MacKenzie, Manifestos, p. 46. 60 L’Herbier, Tête, p. 305, in 1924, though cf. a similar sentiment in 1917, p. 304.

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most authentic dramatic figure. Within the cultural limitations imposed on him by his public, he is a perfect artist.61

The taste of common folk was repeatedly endorsed in the works of Frank Capra. His silent f ilm, The Matinee Idol (1928), features a sophisticated Broadway audience that laughs uproariously at a melodrama about the Civil War brought in from the provinces and acted clumsily. The implication is that the more respectful reaction of the rural folk to the play, simple though it is, possesses a genuineness preferable to city slickness. It is worth recalling Faure’s opinion: ‘the Americans are primitive and at the same time barbarous, which accounts for the strength and vitality which they infuse into the cinema’.62 Renoir, while resident in Hollywood, described Americans as displaying a ‘primitiveness or naîveté’. He thought it helped ‘the Americans to do great things’.63 If there was any authenticity to be had in filmmaking, it depended upon the mass audience’s uncorrupted taste. Particularly during the silent era, the United States seemed, to some, to epitomize that possibility. The people became, in a way, the patrons, and conversely, the glories of cinema offered proof of the vitality of the citizenry—though there was always some ambiguity about which way the power flowed. After the last scene of Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives (1922), the title card read: ‘Did you like it? Write me your opinion. Carl Laemmle, Pres. [Universal Studios]’. The director Michael Powell said of silent film, ‘the power of the film as propaganda and as entertainment was realized by politicians as well as by artists, and Europe thrilled as if it were a new Reformation’.64 In 1922, Vachel Lindsay called for the development of professional critics of film who would hone their skills by studying the history of art: ‘they should take the business of guidance in this new world as a sacred trust, knowing they 61 Frank, America, p. 214. He pronounced that ‘America is a joyless land’, though without thereby excluding the possibility of a public that had an appetite for being amused; America, p. 175. Cf. Renoir, who said in 1960 that Griffith and Chaplin were ‘the best in the world […] because they reflected the thinking of the [American] people’ (which he understood as puritanical), Schumach, The New York Times, 9 Oct. 1960. 62 Faure, Cineplastics, p. 32; L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 272, in 1922: ‘car les américains sont des primitifs, et en même temps des barbares, ce qui fait la force et la vie qu’ils infusent au cinéma’. As early as 1928, concern was expressed about how films deformed the public’s understanding of history; Gael Faim in L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 452, citing Lubitsch and Griffith in particular, the latter for Orphans of the Storm, 1921. 63 In 1956, Renoir, Interviews, p. 62; see also p. 57, on a preference for less technically adept, earlier phases of art. 64 Powell, Autobiography, p. 182.


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have the power to influence an enormous democracy’.65 He warned against films that tended toward the sensational, saying `‘moving picture nausea is already taking hold of numberless people, even when they are in the purely pagan mood’.66 He thought, on the other hand, that Prohibition (`(‘dry forces’) would encourage movie attendance. Dziga Vertov, the ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ who used it to record life—‘to catch life unawares’—rather than to tell a story, roundly decried narrative in Marxist terms: ‘The film drama is the Opium of the people!’67 In 1935, Joseph Goebbels made a speech about what he expected from the movies—not least a molding of public taste.68 Clair thought about it the other way around—not that one could use cinema to spread ways of thinking, but that the people would imprint their character on this medium: ‘The cinema has been moulded into its present shape by its contact with the public, as a pebble is moulded by the waves’.69 Marcel L’Herbier gloried in the aspiration that cinema could be at its greatest when it reached out to the largest public.70 For Abel Gance in 1954 the situation was critical: the cinema, whether we like it or not, is moving towards those great spectacles in which the spirit of the peoples will be forged on the anvil of collective art. The success of drive-ins in the USA is a foretaste of this.71

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his short story ‘Crazy Sunday’ (1932), describes a party of movie people as ‘people of bravery and industry, superior to a bourgeoisie that outdid them in ignorance and loose living, risen to a position of the highest prominence in a nation that for a decade had wanted only to be entertained’.72 The Englishman Douglas Goldring’s 1920 essay titled ‘Low Tastes’, relished describing his own taste as such. Although he did manage to enjoy Intolerance (1916), because it was written specifically for the screen, mostly what he sought out at the cinema was scantily clad women providing a ‘refreshing paganism’, or bandits and cowboys in chase scenes: ‘almost 65 Lindsay, Moving Picture, p. 228. 66 Idem, p. 229. In Gold-Diggers of 1933, the Boston Brahmin brother (that ‘Back Bay codfish’ as he is called by a New York showgirl, Trixie) contrasts the ‘sensational career’ of show business with respectable banking. 67 Kobel, Silent, p. 247. 68 Goebbels, ‘Creative Film’, in MacKenzie, Manifestos, pp. 493–495. 69 Clair, Reflections, p. 122. 70 ‘Ils [les cinéastes] voient dans cet abaissement, sa grandeur’; L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 30. 71 King, Gance, p. 80, quoted from Cahiers du cinéma, no. 41, Dec. 1954. 72 Fitzgerald, ‘Crazy Sunday’, p. 211.

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anything except “classics” and sob-stuff’.73 He did not want to be edified: ‘on the rare occasions when I go to a cinema, I seldom find them low enough [i.e., free of moralizing]’. William James used the phrase ‘a moral holiday’ to denominate what Western moving pictures provided their audiences.74 If in the case of Renaissance art, religion (tempered by humanism) determined the parameters within which the new art of painting would develop, in the case of cinema, there was the danger that profitability would be the religion that determined its shape. Pirandello complained during his stay in New York in 1935 that they hold my art in too much esteem and fear that it can’t be brought low enough for the mediocre level of the ‘mass’s understanding’. They themselves are distressed at what they say they’re forced to do and therefore you can’t argue with them.75

In 1959, the art historian Lionello Venturi described the new, more populist society and its effects as follows: ‘Democracy has taken the place of ancient aristocracy. Anyone working for a restricted class cannot feel in harmony with the tendencies of modern civilization. The new arts of cinema and television either please the masses or cease to exist’. He goes on to refer to this ‘pleasing the people’ which ‘kills art’.76 In 1998, Youssef Ishaghpour, looking back on La nouvelle vague, decried the effects of mass media: what had a destructive effect on cinema was the generalization of television and the relations of communication established by it. The result’s been a passage from a world of magic, illusion and fiction to a world of fake and simulacrum, where it’s thought sufficient to show all the available money on screen and hope that will yield something.77

He was echoing to some extent Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception’ (1944), which itself reiterated Vertov’s 73 Goldring, Reputations, pp. 201–202, 206. 74 James Farrell, in Geduld, Authors, p. 240, in 1945. Farrell also opined that ‘When choice is so restricted, it is meaningless to argue that the public really gets what it wants’, p. 239. 75 Nichols and Bazzoni, Pirandello & Film, p. 121. 76 Venturi, Today, p. 13. He proceeds to recommend abstract art, supposing that ‘the interrelationship with nature of the classic and humanistic age is over, and is no longer of use except for moments of repose and inactivity’, p. 15. William Fox was making plans for huge screens that could outsell television as early as 1928, as reported by Upton Sinclair in Geduld, Authors, p. 40. 77 Godard and Ishaghpour, Archaeology, pp. 68–69.


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skepticism and proclaimed that as consumerism polished off individuality among the general public, ‘Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art’. For the Frankfurt sociologists, ‘the technology of the culture industry’ by which the public is rendered passive and undifferentiated encompasses ‘automobiles, bombs, and movies’.78 Adorno and Horkheimer’s thought was partly echoed, no doubt inadvertently, in 1950 by Gilbert Seldes, when he queried, ‘Is it Hollywood’s function to create public apathy?’79 Charles Laughton told Lillian Gish, around 1954, ‘When I first went to the movies they sat in their seats straight and leaned forward. Now they slump down, with their heads back or eat candy and popcorn. I want them to sit up straight again’.80 A great painter’s business is to do what the public ask of him, in the way that shall be helpful and instructive to them.81

In 1920, the Secretary of the Interior in the United States recommended that movies be used to counter the threat of Bolshevism by showing ‘stories of poor men who have risen high’.82 Hollywood provided plenty of fairy tales in which a prince and princess finally recognized each other (at least figuratively), or in which wealth showered down ‘unexpectedly’ on the deserving. Still, some movies aspired to show that elegance and riches—or more radically, even success—were not necessary to happiness. In The Power and the Glory (1933), the wife of Spencer Tracy’s character’s personal secretary says, gently and jokingly, as they wash dishes after the big funeral of the magnate who has committed suicide, ‘If you were smarter, we could have had servants’ and then, when he responds apologetically, she retorts ‘[…] what would I want with help? I’m not crippled’. Carole Lombard in Brief Moment (1934, based on a play by S.N. Berman) plays a nightclub singer who weans 78 Their point of view is implicitly contradicted by Cavell, ‘The World Viewed’ (1971), in Philosophy, pp. 67–78, in which he argues that f ilm inherently tends toward the democratic (‘or anyway the idea of human equality’), because it emphasizes individuals over social types (p. 75), although he seems to hedge this by adding in parentheses, ‘because of f ilm’s equally natural attraction to crowds, it has opposite tendencies toward the fascistic or populistic’. Alternatively, he seems to follow Benjamin in asserting that ‘all the major arts arise in some way out of religion’, p. 76. 79 Seldes, Great, p. 99, and further, ‘“the free market of ideas” is being rigged as deliberately as any other market’, p. 102; see also pp. 260–262. 80 Callow, Hunter, p. 44. 81 Ruskin, ‘The Relation between Michael Angelo and Tintoret’, Works, p. 88. 82 Jacobs, Rise, p. 398. On the standardization of product in Hollywood as analogous to that in Detroit, see Napper, Silent Cinema, pp. 74–75.

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her millionaire husband from his habits of dissipation (not evident until after they married), pushing him to get a regular job for a small paycheck in order to earn self-respect—though admittedly, herself wearing all the while slinky gowns, having retired from being a working girl to stay at home with three servants. The friendly nightclub owner lectures the girl that she shouldn’t have married outside of her own class; the owner had earlier warned her wealthy betrothed that he had better ‘be sure you’re high-class’, because that is what she deserves. A Renaissance humanist would feel quite at home with such double standards for nobility (birth and behavior)—less so with Joseph Losey’s The Servant (screenplay by Harold Pinter, 1963), in which the clever slave character from New Comedy usurps the power of his spineless and dissipated master. The Servant sets out to provide a portrait of a society that is partly aware of how it is changing, how the old privileged ways are dying, not an uncommon theme in film—or, one could say, in the 20th century. What is less expected in The Servant is that, although the vying parties are both young, neither is the least bit deserving of admiration or even sympathy. The Servant is conceived as comedy, executed as tragedy, and billed as drama. Depression-era films often imply disregard for mere wealth: for example, Holiday (1938) depicts a successful young businessman who decides to take a sabbatical and see the world, rather than pressing on for yet more success. In the board meeting for the opera in Mr. Deeds Comes to Town (1936), Longfellow Deeds, straight from the country, eyes with evident curiosity the gavel he has been handed, as the authoritative man who had given it to him carries on running the meeting. Deeds remains a bit befuddled when a board member explains to him that opera is not a business—even if it does sell tickets—but an ‘art institution’.83 Perhaps, Longfellow suggests as he begins to assert himself, they are charging too much and that is why the opera is losing money. The common man thus challenges the businessmen and ultimately wins; the plebian viewer is gratified, knowing yet all the while that it is in the nature of comedy to seem to turn the real world upside down.84 Three years after Mr. Deeds set New York mores straight, Jimmy Stewart triumphed over Washington corruption with the help of boy scouts (called 83 Cf. Max Reinhardt’s explanation of his need for patronage if he were to accomplish ‘theater where work, time, and money were no object’; Molnár, Companion, p. 173. 84 The point about class is even clearer in the magazine story. Deeds treats a soap manufacturer respectfully and puts him on the board of directors for the opera. His wife, Mrs. Palk, avows with satisfaction, ‘I guess we got where nobody can stick their noses up at us at last’; Kelland, ‘Opera Hat’, Sept., p. 63.


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Boy Rangers because the Boy Scouts didn’t want to ruffle any feathers) riding bicycles. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Capra again championed the common man, again understood to be a rural man, against the powerful financial interests back east.85 At least until World War II was over, good, simple people in films were likely to be rural people; although 1920 was the first census in which over 50 percent of the population of the United States was described as urban, the numbers were close to a 50-50 split until after the war.86 Murnau’s City Girl (1930) slightly complicates the conventions to the extent of showing a city girl, tough but of good heart, who wishes she lived in the countryside that she sees in calendar illustrations. She takes a shine to the simple country lad who happens her way, marries him, and moves to his family’s farm. In the Capra films, the city working girl with a crusty exterior and a heart of gold was recurrently played by Jean Arthur, whose character is reminiscent of the trusty slave of New Comedy. She is the person of lower status but more experience who understands how the world works better than does the man she will eventually marry. In George Stevens’s The Talk of the Town (1942), Jean Arthur’s character still ultimately prefers the local working man played by Cary Grant to the Supreme Court justice played by Ronald Colman, as Claudet Colbert preferred the seedy journalist to her rich betrothed in It Happened One Night (1934). By the time of Sabrina (1954), the steam had run out of such idealism. The Audrey Hepburn character marries (and wraps around her finger) the wealthy and capable businessman (played by Humphrey Bogart) who we the viewers and she both know to be somewhat ridiculous. To speak in broad generalities, films of the Depression endorsed emotional benefits over financial comfort, whereas the postwar films celebrated the rise and rights of the working class: ‘this is the century of the common man’, says the vicious Narcy in They Made Me a Fugitive (1947). Auntie Mame (1958) has loyal servants rescuing their mistress by paying her bills from their savings in the aftermath of the stock-market crash, while she—afterwards restored to wealth—refuses to countenance elitism and specifically anti-Semitism, vociferously objecting to people who have ‘braces on their brains’ and use phrases such as ‘absolutely top drawer’.87 85 In Patterns (1956, adapted from a television version), the honorable figure comes to New York from Mansfield, Ohio, and his sympathetic elder colleague from Altoona, Pennsylvania. 86 See further on the rural mystique, Bell, ‘Shadows’, pp. 216–230, which argues for a connection between the rise of suburbia and the decline of the inner city as described in noir. 87 It should be acknowledged that the characterization of the Chinese butler looks objectionably stereotyped to latter-day eyes, though the character was clearly meant to be both exotic and honorable. Mame seems to have been based on life, though in life the nephew raised by

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The life of ordinary folk had been made the stuff of art as far back as Virgil’s Georgics, yet it remained an unusual project before the late sixteenth century, before Bruegel, for example, or Giovanni Battista Moroni’s Portrait of a Tailor (London, c. 1565). Allowing Chardin and Courbet due acknowledgment, it didn’t become a common project until the movies of the 1930s. Cinema was conceived as an art of the people—of their dreams, but also of their lives, sometimes as they saw them and sometimes as the producers saw fit. Mr. Deeds, the small-town greeting-card poet for whom being written up in the newspaper is abhorrent, sets an example by his compassion for farmers hit by the Depression. He gives away his inherited wealth to help them, and although the analogy may not have occurred to Capra, in doing so the aptly named Deeds echoes scenes of charity in Renaissance frescoes. He usurps the place of saints. Those saints (like their unsuccessful counterparts, heretics) had often come from humble origins themselves. Like all crustaceans, they are armwrestling enthusiasts.88

Film was the democratic art form par excellence, at least as far as its consumption: everybody went to the movies, and there they found characters (or actors) as familiar as old friends. Many children went to the movies every Saturday, and adults of a variety of ages were also regular attendees. Since everybody went, movies made for common conversational fare. Movies were the palliative of the Depression era, not only for the escapism, not only for the consoling lesson that poverty might be preferable to riches, but sometimes very basically for warmth or, alternatively, for the new luxury of air conditioning. (It should be observed, however, that attendance numbers dropped as unemployment grew: from 90 million tickets a week at the start of the Depression to 50 million two years later.)89 Although sound and color each raised production expenses significantly, early movies were relatively inexpensive to make and nearly universally affordable to attend.90 The the harum-scarum aunt both immortalized her in his book and then disowned her in her impoverished old age; Albin Krebs, ‘Marion Tanner, Known as Model for Mame’, Obituary, The New York Times, 31 Oct. 1985. 88 Panlevé, Hyas et Stenorinques, 1927. 89 Vieiry, Thalberg, p. 161. Roger Manville, in Balcon, Twenty, p. 81, estimates that nearly half of the British population (30,000,000) went to the movies at least once a week during World War II. Trumpbour, Selling, pp. 227–228, reports that France was much more rural in the 1930s and movie attendance was correspondingly much lower, although films were promoted by Vichy. 90 Although, admittedly, it was a short and experimental film, Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) cost $275.


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movies provided art for the classes that would never commission art, as had Renaissance prints. In place of patronage, consumerism. Although it would certainly be wrong to claim that moviemakers uniformly made either smug or clichéd treatments of familiar themes while visual artists pursued more intellectually challenging art, thereby exercising a privilege of the cultural elite, it is true that 20th-century artists determinedly distanced themselves and their art from bourgeois taste and propriety as big-budget moviemakers could not have had they wanted to. By the 1960s, however, filmmakers’ deference toward bourgeois propriety shifted significantly, a watershed marked, for example, by Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), which cost less than two million dollars and made over nine million. It made money despite mocking both the military and the Coca-Cola company—perhaps even because it did so, for the bourgeoisie was changing too. The United States was no longer conceptualized as a country that had defeated fascism; it had become a country that might precipitate World War III, and all due to fear of fluoride. An early notable—and non-Hollywood— exception to the demands of market pressures can be found in Jean Vigo’s Zéro de conduit: jeunes diables au collège (1933), a short film made with the support of a private patron interested in the new medium, written and directed by a near novice, the son of a political radical who had died in prison. Drawing on Vigo’s own boarding school days, and surreal in some of its effects and scenes though overall quite grounded in a provincial reality, the film was premiered and shown in some film clubs before being banned by the censors. Zéro had raised eyebrows in those initial screenings: it did not seem the stuff of commercial distribution, even though it had been filmed at Gaumont studios (admittedly under quite hurried conditions, between December 24, 1932 and January 22, 1933). Although it could be shown in Belgium after it was banned in France, it remained little known until after the War. With characteristic humor, Vigo mocked the film board: they cut a film so much that they often end up being its true authors […] [and specifically of Zéro de Conduite] […] ‘You know’, they told me, smacking their lips, ``we love it so much we can’t bear the idea of anyone else seeing it’.91 91 Vigo, Complete, p. 41. On the critical reaction when it was released in 1945 and subsequently, see Gomes, Vigo, pp. 220–238: e.g., the enthusiastic Italian Glauco Viazzi writing in 1947, ‘It is in the name of all those who love film, and above all those who love mankind, that we claim

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With hindsight, it is possible to wonder why Vigo and his friends failed to anticipate just how unpalatable the film would be to the authorities—though of course film censorship was as yet young. The film is thoroughly transgressive and insubordinate, like the schoolboys who run riot through its scenes. It includes a naughty riposte to Gance’s opening section of Napoleon (1927), which showed a dorm room pillow fight. Repeatedly, we witness a dreary authoritarian regime resisted by rather wild youths, played by rapscallions assembled by Vigo from working-class neighborhoods and through acquaintances.92 It is hard to imagine cutting the film to make it palatable to those of sober disposition. It features wild and rambunctious behavior, and its style is not only inventive but uninhibited and inconsistent. It is as though the film was made not so much to tell stories of children’s lives as to create images of rebellion and disorder that never would have been allowed to occur, the stuff of childhood imagination long repressed—though without ever shifting into a comfortably removed dreamlike modality. Although no continuity awards could be given to this film, it nevertheless holds the attention and sticks in the memory. The one schoolteacher who is favorably presented (acted by Jean Dasté, who would shortly play the skipper of the barge in L’Atalante) breaks into a mimicked Charlie Chaplin gait in the schoolyard: throughout the film, one unexpected moment follows another; for example, when a supervisor comes into a classroom in which the Jean Dasté character is watching the students in utter chaos, seemingly without caring. The more conventional teacher looks at Dasté’s drawing lying on the desk (the finishing touches to which have been put while the teacher was doing a handstand on the desk), and as he does so, the drawing turns to animation, metamorphosing from Dasté’s caricature of the intruder (‘Beanpole’) to the supervisor’s self-conception—from a silly figure in a swimsuit to a general with a cape.93 As though Clair’s Entr’acte (1924) had melded—or marbled—with Les quatre cents coups (1959) of Truffaut, the f ilm is untamed by narrative convention. One might claim that there is a whiff of Rabelais in the film’s refusal to obey any norms at all. Here as elsewhere, Vigo was careful not to show any violence toward children. There is a delicate sensibility at work, Jean Vigo’, p. 232. In England, it was shown at the Film Society in 1934 and was allowed by the local authorities of the LLC, Middlesex, and Surrey in 1936; Low, British, p. 68. In France, Henri Langlois founded the Cinémathèque Française in 1936 (restarted after the War), which made silent films available to Resnais and others. On pre-existing French censorship, see Jean-Georges Auriol, writing in 1931, in L’Herbier, Intelligence, pp. 461–473. 92 Gomes, Vigo, pp. 101–102. 93 Cf. a comparable moment in Bergman’s Summer Interlude (1951).


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and there is, after all, a narrative line, though a faint and wobbly one. The film embraces its quirkiness as its greatest resource, as though film were exactly the medium in which whatever does not exist could be given life. Rather than a single frame of mind, the film reflects multiple frames of a quicksilver mind—all abetted by an extraordinary aptitude for composing motion pictures. The procession of boys in the dormitory with the air full of feathers, one of them hoisted in triumph on a chair, accompanied by boys bearing paper lanterns, their motion slowed down (and played in reverse), and with the music shifting from mock martial to silence followed by winds and inarticulate voice in a lyrical mode: all of this both recalls many triumphs in the history of art and is resolutely unlike any of them, both in form and content. Vigo is capable of being amused by what he despises, and he aims to excite laughter rather than anger: specifically, exhilarated, liberating laughter rather than the laughter of mere amusement. We can catch that sense of wry, dispassionate but humane humor also in the equally innovative filmmaking of Vigo’s friend Jean Painlevé, who introduced Vigo to important collaborators and was with him when he died, terribly young, of tuberculosis. A man of many interests and well-connected without ever leveraging himself into fame, Painlevé showed Eisenstein around Paris and loaned a special shoulder harness for a mobile camera to Godard for filming Breathless (1960).94 Painlevé’s specialty was underwater photography, in which Vigo dabbled, but Painlevé worked for decades to perfect that specialty, both for the sake of zoological research and for the dissemination of scientific knowledge. The confluence of science and art he achieved belongs to the heritage of Leonardo.95 And as Leonardo had an interest in fables, so, too, did Painlevé. He collaborated with a sculptor, René Bertrand, and his children on a thirteen-minute color claymation film, an operatic Bluebeard (1935–1938), with music by none other than Maurice Jaubert, who also worked with Vigo.96 94 Bellows, Fiction, p. 41. In Hollywood in 1930, Eisenstein was entertained by Chaplin, and Buñuel was also a guest; Lynn, Chaplin, pp. 337–340. In his Autobiography, p. 323, Chaplin said with reference to Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible (1944 and 1958), ‘there are more valid facts and details in works of art than there are in history books’. 95 Faure invoked instead ‘the enchantment of Shakespeare’, quoted in Bellows, Fiction, p. 19. For Painlevé’s critique of documentary as it existed in 1953, ‘The Castration of Documentary’, in Kahana, Reader, pp. 434–438, including praise for Resnais. See also Bellows, Fiction, p. 39. 96 Vigo’s À propos de Nice (1930) uses clay figures near the opening. Cf. Le Roman de renard (released in Berlin in 1937, France 1941, United States 2010, feature-length animation by Irene and Ladislas Starewicz), which, by its own report, was ‘a revolution in the history of cinema’, ten years in the making. Jacques Demy experimented with stop-motion animation in the 1940s. The result is a marvel of that rare category, ‘primitive’ art in a sophisticated land.

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Since synchronization was not an issue, even on his small budget, Painlevé was able to use sound by 1927.97 The Sea Horse (1933) has music by Darius Milhaud, who also worked with Buñuel, Resnais, and Paul Claudel. The short film shifts seamlessly from exposition to admiring the natural ballet of the animal’s movement to dissection, and from high magnification to a backdrop of a horserace at a stadium with the sea creatures loping in the foreground, to manipulating the seahorse forms into the word ‘FIN’. The work is exploratory, scientific, artistic, and amusing, never trivialized and never portentous. Painlevé announced his intention was to make something ‘as far as possible from the spirit of American films’.98 Painlevé displays a zestful taste for absurdity that can verge on horror. The Bluebeard animation, like Painlevé’s study of the life cycles of mollusks, achieves a combination of repulsion and fascination. His film on the vampire bat, Le vampire (1945) intercuts scenes from Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922). That on the mollusk, Acera, or the witches’ dance (1972) fascinates the viewer with footage of the animals moving in beautiful lighting to the sounds of modern music by Pierre Jansen, a noted film composer. Painlevé invokes the dancer Loïe Fuller in the 1927 film on Hyas and Stenorinques; in 1972, he intercuts the footage of Michèle Nadal imitating the dance of Fuller. He shows the creatures copulating with their dual gender identities without undue comment. Painlevé narrates the films in his own voice, which possesses a dry and understated companionability; you can hear his intense interest, though he never brags about how difficult and painstaking the photography was. It is only in his last film that it is possible to know for sure that the voice is his, as he shows himself sitting on park benches with children, getting them to observe carefully the habits of pigeons (Pigeons in the Square, 1982). 97 By the time L’Argent was released in 1929, it was shown with sound effects played on 78s rather than a live orchestra. On scoring for the silent movies, see Hall, Seats, pp. 175–176 and on the organs, pp. 178–195. The norm in most movie houses during the silent era was an organ. The organ-playing character in A Canterbury Tale (1944) has been playing before the War in the cinema for peanuts, and part of the happy ending is when he plays Bach in the cathedral (actually, St. Alban’s). In the United States, the Wurlitzer was the leading brand. They were called orchestras in their marketing because of their versatility in creating sound, and had been significantly developed away from church organs for their function in the movie theater; Gray, Cinema Architecture, pp. 122–123. Lindsay, Art, deplored the slipshod musical accompaniment sometimes provided in provincial locations. He reports, e.g., that The Battle Hymn of the Republic (1911) was played although the music intended was ‘In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree’, because the organist couldn’t find the appropriate score. I have faint memories of an organist playing before the movies in the Capitol theater in my hometown in the 1960s, sinking down, still playing, just before the screening started with a newsreel. 98 Bellows, Fiction, p. 141.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

The excellence of his films, besides the photography itself, lies in the correspondence of image and music (sometimes jazz, sometimes electronic, sometimes classical). The music is more counterpoint to than servant of the images. The vampire bat film has often been taken as an allegory of Nazism, and although the possibility exists, this interpretation is left to the discretion of the viewer. Without showing death or suffering, the film is nevertheless horror-inducing. Painlevé’s work offers a model for how viewers can both be informed and amazed, and yet left to their own devices rather than being pushed to think or feel in set ways at determined moments. The work is both witty and serious. We might claim that his work is fundamentally abstract: although photography is the basis, the intersection of voice, music, and image is abstractly conceived. There is considerable parallel with Vigo’s mode of making film: he, too, uses image, music, and language as three resources that must be made to synergize, none of which should be dominant. Both of them worked without contemporary acclaim and without much by way of followers, fairly ignored by the Cahiers du cinéma crowd. Like René Clair, these French filmmakers had a fondness for fantasy that doubtless owed something to Claude Perrault but which was not shared by Godard and Truffaut, whose tastes centered instead on Hollywood.99 Like Vigo and Painlevé, Jacques Demy made f ilms that were highly musical, yet not musicals. Also like Vigo, Demy was fascinated with the decadence of society life in Nice, and in La baie des anges (1963, his scenario) he describes a world without any recognizable morality other than a problematic quest for personal freedom.100 Gambling may be immoral, the male protagonist observes early on, but no more so than poverty or ugliness. The film is barely narrative, but at the end, during the approximately three seconds in which the screen is filled with a series of full-length mirrors set at an angle to the wall, we glimpse bits of the Jeanne Moreau character, Jackie, running in her spike heels and pencil skirt toward her young lover, toward the clichéd romantic ending we find somehow satisfying even as we thoroughly mistrust (and doubtless are meant to mistrust) the final clench. Earlier in the film, we had seen the callow youth going in the reverse direction, flickering in those mirrors on his way to the gambling halls; the film is full of mirrors, and, to a lesser extent, cast shadows that play into the 99 For Braudy, World, p. 97, the great gift of La nouvelle vague was a new appreciation for film as an art form that need not be divided into high and low. On Godard and fine art, see Schmid, Intermedial, pp. 105–113. 100 Demy, like Painlevé, made a film based on a Perrault fairy tale (Peau d’Âne, 1970), and his Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) has, like Bluebeard, bold color, a single mother with two daughters, a murderous old man, and song.

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overall black-and-white design. Those few seconds we might take as Demy’s tip of the hat to Cubism—though with some cultural memory of Versailles as well. It is an extraordinary clip, as close as he can come to dissecting the icon of the desirable female, as Picasso had in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Jackie’s white form flickers in the mirrors like frames of projected celluloid, as though to declare her insubstantiality, her essence as image only, before she fills the screen in glamorous close-up, a close-up we see as the insubstantial product of the flickering projector, the culmination of the flickering mirror sequence. We assent to the romantic clasp and the concluding percussive piano chords of the music, because we, film viewers qua modernists, have renounced mimesis as norm. The camera backs away from the couple, receding inside the casino as they walk in the opposite direction, facing outward into the sunny Riviera; the camera’s self-distancing, rather than any narrative conclusion, tells us the show is over. The screen goes black, then the music (a variation on the opening music, which had also featured a receding camera, and before that a black screen with an off-center iris wipe) shifts without pause to accompany the credits. The film delights us because it teaches us nothing, and viewers then were used to being taught. It offers nothing but concoction, as the girl and the guy offer each other nothing substantial, nothing but luck and mystery. It is all mirrors. Jackie compares the casino to a church, and regards the mystery of numbers as her God surrogate—but we are not to take her as our example; she sees herself as free, but the viewer may doubt everything about her and her story, including that claim. In 1963, the absence not only of a reliable narrator but of any reliable morality was still refreshingly unusual. Maybe Demy thought of art as being like gambling, an avid pursuit of chance and of mystery, but he doesn’t enforce that idea, or any other, on us. Once cinema’s images don’t demand our credulity, the range of imagery we may applaud has no known limit: there echoes faintly Alberti’s exhortation to painters to look to pagan literature for subjects, thereby enhancing not only the artist’s freedom but also the viewer’s. For centuries the picture tried to be a frozen narrative […] It doesn’t need narrative any more.101

Gradually, in one of the great shifts of Western culture, Gregory the Great’s tenet that images served to provide a shadow of textual truths melted away, and the task of the artist became instead to study human experience and 101 Abel Gance, in King, Gance, quoted from Cahiers, 1954, p. 80.


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nature in a quest for imagery. That transformation of Western thought is one of the great watersheds, like spring coming to a landscape. The process of reconceptualization was both prolonged and involved, reaching back to Horace’s double and pregnant injunctions, ‘ut pictura poësis’ and ‘delectare et docere’.102 Occasionally, painters pushed Horace’s advice so far as to become auteurs,103 inventing pictures devoid of any particular textual source, pictures that might be presumed to offer only delight. In the sixteenth century, in the genre of pastoral, generic character and setting sufficed; any action mattered more for its manner than for its effect, actions were displaced by attitudes, and often the light was more mobile and more attractive to the eye than the figures. In this new art, shepherds signified pensiveness, and shade from the hot summer sun promised pleasure. Color intimated mood. The pictorial world, previously consistently balmy and bright, came to be variously characterized in terms of time of day and weather. By the seventeenth century, the world was not infrequently wrapped in darkness. Women other than the Virgin became increasingly prominent characters in the imagery of the visual arts, from Venus to anonymous beauties to the occasional ancient heroine. It was acknowledged that the model for the beautiful woman in the picture often shared the painter’s life (as would 102 Tynan, Two Hands, p. 161: ‘I’ve lately been rereading some of the Renaissance treatises on art […] they always took as their definition of art “that which instructs through delight”. I’d like to go back to the definition, and forget what it defines: I would simply ask myself the question, “Does this instruct me? Does it delight me? Does it do both?” If it does, then I think it is good. But let’s not use the word “art”, it’s a befouled word, it means too much, it means anything and so it means nothing’. 103 The classic article is Sarris, ‘Notes’, 1962, pp. 1–8, responding to the Cahiers du cinéma discourse originating around 1957. Kael, ‘Circles’, pp. 12–26, tried to refute Sarris, in the course of which, curiously, she compared Sarris’s adulation of directors (rather than of particularly successful f ilms) to the ‘it’ for which actresses were admired. Truffaut, Hitchcock, p. 18, so dignifies Hitchcock, Bergman, Fellini, Buñuel, and Godard. Already in 1937, Adler, Prudence, pp. 484–485, was arguing that the director was more important than writers or actors. Gish, Movies, p. 132, makes the claim that D.W. Griffith paid the author of The Clansman (source for Birth) what in the end amounted to millions of dollars for rights to a book he had no need of because ‘the public hates you if it thinks you wrote, directed, and produced the entire f ilm yourself’. On the other hand, Benjamin Christensen in Häxan, Witchcraft through the Ages, 1922, a kind of pseudo-documentary/historical re-enactment, not only wrote and directed the film (including intertitles using the first person) but acted the part of the Devil. Erich von Stroheim labelled The Wedding March (1928) ‘in its entirety an Erich von Stroheim creation’. He starred in, directed, and co-wrote the piece. Murnau’s Der letzte Mann (1924), screenplay by Carl Mayer, introduces the epilogue with an intertitle crediting the author for giving the pitiful protagonist (played by Emil Jannings) an implausible outcome (‘Here our story should really end…the author took pity on him, however’).

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repeatedly be true of directors and leading ladies, notably so in small-scale moviemaking). This shift from works of art as signifiers of religious doctrine to works of art as cultural signs, the same basic phenomenon that Hans Belting described as the beginning of art and Walter Benjamin associated with the end of aura, that John Ruskin and Clive Bell saw as the end of art and the beginning of decadence, entailed finding a cultural place for art that was potentially independent of church, state, and even of powerful patron. Art began to become a commodity that needed to find its own market, rather than existing only as a staple of civic or ecclesiastic display. Cheap multiples might be thought to render the work of art—like a text—more concept than object, having no original. The loss of the aura of the original is the beginning of the discovery of originality, a quality of ideas rather than of objects—and so correlated with the beginning of collecting drawings, in which the idea is primary and objecthood is secondary. The authenticity of an object relates to its physical origin; the originality of a work of art precedes its making. Adhering at least in part to the older tradition, Ingmar Bergman (1918–2007) signed his scripts with SDG (Sola Deo Gloria) in imitation of Bach, compared the work of making a film together to that of building a cathedral, and did not espouse originality as his goal. Film allowed him to explore realms of psychological imprisonment, feelings of oppression that were both vague and quasi-universal, within spaces that were hyperdetermined. Fellini (1920–1993) meant instead to take the viewer to some newly discovered place—whether one of poignancy or absurdity, it should be novel and bewildering.104 As filmmakers, they respected one another; they both reveled in film as a delightfully new way of making art, but they also recognized the incompatibility of their aesthetics. We may still see in film credits the claims of various political or commercial funding entities that exercise at least some of the rights of patronage, and it is true that all but the most rudimentary of filmmaking attempts have had some sort of production company to raise funds. However, since Dürer made engravings and woodcuts, the economic model for art has sometimes been a multitude of individual consumers, a model as suited to democracy as traditional patronage was to aristocracy. Film and prints both depended upon reaching a mass audience whose interest in art was utterly distinct from the virtue of Aristotelian magnificence—namely, a vast and potentially 104 Giulio Andreotti said of Fellini, ‘poetry […] is certainly the best way to think of Fellini’s films. But I’d also say that he is a painter’, Minuz, Political Fellini, p. 184. For an attempt to see Fellini through art historically trained eyes, see Aldouby, Fellini.


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fickle audience, a geographically dispersed audience for whom no one had ever really articulated their responsibilities as consumers of art. On the contrary, censorship boards were set up that implied that the consumers of movies were essentially children in need of guidance and protection—a move for which the great historical precedent was the Index of forbidden and expurgated books set up by the Council of Trent in 1559 and abolished only in 1966.105 One actress recollected in 1935: I was in one [film] that was expected to be a smash hit, but it was released just as the churches were starting to clean up pictures, and when the various censorship bodies got through with it there wasn’t much film left. I had a baby in the picture, and in one state the censors changed it to a cold in the head.106

Objections to censorship started early and lasted long. In 1943 Dudley Nichols wrote: The cinema is still a giant in chains and a giant who has not even yet stood up and shaken his chains. Those chains are censorship, commercialism, monopoly, specialization—all the faults that are indigenous to industrial society and not just characteristic of the cinema.107

The studios were quite capable of self-censoring, especially if they could replace what might have been objectional viewing with a striking image. Lillian Gish reported of The Wind (1928), directed by Victor Sjöström, that 105 See for an overview of American film censorship, Lewis, American Film, pp. 24–26, 110–118, 233–234, 238–247. Powell, Autobiography, p. 543, complains that a scene in A Matter of Life and Death (1946) that used a naked boy to suggest a Theocritean mood was cut in America, and p. 585, that scenes in Black Narcissus (1947), showing a nun’s pre-vow affair, were likewise cut in America. Chaplin recorded his experiences with the censors over Monsieur Verdoux (1947); Autobiography, pp. 436–447. For accounts by teenagers of frightening first experiences of films at about five years of age, see Blumer, Conduct, p. 76, and older, pp. 77–94. 106 Muir, ‘Star’, p. 102. Cf. An American Tragedy (1931), in which the pregnancy seems to go on for some time with no visibility at all. For the various versions of Europa ’51, some of the cuts were in response to a letter to Rossellini from the prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, see Elena Dagrada, Criterion Collection, disc 2, 2013. The scene in which Irene uses a Bible verse to describe her horror at factory labor was one point of controversy, another being the scene in the mental hospital in which the priest recoils from Irene’s strong spirituality. On a more flippant note, Ingmar Bergman in the farcical All These Women, 1964, at one point stops the action with the intertitle: ‘In view of the censorship risk, the sexual act is depicted as follows […]’, after which we see the couple tangoing, shown in sepia tones amid a color movie. 107 Nichols, in Gassner, Twenty, p. xl.

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it was originally meant to end tragically, with Letty driven out of her mind by the wind and the murder, and lost in the dust storm—as the novel by Dorothy Scarborough, which Gish had recommended to Thalberg, ended.108 Instead, we are left with a sentimental image, admittedly a rather beautiful image, of a couple resolved to stand together against the hardships of the world. The viewers’ inference about what happened after Letty passed out the night before depends in part on that ending. (There is no ambiguity in the novel, and no passing out.) Even with the happy ending, the film lost money, at least in part because it was released after The Jazz Singer (1927), with its revolutionary use of sound. In the midsixteenth century Lodovico Dolce had stated explicitly that painting existed for pleasure.109 Even without theoretical justification, a private patron could be forgiven for supposing that paintings of reclining nude females were made primarily for his pleasure. In the eighteenth century, J.J. Winckelmann assimilated from the pagans the idea that pleasure was itself a kind of virtue, and that a virtuous person would not feel pleasure except when edified. He dubbed Poetry and Art the daughters of Pleasure, and then identified pleasure as a necessity.110 Winckelmann favored outline (disegno) over the description of surface and texture (the realm of colore), although he unbent enough to esteem Correggio’s grace and to advise that grandeur (despite its affinity with the art of disegno) required the mellowing effects of grazia. He continued to hold text as the ultimate authority; he was, he said, most gratified when his studies of visual objects clarified a text for him. For Winckelmann, freedom was the ultimate—and fairly novel, new with the Enlightenment—value. In his formulation, classicism intimated a neo-pagan world in which pleasure was not marred by guilt. The first step in this direction had been taken during the Renaissance, when beauty, knowledge, and the good had been understood in Platonic alignment with one another. Art, for Winckelmann, indexed a society’s worth: only a happy and free citizenry could produce truly beautiful art—a tenet as fruitful for the patronage of art as that of Cosimo de’ Medici’s confessor recommending 108 The novel had been published anonymously in 1925 and generated some controversy. In Texas, it was seen as derogatory to Texas, whereas elsewhere comparisons were made to Russian realism; Scarborough, Wind, vi. 109 ‘Painting was invented primarily in order to give pleasure (per dilettare)’, Aretino in Dolce, ‘Aretino’, pp. 148–149. 110 Winckelmann, History, vol. 1, p. 193: ‘Art, like Poetry, may be regarded as a Daughter of Pleasure, still it cannot be denied that pleasure is as necessary to human nature as those things are without which existence cannot be continued’.


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that he donate to the Church for the sake of his soul. It has encouraged much sponsorship for the arts. By extending the notion of virtue to the scale of a society, and by taking society as the corporate author of the works of art, and because of his disinterest in the artist as individual genius and his curiosity about all visual evidence, Winckelmann founded a kind of art history that potentially had plenty of room for cinema, being less hierarchical and less biographical than Vasari’s. Disparate as they may have been in many ways, John Ruskin and J.J. Winckelmann had at least this in common: they valued art in relation to its multitudinous makers, on the one hand, and its anonymous public viewers, on the other, rather than for the sake of personal genius or powerful patrons, pace Vasari. They studied objects rather than persons, and they studied objects as signifiers of ideas rather than as unique treasures.111 Neither Ruskin nor Winckelmann felt that the history of style was in itself an interesting or fruitful topic, for neither was a teleological thinker. Winckelmann justified the pleasure of art, adopting from the Greeks the idea that beauty and goodness were fundamentally allied (kalos kai agathos); Ruskin’s complementary insight was the inherent transience of nature’s infinite beauties, an insight correlated with his advocacy of landscape painting. The shimmer of shifting light had preoccupied oil painters for centuries, but Ruskin articulated the idea that beauty could be understood as the highly unstable opposite of a Platonic form, as a sequence of unique and evanescent moments.112 He had toward landscape the attitude Baudelaire would later adopt to the cityscape: beauty was properly grasped in the fleeting. Winckelmann’s interest in an impersonal and highly crafted art provided an important potential step, combined with Ruskin’s dedication to an art of transience and infinite inflection, toward conceiving of cinema as an art. There is at least an affinity between Renaissance artists’ practice of exploring making pictures with no specific textual source (e.g., pastoral subjects, the predecessors of Watteau’s highly pleasurable if vague of content Embarkation for Cythera, 1717) and what in the nineteenth century was called ‘art for art’s sake’ by Theodore Gauthier, Walter Pater, and Edgar Allan Poe, among others—or as Metro Goldwyn Mayer asserted in its logo, Ars 111 Cf. Godard, Foreword, Truffaut, Letters, p. ix: ‘A work of art was not the sign of something, it was the thing itself and nothing else […]. It was from the public that the sign would come, or not, according to its state of mind’, referring to the late 1950s, when ‘something still existed called magic’. 112 E.g., the ‘palpitating, perpetual change’ Turner finds in landscape and Claude didn’t; Ruskin, Modern, p. 158. Cf. Fry, ‘An Essay in Aesthetics’, pp. 171–190.

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gratior artis. Élie Faure, art historian and champion of cinema as the hope for restoring the artistic vitality of civilization, explicitly promoted Charlie Chaplin as a kind of new Pierrot: Like a painter, an architect, or a musician, Chaplin enters victoriously into the empire of the poets. See him, the sly elf-like figure dancing out of sight in the shadow of a sordid alley or along the border of a wood—it is Watteau.113

The Renaissance impulse occasionally to leave standard repertoire behind had many stimuli, but among them was an abiding fascination with ancient art, which provided a second nature from which to create—antiquity as a wordless yet expressive ‘text’, a nature already distilled into art, entrancing in its lifelikeness, often known from prized cameos whose subject was far from clear. During antiquity itself, the question of frivolous creation had itself been debated in reference to grotesques, the fantastical doodles of painters that combined figural and animal elements as nature itself never would. Art without rules of style and decorum, these rules of decorum providing the analogs of moral precepts—of this, Vitruvius had disapproved; Ruskin disapproved; Robert Frost disapproved. On the other hand, William Butler Yeats, citing Walter Pater’s description of Mona Lisa as his license,114 launched himself into free verse and with that, the kind of aesthetic anarchy that Vasari had feared with respect to Michelangelo. How could visual art be a matter of genius if it was required to follow rules? The Romantics championed the poetic and the unruly in general, after which the Modernists found themselves oddly reasserting principles in their manifestos, anti-academic rules. For Modernism had been in many ways the abnegation of rule, at least of academic rules. Modernism was also a style that wasn’t a style. Le Corbusier declared in 1923 ‘the “styles” no longer exist, they are outside our ken; if they still trouble us, it is as parasites’.115 As for the history of breaking rules, already Michelangelo had been widely recognized as ignoring the dictates of Vitruvius. The debate over whether making art was a discipline or a matter of genius runs virulently if at times 113 Faure, Cineplastics, p. 52. Piper, ‘England’s Early Sculptors’, in Evans, Object, p. 122: ‘Probably the only place to-day where a popular art can be dispensed with genius is the cinema, in the hands of artists like Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers’. Pierrot belonged to the commedia dell’arte, a street art. Chaplin compared himself to Pierrot; Autobiography, p .210. 114 Bizot, ‘Pater and Yeats’, esp. pp. 404–409. On Frost’s idea that free verse was like playing tennis with no net, see Rodman, ‘Talking’, p. 8. 115 Le Corbusier, Towards, p. 286.


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subterraneously through the history of art from Michelangelo through Picasso, and it repeatedly intersects the ongoing parallel development of the paragone (comparison) between painting and poetry. Even in Plato’s time, whether poetry’s merit came from inspiration or discipline was a controversial topic. Filmmakers found themselves at least implicitly enmeshed in these inherited debates about rules (including the rules of economics) versus artistic license, and about how dutiful to texts, of whatever kind, their imagery ought to be. The movement is everything.116

Agnès Varda made her first film, La pointe courte (1955), on a bare-bones budget, the actors unpaid. Scénario and réalisation are credited to Varda together with ‘les habitants de La Pointe-Courte’, the music to Pierre Barbaud and ‘airs locaux’. The film is dedicated ‘à Pierrot’, the sad clown painted by Watteau, the commedia dell’arte figure, presumably a model for Lui, the morose husband who is described as always being content and who looks quite like Watteau’s figure.117 He is from this village, with its plain women (the actual villagers); she (Elle), with her striking looks and blonde hair, is from Paris. He compares a fisherman standing by the shore to a shepherd who studies the secrets of the landscape, and it may not be irrelevant at such a moment to remember that Watteau’s Embarkation for Cythera (1717) in the Louvre features city folk on a sort of vacance like the couple in the film, as well as a boatman working a pole like those in the film. The film’s feel, its timbre we might say, is more philosophical than literary: the city wife laments the ordinary course of life while eventually coming to accept it and her husband extolls ‘la connaissance’ as superior to simply managing to live; the fishermen in their patched clothing wrestle with authority; the poor villagers eat and court; a child, Daniel, dies and his sibling is comforted with licorice. We see many shots of laundry and shadows of laundry and women hanging laundry; we look at seahorses pinned decoratively on a wooden door, a cat corpse at the water’s edge, and writhing eels, as well as portrait-like close-ups of the primary couple. There are narrative strands, but no firm narrative structure; the structure, such as it is, has to do with the visit from Paris (implicitly also that of the invisible filmmaker). The culmination is a joust on canal boats, a folk tradition from centuries conducted weekly by 116 Gilman, ‘Nothing’, p. 11. 117 Varda compares the woman with Piero della Francesca’s figures, illustrating the Madonna del Parto; Varda, Par Agnés, p. 44. The younger child in Le Bonheur (1965) is named Pierrot.

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and for the locals, and an outdoor dance with oboe music; the last shot is of four old musicians, playing, like a seventeenth-century genre painting. The film predates La nouvelle vague; it might be deemed a predecessor of outsider art, at once folkish art and imbued with salutary strangeness of a Cocteau, considerably toned down so as to be compatible with the quasidocumentary aspects. It is not a spellbinding, emotionally vivid work and it was not a financial success, but it achieved something Tolstoy would have admired: a work of art that could be shared by cognoscenti and ordinary folk alike. It honors both worlds. Varda herself had not yet seen many films.118 She took William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms (1939) as her structural model,119 making a kind of counterpoint between scenes based on village life and scenes of a troubled marriage four years in, the couple visiting the man’s hometown on the Mediterranean for the first time from their residence in Paris. Varda admired Faulkner’s ability to juxtapose two narrative strands without any attempt at dramatic unity. She used the camera at times almost like a documentary photographer and at other times hovered close to still imagery, allowing the viewer to contemplate rather than merely to track the progress of a narrative thread. We watch a rickety cart jiggle across the dirt pathway to the broken slats of a building from underneath which a black cat comes and runs across a dirt path on which the stockings hanging on a line and swinging in the wind cast shadows while a dog lies quietly on the dirt; in the upper left, we barely see the feet of the policemen who approach and who, in the next scene, apprehend a fisherman who is courting a sixteen-year-old girl in the village and who rowed too slowly to escape the border patrol while shellfishing in forbidden water. This scene, like the film as a whole, emphasizes what the camera can see over what the scenarist can plot. Varda captures not only a way of life but a pace of life that was disappearing, and she manages to do so without sentimentality. The Pierrot character says simply and straightforwardly to the Parisian woman as she arrives, ‘there is nothing to see here’. For budgetary reasons, if not others as well, the voices of the 118 In 1967, she said she had only seen five before making the film and could only remember four: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Bring ’em Back Alive (a jungle documentary from 1932), Le quai des brumes (1938), and Les enfants du paradis (1945), these last two by Marcel Carné; in other interviews, the numbers wobble a bit: Varda, Interviews, p. 42; see also pp. xxii, 23. Jeanne Moreau said her father forbade her to see films; NPR interview with Terry Gross, 1993, http://www.npr. org/2017/07/31/540582022/remembering-actress-jeanne-moreau-icon-of-french-new-wave-cinema. 119 ‘I’d decided to make a film that would read like a difficult book’, Conway, Varda, p. 136. Cf. Demy, Sabotier, 1956. She returned to Sète in 2010 and spoke with the man who played the part of Raphael, based on his father; From Here to There (TV, episode 4), 2011.


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villagers were dubbed in Paris, and Varda chose to avoid sound perspective, so that all the voices were heard equally loudly no matter how far back in the picture space the figure was situated. In general, there is a kind of disjunction between sound and image, and between image and image, which lends the film its characteristic dual flavor: informative of life in the small Mediterranean fishing village with its issues over fishing rights and bacteria in the water; universal in its central couple’s sense of the loss of their youth and of the love characteristic of youth. Varda’s script incorporated the local figures of speech of these people that had she known for years, so the sound of the film is in some ways veristic, yet frequently reminiscent of a voice-over because it is distant and abstract. The film was edited by Alain Resnais (with Anne Sarraute);120 Marguerite Duras witnessed its Cannes premier: its elle and lui provide a precedent for Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959).121 And although La pointe courte is often mentioned as a forerunner of La nouvelle vague, it also anticipates something of Resnais’s deliberately disjunctive L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961), in which film is exploited for its incoherencies rather than for its narrative flow—evocative of a stream of consciousness without much water in it.122 La pointe courte was paired on the bill at its Paris premiere with Jean Vigo’s short À propos de Nice: Point de vue documenté (1930), implying perhaps that it was appreciated primarily for its local color, though both films offer considerably more than that.123 Vigo’s cinematic eye is witty and dry with a 120 Resnais received the Prix Jean Vigo both in 1954 and 1956, for Les statues meurent aussi and Nuit et brouillard. 121 For Duras, Eisenstein’s admiration for Intolerance, 1916, with its Dear One and Boy, may also be relevant. 122 Kline, ‘Marienbad’, in Masterpieces, pp. 208–235, finds in the film an epitome of the tension between Lacan’s postmodern and Freud’s modern psychoanalysis, and also suggests the relevance of Goethe’s ‘Marienbad Elegy’. Kiss and Willemsen suggest more blandly, ‘Indeed, in narrative film, art cinema seems to be the privileged site for alternative modes of narrative apprehension’, Impossible Puzzle Films, p. 154. 123 The scenario might be thought to owe something to L’Atalante (1934). ‘Vigo and Kaufman discovered subtle and persuasive cinematic strategies to render the fantastic as if it were the everyday, and the everyday as though it comprised a vision of the end of the world’, Politico, ‘Jean and Boris’, p. 20. Vigo had wanted Un chien andalou (1929) to be played when his À propos de Nice (1930) was shown, ‘because, although it describes an internal drama in poetic terms, I still think, it has all the qualities of true social cinema’, ‘Towards a social cinema’, Complete, p. 14. For what he might have meant by ‘internal drama in poetic terms’, see Dimitri Kirsanoff’s short Brumes d’automne (1929), labeled on its title screen, ‘un poème cinégraphique’. The f ilm describes a state of mind rather than narrative action. Eisenstein’s first sound film, Romance sentimentale (1930), made together with Grigori Alexandrov—and labeled ‘une ètude cinématographique’ in the credits—manages in 20 minutes to combine modern sounds with a traditional Russian

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touch of the surreal. Both the Varda and the Vigo are films about disjunctive seeing, films in which the director is more prominent than any actor and in which the director is not god.124 In La pointe courte, Varda strives to make a fusion of art and life in which each maintains its distinct flavor. Varda’s eye is, by her own avowal, trained by Faulkner, though the script is her own and one can easily discern a female sensibility at work both in imagery and script. It is a very visual film as well, one in which the elapsing imagery leaves more impression than the fairly insignificant plot, both for its record of a place still dependent on manual labor (a kind of place relevant to the 20th century’s penchant for the ‘primitive’) and for its mobile descriptions of spaces and planes, surfaces and voids. The village lacks running water in the houses though it sits in view of industrial plants, the fishermen push poles while the coastal police have speedboats, and the police have high leather boots while the fishermen, if not barefoot, wear clogs or espadrilles. The film’s construct is at once highly artificial and yet also highly veristic, providing a fundamentally new visual experience for viewers. ‘Pense à rien, Regard! says Lui in La point courte. À propos de Nice had provided both more laughter and more social critique. Vigo described the frivolous life in Nice as displaying ‘the last gasps of a society in its death throes’.125 When Lindsay Anderson made O Dreamland in 1953 (not shown until 1956, as part of Free Cinema at the National Film Theatre), he depicted the working classes at an amusement park in Margate—a kind of opposite to Vigo’s portrait of leisured decadence, sharing a dark undercurrent and an absence of admiration, but endowed with a certain political sympathy, not unlike Bruegel at peasant festivals. Another of the song, performed by the patron’s beloved (though her singing does not start until almost halfway through), as well as sounds that mimic the ticking clocks and the falling rain, and studies of landscape with shimmering reflective water beneath curving lines of trees that must surely have invoked Monet in Paris where this was made, effects of throbbing sunlight and flickering light in atmospheric darkness, cloud effects that Stieglitz must have admired, raindrops catching light as they stream down against blackness, animation, images of Rodin sculptures including very Michelangelesque heads, slow motion, and spectacular montage effects of crashing trees and waves. It is a study in all that sound cinema can achieve without relying on plot. There is some deference to a theme of passing seasons, the song is autumnal and the finale springlike, with heavy rain and a fireplace in between, but even this seasonal theme is treated for contrast rather than continuity. On the use of the word ‘poetic’ in contemporary art history about the Renaissance, see e.g., ‘authentic poetic value’ versus materiality; Kruger, ‘Mediality’ pp. 23–53. 124 Boris Kaufman is listed with Vigo as réalisateur. Gomes, Vigo, p. 55, questions whether Boris was actually the brother of Mikhail Kaufman and Dziga Vertov, and suggests that perhaps Vigo and Boris encouraged some confusion about this. This is refuted by Paul Ryan in the afterward, p. 248. 125 Vigo, ‘Towards a Social Cinema’, p. 17; see also Gomes, Vigo, pp. 61–68.


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instigators of Free Cinema was the notable Lorenza Mazzetti, whose Together (1956) was made with funding from the British Film Institute and featured artist Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005) in a lead role. She announced to William Coldstream, then director of the Slade School of Art, that she was a genius, and her braggadocio paid off. Although she went on to write novels (the first one’s worth was recognized by the scenarist Cesare Zavattini) rather than pursue filmmaking, Together has extraordinary and unsentimental footage of the East End of London and its inhabitants.126 Its narrative thread is memorable, though slight, involving two deaf working-class men treated unkindly by those around them, but who are good friends to one another. Often, their surroundings are as important as their facial expressions, though the younger of the two has a face that expresses both yearning and tentativeness. Godard may have remembered the turning off of sound, in Mazzetti’s case to represent the deafness of the protagonists, when he made Bande à parte (1964).127 Even in films with more elaborate narrative structures, many outstanding ones are said to have been partly improvised as the filming was taking place, for example, La règle du jeu (1939),128 The Awful Truth (1937), or Casablanca (1942).129 P.G. Wodehouse remembered the days when making movies didn’t require writers; it was ‘just a lot of great big happy schoolboys getting together for a bit of fun […] they just made it up for themselves as they went along’.130 Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca calls the situation ‘a story without an ending’, and apparently it was exactly that well into the filming. A flexible relationship to screenplay allowed for scenes to be mini happenings rather than merely enactments. As Charlie Chaplin referred to his early days under Mack Sennett as possessing ‘this charming alfresco spirit […] no literature, no writers’, which he found ‘a challenge to one’s creativeness’.131 And Fellini after him recalled that while working with Rossellini on Paisà (1946): I suddenly came to realize that you could make f ilms with the same freedom, the same ease with which you draw or write, making a film while enjoying it and enduring it day by day, hour by hour, without worrying too much about the final result; the same secret, anxious, ennobling, 126 The writer of Together, Denis Horne, also collaborated on the directing. 127 Mazzetti and Varda knew each other, though the proximate making of La pointe court and Together may pre-date their acquaintance. 128 Renoir cited the commedia dell’arte as an inspiration; Renoir on Renoir, p. 237. 129 The Birth of a Nation is said to have been made without a shooting script; Jacobs, Rise, p. 173. 130 Wodehouse, ‘Hollywood Scandal’, in Louder, 1932, p. 14. 131 Geduld, Film Makers, p. 79.


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exciting relationship one has to his own neuroses; and that the impediments, doubts, reconsiderations, crises, efforts, are not so different from those a painter experiences while looking for a shade on canvas and the writer who deletes and rewrites, edits and begins again, searching for an expressive mode that, impalpable and elusive, lives hidden among thousands of possibilities.132

Varda shared that sense of freedom. You’re no oil painting yourself.133

As with landscape painting, cinema’s pictorial field was horizontally aligned (the aspect ratio got more extreme with Cinemascope in 1953, intended to counter the allure of television).134 Cinema was characteristically not resolutely centered on the human figure (except for close-ups), but on an ambient or on relationships between human figures. Whereas painting is an art of contemplation, cinema is an art of watching and being watched. Jean Renoir’s shot of the two country lads indoors at a table watching the 132 Fellini, Making, p. 71. On Fellini’s relationship to Neorealismo, see Minuz, Political Fellini, pp. 7–14. 133 Ronald Colman’s character to Cary Grant’s, The Talk of the Town, 1942. Cf. Jack Lemmon and Peter Lawford comparing their looks in It Should Happen to You (1954). 134 Cooke, Movies, 10 Oct. 1952, describes his first experience of ‘Cinerama’, and his worries for how such vivid virtual experience might affect politics in the future; idem, 10 June 1954, pp. 212–213, about the tax on entertainments and the threat of television. Also on the threat of television, and on a surfeit in theater of ‘comedies, thrillers, and musicals’, see Rattigan, ‘Edna’ p. 469. Ibid., 29 July 1956, pp. 226–227, in which the figure cited from the Wall Street Journal is that movie attendance is down from 90 million to 50 million in ten years. ‘The Death of the Movies?’, 2 Feb. 1958, pp. 233–234 reports that the public spends four times as much time watching old movies on TV as watching new ones; Aldous Huxley in an interview by Hubert Aquin for Radio Canada, 12 June 1960, compared watching TV to opium addiction, with Marxist reference to religion also ( The number of movie houses in Britain peaked in about 1939 at 4,900; it was down to 1,561 in 1990; and it was 3,170 even before World War I; Trussler, Cambridge Illustrated, pp. 224, 295. Dixon, Black, p. 153, describes how cinematographers disliked the technology, which discouraged close-ups, but which made some business sense. Clair, Yesterday, pp. 188–191, writes in favor of the ‘classic screen shape’ as opposed to the ‘absolutely inhuman frame’. Paul (In a Lonely Place, 1950), the owner of a trendy Hollywood establishment, remarks, ‘[…] just like show business. There is no business’. His clients speak with nostalgia of the prewar period and even of the 1920s. Humphrey Bogart’s character calls a popular director ‘just a popcorn salesman’, and he accepts the label. In The Last Picture Show (1971), set in 1952, the town’s movie theater closes, and television is mentioned as a factor. Silk Stockings (1957) makes fun of the Cinemascope and stereophonic sound in which it was filmed, in Cole Porter’s song, ‘Stereophonic Sound’.


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city family out on the lawn and especially the young girl on the swing in Une partie de compagne (1936, based on Guy de Maupassant’s story) manages to be both highly cinematic and highly referential to painting—namely, to Fragonard’s well-known (and vertically aligned) image of a girl on a swing (Les hazards heureux de l’escarpolette, c. 1767, Wallace Collection, London). Renoir does him one better with his moving camera, and then extends the study of the girl’s emotional life to a rowing excursion on the river and a narratively climactic stop ashore, visually understated (and not only because the film was never completed as originally envisioned, primarily due to bad weather). In the Fragonard painting, we observe the dynamic of girl and her admirers; we do not trouble ourselves too much with the specifics. The moment of her flying slipper epitomizes a certain brand of young heterosexuality. By contrast, in Renoir’s shot our attention shifts from one figure to another; the viewer is inculcated into no set hierarchy. We identify with the camera and go where it goes; our attention is more flexible and less predictable. If the theme is the transience of young innocence, there is no single image that epitomizes it. Rhythmic rowing on that fateful Sunday is a prelude to the girl’s seduction, which causes her sorrow, although she does not resist. The close-up of Sylvia Bataille’s face was likely in André Bazin’s mind when he praised Renoir as eliciting moments that are ‘indecently beautiful’, ‘flashes of revelation so dazzling that it almost forces us to turn our eyes away’.135 When Henriette (Bataille) makes a bittersweet return to the riverside several years later, it is she that rows while her inane husband leans back and relaxes. Hers is clearly a life of quiet desperation. Henriette’s rowing, in contrast to the earlier rowing by the sturdy acquaintance, signals to us her life of servitude to an oaf. Renoir’s film might be thought of as an elaboration on Fragonard, though one that transforms its source. Devoid of color, it nevertheless belongs to the tradition of the fête champêtre, a study of a handful of leisured figures variously disposed about a landscape. Renoir has his moments of strong emotion for the sake of catharsis (particularly in his hymn to the steam locomotive, La Bête Humain, 1938, an adaptation of Zola), but Une partie de compagne, like Règle or Boudu, belongs to the art of dispassionate, yet sympathetic, observation. The girl on the swing is never primary; even while we track her rising and falling, the men watching her are closer to us than she is. Like the child angels on the ledge at the bottom of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (c. 1512), their down-to-earth diffidence sets up how we view the girl in the air beyond them. Later, as we watch her be manipulated 135 Bazin, Renoir, p. 80.

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by various forces around her—personal, societal, natural, the succession of events seems unexceptional, even natural. Like Une partie, René Clair’s Sous les toits de Paris (1930) is conceived in images augmented by sound, images that convey gentle humor and generalized mood rather than sudden shifts sparked by sharp repartee. In one memorable scene, a street fight takes place in the pitch black, while we listen to shouts and barks. When a car’s headlights restore visibility, we find two friends in fisticuffs, while the bad guys, with their alarming switchblades, have slipped away. The earnest Albert (character and actor share the same name), a humble street singer armed with nothing but a stumpy pocket knife, ultimately does not achieve happiness with the woman he fancies, Pola (again, shared names). In the final scene, he is back working as he had been at the beginning, his kindnesses and courtesies snubbed, yet his good humor intact. His is an urban pastoral, the central idyll very short-lived. For all the evident artificiality of the mise-en-scène and the very basic sound technology, the film sympathetically portrays life in a corner of Paris, complete with laddered stockings, disagreeable neighbors, and broken window panes, not to mention perfidy and keen disappointment—this last hinged to a woman who occupies an interesting moral space, good enough for our kind man, and yet perhaps he is better off without her. Although even silent film never completely eliminated words—and even managed to have some unforgettable intertitles136—it was certainly a medium of the image, dominantly, and those who loved it, loved it for that. Even when the camera discretely refused to show us the action (as in Hitchcock’s early Blackmail, 1929, with very limited sound, in which bed curtains shield us from the attempted rape turned murder in selfdefense), words were unnecessary. Although many movies, including silent films, descended from novels or plays (and were even commonly termed photoplays), and although particular lines of talkies were sometimes highly quotable,137 whereas its images quickly vanished more or less forever (until 136 E.g., ‘Is it possible, Ernst, that a Graduate of Oxford knows less than a Butler, how to keep a shivering woman warm?’ Male and Female (1919) (based on J.M. Barry’s play, The Admirable Crichton, 1902), 1:00; arguably it is even more noticeable as an intertitle than if it had been spoken. Lenore Coffee wrote the famous intertitle: ‘When a man of forty courts a girl of twenty, it isn’t her youth he is seeking, but his own’, for The Dangerous Age (1923), Vieira, Thalberg, p. 142. And not to be missed, from Too Wise Wives (1921): ‘There was no dust in her house but she knew now that that was not the thing of vital importance’. 137 E.g., ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’, Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind (1939); ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain’ (Wizard of Oz, 1939, possibly suggested by the delusive voice behind the curtain in Lang’s Das Testament der Dr. Mabuse, 1933, Lang having been at MGM in the later 1930s); ‘Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?’ (Little Caesar, 1931);


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the digital world arrived)—nevertheless, the history of cinema is overall a history of the increasing power of images. Rebel without a Cause (1955) has a paltry script, but the blue eyes and red jacket of James Dean long served to trigger the image of someone on the verge of an adulthood he could only despise. Even were the sound turned off, viewers of Hiroshima mon amour (1959) know from the first frames that they have entered a highly deliberated world, a world in which the camera may move when the figures barely do; a world in which what we see has been composed and yet could be taken for reality, or more nearly, for an echo of reality; a world in which the transition from one cut to another may jolt or startle us; a world of unpredictability within which we trust our sensibilities will be tempered and refined.138 Its grays are sometimes lush and at other times the tonalities of dreariness. Alberti advised looking at a picture in a mirror to scan for faults; Hitchcock recommended that, even for a talkie, ‘one must make things not only logical but visual’: ‘It is no use telling people; they have got to SEE’.139 Hitchcock, we are told by proponents of the La nouvelle vague, ‘was less interested in telling a story than in using cinematic means to impose a point of view from which it was to be seen’.140 This relative disinterest in narrative is key to the critical esteem they expressed for the director so often associated with suspense. Michelangelo […] whose rhythm flows dynamically through the undulating and swelling muscles of his figures, serving thus to voice not only the movement and position of these figures, but primarily to voice the whole flight of the artist’s emotions.141

As Renaissance artists learned the business of expressive postures and faces from ancient art, so filmmakers learned from the Old (and newer) Masters. Eisenstein compared his interest in moving line and form with Rembrandt, Delacroix, Dürer, Michelangelo, Piranesi, Van Gogh, and Cézanne.142 Cecile B. ‘our precious bodily fluids’ (Dr. Strangelove, 1964). ‘Gaslight’ became a verb on the basis of the 1944 version of the film of that title. 138 Certain scenes of Un chant d’amour (1950) by Jean Genet, cinematography thought to be by Jean Cocteau, an almost silent film, may have inspired some of the photography of the lovers’ bodies. 139 Hitchcock, Hitchcock, p. 48. In Topaz (1969), he set a scene behind the glass in a flower shop, so that one sees without hearing, as in Blackmail (1929) the protagonists confer inside a phone booth, seen by the blackmailer who does not need to hear, or in Sous les toits de Paris, in which arguments take place on the other side of the café glass doors. 140 Rohmer and Chabrol, Hitchcock, p. 22, said specifically of Blackmail. 141 Eisenstein, Film Sense, p. 171. 142 Idem, pp. 133–134. Ivan, in Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962), examines woodcuts and an engraving by Dürer.

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DeMille, when challenged about a dimly lit scene, described it as displaying ‘Rembrandt chiaroscuro’—at which the distributor stopped complaining and doubled the admission price.143 Henry Sharp, cameraman for King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928), explained that he went to the Metropolitan Museum to study Rembrandt’s restraint with light sources.144 If the movies were to be art, then any parallel with the highly esteemed Rembrandt’s shadowy treatment of the downtrodden, whether in etching ink or nearly monochromatic oils, could only help. In Abel Gance’s J’Accuse (1919), the poet Jean Diaz has a reproduction of Botticelli’s Primavera in his bunk while fighting in the trenches of World War I;145 Part I ends with a shot of the painting, made into a Gothic-arched triptych, against which skeletons are gradually superimposed (Figure 4). The climactic scene of the dead arising from the ground to accuse the living of having betrayed them in the same film re-invents Last Judgment scenes. Napoléon (1927) silhouetted the protagonist from behind looking out to sea, seemingly invoking the period-appropriate Caspar David Friedrich.146 The Pietà-like ending of How Green Was My Valley (1941) by John Ford, presented with the chorus singing a hymn, like the recurring, punctuating image of a woman sitting beside a cradle in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance: Love’s Struggle throughout the Ages (1916), reminiscent of so many paintings of 143 Arnheim, Film, pp. 72–73. In Isherwood’s Prater Violet, the Viennese director character takes the author to the National Gallery in London to look at the Rembrandt portraits for the sake of thinking about camera angles and lighting; p. 77. On Rembrandt as a model for black-and-white cinematographers, see also Dixon, Black, p. 52, and more generically the Old Masters, p. 74. Lindsay, Moving, writing in 1922, p. 10, praises Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) above Rembrandt’s etchings for realism, and suggests a comparison with Bruegel, following the suggestion of George Eggers, an arts administrator in Denver. Cf. Renoir, in Schumach, ‘Hollywood’, ‘In the beginning […] as so many directors, I thought of making Rembrandts’. 144 Sharp, ‘Camera Expert’, 1927. The costume designer for Luchino Visconti’s Le notti bianche (1957) described how he looked for greens and blues that would photograph with the tonal richness of an etching or aquatint; Criterion Collection DVD, 2005; interview, 2003. On an iconographic note, in Dr. Chumley’s office in Harvey (1950) hangs Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, Laughing (Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, c. 1668), certainly intended to add to the viewer’s amusement as the doctor learns to mistrust science and reason. 145 The interior of Edith’s marital house clearly recalls Dutch genre painting such as Pieter de Hooch’s work. Near the opening of Wajda’s Kanal (1957), in a bombed-out bourgeois house (for which the soldiers—the movie having been made in a Poland under Soviet control—express a certain disdain), the composer (played by a man who had in fact been in the Polish Resistance) is studying the Birth of Venus (c. 1480) in a Phaidon book on Botticelli, after having received disturbing news about his family. 146 F.W. Murnau’s first, and now almost entirely lost, film, Knabe in Blau (1919), offered homage to Gainsborough.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

Figure 4: Gradual superimposition of skeletons over a triptych arrangement of Botticelli’s Primavera, with intertitle: `You have to understand that there will always be beauty on this earth and that man will never be cruel enough to destroy it (Letter from a soldier)’, J’Accuse, 1919, Pathè, Abel Gance, screenshot.

the Virgin Mary,147 both draw on religious imagery that had once been as profoundly popular as the movies, and so it is not surprising that the two would find common ground. In All about Eve (1950), a small replica of Reynolds’s Sarah Siddons (1784) hangs in the stairwell of Channing’s apartment. George Cuckor is reported by James Mason to have been thinking of Henry Fuseli’s Nightmare (1781) when he planned the scene of the drunken Mayne getting out of bed in A Star is Born (1954).148 Luis Buñuel not only parodied Leonardo’s Last Supper in the much-censored Viridiana (1961), but also doffed his hat to Velázquez’s Topers (Prado, c. 1628). Resnais borrowed poses from Poussin for his sculpture pair in the garden at Marienbad (1961),149 and he credited Piero della Francesca 147 Griffith explicitly alludes to Whitman’s ‘Out of the cradle endlessly rocking’ (1859); he was criticized by Eisenstein, Sense, pp. 241–243, for failing to create the kind of montage Soviet film aspired to, and instead falling back (in general) on an analogue to the opposition of rich and poor. 148 Mason, Before, p. 249. 149 Leutrat, Marienbad, pp. 49–50, replacing an earlier idea to use Max Ernst. Resnais instead borrowed from the Achilles on Skyros (1656), Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.

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for his preference for compositions with figures looking beyond the frame.150 Joseph Losey juxtaposed the distressed face of a woman who has discovered a prostitute in her new husband’s bed with a reproduction of Masaccio’s Expulsion in Eva (1962). The film begins and ends with a shot of the Adam and Eve sculpture on the corner capital of the Doge’s Palace. Jacques Demy’s short film La luxure (1962) follows the mind of its protagonist as he imagines café patrons in the postures of figures from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490s), while consulting reproductions in a book he has just purchased about the painting. Jonathan Miller said he used a Dyce painting as a reference when picking the location for the Mock Turtle scene in Alice in Wonderland (1966). The list could go on: film directors often used the history of art, whether diegetically or nondiegetically, and not infrequently they expected their public to recognize the references. Lindsay Anderson in The White Bus (1967) includes a set of brief vignettes (in color; the movie alternates between color and black and white) alluding to Old Masters: Goya, Manet, Fragonard. Hollywood’s occasional appeal to the Old Masters was not always sophisticated nor even knowledgeable. The point was not to show learning but to get results. Joseph Henabery, actor and director of silent film, reported that on Intolerance (1916), he helped Griffith with the sets by turning to ‘a French artist called Tissot […] We followed carefully the garments that he painted in his Life of Christ’.151 When Griffith showed his film to his New York backers the response was: ‘You ought to have more sex in it’. Henabery commented, ‘As usual, the guys that sell to the public figured that the public all think in a certain way’. HIs solution was to find a painting: ‘I developed a section from an old painting known as Belshazzar’s Feast. It was a wild party, I can tell you. A real orgy. I had people lying around so that they weren’t stark naked—almost, but not quite’.152 An assistant in the crew on Intolerance, Karl Brown, explained Griffith’s approach to historical reconstruction: People believe only what they already know. They knew all about how people lived, dressed, and had their being in Biblical times because they 150 Leutrat, Marienbad, p. 28; he attributed the interest in Piero to Robbe-Grillet. Ferenc Molnár, whose involvement in film was only indirect, invoked Fra Angelico when trying to describe a certain sort of angel he imagined for a play he intended to be his work least constrained by convention and practical considerations (one that would be ‘a fantastic, irregular succession of scenes, eschewing the usual rules of drama and springing from the feelings, thoughts, dreams, daydreams, and figments of imagination’); Companion, pp. 340, 347. 151 Brownlow, Parade’s, p. 52. Sitwell, Narrative, 1938, p. 93, supposed that ‘It is extremely improbable that any painter will ever again address himself to the problems of Tissot. The film has killed direct representation’. 152 Brownlow, Parade’s, pp. 63–64.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

had been brought up on Bible pictures, Bible calendars, Biblical magiclantern shows, Christmas cards, Easter cards, pictures of every incident with which we were concerned. Never mind whether the pictures were accurate or not. Follow them in every detail because that’s what the people believe to be true, and what people believe to be true is true—for them—and there’s no budging them.153

‘Movement in an Eisenstein film functions like color in a Cézanne painting. It becomes the architectural basis of composition’, so Lewis Jacobs declared in 1939.154 Eisenstein claimed that he looked to El Greco as a ‘forerunner of film montage’, because the painter was not hemmed in by norms of realistic proportion, in particular in the View of Toledo (Metropolitan Museum, c. 1600).155 In 1968, Yuri Norstein would make an animated homage to the paintings of Braque, among others, in his salute to the Revolution and to Eisenstein’s Oktober (1927).156 The film, called 25th—The First Day, uses black-and-white and red drawings, which are highly animated, to convey the frantic disorder and clash of the Revolution. Subjected to censorship, the collaboration with Arkadiy Tyurin has been made to end with documentary footage rather than as originally intended. Even so, the eight-minute film provides a riveting example of how film both comments on the history of art and belongs in it. Directors cared about composition, and the history of art was the place to learn it. According to Michael Powell, Every cameraman and every director has his memory stuffed with images: images that have been created or obtained by fellow artists. His life is a constant search to improve those images, to invent new ones, to add to the common stock of storytelling.157 153 Quoted in Schickel, Griffith, p. 313. As for theater people, in Griffith’s opinion, ‘They don’t know human nature and they don’t care to find out about it’, quoted by Knopf, Theater, p. 98. 154 Jacobs, Rise, p. 315. He also cites King Vidor as having admired the freedom from naturalism—his word is distortion—in ‘Leger, Picasso, Matisse, and Chirico’. 155 Eisenstein, Film Sense, p. 87. Eisenstein relates El Greco’s compositional style to his love of folk music, specifically to the Cante Jondo; Idem, p. 15. He also expressed fascination with Lewis Carroll’s portmanteau words, and mentions the stylistic contrasts (between Renaissance and Baroque, for example) analyzed by Heinrich Wölfflin (1888, 1915) as well, comparing them with the aesthetics of jazz, p. 80. The Baroque was not generally recognized nor admired until the time of moviemaking; in 1877, Baedeker referred to ‘the degenerated Renaissance known as Baroque’ (OED). 156 Norstein’s work, Tale of Tales (1979), was admired by the young Peter Lord; Lord, Aardman, p. 59. 157 Powell, Autobiography, p. 38.

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The heavenward glances of desperate female leads in silent films recall, even if not intentionally, Guido Reni’s female saints, and before them Raphael, his St. Catherine (London, c. 1507) in particular. Greta Garbo’s directors relied heavily on the allure of shadow; they didn’t need to have Leonardo in mind to have benefited from his idea of beauty as enhanced by shadow. Rudolf Arnheim called Garbo’s ‘the most animated face in the history of film art’; Fellini called her ‘a spectral Athena’.158 (Figure 5) In short, according to Charles Laughton, ‘Great acting is like painting’.159 Louis Aragon felt that Godard, in particular Pierrot le Fou (1965), ought to be compared with Delacroix, in particular his monumental Death of Sardanapalus (1827), for the color compositions on a wide field.160 Youssef Ishaghpour prefers to compare Godard with Warhol, as both artists coped with the new bleeding out of aura that came with television, though he still describes Godard as ‘being in cinema as a painter in his studio is in painting’.161 In 1955, Carl Dreyer had recommended that if artistic color films were going to be made, a painter should be considered an essential part of the crew: the cinema has the possibility of becoming a great artistic experience—as far as color is concerned—only when it succeeds in entirely freeing itself from the embrace of naturalism. Only then do the colors have the possibility of expressing the unutterable, that which cannot be explained but only felt. Only then can colors help the feature film to get a foothold in the world of the abstract.162

After Rothko had an exhibition in Rome in 1962, Antonioni wrote to him and later that year visited his studio in New York, apparently saying that he found that Rothko’s art, as his own, was ‘about nothing—with precision’.163 He released his first color film two years later. 158 Arnheim, Film, p. 183 and p. 142 on the ‘famous love scene’, the cigarette lighting in Flesh and the Devil (1926), i.e., that in Figure 5; Muzzarelli, ‘Conversation’, p. 15. On Garbo’s imagery, see also Williams, Ancient Past, pp. 25–54. 159 Callow, Night, p. 7. 160 Or as he put it, ‘The art of Delacroix resembles, in this case, the art of Godard in Pierrot le fou’, Geduld, Authors, p. 147, writing in 1965. 161 Godard and Ishaghpour, Archaeology, p. 141. 162 Dreyer, Double, pp. 171–172. See also pp.118-119, 178–179, 184–185, where he cites Whistler’s emulation of Japanese woodcuts. Cf. Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947), by Hans Richter, in color for $25,000, in consultation with Duchamp, Calder, Ernst, Man Ray, and Léger. 163 Gilman, ‘Nothing’, p. 11. Bondanella compares Antonioni’s style with frescoes (‘masses of shade or color are employed in much the same way as a fresco painter might use color to express weight


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

Figure 5: Felicitas and Leo von Harden (Greta Garbo and John Gilbert), Flesh and the Devil, MGM, Clarence Brown, 1926, screenshot.

Sculpture was less often alluded to, but the movie critic Vachel Lindsay urged moviemakers to study the equestrian sculptures of Donatello and Verrocchio (apparently, replicas were frequently on display in American museums at the time), as well as the Parthenon frieze.164 He proceeds to recommend those who are considering a film to ask themselves, Is this motion as rapid, as godlike, as the sweep of wings of the Samothracian? [i.e., the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre]. Let her be the touchstone of the Action Drama, for nothing can be more swift than the winged Gods, nothing can be more powerful than the oncoming of the immortals.165

Jean Renoir commented that La règle du jeu had left him hungry to visit Italy: ‘I wanted to see baroque statues, the angels on bridges, with clothes with too many folds and wings with too many feathers. I wanted to see the kind of complex interlay of Italian baroque’.166 When André Bazin wanted to describe Jean Renoir’s style of directing, he compared him to a painter, saying that he directed his actors as if he liked them more than the scenes they are acting and preferred the scenes which they interpret to the scenario from which and volume’), Italian, p. 213. See also idem, p. 216, on the contrasting style (‘like modern abstract painting’) with which the camera is used in L’eclisse (1962). He quotes Antonioni complaining, p. 219, ‘people often say, “write a film”. Why can’t we arrive at the point of saying “paint a film”?’ 164 Lindsay, Moving, [1922 edition], pp. 116–117. 165 Idem, p. 124. 166 Renoir, Interviews, p. 8.

