Jean-Louis Comolli (born 30 July ) is a French writer, editor, and film director. He was editor in chief of Cahiers du cinéma from to , during which period he wrote the influential essays “Machines of the Visible” () and “Technique and Ideology: Camera, Perspective, Depth of. One does not see so many references to Jean-Louis Comolli these days, which is a shame since the influence of the former editor of the. 16 Jean-Louis Comolli: ‘Technique and Ideology: Camera, Perspec- tive, Depth of Field’ (May-June and July ). 17 Pascal Bonitzer: “Reality” of Denotation’.
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But his activity in the cinema extends far beyond this period.
Having steadily made films over the last 40 years — including the magisterial series on the French electoral machine, Marseille contre Marseille — Comolli has also pursued a prolonged theoretical pre-occupation with the cinema, which, in various ways, is profoundly defined by his earlier participation in Cahiers. Refreshingly, he has never sought to repudiate his radical past, but, rather, he still lives and works with the achievements and contradictions that marked this period.
Following on from Part 1 in Senses of Cinema 62, the second part of this interview will focus on his activity as a theorist and filmmaker since leaving Cahiers.
After leaving Cahiersyou began your career as a filmmaker. Labarthe inbut La Cecilia was your first experience making a feature film, making an auteurist film. You could be seen to have been following the path of your illustrious predecessors at Cahiers: Nor in the sense that the evidence of this experience was lacking — it was amply documented. In truth, the subject, or the theme, of the film was concealed, since it was really a film which spoke about what had happened in the Cahiers group in the months beforehand.
The group exploded in the summer ofand I shot La Cecilia in Decemberso about one year later. So I was far from Paris, from the life I led at Cahiers. Unlike the group in La Ceciliahowever, we were not a group of anarchists.
For anarchists the question of leadership is always posed, as they strive to avoid having a leader, xnd, of course, in the reality of every group a focal point of authority emerges. In the ideolgy of La CeciliaRossi was obviously the father-figure, who conceived, founded and promoted the group, and thus had many of the traits idrology a leader, but due to an admirable excess of historical awareness, he refused this role, because he steadfastly held to anarchist ideology, which rejects the idea of a boss.
The question which I raised in this film: This question concerns the far left as a whole. This paradox has been felt in every revolutionary movement, in anarchist movements of course, but also among Maoists and even orthodox communists.
So this question was posed, and I made Rossi the main character of the film, as a character who does not want to take power. He is horrified by power. In a way, this film depicted Jean Narboni and myself at Cahiersgiven that we had abolished the position of head-editor, and shifted to sharing power — a relatively derisory power, granted, but power all the same.
Jean-Louis Comolli – Wikipedia
Without pausing to think about it, we found ourselves directly confronted with the question of taking charge of responsibilities, of wielding power even when we thought we had rejected it. I think this refusal is both correct — on the theoretical and purely political level — and, at the same time, totally catastrophic. On the practical level, even if there is no leader, there still needs to be leadership.
This was part of the problem at Cahiers. For me, there is an almost direct continuity between my experience at Cahiers and my new experience of shooting a film whose theme was based on such recent events. At the same time as there is a continuity between your time at Cahiers and your experience making La Ceciliathere is also a rupture.
Your work at Cahiers was carried out in the name of Marxism-Leninism, whereas you then went on to make a film about a group of anarchists.
Did this decision — which could have appeared provocative in some quarters — reflect a change in your own political opinions? Obviously, I read texts and newspapers from both movements, and I began to think that, when it comes to Marx and Bakunin, both are necessary. The question of freedom, including individual techbique, can not be avoided in revolutionary struggle. I think Idoelogy would have agreed with this. So the question is posed of the tension between the group and the individual.
This interests me as a matter of experience, a practical, historical matter. Even back then I had read a lot fechnique the Paris Commune and I had already been tefhnique by the emanations of anarchist thought. In a way, the Cultural Ideoloty was my path to this thinking. But let me be clear: It is evident that we had no idea of what was really happening in China during this time: We held onto this notion, made it our own, it became our point of reference.
This is just one of many contradictions. Maoism was extremely fragmented and contradictory itself. The revolutionary ideal of Maoism allowed us to distance ourselves from Stalinism, and to renew a revolutionary fervour which no longer seemed to be what distinguished the European communist parties.
But we never considered ourselves as Red Guards, because our reality was the opposite of that of the Red Guards, and because there was an intellectual approach to Maoism which was infinitely more complex than that of the Red Guards. With regards to the anarchist movement, I had no particular ties to them, Obviously we were very distant from each other: In my case, the reference to anarchism mainly came from books.