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they come […] this style is added to the script like rich paint liberally applied to the line drawing: often the colors obscure and spill over the lines.167

Film, he asserted, used actors to achieve ‘a situation which no longer has anything to do with dramatic expression’, which exposes actors in ‘that most revealing light which the cinema can cast on the human figure more brilliantly than any other art except painting’.168 Even the cameramen are only learning. It makes everything so exciting, you know.169

Filmmakers sometimes turned to modern artists and even architects as collaborators. L’Herbier used designs by Fernand Léger in L’Inhumaine (1924). H.G. Wells declared of his ambitious project Things to Come (1936), I thought it was worth while to come in before it was too late to try my hand at the new art […] I think it [film] is the very greatest art, with the possibility of becoming the greatest art form that has ever existed.170

In his attempt to envision the future, Wells consulted with Le Corbusier (who declined, having found the project preachy) and with László MoholyNagy, although very little of his work made it into the f ilm. 171 Wells expressly wanted the design to present an alternative to Lang’s Metropolis (1927), which he had found ‘the silliest f ilm’ and ‘ignorant, old-fashioned balderdash’. 172 He wanted the music to be a major compositional factor in the f ilm and chose Arthur Bliss, whose modernist credentials are mixed at best. Wells wrote to Bliss that he wanted ‘the audience at the end not to know what it sees from what it hears’. 173 The f ilm ‘was received by enormous audiences with a shuddery amalgam of alarm and admiration’.174

167 Bazin, Renoir, pp. 75–77. 168 Bazin, Renoir, p. 80. 169 Waugh, Vile, 1930, p. 208. 170 Quoted by Alan Wykes, Wells, p. 14. 171 Criterion edition, 2013. 172 Frayling, Things, pp. 49–50. 173 Ibid., p. 40. 174 Wykes, Wells, p. 35. Frayling, Things, p. 67, quotes the Webbs as finding it ‘ugly and depressing’.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

Jean Cocteau worked so productively with Picasso that he was willing to credit him as his most profound influence: ‘He taught me to run faster than beauty, so that it looks as though you’re turning your back on it’.175 The distinguished director Henri-Georges Clouzot filmed a documentary about his friend Picasso in 1956 (three years after his Wages of Fear), with none other than Claude Renoir as cinematographer and music by Georges Auric, in a film named Le mystère de Picasso. This movie was made six years after Hans Namuth’s much shorter film featuring Pollock painting, with music by the young Morton Feldman.176 Auric’s music, composed for the film, did not meet with much approval. Pollock narrates Namuth’s film; there is almost no text for Clouzot’s. Instead, Picasso sits behind a drawing surface and produces picture after picture, which we watch come into being with no hand visible and in reverse of what Picasso is seeing. The works made for the film were to be destroyed afterward. In many of these drawings, he is using art marker; the effect is uncannily prescient of an iPad drawing. It is fascinating to watch in which order the marks are made, though Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was unimpressed, partly due to Picasso’s attire (swimming trunks, Crowther thought).177 The drawings reminded Crowther of cartoon drawing, which did not endear the work to him: ‘The finished work may raise more delirium in an art critic than it did in us’. Sometimes we watch the work being made in real time; other times in stop-motion, so that the work almost becomes an animation as layers 175 Schiff, ‘Cocteau’, p. 62. 176 The film was not a commercial success; see Lloyd, Clouzot, p. 3, and Chapter 6, pp. 137–149. The film mixed black and white and color; this was the first time Clouzot had filmed in color. Cocteau praised it, comparing Picasso to Michelangelo; Art, pp. 114–115. Picasso had been filmed painting on glass in 1950 by Paul Haesaerts, a year before Pollock was filmed; com/watch?v=jyaPbReAumw, f ive minutes in. Picasso stares into the camera, through the glass; the prologue asserts that more has been published on Picasso in the past 30 years than on Michelangelo and Raphael in 300. In Haesaerts’s film on Renoir (De Renoir à Picasso, 1950), he rocked the camera gently back and forth to give the sense of the swaying dancing couples. For the historical context of this kind of documentary, see Jacobs, Framing, Chapter 1, pp. 1–37. Luciano Emmer had made films using works of art as early as 1942 (Guerrieri); in his case, the choice of musical accompaniment was integral to the effect. The early works had no words; that on Goya used intertitles (1950). He used extensive details, a moving camera, and in later work some animation to present works by Giotto, Fra Angelico, Carpaccio, and others. His film on Leonardo from 1952 provides sobering evidence of the condition of the Last Supper at the time, and in 1953 he filmed Picasso at work. By 1952, Henri Storck was making art historical films with color and with contemporary music. 177 8 Oct. 1957. The director and Picasso use ‘tu’ to address one another; the atmosphere is deliberately informal. An excerpt was shown in Piccadilly Circus during the ‘Picasso and Paper‘ exhibition at the Royal Academy, 2020.

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are erased and f igures shift position. Sometimes the f ilm is reversed and the work unmade; sometimes the viewers may f ind themselves wishing the artist would put down his pen and be finished rather than pressing on. Slightly less than halfway through the film, the director and cinematographer discuss the limited supply of film stock available, and whether the artist will be able to finish in time. We watch as Picasso is told he has only 45 seconds to finish and races the clock to complete his drawing. We also watch, later, as Picasso expresses dissatisfaction with a work. Ultimately, he declares it a failure and decides to start afresh. He shifts from marker to oil paint, with Clouzot expressing concern that the viewers realize that the work being shown took not ten minutes but five hours. The prologue began by expressing regret that one could not know what was in the mind of Rimbaud when he wrote ‘Le bateau ivre’ (1920) or of Mozart when he composed the Jupiter Symphony (1788), but that visual art was different from poetry or music, and that exceptionally, because Picasso had agreed to draw in public, before us and with us, we witness the ‘mécanisme secret’ of creation. To know what is in the mind of the artist, the narrator tells us, we need only watch the hand as it balances on the tight rope of drawing, as it gropes like a blind man finding his way in the blank of the canvas. The film is an extraordinary bit of art documentary, a collaboration of artists and a fusion of arts, monumentally unappreciated by the New York Times critic. It shows us—fugue-like—the most celebrated artist of the first half of the 20th century, making art in real time while in both literal and metaphorical dialogue with an illustrious filmmaking pair: artist as actor. He performs as an artist, but the model for what it is to be an artist is still at some level a writer. If Pollock shows us himself as analogous to a dancer, all footwork and kinetics, Picasso essentially writes his images, cerebrally yet spontaneously. Both films provide a valuable period parallel between visual and musical art. Walter Benjamin faulted early critics of film for trying to fit it into their traditional ideas of art.178 The Dadaists pursued a ‘relentless destruction of the aura of their creations’,179 and film is for Benjamin a normalization of what Dada introduced—the barrage of changing frames offering a toneddown version of the shock value of Dadaist works: ‘Dadaism attempted to create by pictorial—and literary—means the effects which the public 178 ‘Séverin-Mars […] [spoke] of the f ilm as one might speak of paintings by Fra Angelico’, Benjamin, ‘Mechanical’, p. 227. 179 Ibid., pp. 237–238.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

today seeks in the film’. Benjamin, focusing on the form of cinema, found the medium energizingly novel (whereas Adorno and Horkheimer, focusing on the content, would only slightly later find it anodyne, though likewise distinctively modern).180 At the other end of the spectrum, William Coldstream temporarily left painting in the 1930s to direct short films for the UK Post Office, such as The King’s Stamp in 1935, The Fairy of the Phone in 1936, and Roadways in 1937. Using amateur actors, sometimes re-enacting actual events, other times deliberately quite fantastical, his short, documentary-style f ilms show a delight in the technical tricks of film (double-exposure, splicing for special effects) combined with a serious dedication to the common good, anticipating the idealism that would fuel BBC television (which began broadcasting from Alexandra Palace in 1936). They preserve the accents and interiors of remote locations in Scotland, for instance, in a way that is near uncanny at this historical distance because it is so nearly uncontrived. John Grierson, writing in the early 1930s, advocated on behalf of ‘the raw [which] can be f iner (more real in the philosophic sense) than the acted article […] documentary can achieve an intimacy of knowledge and effect impossible to the shim-sham mechanics of the studio’.181 He wanted realist documentary rather than romantic documentary, a new documentary style that would take on ‘the job of making poetry where no poet had gone before it […] it requires not only taste but also inspiration’.182 It was, he believed, an act of citizenship and only incidentally a pursuit of art. Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grossstadt (1927) seemed to him a model to avoid: ‘Dadaism, expressionism, symphonics are all in the same category. They present new beauties and new shapes; they fail to present new persuasions’.183 His Drifters (1929) chronicled the lives of herring fishermen, changing as the industry modernized, and he presented this as an alternative to a f ilm like Ruttmann’s Berlin, which was more ‘imagist’. Although much remains to be learned about how cinema infiltrated the imaginations of painters,184 the re-emergence of representational imagery 180 Neither studied any particular film at length; both mentioned Chaplin. 181 Kahana, Documentary, p. 218. 182 Idem, p. 221. 183 Idem, p. 222. 184 Manthorne, ‘Sloan’s Moving-Picture Eye’, pp. 80–95, for a wide-ranging consideration of how moving pictures prompted Sloan’s eye. For a study of Edward Hopper and the changing world of media, see Nemerov, ‘Hopper in 1939’, pp. 50–71.

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may owe more than a little to the cultural prominence and eloquence of cinema. Francis Bacon avowed that he had wished, at age thirteen (so about 1922), to become a director after having seen Griffith’s Intolerance.185 According to Michael Powell, living in Provence in the late 1930s, When a great American director like Rex Ingram [not the actor] decided to make Europe his home and his base in Provence, he was visited and surrounded by many of the most interesting artists of his time. But they didn’t talk painting and writing and acting and dancing and singing. They talked movies. Artists have always been fascinated by motion.186

Movies that were not only black and white but also silent were received as thrillingly realistic because they moved; accordingly, they were called moving pictures (rather than silent pictures) before talkies arrived. The first movies were greeted with acclamations that echoed, unconsciously at least, praise for Renaissance art five hundred years before: ‘It is life itself!’187 For the first time in the history of art the mob has dictated what the artist should do.188

Moving pictures on celluloid made their appearance as the various academies of art were disbanding. With that, the long-standing preeminence of history painting was over—but the istoria, art that told a culture’s prestigious stories, was transforming rather than ending. The Paris Salon faded and then disappeared; its government funding ended in 1881. The Lumière brothers patented their cinématographe in 1895, the same year that they first demonstrated it at the Grand Café, 14, Boulevard des Capucines (the f irst Impressionist exhibition had taken place on the same street, no. 25, at Nadar’s photographic studio, in 1874). Cinema did not exactly pick up where history painting left off, but it did 185 Mellor, in Bacon, p. 50. Vernon (d. 1918) and Irene Castle brought the art of dancing and advertising together early on; Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers portrayed them in a film of 1939, many decades before Warhol elevated the imagery of advertising to gallery art. Warhol was eleven when that f ilm came out. Philip Guston’s To Fellini, 1958, set a record for the artist at auction in 2013, selling for $25 million. 186 Powell, Autobiography, p. 260. 187 Toulet, Birth, p. 130 from La poste, 30 Dec. 1895; or of Fox Movietone talkies, ‘Life, Brownlow, Parade’s, p. 574; idem, advertising for Vitaphone, ‘At last “PICTURES that TALK like LIVING PEOPLE!”’ 188 Henry Miller in 1939, in a lament that avant-garde f ilm was dead and only Hollywood remained, in Talbot, Anthology, p. 377.


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flourish in a world in which the pictorial storytelling associated with Romanticism and the Pre-Raphaelites had only recently ceded its cultural prestige. An example of early filmmaking that invokes Romanticism is Victor Sjöström’s Terje Vigan (1917), full of the fury of the sea and man’s inhumanity to man, based on Hendrik Ibsen’s poem of the same name, published in 1862, a subject that also inspired Ibsen’s painting called The Pilot of Haaø Island (1849). Ibsen developed the heartrending story from tales by seafaring men. D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) provided great vistas comparable to the most elaborate of history paintings, a parallel only enhanced by his nearly stationary camera, though in his case—entrancingly—the figures moved.189 Such movies could also be enjoyed by folk who had never seen a history painting; it didn’t take much education to relish a picture that moved and that came with explanatory captions, as little as it took to be fascinated by early frescoes designed for comprehensibility. Cinema provided the entrancingly lifelike art of the 20th century, as painting had during the Renaissance. Famously, an early audience was reported not to have been able to sit still when an oncoming steam locomotive was projected on the screen—just as audiences at Bernini’s theatrical spectacles had fled from the threatening appearance of fire and water.190 Even the young Varda, directing La pointe courte, despite her relative ignorance of the medium, must have had in mind that story of the movie of the locomotive when she filled her screen with a slow-moving one, her way of saying that she had deliberately directed her film in a low key—as opposed to what some called ‘the spectacle picture’.191 189 Keating, ‘The Silent Screen, 1894–1927’, in Cinematography, pp. 30–31, reports that Griffith did use a dolly (as an exceptional case), and also that some viewers found a moving camera disturbed a film’s power to create an illusion. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) had a moving camera, as did Gance’s Napoléon (1927), as exceptional expediencies. 190 Cf. Alexandre Arnoux, quoted in L’Herbier, Intelligence, pp. 330–331, on the initially disconcerted audiences of film, which he compares to Africans who are made uneasy by a still photograph. See also, idem, a former employee of Lumière’s, writing in 1933, pp. 354–358. Robert Sherwood relates Robert Flaherty’s description of the Eskimos watching his footage projected on a sheet in a hut: they ‘completely forgot that what was unfolding before them on the sheet was a picture. They yelled, screamed and shouted their advice’, Sherwood, Best, p. 7. An English summer visitor to Dieppe in 1924 noted that the audience at a film, whenever ‘anything happened to the hero or heroine, all the Frenchmen got up in their seats and bellowed out applause or curses as the case might be’; Tennyson, Penrose, p. 36. Cf. Lee, Walked, pp. 97–98, watching a movie at midnight at an outdoor cinema in Segovia in the midthirties, beamed onto a sheet and watched by ‘half the town’, a melodrama, ‘followed with gusto’, which extended not only to shouts but also to the throwing of stones. 191 Seldes, Great, p. 21.

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Cinema raised the stakes in a game that had been playing out for a long time: the moving picture transformed history painting into something more genuinely credible and immediate, in a word, more lifelike. That could be seductive. Jean Renoir would warn, ‘The root of cinema’s fatal sin is in forgetting that it must remain fictional’.192 He might be taken to be echoing, at considerable distance, Michelangelo’s disdain for the realism of Flemish painting. Both Renoir and Michelangelo favored a viewer whose suspension of disbelief required some intellectual energy; both were suspicious of an art that made it all too easy. Bernard Tavernier spoke with warmth about Renoir’s La Marseillaise (1938), which made the French Revolution alive for him through its depiction of the ordinary folk who made it happen.193 James Agee wrote, even more problematically: The most beautiful single shot I have ever seen in any movie is that battle charge [in The Birth of a Nation (1915)]. I have heard it praised for its realism, and that is deserved; but it is also far beyond realism. It seems to me to be a perfect realization of a collective dream of what the Civil War was like.194

The power of cinema might depend upon its credibility more than upon its verism, though not all viewers will have marked the distinction. For the movies weren’t all about sophistication. The public liked pictures about children and also liked to identify with those children and to feel what they felt. The critic James Agate confessed, ‘The plain fact is that I get a childish pleasure out of almost any Picture’.195 He admitted that ‘I […] will swallow 192 Quoted by Rohmer in 1952, Beauty, p. 178. 193 Tavernier, Voyage. Cf. André Malraux hailing cinema as: ‘le plus puissant interprète du monde irréel; de ce qui, depuis toujours, paraît ressembler au réel, mais à quoi le réel ne ressemble pas’; 194 Quoted by Gish, Movies, p. 151, where she also makes it clear that for her generation, Gone with the Wind was a lesser film with a bigger budget. Hemingway famously criticized Willa Cather in a letter to Edmund Wilson for relying on the movie for her descriptions of World War I battle in One of Ours (1922), but gives no specifics. On how Griffith’s movie changed the film industry, as well as issues about its ideology, see Stokes, Birth. Griffith was a Southerner. He is said to have made Intolerance in penance for the anger stirred by Birth. William Simmons refounded the Klu Klux Klan in 1915 after having seen the film, including more recent, non-Protestant immigrants as potential targets. As late as 1948, James Agee was praising it as ‘the one great epic, tragic f ilm’, p. 5. Lest it be supposed Agee had no sensitivity beyond a formal one, Agee wrote The Quiet One (1948), a documentary-style study of the psychological wounds of a ten-year-old boy in a reform school in the Hudson Valley, shot in large part in Harlem. The boy is Black, though Bosley Crowther interestingly found his race merely a ‘circumstance’ and compared the film to De Sica’s Sciuscià (1946), The New York Times, 14 Feb. 1949. 195 Agate, ‘A Private Show’, in 1924, Screen, p. 44.


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anything which the producers care to put before me’,196 as he urged management not to take advantage of its public’s undiscriminating appetite. In Cheaper by the Dozen, Frank Gilbreth’s children, Frank, Jr. and Ernestine, describe how upset their father was made by Over the Hill (1931), which depicts a mother reduced to the poorhouse, an impression also reported by schoolchildren taking a survey in 1931: ‘that picture would make anybody cry’.197 Speaking in 1940, Alistair Cooke remembered his childhood admiration for Douglas Fairbanks in the period 1917–1922 fondly: ‘Only small children and the illiterate seemed to enjoy a direct response, one of a delighted absorption in the movies themselves. All others hastened to learn a series of shamed social poses’. He was glad ‘to have had the good fortune to be a small and absorbed child during this period, who learned too late that the movies were a depressed cultural product’.198 Bernard Shaw described the audience’s reaction to Chaplin’s The Kid (1921): ‘it held the audience as a picture book holds a child’.199 The comparison is apt: the Tramp and the child he adopts by chance are both utterly sympathetic characters, the various officials and the local bully equally dislikable, the actress mother of the child (‘Her’) eminently forgivable. The theme of love between parent and child is developed to elicit laughs alternately with, as the initial title card has it, tears.200 To top it all off, at the narrative low point we segue into a dream sequence that revisits some of the earlier narrative and then leads at a rapid pace to the astonishingly happy conclusion. The dream sequence reinforces the unreality of the entire narrative (the slight Chaplin’s alacrity saves him from the bully’s blows in the dream fight), even as the movie’s sentimentality—or more positively put, the love—is perceived as genuine. Jackie Coogan’s character, The Boy, resisting being taken away from his father, is—as they would have appreciated it in the Renaissance—nature as it ought to be, psychologically at least, enacting the uncomplicated ideal of reciprocated loyalty.201 Chaplin managed to convey 196 Idem, p. 45. 197 Blumer, Conduct, pp. 97, 100, 102, 115, 175, 255. 198 Cooke, Fairbanks, p. 10. 199 Shaw, Cinema, p. 127. On the reality of vagrants and tramps in the late nineteenth century and beyond, see Lynn, Chaplin, pp. 149–155. 200 Giddins, Warning, p. 32, says of the film: ‘Chaplin invented a new kind of film—a new kind of art that balanced farce and drama, slapstick and tears, triumph and anguish’. In 1926, the actor Charles Dullin had declared that Chaplin ‘is modern without being of any school’ (‘Il est moderne sans être du aucune école […] source profound d’émotion humaine! C’est ce qu’il y a de tragique au fond de toute vie […] l’abîme entre nos aspirations et la réalité’), quoted in L’Herbier, Intelligence, pp. 302–303. 201 Chaplin spotted Coogan coming onstage after his father’s act at the Orpheum, soon after his own newborn son had died, and devised the film with Coogan in mind; Lynn, Chaplin, p. 231.

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what is usually elusive and imperfect in real life, presenting it as though it were utterly natural and simple. Watching The Kid is still like the experience of reading a children’s book, affecting but ultimately reassuring, naturalistic despite its unapologetic distance from quotidian reality. Not only The Kid but many movies offer an experience like reading a children’s book: a trustworthy narrator (whether implicit or explicit) determines pace and tone; incident is followed by resolution; the experience is as visual as it is verbal; the viewer is both entertained and taught. As with a fresco cycle, the sequence of episodes in such films follows a straightforward logic and the viewer has time to develop sympathy with the evolving characters. Just as a reader knows how many pages are left until everything must be resolved, so the viewer has a sense of the expected elapsed time. In Hue and Cry (1947), the plot revolves around comic book mysteries that seem to come true in mysterious and threatening ways in the streets of postwar London. The film itself features many child actors, though viewers of any age might find themselves rapt both by the realism of the mise-enscène and by the spooky adventure. In Jeux interdits (1952), the credits are displayed by turning the pages of a book, a familiar convention, but for this film about two children during the collapse of France in 1940, the book is specifically a children’s book. The film ends, predictably, with the closing of the book. But in an alternative version, it is the two children out in the countryside who open the book, and at the end, when the little orphan girl is left in tears by the scene in which she is lost in a crowded train station with an identifying card around her neck, the older boy reassures her that it is only a story—though of course we, the viewers, understand how like true history the story has been. The art of sequential narrative fresco cycles tapered off as the Early Renaissance came to a close: arguably, Ghirlandaio’s Life of the Virgin Mary and stories of John the Baptist in Santa Maria Novella’s choir (the Tornabuoni Chapel, late 1480s) was the last fresco cycle that read like a children’s picture book. The Sistine Ceiling (1508–1512), although a sequential narrative, was sufficiently elaborated with its proto-Mannerist non-narrative figural additions that it had evolved into a different kind of presentation, in which framing and storytelling competed dynamically. The trusting viewer, the viewer as child to be instructed, was displaced by a more canny viewer, one impressed by monumentality and complexity rather than by reassuringly familiar detail, by a splendid tableau rather than by That Chaplin edited the film in a hotel in Salt Lake City, ibid., p. 236, and that he was told by a prostitute in London how much she had liked it, p. 257.


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convincing storytelling. The viewer of a fresco cycle such as Ghirlandaio’s was looking mostly for the charming story, with some flattering local references as bonus; the viewer of the Sistine Ceiling was treated to a glorious and overwhelming spectacle, quite apart from the textual content, a spectacle that worked either when all taken in simultaneously or when parsed out sequentially. Fifteenth-century viewers did not necessarily evaluate their aesthetic standards at length. Pope Innocent VIII judged the best work on the 1480s fresco campaign in the Sistine Chapel to be Cosimo Rosselli’s. Although, to Vasari’s eye, Rosselli was the weakest of the painters in invention and design, he hoodwinked the undiscriminating Pope by using rich materials. The Pope didn’t understand art (‘poco di quell’arte intendente’) and thus was unduly impressed by Rosselli’s lavish ultramarine and gold. Vasari goes so far as to tell us that the Pope (no friend of Florence, incidentally) showed ‘poca intelligenza’, little discernment.202 Similarly, movies (like plays), have often been appreciated for the surface appeal of their costumes, their sets, and their stars, rather than for that more ineffable essence called art. Some directors have chosen to use amateur actors and to film on location, so that glamorous stars and lavish set design, the analogs to expensive pigments, don’t get all of the attention. The contrast between Elizabeth Taylor’s (or Joseph Mankiewicz’s) ‘epic’ Cleopatra (1963) and Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) roughly parallels that between Cosimo Rosselli’s Sistine Last Supper and Dürer’s two woodcut versions of the same subject, which provided purity of line rather than the allure of gold, cute pets, and obtrusive portraits of contemporaries, which break the illusion of historical verisimilitude. The less spectacular work assumes a less passive viewer. Lifelikeness was Vasari’s standard criterion for judging art. For example, he told how Donatello (c. 1386–1466) would exhort his statues to speak. In Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Buster Keaton’s projectionist character dreams his second self into the world of the movie screen.203 At the conclusion, having woken up, he avails himself of the movie still elapsing on the screen for cues as to how to kiss and propose to his girl, who has entered the projectionist booth. The Renaissance criterion of ‘lifelike’, reinvented for cinema, allowed for both for ‘realism’ and for dreamlike sequences. ‘What art has been granted a dream more poetical and more real at the same time!’ Benjamin quoted 202 Vasari and Bettarini, Vite, III, pp. 445–446. 203 In Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives (1922), the principal female reads a book of the same title, and the movie ends with a shot of the last page of that novel, which describes what has happened in the film.

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Séverin-Mars saying of cinema.204 Benjamin looked down on this as a failure of authenticity, although many advocates of cinema shared Séverin-Mars’s admiration. Valuing the illusion of reality is common to both Renaissance art and early moving pictures. Later films provided the experience of not being certain what is real. In the earlier works the viewer was trained to trust that all would be well; later, good guys can be hard to sort from bad guys. As had happened in the Renaissance, the pleasure of being taken in morphed into the desire to assert one’s sophistication (e.g., El Greco’s Christ Expelling the Money-Lenders, Minneapolis, c. 1570, with inserted portraits of four artists in the lower right, or the female character in Hiroshima mon amour, who was herself a film actress visiting Japan to make a pacifist film, 1959). In cinema, I am drawn to the idea of popularization.205

Cinema was an art whose cost for the members of the public was near negligible. A nickel suff iced in the early days, though you could pay more. Tickets generally cost a quarter during the Depression (f ive or ten cents for an uptown matinee during the 1930s). A balcony seat might cost more; in Brief Encounter (1945), Laura says the balcony is too expensive for her (she is wearing pearls as she says this, evidently completely in earnest). 206 Production costs and ticket prices both generally rose over 204 Benjamin, ‘Mechanical’, p. 227. 205 Resnais, in Geduld, Film Makers, pp. 160–161. 206 Lee, Walked, p. 37, describes that in the midthirties in London, he paid between ninepence and a shilling for the best seats, or threepence for the gallery, while making two pounds and five shillings a week as an unskilled laborer. In Llewellyn, None, 1943—though set in the mid1930s, pp. 64–65, ‘He’ takes Ada to the pictures and splurges on seats that cost one and three (shilling and thruppence), ‘in lovely sort of hairy seats, like velvet only the hairs was longer, with springs as made a bit of a squeaking row if you shifted from one cheek to the other, and a marvellous smell what they squirted out of long sprays, scent, it was, and a smashing picture in the bargain’. He goes to a West End cinema later, the same price to sit high up and far from the screen, pp. 106–107, including a science short in color before the feature about New York crime. In Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood, 1949, the balcony, at 35 cents, is ten cents cheaper; in The Naked City, 1948, a sign says seats are 60 cents, children 25. In Footlight Parade (1933), talkies are putting the musical theater shows out of business, and it is said they cost 40 cents to attend. The talkies are dismissed as a fad by Jimmy’s character, who spends the rest of the film trying to devise floor shows, ‘prologues’ (realized in the film as totally over the top hybrids of stage and film), to attract patrons to films, song and dance numbers to be distributed at multiple venues for a slight mark-up in ticket price. Even in 1919, the premiere of Broken Blossoms featured three-dollar tickets; Jacobs, Rise, p. 293. Lindsay, Moving Picture, thinks of a dime as a typical price in Illinois in 1915; my mother went to a matinee for a nickel in the 1930s in Indianapolis.


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time. Charlie Chaplin was warned against charging one dollar for the preferred seats, or f ifty cents otherwise, for the premier of City Lights in 1931, when talkies with a live show were charging 85 and 35 cents, respectively, though he triumphantly reports that the 1150-seat theater had long ticket lines.207 In 1942, in Hitchcock’s Saboteur, the truck driver who gives a lift to our hero complains about money: his wife ‘buys a new hat so she can put it on and goes to the picture show so she can take it off’.208 In King Vidor’s Street Scene (1931), a woman and her two children, who are receiving charity because the father has absconded, have gone to the ‘moving picture show’ and spent 75 cents, for which she is berated by the charity lady. ‘75 cents is a lot when you’re being dispossessed’, says the charity lady. The jolly Italian musician who lives in the same building wants to give them money to go to the moving-picture show every night. 209 Some thought of film as cut-rate theater. According to one producer in 1939, Broadway and Hollywood should really get together and then prices for plays wouldn’t be so prohibitive. They fight each other, which is bad business. Of course, Hollywood has all the best of the story situation. Broadway has to accept a play as it is written without changing it while motion pictures can take it and rewrite to suit the public taste.210

The trailer for The Philadelphia Story (1940) bragged that audiences on Broadway had been paying $4.40 to see what the movie audience could now see for a fraction of that price.211 In Rossellini’s Europa ’51 (1952), Ingrid Cooke, Fairbanks, p. 15, mentions a three-dollar ticket in 1915 for The Lamb as ‘regular theatre prices, to see if the movies could compete with the theatre’s large and respectable middle-class following […] The movies were, socially at least, no longer vulgar’. D.W. Griffith charged two dollars for his shows when others were charging 50 cents, which didn’t help when his fortunes turned; Brownlow, Parade’s, p. 80. 207 Chaplin, Autobiography, p. 332. 208 The protagonist has been whistling the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth; the truck driver says, ‘catchy!’ and sings along. 209 On the innovative score, see Reay, Synergy, p. 17. The protagonist in Llewelleyn, None (1943), p. 440, dreams of a normal, married life, and on the list is going out to the pictures; it doesn’t say every night, but the implication is quite regularly. 210 W.A. Brady Producer, quoted by Parsons, ‘Close-Ups’, 19 March 1939. 211 In ‘Opera Hat’, the story on which Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) is based, Longfellow pays $5.50 for the best available matinee seat for Lakmé, May 1935, p. 149, a price which prompts him to exclaim, ‘Gosh!’ For a price of 32 cents for gallery seats at the Comédie Française, c. 1930, see Muir, ‘How To Become’ p. 102.

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Bergman’s character undergoes a crisis of bourgeois consciousness, rejecting communism and then religion before she is confined to a mental institution. One evening, she comes back from her good deeds after her husband and friends in their fancy clothes have departed for the theater, so she goes by herself to a movie theater, next to a stage theater (Cinema, Teatro Barberini), where she watches a documentary (preceding the main feature, a comedy called Toto terzo uomo (1951), which involves themes of lifestyle and privilege). Historically, viewing art had been free; art served civic pride and religion rather than providing receipts. Nobody charged you to walk into a church in those days, and there were little sculptural shrines on city corners and larger monuments in piazzas. Art was traditionally celebratory rather than controversial, although exceptions exist. Marcantonio Raimondi made engravings in Pope Clement VII’s Rome that were deemed pornographic and ordered to be confiscated. During the Reformation, anti-papal images were made, many of them woodcuts for wide distribution, and iconoclastic riots occurred; for example, in Switzerland by the followers of Zwingli. The Netherlands saw iconoclastic riots in 1566, as also happened in England during the suppression of the monasteries under Henry VIII, beginning in 1536. Objectionable works of art remained scarce in Italy until the Baroque period, by which time the Council of Trent had laid down its strictures about the art displayed in churches. Except for paintings such as those depicting Judas and torturers of Christ, disliked for what they represented and, for that, occasionally defaced, the issue of indecorousness comes to the fore with Veronese. The figures in his painting originally titled the Last Supper (1573) who looked like Germans to the Inquisitors,212 caused trouble, as did, later, the Virgin in Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin Mary (Louvre, 1606), who reminded viewers of a bloated prostitute from the Tiber, as well as his overly intimate angel leaning on St. Matthew (destroyed, World War II), and his rather mature toddler Christ, naked, in the Virgin and Child with St. Anne (Palafrenieri Altar, now in the Borghese Gallery). Movies tended to avoid controversy, because their success depended upon acceptance by a large number of people; they were, in that sense, public works of art like altarpieces in the Renaissance. At the same time, movies were a standard part of dating, and the steamy treatment of romantic themes might encourage attendance. A movie that was deemed otherwise offensive, and 212 When the Inquisitors proved unreceptive to his defense that he had, like a poet, ornamented the subject, he changed the title to a totally obscure biblical dinner. The canvas (Accademia, Venice) is 43 feet wide.


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which did poorly as a result, is Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). In this case, the issue was more violence than sex, or perhaps simply that it struck viewers as being in extraordinarily bad taste.213 The story is about a circus, traveling in picturesque wagons. The film focuses on the sideshow freaks, and then increasingly on their tangential interactions with a few of the other circus members. There was some uneasiness, perhaps, in viewing at length and close-up persons of severe deformity. But there was considerably more than that to discomfort the viewer. The basic plot is a love triangle in which a dwarf ditches the dwarf who loves him for a blonde aerial acrobat on the make. She toys with him and then, having inadvertently learned that he has come into an inheritance, marries him and promptly tries to poison him. She starts at the very wedding feast, during which the chant sung by the freaks, indicating their acceptance of her, drives her into a drunken frenzy in which she reveals her turpitude. That sets in motion the plan to exact revenge upon her and her strongman lover, not so much by the dwarf as by the freak community on his behalf. Even in the cut version, the crisis in a terrible rainstorm and with fighting proximate to a flaming stove makes the viewer squirm. After the previews, the violent fates of the trapeze artist and the strongman were cut, including the evidence of his castration. The New York Times reviewer who saw the limited opening was unable to decide quite what he thought of it, calling it ‘out of the ordinary’ and pronouncing: ‘The only thing that can be said definitely for Freaks is that it is not for children’.214 It was banned in England.215 The epilogue that had been added after the preview to give the whole a sweeter ending satisfied nobody. The film’s notoriety finished the career of its director, Tod Browning, who had himself worked in a circus and was previously well known for his rather saccharine version of Dracula (1931). The film has considerable poignancy due to the screen presence of the two dwarves, who were actually siblings and who both worked in the circus as well as, later, in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Their dignity and earnestness is very sympathetic. The wedding feast itself is a worthy predecessor of Buñuel, fascinating and weird, and exuberant to the point of incantation. The comparison was not lost on Vincent Canby, who later hailed the work as one of the half dozen best horror films and yet also a ‘morality play’.216 In 1931, it had been pegged as a ‘circus story’.217 The special 213 Vieira, Thalberg, pp. 189–190. Cf. Diane Arbus’s later and rather sympathetic fascination with what she also called freaks. 214 L.N., 9 July 1932. 215 Low, British, p. 70. 216 Canby, ‘Horror’, 1 Nov. 1970. 217 ‘Shadow Stories in the Making’, The New York Times, 15 Nov. 1931.

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message added to Freaks as Prologue did, however, call it a ‘horror story’. It informed the viewer that, historically, people born with deformities had been feared, shunned, and treated unjustly, ‘for the love of beauty is a deep seated urge which dates back to the beginning of civilization’. The viewer is urged to overcome centuries of conditioning, to learn to have compassion for the deformed, and to try to understand their communal ethical code. Such ‘blunders of nature’ will not be seen in the future due to the advances of science, the Prologue asserts confidently. It has been suggested that the film emerged from obscurity during the 1960s precisely because of new tolerance for those who were not ‘normal’. Vincent Canby had recognized that his viewing of the film came from a post-Thalidomide point of view,218 the implication being that he found the presentation of deformity in the film lacking in compassion, despite the sentiments of the Prologue. Quite apart being the addressee of occasional prologues and epilogues of early cinema, the public—in various forms—inhabits early cinema: from Clair’s people gathered on the street to listen to the singer in the opening and closing scenes of Sous les toits de Paris (1930) and the susceptible neighbors, acquaintances, and shopkeepers in Le million (1931); to the rallying public in Renoir (Les bas-fonds, 1936) and the restive public in Marcel Carné (Le Jour se lève, 1939); as well as the struggling miners in John Ford’s How Green was My Valley (1941) or more malevolently, the mobs in Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), Fritz Lang’s M (1931), and later, Alexander Mackendrick’s The Man in the White Suit (1951), not to mention the elite yet frenzied financiers in L’Herbier’s L’Argent (1928), a conjoint personification of greed. Estimates of the extras L’Herbier used range from 1500 to 2000, in which case, there were more extras in his film than in De Mille’s extravaganzas. L’Herbier had access to the Bourse itself for three days over the Easter holiday—though one must wonder whether, when the stockbrokers saw the film, they did not feel something like the Congressmen who came to the premier of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) or the Hollywood big shots who attended the premier of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), who were shocked to see so bold a variant on the typical tale of featuring hard-earned show-business success (usually stage success). Instead, they got the spectacle of a star’s decline from narcissism into madness. Realism didn’t always involve shooting in dark alleyways. The technically brilliant shot in L’Argent of the milling throngs at the center of the Bourse, meant to remind the viewer of an anthill (and possibly 218 Thalidomide was on the market from 1958 to 1962 and caused thousands of birth defects.


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remembered by Antonioni when he filmed, more straightforwardly, the frenetic stock market in L’eclisse, 1962), is almost unrecognizable when the viewer first sees it, appearing in a startling and brilliant montage between a suggestively phallic and breast-like shot of parts of the airplane (Figure 6) and an aerial view of the light disk at the center of the Bourse.219 Saccard announces to the celebratory party at the bank that money is the cause of the heroic accomplishment of the aviator, Hamelin, and then immediately launches with evident lust toward the aviator’s wife, Line, who has left to watch from a balcony the jubilant but orderly crowds celebrating in the Place de l’Opéra. Her excitement (at Hamelin’s successful flight) is paired with Saccard’s (for her). He eyes her while we see, behind him, a map of the world he plans to dominate. Throughout the film, lust and greed motivate the actions of almost everyone, the exception being the heroic yet vulnerable aviator and his loyal wife. Such scenes of thronging people reflect, to some degree, the artist’s image of his audience, the demos, a visualization of the public as a political force, or, alternatively, of the mass anonymity of the modern, urbanized world. As consumers of film, the crowd knows it cannot have access to an original; it knows itself to be responding to a product made for the masses. The f ilm audience queues, it jostles, it hears the munching of popcorn as it watches. The crowd may signify modern anonymity or the force of desperate massed craving (what capitalism likes to dub benignly as ‘market forces’). Watching many of these films that feature large anonymous groups of people has itself a cumulative, extra-narrative effect: viewers are made aware of themselves, indirectly. The crowds they watch can be thought of as good or bad, depending on the narrative in which they appear, but the sense that an impetus comes from these masses rather than from the traditional heroic type is a message particular to f ilm, and to the cumulative experience of f ilm (particularly to f ilms of the Depression era) in which the crowds portrayed often act as a surrogate for the film audience itself. In Leslie Howard’s The Gentle Sex (1943), a film made to promote the war effort,220 he narrates the opening scene in a train station, standing 219 L’Herbier remembers the camerawork in Tête, p. 157. 220 Cf. Josef von Sternberg’s The Town (1944), an illustrated narration about life in Madison, Indiana, also made to support the war effort. He did not count it as part of his oeuvre. Sternberg (1894–1969) usually insisted on controlling many aspects of production. He said his influences came from literature and painting rather than from other films, and that actors were ‘bits of color on the canvas’, K. Brownlow, ‘The World of Josef von Sternberg’, BBC, 1967 (on Criterion Collection, DVD, The Scarlet Empress, 1934).

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Figure 6: Spit-second view of airplane, L’Argent, Société des Cinéromans, Marcel L’Herbier, 1928, screenshot.

on a mezzanine above the milling throng. The camera then zooms in on a succession of young women whose intertwining stories will be told. The viewer is privy to the authorial point of view (the narrator/director up on the mezzanine) while also sharing a sense of mass identification with the throng of train passengers; the film audience partakes of both the masterful beholding eye and the leveled status of the beheld. It isn’t quite the perfect analogy to Las Meninas (1656), but there is some comparability in the sense of having drawn attention to the artifices of viewpoint and then simultaneously insisting upon the palpable reality of what is so artificially presented. Understanding that he lived in an early era of filmmaking, Clair declared in 1923, That naïve, mystical spirit, which is that of the crowd, and by repercussion of the film-makers,—is not to be despised. All arts have had it at their birth. We are now living in the medieval period of the cinema. Let us look forward to the Renaissance.221

221 Clair, Reflections, p. 30.


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By the 1930s, the scale of a typical movie operation had started to mushroom,222 and the tenor of the enterprise was changing. Postwar, the specter of decadence loomed whenever that ‘naïve, mystical spirit’ of the early, pre-specialized years might still be recalled. Jean Renoir opined in 1959, All technical refinements discourage me. Perfect photography, larger screens, hi-fi sound, all make it possible for mediocrities slavishly to reproduce nature; and this reproduction bores me. What interests me is the interpretation of life by an artist. The personality of the film-maker interests me more than the copy of an object.223

In the fifteenth century, images not only depicted miracles but wrought them every now and then (even up until Raphael’s Spasimo di Sicilia, c. 1516, rescued from a shipwreck); in the 20th century, the miracles were provided by the scriptwriters or the special-effects technicians, but the viewers still needed to believe, or almost to believe, in them. If glamour may be counted as a miracle of sorts, then cinema worked many miracles: for example, in Lady for a Day (1933, Frank Capra) a poor, 75-year-old fruit seller is gussied up to seem like a society lady, for the sake of her unsuspecting visiting daughter, or, more routinely, what the trailer for a Busby Berkeley musical (Wonder Bar, 1934) called ‘miracle extravaganzas’.224 ‘Though impervious to the sacred, I loved magic’, avowed Jean-Paul Sartre in reference to his interest in film.225 Carl Theodore Dreyer, whose silent and stark Le passion de Jeanne d’ Arc (1928) made religious faith cinematic, tried to create a miracle on-screen in Ordet (1955, set in 1925), a quiet though not silent film. In the latter, the sole credit is to Kaj Munk, playwright but also pastor, Lutheran martyr killed by the Gestapo in 1944, the source of the story. We watch good people suffer 222 Jacobs, Rise, pp. 293–295, reports that The Birth of a Nation cost $100,000, Ben Hur (1959), six million; in 1920, the average five-reeler cost less than $80,000, but by 1929 this figure was up to $200,000. Salaries escalated similarly (p. 294), and producers started to have more say than directors. Hardy, in Balcon, Twenty, p. 92, reports that in the mid-1940s a British feature film typically cost 100,000–200,000 pounds, and if in color, 250,000, with a hope of making 300,000 from the British market. Henry V (1944) and Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) cost two million pounds together, i.e., were on the scale of Hollywood. In 1949, color was estimated to add ten percent to the production cost of a feature and added 25 percent to earnings; distribution costs for color increased across the 1940s; Kindem, Industry, pp. 153–154. Trumpbour, Selling, p. 272, reports that a French feature in the 1930s cost one-fifteenth of what an American film would cost. 223 Geduld, Film Maker, p. 287. 224 The trailer for Broadway Melody of 1940 calls itself ‘The Miracle Musical’. 225 Geduld, Authors, pp. 45, 64. Jameson muses over Sartre’s interest in film as a catalyst for his existentialism, Signatures, p. 5.

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during the course of everyday life; a community of people struggle to know what is true, where fault lies, and when hope is possible. The mise-en-scène is spare, though meticulously arranged, and as effective as in a work by Giotto. There is next to no music; the rhythm of the film is solemn without being ponderous. Personal and social frictions barely exist relative to the great questions of whether a miracle is still possible and whether an adult can yet harbor abundant faith. By contrast, in The Man in the White Suit (1951) is a figure of science. Alec Guinness’s character, Sidney Stratton, scientist and inventor, is both imaginative and credulous, indomitable—a modern Don Quixote who loves science more than he is attracted to a sympathetic and beautiful woman. We must acknowledge him as delusional, and yet at the same time, as genuine, a man who is unaware of the crowds around him and equally of public opinion. His ‘miracle’, a cloth that neither gets dirty nor worn, made by some sort of science that involves radioactivity, is renounced not only by the mill owners but by the mill workers, who go on strike, fearing the invention would put them out of work. In the end, the ‘miracle’ is not only not wanted, but is revealed as delusory, as a merely temporary effect. The crowd, the people he had hoped to help, have already denounced him, and the movie viewers are left at the end, as Sydney moves on looking for a new laboratory in which he can work toward finding the fabric that never wears out, sympathetic though scarcely admiring.226 Sydney Stratton is naïve, as is Will Kane in High Noon (1952); the people around them are canny, suspicious, condemnatory—as opposed, for instance, to Frank Capra’s neighborly masses, which could effect miracles that acted as a kind of synecdoche for democracy, for the faith by which the weak (David, or Mr. Smith and Mr. Deeds) overcome the mighty (Goliath, big money). By the time of John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), the dominant theme is the amusing gullibility of the onlookers, rather than the triumph of the meek. Le cinéma libérera-t-il la peinture.227

Cinema didn’t merely extend the viability of Alberti’s istoria. Instead, it recovered something that had existed in the time of narrative painting 226 Cf. Charley Bowers, Egged On (1926), a short about a youth who invents a way to make eggshells less fragile. Comparable labor issues are addressed by The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951), though in that film a serendipitous engineering breakthrough, achieved by an artist, saves the day for labor and management both. The film’s subtitle is ‘A Drama of Real Life’. 227 L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 248.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

before the academies. When Sassetta depicted St. Anthony appalled by the sight of a rabbit, or Pisanello set his princess against a fairy-tale landscape that included a gibbet, artists felt free to invent because they trusted their viewers’ naïveté, their willingness to follow wherever the painter wanted to go. Academies restricted where a painter felt comfortable going, and taught connoisseurs to act as police, looking for violations. The historical assimilation of that deceptively monolithic-seeming category, Renaissance painting, into the more sophisticated, critically aware Old Master academic tradition camouflages to some degree the affinities between Renaissance art and early cinema. When Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers burst into highly co-ordinated dance upon first meeting (Swing Time, 1936), cinema viewers were just as willing as Sassetta’s viewers to overlook the basic implausibility of what they were being shown—not because in either case artist or viewers were ‘primitive’, but because the very freshness of storytelling was as yet unspoiled. The need to make one’s predecessors look inferior was unknown, and one could take pleasure in the story without requiring more than patchy verisimilitude. René Clair’s early movies were fairy tales, albeit lusty ones, never merely saccharine, and tinged with ruefulness. The sets were sometimes still Expressionistic; the sound was clearly a separate modality from the images; at times, darkness totally obscured the action and one listened, wondering. Throughout, the f ilms were imbued with a certain amazement at the improbability of their own projects and, especially, their fulfillment. One knows, watching the painter Michel wrestle with his difficulties (Le million, 1931), both that life is very hard and that youth is very sweet. Or, in the case of À nous la liberté, one knows that for Émile life is very hard and friendship very sweet. What is essential—as in a children’s story—is that the audience participates by setting aside disbelief and experiencing a range of emotion in company, not that the plot and its presentation create a compelling illusion of reality. When the pawnshop wall opens to reveal the headquarters of the kindhearted crook Fred and his merry band of men in Le million (Fred will ultimately save the day), the viewers recognize that they have entered the realm of simple, enchanting fable, the world as we wish it were. Later movies often centered on personal desire; the early ones attended more to communal wishes. Like Fra Angelico and other early Renaissance artists, Clair knew how to make images to which the viewer happily acquiesced, having been heartened more than flattered. Clair knew that he was striving to present fiction, though by no means mindless fiction. He queried plaintively in 1932, ‘When will the lyricism

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of pure fantasy rule on the screen?’228 —as it had, for instance, in Clair’s Paris qui dort (1923). Federico Fellini’s Lo sceicco bianco (1952) replaces fairy tale with comedy. A young girl encounters her matinee idol on a swing high above her like a vision, like a parody (to our eyes) of Fragonard, then with her we experience a day of filming, complete with havoc, pettiness, bickering, lying, and recrimination: an aperçu into an art whose making is devoid of dignity.229 The ‘sheik’ leaves at the end of the day on a Vespa behind his dominating and totally unglamorous wife; the girl eventually makes her way back to St. Peter’s to be greeted by her new in-laws and blessed by the Pope (a second illusion of augustness, presumably). ‘You are my sheik’, she says to her unprepossessing though affable enough bridegroom after her adventure. The humor hurts. Her daydreams have made a fool of her and of her husband. The high-octane romance and drama of Rudolph Valentino’s silent hit The Sheik (1921)—which for more recent viewers borders uncomfortably on rape fantasy (the novel heeding no such boundaries)—has been brought down to earth, down to the very cobblestones of Rome, as seen through the eyes of provincials from Vicenza. Like Wanda, retrieved from the banks of the Tiber in her muddy harem outfit, her illusions benignly if somewhat uncomfortably evaporated, we too have learned to mistrust our fictions. Unlike her, we have even learned to enjoy mistrusting our fictions. Surely if this new medium [film] could produce material of this strength and richness one need not continue to regret Bernhardt and Duse.230

The history of cinema, the history of art, the history of literature, and the history of theater and dance are all tied together not only by particular borrowings, but because their projects are analogous.231 They all serve to 228 Dale, Films, II (Documentation), p. 6. In a video interview (BBC), he defended popular art, ‘not in the vulgar sense […] “popular” means able to be understood and liked and to be still good’; 229 Fellini describes the evolution of the screenplay as starting from a few pages by Antonioni, developed by him together with Tullio Pinelli; Fellini, Making, pp. 77–84, 93–94. 230 The opinion of a reputable tailor, as presented in Tey, Shilling (1937), p. 59. 231 Faure supposed that dance and cinema were particularly related: ‘The dance in every epoch, like the cinema in ours, is charged with uniting plastic art with music, through the miracle of a rhythm at once visible and audible, that introduces into time the three dimensions of space’: History of Art [1930]), p. 310. Belmondo’s character is reading Faure’s History of Art in Pierrot le fou (1965), and quotes him at the beginning of the film, specifically on Velázquez. See also Bordwell, Narration, on continuities of theater, perspective construction, the literary imagination, and film, esp. pp. 4–15.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

extend and intensify experience, so that we think and feel with maximal saturation (even if what we are feeling is diffidence), potentially as an audience community rather than in the relative isolation of daily life. The audience is re-created in response to the work of art, potentially over centuries. That audience can also be retained in part by historical consciousness and rendered, to a degree, cumulative. As political rights were distributed more and more widely, and as Freud made it clear that minds were powerful and distorting filters of experience, so grew the realization that the significance of works of art depended importantly upon their auditors, readers, and viewers—in a word, their evolving publics. Cinema, which might have seemed to render the public more passive and isolated than in the case of live performance arts, could be thought of instead as the creature, potentially a monster, made in accordance with mass taste. The cinema public, broader by far than that for museums, has been anticipated only by that of the less expensive prints (e.g., woodcuts, engravings, etchings). Abel Gance sounded the call: for the first time in cinema [he writes of Napoléon, in 1924], the audience must not be a spectator as it has always been up to now, leaving it the option of holding back and criticizing. It must be an actor, just as it is in real life […] It [the audience] must be drawn into the visual drama as the Athenians were into the tragedies of Aeschylus.232

The viewer was meant to take possession of the experience. Gance would have been startled by the idea that film as an art could leave its viewers in a quandary. A Romantic at heart, he wanted the public to be galvanized by the themes of the films it saw and to discover in them political resolve. His Napoléon was not only an epic subject told at epic length,233 but an exploitation of all the means cinema offered to tell about history: he used rapid-fire montage and superimposition (sometimes three or four layers), blurred shots of foliage to show the speed of racing horses, filters, occasional location shooting, as many as nine panels on the screen at once, a camera that receded to keep in front of onrushing horses and marching soldiers, or moved with the cannon as it was fired or that swung out and back over the National Assembly as the chaos of the Terror begins, intercut with shots 232 King, Gance, p. 89. He also deemed the project Homeric; Napoléon, in 1925, addressing the crew, p. xix. 233 The 2016 BFI digital restoration runs five and a half hours (330 minutes). The early versions ran for as much as nine and a half hours.

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of Napoleon’s buffeted boat in the rolling waves of a storm as he escapes from Corsica.234 The effects continue to be quite astonishing to this day, though distinctly not fey and magical like Méliès. Gance called his ideal for the cinema ‘the music of light’.235 When he shows us Napoleon entranced with a spinning globe, within which he sees the face of Josephine, or in the General Assembly having a vision of the dead leaders of the Revolution, this represents the hero’s state of mind on the big screen. Gance sought to make both a more modern and a more eloquent art, as had artists of the Renaissance. The assault on Toulon, as portrayed by Gance with its vivid scenes of muddy death in darkness, even the hand of a dying man being crushed under a wagon wheel, must have brought up memories of the recent Great War. The closing sequence of the overwhelming triptych imagery ended with blurred falling water, each frame tinted to combine to make a Tricolour. Nobody had ever seen anything remotely like it. Even as Gance theorized about achieving the public’s unified response to an eloquent work, the idea that the role of the public might lie entirely elsewhere—in its willingness to renounce linear constructs of meaning and to embrace incongruous juxtapositions or to tolerate antiheroic images; in its readiness not to believe what it was shown and yet to be fascinated by it, to esteem randomness as much as, or more than, predictability—was simultaneously being developed by Dada and the Surrealists, and was soon evidenced by Salvator Dali and Buñuel in their Un chien andalou (1929), a work much admired by Jean Vigo. Freud had broken the hold of the artist on controlling the meaning of his work, either in his own eyes or the eyes of others. Writers had already been exploring stream of consciousness when cinema had barely begun and films lasted but a few seconds.236 The death of the author at Barthes’ hands followed logically enough from the demotion of authority, including authority over ourselves.237 Novels with ambiguous or open-ended plots became as normal as the familiarly conclusive ones, which had so often ended with a wedding after a courtship that involved troubles. Whereas theater needed to conclude with applause, cinema did not. Charlie Chaplin recognized this as early as The Great Dictator (1940), 234 Gance quotes Victor Hugo in the script, comparing the Convention to a stormy ocean; Napoléon, p. 58. 235 Gance, Napoléon, p. xxii. 236 That Marshall McLuhan claimed that writers had learned stream of consciousness from film, Geduld, Film Makers, p. 16. 237 It is worth observing that Robbe-Grillet, Novel, p. 11, understood the myth of the genius as disempowering the author relative to the reader, rendering the author an ‘unconscious monster’ who mediates between readers and the divine.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

the ending of which is a passionate speech about humanistic values, given by the surrogate Hitler (actually a Jewish barber) and heard by Hannah (the love interest, played by Paulette Goddard) far away over the radio, but which takes the narrative to an odd place from which there is no neat resolution, a place from which all fictional convention has been shorn.238 We are left with no way to understand the story except as a fiction concocted to inculcate the desired feelings of outrage and sympathy. The Great Dictator ends stymied,239 as had City Lights (1931). Cinema had often ended with a sigh or a smile, and it was learning to end in a gasp, even in film that did not aspire to be regarded as art, such as The Italian Job (1969).240 In some ways, this had long been anticipated, for example, in experimental and short f ilms such as Germaine Dulac’s La coquille et le clergyman (1926, based on a book by Antonin Artaud), a strange concoction that lurched between the fantastical and the recognizable for the sake of excavating the mind. An opposite to the politically motivated films of Eisenstein, work such as Dulac’s nevertheless shared traits such as discontinuity and leaving the bourgeois viewer disturbed. It was shown in England only to the Film Society in 1930, with cuts, the Board of Film Censors having deemed it ‘so cryptic as to be almost meaningless. If there is a meaning it is doubtless objectionable’.241 Barthes’s essay, ‘The Death of the Author’ (1967) may well have owed something to cinema, perhaps even specifically to Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), which puzzled its public and anticipated many of literature’s forays 238 Godard saw the final speech as anticipating cinéma-vérité, and reports that Chaplin is held in regard comparable to Leonardo; Cahiers du cinéma (XXV, no. 150–151, Dec. 1963–Jan. 1964), p. 118. 239 Cooke urged Chaplin to cut the last ten minutes of the film; Movies, 16 Oct. 1940, pp. 182–183. He also opines, ‘Whatever the fate of Adolf Hitler, the German people may groan to know that his speaking likeness will go down to posterity in the brilliant speeches that Chaplin delivers to “the sons and daughters of the double-cross”’. The speech was filmed one week after the fall of France; f ilming on the Great Dictator began two weeks after the nonaggression pact was signed between the Soviet Union and Germany. Chaplin reports that, while he was working on the film, he was warned against it by producers, but that they had changed their minds by the time it opened. Archie Mayo, director, among other f ilms, of The Petrified Forest (1936), printed the closing speech on his Christmas card, praising it as the Gettysburg Address of his time; Chaplin, Autobiography, p. 399, where it is printed in full. Dictator was shown in Rome in Oct. 1944, not to great acclaim (indeed, the event must have been very strange). See also Letters to the Screen Editor, The New York Times, 27 Oct. 1940, in which it is debated whether the f ilm is marred because it is propaganda, or immortal because, like Shakespeare, it uses soliloquy. 240 Possibly with an allusion to The Gold Rush (1925). 241 Low, British, p. 70.

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into obfuscated plots.242 A once-again befuddled Bosley Crowther found L’Avventura self-indulgent.243 He sputtered: What Michelangelo Antonioni, who wrote and directed it, is trying to get across in this highly touted Italian mystery drama (which is what we take it to be) is a secret he seems determined to conceal from the audience. Indeed he stated frankly to a reporter from this paper last week that he expects the customers to search for their own meanings. ‘I want the audience to work’, he said.

Barthes surely was aware of the controversial contender at Cannes, where it was initially booed,244 only to later be given a Special Jury Prize; in 1980, he wrote that L’Avventura demonstrates an ‘art of the interstice’, reminiscent of the Orient.245 He commended Antonioni: ‘you accomplish very precisely the task of the artist as our time requires it: neither dogmatic, nor empty of signification’.246 The divide in cinema between a populist take on the art, that it should sweep the public up in epic grandeur and set it down in a better place, and a more highbrow and specifically modern ambition, that cinema be tendentious or trying for its public, and potentially leave its public irresolute, puzzled, or in a mentally and/or emotionally abstract place, tended to correlate with movies sold either by their star power or by those known first and foremost for their directors. Barthes opined that ‘the theatre strikes me as a much more “rudimentary”, much “cruder”, art than the cinema […] and it is therefore closer to practical tasks of a subversive and oppositional kind’. In the case of cinema, he hoped instead for a neutrality of content: ‘The best films (for me) are those which are best at suspending meaning’.247 242 Already in 1956, Robbe-Grillet acknowledged that the task of authors had undergone a revolution, that instead of seeking to research the depths of nature and present ‘triumphant messages’ to readers, they provide instead ‘the visual or descriptive adjective, the word that contents itself with measuring, locating, limiting, defining’, Novel, p. 24. Landy, Italian, p. 300, associates Antonioni with ‘poststructuralist attempts to rethink the language inherited to describe the world, and […] its intimate connection to the figure of woman as a cultural creation illuminated through the illusory and evanescent properties of cinema’. 243 The New York Times, 5 April 1961; see also 9 April, in which Crowther finds it ‘too far out’. 244 It is said that both Antonioni and Vitti left the showing in tears, that the audience had laughed inappropriately, although by the next day a letter in support had been sent to them with 35 signatures, including Rossellini’s and that of Bazin’s widow, Janine. 245 Nowell-Smith, L’Avventura, p. 66. 246 Quoted by Nowell-Smith, L’Avventura, p. 65, again from an address at an awards ceremony in 1980. See further, Schwarze, ‘Consuming’, pp. 196–215. 247 Hillier, Cahiers, p. 282 (no. 147, Sept. 1963).


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

At present cinema is the great popular art form, which is to say it is not an art at all.248

Directors regularly faced many of the same dilemmas and issues as had their Renaissance forebears: how to integrate the visual and the verbal components of narrative imagery; how to maintain the artistic integrity of work that was increasingly intended for the widest possible public rather than for a cultural elite (in this case, meaning the narrower parallel between Renaissance print market and the film public, both available to those not well-off); and perhaps the most basic problem of all, how to make one work after another without becoming repetitious or predictable on the one hand, or sensationalistic or silly on the other. At least by the 1950s, movies had to compete with television, as in earlier times the development of a vibrant theater, music, and opera supplied an implicit competitor for the attention of art patrons in early modern Europe. Bernini and Vanbrugh wrote plays; many artists even before them had staged elaborate spectacles, their live action offering a compelling experience that competed with what art and architecture could offer. Leonardo had engineered spectacles and amusements for the Duke of Milan; Dürer had designed printed imagery for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian; Inigo Jones designed costumes for the lavish fêtes of Charles I; and Jacques-Louis David invented the pageantry of the French Revolution. It was typically part and parcel of an artist’s brief to make whatever images would be valued in whatever medium: sets, costumes, posters and placards—in general, publicity for the state and for its cultural institutions, be they church- or state-funded. Artists had grown rich beginning with the High Renaissance and especially during the Baroque period. They had formed academies, and eventually acquired dealers and wrote manifestos, though their activity had never been regularized into a corporation complete with investors, producers, distributors, and marketers—except perhaps in the underbelly of 20th-century art called advertising, itself the inspiration for Pop art. Hollywood, by contrast, was a money-making enterprise on a grand scale. One observer in the 1930s described the American motion-picture industry as a monopolistic rivalry between Morgan and Rockefeller.249 In 1933, Irving Thalberg (1899–1936) of MGM already warned against constraining creativity in a harness designed to enhance productivity: ‘the human mind is incapable of doing creative work regularly under conditions 248 Henry Miller in 1939, in Talbot, Film, p. 375. 249 Jacobs, Rise, p. 421.

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that call for a time-table delivery of creative efforts’.250 He criticized the rival studio Paramount: ‘they have never had any idealism in their organization. It has been a plant run for the purpose of making money’.251 He thought Warner lacked taste, and he urged instead that ‘we must make great, not indifferent pictures’.252 Jack Warner was unimpressed with the Academy Awards won by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) because its receipts had disappointed: ‘Art is out’, he announced peremptorily.253 As David O. Selznick recognized in 1940: However good a picture is, the business credits or blames you according to its commercial success or failure; and I am more convinced than I have ever been in the past that whatever success or failure I shall achieve in the future is going to be dependent upon the extent of the competence with which my pictures are exploited and sold.254

Adorno and Horkheimer soon thereafter argued memorably that movies existed to turn the public into a docile source of profit: ‘To impress the omnipotence of capital on the hearts of expropriated job candidates as the power of their true master is the purpose of all films, regardless of the plot selected by production directors’.255 The name of Hollywood conjured up both the power of money and the tendency toward exploitation and greed. In 1927, René Clair had warned ‘the cinema will die of money’: ‘to accustom the masses to shows of which the chief quality is expensiveness, is equivalent to committing suicide’.256 250 Vieira, Thalberg, p. 243. In the same year, Jacques Feyder, brought by Thalberg to MGM (1929–1933), praised Hollywood’s facilities. He found Americans ‘des gens simples, sans arrièrepensée’, the producers too servile with regard to the taste of the public; in Ford, Feyder, pp. 101–103. 251 Idem, p. 227. 252 Idem, p. 228. 253 Seldes, Great, p. 34. Nicoll, Theatre, 77, quotes Howard Cullman, director of the Roxy, as having given a lecture titled ‘Why the motion pictures are not an art’, and defending this absence of art as democratic; for him the art of the Greeks was ‘aesthetic’, unlike this new democratic artlessness. 254 Thomson, Showman, p. 348. Cf. complaints by the French in 1932 that the expense of filmmaking renders it particularly enslaved to money (in L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 474; and in 1937 that tax breaks ought to be provided for films of artistic worth, p. 485, or perhaps even a peace prize for a worthy film, p. 486). 255 Adorno and Horkheimer, ‘Culture Industry’, p. 88. Adorno and Horkheimer cited Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, and Greer Garson. For them the masses suffer from corrupted taste, preferring Donald Duck to Betty Boop. 256 Clair, Yesterday, p. 117; see also pp. 83, 88, where he specifically praises Chaplin for proving ‘that mind can be the master of this industry’.


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In 1930, Penrose Tennyson went to see Broadway Melody (1929) and wrote home to his parents: Nothing has annoyed me so much since my last Sunday Chapel […] The one professes to appeal to your so-called better side through the conventionalities of song and sentiment, the other appeals to your worse side through the conventionalities of chorus girls and chemises. But the really infuriating thing about them is that their methods are not necessary—what everybody really enjoyed last night was a fat man who stuttered. If the only way you could get people to a cinema was by shewing them pictures of a lot of harlots walking about in their underclothes, well the public would be to blame, not the producers. But this is not so.257

John Grierson referred to ‘the Woolworth intentions’ of film studios.258 Joris Ivens referred to the ‘Big Companies […] [which] flatter the public’s poor taste by adapting to it, indeed by taking inspiration from it’.259 In 1937, Graham Greene described how Louis Mayer (at that time, the father-in-law of David Selznick) came to London and gave a lunch for leading lights of the British film industry, offering them money for no thought, for the banal situation and the inhuman romance: money for forgetting how people live; money for ‘Siddown, won’t yer’ and ‘I love, I love, I love’ endlessly repeated […] the writers, a little stuffed and a little boozed, lean back and dream of the hundred pounds a week—and all that’s asked in return the dried imagination and the dead pen.260

Mayer’s eventual usurper, [Isa]Dore Schary, defended the norms of Hollywood by claiming that ‘the history of art shows that art flourishes under pressure. Titian’s art flourished under pressure’.261 We may well suppose that the Renaissance clergy were as unbothered by the pursuit of artistic excellence as Hollywood producers and their 257 Tennyson, Penrose, p. 83. 258 Kahana, Documentary, p. 219, in 1932–1934. 259 Idem, p. 196, in 1931. 260 Greene, Essays, pp. 425–426. When Louis B. Mayer was forced out of MGM in 1951, it was reported that he had had the highest salary in the country for seven years; Ross, Picture, p. 214. Arthur Mayer (not related to Louis B.), ‘Why Hollywood’, 1934, pp. 18–21, blames the public for preferring pictures that are ‘risqué, gangster, or wild-youth’, rather than blaming block booking, and takes aim at United Artists. 261 Ross, Picture, p. 189.

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distributors; they were sometimes disturbed by the kind of attention some of the altarpieces elicited—but they did not go so far as to judge altarpieces by the donations left. Relics fulfilled that function. Renaissance patrons wanted to spend their way to salvation, and no mere accountant could tell them how that particular bottom line looked. Hollywood bosses, on the other hand, were realists: ‘men who manipulate the spending of millions must put aside enthusiasm for anything but money’.262 As Renaissance art had tended toward sensual subjects to satisfy private collectors,263 so producers sought racy depictions. P.G. Wodehouse observed wryly that Hollywood desired ‘something with lots of sex in it, but not too much, because of Will Hays’.264 King Vidor reflected on his profession in 1934: Pictures these days seem to spend most of their time showing the difficulty some young men experience in trying to get a girl […] In real life it isn’t such a difficult feat. Why spend $200,000 on it? What makes Hollywood think that the public wants sex?265

In Un homme et une femme (1966), an unabashed love story, the male lead comments over a Sunday lunch, ‘When something’s not serious, we say it’s like a film’. The female lead, played by Anouk Aimée, responds that this perhaps reflects that one goes to the movies when there are no pressing problems (‘quand tout va bien’). The frivolousness of films is a theme in Christopher Isherwood’s novel Prater Violet, set in 1933, published in 1945, in which a novelist collaborates with a Viennese Jewish director on a silly screenplay while the director worries about his family and the Nazis, the danger of which has not yet fully dawned on the English. Using his experience writing for Berthold Viertel’s Little Friend (1934), Isherwood portrays Old World artistry trapped in a commercial enterprise, against the backdrop of the desperation felt by the politically aware in the 1930s. The mother of the novelist says sympathetically, ‘Really, the films nowadays seem to get stupider 262 Hecht, Child, p. 471. 263 Bell, Art, p. 163: ‘if we are to understand the popularity of Titian’s and Veronese’s women, we must take note of their niceness to kiss and their obvious willingness to be kissed’. 264 Wodehouse, ‘The Hollywood Scandal’, Louder, from 1932, p. 20. He had earlier written, ‘They seem to have such passion for sex stuff. I wonder if they really know the taste of their audiences’, Taves, Wodehouse, p. 42. 265 ‘Independence’, The New York Times, 29 July 1934. Vidor further criticized the process by which eight people had to approve a screenplay. One person has an idea, and then the other seven ‘make him put everything into the script, even material that can be handled by the camera, and the result is the film is too obvious’.


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and stupider. No wonder they can’t persuade any good writers to come and work for them, no matter what they offer’.266 In his autobiography, writer John McGahern describes his mother’s reaction to seeing Gone with the Wind when it was new: ‘while she admired the vividness of the cinematic technique, she disliked the vision of life it portrayed. She thought it shallow’.267 Even that movie’s producer, David Selznick, as quoted by scriptwriter Ben Hecht, was unremittingly vituperative in 1951, calling Hollywood’s output a flood of claptrap […] that had helped bitch up the world […] There might have been good movies if there had been no movie industry, Hollywood might have become the center of a new human expression if it hadn’t been grabbed by a little group of bookkeepers and turned into a junk industry.268

The disillusioned and failed scriptwriter who narrates Sunset Boulevard (1950) reports dispiritedly of his stories (two per week): ‘Maybe they weren’t original enough. Maybe they were too original. All I know is, they didn’t sell’. King Vidor articulated how difficult it was to try to make a film that would appeal not merely to a niche audience, as theater or a newspaper might, but to a wide swathe of the public.269 Mortimer Adler, writing in 1937, had tried to explain how cinema, like Shakespeare, might offer something for everyone (via the story, first of all) and in the process, create a more educated audience for itself: ‘the motion picture, being the most popular of the arts, has the greatest responsibility to cultivate good taste’. He advised pleasing ‘the cultivated and the undisciplined at the same time but not in the same way’.270 Pen Tennyson in 1930 had been reaching a similar resolve, that he wanted to make his career in film ‘which he felt was becoming and might remain for long, the real art of the people, as the stage had been in the days of Elizabeth and James’.271 Even a Frenchman, René Clair, praised the Elizabethan theatergoing public as having been as ‘brilliant as a crowd 266 Isherwood, Prater, p. 8. 267 McGahern, Memoir, p. 43. 268 Hecht, Child, p. 467. In an interview from 1998, Ishaghpour said to Godard, ‘They [Hollywood] never claimed to be producing art, it was you and your Cahiers friends who transformed Hollywood into great art’. Godard responded, ‘There’s never been art history in America, art quickly became connected with money’, Godard and Ishaghpour, Archaeology, p. 68. 269 ‘King Vidor Discusses Motion Pictures—His New Film is Built Like a Play’, The New York Times, 22 May 1927. 270 Adler, Prudence, pp. 582–583. René Clair voiced the same opinion, that Shakespeare set an example for a popular art that was also excellent; Yesterday, p. 181. 271 Tennyson, Penrose, p. 89.

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can be’, and urging the managers of cinema to realize that ‘the public is not creative, but it chooses among the creations of the performing arts in such a way as to make its will felt’.272 The Elizabethan example was not unalloyed, however. In his account of moviemaking, Isherwood’s Viennese director makes the following comparison: The film studio of today is really the palace of the sixteenth century. There one sees what Shakespeare saw: the absolute power of the tyrant, the courtiers, the flatterers, the jesters, the cunningly ambitious intriguers. There are fantastically beautiful women, there are incompetent favorites. There are great men who are suddenly disgraced. There is the most insane extravagance, and unexpected parsimony over a few pence. There is enormous splendor, which is a sham; and also horrible squalor hidden behind the scenery. There are vast schemes, abandoned because of some caprice. There are secrets which everybody knows and no one speaks of. There are even two or three honest advisers. These are the court fools, who speak the deepest wisdom in puns, lest they should be taken seriously. They grimace, and tear their hair privately, and weep.273

Even popular audiences were long presumed to know a smattering about classical music.274 In the horror film Mad Love (1935), the viewer is expected to appreciate Chopin but not to recognize the snippets of Debussy that masquerade as Stephen Orlac’s own composition (‘very modern music’, says the Peter Lorre character, without approval). The versatile Oscar Levant (1906–1972), pianist, actor, and wit, readily crossed the line between high and low or commercial art. He studied with Schoenberg, was a friend of George Gershwin, wrote movie music and made recordings not only of his own music and Gershwin’s but also that of Grieg, Chopin, Rubinstein, Khachaturian, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky. At home in Hollywood, he was able to overlook hierarchical distinctions, like Leonard Bernstein after him. Gene Kelly also tried to bridge high and low, most markedly in his Invitation to 272 Clair, Yesterday, p. 181. 273 Isherwood, Prater, p. 88. Mario Praz compared the audiences of Elizabethan theater and Hollywood film: ‘they cared chiefly for the spectacular and the sensational’, quoted by Alloway, Violent, p. 39. 274 In M (1931), the murderer whistles a tune from Grieg’s Peer Gynt. In Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, the score for the riding Klan is Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King; the Klan’s call was a modified version of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. On this, and Griffith’s first giving a credit to a score’s composer, see Gish, Movies, pp. 152–153. Charles Laughton paid much attention to the score for Birth; see Callow, Hunter, pp. 46–47. Varda was still using Mozart in Le Bonheur (1965).


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the Dance (1956), which had three distinct narratives, one vaguely Fantasialike dance with animation but Rimsky-Korsakov’s music, one with music by André Previn, and a third segment that featured Igor Youskevitch (a distinguished dancer), with music by Jacques Ibert. Metro Goldwyn Mayer, worried about the popular appeal of such a film, held back its release, made cuts, and ultimately lost money on the project. Hollywood’s desire to encompass high and low, moving freely through the whole range of cultural reference, might look with hindsight like a faint foretaste of postmodernism with its devil-may-care taste for transgression, a taste with an analogous life in cartoons. But this would ignore Hollywood’s consistently sentimental underpinning. The characters in these movies typically long for experience, for sophistication, for freedom, for fame, for wealth, for the city (occasionally for the country), for love, occasionally for Eastern enlightenment and spirituality or for a house with a picket fence, but they are utterly without intellectual pretense, even when they quote poetry. Film was almost always meant to be accessible, in the sense that no previous knowledge was required—except, ironically, that La nouvelle vague films might occasionally presume upon a knowledge of Hollywood. Viewers of the cocky Bande à part (1964) unfamiliar with gangster movies might be left more perplexed than viewers of Funny Face (1957) who had never before seen the Victory of Samothrace. Godard took popular culture to be a universal; Hollywood had, in its heyday, been able to assume a useful level of common culture. Truffaut in Jules et Jim (1962) struck a middle ground by decorating those early 20th-century abodes with paintings by Picasso, without insisting that anybody notice. In an industry with big budgets and no prospect of posterity, market projections and surveys at previews held sway. As Michael Balcon, the British producer, put it, ‘Show Business and the film as an art form are not necessarily compatible’.275 Or as another British producer put it, as he explained changing the ending of a film to something more upbeat, ‘It’s the eternal problem of freedom in an art where expenses are astronomical’.276 Even as early as 1927, the American journalist H.L. Mencken decried that movies were being ruined by greed: ‘The movies to-day are too rich to have any room for genuine artists […] Money is important to mountebanks, but not to 275 Balcon, Presents, p. 219. Fritz Lang reported in 1960 that when he was working in Germany before 1933, the producers gave him freedom to do as he saw fit, rather than requiring budget approval for everything that came up; ‘Zum Beispiel’, DVD extra, Das Testament der Dr. Mabuse, Criterion Collection, 2004. 276 Sidney Cole, quoted by L. Anderson, Making, p. 107.

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artists’.277 René Clair spoke from experience of the ‘battle between industry and the spirit of artistic creation’ amid the need for an ‘industrialized art’.278 On the other hand, the ‘sequences of silver and grey’ in Broadway Melody of 1936 were much admired by Allardyce Nicoll, who believed that some artistic aims might infiltrate commercial filmmaking.279 In 1971, a mellow Ingmar Bergman asserted that he hadn’t minded making commercials during a period in which moviemaking in Sweden was shut down for two years: ‘It was a job of craftsmanship, and I liked it. I was very proud of it’.280 In 1956, he had compared himself with an anonymous mason on a cathedral such as Chartres: ‘I am working along with everybody else to construct a cathedral, because I am an artist and an artisan’.281 999 out of every thousand cinemagoers are morons who only want to see nice pictures.282

Some hoped that cinema would prove a new art for a new age, ‘the seventh art’, rather than simply a new industry with satisfying profits.283 René Clair (1898–1981) stated forthrightly in 1932: ‘Cinema is a popular art and it must take into account the taste of the majority’.284 The taste of the ordinary public is and was, however, no monolith. Gance was congratulated by the manager of a cinema in a working-class district (Montmartre in 1928), after showing a three-hour cut of Napoléon, which features many close-ups of third-estate characters: ‘you have given that public something beautiful: it felt that beauty in its simple, ordinary soul’.285 Terence Rattigan (1911–1977) in England somewhat later did not find the soul of his public to be quite so simple and appreciative. He used to characterize the lowbrow public for his scripts and screenplays as ‘Aunt Edna’, with whose slightly fusty taste he had 277 Geduld, Authors, p. 102. 278 Clair, Reflections, p. 88. 279 Nicholl, Theatre, pp. 55, 107. 280 Dick Cavett interview. 281 Geduld, Film Makers, p. 190. Cf. Renoir, ‘If we would consider the movies as fine carpentry, that would be better’, Schumach, ‘Judge’, The New York Times, 9 Oct. 1960. 282 Letter from investor Count Hector de Béarn to Gance; King, Gance, p. 121. 283 Alternatively, it was sometimes called the fifth art, after painting, sculpture, music, and poetry. When it was called the seventh, dance and architecture had been added. Or at other times, the art of design counted, complemented by music, poetry, and dance. 284 Dale, Clair, II, p. 6. 285 Letter from Paul Bernard, manager of a cinema in Meudon, King, Gance, p. 122. He described ‘an audience in cloth caps […] honest working people […] sincerely appreciative and not at all chauvinistic the applause for the wonderful tableaux of the Marseillaise’.


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to deal.286 The more radical Antonioni included in I vinti (1953) a prelude and a postlude in which the narrator describes the deleterious effects on contemporary youth, of various social classes, of having grown up during the War, resulting in a lust for money and a taste for violence. He explains that the film—a mixture of truth and invention—should expose such behavior without glamorizing it, without making it seductive (so not in color). The young characters in the tripartite film (an episode in France, one in Italy, and a third in England) casually refer to movie stars; one of the murderers initiates his crime by picking up an aging whore at an Esther Williams flick, Skirts Ahoy! (1952)—and the journalist of the tabloid rag that published the murder story briefly acknowledges at the end both the culpability of his paper, in paying for sordid stories and accompanying photos, and of the public that paid to read them.287 In the opening narration, performed to a trumpet march by Giovanni Fusco, movies, comics, and war and crime news are grouped together as potential incitements to destructive egotism. The relationship between public and power was particularly fraught for film as it endeavored to achieve the status of art during a time in which fine art was often meant to disconcert rather than to comfort. Ambitious filmmakers might hope for an audience willing to be left uncomfortable, facing a view of reality that offered no vision of ultimate justice.288 Jean Vigo, political radical, financed his first film with money from his father-in-law. He found, serendipitously, a patron for his two subsequent, longer films: JacquesLouis Nunez, a man who owned horses and happened to mention during the course of a ride back from the races to someone who knew Vigo that he was disgusted with the films being made and interested in finding new talent. His companion introduced him to Vigo, whose loyal and supportive backer he became, like a Cosimo de’ Medici helping Donatello, who came from the Ciompi, the poorest and most restive segment of Florentine society. However, even that sympathetic patron couldn’t protect Vigo from the distributor, Gaumont, which ineptly edited L’Atalante after its initial opening in April 286 ‘Although Aunt Edna must never be made mock of, or bored, or befuddled, she must equally not be wooed, or pandered to, or cossetted’; Rattigan, ‘Preface’, p. xvi. By contrast, in 1980 Kael insinuated that Godard had some contempt for his public; ‘Rump’, p. 205. The title refers to Ferdinand’s line to his wife in Pierrot (1965), ‘After Athens, after the Renaissance, we are now entering the civilization of the rump’. 287 The last shot includes a tennis match in the distance, seemingly a metaphor for the media and their public, and a precedent for the ending of Blow-Up (1966). I vinti ran into various problems with national boards of censors. 288 ‘Difficile, scabreuse et symboliquement metaphysique’ is how L’Herbier describes his failed project, early in the talkie era, to make a f ilm of Dorian Gray; Tête, p. 186. He could not f ind funding.

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of 1934, and retitled the film by reference to a popular song (‘Le Chaland qui passe’) that was then imposed over parts of its intended soundtrack by Maurice Jaubert.289 L’Atalante is the tale of a barge captain in the thrall of unsympathetic bosses, though this is only a subplot. The main plot is about a young woman’s settling into marriage when she is eager to see the world. Vigo had purged his film of the sentimentality and conventionality in the script he had been handed, especially by not using an ending that showed the errant wife praying, and that soured her return with the ominous pronouncement that happiness had departed from the barge (‘Mais le Bonheur a fui le bord’).290 Vigo died that October at age 29 of tuberculosis exacerbated by the winter wet in which the film had been made, thinking it was a commercial failure and that his artistic vision had been destroyed in the re-editing. The film was not, however, utterly forgotten; French filmmakers—Truffaut for instance, who saw it in the late 40s—admired it, and in 1990 it was released in a more faithful cut, and then again by the Criterion Collection in 2001. Whereas Gance’s Napoléon was a patriotic hymn in favor of the national hero, like a traditional history painting (and paid for in part by ‘nationally minded rich men’),291 the work of Vigo, like that of Renoir and Carné, or De Sica, or Fellini in the early days, raised a voice that savored, but also challenged, the ordinary. Funding for that could be precarious. Over and over again, filmmakers got caught in the bind of commercial pressures. In Garbo’s 1927 version with John Gilbert, Love, Anna and Levin lived happily ever after.292 Even outside of Hollywood, Julien Duvivier ‘improved’ the ending of La belle équipe (1936), against his better judgment, for the sake of the box office.293 In a noir film, In a Lonely Place (1950), based on a novel by a woman, Dorothy Hughes, the protagonist is ameliorated from being the criminal, a serial sexual psychopath and killer, into such a character as Humphrey Bogart would be expected to play. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was originally filmed with a more desperate ending. As Ernst Lubitsch put it in 1922, ‘The American public—the American 289 For a sensitive appreciation of the music of Jaubert (1900–1940), who was killed in the War, see Tavernier, Voyage. As with Clair’s Le million (1931), the tunes and images linger in the mind of the viewer, rather than dialogue. 290 Warner, L’Atalante, pp. 13, 64. 291 Dreyer, Double, in 1926, p. 44. De Gaulle is said to have been impressed by Napoléon; Brownlow, Parade’s, p. 547. 292 In the DVD recorded at Royce Hall, UCLA, Warner Archive edition, 2009, the audience claps when the lovers are reunited. The New York Times reviewers saw the tragic ending, which Mordaunt Hall, 4 Dec. 1927, reported took viewers by surprise. 293 The restaurant’s name was appropriated by a Parisian establishment that was among the targets in the Nov. 2015 terrorist attack.


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public with the mind of a twelve-year-old child, you know—it must have life as it ain’t’.294 Ben Hecht concurred: ‘A frank, uncomplicated appeal to the childishness of Americans is still good for vast grosses’.295 ‘No one will pay you to be a free artist’, lamented the writer Dudley Nichols.296 Isherwood, in his novel about the film business, challenged the film community who felt put upon; the film editor proclaims: If you so-called artists would behave like technicians and get together, and stop playing at being democrats, you’d make the public take the kind of picture you wanted. This business about box office is just a sentimental democratic fiction. If you stuck together and refused to make anything but, say, abstract films, the public would have to go and see them, and like them […] Still, it’s no use talking. You’ll never have the guts. You’d much rather whine about prostitution, and keep on making Prater Violets. And that’s why the public despises you, in its heart. It knows damn well it’s got you by the short hairs.297

The origins of the middle class lie in the Renaissance, and the dilemma of a popular yet fine art is a dilemma characteristic of the middle class, both in the fifteenth century and in the 20th. In both eras, the middle class leaned upon wealthy donors to make art happen, and in both eras art has suffered from the bad faith of that pattern of patronage. The old studio system, whatever its faults, did allow top executives to take risks that could be amortized against the studio’s whole and vast production, rather as publishers used to fund some projects for their intrinsic worth and others for their commercial potential. Irving Thalberg (1899–1936) was known to take on projects from which he did not expect much profit, though his core was deeply pragmatic. He turned Luigi Pirandello’s Come tu mi vuoi into As You Desire Me (1932), which—having been provided with a happy ending—was a commercial success. Although Pirandello was to receive the Nobel prize shortly, in 1934, the marketing emphasized Garbo.298 To borrow a phrase from Vasari, he could support movies that would contribute to the art of cinema, rather than only to the coffers—but he still cared about the money, as had Vasari. 294 Quoted by Jacobs, Rise, p. 355. 295 Hecht, Charlie, p. 187. 296 Gassner and Nichols, ‘The Writer and the Film,’ Twenty, xxxviii. 297 Isherwood, Prater Violet, p. 103. 298 Nichols and Bazzoni, Pirandello, pp. 102–103.

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The director John Huston, who made Red Badge of Courage (1951) for MGM, asserted his decisions were free of crass commercial considerations: My God, I don’t know what my best friend or wife or son or daughter would like. I only know what I like, and I hope that there are enough like me to feel the way I do about it.299

With Red Badge, he ventured into territory that made the studio nervous: no stars, no women, and based on a literary classic that emphasized interior states of mind rather than linear plot points. Lillian Ross, writing for The New Yorker, produced a study of its genesis, including the re-editing, refilming, and lack of promotion that doomed the picture, despite early moments of euphoria about the project and, at a later point, the hope that the score would redeem the faults of the film footage. She portrayed a Hollywood past its prime, in which a producer would refer resignedly to the industry as producing ‘junk’,300 in which the questionnaires from ‘sneaks’ (previews) had more weight than the director’s judgment, and for which the only possible success was monetary. The wealth engendered by Hollywood became the petard on which it hoisted itself, since an art form that fails to embrace risk loses the right to the name. The bigger the budget, the more the need for the studios to manipulate and control the taste of the public, an objective most easily accomplished by corrupting that taste to an anodyne level. Renoir commented, ruefully, in 1960, ‘It is very difficult here in Hollywood, very difficult […] to try foolish things. And without some foolish things there is no art’.301 Tony Richardson declared flatly in 1961, ‘It is impossible to make anything that is interesting or good under the conditions imposed by the major studios in America’.302 Only a few decades earlier, the American comic film, made under helter-skelter conditions and on a relative shoestring, had been widely adored. In films everything must be expensive.303

During the Renaissance, class issues had been muddied by the odd status of Florence as a city-state that had cast out its aristocrats and set up a kind of 299 Stevens, Conversations, p. 342. 300 Ross, Picture, p. 140. 301 Schumach, The New York Times, 9 Oct. 1960. 302 Geduld, Film Makers, p. 138. 303 Betts, Inside, p. 85.


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republic. Newly amassed colossal and disposable wealth had accumulated in the hands of bankers and merchants, most notably, Cosimo de’ Medici, primus inter pares. The artifacts of Roman antiquity played the role they did, in part at least, because fifteenth-century patrons had only the vaguest of ideas about class in antiquity, let alone in the various historical periods of the ancient world, and an art that referred to antiquity thereby skirted delicate issues of contemporary status. Style all’antica provided what seemed like a universal standard of excellence. This new art managed not to look déclassé to the aristocrats, while it also avoided looking pretentious to f ifteenth-century Florentines, who remained proud of their relatively ordinary origins. The vexed question of the cultural implications of Masaccio’s plain figures versus Gentile da Fabriano’s slender and elongated elegance cannot be settled as a simple matter in which taste corresponds to social class,304 but instead as the rather stickier matter of self-positioning in a social network that increasingly used the patronage of art as part of that network. Whatever class you identified with, you might feel loyalty to any of a number of styles, whether plainer or more elegant, and this depended in part, for some, on whether you read more Plato or Aristotle. Aristotle expounded on behalf of magnificence (cf. Roberta, 1935, in which the response to the question about a dress, ‘How much does it cost?’ is ‘What does it matter?’), and Socrates, through Plato, on behalf of the rudiments. Fra Angelico managed to let the Florentines have their cake and eat it too, as did Fra Filippo Lippi in his own way: their generation provided art that satisfied some of the local preference for simplicity of mores and yet suited some of the social ambition of the wealthy Florentines. Those stubby childlike angels wear gold-embroidered cuffs. Moving pictures emphasizing the glamour of the rich (analogous to Gentile da Fabriano’s paintings with their rich brocades and gold), may well have appealed also to the poor; contrariwise, moving pictures emphasizing the stalwartness of the worthy poor may have been popular with the rich, relieved to see the lower classes so content. The issue is not assigning taste according to social class, but instead, grasping that, for many and various people social class was itself an engrossing topic. Because of the Great Depression, the thirties and, in Britain because of postwar economic hardship and the rise of Labour, also the fifties, were particularly tumultuous times in terms of class alignment. The fifties in the Unites States had their own set of tensions, not least the divisions wrought in Hollywood by the 304 A debate intelligently initiated by Antal, Social Background, 1948.

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McCarthyite prosecutions and blacklist,305 compounded by the tensions of the new suburbia and changing relations with the Old World. Both before and after the War, American fascination with European aristocracy could produce strange results. The artist Rex Whistler reported on watching Victoria the Great (1937) in the company of Queen (later, Queen Mother) Elizabeth: ‘I thought it absolutely ghastly and Anna Neagle the Bottom’, an opinion largely shared by the Balmoral Castle staff, who ‘bellowed with laughter at the way Hollywood supposed royal servants to behave’.306 The interactions between servants and masters, a source of dramatic fuel since ancient times, dried up as the households portrayed in the later fifties and sixties had more appliances and less help. Formerly, the interactions between servants and employers had yielded a rich lode of cinematic moments of genius. The clever servant propelled comedy from Greek times to P.G. Wodehouse, although the type is nearly extinct now. Monty Python introduced in 1969 solidly middle-class humor, cheeky and more salacious, full of sheer contingency, filling the vacuum left by the death of the humor of class difference and building on the precedent of A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965).307 Yet another kind of humor, slow-paced, realistic and earthy, reminiscent of Bruegel, sustains within it a substratum of pain, as in Milos Forman’s The Fireman’s Ball (1967). It was based on a ball that the director had attended, albeit the film has also been widely understood as a political allegory. The gentleness of much of the humor does not pre-empt the scathing satire. Renaissance art kept some space for neochivalric romance, as films in their turn kept some room for the fading aristocracy—even as both registered, to varying degrees, social upheaval. In Philadelphia Story (1940), George lambasts ‘You [his ex-fiancée, Tracy Lord, played by Katharine Hepburn] and your whole rotten class’, as he makes his exit. He goes on: ‘Listen: you’re all on your way out—the lot of you—and don’t you think you aren’t.—Yes, and good riddance’.308 This could sound downright revolutionary, until you remember it is spoken by a rich man, the butt of ongoing ridicule, the unsuitable suitor, the male social climber—and originally 305 See Horton and Hoxter, Screenwriting, pp. 64–76. 306 Whistler, Laughter, p. 217. Ferenc Molnár made similar objections to the way an actor greeted a ‘stately society dowager’ in a film, with his hands in his pockets; Companion, p. 143. 307 Ringo’s ‘parading the streets’ in Night, with its nod to Sir Walter Raleigh and his cloak, might be thought of as an inadvertent update to Baudelaire’s flaneur. 308 Barry, Philadelphia, pp. 197–198. In Roberta (1935), the title character says, ‘When all you titled aristocrats get jobs, maybe Europe can settle down to a few years’ peace’; Irene Dunne’s character, a Russian princess, has done just that; her cousin, Prince Peter in Rome, has not.


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on the stage rather than in a cinema. Still, his skepticism is echoed by the much more sympathetic pair of journalists, played by Jimmy Stewart and Ruth Hussey, who find the lavish Main Line establishment of the tellingly named Lords distasteful. In the prettified musical version from a more prosperous time, High Society (1956), Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holmes sing ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ amid the display of wedding presents, showing considerably less conviction about their disdain than had their predecessors. The Main Line had by then devolved into one more branch of suburbia, and so the action was repositioned in Newport, Rhode Island, with Louis Armstrong featured playing jazz with his band and Bing Crosby crooning in the moonlight. Jimmy Stewart shines in several films as the beacon of the unobjectionable rising middle class, an Everyman whose honesty—after some setbacks—gets him ahead, at least in contentment. Hollywood allowed the well-off to enjoy the simple pleasures of the poor, even as the poor were entranced with visions of seemingly obtainable grandeur. Happiness, according to the movies, could come to either the rich or the poor: the rich could be made happier by becoming poor, or the poor by becoming rich (usually by marriage). The wild card was the marginal happy-go-lucky character, sometimes in trouble with the police (or a boss), but good-hearted and simple: Peter (Clark Gable) in It Happened One Night (1934), Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca (1942), Joe (Gregory Peck) in Roman Holiday (1953). Two of them play journalists, who like medical doctors in nineteenth-century novels, are conveniently intersectional when it comes to social class. One could be forgiven for concluding that in Hollywood social mobility in itself counts as good fortune, no matter in which direction it comes.309 More accurately, rapid social change produced drama, and so was good for making narrative art. Frank Capra in the United States, René Clair while in France, and Ealing Studios in England after the War all produced movies in which heroism was converted into a quality of the humble, not unlike the fourteenth-century reimagining of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, into the Madonna of Humility, seated on the ground. More people went to the movies than voted. Cinema was in that sense more democratic than society, and for the first time the poor could actually be shown as set to inherit the 309 The opposite is the case in a French film written and directed by Jean Giono, Crésus (1960), a beautifully f ilmed folk tale, which transpires just after the War. The setting of the f igures within their Alpine landscape and stone huts is more the point than the story about sudden riches and their dissolution. The music is comprised of melodious whistling, and the village folk are neither particularly good nor particularly bad, yet full of interest.

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earth. In It Happened One Night (1934), Clark Gable as the penniless newspaperman asserted his credentials over those of Claudette Colbert’s character’s wealthy father, saying as he carried her across a stream by moonlight: ‘You show me a good piggybacker and I’ll show you a real human. Now you take Abraham Lincoln for instance, a natural-born piggybacker’.310 Virtue had been redefined as the quality only a regular guy could have: the wealthy were wedged firmly in the proverbial eye of the needle. Everyone recognized that early Hollywood specialized in fairy tales, or what Ed Ruscha would later (2013) call its ‘corny magic’.311 In revolutionary Russia, Vertov observed the phenomenon succinctly and disparagingly: The essence of the artistic drama (like that of theatrical drama) is to act out before the viewer a romantic, detective, or social ‘fairy tale’ adroitly and convincingly enough to put him in a state of intoxication and to cram some idea, some thought or other, into his subconscious.312

The humorist George Mikes mocked how the American movies implied that becoming a band conductor ‘is one of the highest honors that can be conferred on anyone in that country’.313 Hollywood had its own opposite to the fairy tale: the gangster f ilm. The Public Enemy (1931) advertised in its trailer that it was ‘Amazing in its Realism’ and that it was taken ‘From the Pages of Life’. The Foreword to the film itself claimed that it was ‘essentially a true story’, though the names and characters were ‘purely fictional’.314 Documentaries tried yet another route to achieve realism, though still bound by the conventions of affective storytelling. Humphrey Jennings started The True Story of Lilli Marlene (1944, a short) with a narrator, who does not look directly at the viewer, explaining that the work is ‘a sort of modern fairy story, really—only it’s a true story as well’. The fairy-tale aspect consists primarily in the final scene showing the 310 On Bazin’s singling out of Stagecoach (1939) as marking the real integration of sound into film for the purpose of effective storytelling, versus Otis Ferguson’s choice of It Happened, see Bordwell, Rhapsodes, p. 49. Kael, ‘Raising’, p. 56 supposed that in the 30s, ``the new heroes of the screen were created in the image of their authors: they were fast-talking newspaper reporters’. 311 (Tateshots) Cf. G.K. Chesterton, ‘Fairy tales are the only democratic institutions’, Magic, p. 45. 312 Vertov, Kino-Eye, p. 63. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks visited Russia with great acclaim in 1926; Gillespie, Early Soviet, p. 10. 313 Mikes, ‘How to be a film producer’, Alien, 1946, pp. 56–61. 314 MGM was sued in 1934 over its Rasputin and the Empress (1932), and from that derived the familiar disclaimer, ‘The events and characters in this film are fictional and any resemblance to characters living or dead is purely coincidental’; Vieira, Thalberg, p. 198.


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London Docklands after the War, with people enjoying fully stocked fruit stands and street illumination. But it was only after the War that Italian film found an antithesis to Hollywood’s artificiality (Neorealismo), using economical black-and-white stock even as Hollywood turned increasingly to color.315 Their postwar realism tended toward the downbeat. The situation is reminiscent of seventeenth-century painting. Color pigments were costly, as was color film stock. Gregg Toland, cinematographer of Citizen Kane (1941), argued that one of black-and-white film’s advantages over color was that the spectators knew exactly how to supply the right shade, more precisely than color film ever would.316 Their imagination, he claimed, was ‘infallible’. When color was used, the effect was not necessarily to make the image seem more real. Alistair Cooke remarked in 1938, ‘When they can make a gangster film in colour, then they’ve got something’.317 The director Martin Ritt explained the use of black and white for Hud (1963), saying ‘This is too rough for color’.318 An early effort at color, the two-tone King of Jazz (1930), a tribute to band leader Paul Whiteman, provided an early glimpse of Bing Crosby’s blue eyes, though color film predominantly turned objects salmon or turquoise. Broadway (1929) used two-tone color only for the closing number, where the dominant color is red, as is also true of the Corpus Christi procession in Erich von Stroheim’s The Wedding March (1928). Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929) also used two-tone color for the finale. Ruttmann made color, abstract shorts in 1921, and Léger’s Ballet mécanique (1924) followed suit. Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) used handcoloring. The credits were colored to glow like gold, and colored gold objects appear throughout the film, with yellow tinting for the final scenes in Death Valley. No one could watch the film without remembering the almost hallucinogenic gold color, despite—or because 315 On the technical advances that supported Hollywood’s style (black and white as well), including faster film, more flexible lighting, and shorter focal-length lens, see Lisa Dombrowski, ‘Postwar Hollywood, 1947–1967’, in Keating, Cinematography, p. 62. 316 Dixon, Black, p. 104, writing in 1941. Cf. Victor Klemperer, later known for his diaries but writing for publication in 1912, who praised silent film for similarly engaging the viewer: ‘The viewer must guess at them [the souls of the persons], he himself must write the text for the images, and this process, as his imagination is drawn in and forced to become a part of their creation, explains the passionate involvement of the moviegoer’; quoted in Zischler, Kafka, p. 12. 317 Cooke, Movies, 19 Feb. 1938, p. 176. Nobody would even give it much of a try until Bonnie and Clyde (1967); Crowther, The New York Times, 3 Sept. 1967: ‘a grossly romantic, sentimental and arbitrary setting up of a collision of comedy and violence, which spews noise and sparks but not much truth’. 318 Schumach, ‘Newman’, 5 August 5 1962.

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of—its presence in a black-and-white film (see Figure 18).319 Naturalistic color was harder to pull off. As late as 1948, a critic found that in Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) ‘the color gives most of the characters the dismal complexion of the recently embalmed’.320 Shooting on location was a different strategy to make a picture resonate with reality—like the recognizable extensions of the real world introduced by Giovanni Bellini—and Baldassare Peruzzi made a significant step forward with his fictive views out onto the landscape, painted on the walls of the Villa Farnesina (c. 1515). Bellini showed the landscape near Pesaro in his altarpiece for the same city (Pesaro, 1470s); Peruzzi used his knowledge of perspective and architecture to invent full-scale trompe l’oeil long before there was any term for it. Vittorio De Sica filmed the hungry Umberto D., who was reluctant to beg while standing at the very portico of the Pantheon (eponymous film of 1952), that august remnant of a period of glory; Godard’s rapscallions raced through the Louvre (Band à parte, 1964), generating a frisson of naughtiness not only for themselves but for the film’s viewers. Even in the prewar film by Jean Vigo, L’Atalante (1934, cinematography by Boris Kaufman, brother of Dziga Vertov), it is the photographic palpability of the world we are shown—from the industrial cityscapes glimpsed in the background to the canals with lines of poplars to the cramped yet homey interiors of the barge on which our characters live—that complements the ingenuousness of the young couple and the rude yet benevolent boorishness of the savvy and seasoned first mate (Michel Simon), so that we do not find ourselves in the world of fairy tale, nor in rude realism either.321 When le père Jules (Simon) thinks for a moment that his finger is making music from the record surface, or when Jean jumps into the Seine to seek (and find) an image of his beloved, we are assured that we dwell in a land not limited to realism. The viewer is encouraged to relish real life with all of its bumps and absurdities, together with its potential for the play of imagination, or 319 Weinberg, Complete, Foreword, comments on how this effect was truncated and the scenes misplaced as the film was cut. See also Gunning et al., Fantasia. 320 John McCarten, ‘The Current Cinema’, The New Yorker, 23 Oct. 1948, p. 91. The magazine had, at this stage, color covers and some color advertisements. Paul Nash said of Annabella in Wings of the Morning (1937), ‘I could not help feeling that the most significant achievement of Technicolor to date was in making Annabella look swarthy’, one of several comments about the difficulty of rendering skin tones in color to match the beauty of black and white; Nash, ‘Colour’, p. 124. 321 Kaufman later shot On the Waterfront (1954) and Patterns (1956), a film with no musical background at all, but notable for his strikingly effective shots in the latter film of the Equitable Building and Trinity Church, on Broadway near Wall Street. The severed hand in L’Atalante was loaned by Jean Painlevé. The restaurant is identif ied as being in Maisons-Alfort by Pautrot, ‘Roads’, in Screening, p. 40.


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even fantasy. The record that seems to play music when it is only the finger of the sailor on the disk might remind us of Leonardo putting wings onto lizards to fool spectators into thinking they had really seen a dragon: art as deception is the flip side to art that cultivates credulity. Made in the same year, the amusing It Happened One Night (1934), focuses to such an extent on its stars, in its unmistakably Hollywood way, that everything else has the weight of cardboard.322 In L’Atalante, figure and ground make a unity of which Hollywood could not even begin to conceive. Embedded in a recognizable landscape, the simple French tale of love’s troubles starts with the wedding (It Happened starts with an aborted wedding and ends with a honeymoon). Because its characters are not shown as stars, they exude homely charm. The day after the wedding, the girl sets about doing laundry on board the barge, while her husband protests and then helps a bit. They are as believable as the settings, which are often highly reminiscent of Monet (d. 1926) (haystacks, poplars, smokestacks), but as though we got to look at the landscape with Monet before he has settled on a motif. As Juliette walks around Paris on her own, we watch predatory men size her up, all shown with a subtlety and menace Hollywood never grasped (nor Ruth Orkin either). Vigo had a talent for capturing the nuances of smiles; even the troublemaker, the peddler with the silk scarf, wins us over with his delightful smile. Camera angles and points of view are varied without ever becoming heavy-handedly arty. Like breaths of fresh air, they keep us attentive to much more than the elapsing story. Although L’Atalante had a respectable budget, it was also the project of one person and his friends, as so many silent films had been. What has survived of L’Atalante is the fortuitous survival of what long seemed to be the doomed project of a dying man, providing us with as close as film can come to a sketch: the compositional structure is there; for example, the march to the boat of disapproving guests after the wedding, echoed later in the clustering amble of bystanders following the despairing Jean by strangers who think he’s just another drunk sailor, although we know better. We have come to have a stake in what others think of the pair. Only the final polish is missing in the editing of the film, and that we can do without. Au fond, the genius of the film is its visualization of love (the emotion, not the act)—and although the film is punctuated by speech and song, the substance lies in what we see, which is redolent without being the least Romantic. When it was released, Valéry Jahier called it poetic because of its 322 The very young Judy Garland sings about her infatuation with Clark Gable and mentions this film, in Broadway Melody of 1938.

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intensity, and wrote also of its ‘visionary realism with a bitter, sarcastic bite to it’, the scene of the wedding procession in particular as ‘caricatural and touching’.323 Jahier referred to Vigo’s ‘profoundly original personality and […] deep-seated anticonformism’, and that scene is a prime example thereof. The viewer is immediately engrossed in the place and time, without having any idea of how the action will proceed because there is no clear genre. The ordinary has been made art. And when we see the white-gowned girl on the roof of the barge in the mist, we accept that the ordinary sometimes is art, and that vision is a very great gift. Never had the cinema accomplished its destiny so thoroughly: to become a faithful mirror of mental representation, to become the instrument, par excellence, for the objectification of memory.324

In both film and fresco, the issue of how to make the action seem alive and present was not purely a technical one. The contrast between the International Gothic of Lorenzo Monaco and that of the homelier paintings of Masaccio offers an analogy to this contrast between cinema which offered itself like a storybook to be enjoyed and cinema which was familiar and real enough to make the viewer uncomfortable. In some cases (e.g., Fellini films), the gritty realism of the setting may have allowed for a more wildly imaginative plot, the two elements thereby counterbalancing one another. On the other hand, filming on location was no guarantee of being able to trap the viewer in an uncomfortable sense of place; witness Hitchcock’s two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, 1956). The cups of tea grabbed in the corner shop in the midst of the shoot-out in the 1934 film, and the short scene with the two policemen barricading themselves with a mattress at a window—filmed in the studio—much more effectively bring the viewer into the tense action than all of the tedious documenting of the local customs of Marrakech in the 1956 remake.325 In the early period of moviemaking, as during the earlier Renaissance, some degree of believing what one saw—sometimes implicitly, sometimes with reservation—constituted a sort of low-level communal ritual. As in the case of the audience at a live theater, part of the pleasure lay in the shared experience of fiction, a pleasure often associated with childhood. As Groucho 323 Abel, French Film, II, pp. 186–187. 324 Jacques Brunius of Le jour se lève (1939); Turk, Child, p. 153. 325 The earlier film’s shootout was based on the 1911 Sidney Street Siege, so might have seemed even more real to its viewers who could remember that time.


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Marx observed, speaking of his greasepaint mustache, ‘the audience doesn’t believe us, anyhow […] All they do is laugh at us’.326 The Englishwoman Marjorie Malachi Whitaker reported of her own moviegoing that the films all seemed to be about small-town America, and so she had no idea how accurate the representations were. Her servant Delia went to the cinema whenever she was free, and she, according to her mistress, simply could not ‘distinguish reality from dreams’.327 John Moore records in his portrait of English country life in the 1930s that the impoverished elderly Lord of the village, having been rendered near-homeless by the Syndicate (real-estate developers), found a ‘simple, cheap, and almost childish pastime’—namely, the movies, which cost ninepence for the cheap seats. This all started when a village girl, daughter of a publican, found he had never been to the movies and drove him to a cinema in the next village. He was transfixed, and clapped loudly in periodic approval. The girl, who worked as an extra at Elstree and Pinewood, was puzzled to find that the films that seemed most real to her, the tales of glamour, seemed most fictional to him, whereas he couldn’t abide Walt Disney cartoons, which ‘he thought were too much like real life’. In general, though, he liked the movies so much that he would ride his aged horse to the town if Mimi wasn’t there to take him, and he renamed his cows Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Mae West, and Myrna Loy.328 The British producer Michael Balcon ruminated, It is puzzling to me now in retrospect that none of my films (and as far as I can remember few of the plays and books of the period) in any way reflected the despair of the times in which we were living […] It was not until 1939 that I realised the place of film in society, and then perhaps insufficiently.329 326 He also said this about his practice of direct address, in movies as on stage; Marx, Groucho and Me, pp. 155, 225. 327 Whitaker, And So [1939], p. 89. It was also said about the Viennese that ‘stories involving department stores employees and their homes are unbelievable in Central Europe’, ‘A World Film Survey’, The New York Times, 24 June 1934. Williams, Change, p. 163, reports the relief in 1953 of a Majorca citizen that Americans are not like what they seem in the movies: ‘we had an idea from the movies that Americans had no family life. We thought that Americans were divorced after one year, two years, that they sent their children to schools away from home, that they lived like millionaires with their automobiles and electric iceboxes’. Cf. pp. 102, 115–116, 178: Gone with the Wind was still playing to crowds in 1953 in Majorca. 328 Moore, Brensham (1946), pp. 211–213. 329 Balcon, Presents, pp. 41–42. Cf. a bit of dialogue in Rattigan’s Perdita (1947), in which Jack explains ‘social purpose’: ‘it means playing Shakespeare to audiences who’d rather go to the films; while audiences who’d rather go to Shakespeare are driven to the films because they haven’t

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He might have been thinking of The Proud Valley (1940), a tale of Welsh mining in which Paul Robeson plays a wandering sailor welcomed for his singing voice but also valued for his strength in the mines, and ultimately for his heroism. It was being filmed as the war began, and its ending was accordingly adjusted from championing workers’ rights to featuring patriotic coal production.330 Its director, the young Pen Tennyson, great-grandson of the poet, was soon to die in a plane crash while making films on behalf of the war effort. The War choked what had been a fruitful moment in the history of film, only a decade after talkies had similarly disrupted cinematic ambitions: nevertheless, The Proud Valley continues to have value as a piece of historical evidence, providing us insight as to how it was possible to conceptualize society and politics publicly in the late 1930s, as well as offering a thriller set in treacherous mine shafts. Perhaps rarest of all, it provides an early example of a Black protagonist in a film that was not a ‘negro picture’ like Hallelujah (1929). Hollywood’s more nostalgic, more pious and platitudinous How Green was My Valley (1941, John Ford) strikes a complementary note, with more emphasis on admirable suffering and without being set in contemporary times.331 Eisenstein is her [USSR’s] Tintoretto.332

The history of style is also a history of audience expectations, and what the audience expects has to do, in part, with what they have already viewed. Raphael painted like Raphael and Velázquez like Velázquez not least because the viewers in 1510 were ready to believe in nature as a potentially perfect entity, whereas the viewers in 1650 were otherwise inclined. Both in 1510 and in 1650, the times involved some potential for despair or confusion, but only in 1650 was visual art taken to be a medium suitable for registering nature’s faults. For Raphael, having originated in Federico da Montefeltro’s Urbino and then matured in a Florence still much imbued with the reading got Shakespeare to go to. It’s all got something to do with the new Britain and apparently it’s an absolutely splendid idea’. 330 Boyle and Bunie, Robeson, pp. 403, 412–418. 331 Carol Reed’s The Stars Look Down, 1940, offered a grim view of the miners’ lot and is set in relation to World War I rather than World War II. The opening of his Odd Man Out (1947) contained the disclaimer: ‘It [the film] is not concerned with the struggle between the law and an illegal organization, but only with the conflict in the hearts of the people when they become unexpectedly involved’. This was too subtle for Crowther: ‘Whatever it is they are proving—if anything—is anybody’s guess’, The New York Times, 24 April 1947. 332 Bazin, ‘The ontology of the photographic image’, in Furstenau, Film Theory p. 93.


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of Plato, idealization was second nature. Like Balcon, Raphael probably couldn’t have explained why he systematically edited out misery; Velázquez perhaps couldn’t have explained why he chose to feature servants and peasants whenever he could, or why he made even the Olympian gods look disheveled, despite his courtly environment. For both artists, their choices had as much to do with the maturity of their medium as with the immediate social conditions. Paintings made after the Holy Roman Empire started to dominate Europe (and specif ically, Velázquez’s patrons, the Hapsburgs), were made in a rearranged world, a world no longer dominated by the Pope; films made after the experience of World War II and the shift toward American pre-eminence reflect a world in which the norms of European aristocracy had been devalued. Already in 1940 Philo Vance (a sort of Sherlock Holmes type) dresses as a laborer and engages in a fistfight; the old Philo Vance had been an aesthete whose native garb was tails.333 Technical changes in cameras and film had been introduced, but just as important was the maturing of the viewership, that maturation coming partly from the harrowing experience of the War and its aftermath, and partly from the tempering of its sensibility by several decades of cinema. Viewers had grown less easy to delight; they were more inured to the horrors of modern warfare; their comedy required now often a touch of grimness, or resignation, or both. Friedrich Dürrenmatt wrote in 1956 in describing Der Besuch der alten Dame as tragicomedy, ‘The confusion of our age, the sellout of the white race [sic], leaves no room for guilt and responsibility […] Things just happen […] Comedy alone is suited to us’.334 The potential cruelty of laughter was recognized in prewar films such as He Who Gets Slapped (1924), but that is a tragedy that happens to feature a cast of clowns, not a comedy, and it had plenty of room for guilt and responsibility. Dürrenmatt’s grim espousal of comedy as the modality suitable for a world in which ‘things just happen’, marks a different era. Nobody had ever believed the stories that underlay the films of Astaire and Rogers (though viewers were happy to share in the gaiety). The cinema of the thirties offered images to the viewer, often images of glamour, to be lapped up like cream; f ilms in the f ifties thrust images upon them, 333 The novels and films appeared beginning in the late 1920s. The detective Philo Vance in The Casino Murder Case, 1935, shows his cosmopolitan aspect by referring to ‘a few brush strokes by Picasso in the center of an Andrea del Sarto Pietà’, his metaphor for a shooting in the middle of a poisoning case. (The novel used no such metaphor.) 334 Kayser, Grotesque, p. 11. He goes on to cite Bosch, and to link the atom bomb with the grotesque.

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often images of anger, disillusionment, and despair.335 As Adorno famously expounded in 1949, ‘To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’.336 One might also observe the phrase ‘l’esprit humain’, which dots the criticism of film before the War and which is remarkable for its absence afterwards. Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) might have had more effect on the course of history if it had not been made in a Hollywood that routinely expected delight from movies.337 Its clarion call of distress and warning was lost, or at least dissipated, amid the tide of slapstick and romantic comedy—although it should also be noted that its message was noticed and the film forbidden in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, and it was heavily cut in Poland. The films of World War II redefined the modality of film.338 As practitioners of a popular art, its directors and its actors were themselves mobilized to make the patriotic points the times demanded. Sometimes this meant documentary film, as in the London Fire Service Film Unit’s appalling footage of the bombing of the City on December 29–30, 1940, or Humphrey Jennings’s Fires Were Started (1943), or the combined efforts of Allied forces to film D-Day and the battles afterward, as the armies struggled to get to Berlin, The True Glory (1945). This was framed as a collection of voiced-over recollections by ordinary fighting men, including Black soldiers, and the occasional nurse. The footage is by no means limited to shots of liberated French villagers looking celebratory; the battle scenes at least slightly anticipate what television would broadcast from Vietnam, and gruesome shots of corpses are included, reminiscent one might say of Goya’s aquatint Disasters of War (1810–1820), or Callot’s etchings before him (Les grandes misères de la guerre, 1633). The film is quite circumspect about avoiding 335 E.g., the bleakness of certain scenes in Ermanno Olmi’s films, such as the dance hall in I Fidanzati (1963) or the typing pool in Il Posto (1961). 336 ‘Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch’, Rowland, ‘Re-Reading’, p. 65. 337 It did not go unnoticed, however: ‘Hollywood has more than justified its claim to artistic existence’, Ernest Marshall, The New York Times, 22 June 1930. It was filmed in two versions: one silent with music and other sound synched in; the other version, more prevalent, was a sound print devoid of accompanying music; Sergi, ‘Organizing Sound’, in Palgrave Handbook, p. 51. It caused disturbances when shown in Germany and was withdrawn. Remarque had reverted to an earlier spelling of the family name from the more German Remark and was vilified by the Nazis as disloyal and as a Jew (he was not). They executed his sister in 1943 for undermining morale, her brother being beyond their reach. Karl Freund, uncredited cinematographer on All Quiet (1930), is said to have suggested the scene at the end with the butterfly; Firda, Quiet, p. 103. 338 The f irst f ilm to receive a Royal Command Performance was A Matter of Life and Death (1946), due, Michael Powell supposed, to the role played by film in the war effort, Autobiography, p. 586.


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fomenting hatred for the enemy soldiers, who are shown as prisoners of war and described as a varied lot. The narrator counsels in severe tones that the lesson must be a resolution to achieve long-standing and worldwide peace, which is all the more noteworthy since it was initially released before the Pacific War was concluded. The dramatic movies of wartime demanded to be believed as representing reality, even as they both consciously and conscientiously manipulated it, and as they functioned in relation to newsreels and documentaries. The tenor of cinematic reality remained altered for some time afterward. Roberto Rossellini’s Paisà (1946) tells stories with not only a veristic but even a documentary feel. The f ilm traces, episodically, the progress of Allied troops invading Italy, from Sicily in 1943 to the Po River valley in 1945, recording their effect on the lives of ordinary people. The sense that much of what the film describes actually happened, more or less as it is enacted here, is compelling (admittedly, one might come away with no idea that any Italian had ever been Fascist). The microhistories, stories featuring ordinary individuals to which the history books had not yet learned to pay attention, are heartbreaking.339 Rossellini’s films could leave only the most hard-hearted of viewers feeling unwrenched, and any sentimentality has the vindicating flavor of authenticity when the narrative is so closely based on recent history. Reality can be poignant, Rossellini prompts us to realize. Even within so grim a narrative, he remembers glints of humor and of hope, mostly false hope. Not least, the film records something of how Italians tended to see Americans at the time (generally likable, though not very bright), and less amply, the British (a bit effete; overly focused on the art-historical sights of Florence, even as people are dying).340 The abrupt ending of Paisà, a brutal killing of captive partisans with the voice-over that the end of the war came soon after, is deeply—and authentically—disturbing. In films such as this and Rossellini’s equally distressing Roma città aperta (1945), an absence of effective heroism upends what had been the norms of the medium. Films after the War offered little intimation of greatness or of grandeur. Grimness is all. Or as Fellini aptly put it, ‘As long as it was that painful, disconnected, tragic, elusive postwar reality, here was a miraculous overlap between this reality and the dry point of view of Rossellini observing it’.341 339 Rohmer praises its ‘richness in spatial expression’ and the effect of ‘a mythic quality’; Beauty, p. 28. 340 Dollar (1938) provides a Swedish version of Americans, in the character of a rich, bossy, and not terribly clever, though also not bad, woman. See also, Rossellini’s pathetic and appalling story shot amid the ruins of Berlin, Germania anno zero, 1948. 341 Fellini, Making, p. 73. He spent the war making films in Cinecittà.

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The times had changed in Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958), which portrays the hard and confusing situation in postwar Poland. Beautifully filmed and imagined with exquisite visuality, it lends a tincture of the surreal to what is basically a grim tale of two men who would in another time have been heroic, but who now find ants crawling all over their machine guns, even before things turn bad. There may be a faint visual echo of the last scene in La strada (1954) in Maciek’s demise, curled up and face down in a wasteland. For all of their differences, in both La strada and Ashes and Diamonds a virile figure has been reduced to ruin, unmitigated ruin, devoid of any compensating sense of worthwhile sacrifice. Looking back later, Wajda said he was told at the time that the politics of the postwar situation in Poland could not yield a film that would be understood elsewhere, but that it worked, because the imagery was more fundamental than the particulars by which it was engendered. He found that the potential for significance could sometimes outweigh the demands of literal realism (e.g., when the Russian-sympathizing Pole falls on his assassin, in a mock embrace, rather than falling backward from the impetus of the shots).342 The scene in the church with the upside-down crucifix, with the young man and woman on either side of it, resonated even with viewers who didn’t consciously remember the type of crucif ix with Mary and John. The image, Wajda said, reminds us of ‘something important, something great’; it is a more memorable image because of what we might now term its cultural thickness. The pleasure the viewer takes in the mise-en-scène partly compensates for the misery of the historical narrative of suffering and defeat. Reality was becoming more complex, more hidden, less exterior and less dramatized externally.343

Jean Rouch’s documentary, Chronique d’un été (Paris, 1960) (1961), made with Edgar Morin, is a kind of oral history, and a considerably more self-conscious effort than Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) or Man of Aran (1934). Nanook is presented as a kind of new hero, stalwart in the face of enormous hardship, yet capable of play and even amazement: the footage of him listening to a phonograph for the first time helps any viewer, no matter how blasé, to understand the significance of the beginning of the machine age. Rouch’s film also follows the course of a season, but relies on 342 See also Deborah Eisenberg’s recollections of her teenage encounter with the movie in suburban Chicago, in Shepard, Writers, pp. 97–101. 343 Fellini, Making, p. 73.


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interviews (usually consisting of the question, ‘Are you happy?’) interspersed with footage made with newly mobile cameras, watching its interviewees stroll through familiar public spaces while their words are voiced over. How the interviewees were selected is not disclosed. Godard said that the first time he heard the voice of a workman in a film was in Chronique.344 We watch some of the interviewees discuss the film and whether it seems to present a true picture. The filmmakers appear, discussing their project. The concluding scene takes place in an ethnographic museum. The whole project is awash in a new self-consciousness. The resulting film is a kind of collage varnished with skepticism, the vestige of a forlorn hope that one could record truth with mobile camera and ordinary people—that the camera, in other words, could function as eye and ear without interfering brain. Viewed half a century later or more, it provides a valuable aperçu into a world otherwise lost. The close of the period treated in this book is also the time when the somber key of the postwar movies started to shift, a break marked most neatly perhaps in La grande vadrouille (1966), when, startlingly, the Nazis could be the stuff of laughter.345 In contrast, The Shop on Main Street (1965), a Czechoslovakian film about Nazism, winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1966, is a most somber and morally chilling istoria. Even the sometimes unenthusiastic Bosley Crowther reported that ‘it knocked us out of our chairs when it was unassumingly presented at the New York Film Festival last fall’.346 Following quite directly on Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil and treating similar issues, it 344 Hillier, Cahiers, p. 65 (no. 138, Dec. 1962). In Demy’s beautifully filmed Le sabotier du Val de Loire (1956), for instance, we hear the man blow his nose, but not his voice. See also, from 1977, an interview with Rouch, in Kahana, Reader, pp. 478–489, including an account of how a lighter, more mobile camera was devised. 345 The film is discussed by Foucault in ‘Popular Memory’, Foucault Live, pp. 122–132. Cf. the American television show Hogan’s Heroes, 1965–1971, a comedy set in a prisoner-of-war camp run by bumbling Nazis; my father (who fought in the War) would leave the room if the show was on. Marcel Ophuls’s Le chagrin et la pitié (1969) also marks a period shift in the f ilmic response to World War II, in this case, a confrontation with French guilt over the complicity of the Vichy government. Cf. Melville’s Les armé des ombres (1969) in which the Resistance is portrayed without idealization. Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three (1961) satirizes Germans, specifically Prussians, who haven’t really put fascism behind them, but only pretend to have done so. The film portrays Communism as the more active oppressor; filming on location was interrupted by the construction of the Wall. It was long banned in Finland for fear of offending the Russians, and it was not a success on release partly because the building of the Wall made the lightheartedness of the film seem gauche. Despite Adorno’s stricture, at about this time there is also renewed emphasis on film as poetry, e.g., Pasolini on Pasolini (1965), pp. 152–153. 346 The New York Times, 25 Jan. 1966.

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was based on a story written by a Czech with a Ph.D. in philosophy who had survived the concentration camps, Ladislav Grosman. It tells the story of an ordinary man who is made to appropriate the shop of an old Jewish lady, whom he comes to regard much more fondly than his own family members. When the Jews are rounded up to be taken away to a concentration camp, his situation becomes intolerable. The film accomplishes for visual art exactly what Alberti had wanted: it takes historical truth and makes an eloquent work of art on that basis, much more eloquent, one might judge, than Arendt’s rather long-winded account. It also achieves a delicacy that eludes the written version, in which the issue of the carpenter’s fleeting thoughts of heroism take more concrete form: He felt full of courage now, emboldened by the unshaken certainty that allowed him at that moment to look the imaginary danger in the face. His kindheartedness assumed the proportions of ennobling virtue. He felt like a knight of old, with a mission to defend the weak and helpless.347

The film much more subtly insinuates that Tono feels he must help the sweet old lady, but also feels trapped and overwhelmed, with no viable option available. The book lacks the fleeting glimpse of the battered face and bent form of the kind old man Kucharsky, the ‘white Jew’ who had been bringing fish to the impoverished old lady, as he is dragged away by Nazis, an image we understand haunts Tono during the frantic interval that follows. The film also accomplishes what René Clair had hoped, in that it manages to offer both a highly convincing representation of a particular time and place—populated by individuals rather than by types—and in the epilogue (which Crowther couldn’t stomach) imaginative imagery that, in this case, gently lifts the viewer beyond the actual historical horror, without sentimentalizing the basic story.348 The Shop on Main Street gives us the meticulously composed, painful tale of an ordinary man caught in a dreadful situation: a quintessence of the modern condition. He is not Arendt’s quasi-passive culprit, but a decent man for whom heroism is not even an option, although he might be capable of it if it were. Generally speaking, before World War II it was difficult to make serious films: people went to the films to be cheered up, for a memento vivere. 347 Grosman, Shop, p. 115. 348 In the book, this does not come at the end, but as a kind of drunken vision near the end. The dream dance at the film’s ending is slightly reminiscent of the denouement of Jacques Becker’s Casque d’or (1952).


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Afterward the War, it became hard to make a fully lighthearted one: people went to the films to be reminded that what they had endured still mattered, for a memento plangere. A film that balances neatly at the fulcrum is The Captive Heart (1946, produced by Balcon). Made by Ealing Studios immediately after the War, and filmed in part in occupied Germany, the picture tells about prisoners of war captured in the aftermath of Dunkirk and therefore condemned to years of dreary suffering devoid of the potentially compensating heroics of action. The opening voice-over salutes their ‘unbroken spirit’ as a moral victory; the opening credits assert, ‘This film is based on fact but the characters are fictitious’. Apparently, a prisoner of war did actually write to a widow in England as though he were her husband, to convince the Germans of his fake identity, and a real romance developed. But quite aside from this, any viewer would recognize that the portrayal of the characters is idealized—that not all women waiting back in England were steadfast and not all prisoners were jolly and full of comradeship, tending gardens, painting and drawing, whittling expertly, and singing lustily. Nor do we need to believe that a blinded soldier taught himself Braille and read Hamlet to his fellow soldiers. Possibly, but what matters is that we sympathize with these men who lost five years of their lives, even if they were lucky enough to get home again, without the compensation of having gained the respect accorded to the returning battlefield soldiers. We admire their endurance and we acknowledge their suffering. The film expects us to believe implicitly the general pathos of the situation and to consider the particulars of romantic involvement as a kind of ornamentation, likewise the bold adventure in which one name is substituted for another in the repatriation list. We observe, as the credits indicate, truth and fiction together, without undue confusion as to which is which. We might say the same of Raphael’s Galatea (c. 1513): we don’t need Raphael’s letter to Castiglione explaining that he uses ‘una certa idea’ to comprehend that he has perfected what he sees in real life;349 we don’t need to believe in the story of Polyphemus’s destructive love for the nymph to recognize in that fresco both the exhilaration and the fragility of romantic love, or simply of youth itself and of beauty. A few years earlier and also by Ealing, The Foreman Went to France (1942, produced by Balcon and Cavalcanti) again presents recent history. The film is dedicated to Melbourne Johns, the Welsh foreman at a munitions factory in Staffordshire who defied his complacent superiors and went to France in 1940, having never been outside of Britain before. He contrived—a truly amazing feat—to recover three important machines that made cannon 349 Although long accepted as Raphael’s, the letter has been de-attributed by John Shearman.

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for airplanes and that had been loaned to the French, and to do so even as the Germans were bombing roads filled with refugees and were advancing on the country. The story was written by J.P. Priestley and the screenplay by Angus MacPhail, and is of no little interest for the light it sheds on the contemporary understanding of Fifth Columnists in France as well as for our protagonist’s heartfelt admission that the fault lies with us, in other words, the opponents of fascism who didn’t notice where the world was heading and do enough in response to the warning signs. Effective montage creates the sensation of being strafed and bombed: Picasso’s Guernica might not be judged superior, if judgment needed to be made. Despite being a wartime film that portrays the ravages of war convincingly, and vilifies the bombing of civilian targets, the film does not hate-monger against individual Germans, who barely figure in the film. The director was Charles Frend, who had edited Hitchcock’s Young and Innocent (1937), with its quite terrifying scene of a car falling through an unstable old mine floor (itself doubtless recalled by Hitchcock in the closing of North by Northwest, 1959, with its desperately reaching arms).350 The Times commented that the film had ‘a touch of the fantastic […] but then the times were fantastic and the film holds a gallant mirror up to them’.351 Johns does not even have a Dictionary of National Biography entry. The film preserves his story (with some artistic license taken, as one would expect; he was, for instance, married, and the extraordinarily capable American woman, not surprisingly, was invented). Meant to encourage the British war effort—as one can well imagine it did—now its value lies in its being a piece of history and of art history, both. After the War, things are awry even in Ealing comedies, sometimes quite literally. The structure of the house in The Ladykillers (1955) is skewed by subsidence caused by the bombings. In Passport to Pimlico (1949), a bomb crater is the source of the find that initiates the plot. And consistently in Ealing comedies, the situation indicates that all is not right with the world, but that by lucky accident disaster can be averted, for some, for now. Survivor guilt, you might call it. Even Hollywood tended to have some dark spots in comedy postwar, sometimes even in musicals, for instance those of Rogers and Hammerstein. 350 The associate producer was Alberto Cavalcanti, who in the same year directed the searing Went the Day Well? after a short story by Graham Greene. Although fiction, this istoria too helps us to understand the period. Counterblast (1948), about an escaped Nazi criminal scientist plotting biological warfare, and Pimpernel Smith (1941) remain interesting for their characterizations of national types; the history of film is sometimes to be watched for what may be most dated, even if it was most contemporary at the time. 351 10 April 1942.


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Joseph Losey’s King and Country (1964), although set during World War I, is very much a film (also novel and play) pertinent again to the theme of survivor guilt. It tells of the trial of a young man, Hemp (played by Tom Courtenay), for desertion. As John Wilson, the playwright, put it in his Introduction, They know that in terms of their law Hamp has been justly proved guilty [of desertion, and sentenced to death by firing squad] beyond any doubt; but for the rest of their lives they will not be able to forget his innocence.352

There is a certain poignancy in how narrowly this anti-war movie preceded the Vietnam debacle, as All Quiet was released into a world already heading toward another world war. It was not released in America until 1966, at which time Bosley Crowther described it as ‘a compound of mounting despairs’.353 The experience of World War II, in part the vivid experience of the War conveyed by films, affected the general tenor of films afterward. As Myrna Loy put it, ‘The noble, self-sacrificing Minivers and Curies supplanted the flippant, sophisticated Charleses’.354 World War I, traumatic as it had been, was digested in large part through poems whose elegiac tone did not much carry over to filmmaking; World War II was anticipated by films, lived and relived in films, and had an effect on the trajectory of filmmaking afterward. This is not meant to denigrate the importance of earlier war films, but only to emphasize the relative weight of the experience of World War II for a film tradition that was by then mature. Photography is clearly the most important event in the history of plastic arts.355

The following chapters highlight some of the ways in which cinema’s emergence into prominence might readily recall and even illuminate the birth of narrative art during the Renaissance, and vice versa. Much of the art history of the Renaissance was actually written during the development of the moving-picture industry during the early and mid-20th century, and we should at least consider the possibility of some spillover into our received history of art, remembering that Renaissance istorie were studied against a 352 Wilson, Hamp, unpag. Cf. La rivière du hibou (1961). 353 The New York Times, 28 January 1966; an unnamed critic for the London Times, 3 Dec. 1964, in a remarkably churlish review, called it a superlative second-rate film. 354 Loy, Being, p. 192. 355 Bazin, ‘The ontology of the photographic image’, in Furstenau, Theory, p. 93.

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backdrop that included the ambitions of Hollywood. Conversely, Hollywood sometimes absorbed examples, or merely lore, from the history of art. Early movies were made quickly and with little expectation that they would last. Nitrate film, used until the 1940s, was known to deteriorate quickly. The studios were as careless about preserving old film stock as about maintaining the careers of older stars. Fine art was destined for museums if it was deemed important; film could scarcely be considered fine while it was held to be ephemeral.356 René Clair (1895–1981), who worked as actor, director, producer, author, and screenplay writer initially in his native France, later in Britain and America, urged his fellow filmmakers to ‘resign ourselves to being merely craftsmen producing ephemeral works’, and to place their hopes instead in ‘the development of cinema’, ‘a work on which the film creators of the whole world are collaborating’.357 We now possess, sometimes in newly minted restored form, films made with no thought of posterity. The history of cinema in the middle decades of the 20th century may have been as pivotal to the history of American culture as was Renaissance art to the history of a newly European culture. In each case, the visual telling of stories came to rival what authors could accomplish. Just as during the Renaissance with its much-invoked appeal ‘ut pictura poësis’, the advocates of cinema would invoke an ineffable quality they called ‘cinematic poetry’, achieved when ‘writer, director, actor, and cameraman join their skills together to realize on the screen the imaginative projection of the emotions’.358 When Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand collaborated on a short film about New York, using the original name of the island Manhatta (1921), they included evocative title cards with lines from Walt Whitman about the city. Joris Ivens, is perhaps best known for his early silent, short film Regen (1929), but made films from 1912 until 1988, whose poetic quality ought not to be underestimated because they are classified as documentaries. In 1957, Ivens filmed La Seine a rencontré Paris, the commentary for which is a poem by Jacques Prévert—interspersed with the sounds of junkyards and singing or shouting children, as well as music by the Brazilian-born Philippe-Gérard 356 Powell, Autobiography, p. 379, ‘I can assure you that in 1940 nobody thought of a film’s life as more than half a dozen years’; see also p. 452. In Sciuscià (1946), the films the boys are watching in the prison courtyard (newsreel about the war in the Pacific, followed by slapstick) bursts into flame when left unattended. 357 Clair, Yesterday, pp. 118–119. 358 Roger Manville, in Balcon, Presents [1947], p. 92. Cf. Anderson, of a take ‘as potent and as self–contained as a line of poetry’, p. 103. Anderson promoted Humphrey Jennings as ‘the only real poet the British cinema has yet produced’, ‘Only Connect’, 1962, p. 5.


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(who also worked with Alain Resnais).359 A dog is allowed to bark over the score. When Michael Balcon wanted to distinguish the widely admired documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty as exceptionally talented, he called him a ‘film poet’.360 Poetry, as an art that highly emphasizes formal qualities and revels in imagery, is a natural ally of the visual arts, whether painting or film. Clair described the work of Mack Sennett as poetic: ‘These images reveal a poet, a master of shadow and light, whose primary concern is not to tell a story but to find the most effective visual rhythms’.361 Clair also used the dream as metaphor for the quality he admired in silent film, saying of talkies, ‘I fear that the precision of verbal expression may drive poetry from the screen as it has driven away the atmosphere of dream’.362 Pier Paolo Pasolini perhaps unknowingly echoed Clair in his call describing commercial film as mere prose; poetic film he compared with dream and memory: ‘to make films is to be a poet’.363 The invocation of the poetic in discussions of film is not merely empty accolade, but a nod in the direction of parity between word and image in which each might be allowed inventive freedom. When Robert Donat (Hannay, falsely accused of murder and on the run) and Peggy Ashcroft (the crofter’s young wife) crossed paths in that Scottish croft (The 39 Steps, 1935), the concentrated significance of simple, but briefly seen, actions achieves the poetic—we learn more than a glimpse would normally allow, as in poetry, or as in, for instance, a scene by Giotto. Everything insignificant has been distilled, and the viewer is expected to focus diligently—not for the sake of plot details, but to understand the characters as real, complex individuals, in particular the woman as having a life of suffering outside the parameters of the film. Later, we see a hand slapping her, just for an instant and without seeing her,364 to indicate to us that when she told Hannay she would not be maltreated for letting him have her husband’s best Sunday coat, she lied. 359 Robeson, Here, pp. 69–70, had great respect for Ivens; they both worked on Song of the Rivers (Das Lied der Ströme, 1954). When Nicoll, Theatre, p. 176, thought of links between cinema and poetry, he had in mind Horace Gregory. 360 Balcon, Presents, 71. Cf. the way the Sunday Times staff in the 1970s would express both admiration and disdain for the Observer by calling its articles poetic; Ian Jack, ‘The Best Stuff’, London Review of Books, 2 June 2016, p. 36. 361 Clair, Reflections, p. 40. 362 Idem, p. 98. Cf. Pierre Naville, ‘memory and the pleasure of the eyes: that is the whole aesthetic […] The cinema, not because it is life, but the marvellous, the grouping of chance elements […]’, Ades, Dada, p. 199, from La révolution surréaliste, III, 1925. 363 Pasolini on Pasolini, p. 154. 364 Cf. the arm that appears on-screen for an instant before the chased man falls through the British Museum skylight, in Blackmail (1929).

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One of the things she remembers from her life in Glasgow is ‘the trams and the lights, and the cinema palaces and their crowds’ on Argyle Street on a Saturday night, all said without a trace of self-pity or envy. When he asks her what she wants to know about London, she asks, straightforwardly, ‘Is it true that all the ladies paint their toenails?’365 We also understand her from standing with her spying husband and gazing with him through the window as Hannay tries to explain his situation to her over the dinner table with utmost briefness, while the husband has supposedly gone to lock the barn. We cannot hear, but we understand by what we see that he has told her he is innocent and that she has believed him, unlike the woman on the train earlier (Madeleine Carroll), or the milkman back in London. When Hannay leaves hastily through the back door, asking her name (Margaret; her husband has called her ‘woman’) and kissing her hurriedly as he goes, we intuit at least something of her inchoate and inarticulate thoughts. For about eight seconds, we see her alone in semidarkness, moving her head ever so slightly and yet poignantly. That sense of the poetic, a concentrated opportunity for empathy in which the viewer is left to think about life rather than about the plot, is achieved in large part through the tip of the balance in favor of image over dialogue.366 Those two say very little to one another, and yet we understand that the moment may be the most vital in her humdrum and hard life. It is not simply that the two felt some attraction for each other, but that they each felt concern for someone from such a different walk of life, so very different as to be almost unimaginable—and yet, even more than that, they recognized across the disparateness a shared desperation. He manages to express concern about her well-being even in the midst of his terrible straits, and she helps a stranger she knows to be sought by the police, thereby risking the wrath of her narrow-minded, jealous, bigoted, and choleric old husband. It is doubtless the only time she has defied the law, let alone religion. It is her heroic moment, a very understated one. Soldiers, policemen, civil servants, teak wallahs, elephant trappers, riverboat captains, dropped everything when they heard the magic word ‘movie’.367

Like printed images with respect to the Renaissance, the expendable multiples of celluloid have largely been left on the sidelines of modernist art 365 The originating novel by the Scot, John Buchan, (1915) contained none of this. 366 Cf. the Piazza di Campitelli scene in Fellini’s Lo sceicco bianco (1952) (Back cover). 367 Powell, Autobiography, p. 283, of his visit to Burma in 1937.


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history—a particularly egregious omission considering that it was aimed at the largest possible market and may actually have had more effect on the history of thought in a democratic society.368 In some ways, cinema functioned as the antagonist of the fine arts, co-opting some of the cultural energy that might otherwise have gone toward painting and sculpture, or theater, or unencumbered musical composition. The history of the fine arts has exacted a degree of revenge by admitting cinema’s existence only when it can be made to seem derivative. That friction between the fine and the popular arts is one of our subjects here, just as in studying Renaissance prints, one of the themes needs to be the ways in which painters and sculptors were affected by the upstart medium, rather than only vice versa.369 In the digital era, celluloid cinema may prove as foundational as was Renaissance art for the Old Master period that succeeded it, and often as it was known through engravings. Cinema was brand new even before Modernism proclaimed novelty as its creed. It acquired artistic aspirations just as what it meant to have artistic aspirations was called into question. Dedicated to a degree of realism through photography and to narrative through its literary sources, its techniques were easily adapted to surrealistic or otherwise disjunctive purposes: ‘the cinema is poetry’s most powerful medium, the most capable of realizing the unreal, the “surreal” as Apollinaire would have said’.370 That basic tension, between art as naturalistic and art as fantasy, had roots in the early Renaissance, though such complexity had tended to be forgotten during the academy-dominated centuries of dedication to an idealized and homogenized, heroic version of reality. But with the emergence of film, new conceptual realities lay ready for exploration, as mythological and, later, pastoral, fictions had beckoned in the fifteenth century. Both the moving picture (whether moving explicitly or implicitly) and the multiple possess long and rich histories, ripe for fuller integration into the history of thought. 368 Before VHS and DVDs, movies had been a staple on late-night television, movies bundled and sold without much sifting for quality; see Kael, ‘Television’, [1970] in Oxford, pp. 595–606. She believed that movies ‘helped to form the liberalized modern consciousness’. 369 Arthur Danto denies any significant parallel between prints and cinema in ‘Moving Pictures’, 1979, reprinted in Carroll and Choi, Philosophy, pp. 100–112, in an article remarkable now for preserving a pre-digital way of thinking about photography. 370 Epstein, ‘Le cinématographe vu de l’Etna’ (1926), Critical, p. 296. Cf. Kracauer, Theory, p. 32, who observes how Lumière described his work as ‘scientific’, Méliès as ‘artistic’—a contrast that struck him as a Hegelian opposition.

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Shepard, Jim, ed., Writers at the Movies (New York: Perennial, 2000). Sherwood, Richard, The Best Pictures of 1922–23 (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1923). Sitwell, Sacheverell, Narrative Pictures: A Survey of English Genre and its Painters (New York: Scribner’s, 1938). Sjöman, Vilgot, Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (Swedish television, 1963). Stevens, George, Jr., Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age (New York: A.A. Knopf, 2006). Stokes, Melvyn, D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’: A History of ‘The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time’ (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Talbot, Daniel, ed., Film, An Anthology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959). Talbot, Margaret, The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and my Father’s Twentieth Century (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012). Tavernier, Bertrand, Voyage à travers le cinema français, DVD, Cohen Media Group, 2017. Taves, Brian, P.G. Wodehouse and Hollywood: Screenwriting, satires, and adaptations (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co., 2006). Tennyson, Charles, Penrose Tennyson (London: A.S. Atkinson, 1943). Tey, Josephine, A Shilling for Candles (New York: Macmillan, 1954). Thomson, David, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick (London: André Deutsch, 1993). Toulet, Emmanuelle, Birth of the Motion Picture (New York: Abrams, 1995). Truffaut, François, and Helen Scott, Hitchcock (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984). ———, Letters, Gilbert Adair, trans. (London: Faber and Faber, 1989). Trumpbour, John, Selling Hollywood to the World: U.S. and European Struggles for Mastery of the Global Film Industry, 1920–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Trussler, Simon, The Cambridge Illustrated History of British Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Turim, Maureen, ‘Poetic Realism as Psychoanalytical and Ideological Operation: Marcel Carné’s Le jour se lève’, in French Film: Texts and Contexts, Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau, eds. (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 63–77. Turk, Edward, Child of Paradise: Marcel Carné and the golden age of French cinema (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1989). Tynan, Kenneth, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping (New York: Holt, Rinehardt, and Winston, 1975). Varda par Agnès (Paris: Cahiers du cinéma et Ciné-Tamaris, 1994). ———, Interviews, T. J. Kline, ed., (Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2013).

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Vasari, Giorgio, Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori,scultori e architettori, R. Bettarini and P. Barocchi, eds., 6 vols. (Florence: Sansoni, 1966). Venturi, Lionello, Italian Painters of Today, Dorothy Cater, trans. (Rome: Universe Books, 1959). Vertov, Dziga, Kino-Eye, The Writings of Dziga, Annette Michelson, ed., Kevin O’Brien, tr. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). Veyne, Paul, Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? An Essay on the Constitutive Imagination, Paula Wissing, tr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988). Vidor, King, ‘The Independence of Mr. Vidor’, The New York Times, 29 July 1934. Vieira, Mark, Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010). Vigo, Jean, The Complete Jean Vigo (New York: Frederick Ungar 1983). Warner, Marina, L’Atalante (Basingstroke: Palgrave Macmillan [BFI], 2015). Waugh, Evelyn, Vile Bodies (Boston: Little, Brown, 1930). Weinberg, Herman, The Compete ‘Greed’ of Erich von Stroheim (New York: Arno, 1972). Whistler, Laurence, The Laughter and the Urn: The life of Rex Whistler (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985). Whitaker, Malachi [Marjorie], And So Did I (London: Paladin, 1990). Williams, Jay, A Change of Climate: A More or Less Aimless and Amiable Account of Various Journeys and Encounters Abroad (New York: Random House, 1956). Williams, Michael, Film Stardom and the Ancient Past: Idols, Artefacts and Epics (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Wilson, John, Hamp, A Play in Three Acts Based on an Episode from the Novel ‘ Return to the Wood’ by J.L. Hodson (London: Evans, 1966). Winckelmann, J.J., The History of Ancient Art, Henry Cabot Lodge, trans. (Boston: J.R. Osgood, 1873). Wiskari, Werner, ‘Another Bergman Gains Renown’, The New York Times (20 Dec. 1959). Wodehouse, P.G., Louder and Funnier (London: H. Jenkins, 1963). Woolf, Virginia, The Second Common Reader (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1960). Wykes, Alan, H.G., Wells in the Cinema (London: Jupiter Books, 1977). Zischler, Hanns, Kafka Goes to the Movies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).


The Machine Aesthetic Abstract Film was allied with live performance because of its movement and also because many actors started in vaudeville. Hollywood often reproduced Broadway plays, prompting critics to try to define what might be specifically cinematographic, such as a facility for shifting from one layer of consciousness to another. Film allowed for a new kind of experience of dramatic art, more remote than theater in some ways but also endowed with new resources such as the close-up, location shooting, and a broad public sometimes apt for unaccustomed themes and treatments. Urban anonymity and the social effects of an increasingly mechanized environment were recurrent themes. The displacement of silent film by talkies was widely lamented, often on the grounds that silent film was just coming into its own as an art form, an early instance of questioning the reliability of technological progress. Keywords: Busby Berkeley, circus, Diderot, Hitchcock, musicals, performance

America is the land of the Machine […] The Machine and the money that it produces have become the true currency of word, ideal and thought.1

Before there were movie houses, music halls provided similarly popular entertainment.2 Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935) opens with a visit to a 1 Frank, Our America, 1919, pp. 181, 209. Cf. Baudelaire on Americanism, mechanization, and materialism, as discussed by Spender, Love-Hate, pp. 37–38. 2 Music halls were flourishing by the 1830s. Their audiences might include members from various strata of society. Fred Karno, a music hall performer with circus training, was admired by Stan Laurel as well as Charlie Chaplin; see Lynn, Chaplin, pp. 85–90. Eliot wrote in a eulogy of a music hall performer that ‘the working man’ instead of going to the music hall, ‘will now go to the cinema, where his mind is lulled by continuous senseless music and continuous action

Emison, P., Moving Pictures and Renaissance Art History. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021 doi 10.5117/9789463724036_ch02


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rowdy music hall (at which the obstreperous patrons keep asking Mr. Memory to tell them Mae West’s age) and ends at the considerably more upscale Palladium. We also catch a glimpse of music hall performance in The Winslow Boy (1948), among other instances.3 Jean Renoir particularly liked actors who came from the music halls. When Le Corbusier sent some of his watercolors made at the music hall to a friend in 1926, he told him to look at them quickly: ‘The music hall is a transient thing, fast […] it’s not about framing them [the drawings]. They’re only worth seeing quickly, like at the cinema’. 4 Hollywood films frequently featured nightclub performances, the glamorous, upscale cousin of the music hall and likewise a venue that allowed for a degree of fluidity between performers and audience: the dance floor was used both by professional performers and guests. From Charlie Chaplin to Jacques Tati, some of the great figures of early film traced their origins to live and popular performance practices, including not only the music hall but also the circus, performance practices to which improvisation and independence from text came naturally. Jean-Pierre Melville’s 24 heures de la vie d’un clown (1946) is a documentary short about the life of a clown in Paris, sans interview but graced instead with the narrator’s wry comments (complete with allusion to Henri Bergson). We see the old clown in the public bath, sleeping with his clever dog rather than his wife, and watching the passersby at a café to gather material for that evening’s performance. Chaplin’s The Circus (1928), which Bergman is said to have liked to watch on his birthday,5 Fellini’s La Strada (1954), and Pierre Étaix’s Yoyo (1965) (Figure 7) all used the circus as a world of heightened risks and enhanced too rapid for the brain to act upon, and will receive, without giving, in that same listless apathy with which the middle and upper classes regard any entertainment of the nature of art’, ‘Marie Lloyd’ (1922), Prose, p. 174. In the 1930s, Artaud wrote of ‘the secret of an objective poetry based on humor which the theater renounced and abandoned to the Music Hall, and which the Cinema later adopted,’ Selected, p. 236. 3 Music halls of the 1860s are portrayed in Champagne Charlie, 1944, in which the music hall is situated above the pub and below the theater in terms of prestige and acceptability to higher-class guests; see also A Run for Your Money, 1949, and San Francisco, 1936. Louis Mayer’s f irst movie theater, in Haverill, Massachusetts, was converted from a burlesque house. Cf. Rushdie, ‘Kansas’, pp. 201–226, in which Rushdie comments on how similar the interactions of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are to burlesque and how similar the call and response of the songs in Munchkinland is to vaudeville. 4 Pauly, Le Corbusier, p. 218. 5 Bergman, ‘Three O’clock Rite’. Whitfield, Chipping Camden Diaries, p. 115, reports having gone to see The Circus in 1928 in Rotterdam with a friend who ‘sizzled and fizzled and seemed to enjoy himself a lot, and so did I’. Usually when he mentions going to see a film, he does not say what it was or anything about it.

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improbabilities within the world of the film, like a play within a play. The type of the clown epitomized the performer’s fragile facade and inherent vulnerability. No clown has been more pathetic than Lon Chaney’s ‘he’, in He Who Gets Slapped (1924), with the film’s intersection of laughter and cruelty. The painting carried into the police station at the end of Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929) depicts a clown, and its grinning mask of a face signifies menace. Like pastoral in the Old Master tradition, the circus theme could meld a gentle nostalgia for a simpler era of artistry with acute sorrow and pain, as in Bergman’s Sawdust and Tinsel (1953).6 The young Picasso had likewise favored such subjects, which had the force of visual paradox: lithe, seemingly carefree figures weighed down with melancholy or angst. Before him, Watteau and Tiepolo had explored similar themes. In the early (pre-Code) talkie I’m No Angel (1933), Mae West plays a tough and worldly singer and circus performer with a heart of gold, who eventually lives happily ever after with the highborn Cary Grant character. Mae West is at once down-to-earth and ideal. She is alluring to every man who encounters her, from the poorest to the richest, and she is well aware of her effect. She is honorable according to her own real-world rules. The details of the preposterous narrative (written by her) do not matter as much as her presence, which is, of course, an absence, since her performance (both her performance and her performance of not performing) happens on-screen. She is quite literally a projection, which the viewer honors by watching, at a distance. As with a Byzantine icon (or a Warhol Marilyn), the viewer focuses on what is acknowledged to be but an image of what is adored. Yet unlike the icon, Mae West is sultry and seductive as only a moving image can be. The remote viewer may well admire, and also be amused by, Mae West’s control of the situation as much as by her never-failing allure—the power of which one admiring young actor recalled, saying ‘It was too much for a guy from Nebraska’.7 Nostalgia for the traveling circus may imply nostalgia not only for a simpler bygone form of entertainment but also for the childlike glee those entertainments were designed to elicit. In Tati’s Jour de fête (1949), the swarms of children in the town form a crucial element of the barely narrative film centered on a village festival. The cinema tent set up in the village square 6 Bergman told Dick Cavett in 1971 that Death in The Seventh Seal (1957) had something of a clown in him, presumably signified by the whiteface. 7 Talbot, Entertainer, p. 114. Sennwald, ‘Great Lady,’ The New York Times, 19 May 1935, laments that the former’s ‘splendid earthiness’ has become too self-conscious and limited, paving the way for Jean Harlow.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

Figure 7: Yoyo, CAPAC, Pierre Étaix, 1965, screenshot.

shows films from the United States, a western and a ‘documentary’ about the modern, innovative postal service of America, including delivery by helicopter.8 François, the local postman on his bicycle (played by Tati), reacts to the newsreel by genuinely admiring that which anticipates his own extinction. The viewer, both sympathetic and amused, attends not only to the events of the day but to the delicate balance by which provincial France is celebrated, unsentimentally, while it is also, gently, encroached upon by changing mores. The postman may be thought of as a clown graced with a natural habitat. The villagers form his inattentive public and the camera his attentive one; the elapsing 24 hours (recounted in 70 minutes) constitute his performance—one that borrows from Tati’s earlier career as a live performer. The postman is mocked by those who have seen the film about what modern postal service ought to be; he bumbles along amiably and is bothered by a bee; a small boy eventually completes his round for him while he grabs a pitchfork to help with the age-old task of haying, suggesting a possible link to Bruegel’s rural clowns, who were also observed carefully and tolerantly. The fête being over, the circus leaves the town.9 Tati’s subsequent films, although sometimes sidelined from the admiration accorded La nouvelle vague because they seemed too fanciful, perhaps even too fey,10 likewise show rather than describe. He manages to present a 8 Tati had made a silent film about training postmen to ride bicycles, and reuses some of that material here. 9 Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) is surely a reprise of sorts. 10 E.g., Rohmer, Beauty, p. 11.

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world that seems to have no narrator,11 and only the most casual of points of view. Whereas the members of La nouvelle vague admired popular American cinema, Tati used the modern medium, complete with early color and careful soundscaping,12 to argue implicitly on behalf of valuing a rural France that was not totally up to date—as well as a practice of filmmaking that depended more on performance than on scripts or technical wizardry. While American postmen are shown on projected film delivering mail by amazing, death-defying stunts, François performs slapstick stunts as part of ordinary life. He humors small children by taking their pretend post seriously—as the child at the end of the film takes François’s real post seriously. The stage, understandably, had very limited use for children. In Brief Encounter (1945), the husband attempts to cheer up his wife by suggesting that they resolve not to take the children either to the circus or to the pantomime, but go by themselves to the pictures—which makes her cry, since she had been going to the pictures with the man she improvidently loves; the film glimpsed on the screen as we see them leaving is titled Flames of Passion.13 The three art forms had offerings for the whole family, or in the case of the pictures, purely adult offerings as well. Although the movies in part descended from vaudeville and theater performances (respectively, the more lowly and the more elevated live performance genres), soon enough they threatened to replace them.14 When f ilm merely reproduced theater, it was in danger of being like a photograph of a painting: ‘in that reproduction there can be no art, only 11 Jour de fête actually did have, briefly, an old lady as narrator. 12 On Tati’s sophisticated use of sound (‘There is something of the laboratory to Tati’s world’), see Chion, Sound, pp. 188–197. Tati filmed Jour in black and white and in color; there were initially difficulties with the color print, but it can now be seen. Cocteau slightly prematurely declared in 1946, ‘Farewell to the last black-and-white films. Colour has arrived’, Art, p. 32. 13 Although there was a 1922 movie with that title (which Michael Powell records having seen in his Autobiography, p. 111), this one, based on a novel by the fictional Alice Porter Stoughey, dated 1938, seems to be concocted, and Laura calls it ‘terribly bad’. We do see them enjoy a Donald Duck short beforehand. On an earlier occasion, they had seen the obviously over-the-top preview for Flames of Passion while attending The Loves of Cardinal Richelieu, another facetious title (although there was a 1935 Cardinal Richelieu. For Wodehouse’s satirical movie titles, see Taves, Wodehouse, p. 47, e.g., Wed to a Satyr). Likewise, Love and the Mist playing at the alternate theater is concocted. 14 On the deleterious effect of talkies on regional theater, see Talbot, Entertainer, p. 118. the effect was compounded by television. Already in 1915 it was reported that f ilms had driven popular melodrama out of business in the theater; Edwards, Popular, 1915, p. 53. Concern is also expressed about ‘lurid posters’, p. 55, and ‘vicious men and boys’ who bother girls waiting in line, though the overall effect is mostly judged as ‘wholesome’. By the 1950s, regional theaters had declined in Britain to about 30; Trussler, Cambridge Illustrated, pp. 224, 295.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

technical competence’.15 Waldo Frank, writing in 1919, didn’t think much of American theater in the first place: ‘Before the Movie, the American masses had no theater. The whole world now has its cinemas. America alone has nothing else. America alone has nothing better’.16 Preston Sturges thought of film as the modern form of theater, replacing it as the car replaced the horse.17 Sergei Eisenstein also identif ied theater with the past and film with the future: ‘The theatre, I believe, is a dying institution. It is the handiwork of a petty artisan. The movie reflects heavy, highly organized industry’.18 Vachel Lindsay contrasted the audience experience of stage in vaudeville, (‘where the word rules’) with cinema (‘where splendor and ritual are all’). The audience for cinema was characteristically smaller (he was from Springfield, Illinois, whose population he estimates at 60,000)—he supposes about two hundred came and went at fairly random moments in a movie, whereas a stage audience he estimates at three hundred to one thousand.19 The audience for vaudeville forms ‘a jocular army’; whereas at the cinema, ‘strictly as individuals they judge the panorama’. In his view, the stage and the photoplay ought to function like English and History departments in a university, ‘teaching in amity, each illuminating the work of the other’.20 Because film was thought of as part of a new industrial age, it was often contrasted with its older cousin, the stage. In a novel published in 1926, Pirandello was less than sanguine about actors’ attitudes toward the camera: they hate it, first and foremost, because they see themselves withdrawn, feel themselves torn from that direct communion with the public from which in the past they derived their richest reward, their greatest satisfaction: that of seeing, of hearing from the stage, in a theatre, an eager, anxious multitude follow their live action, stirred with emotion, tremble, laugh, become excited, break out in applause.21 15 Nicoll, Theatre, p. 46. Movie scripts were often reproduced for radio, sometimes with the same cast members. 16 Frank, America, p. 214. 17 Sturges, Preston, pp. 265, 289. 18 Eisenstein, quoted by Barr in 1928, Defining, p. 144. Leopold Trieste, a playwright who played the hapless groom Ivan, said that he took the role in Lo sceicco bianco (1952) because he thought theater was dying, and that he admired film’s capacity for conveying in a single image what the playwright struggled to say in many words; Criterion Collection DVD extra. 19 Lindsay, Moving, 1922 edition, pp. 187–195, see also p. 227. 20 Idem, p. 198. 21 Pirandello, Shoot!, p. 105.

The Machine Aesthe tic


Lillian Gish also pointed out, early on, how distinct film was from theater, especially in reference to D.W. Griff ith’s direction. Her view was more positive: What Griffith had was a way of telling a story. He invented the form. He knew it had to be different from the stage. On the stage, we see people walk on and off. Everything was literal. He saw that the film can move as your mind moves.22

D.W. Griffith’s The House with Closed Shutters (1910) featured a young heroine who takes the place on the battlefield of her cowardly, drunken brother, a failed Southern soldier. In this very early film, the acting style is reminiscent of ballet pantomime. As Gish noted, he soon adjusted to the new medium, and helped actors to convey their thoughts without words but also without undue gesticulation. Alistair Cooke believed that films seemed much more real than theater, claiming that even a bad movie ‘picks you up and carries you away as a much better stage play will not’.23 Even the traditionalist Gance understood well the new capacities of the medium: ‘various states of the spectator’s mind can be at one and the same time more numerous and more varied in the cinema than in the theatre’.24 Walter Benjamin hailed film, in contrast to the stage, as marking the end of ‘the realm of the “beautiful semblance” which, so far, had been taken to be the only sphere where art could thrive’,25 although he had his misgivings. Éric Rohmer referred in 1983 to ‘the paradox of film, which is an art without being an art, performance without being performance, theater without being theater, which rejects theater, in fact’.26 On the other hand, when fine Czech films were made in that brief period before the 1968 Soviet invasion, that sudden flowering depended in part on using skilled actors from theater, such as the elderly shopkeeper in The Shop on Main Street (1965), Ida Kaminska. In Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three (1961), based on a 1929 one-act play by Ferenc Molnár, heavily rewritten for film and updated 22 Gish, Spectator, p. 39. 23 Cooke, Movies, 23 March 1937, pp. 184–185. The cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, speaking about Visconti’s Le notti bianche, 1957, seems to make an analogy between the director’s desire to combine fantasia with vera, between the feel of theater with that of film; Criterion Collection DVD, 2005; interview in 2003. 24 King, Gance, pp. 58–59. 25 Benjamin, ‘Mechanical’, p. 230. 26 Rohmer, Beauty, p. 10.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, the zany fast-talk of stage comedy melded with on-location filming. The film preserves the contrasting looks of West and East Berlin just before the Wall went up, and is spiced with glancing references to film history, such as Cagney’s own grapefruit scene in The Public Enemy (1931);27 E.G. Robinson’s line in Little Caesar (1931), ‘Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?’; and the cross-dressing in Wilder’s own Some Like it Hot (1959). The result is an amalgam of stage and screen, conceptually, textually, and visually. The stage and film actor George Arliss tried to analyze the difference in acting for a live audience versus a camera, saying that restraint was the chief thing that the actor had to learn in transferring his art from the stage to the screen […] the art of restraint and suggestion on the screen may any time be studied by watching the acting of the inimitable Charlie Chaplin.28

Hitchcock also stipulated that the camera required something new of actors: People must act for the camera to get the best results rather than have the camera try and grab what the people are doing. That’s the difference between film that is a stage play and film that is a motion picture.29

Once close-ups were developed (as early as Griffith), film could achieve radically more intimate access to scenes than that possible on the stage. As one experienced screenwriter deftly put it: ‘the stage is the medium of action while the screen is the medium of reaction’.30 We might remember, in support of this opinion, the climactic moment in Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou’s silent Frau im Mond (1929, Woman in the Moon), in which we see the face of Helius, our hero, desolate after he has arranged for his friends to return to Earth with their limited oxygen while he sacrificially stays behind on the Moon. We then watch his face transform as he sees (before we do) the woman he loves, Friede, who had been engaged to his best friend (revealed during the voyage to be unworthy of love), and who has somehow 27 One, Two, Three was filmed in black-and-white Panavision, an odd combination. In White Heat (1949), the doomed yet jubilant Cagney character yells out from atop the inferno of oil storage tanks: ‘Made it, Ma! Top of the world!’, which might be thought to make a coded reference, even a riposte, to his earlier gangster demises. 28 Actors, p. 452, from 1942; Cf. Eisenstein, Sense, p. 28. 29 Hitchcock on Hitchcock, p. 189. 30 Nichols, in Gassner, Twenty, xxxiii.

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managed to stay behind with him. The change in his facial expression as he experiences desolation and sadness, followed by disbelief and joy, and his step backward as he sees her, is classically cinematic (Figure 8); Leonardo would have relished it. The close-up (or, in this case, the half-length shot), though it was but one of several techniques distinctive to film, was key to how filmmakers thought about the new medium: it yielded an experience at once more intimate than anything before, and yet more remote because it was delivered via machines rather than in person. The close-up combined the straightforwardness of the icon with nuanced movement that rendered the face expressive and not just lifelike, but living.31 What aura was to the icon, now glamour was to Hollywood and its close-ups. The frozen aspect of the icon had been succeeded by the grazia celebrated first by Baldassare Castiglione and then by Giorgio Vasari, followed by the frivolous decorative qualities of the Baroque and Rococo that Robert Venturi was willing much later to connect to the look of Las Vegas, and, thirdly, the dandy idolized by Baudelaire. What these three opposites to the icon have in common is their deliberate superficiality, their devotion to style over doctrine, verba over res.32 As Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930) described his interest in the movies of his youth, ‘It was indeed the stylization that got me into movies. In the old argument of style versus substance, substance is what counts. But, boy, style’s what I enjoy’.33 Hollywood’s glamour properly finds its roots in what the Pre-Raphaelites decried about High Renaissance art, in a certain slickness, a poise, a confidence devoid of any memory of the sin of vanity—as though aura could be appropriated by a person or object with no claim to transcendence.34 31 In Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929), Alice’s eyebrows jerk ever so slightly as she hears the word ‘knife’ repeatedly, to reflect what is going on in Alice’s mind (Anny Ondra), as she is haunted by her guilt. 32 Adorno, ‘Reconsidered’ (1975), in Essays, p. 102: ‘the culture industry is defined by the fact that it does not strictly counterpose another principle to that of aura, but rather by the fact that it conserves the decaying aura as a foggy mist’. See also Jameson, Signatures, Chapter 1, for a partial critique of Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘Culture Industry’ as too aligned with modernity and too dependent upon an insurmountable opposition between mass and elite cultures. Like Benjamin, all of these men understand the challenge of the multiple to the authority of the original to be a def ining characteristic of the advanced industrial revolution, i.e., the 20th century, whereas it is a thesis of the present work that early prints by Mantegna and Dürer, among others, could only have had the success they did if the authority of the original was not yet enshrined. Ditto for the intermixing of popular with elite culture: true of Renaissance art, especially prints, before it was the case with film. 33 Mitchell, ‘Sondheim’, The New York Times, 2003. 34 Mulvey, ‘Desire’, p. 749, offers a different take (1975): ‘the glamorous impersonates the ordinary’.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

Figure 8: Wolf Helius (Willy Fritsch), Frau im Mond, UFA, Fritz Lang, 1929, screenshots.

Dürer’s Self-Portrait of 1500 (Munich), the composition of which recalls icons, intimates the glamour to come. It might be taken to indicate an acceptance of inauthenticity, with a proud appearance belying that the inner consciousness still recalls the threat of mortality. Donatello’s oddly contemplative bronze David is, we might say, a figure who intimates glamour:

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proud, conscious of his beauty, and worlds apart from the Apollo Belvedere, for example, because what he seems to know about himself and what he seems to know about how he is seen by others are not in accord. Anita Loos was reminded of that statue by Igor Novello: ‘Igor was so beautiful he might have posed for Donatello as the youthful David’.35 The line between glamour and vulgarity, like that between glamour and true beauty, could be debated at least as long as Renaissance courtiers had debated the boundaries between art and artifice or between nature and art. In L’Herbier’s L’Argent (1928) the languorous and luxurious Baroness Sandorf exemplifies beauty that masks an evil heart, in contrast to the aviator’s also beautiful, though vulnerable and sincere, wife Line. They could almost pose for Raphael’s so-called Dream of Scipio painting (London, c. 1504), with the pure woman on his right and the overly ornamented woman on his left. The glamorous f igure must always disguise the superf iciality of the effect. As Myrna Loy remarked, ‘You look at those old studio portraits and you say “My God! Were there people that really looked like that?”’36 F. Scott Fitzgerald described a young Hollywood beauty: ‘He couldn’t decide whether she was an imitation of an English lady or whether an English lady was an imitation of her. She hovered somewhere between the realest of realities and the most blatant of impersonations’.37 The word ‘glamour’ originally had connotations of witchcraft: to be glamorous is to be beautiful with a clouded conscience, a sense that maybe the appearance isn’t real, a sense that reverberates in 1930s magazine advertising (not to mention, more recent advertising!), in which the potential customer is accused of having faults the product will cloak, thereby achieving glamour. The whole of Hollywood had a reputation for inauthenticity. According to P.G. Wodehouse: ‘The whole atmosphere is one of insidious deceit and subterfuge […] the languorous lagoon is simply a smelly tank with a stagehand named Ed. wading about in it in a bathing-suit’.38 Or as the butler in Laughing Gas (1935) puts it: ‘Hollywood! Home of mean glories and spangled wretchedness, where the deathless fire burns for the outspread wings of the guileless moth and beauty is broken on sin’s cruel wheel’.39 In Isherwood’s Prater Violet, the author character accuses himself of doing ‘movie work, 35 Loos, Good-By, p. 73. 36 Loy, Being, p. 119. 37 Fitzgerald, ‘Crazy’, 1932, p. 214. 38 Wodehouse, ‘Hollywood Scandal’, in Louder, pp. 15–16; see also McCrum, Wodehouse, p. 203. For a more positive view, Talbot, Entertainer, pp. 124–127. 39 Quoted by Taves, Wodehouse, p. 59.


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hack work. It was something essentially false, cheap, vulgar’. But it paid an ‘almost incredible twenty pounds a week’. 40 In Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962), the eponymous character, a pop singer, starts as a figure of glamour. We see her admiring herself in a mirror and hear her relishing her physical beauty. Then midway through the movie, after a moment of psychological crisis suffered while performing a song, she sheds her wig and becomes a more ordinary figure, suffering from a layer of distance between herself and what she does. Later, having met a soldier (Antoine) on leave from the war in Algiers, she reveals that her name is actually Florence rather than Cléo, 41 rides a bus through the streets of Paris taking note of all the quotidian activities and people around her, enters a hospital garden and there, f inally, f inds ease with herself and her mortality. The film might be taken as documenting a trajectory away from glamour and toward authenticity, authenticity measured partly by consciousness of the war in Algiers (she has earlier heard radio reports while in a taxi) and more generally by receptivity to the world of Paris in which she lives. On the other hand, her authentic self is not so unlike the public pop singer she was at the beginning: it was the age of Roland Barthes and ‘the truth of signs, an entire modern way of seeing the world—precisely as surface’. 42 Technicians are the only real artists.43

Broadway and Hollywood were sometimes closely intertwined. Morton DaCosta directed both the Broadway and the Warner Brothers versions of Mame (1956–1958)/Auntie Mame (1958). He used a fade-out technique at the end of each scene in the film, 44 as though a solitary spotlight had been shone on the title character, played by Rosalind Russell both onstage and in the film. Hollywood was in some ways, over many years, a byproduct of Broadway, a way of reproducing stage productions for a dispersed and not necessarily affluent public, akin to the reproductive prints of the sixteenth century. 40 Isherwood, Prater, p. 49. The director tries to convince the novelist that their script actually has value as an allegory of class struggle; pp. 71–74. 41 As Garance in Les enfants (1945) reveals her name is Claire. 42 Barthes, Signs, p. 15, writing in 1959. 43 Spoken by a film editor, Isherwood, Prater, p. 103. 44 Much more subtly, Varda in Cléo sometimes makes the screen black by letting the camera travel into deep shadow. Cf. Le bonheur (1965), with its use of color fadeouts, and Bergman, Cries and Whispers (1972), who used a red screen between scenes.