I had read Fourier before La Ceciliaand, like everyone who reads Fourier, I was absolutely dumbfounded, both by his formidable system, and, at the same, by his excess of freedom, his sheer weirdness. Indeed, Fourier had enchanted me, and this enchantment was reinforced by reading Barthes. Sade Fourier Loyola left a strong impression on me. The link between Sade and Fourier was striking. I was pretty much infused with this.
I was strongly influenced by this literature, as well as painting and the entire surrealist milieu. In the end, everything centres on the group, whether it is communist, anarchist, or surrealist. For a long time, while I was working at CahiersI had been searching for a film to make. Nothing really imposed itself on me, and I tacitly searched for a project for two or three years — a search which became explicit after leaving the magazine.
I could not grant myself the liberty of breaking with this collectivist logic in order to make a film. In any case, I still had not found the film I wanted to make. Then, entirely by chance: I wrote a script on Giovanni Rossi based on this song, and the research I had undertaken.
He was a Fourierist, and a critic of Malatesta, who was the great leader of the anarchists at the time. La Cecilia was one of the great experiments in communal living in the 19 th century, and it was also the birth of anarcho-syndicalism. My time at Cahiers was one of cinephilic activism.
If we were activists, it was only to this extent. We were never active in any organisation whatsoever, nor in any trade union whatsoever. Techniqus this regard, we were perfectly unengaged. We were cinephilic activists, active in spreading cinema.
Depth of Field | Jeff Scheible –
Our major reference point, more than Mao, was Althusser, who had elaborated the notion of theoretical practice. The distance between the manual labourer and the intellectual is not very great, even if the way they spend their time diverges radically.
Thus, there is the notion of practice, the notion of an engagement in practice, and then there is the notion of passion — practice and passion, it seems to me, go together. This practice must be linked with passion.
I was taken with the logic of theoretical practice, and when I went to make a film, I found myself in an entirely different kind of practice, which could no longer be theoretical, because, in the end, in order to think about the cinema, a practice is necessary, and this is where the questions present themselves: Where shall I put my camera? Should I use close-up lenses or not? This is practice, but it is also theory. So I wanted to show that they are one and the same. But when I arrived on set to shoot La CeciliaI must confess that an abyss opened up between the theory I was able to develop in the previous issues of Cahiers on the one hand, and practice on the other hand.
A process of repression took place: So the passage to filmmaking practice involved a repression of what went on beforehand, and I found myself all alone, with a film to make.
I had concretely finished with the group. I forgot, or repressed, all the theorico-practical or practico-theoretical considerations which I had formulated in the preceding years, and which proved my value as a film theorist. In my own eyes, when I had to make a film I no longer found myself in a position of total control. I was in a position of great weakness.
The Comolli who left Cahiers in and began to work on this film was inevitably a weakened creature. He had lost the battle. He had lost some of his convictions, he had lost the possibility of applying this renowned theoretical practice to the film set, and so this weakening was, in fact, very beneficial. What do I mean by this? Far from trying to stand my ground, I accepted this weakness, which surprised me, because it was the opposite of the supposed control that I wanted to exercise when I was at Cahiers.
I found myself in a situation of an absolute lack of control, wherein I had lost the force of the group. I found myself opening the door rather spontaneously, without particularly calculating what would happen. I flatly did not play the role of master director, in total control. Obviously, it was a form of self-representation, because if something happened which was stronger than what I had experienced at Cahiersit was precisely because I was not in a position to assume power over the different elements of this film in the making.
This form of idiocy, of dumb innocence which opened up before me, turned me into a figure which was very different to what someone in my position was supposed to be like. I was the young rookie — although I was nearly 40 — in a film where I did not comprehend what was going on, with actors who I could not understand in reality, they directed me, rather than vice versa. It was a very joyful adventure. When authority is not being exercised on set, people start having fun, and they have the right to.
Later, I compared the film set to a funeral ceremony.
Inevitably, there is something funereal about a film set. When you shoot a film, you are filming the death of something, the death of an idea, the death of the bodies, which pass from a real to a virtual existence.
In the case of La Cecilia this was also the case, but not so much, as the weakness of the person who was supposed to be director was so obvious that the troupe began to have a party as much as they were making a film.
So I was very happy with this system. It is very difficult to say, because in this instance the power of what happened on the set totally dominated the entire experience.