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At the same time, a sharp rivalry existed between the east and west coasts. Broadway participated in a tradition that went back millennia; Hollywood studios had huge budgets. There is at least a vague parallel between that rivalry and Renaissance paragoni: those arguing in favor of sculpture had taken pride in its costliness and permanence, while others, championing painting, claimed that creating an illusion required more conceptual power. Hollywood suffered more than theater from charges of vulgarity: only on the silver screen could one mount such extremely extravagant musical productions as the Busby Berkeley musicals of 1933–1935, made for Warner Brothers, which began with the lavish norms of floorshows such as the Ziegfeld Follies, and then added the wonders of camerawork and editing to produce something that was superlative, something that could be produced for the cameras but not on stage. 45 Finally, pictures moved—after centuries of people wishing for them to do so—but at the cost that each frame was scarcely seen before it was gone. Even moving pictures sometimes reverted to stills, when they wanted a single image to resonate. Truffaut’s Les quatre cents coups (1959) ends with a freeze frame and the camera zooming into the boy’s face, as the sound of the plucked strings and waves continues. Yet, whenever the moving pictures were conceived of as moving—whether the camera, the f igures, or the elements of the setting was moving—performance was invoked. At the heart of the concept of ‘performance’ is temporality. And for this reason movies were residually more like theater than they were like the Old Masters—even if Laurence Olivier opined that ‘in f ilms, there is no performance! You just shoot a lot of rehearsals and pick the best’. 46 Movies repeatedly—jealously, one might suppose—attempted to subvert the priority of live performance, whether by showing rehearsal rather than public performance, or by having the real drama take place backstage (or even, as is hilariously the case Le million, 1931, downstage), or by using camera angles totally remote from the view from the auditorium, 45 With the benefit of hindsight, the Busby Berkeley emphasis on regimentation might even seem to align uncomfortably with a fascist aesthetic. In Footlight Parade (1933), there are military sequences (and even, briefly, an iconic presentation of Roosevelt’s head). Cf. Gordon, ‘Fascism’, pp. 164–200. Berkeley’s career began with entertainment for troops in World War I. Alternatively, on Busby Berkeley and camp aesthetic, see Robertson, Guilty, pp. 62–84. 46 Quoted by Tynan, in ‘Olivier: The Actor and the Moor’, Sound, p. 128. See also, ibid., p. 155, on how the ‘extravagance’ of Olivier’s great cries of distress as Oedipus would have seemed ‘absurd’ on film, yet ‘after a quarter of a century, there is still a sort of kinship between those who were there and heard him’. Tynan echoes Lessing on Laocoön, discussing poetry versus sculpture.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

or by making an audience member into the principal though accidental performer, as when Charlie Chaplin interacts with not only the snake charmer but with the snake (A Night in the Show, 1915). Films showed myriad stage shows, but often the camera carried on filming backstage after the stage show stopped. Gradually, the camera became capable of going anywhere. Those being photographed might ‘love’ the camera, as the phrase had it, or ignore it: in either case, the private could become public and the public could become familiar worldwide in a way never before possible. Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), an early documentary and an extraordinary and rapid-fire collage of daily urban life, contained the first footage of childbirth (amid shots of weddings, divorce, and funerals), only 50 years, approximately, after Muybridge had done his revelatory studies of the horse in motion. Vertov was, incidentally, interested in poetry; indeed, like Griff ith, he admired Walt Whitman’s vibrant poetry. 47 Man with a Movie Camera was a foundational effort for film, showing Moscow over the course of a day, from dawn to dark, with no storyline and with many shots of the cameraman filming, sometimes daringly or precariously, usually seen from the back, wearing a worker’s cap, interspersed with shots into the lens. The camera shutter is compared with window shutters and eyelids, anticipating the visual tropes of Jacques Tati; likewise, we watch people in the movie theater watching footage of planes and then a man who we might think was filming them but instead is shooting them literally. The assemblage, or collage, is clever, unpredictable, and thought-provoking. The famous topos of the train coming toward the spectators is re-enacted many times. Only once is it particularly alarming, when we seem to see a man who stays on the track, and whose leg we see on the track in another shot shortly afterward, as the train approaches. There are many sequences of machinery and of workers, though the human figure is ever but a small part of the whole. We see crowds, trains, trams, typewriters, bicycles, clock pendulums; there is nothing cute or picturesque; the cuts come rapidly. The speed is sometimes manipulated (the camera is hand-cranked, so the motion is never super smooth); there are split screens and superimpositions, 48 but camera trickery (as opposed to inventive maneuvers) is a minor part of the technique. We do watch, through stop-motion, the tripod and the

47 Tsivian, Lines, pp. 85–110. 48 Nevinson, Paint, p. 248, argues that, in 1912, Severini set the precedent for superimposition, which German photographers, and later Russian and Hollywood filmmakers, appropriated.

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camera in action without human intervention. 49 Throughout, the theme is modernity: its fast pace, its anonymity, its machines. Vertov declared that ‘The new man, free of unwieldiness and clumsiness, will have the light, precise movements of machines’.50 In the prologue of the film, we watch an empty theater, as the seats of the chairs lower themselves in unison without human intervention, seemingly at the press of a button, after which the public enters. The viewer is frequently reminded of the cameraman, the theater, the film editor. We watch the audience watching nonrepresentational footage; we watch the moving image jump between the female editor at work and the projected film. We are oriented and disoriented both. Man with a Movie Camera is like the Beaubourg of visual art: its guts are part of its skin and thus its very artifice declares a new devotion to straightforwardness. Some in the Soviet Union found it too pure, lacking in theme and message.51 But Vertov wholeheartedly espoused the idea of progress: ‘We cannot make our eyes better than they have been made, but the movie camera we can perfect forever’.52 The husband-and-wife team who made it (Dziga Vertov, director; Elizabeth Svilova, editor) prefaced the silent film with the following notice, lest the viewers be too taken aback: The film Man with a Movie Camera represents AN EXPERIMENTATION IN THE CINEMATIC COMMUNICATION Of visual phenomena WITHOUT THE USE OF INTERTITLES (a film without intertitles) WITHOUT THE HELP OF A SCENARIO (a film without a scenario) WITHOUT THE HELP OF THEATRE (a film without actors, without sets, etc.) 49 Cf. Pirandello, Shoot!, p. 106, describes the camera as suggesting with ‘its knock-kneed tripod a huge spider watching for its prey, a spider that sucks in and absorbs their lived reality to render it up in an evanescent, momentary appearance, the play of a mechanical illusion in the eyes of the public’. 50 ‘WE: Variant of a Manifesto’ (1922), in MacKenzie, Manifestos, p. 25. In 1927, Breton was hailing the possibility of ‘absurd automatons’, ‘Introduction’, p. 142. 51 Vladimir Erofeev (‘Kino-Glaz’, Kino, 21 Oct. 1924), quoted in Tsivian, Lines, p. 106. Cf. the short ode to machinery by Ukrainian Eugène Deslaw, La marche des machines (1928), with color filters and sound. 52 Geduld, Film Makers, p. 83, written in 1923.


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This new experimentation work by Kino-Eye is directed toward the creation of an authentically international absolute language of cinema ‘ABSOLUTE KINOGRAPHY’ on the basis of its complete separation from the language of theatre and literature.53

Man with a Movie Camera was not well received in America, which was already entranced with talkies. One periodical commented that ‘This Soviet importation doesn’t mean a thing for American theatres’, and described it as ‘a titleless newsreel embellished with trick photography’.54 The New York Times reporter, who saw the film at the Film Guild, called it ‘tedious’.55 Those responses missed a clarion call, however. The idea of a visual ‘language of cinema’, though hampered by the introduction of talkies, was lastingly powerful. Vertov and Svilova’s bold declaration of independence from theater and literature rejects tradition as fully as did any of the modernist painters, sculptors, and architects. Yet Man with a Movie Camera was not the first silent film to eschew intertitles. Ménilmontant (1926) told a nuanced melodrama of murder, love, hunger, and despair against the backdrop of the cobbled back alleys of Paris, complete with drainage running through the cobbles and mud—and did so entirely visually.56 Its director, Dimitri Kirsanoff, came to Paris from Russia. Vertov and Svilova went well beyond such melodramatic fare. As Man with a Movie Camera demonstrated, film can achieve distinctively quicksilver effects, switching between the grand scale and the small, granting the viewer what we might call heroic (or quasi-Holmesian) powers of observation. Often the effect, although produced mechanically, strikes the viewer as true to how we actually view the world, both in panorama and in detail. As early as 1934, Erwin Panofsky had published a lecture on ‘Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures’; and it is fair to wonder whether his discussion of the telescopic and microscopic points of view relative to Early Netherlandish painting might have been stimulated by viewing films.57 As he said in the lecture: the movies organize material things and persons, not a neutral medium, into a composition that receives its style, and may even become fantastic or 53 A slightly different translation is given by Petric, ‘Theorist’, p. 40. 54 Raymond Ganly, Motion Picture News, 26 Oct. 1929, in Tsivian, Lines, p. 363. 55 Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times, 17 Sept. 1929, in Tsivian, Lines, p. 383. 56 As early as 1925, Jacques Feyder was bemoaning the reliance on scenarios taken from literature rather than composed for the screen; quoted in L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 279. Murnau’s Der letzte Mann (1924) used no intertitles, except for the one that introduces the self-consciously improbable epilogue. 57 Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting (1953, from lectures of 1947–1948).

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pretervoluntarily symbolic, not so much by an interpretation in the artist’s mind as by the actual manipulation of physical objects and recording machinery.58

Van Eyck’s paintings arrange the real world so that the viewer’s eye zooms in or out, seeing objects that are at once naturalistic and symbolic. In Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (1935),59 the opening aerial approach to Nuremberg combined with later glimpses of ordinary life amid the festivities, the waking and washing of the campers in the morning, for instance, have a vividness that the more staged sequences (staged for the live audience)—the processions and harangues—might well envy. The juxtaposition of macrocosm and microcosm, of the broad view and the closeup, produce a new unity, an inorganic unity and therefore an unclassical sort of composition. The crux lies not in any straightforward reproduction of the real world but in a more dynamic understanding of reality, one that follows the fluctuations of the eye’s attention and focus rather than presuming that the world we experience has an inherent logic, visual or otherwise, to which we surrender if we wish to understand. The flux between minute and monumental, made possible by the reprocessing of experience through the machines of camera, editing tools, and projector, offers an analog to our own phenomenological experience—a mere analog, however, rather than a reproduction. Extreme zooming shots such as Hitchcock used in Young and Innocent (1937) and Notorious (1946) enacted how the mind works more nearly than how the eye does. Hitchcock was able to visualize what it feels like to have—suddenly—an idea, specifically an idea that focuses the mind.60 He addressed issues of attention in a world of increasing sensory stimulation and a developing taste for speed. To have the camera zoom in from a distance was a new and dramatically effective use of the camera, a declaration of independence from the restrictions of the stage (though one might compare the use of opera glasses). It might remind us of Borromini’s illusionistic corridor at the Palazzo Spada in Rome (c. 1632), his architectural demonstration of the power of perspectival illusion, his enactment of how 58 Panofsky, ‘Style’, p. 31. 59 For a discussion of the moral questions inherent in watching this film, see Devereaux, ‘Evil’, pp. 347–361. Riefenstahl, whose cinematography has itself been much admired even by those who deplore her subject matter, no doubt studied Gance’s Napoléon. 60 Casetti, Film, offers a valuable survey both of how texts describe the new vision created in film and of how films themselves explore the possibilities of a mechanical eye, as well as new rituals of immersive—and yet bounded—viewership. ‘Cinema’, he suggests, ‘embodies the idea that machines will end up substituting for man’, p. 172.


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the eye and the mind may contend with one another.61 That, too, belonged to an unclassical aesthetic. Movie plays should be invented expressly for the screen by imaginative visualizers.62

During the silent era, sound had to be implied through bodily movements, as had been true through many centuries of the history of art, but once recorded sound was not only introduced but ref ined, a second wave of subtle aural effects became possible, including effects too delicate, too elaborate, or simply not practical for the theater. Godard, in Bande à part (1964), made an unforgettable sequence by removing all sound and shocking the viewer with silence.63 Jacques Feyder used the identical actress for two parts in Le grand jeu (1934), but dubbed another voice-over the second part. Our protagonist, still broken-hearted over the first girl, repeatedly asks the second, much lower-pitched girl to remain silent (she does not fully understand why). Like the special effects of The Devil Doll (1936), in which a scientist has learned how to miniaturize people, the technology of a camera-based art made new kinds of stories feasible (though not necessarily credible). The camera soon evolved into an agile instrument, capable not only of capturing and enlarging what might easily be lost in a stage production but also, through the editor’s work, punctuating the flow of life, thereby achieving both greater verism and more ingenious artifice than was feasible onstage. Some have argued, in the debate about screen versus stage, that the stage requires actors to be trained in voice projection, timing, and ensemble work, and that those accustomed to microphones, close-ups, and clever editing may lack these skills. In theater, no correction is possible, another argument on behalf of it as the more skillful art. Others prefer the combination of intensity and subtlety the camera achieves, as well as the carefully achieved balance between visual and aural information which renders the cinematic experience like no other. We need only accept that theater is more nearly an actor’s art and film a director’s—though it might also be argued that the best theater, like the best cinema, has often been the result of porous boundaries between acting, directing, 61 As had also Bramante at Santa Maria presso San Satiro in Milan, c. 1480. 62 Shaw in Geduld, Authors, p. 119, in 1925. 63 Perhaps he remembered Breton’s call for silence, for an escape from linguistic ruts, ‘Introduction’, p. 141.

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and writing.64 Shakespeare, Jean Renoir, and Jacques Tati, among others, might be adduced. Even someone thoroughly committed to theater, such as George Bernard Shaw, eventually came around to film. He had long resisted invitations to film his plays, but once the technological means were available to render the dialogue on film effectively, he agreed: ‘I know how to tell a story, and I know how I want to tell it on stage or screen’.65 Pygmalion (1938, directed by Anthony Asquith together with Leslie Howard, and edited by David Lean) survived the translation; it was essentially a script about language as well as a satire of the class system, and it remained a work about language and a satire of the class system. One art historian has labeled ‘theatrical’ whatever in imagemaking deliberately manipulates the feelings and ideas of its audience, the opposite being the ‘absorptive’ image (film is taken to be absorptive), which is anti-rhetorical.66 The ‘theatrical’ tradition, in which the picture space functions as stage set, traces its origins back to Raphael and classicism, and encompasses those arts that enforce a certain pattern of gazing on the viewer. The ‘absorptive’ leads onward to modernism, which exalts in the absence of prescriptive emotions, in an absence of privileged viewpoint and of any accumulated cultural language of genre expectations or iconography—a kind of artful blankness, as in a Vermeer painting of a girl shown in half-length.67 64 On stage’s offering more sense of comradery for the actors, see Talbot, Entertainer, pp. 258–259. 65 Shaw, Cinema, p. 131, from 1938. 66 Fried, Objecthood, from 1967, pp. 148–172, esp. n. 20 and p. 164: ‘cinema escapes theater— automatically, as it were—it provides a welcome and absorbing refuge to sensibilities at war with theater and theatricality’, the two options seeming to have some gender implications, ‘meretricious’ of theater, for example. Fried reversed what had been the theoretical preference for theater, though Barthes shares his distaste for theater (also a tenet of Soviet theory). Benjamin, ‘Work’, p. 228, comments on the distant viewer of film as resembling that of a critic, unlike the more personal connection offered by a stage performance; see also pp. 237–239, on Dada’s goal of ‘uselessness for contemplative immersion’, which cinema exploits. Bazin sounds slightly like Adorno and Hockheimer: ‘a member of a film audience tends to identify himself [sic] with the film’s hero by a psychological process, the result of which is to turn the audience into a ‘mass’ and to render emotion uniform […] the cinema quiets the spectator, the theater excites him’, Bazin, ‘Theater and Cinema’ (1951), in What, pp. 98–99. Theater, Bazin says, offers an uplifting delight, catharsis by another name, whereas ‘in the best of films something is missing’. Barthes deems ‘the Italian stage’, a ‘space of deceit’, ‘a theological space’, ‘on the one side, under a light of which he pretends to be unaware, the actor, that is to say, gesture and speech; on the other, in the darkness, the public, that is to say, consciousness and conscience’, Barthes, ‘Lesson in Writing’ (1968), Image, p. 173. 67 Artful blankness was much in the air for cinema viewers of the 1960s. Eco, Aperta, pp. 38–39, associated the new value of ambiguity with Baroque composition, in opposition to Renaissance clarity, though Antonioni, whose work he admired, contrasted the Renaissance (or the Ptolemaic)


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

By extension, the viewership of modern art may be characterized as like the camera itself: impassive, impartially receptive, highly resistant to the notion of didacticism, although amenable to partisanship. Ceci n’est pas une émotion. The viewer of modern art is characterized, implicitly, as more mature and sophisticated than the susceptible and childlike viewer of theatrical effects. Many movies invite naïve acceptance of their plots and their themes; many may be classed as sentimental; some are unabashedly propagandistic. As with the history of art, the history of film may be divided into works that blare loudly and expect the viewer to join in the occasion, works that invite commentary that exceeds the bounds of commendation or disapproval, and quiet works that operate in the realm of suggestion and understatement, but which presume an implicit concord between maker and viewer. The plots may have crises and denouements, and yet the real conclusion may be setting the viewer into an unfamiliar space, whether that be conceptual or emotional. As in the fine arts, so in film, the earlier phases were more inclined to simpler means and effects, and later in the tradition, complexity was not only tolerated but expected. For the Russian revolutionaries, ‘theatrical’ was a retrograde value, tied to ‘artistic drama’. In 1925, Vertov decried film made for profit rather than to help the oppressed, who needed ‘to understand the phenomena of life around them’.68 Western observers were predictably more sympathetic to spectacle. Ephrem Zimbalist, Jr., having seen Top Hat (1935) in Paris after having traveled in the Soviet Union, relished its theatricality: ‘if ever there was an antidote to the gray face of communism it was that film’.69 Dziga Vertov’s goal was to create an audience that would feel ‘disgust’ when subjected to an art drama. His Man with a Movie Camera (1929) was his most successful venture to create the opposite of literary, sentimental romances—namely, a documentary in which, without the benefit of script or professional actors or Hollywood’s technical frills, the poetry of daily life would be made into film that ‘helps one to see’.70 ‘I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it’, he expounded on behalf of the movie camera in 1923.71 Vertov was determined to make cinema the fresh art of a newly with the Copernican in his 1960 Cannes press conference, without disrespect to the former. Max Ophuls was asked in 1957 about the word ‘baroque’: ‘je ne sais pas ce qu’il veulent dire exactement quand ils l’emploient’; Souvenirs, p. 250. For Eco and others, the Baroque was modern, mysterious, or evocative, rather than beautiful, according to standard rubrics. Cf. n. 319, below. 68 Vertov, Kino-Eye, p. 49. 69 Zimbalist, Dinner, p. 25. 70 Vertov, Kino-Eye, p. 48. 71 Ibid., p. 17.

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emancipated world, an art geared to workers and the proletariat. Cinema was uniquely apt to prepare the workers for this transformative world of machine production; they would ‘sharpen their senses before the shining screen of Cinema’.72 The new project, that of learning to see, prioritizes the camera over the writer. Narrative was old; modernists might reject it for that reason alone. Narrative had been the backbone of the epic and the tragic traditions, the biblical tradition, and the pictorial tradition that started with Giotto. It had often been used in support of established power, though it could alternatively be used to tell tales of the weak or the revolutionary. Many filmmakers espoused storytelling as the best way to hold the attention of the general public. D.W. Griffith embraced sentimentality, employed in the service of what, to him, were uncontroversial and straightforward ideologies. For example, in Way Down East (1920), he set out to show men that they should be monogamous and not injure women. Cecil B. DeMille’s last silent film, The Godless Girl (1928), was based on the presumably shocking revelation of an atheist society at the Hollywood High School and also pointed to repressive conditions at reformatories. It lost money, partly because, after having been conceived as a silent film, attempts to add a soundtrack failed to rescue it. From the glimpse of a girl’s face as she falls several stories down a stairwell, to shots of the repressive prison guard abusing his charges, to the scene of our young lovers being burned by an electrified fence (a cross is burned on each palm of the Godless Girl), to a climatic fire sequence, the film is neither easy nor pleasant viewing, but, like D.W. Griffith, DeMille had an exalted idea of the didactic mission of film and an inflexible definition of virtue.73 Vertov and others mistrusted the sentimentality inherent in the conventions of storytelling, supposing (not without reason) that they tended to reinforce outdated social norms and ideologies. Murnau’s Metropolis (1927, story by Thea von Harbou) presented a futuristic tale populated in part with what must have seemed timelessly attired businessmen, who now look very period. Sentimental the film was, and in some ways reminiscent of Romanticism 72 Vertov, Kino-Eye, p. 11, in 1922. A generation later, Rohmer warned that ‘In learning how to understand, the modern moviegoer forgot how to see’; Rohmer, Beauty, p. 29. For both men, narrative is the implicit antagonist, for narrative trains the viewer how to understand. 73 Talbot, Entertainer, p. 231; the film was well liked both in Russia (where the religious conversion was edited out) and by Hitler. The scene of the staircase down which a boy has fallen in Rossellini’s Europa ’51 (1952) may well have been partly inspired by knowledge of The Godless Girl; it is both formally vaguely reminiscent and thematically and ideologically in dialogue with the earlier film, whether deliberately so or not. The Rossellini staircase in particular is composed for black-and-white film.


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(not least, of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818), but it attempted to prod its viewers into thinking about the future in a world dominated by machines, machines such as the fearful pagan god Moloch, it was briefly suggested. Although a design extravaganza inspired in part by the sight of the Manhattan skyline as well as, presumably, some of its wilder nightlife, the city also featured a medieval cathedral and ancient catacombs.74 The leading woman, meaning both her human self and the evil robot impersonator (characterized as the Whore of Babylon from the Book of Revelations), wears a dress that manages to combine a reference to peasant attire (in its laced-up bodice) and a prim white collar reminiscent of a demure secretary. The bodice, unsurprisingly, loosens on the wildly behaved robot impersonator, who also seems to have more makeup.75 The composite images of businessmen leering at the nearly nude dancer make Klimt’s Beethoven frieze in Vienna (1902) look mild by comparison, and rival the depiction of male lust in L’Inhumaine (1924). The scene in which a worker struggles manfully to move the hands of a giant clocklike mechanism are visually reminiscent of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man drawing. The movie’s overall narrative, a quasi allegory about the need for human feeling to bridge the gap between workers and management, was deemed ‘silly’ by H.G. Wells, of all people.76 Both Metropolis and Wells’s own Things to Come (1936) have accrued historical merit as ambitious expressions of concern about the effects of mechanization on modern society, even if they purveyed a curiously fusty dream of the future. Given that the movie was a modern art form made by a machine and that the camera lends itself at least as readily to montage as to straight linear narrative, to persist in making traditional narratives was to ignore the resources of the technology. Eisenstein championed f ilm montage as a kind of ‘speech’ and also of understanding, ‘a qualitative leap’ from what was possible onstage. In sympathy with Surrealism, montage was 74 Nevinson, Prejudice, pp. 201–202, claims that the director of Metropolis, whom he incorrectly identifies as Stromberg (in reality, it was Lang), had said he was indebted to Nevinson’s paintings: ‘Since then dozens of painters have copied my technique in the rendering of modern buildings, American dancing, and Negroid singers’. 75 The imagery of the mob burning a witch might possibly have been remembered by Bergman when he made The Seventh Seal (1957). He would have been only about ten when it came out, but the pairing of the two women also suggests a possible link to Persona (1966). Bergman expressed admiration for Murnau. 76 ‘After the worst traditions of the cinema world, monstrously self-satisfied and self-sufficient, convinced of the power of loud advertisement to put things over with the public, and with no fear of searching criticism in their minds, no consciousness of thought or knowledge beyond their ken, they set to work in their huge studio to produce furlong after furlong of this ignorant balderdash, and ruin the market for any better film along these lines’; in Geduld, Authors, p. 67.

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expected to promote an intuitive grasp of reality, but one suitable to the new economic and social reality of Soviet Russia, devoid of the old stratifications or oppositions.77 Others supposed that the mechanical and the artistic were irreconcilable: ‘if it is mechanical, how can it be life, how can it be art?’78 Yet the basis of montage lies in the principle of juxtaposition for the sake of contrast, which has roots in Leonardo’s practice, both for form (darks versus lights) and content (old next to young, ugly next to beautiful). Eisenstein expressed admiration for the variety of Leonardo’s expressive means, along with those of Milton and Mayakovsky (a Russian Futurist writer and actor).79 Even outside of the Soviet Union, those who made films did not necessarily want to make narrative films. Robert Sherwood’s early reaction to the pioneering documentary Nanook of the North (1922) found that it had ‘no plot whatsoever, and struggled along very well without it, but it did have continuity’.80 Fellini reported that when he planned the film that eventually became 8 1/2 (1963), I had had in mind the idea of making a portrait of a man in its many layers: his memories, fantasies, dreams, his everyday life, a character who as yet had no professional or personal identity (at the beginning he wasn’t a film director). I wanted to recount the multi-dimensionality of a day, a conscious and an unconscious life unfolding like a spiral, without any defining boundaries, abandoning any idea of plot in favor of a free narration, a chat. The idea was to restore the sense of time where past, present, and future, dreams, memories and desires were blended together.81

Narrative, and with it the Albertian istoria, shared a deep kinship with the theory of rhetoric in antiquity; the ready alternative was to think about visual 77 Eisenstein, Sense, pp. 195–255, esp. 239, from 1944. 78 Nichols and Bazzoni, Pirandello, p. 205, from Si gira. 79 Eisenstein, Sense, p. 70. Basil Wright, the director, was reminded of Leonardo by Eisenstein; Swallow, Documentary, p. 83. Cf. King Vidor in 1930, idem, p. 87: ‘Eisenstein knew very well that in its own way cinema was making art history just as the discovery of perspective had made art history in its own time’. 80 Sherwood, Best, p. 4. 81 Muzzarelli, ‘Conversation’, p. 15. It is worth observing that the first complete translation of Joyce’s Ulysses into Italian was published in October 1960; the translator was Giulio de Angelis; Zanotti, ‘Translations’, p. 113. n.b. also that Nabokov commented on the musical qualities of Ulysses. Umberto Eco recalled that, when he began to think about what became Opera aperta (1962), in 1958–1959, he had been reading Joyce and listening to electronic music. In 1962, he was contrasting Antonioni’s narrative with Hemingway’s conventionality (like the return to the tonic); Eco, Aperta, pp. v–vi, 200–202, 269.


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art in relation to music, a model much more suitable for abstract art and thus famously invoked by Kandinsky at the start of the era of high abstraction (1911), though one which had roots all the way back, again, in Leonardo. The music for a film (or its absence) often indexes how thoughtful the project was; the simple solution was to use music to cue the viewer what and when to feel, using a basically Romantic idiom. The score was often composed late in the process, but in silent film, music was sometimes played on set to help the actors transport themselves to the mental state they were trying to portray. Silent film was then accompanied by live music in the theater. Sometimes a score was provided. Even much later, for the film Un homme et une femme (1966), the director would play the music for the actors on the set as a way of letting them know what the scene was to convey.82 Bergman was quite explicit about the importance of music as a model, not an accessory: When we experience a film, we consciously prime ourselves for illusion: putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings without touching on the intellect. Music works in the same fashion; I would say that there is no art form that has so much in common with film as music. Both affect our emotions directly, not via the intellect. And film is mainly rhythm; it is inhalation and exhalation in continuous sequence.83 Of all your arts, cinema for us is the most important.84

Carl Dreyer avowed that he had learned from an early news clip of George Clemenceau (d. 1929) ‘how the real talking film should be’: ‘the effect was 82 Special features, DVD, 2003. For Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980), Godard listed himself as having composé the film, which he did not write. 83 Bergman, ‘Why’, pp. 7–8. Bergman thought that film was so musical in itself, as an art of rhythm and breathing, that adding music would be redundant. Rhythm was for him equally a musical and a visual trait: when he edited, his goal was a ‘clean, rhythmic, and dynamic line’; Sjöman, Makes, 1963. Or more simply, in a 1975 interview at the American Film Institute (https://, ‘like music, we go straight to the feeling’. Chaplin said that an old song, ‘Mrs. Grundy’, was his starting point for The Immigrant (1917); Lynn, Chaplin, p. 202. Cf. Isherwood’s director in Prater Violet, p. 50, explains to the author, ‘the film is a symphony. Each movement is written in a certain key. There is a note which has to be chosen and struck immediately. It is characteristic of the whole. It commands the attention’. Powell, Autobiography, pp. 582–584, describes his efforts in Black Narcissus (1947) to let the music play a primary role, so that ‘music, emotion, image and voices all blended together into a new and splendid whole’. Godard, Cinema, p. 24: ‘It’s cinema, in other words not like literature which is more closely bound to meaning, in film there’s rhythm, it’s more like music’. 84 Lenin, quoted by Tsivian, Masterpieces, p. 103.

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grand’.85 In its defining decades, film ranged with breathtaking freedom between Hollywood glamour and gangster grittiness, giving the upper classes a chance to watch (and even to identify with) the lowest, and vice versa: class voyeurism risked becoming poverty porn, but with the potential benefit of interclass sympathy.86 In Sullivan’s Travels (1941), the theme is made explicit: a director, ‘the Caliph of Comedy’, announces that he wants to reject silly movies in favor of ‘a true canvas of the suffering of humanity’. His new project is to be called O Brother Where Art Thou?. However, he is reminded by an older generation of studio executives, men who hadn’t grown up in privilege attending boarding school and a fancy college as he did, that he knows nothing about poverty. To remedy this, our director dresses up as a hobo, accompanied by a blonde starlet dressed as a boy. Surprisingly realistic scenes of down-and-out existence follow, even of chain gangs in the South,87 transposed into what is overall a jolly romp. The lesson in the end is that comedy may be of more help than grim realism to those who are struggling to make ends meet. Our protagonist realizes this while watching chain gang prisoners laugh wholeheartedly at a Walt Disney cartoon. Not only does the director/writer Preston Sturgis give us a picture that portrays the dignified and sympathetic poor (with one violent exception, and even he is pitiable), but also a comedy that makes us laugh wholeheartedly at ourselves and at this favored medium of entertainment. He explores the potential of film (in the process of satirizing it), while alluding to Jonathan Swift in his title (and to another John L. Sullivan, the boxer who became rich and then poor), to the Bible in the title of the projected epic film, and to Shakespeare via the plucky female character (‘the Girl’, played by Veronica Lake) who disguises herself as a boy.88 The resulting picture is literary, comedic, popular, and socially responsible.89 It is what the protagonist had called for at the beginning: ‘something you could be proud of, something 85 Dreyer, Double, p. 52; see from 2 Dec. 1929. Mussolini spoke in English to the American audience, for the Fox Movietone News, 6 May 1927 and said ‘I need no other power’; Nicholas Pronay, ‘The Newsreels: The illusion of actuality’, in Smith, Historian, p. 109. 86 Cavell, Day, p. 71: ‘The intervention of film in Western culture, especially perhaps in America, challenges our understanding of the distinction between high and low art’. 87 Many viewers would still have had vivid memories of the searing I am a Fugitive from a Chang Gang (1932). 88 Audrey Hepburn’s character, also plucky, in Love in the Afternoon (1957) is called ‘Thin Girl’. Cf. D.W. Griffith, Intolerance, 1916, ‘The Mountain Girl’. 89 The Black cook in the van, although very genial, hovers uncomfortably close to caricature (which is not true of the Black characters later in the f ilm). The humor of many supporting characters (White as well as Black) from the 1930s–1950s makes sympathetic clowns of them.


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that would realize the potentialities of film as the sociological and artistic medium that it is […] with a little sex in it’. ‘Something like Capra’, responded the older executive. Even movie theater buildings refused to situate themselves solidly as either high or low, glamorous or downright garish. Like the new craze for costume jewelry, they tended toward the suspiciously flamboyant—yet all the same, eye-catching. When P.G. Wodehouse writes in Big Money (1931, Chapter 9) about the hero taking his girl to Bijou Palace (‘One Hundred Per Cent. Talking’), the description of the movie palace as ‘the meeting house of all that is best and fairest in [suburban] Valley Fields’ is steeped in irony. Graham Greene (1904–1991) described the cinema built during his early childhood on the village main street as having a ‘green Moorish dome, tiny enough but it seemed to us then the height of pretentious luxury and dubious taste’.90 In a drawing dated 1933 by Peter Fleetwood-Hesketh, showing ‘The Street of Taste or the March of English Art Down the Ages’, a cinema is shown with signs emblazoned all across its facade, including ‘PASSION! LOVE! HATE! BLOOD! SEX!’, and the caption ‘Jazz-Modern. A misinterpretation of simplicity, suitable for super cinemas’.91 Art deco provided a touch of grandeur, or at least sheen, for the aerodynamically designed machine age. A path may be traced from movie theater exuberance to Las Vegas eclecticism, and from Las Vegas to postmodernism—all styles that celebrated ornament.92 The iconography of architecture was no secret to set designers. Hollywood adeptly contrasted Victorian interiors with modern or Art deco ones (e.g., The Bishop Murder Case, 1930; Design for Living, 1933), and interestingly, does so in the years just before Erwin Panofsky started writing about the disguised symbolism of Romanesque versus Gothic architectural references in Van Eyck, among others.93 Once again, it is not hard to imagine that watching movies catalyzed his thought. They often sagely observe the mistakes of their employers, as do the viewers along with them. See also n. 230 below. 90 Greene, Sort, p. 13. In Llewellyn, None, p. 136, 1943, old Henry describes a stalled urban renewal plan, which includes ‘a bloody great big picture palace for the silly sods to go and get rid of the rest of their minds in’, expecting it will be in ‘chromium and concrete’. 91 Betjeman, Ghastly, fold-out inside back cover. 92 Cf. Venturi, Learning. On Venturi and the Baroque, Emison, Memory, p. 5, n. 10. 93 Cf. the cast of the Desiderio da Settignano bust in the criminals’ apartment in Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933), versus the modern look of the apartment of the sympathetic Kent. Desiderio’s work had been in the Gustave Dreyfus collection, sold to Joseph Duveen in 1930, and is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. In Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942), the fascist has a speech in which he sneers at ‘the moron millions’ and ‘great masses’

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In ‘Opera Hat’, the magazine story on which Mr. Deeds is based, the movie theater is described as clean and attractive, unlike the dingy opera house. As the hired gangster/body guard puts it, ‘shows is all on the fritz. Except the pictures’.94 Longfellow Deeds explains: You go along and look at some of these moving picture theaters, and you think—there would be a nice place to go into. Because it looks bright and clean and kind of pretty. But you walk past the opera house, and it looks like it was planned to keep people out.95

In the end, Longfellow resolves ‘we are going to kick the stuffing out of the inside of the opera house and make it as swell and as clean as any movie theater in town [New York]’.96 In The Smallest Show on Earth (1957), we watch the vicissitudes of the tiny, struggling theater (The Bijou Kinema). We are told that it had started out as a stage theater, then after the railway was built right next to it, with all its noise and vibration, it became a music hall, and then before the World War I, it had been converted into Spencer’s Electric Theatre. It is elaborately if dingily Rococo; the huge new swanky theater in town (the Grand) is art deco and guarded by a rude doorman sporting an elaborate uniform with braid. Old architectural style signifies authenticity and the new implies a sham. The creaky old theater has a continuous history through thick and thin; it accepts barter of food for tickets; management, employees, and customers who are content to ‘plod along’. He is wearing a white tie and is sitting on a gilt, embroidered love seat in front of Old Master portraits of ladies in a Manhattan mansion. In Strangers on a Train (1951), the soon-to-be murderer’s mother shows him a painting of a half-f igure in an Expressionist style, with bulging eyes, on an easel in a Tudor-style mansion f illed with Old Masters—having recommended painting to him as ‘such a soothing pastime’; he laughs uproariously and says she has captured his father perfectly; she responds, disconcerted, that she was trying to paint St. Francis. In Craig’s Wife (1936, the author of the play of which earned a Pulitzer prize for the uncle of Grace Kelly and the director of which was Dorothy Arzner, a rare successful female director), the house in which the Rosalind Russell character takes excessive pride is neoclassically decorated inside, whereas the friendly neighbor’s lawn is crowded with blooming rosebushes, very picturesque. The cook complains about a rich neighborhood where they take their meals at all hours and own ‘dirty oil paintings’. The movies of this period are full of architectural iconography. Cf. Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting, although he began publishing these ideas in 1935 (‘The Friedsam Annunciation’, pp. 449–453). 94 Kelland, ‘Opera’, July, 1935, p. 45. 95 Ibid., p. 118; cf. May, p. 149, August, p. 151. 96 Ibid., September, p. 62; he plans to show first-run movies there with ‘tabloid’ (condensed) opera, and amateur nights, outside of the fourteen-week opera season.


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are all friends and they all just barely get by.97 The new theater is a giant monstrosity out of nowhere, run by profiteering fat cats, scheming to gain monopoly. It must be destroyed and, happily, it is. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner acknowledged in 1946 that ‘the jazziest and most ornate cinema chandelier cannot be denied a full measure of twentieth-century vitality’.98 But just as the architecture styles of theaters varied, so did the reactions of visitors. ‘I was irritated by that incongruous ceremonial, by that dusty pomp’, Jean-Paul Sartre recalled of his movie attendance in his youth.99 Ernest Betts didn’t beat around the bush in decrying the glitzy movie theaters as decadent: ‘It is not essential that the film should be housed in its present huge mansion. That is all part of the flap-doodle, the dope, the dream-tonic, “the hospitality of circumstance” which has taken the world in’.100 In 1930, Georges Duhamel (1884–1966, nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 27 times) referred to ‘le sanctuaire’, ‘le temple’, where American moviegoers all paid a dollar on Sunday: ‘cinema is a democratic entity’.101 But he found the whole thing appalling. He visited with an American friend and compared it to a brothel, full of fake splendor—imitation carpets, paintings, statues: ‘a luxury industry, made by machines lacking a soul for a mass market that also seems to lack a soul’.102 Those exiting the show look anesthetized, Duhamel complains, ‘they come out from their recreation as though from a restaurant or office, displaying a funereal indifference’.103 His experience of the cinema is an 97 See, for early interest in the visual subject of the movie audience, Lant, ‘Film Crowd’, pp. 159–164. 98 Pevsner, Visual, p. 17. 99 Geduld, Authors, p. 40. 100 Betts, Heraclitus, p. 51. Betts, who was British, was particularly offended by the pervasive effect of American film: ‘The American film has doped the world with rotten juices’; Trumpbour, Selling, p. 18. 101 Duhamel, Scènes, p. 48, ‘le cinématographe est une chose démocratique’. On Duhamel, see Trumpbour, Selling, p. 240. 102 Duhamel, Scènes, ‘Un luxe industriel, fabriqué par des machines sans âme pour une foule que l’âme sembler déserter aussi’, p. 49. Also in the 1930s, Sir Arnold Wilson complained that American f ilm promoted ‘the worship of money, and of violence, and the acceptance of the lowest motives as natural and inevitable’; Trumpbour, Selling, p. 163. 103 Duhamel, Scènes, ‘sortent du plaisir comme ils sortent du restaurant ou du bureau, avec une funèbre indifférence’, p. 49. ‘You’d got to provide emotions for all those moribund wage-earners who were too tired or too dumb to feel anything on their own behalf’, says a journalist in a novel of 1936; Tey, Shilling, p. 134. O’Connor, Blood (1949), p. 103, refers to ‘the drain of people coming out from the picture show’, p. 103. The character Enoch only likes ‘the colored musical ones’. Williams, Change, p. 122, in 1956, is generally concerned about ‘moving inexorably toward that bright peak of absolute organization in which not only are we given answers for the pure

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experience of the inauthentic: ‘here, everything is fake’.104 The music, the shadows on the screen—indeed ‘the world is fake’, and ‘the moving images displace my own thoughts’.105 Duhamel particularly has Hollywood in mind: ‘it is the amusement of helots, a pass-time of miserable creatures bewildered by their need and their cares’.106 Cinema threatens civilization; in particular, American cinema threatens European civilization: ‘this terrible machine, mucked up with glare, with glamour, with music, with human voices, this machine of abasement and dissolution counts these days as one of the most amazing forces in the world’.107 It is no art, and it moves even farther from that possibility every day. It leaves us as if paralyzed,108 or worse yet, ‘the cinema is becoming a very powerful instrument of moral, aesthetic, and political conformism’.109 Duhamel was cited by Benjamin, and he anticipates, with considerable spleen and vehemence, the arguments of Adorno and Horkheimer a decade later. Postwar, State Department officials reported that the German population had similar feelings of disgust toward Hollywood’s imagery: Many American f ilms appear not to make sense, they seem stupidly conceived and are very superficial. The American film stars are pretty, beautifully groomed and dressed but are not actors and have no talent except their physical beauty.110

There are repeated statements of concern from witnesses both inside and outside the film industry that the overall effect of film would be noxious, that it would produce a society that honors neither art nor education.111 mechanics of living […] but for the occupation of our leisure hours as well. There are now charts, surveys, and committees to tell us what to read, to explain what great music means, or to guide us gently into the approved channels of thinking’. 104 Ibid., ’ici, tout est faux’, p. 51. 105 Ibid., ‘le monde est faux’, ‘les images mouvantes se substituent à mes propres pensées’, p. 52. 106 Ibid., ‘c’est un divertissement d’ilotes, un passe-temps d’illetrés, de créatures misérables ahuries par leur besogne et leurs soucis’, p. 58; ‘le monde-cinema, ou tout est faux, arbitraire, absurde’, p. 56. 107 Ibid., ‘cette machine terrible, compliquée d’eblouissements, de luxe, le musique, de voix humaines, cette machine d’abetissement et de dissolution compte aujourd’hui parmi les plus étonnantes forces du Monde’, p. 59. 108 Ibid., p. 61. 109 Ibid., ‘le cinéma devenir le plus poussant instrument de conformisme moral, esthétique et politique’, p. 64. 110 From a memorandum of 1947, cited in Trumpbour, Selling, p. 100. 111 There were similar concerns about television; Wyver, Vision, pp. 37, 85, notes that arts programming was not expected to generate top ratings, though critical attention was anticipated.


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The hope had once been quite different. Marcel L’Herbier’s L’Inhumaine (1924), with sets by Fernand Léger, featured an engineer hero who has contrived not only to defy death but to build a ‘television’, which will be able to broadcast the voice of his beloved, a modern singer, around the world and which will also allow her, via a screen, to experience her audience’s reception of her music. We see, for instance, a woman in Africa responding to the sound, a scene perhaps inspired by that in Nanook (1922), in which we see the Inuit protagonist responding to a phonograph being played.112 Cinemas of Hollywood Boulevard offered one exotic architectural experience after another: Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian theaters (King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922) complemented the elegance that featured importantly in the films, though sometimes, in their eclecticism, they were also an affront to modernist aesthetics. For a very small amount of money, ordinary folk could experience ‘luxury’, as resort hotels began to allow customers to upgrade their standard of living on a temporary basis, provided they were willing to pay for sham elegance: No kings or emperors have ever wandered through more luxurious surroundings. In a sense, those theaters are a safety valve in that the public can partake of the same luxuries as the rich, and use them to the same full extent.113

In Grauman’s Chinese theater, all of the seats were on the same level. The Roxy Theatre (1927–1960), near Times Square, seated almost six thousand people in air-conditioned comfort.114 It advertised that it supported the largest permanent symphony orchestra in the world, that it had 50 ballet dancers and a choral group of 100, and that its ushers were trained by a retired marine. The ushers all pledged to refuse gratuities, vowing: ‘We regard the Roxy Theatre as a university and place ourselves in the position of students seeking better understanding and appreciation of theatre arts’. The ushers were sent to summer camp and given riding lessons in Central 112 For the movie camera recording peoples’ responses to the wonders of machinery, see also Dovzhenko’s Earth (1930), the arrival of the tractor. 113 Decorator Harold Rambusch, in 1929, quoted by Naylor, Picture Palaces, p. 31. See also Gray, who quotes a contemporary description of the Dalston Picture Theatre in London, which was converted from a playhouse and opened in 1920. It was said to seat 3000, and was deemed ‘distinctly rich without being objectionably gaudy’, pp. 37–38, and Italian Renaissance in style. It closed in 1951 and was demolished in 2007. 114 Naylor, Palaces, pp. 109–113.

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Park.115 In 1934, the Roxy ushers (specifically, their ‘pants’) were lauded in the Cole Porter song, ‘You’re the Top’. The theater also had a library and a clinic, or ‘hospital’. It lost some of its luster (and Roxy [Samuel Rothafel, originally Rothapfel], the manager) to the art deco Radio City Music Hall, which opened late in 1932 and also seated around six thousand.116 Distaste for the art deco style of Rockefeller Center was itself mocked in the Gershwin song, ‘They all laughed’ (1937). The Roxy had termed itself the Cathedral of the Motion Picture; such praise was in the air at the time, as witness the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh (1926-1936); but whereas the Pittsburgh library was medieval in its architectural vocabulary, the Roxy was eclectic.117 The Hippodrome Theatre, also near Times Square and also architecturally rather eclectic, seated over five thousand. It was converted to a movie theater in 1933 and demolished in 1939;118 it is mentioned in On the Town (1949), in the song ‘Come Up to My Place’, as a sight Chip (Frank Sinatra) has heard from his father that a visitor to New York must see. Loew’s Paradise theater in the Bronx (1929), still standing, included among its decorations a replica of Michelangelo’s Duke Lorenzo de’ Medici from the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo in Florence. (Figure 9) ‘A surpassing monument to beauty’, the publicity called the building (as well as ‘baroque’).119 The atmospheric ceiling, which projected cloud and star effects onto the ceiling, and sometimes included stuffed pigeons,120 was the specialty of John Eberson (born in Austria). Eberson’s son explained that his father devised the atmospheric ceiling, because he felt the model of the European opera house had been overused; he opted instead for ‘the colors of the Mediterranean and the excitement 115 For a description of its opening night, see Hall, Seats, pp. 1–11; on the ushers, pp. 162–169. Green’s Playhouse in Glasgow, built 1925–1927 and closed in 1973, seated 4254, the largest theater in Europe until the Gaumont Palace opened in Paris in 1931, seating nearly 6000; Gray, Cinemas, p. 56. 116 Roxy didn’t have the same success there, in the new world of talkies, which fundamentally changed the business. He intended the larger theater for stage shows with no picture, priced from 99 cents to $2.50; the smaller theater opened with The Animal Kingdom (1932) at ‘popular prices’; Hall, Seats, 252–253. Roxy died in 1936. 117 Hall, Seats, pp. 76–91, 120–135; Gray, Cinemas, p. 44. 118 My father remembers seeing elephants onstage there, presumably in Rogers and Hart’s Jumbo, 1935–1936, book by Hecht and MacArthur. 119 Miller, Loew’s Paradise, unpag. Casts made by the Caproni Company in Boston. There was also a clock on which a life-sized St. George battled the dragon on the hour (stolen in the 1960s). The theater seated 4000 and had originally been designated The Venetian. Drew Eberson gives an estimate of $1,500,000; with the cost of the land, $4,000,000. It had a stage show that did not last long into the Depression. Eberson’s decorating firm was called ‘Michelangelo Studios’; Hall, Seats, p. 100. 120 Landery, Hollywood, p. 47; Gray, Cinemas, pp. 44–46.


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Figure 9: Loew’s Paradise Theater, 2403 Grand Concourse, Bronx, 1929, with replica of Michelangelo’s Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino over the exit, photograph by kind permission of Daniel Welch.

of the inner courtyards of the romantic periods of architecture’.121 There was also some cost savings in using projection. Neon-adorned marquees postdate 1923 in America. Before that, hundreds of electric bulbs were used. Such entrancing theaters were not limited to the biggest cities; instead, they brought a cosmopolitan flare to many provincial small cities or even towns. The so-called Boston Opera House was originally built as a movie theater in 1928, with vaudeville performances also. Subsequently it showed only films, closing in 1991 and then re-opening in 2004 after restoration as a live performance space. The Capitol Theater in Concord, New Hampshire, decorated in an Egyptian style like Grauman’s more famous version, opened in 1927 and was used for vaudeville as well as for movies. Live theater was often associated with a belated Rococo architectural style: the Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is one such example. It opened in 1878 as a theater, hosted vaudeville as well, showed moving pictures using Edison’s Graphophone in 1898,122 and eventually showed movies. Owned by Loew’s for a time, it is still used for both live performance and film. Even long after the silent film with its live musical accompaniment and sometimes elaborate prologues had ended, performance of a sort might be found at the movies. In Hud (1963), the Texas audience sings ‘Oh my Darlin’ Clementine’ together before the picture starts, with the lyrics and conducting cues provided by a projected animation. Rockefeller Center still has a stage show at Christmas, though no movie afterwards. 121 Miller, Paradise, Forward, unpag. 122 Edison’s experiments with talking moving pictures go back to 1889; see Hall, Seats, pp. 238–246.

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To supply his theaters located all across the country, which had started out with nickelodeon and vaudeville shows, Marcus Loew (d. 1927) founded Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1924, by acquiring and merging three studios— satirized by Wodehouse as the Perfecto-Zizzbaum Corporation in his story, ‘The Rise of Minna Nordstrom’.123 The dual business was broken up by an antitrust suit (1948, United States vs. Paramount Pictures, Inc.) in 1959. The Odeon chain in Britain had a similar status; it combined with the Rank Organization in 1941, and then Rank acquired Gaumont in 1948 (an offshoot of the French company), consolidating the industry that was soon to be broken up in the United States. The 1950s and especially the 1960s witnessed the destruction or insensitive conversion of many of the grand theaters that had been built for the blossoming of movies in the late 1920s and into the 1930s.124 The wider screens introduced to distinguish film from television were hard to accommodate in these older buildings. In 1961, Bosley Crowther wrote in defense of the old movie theaters that, ‘the names of John Eberson and Thomas Lamb should be as notable and potent as the names of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ralph Adams Cram, the name of S.L. Rothafel—or Roxy—as considerable as that of Eugene O’Neill’.125 Roxy had worked to make sure that music was suited to the action on the screen of silents, that the theater was not so dark as to encourage inappropriate behavior, that ventilation was effective, that multiple projectors ensured no pause in the action—in short that, as The Motion Picture News declared of his showing of Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei in 1913, there was ‘an environment so pleasing, so perfect in artistic detail, that it seemed as if the setting were a prerequisite to the picture, that to an educated audience the two should, and must hereafter, go together’.126 Revolution is the Opium of the Intellectuals.127

The social transition from live to machine-projected spectacle took place during a time of class ferment; it belongs, part and parcel, to that history, a player in the 123 Taves, Wodehouse, p. 49. 124 Naylor, Palaces, pp. 177–214. 125 Foreword to Hall, Seats, unpag. and pp. 107–109. Lamb worked in an Adamesque style until 1925, when he shifted to Baroque—‘something more gay, more flashy’—and by the late 1920s into exotic styles including Indian, Chinese, and Persian. Crowther commented on American taste: ‘We are a people who go for—and have gone for—the gaudy and bizarre’. 126 Quoted by Hall, Seats, p. 3; from the 6 Dec. 1913, of the Regent Theatre. 127 Graff iti on wall in Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! (1973), likely referring to Raymond Aron’s 1955 book, The Opium of the Intellectuals as well as, more obviously, to Marx.


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contest among capitalism, communism, socialism, and national socialism. At various points, it became a tool of each of them, alternatively exalting glamour, revolution, fellowship of the downtrodden, or Nordic-cum-classical heroism. The question of how society should adjust to a fully urbanized and mechanized world, a world in which servants grew scarce and transportation became much easier, did not belong to avant-garde modernism alone. Movies were anti-relics, artifacts of the machine age. Eisenstein, who loved machines no less than did Le Corbusier, declared, ‘I approach the making of a motion picture in much the same way that I would the equipment of a poultry farm or the installation of a water system’.128 The respect garnered by gravely serious Soviet film stood in stark contrast with upbeat, sometimes scrappy, American comedy.129 Clair in 1924 averred that ‘the film comedy was born almost spontaneously and up to now has furnished the best expression of the cinema’.130 When Clair expressed his support for American comedy, Eisenstein had barely started. Only a few years later, in 1927, the British writer Arnold Bennett declared contemptuously: ‘I have never—Chaplin’s work apart— seen a good American film. I have rarely seen one that was not artistically revolting’. Bennett admired in Soviet film the sense of purpose and the absence of blandness: In Russia alone does there seem to be any intention of giving the film its national character, of letting go the golden fleece of cosmopolitan or ‘international’ film-production—the ‘please everybody’ school—and moving forward with set purpose to some independent goal of its own.131

Eisenstein’s was an art that edified rather than an art that pleased as its primary function. It was technically innovative as well; Eisenstein was as determined to explore the potential of the camera qua machine as he was to rouse the proletariat. His Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin (1925) became for subsequent filmmakers (and for Francis Bacon) what the Laocoön had been for Old Masters, a demonstration of the power of art to convey the opposite of harmonious beauty and virtuous composure.132 Like ancient tragedy, it brought the viewer to a mythical place of horror 128 Barr, Eisenstein, p. 143. 129 The mother in a James Agee novel finds Chaplin vulgar (set in 1915, published in 1957); quoted in Lynn, Chaplin, p. 127; see also pp. 131, 162, 199. 130 Clair, Yesterday, p. 83. In 1943, Nichols, Twenty, p. xl, still supposed that cinema ‘has hardly touched humor yet’. 131 Betts, Heraclitus, quoting Arnold Bennett in 1927, pp. 49–50. 132 See further, Maria Loh, ‘Outscreaming’, pp. 393–414.

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(no particular historical incident is re-created, although there had been a terrible massacre in St. Petersburg, ‘Bloody Sunday’), the aftereffect being to purge the clutter of everyday life from the mind. No wonder that Hollywood’s detractors found the Russian films more weighty, more significant, more challenging. And that was key to artistic modernity: that the works ought to be challenging and provocative rather than bolstering the status quo. Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October: Ten Days that Shook the World (1928) helped to define modernism in cinema: they championed rebellion against the old ways in both form and content.133 These self-avowed propaganda f ilms were made with state funding.134 Hollywood’s silent films of the time tended toward the swashbuckling, the sentimental, or the hilarious. Robert Flaherty’s documentaries, most notably Nanook of the North (1922) and Man of Aran (1934), were distinctly genial in tone, skirting the issues of cross-cultural analysis that were to develop as such intercultural exchange became more frequent. He had an idea about traditional ways of living, which he no doubt partly imposed, although his approach was genuinely respectful.135 For him, these people carrying on age-old traditions were the heroic remnants of a mankind being made soft by machines. Flaherty, in a quasi-anthropological way, wanted to capture that culture on celluloid, positioned as he was right on the cusp of its becoming totally irretrievable. Using the new technology to record the fragile strangeness of a world that he found admirable, his project could not have been more different from Eisenstein’s. Jacques Demy’s elegiac Le sabotier du Val de Loire (1956) aligns with Flaherty’s project, recording a stalwart way of life that machines were making obsolete. Victor Sjöström’s emotionally fraught The Outlaw and his Wife (1918), in which he and his future wife played the protagonists, shares in the mystique of an austere manner of living but has nothing of documentary about it. It 133 For Eisenstein’s interest in Joyce’s Ulysses as a model for innovative editing, see Paraskeva, Beckett, pp. 12, 61. Montage itself was highly suited to conveying the force and repetitiousness of factory machines, or to conveying the violence and confusion of hand-to-hand fighting, as the work of Vsevolod Pudovkin, in particular, demonstrates. The art criticism and theory journal October was founded in 1976. 134 Pontecorvo’s La battaglia di Algeri (1966) had significant funding from the Algerian government, and was based on an account by an Algerian revolutionary, Saadi Yacef, who both produced the film and acted in it; the stated intention of the film (by the director; he and the screenwriter were Communists) was a balanced treatment, meaning that the French were not vilified, although colonialism was. 135 The case is less simple with Moana (1926), about Samoan life, which ventures more obviously into what we would now call creative fiction but which, oddly, is the first film called documentary by John Grierson.


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shows wild mountain scenery (filmed in Sweden, set in Iceland) to highly dramatic effect, as well as featuring seemingly authentic local customs in dress and mode of living on the rich and capable widow’s remote sheep farm. The film achieves a typically Romantic dynamic between passion and horror, while at the same time incorporating realist elements. Love and resolve encounter limits, and characters are revealed to be more human than heroic. Léon Moussinac, writing in 1925, praised the film as a grand human sigh (‘un large souffle humain’), displaying lyric emotion derived from the experience of nature, in contrast to American film, which was suffering from ‘leur absence de culture’.136 German silent f ilms likewise offered essentially Romantic fare: for instance, F.W. Murnau’s Hollywood-made but German-feeling Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) or the earlier Nosferatu (1922), both of which had extended, meditative scenes and invoked familiar, Romanticism-tinged ideas of fate, fear, and destructive passion. If the effect of Eisenstein is percussive, that of Murnau is violinistic. Gance’s Napoléon (1927) was proper epic fare rather than tragic; it took the general to the first great pinnacle of success, ready to descend from the mountains into Italy. Gance wanted to portray the man who restored order after the Revolution had gone astray.137 The ending is a dazzling triptych of colorized military imagery: sometimes mirrored images on the left and right, sometimes with the lateral sweep of a panorama—a triptych admired by Francis Bacon when he saw it in 1927 in Paris.138 Marcel L’Herbier’s big-budget and lavishly designed L’Argent (1928) was conceived partly as an opposite to Napoléon. A statuette of the equestrian Napoleon sits on the desk of the villain, the banker Saccard. L’Herbier said of Gance, ‘he chose one of his idols, a person whom he adores […] I sought out that which I hated the most, both as a filmmaker, and as an individual […] and I thought of Zola’s novel’.139 The result is a blend of allegory and narrative 136 L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 123. 137 According to Gance, up to this point, Napoleon was a republican ‘in the line of idealistic republicans, of whom Christ was the first’, Napoléon, p. xxii. 138 Mellor, in Gale, Bacon, p. 62; Harrison, Bacon, p. 26, on Bacon’s possible connections to the Film Society and his familiarity with films by Gance, Eisenstein, Resnais, Godard, and Buñuel. He had a still of the nurse from the Odessa steps sequence in his studio and painted Study for the Nurse from the Battleship Potemkin (1957), Städel Museum, Frankfurt; Gale and Stephens, Bacon, pp. 21, 162, 165; and Mellor, ‘Fantasy’, Bacon, pp. 50–63. Truffaut’s cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, said that the three round images of the bar manager in Tirez sur le pianist (1960) was meant as a reference to Gance. 139 DVD 2008 booklet, p. 31, interview with Jean-André Fieschi. from Cahiers du cinéma 202, June–July 1968. See also L’Herbier, Tête, pp. 149–168. He was well aware of the irony of such an expensive film project by which to denounce wealth.

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that Alberti could easily approve, in which Zola’s L’Argent (1891) is revised and modernized.140 The latter film captures exquisitely the world of excess and indulgence that was soon to be destroyed with the stock-market Crash. The scene in which the heavy-set, sensual Saccard (Pierre Alcover) both threatens the slinky, shimmering woman of loose morals (Brigette Helm’s character; she had recently played Maria and her robot twin in Metropolis) and is prey to his own lust, while the shadows of the fashionable players of baccarat in the next room are visible on the ceiling, is for adults only. Similarly obscene without being explicit is the immediately preceding scene in which Saccard fingers, ever so slowly, the slip of the pure woman, Line, the wife of the hero aviator, whom he desires. Very briefly, we see an overlay of her back as she, reclining, wears the slip, but we already knew what he was thinking. L’Herbier’s Feu Matthias Pascal (1926) provides another example of ambitious silent filmmaking that serves, in its own way, a modern aesthetic. Based on a novel by Pirandello published in 1904 about a man who finds he has been declared dead and who seizes this opportunity to be free as he has always wanted to be, only to find that anonymity has its problems too—a kind of comic cousin of Tennyson’s ‘Enoch Arden’—the work has its highly pathetic and touching moments, but is generally witty without relying either on words or on slapstick. The scenario was written by the director. At the moment Pascal decides not to telegraph home that he is alive, after reading of his death on the newspaper, we watch his face as he changes his mind and decides being dead is worth trying, and then the screen flashes with the word ‘LIBERTE’ seen not flat on the screen, but in dynamic recession, first in one direction and then in another, white glowing letters against the black—not a title card, but pure thought, objectified. The plot ranges from the greatest sorrow to foolish glee, with many notes in between. When, in the early part of the story, Pascal learns of his infant daughter’s death, his facial expression has flashes of hysteria amid the horror, after which he carries the dead child to his mother’s wake through a storm that agitates the branches and leaves that frame his stricken face. For a full minute we observe the shifting expressions of his grim sorrow, as he makes his way through the enveloping storm.141 Alberto Cavalcanti was assistant director, with a credit also for art direction. The cameras were used on location in San Gimignano and Rome,142 140 L’Herbier had to defend himself against deviating from Zola’s L’Argent (1890); Tête, pp. 164–167. 141 The New York Times, 7 March 1927, has a brief, unflattering notice that mentions audience chuckles during a death scene, presumably the suicide of the gambler. 142 L’Herbier thought about Gozzoli, Pollaiuolo, Memmi, Lorenzetti, Barna, and other ‘primitifs siennois’, as well as the frescoes of Ghirlandaio, while working at San Gimignano; Tête, p. 120.


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footage that is fascinating now for its historical authenticity but that also yields beautiful bits of interaction, figures with each other and with the space. The sequence on the startlingly unoccupied Spanish Steps, in which Pascal trails a pretty girl (his future wife), is like a fragment of modern dance. (Figure 10) The interiors are distinctive, more memorable than credible, one space flowing into another. There are pregnant hesitations in doorways and gateways, and sufficient movement by the actors so that one’s eye does not feel constrained by the heaviness of the cameras. In one remarkable shot, as Pascal comes back to his native town to announce that he is still alive, the camera moves up the narrow street of Sam Gimignano, the scene double exposed with a view of the skyline. Occasionally, the camera shows us the content of Pascal’s imagination, so the viewer needs to be vigilant. Ivan Mozzhukhin, star of silent Russian film, played the lead role, one of many émigrés from Russia who contributed to the film; his astoundingly versatile face and agile yet unaffected movement captivate the viewer without ever reducing the character to a predictable type. Michel Simon made an early appearance in this film, his open-hearted, somewhat cloddish character a kind of counterpoint to Mozzhukhin’s. The lengthy film presents a richly varied world without approaching the boundaries of epic, for the circumstances are all ordinary and the people are too. Silent film well done gives us a world in which vision counts for more than words, a new spin on the old paragone between poetry and painting, and this parallel world can claim a heightened universality. We do not need to know the timbre or accents or vocal rhythms and tics of these people; we meet them as though through a clear glass, and that suffices. The latitude permitted to the viewer to finish the reality represented by images, music, and sparse titles becomes here an inestimable resource. It is exactly what cinema’s supporters hoped for: a new kind of art. Feu Matthias Pascal, which lasts 170 minutes, provides a compressed yet unrushed epitome of the range of what life may present to us. We understand that the specifics are placeholders, so we have the benefits of a realism together with those of idealism. The character Matthias Pascal descends from Rabelais and anticipates Étaix: he does what he wants, but he does so with a peculiarly modern, rather than a cavalier, nonchalance. His flitting, curious figure suggests a new norm for humans, one that might remind the viewer of some of Leonardo’s pen sketches, in which intense, pliant figures investigate their world. The ideal human is no longer imagined sculpturally, standing in a position that exudes power, but as a fluid creature with agency. Matthias is good without being great, and we watch him not for his heroic

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Figure 10: Mathias and Adrienne (Ivan Mozzhukhin and Lois Moran), Spanish Steps, Rome, Feu Mathias Pascal, Cinégraphic, Marcel L’Herbier, 1926, sepia tinted film, screenshot.

example but for the sheer visual and narrative interest. L’Herbier never feels the need to persuade us of the plausibility of his narrative, only that what we see, the characters amid the settings, is worth attending to. The situation is not so different from Giotto in the Arena Chapel; those frescoes, likewise, gave us a parallel world—distilled—a world in which we could recognize ourselves without finding ourselves either overly-exactly mirrored or flattered. The range and imaginative richness in these silent works, among many more, make it clear why there was regret when the silent era ended. Among the virtues of silent films had been the ease of their international distribution.143 The silent film was accessible to all, relatively simple to produce, and expected an active, alert, and observant public. Apparently, children sometimes whispered the title cards to illiterate parents.144 Murnau opined that talkies came ‘too soon—we had just begun to find our way with silent Film’.145 Clair felt that the introduction of sound threatened the modernity of film and feared it might drag film back toward mimicry of old-fashioned theater, and he was not alone in this. He wrote 143 ‘Le cinéma est le véritable espéranto’, Jacques de Baroncelli, 1925, in L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 127. 144 Gray, Cinema, p. 53. 145 Horowitz, Exile, p. 254.


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retrospectively in 1944 of ‘the heroic age’, with its ‘spirit of adventure and joy of discovery’.146 They had accomplished much, and were on the brink of accomplishing much more. Charlie Chaplin found The Broadway Melody (1929) ‘a cheap dull affair’, whereas ‘a good silent picture had universal appeal both to the intellectual and the rank and file’.147 Such a film as von Sternberg’s Underworld (1927), for example, offered tension, moral complexity, and rich visualization. In 1924, D.W. Griffith predicted that speech would never intrude into film: ‘the very nature of the films foregoes not only the necessity for but the propriety of the spoken voice’.148 Yet the transition to talkies, the occasion for which was the very sentimental tale based on a play by Samuel Richardson, Warner Brothers’s The Jazz Singer (October 1927), came swiftly.149 The theme of the film is, appropriately enough, the irreconcilability of old ways and new ones. Sound catalyzed the switch to a motorized rather than a hand-cranked projector, since absolute regularity of speed was essential. In combination with the stock-market crash in October of 1929, it meant the rapid and almost complete decline of the stage show and live entertainment that had preceded the silent moving pictures.150 Talkies threatened to put musical accompanists— whether simply an organist, a trio, or an orchestra—out of work. And as Hollywood turned to Broadway for writers who could produce dialogue, playwrights rather than novelists, the writing staff shifted from significantly female to more dominantly male.151 Producers acquired ever-more power as the budgets grew. Sometimes the marquees would even list the producer, David O. Selznick, for instance (as Ziegfeld had had his names on the Follies, which ran 1907–1931). Hitchcock was also, 146 Clair, Yesterday, p. 194. Idem, p. 150, quotes Sartre complaining about talkies, citing Pirandello’s comparison to Aesop’s peacock, better when silent. Clair, Reflections, pp. 80, 97, feared that the high cost of talkies would induce producers to ‘pander’ to the public and deemed talkies a ‘fearful, unnatural monster’ that would become the poor man’s theater. 147 Chaplin, Autobiography, pp. 324–325. 148 Geduld, Film Makers, p. 52. He expected movie theaters to employ a variety of orchestras and for composers to be as important as directors. He also predicted that color would replace black-and-white film, once it could be made to look natural. 149 The f irst British talkie was Hitchcock’s Blackmail, 1929. Vitaphone, by which a musical soundtrack was recorded and amplified throughout the theater, first came into use in 1926. The Jazz Singer was not originally meant to have recorded dialogue. Early in 1928, 157 theaters were wired for sound, by the end of 1929, this number grew to over 8,000; in 1926, 50,000,000 tickets were sold each week, in 1930, this grew to 90,000,000; Lynn, Chaplin, pp. 318–321. 150 Hall, Seats, pp. 240–249. 151 Vieira, Thalberg, p. 142. In 1931, one survey estimated that the movie audience was at least 75% female; ibid.

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exceptionally, named on marquees, as well as making his much-noticed cameos. It was not simply that the new movies took away the guesswork, as one waited for the title card, of wondering what the moving lips were conveying, but that the structure of cinematic reality required rethinking. When Ernest Betts argued vehemently against the threat of talking pictures (writing in 1928, complete with an addendum slip acknowledging that ‘speaking films have been launched as a commercial proposition […] the most spectacular act of self-destruction that has yet come out of Hollywood’), he did so on the basis that speech ‘tends to destroy the illusion which the film is trying to build up’.152 For Betts, instead of lending ‘life and actuality’, speech renders a film ‘monstrous’. Action can be reproduced and can create a complete illusion, but he thought that sound added in the form of words or echoes of action could only produce disillusion: ‘there is no room for wonder’.153 In support of the hapless Betts, we should remember that recording and synchronizing the sound was a tricky and clumsy operation. The cameras, the film stock, the lighting, and the sound equipment all went through many improvements, so the results that had appalled him were soon left behind. Still, the advent of sound entailed the destruction of what was already a beloved, though still a relatively new, medium—a medium that had a natural affinity with the tradition of visual art, which similarly had needed to achieve expressivity without words. Chaplin lamented, ‘they are spoiling the oldest art in the world—the art of pantomime’.154 Moving pictures had not been decried as deficient in naturalism or expressivity before talkies arrived. In 1931, a 22-year-old female college student expressed the opinion when surveyed, I used to go mainly to hear the organ music, but with the advent of the Vitaphone [sound recorded on discs], this attraction is dispensed with. I dislike the stage shows presented at the leading theaters, and also the ‘talkies’. I usually attend a movie for rest and relaxation, and a bellowing, hollow voice or a raucous vaudeville act does not add to my pleasure. I like my movies unadulterated, silent, few and far between.155 152 Betts, Heraclitus, p. 86. See Bordwell, Style, p. 61, on Bazin’s analysis of the older generation’s ‘despair’ at the rise of the talkies and of an increasingly commercial industry; also Trumpbour, Selling, pp. 244–246. 153 Betts, Heraclitus, p. 86. 154 Lynn, Chaplin, p. 321. 155 Blumer, Conduct, p. 217.


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The absence of the spoken word had necessarily imposed a certain artificiality, yet for many, silent film had been quite real enough. Adorno and Horkheimer, writing in California in 1940, lamented how since the abrupt introduction of the sound film, mechanical duplication has become entirely subservient to this objective [‘the illusion that the world outside is a seamless extension of the one revealed in the cinema’]. According to this tendency, life is to be made indistinguishable from the sound f ilm. Far more strongly than the theatre of illusion, f ilm denies its audience any dimension in which they might roam freely in imagination.156

Anthony Asquith’s Shooting Stars (1928) illustrates very well what they and others might have admired in a silent film: it explores the dialectic between art and life, implicitly critiquing itself as it does so; it avails itself ravishingly of chiaroscuro and is composed in memorable images, some arranged in deep space, both interior and exterior; it brings drama and comedy into confrontation with one another; it is poignant without being sentimental and avails itself of narrative tropes without being clichéd; it is saturated in irony and deliciously precise in its use of coincidence. One can readily understand how the shift from Shooting Stars (itself a story about show business though not only about show business) to Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler extravaganzas might not have seemed an improvement, fun though the latter can be. Implicit in Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique is the general 20th-century discontent with the old project of mimesis and a call for an aesthetic criterion that does not reside in nature as the ultimate source of beauty and/ or significance. (Adorno was an important music critic.) Film, they imply, ought to awaken the imagination or the resources of the interior life of the mind, and they were not alone in thinking so.157 That Renaissance art had 156 Adorno and Horkheimer, ‘Culture’, in Dialectic, pp. 99–100. Cf. Goldring, Marching, p. 242, who deplores the American values propagated by movies: ‘Everything is there, the synthetic ‘glamour’, the romance, the sentimentality, the depravity, the terrifying lack of principle, the energy, the vigour, the debased standard of values, the nauseating commonness, and the technical efficiency’. 157 Nor were they alone in worrying that instead it fed consumerism; cf. from 1928, in L’Herbier, Intelligence, pp. 449–450: ‘le cinéma peut-il devenir très aisément, à l’étranger et à l’intérior, le véhicule de moeurs, de modes, de produits, ou même de façon de penser, nouveaux’. The author mentions in particular female drivers as an Americanism Europe was likely to follow; he worries that foreign luxuries will be desired on the basis of their appearance in movies, and that snobbery (‘snobisme’) will be promoted.

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also worked to catalyze the imagination does not occur to them. Ideal form had by the mid-20th century become so conventionalized that it no longer had the significance it had when first presented to Renaissance viewers. By the same token, the Renaissance obsession with mimetic verity was stressed by art historians eager to divide it from the medieval period, with the result that the Renaissance was made to seem less imaginative and stylistically free than it had been and, thereby, modernity more radically different. My whole secret is in keeping my eyes open and my wits wide-awake for everything capable of being used in my films. I have studied human nature because, without knowledge of it, I should have done nothing in my calling.158

Singin’ in the Rain (1952, in color) presents the struggle to introduce talking pictures in the late twenties as a tale of authenticity displacing artificiality—although, ironically, the signing of the ‘authentic’ character played by Debbie Reynolds was actually lip-synched. Singin’ in the Rain had in some ways been anticipated by Show People (1928, silent), directed by King Vidor and starring Marion Davies. There the rivalry was between drama (‘punk drama’, ‘the sob squad’) and comedy (the ‘cheap clown’, ‘vulgarity’, ‘lowness’). In the end, Show People arrives at a compromise, in that our two protagonists are f ilming a drama about World War I (a reference to King Vidor’s The Big Parade, 1925) rather than about the era of cavaliers.159 Show People contains interesting footage of studios, filming practices, and a preview screening.160 In one scene, showing the comedians racing along a dirt road in disorderly festiveness, there is a whiff of madcap Fellini yet to come. A string of cameos entertains the viewer, especially one full scene in which our starlet does not recognize Charlie Chaplin as he asks for her autograph. The newly minted star brushes off his courtesy repeatedly. Her character, Peggy Pepper, also encounters herself (i.e., Marion Davies) on the studio lot, dashing off with a tennis racquet and dressed in sports clothes, and is distinctly unimpressed. In Singin’ in the Rain, the cause of 158 Chaplin, quoted in Robinson, Mirror, p. 49. 159 Hollywood Cavalcade (1939, color) presents Fox Studios, implicitly, making the transition (rather than the usual emphasis on Warner) and presents talkies as clearly more gripping for the audience than silent pictures. 160 Cooke, Movies, 4 August 1946, pp. 194–195, describes Gallup polls for viewer satisfaction, and that the most important selling points were theme, title, and cast.


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making pictures is promoted much more earnestly, almost as though it were a matter of patriotism rather than merely a living.161 By 1952, some of the early sound movies looked very awkward indeed. Remakes rescued some of the properties that had suffered under early sound technology: Holiday, for instance was made in 1930, remade in 1938; Indecent (a version of Vanity Fair) was made in 1932, remade as Becky Sharp in 1935; The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) was remade in color by Hitchcock in 1956, in Morocco (though arguably the earlier version didn’t need remaking; by 1934, sound film was no longer primitive). Silents were also sometimes remade as talkies: a version of Anna Karenina with Greta Garbo in 1927 (Love) and with her again in 1935; Camille (1921) with Rudolph Valentino and Alla Nazimova was reinvented with Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor (1936). The parody of silent film featured in Singin’ in the Rain represented by no means a universal attitude. In many films, fond homage was offered: in The Smallest Show on Earth (1957),162 the three old employees of The Bijou Kinema gather to watch a romantic silent together—Cecil Hepworth’s Comin’ Thro the Rye (1923) whose title was taken from Robert Burns’s poem (the film did poorly financially)—on an evening off. ‘Classics’, the Peter Sellers character, Mr. Quill, reverently calls these films, as the Margaret Rutherford character accompanies the picture on the piano (Figure 11). The usual fare for the paying customers tends instead to rowdy westerns, their arid landscapes conducive to refreshment sales. In the same year as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Thief, a Cold War noir filmed in Washington and New York, used no spoken words at all; rarely is a film both experimental and retrospective, all at once. Ray Milland has one scene in which he makes a complex inarticulate sound, and otherwise relies purely on his eyes and posture to express his thoughts and feelings. Jacques Tati played a character, Monsieur Hulot, slightly reminiscent of Chaplin, in films (1953-1971) told almost entirely by image and music.163 Samuel Beckett, generally a man dedicated to a very uncinematic kind of 161 The ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ number by Donald O’Connor is reminiscent of Marion Stattler’s performance in ‘My Ragamuffin Romeo’, in King of Jazz, 1930, though the later piece is a performance about performance, an earnest exhortation on behalf of comedy, and the earlier one more straightforwardly a performance (with a touch of camera magic at the beginning, as the ragdoll comes to life). On the harassing political climate at the time, see Wollen, Singin’, pp. 45–52. 162 Its title parodies Cecil B. DeMille’s bombastic, melodramatic, color circus flick The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952, winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. 163 The same could be said of Gene Kelly’s Invitation to the Dance (1956), in which not a word is spoken. The film won a Golden Bear award in Berlin but did not do well financially, especially in the United States. Tati was of Russian extraction on the paternal side.

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Figure 11: Mrs. Fazackalee (Margaret Rutherford) watches Comin’ thro the Rye (1923) while accompanying on piano, Smallest Show on Earth, British Lion Films, Basil Dearden, 1957, screenshot.

theater, grew up watching Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and Harold Lloyd. His silent Film (1965) stars Buster Keaton, although apparently the first choice would have been Chaplin.164 Like Leo X, who looks at a manuscript with fourteenth-century miniatures in his portrait by Raphael, or as one of the sitters in a Botticelli portrait holds a Byzantine icon, the actors in the era of talkies were not above paying homage to a bygone art form. And as Raphael succeeded in making the transition from fresco to oil painting, so too did Greta Garbo star in both silent and sound films. Part of the marvel of silent film was that so much could be conveyed without the spoken word, that the work of art did not so much mimic life as create an alternative world exploring the possibility of freedom from language—more like music or dance than literature. Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in A Woman of Affairs (1928) communicate their emotions in a language of gaze and attitude comparable in intensity to that invented by Giotto six centuries before. They had no need of language. Pacing in silent film tended to be fast for comedy, but very deliberate for drama. Once the actors could speak, less time was accorded for the purely visual communication of emotions. In silent film, the art was 164 Lynn, Chaplin, p. 165; Paraskeva, Beckett, pp. 39, 43. Burnside contrasted Keaton’s spirit with Chaplin’s as being ‘the less travelled road—inventive, anarchic, potentially fatal’, Havergey, p. 104. William Kentridge has expressed interest in Buster Keaton; watch?v=G11wOmxoJ6U, 2014. Film is silent but for the woman by the wall who says, shatteringly (and at the same time amusingly), ‘Shhh!’.


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in conveying what was going on internally without resorting to the title card. The viewer needed to share with the actors their anguish in real time, rather than merely to recognize it and move onward; Garbo was a master of this, and was able to carry that quality over to talkies. Carl Theodore Dreyer’s La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) scrutinized the anguished, suffering head of Maria Falconetti with unwavering intensity for most of the two-hour film. The viewer nearly experiences what it is to be such a victim, and not because of any great veracity in set design or costume. Her face expresses—variously—her pain, her doubt, and her faith, without ever falling into cliché. The figure of the Tramp is remembered not only for his acrobatic antics, impressive and delightful as they were, but for his being battered by a relentless world. Charlie Chaplin described the Tramp as an Everyman: Here is a man like himself [the average viewer], only more pathetic and miserable, with ludicrously impossible clothes—in every sense a social misfit and failure. The figure on the screen has a protective air of mock dignity—takes the most outrageous liberties with people—and wears adversity as though it were a bouquet. In emergencies he even triumphs over those imposing characters whom the average man has visualized with so much awe.165

Chaplin explained that the look of the character resulted from his being told by Mack Sennett to put on any sort of comedy costume: on my way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything in contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided about whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small mustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression.166

The character first appeared in February of 1914. Likewise with Laurel and Hardy and with Buster Keaton, or, tragically, with Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms (1919) or Emil Jannings in the bulk of 165 Actors, p. 521. 166 Chaplin, Autobiography, p. 144. In 1921, he was quoted as saying that he chose the mustache, tight jacket, and cane by reference to an English type he knew, and that he wanted to seem a tentative but dignified sort, though the public took the cane more as connoting a dandy; Delluc, Charlie, pp. 91–92. (He did not use a cane in the earliest films.)

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Murnau’s Das letzte Mann (1924),167 we empathize with the downtrodden, who occasionally find a kind of triumph, or who in any case are exonerated by our sympathy. We wish them well as Everyperson rather than because they appear heroically worthy. In early film, empathy for suffering grew to be as important as admiration for heroic feats. The absence of sound and color could be compensated for by the beauties of an umbral world, and as Leonardo had also understood, it is in the very nature of shadows to be mobile. Slow takes on the face of Garbo, for instance, share something of the fourteenth-century melancholy Madonnas, from which worshipers were meant to infer the ponderings in her heart. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called Garbo a blond Mona Lisa.168 Silent films were readily distributed worldwide, and this encouraged the development of universal themes. As described by Benjamin Fondane,169 in 1930, it was against expectation that early cinema would achieve the kind of range and effect it did, that is would give pleasure to the masses via the simplest medium, the medium which among all requires the littlest intellectual training—the eyes […] that the cinema could against all odds rally around itself the most disparate people, create for itself a homogeneous audience across the broadest continents and down the most perfidious holes, that it could satisfy the tastes of savages, puritans, and catholic congregations, impose the laughter of Charlie Chaplin and the young American girl’s ankles on farmers in Ohio as well as in Negro villages, on the Russian muzhik and on buck privates on furlough, on the light-fingered gentry of the big cities and on the Surrealist tribe, that it would dispense morals and anarchy equally, make the criminal, policeman, outlaw, and common man believe in the same values, and be supported by moribund ones—this no one could have foreseen, least of all those who produced it.170 167 On UFA, the Berlin studio where this and other great silent films were made, see Ophuls, Souvenirs, pp. 116–152. 168 30 Nov. 1927. 169 He died in a concentration camp in 1944. 170 Fondane, ‘Da muet au parlant: Grandeur et décadence du cinéma’, in Abel, Theory, II, p. 46. Cf. p. 48, silent f ilm ought ‘to abolish all speech, all logic that supports speech, and all conception of the human which is buoyed up by logic’ and supply ‘a new means of expression that would not only replace speech, but possibly would defeat it, point out its hollowness; further, demand from the spectator a kind of collaboration, this minimum of sleep, of necessary torpor, so that the decor of the sign could be swept away and in its place the reality of dream take form’.


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Michael Powell remembered the silent era slightly differently, as one in which ‘European cinema remained highly literate and each country, conscious of its separate culture and literature, strove to outdo the other’.171 In his view, the introduction of talkies led directly to the predominance of Hollywood, at least temporarily. Clair, an advocate of the virtues of silent film, believed in ‘the cinema as a means of expression, or, if you like, as a means of teaching us to appreciate silence’.172 The Jazz Singer, heartrending as it is, reverted to the more prosaic, more literal task of imitating life, filming the particulars of the immigrant experience and of 1920s worldly society and show business.173 It had a message. Rudolf Arnheim lamented how, in the new era of talkies, members of the public ‘do not see that the film is on its way to the victory of wax museum ideals over creative art’, that ‘the mechanical imitation of nature’ is being taken to an extreme.174 Specifically, like Clair, he feared that the new technology would reduce film to theater.175 In his essay on the talking film, the popularity of which he acknowledges, he makes a comparison to painting. Paintings may either focus on the human figure or on the whole environment; he prized film’s ability to do justice to the latter, as theater could not: The moving picture was from the beginning more concerned with the world animated by man than with man set off against his world. Therefore, to be limited by dialogue to the performances of the human figure was bound to seem intolerable.176

Michael Powell averred that silent film remained a norm for him far into the era of talkies: ‘In my films, the images are everything; words are used 171 Powell, Autobiography, p. 302. Braudy, World, p. 193, in 1976 estimated the effect of the introduction of sound as follows: ‘sound film paradoxically both increased the appeal of films and lowered their intellectual status’. 172 Clair, Reflections, p. 12. He opined in 1922 that ‘The Americans have achieved it [independence from intertitles] before us because they think less’. 173 When Fellini remembered his childhood, it was watching the fancy patrons of the Grand Hotel dance to the songs he knew from cinema, including Al Jolson’s ‘Sonny Boy’ from The Singing Fool (1928), ‘I Love You So Much’ from The Cuckoos (1930), and ‘Alone’ (probably Irving Berlin’s ‘All Alone’, included in Alexander’s Ragtime Band, 1938); movies ‘we’d seen the winter before at the Fulgor Cinema, songs we’d moaned for whole afternoons, with Xenophon’s Anabasis on the desk, faraway looks in our eyes, and lumps in our throats’, Fellini, Making, p. 40. 174 Arnheim, Film, p. 154. 175 Idem, p. 157. 176 Arnheim, ‘A New Laocoön’ (1938), Film, p. 227. Nicoll, Theatre, p. 129, appeals to Lessing in arguing that ‘film requires a minimum of words’.

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like music to distill emotion’. His admiration was unequivocal: ‘silent films [were] the most perfect form of communication ever invented and perfected by man’.177 Silent cinema taught its public to appreciate pure sight. For cinema was the f irst virtual visual art. The viewer could see, yet not own nor even aspire to own, these images. Jack London observed in 1915 that, ‘Time and distance have been annihilated by the magic f ilm to draw the world’s people closer together’.178 For Fondane, the introduction of the talkie entailed painful loss: ‘A new vernacular is falling apart before our eyes’. 179 ‘The reality that it [speech] conveys’, is an instrument by which all of the potentialities of ‘misapprehension’ are suppressed in favor of ‘melodrama’ and ‘petty romances’, so that ‘pure lyricism’ is lost. (Michelangelo’s laments about the introduction of oil painting, with its different—more naturalistic—visual reality than that of fresco and tempera, might come to mind.) Fondane even sagely anticipates the three-dimensional f ilm and color f ilm as due to come in a decade or so, to further the ‘mechanical’ art of cinema which is founded on the presumption of progress, like the automobile or airplane. But he is not happy about such ‘progress’. In 1926, Jacques Feyder had predicted great things for silent film: There is an infinitely subtle musical language; the cinegraphic language is taking shape; it’s still at the stage of babbling […] We move toward a cinema where the image will serve to construct a film, and not to decorate it.180

Yet he, like many others, adjusted with remarkable swiftness to the new challenges. In 1929, he proclaimed that silent film had been not a child but a dwarf, and that a cinematographic sound drama is, above all, cinema and not photographed theater; the fundamental difference can be expressed thusly: In the theater, the situation is created by words; in the cinema, the words should arise from the situation. That is to say, cinema does not approximate theater from the simple fact that the word has been added; 177 Powell, Autobiography, p. 168; see also, pp. 179–182. 178 Geduld, Authors, p. 106. 179 Abel, Theory, II, 49. 180 La kermesse héröique, Criterion, DVD, booklet, p. 20 booklet. From Les annals, 22 August 1926.


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it remains as distant from it as previously, and remains an art that is different, widened, liberated.181

In Sunset Boulevard (1950), a film noir self-portrait of the film world, we hear the faded silent film star, Norma Desmond, before we see her, ghostly behind a rattan screen. Gloria Swanson, screen star of the 1920s, during which she was often directed by Cecil B. DeMille, plays Norma. Swanson’s The Love of Sunya (1927)—‘a drama of invincible destiny’ featuring a crystal ball and reincarnation—had been the inaugural movie for the Roxy Theater. As the unhappily retired Norma meets our narrator, a failed screenwriter, face to face, she mistakes him for a mortician (arrived to arrange a funeral for her monkey, that emblem of mimicry, elaborately laid out). She hisses at him that the movies have been ruined by sound: ‘They’re dead. They’re finished. There was a time in this business when they had the eyes of the whole wide world. But that wasn’t good enough for them […]’. Histrionically, she continues, ‘You’ve made a rope of words and strangled this business. But there’s a microphone right there to catch the last gurgle and technicolor to photograph the red swollen tongue’. She speaks in an overwritten style analogous to the stereotypically exaggerated actions of Hollywood’s silent f ilms, also still present in her posturing. Buster Keaton appears as a card-playing friend of Norma and is referred to dismissively by the narrator, William Holden’s character Joe Gillis, as one of the ‘waxworks’ from the silent era. Her mansion is neo-Renaissance in style; she drives a 1929 car (DeMille, who appears in a cameo, wants to borrow it for a film). At the end, she imagines herself as acting the part of the deadly princess Salome. She descends the stairs and approaches the camera until it loses focus.182 The movie presents neither the present nor the past in a flattering light; the narrator has been permanently silenced before the film begins, so even the realistic talkie is presented as artifice. The camera shows Joe Gillis’s corpse floating in the swimming pool from the bottom looking up at his prone body, as René Clair had shown a ballerina from underneath the floor on which she jumped in Entr’acte (1924). Famous as is the line, ‘All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up’, that is but a coda on an essentially silent scene that consists of her descending the grand staircase under the gaze of her faithful former director, Max (played by the famed director of silent 181 Feyder, ‘Je crois au film parlant’, Abel, Theory, II, pp. 38–39. 182 She had appeared as Salome in a dream sequence of Stage Struck (1925), a movie in which the idea of wanting to marry an actress is pilloried.

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film, Erich von Stroheim).183 ‘There is nothing else, just us and the cameras and those wonderful people out there in the dark’: we are complimented by a madwoman and murderess, who thereby renders us complicit. Even if Aldous Huxley’s nightmare should come true, and the experiences of taste, smell, and touch should be added to those of sight and hearing, even then we may say with the Apostle, as we have said when first confronted with the sound track and the technicolor film, ‘We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair’.184

A debate reminiscent of Leonardo’s paragon of sight versus hearing—which mattered more, vision or words?—was being held even before talkies were invented. Léon Moussinac quoted Leonardo’s defense of eye over ear in his 1923 essay on the need for rhythm in film.185 Leonardo argues that sight is the nobler sense, anticipating the indefatigable Abel Gance, who worked for many years to make the definitive epic about Napoleon, only to have his masterwork outdated almost immediately with the onset of talkies. Gance declared: ‘Contrary to what Racine says—that what one hears is better than what one sees—I find the opposite true. What one sees is much more effective than what one hears’.186 He looked for whatever would most impress: I am seeking some melodramatic motif and at the same time an eternal subject which can exploit a world made for cinema, the world of locomotives, of tracks, of records, of smoke—and in contrast a world of snow, of peaks, of solitude; a white symphony followed by a black symphony.187

Innovation was not always seen as progress: ‘Nine of ten say they would rather have a first-rate silent picture than a second-rate talking picture […] There are many who say they will not attend any more talking pictures 183 He had directed and she had starred in Queen Kelly, 1932, which Joe has to watch on the screen behind a giant oil painting given to Norma by the Nevada Chamber of Commerce. 184 Panofsky (1934, referring to II Corinthians I, 8–10), ‘Style’, p. 116. 185 Quoted in L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 254. Leonardo ranked as an honorary Frenchman by virtue of ending his career working for King Francis. 186 Kramer and Welsh, Gance, p. 162. 187 ‘Je cherche quelque motif mélodramatique et même temps sujet éternel qui puisse utiliser un monde fait pour le cinéma, le monde des locomotives, des rails, des disques, des fumées—et par contraste un monde de neiges, de sommets, de solitude; une symphonie blanche succédant à une symphonie noire’; Daria, Gance, p. 65.


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because of the strain’.188 G.B. Shaw complained of the Gary Cooper film, The General Died at Dawn (1936), ‘from time to time they made inarticulate noises with American accents, with all the consonants left out. Not one word could I understand’.189 One anonymous spectator commented, ‘Without improvements people will tire of talkies. Talking is no substitute for the good acting we had in silent pictures’.190 In Noel Coward’s Design for Living, a reporter from the Evening Standard asks, ‘Do you believe the talkies will kill the theatre?’, to which Leo retorts, ‘No. I think they’ll kill the talkies’.191 Pirandello said of the new medium of talkies and its relationship to theater, ‘Like all copies, it must arouse a desire for the original’.192 In Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies, the characters remark ‘it’s so boring to be late for a talkie’ (Nina), to which Adam responds, ‘Talkies are boring, anyhow’.193 Much later, Fellini would remember the films of the silent era, of his early childhood: ‘silent film has its own mysterious beauty, an evocative power of seduction that makes it more real than sound film because it’s closer to the images in dreams’.194 Marcel L’Herbier avowed decades afterward: ‘je n’avais pas cessé de bercer dans mon coeur l’art du Silence’ (‘I have never ceased to rock in my heart the art of Silence’).195 Despite such love for silent film, and despite the considerable accomplishments in that medium, the transition was swift and nearly total. Overnight, the glorious new art form of silent f ilm ( film muet) was demoted to ‘le cinématographe traditionnel’.196 George Cukor, after the film premiere of The Jazz Singer in 1927, announced: ‘This is the most important event in cultural history since Martin Luther nailed his theses in the church door’.197 188 Brownlow, Parade’s, from Photoplay, March 1929. 189 Shaw on Cinema, p. 127. 190 Brownlow, Parade’s, p. 574. 191 Coward, Design, Act II, sc. i, p. 51. Nevertheless, the play was made into a talkie (considerably toned down in its freewheeling morality) almost immediately (1933), six years before the censors allowed the play to be performed in London. In Korda’s early color film, Over the Moon (1939), the characters played by Rex Harrison and Merle Oberon check into a Venetian hotel asking for separate rooms, at which one puzzled Italian eyes another, who explains shortly, ‘inglese’. The best moment in the film is thus the product of obliging the censors. 192 Nichols and Bazzoni, Pirandello, p. 482, in 1929. 193 Waugh, Vile, p. 121. In Ladri di biciclette (1948), the driver of the garbage truck says movies are boring. 194 Fellini, Making, p. 159. 195 L’Herbier, Tête, p. 173. 196 Ibid., p. 169. 197 In 1917, L’Herbier had compared the invention of silent film to the invention of the printing press, calling f ilm ‘cette subtile machine-à-imprimer-la-vie’; Intelligence, p. 199. He praised the suppression of words in silent film as a great step forward for the arts. Cf. Gromaire, 1919,

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Presumably, Cukor implied by this that the priesthood of the art world, in other words, the patron class, was about to lose its hegemony, that film could now become a powerful cultural force directly addressing the intellectual and emotional needs of the many. As the future director of Holiday (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1940), both of which show the wealthy in what we might call a realistic light and working people in a fairly idealistic one, he can claim to have possessed some insight. Talkies fixed for contemplation that most transitory staple of society: conversation. Ladri di biciclette (1948) has more memorable images than conversation—not least, the endless piles of pawned sheets and, toward the end, the profusion of racks of bicycles owned by the fortunate—shown not in a moralizing or sententious way but to help us understand the thoughts of the desperate main character, Antonio, who is still desperate when the film ends. The film is highly visual: we might consider it a true descendant of Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), or simply a prolonged and poignant portrait of a father and son (Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola playing Antonio and Bruno Ricci). Yet especially Alessandro Cicognini’s score, though also the sounds of city life around father and son and the tenor of the voices of those they encounter as much as their actual words, are essential complements to the main visual matter. We might say that The Kid versus Ladri di biciclette is like a gold ground altarpiece of Madonna and Child versus a Bellini Madonna seated in a vivid and evocative landscape: the earlier effort plucks—perhaps amplifies—the chords of the emotions we already possess; the latter challenges us to situate our feelings about good and evil in a real—a recognizable—world.198 Antonio Ricci, caught in the horrendously difficult times postwar, filmed in places many viewers have themselves walked, is not merely sympathetic but evocative of a historical period of widespread suffering. When tracked down, the thief turns out to be an epileptic, so there is no end to the misery; it is poverty and despair all the way down. In casting an amateur actor, the director, Vittorio De Sica, explained, ‘I cannot make this role [the father in Ladri] a bourgeois. Impossible. Our actors are idem, p. 248, who similarly compares the coming of film with the coming of the printing press. Malraux in 1941 (idem, pp. 377–378) distinguishes the 20th century by its having made work for the sake of its being reproduced. To make films of theater, he judges, is like making copper engravings, i.e., deplorable. Sound film to silent for him suggests an analogy with painting and drawing; i.e., silent film was but a precursor. 198 Crowther, 13 Dec. 1949, found the film very similar to a Chaplin movie, depicting in both cases ‘a little fellow buffeted by an indifferent world’. Genêt, ‘Letter from Rome’, The New Yorker, 5 Feb. 1949, p. 89, reports that the film is too familiar for Italians and popular only outside of Italy.


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all bourgeois’.199 The lean and lanky Maggiorani possesses an aspect both fraught and single-minded. We feel the hostility of Ricci’s environment and we believe in his desperate need to feed his family, whereas it is the Tramp’s ingratiating smile, a halting smile but a smile nonetheless, that we remember. Sound introduced a more palpable realism, as did location shooting, which the needs of sound equipment had initially somewhat stymied. With that new realism came an enhanced capacity for art that did not need to entertain. Films such as Ladri di biciclette or It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) allowed viewers a mirror onto their own lives, or the lives of contemporaries, with no comic filter to soften the impact. Both of those films were quite dependent on sound and on-location shooting, around London in the case of It Always Rains on Sunday. Contemporary history painting had existed as far back as the Renaissance, and had been pursued more actively since Napoleon, but always as a minor part of the whole phenomenon of the istoria, which was traditionally dominated by biblical or classical scenes. Early photography had focused on stiller and simpler subjects, often portraiture and cityscape. The exploration of contemporary istorie, devoid of traditional heroic types, was a special province of ‘the pictures’. Alberti had cited the Calumny of Apelles, the allegorical painting by which the painter Apelles got himself released from a charge of treason against Alexander the Great, as part of his argument on behalf of the power of painting. When the author of the autobiography on which was based I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), Robert Elliott Burns, was not sent back to prison in Georgia (the judge’s decision was made just before Christmas of 1932, with considerable North–South tension in the air), it was widely believed that the movie had played a significant part in rallying public opinion.200 I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang ended with the protagonist trying to fade into a cityscape, to live clandestinely by stealing to survive—in 1932, a startlingly disquieting ending. Although probably the parallel occurred to nobody, in both cases, Apelles and Burns, a suspect was let off because a work of visual art achieved greater eloquence than any verbal plea. 199 De Sica, in Terkel, Spectator, p. 48. Many Hollywood actors were untrained, but they did not necessarily have the man-of-the-people quality De Sica wanted to bring to films. Jimmy Stewart, who often represented ordinary folk on the Hollywood screen, had followed his father to Princeton, where he studied architecture. The lead in Zimmermann’s The Wave (1934) was a university student, though many actual fishermen were also used. 200 The Daily Boston Globe, 18 Dec. 1932, reported that Burns acknowledged that he had never actually been shackled; see also The New York Times, 22 Dec. 1932, where he is described as ‘a nervous little man with shell-rimmed glasses’ whose mother was overjoyed. There was very limited shooting outside the studio.


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Machines are outside of class.201

As René Clair had feared, talkies were often based on current plays. Even in the days of silent films, actors were routinely called ‘Players’ in the credits; movies were often referred to as ‘photoplays’.202 Adjusting a script to a screenplay tended to be much simpler than converting a novel or a short story. When the Lunts, famed in theater, condescended to make a film of an admired play (The Guardsman, 1931), the result was deemed on its ‘title page’ a ‘picturization’. The term was not unusual, nor was the practice of listing the cast as ‘Players’. In Broadway Melody of 1938 (there were also films with this basic title in 1929, 1935, 1936, 1940, and 1944), people ranging from barbershop employees to stable hands end up on the stage putting on the show called Broadway Melody, with a good deal of griping along the way about prickly monetary backers. There are also swipes at Hollywood, where if a star doesn’t work out, you simply snip the celluloid, whereas on the stage there is no fixing what isn’t top-notch. Our hero, though, grants that ‘The picture people […] are always giving some unknown a chance’. That was part of the magic of Hollywood, the rags to riches story, a reinforcement of the American dream. When George Murphy and Fred Astaire performed Cole Porter’s ‘Please Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ (Broadway Melody of 1940), in which the Great White Way was described as ‘tawdry and plain’, they were themselves monkeying with Broadway: even the movie’s trailer boasted ‘As big as Broadway and twice as gay!’ Broadway was booming when Astaire and Murphy sang about it. Had the theater been less vigorous, perhaps the demand for cinema would have been weaker. But there was a public with a taste for drama and for romance, and theaters were active in smaller cities as well as on Broadway. Cinema supplied more of what was already in demand. As in the case of Italy’s relationship to Early Netherlandish painting in the fifteenth century, the existence of a rival tradition, one close enough for meaningful interchange and distant enough to be the object of admiration, envy, or some combination of the two, changed the course of both. During what has retrospectively been called the ‘Between Time’ (i.e., between the World Wars) the listings of what was playing during a random week in New York can scarcely fail to impress. For instance, late in 1936 in New York the choices would range from John Gielgud or Leslie Howard onstage as Hamlet, Helen Hayes as Queen Victoria, Robert Sherwood’s 201 Braudy, What, p. 145. 202 The Oxford English Dictionary places its first usage in North America in 1910.


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Pulitzer prize–winning Idiot’s Delight, Night Must Fall, Tobacco Road, Stage Door, Rogers and Hart’s On Your Toes, D’Olyly Carte doing Gilbert and Sullivan, Cole Porter’s Red Hot and Blue, the Ballet Russe, or the Ziegfeld Follies—not to mention As You Like It with Laurence Olivier on the screen at Radio City Music Hall, The Thin Man, and a panoply of other movies. Many of the plays were eventually made into movies: Idiot’s Delight, Night Must Fall, Tobacco Road, Stage Door, On Your Toes, as well as more than one movie derived from the Ziegfeld Follies phenomenon. Who would not be willing to pay a pittance to see the screen version of one of those live productions, and perhaps more than once? And might not that public be made more thoughtful, more imaginative, or more critical by the overall phenomenon, quite apart from the particular message of any single film? Although most of the country was too far removed from New York to experience Broadway, stage productions often toured the country after their Broadway run, so the idea of national distribution had conveniently been anticipated. Leonardo became famous not least because the Last Supper was one of the first paintings distributed via prints; and Charlie Chaplin became a greater celebrity than the Lunts, and for longer, because the Tramp was viewed on screens all over Europe and America. For all that early cinema borrowed from live theater, moviemakers were eager to vaunt the novelty and richness of their own medium, a product of the machine age with the potential to bring big stars and even great art to every Main Street—and conversely, an image of the quaint Main Street back home to every nostalgic urban transplant. In On the Town (1949), a musical play made into a film, Miss Turnstiles of the month (an advertising gimmick for the subway) and her sailor both talk about back home in Indiana; in Remember the Night (1940), Fred MacMurray takes a shoplifter (Barbara Stanwyck) to his mother’s farm in Indiana for Christmas; in Roberta (1935), Fred Astaire’s band is called the Wabash Indianians, and Ginger Rogers plays the girl next door who is in Paris pretending to be a Polish Countess; Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard) leaves Vermont (the fictional town of Warsaw) for the excitement of New York in Nothing Sacred (1937); in Born to Dance (1936), Nora Paige (Eleanor Powell) has come to Broadway from a small, unspecified town in New Hampshire: the list could go on indefinitely. There are many white picket fences and comfortable clapboard houses with shutters in Hollywood films of a certain era, and usually they serve as emblems of decency, security, and hospitality.203 Hollywood film of the 1930s–1950s 203 Not so in Fred Astaire’s Swing Time (1936), where New York is the desirable opposite to a dull and predictable small-town America—not an unusual theme, but unusual to have scenes set

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provided, if nothing else, images of small, comfortable hometowns, as well as of the wild West, chic Paris, imposing Rome, a rural Connecticut, and exciting New York. Viewers could construct a frame of reference beyond what they had been able to experience for themselves. On the other hand, slightly risqué themes such as adultery, which raised no eyebrows on Broadway, might offend when featured on screens in small-town America. It may be that reliance on theatrical scenarios when talkies were introduced helped provoke the moralizing objections that led to the introduction of the Hays Code, and that, in turn, shifted producers’ interest toward adapting classic novels for the screen. Before television, movies had a special allure, somewhat akin to the panorama paintings that had attracted audiences in the nineteenth century to pay small fees but in sufficient numbers to yield significant profits. Ernst Betts lamented that all this was lost by the early 1950s: ‘What had happened to that age of lustre when Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, the Barrymores, Joan Crawford, Marie Dressler, Judy Garland, William Powell and Myrna Loy had cast their spell on the screen?’204 Fellini believed that movies always had an aura television lacked, because the sense of being an audience together is reminiscent of being in a church, or as he vividly put it: ‘for me, cinema is a big room teeming with voices, sweat, ushers, roasted chestnuts, and children’s urine: the air of the end of the world, disaster, a raid’.205 Television ‘lacks the sacred aspect of the movie’, and furthermore it is illustrative rather than expressive because the lighting effects aim only for clarity.206 Barthes wrote instead with a certain distaste of the hypnotic effect of the screen as mirror, the ‘festival of affects’ amid the ‘urban dark’. He hoped to achieve some balance between the experience of the screen and that of the ambient: as if I had two bodies at the same time: a narcissistic body which gazes, lost, into the engulfing mirror, and a perverse body, ready to fetishize not the image but precisely what exceeds it: the texture of the sound, the hall, the darkness, the obscure mass of other bodies, the rays of light, entering the theater, leaving the hall.207 in the despised small town. Suburban Connecticut plays a similar role in Theodora Goes Wild (1936). 204 Betts, Inside, p. 75. 205 Fellini, Making, p. 67. 206 Fellini, Making, pp. 215–219. 207 Barthes, ‘Leaving’, 1975, in Rustle, pp. 346, 349. See also, on the artificial darkness of the cinema theater, Elcott, Darkness. He argues that cinema reverses the trend from the Renaissance to Manet whereby the virtual window on the world was the model for art: ‘after nearly


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‘Above everything in the world, I love the theater’, John Barrymore avows in Twentieth Century (1934), in which the flighty starlet (Carole Lombard, whose career was exclusively in film) traitorously leaves Broadway for a tinsel Hollywood. There must have been at least an iota of plausibility to this: for example, in Broadway Melody of 1936, a Broadway director goes to Hollywood to find a star and returns frustrated, saying that ‘everybody’s in pictures. It’s getting impossible to cast a show anymore’. Carole Lombard’s starlet, however, returns, repentant, to the supreme art of theater at the end. In real life, John Barrymore left Broadway for Hollywood and stayed there, declining into drink as he did so, but for the viewers in 1934, his impassioned speech on behalf of the theater must have struck a chord—a slightly dissonant chord when heard in a movie theater, but a chord nevertheless.208 The film was based on a play, with Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur writing both script and screenplay,209 so the praise of theater would originally have rung more true—or at least less bitter. The New York Times remarked on the irony of John Barrymore’s cinematic lament for theater and noted the ‘barbs […] leveled at the cinema’.210 Legend has it that Hecht was lured to Hollywood by a telegram in 1926 from Herman Mankiewicz, journalist and screenwriter: ‘Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots’.211 To give a performance in a theater was indeed a gift, and the members of the audience felt themselves direct recipients, a transaction film could never duplicate—like the difference between a political rally and a television report on a political rally. Theater provided the chance to see something that would never happen again and yet had been publicly shared. Shakespeare recognized the preciousness of this and rarefied it both in the recognition of supposedly dead Hermione by her husband, as the statue comes to life, and in the recognition of Hero by Claudio, who has believed her to be dead. These are quintessentially theatrical moments. Theater at its best (pace a half-millennium of illusionism, painting owned up to its two-dimensionality’, p. 8. Metcalf, ‘Clobbering’, p. 75, ruefully predicts that ‘over the next few years, movies may lose altogether the aspect of public solitude, of being alone together in a crowd, in the dark, marvelling as spectacle devolves upon the human face’. On the role of the cinema spectator in relation to screen and camera, see Caseti, esp. Chapter 6. 208 There is some ambiguity about the credibility of Barrymore’s character’s pleas on behalf of theater. The one mentioned, when it occurs in the opening of the film, seems sympathetic, but when it recurs at the close of the film, after an over-the-top endorsement of some traveling Oberamagau actors as the essence of true theater, plus plans to put Carole on the stage as Mary Magdalen, the joke begins to turn onto Broadway rather than Hollywood. 209 Based on yet another play, by David Belasco, according to Hecht, Charlie, p. 132. 210 18 March 1934. 211 Horton and Hoxter, Screenwriting, pp. 20–21.

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Brecht) offered an immersive experience akin to a miraculous vision—as Bernini recognized when he designed the Ecstasy of St. Theresa (c. 1650) for S. Maria della Vittoria (Rome), a miracle witnessed by sculpted patrons in theater boxes on either side, craning attentively. Many movies feature scenes of audiences at live performances, although somewhat cheekily in many movies such audiences are more caught up in their own social intrigues, gossiping in their boxes and eying one another, than in what transpires onstage. By contrast, in A Run for Your Money (1949), an amateur night performance in London, a restive, jeering crowd quickly quiets, catches itself being impressed, and finally gets caught up in singing together ‘All through the Night’ (‘Ar Hyd y Nos’) with the old Welshman onstage, who accompanies himself on the harp his friend has gotten out of hock for him.212 In this case, the movies pay homage to the power of live performance; we as viewers witness and acknowledge that which we cannot share. The absent live performance haunts its celluloid echo, as perhaps memories of the audience members’ childhoods haunt them as they join in the folksong about fellowship: ‘Old age is night when affliction comes/ But to beautify man in his late days/We’ll put our weak light together/All through the night’. Ealing’s A Run for Your Money is a movie of minor miracles, beginning with two brothers working in the coal mines who win a lottery, the prize being a chunk of cash (200 pounds) plus tickets to a football (soccer) game in London. In another scene, one of the most delightful moments in film, the younger brother, callow but not stupid, has been set up by wily London con artists to buy a fake ring for his fiancée back home. He decides that the simpler (and, as it happens, genuine) ring would suit her better, so that a kind of natural nobility asserts itself—his grand lottery winnings may be squandered, but he will give his true sweetheart an authentic ring because his taste is uncorrupted. An art historian can relish this exhibition of natural connoisseurship—and a new take on a theme in the history of art that goes back at least to Caravaggio’s Fortune Teller (c. 1595), with its wily gypsy and more corruptible youth. The tension as glances are exchanged and the rings are displayed is natural heir to that painting, although with a diametrically different outcome from that we anticipate for Caravaggio’s dandy. The miner is the audience for the con man’s performance, while we, audience of the audience, root for the performance to fail—an unusual position for the viewer, the major parallel for which would be wanting seducers to fail (e.g., 212 Humphrey Jennings’s Listen to Britain (1942) documents comparable occasions of group singing among people in a lunch hall.


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the interaction between the aptly named Valentine and Batala in Le crime de Monsieur Lange, 1936), as they predictably do not. In this case, though, we are gratified to see the performance politely ignored by someone who knows his own mind and is now seeing straight after a period of indiscretion. This comedy is a tale of two rescues: the younger brother rescues himself from the devious blonde and her handler, and the older brother rescues the old singer from himself (i.e., drink and loneliness). In both cases, the city appears as a locus of potential corruption, but more unusually, and in both strands of the story, salvation lies in the sensibility of an audience, whether large and impersonal or merely—in the case of the jewelry episode—one sincere fellow.213 It contains, like many other Ealing films, a declaration of faith in the common man, delivered without fanfare or treacle. Michael Powell’s and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) opens by showing the gathering of an audience for a live ballet performance, and among the audience are the stars of the movie. Renoir’s La règle du jeu features an amateur live performance about two-thirds of the way through. It begins with a lighthearted amusement; during the curtain calls, some cracks in the conviviality become apparent. The next performance shifts abruptly in tone, a dance of death accompanied by player piano (‘un jeu serieux’, says a man putting on a death mask) that makes the female guests scream and begins the increasingly ominous turn of events—although the guests have some difficulty telling what is real and what is performance as the cuckolded gamekeeper Schumacker runs madly through the château reception rooms waving his pistol. Guests and servants are intermingled; Christine, who recognizes that she has had too much to drink, is pursued by three suitors. One of them, Octave, re-enacts in mime a grand performance before a king, impersonating Christine’s father as conductor, before he is struck by a sense of his own failure, lowers his arms (Figure 12), and sinks down on a cold stone step, as the camera leaves its grand, centralized viewpoint and shifts to find him sitting, brokenly, on the side. The state of dream has utterly evaporated. Meanwhile, Christine’s adulterous husband 213 In the Charles Laughton/Elsa Lancaster episode of Julian Duvivier’s Tales of Manhattan (1942), a struggling composer/conductor is humiliated when his pawnshop tailcoat, too tight, rips as he conducts, though the orchestra’s usual conductor, watching from a box, converts the ridicule to sympathy by removing his coat in solidarity, an example then followed by the rest of the men in the audience, all thereby acknowledging the priority of art over money. The legend that King Christian X of Denmark led his citizens in making such a gesture with respect to the yellow stars Nazis forced Jews to wear, beginning late in 1941, is said to be based on a cartoon in which the King announces the strategy to the Prime Minister Scavenius, published 10 Jan. 1942.

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announces the high point of his life (or rather, in his role as a collector of musical instruments, he adds belatedly): he gestures to an ornate mechanical organ, a machine that performs to his utter delight—or, we might better say, stimulates him to perform, in faint mimicry of the moving statuettes that adorn the front of the instrument, beneath the painting of a pretty nude. As he waves his arms, it is not clear who is in control—the machine or the man. André Jurieux’s performance—his heroic solo transatlantic flight (like Charles Lindbergh’s in 1927), dedicated to Christine—had opened the film, a more stupendous machine and a more honorable man than her husband, though he, too, ultimately plays the fool. Finally, Christine’s performance, her dedication to maintaining the appearance of normality in the face of tragedy, closes the film: she pretends everything is normal in a world that has so thoroughly confused performance and life, so thoroughly mingled lies, irony, and avowals that there remain no real norms in that world, a world recast for us as fundamentally artifice, ‘un jeu avec règles’. Renoir, though he had started his film project by studying a play,214 a farce, thoroughly erased the strictures of the stage in his film with his mobile camera and editing. The fluidity of the camera as the party turns dangerous, and amusement variously turns to emotions ranging from hysteria to ironic dispassion, even a soupçon of hope, dizzies and disorients the viewer, thereby setting up the odd denouement. In his autobiography, Renoir stated that his early ambition as a filmmaker lay in using the camera according to its merits: ‘Catherine [Hessling] and I dreamed of developing a French cinema free of all theatrical or literary encumbrances’.215 His compatriot Abel Gance shared the basic direction away from theater, declaring that his project was ‘not to follow that blubbering sentimentality or that mechanical comedy which seems fashionable only because the real route has not yet been traced. Above all, not to do theater, but to create allegory and symbol’.216 For many years, Ingmar Bergman worked in the theater and made film during his summer holiday. In The Seventh Seal (1957), the strolling players appear a somewhat blessed fragment of humanity, at least the Holy Family–like threesome, all of whom survive as everyone around them falls victim to the plague. Bergman later opened his film version of The Magic Flute (1975) with close-ups of the audience, so serious and intent as to suggest attendance at religious ritual (The Magic Flute presents a vaguely Masonic purification ritual), the audience conceived as congregation. But whereas in traditional theater 214 Marivaux and also Musset; see Renoir: Interviews, ed. Cardullo, xvii. 215 Renoir, Life, p. 51. 216 Kramer and Welsh, Gance, p. 23.


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Figure 12: Octave (Jean Renoir), La règle du jeu, NEF, Jean Renoir, 1939, screenshot.

the proscenium arch demarcates a boundary between reality and fiction, in Bergman’s films the camera obeys no such delineation. We see a world that irredeemably does not make sense, a world in which reason is weaker than painful emotion, a world in which reason fades away to inconsequentiality. It is as though Romanticism has been turned on its head: no emotional catharsis is possible; only intimate and overwhelming pain, which when it abates, leaves numbness rather than clarity. Without making any reference to Aristotle or catharsis, Bergman describes the fear and powerlessness the artist feels as the work is exposed to the public, as well as the worst outcome being the public’s indifference—the hope being that the public will share the artist’s vulnerabilities and fears as fellow ‘lost, hurt and anxious beings’.217 In Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), an uncharacteristically lighthearted Bergman effort and a financial salvation for him, the wife watching the stage performance recognizes that the actress is her husband’s mistress,218 as the actress’s gaze breaks the fourth wall. Yet as director Bergman is utterly detached: sententious though the characters may be, the authorial voice never preaches, weeps, or—heaven forfend—is amused; it simply records without regret, 217 Sjöman, Ingmar Bergman Makes a Film. 218 Cf. La règle du jeu (1939).

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without nostalgia, without sentiment, without condemnation, and without hope. If The Magic Flute (1975) starts with the packed auditorium, the films with less explicit connections to theater take place in severely underpopulated loci. The isolation of the person watching film, generally in greater darkness and quiet than in a stage theater, correlates with the lonely worlds of Bergman’s characters. His world is insular. Despite having been thoroughly imbued with projects of making of theater and opera for live performance, the dead weight of interiorized, lonely angst is his cinematic staple. Italian movie audiences may well have been more boisterous than Swedish ones.219 Fellini clearly enjoyed crowds and relished the flavor of performance as experienced with others. The denouement of Le notti di Cabiria (1957), in which the focus of the camera shifts from our forlorn heroine to her perception of the young lovers around her, whose good spirits she catches, is a glorious paean to the restorative power of looking at life as a kind of performance, a performance with all of us as audience, shifting reciprocally in our roles as performers and audiences.220 I don’t believe that you go every night to the movies. Nobody in their right mind goes to the movies as often as you pretend to.221

Film sometimes seems to take a wicked delight in causing live performances to suffer interruptions. At the narrative climax of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935), a music hall performer is murdered in mid act. His role in the transmission of top-secret information is unveiled by a member of the audience; he is murdered by another because of that unmasking. His death marks the relative fragility of the world of performance, which is absorbed into the 219 Italo Calvino describes his youthful cinema watching in ‘Autobiography’, pp. 41–74. 220 Technically, the scene is reminiscent of that in L’Herbier’s L’Argent (1928), in which the minor character Massias is filmed in a circular room with world maps on the walls and a checkerboardpattern floor, the camera circling him as he studies the charts of the world’s oil business; see on the filming, Jean Dréville’s fascinating short documentary, ‘Autour de L’Argent’, second disk of DVD set. One might also remember the 360-degree pan shot in Renoir’s Le crime de Monsieur Lange, 1936. And Pontecorvo may have remembered Cabiria’s ending when he planned that of La battaglia di Algeri (1966); he said in an interview that he had chosen to end with a woman, because of how women’s roles were changing (she wears no head scarf). Theater in the round was a growing trend when Cabiria was made, but Fellini need not have been thinking of it; if he needed a point of reference, the Colosseum would have sufficed. It is as though the crowd supplies a thumbs up for Cabiria. The great Renaissance precedent would be Mantegna’s Camera degli sposi in Mantua (c. 1475), or in general any completely frescoed room, in which the viewer’s eyes circumnavigate. 221 Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie, iii (1945), Amanda speaking to Tom. Truffaut reported that he saw The Lady Vanishes ‘very often’ in Paris, sometimes twice a week; Hitchcock, Truffaut, ed., p. 116.


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enveloping and more robust reality of the film. A related topos can be found in films that end by losing track of their protagonist(s), who vanish into the real world that extends beyond the focal point of the camera (e.g., I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, 1932), or sometimes into a crowd (a surrogate audience) that fills the screen (Sabotage, 1936, Ladri di biciclette, 1948). The ontological hierarchy is clear: stage, film, life. Les enfants du paradis (1945) slightly varies the topos, in that Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) is left in the seething mass by the camera (Figure 13), which backs out not only from ground level of the Carnival celebrations, but back into the theater of the playhouse, with the screen of the movie filling the stage until the curtain comes down, as it had been raised at the opening. The crowd as the natural audience of modern city life, unthinking witness of a complexity that cannot be distilled into either comedy or tragedy, was hailed by Baudelaire in 1863, a generation after the time in which Les enfants is set: ‘the crowd is his [the flaneur’s] element’. The artist of modernity takes as his subject ‘the fugitive, fleeting beauty of present-day life’.222 A live orchestral and choral performance in the Royal Albert Hall provides the narrative climax for Hitchcock’s two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, 1956). We, unlike the audience in the Hall, anticipate a climax that will be both musical and narrative, but our anticipation and the audience’s raptness will both be ruptured by a scream that must anticipate that climax, the attempted assassination.223 In the 1934 version, the rupture is itself anticipated by the blurring of the mother’s vision by her tears, by which we know (or rather, our knowing is signaled to us, perhaps even before we do know) that she will in fact interrupt the performance (and thereby risk the life of her child); the screen dissolves as her vision blurs, only to come into focus on the isolated gun as it is aimed at the intended victim of assassination.224 We do not see her scream, only hear it; the camera momentarily makes us into her, the audience member and yet at the same time the true protagonist of the moment, the heroic mother whose sharpshooting, only 222 Baudelaire, ‘Painter of Modern Life’, pp. 9, 40. See on Baudelaire’s interest in Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Man of the Crowd’, Culler, ‘Baudelaire and Poe’, pp. 66–67. 223 Although the music is same in both versions, the role of cymbal is not. 224 Hitchcock was sometimes willing to interrupt the narrative flow to convey what a character is feeling; for instance, the working-class stage manager walking across Sir John’s carpet in Murder! (1930); we are shown how soft it feels to him as he steps into this alien, elegant environment. That amuses the viewer, but later in the film, in its tensest segment, still shots of Sir John and of the accused actress Diana Baring will appear briefly as cutouts on the screen to clue us into what the aptly named Fane is thinking during his desperation. We also see his blurred vision as he swings. Hitchcock enhances tension by these interruptions to the narrative flow. The highly inventive Lubitsch had used blurred footage to indicate the vision of a drunk man in So This is Paris (1926).

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Figure 13: Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) in the crowd, Les enfants du paradise, Pathé, Marcel Carné, 1945, screenshot.

a little while later, will be steady under such dire pressure that a police sharpshooter can’t cope with it, by which act she saves her child. Earlier in the film, in a much smaller space, we have had analogous moments of anticipation and tension as a cult religious service which we understand to be mere performance unfolds, the plotters and the protagonists eyeing one another, waiting to see who will make the first move out of the mutual charade. Likewise in The 39 Steps (1935) our hero inadvertently finds himself addressing a political assembly in the course of fleeing corrupt police. He delivers a speech, at first halting and eventually eloquent, which we understand to be made up on the fly in order to have anything to say when he is mistaken for a visiting politician and plunked down at a podium,225 and at the same time a speech that describes his personal plight and then enlarges to a plea on behalf of all beleaguered mankind, one that the audience waxes extremely enthusiastic to in response. It is a prime Hitchcock scene, both tense and comic. In both films, repeatedly, the audience for a live performance is shown to be oblivious to the alarming events transpiring around them. It is as though the film audience is exhorted to become more attentive than the audience 225 The scene may offer a precedent to the closing of The Great Dictator (1940).


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they watch. In the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, this device occurs three times: once in a nonconformist chapel, once at the Albert Hall, and then a third time when the Doris Day character sings and plays the piano at an embassy as part of a scheme to signal her presence to her kidnapped child upstairs. The Man Who Knew Too Much displays a certain delight in thinning the effect of performance to transparency, so that performance is revealed as merely such, a theme we find repeatedly in Hitchcock’s films and which may bear no little association with his explicit disregard for the acting profession. The watchfulness of the spectators (or attentiveness of the auditors) is prioritized over the actions of those who seem to be the center of the performance.226 Suspense lies there: in the watching, in the waiting. Another example of this is the descent down the grand staircase in Notorious (1946), during which Sebastian (Claude Rains) needs to pretend that he believes the act that Devlin (Cary Grant) is putting on as he rescues Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) from the clutches of a fascist organization trying to build nuclear weapons. Sebastian maintains the pretense that his wife is being taken to the hospital in the hope that he will be able to escape with the two of them, though Devlin slams the car door in Sebastian’s face, thereby unmasking him to his criminal associates. In this case, the act put on for the immediate onlookers, the fascist conspirators, fails for the character even as it succeeds for the movie audience and for our heroes. Part of what made Hitchcock attractive to Truffaut was his distaste for the aesthetics of absorption, his willingness to interrupt the suspension of disbelief—as Jean Epstein had put it in 1921, ‘From the screen I get the idea of an idea’.227 In Saboteur (1942), the audience at Radio City Music Hall is watching a film about a jealous husband.228 The members of the audience hear the lover say, ‘are you trying to tell me old Henry has a gun, a real gun?’ Just before real gun shots start, and after a confused few moments they come to realize that they are also involved in real violence. ‘Get out of here!’ This shout is then echoed in the auditorium by the police. We see the silhouette of the chased man showing through the movie screen, against the projected face of the angry husband and then of the dallying wife. The viewer is obliged to notice how clever all of this is, as Mary of Burgandy in the late fifteenth century, holding her book of hours (Vienna), was gratified by seeing herself pictured holding her book of hours, sitting beside a window through which she appears again, in a church nave, a kind 226 E.g., Rear Window (1954). 227 ‘De l’écran j’obtiens une idée d’idée’, quoted in L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 262. 228 The film opened at Radio City Music Hall.

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of heaven, where she adores the proximate Virgin and Child. In both cases, there is implicitly a conundrum about which layer is more convincingly real. In the climax of Saboteur, at the Statue of Liberty, the fascist falls from our falsely accused hero’s grip on the purlicue of the hand of Lady Liberty that holds the torch aloft, but only after our much-maligned fugitive has tried to save him by holding onto his jacket sleeve, the seam of which slowly gives way. He was literally hanging by a thread, a metaphor Hitchcock no doubt enjoyed visualizing. Here, too, the public in the film, the visitors to the Statue of Liberty, can’t really grasp what is going on—namely, that the sculpture they have come to see is rendered relatively inconsequential by what is being acted out before them (which is itself about preserving liberty), while the viewers of the f ilm can congratulate themselves on comprehending what is going on, even as they also know that what they know is a fiction. Not surprisingly, movie performances are typically shown in movies as absolutely riveting, more robust than all those interruptible live performances. In the Smallest Show on Earth (1962) the viewers of a movie suffer right along with the fictional characters; for example, they feel parched when they watch characters dying of thirst. A London audience at the Bijoux Theatre (another one!) is amused by a Disney cartoon (Who Killed Cock Robin?, 1935) in Hitchcock’s Sabotage (1936). Mrs. Verloc enters the theater, and even in her extreme grief—having recently learned that her little brother Stevie, who was unknowingly carrying a bomb along with film canisters for ‘Bartholomew the Strangler’, had been killed in the explosion—first the laughing audience and then the cartoon itself, as she sits down with the others, makes her smile. Only a moviemaker could suppose the power of movies to be quite that strong. When Cock Robin is shot and dies, however, Mrs. Verloc remembers what is happening in her own life. She departs the theater for her adjoining flat, to serve dinner to her husband, whom she knows to be responsible for the boy’s death—although we also know him not to be an entirely bad man. In one of the most discreet yet suspenseful of screen murders, her husband and the viewers watch her having the impulse and fighting it, more than once, before she suddenly (and almost invisibly, to the viewer) stabs the man. It may be the only murder prompted by a Disney cartoon.229 229 In the movie’s textual source, Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907), instead of a movie theater there is a dismal shop selling pornography, mostly; there is no romance between Mrs. Verloc and a police detective (she ends up a suicide on a channel ferry); Stevie is a young man of weak intellect rather than a cute boy; the explosion happens in Greenwich Park, earlier in


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In Sullivan’s Travels (1941), the chain gang prisoners are utterly transported from their sordid surroundings while watching a Disney cartoon (Playful Pluto, 1934).230 Watching them teaches Sullivan what he needs to learn. Jean-Paul Sartre compared the experience of being part of the crowd at the cinema with—of all things—his experience in a prisoner-of-war camp, recalling later, I developed a dislike for ceremonies, I loved crowds. I have seen crowds of all kinds, but the only other time [than at the cinema] I have witnessed that nakedness, that sense of everyone’s direct relationship to everyone else, that waking dream, that dim consciousness of the danger of being a man, was in 1940, in Stalag XII D.231

King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928) portrays the disillusionment of a young man of ambition who moves to New York. An intertitle introduces our protagonist: ‘When Johnny was twenty-one, he became one of the seven million that believe that New York depends on them’. He is clearly meant as a sort of Everyman: born on 4 July 1900. He is married and has children, but his job as an accountant is stultifying, and he quarrels with his wife without either of them being particularly to blame. (He manages to suggest a drunkard when he looks unable to cope, though the film was made during Prohibition and he never falls to crime or to drink.) They lose a child through an unfortunate traffic accident; afterward (as is shown on-screen overlay), his head is full of thoughts that make it impossible for him to concentrate, and so he loses his job. He ends up willing to work as a clown with a sandwich board, the very job he had disparaged when he was younger and full of hope. After the first day at this ill-paid post, he comes home with a few coins and three tickets for them to go to a music hall entertainment. He convinces his wife to put up with him longer still by playing a favorite song on the wind-up phonograph (‘There’s Everything Nice About You’, by Johnny Marvin). The movie ends with the reduced family laughing amid the course of the narrative and without the reader being quite apprised of its significance (only gradually afterward); there is no catastrophic finale but only a dismal diminuendo; in general, the screenplay has been rethought for the sake of striking imagery, suspense, and a romantic conclusion, as the text was maximized for psychological depth, not least in the instance of the unfortunate Mrs. Verloc, a kind of cousin to Nora in The Doll’s House. 230 Preston Sturges had wanted Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp on-screen, but there were copyright difficulties. The fellow audience members are poor Black people, the venue is their church, and the thematic point is their mutual delight in comedy. 231 Geduld, Authors, pp. 39–40, writing in 1964 about his childhood.

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a jolly audience, watching a clown onstage and finding John’s advertising slogan in the program (he had won a contest),232 illustrated by a picture of a juggling clown—though this resolution has as palimpsest in the viewer’s mind of many previous shots of urban milling throngs, relentlessly busy traffic, dauntingly uniform high-rise buildings, and a workplace of so many rows of identical desks that it verges into expressionistic (as do other shots, such as that of the twelve-year-old John mounting the stairs to where his father has died, with the street throng visible in the background). We are left with the intertitle: ‘The crowd laughs with you always […] but it will cry with you for only a day’. The scenes of John wandering in despair with his small boy at his side, and being comforted by the boy’s presence, helped to inspire de Sica in Ladri di biciclette (1948); despite the difference in silent-movie acting style, the similarities are striking.233 Henry Sharp, Vidor’s cameraman, was hidden inside a giant suitcase on a trolley to get shots of throngs of pedestrians without their being distracted by a camera.234 Both theater and the Renaissance tradition of painting took for granted the stationary eye. Cinema’s new ideal, developed in tandem with enhanced camera equipment, was the supremely mobile eye, triumphing over Renaissance fixedness. Gance put the camera on a swinging rope; Renoir’s camera (often in the hands of his nephew Claude) glided around architectural spaces, between outside and inside, with exemplary ease, outdoing the human eye; Riefenstahl’s soared on a plane. This redefined the role of the audience; no longer were they stationary on auditorium seats but instead part of the action, assuming some of the privileges of the godlike narrator. If any disadvantage was acknowledged between the live and the taped performance, the mobility of the point of view of the camera acted as trump card. And from the point of view of management, movies were efficient 232 His impulse to propose to Mary is a response to a furniture advertisement on the subway, possibly remembered by the makers of Dames (1934), and in any case a signal of the growing importance of advertising in urban lives. 233 Ermanno Olmi may also have admired The Crowd. 234 ‘Camera Expert Studies Old Masters for Effect’, The New York Times, 12 June 1927. Similar devices were used for Vigo’s À propos de Nice (1930). Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin made Little Fugitive (1953) with a discreet mobile 35-mm camera, a harmonica, and a small budget ($30,000). Beautifully filmed (Paul Strand mentored Engel, and he worked in the army with Steichen), in large part in Coney Island, the film evokes—like Ladri—ordinary time and place, imbued with oppressive feelings (filtered in this case exclusively through a child’s sensibility), and spared any sentimentality. The movie was admired by Truffaut, among others, and won a Silver Lion award at Venice. Crowther deemed it ‘nice but minor’ and deplored the lack of ‘dramatic situation and development’ (i.e., he wanted an istoria); The New York Times, 18 Oct. 1953.


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pieces of mass production. With cinema theaters accommodating up to 6000 persons, the possibility of multiple showings in a day, seven days a week at hundreds of cinemas, moviemaking dwarfed theater economically. The celebrity generated by movies also achieved a new scale, the scale of the mass market.235 Eisenstein knew very well that in its own way cinema was making art history just as the discovery of perspective had made art history in its own time.236

Cinema could much more easily display crowds than could theater, which was usually limited to a chorus, and such scenes helped the audience to see themselves as important. Many of early cinema’s most impressive scenes involve hundreds of extras, beginning with the elaborate tableaux of D.W. Griffith but extending to comedy, melodrama, and suspense.237 Abel Gance and Sergei Eisenstein also used many extras to try to make vivid the great events of history that had been powered by mass armies or mass protests. It was a task assumed from the shoulders of myriad history painters since Raphael and Rubens,238 but the vastness of the numbers was innovative. In Riefenstahl’s notorious Triumph des Willens (1935), the camera lingers repeatedly on the crowds, seen both en masse and as individuals. We latterly watch those young faces adoring Hitler, and wonder—not the sort of wonder Aristotle spoke of, but something closer to doubt about the reliability of human judgment. In any case, the film’s visual balance between the screen time given to its protagonist and that given to his adherents marks the new, populist era. Sometimes the entire populace of a town gathers to witness the showdown between bad and good. In Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), a mob nearly destroys an innocent man; we have been led to suspect him right along with the incensed rabble.239 In Lang’s M (1931), a 235 Cf. Malraux in 1941, in L’Herbier, Intelligence, 382. These actors ‘incarne un instinct collectif’, and what they do has more to do with myth, which he associates with journalism and its false news, than with literature, more with industry than with art. 236 King Vidor in 1930, in Swallow, Documentary, p. 87. 237 Schickel, Griffith, p. 226, says of The Birth of a Nation that publicity claimed 18,000 extras, although the actual number was 300–500. The numbers, both sets, come from Gish, Movies, p. 145. Brownlow, interviewing Henabery, Parade’s, pp. 57–59, cites 2000 for Intolerance and says they were paid $1.25, carfare, and a lunch worth 35 cents. The New York Times reported an astonishing 37,000 extras for Metropolis; Scheffauer, ‘Impression’. Josef von Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress (1934) boasted in the credits of a cast of 1000; it was a financial failure. 238 See, e.g., Parshall, ‘Crowd’, pp. 231–244. 239 When rescued, he is held suspended like Christ in an Entombment.

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vile, depraved man is confronted by a vengeful mob of criminals. We, the viewers, are led both to feel revulsion, as well as, amazingly and almost against our wills, some disinclination to condemn him without scruple as we listen, along with the criminals, to his exculpatory speech. The experience of the crowd has been made complex. In Things to Come (1936), we see the citizens of Everytown in various historical moments between 1940 and 2036.240 At the culmination, great crowds are incited by a sculptor to reject the age of science.241 The sculptor, who calls himself a ‘master craftsman’, works in a style oddly reminiscent of Archaic Greece and asks rhetorically, ‘is it [this new world] any jollier than it used to be in the good old days, when life was short and hot and merry and the devil took the hindmost?’ A space gun is about to fire off a young man and woman on a mission of exploration, thereby converting war weaponry to the purposes of scientific research, and the mob tries—unsuccessfully—to prevent this. Regimentation is not necessarily seen as evil in this film but instead, on certain occasions, as redemptive, and as a visual analog of the architectural design of the rebuilt city, which is not unlike an enlarged version of the great white sets of Astaire and Rogers.242 The surface of the planet has been left in its natural state, while underneath in the new wondrous land everything is planted with regularity and surfaces are smooth and white or transparent. The film shows us disorderliness as exemplified by the rabble mob visually paired with scenes of ruin and associated with panic and destruction—though it is in the great hall of the rebuilt city that the people harken to the sculptor telling them to rest and enjoy rather than to work and venture, his image sometimes via projected, hologram-like image. ‘This modern world is full of voices’, says the sculptor (Cedric Hardwicke), plotting how to turn murmuring into revolt. He pronounces the word ‘Halt’ in a way surely meant to suggest Nazis. An old man explains to a little girl that the pictures on a screen of the Manhattan skyline show the way things 240 The directive was sent out to find ‘cadaverous’-looking extras for the scenes of ‘the wandering sickness’, Frayling, Things, pp. 14–15. It was the most expensive British film to date, intended to rival Hollywood and to assert ‘proper British taste’, pp. 12, 16. 241 Idem, p. 23; the artist is said to have been modeled on El Greco. 242 Braudy, What, pp. 144–145, analyzes Shall We Dance? (1937): ‘the film, true to its mechanical and technological origins, celebrates the machine as a possible element in the liberation of the individual rather than in his enslavement ’. The machine-room dance—in a spotless or rather glistening machine room—shows Astaire celebrating rhythm with the Black machine-room workers in their pristine tee shirts and slacks, which contrast mightily with the dirt on our protagonists in La bête humaine of a year later: Hollywood vs. French realism. We see machines through windows that create a screenlike vision; the analogy is unmissable. Astaire ends up on a balcony level, applauded by the workers below.


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were done in the old days, before people knew better. ‘What a funny place New York was’, she pipes.243 French f ilms repeatedly feature le peuple as a force for justice, for comprehending justice even if not effecting it (e.g., Le crime de Monsieur Lange, 1936; 244 Le jour se lève, 1939). Capra similarly portrayed small, personable crowds—townspeople—such as those in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), who save the day for the beleaguered, self-doubting Jimmy Stewart character, George Bailey. The idea of small-town, supportive community was commonplace in American film—at least until Lolita (1962) showed the dark underbelly of New Hampshire life and made Thornton Wilder seem sentimental and old-fashioned. There exist exceptions to the movies’ endorsement of community: High Noon (1952), for one. Fred Zinnemann’s film took the cardboard hero from a popular magazine’s short story and created a tableau of small-town life in which the frontier middle class, resentful of those double-crossing judges back in the north, justifies its cowardly pragmatism. In the film, the town’s seemingly decent citizens find it expedient not to insist on supporting law and order, but instead resolve to do whatever needs to be done, including the betrayal of a good man (Gary Cooper as the sheriff, Will Kane), to protect their own hides. An analogy with the concurrent McCarthy hearings, although evidently not fully deliberate, was noticed early and often.245

243 Frayling, Things, p. 49, notes that, when The New York Times printed a memorandum by Wells, 12 April 1936, about how his project contrasted with Metropolis, it left out the disrespectful allusion to ‘ultra skyscrapers’, as well as continuing the misspelling of Lang. 244 On the politics of which, and its happy position now as ‘one of those films that functions as a future memory’, see Faulkner, ‘Paris’, in French Film, pp. 27–41. He also examines the relationship to pulp fiction. 245 By 3 August, Crowther was hailing High Noon as ‘a story that bears a close relation to things that are happening in the world today, where people are being terrorized by bullies and surrendering their freedoms out of senselessness and fear’. Will Kane ‘can give a f ine lesson to the people of Hollywood today’. A similar phenomenon occurred with Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943), about seventeenth-century witchcraft but seen by some as pertaining to Nazi oppression. The f ilm was made in Denmark, but Dreyer left for Sweden soon afterwards, presumably to avoid any repercussions. When it f inally got to New York, John McCarten (normally quite hard to impress) complained in The New Yorker about how little showing it got and called it, without further comment, ‘one of the best [pictures] ever made’, ‘The Current Cinema’, 17 July 1948, XXIV, p. 52. Cf. July 31, ‘Goings On About Town’, p. 9, where ‘an incredibly discerning camera’ is praised. Renoir described La règle du jeu in a video interview with Rivette in 1961, ‘Jean Renoir parle de son art’, as having been intended as ‘agréable’ but also meant to portray a society he understood to be ‘pourrie’. For a Renaissance art historian’s response to mechanized art and issues of morality, see Thomas, Wind, esp. Ch. 5.

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In the Boulton brothers’ Heavens Above! (1963), the seemingly idyllic village of Orbiston Parva (Orbiston in Scotland was a utopian community associated with Robert Owen, founded in 1825 and failing a couple of years later) is eventually shown to be full of selfish, greedy, and intolerant people, regardless of class. Only the Black garbage collector is a sympathetic soul, and he leaves. The children are either reading Lolita (Peter Sellers, who plays the parish priest, had just appeared in the film of the censored book, banned in England 1955–1959) or up to more active mischief—stealing, for instance. The charity food hall turns the townspeople into an angry mob, and (surprisingly in a comedy) there is no happy resolution. It is a far cry from the friendly townspeople of Ealing postwar comedies. In between had come the kitchen sink realism of such films as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), portraying grim, working-class life in Nottingham. The young couple go to the pictures on a Wednesday, and see Rock Hudson and Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959, color), which they deem ‘predictable’. The girl is reluctant to sit in the back row.246 Set in a grimy street of workers’ row houses populated by disgruntled older people, who having survived the War, had little fight left in them afterward, or so the restive Albert Finney character supposes,247 the film winds down as the male ruffian protagonist gradually shifts his attention from a married woman to a woman who wants to get married, but without any definitive closure. Pillow Talk, like the paintings on the dim back wall of a Dutch genre piece, serves to define reality as the space from which artifice is viewed. Performance not only implies an orderly set of onlookers, but performance by definition is meant to transform crowds, mobs, or the masses into a more or less docile and united audience (even more so in the days before amplification was available, when listening required intense concentration). The leaders of the French Revolution knew this well, and so devised spectacles, as did the Roman emperors with their circuses. The first crowds in art were shown as witnesses to the Crucifixion, itself a sort of performance: it begins with a procession; it has crisis and denouement; at least one member of the audience is overcome by what is seen; and there is general impressive darkness and disorientation. Crowds clustering around the cross in paintings by Duccio through drypoints by Rembrandt are the distant ancestors of the 246 Williams, Change, p. 152, describes how a man in Majorca smiles at him and explains ‘I once took her [his secretary] to the movies’, and therefore his wife wants her out of his employ. David Niven’s character in Separate Tables (1958) has been arrested at the cinema for ‘elbowing’ someone. 247 Cf. the lament about what the War did to men in Io la conoscevo bene (1965) and Kurtz in The Third Man (1949): ‘I have done things that would have seemed unthinkable before the War’.


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public shown in many movies: we regard them as our surrogates, receptive and attentive, sometimes on the brink of understanding or verging on a dramatic moment—that fundamental dramatic moment—of recognition. Our cultural penchant for protest owes some small part to that iconic scene of the Crucifixion, a dramatic experience for a large and unruly crowd (as opposed to mere spectacle in the Colosseum), in which the law—specifically, imperial law—abused justice. Crowd scenes made fear and alienation into fundamental cinematic themes, rebalancing the attention so long accorded singular heroic, indomitable figures. no such thing as a literary film or a figurative film exists. There exists only cinema, which incorporates the experience of all the other arts.248

A movie, with its rectangle of imagery viewed at a distance, normally functions more like a conventional altarpiece than does theater, as a fundamentally more remote experience, its action utterly unresponsive to the audience. The critic John Russell went so far as to speak of ‘the high altar, set above the mob’: in the gigantic cathedral-like movie-houses of the 1920s and 30s, with their apses and their ambulatories and their fronts and their stoups, the high altar was the focus of all things: the place set apart and above, the place where revelation was forthcoming. In this sense, D.W. Griffith and Abel Gance and Fritz Lang did for their generation what Rubens and van Dyck did for their contemporaries in Antwerp and Malines: and something in painting withered, as a result.249

As with altarpieces, these large yet intangible presences on the screen must have been dazzling when first introduced. Film directors delighted in showing that their worlds could outdo the limited three-dimensionality of a proscenium stage—for instance, by moving the camera between interiors and exteriors continuously (Renoir, Antonioni) or by daring zooms (Hitchcock, the cinematic analog to tunneling perspective constructions). Nevertheless, some residual deference to the stage lingered. When theater was adjusted for film, one of the structural issues was the curtain before the intermission. Just as plays tend to build to a minor climax just before intermission, so halfway through a film, directors 248 Antonioni, Architecture, p. 26. 249 Russell, Bacon, p. 109.

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often try to recoup viewer attention with some punctuating event: for example, in Feu Matthias Pascal (1926), our protagonist reads the newspaper announcement of his death at the midpoint; L’Argent (1928) the celebrations for the successful flight to Africa end Part One at the halfway point; Frau im Mond (1929), where the final preparations for blast-off occur about halfway through the film; The 39 Steps (1935), just about halfway through the viewer seems to see the hero shot and killed; in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), the Jean Arthur character, Babe (‘Mary’, as she calls herself to Longfellow), comes to the realization that she is falling for him and that ‘we’re too busy being smart alecks; too busy in a crazy competition for nothing’; in La règle du jeu (1936), Christine spies her husband, whom she trusts, kissing a woman with whom he has long been involved. Each of these pivotal moments sets up the second half of the film. During the 1960s, some epic-length films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) had actual intermissions reminiscent of theater (e.g., Oklahoma!, 1955; South Pacific, 1958; The Sound of Music, 1965) and sometimes also preludes. In 1964, John Gielgud directed Richard Burton in a black-and-white film of their Broadway production of Hamlet,250 acted with audience yet in the guise of a final rehearsal, as though one could capture the bravura of the final sketch before a slightly deadening finish is applied. Gielgud’s hope was that such broadcasts would become a cultural staple, not unlike the simulcasts from the National Theatre in London that began much later, in 2009. Theater could be made into a mass medium was the premise, and the means was the cinema. Partially a carryover from the world of theater, oratorical climaxes conclude many films. These often occur in courtrooms, in which case ostensibly the intended auditors are the jury, a kind of surrogate for the audience: for example, M (1931), A Free Soul (1931), I’m No Angel (1933), The Talk of the Town (1942), or—a slight variation, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), in which the worthy Jefferson Smith, played by Jimmy Stuart, collapses at the end of his oratory, like John Barrymore in A Free Soul. Although the latter dies, Mr. Smith merely faints from exhaustion after a single-handed filibuster of nearly 24 hours, opposing the forces of political corruption. Frank Capra made his film without much governmental co-operation, and its opening night in Washington turned sour as legislators saw their tarnished image on the screen. Mr. Smith is the underdog reformer in a city full of cynical realists, ready to stoop to outright corruption. The film has since often

250 Mentioned by Michèle Willems, ‘Video and its paradoxes’, in Cambridge Companion, p. 35.


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been wistfully invoked by political commentators as a touchstone of pure American democracy.251 In The Browning Version (1951), Crocker-Harris (Michael Redgrave), the long-suffering classicist cuckolded by a science tutor, admits his failings in the most unrhetorical of climactic speeches. Not present in the play, the speech does not electrify; it underwhelms, leaving the viewer to pity the poor man while respecting his honesty. He says very little and fails to impress the audience of schoolboys.252 Instead, the viewer of the film responds compassionately, having comprehended largely through seeing a nonspectacle—namely, that of a good man suffering largely internal torment. As Rattigan dryly put it, ‘La Dame aux Camelias’ prolonged and Romantic death pangs were surely not for Crocker-Harris’.253 Redgrave described his character as ‘the villain-hero of the play’.254 Despite having originated on the stage, the plot structure as arranged for the film is very cinematic, rather than theatrical, being all about ambience and small gestures rather than verbal dueling or grand scenes. Presenting psychological realities in such a way that they can be shared without being conventionalized to the point of banality has been, for many cineasts, the challenge that cinema was uniquely positioned to explore. Twelve Angry Men (1957), takes the familiar scheme of courtroom drama and takes an antitheatrical step with it. It takes place nearly entirely in one closed space, yet the drama, a jury struggling to reach a verdict, is often visual rather than aural, and often muttered rather than rhetorical. The camera is judging the jurors. The space in which the action (such as it is) transpires is claustrophobic, smaller than a professional stage would likely be, and the film also conveys the heat of the unair-conditioned room with a vividness that theater would struggle to match. It was written as a play for television before it became a movie, and in 1964 in London it was first acted on the stage. The boundaries could sometimes prove quite permeable. Cinema can readily range from extravaganzas of epic scope to tales dependent on details too subtle for stage, whether details of facial expression or setting that the camera notices in close-up. There are times when 251 Mundy, ‘Power’, 28 June 2009. 252 The choice of text, Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, on which Crocker-Harris is working, may be a nod to the famous seminar at Oxford by the refugee scholar Eduard Fraenkel, famously held 1936–1942, which proceeded with meticulous care. Wansell, Rattigan, p. 177, suggests J.W. Coke-Norris at Harrow instead. The director, Anthony Asquith (son of the prime minister) had been to Oxford, though long before; Rattigan had been there more recently, 1930–1933. 253 Rattigan, ‘Preface’, p. xvii. 254 Minney, Asquith, p. 138.

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the close-ups of faces in silent f ilm seem like living demonstrations of Charles Le Brun’s seventeenth-century diagrams about how the face may express emotion, and indeed, a mobile face can be extremely evocative. ‘Marvel of marvels’, Renoir called the close-up, meaning especially ones of women.255 The scene in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) in which the Myrna Loy character debates her wallpaper choices while a workman pretends to listen requires the close camera, which easily catches his intimations of beleaguered tolerance. Once cameras became adept at showing what was mercurial, the significance of stolidness changed. Gary Cooper and Cary Grant are both understated actors, much more suited to film than to stage, their skill as much in facial nuances and small-scale body language as in power of voice. By controlling how widely or how narrowly we look at a scene, and what we catch of facial flicker or vocal nuance, the film camera drastically changes the experience of theater, in which those in the back of the theater expect to be able to see and hear whatever is crucial. A member of a theater audience is always deciding where to look and risks attending to a less pivotal part of the action; the film viewer has no choice. For all of the debate that must have gone on behind the scenes about the differences between stories that were suitable for film and those for the stage, or about the differences between a screenplay and a script, or about how styles of acting might not be equally appropriate for both, films rarely overtly declared their independence from theater. Celluloid modernism minded its manners. Siblings of theater, they were happy to consider themselves, rather than Oedipal upstarts intent on overthrow. Whether they were aiming for intimacy or for spectacle, the standard had long been set by theater. Over time, the close connection between Broadway and Hollywood loosened, as the balance of power shifted to the west coast, but particularly in the 1930s, and also later in the case of musicals, the stage often provided material for film. The film of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944, filmed in 1941; the director, Frank Capra enlisted during filming) was delayed so the stage play could finish its run. That a stage play would be based on a film was long unheard of. In 1966, an attempt to put Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) on Broadway flopped in the previews. A Little Night Music (1973, the title a tip of the hat to Mozart since Bergman forbade using his) by Stephen Sondheim successfully adapted Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)—a movie about theater people, written and directed by someone who worked regularly in both arts—to musical theater. Smiles was itself based on a play by Marivaux, according 255 Renoir, Life, p. 45.


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to Bergman.256 In 1977, Sondheim’s Night Music reverted to film, and was partly dubbed. The Broadway Melody (1929), the first full-fledged MGM musical, a tale of trying to make it (without much success, interestingly enough) in New York, initiated a flood of movies that directly tackled the challenge of bringing the excitement of live performance to mechanically reproduced performance, often taking as their storyline the metaphorically epic battles to put on a successful stage productions, typically musicals. Backstage dramas were liberally punctuated by set show pieces—magnificent, yet understood to be merely the framework outside of which the real drama, or alternatively the real comedy, took place. In The Band Wagon (1953), a pretentious producer favors Greek tragedy—he himself stars as Oedipus Rex, no less. He is both kingpin and King, but also blind to the value of popular art. The bandwagon he and other highbrow types eventually condescend to join is that of the Broadway musical, specifically the brainchild of the singer/dancer Fred Astaire character, Tony, who has returned from Hollywood in a state of discouragement and who eventually finds renewal in Broadway success. Lowbrow tap dance eventually triumphs over ballet, as it also had in Shall We Dance? (1937), in which Astaire played a ballet dancer who learns not to be a snob. (The issue, significantly, is never the audience’s failings, but only management’s.)257 In The Band Wagon, it should be noted, the ballerina who eventually agrees to dance with Astaire is played by Cyd Charisse, an actress who had studied ballet as a child as part of her recuperation from polio and had gone on to dance with the Ballet Russe of Monte Carlo. The popularizing dance she eventually pursues is technically demanding. Dance was for prewar courtship on-screen what mythology was for Renaissance themes of love in the pictorial arts, a valued and effective signifier. The dance movies probably could not have had the cultural sway they achieved if sexual relations had not been so pruriently regulated on-screen, beginning about the time of the Gay Divorcee. As a play, Design for Living (1932) was provocative, and could only be well received by a sophisticated 256 Bergman on Bergman, p. 67. Bergman’s movie also owed more than a little to Alf Sjöberg’s Miss Julie (1951), which in turn had translated the more claustrophobic play by Strindberg (1888) onto the screen. 257 The case differs in Der Kongress tanzt (1932, UFA), in which the audience at a formal ballet performance (anachronistically, Borodin’s Polotsvian Dances; the action is set in 1815) yawns, while the happy people at a beer garden sing joyously together. The characterization of the relationship between the people and the czar of Russia, who is so appreciative of their simplicity and considerate of their needs, is slightly ominous in retrospect; the film can read as a polemic in favor of absolutism.

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audience. The film was sufficiently toned down (1933, slightly before the strict enforcement of the Hays Code, directed by the deftly insinuating Ernst Lubitsch) to be fun even for middle America. Viewers had many opportunities to imagine what the films declined to show. In Swing Time (1936), the dance in the deserted nightclub (even the orchestra has left, and yet there is music), after Fred Astaire’s character’s fiancée has shown up from his hometown and Ginger Roger’s character has gotten engaged to the band leader on the rebound, the two share a dance of farewell more eloquent than any of the dialogue. The dance is punctuated at the start by the deliciously simple glide into dance motion from walking: while their backs are facing us, they imperceptibly begin dancing. Then midway through, as Ginger (Penny) starts to walk away disconsolately, Fred (Lucky) abruptly grabs her hand on a musical upbeat and turns her around to silently implore her to continue dancing—which of course she does. The dance does not resolve the story; she leaves by dancing out the door alone while Fred subsides sadly, in a humble pose of adoration such as a Renaissance shepherd might have at the Nativity. Whether Fred Astaire was happily dancing with the Black workers in the boiler room (Shall We Dance?, 1937) or the shoe shine (with Leroy Daniels, The Band Wagon, 1953), or in a tuxedo in an elegant ballroom, his was a classy version of ‘show biz’. Like Alfred Doolittle of Pygmalion (1938) fame, with his natural manners, Fred Astaire’s characters treated everybody the same. He was as impervious to insult as he was innocent of flattery; his wit was wry, never angry. His was a 20th-century version of sprezzatura, that sixteenth-century term connoting good grace and easy style. His perfectionism at dance, call it craft or call it art, sufficed to erase the difference between high and low, as his effortless manners erased social differences. And although his films often included a performance that was fictively presented as if on a stage, the editing usually produced a distinctively cinematic (i.e., discontinuous) result. In The Gay Divorcee (1934), the show piece of dancing the Continental—which lasts almost fifteen minutes—presents a panoply of pattern competitive with Busby Berkeley, 258 but with signif icant differences. (Figure 14) The dance is integrated into the narrative, taking place as it does on the dining terrace of the hotel at which the principals are staying and with shots cut between the hotel rooms above, the balcony of the hotel room, and the spaces below where the dancing and eating takes place. The song tells of ‘dangerous rhythm’ and we understand that the Fred and Ginger characters are naughty 258 By the time of Gold Diggers of 1935, Berkeley seems to be reflecting Astaire and Rogers.


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to be dancing, as she is supposed to be staying in her hotel room with the correspondent in order to obtain her divorce.259 The whole dance is spiced with a sense of gleeful irresponsibility. There are significant duet passages for Fred and Ginger (Guy and Mimi), and even within the ensemble work, the sense of passionate couple dancing is maintained, even to the extent of close-ups of persons we don’t know kissing as they dance. There is lavish and inventive use of patterning, with costume changes permitted by the leniencies of film that would have been impossible in a staged production, but there are also lengthy continuities, more so than in Busby Berkeley.260 Busby Berkeley can verge on a girlie show; the Continental is about dancing, but especially about dancing when you shouldn’t, with those you shouldn’t, yet spectacularly and publicly. One reason Astaire/Rogers movies have generally aged so well is their characteristic soupçon of impish rebellion. Just as ‘The Continental’ cuts between narrative and the formal beauties of dance, so with the film as a whole: ‘real life’ is frequently interrupted with polished song and dance, replete with orchestral accompaniment. The effect of these films as a whole was highly artificial, but an artificiality that vaunted itself as such, like the Mannerist art that followed High Renaissance naturalism in the sixteenth century. Rehearsal scenes might be dominated by narrative elements, followed by the culminating performance into which elements of the narrative would be subtly woven. The actors moved easily between art and nature, onstage and off, as though their ontological mobility were ultimately the gift they presented to the audience, the fluid demonstration of the continuity of art and life—a validation of imagination, as René Clair had longed for. The premise was that in cinema one could have it all: high and low art, naturalism and artifice, the intimate or familiar as well as the grand and glamorous, the ideal and the real. The world of the cinema is a closed world, without relation to existence.261

Film as dream: the topos goes back at least to René Clair’s Paris qui dort (1924), in which a scientist sets the city asleep, everyone, that is, beneath a certain altitude. We watch as the caretaker of the Eiffel Tower descends to find figures standing stock-still, like Pompeii victims, though merely asleep. We 259 The correspondent is a caricature of an Italian, likable enough but def initely an ethnic stereotype. Divorce itself was a bit of an issue at this date, and the movie eventually makes it clear that the wife has been wronged. 260 Cf. Flying Down to Rio, 1933, especially the air ballet, with its variety of camera angles, somewhat mobile camera, and utter implausibility. 261 Antonin Artaud in 1933, ‘The Premature Old Age of the Cinema’, Writings, pp. 312–313.

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Figure 14: Gay Divorcee, RKO, Mark Sandrich, 1934, screenshot.

learn something of his character by how he puts money into the fist of a man about to throw himself into the Seine, or how he starts to take a watch away from a thief about to be caught by a policeman, but thinks better of it. He is joined by a group (four men and a woman) who were aloft in a biplane when the spell was cast (for the effect of the scientist’s lever is like a spell). They get drunk, they get a little greedy and help themselves to the Mona Lisa among other things (Leonardo’s painting had famously been stolen, 1911–1913), they hang out on the Eiffel Tower until the title cards at the half point read, ‘But what good is wealth if one is bored?’ (‘Mais à quoi sert la richesse […] quand on s’ennuie?’). Things become somewhat fractious and even vertiginous for a while (Figure 15), until they find a signal left by the scientist’s niece. They convince the scientist to undo his experiment, and then with a few more complications and wondering whether they weren’t better off with Paris asleep, or whether they themselves have had a dream, and with two of them paired off, it ends. The whole adventure runs slightly over half an hour. What could be more literary than a dream that may not have been a dream, from Dante to Alice in Wonderland (1865)? And yet, in Clair’s version, what could be more suited to moving pictures, as he stops and starts the action each time the scientist moves the great lever of his ray-shooting machine? After all, dreams are also part of reality. Paul Nash (1889–1946) tells us that his


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Figure 15: Hesta (Madeleine Rodrigue), Paris qui dort, Diamant, René Clair, 1924, screenshot.

recurrent childhood nightmare was more like cinema than anything else: ‘as though the building of walls and columns might begin a deliberate animation, like a slow-motion film’.262 Bergman said that two of his films represented his own dreams: the opening—presumably, the clown struggling to carry his naked wife away from mocking soldiers by the seaside as cannon are fired—of Sawdust and Tinsel (1953) and the hearse in Wild Strawberries (1957).263 Just as there are dreams within consciousness, and plays within plays, so there are movies within movies: we see little quasi-silent films within talkies (characters seen through glass walls that prohibit our hearing: Clair, Hitchcock), or daydreams blurrily appearing on the train window in Brief Encounter (1945), or silhouettes through the translucent glass of a shower stall in Tati’s Mon oncle (1958). These differ ontologically; the f irst two are narrative devices first and foremost, though it is probably significant that both directors had worked in the silent era. Tati’s vignette shows us something real (a mother caring for her child) by switching to a reductive black-and-white silhouette in the midst of a silly distracting world. The 1936 Camille has an inserted silent film clip illustrating Manon Lescaut, the 262 Nash, Outline, 1949, p. 26. 263 Interview with American Film Institute students,

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novel by Abbé Prévost that Duval gives to Camille, just as Cléo de 5 à 7 has the silent film clip enacted by Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, which effectively amuses her for the moment. In Napoléon (1927), the invented character Violine is entranced by the silhouette cast onto a swaying white bed curtain by her cut-out puppet of Napoleon, which seems much more real to her than the Épinal print she has above her little shrine to the general. A doomed member of the Provisional Government in Eisenstein’s Oktober (1927) strums his fingers idly over the lyre etched into the window glass of the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg, which we watch as the camera shifts from the bright and luxurious interior to the cold, damp, and dark outside. The particular deftness with which film can play with the distinction between objective sight and the mind’s vision was a quality much valued in a century newly intrigued with our capacity for misapprehension and self-deception. The camera complicates the ontology of the image. Film is able to portray consciousness with all its tricks of discontinuity and displacement, rather than straightforwardly presenting either objective reality (as theater tends to) or representing some third-person narrator’s more divine perspective (as is often the case in novels). The consciousness featured might be a character’s, or it might be as though the camera itself had acquired consciousness, or it might be a complex amalgam of consciousnesses, all with the apparent anchor in objectivity that photography seems to provide. Moreover, film can shift rapidly from one modality to another. In Sabotage (1936), after the death of little Stevie, Mrs. Verloc sometimes sees his face amid the faces of other little boys, a kind of hallucination, and alternatively thinks she sees him from a distance, but realizes on close inspection that she is mistaken. The viewer has seen enough of her brother to sympathize with her fondness. He is a good-natured, curious, distractible, fun-loving, and irrepressible twelve-year-old. Earlier in the film, Mr. Verloc, after being reluctantly talked into planting a bomb at the Piccadilly Circus Underground station, sees the glass of an aquarium tank in the London Zoo as if it were a screen upon which the streetscape of Piccadilly appeared and then became distorted and sank at the center into nothingness. As the boy Stevie meets various impediments on his trip across London (it is the Lord Mayor of London’s Show Day), we see briefly on the screen the note warning Verloc of the hour at which the bomb will detonate, a shot of ticking clock gears superimposed on the dire package, and shots of various public clocks as he is stuck in traffic. The boy has only the vague idea that he was supposed to make the delivery by 1:30. We watch him play with a little dog on the bus while the music beats the ticking rhythm with urgency (no one got credit for the music). We actually see the clock tick one minute past 1:45 before the explosion occurs, so we have had a chance to hope that


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perhaps the inevitable has been averted. Then comes a glimpse of explosion, and a brief shot of a demolished London bus (a studio model), before we cut to the Verlocs and Ted (the Scotland Yard agent) having a conversational chortle together, with Mr. Verloc then saying, ‘Well, everything seems to be all right’.264 Hitchcock here captures brilliantly the synchronous and yet disjunctive nature of human experience. Henri Bergson, writing in 1907, already thought of consciousness as behaving like a cinematograph: Whether we think becoming, or express it, or even perceive it, we hardly do anything else than set going a kind of cinematograph inside us. We may therefore sum up what we have been saying in the conclusion that the mechanism of our ordinary knowledge is of a cinematographical kind.265

Individual consciousness is ever slipping away, imperfect and incomplete. Busby Berkeley, Fred and Ginger, and Frank Lloyd Wright were the three early American popular geniuses.266

Busby Berkeley did not hesitate to fill the screen with a show, not worrying about any consistent or even detectable relationship to reality, but fully intent upon a kind of perfection. What we watch is a phantasmagoria of shapes and motions, the product of jump cuts, strange angles, and disorienting zooms. These humans, made into ever-shifting patterns, do not record a stage performance and they do not attempt to represent the mind’s eye; they are ensemble productions conceived for cinema and produced to fill the screen abstractly, with minimal reference to anything narrative and with complete indifference to naturalism. They do not illustrate the accompanying song; they are kinetic abstract art, brethren to Calders. Busby Berkeley musicals epitomize the advantages of a mechanized art. The human body is treated as an automaton, as a piece of a kinetic pattern with minimal individuality. 264 It has been much too long for them still to be conversing, but it does make for a disturbing jump cut (cf. the sound advance in Blackmail, 1929, when the scream that seems at first to be Alice’s becomes the landlady’s in the next scene; here, the viewer is meant instead to be struck by the bitter irony of the subsequent scene’s utterance). Hitchcock repeatedly disavowed the shock the explosion delivers to the viewer, saying he had made a mistake, that the toll was too brutal. We may wonder whether Fred Zinnemann remembered Hitchcock’s clocks when he made High Noon; the repetition of the remorseless ticking clock hands similarly builds a high degree of tension. 265 Bergson, Creative, p. 332. 266 Jerry Saltz, in Earnest, What, p. 401.

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In Busby Berkeley’s Dames of 1934 the plot is conceived for laughs rather than for plausibility. The overall theme is the vindication of art and pleasure over the straitlaced and repressive morality of the moneyed. Unabashedly, the raison d’être of the film is the musical numbers. In some cases, they are delivered in picturesque settings amid the action of the romantic plot: Dick Powell sings to Ruby Keeler on the Staten Island Ferry. Joan Blondel sings as an old-fashioned laundress, but in this case as part of the musical production, ‘Sweet and Hot’, being presented at yet another Bijou Theater. Once the curtain opens (and we are shown the back as well as the front of the curtain), we find ourselves in a strange and inventive world of celluloid, rather than in the theater. Horses, cars, and subway tracks on stage are just the edges of the implausibility, which includes dancing long johns (including a vignette of arching long johns sleeves dancing as swans to Saint-Saëns), the front of a theater putting on the Merchant of Venice (a sly joke about the plot device of borrowing money and the disobedient daughter in the overarching fiction), and a total disregard for the fourth wall of the stage. Dick Powell sings ‘I Only Have Eye for You’ again, and this time, when he reaches that line, everyone does disappear, first from midtown Manhattan streets and then again from the subway car, so that the camera shows us the singer’s mindset. The platinum-haired girls in the advertisements in the subway car all turn into brunette Ruby Keeler (who with her girl next door quality demonstrates that glamour is for every female). Her disembodied head then floats around as a multiple against a black background—Andy Warhol must have loved this sequence.267 We keep returning to the image of Ruby Keeler’s face (or the image of the image of Ruby Keeler’s face), all the while she is made to look interchangeable with any of a regiment of look-alike women. In a dizzying sequence of transformations, her bobbing head makes dance formations with other versions of itself, then the heads flip down and reveal an array of girls in white, swishing their skirts at length while standing on a black reflective floor, some of them on a Ferris wheel arrangement as Ruby’s head had been earlier. Ruby walks over the camera lens and then we find ourselves watching all of the girls seated on the ground like lily pads, waving their arms in unison. Eventually, they stand and lift their skirts to form a mosaic of a photograph of Ruby, we zoom into the eyeball and then she rises up out of the pupil (Figure 16) and 267 Though the image of Ruby has no neck. One of the ads on display is for platinum hair dye. Cf. also the ‘Happy Feet’ number in King of Jazz, 1930, which has disembodied heads in color. Berkeley’s shot through glass from under the feet has precedent in Clair, Entr’acte (1924), as the shots of slippers in Gold Diggers of 1935 recalls Clair’s Sous les toits (1930).


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becomes an image in a frame, which in a short while she walks up to, and spins the handle to turn the frame and reveal, as though in a mirror, the sleeping Ruby and Dick on the subway train where he had been looking at the advertisements. It may only have been a dream, but it produced some of the weirdest footage ever made, and we aren’t out yet, because waking from the dream is still part of the musical number being presented in the theater.268 He carries her in the rain from the parked train across subway rails, and then the camera rotates to show us the applauding audience as the curtain closes. Busby Berkeley’s paragone with theater could not be more pointed. ‘Take that!’ he seems to say to those who love live performance. And for those who are mere audience trying to keep up with the seismic shifts in visual dimension they have been witnessing, there is a certain catharsis in letting go of trying to find a rational explanation for what is happening on-screen. Instead of the sweetness of the other couples listening in sympathetically to the crooning on the Staten Island Ferry, we have a performance for which there could be no witness but the camera, which gets walked over. The incoherent is packaged as the psychological, and the commercial is co-opted as homage to an individual, who is however presented as a type. As finale, the title song provides an excuse for close-ups of beautiful women contrasting with distant shots of them arranged as black-and-white elements in patterns. As a period note, cellophane decorates the bedsteads from which the bevies of beauties arise in their nightgowns. The music is distinctly secondary to the visual kaleidoscope on the screen, to a grand homage to the type of the beautiful woman (it is clear that it was easier to find beautiful women than women who could actually dance). John Betjeman opined that for ‘the average Englishman, coming out from a lavish American musical into the quiet of an English country town, what he has seen seems to be sheer madness’.269 Even in New York, there was astonishment: ‘the black-and-white effects in the “Dames” number certainly are as striking as any ever filmed. It is almost unforgivable to say the audience gasped. However, “the audience gasped”’.270 They might still gasp, and only partly at the gender politics. 268 In Gold Diggers of 1935, the crooning Dick Powell and his lady love, costumed for the early nineteenth century and supposedly in a stage performance, are rendered by the camera’s outward zoom into china ornaments on a piano. 269 Betjeman, ‘Settings, costumes, backgrounds’, in Davy, Footnotes, p. 91. 270 FSN (Frank Nugent), ‘Words and Music’, The New York Times, 16 Aug. 1934. In 1933, Warner had advertised 42nd Street by sending a luxurious train carrying celebrities and chorus girls on a cross-country tour, ending at the Roosevelt inauguration; see Talbot, Entertainer, pp. 187–201.

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Figure 16: Barbara (Ruby Keeler) rising up out of eyeball pupil, Dames, Warner, Ray Enright, 1934, screenshot.

In Oklahoma! (1955, based on a 1943 musical of the same name, based on the 1931 stage play Green Grow the Lilacs), Agnes de Mille (niece of Cecil) choreographed a rousing barn dance and an extensive ballet, the latter a dream sequence that turns nightmare and the former a reconciliation party Bette Davis said of the trip, ‘There wasn’t the slightest doubt that Hollywood’s stars were America’s royalty and their subjects the most devoted in the world’, p. 190. In Dames (Warmer Brothers), the unsympathetic millionaire, Ezra Ounce, collects china elephants. My Man Godfrey (1936, Universal) takes the Forgotten Man of the Gold Diggers (1933), based in turn on FDR’s radio address of 7 April 1932, which referred to ‘the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid’, and makes him the protagonist. Roosevelt’s forgotten man referred to a veterans’ protest under Hoover that was forcibly ended; see ‘Nation-Wide Press Comment on Expulsion of the Veterans from the Capital’, The New York Times, 30 July 1932. In Gold Diggers (Warner), ‘Remember my forgotten man’, was the climatic number, sung in part by Etta Motten (uncredited) and the part of the homeless veteran with a medal played by Billy West (also uncredited), known as a Chaplin-type tramp in silent movies. The opening number, ‘We’re in the Money’, had featured scantily clad girls draped in oversize dimes, including prominently over the genital area, an upbeat take on the Depression that was almost over (Warner Brothers was overtly supportive of FDR; MGM’s Mayer was a Republican). The song, ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’, was written in 1930. The phrase ‘forgotten man’ is included in a quotation by A.V. Alexander, Labour MP, at the end of Love on the Dole (1941), set in the beginning of the 1930s in Hanky Park, an industrial and depressed area near Manchester.


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that takes an old lady with a gun (Charlotte Greenwood) to keep it on track.271 Oklahoma!, in which murder and marriage mingle, in which unabashed sexuality (‘I’m just a girl who can’t say no’) and virginal innocence are friends, offers a direct precedent for West Side Story (1961). West Side Story was likewise a Broadway musical (opened 1957) that went to Hollywood, and also represented a turf battle between factions (rancher and farmer; Hispanics and Poles). In West Side Story, the dance is simply modern (choreographed by Jerome Robbins) rather than oscillating between folk dance and ballet without toe shoes, as in Oklahoma! In the Broadway version of West Side Story, a central ballet depicted a dreamlike reconciliation, placed just after Tony has killed Bernardo (the analog to Romeo killing Tybalt) and realworld reconciliation has become impossible. The barefoot ballet shifted the modality from daringly contemporary to idealistic (heavenly, actually, since two of the dancers have just been murdered), but with none of the dry ice or expressionistic sets associated with so many cinematic dream ballets. The Hollywood version eliminated the ballet in favor of a reverie of mutual gaze, but at the cost of losing any hint of tragic catharsis. Even in the movie, however, the appropriation of a traditional tragic plot, Romeo and Juliet, produces something at once contemporary and classical, at which accomplishment the makers of The Band Wagon (1953), a show that championed showbiz frivolity over the classics (specifically Faust), must have marveled.272 A mere decade had sufficed to deactivate the rivalry between high and low art—a thematic development that Andy Warhol may well have observed with interest. In Demy’s Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967, working with Michel Legrand as composer), the color composition and camerawork tell us immediately that we are in a world of artificiality—though a real physical ambient rather than the closed space of theater273 . A film about dance as much about singing, it benefits from a freedom of movement throughout the town: in and out of the glass-walled café, across the central piazza, and up and down the streets. It has ancestors in French film (Clair, Tati), as well 271 In Agnes’s eyes, the displacement of chorus girls by trained dancers was not so much a reconciliation of high and low as a definite cleaning up of a sordid situation: ‘The chorus girl and the chorus boy of the past, corrupt, sly, ruthless and professionally inept, gradually disappeared. And in their place came singers and dancers, trained and self-respecting. Rehearsal halls began to lose their overtones of boudoir bargaining’, De Mille, Promenade, p. 36. She choreographed the Broadway musical as well as the film. 272 Arthur Freed, who wrote the lyrics for ‘The Broadway Melody’ and appeared as an extra in the 1929 movie, was producer on The Band Wagon. 273 Cf. the color in Varda’s Le bonheur (1965).

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as precedents in musical theater, and it follows directly on Demy’s own Les parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), which explored instead the subgenre of the dour musical, akin to Clair’s own Sous les toits de Paris (1930). Demoiselles makes the town itself, painted in accent pastels for the film (said to have been chosen with Raoul Dufy in mind), into a stage for a comedy, and then cleverly lets us imagine the final link in the chain of recognitions at the close, as the Catherine Deneuve character (Delphine) bravely boards the coach, on which the audience anticipates she will find her true love, and together they will enjoy Paris. Narrowly yet def initively avoiding sentimentality and dull predictability, the plot contains a touch of darkness in the seemingly genial old man who turns out to be a murderer, and more prosaic nastiness in the art gallery owner; in general, however, the sun shines down on these lighthearted people who sing and dance, who love music and painting, and who live in a world color-matched with their clothes. Demy, who was not a specialist in comedy, understood that the point of view afforded by comedy was an abstract one: that the viewer was not merely eager to have the resolution of a true love found after difficulties, but wanted to see the parts complexly interacting—as in a Buster Keaton film. He had, we might say, a modernist’s take on comedy. Comedy became as important as it did in 20th-century film both because the time had come for art to honor the demos, and because comedy, unlike tragedy, not only allowed for but expected the dispassionate—though not godlike—viewer, the viewer that contemporary painting and sculpture also cultivated. The viewer of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is, basically, entertained, as is the viewer of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. It was a time when art was still relieved not to have to be political. Maxence (the man on the coach) has f inished his military service; the Algerian War had ended in 1962. Perhaps the greatest single disparity between theater and film is the incoherence of the film performance, a quality we might say Busby Berkeley incorporated into the final cut, using carefully orchestrated incoherence to help elicit gasps. More usual is the expectation that continuity specialists make sure that we believe the action portrayed in a single scene happened without pause. Film buffs look for discontinuities the way art lovers pick on anatomical deficiencies in otherwise great paintings, with montage (that Soviet specialty) being the great and deliberate exception. In a stage performance, the actors’ ability to cope in real time with unforeseen difficulties, or to address the audience directly, is prized, but in film a glitch that unintentionally breaks the fourth wall (for example, if one sees the shadow of a boom for the microphone, or a cameraman in a mirror) disturbs


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an illusion that had been supposed more inviolate. It makes us aware that what had seemed present is actually past. In White Christmas (1954), Bing Crosby’s final expression after his dance in drag might have ended up on the cutting-room floor: it seems to express the actor’s bemusement with what he has just completed rather than his character’s relief after an impromptu performance successfully pulled off. In His Girl Friday (1940), Cary Grant’s character, Walter, comments of Hildy’s fiancé, ‘He looks like that fellow in the movies, Ralph Bellamy’, who he (Bruce) actually is.274 The audience gets to laugh a different sort of laugh, a complicit one, at this line inserted into what was by now a familiar property, having started on Broadway as a play titled The Front Page in 1928 and having first been made into a movie in 1931. These little touches of informality, or what we might call performance transparency, are rare in film, at least in film from what has been called the classical era; the illusion of celluloid reality was generally expected to be total. The audience should be allowed to believe what they see, at least while they are watching. Film is that world in which there are no hitches, in which everything is planned and plotted perfectly, not unlike a Renaissance painting within a systematic linear perspective construction and with idealized figures. Everything should appear perfect, for the sake of impressing the viewer and thereby conveying stories effectively, free of the distractions of reality. Professionalism guarantees flawlessness: both Renaissance artists and Hollywood pursued the goal of professionalism and had critics to hold them to account. The possibility of many takes while filming seems to promise the possibility of constructing an optimal performance on film, seen from the optimal angle and distance—like Zeuxis and the maidens of Crotona, the story often told by painters of how perfect beauty is achieved by taking the best bits from various examples in nature. Any director naturally tries to assemble the best takes into a whole, making a collage of perfect performances better than anything that could have been achieved in real time. Yet, in some instances, spontaneous occurrences or first takes outweighed the benefits of rehearsal and planning. Varda kept the final shot of Cléo de 5 à 7 despite the visibility of the dolly track in the background, because the performances 274 Archie Leach (Cary Grant) is also glancingly alluded to. In Broadway Melody of 1933, the producer announces he is going to f ire Warren and Dubin (the actual songwriters) in order to hire Dick Powell’s character to compose songs. In The Road to Zanzibar (1941), Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour mock movies with unrealistic musical effects, even as what they mock occurs in their own film. In The Sky’s the Limit (1943), Fred Astaire refers to ‘that guy with Ginger Rogers’. In Star of Midnight (1935) reference is made to Philo Vance, whom William Powell had previously played.

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were better than in any of the retakes, and she kept the slight trip the Cléo character makes as she leaves the bus, in this case presumably because she simply had no objection to keeping it. Why shouldn’t Cléo, in her heels, trip slightly on uneven pavement? When Varda shows us the peevish Cléo and her assistant in a café, seated next to a window and in front of a mirror, with an arguing couple visible off to the side behind them, the incessantly talking companion, Angèle, and the waiter standing in front of them, she is creating a scene that only a camera could capture. The reflective, complicated room performs as much as Corinne Marchand does as Cléo. And because what is being said is relatively unimportant, the viewer is free to take in the whole ambience—it is important that it is not merely a set. The point is not to tell us where to look and what to hear, but to represent to us the opportunity to be in the café, and thereby to enter into that age-old contract between artist and audience, that the fiction is reality. In Cléo, and in general in much cinema, the scope of what we want to take in diminishes the respect paid to the central human figure, and thereby obliquely registers the general cultural shift away from the premier importance of humankind.275 This film might seem to be about its eponymous character, and of course it is, but the reason it is neither tragedy nor comedy despite its theatrical structure, has more to do with the breadth of what we attend to than with the indefiniteness of her fate. When the actor’s performance was the centerpiece, film had the advantage that one could always try another take—depending upon budgets and the director’s patience. John Ford, director of westerns and something of a cowboy himself, famously tried to accomplish every shot on the first take; Fred Astaire was a perfectionist who would dance over and over until it was right. Buster Keaton in The General (1926) had but one chance to film the destruction of the bridge over which the train travels. A similar effect in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was shot with many cameras. Again, it is the ambient that is performing rather than the actor. Performance is at least implicitly a conversation, even if a gendered conversation in which the audience is feminized into mere applause or gasps or response, at the utmost a standing ovation and at the least (one 275 The opposite effect is achieved during the scene of rehearsal, in which Cléo tries a new song with her lyricist and composer (Michel Legrand). The music transports her to a mood of high drama, even melodrama, and she is seen against a black background; the interior of her stylish apartment temporarily vanishes; she moves to an abstract space created by the music. But this interlude is cut short; Cléo abruptly refuses to go on singing and the normal space and time reinstate themselves.


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hopes) rapt attentiveness. Like church, theater has ushers and a program; the attendees get dressed up. The performance is alive, and it might go wrong, or it might go just especially right. Film has no such promise for its viewers, who become critics rather than conversationalists. There is something to being in the same space with the actors, something similar to what the Eucharist promises Catholics: real presence rather than mere symbolic token. There is actually an event, rather than a virtual event. The three classical unities in theater (action, time, place) enforce a coherence that film rarely feels obliged to observe. Over and over in films, we watch some actor supposedly aging through an adult lifetime. In theater, the spectator lives together with the actors; with film, the viewer travels through time. Nevertheless, film often presumes the easy confluence of itself with the world of the stage, as though it were the shadow of the stage—or as though it were the stage’s greatest representation, fresher than our fragmentary memories of past performances. Innumerable are the victories of talent, and art is a legerdemain.276

Laurence Whistler might have had Buster Keaton’s Electric House (1922) or Charlie Chaplin’s The Rink (1916), in mind when he reported of his brother, the painter Rex Whistler: ‘In those years he and Stephen [Tennant] heroworshiped America, as they knew it through jazz records and the silent cinema—the speed and brashness and go-getting modernity, the uninhibited fun and the ingenuousness’.277 The comedy of those movies depended upon amazing coincidences, and a rule of luck, both bad and good, that defied any faint semblance of probability. Jacques Rancière called Chaplin and Keaton ‘burlesque automatons’.278 To take a small sample of this phenomenon, the lass and lad in The Navigator (1924) contrive for themselves a makeshift mechanized kitchen that makes breakfast—fascinating and delightful but utterly fantastical. In the chase scene of Sherlock, Jr. (1924), one marvelous coincidence follows another in clockwork-like precision that constantly surprises and delights the viewer. The total immunity to death or personal damage of those silent film stars in the aftermath of World War I, beginning as early as Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms (1918) and continuing through Keaton’s Civil War flick The General 276 James, ‘Ibsen’, p. 247. 277 Whistler, Laughter, p. 132. 278 Rancière, Fables, p. 11.

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(1926), provided a much-needed tonic, a death-defying laughter that we can find also in cartoons. When Charlie Chaplin roller-skated in The Rink (1916), the feat was a deliciously paradoxical one of grace mixed with pratfalls, combined with an undercurrent of mockery of social pretension; when he skated in Modern Times (1936), he did so blindfolded, right up to the brink of death, more amazing than funny. Movies were still new enough, and audiences naïve enough, to be free of the demands of plausibility or responsible anthropology, able instead to delight in variations on magic. To put it another way, movies were still able to show the impossible and audiences would merrily pretend to believe, as when the girl in The Navigator uses Buster in his bloated deep-sea diving suit as a sort of boat that she can paddle back to the steamship. Modern Times (1936) was in danger of falling behind the times in barely acquiescing to the era of talkies, but also in its understanding of photographic storytelling as a realm fit for fantasy. The stories Chaplin wanted to tell were essentially fables. (It is worth recalling that Samuel Beckett, lover of silent film, went to see Modern Times together with the partially sighted James Joyce.)279 Chaplin’s stories were blatantly untrue, but truthful about that. Sometimes they were barely stories at all, and more like dances—all physical comedy and dexterity. Those segments offered visual delight devoid of any but the vaguest agenda—a purely formal pleasure though still centered on the human figure. The introduction of the human voice often brought with it a palpable intimacy that the silents had done well without. Cinematic responses to World War II instead required authenticity. Laurence Olivier, star of both stage and screen, man of mellifluous voice, did not want to tell fables or be admired for fleetness of foot. In his wartime version of Henry V (1944), given funding to be grand and in color for the sake of telling a story of invasion of France in advance of D-Day, he visually proclaimed celluloid to be the new reality and theater some quaint makebelieve.280 The film opens with a stilted production at a dollhouse-like Globe Theatre (the reconstruction in London dates to 1997), which then dissolves into the ‘reality’ of the film (the scenes for which Shakespeare in his prologue had craved the audience’s generous imagination: ‘Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them’), and then shrinks back again at the 279 Paraskeva, Beckett, p. 39. James Joyce and other notables (Satie, Picasso, Man Ray) sit in the audience in a scene of L’inhumaine (1924). 280 Philip Larkin’s last stanza of ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ (‘there swelled/A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower/Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain’) was suggested by the rain of arrows in Olivier’s film; Larkin, Life, p. 288.


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end to that toy theater. The reality of the film world was also set against still images from what was then the most famous of Western medieval manuscripts, the Très Riches Heures made for the Duc de Berry in the early fifteenth century.281 In the film, several tableaux based on illuminations miraculously come to life, implying that the film’s action is at once based in history and at the same time more credible than the actual historical artifacts. Olivier’s Henry V, exactly because it does not consistently pretend that what we see is real, encourages us to believe very deeply when the images move from obvious artificiality to plausible reality. The theater, it seems to tell us, manifests artifice; historical evidence perhaps equally so, but film engrosses us. The sequence in which the King walks through the camp the night before the climactic battle of Agincourt presents a more meditative and a more psychologically tormented King than the stage had ever allowed. As Caravaggio had realized long before, a certain brand of ‘reality’ is poorly lit. That enveloping darkness as Henry walks among his soldier’s encampments presumes the close-ups theater lacks. Whereas theater must be arranged for an eye that, depending on the hall, may be placed in a variety of positions and at sometimes considerable distances, the camera establishes an eye shared between director and audience. At the opening of Max Ophuls’s Le Plaisir (1952), the narrator (a fictive Guy de Maupassant) addresses the spectator/reader: I’ve always loved the night and the darkness. I’m delighted to speak to you in the dark, as if seated right beside you […] and perhaps I am. You can imagine my anxiety, for these are old tales and you’re so terribly modern, as the living like to call themselves.282

This is the intimacy promised by cinema, as voiced by an author, albeit one who has been scripted by filmmakers. Agincourt, when captured on film rather than in a theater, depended less on a resounding St. Crispin’s Day oration than on the multitudinous extras, the broad panoramic sweeps and real mud, not to mention full orchestration.283 No stage set could compete with the immediacy, the scope, and the complexity of film sets and locations—even if the resulting film amazed (like Baroque art) rather than convinced (as Renaissance art aimed 281 Dreyer disliked this device; Double, pp. 118–119. 282 Subtitles on Criterion Collection edition. 283 And distinctly more so in Branagh’s 1989 Henry V, including in this case, slow-motion.

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to do). Once the camera was sufficiently mobile, the sense of director-asnarrator was enhanced: the director didn’t simply make the action happen, but, godlike, made it happen in what seemed like the wide, real world. Whereas in Olivier’s Henry V the camera’s zooming into the Globe Theatre at the beginning and out at the end was conceived of as make-believe (the views of Elizabethan London being unmistakably merely models),284 even Futurists would have admired the stunning aerial opening of West Side Story (1961), or that filmed for Paris When It Sizzles (1964) by Claude Renoir (nephew of Jean Renoir), swooping in on a Mediterranean resort, or The Sound of Music (1965), coming into the mountains from the clouds, in a way that might be thought disconcertingly reminiscent of the opening of Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (1935). Now the camera could not only move; it could fly. The opening of Le million (1931), coming in over the rooftops, had been unabashedly pretend. Implicitly, the opening credits of a movie compete with the raising of the curtain in theater: both establish the kind of attention expected from the audience. Those spectacularly zooming openings belong to this competition, trying to produce for the movie viewer the sort of pleased (and now oldfashioned) amazement of audiences who applaud simply when the curtain rises and reveals a lavish set. At the opening of My Man Godfrey (1936), a long camera movement along drawings of New York’s night skyline, complete with flashing lights, scans across the city from ultramodern buildings to derelict ones. It then imperceptibly transforms into the real city—a sequence that may have helped inspire West Side Story’s shift during the overture from graphics, in this case highly colorful graphics reminiscent of a player piano score, to photographs, followed by the aerial approach over the urban fabric to an ordinary asphalt playground.285 Eventually, just as theater in the round sometimes has no formal beginning point, no momentous entrance by a main character, movies were made in which the start of action precedes the credits; for example, Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962). In Sabotage (1936), the film starts with a dictionary page on which we read the definition of the title word, after which come brief credits, and then the image of the hanging light bulb with shade, which sputters and goes out, as the viewer has been cued to understand, due to sabotage.286 Concurrently, a painting such as Guernica (1937) was dauntingly large to frame, and thereafter, with 284 A suggestion, it is reported, of Asquith’s; Minney, Asquith, p. 105. 285 Hall, ‘Opening’, pp. 128–139, emphasizes the work of Saul Bass. 286 Blackmail (1929) opens with the screen full of a spinning hubcap, that of a police car, an image that recurs once more.


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increasing frequency, modern art had either very plain frames or none at all. The ornamental frame was retired as a vestige of classicism. Theater traditionally needed closure, needed the curtain call and the audience’s swell of enthusiasm and satisfaction, needed applause; movies could end differently. Striking out on the open road concludes more than one cinematic paean to the simple life (what Grierson called ‘the ancient decencies of hoboism’),287 particularly memorably in René Clair’s À nous la liberté (1931) but also, for example, Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard in Modern Times (1936). Intending to live somewhat more grandly, our thieving pair in Trouble in Paradise (1932, pre-Code) set off in a taxi for a life of criminal freedom. Sans lightheartedness, yet resolutely, the pensioner of Umberto D. (1952) and his dog wander off. The denouement of The Graduate (1967) shows the couple settling into the back of a random bus, irresolute and unblessed by bonhomie. In a fancy theater, ‘The End’ might be projected onto a closing curtain.288 In Murder! (1930), a Hitchcock film in which we have been constantly reminded of how art and life inform one another, we watch our two protagonists in a parlor interacting fondly, only to have the camera zoom out and reveal that they are both actors on a stage, at which point the curtain falls as we watch and hear the audience applaud, while the music is undiegetic and conclusive, completed with the title ‘The End’. Greed (1924), originally a nine-and-a-half-hour-long movie, ended its epic length with the Latin, ‘FINIS’. The vernacular was more usual. The futuristic Things to Come (1936) had no ‘END’ card, appropriately enough, but instead a view of the stars and a chorus singing ‘Which Shall it Be?’ (‘all the universe or nothingness?’). In Fellini’s Le notti di Cabiria (1957), the visual aspect belies the ‘FINE’ title, as does the music by Nino Rota, and not only in the song’s title (‘Ma la vita continua’). Cabiria enacts the strange and befuddling continuity of life as she gets caught up in the happy progression of the young; it is the camera that stops, as also at the end of Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) or Les quatre cents coups (1959). Bergman in his spoof All These Women (1964) ends with the title card, ‘Slut?’ (‘The End?’). Kubrick used ‘The End’ in Dr. Strangelove (1964), appropriately enough; in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which merely named 287 Grierson, On Documentary, p. 71. In La maman et la putain (1973), Alexandre delivers a speech (2:37) beginning with the Parthenon and pyramids and ending with the image of Charlot walking off with his hobo’s stick and bandana. 288 Hall, Seats, p. 196. For Red Badge of Courage (1952), the picture credits of actors appeared at the end (the movie began with opening a book, and showed closing the book at a page labeled ‘The End’, and then the picture credits, oddly), a move stimulated by a letter from a theater manager; Ross, Picture, pp. 169, 184.

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the studio, the director, and the title at the opening, with the credits rolling after the film,289 ‘The End’ appeared after the final credit. The end of the picture had been signaled by Richard Strauss’s ‘Zarathrustra’ (also played at the opening). Johann Strauss’s ‘Blue Danube’ is heard again during, and even after, the credits. West Side Story (1961) had only the title at the beginning, and only after four minutes of overture does ‘The End’ appear in blue letters after the picture and, then, after the credits, many of them written as graffiti (the work of Saul Bass), the camera rests on ‘END’, the top of a sign saying, in black letters on white, ‘END OF STREET’. The lavish gold frame for an oil painting, the red theater curtain, the bombastic tone of Golden Age Hollywood trailers, all came to seem passé. In films that involved genuine questions about criminality and true justice, endings might be left deliberately and disconcertingly indefinite—a kind of provocative anticlosure.290 The familiar and comforting sense of resolution, usually an affirmation of the ultimate power of good over evil, became a marker of lack of art rather than of its achievement—although art was not always the aim. By the late 1950s, nonmusical theater was exploring the avant-garde and experimental, geared to small, self-selecting audiences. Beckett and Antonioni were singled out in 1962 as ‘the two who disillusion us’ by a theater critic, who found in film ‘the community of vision that theatre once was’.291 Hollywood, on the other hand, had grown too costly ever to be made for an intentionally small audience such as avant-garde theater might cultivate. It was—to its core—a mass, reproductive art.292 Those who worked in cinema sometimes envied the daring of theater; those who worked in theater might wish for cinema’s freedom from the onus of making ‘art’.293 Every now and then—and likely only in the long term—art made money. That artistic excellence could be popularly successful: this was Hollywood’s most cherished fairy tale. 289 The increasing length of credits favored their displacement to the end. In The Last Picture Show (1971), we see ‘The End’ on a John Wayne film the boys are watching, Red River (1948), but the film itself ends only with credits. 290 James Agee wrote of Monsieur Verdoux (1947), ‘The Tramp, a quasi-divinity, has been replaced by a deeply secular bourgeois, the essential “upright man” who refuses to face all he has done’, quoted by Bordwell, Rhapsodes, p. 76. 291 Gilman, ‘Nothing’, pp. 11–12. 292 Nevinson reported in his memoir (Nevinson, Prejudice, 1938, p. 176) that some of his paintings were sold to the Worcester Art Gallery [he seems to mean Museum] in 1919 at prices reflecting a confusion between ‘pictures’ and films: they were supposed ‘propaganda films which could be duplicated, and not genuine, hand-painted oils which would take time to make replicas of’. 293 Mitchell, ‘Aficionado’, 29 August 2003, quotes Stephen Sondheim on Curtiz and Walsh, who made lots of movies: ‘There wasn’t any cultural pressure to make art’.


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In the year 2028, the whole population of America having reduced its day of dreaded labour to the decent minimum of an hour or two, will stream into a picture theatre and remain there, under drowsy American syrups, until bed-time.294

The canonical modernists discarded many of the precedents of Renaissance art. At a time when the visual arts of painting and sculpture had largely abandoned that task in favor of nonrepresentational (or nonobjective, ungegenständlich) aims, film continued to present the viewer with beautiful scenery and ideal figures. Whereas modern artists made art in new styles while seeking similar kinds of social approbation, cinema crept up on the art world and reconceived the relationship between maker and buyer. Filmmakers didn’t necessarily mean to belong to the history of art; they made a new art, for the populace rather than for kings, whether hereditary or captain-kings of industry. By its characteristic emphasis on combined effort, cinema tended away from Romanticism’s emphasis on genius. By depending on evolving, imperfect technologies, rather than on the modernists’ platonic notion of the machine, it deviated from orthodox modernism. The hand-cranked cameras gave way to motorized ones; silent to sound, black and white to color;295 immobile cameras and limiting film stocks to more versatile ones. The machines of filmmaking had to be tinkered with and improved. Gradually, the art made by the help of machines gathered force. L’Herbier expected le cinématographe to inaugurate a ‘nouvel âge de l’humanité’.296 The inherent novelty of the film medium allowed it a different relationship to tradition, less adamantly independent than that plotted by modernist painters, sculptors, and architects. Films did not fetishize originality. 294 Betts, Heraclitus, p. 41. Cf. Eliot, ‘Marie Lloyd’ [1923], in Oxford, p. 430: ‘When every theatre has been replaced by 100 cinemas, when every musical instrument has been replaced by 100 gramophones, when every horse has been replaced by 100 cheap motor-cars, when electrical ingenuity has made it possible for every child to hear its bedtime stories from a loudspeaker, when applied science has done everything possible with the materials on this earth to make life as interesting as possible, it will not be surprising if the population of the entire civilized world rapidly follows the fate of the Melanesians [dying from pure boredom after the introduction of civilization]. 295 Some of the early techniques for color interfered with sound recording; see Kindem, ‘Hollywood’s Conversion to Color: The Technological, Economic, and Aesthetic Factors’, Business, pp. 146–158. In 1949, Rohmer claimed that ‘audiences still cannot bear [color f ilm]’; Beauty, p. 39, cf. pp. 69–70, for a similar claim in 1956, p. 110. Between 1965 and 1970, the percentage of U.S.-produced films using color increased from 54% to 94%, p. 146. The first three-color cartoons were made by with Technicolor by Disney in 1932, although two-color ventures date back to 1928, Kindem, idem, p. 150. 296 L’Herbier, Tête, p. 14: ‘that amazing machine for printing Life’, ‘a new age for humanity’.

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Nevertheless, cinema often celebrated the new. Irving Thalberg, powerful producer at MGM, in 1927 characterized film as so au courant as to be ephemeral on that account: ‘the modern motion picture will not live forever as an artistic production, because its most important feature is currency—the immediate fitting in with current thought’.297 No systematic effort was made to archive materials; on the contrary, studios sometimes sacrificed old film stock to fuel fires needed in new movies (infamously, in the case of filming Gone with the Wind, 1939)—an even more merciless operation than the also notorious cases in which Renaissance and Baroque architects despoiled ancient monuments for their marble or bronze. Many of the greatest early films have been recovered from utter oblivion only by the most unexpected good luck and hard work after neglect or willful and brutal re-editing, among them, La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928), L’Atalante (1936), and La règle du jeu (1939). The history of early cinema gradually becomes more coherent and intelligible because of such recoveries, helped also by the development of more readily accessible and flexible viewing technologies.298 Early cinema historians necessarily based some of their remarks on 20-year-old memory, an imperfect process comparable to how art historians worked before photographs. The digital era has transformed the study of film’s history, and we are the early beneficiaries. What Thalberg did not anticipate is that movies would acquire new value exactly because of their dated contemporaneity. At the simplest instantiation, we watch A Canterbury Tale (1944) or Hue and Cry (1947) to experience the ruins of bombed England—and similarly with Germania anno zero (1948). We also watch Humphrey Jennings’s documentaries about firefighters in London both to encounter the Blitz and to see how it was presented to those suffering it, as we would read newspapers of the era. John Read, who administered arts programming for the BBC during the 1950s and whose father was the critic Herbert Read, wrote in 1948, Much of our learning and knowledge of life is apprehended through our senses moved by poets, actors, and painters, arousing in us the sense of pleasure that is also understanding. The highest purposes of documentary can be achieved in like manner, where the educational is also implicit in the artistic.299

297 Quoted by May, Screening, p. xi. 298 In the early 1930s, my grandfather used to rent movies to show at home. 299 Quoted in Wyver, Vision On, p. 18.


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Machines had been accepted by modern artists without the least pang of guilt—with glee, rather. The Cubists and the Surrealists wanted to create art devoid of the expressivity that Alberti had placed at the center of painting, as Horace had earlier placed it at the center of poetry. Expressivity was too close either to chauvinism or to sentimentality, both of which modernists deplored; old-fashioned feeling seemed irremediably simplistic in an age of Freud. Machines promised a kind of tough beauty. Yet, paradoxically, movies, the art made with machines, evinced a weakness for sentimentality and not infrequently for patriotism. Sometimes they promoted a nostalgia for more bucolic times before the machine age. In René Clair’s À nous la liberté (1931), for instance, the modern factory appears a place of impersonal regimentation, a second prison; freedom belongs to the meadows, to leisure, to the tramp rather than to the entrepreneur, and certainly not to the factory worker. Clair reported that the whole movie started from an image (glimpsed from a train) of a field before a factory, which suggested the shot of Émile lying in the grass, with a factory visible behind him.300 It could almost be taken as a parody of the Old Masters’ reclining nymph or Venus type. Our blissful reclining figure, at leisure amid the beauties of nature, wants for nothing—although Émile, like a nymph, is susceptible to interference by male authority figures, and he is presently dragged off by guards to work, quite miserably, in the factory. At least at the level of the word, the conviction that art and machines might go together compatibly, or even congenially, far predates modernism. Yet when modernists such as Ferdinand Léger and the Futurists called for an art that shared the aesthetic of machines, they meant something quite different than when Diderot a century and a half earlier had admiringly hailed great pictorial machines; saying, for example, ‘This is one of the most beautiful, most picturesque machines known to me!’301 He meant big, complex paintings in which all of the parts worked together for monumental effect—an effect that Napoleonic history paintings executed not long after Diderot’s death would carry to an extreme. The huge paintings by Antoine Gros and Jacques-Louis David made even major altarpieces look small—and they happened to be oriented horizontally, like movie screens yet to come. 300 Clair, Nous, p. 9, explains the film was a counterargument to the saying ‘Work is Freedom’ (since this was so tied to Auschwitz). 301 Of a painting of Soldiers Marching by Francesco-Giuseppe Casanova; Diderot On Art, I, p. 83 (1767). Cf. Walter Kerr in 1969, commenting on the play of The Front Page (1928): ‘a play was held to be something of a machine in those days…like a watch that laughed,’ Kael, ‘Raising’, p. 43, not so removed from Kael’s own description of Citizen Kane (1941): ‘the formal elements themselves produce elation’, ibid.

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Diderot’s concept of pictorial machines bears a certain resemblance to Alberti’s definition of beauty in architecture: a harmonious arrangement of parts to which nothing could be added and nothing removed without detracting from the whole.302 For Diderot, the painting is a mechanism with a soul: the soul is the idea, and the mechanism is the composition. A properly conceived principal idea [for a painting] should exercise despotic control over all other considerations. It’s the activating force of the machine that, like the one holding celestial bodies in their orbits, exercises its power in inverse proportion to distance.303

The director John Huston said something similar to Diderot: ‘I think of a script as an organization, like an engine. Ideally everything contributes— nothing is in excess and everything works’.304 If the essence of a machine was its good design, its coherence and efficiency, then art and machines might have much in common, with each other and with nature, which for Enlightenment thinkers was itself a machine made by God, displaying both complexity and order. Nineteenth-century craftsmen specialized in making automata, sometimes rendered as two-dimensional paintings, parts of which moved due to a clocklike mechanism installed on the back of the support.305 Leonardo had anticipated this by making automata to amaze the court in Milan. He shared with his successors a definition of art as pieces composed to make a whole, sometimes a whole that encompassed movement. And what if the artist, rather than the work of art, were a machine? While observing Claude-Joseph Vernet’s landscapes, Diderot ruminated over the following provocative question: ‘If one were to invent a machine capable 302 Alberti, De re aedificatoria, VI, ii. Carl Dreyer probably did not know how like Alberti he sounded when he compared film composition to architecture: ‘Only when all the artistic elements a film consists of are welded together into a firmly built composition, so that none of its components can be omitted or changed without the entirety suffering from it, only then can film be compared to an architectonic work of art, and all the films that do not satisfy these strict demands are then merely like dull and conventional houses that we pass by indifferently’; Double, p. 178. De Grazia and Steele, ‘Grande Machine’, p. 5, relate how Poussin’s use of a tiny stage set to plan his compositions was referred to by Le Blonde de la Tour in 1669 as a grand machine; see also n. 28. C.-A. Defresnoy, De arte graphica, 1668, used machina of a complex composition, something his commentator, in an Italian translation of 1775, pointed out as an apt choice of words (‘la machina del vostro quadro’). Stendhal, Histoire, p. 213, associated seventeenth-century ‘quadri di machina’ with decadence. 303 Diderot, from ‘Notes on Painting to serve as an Appendix to the Salon of 1765’, in Diderot on Art, I, p. 226. 304 Stevens, Conversations, p. 341. 305 See further, Faulkner, ‘Automata’, pp. 6–25.


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of producing paintings like Raphael’s, would such paintings continue to be beautiful?’306 No, is the answer he expects and defends. Our pleasure in art, he argues, reflects our belief in the ‘will, intelligence, purpose and liberty’ we attribute to the artist. Were Raphael ‘eternal, fixed in front of the canvas, painting ceaselessly and of necessity’, art would have no meaning. A work of art might be analogous to a machine, but not the artist: the artist is the engineer who makes the machine, and the maker must have free will. The artist is the source of ideas. In his essay on the ‘Work and Life of Delacroix’, Baudelaire named Rubens, Raphael, Veronese, Lebrun, David, and Delacroix as masters of ‘les grandes Machines’.307 A painting that could be called a machine would be rationally composed, yet potentially also be a work of creative inspiration. Etymologically, the word ‘engineer’ is descended from ingegno. As long as Enlightenment attitudes lingered, there was no cognitive dissonance in thinking of a work of art both as displaying intelligence and as observing academic rules of composition and decorum. In Diderot’s scheme ‘the creator of an idealized, poetic nature’ might alternatively devise a machine.308 Machines, for all the rules of mechanics, can suddenly ‘work’ because of the slightest, most intuitive of adjustments by a sensitive operator, and pictorial compositions likewise. The concept of machine might imply the clever combination of disparate parts. Almost as though anticipating montage, Diderot had said that language was a machine that enabled one to join contrasting entities without creating a monster, and that language, like the mind, functioned by relating things that might seem disparate: How strange a machine is language, and a head is a machine that’s stranger still! There’s nothing in either of the two that’s unrelated to something else; no signs so disparate that they can’t be brought into conjunction, no ideas so bizarre that they can’t be tied together.309

Diderot’s statement has acquired an additional overtone due to the conviction of the Surrealists that meaning lies in unexpected juxtaposition, which was for them a strategy for circumventing the strictures of reason. Roland Barthes revived the old argument about image versus word, but from the point of view of someone willing to think of the image’s limits on 306 Diderot on Art, II, Salon of 1767, p. 90. 307 Baudelaire, Oeuvres, p. 1116. 308 Diderot on Art, I, p. 227. 309 Diderot on Art, II, p. 116.

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signification as an asset. He developed the idea of the filmic: ‘the filmic is that in the film which cannot be described, the representation which cannot be represented. The filmic begins only where language and metalanguage end’.310 ‘The obtuse meaning’ is that which Alberti ignored, that which is inherently visual. Barthes described it as rarely found amid all the animated images of cinema, but more likely in the photographic still.311 He explicitly acknowledged the descent of his notion of filmic from Diderot’s theatrical tableau.312 What Diderot called a pictorial machine elevated the Albertian istoria, that fifteenth-century alternative to icon and altarpiece, to its grandest proportions and its most complex constituents. Alberti, like Diderot after him, prized a unified and significant composition that also supplied variety. Both men, we may imagine, would have been gratified to have seen any moving picture, but especially such epic productions as Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927). Like their Renaissance antecedents, such ambitious narratives aimed to present history, but also the great ideas of history, in visible form. Such a project presumed that historical truth could be represented—if not perfectly, at least with bias and falsehood reduced to factors for which the canny viewer might compensate. They would be ‘machines’ of a certain sort, by virtue of their complexity, coherence, and clarity in the relationship of parts to whole. Walter Ruttmann wrote of his Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grossstadt (1927): ‘I did not wish to form a picture book, but rather something like the framework of a complicated machine that can only come to life when each tiny particle interlocks with another with the most exacting precision’.313 The ambition for the modern artist was to become an engineer, and to achieve by that not only precision but strangeness. ‘Machine’ derives from Greek; ‘invention’ from Latin. Both words, once used quite ordinarily to talk about art, have come to be much more regularly associated with science and technology. But early in the history of film this was not yet so. Le Corbusier in 1933 referred optimistically to ‘Science and its still youthful daughter, the Machine, [which] have extended certain of our means of perception and have thrown out bridges beyond the impassable zones of our senses and our skills’.314 He praised cinema as ‘becoming a form of art in and of itself, just as painting, sculpture, 310 Barthes, ‘The Third Meaning, Research notes on some Eisenstein stills’, Image, p. 64. 311 Polan, ‘Moving’, pp. 43: ‘Barthes sees cinema as a grand metaphor for the submission of self to system’. 312 Barthes ‘Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein’, Image, pp. 70–71. 313 Ruttmann, quoted in Elsaesser, Archaeology, p. 174. 314 Le Corbusier, ‘Spirit of Truth’, in MacKenzie, Manifestos, pp. 42–43.


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literature, music, and theater are genres’. Famously for him, the idea of the machine and the idea of art were highly complementary, even more directly so than for Diderot. The Hollywood director Howard Hawks straightforwardly explained how important his engineering background was to his planning: ‘engineering is a process of putting everything on paper or making a visualization of your project, as it were’. He conceptualized dialogue as like music, variously emphasized and paced. But the ‘big thing today’ (in 1939) was to ‘throw out hints for the audience […] and let them judge for themselves’.315 Unselfconsciously anchored in the past, his comments also showed considerable perspicuity about the future. Machines might produce mere complexity, or they might produce a stimulating strangeness and make possible a communication between artist and public that was not limited to the old narrative ways. If we were bored, we could always go to the pictures, couldn’t we?316

According to Walter Benjamin: ‘The poorest provincial staging of Faust is superior to a Faust film in that, ideally, it competes with the first performance at Weimar’.317 Film is necessarily less authentic than theater, Benjamin believed, and although a way forward could be found devoid of authenticity, there would exist the problem, as Bertolt Brecht put it, that the quest articulated by Diderot to make art that both entertained and instructed tended to become fraught when the audience included both the proletariat and bourgeoisie: ‘the bourgeoisie does not find what teaches the proletariat and what the proletariat teaches us especially entertaining, nor does the proletariat find the entertainment to be got from bourgeois art especially instructive’.318 Some works of art we understand; we are to some degree astounded by others. Generally speaking, the former descend from the Renaissance tradition and develop into the academic history painting, and the latter from the medieval tradition, from the awe we feel when connected to something very old and sacred, often something technically fairly simple though it might be expensive in terms of labor and materials. Romantic artists, like Baroque 315 Crowther, ‘Treatise’, The New York Times, 17 Dec. 1939. 316 Otto to Gilda (originally played onstage by Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne), in Coward, Design, 1933; Act II, scene 2, p. 69—a line not present in the movie. 317 Benjamin, ‘Mechanical’, p. 243; see also p. 221; written in 1936. 318 Brecht in 1939, Letters, p. 317. Brecht wrote the scenario for a short f ilm, Mysterien eines Frisiersalons (1923), a fairly nasty piece of slapstick.

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ones, attempted a synthesis: works of spontaneous and original genius to be admired, at the opposite end of the spectrum from craft, astonishing to see even if devoid of deep authenticity.319 Film may inadvertently preserve for us some artifact of the past (including outdated patterns of behavior) by which we may be startled, if not fully astounded. More usually, film astounds through magic special effects and camera tricks, or through lavish sets and costumes and casts of thousands. Or the viewer may be amused and intrigued, as in Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique (1924, score by George Antheil), in which egg whisks, crêpe pans, numerals, and machines all dance.320 Alternatively, when films enlighten, they may do so by revealing their plot structure over time, so that we gradually divine a skeleton that holds all the extraneous parts in place. That is to say, as we watch we learn which are the extraneous parts and which are the structural. We come to understand things that we did not at the beginning; we have journeyed. A third alternative is the film that shocks: we are astounded and enlightened all at once. The hegemony of the machine-made in the modern world lent new worth to autograph, spontaneous work. The 20th-century appreciation of Titian’s sheer painterliness conveniently set the naturalism of those works in a subordinate place (it was no longer so admirable to those who had everimproving photography available) and opened up new avenues of admiration. In the era of Abstract Expressionism, the bravura brushwork of Titian and Rembrandt acquired new value, or even, the other way around.321 Still, the theory that the essence of art was to be found in the process of applying paint, that true painterliness implies a rapid, spontaneous approach to the canvas, goes against the grain of a traditional understanding of painting as a liberal art and as an intellectual activity, one in which a drawing was a sufficient contribution by the master either to the making of a painting or a print. This is not to say that autograph work was not prized and even occasionally demanded by patrons from the fourteenth century onward, 319 Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, Cinema, vol. 1, p.10 ff., followed Malraux in finding in cinema the fulfillment of Baroque thirst for drama, and for illusion rather than likeness. 320 Coincidentally, perhaps, the dancing rolls in Chaplin’s Gold Rush are from the next year. Members of Dada, however, were enthusiasts about Chaplin; Tzara included Chaplin’s name on a 1919 poster as being one of the Dadaists. Among other things, they admired his jerky, mechanistic movements and deadpan self-presentation. Cocteau reported (in 1958; Geduld, Authors, p. 260) that Charlie Chaplin’s favorite painting was Van Gogh’s The Old Shoe [sic] (1886, perhaps that in Amsterdam now, so stimulating to Heidegger in 1935. He finds it `significant’ and `admirable’. 321 Cf. Arnheim, ‘Accident’, 1957, pp. 18–31.


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but autograph work was, like the signature itself, not always essential. Otherwise, printmaking would not have become the locus of excellence and of enthusiastic collecting that it did for centuries, and regardless of whether more than one hand was involved. The prestige of autograph works often reflected the complication of a sentimental bond to the relic of an admired person rather than a value accorded to autograph status per se—as, in general, the provenance of a work can, on account of mere sentiment, affect its value. Not for nothing did some modernists affect total indifference to the survival of their objects, using commercial paints and other ordinary materials, thereby attempting to ensure that sentimentality would never engulf the objects. Cinema offers no direct analogy to autograph work; it is the art made by machine and also by a skilled workshop—even more so than the photograph, for which the developing process offers a hands-on correlate. Some directors did exert control over the editing, and editing film used to be very hands-on and laborious. The respected editor Walter Murch compared it to sculpture: ‘I have to know all the hidden veins and strengths and weaknesses of the rock that I’m working with, in order to know where best to put the chisel’.322 Editing, like so many aspects of film production, was transformed over time by increasingly efficient and versatile machines, though ultimately it requires acute judgment. The pooled craftsmanship on which cinema relied could be highly creative. The screenwriter Ben Hecht described movie crews: ‘They were as removed from laborers as the master craftsmen working besides Cellini in his silver smithy’.323 Michael Powell called the art director ‘the most genuinely creative member of a film unit’—painter, architect, and engineer.324 He considered himself a craftsman: I know only one craft, the craft of making films. The art of telling a story to the largest audience that ever said, ‘Tell me a story!’ The work of art that we call a feature f ilm, a major motion picture (was there ever a 322 Ondaatje, Conversations, pp. 72–73. Murch also compared Hitchcock to Frank Lloyd Wright, who were both meticulous planners as opposed to process-oriented creators; he also used fresco and oil painting as analogies. Michelangelo, he said, found an intermediate way, accommodating his design to the particularities of the block of marble; pp. 216–219. 323 Hecht, Child, p. 484. Or as the screenwriter Dudley Nichols proclaimed, ‘We are all specialized, for better or for worse, and it is only natural that the one new art form [the motion picture] which the Machine has produced should be the most highly specialized of all’, Nichols, Twenty, p. xxxi. 324 Powell, Autobiography, p. 343.

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minor motion picture?), gives employment to many craftsmen, perhaps two hundred clever men and women.325

He relished the camaraderie of a film company, the complete absence of class or wealth distinction, the combined enthusiasm toward a common end. And the end was art; the end was to tell a story; the end was to go out into the real world and turn it into a romantic fantasy world where anything could happen.326

Fellini recalled spending time with carpenters and a leatherworker as a child: ‘Looking back on it now, it seems I always associated artisanal work with creativity’.327 Hollywood’s particular strength lay in its technical prowess, and its corresponding weakness was the scale of operation required for such a level of technical accomplishment. The pace of processing of scripts into distributed product was unrelenting. In 1932, Theodore Dreiser proclaimed Hollywood ‘an industry […] among the largest in America’. And for him this implied a disjunction from earlier art: ‘Always heretofore art has meant individuality; the artist was of necessity an individual’.328 He sees film workers instead as employees serving the interests of the owners. James T. Farrell seconded the opinion of Dreiser in 1945: ‘They lose their independence as artists and craftsmen and become employees’.329 When the youthful Jean Renoir had made movies with his family members, or Jean Vigo with his friends, it had been more like a workshop of centuries ago, an informal collaboration rather than a streamlined production. The trailer for Renoir’s La bête humaine (1938) lists ‘une excellente équipe de techniciens’ as a motivation to go see the film.330 Renoir preferred the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, for he conceived of the Renaissance as an age of rich 325 Idem, p. 48. 326 Idem, p. 93. He compares the project of film with G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown books, and says he was inspired to want to work in films by a film magazine called Picturegoer. 327 Fellini, Making, p. 65. 328 Geduld, Authors, p. 208. 329 Geduld, Authors, p. 236. And further, ‘there is a double restriction imposed on the character of what is produced in motion pictures. Besides promising a profit, a picture must not seriously threaten the class interests of the owners’, p. 235. 330 Criterion Collection, DVD supplement. La vie est à nous (1936), has as credit only: ‘un film réalisé collectivement par une équipe de techniciens, d’artistes et d’ouvriers’. Le roman d’un tricheur (1936) introduced the crew as part of the credits.


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bankers and elite art, which he thought had ‘laid the foundations of industrial society […] and [was] ultimately responsible for the atomic bomb’.331 A novelist may write for a few thousand readers, but the film artist must work for millions.332

The imagery of machines—trains, phonographs,333 telephones and their operators, ocean liners, airplanes, automobiles—is ubiquitous in film. In Napoléon (1927), the brand-new Chappe telegraph (1791) is fleetingly shown, relaying the news that the Reign of Terror has ended. L’Argent (1928) has its rows of typewriters, lighted switchboards for watching stock trades, and pulleys for transporting messages. In movie after movie, not least Citizen Kane (1941) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), we see newspaper presses rolling, as though in tacit acknowledgment of a parallel function, the diffusion of text on the one hand, and images on the other, to a mass market. The importance of public opinion, and so of journalism, was a theme much emphasized in the 20th century; movie after movie reinforced this idea.334 In Jacques Tati’s Mon oncle (1958), the high modernist machine aesthetic of the nephew’s domicile is set against the picturesque tenement through which Monsieur Hulot wanders, up to his airy attic. There, he adjusts his window so that the reflected sunshine will encourage a caged canary to sing. By contrast, the austere modern house at various times mechanistically turns against its owners. It is not so much that the modern is villainized as that the human is admired; both dog and boy in Mon oncle are happier in a more spontaneous environment, one in which play is allowed.335 Monsieur Hulot is a failure at the factory, as was René Clair’s Émile in À nous la liberté (1931): they are both gentle souls and the factory is a study in regimentation. By extension, the film itself meanders: Mon oncle has no climax; it feels as though it could go on more or 331 Renoir, in Bazin, Renoir, p. 12. 332 Greene, Conversations, 1969, p. 38. 333 In The Ladykillers (1955), the Alec Guinness character convinces the old lady that he and his criminal gang are actually a string quartet who need to get together to practice, by playing a phonograph. In Lang’s Das Testament der Dr. Mabuse (1933), the feared voice of the ringleader turns out to be that of a record. 334 And the subject of Hitchcock’s silent film, Easy Virtue, 1928, based on the Noël Coward play. Cf. The Kiss, 1929, in which Greta Garbo and her lover acknowledge the strength of opinions about propriety (via intertitle), although later the Greta Garbo character declares she doesn’t care about public opinion. A drama, it has both a comic prelude (people in a museum who barely glance at pictures on the wall) and postlude (cleaning ladies interrupting the happy resolution). 335 Turvey, ‘Tati’, identifies Hulot’s neighborhood as Saint-Maur, beyond the Bois de Vincennes, in Met and Schilling, Paris Suburbs, pp. 101–114.

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less forever, chronicling the mishaps of Monsieur Hulot. At the end, Monsieur Hulot is simply dropped off at the airport and the camera stays behind. Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953) ends with the charming expedient of a shot of the deserted beachfront, as we listen to the departing car of Hulot, sputtering away on its unreliable course, the correlate to Hulot’s distinctive loping gait. The film stops rolling and the last image becomes that of a postcard—on which a canceled magenta stamp suddenly appears, upper right. It is an exquisite final punctuation for a film about an old-fashioned holiday.336 The machine sometimes personifies force that opposes, and potentially overwhelms, reason. In La bête humaine (1938), Jean Renoir’s portrait of madness, the steam engine and its fires personify the demonic force of irrationality, as they had earlier in the silent film La roue (1923) by Abel Gance. The terrible momentum of the train offers a convenient metaphor for inevitability, danger, fate. The arrival of the train in High Noon (1952) is a dreaded punctuality—a fateful one, although it is not the train that is at fault and trains were by no means uniformly fearful. (Figure 17) Buster Keaton’s The General (1926) proves his point that, ‘railroads are a great prop. You can do some awful wild things with railroads’.337 There is a visual analogy between a train with compartments or boxcars and a film running through the track of the projector, frame by frame. Both can be taken as tokens of the uniformity of the machine age—though many film characters hopped on freight trains to find escape and adventure. Trains, especially the old trains with compartments, are both claustrophobic and escapable (especially those with outside doors for every compartment), so they were ideal for searches, crimes, suspense, and catastrophe—as Agatha Christie well knew, and Hitchcock too, who in Secret Agent (1936) created the effect of a terrible train crash at the moment of narrative crisis, thereby avoiding a moral dilemma for the hero. Hitchcock’s beleaguered Hannay in The 39 Steps makes a memorable escape from a train on the Firth of Forth bridge, and later from what must have seemed at the time a terrifying helicopter, which searches for him in the Highlands, a predecessor of the more celebrated crop duster in North by Northwest (1959). World War II left its mark on the imagery of trains, the trains of deported persons, memorably made into a documentary film by Alan Resnais’s Nuit et brouillard (1956), with its shots of rusted and grass-encrusted 336 Sorlin, ‘Breath’, pp. 100–111, describes the carefully achieved sense of lack of construction, a quality Castiglione famously lauded in Il cortegiano (1528) as the art of hiding art. Trotter, ‘Hulot’, p. 31, identifies the car as a 1924 Salmson AL3; others had supposed an Amilcar. Also makers of airplanes, Salmson’s car business went bankrupt in 1953. 337 Brownlow, Parade’s, p. 491. In Berlin: Die Sinfonie (1927) a marquee appears that announces The General.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

Figure 17: High Noon, Stanley Kramer Productions, Fred Zinnemann, 1952, screenshot.

train tracks. La bataille du rail (1949) highlighted French Resistance fighters. Jirí Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains (1966) uses the setting of a provincial train station in Poland during the War as a place where the personal and the political intersect, as do the monotonous and the catastrophic. La bête humaine opens with a shot of the coal furnace of the engine as an image of frightening power; The Man in the White Suit (1951) starts with a shot of a hand turning on a mechanical loom, presumably the hand of Sidney Stratton, our antihero. The impressive speed and potential fearfulness of trains was bygone in an age of the airplane,338 not to mention nuclear bombs; science itself (and science fiction) offered a new combination of fascination and frightfulness. By the fifties, machines had changed and so had the public’s perception of them. The mill floor is an image of order and regularity, full of machines doing things according to plan; Sidney’s apparatus is puzzling in this world otherwise dominated by predictability. He, a self-appointed scientist on a quest for the good of mankind, suffers at the hands of both high society and low, capital and labor. A factory landscape, near Manchester we are told, with smokestacks and train tracks, is the 338 Léger paired the coming of film and of airplanes; quoted by L’Herbier, Intelligence, p. 337, from 1931.

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context for a laboratory, where the apparatus of Sidney Stratton burbles along with a sound that becomes the intermittent theme song of this allegory about the stubborn forces of the status quo. The sound and the scientific apparatus push the plot mildly into science fiction, but science fiction as a sort of satirical allegory of science. Stanley is both madman and inventor, a failure and a genius. He is odd amid a world of ordinary people, odd not least because he has no interest in money and not much in the mill owner’s daughter (Joan Greenwood). Like Monsieur Hulot, he simply wanders off at the end, a clown figure we have learned to take seriously. The viewer understands that only the movie has ended, not the misadventures. Sidney cannot work independently because of the expensive equipment and supplies he needs. He is hampered by the shortsighted perspective of those who presume to control the laboratory equipment; on the other hand, science, after the invention of the nuclear bomb, is recognized as dangerous. He plays with fire, with heavy hydrogen and radioactive isotopes, but we are to understand that this proves his boldness rather than his recklessness. The modern Prometheus, this creative man, is society’s outcast, as surely as if he were the artist in the garret of an earlier period. In On the Beach (1959), Fred Astaire plays a visiting British scientist who understands that even remote Australia, the only part of the globe that still supports life, will imminently be destroyed by nuclear fallout. He asphyxiates himself, using his beloved race car as the instrument. The imagery of the machine as emblem of power has been engulfed by doubts and fears about the consequences of scientific ‘progress’: the destructiveness of what man and the machine has wrought outweighs the promise.339 The scientist/inventor who had appeared in Paris qui dort (1925), for example, was eccentric but never badly intentioned. In The Devil Doll (1936), the scientist hopes to use his miniaturization for good, to solve the problem of how to feed the growing population of the world by making everyone tiny. The eponymous mad scientist of Dr. Strangelove (1965) is thoroughly of a different sort: himself part machine and capable only of lust rather than love or loyalty. His fail-safe mechanism ultimately fails. The doomsday machine amplifies the effect 339 Calvino, Hermit, pp. 58–59, of his stay in New York in 1960: ‘Naturally I never go to the cinema because in the evening I like to see people, but what strikes me is how nobody goes to the cinema, I never find anyone who has been to the cinema or who talks about films. At most they discuss old silent movies which you can see every day at the Museum of Modern Art or Ingmar Bergman’s films; but for example I have never found anyone who has seen On the Beach (which is the only film I went to see, because it interested me as a political symptom even though it was not very good)’. Cf. Avant le déluge (1954) for a contrasting treatment of the theme of fear of atomic war, which also sets teenage angst in a richer context than James Dean movies.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

of human carelessness, ignorance, greed, and fear. Perhaps the best-known image from the film is that of the Texan cowboy, Major King Kong, riding the nuclear warhead to its detonation: an image of cowboy determination in triumph that is also an image of total annihilation, as we the viewers understand and he does not. He is an icon of individuality and grit, at the same time that he personifies bullheadedness. He is used by the technology he thinks he is using. He falls as he raises his cowboy hat in jubilation, and we cannot help but like this man who is instigating oblivion in the name of American democracy. He is hero and the ultimate baddie at once. In the 20th century, the machine was often identified with war, with inhuman war that was no longer associated with honor or heroism. Paul Nash put it plainly: ‘I first became interested in the war pictorially when I realised the machines were the real protagonists’.340 At the end of The Great Dictator (1940), Charlie Chaplin rails against the Nazis as men become machines—but not against machines per se: ‘Machinery that gives us abundance has left us in want’. He denounces a lack of humanity that has erupted in the age of machines: Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men: machine men with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines; you are not cattle; you are men […] You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness.

The question of mechanization haunted everyone, not least those in the movie business. The sympathetic director in Christopher Isherwood’s Prater Violet (1945) exclaims: The film is an infernal machine. Once it is ignited and set in motion, it revolves with an enormous dynamism. It cannot pause. It cannot apologize. It cannot retract anything. It cannot wait for you to understand it. It cannot explain itself. It simply ripens to its inevitable explosion. This explosion we have to prepare, like anarchists, with the utmost ingenuity and malice.341

Yet, despite all this talk of a machine age, the studio head still ‘thinks he’s Lorenzo the Magnificent’ (1449–1492).342 340 Nash, Outline, 1942, p. 248. 341 Isherwood, Prater, pp. 43–44. 342 Ibid., p. 97–98., said by the editor. And further: ‘All you writers have such a bloody romantic attitude. You think you’re too good for the movies. Don’t you believe it. The movies are too good

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The inflexible machine and the autocratic structure of power presented one model for the business of film; the sense of the joint endeavor and of the sway of public opinion, another. When film made high-quality visual art available even in small towns for a modicum of money, it brought with it the possibility of a new model of aesthetic experience, made with a machine but not necessarily on an industrial scale. The playwright Molnár avowed, I am an eager, not to say a bigoted collector of […] our inf initesimal memories. The tinier the event and the less it deserves that name, the more attached to it I am. The idea will not be beaten out of my head that the tiniest and most private, but human, happening is more durable than the earth-shaking military feats of Genghis Khan, Attila, Napoleon, even Hitler. Myself I have always been far more interested in God’s thumbnail sketches than in His heroic-sized historical paintings.343

Many of Molnár’s writings made their way into movies, and the movies, in general, became a place in which small-scale events or observations might thrive. Whereas the grand machines of Napoleonic history painting fostered painterly, autograph style, the movie cameras served the ideas of cooperating crews, headed by directors who were not always autocratic. They recorded performances that, even when they may not have been extraordinary, might yet be received as such in comparison with the norms of the place where they were shown. Hollywood quickly became a large-scale operation and tended to want to exploit its resources fully. But, in some circumstances, the smaller and simpler could be accepted as an alternative to the grand and mighty, as having resources of its own, suited to at least a patch of the public, possibly an interestingly heterogeneous patch. Lindsay Anderson reported that when he first saw Vigo’s Zéro de conduite (1933), ‘I thought it was wonderful, and I didn’t understand it at all’.344 What would Alberti have made of that! Lindsay for you. We don’t need any romantic nineteenth-century whores. We need technicians […] the movies aren’t drama, they aren’t literature—they’re pure mathematics’. 343 Molnár, Companion, p. 307. When he wanted to describe the disturbed state of his consciousness, he in exile and his dear companion recently dead, he appealed to the concept of montage: ‘The memories came flashing across my mind like movie montages’; Molnàr, Companion, p. 96. Cf. Cléo and Dorothée’s interaction in Cléo de 5 à 7, 1962, e.g., advice that Cléo count the sailors’ pom-poms while she waits outside Montparnasse railway station; Ingrid Bergman (Irene) and Giulietta Masina (Passerotto) in Europa ’51, 1952, discussing the childishness of men: the camera records exactly a tiny and private, but human, happening. 344 Gomes, Vigo, p. 243.


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Anderson went on to make The White Bus (1967), of which viewers have been known to make similar comments of incomprehension. Clearly the istoria had evolved beyond what Alberti had envisioned, clear-sighted though he was. Bernardo Bertolucci reported that when he first saw Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934), ‘I went on my knees and did a little kowtow to the screen’345—a report we might take to be vaguely reminiscent of Mantegna’s sailing on Lake Garda with his humanist friends and paying mock reverence to pagan deities along the way. Within such mock reverence, in both cases, lay embedded both some real reverence and some cultural distance from the very idea of such reverence. This readiness to play with mock reverence was essential to loosening the cult of the precious object. That in turn made it possible for films, like early modern prints before them, not only to bolster beliefs (old or new) but alternatively to insinuate doubts, to celebrate capriciousness (which made Vasari so nervous), to experiment with unexpected juxtapositions, or to support the like of Molnár’s random and ‘infinitesimal memories’. This new and multifarious art of partly machine-made multiples could reach not only the elite but also the music hall audience—a range comparable to that of engravings by Pollaiuolo and Mantegna, Lucas van Leyden and Dürer.

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345 Idem, p. 244.

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Gilman, Richard, ‘About Nothing—With Precision’, Theatre Arts Monthly, XLVI:7 (July, 1962), pp. 10–12. Gish, Lillian, The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1969). Godard, Jean-Luc and Youssef Ishaghpour, Cinema: The Archaeology of Film and the Memory of a Century (New York: Berg, 2005). Goldring, Douglas, Marching with the Times, 1931–1946 (London: Nicholson& Watson, 1947). Gomes, Paolo Salles, Jean Vigo (London: Faber and Faber, 1998). Gordon, Terri, ‘Fascism and the Female Form: Performance Art in the Third Reich’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, XI, no.1/2 (2002), pp. 164–200. Gray, Richard, Cinemas in Britain: One Hundred Years of Cinema Architecture (London: Lund Humphries, 1996). Greene, Graham, Conversations with Graham Greene, Henry Donaghy, ed. (Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1992 [1969]). ———, A Sort of Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971). Grierson, John, Grierson on Documentary (New York: Praeger, 1971). Hall, Ben, The Best Remaining Seats: The Golden Age of the Movie Palace (New York: Da Capo, 1988). Hall, Mordaunt, ‘Anna Karenina’, The New York Times, 30 Nov. 1927. Hall, Peter, ‘Opening Ceremonies: Typography and the Movies, 1955–1969’, Architecture and Film, Mark Lamster, ed. (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2013), pp. 128–139. Harrison, Martin, In Camera: Francis Bacon—Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting (London: Thames & Hudson, 2005). Hecht, Ben, A Child of the Century (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954). ———, Charlie: The Improbable Life and Times of Charles MacArthur (New York: Harper, 1957). Hitchcock, Alfred, Hitchcock, François Truffaut, ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985). Hitchcock on Hitchcock, Sidney Gottlieb, ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015). Horowitz, Joseph, Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts (New York: Harper Collins, 2008). Horton, Andrew and Julian Hoxter, eds., Screenwriting (London: I.B. Tauris, 2014). Isherwood, Christopher, Prater Violet (New York: Random House, 1945). James, Henry, The Scenic Art, Notes on Acting and the Drama, 1872–1901, Allan Wade, ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1957). Jameson, Fredrick, Signatures of the Visible (London: Routledge, 1992).

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Kael, Pauline, ‘Onward and Upward with the Arts (Raising Kane)’, The New Yorker (20 February 1971), pp. 43-89. Kelland, Clarence, ‘Opera Hat’, American Magazine, CXIX:4 (April 1935): pp. 12–15, 86–94; no. 5 (May): pp. 18–21, 148–155; no. 6 (June): pp. 64–67, 166–174; CXX:1 (July): pp. 42–45, 114–120; no. 2 (August): pp. 62–65, 148–151, 154; no. 3 (Sept.): pp. 60–63, 142–146. Kindem, Gorham, The American Movie Industry: The Business of Motion Pictures (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982). Kramer, Steven and James Welsh, Abel Gance (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978). Landery, Charles, Hollywood is the Place! (London: J.M. Dent, 1940). Lant, Antonio, ‘The Film Crowd’, in Mathews, Nancy Mowl, Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1880–1910, exh. cat. Williams College, (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2005), pp. 159–164. Larkin, Philip, A Writer’s Life, Andrew Motion, ed. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1993). Leutrat, Jean-Louis, L’année dernière à Marienbad, Paul Hammond, trans. (London: BFI, 2000). L’Herbier, Marcel, Intelligence du cinématographie (Paris: Editions d’aujourdui, 1977 [1946]). ———, La tête qui tourne (Paris: Pierre Belfond, 1979). Lindsay, Vachel, The Art of the Moving Picture (New York: Liveright, 1970 [1922]). Llewellyn, Richard, None but the Lonely Heart (New York: Macmillan, 1943). Loh, Maria, ‘Outscreaming the Laocoön: Sensation, Special Affects, and the Moving Image’, Oxford Art Journal XXXIV:3 (2011), pp. 393–414. Loos, Anita, Kiss Hollywood Goodbye (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979). Loy, Myrna with James Kotsilibas-Davis, Being and Becoming (New York: Primus, 1987). Lynn, Kenneth, Charlie Chaplin and His Times (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997). MacKenzie, Scott, Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures, A Critical Anthology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014). May, Lary, Screening Out the Past: The Birth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture Industry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983). McCrum, Robert, Wodehouse: A Life (New York: Norton, 2004). Metcalf, Stephen, ‘Clobbering Time, How Superheroes Killed the Movie Star’, The New Yorker, 28 May 2018). Miller, Michael, Loew’s Paradise in the Bronx, (Alameda, Ca.: Theatre Historical Society, 1975). Minney, R.J., The Films of Anthony Asquith (South Brunswick: A.S. Barnes, 1973). Mitchell, Elvis, ‘Sondheim, Film Aficionado’, The New York Times, 28 August 2003.


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Molnár, Ferenc, Companion in Exile, Notes for an Autobiography, June Mussey, trans. (London: W.H. Allen, 1951). Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, in Film Theory and Criticism, G. Mast, E. Cohen, and L. Braudy, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 746–757. Mundy, Liza, ‘Power Player: How Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Became the Standard by Which We Measure Political Newcomers’, Washington Post, Sunday, 28 June 28 2009. Muzzarelli, Anna, ‘Fellini in Conversation’, Sight and Sound, III:4 (April 1993), pp. 15–16. Nash, Paul, Outline: An Autobiography, and Other Writings (London: Faber and Faber, 1949). Naylor, David, American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy (New York: Prentice Hall, 1981). Nevinson, C.R., Paint and Prejudice (London: Methuen, 1937). Nichols, Dudley, Twenty Best Film Plays (New York: Crown, 1943). Nichols, Nina and Jana Bazzoni, Pirandello & Film (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995). Nicoll, Allardyce, Film and Theatre (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1936). O’Connor, Flannery, Wise Blood (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962). Ondaatje, Michael, Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2002). Ophuls, Max, Souvenirs (Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 2002). Oxford Book of Essays, John Gross, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). Panofsky, Erwin, ‘The Friedsam Annunciation and the Problem of the Ghent Altarpiece’, Art Bulletin (XVII, no. 4) Dec. 1935, pp. 449–453. ———, Early Netherlandish Painting (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953). ———, ‘Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures’ (1936), in Three Essays on Style, Irving Lavin, ed. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), pp. 91–125. Paraskeva, Anthony, Samuel Beckett and Cinema (London: Bloomsbury, 2017). Parshall, Peter, ‘Rembrandt’s Christ Presented to the People (1655): A Report on the Crowd’, in Tributes to David Freedberg, Image and Insight, C. Swan, ed. (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), pp. 231–244. Pauly, Danièle, Le Corbusier, Drawing as Process (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018). Petric, Vlada, ‘Dziga Vertov as Theorist’, Cinema Journal, XVIII:1 (Autumn, 1978), pp. 29–44. Pevsner, Nikolaus, Visual Pleasures from Everyday Things: An Attempt to Establish Criteria by which the Aesthetic Qualities of Design Can Be Judged (London: B.T. Batsford, 1946).

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Pirandello, Luigi, Shoot! The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator, C.K. Scott Moncrieff, trans. (New York: E. Dutton, 1926). Polan, Dana, ‘Roland Barthes and the Moving Image’, October, XVII (Autumn, 1981), pp. 41–46. Powell, Michael, Autobiography (London: Faber and Faber, 1986). Rancière, Jacques, Film Fables, E. Battista, trans. (London: Bloomsbury, 2016). Rattigan, Terence, The Collected Plays, vol. II (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953). Renoir, Jean, My Life and My Films (New York: Atheneum, 1974). ———, Interviews, Bert Cardullo, ed. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005). Robertson, Pamela, Guilty Pleasures: Feminist Camp from Mae West to Madonna (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996). Robinson, David, Chaplin, The Mirror of Opinion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984). Rohmer, Éric, The Taste for Beauty, Carol Volk, trans. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). Rushdie, Salman, ‘Out of Kansas: The Wizard of Oz’, in Writers at the Movies: Twenty-Six Contemporary Authors Celebrate Twenty-Six Memorable Movies, Jim Shepard, ed. (New York: Perennial, 2000), pp. 201–226 (originally in The New Yorker, 4 May 1992). Russell, John, Francis Bacon (Greenwich, Ct.: New York Graphic Society, 1971). Scarborough, Dorothy, The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917). Scheffauer, Herman, ‘An Impression of the German Film Metropolis’, The New York Times, 6 March 1927. Schickel, Richard, D.W. Griffith: An American Life (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1984). Seldes, Gilbert, The Great Audience (New York: Viking Press, 1950). Sennwald, Andre, ‘Mae West’s New Film [Goin’ to Town] Suggests that the Great Lady is in Decline’, The New York Times, 19 May 1935. Shaw, Bernard, Bernard Shaw on Cinema, B. Dukore, ed. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997). Sherwood, Robert, The Best Moving Pictures of 1922–23 (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1923). Sjöman, Vilgot, Ingmar Makes a Movie (Swedish television, 1963). Smith, Paul., ed., The Historian and the Film (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976). Sorlin, Pierre, ‘A Breath of Sea Air: Jacques Tati’s Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot’, in French Film: Texts and Contexts, Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau, eds. (London: Routledge, 2000): pp. 100–111. Spender, Stephen, Love-Hate Relations: English and American Sensibilities (New York: Random House, 1974).


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Stendhal, Henri, Histoire de la peinture en Italie, vol. 1 (Paris: Le divan, 1929). Stevens, George, Jr., Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age (New York: A.A. Knopf, 2006). Sturges, Preston, Preston Sturges, adapted and edited by Sandy Sturges (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990). Swallow, Norman, Eisenstein: A Documentary Portrait (New York, Dutton, 1977). Talbot, Margaret, The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012). Taves, Brian, P.G. Wodehouse and Hollywood: Screenwriting, Satires, and Adaptations (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co., 2006). Terkel, Studs, The Spectator: Talk about Movies and Plays with Those Who Made Them (New York: New Press, 1999). Tey, Josephine, A Shilling for Candles (New York: Macmillan, 1954). Thomas, Ben, Edgar Wind and Modern Art, In Defence of Marginal Anarchy (London: Bloomsbury, 2020). Trotter, David, ‘Charlot v. Hulot’, London Review of Books, 2 July 2020, pp. 31–33. Trumpbour, John, Selling Hollywood to the World: U.S. and European Struggles for Mastery of the Global Film Industry, 1920–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Trussler, Simon, The Cambridge Illustrated History of British Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Tsivian, Yuri, ‘Man with a Movie Camera—Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties’, in Masterpieces of Modernist Cinema, Ted Perry, ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), pp. 85–110. ———, Lines of Resistance, Dziga Vertov and the Twenties (Gemona: Italy, 2004). Turvey, Malcolm, ‘Tati, suburbia and modernity’, in Screening the Paris Suburbs from the Silent Era to the 1990s, Phillipe Met and Derek Schilling, eds.(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018), pp. 101–114. Tynan, Kenneth, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping (New York: Holt, Rinehardt, and Winston, 1975). Venturi, Robert, Denise S. Brown, Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form (Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, 1972). Vertov, Dziga, Kino-Eye, The Writings of Dziga Vertov, Annette Michelson, ed., Kevin O’Brien, trans. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). Vieira, Mark, Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010). Wansell, Geoffrey, Terence Rattigan (London: Oberon Books, 1995). Waugh, Evelyn, Vile Bodies (Boston: Little, Brown, 1930). Whistler, Laurence, The Laughter and the Urn: The Life of Rex Whistler (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985).

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Competing with Text Abstract The diminished role of the hero affected even the star-driven narratives of Hollywood, in which stories of failure, disappointment, isolation, or moral compromise assumed a new prominence in the wake of World War II. The increasing artistry associated with directing correlated with storytelling that relied less on compelling expressivity and more on allowing the viewer to be intrigued rather than deliberately enlightened. The film auteur offers a parallel to the original print designer, the peintre-graveur of the Renaissance, both of them involved during the entire process, from ideation to realization. Keywords: hero, High Noon, Pirandello, Renoir, Resnais, suspense

We must work from the image, or seed—from the thing which moves and began the whole business—forwards to the story, not backwards from the story to the image.1

Films employ words in several basic ways. Silent films usually have title cards; talkies normally rely on dialogue, sometimes with the addition of a narrator, perhaps a character heard in voice-over. The soundtrack may include lyrics. Films may have literary sources, more or less distinguished ones; like theater, in some cases the text may have become so renowned that the audience may know the lines before they are spoken, and in others, the plot may be so conventional that the gist of the lines can be anticipated, or the characters may make allusions or quotations. Words may appear as signs within the mise-en-scène, or on pieces of paper exchanged or noticed by the camera. An actor may mouth words without speaking, or make expressive sounds that approximate words. Films may or may not enforce on the viewer some sentiment or moral about history, or about human conduct on a personal scale. They may end by 1 Betts, Heraclitus, p. 24.

Emison, P., Moving Pictures and Renaissance Art History. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021 doi 10.5117/9789463724036_ch03


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resolving a question, whether one of which the characters themselves have been aware, or a puzzle about which only the viewers have been thinking (e.g., to what genre does this film belong?). All films tend to create a degree of suspense as one watches the narrative arc unfurl, knowing that in the space of an hour or two, or three, we will come to know as much as we ever will about the world of the film (as opposed to the world of making the film, which we may subsequently study); the sense of completeness or release of suspense may be achieved either orally or visually, or by some combination. Silences may be created and shaped by words, or words given their significance by the silences that frame them. The camera’s revolutionary ability to take us close to the face of an actor and to register the shifting nuances of expression made it possible to attempt to describe complicated or shifting mental states, a partial parallel to the stream of consciousness in 20th-century literature. Much of human experience has to do with changes in what we see, rather than only in what we codify linguistically. One could say that the history of visual art since the Renaissance represents a series of strategies by which the visual could be made significant in the absence not only of language but also of movement. Paintings and sculptures distilled the stuff of the world. Narrative images constituted but a minor step beyond the realm of the icon, a palliative. Yet by suggesting a moment before and a moment after, one feigned to have implicated all of the richness of temporality—and Renaissance viewers were genuinely impressed with the lifelikeness of their static art. As Alberti said of gold, that the imitation showed more art than the actual application, so one might claim of movement, that to imply movement might be more artful than merely recording it. Still, the passage of time, objective or subjective, which had been structurally fundamental for both prose and poetry, was elusive for visual artists until film. The transition from painting to film is as though an architect shifted from designing single buildings on a pure new surface to urban planning for existing sites. Film was a more complex and vaster undertaking, though arguably the imagination required was fundamentally similar. The musical soundtrack may anticipate what words or images communicate, or may be used to amplify, to comment on, or to clarify what is said and seen. In Tales of Manhattan (1942), we hear Charles Laughton’s character’s compositions (the Bacchanale moderne was actually composed by Sol Kaplan), but we hear it as the plot and the pictures tell us to: as a brilliant but challenging piece of new orchestral music. In The Man Who Knew Too Much (both versions, 1934, 1956), the performance in the Royal Albert Hall features The Storm Cloud Cantata by Arthur Benjamin, a professor at the Royal College of Music and a noted pianist (but not someone regularly on the program for gala

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performances at the Albert Hall), a composition written for the movie (words by the author of the story, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, who happens, coincidentally, later to have written a biography of Goya, one which shows a sensitivity to the delicacy of Goya’s situation amid the political turmoil of his time). The sound has been made highly diegetic: the musical climax is also the plot crisis, the cymbal crash slightly anticipated by the mother’s scream, which is a scream of alarm but also (privately) of despair for her child. Jacques Demy collaborated with composer Michel Legrand almost as though with a coauthor, yet those films are only a bit like musicals, or operettas. The image of the white convertible driving along the harbor of Nantes in Demy’s Lola (1961), its driver in a cowboy hat, white suit and shoes, smoking a cigar and wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day, which we see at first while listening to a few bars of the evocative theme composed by Agnès Varda, establishes a note of strangeness in a film about everyday things. Meanwhile, the dedication to Max Ophuls appears, presumably especially in reference especially to his last film, Lola Montès (1955, music by Georges Auric), then some seagull calls and lapping waves, and then, as the man in white drives off and the credits continue, the full glory of a slice of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. As the Beethoven winds down, we get the final credit, ‘Un film de Jacques Demy’ (writer as well as director), and then the music shifts to 1950s drum patterns appropriate to the cabaret where Lola works. This bizarre opening—surely as strange as a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table—is compressed into less than two minutes. It is made even stranger by the proverb that begins the sequence (a Chinese proverb, we are told): ‘Pleure qui peut, Rit qui veut’ (‘Cry who can, Laugh who will’), after which the camera aperture unfolds in an iris wipe (characteristic of silent film). The music actually starts only when we first glimpse the car; before that, we hear seagulls. The driver with the cigar is only with some reluctance eventually recognized as the white knight coming to rescue his lady, and the plot isn’t that simple anyway. The film’s plot centers on a romantic love story, but its visual and aural experience of 90 minutes offers both a precious glimpse of life in a provincial French town before it was hip to be young and before television and travel changed what it was to be provincial, and, secondly, some insight into humanity, specifically, into the problem of dealing with a world that was ideal insofar as it was free of mean or evil impulse, or terrible poverty or illness, yet was plagued by ennui, disappointment, and loneliness. The film is easily converted in the mind of the viewer into a parallel universe in which the tall man in the white Cadillac never comes to find Lola (also known as Cécile). If it is a fairy-tale set in Demy’s contemporary France, it is one whose magic has bounds, and what is bounded magic if not an absurdity?


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Besides the film’s soundtrack, sound effects provide a second aural thread: sounds some or all of the characters hear and sometimes ones they make, plus any sounds produced by the audience itself—gasps or sighs or laughs, but a phenomenon we might extend to include that which occurs long afterward, when the film is watched by new viewers of younger generations. How we look at film from decades gone by is potentially inflected by what has been said or written about them, generally or specifically, since. Ghiberti’s eastern set of doors on the Baptistry in Florence is perennially known as the Doors of Paradise, thanks to Michelangelo, so that an idle comment from long after their making has become a virtual part of the work. Similarly, when we think of Hollywood, we may remember Andy Warhol saying, ‘I love Los Angeles, and I love Hollywood. They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic’. It is hard now to look at a Fred Astaire movie without recalling the cartoon caption (Frank and Ernest, 1982): ‘Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, […] backwards and in high heels’. Moreover, certain lines are regularly recycled, culture-wide: Rhett Butler’s ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ (Gone with the Wind, 1939), or in Casablanca (1942), ‘Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship’, or the exchange from the end of Some Like it Hot (1959), ‘I’m a man […]’ ‘Well, nobody’s perfect’.2 These are canonical lines, like lines from Shakespeare that are used by people who may not even know from which author they come.3 Sometimes movies become part of daily culture because of what has been said in or about them, or for their scores; sometimes for the iconic looks of their actors; sometimes for capturing the aspect of a particular place, and rather less frequently for their art design, such as the big white sets of Astaire movies. 4 Cléo wanders through Paris in a way reminiscent of Leopold Bloom in Dublin; Jacques Tati takes us around the little village, Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre, in Jour de Fête (1949), as would Demy throughout the town of Rochefort, where place becomes art design. If the movies are a visual art, they are so not only as a Gesamtkunstwerk (‘a coming together of the arts’) but as an entity to which some of their Nachleben (‘Afterlife’) may attach in a peculiarly close way. They are experienced for decades by a 2 Some Like it Hot is indebted to the seven road movies of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour, which were full of quips, but whose ethnographic descriptions have played less well to succeeding generations than the gender-bending and sexual license of Some Like it Hot. 3 Part of the Bergman canon would be Isaac’s avowal in Manhattan (1979), midway: ‘Bergman’s the only genius in cinema today, I think’, upon which his companion explains to Diane Keaton’s character, ‘He’s a big Bergman fan’. 4 Though see the work of Federico Babina,, celebrating the visual worlds of great directors.

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public that is more inherently communal and interactive than the museum public. The memory of a movie may attach to the identity of a city, or to a decade, or to a particular year or season, to a holiday or to a particular kind of event, such as a wedding or a funeral. Altarpieces you visit alone; theater you usually visit with others, and in this, movies are more like theater; the experience of seeing them is shared, but shared over years and decades rather than only once, shared with the dead as well as with the living, and potentially with the unborn, or potentially with yourself decades distant. The authenticity of cinema, if it can claim any, lies in the ongoing creation of this communal event space. Sometimes this authenticity produces an unwelcome shock, a communal event space we don’t want access to, as when at the crisis of Hitchcock’s Murder! (1930), we find that the plot hinges on the supposedly horrifying fact that a man is a ‘half-caste’, and therefore could not be loved. The novel described a character with ‘coarse negroid features’, whereas Hitchcock cast someone who, although short of stature, was of French ancestry and when younger had sometimes played the leading man.5 Today’s viewer is liable to be shocked by the expectation of what would be shocking, and when the man hangs himself in the midst of circus acrobatics (his gender identity also having been impugned), the viewer is meant to understand that this is a kind of justice, rather than be troubled that our protagonist, the exceedingly respected stage actor, Sir John, has hounded a man to death, using—in part—Hamlet’s play within a play as model. (It should be said that he was facing hanging as a murderer.) On a less repellant level, for the viewer familiar with Twelve Angry Men (1957), another play made into a film (in this case, a television play) about a jury whose deliberations are themselves held up for the viewers’ judgment, there is a vivid reminder that women in the United States could not serve on federal juries when the play was written.6 The experience of watching a movie from a remote era and/or culture, makes us even more acutely and immediately aware of how different the past was: from speech inflections to niceties of class-determined or gender-determined behavior to moral prejudices and ethical norms, to senses of humor or to such simple matters as how people move and how they salute one another. Murder! is as fascinating now for how the working-class people converse as they are brewing tea in the kitchen (meant originally simply as background for 5 Yacowar, British, p. 109. The novel, Enter Sir John (1900), was written by two women, Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson. 6 They might beginning in 1957. In England they might serve as trial jurors from 1919, although there was a property qualification until 1974.


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the major characters), as for the puzzle of who actually drank the brandy; something that might stick with us now after watching Roberta (1935) is the representation of French trains (presumably not a first-class compartment) having lace coverings for the headrests. Even if French trains were not that elegant, movie publics thought they might be. We are a bit like Giovanni Morelli’s connoisseurs—looking at fingernail shapes and earlobes rather than at the face of the Virgin Mary—not for the sake of identifying copyists but still for the sake of judging authenticity of a sort. Seeing the past, its sometimes egregious faults as well as its virtues and niceties,7 is in itself a didactic exercise. Filmmakers want their work to be talked about; they want it to be shared after the projector has gone dark, and if the audience does the verbal equivalent of humming afterward, that is a kind of success. Modernists, on the other hand, generally did not want some new Diderot, that literarily minded critic at the Salons, to translate their work into words. They wanted the object and/ or the process to matter, but often they hoped to create something no critic could adequately process and package. They lived in an era of photography, in which words had been partly devalued. Photography, even more than engraving before it, made the visual transmittable, as the printing press had done for words in the fifteenth century. If, as Walter Benjamin famously regretted, modernity’s mass-produced objects lacked aura (that pre-ancient ineffable power of magic and religion), then high modernism constituted an experiment in recapturing ineffability. Language was a bourgeois tool, mistrusted even by writers because in its rules of usage were engrained over centuries of conformity. Duchamp’s urinal was definitely not meant to trigger academic discourse, à la Charles Le Brun—a liberating laughter, more likely. René Clair, confrère of Satie, Duchamp, Man Ray, and Picabia, claimed on behalf of film, specifically of silent film, that it should constitute ‘a school of unlearning’, in which your minds would be cleared of all rubbish, of the waste of out-of-date literature, of the artistic sedatives you have absorbed from childhood, which prevent you looking at the world and at a work of art with an individual eye, and crush your primitive sensitivity to such an extent that you are no longer capable of emitting a cry of ecstasy, except in certain familiar and exactly predictable circumstances.8 7 In Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940), the George Saunders character addresses the Herbert Marshall character as ‘Sir’, the difference seemingly more one of age than of class. 8 Clair, Reflections, p. 12.

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The ‘primitive sensibility’ was to be reinvigorated, and a cry of ecstasy might again be heard in the land. Writing in 1923 of his ambitions for film,9 Clair announced to its prospective viewers: ‘I would turn you into fine, simple savages […] you would marvel at elementary visions’. He was pleased by the ‘general disorder’ and the ‘applause as loud as the catcalls and whistles’,10 at the first showing of Entr’acte, the following year. Even in less ambitious, less artistic hands, the silent, black-and-white film was a marvelous thing for its audiences, an experience capable of eliciting straightforward glee. The public for film might be re-created ‘primitive’ in the skillful hands of Clair,11 or it might be a mass audience so unlettered that a member of the intellectual elite might find it primitive even without its having been turned into ‘simple savages’ by art, as when Baer commented that ‘it was the primitives of the great cities who would gather before the movie screen’.12 The fin de siècle left a heritage around the concept of the ‘primitive’ that mixed admiration with a certain angst, leaving to the 20th century the task of reassessing what had seemed to Enlightenment thinkers the indubitable progress of civilization. Modernists realigned cultural ambition in the face of an acknowledgment of the faults and feints of what had once seemed assured progress. In the words of Clair, ‘We do not go to the cinema to think. Seeing and feeling is enough’.13 Cinema was suited to imitating the life of the mind as it flitted from one scarcely formed, barely articulated idea to another. If Descartes, as an Enlightenment thinker, had insisted on the clarity of ideas, cineastes sought instead the rapid succession of intimations. Clair explained his philosophy of cinema succinctly: an image appears for a few seconds—it suggests rather than expresses anything—then another image intervenes just as the first is beginning to explain a little. This is cinema. Also, it is reality. What does the script matter? […] What is far more important than the outer, factual probability is the inner psychological truth.14 9 On the relationship of Entr’acte to Dada, see Perry, ‘Dada’, pp. 60–84. 10 Idem, p. 81. 11 The amateur Camille by Ralph Barton and friends (1926) includes very brief glimpses of an African mask and an Indonesian shadow puppet, a confirmation of the cognoscenti circles known to have existed in Paris and to have expanded their ideas about art beyond European confines; see supplements on Charles Chaplin, A Woman of Paris (1923), DVD, Roy Export Company, 2003. 12 H. Baer, quoted by Arnheim, Art, p. 159. 13 Clair, Reflections, pp. 31–32. 14 Idem, pp. 41, 48.


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Figure 18: Allegorical shot with handcolored, glowing gold coins, in Greed, MGM, Erich von Stroheim, 1924, screenshot.

Figure 19: Naked Trina and McTeague (Zazu Pitts and Gibson Gowland) clutched in a fist that threatens to crush them, in Greed, MGM, Erich von Stroheim, 1924, screenshot.

When Erich von Stroheim in Greed (1924) wanted to ensure that the audience saw his protagonists as victims, he introduced repeated images of emaciated arms reaching out for handcolored gold coins, and once, briefly and in something of a blur, showed two wriggling nudes (McTeague and Trina), clutched in that same hand. (Figures 18–19) Likewise, Giotto composed pictures for the sake of our responding feelingly, sights whose impermanence was implied by the movement intimated. The figure of Inconstancy (c. 1305) in the Arena Chapel (Figure 20), struggling in slippery imbalance, is a visualization of a psychological state. Made without precedent, literary or pictorial, it serves to suggest or remind the viewer of lived experience—or to create a public correlate to subjective experience—rather than merely to illustrate the theory of vices as discussed in texts. What was distinctive to the era of cinema was the epistemological premise that uncertainty might be as valid a state of mind as certainty. It is, moreover a premise that art historians of the 20th century came to entertain, if not adopt, as they reflected on the eclecticism of the nineteenth century and the abstractions of the 20th—not only uncertainty about the existence of stable aesthetic truths, but an interest in change for its own sake. Giotto would immediately have understood the images in Victor Sjöström’s He Who Gets Slapped (1924) of clowns dancing around the sphere of the Earth, which then transitions into the circle of the circus tent. Thoroughly adapted from a 1914 play by Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919), the narrative is punctuated by recurrences of the image of a long-nosed clown who spins an orb, glossed for the viewer by the first intertitle, which referred to ‘the grim comedy

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Figure 20: Giotto, Inconstancy, Arena Chapel, Padua, c. 1305, fresco, photo by author.



Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

of life’.15 The first time we see the image, it fades into that of the scientist spinning a globe, the scientist who when betrayed both by patron and wife transforms himself into a humble clown who elicits laughs by being slapped over and over again, as he had been slapped by the man and by the wife who betrayed him. She calls him a fool and a clown, and that is what he chooses to become. We go back to the image of the clown, then to rappeling clowns superimposed on the image of the revolving Earth. They sit on a ledge at the equator, which fades into the low wall of the circus ring. (Figure 21) We return to this image, which is allegorical rather than surreal, in the final image of the film: the clowns on the ring of the equator as the Earth spins, tossing the body of HE into the frontal void, in other words, toward the viewer.16 As in the case of Giotto’s Inconstancy, allegory has been enacted. At a distance of more than six hundred years, Giotto and Sjöström use visual images quite analogously, to intimate rather than to describe, to make a novel offering to the viewer’s comprehension rather than to demand admiration for a set task impressively completed—though in each case, the allegorical image functions as complement to a highly legible narrative. One of the masterpieces of silent film, Sjöström’s film visually equates the heartlessly laughing circus audience with the members of the illustrious Academy who had mocked the brilliant scientist. In this tale of suffering as others laugh, of a man who remains sympathetic even during his prolonged and extreme humiliation, we are induced to realize the possibility that we, too, help to constitute an unkind, and possibly a brutal, world. My dream is of a craftsman’s cinema in which the author can express himself as directly as the painter in his paintings or the writer in his books.17

The French art historian, Élie Faure (1873–1937) may now mostly be remembered as the author whose book is read in the bathtub by Jean-Paul Belmondo’s protagonist in Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965). An admirer of Charlie 15 Punch, 15 May 1907, p. 360, refers to ‘Mr. [Israel] Zangwill’s conception of the grim comedy of life’; the editors find his stories convey an ironic sense of humor which is distinctively Jewish and by which tragedy pervades comedy and vice versa. HE is not Christlike in his suffering, it should be noted. Stravinsky’s Petrushka premiered in 1911. 16 Cedric Gibbons (designer of the Oscar statuette) was responsible for the settings; the director, Victor Sjöström played the protagonist in Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957). The scene in Bergman’s Summer Interlude between ballerina and clown inverts the structure of that between HE (Lon Chaney) and the bareback rider (Norma Shearer). Cf. for allegorical imagery, the figure of Lillian Gish sitting beside the rocking cradle in Intolerance (1916). 17 Renoir, Life, p. 205.

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Figure 21: Rapelling Clowns, He Who Gets Slapped, MGM, Victor Sjöström, 1924, screenshot.

Chaplin and a pupil of Henri Bergson, Faure saw in film (i.e., black-and-white silent film) the descendant of realist painting, a world of mobile light and shadow quite remote from literary norms and, importantly, capable of satisfying the universal desideratum of a ‘collective spectacle’: I discovered, with increasing astonishment, that, thanks to the tone-relations that were transforming the film for me in a system of colors scaling from white to black and ceaselessly commingled, moving, changing on the surface and in the depth of the screen, I was witnessing a sudden coming to life, a descent into that host of personages whom I had already seen—motionless—on the canvases of Greco, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Vermeer, Courbet, Manet. I do not set down those names at random, those last two especially. They are those the cinema suggested to me from the first.18

The distance from Courbet and Manet to film was for Faure negligible, who likely was often looking at black and white reproductions of the paintings. For 18 Faure, Cineplastics, 1923, p. 26, also p. 15. Delluc, Chaplin, in 1921, pp. 6–7, 30, compares his work with Vélasquez [sic], Dürer, Clouet, and Daumier. Moreover, according to Delluc, p. 8, ‘Il est son peintre prope. Il est l’oeuvre et l’auteur à la fois. Il a fait chose qui n’est possible qu’au cinéma’.


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Faure, it was not so much that film startled its viewers back into a primitive state as that it provided the logical successor to the illusion of movement and the sophistication of tonalities in the great midnineteenth-century painters. The kernel for him lay not in the telling of stories but in the beauty of tonalities: The revelation of what the cinema of the future can be came to me one day; I retain an exact memory of it, of the commotion that I experienced when I observed, in a flash, the magnificence there was in the relationship of a piece of black clothing to the grey wall of an inn.19

Nor was he alone. A few years earlier, in 1919, the painter Marcel Gromaire recommended that anyone planning a film should spend time studying the etchings of Rembrandt or those by or after Claude Lorraine, to train the eye to think in terms of gradations of light and shade.20 Some directors thought of themselves as like painters approaching a white canvas: ‘As a director, I have that white rectangle to fill with a succession of images, one following the other’, Hitchcock explained.21 He was echoed, approximately, by John Huston: ‘Cinema is the projection of shadows—to quote from Hitch—on a rectangle’.22 Jean Renoir referred to Picasso to explain his task: ‘You have a frame, the frame is the scene in a movie or is the frame of a painting. I agree with Picasso. You must fill this frame’.23 And René Clair spoke of ‘the vertigo that sometimes grips us as we face that empty screen forbidding in its whiteness’.24 Eisenstein argued on behalf of a square screen, which could be variously masked to produce any rectangular shape desired (perhaps excepting the horizontally aligned rectangles that actually came into fashion with Cinemascope).25 For Jean Cocteau, A film worthy of the name encounters the same obstacles as does a canvas by Vermeer, Van Gogh, or Cézanne. But whilst these paintings land in the public museum only after a long time, a film must begin in it.26 19 Faure, Cineplastics, p. 25. 20 Quoted in L’Herbier, Intelligence, pp. 240–241. See also Chapter 1, n. 143. 21 Stevens, Conversations, p. 264. 22 Stevens, Conversations, p. 341. On framing issues as discussed by Bazin, see Jacobs, Framing, pp. 31–32. 23 Stevens, Conversations, p. 623. 24 Quoted in Dale, Films, I, p. 430. 25 Arnheim, Art, p. 75. 26 Cocteau in 1954, in Geduld, Maker, p. 146. Wim Wenders wrote admiringly of Edward Hopper: ‘we can clearly read in Hopper’s paintings that he loved movies and that the movie screen, like the white canvas he so often faced in his studio, was a familiar friend and an ally.

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Some directors practiced, or dabbled, as visual artists. Fritz Lang had at first wanted to be a painter. Eisenstein trained as an architect and worked as a war artist. Hitchcock drew a caricature of his own profile for his television series. Michelangelo Antonioni trained as an architect and experimented as a painter. The young Federico Fellini made some money with cartoons and caricatures, specializing in souvenirs for American soldiers. Fellini said he always liked to start work on a film by drawing.27 Pierre Étaix was a talented draftsman and made drawings for Jacques Tati to help storyboard Mon oncle. Film historians tend to watch out for the longest single cut they can find, Godard in Le mépris (1963) being one example admired for its length, but it is equally worthwhile asking what the longest sequence in a talkie without speech might be (Le trou, 1960, being at least a candidate)—or the most crucial or poignant communication made in film without relying on words. There are myriad candidates, a number of them involving Greta Garbo. Anthony Asquith’s silent Underground (1928), which he wrote as well as directed, begins with a placard announcing a ‘story of ordinary work-a-day people’. The plot, while tense, involves characters who never develop any level of complexity (though the shots of bystanders offer ample opportunity to wonder about human character), which leaves the viewer with plenty of attention to give to the camerawork, the lighting, and the location shooting, all of which are intriguing without being obtrusive. For viewers now, the story has receded to being of merely anecdotal interest, while the cinematic richness of the imagery of the mechanized, industrialized modern world still impresses. Vidor’s The Crowd (1928) looks, by comparison, a somewhat bloated and histrionic effort to portray the modern city. The scenario in Asquith’s case consists in large part of imagining what the camera might be made to see, whereas Vidor was focused on telling a story. A good screenplay was a special beast: as spatial a construct as architecture, as sensitive to sound as a score, and as in need of composition as a painting. Many of Clair’s films are based on his own story and script, but some are based on the stories of others. He thought of himself as part of a team, or what during the Renaissance would have been called a workshop. His best films To give everything a permanent form, to put things in their place, to overcome the emptiness, the anxiety and the dread by capturing them on a white surface—that’s what I think his work shares with the cinema. It lets Hopper the storyteller (with the canvas on his easel) stand alongside the great painters of the silver screen’, Wenders, Pixels, p. 43. 27 Muzzarelli, ‘Conversation’, p. 15; Fellini, Making, pp. 102, 107–113. He got his admission to the Fulgor Cinema by drawing caricatures of the stars as advertising; idem, pp. 48–49, 66. ‘There was a time when I thought I’d become a painter’, idem, p. 106. He was a great admirer of comic books.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

were made in partnership with Lazare Meerson, designer, and the esteemed Georges Périnal, cameraman. He would warn authors that the transformation of the text implied no criticism of the original, but simply the different demands of a different medium. He published a novel in 1926, early in his career as a director, and after his directing days (silent as well as talkies, black and white more than color) were done, at the age of 81, he published a book of short stories.28 Of the adaptation early in his career of a stage play, Un chapeau de paille d’Italie (Eugène Labiche, 1851), to silent film (1928), he explained, I closed the book; I wanted to remember only the essentials, the initial idea […] One must, if one wants to create the work of a cinematographic author, not copy, but recreate. That’s what, with the aid of my collaborators, artisans and technicians, I have tried to do.29

For Clair, the concept of translation fails to convey the radical nature of the re-inventive process: ‘I wanted to tell the story with the most visual approach I could invent. I always tried to tell the story in a simple way; that’s my idea of motion picture art’.30 Like Clair, Dudley Nichols described the process of translating a text into a screenplay as a kind of simplification, since ‘words are not entertaining to the mass, who need simpler images’.31 Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) avowed more than once that he cared much more about cinematic form than about content. ‘I don’t even know who was in that airplane attacking Cary Grant [North by Northwest, 1959]. I don’t care. As long as that audience goes through that emotion!’32 He would even go so far as to say that the story might just as well be something less than a masterpiece, the better to surpass it in the visual version. Montage mattered, because it helped to create suspense; mere plot could not be counted on to sharpen suspense to the maximum. The MacGuffin as Hitchcock famously propagated the idea, the actual reason for all the intrigue and suspense, didn’t matter; it could be anything, or so Hitchcock claimed.33 It didn’t hurt that the MacGuffin 28 Antonioni (1912–2007) published a book of short stories, open-ended ones, That Bowling Alley on the Tiber, 1986, not published in Italian until 1996. 29 Dale, Clair, I, p. 87. 30 Said of Le million (1931), based on a play of 1914 by an author going blind; Dale, Clair, I, p. 174. 31 Nichols, ‘The Writer and the Film’, in Twenty, I, xxxix. 32 Hitchcock on Hitchcock, p. 292. Cf. Antonioni of questions about L’Avventura; Cameron, ‘Antonioni’, p. 3. 33 Angus MacPhail is credited with having devised the term; the Oxford English Dictionary prefers ‘McGuffin’ and gives a lecture by Hitchcock in 1939 as the first occurrence.

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in his early films was more than once tied to fascism, and to Communism during the Cold War, and to ecological angst in the late film The Birds (1963).34 Nevertheless, Hitchcock was as cavalier about plot as Shakespeare. What mattered to him was using images to elicit emotion. He was being cheated, he was being bilked, he was being made a fool of, but he could not find the villain, because everyone was a villain […]35

Movies had the whole history of art and literature at their beck and call, to ignore or to invoke, and with that, a complicated and elaborate history of the concepts of hero and heroine. Throughout much of the history of art, subjects featuring the male hero, often nude and endowed with a strength that allowed for violence, had counterbalanced the sentimental tendency. Mythology centered on the female object, often, whereas history painting was in large part a male preserve. Not so in most films—heroes were obliged to partake in romance. Gance struggled with this in Napoléon (1927): he found the amoral Josephine an inappropriate match for his master strategist, and goes so far as to verge into comedy while depicting the courtship; for example, Napoleon puts a cushion on a chair for Josephine, a cushion that is so big she can’t sit down properly—this for the hero who is usually either defying the orders of the corrupt or fiercely staring down insubordination. He also invented the woman Napoleon ought to have loved, a pure, working-class girl, Violine, who lights candles at a shrine dedicated to him. Films with virtually all-male casts exist (Le salaire de la peur, 1953; Le trou, 1960; most Laurel and Hardy; and some war movies, e.g., All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930 and King and Country, 1964), but they are unusual, and unusually unsentimental. Robin Hood (1922, 1938) had his Maid Marion; Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as a Foreign Legion soldier in Gunga Din (1939) managed to be preoccupied with Joan Fontaine amid his adventures; the Black Pirate (1926) rescues the Princess Isobel. In film, a nubile female star was generally de rigueur; her love gave proof of his virtue. The ending of Morocco (1930), directed by Josef von Sternberg, shows the cabaret singer played by Marlene Dietrich, barefoot and totally unequipped, following the Legionnaire played by Gary Cooper out into the desert.36 34 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962. 35 Hodgins, Blandings, 1946, p. 142. 36 It is reassuring to note that Alistair Cooke found this risible when the film was new; Cooke, Movies, p. 6, review of 6 Nov. 1931.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

No theme is more sentimental than the unimportance of money, and no theme was more prevalent in classic Hollywood films, even as they reveled in glamour. Cary Grant in The Amazing Adventure (1936) discovers happiness by leaving riches in favor of a working life; Carole Lombard’s cosseted society character Irene in My Man Godfrey (1936) is not only going to marry Godfrey by the end (who conveniently, like the Sheik, turns out to be well born),37 but (presumably) help him in his nightclub that employs the homeless among whom he used to live. The movie overall tells of her coming of age, and that mostly involves her leaving her domineering family and moderating her pampered life of wealth. Godfrey says he himself started life as a spoiled child, and that only with maturity did he come to think a ‘good dividend’ could be found in providing housing and employment for the homeless. Nevertheless, the imagery of the tent city of the decent homeless versus the spineless self-indulgence of the luxurious Bullock household is etched indelibly on the viewer’s mind, and epitomized the opening sequence in which the blonde Irene (Lombard) in a sparkling and flowing garment encounters the shabby and disheveled Godfrey, possessed of more sense of his own dignity than she can muster (unlike her snobby sister). (Frontispiece) If Renaissance art is one giant hymn to Aristotelian magnif icence, cinema—when made for the adults and children of struggling immigrants, the Dust Bowl, and the Depression—consistently affirmed the moral worth of working men and women, including the down-and-out. Many working women in film, from showbiz girls to saloon hostesses, manage to combine the appearance of glamour with lack of social advantage, which was perfect for the aims of Hollywood. Mae West and Marlene Dietrich were particularly bold in their portrayals of self-respecting, working women—even Lola Lola in Der blaue Engel (1930) might fit that description, though our sympathy is surely meant to lie with the ruined professor. In Duvivier’s Tales of Manhattan (1942), one segment features Edward G. Robinson playing a Bowery bum who uses the chance acquisition of a formal coat to allow him to attend a 25th college reunion at the Waldorf Astoria. There, the humbug and pretentiousness of his classmates is exposed more acutely than his own shame, which cannot obliterate his dignity.38 Film changed the balance of 37 In Le mura di Malapaga (1949) the heroine says to the Jean Gabin character, who first shows up beggarly, that she knew he would have nice clothes. 38 That the War affected class relations, see Hughes, Lonely, (1947), p. 114: ‘You were the Mister, you were what you’d always wanted to be, class’, the ruminations of Dix (Bogart’s character) about his military service.

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modalities in visual representation, allowing for updated protagonists. The first and very important step was to discount the role of the conventional hero who neatly solved any and all problems. Modernism may be understood as a realignment of power from the verbal to the visual after centuries of visual art’s domination by historical painting, those many-figured, usually heroic narratives. Some movies presented familiar episodes of swashbuckling bravery in which good triumphed despite overwhelming odds. But Ben Hecht recalled that many scriptwriting conferences included the call, ‘Let’s make the hero a MacArthur’, which meant ‘let’s have a graceful and unpredictable hero, full of off-beat rejoinders; a sort of winsome onlooker at life’.39 And in early Jean Renoir, for instance, or in Jacques Demy’s La baie des anges (1963), the viewer is left in a distinctly modern state of irresolution or ambivalence, in a world that no longer featured reliable, almost predetermined and therefore narratively constricted, heroes. Noir films specialized in imperfect protagonists, such as Trevor Howard’s Clem in They Made Me a Fugitive (1947, Cavalcanti), who is bored after the War and so turns to what he terms the poor man’s free enterprise, namely, the black market, although trafficking cocaine is farther than he is willing to fall. The women involved range from an acerbic old lady who likes to intone wisely ‘Sic transit gloria mundi‘ (‘so pass away worldly rewards’) for the benefit of her criminal gang to girlfriends who get beaten up (the camera is quite discreet). The police detective who comes to understand that Clem has been framed holds out the promise that perhaps the case will be reviewed. How many forms would that take, asks Clem. The last word of the film is the detective’s downbeat reply, ‘Millions’, as he drives Clem away. Then comes the last image, which shows us Clem’s friend, the ex-moll (Sally Gray), standing bereft in the night rain, as the camera recedes. There are no schools of cinema, only stories which dictate each their own style. 40

Terrible as World War I was, Charlie Chaplin released Shoulder Arms in 1918 while the War was still on, without giving offense. 41 It tells the amusing story of an undercover soldier whose brave deeds, initially while dressed as a tree, turn out to have been a dream. However, some scruples were 39 Hecht, Charlie, p. 160. The reference is to Charles MacArthur, not the General (Douglas). 40 Thorold Dickinson quoting Anthony Asquith, in Anderson, Making, pp. 99–100. 41 Delluc, Chaplin, 1921, p. 12, reports that some were dubious about the taste, but that they were won over. For, as he observes, ‘la douleur de Chaplin fait rire’. Delluc avows ‘j’admire la tristesse profonde de Chaplin’, p. 11.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

raised when Chaplin released The Great Dictator (October 1940), in which he played both a Hitler surrogate called Hynkel and a look-alike Jewish barber. Chaplin defended the film by explaining that both Shoulder Arms and the Gold Rush (‘A Dramatic Comedy’, 1925) had their basis in historical events the very opposite of comic. 42 He defended comedy for its tonic effects and the change in tone at the ending as necessitated by the world itself: ‘may I not be excused for ending my comedy on a note that reflects, honestly and realistically, the world in which we live, and may I not be excused in pleading for a better world?’ As for criticisms that the movie was propaganda, he cited Oliver Twist and Uncle Tom’s Cabin as works similarly promoting a ‘viewpoint’. 43 The viewer is meant to find Hitler ridiculous, which in 1940 was a more plausible idea than it became soon thereafter. In the sixties, Godard claimed the ending for cinema verité. 44 Certainly the ending left the viewer devoid of the comfort of a convincing narrative resolution. Chaplin was not alone in struggling with issues of propriety in film, for film was the medium in which almost anything might be portrayed. Early admirers of the new art had hoped it would succeed in rendering the unconscious. 45 Bergman found inspiration in split-second impressions, which he sought to develop like ‘a brightly colored thread sticking out of a dark sack of the unconscious’. 46 The rather staid director Michael Powell called Luis Buñuel ‘my master, the only film-maker I would defer to’. 47 Barthes asserted that Surrealists were particularly devoted to photography because the photographic image offers ‘an hallucination that is also a fact’.48 Both Surrealists and the more innovative film directors shared the will to exploit rich cognitive dissonances created by juxtaposition, especially through montage. Filmmakers liked to play with their viewers’ minds, to tease them with imagery that hovered between consciousness and dream. 42 Chaplin said he had begun thinking about the Donner party starvation of 1846; ‘Chaplin Discusses his Dictator film’, The New York Times, 14 Oct. 1940. The famous dance of the bread rolls is performed in response to the demand for a speech, within a dream. 43 ‘Mr. Chaplin Answers his Critics’, The New York Times, 27 Oct. 1940. The idea for the film dated back to 1937, although before that he had been thinking of a film about Napoleon’s private life (it is worth remembering Gance’s scene in which Napoleon gazes at a globe in relation to Chaplin’s). Chaplin was sued for plagiarism by Konrad Bercovivi in 1947. The filming took six months and the project cost $2,200,000. Tickets at the premier cost between 75 cents and $2.20. 44 He also reports that Chaplin is held in regard comparable to Leonardo; Cahiers du cinéma (XXV, no. 150–151, Dec. 1963–Jan. 1964), p. 118. 45 See Dr. Allendy, quoted from 1926 in L’Herbier, Intelligence, pp. 304–318. 46 Bergman, ‘Why’, p. 6. 47 Powell, Autobiography, p. 112; see also p. 532: ‘Our business was not realism, but surrealism’. 48 Barthes, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, in Fustenau, Reader, p. 93.

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In Étaix’s Le soupirant (1963), for instance, the fantasies of the protagonist as he imagines himself entertaining beautiful women are unapologetically interspersed with scenes of what is really happening, so deftly that the viewer must share somewhat the man’s confusion about which is which—including a startling moment in which, while trying to light the cigarette of a lady he adores but who is not actually present, he sets the curtains on fire. 49 In his The Orphic Trilogy (1932, 1950, 1960), Jacques Cocteau tried to portray ‘the no man’s land of twilight where mysteries thrive’.50 His characters wander through evocative and strange spaces, and at times it must be admitted that the uncanny borders on the hokey—these are not high-budget productions. Cocteau distinctively tries to create a cinematic world in which the old distinction between what is nature and what is art, or what is objective and what is subjective, melds into the oneiric. At times, the rudimentary technical means at his disposal undermine the effort, or at least reveal film as being functionally still a branch of theater, equipped with a new bag of special effects. Yet for Cocteau, cinema is the medium par excellence that allows the viewer to escape the straightjacket of storytelling and its inherent need to advocate: ‘There is nothing more vulgar than works that set out to prove something’.51 Cocteau asserted that Orphée (1950) was realistic, ‘or to be more precise, observing Goethe’s distinction between truth and reality, a film in which I express a truth peculiar to myself’.52 It is a realism compatible with the extraordinary: film is a medium of both, in Cocteau’s hands. The narrator tells us at the end of the prologue: ‘it is the privilege of legend to be timeless […] take it as you like’. Cocteau sought to reinvent legend for a Freudian world. Also seeking a kind of story that evoked rather than dictated, Stanley Kubrick compared 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) with mythological antecedents.53 Resnais’s L’année dernière à Marienbad (1961) abjures the task of mimicking reality in favor of exploring consciousness: a memoryscape both incoherent and repetitious, a journey through a mind devoid of certainty, a mind which sees more than it hears, though also a mind that hears murmurs that may have some effect on what is envisioned. The murmurs try to capture some of what the mind’s eye is watching, but as is generally true with Resnais, word and image work in counterpoint rather than in harmony. The 49 Cf. Feu Mathias Pascal (1926), in which a murder scene is only a fantasy. 50 Cocteau, Art, p. 156. 51 Ibid. 52 Idem, p. 159. 53


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

film begins and ends with reference to Ibsen’s Rosmersholm (1886), a play about an aristocracy under pressure to adjust to a new morality. Resnais said of Robbe-Grillet, who wrote the scenario, that ‘his way of working often reminds me of Le Douanier Rousseau, who used to start his canvas in the left-hand corner, filling in the smallest details, and then work across to finish in the right-hand corner’, and further, ‘the important thing was a constant fidelity to our intuition’.54 In 1961, Marienbad was discussed in Cahiers du Cinéma as the last great example of a postwar tradition, the `neo-realist film’: The neo-realist film presents a sequence of fragments bound by no apparent logic and separated from each other by gaps, the gaps and fragments representing upstrokes and downstrokes on a canvas which bears no relation to the close-woven fabric from which cinema had hitherto drawn its sharpest effects.55

The spectator is presented with a sequence of images belonging to the same level of realism which is the film, and it is the spectator who introduces the depth. For the true successor to the f igurative painter is not the abstract artist, but the spectator.56

Robbe-Grillet described in 1963 how film offered the opportunity to combine image and sound ‘with all the appearance of incontestable objectivity what is, also, only dream or memory—in a word, what is only imagination’.57 Specifically in relation to Marienbad, he discouraged questions about plot: ‘The universe in which the entire film occurs is, characteristically, that of a perpetual present which makes all recourse to memory impossible […] 54 Geduld, Makers, p. 156, interview from 1962. Bergman also said he was guided primarily by intuition. 55 André Labarthe: ‘Marienbad Year Zero’, in Hillier, Cahiers, p. 54, D. Matias, trans. (no. 123, Sept. 1961); and later, ‘The task of the painter is no longer to paint a subject, but to make a canvas. So it is with cinema’, p. 57. 56 Ibid. Resnais stated, ‘I think one can arrive at a cinema without psychologically defined characters, in which the play of emotions would be in motion, as in a contemporary painting where the play of forms contrives to be stronger than the anecdote’, Leutrat, Marienbad, p. 27. 57 Robbe-Grillet, Novel, p. 149. Resnais said, ‘I think one can arrive at a cinema without psychologically defined characters, in which the play of emotions would be in motion, as in a contemporary painting where the play of forms contrives to be stronger than the anecdote’, Leutrat, Marienbad, p. 27.

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There can be no reality outside of the images we see, the words we hear’.58 For Robbe-Grillet, ‘the only important “character” is the spectator’.59 As a young director, Resnais made a short entitled Guernica (1950), thereby using a mechanized art to decry mechanized and impersonal war. The title card preface to the film calls Picasso’s painting, Guernica, the source of the film’s ‘argument’, after which the male voice outlines the historical facts for the viewer, including that all 2000 casualties were civilian. Resnais cut repeatedly from details of the painting to photographs of the ruins to recreate a sense of the terror of the attack. The memorable voice of María Cesarès, a principal in Cocteau’s Orphée (1950), intones words of the poem of Picasso’s friend, the surrealist Paul Éluard, ‘La victoire de Guernica’ (1938).60 The music, by Guy Bernard (with whom Resnais worked on other films), is likewise an active and primary part of the whole, and the soundscape includes the evocative sound of pre–jet warplanes. Resnais refrains from straightforwardly telling the story of the attack, whether from the point of view of individuals or historians. Instead, he evokes the experience of being attacked, but at some reflective distance—recollected, if not in poetic tranquility, at least postwar. In 1950, one looked back on Guernica through the lens of Hiroshima, though this complicating memory is never explicitly invoked. Nine years later, Resnais would release his film about Hiroshima.61 The event is made real for the viewer without any attempt to make the viewer relive the actual event. The film owes something to Surrealism; its organizing principle is one of juxtaposition rather than of coherent arc; it leaves the viewer in a state of indeterminacy, frustrated of any powerful catharsis. (Duras said of the film about peace, for which the actress in Hiroshima mon amour plays a nurse: ‘It’s not necessarily a ridiculous film, merely an enlightening one’.)62 The meshing of photography, painting, film, music, and voice during the thirteen minutes creates a collage for meditation and imagination rather than either a trancelike orchestration of mood or 58 Idem, Novel, p. 152. 59 Idem, p. 153. Jean Epstein’s La glace à trois faces (1930), a short in which the male protagonist is a dandy who dies in a car crash after toying with three successive women, has sometimes been cited as a source for Resnais’s Marienbad. The protagonist’s death offers no sense of resolution; it constitutes no more than a mere accident—correlate of the chance operations the Surrealists used to displace artistic skill. 60 One of the first offerings of cultural programming by the BBC was Resnais’s film on Van Gogh, shown early in 1949; Wyver, Vision, p. 17. Cf. Antonioni, Lo sguardo di Michelangelo, 2004, a short. 61 Penderecki’s ‘To the Victims of Hiroshima: Threnody for 52 String Instruments’ (1960) was given that title only belatedly, having been originally called ‘8’37”’. 62 Duras, Hiroshima, p. 39.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

a declaration of truth revealed. Resnais has transformed the istoria, the kind of image deemed by Alberti in 1435 the most difficult and worthy of artistic endeavors (narrative or allegory), into something suitable for an age of uncertainty or enigma, an age in which the old norms of good and bad have become inadequate. It is possible that French complicity during the War may have catalyzed such philosophical musings on moral ambiguity; Resnais himself, for example, was born in 1922 and studied acting and film during the War. It is not that the film fails to deplore the bombing, nor that the viewer could fail to deplore the bombing. It may also be that viewers in 1950 responded more readily to less stimulus than later viewers, because they had not yet hardened their hearts in response to overexposure to footage of suffering people. Yet Resnais’s Guernica is not an accusation so much as a lament. He (and later Duras as well) seems to have felt that some things, violence among them, are trivialized or, perhaps even worse, normalized, by any attempt to mimic them and show them directly, so he chose instead to delve into the common, terrible fact that the crimes of the fascist bombers were not only crimes against humanity but also atrocities committed by humans. Many works by Picasso are filmed, not only his very wide Guernica, which one sees only in details, never as a whole. Resnais uses Picasso’s Guernica as a source, which he develops into a new work of art, using newsprint in a way that recalls Cubism. The film ends with the name ‘Guernica’;63 however, this naming offers neither answer nor rallying cry. It is spoken in a tone that is both powerful and resolute without being angry or vengeful, following after the line, ‘Innocence will overcome destruction’. Resnais’s sensitive anthropological film, Les statues meurent aussi (1953), benefits from the by then established respect for ‘primitive’ artifacts, but then goes so far as to claim, in the text of Chris Marker (Resnais’s initial collaborator on Hiroshima) that such works die when put into a museum.64 In the opening moments of the film, we watch visitors in a museum, including a young woman of African descent whose gaze—not a reverential gaze—upon the museum artifacts in a glass case we are invited to share. The film explores the idea of Africa as a place without culture (culture being what happens when objects go to a museum to die), a world in which the sacred is also the utilitarian and vice versa. The main thesis of Les statues meurent aussi is the degradation of African culture by contact with Europeans, in particular with scholars’ jargon. 63 Similar to the way Hiroshima ends, as she calls him Hiroshima and he calls her—an evocative name—Nevers. 64 The film was censored until 1963; Alter, Marker, pp. 60, 130. It was in a Trocadéro museum (rebuilt in 1937) that Picasso became familiar with African masks.

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As in his subsequent Nuit et brouillard (1956), a documentary in color, mixed with older photography in black and white, about the concentration camps and narrated at Resnais’s insistence by a survivor (Jean Cayrol), he rejects narrative norms in favor of sustained meditation, as he had in Guernica. His documentaries—as unlike Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (1935) as they could be—are not meant to excite us, but to direct us to what is most difficult to comprehend. As he moved from one project to another, between documentary and the quasi surreal, the constant was that the viewer should be disconcerted. In this, Resnais was as modern as any sculptor or painter, and in this he was anticipated by Jean Painlevé, who began making documentaries as early as 1925 and who is on record as admiring Resnais’s Guernica.65 Hiroshima mon Amour (1959), superficially a love story about an actress and an architect, may also be understood as the culmination of Resnais’s work as a documentary filmmaker. The project began as a documentary and evolved, in Resnais’s description, into a classic love story, with the documentary aspect providing a psychological landscape into which the figures are set. Not only does the film incorporate archival footage, not only does it address the pressing problem of traumatic cultural memory, but it recasts the narrative project as a stichomythia between her and him, elle et lui, as they experience past and present intermingled. The text by Marguerite Duras, produced in consultation with Resnais and a third party, Gérard Jarlot, reads almost as though the Greek chorus has been reformulated.66 The two of them speak with dispassion, verging on an allegorical language (an earlier draft, before Duras was involved, was entirely allegorical). And, as in Guernica from nine years earlier, text and image coexist like alternative paths destined never to conjoin. Beginning and ending are de-emphasized; the film begins and it ends, quite simply, devoid of resolution. It begins with looking and ends with naming. In the case of Hiroshima, the composition obeys a principle of uneasy equilibrium, like that between the male and female body, between Asian and Caucasian. Duras explained, ‘it is preferable to minimize the difference between the two protagonists. If the audience never forgets that this is the story of a Japanese man and a French woman, the profound implications of the film are lost’.67 (Figure 22)

65 Painlevé; Fiction, p. 154; cf. Painlevé in L’Herbier, Intelligence, pp. 403–408. 66 On the modernism of Hiroshima, Bordwell, Style, pp. 86–89; he appeals to Clement Greenberg to define modernism. 67 Duras, Hiroshima, p. 109.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

Figure 22: Elle and Lui (Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada), Hiroshima mon amour, Argos Filma, Alain Resnais, 1959, screenshot.

His formation as a documentary filmmaker, and originally as an editor, may have endowed Resnais with a sensibility disposed to think more like a viewer than a narrator, well in advance of Barthes’s announcement of the death of the author. Resnais made Hiroshima—by a process that he emphasized was collaborative—as an essay in antiauthoritarianism.68 The open-endedness was all. Two years later, with Marienbad, Resnais moved away from documentary into a sort of mannerism, joining an indeterminacy of meaning with an intense determination of form. As Robbe-Grillet put it in 1963: The real, the false, and illusion become more or less the subject of all modern works […] instead of claiming to be a piece of reality […] [they are] developed as a reflection on reality (or on the ‘dearth of reality’, as [André] Breton calls it) […] We discover here, in the cinematographic style, a function related to that assumed by description in literature: the image thus treated (with regard to the actors, the set, the cutting, in its relations 68 Duras wrote alternative sets of lines for one scene, idem, pp. 51–52, with the option that all could be used if the scene was not made too long (Resnais included all of them). The film was originally commissioned to exceed 30 minutes, i.e., to be too long for a documentary.

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with the sound, etc.) keeps us from believing at the same time what it affirms, just as description kept us from seeing what it was showing.69

Pirandello had described a similar phenomenon decades earlier, saying of actors’ feeling for their image on the screen: they feel as though they were in exile. In exile, not only from the stage, but also in a sense from themselves […] it is their image alone, caught in a moment, in a gesture, an expression, that flickers and disappears […] like an insubstantial phantom, the play of illusion upon a dingy sheet of cloth.70

Although an art-historical recasting of the Western cultural tradition with less emphasis on the classicizing, naturalistic spine of academic art began well before the Second World War and correlates with stylistic changes in both nineteenth and twentieth-century art, that revision became even more pertinent in the light of Nazi appropriation of classicism and the many cultural adjustments postwar.71 Art historians found in Mannerism a style that made it possible to talk about sixteenth-century accomplishments with less need to invoke the classical. With Marienbad, the role of the director has been completely transformed from Vasari’s divinely endowed genius and its later descendants, without at all renouncing the claim of cinema as art. The pairing of art and authority had been cleaved. The Perfect Human (1967) by the Dane, Jørgen Leth,72 exhorts us to witness (‘Look! […] Listen!’) rather than to understand. Stretches of the film have a musical component, clarinet and some strings, but the whole is determinedly 69 Robbe-Grillet, Novel, p. 151. He is referring to Breton’s essay, ‘Introduction au discours sur le peu de réalité’, in which he discusses the novelty of radio, though not cinema in any direct way. Breton salutes ‘the hallucinatory power of certain images and the true gift of evocation which certain men possess, independently of the faculty of memory’, Breton, ‘Introduction’, p. 142. 70 Cf. from 1926, Pirandello, Shoot! (a novel), pp. 105–106. Benjamin cited Pirandello in his essay of 1935–1936, applying what Pirandello said of film to theater. 71 Walter Friedländer’s essays on an anticlassical style and on antimannerism were f irst published in 1925 (even earlier, in 1914, the subject of a lecture) and 1930, in English in 1957; Sylvie Béguin published a pioneering book on L’École de Fontainebleau: le maniérisme à la cour de France in 1960. Friedländer was a teacher of Panofsky, who avoided the question of classicism by focusing on humanism instead. See also, Nicolson, ‘Mannerism’. 72 The film was followed up on by Lars van Trier, The Five Obstructions (2003). Leth introduces himself as a poet and film director in a short film published by the Louisiana, about his experience f ilming Andy Warhol: In the same year, Renoir explicated how in La règle du jeu (1939), the character of La Chesnaye is fluid and that made the audience into collaborators and authors themselves; J. Rivette, ‘Cinéastes de notre temps: Jean Renoir le patron’, TV, 1967, third episode.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

spare: just a man and a woman (each of them ‘the perfect human’) in a white room (‘a room with no boundaries and with nothing’), and the director doing voice-over. The tone of the voice-over is expository, but the film overall is not, as though a documentary had been made by an impersonal nonexpert. Near the end, after the woman has disappeared, the male figure mumbles disconsolately, ‘Why is fortune so capricious and why is joy so quickly done?’ A bit like a sheepish Christ in Judgment, wearing black tie and snapping his fingers as he sits facing us, the male version of the ideal human says he hopes in a few days to understand what has happened to him today. This experience of an intersection between the ideal and the random expends thirteen minutes. Artists […] their mission is simply to share with us the anxieties that haunt them [rather than ‘to show us how to live’].73

Although Jean Renoir repeatedly used the capable Jean Gabin in a lead role, his films avoid presenting any traditional, masterful hero. La bête humaine (1938) includes a photograph of Zola and his signature written on the screen after the credits. Renoir, as a little boy, had met Zola, although he had not yet read the book when he was asked to direct the movie; he then produced a screenplay in less than two weeks. The business at the beginning with the complaint against a rich businessman over a dog in a carriage, in which the stationmaster Roubaud defends an ordinary woman and is threatened with punishment because he did not obey the command of a rich man, is Renoir’s invention. Renoir, with characteristic humility, allowed that Jean Gabin, through his portrayal of Jacques Lantier, had helped him to understand Zola’s text.74 Boudu sauvé des eaux by Jean Renoir (1932), like so many f ilms, was appropriated from a play. The 1919 play was followed reasonably closely, except for the fourth and final act, where Jean Renoir allowed himself a complete rewrite. The opening is also redone: a comic interchange between Lestingois and his wife as she goes without him to the funeral of a friend of his whom she never cared about is cut to almost nothing, followed by a fairly lengthy new scene in a park. Boudu’s large shaggy dog, barely mentioned in the play script, runs away and is lost. The police receive Boudu’s request for assistance with brusque dismissal, then scurry to help a fashionable young lady who has lost an expensive dog. We see Boudu wandering amid one of those characteristic French forests, planted in rows, looking like a weed himself by comparison. This new sequence serves both to set up Lestingois’s 73 Truffaut, Hitchcock, p. 20. 74 Criterion Collection DVD.

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attitude toward Boudu, reminiscent of Boudu’s toward his dog, and the eventual parting of the pair in both cases. It also, as in the dog incident at the beginning of La bête humaine (1938), allows scope for Renoir’s taste for social satire: there is no question after this prelude that we are meant to look critically at French society, rather than only at human hypocrisy. Boudu sauvé des eaux is also an ensemble piece, a comedy about a hero (a paradox in itself) and yet a story devoid of heroism. A bookseller (Lestingois) rescues a man (Boudu) supposed to have thrown himself into the Seine and then takes in the tramp, who proceeds to wreak havoc in his household. Boudu is poor and outcast—but we are not encouraged to admire Lestingois either as an exemplary Christian (despite the Biblical recommendation ‘when you do unto the least of men, you do unto me’) or as a pagan hero; nor are we meant to identify with the mindless, useless crowd that deems Lestingois a hero for fishing Boudu out of the Seine. The play presents Boudu as a sort of serpent in the garden; the imagery in the film offers a different perspective. Toward the end, Boudu abandons his wedding suit in favor of a scarecrow’s clothes, with a transient yet unmistakable afterimage of Christ bearing the cross as Boudu momentarily holds the scarecrow rack over his shoulder and lurches down the path, his back to the camera. Boudu is definitely not Christ, but he is, momentarily, visually like Christ. For Dürer at his mirror in 1500, that was a weighty proposition; for Renoir, it is merely amusing. Renoir has re-created farce, that quintessentially French form, as a shell within which he packs the vulnerability of humans. He admired the early improvised comedies of Mark Sennett, and those too contained some heartbreak along with the laughs. The viewer of Boudu sauvé des eaux must laugh and cry, as would be true too of La règle du jeu (1939) and Une partie de compagne (1936). Renoir was a master of providing humor with some pain built in, both humor and pain resulting from the fundamental realization that civilization hasn’t triumphed across the history one is trained to think of as progressive, but only respectability instead, and a false respectability at that. His histories undo the schoolteachers’ grand histories, heritage of the Enlightenment. Lestingois the bookseller is both someone we admire and someone we dismiss; we admire him for his humanity and dismiss him for his human weakness. Renoir does not give us realism here for the sake of sympathy, as in his version of Gorky, Les bas-fonds (1936), but instead helps us not to take these lives (and by extension, our own) too seriously. Renoir has invented the minor hero, a slightly ridiculous entity. The Priapic Boudu, our eponymous protagonist, is as low a figure as we are likely to encounter and thus his rescuer cannot rise very high.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

What a perfect ‘clochard’ (tramp), comments Lestingois when he spies Boudu through his telescope, in the midst of watching girls on the sidewalk. ‘Comme il est beau’ (‘How beautiful he is’), says Lestingois, curiously, as though watching a specimen of insect. Renoir says the same when speaking of the movie, what a perfect tramp. Michel Simon, he says, epitomizes all the tramps in the world, and he, Renoir, used the camera to track Simon from a distance like a lion in Africa, surrounded by the activity in the streets of Paris. He then used the camera to study Boudu’s essential wildness amid the bric-a-brac and books. Michel Simon had recommended the play to Renoir, who at first could not imagine how to make a movie of it, until it occurred to him that Boudu, as the perfect clochard, was the key.75 Chaplin, the chief clochard of the period and much-loved in France, continually skirted sentimentality; there is not a jot of sentimentality in Boudu sauvé des eaux, though certainly he similarly suffers and smiles, saying little. Some jokes are added to the film; other jokes from the play are dropped. Renoir interrupted the narrative flow in more than one seduction scene, partly for the sake of propriety but also to prompt us to laugh at our shared status as poor forked animals and their complements. The needling of bourgeois sensibility is typical of Renoir, nearly absent in Fauchois’s play. Boudu remains totally uncouth. He has never thanked anybody, he asserts in the film, and the point is made the more marked in the early part of the film by his failure to thank a sweet little blonde girl who gives him money with which to buy bread. It is not so much that he is rude as that he has no manners—being not of low intelligence but simply utterly unschooled. He is devoid of that quintessentially French quality, la politesse. He gives the five francs the little girl had given him to a rich man, the person he encounters next in the park, who had been searching in his pockets for change to dispense to Boudu. The tramp tells the astonished wealthy man that the money is ‘to buy bread’. The world is definitely upside-down. Like the peasants in Bruegel, Boudu is unsympathetic yet not revolting. The image of the wedding party in a pavilion on the river’s edge serves as a tip of the hat to Pierre-Auguste Renoir, father of the director, but the impact of the movie overall is neither broadly comic nor Impressionistic. The comedy of the play depended upon words, upon double entendre in part, and upon seeing the hero, Lestingois, even as he is explicitly proclaimed a hero, cuckolded (a standard comic element)—and cuckolded, outrageously, 75 Bourseiller (Antoine in Cléo de 5 à 7), Sans relâche, calls Simon ‘éternel Boudu’, p. 212. For Simon’s disgust with the reception of his early films, including Boudu and L’Atalante, p. 215: ‘ne me parlez de cinema d’avant-garde. Chaque fois ça m’a crucifié’.

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by the man whose life he has saved and to whom he has offered unstinting hospitality (hospitality being a premier Homeric virtue). Lestingois’s standing as hero in the play is protected by his magnanimity toward his wife, whom he understands to be pregnant with Boudu’s child and who has herself attempted suicide in the river, only to be rescued in her turn by Boudu. In the film, Lestingois is similarly generous toward Boudu, who confesses he had switched the lottery tickets and hadn’t really won at all. Lestingois says the money will be split in half and provide thus for the quasi twins to be born, his child by the maid Anne-Marie (whom he had intended to marry to Boudu) and his wife’s by Boudu. In the movie, Lestingois is less central than in the play, though ever genial, utterly unsanctimonious, and generous to the young. We last see him adored by two women, everybody too immersed in the slightly inebriated summer moment to care that he is, to some degree, a fool rather than a hero. The movie ends with Boudu’s return to a rural version of a street person, wandering aimlessly along, disgusting yet likable, vaguely Rabelaisian. He is an opposite of Baudelaire’s flaneur, crude rather than cultured, oblivious more than nonchalant. Michel Simon had played Boudu in the third staging of the play, in 1925. Renoir said the film was an homage to that actor. The part in the play is explicitly that of a young man, one perhaps more suitable for Anne-Marie. By 1932, Michel Simon did not look all that much younger than the actor playing Lestingois (played by René Fauchois himself in two of the five earlier productions). Important as Simon’s interpretation of the role is, and central though Renoir has made his character, he is no hero, nor even antihero. He is a focal point for the camera, which sees him without the censorious or apprehensive eyes of the bourgeois citizens around him. Fauchois had satirized a woman who comes into the bookshop without knowing any of the particulars of the books she has come to seek; Renoir satirizes the Parisians in general who gape at heroism without ever aspiring to it themselves. Every comedy needs its pretentious incompetents. By moving the camera out into the streets of Paris, through the rooms of the Lestingois apartment, and out along the river banks of the countryside, Renoir transforms the narrow world of comedy, a kind of oiled machine of paradox and coincidence, into genrelessness. By making Boudu more central than Lestingois, he mutes the element of satire and instead simply confounds the viewer. He moves the character actor into the main position, and the result is that we cannot merely be amused; we are discomfited. Like the character Monsieur Hulot later played by Jacques Tati, Boudu exhibits a degree of freedom from convention, which may be admirable without himself being held up as exemplary. What he says is unimportant; it would


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not suit his character to be eloquent. It is his bumbling, uncalculated motion that arrests the eye, his purposelessness in the midst of a world ruled by dull predictability. The film’s unity lies in the intersection of those two men’s lives—devoid of transformation, devoid equally of the moment of recognition which so often concludes comedy. The two men called in the playscript heroes, each for saving someone from the water, act as melody and countermelody in the play, the uncivilized and the civilized man. In the play, we are told at the end that Boudu could in fact swim and, had he really been dependent on Lestingois as his rescuer, he would have drowned, so the whole thing has been a sham, a joke that fooled both us and Lestingois. In the film, the final joke is the fiasco of a wedding, a joke also about the genre of comedy. Boudu is Tartuffe without the hypocrisy and without the evil. He disrupts the amiable household and then he floats away, insouciantly. The camera, which refuses to take sides among the characters, has itself become a presence, a slightly decorous presence (able to look discreetly aside, at a print on the wall of a bugle player, that serves to signify what films were still reluctant to make explicit) in a world of philandering, hypocrisy, and class division—a camera that might remind us of the narrator of Vanity Fair, that novel without a hero, observed by a narrator who is both amused and tolerant. …the incomprehensible optimism of a class which, in its unstoppable decline, can no longer afford to think about its own flaws.76

Having himself fought in World War I, and being himself coauthor (with Charles Spaak) of the screenplay for La grande illusion (1938), Renoir may well have sympathized with the historical perspective he attributes to Captains de Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein, that of understanding with some sense of loss that the world due to emerge postwar (1918) would be fundamentally different. Jean Gabin actually wore Jean Renoir’s own uniform; the film took some of its power from its being grounded in real history that intersected also with the personal history of the director. Renoir was forever admiring of his father, Pierre-Auguste, and paid homage in several of his films to locations or visual themes he associated with his father. He made Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1959) in an effort to preserve the appearance of the woods his 76 Brecht, Politics, p. 44. Watching Chaplin’s The Face on the Barroom Floor (1914) in Germany in the early 1920s, Brecht was struck by how ‘the film owes at least part of its effectiveness to the brutality of the audience’, Fuegi, Life, p. 86.

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father had cherished around their home in Provence. ‘I decided to make a study of French gesture as reflected in the paintings of my father and the other artists of his generation’, he said of his resolve in the 1920s to ‘to try to reach the audience through the projection of authentic images in the tradition of French realism’.77 And yet, versatile child of the 20th century, he at other times dedicated himself to reinventing classicism. The title of the film, La grande illusion, echoed that of a well-known book of 1910, The Great Illusion, reissued in 1933, the year its English author, Norman Angell, received the Nobel prize for economics.78 The book had argued that war in a postindustrial world was ineffectual, that the real engine of change was economic. Angell writes in a footnote: The two sides carefully choose their best biological specimens and send them to kill each other off on the battlefield, the second best and the third best being left to carry on the race. To call this ‘survival of the fit’ is to play with words.79

In Renoir’s La règle du jeu (1939), instead of the profound courtesy shown by enemy officers to one another in La grande illusion, we have the brittle courtesy of aristocratic partying, equally a way of life on the brink of extinction, this time in anticipation of the Second World War. The mood is intermittently giddy—not surprising, perhaps, giving the inebriation of the château guests. The splicing of subplots into one another can be downright dizzying at times. Bazin aptly said of it, ‘The film is nothing more than a tangle of reminders, allusions, and correspondences, a carrousel of themes where reality and the moral plane reflect one another without disrupting the movie’s meaning and rhythm, its tonality and melody’.80 The mood swings are more disorienting than in earlier films. We follow a startlingly mobile camera that sees into deep recession, showings us layers of action, though we are never shown that which we categorically cannot believe might have happened. We edge close to that when the elegant guests are discomforted 77 Renoir, ‘Memories’, in Bazin, Renoir, p. 152. 78 Angell does not, however, mention the film in his 1951 autobiography, After All, though he did comment ruefully on how much more publishing success than political effect the book had. Bazin, Renoir, p. 64, thought the title referred to the fact that an early scenario had both men failing to turn up for a rendezvous at Maxim’s on Christmas Day, 1918. Clair wrote an antiwar poem of the same title, 1917–1918; Billard, Mystère, p. 50. 79 Angell, Illusion, p. 121. 80 Bazin, Renoir, p. 83. See also pp. 88–91, for praise of Renoir’s mise-en-scène, so free of the traditional composition.


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by a dance of death in the course of an evening of amateur theatricals (the piano has become a player piano for Saint-Saëns Dance macabre), but we remain in the realm of the highly coincidental rather than of the incredible or surreal. The nondiegetic music at the end is from Monsigny’s Le deserteur (1767), Act II.81 It plays as we watch the figures’ shadows cast against the wall of the château. Renoir acknowledged that his literary sources belonged to eighteenthcentury French comedy, to farce, although this is a farce that bites, for more general reasons now than when it was released. Part of the film’s magic is its hovering between comedy and tragedy, and it is able to do this in no small part because it has no single protagonist. Renoir himself variously described the part he played (Octave), the husband (La Chesnaye), and the wife (Christine) as the central role. One might also assign that designation to the wife’s principal suitor, the dashing pilot André Jurieux, who is described in the movie as a hero, but as Octave explains to Christine, heroes these days don’t hold up in everyday circumstances.82 Jurieux refuses to run away with Christine without explaining himself to his host. (‘La règle’ demands this.) This postponement leads to his own death and to Christine’s continued imprisonment in her marriage—like, said the politically radical Renoir, a worker on a production line. Jurieux and Christine parallel the doomed pair of Boeldieu and Rauffenstein in La grande illusion, as they failed to adapt to the new pragmatism. Boeldieu was captured in the first place because he had gone in his plane to examine firsthand what the new aerial photography had presented as unintelligibly blurred. His effort to supply the deficiencies of modern technology leads to his undoing, as Jurieux’s success with modern technology, his celebration as a pioneering aviator, inadvertently leads to his. Technology is not portrayed as evil, yet its consequences prove tragic. (Renoir warned repeatedly against taking technical progress as a reliable marker of cinematic progress.) If La règle du jeu is a comedy, then La Chesnaye is the protagonist. He is the successful artist to Octave’s failed one (or perhaps engineer rather than artist is the word in his case): he controls the music boxes that are his true passion in life, and ultimately he controls the people around him as well, the 81 A German dance by Mozart is heard during the opening credits, which label the work a ‘fantasie dramatique’ (a musical term); Monsigny’s opéra comique was labeled a drame by the librettist. ‘Stop the comedy!’ yells La Chasneye at the butler in the midst of the confusion; Octave calls himself a parasite, a stock character in comedy. 82 Jurieux’s ultimate insult to Saint-Aubin is to call him ‘un guignol’ (‘puppet’), in the context of a story that thematizes free will by its absence. It was the plane, responds Jurieux to the radio journalist who congratulates him after he lands.

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stolid guests who epitomize privileged Europe in the fateful years of the late 1930s. Octave slinks off, having realized in the stillness of the back terrace that he cannot even satisfactorily mimic the part of Christine’s dead father (see Figure 12), his former mentor, an august and famous conductor (one wonders about autobiographical undertones here, whether Pierre-Auguste is not implicit in the film’s absent but highly regarded father figure). Like Hamlet’s dead father, Stiller pervades the action by means of absence.83 La Chesnaye’s introduction of his mechanical organ, his most recent and most marvelous acquisition—the ‘culmination of my career as a collector of musical and mechanical instruments’, he says while waving his arms—may likewise be seen in contrast to Christine’s universally esteemed, unseen father, the conductor of orchestras. This scene, dominated by the mechanical organ, La Chesnaye’s ‘masterpiece’, Renoir later asserted was the best he ever made: ‘The mixture of humility and pride, of success and doubt. Nothing definite. It borders on many things’.84 No words are needed; we are provided simply a mime of a man who, for the moment, exalts in his trivial success, oblivious as danger brews around him: an unimpressive man fully impressed and pleased with himself, a man who cannot see his own ridiculousness. What could be more common; what could be less familiar in film? The film viewers behold his delight, and if they share in it at all, they do so diffidently, more reluctantly than the bemused château guests. The guests share in the tipsy mood of the moment, but to the viewers of the film, he is something of a fool—the veritable captain of a ship of fools. Of the men pursuing Christine, the likeliest is the celebrity of the machine age, the young aviator, André Jurieux. In La grande illusion, the person associated with the past is killed off; in La règle du jeu, the man who dies, Jurieux, obeys the old norms of courtesy, as had Boeldieu. The New York Times critic was utterly befuddled by the film when he finally saw it (10 April 1950). ‘One for the buzzards’, he called it, ‘a baffling mixture of stale sophistication, coy symbolism and galloping slapstick’.85 He has heard it is immoral but can’t understand why, and compares it unfavorably with the Keystone Cops. The Times critic noted that ‘Renoir

83 Christine listened to Jurieux’s plans before his flight in a way that might remind us of Desdemona and Othello. 84 Jacques Rivette TV documentary, 1967, ‘Cinéastes de notre temps: Jean Renoir le patron’, third episode; Renoir on Renoir, p. 198. 85 HHT (Howard Thompson), The New York Times, 10 April 1950. He saw a truncated version; a restored version was shown at Venice in 1959 (since improved), Bazin being already dead.


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plays the clown who loves but is not himself loved’.86 It is telling that the critic sees Octave as a clown; the author having insinuates himself into the fiction as a figure who almost gets the lady. However, the viewers know him from early on to be a parasite and a failure, not appropriate as lover, and ultimately he knows that himself. The film adheres in many ways to the norms of Alberti’s istoria: it has about nine principal and varied characters, whose actions interrelate and which take place in a fully three-dimensional, connected, and complex space. Those actions form a commentary on decorum, on loyalty and love, and on friendship. The final scene, with all the characters arranged on the château’s back terrace and the concluding, wholly insincere, and chilling speech of the Marquis, in which he draws a veil over the horror of Jurieux’s death and reasserts the farce of haut-bourgeois normality, is compositionally a cousin of Raphael’s School of Athens (c. 1510): framed by classicizing architecture of that back terrace, the figures are scattered around the steps at the center of which strides La Chesnaye, in the place earlier and tentatively occupied by Octave. Compositionally, we are forced to see the Marquis as ideal, heroic, hegemonic, as he explains to us that we must come inside and get warm, that tomorrow everything will be sorted out. We watch, dumbfounded, as, with stunning swiftness, murder is exculpated as legitimate defense of property. The Marquis regains control of his wife and his servants.87 Shot as he runs through the underbrush, the victim of a case of mistaken identity, the premier hero of the age, the brave aviator, dies unmourned, his status utterly deflated. La Chesnaye last refers to him as ‘un homme célèbre’; Renoir compares him, visually, to the rabbits killed earlier.88 The lady—who found her husband dishonest and her suitor too sincere—is not rescued.89 Yet if we see the film as a tragedy (ending in the death of a ‘hero’), Jurieux must be the protagonist. And if we see the work as modern—for example, as a cousin to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879)—then Christine is the existential heroine, condemned to meaninglessness and absurdity, yet stoic. All three 86 The Times, 27 Sept. 1961, had heard it condemned as ‘decadent and effete’, and remained unimpressed by its ‘clumsy humour’ and ‘stylized romanticism reminiscent of the silent screen’. 87 There is a comparable unclassical mismatch between form and content at the close of Illusion: the viewer is cued to expect the two escapees will have been shot by the border patrol, only for the camera then to show them making their way as dark spots across a field of white, safe across the border into Switzerland. 88 That hunting scene may have been recalled by Bresson, Mouchette (1967). It should be noted that Jurieux’s feat is to have improved on Lindbergh’s flight time in 1927. 89 We first see her in conjunction with a painting on the wall, Bartolomeo Veneto’s portrait now in Frankfurt, thought traditionally to portray Lucrezia Borgia.

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are legitimate interpretations: comedy, tragedy, modernist piece; and that produces for the viewer more cognitive dissonance than any purely modernist piece could. The characters themselves comment on how difficult it is to know what is right or what is natural in the present day: ‘everyone has their reasons’. The abnegation of heroism lies at the center of both the movie’s initial failure and its ultimate success. The hero is killed, both literally and symbolically. The daring pilot, who like a knight of yore, has performed his exploits in order to win the admiration of his beloved, instead loses her admiration, because he has adhered to society’s rules of comportment. His heroism is worth nothing; he is gunned down by the choleric, jealous, and stupid Schumacher, who has mistaken him for Octave and has mistaken Christine for her maid, his straying wife Lisette. The mistaken identities that conventionally lead to comedy, here lead to tragedy. And yet because the tragedy is not acknowledged, it doubles back and becomes farce, a cruel farce. Jurieux’s death is called an accident; Schumacher’s murderous jealousy is excused as the execution of duties (killing a supposed poacher). As one of the guests wryly comments, we have a new definition of the word ‘accident’. (This is precisely the word that the maid excitedly exclaims at the beginning of Boudu sauvé des eaux; she is delighted that someone has plunged into the Seine and needs rescuing.)90 When the film was released in July of 1939, the French public found distasteful, or even unpatriotic, the blend of menace and absurdity. They were worried by the insult to their sense of class identity—they could tell that the sort of people who should be respected were being made fun of, and rather pungent fun at that—and perhaps some were just uncomfortably confused by the film. Right-wing elements in France didn’t take kindly to seeing an actor known for burlesque parts (a Jew, moreover) portray the Marquis (who is said by the servants to have had a Jewish grandfather) host the hunting party at the château, or to an Austrian (herself in reality already a refugee from the Nazis) playing the sympathetic part of his foreign wife. She learns, to her dismay, that he has continued to carry on with his mistress since they were married and that everyone around her has been aware of this—all part of the rules of the game. Vichy was going to be full of people who knew what the circumstances required. 90 Truffaut associates the word with American gangster films, and uses it to describe the murder in the back alley of Tirez sur le pianiste (1960). His use is ironic; Renoir’s is more like chance for Dada (Tzara said he found the name by chance in the Larousse dictionary) or fortuna in the Renaissance, in which the word signals the forces that defy reason, institutional structures, and personal vanity.


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In Raphael’s Massacre of the Innocents the soldiers look heroic, though we know they are not; the infants look pitiable, though we know they should be honored as distinguished martyrs; the women look sexually attractive, though that is inappropriate for the circumstances. Like La règle du jeu, the Massacre confounds expectations of genre while triumphing on formal grounds.91 Raphael’s ambitious composition was used only to make an engraving, which meant the artist could decide for himself what his objectives were, quite apart from any patron. The medium of film in the 1930s, like that of engraving during its early flourishing, occasionally allowed the artist, rather than patron class, to be in control. Renoir had recently founded, with the help of family and friends, the production company Nouvelle édition française in 1938, which made the film possible although it was then ruined by its failure. Whereas Raphael’s collectors understood that he was trying to convey ideal yet expressive figures in co-ordinated yet varied movement, Renoir’s public didn’t know how to deal with the complex mixed messages of the film. Perhaps Renoir hadn’t admitted to himself the degree to which he was attacking his own public, or at least its most powerful segment. After the War, the film seemed to preserve something recently lost and perhaps retrievable still, the possibility (albeit ultimately thwarted), that good people might esteem one another and try to behave well toward one another (i.e., Christine, Jurieux, Octave). As Renoir put it, it had been made about a time when ‘the Nazis hadn’t spoiled yet the spirit of the world’.92 What Renoir didn’t say is that the film managed to anticipate the possibility of that spoilage. Octave himself warns Christine that lies are everywhere, in the pharmaceutical advertisements, the newspapers, the government’s announcements, the radio, and even in the cinema—so why shouldn’t her life be founded on a lie, too? 91 One might also compare Don Giovanni by Mozart, in which the listener is captivated by the singing even of an archvillain, which serves the purpose of helping us understand how a good woman could have been seduced by him, but more than that, like the Massacre, the classical style insinuates the idea of an overarching good inherent in creation. Renoir’s classicism is more superficial; the viewer is well aware that the music expresses what the General calls having ‘class’. 92 In the introduction to the rerelease of La grande iIlusion in 1959, Renoir spoke of the poisoning of the human spirit by totalitarian ‘religions’ and racism, mentioning the Nazis as he did so. Of the period before World War I, he remembered ‘a kind of ease that seems to have disappeared’, Renoir on Renoir, p. 216. Cf. Ian Jack, ‘The Best Stuff’, London Review of Books, 2 June 2016, p. 35, of David Astor’s undated, ‘Memoir on the Soul of the Paper [Observer]’, in which he describes how the paper was designed to embody the opposite of Hitler’s ways of thinking and also how he was ‘haunted by what Hitler showed to exist in all us ordinary people’. He became editor of the Observer in 1948.

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In the denouement of La règle du jeu, Christine says to her niece, Jackie, ‘People are watching’ (‘on te regard’)—a line by which not only the characters in the story but also the viewers of the film are implicated. We are watching, and if, as in the extraneous guests at the château in La règle du jeu, we are guardians of normalcy, then we have been shown to be the villains of ordinary life, the banal accessories to evil.93 Christine’s husband, le Marquis de la Chesnaye, is bloodcurdling partly because he is not totally unsympathetic, despite his behavior’s being insupportable. L’Herbier’s L’Argent (1928, based on Zola) had also featured a brave and pioneering aviator, also an ineffectual hero. An intertitle tells us that Saccard, the sponsor of the ostensible hero aviator, has become slave to his own master—namely, money.94 We see the greedy banker pursue women, money, and power relentlessly until he is overpowered by the competing banker (Gunderman, understood to stand in for Baron James de Rothschild). In the end, the hero has been reduced in prestige, while Saccard has managed to corrupt both the small messenger boy who works for him and the elderly jailor who decides to go into his cell and get advice about how to get rich.95 The viewer, who has been dreading some conclusive bloodshed and tragedy, ends up instead with a glittering spectacle of mundane venality, only feebly resolved. L’Herbier’s and Renoir’s films both suffered long and undeserved obscurity, partly because of unfavorable historical interventions, and partly, we may suppose, because both films presented scathing views of powerful elements in society. It is not so difficult to work well when the compass of anxiety points in the true direction.96

If one of modernism’s tenets was to disregard the classics, so too, often, did films, though for different reasons. Literary classics were meant to be edifying; they were directed at the literate public and had been expected 93 Cinema is listed by Octave as among the sources of lies in contemporary life, as ennui is labeled the irremediable sin, more so than hatred, says Geneviève. Resnais’s Nuit et brouillard (1956) is explicit about implicating the viewers, and those they view around them, in atrocities past and, potentially, future. See also, Baecque, Camera, pp. 30–50. My thanks to the independent study group of 2012, Catie Armstrong, Maisea Bailey, and Sarah Zankowski, for fruitful discussions of the film and of Bazin. 94 Christine and Geneviève are not unlike the Line/Baronne Sandorf opposition in L’Herbier’s film. Both projects are critical of the ensconced social and economic hierarchy. 95 L’Herbier tells us he was remembering Piranesi in the jail scene; Tête, p. 156. 96 Renoir, speaking retrospectively of the political commentary implicit in Le régle du jeu, quoted by Bazin, Renoir, p. 72.


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to form part of a stable literary culture, a buttress to morality as well as a means of accessing the past. But nothing stayed the same in the machine age. Gottfried Reinhart, producer of The Red Badge of Courage (1951), told John Huston, the director, ‘You must tell them [people] “Here is a masterpiece” […] The people must know this is a classic’.97 The picture lost money. The popular bent of the movies had long been, for some, part and parcel of its appeal. Anita Loos, scriptwriter, reported that in 1923 she met a Scandinavian professor of psychology who complimented her on Hollywood’s contribution to world culture: ‘Hollywood is rejuvenating the spirits of a tired old civilization. Its jaunty film plots are sweeping aside the moldy problems of Ibsen, Tolstoi, and Dostoevski […] getting us back to basic simplicity’.98 The secret of the silent era’, it has been said, lay in its rough and ready attitude: Men unhampered by a literary education had a greater facility for visual narrative than men trained all their lives to use words; they may have been inarticulate in speech, but they were often superbly eloquent with pictures. And they had lived. Silent-film directors were mostly young men, but in those barnstorming days youth did not mean inexperience […] They had no qualifications but their experiences—but these were often ideal training for the job, preparing them for rough assignments, tough personality problems, and uncomfortable location trips.99

These early films had an uninhibited boldness and no concern for posterity. Film was fragile and the supply line was full of new offerings. Acting styles, let alone glamorous fashions, quickly went out of date.100 Until television was introduced and old movies became late-night fare, a film was meant to make a big splash and then disappear. 97 Ross, Picture, p. 179. The voice-over at the start of the f ilm assures the viewers that, from its f irst publication, ‘critics and public’ alike have taken the book to be a classic. ‘Very seldom have great novels become great pictures’, acknowledged Gottfried Reinhardt while working as producer on the ultimately unsuccessful Red Badge of Courage (1951); Ross, Picture, p. 8. Schary, vice-president in charge of production, had not read the novel when he approved the picture. 98 Loos, Kiss, p. 65. 99 Brownlow, Parade’s, p. 67. 100 Mason, Before, p. 253: ‘standards of acting acceptability have changed so violently since the early days of movies that those one-time favourites now look perfectly terrible. Only the comedians—and not all of them— survive’. Ingmar Bergman in Victor Sjöström (1981) says he initially found Sjöström guilty of overacting, and only later learned to appreciate his powerful presence on-screen.

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Like woodcuts or intaglio prints, films were affordable multiples rather than missives to posterity. Films, for the most part, tended to be touching or amusing—entertaining—rather than profound; Hollywood films aspired to be popular with the largest possible public, and so pulp novels might well seem more appropriate sources than literary ones. Stories written for magazines of wide circulation with little claim to literary merit became as fundamental to cinema as religious stories had been for Renaissance artists, many of them having come themselves from popularizing devotional literature rather than from the Bible. Capra claimed, in response to an insult (‘your films are picture post cards when they could be Sistine Chapels and Mona Lisas’), that he could use the phone book and make an entertaining film.101 For his part, Fellini asserted categorically that a good book had never made a good movie.102 He expanded his focus from the figure to the ambient, often a desolate and empty ambient in which the figure vacillated, directionless. Soundscaping and choreography could become as important as words. The correlate of directors’ ascendancy over script was that scriptwriters were typically not held in particular esteem; theirs was considered a trade rather than an art, and often the task was shared across a succession of writers. Those who had written the original source were often particularly alienated from the end product. Ferenc Molnár refused to go see a film of his play Liliom (1934), showing on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris, because the writing was credited to ‘some German he had never heard of’,103 actually Robert Liebmann, who later died in Auschwitz. Molnár reported that the playwright Tristam Bernard referred to royalties he got from film companies as ‘damages’.104 Ray Bradbury asserted the importance of text bluntly: ‘without that [a good screenplay] you don’t have anything’.105 It is a long-standing paradox, or shame rather, that great authors brought to Hollywood during the exodus from Hitler’s Europe did not transform the quality of scripts there, but instead the writers often left in a state of dudgeon. Particularly during the War, Hollywood studios hired writers of 101 Capra, Name, pp. 121-22, in conversation with Myles Connolly, who called him a peasant and a slave because Harry Cohn assigned him scripts. Connolly was working for Joseph Kennedy at the time. Cf. the Duke of Ferrara’s messenger, who insulted Michelangelo by treating him like a merchant with something to sell rather than as an artist. 102 DVD extras, Lo sceicco. 103 Molnár, Companion, p. 121. 104 Idem, p. 126. 105 Bradbury, in Stevens, Conversations, p. 376. He passed on advice he had been given: write a silent film, and then add dialogue, p. 384.


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recognized literary merit, including William Faulkner, Thornton Wilder, Terence Rattigan, Aldous Huxley, Raymond Chandler, P.G. Wodehouse, and Bertolt Brecht. These literary notables were known to sit for long hours, bored in their bungalows, waiting for work. P.G. Wodehouse notoriously claimed (after his contract was allowed to expire) that, in the aftermath of the stock-market Crash, he had been paid $104,000 for a year’s worth of doing next to nothing.106 His summary of what the producers were looking for: ‘It needs a definitely unoriginal mind’.107 Raymond Chandler was dedicated to the idea of the screenplay as part of literature, but also bitter about Hollywood practice: For the basic art of motion pictures is the screenplay; it is fundamental, without it there is nothing. Everything derives from the screenplay, and most of that which derives is an applied skill which, however adept, is artistically not in the same class with the creation of a screenplay. But in Hollywood the screenplay is written by a salaried writer under the supervision of a producer—that is to say, by an employee without power or decision over the uses of his own craft, without ownership of it, and, however extravagantly paid, almost without honor for it.

And further, in praise of films but dispraise of studios: An art which is capable of making all but the very best plays look trivial and contrived, all but the very best novels verbose and imitative, should not so quickly become wearisome to those who attempt to practice it with something else in mind than the cash drawer. The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion.108

He understood that the medium required a different kind of effort from an author, claiming that the best short scene he ever wrote ‘was one in which a girl said “uh huh” three times with three different intonations’.109 106 McCrum, Wodehouse, pp. 202–203, in 1931. On the issue of great writers selling out to Hollywood during the Depression, see Horton and Hoxter, Screenwriting, pp. 46–50. 107 McCrum, Wodehouse, p. 203. On the reaction in Hollywood and elsewhere, see Taves, Wodehouse, pp. 43–45. He recommended cutting some producers’ salaries. 108 Chandler, ‘Writers’, 1945, p. 50. 109 Chandler, Speaking, p. 138, from 1951.

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But he was left bitter. The year after the release of Double Indemnity (1944), he remonstrated: there is no such thing as an art of the screenplay, and there never will be as long as the system lasts, for it is the essence of this system that it seeks to exploit a talent without permitting it the right to be a talent.

Hollywood has been the object of plenty of bitter denunciations over the years, but Chandler’s cri de coeur still echoes: Its idea of ‘production value’ is spending a million dollars dressing up a story that any good writer would throw away. Its vision of the rewarding movie is a vehicle for some glamour-puss with two expressions and eighteen changes of costume, or for some male idol of the muddled millions with a permanent hangover, six worn-out acting tricks, the build of a lifeguard, and the mentality of a chicken-strangler.110

Ben Hecht likewise wrote more than one denunciation of Hollywood’s use of writers: for example, ‘like hiring a cabinetmaker to put up a picket fence’.111 Writers were lured in not only by the money, he reports, but by the good company and even by the relative anonymity, the immunity from blame, since the critics typically went after directors and the actors. According to Hecht, an unnamed producer said to Charles MacArthur, ‘I know less about writing than you do. But so does the audience. My tastes are exactly those of the audience. What I didn’t like, the audience won’t like’.112 And these bosses ‘had no way of knowing one scene was better written than another’. Hecht tells a story about MacArthur passing a gas station attendant—’incapable of composing a postal card’—off to Bernie Hyman (Thalberg’s replacement) as a scriptwriter at a salary of one thousand dollars per week for a year.113 Mayer was said to defend the practice of sharing out the writing by reference to the Bible, since it, too, he claimed, was written by committee.114 The issue of how film related to text was complicated by a recognition of the basic primacy of image over word in film. Robert Sherwood, himself 110 Idem, pp. 50–54. 111 Hecht, Charlie, pp. 157–158. 112 Idem, p. 160. 113 Idem, pp. 173–174. 114 Ross, Picture, p. 194.


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a playwright and scriptwriter, applauded Douglas Fairbanks’s scribbling some notes about the ‘continuity’ for Robin Hood (1922) on a sheet of paper: It is an historical document, for it represents one of the earliest examples of a real photoplay. It is not an adaptation or ‘screen version’ of a story that was designed for expression in some other medium. It is the outline of a narrative that must be absorbed through the lens of a movie camera before it can reach its audience.115

For Chandler, the crucial insight was that stories had movement. Controlling that quality could produce a successful screenplay, the writer being like a pitcher and the story like the ball: When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a pitcher has over the ball.116

Occasionally, writing and filming worked harmoniously. Graham Greene explained of his work with Carol Reed, specifically The Third Man (1949): ‘The f ilm in fact, is better than the story because it is in this case the finished state of the story’.117 Also for Carol Reed, Graham Green rewrote his short story ‘The Basement Room’, resulting in a film whose title he reportedly disliked, The Fallen Idol (1948). He made fundamental changes in the plot to adapt it to the screen. Some of the revisions have a straightforward benefit for the visual telling of the story: the game of hide-and-seek in the darkened house; the trip to the zoo to see the lions about which Baines has lied to the boy (that he had been to Africa) and the reptile house (the boy in the short story has no garter snake); the quiet dignity of Baines himself (played by Ralph Richardson); the absence of any time-shift to the dying 67-year-old Philip (who is English rather than French in the short story). The short story (1936) has considerable resemblance to aspects of Citizen Kane (1941), that ‘shallow masterpiece’, as Pauline Kael called it. Both the 115 Sherwood, Best, p. 40. He illustrated Fairbank’s sheet of paper. 116 Chandler, Speaking, p. 51, in 1946. Despite this, in a 1949 letter, he admitted he hadn’t known whether the chauffeur (‘a character’) in The Big Sleep (1946) was murdered or committed suicide, when Howard Hawks spent 70 cents of the studio’s money to send a telegram trying to clear this up during filming; Chandler, Papers, p. 105. 117 Greene, Third, p. 10 (Preface); see also, pp. 123–124.

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short story and Citizen Kane involve the scars of a childhood trauma, voiced on a deathbed (perhaps Green’s story ought to be listed among the possible inspirations for Citizen Kane); the film, however, tells a different story.118 The plot has morphed from a child’s unthinking backlash against adult secrets he doesn’t fully comprehend into a story about friendship between the privileged but isolated child and the unhappily married butler, and about how the child unwillingly and unwittingly betrays that friendship, but also about how adults misconstrue truth to such an extent that they don’t ever really know what happened, though they think they do. It is a postwar story about friendship, betrayal, cruelty, and the vagaries of truth—rather than a study in routine psychological scarring.119 Greene managed to produce nonidentical twin works for the two different arts. It was in reference to a work by Greene that Rohmer described a f ilm’s text as a kind of pencil sketch on top of which the painting (meaning, the filming) was done.120 Vladimir Nabokov wrote and published the screenplay for his own Lolita (1962), rescuing the film from an initial Hollywood version in which Lolita and Humbert were to marry in the end to appease those ultimate parental archetypes, the censors, but also having to rethink the expansive novel thoroughly.121 Nabokov’s screenplay, for a novel whose sales rivaled those of Gone with the Wind more than 20 years earlier,122 represented many months of additional work. Initially, it was much too long; Stanley Kubrick, the director, insisted that it be cut in half. In one context, Nabokov claimed he was content with the result: ‘The screenplay became poetry, which was my original purpose’123—though he also later published his own screenplay, describing it as ‘the purely Nabokov version of the screenplay and not the same version which was produced as the motion picture’.124 Although he declined to criticize the movie as a whole, it was not particularly 118 The childhood sled might have been inspired by Gance’s rendering of a snow-fort fight at Brienne, to which there are flashbacks in Napoleon’s later life. 119 It bears some comparison with Julie Harris’s stage role that became film, The Member of the Wedding (1952, directed by Fred Zinnemann), in which she plays a twelve-year-old who struggles to understand the adult world. Fallen Idol also makes an interesting pair with Little Friend (1934) written by Christopher Isherwood (with others), which also features a young child, in this case a girl, of privileged background but with a lower-class friend, who struggles to understand the adult world. 120 Rohmer, Beauty, p. 162, in reference to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American (1958). 121 Boyd, Nabokov, p. 387. 122 Idem, p. 365. 123 Idem, p. 408. See also, pp. 409–414. 124 Nabokov, Screenplay, p. vi.


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complimentary to describe the picture ‘as unfaithful to the original script as an American poet’s translation from Rimbaud or Pasternak’.125 If, in the era of Ingmar Bergman, one accepts the premise that cinema is an art form, on a par with literature, I suggest that Hitchcock belongs—and why classify him at all?—among such artists as Kafka, Dostoyevsky, and Poe.126

The Golden Age of Hollywood had depended upon synergy across all the storytelling media (novels, short stories, theater, and film), as Renaissance art had depended upon the synergy of all the storytelling media of its day (poetry, history writing, the Bible and saints’ lives, pictures, reliefs, and prints). Renaissance artists chose one moment of maximum significance and gave the figures impressive space within which to live that pregnant moment, a frame within a frame. Film instead flowed like life, but life in which time travel and other forms of interruption were possible. The task of silent films—to make the human figure eloquent without the benefit of speech—mirrored that of historical painting closely. Particularly when the motion in the film slowed to a tableau or quasi tableau, reminiscence back to historical painting was almost obligatory. The end of Douglas Fairbanks’s elaborate Robin Hood (1922) shows our hero going with his newlywed wife Marion to a bridal chamber, where the camera, from a distance, surveys their bed and a large archway out to a moonlit sky. Robin kneels to Marion, and the picture is almost as still as a painting, by Carpaccio, for instance, a fairy-tale image to linger in the mind of the viewer, especially since it followed after a plentitude of frenetic battle scenes. The coda adds an irreverent fillip unlike anything in the Old Masters, however: the last image we see is King Richard’s back as he pounds on the door for his knight, while the bridal pair resolutely ignores him. The single image imprinted well in memory; the moving image more resembled life. Film directors recognized the value of both. Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence (Battleship Potemkin, 1925) is punctuated by close-up shots with minimal movement (some of them repeated, or nearly so) amid the views of ongoing pandemonium (some of these likewise repeated).127 Eisenstein thought of his images as like speech, so to repeat them provided emphasis. 125 Idem, xiii. 126 Truffaut, Hitchcock, p. 20. 127 Murnau seems to have remembered the screaming nurse in his portrayal of the desperate Gretchen after the death of her child, Faust (1926); and Ruttmann gives it sound in Melodie der Welt (1929). See also Chapter 2, n. 138.

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The still image, all the way back to the super stillness of icons, connoted a kind of truthfulness (as long as truth itself was still thought to be stable) that the moving image had difficulty matching; the moving image’s forte was instead resemblance to a fluid state of mind. Resnais’s documentaries offered the camera scanning still photographs as a doorway to the past; the moving camera implied the present tense, the still photograph the past. For Eisenstein, process was paramount: ‘a work of art, understood dynamically, is just this process of arranging images in the feelings and mind of the spectator […] the image of a scene […] has to arise, to unfold before the senses of the spectator’.128 The mind’s building up of an aggregate to achieve the image produces ‘a genuinely living impression’.129 Virginia Woolf was her customary acerbic self as she assessed the new medium of film in 1926: ‘The eye licks it all up instantaneously, and the brain, agreeably titillated, settles down to watch things happening without bestirring itself to think’. She needed no one to tell her that photography creates its own reality: They [persons in film] have not become more beautiful, in the sense in which our pictures are beautiful, but shall we call it (our vocabulary is miserably insufficient) more real, or real with a different reality from that which we perceive in daily life?130

Rather than feeling ‘absorbed’ into the cinematic world, she finds that, ‘We see life as it is when we have no part in it’. She deplores attempts to reduce literature to film, but hopes instead that Something abstract, something which moves with controlled and conscious art, something which calls for the very slightest help from words or music to make itself intelligible, yet just […] uses them subserviently—of such movements and abstractions the films may, in time to come, be composed.

For now, ‘we get intimations [of what film might accomplish] only in the chaos of the streets, perhaps, when some momentary assembly of color, sound, and movement suggests that here is a scene waiting a new art to be transfixed’. The first full-length color film was still nine years in the future 128 Eisenstein, Sense, p. 24. 129 Ibid. 130 Woolf, ‘Reality’, pp. 308–310.


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when she wrote this pithy piece; King Vidor’s The Crowd, with its chaotic streets, was two years away, and the first talkie only one.131 Her thoughts were on the future of this medium, which struck the sister of a modernist painter as unsatisfactory, yet promising. In Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920), Woolf was struck particularly by a shadow like a ‘monstrous, quivering tadpole’, the shadow of the approaching murderer, which terrifies both victim and viewer. She speculated about ‘some secret language which we feel and see, but never speak’, and wondered whether there might be ‘any characteristic which thought possesses that can be rendered visible without the help of words’. Perhaps, she suggested, ‘a black line wriggling upon a white sheet’ might signify anger, as that shadow had signified fear. Woolf voiced one of the basic puzzles of aesthetics in affirming that ‘the likeness of a thought is, for some reason, more beautiful, more comprehensible, more available than the thought itself’.132 Thirty years earlier, when an early movie of the arrival of a train was shown in St. Petersburg, it sparked in the viewers’ minds memories of Tolstoy’s great novel: ‘when it [the train] seemed to break through the screen, our minds immediately called up the same scene in Anna Karenina’.133 Yet the new art opened up the possibility that cinema wouldn’t merely translate text into a moving picture but instead would capture what was beyond text alone. It is one of the beauties of Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934) that the final scene (a tense scene of reconciliation) elapses devoid of any utterance. As in Old Master painting, we see what we need to know. Written stories, whether novels or short stories, tend to communicate details of consciousness precisely, and to fall back on generality when it comes to images. Movies tend to provide only generalized access to thoughts (unless by the clumsy expedient of voice-over narration), yet images in full particularity. And, as seems to have irked Woolf when she complained of the passivity cinema encouraged, the reader controls the pace of the experience, whereas the cinemagoer follows the pace determined by some combination of director, actors, and editor. The pace of a great silent film has its own conventions, much less naturalistic, and often slower, than the pace of talkies. The camera pauses, usually on a face, while the face registers an emotion appropriate to the narrative development. We get to watch the coming and going of emotions in detail; 131 It is not clear which of several now difficult-to-access versions of Anna Karenina she had seen, but Garbo’s silent version with John Gilbert, Love, was a year off. 132 Geduld, Authors, p. 89. See Davy, ‘Are Films Worthwhile?’, in Footnotes, pp. 285–288, on how like cinema Woolf’s The Years (1937) is. 133 Toulet, quoting ‘an educated witness’, Birth, p. 24.

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Leonardo would have delighted in such effects. Silent drama succeeds best when little action takes place and we are made to grasp someone else’s mental response to a situation, indirectly but clearly. Although William Powell’s character declares, via the title cards at the end of The Last Command (1928), that Emil Jannings’s character ‘wasn’t just a great actor; he was a great man’, the viewer already knows that Powell’s character has come to respect his former enemy; moreover, the film would have been a failure had one needed that title card to understand what was happening. Part of the beauty of silent film was the indirectness and discreetness with which it was able to communicate sensitive feelings, partly because great directors took the time necessary to achieve that aim. As a consequence, viewers of silent films became practiced in empathy. H.L. Mencken opined in 1927 (at the end of the silent era without realizing it), ‘What the movies need is a school of authors who will forget all dialogue and description, and try to set forth their ideas in terms of pure motion’.134 Even in talkies, passages without dialogue, or with incidental dialogue, could tell the story. In De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette (1948), the walk taken by father and son after the loss of the bicycle—culminating in the father standing on the corner looking at his surroundings and the parked bicycles and the walk at the end for a long time, during which the son takes his father’s hand—is done with minimal speech and not much by way of sound, although we hear the screech of the cars braking to avoid Bruno as he crosses the street and the roar of the crowds in the athletic stadium of fascist design (not long since known as Lo Stadio del Partito Nazionale Fascista). Still, the important relationship is that between Antonio and little Bruno, who sit forlorn on the curb as bicycles whiz past (Figure 23), and all that is said is that the boy should take the tram and meet his father later. We watch the moment in which a good but poor man is driven by his suffering and that of his family to a criminal act, a theme of Sir Thomas More’s first book in the Utopia (1516). He might have said nothing and we would have understood just as well, for the story is told visually, a story of misery, of defeat, of little hopes that lead nowhere. The man who wrote the story on which Ladri di biciclette is based, Luigi Bartolini (1892–1963), was primarily a printmaker and also a poet, with a particular interest in the etchings of Goya and Rembrandt and the paintings of Van Gogh, although it cannot be claimed that the visual power of the film owes anything to his text.135 The screenplay by Cesare 134 Geduld, Authors, p. 101. He praises Der letzte Mann (1924). 135 He mentions his interest in Goya in his first-person account of the gang of thieves who stole his bicycle in 1944, also naming Pollaiuolo, Millet, Rembrandt, and Raphael—all as artists whose


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

Figure 23: Bruno and Antonio (Enzo Staiola and Lamberto Maggiorani), Ladri di biciclette, Produzioni De Sica, Vittorio De Sica, 1948, screenshot.

Zavattini is what is crucial in this instance, in combination with De Sica’s casting and direction (the same pairing of director and screenwriter that drawings he admires more than their paintings, or sculpture in the case of Pollaiuolo; Bartolini, Ladri, p. 170. He mentions movies unfavorably, describing a character as looking like a movie star and adding, ‘I decided that he was a well-known movie actor. But I do not keep up with movie actors, for I am not much interested in the movies, I look upon cinematography as a vulgar art which, because of its very nature will never be able to detach itself from the commonplace’; Bartolini, Bicycle, p. 13. His account is a scathing account of thieves and whores in occupied Rome. Bartolini was also a good friend of the prominent art historian Lionello Venturi, who wrote of Goya’s Executions of the Third of May (1814), ‘Whatever is poorest and most miserable and vulgar in the life of nations has been elevated by Goya to the level of epos’; Modern, 1947, p. 6. For Bartolini, see the British Museum database, search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=92550. His visual art was described as a kind of modern folk art: ‘una poesia popolaresca triste e gaia, d’intonazione vigorosa, d’una psicologia elementare, come gli stornelli e le ballate anonime della nostra migliore tradizione’, Marchiori, Bartolini, p. 6; Bertocchi and Petrucci, Bartolini, unpag., described the etchings as striking ‘per la sua vivacità e la sua apparenza inedita’, comparable to Leonardo, Rembrandt, Goya, and Corot without being derivative and described an etching of a girl on a bicycle (not reproduced) as ‘di sapore ellenistico’. See also Bartolini, Scritti; in a 1937 essay, he explains how photography can liberate artists to explore their souls rather than to cater to the demands of the public.

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created Umberto D., 1952), to the description of one man’s highly localized yet universally sympathetic plight. Bartolini’s novel describes the political and social conditions of postwar Italy (including his opinion that women tended to waste their time going to movies: mistresses are described as ‘frequentratrici quasi sgobbone—feticiste—dei cinema’).136 The author presents to us all his little vanities and pretenses; the film narrates impersonally and less judgmentally. The film idealizes the impoverished worker and his son—neither of which exists in the book—not so much their physical presence as their behavior and sensibilities, and especially their capacity to hope. Bruno could pass for a Raphael putto disguised in rags, and viewers would not have to work hard to think of Antonio and Bruno as bearing some resonance of the Madonna and Child. The sheets of the whores described in Bartolini’s book are fetid and repulsive; the enormous piles of pawned sheets from struggling families in De Sica’s version are less realistic—a powerful, almost Expressionistic image, instead. It is almost as though De Sica managed to do with film what Bartolini admired in Raphael’s drawings and failed to accomplish as a novelist, to achieve greater eloquence through distillation than by attempting representational accuracy and completeness. Bartolini’s protagonist thinks casually about stealing another bicycle as a remedy for the one that has been taken, but in the text this thought has none of the desperation, none of the temporal suspense, none of the forceful imagery both of crowd and of terrible isolation that marks the crisis of the film. Bruno follows his father like a faithful dog, and Antonio sits down on the curb next to him like one who can think of nothing other than his family’s needs, but who cannot allow himself to express what he feels other than by sitting there. De Sica produced one of the great scenes of tension in film without needing a word, and tension is well suited to a temporal medium. We wait in real time for something we dread, as we do also in De Sica’s Umberto D. (1952), the story of a pitiable pensioner whose dog keeps him company (not only screenplay, but also the story by Zavattini). Standing at the corner of the Pantheon, that emblem of past greatness, the pensioner tries to force himself to beg, not least because his dog needs food. Every moment of his discomfort, of not wanting to be noticed even as he knows he must get help, is agonizingly experienced both by him and by the viewer. That scene stays in the memory not purely because of what it looked like, but because the 136 Bartolini, Ladri, p. 151; see also, on the prostitutes/maids paying for the sailors’ tickets, ‘tutte le sere’, p. 154. The unsympathetic landlady in Umberto D. wants to marry the man who owns the cinema so she won’t have to pay.


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viewer learns from it, in combination with other scenes in the film, what such misery and deprivation feels like. Whereas we tend to see an oil painting on its own, only art historians worry about how it fits into an oeuvre and an ambient, a scene in a movie claims all of the other scenes as part of its DNA, and this makes our experience of film fundamentally more akin to our experience of life. Velázquez’s Water Seller (Apsley House, London, c. 1620) is a startling monument to the dignity of the seventeenth-century poor, but even more so to the eye and the technique of the artist, whereas De Sica’s characters live and move, fooling us to some extent into ignoring the work of his cinematographer, G.R. Aldo. De Sica deliberately used amateur actors, and often the characters’ name is the person’s actual name, as had also been true for Clair, for instance. We know Umberto D. much more from watching him than from listening to him, and we trust him because we know him so well; since he leads a lonely life, we know that we are better acquainted with him than anyone else. We have seen him when he thought he was alone or unobserved; we have seen him humiliated and ashamed; we have seen him suicidal. As in literature, we have come to know another human being, one very unlike ourselves, perhaps as well as we know ourselves. I had the impression we had suddenly entered a film set where Abel Gance was directing one of his vast tragic epics, and that the makeup artist had gone a little too far with all the extras.137

In literary storytelling, the reader often knows from early on who will marry whom, or who will die heroically.138 In film, the public can be kept in suspense; sometimes even the actors didn’t know how the story would end because the script was still being written. Alternative endings were filmed in some cases. The viewer of such a movie, one in which plot was not the ultimate determining factor, might be induced to feel that the 137 Giono, Journey, p. 133, of coming into the Piazza del Castello, Ferrara. 138 Shaw’s Pygmalion (1914) ends with Higgins’s laughter at the prospect of Liza marrying Freddy. The performers undermined Shaw’s intentions by implying love interest between Liza and Higgins; Shaw wrote the sequel in 1916 to rebut this; Shaw, Pygmalion, xxvi. Asquith’s production with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller in 1938 ended with a shot of the back of Howard’s hat, and his asking for his slippers, both of them speaking in a low-key tone of voice, though Higgins is clearly not in a laughing mood, derisive or otherwise. Born Yesterday (1950), which revises the basic plot considerably, shows the Judy Holliday character against a backdrop of a copy of Velázquez’s Topers (c. 1629) early on, and walking thoughtfully along the colonnade of the Jefferson Memorial (analogous to Mr. Smith at the Lincoln Memorial) later on. Pygmalion becomes a typically American tale of self-improvement.

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experience was as unpredictable as life. It was also true that the viewer didn’t know the inner lives of the characters as well as in a novel equipped with an omniscient narrator, and so could remain more skeptical about who deserved the happy ending, should that be the pertinent convention. Surprising plot twists are more common in film than in novels—detective novels excepted. First in French movies of the 1930s (such as Le règle du jeu), and then in Neorealismo movies postwar (themselves in part a reaction against the lavishness of Vittorio Mussolini’s Cinecittà), reaching a kind of oddly normative state with Antonioni and Bergman, the old premises that virtue would be rewarded, that art would provide a sort of early Judgment Day in which things got sorted out satisfactorily, had to be relinquished.139 Even Hollywood was affected: when Will Kane left town at the conclusion of High Noon (1952), there was an intimation that all was not right, even at ‘The End’. High Noon is in many ways indebted to Destry Rides Again (1939) (the sympathetic boy, the anti-gun message, the difficult choice between the suitable and the unsuitable woman; it is even the case that Gary Cooper turned down the role Jimmy Stuart assumed). The slightly inconclusive ending of Destry Rides Again must have been startling in 1939.140 We are left to understand that Destry will propose to the boring proper girl, and yet the film cannot quite bring itself to wrap it up neatly (he lost his heart to the showgirl who has died), and so leaves the two of them talking even as the credits roll, after ‘The End’. We may deem as existentialist the development away from edifying narratives toward the heavily psychological quandaries of Bergman and Antonioni; we may wonder to what extent it helped process the morally compromising experience of World War II for many Europeans, the idea of narrative ambiguity potentially acting as a kind of balm. The roots of this newly evolving aesthetic, which pre-date the War, also lie in the realization that an image could stay with us much more disquietingly than a line of language was likely to—perhaps even that language had been developed 139 ‘I abolished “the victim,” “the hero,” “the good guy,” “the bad guy.” Within my characters, I tried to maintain the complexity of the human being’, Antonioni, Architecture, p. 262. A movie made for the British military in 1942, Next of Kin, made as a warning against letting information slip out that German spies might overhear, has the soldiers accomplish their mission, but at great loss of life because they had been anticipated. The movie is full of great suspense and vivid action, but it has no hero and ends on a note of warning rather than of congratulation or admiration. 140 Frank Nugent, The New York Times, 30 Nov. 1939, is bemused instead by how the line ‘Thar’s gold in them hills’, got past the censor. The novel of the same title, by Max Brand (1930, real name Frederick Schiller Faust), has a conventional ending.


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to keep us quiet, in the sense of obedient to conventional norms, and that images were inherently more complex exactly because they are ineffable. ‘It’s terrible how meaningful images are’, said Agnès Varda.141 No omniscient narrator tells us how to look at an image; there may be compositional clues, but basically, we are left on our own, to look and to think. As Fellini commented of Laurel and Hardy, ‘how grateful we were for that carefree laughter with no purpose behind it, none of the emotional or ideological blackmail of Chaplin’.142 An Antonioni film has an evenness of presentation, like an Agnes Martin painting or a Morton Feldman composition, a uniform thickness of description, so that any portion holds up under scrutiny and nothing is climactic. ‘If I’m sure that one sequence is less important than another I cut it out’, explained Antonioni.143 The process of making a book into a movie had often involved bland idealization: people got prettier in conventional ways, social satire or commentary was softened or eliminated, the author’s acuteness of observation was blunted by the camera’s limitations, characters shorn of their inner monologues became less knowable and plots were pared down to simplistic, often to the point of triteness. Antonioni’s films take these limitations of the medium and attempt to convert them into resources. His films appeal to the viewers’ sense of the poetic as Neorealismo films had invoked documentary (Antonioni was himself a documentary filmmaker, both early and later in his career).144 It had always been an uphill battle to turn the complexity of a full-scale novel into a film. Instead of resorting to plays or magazine stories, filmmakers such an Antonioni and Bergman simply devised their own stories, quite rudimentary of action though fraught psychologically. The viewer of Antonioni’s films, like the detective, man of the people, is simply trying to figure out what is going on145—not a bad model for a citizen in a democracy. But Antonioni’s movies weren’t for everyone. In Il sorpasso (1962) two men discuss L’Eclisse (1962) as being about alienation, ‘all the rage right now’. The older man reports that it put him to sleep. Hollywood specialized in an art no one was obliged to believe—an art that thus broke with the tradition of the istoria—made at a time when fine art also had given up the task of convincing the viewer of anything so much as its own monetary value. The Hollywood viewer evolved, at first 141 In 1965, Varda, Interviews, p. 36. 142 Muzzarelli, ‘Conversation’, p. 15. 143 Antonioni in Cameron, ‘Antonioni’, p. 2. Cf. Renoir, La régle du jeu, speaking to Rivette in 1967. 144 On the potential for documentary to be poetic, see Chapter 1. 145 Antonioni called L’Avventura ‘a detective story back to front’; Cameron, ‘Antonioni’, p. 5.

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captivated by the moving pictures—perhaps Harold Lloyd could have climbed that skyscraper, perhaps John Wayne could have won the gunfight in Stagecoach—then gradually becoming conscious of the conventions and shifting to feeling knowing and worldly,146 potentially a mite cynical. Robert Benton and David Newman, who wrote the screenplay for Bonnie and Clyde (1967), announced ‘The New Sentimentality’, characterized, in part, by stories in which they could watch ‘a sharp cookie winning the day’. John Wayne was ‘Old’; Timothy Carey (one of the accused soldiers in Paths of Glory, 1957) was ‘New’. Benton and Newman declared, ‘We don’t see Evil all around us, but if we suspect a touch of it in ourselves, we are rather glad’.147 Pier Paolo Pasolini expressed similar views about leaving the age of heroism behind. In his view, the new f ilm style of the 1960s made the traditional or classic film into its own realm of myth, resulting in a nostalgia of which the earlier f ilmmakers had been innocent.148 If he made even more distant references, as ‘un homme cultivé’, to Piero della Francesca, Masaccio, and Pollaiuolo, it was with irony rather than respect.149 Filmmakers who came of age midcentury were acutely aware of their distance from the pioneering accomplishments of only a few decades before. If he [the writer of a romance, as opposed to the truth-seeking novelist] think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights, and deepen and enrich the shadows, of the picture.150

Paintings had always cost money, and accordingly owning them or commissioning them for public display served to assert financial and social status. Films instead were meant to generate money—let status fall as it might. They might make exponentially more money than the novel or short story or play on which they were based, as Holman Hunt (1827–1910) had made 146 E.g., the phallic train tunnel in North by Northwest (1959). Hitchcock was forbidden by the Department of Interior to have the Cary Grant’s character sneeze while inside the nostril of Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. Later, Kael would praise Godard as having had in the 1960s ‘an eye for the pop fun of this new stylishness’, ‘Rump’, p. 200. 147 Benton and Newman, ‘Sentimentality’, 1964, p. 25. 148 Pasolini, ‘Entretien,’ p. 76: ‘le f ilm classique devient mythe, rêve d’enfance ou idéal du style, il devient l’un des éléments actifs du cinéma de poésie’. E.g., Pierrot le fou (1965) shows Belmondo mimicking the voice of Michel Simon (1895–1975), but not as Dasté mimicked Chaplin (visually). Godard invokes classical film, mockingly; Vigo makes a topical allusion, for the sake of characterization. 149 Idem, p. 77. On modern art and emotional distance, see Foster, ‘Debates’. 150 Nathaniel Hawthorne, Preface to The House of the Seven Gables, 1851.


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much more money selling engravings than the paintings they reproduced. From the capitalist standpoint, movies were the telos of art. The rivalry with text potentially had a rabidly mercenary aspect, and movies won. Even for the nonmercenary, the game had changed. The matching, or jostling, of text and image had provided an inexhaustible synergy over centuries. Vividness, or lifelikeness, had been a stated goal of the visual arts since the Renaissance, and stimulating the viewer to react with both understanding and conviction had likewise remained a goal. A history of Western habits of feeling lies fossilized in the visual arts as much as in literature. Movies joined this tradition of shared, if virtual, experiences, potentially remembered across successive generations. The novelty of inventing for moving pictures was saluted early on by poet Carl Sandburg, who worked as a movie critic and had this to say of Charlie Chaplin’s film, The Kid (1921): After seeing such a large percentage of motion picture plays derived from books and stage dramas based on this or that story, as originally conceived for a book to be read through printed pages, there is a thrill about watching the masterly work of this cinema production. From the first click of the silver reel, the action is essentially movie action.151

‘Movie action’: Sandburg recognizes the possibility of a story told as we experience life, by watching and interpreting movement. ‘Movie action’ was a new category of experience, one that had the potential to meld private and cultural memory to a new degree. Denis Diderot, like Alberti before him, was devoted to the verbal instantiation of a painting’s ideas. He expected pictures to derive from writings and subsequently he expected writers to process those images by writing criticism. It is this closed circuit that modernists defied. For them, the hegemony of Logos was suspect; they wanted to divide the visual and the verbal; they also wanted to circumscribe rational thought and to explore what lay beyond its periphery. Images, especially those of dreams, were deemed a means to explore the nonrational that language, typically used according to prescriptive grammar, failed to grasp. The growth of the field of psychology validated the potential semantic usefulness of juxtaposition, which became a staple not only of Cubism and Surrealism but also, magisterially, of films. Much of the early theorizing about film centered on montage—on the significances of omission, of discontinuity, and of 151 Sandburg, Movies, p. 32.

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juxtaposition. L’Herbier referred to how the movie camera told stories as the ‘surréalisation d’une drame’.152 The more montage was esteemed rather than long takes, the more powerful were the director and editor. The important precedent for this lay in Russian filmmaking, in Eisenstein but also in Vsevolod Pudovkin, for example, The End of St. Petersburg (1927), commissioned, like Eisenstein’s Oktober, to mark a decade since the Revolution.153 Pudovkin’s film uses montage effectively to intercut scenes of the frantic stock market with scenes of a muddy death in the trenches, and close-ups of the fashionable rich with ones of weathered workers. It was a new language, poetically concise and powerful. In a time of immobile cameras, Pudovkin mastered a variety of camera angles and consistently found a sweet spot between the still photograph and the moving picture. His shots of swiftly moving clouds against a vast unchanging landscape add an epic feel to a history told from the perspective of the downtrodden, and his shifts from scenes of wild activity to nearly frozen ones are carefully orchestrated. The editing establishes clearly for the viewer when a shot of factory oppression is reintroduced as a memory by which a worker is motivated to revolution. The viewer is never lulled into watching the normal gears of linear narrative, but must remain active. As the Postimpressionists had relied on the viewer’s eye to blend hues, so the viewer of a film exploiting montage had to assemble in the mind the import of the discontinuous experience. Clair, writing about Mack Sennet, advocated for film as offering a distinctive form of existence, one punctuated by rhythms created by the editor’s cutting tool rather than an imitation of the patterns of life, as was more typical of novels and plays: ‘These images reveal a poet, a master of shadow and light, whose primary concern is not to tell a story but to find the most effective visual rhythms’. He advocated on behalf of the work of an artist who is in love with living shapes and knows how to make them move before us, and how to make us move around them, by means of his sensitive, inquisitive camera. The world in its smallest details is endlessly re-created for us by that two-fold movement of the images and the spectators, by that ever-shifting balance the axis of which is the white screen itself.154 152 L’Herbier, Tête, p. 66. 153 On issues with the legibility of advanced montage effects for the common people and the shift to social realism, see Kepley, End, pp. 109–111. 154 Clair, Reflections, p. 40.


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Clair’s sense of a cinematic experience might be applied to Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour (1959). We start with entwined bodies and voices that summon up what might be memories, or might not; we are clearly in a new place, not merely an exotic place but a place in which to find new experiences, never lived or livable by anyone, and yet addressed to the questions life brings—a nonlinear experience hovering between documentary and allegory, while maintaining a distance from either, as arguably much of Renaissance art did as well. The woman from Nevers, the man from Hiroshima, the young German soldier who was shot while waiting for ‘elle’ (the woman from Nevers) and who died at some indeterminate point during the long hours she held him, fourteen years before—they are all as real as history, as sympathetic as anyone who loves deeply and suffers deeply, and as distant as the past, for even while they are present to us they anticipate the abstract agony of forgetting, which is to passion as shadow is to form. Jacques Rivette put it succinctly: ‘Resnais is sensitive to the current abstract nature of the world’.155 Reportedly, Resnais instructed Duras that he wanted a literary screenplay, though he also maintained that comic strips provided his basic model for film, praising Dick Tracy in particular.156 Éric Rohmer hailed Renais’s achievement by citing painting: Alain Resnais is a cubist. I mean that he is the first modern filmmaker of the sound film. There were many modern filmmakers in silent films: Eisenstein, the Expressionists, and Dreyer too. But I think that sound films have perhaps been more classical than silents. There has not yet been any profoundly modern cinema that attempts to do what cubism did in painting and the American novel in literature, in other words a kind of reconstitution of reality out of a kind of splintering which could have seemed quite arbitrary to the uninitiated.157

If the sound film had dented cinema’s modernism, Resnais reconstituted it. Jean-Luc Godard acknowledged that ‘Resnais has filmed the novel that the young French novelists are all trying to write’.158 His fellow director Pierre Kast went further: ‘It’s indisputable that Hiroshima is a literary film. Now, the epithet “literary” is the supreme insult in the everyday vocabulary 155 Hillier, Cahiers, I, p. 68. 156 Archer, ‘Engimas’, The New York Times, 18 March 1962. 157 Hillier, Cahiers (no. 97, July 1959), p. 61. 158 Hillier, Cahiers, p. 64.

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of cinema. What is so shattering about Hiroshima is its negation of the connotation of the word’.159 The voice-over features the voices of the two, who execute alternating monologues that pretend to be dialogue. They are disconnected even in their connection, visually and verbally. The music is by Giovanni Fusco, who also worked with Antonioni;160 it punctuates and gives rhythm rather than coloring what one sees. The f lashback, so often in cinema a clunky and contrived device, operates differently in Hiroshima mon amour, as it is barely narrative. Some of the scenes in flashback signify memories, some are newsreels, and periodically we are reminded that what we are experiencing will soon be accessible, to us as well as to the characters, only via flashbacks analogous to those in the film (including flashbacks of the movie we have watched being made within the movie). We move (fictively) within a hall of image-mirrors, amid montage of newsreel, f ilmmaking, and f ictive filmmaking, amid footage relaying memory, the documented past, and the present. The film is resolutely without color, an abstract study in hopeless love that lays no claim to tragedy. ‘I am a woman of dubious morals’, the actress played by Emmanuelle Riva tells us without apology or shame. The movie itself takes no moral stance; it does not advocate (as does the movie within the movie) for peace, not explicitly anyway. The love of this French woman, first for a Nazi soldier, and then a Japanese one, itself constitutes an allegory of peace. It is war that has left these saddened people in a situation in which they, both reasonably happily married, commit adultery together. He reminds her of her dead German lover, whom she wants to remember but of whom she has never told her husband. She offers to him her memory of the beautiful spring day when Hiroshima was bombed, the day she first arrived in Paris. They are connected by their scars; they turn to each other because they both can never be happy and yet because in some other world they could have been happy together. It is not so much that she is of dubious morals, or that he is, as that the world is conceived of as a place in which to share despair. And that was a claim the movies had not been in the habit of making, a claim newly appropriate to the postwar world.

159 Hillier, Cahiers, p. 62. Jean-Luc Godard tried to classify Resnais’s film: ‘let’s start by saying that it’s literature’. Éric Rohmer took a different tack: ‘it is no longer a reproach to say this film is literary, since it happens that Hiroshima moves not in the wake of literature but in advance of it’; Criterion DVD, from Cahiers, 1959, p. 20. 160 The jukebox music is by Georges Delerue.


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Hollywood’s output was greatly improved when it began to pay careful attention to good literature, old and new, instead of relying solely on plots originated by people segregated in a Los Angeles suburb and notoriously disposed toward intellectual interbreeding.161

From the beginning, the range of stories translated into film was vast: from Shakespeare and the Bible to newspaper articles, with scarcely a gradation missed between the two. Particularly in Hollywood, films were made not only for but also by people who might have had quite limited formal education, compounded by little time or inclination to read. The rich Hollywood producer lampooned in P.G. Wodehouse’s The Luck of the Bodkins (1935) supposes that the chap that he has hired as scriptwriter, one Ambrose Tennyson, is that same (Alfred, Lord) Tennyson that he has heard his sister-in-law speak of so highly.162 Alberti’s 1435 treatise De pictura implicitly urged artists to look beyond biblical stories to ancient literature. By following his advice, Botticelli and Mantegna transformed the function, as well as the look, of art. Exploring beyond the canonical sources enabled artists to become more radically inventive; no one had a set and inflexible idea about what a bacchanal or a group of Pierides or the Dantean Inferno looked like. Decorum might still be an issue, but orthodoxy was pushed aside. Leonardo didn’t care much about textual sources when he challenged himself in his notebooks to make ambitious fictions, especially his scenes of catastrophic deluge—pages that Eisenstein paid much attention to, calling them a ‘shooting script’.163 For Leonardo more than for any of his predecessors, the project had become to make compelling images, rather than to relay information. Shadow—sfumato—slowed the eye down, and encouraged the viewer to imagine, at least subliminally, time before and time to come, for shadows are ever-shifting. Style became the rival to subject in significance, as it never could have if subject had steadfastly remained restricted to holy doctrine. Once he could paint Venus and Athena in a Christian culture, the painter was well 161 Gassner, ‘The Screenplay as Literature’, 1943, xi. 162 In Night after Night (1932), the ‘Miss Park Avenue’ high-class girl refers to the Rembrandt lithograph [!] she had on the wall as a child. Betts lamented in 1930 that ‘Today, unfortunately, many a film exhibitor thinks that Michael Angelo is the name of a new brand of soap, and many a filmgoer is ready to believe him’, Heraclitus, p. 10. 163 Eisenstein, Sense, pp. 29–33. He also looked at the Vienna Genesis, Dirk Bouts’s Dream of Elijah, Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Adoration of the Shepherds, Memling’s Passion of Christ in Turin, and Watteau’s Embarkation for Cythera as described by Rodin for the sake of their ‘movement-lines’; idem, pp. 148–151.

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on his way to becoming an auteur, a creator. What mythology allowed to the Renaissance painter, middle- and lowbrow literature provided to film directors: the chance to behave cavalierly toward textual sources, to make something more significant in its visual form, something that could be seen to have been enhanced rather than reduced. Michael Powell credited scriptwriter Emeric Pressburger with bringing to England a lack of compunction about the story whose rights had been purchased.164 If it turned out to be unsuitable for filming, it could be completely rethought.165 He also bucked the standard advice in making Pressburger an equal partner (under the rubric The Archers, beginning in 1942), with the credits to read, ‘Written, Produced, and Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’, stating that ‘the story and the script are the most important thing’.166 He meant the story as conceived for visualization. Max Ophuls described what he got from the story, Madame de… (1953) by Louis de Vilmorin, a story (in some ways like that of Camille) about a woman torn between a comfortable existence and love: If I do not think Madame de… is a great novel, I still think that it is a very clever literary work. And this quality of cleverness is in itself the book’s form […] the action continually turns and develops around the core of a minimal melodic axis, becoming complex, or to be more precise, the material becomes a harmony.167

The story concerns an unhappy love triangle and the fall of a wife from wealth and respectability. Against the backdrop of French elegance, a woman’s expensive habits and adultery combine destructively, though without implying any moral lesson.168 The director told the actress, Danielle Darrieux, ‘you must incarnate emptiness, nonexistence. Don’t fill the emptiness, but incarnate it. On-screen you will become the very symbol of fleeting 164 A Hungarian Jew, Pressburger fled the Nazis in 1933 and arrived in England in 1935. 165 Powell, Autobiography, pp. 302–303, in relation to J. Storer Clouston’s The Spy in Black. 166 Idem, p. 386. 167 Ophuls, Madame de…, p. 24. He compared the structure to Ravel’s Bolero. 168 In the book, the adultery is limited to a half hour that culminates in kissing; for once, the film implies that more has occurred. The major plot revision in the film concerns the ending. In the book, the female protagonist, having lost love, cannot throw off a February chill and dies, attended by both men and clutching an earring in each hand, each of which keeps one; the film is admirably less sentimental and more cinematic, with action, implication, climax, and denouement. It benefits considerably from the absence of the authorial voice, having instead some small bits of narration by—unusually—the female protagonist.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

futility, shorn of interest’.169 Ophuls’s interest, then, was almost allegorical rather than narrative, though the film has plenty of narrative sweep. What he kept from the book, according to his own account, he found distilled in two sentences that describe the unnamed protagonist’s realization that, for the first time, she is in love: ‘suddenly she felt that she no longer had any importance; she asked herself what she was doing in the world and why she was living; she felt that she was lost in infinite space’.170 The author of the book, Louise de Vilmorin (a society lady herself), much disliked the film, comparing it to receiving a gift box presumably holding silk stockings and finding in it only nail clippers.171 Her text is much more centered on the woman’s experience of falling in love for the first time and her destruction by heedless men. It was compared at its publication with the anonymous novel of 1678, La princess de Clèves, attributed to Madame de La Fayette. Ophuls tells the story without great regard either for romantic fervor or for what is considered honorable. Instead, he insinuates an attitude—a neutral and yet cognizant attitude—toward the world, a mode of experience, a musical key within which life might transpire. In place of the sentimentalizing narrative voice of the book’s author, the camera is made to observe without caring, but to observe in a way worth itself being observed. Movement, that problem of the visible arts, can be truly realized by Literature alone. It is Literature that shows us the body in its swiftness and the soul in its unrest.172

‘Literature’ was not wholly excluded from the movies: the names of Émile Zola and Charles Dickens were well known; their skills in characterization and in portraying hard lives lent themselves well to the screen. Somewhat reconfigured, Tolstoy and even Tennyson made their way onto celluloid, not to mention Shakespeare, who provided the prime example of art’s capacity to be both popular and profound. Plays were more readily adapted than novels, since the written source had never been intended as definitive, and 169 Rouben Mamoulian reported of his directing Garbo at the end of Queen Christina (1933), a difficult shot that starts in wide angle and ends in close-up, ‘I’m going to have every member of the audience write his own ending. I’m going to give him a blank piece of paper, as John Locke said, a tabula rasa […] so I said to Garbo […] you don’t have a thought […] just wear a mask’, Stevens, Conversations, p. 181. 170 Ophuls, Madame de…, p. 24. 171 Filmed interview with Valmorin, Criterion Collection. 172 Wilde, Critic (1891), p. 48.

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especially so with films made entirely in the studio; these tended to be films (‘photoplays’) that depended on dialogue, such as Shaw’s Pygmalion (1938) or Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)—both, incidentally, directed by the Oxford-educated Anthony Asquith. Visconti’s Le notti bianche (1957) took a short story by Dostoevsky and set it in a dark and dingy and yet evocative Italian town (Livorno) lit by neon-letter signs—misty, rainy, and snowy by turns, and all the while obviously a set. Mastroianni plays a man self-described as unimportant and ‘uomo qualsiasi’ (‘any guy’), the lonely girl climbs a palatial, almost fairy-tale stairway to the attic room, and later, the two of them dance to Bill Haley and the Comets. A film about ordinary people clinging to conventional dreams, amid the chiaroscuro of alleyways, this deft reinvention of Dostoyevsky marks the tail end not only of Neorealismo but the winding down of cinema as istoria, on the eve of Antonioni’s inventing the vague plot of L’Avventura (1960), filmed around Sicily. David Lean, who started out in editing, had a predilection for texts with some degree of literary pretension, some of them on an epic scale: Dickens, Pasternak, Lawrence of Arabia, E.M. Forster, Conrad (left incomplete). He wanted films to address the great themes; producers generally cared more that the viewers came away satisfied. The producer David O. Selznick insisted that only Margaret Mitchell’s bestselling words be used in Gone with the Wind (1939), and was outraged when Hitchcock wanted to fiddle with the text of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1940). Once Hitchcock got out from under the nose of Selznick, he was utterly cavalier about rewriting texts, perhaps all the more so in reaction to Selznick’s rather pointless notions of purity—notions Selznick himself had abandoned by the time Ernest Hemingway, on catching sight of the producer, yelled, ‘I’m going to kill him, son of a bitch! He ruined my book [Farewell to Arms (1957)]!’173 For his part, Hitchcock would habitually insist that he had followed his text rather closely regardless of the degree of rewriting, and then admit, in the case of The Birds (1963), that he scarcely remembered Daphne du Maurier’s story and that the sense of impending danger might just as well be occasioned by the Blitz as by ecological dislocation: the point, in his mind, was showing ordinary people’s reaction to extraordinary stress. He failed to acknowledge that he had taken a deeply disturbing piece of writing, full of angst about the vagaries of nature and quite specific to working-class postwar Britain, and had turned it into romantic California tripe (lawyer meets playgirl) set against a freak disturbance of nature that one could 173 Thomson, Showman, p. 647, in 1959. The 1932 version was by Paramount.


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simply get in a car and drive away from, a film full of clichés, including the obligatory but quite unmotivated fiery explosion and special effects that have not aged well. Years earlier, John Grierson had observed that Hitchcock wasn’t really interested in thematic material: ‘Hitchcock is no more than the world’s best director of unimportant pictures’.174 The name of an author was a mere commodity in Hollywood, and accordingly, James Hilton or Margaret Mitchell, as authors of bestsellers, ranked as high as anyone. Leo Tolstoy was listed as a consultant in the credits of Greta Garbo’s Anna Karenina (1935); he had been dead for 25 years, but evidently his name was still ‘box-office’ material. Maria von Trapp, whose autobiography rescued Twentieth Century Fox when it was dug out of the files of neglected properties and turned it into The Sound of Music (1965), received a pittance for the movie rights and was not even included in the credits, though she did have a tiny cameo. John Steinbeck, who was commissioned to write the story for Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), asked, unsuccessfully, that his name be removed from the movie credits. His objections were several: ‘it is not true that in the script there were any slurs against organized labor nor was there a stock comedy Negro’; ‘the picture seems to me to be dangerous to the American war effort’; ‘I know that one man can’t row a boat that size’.175 Some of the old dialogue shows a remarkable taste for cliché or triteness: Ilsa’s line to Rick in Casablanca (1942), ‘you’ll have to think for both of us’, or in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), the girl, Dallas (Clare Trevor), murmurs after the offer of a life across the border, ‘You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am’, after which John Wayne (the Ringo Kid), assures her, ‘I know all I want to know’.176 Such lines presumably were not meant to stick out glaringly. The joy was supposed to be in the seeing, or—as Woolf might complain—in the seeing that the camera did for you. The filming of the shoot-out and Wayne’s return after the shoot-out had no dialogue, and yet told the story masterfully, much of it without any music at all. Dallas utters Ringo’s name three times after she thinks she has heard him killed, but otherwise language isn’t used. The whole sequence is remarkable for how it tells the story grippingly, both by letting you see and by not letting you see. And, despite its cringeworthy moments, the script of Casablanca has proved eminently quotable (e.g., ‘round up the usual suspects’). Rudolf Arnheim, writing in the 1930s in admiration of Russian silent film, envisioned a future of noncommercial films, produced for cognoscenti: 174 Grierson, Documentary, p. 72. 175 Steinbeck, Letters, pp. 266–267. He was less sensitive to feminist issues. 176 Dudley Nichols wrote the screenplay.

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It must be realized that the artistic film (that is, film which is produced without regard for the general public) will very soon reach a stage when quite exclusive films will be created, for which there will not be the smallest chance of popular success. Not that there will not always be plenty of naturalistic films; but in addition—if the businessmen will allow it—simply because the potentialities within an art medium create the urge to use them, whimsical, fantastic products will appear, compared with which the wildest futurism of the twenties will seem like innocuous ornaments.177

Not only did he admire the independence of film from language but also from naturalism, and he expected the medium to continue to develop those proclivities. In a short hymn to the medium, Arnheim lauds ‘the film artist’: ‘of chaotic and illimitable space he creates pictures beautiful in form and of profound significance, as subjective and complex as painting’.178 He recognized, though, that too often film directors ‘do not produce works of art but tell people stories’179 —including, we might note, the Russian films he admires. What is Oktober if not an Albertian istoria? How these artistic films he envisions might be financed Arnheim does not address; presumably, he expects them to be low-budget enterprises like Entr’acte (1924), which he praises. Jacques-Bernard Brunius made a film, Violins d’Ingres (1939), in praise (as the name implies) of those whose childlike creative spirit is not co-opted by capitalist forces: for example, the amateur painter Henri Rousseau (1844–1910, le Douanier), and the more obscure though equally intriguing Ferdinand Cheval (1836–1924), who build an elaborate structure, Le palais idéal in Hauterives, made from naturally weathered rocks he found on his daily route as a postman.180 Brunius, who appeared in several Renoir f ilms, used music in that short by Maurice Jaubert, who had worked with Jean Vigo, Julien Duvivier, and Marcel Carné. We might be reminded of an etcher like Hercules Seghers (c. 1589—c. 1638), whose etchings are each an individual work of art rather than a commercial product like those generally issued by such a publishing house as Hieronymus Cock’s The House of the Four Winds (founded 1548). As long as the production costs of an ambitious picture could be kept low, it was possible for someone like Brunius to aspire to make great art, he like Seghers and Hollywood like Cock. The danger is that historians only notice Hollywood. 177 Arnheim, Art, p. 114. He describes parts of Entr’acte a few pages later, p. 117. 178 Idem, p. 133. 179 Ibid. 180 The construction was admired by André Breton in 1931.


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Consider the Renaissance man, his sense of joy, his fullness, his multifarious activities. Those were men of great magnitude, technically able and at the same time artistically creative, capable of feeling their own sense of dignity, their own sense of importance as human beings […] today a new man is being born, fraught with all the fears and terrors and stammerings that are associated with a period of gestation […] If anything, what they [my protagonists] finally arrive at is a sense of pity for each other.181

Since Homer, the pre-eminent link between literature and visual art has been the type of the hero: whether intimating the ‘noble simplicity and quiet grandeur’ of such statues as the Apollo Belvedere or the Sturm und Drang of the Laocoön. Epic was understood to be the most elevated and ambitious of literary genres, tragedy next: both centered on heroes. The hero in either case was necessarily noble, as he was also in medieval chancons de geste (‘songs of [heroic] deeds’), from Arthurian legend to those of Robin Hood. Women figured, rarely, as tragic heroines. They had little part in epic, though in Renaissance romance, women played crucial roles, Boiardo and Ariosto having learned new gender politics from medieval novelle, which itself benefited from the prominence of the cult of the Virgin Mary in the later medieval period. But even as the balance of aesthetic weight between genders shifted, the convention of the hero came under new strains during the Renaissance. Donatello provided the image of a young hero; St. George and David are both boys rather than men,182 despite which they display a new psychological complexity. Humanism held as a central tenet that nobility was a matter not merely of birth but of spirit and intellect, of virtue in a widened sense. Visual artists didn’t have to be pushed to develop dignified imagery not only of the very young but of the nonnoble person; for example, in the Mona Lisa, no jewelry and no ostentatiously expensive clothes are to be seen, and the fantastic landscape functions as an attribute of her mind rather than of her stately position. The same is true of Giovanni Battista Moroni’s remarkable portrait of a tailor at work (National Gallery, London, c. 1570), or, even earlier, Quentin Matsys’s double portrait of the Money Changer and His Wife (Louvre, 1514), also at work. In Renaissance literature, in pastoral literature or in novelle, younger and less noble protagonists can also be 181 Antonioni at the Cannes Film Festival, 1960; Architecture, pp. 32–33. 182 Donatello’s David is a few notches beyond putto, which may have reduced the startling effect of his nudity, and although his attitude is intriguing, it is not naughty or insulant as in the case of the similarly aged Caravaggios to come.

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found—ones more occupied with love than with war.183 The type of the hero was much complicated, not only in age and origin, but also sex, as early modern culture developed. The revival of tragedy by humanists featured female protagonists,184 and it wasn’t only Shakespeare who had women dress up as men to be able to do more interesting things. Availing themselves of occasional precedents from antiquity, Renaissance authors and painters alike presented heroines to a culture that occasionally admired women in real life for reasons other than their beauty or political status—rarely, admittedly, but one can cite, for example, Lucrezia Tornabuoni in the fifteenth century and Vittoria Colonna in the sixteenth. The genre of the uomini illustri (‘famous men’) was paired with that of donne illustri (‘famous women’) as early as Boccaccio, and Sibyls were promoted to match prophets even earlier. Shakespeare, ever unorthodox, allowed his audience to laugh in the midst of a tragedy and to have dark moments during a comedy. The moments of dignity occasionally accorded to lower-class characters in his plays likewise show the playwright unconstrained by genre convention. His heroes have faults, and his servants, some of them, have virtues. Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605/15) is both ridiculous and admirable, both comic and tragic, and his servant Sancho Panza is occasionally vaguely heroic, or at least mock heroic. Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1787), opera buffa or drama giocosa, features a sympathetic lower-class principal character, the peasant Masetto, who opposes Don Giovanni and ultimately does better than the nobleman. If Don Giovanni had been the hero of the piece, it would have been a tragedy. Mozart (or more accurately, his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte) was building on a foundation that goes back at least to Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (1516/32), a romance of epic length, combining serious themes with frivolity.185 In all of these examples, the dignity afforded to the lowly as well as the disrespect occasionally evinced for the mighty affected the type of the swashbuckling knight as hero in a stable feudal hierarchy. Instead the male protagonist, often more tormented than inspired by love, morphs into a psychologically and even morally complex figure, comparable to what might be inferred about certain statues by Donatello and Michelangelo, in which heroism no longer appears to be as straightforward as once it had been. 183 Emison, ‘Novelle’. 184 Idem, ‘Singularity’, pp. 373–397. 185 In turn, Ariosto’s romance was the basis of an opera by Agostino Steffani, Orlando generoso (1691), followed by Handel’s Orlando (1733). Cavalcanti, ‘Comedies and Cartoons’, in Davy, Footnotes, pp. 85–86, cites Beaumarchais’s Marriage of Figaro (1784, the basis of Mozart’s) in defense of the idea that comedy can make ‘the bitterest realities’ palatable, evade the censor, and fight injustice.


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Beginning in the eighteenth century, novels added to the pressure on the old notion of a hero. Often they had a complicated range of characters, and not infrequently they were read principally by women and even sometimes authored by women.186 Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and Tristram Shandy (1759–1767) signal a new literary landscape. William Makepeace Thackeray made this shift explicit in his Vanity Fair, subtitled, Novel Without a Hero (1847–1848, serialized). Thackeray’s novel (whose title derives from the dour allegory, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, 1678) anticipates the moral ambivalence that was to become so familiar in a more psychological age.187 Becky Sharp, conniving and downright malicious as she is, earns our admiration for her pluck and stamina, whereas her opposite, the sweet, gentle, and virtuous Amelia Sedley, frustrates and annoys the reader, all the more so as her simplicity actually harms good people around her. (Vanity Fair was likely a source for Gone with the Wind.) The novel’s narrator, bemused and ironic rather than godlike, is as pervasively present in his work as a modernist artist—or as a film director. The reader who finds herself preferring the character she knows to be thoroughly wicked to the one she knows to be tediously good is condemned to mock her own judgment. Writing early in the 20th century, Pirandello theorized about the distinctness of comedy (straightforward) and humor (more layered), as well as the common ground between the tragic and the humorous. The epic or tragic poet works for congruence, the humorist ‘amuses himself by disassembling these compositions, although one cannot say that it is a pleasant amusement’.188 Pirandello traces the development back to Luigi Pulci (1432–1484) and Ariosto (1474–1533), and although, writing in 1908 he understandably does not invoke film as suited to the humorist’s point of view, he does describe humor as based on incongruities and on ‘the perpetual mobility of successive perspectives’.189 He cites Copernicus as a great disassembler of the ‘machine of the universe’, claiming him therefore as a humorist, of sorts.190 Pirandello understands that an ideal understanding posits a generic viewer, whereas a view of the world that latches onto details 186 As early as Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals (1775), the penchant of young girls for romantic novels was mocked. 187 Cf. Rohmer, Moral, viii: ‘One of the reasons these tales are called “moral” is that they are effectively stripped of physical action: everything takes place in the narrator’s mind […] My heroes, somewhat like Don Quixote, think of themselves as characters in a novel, but perhaps there isn’t any novel’. 188 Pirandello, Humor, p. 143. 189 Idem, p. 142. 190 Idem, p. 141.

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tends to accommodate many viewers and ways of viewing, most crucially, the viewer or reader who has a complex experience: empathetic and detached, emotional and ironic, in never-ending and ever-shifting flow. Pirandello, we might say, understands what so many interpreters of Bruegel’s peasant paintings do not: that one may laugh even as one commiserates. Pirandello’s key example is Don Quixote, with whom, similarly and quasi-simultaneously, we feel both a bond and a distance. One might add that in watching comic opera or theater, the audience typically finds itself awkwardly amused by the discomfiture of the hapless lovers onstage—relishing their arias of distress—knowing, of course, that the twists will work themselves out before the happy conclusion.191 The audience’s detached perspective with regard to the emotional outpourings onstage allows the comic and the pathetic to interact—which would, in due course, become Chaplin’s specialty. But it was not only Chaplin’s forte. In King Vidor’s film about World War I, The Big Parade (1925), John Gilbert’s character experiences love and war, the comic and the tragic. In a film that manages to decry the war it is also celebrating, love is played for laughs, until the French girl he loves is left weeping on the road as he heads to the front, her farm soon to be ravaged. He and his socially diverse comrades brave gas, machine gun fire, strafing, and bombardment in more striking scenes than folks back home would have previously ever seen. The intertitles grow angry: ‘What the hell do we get out of this war anyway?’, asks our leading man, who dares to resent orders. Later, when about to use his bayonet against an enemy soldier in a foxhole, he hesitates and finally, relenting, gives the man a cigarette, only for him to die before he can smoke it.192 In the hospital, our protoganist lies next to a shell-shocked, raving man, tied to his bed, and he comes home an amputee. Ariosto anticipated some of this turning away from classic heroism and finding humor useful even in the context of a major effort. His playfulness extends even to his titular hero, the unfortunate Orlando, who is unsuccessful in love. Angelica, who rejects him, is neither the heroine nor the embodiment of evil. She is simply the other, desirable yet unobtainable—her chastity is not the issue; she simply prefers a winsome shepherd. It is not her fault that the noble Orlando goes mad with love of her, yet her not conforming to the expected female role distorts his potential as a hero. The romance, 191 Benedetto Marcello, writing satirically in Venice in 1720, advised librettists not to bother about style, because they were writing for ‘la moltitudine popolare’. He acknowledged that the absurdity of what happened onstage ensured that the audience understood that ‘le cose [even tragic ones] tutte sono da scherzo’; Teatro, pp. 4, 6. 192 All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) has a comparable episode, in which opposing soldiers recognize one another’s humanity when forced to confront each other face to face.


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epic in length though not in tone, concludes complexly. The female warrior, Bradamante, and Ruggiero will wed, out of which union will eventually come the d’Este, Ariosto’s ungenerous patrons. The title character is left virtually destroyed, not through battle but through frustrated love (not unlike Don Quixote’s crazed and futile infatuation with Dulcinea). Chivalry has been, as Pirandello would say, disassembled: ‘the humorist does not recognize heroes […] the humorist sees the world, not exactly in the nude but, so to speak, in shirt sleeves’.193 Or as a reviewer of The Big Parade put it, ‘there is no villain in this story or, at least, the villain is portrayed by the war’.194 Ariosto is never quite so explicit, but he has endowed the epic subject matter with a tincture of absurdity. Pirandello in 1908 anticipates the movie viewer who embraces constant flux and with that, the possibility that what is right or wrong, admirable or despicable, will seem to change as the film runs through its reels, or, by extension, as epochs pass. The bemused viewer realizes that what is seen is only what is allowed by the camera, and that what is presented must therefore be analyzed with an extra element of critical detachment. The Earth may turn out not to be the center of the universe, and doubly so when projected onto a screen. The modern viewer recognizes knowledge as a fragile entity, twisted and sometimes destroyed as time elapses, and so trust is always provisional: such is the modern condition and film suits it. When viewers could not accept (or it was supposed that they would not accept) that Cary Grant’s character would poison Joan Fontaine’s character in Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941), that was a sign of a retardataire public, one with implicit belief in a star system that yet belied the potential of cinema. The fruition of cinema was the creation of at least a slice of the public that was ready to go anywhere conceptually, at least for the duration of the spectacle. For example, Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955, screenplay by an ailing James Agee) combines the feel a fairy tale and a horror flick. Laughton described the film as ‘a sort of Mother Goose tale’.195 The leading man (Robert Mitchum) is the embodiment of evil, and salvation comes in the form of an old lady (Lillian Gish). Laughton invoked German Expressionism (perhaps M in particular)—though he contrived to make this coexist with shades of Grant Wood and Winslow Homer. The picnic sequence was thought 193 Idem, p. 143. 194 Hall, ‘Bright’, 29 Nov. 1925. The scene with the French girl left in the road by the departing column of soldiers Hall deemed worthy of ‘oil colors’. Furthermore, he expressed his relief that the girl does not turn out to have been left pregnant. 195 Callow, Night, p. 44, on the picnic, and p. 8. Based on a recent best-selling novel by Davis Grubb, there was a related news story from 1932.

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of in relation to Seurat’s La grande jatte (1884). Hollywood proved itself capable of telling stories that cast no familiar narrative spell and instead fascinated through their artfulness. Bosley Crowther, though he had no taste for the allegorical flavor, acknowledged that the film was ‘audacious’, ‘intriguing’, and ‘weird’.196 This [the studio] was a factory […] it was a way of making a great deal of money for everyone.197

Whereas the accomplishments of ancient epic and religious narrative, in many cases fresh off the new printing press, underlay the ambitions of Renaissance painters, the heyday of cinema belonged to the paperback era. Lost Horizon, a novel by James Hilton (who also worked as a screenwriter), was published in 1933 and became one of the first pocket-sized paperback best sellers. In 1956, its publisher, William Morrow & Company, deemed it—perhaps a tad early, perhaps slightly overenthusiastically ‘one of the most original and one of the great imaginative stories of this century’, and its author ‘one of the really fine creative writers of our time’.198 It was released as a major motion picture in 1937, an ambitious and expensive flop directed by Frank Capra—like H.G. Wells’s Things to Come (1936), much tainted by sententiousness although redeemable latterly as a viewing experience for the sake of the modernistic architectural fantasies realized in the sets and also for its particular flavor of idealism. The producer, Harry Cohn, is reported never to have read the book; he simply wanted its readership. The author, proud of the thousands who had purchased the book, hoped that millions would see the film.199 That was the promise of Hollywood, that an order of magnitude, or several orders of magnitude, more people would be culturally engaged—or, at least, be made into consumers. Even before the advent of the paperback, Edith Hull’s The Sheik (1919), which became the basis of Rudolph Valentino’s phenomenal success on the silent screen in 1921, read like a Harlequin romance ahead of its time, sappy and salacious by turns. Written by an Englishwoman married to a gentleman farmer in Derbyshire, it was brought to life on the silent screen by the dashing Rudolph Valentino, who, off the screen, peculiarly enough, was mocked by a heartless press as effeminate. (He was short and was not 196 Crowther, ‘Bogeyman’, 30 Sept. 1955. 197 Myrna Loy, Becoming, p. 193. 198 Hilton, Lost, v. 199 Idem, vii.


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a gymnast like Douglas Fairbanks.) The young female protagonist in Hull’s book is ravished by her kidnapper at length; the movie discreetly titillates the viewer with the drawn-out threat of rape, eventually transmuted into honorable marriage with the Sheik, who conveniently, in both book and film, turns out not to be an Arab at all but an incognito European aristocrat.200 It might be thought of as a tasteless reincarnation of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740), and therefore a film whose chief interest at this point is as evidence in the history of gender and ethnic relations, or to put it bluntly, patriarchy and colonialism. It is reassuring to note that it was often parodied afterward,201 not least by a Disney cartoon character, Oswald, The Lucky Rabbit, in The Shreik (1933). In Earl Derr Biggers’s Seven Keys to Baldpate (1913), the issue of taste is framed in terms of the plight of the artist, the young man who has to decide whether to write for the multitude and get rich or aim for immortality without much reward in this life. The protagonist, a writer of popular novels, hopes to ‘forget forever the world’s giddy melodrama, the wild chase for money through deserted rooms, shots in the night, cupid in the middle distance’, and aspires to write literature instead (he hopes to impress Henry Cabot Lodge).202 However, as events transpire at Baldpate Inn, to which he had retreated in search of a higher Muse, fate instead ‘set plump in his path the melodrama he had come to Baldpate to avoid. Ironic fate, she must be laughing now in the sleeve of her kimono’.203 Full of the shots in the dark and wild chases after money such as our young author had forsworn, not to mention love at first sight, the novel was turned into a play in the very same year by none other than George M. Cohan, who then starred in a silent picture version made in 1917. A sound version, still much tied to the play, was made in 1929, followed by new versions in 1935 and 1947.204 Cohan trimmed the novel so as to compress the action into a 24-hour interval, but kept the bantering and sophisticated tone of the original, in which New York City types find themselves in the depths of the wilderness, at a summer resort in the month of December. The mix of amusement and thrill, true to the tradition of vaudeville in which Cohan had started, offers a 200 The anonymous New York Times reviewer, 7 Nov. 1921, found this suitably ridiculous, and indeed the entire movie lamentable. 201 Cf. Gilbreth, Cheaper, p. 205 and So This is Paris (1926), in which a married couple are dressed up playing sheik and concubine. 202 Biggers, Seven, p. 274. Lodge was a prominent senator from Massachusetts, a pupil of Henry Adams, one of the first Americans to earn a Ph.D., and sat for J.S. Sargent. 203 Idem, p. 352. 204 The talkies were all made by RKO.

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precedent for Hitchcock. By the 1947 version, the suspense has overweighed the comedy, and the girl reporter (‘who had done a man’s work’)205 has metamorphosed into an obliging secretary, while at the same time the woman who was described in the novel as suggesting ‘a house of warmth and luxury, a house where Arnold Bennett and the Post-Impressionists are often discussed, a house the head of which becomes purple and apoplectic at the mention of Colonel Roosevelt’s name’,206 in 1917 has morphed into a prized agent of the Secret Service. Thirty years later, the character has been reinvented as a tough moll. The 1917 movie is an out-and-out apology for lowbrow art: the protagonist defends himself against the charge that he is ‘prostituting a gift’ and comes to realize that ‘truth is always stranger than fiction’ (as Mark Twain had avowed). Melodrama is what the public wants; the lesson is that it is true to life, and it also makes money. The man who had written about tropes such as falling in love at first sight becomes a better writer not by giving up such foolery, but instead by experiencing it as true. In the remarkable, quasi-Pirandello, 1929 version, the melodramatic action is revealed as a farce by its hired actors, who inform the writer that it has been their job to ensure that he loses the $5000 bet that he can write a book in 24 hours.207 Or so we suppose, until in the denouement, we understand that what we have been watching as though it were real is only the stuff of one more popular novel, that the writer has imagined all the action we have been watching, including that very revelation. Across the various versions, many changes occur: how much and what sort of death, the balance of comedy and suspense, the treatment of the theme of misogyny centered on the hermit who lives nearby stewing in the bitterness of marital disappointment, the need for chaperones for nice girls, the degree to which the befuddled author is motivated by chivalrous impulses, whether political corruption is involved or merely robbery and insurance fraud—even how central is the defense of ‘sensational melodrama’—but the $200,000 in the safe remains the same for well over 40 inflation-free years. Embedded bits of social history make a fascinating roll call of evolving mores. Seven Keys to Baldpate, in its many versions, vindicates both money-making art and the public’s conventionalized taste for the improbable. 205 Biggers, Seven, p. 379. 206 Idem, p. 243. 207 Pirandello took a considerable interest in cinema, from the time of his novel Si gira (1915) through his writing a screenplay of Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore in 1928–1929 (the play dates to 1921); see Syrimis, Spider, Chapter 6. Pirandello was intrigued by what he called ‘l’avvertimento del contrario’, the association of contraries which lends itself to laughter, and for which the medium of film is suited; Saggi, pp. 213–216.


Moving Pic tures and Renaissance Art History

Michel Carné, a director more usually associated with tragedy or at least serious drama, made Drôle de drame (1937, translated as Bizarre, Bizarre), keeping it in Edwardian times, true to J. Storer Clouston’s novel (His First Offence, 1912). As in many comedies, the plot is something of an excuse to set up various confrontations and juxtapositions, and yet amid all of the fun, the social satire is as biting as Molière’s. On the basis of a novel by a Scot, Michel Carné and Jacques Prévert crafted a farce that features a killer as a major character (or at least, he says he is one and he carries a knife). He (Jean-Louis Barrault) and a middle-aged woman (Françoise Rosay) have a serious (yet very amusing) flirtation. Meanwhile, the killer tries to hunt down her husband (not knowing it is her husband, played by Michel Simon). Her husband is the author of the crime thrillers that supposedly induced the killer to commit violence—though her husband, the incognito author, is fake even in his incognito identity; the creativity comes from the charming milkman, who is courting the beautiful orphan raised by the author and his wife. Ultimately the charming milkman succeeds with the lovely orphan up in the attic, though he cheerfully tells her they will both go to hell for it. It is the milkman who told the stories to the orphan that have produced the money to allow the middle-aged couple to live at a respectable standard; the husband is a somewhat ineffectual botanist who loves mimosas and carnivorous plants. Meanwhile, the stuffy Bishop of Bedford, their lecherous cousin, invites himself to dinner at the house of the middle-aged couple, whose excellent cook has just stormed out. When the wife works in the kitchen as a result (to save the family’s reputation, which apparently would be ruined if word got out that their servants had abandoned them), the officious bishop decides the husband has murdered the absent wife, and calls the police, which sends both husband and wife into hiding, separately. The movie starts with the Bishop’s denunciation of detective novels: ‘detective novel readers are future murderers’, reads the banner at his ill-attended public meeting—though among the attendees is our appealing vegetarian killer, with his bicycle. And as if that weren’t enough, we have a dotty old rich aunt, a blood-thirsty London mob, inept and destructive police, a reporter asleep (mostly) on the couch in the parlor, and a convincingly English interior that includes a lampshade decorated with the designs of the Bayeux Tapestry. On the basis of the Scottish novel, the French filmmakers thoroughly skewer the stuffy English with their penchant for respectability.208 Even the 208 The novel has interesting points of difference: there is less lovemaking; the courtship between young people brings together an aristocratic man and a female servant; the hideaway

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Bishop’s wife, mother of myriad children, when it comes to her husband’s infidelity, only cares for what people will think. The comedy hovers dangerously close to thriller at times, although it is populated by French-speaking English characters inhabiting sets that look both meticulously patterned on English architecture and unapologetically like stage sets. The result is an exquisite piece of artfulness that lambasts all moralistic pretense. Making fun of the English is the tip of the iceberg; propriety itself is thoroughly mocked—and more effectively so in the film than in the novel. Despite being a work of popular art, it boldly assaults the norm of ‘what people will think’. Frank Nugent of The New York Times admitted that he didn’t get it at all:209 he wrote of ‘a humor so elusive that this humorless corner frankly never quite caught on’ (it is remarkable how often professional critics are befuddled even before films were meant to be challenging to understand). Neither particularly loyal to its novel nor dismissive either, the film we might say in Renaissance terms, imitates the book, modifying it freely as it does so. Do you know why most writers fail in the theatre? Because they try to write what is worthwhile rather than what is effective.210

Cinema followed theater in taking fiction as something to be taken seriously, as part of a carefully cultivated and curated life of the public imagination. Palladio’s classical though indoor theater at Vicenza, the Teatro Olimpico, made manifest how important not merely antiquity but fiction qua se was to the humanist community. Its fictive marble signified the artificiality of the whole enterprise, artificiality that was embraced as a kind of new authenticity, the authenticity of a culture that had self-consciously resolved to camouflage itself in the garb of another time. It sufficed that it looked like antiquity for it to be as much like antiquity as was required. The amateur actors were those humanists themselves; the inaugural production in 1585 staged Oedipus Rex. The Vicenza theater enabled the academy members to make a living declaration of their intellectual allegiance. They wanted to see and hear the ancient plays rather than only to read them. The absence of doctrinal content in pagan texts did not render the result trivial because for the presumed victim is less colorful and more complicated in the novel; there is fundamental confusion in the minds of police and press about whether the murder victim is the young woman or the middle-aged one; and the novel includes a more developed subplot about the meddling Bishop. 209 Nugent, ‘French Farce’, 21 March 1939, p. 31. 210 Chaplin in Gelder, ‘Chaplin’, The New York Times, p. 22.


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the plays examined at the thematic level the stuff of humanism: friendship, duty, loyalty, respect, courage, responsibility, beauty, love, and learnedness. Alberti wrote in the preface to On Painting (1435) that he had despaired that nature had grown old: for him, coming back to Florence and seeing the new art being made was like rediscovering youth—everything was now possible—or as Rabelais would later put it, with even more freewheeling gusto: ‘fais ce que vouldras’ (‘do as you like’). Masaccio’s Tribute Money (c. 1427) did not merely illustrate a story from the Gospels: it correlated with the new taxation Florentines were experiencing, and it was a picture such as no one had seen before (including, Vasari tells us, a self-portrait of the artist). A lost Masaccio fresco in terra verde (monochrome) depicting the consecration of Santa Maria del Carmine (the church in a chapel of which the Tribute Money was painted) even more radically changed how art supplemented life, for it showed a group portrait of contemporary Florentines. They could see themselves in a work of art, acting as they actually had on that particular day. Renaissance viewers never came closer to the experience of film, and seeing themselves or their surrogates up on the wall (mirrors barely existed) contributed to the evolving conceptions of selfhood. The Renaissance is known as an era of individual artistic accomplishment, yet it was also an era of shared practice, of workshops and apprenticeship, and of free appropriation. Its imagemaking belonged to this interconnected world, not purely to the intense isolation of a genius creator. Michelangelo certainly agonized at length and alone, but he also discussed Dante with his contemporaries as he walked the streets of Rome. When he transplanted the ferryman Charon into the Sistine Last Judgment, he relied upon a culture of common literary properties, Dante’s as well as the Greeks’. Centuries later, Thornton Wilder would credit Dante for the basic idea of the third act in Our Town (1938, first filmed in 1940), which centers on the thoughts of the deceased in the cemetery, voiced as they are being visited by a funeral party. Wilder took a traditional cultural property and made it real for ordinary people and applicable to their ordinary lives—as had Dante, as had Michelangelo (insofar as they saw his Last Judgment, via engravings). The hegemony of the world of texts began to diminish during the Renaissance. Texts became more numerous and more available due to the printing press; they were central to the cultural agenda of humanists, yet proliferation diminished the possibility of dominance. Arguably, the Reformation represents an attempt to reinstate that former hegemony, partly by obviating the religious use of images. The flourishing of Renaissance art—both Northern

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and Southern—depended upon the complementarity (however unstable) of text and image. Those same habits of visual curiosity and analysis that produced Renaissance art surely also fostered the impulses that yielded early modern science. Inquiring persons began to think not only about their perception, but they also learned to think in images and diagrams. Galileo’s thought experiments depended upon visual imagination.211 From having started as books for the illiterate, now the visual arts had brought its public through the looking glass into a world in which anything might be envisaged. That is cinema’s world, too. Released from the confines of the studio, cinema might seek new sources of grandeur (e.g., Death Valley in John Ford westerns), or alternatively, an evocative ambient that took some of the narrative weight off of the actors and often allowed for a new unease, as heroes became less capable, for example, Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947), in some ways reminiscent of Pépé le Moko (1937) and Algiers (1938) with their desperate leads trapped, though for a time protected, by the Casbah. Transplanted to a wet and chilly Belfast, the wounded James Mason character speaks very little and does little except stumble or collapse. There is some fancy business with the photography to convey the injured man’s delirium, but this is done with restraint. The opening consists of an aerial approach to the city, culminating at the Albert Clock in Queen’s Square, and the closing takes place in the same place (or rather, a snowy set approximating the same). Belfast gripped by horrid winter weather (though the city is never named), provides a matrix in which a succession of subordinate but colorful characters encounter a dying man, among them a small poor girl with a single roller skate and an impoverished artist, who decries the art market and his own efforts as well. Instead of this almost Joycean loyalty to urban locale, the camera might move into a contrived blankness. In 1963, in a movie whose script and originating novel (1947) were written by the self-educated Jean Giono, Un roi sans divertissement, the herolike protagonist discovers his fatal commonality with an anonymous villain, a man whose defining quality is his ordinariness. Set in the midnineteenth century and filmed in color (blood squirting onto the snow from the dangling neck of a decapitated goose achieves a startling effect with the warm, bright red amid the shivery, snowy whiteness), Jacques Brel singing the theme song, it shares in that postwar, and maybe particularly French, apathy with regard to the old heroic values, and beyond that, a disillusionment about what it is to be 211 On Galileo’s interest in painting and poetry, see Panofsky, Galileo, passim.


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human: ‘what sense does anything make?’212 Although set among rural peasants before the intrusion of the machine age, the concepts of human and monster have begun to lose their distinctness, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, 1818. He’s not a monster; he’s a man like the others, Giono’s protagonist admits of the villain. It is a chilling realization. According to Giono, the story began with the large, ancient beech tree, ‘beautiful and simple’, the Apollo Citharoedus of beech trees.213 The human action was invented afterward, with the protagonist first appearing on horseback as a speck amid the whiteout. The text emphasizes the enveloping fog and blank whiteness of snow, which erase the human figure. The title, repeated in the last line of the book, repeats Pascal’s pronouncement (1669) that a king can be as miserable as the rest of us. The narrator forebears to cite Pascal, instead asking who it was that said ‘un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères’. The stripping of familiarity from person or place is an aesthetic strategy quite unlike Alberti’s with his istoria. Walter Pater, when he described so elaborately and memorably the mystery of Mona Lisa, the woman who sits so queenly against the landscape (‘she is older than the rocks among which she sits’),214 pointed to something vital in the painting: a new way of not knowing, the mystery of religion having been displaced by the mystery of places and persons about which we may wonder without ever fully fathoming them. On a prosaic level, in Hitchcock films recurrently one man is mistaken for another, so that his old identity vanishes and his world becomes suddenly highly perilous. This opposite of glamour—for glamour is, if nothing else, the promise of a world in which confident people exhibit conventionalized beauty and behavior, and succeed thereby—is, on a grander level, the aesthetic staple of Bergman and of Antonioni, directors whose ineffectual characters wander, often afoot and typically aloof, in an alienating world devoid of any accustomed boundaries. In Bergman’s films, surreality lies latent as a kind of ongoing harmonic, as for instance in Wild Strawberries (1957), in which our protagonist is haunted by flashes of the sight of a hearse. Bergman was never bogged down by purely realistic objectives, for all of his dedication to his local 212 Giono, King, p. 79; ‘Mais, y a-t-il vraiment une raison?’ Giono’s daughter, Sylvie, in 2014 described the novel as a hybrid of police procedural and philosophy, a meditation on ennui; 213 Giono, King, p. 7. The author compares himself to a painter, p. 32. His daughter said an oak. 214 Pater’s indebtedness to Theophile Gautier’s 1859 description should be acknowledged.

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environment. Persona (1966), ‘a poem in images’,215 originated in the visual resemblance between the faces of Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman, basically from a chance encounter in the streets of Stockholm, according to Ullman’s recollection. One of the characters (Ullman’s) speaks but a single word; the film is dominantly visual, and remembered particularly for the image in which the two faces of the women merge, half from each, epitomizing the psychological contest in which the boundaries of identity are threatened. The story is told through what we see and much remains surmise. The experience of watching it is diff icult and disorienting, so that in some sense the viewer knows less afterward, or to put it otherwise, the world of the film no longer imposes coherence on the viewer. No mysticism substitutes for rational understanding, but instead self-alienation—a theme so central in the modern world yet barely intimated in earlier times—which is experienced not only by the characters (especially the nurse played by Bibi Andersson) but also by the viewers, who move away from a feeling of competency and knowledge toward uncertainty. We have been made to see a version of reality that does not belong to any person besides the viewer of the film,216 who usurps the narrator’s place, sans omniscience. Heroes in America are average people.217

The film of The Petrified Forest (1936) followed quickly after the Broadway play, with revisions that were few and small though not entirely minor.218 The author and screenwriter of The Petrified Forest, Robert Sherwood, was a distinguished contributor to both Broadway and Hollywood, and a member of Algonquin Hotel luncheon circle. He later helped to convert Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca to the screen (1940), and had recently done the same for Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934). His own stories were repeatedly made into movies, often having first been stage productions. He won the Pulitzer prize for drama three times, in 1936, 1939, and 1941; 215 The phrase was used in the title of a featurette by Greg Carson on a DVD of 2004. See also Sontag, review of Persona, Sight, 1967, pp. 186–191, 212, with much comparison to Marienbad and citing Pasolini’s emphasis on ‘the felt presence of the camera’; Pasolini at the New Cinema Festival in Pesaro, June 1965, delivered the address, ‘Il cinema di poesia’, which hailed the 1960s for discovering a new language for film—in his words, ‘far sentire la macchina’, the phrase was co-opted from film crews and made into a theoretical tenet (City Lights is cited as an example of the traditional language, also Bergman [pre-Persona]); Cahiers, Oct. 1965. 216 Cf. The Fallen Idol (1948). 217 Lang, Interviews, p. 95. 218 The film opened at Radio City Music Hall on 6 Feb. 1936; the play closed on 29 June 1935.


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two of those plays were made into movies (Idiot’s Delight and Abe Lincoln in Illinois). A professor of the history of drama at Yale, writing in 1936, praised The Petrified Forest as an example of filmmaking that was not reducible to the interests of commerce.219 The Petrified Forest is now perhaps most often remembered as the vehicle by which Humphrey Bogart’s shaky career stabilized, Bogart having been carried over from the Broadway production to the Hollywood version at the insistence of Leslie Howard, who owned the film rights and who had starred on Broadway with Bogart. Sherwood’s script delineates a parallel between the outlaw Bogart and the failed intellectual Howard, both of whom are contrasted with the character played by Bette Davis, a girl whose half-French parentage encourages her to dream of art, read Swinburne (less in the movie), and disdain a career as a film actress as ‘too common’ (a line omitted from the movie). She paints, and she has a crude but fond familiarity with the poems of François Villon in translation (the crudeness is not evident in the movie). She is presented as the hope for the future, ‘one of Nature’s own children’.220 Howard’s tragic character arranges his own death so his insurance can provide the financial means of escape the waitress Gabby requires. A literate man whose casual conversation includes references to Dickens, Eliot, and Remarque, he foretells his own burial in the Petrified Forest of Arizona, rather than, as he had suggested at the beginning of the play, completing an odyssey to the Pacific to drown himself. Howard’s performance rescued the somewhat mawkish melancholy and self-pity of his character into something slightly Puckish. In the play, Alan Squier describes himself explicitly as a gigolo; in the movie, he more benignly describes how he married an indulgent lady interested in the patronage of art. The film observes such familiar stage conventions as unity of time, place, and action. The New York Times critic acknowledged that the film owed almost everything to its stage version. He admired the film despite preferring the stage version and feeling that the film was not properly cinematic.221 Leslie Howard himself is on record as affirming the proper distinctness of stage and film: ‘I am a great believer in treating each medium as a separate thing […] the script or scenario should be written […] for the medium’.222 219 Nicoll, Theatre, p. 2. He, however, pp. 172–174, judged that the f ilm debased the play. He saw many parallels between Elizabethan theater and film, as both were projects that entailed making art accessible to the broadest of audiences. 220 An allusion to Wordsworth’s poem, ‘To a Young Lady Who had been Reproached for Taking Long Walks in the Country’, may have been intended. 221 ‘Defies every canon of cinema law’, 7 Feb. 1936. 222 The New York Times, 13 Oct. 1935.

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He was willing to hazard that films and theater ‘should have nothing to do with each other’.223 Still, Howard had a contract to do films for Warner Brothers. Films, he explained, allowed an actor to make enough money to avoid commercial theater.224 The Petrified Forest remains always a play on film, centered on what people say. Like a reproductive print, the film preserved the play, without attempting to convey a sense of place more convincing than a stage set. The few scenes that do not take place inside the canteen are illusionistically unconvincing. Even so, the isolation and desolation of the desert, heightened by the sandstorm in the second half, comes across vividly enough. The scene is claustrophobic and foreboding, and yet there lingers a sense that the wheels of fate are at least partially manipulable. This tragedy (if it is that) has its glints of comedy, in good Shakespearian manner—not all of them involving either the failed football player who hopes to be Gabby’s boyfriend or her aged grandfather, who yearns for whiskey and likes to tell tall tales. The Black Horse Vigilantes, the local law enforcement, rival Shakespeare’s night watch in Much Ado about Nothing. A review in The New York Times of the Hartford opening recommended the play’s ‘ultra-modern wisecracking and smart comedy’,225 despite its ending with the heroine reciting Swinburne over a corpse. As if for a demonstration of an Albertian istoria, the action is easily summarized in a single image of the nine or so characters scattered across the dining room of the Bar B Q, as the outpost is called. The movie follows the script closely, though not without revision. Some literary references were removed, as were those to artists (El Greco, Burne-Jones, Dufy). The Black Horse Vigilantes, who bumble about in search of the outlaw Mantee, who is heading for the border after a bloody bank robbery, were not called the National Guard so as to soften the political satire of the play. Political references to labor unrest were likewise muted: at the beginning of the play, two telephone workers invoke the possibility of a communist revolution; the word revolution was excised in the film. Suggestively named Squier (the press tended to bungle the name into Squire), the writer condemns the outlaw as obsolete, like himself. European courtliness and the Wild West 223 The New York Times, 6 April 1935. 224 Cf. Ben Hecht, who called movie writing ‘a source of easy money and pleasant friendships’, Child, p. 466. The National Theatre in London was founded by an act of Parliament only in 1949, six years after Howard’s plane was shot down; Sir Denys Lasdun’s building opened in 1976. 225 20 Dec. 1934. Cf. Kael on Citizen Kane (1941): ‘closer to comedy than tragedy, though so overwrought in style as to be almost a Gothic comedy,’ ‘Raising’, 44.


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are both doomed. The play announced Squier’s death as that of a hero; the movie omitted that line. Talk of destiny is thick, as well as talk of love and death. This assemblage of dissimilar people, cooped up under tremendous psychological pressure, does not engage in pleasantries. In addition to the references to labor unrest early in the action, a Black outlaw needles a Black chauffeur for his subservience. The theme of women’s liberation is invoked by the actions of the absent mother of Gabriel, by Gabby herself, and by the wife in the canteen who is fascinated by Duke Mantee and despises her rich ineffectual husband, the banker from Dayton, Ohio, who kept her out of pictures (a supporting role in a film of 1913 by Max Reinhardt).226 The avaricious, petty grandfather is shown to be in some ways more despicable than Mantee, who is at least capable of love. Catharsis, if it is offered at all, comes in the unexpected form of a virtual suicide that has little to do with either romance or patriotism. The Petrif ied Forest itself, Squier enumerates in a speech cut by the Hollywood screenplay writers, symbolizes a civilization whose time has passed: ‘the world of outmoded ideas. Platonism—patriotism—Christianity—Romance—the economics of Adam Smith—they’re all so many dead stumps in the desert’.227 Its director, Arthur Hopkins, listed those ills of the modern world that the play laments as ‘frantic material development, mills, steamships, railroads, skyscrapers, subways, washing machines, refrigerators, telephones, airplanes, bombing planes, poison carriers, politicians, Mickey Mouse, purgative crooners, bread lines, strikes, riots, new deals, communism, Fascism’.228 The list is somewhat strange, but then so is life. By June of 1940, the play was looked back to as having pronounced the ‘sickness of the world’,229 that had since become all consuming. Even its setting was topical: the petroglyphs mentioned in the playscript and the Petrified Forest itself were only then being discovered and were written about in the papers. The stiffness of Bogart’s arms as he played Mantee was modeled directly on John Dillinger, who had been shot dead after leaving an air-conditioned movie theater in July of 1934. (It had been 226 Also from Warner Brothers, Heat Lightning (1934, based on a play of 1933) tells a parallel story about a rest stop in the desert at which criminals on the run pull up. Two rich women, recently divorced at Reno, are also passing through. But in this case the business is run by two sisters, one of them dreamy and young and on her way to disillusionment, the other tough and seasoned and able to f ix cars. The women’s behavior occasioned censure from the Catholic Legion of Decency. 227 Sherwood, Petrified, pp. 113–114. 228 Hopkins, ‘Sherwood’, The New York Times, 20 Jan. 1935. 229 Atkinson, ‘Theatre’, The New York Times, 9 June 1940.

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showing Manhattan Melodrama, a movie with a sympathetic gangster played by Clark Gable.) More than one person commented at the time on how r