Brussels, Nov. 29, 2010
What would our game have looked like if we didn’t have this easy access to film history through video and internet? Would it have been restrained to a weekly walk around the corner, a stretching of the legs and eye muscles, infused with a few vague film memories perhaps? I love to wander across film history, juxtapose things according to desire, happenstance or my interests of the moment, see what the materials reveal or embrace their opacity. This morning, reading the preliminaries of Roland Barthes’ course on The Neutral, I was happy to come across his reflections on the “topical method” as “a walk along a network of readings, which is to say, of a library,” or as “whimsical sourcery.” The notions expand and the reader transforms. What library? “That of my vacation home, which is to say, a place-time where the loss in methodological rigor is compensated for by the intensity and the pleasure of free reading.” The library is a personal one, the trajectory one that embarks upon “arbitrary choices of reading,” to which Barthes adds: “I decided not to go against what I will call an aesthetic of work (…); I always want the material to be ‘racy’.” And: “to get myself vividly interested in what is contemporaneous to me, I might need the detour through death (History); (…) To mourn is to be alive.”
Watching the other moral tales of Eric Rohmer, I found the last one, L’amour l’après-midi (Chloe in the Afternoon 1972), particularly amusing. I’d like to share the first string of scenes after the prologue, which starts with protagonist Frédéric going to his office in the morning. Secretary Fabienne arrives, says hello, puts her dark green coat on the hatstand and chats away a little bit. Right after, the other secretary, Martine, arrives in her petrol green coat and immediately receives comments from her colleagues: “Is that your new coat? Nice.” – “That green is ravishing.” At lunchtime, we briefly see both secretaries in their green coats eating a salad. Frédéric has just a sandwich for lunch, between 2 and 3 pm, when the others are back at work, so he is at ease and “can breathe.” An old friend comes by and wonders what to do about afternoon anxiety? It certainly must be connected to this stupid Parisian lunch habit? Frédéric does some shopping to ease his anxieties. Now a sign with a Lacoste crocodile comes into view: chemises et cols roulés. In the next shop Frédéric has a little discussion: “So you don’t like the green?” – “Oh, not at all!” – “It goes very well with your complexion.” – “But it’s not quite what I was looking for. I’ll think it over.” In yet another shop, this time with a woman selling shirts, he asks “Can I see your turtleneck sweaters?” – “I don’t think I have anything left in your size. Unless a white, or a rather ugly beige.” Then she goes to the shirts, picks up a checked green one that “goes very well with your complexion. It brings out your eyes.” She convinces him to try it on, even if he won’t take it, “just out of curiosity.” Frédéric winds up buying the shirt. Later on also his wife (upon seeing the package: “Ah, I’m sure it’s a turtleneck!”) happens to love the checked green shirt, its colour and softness. “Yes, it’s soft on the outside, but on the insides it scratches a little bit. I’ll get used to it.” Everything speaks, nothing is revealed. This wonderful sequence of scenes takes up no less than 10 minutes of the film!
Throughout the film we see turtlenecks in all colours except for green, a colour that only reappears in the form of a large plant brought by Frédéric on his last afternoon date with Chloé, who doesn’t quite manage to seduce him, before he leaves her to return to his wife. At the end of the film we don’t see what happens to Chloé, the camera focuses on the void between several flights of stairs.
Where to go now? Perhaps revisit Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (2009), linger in the blinding phantasmal space of the greenhouse and reflect on Egoyan’s mainstream cinema version of L’origin du monde, converging and pushing tropes to an extreme with an escort girl (Amanda Seyfried) and a 50-year old, married gynaecologist (Julianne Moore) falling in love, or at least forgetting their contractual relation in a real yet theatrical, or was it theatrical yet real lesbian sex scene? And then maybe on to Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002), that great postmodern fable about screenplay writer Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) who doesn’t quite manage to turn the life of flowers into a compelling script and spurred on by his twin brother eventually ends up following the famous middle-aged journalist Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) who wrote the book he is supposed to adapt for the screen and who had hoped her loneliness would perish and passion flower upon finding the “ghost orchid” somewhere in a swamp in Florida, but actually became addicted to sniffing a green powder derived from the plant and moreover sees her beloved orchid hunter John Laroche (Chris Cooper) being bitten to death by a crocodile – and then Kaufman witnesses all this and even loses his brother in the adventure, but at last has managed to write a true sense of biodiversity into the film! At that point I might want to revisit Richard Fleischer’s dystopian eco-thriller Soylent Green (1973) with Charlton Heston, in which the green stuff has taken on the form of cookies with an altogether uncanny taste. And it would be impossible not to be reminded of the first Shrek (2001) film, which revolves around the trespassing of the swamp the ogre lives in (“I’ll give you your swamp back. Exactly the way it was. Down to the last slime-covered toadstool!”) – and yes, who wouldn’t want to keep out a donkey that has a voice very much like Eddie Murphy’s? (“I told you, didn’t I? You’re not coming home with me. I live alone! My swamp! Me! Nobody else! Understand? Nobody! Especially useless, pathetic, annoying, talking donkeys!”) Or else still, Nicolas Cage might lead me once again to Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant, to that danger looming in a ditch… – for now, I leave the DVD locked in its cage, I mean case, before the zoo spills out.
You know Jack, not that it is a nuisance, but sometimes going around the corner doesn’t bring any inspiration at all. Perhaps I shouldn’t even bother telling you which film I saw last Thursday, since I have nothing to say about it. But we’re not playing punch line tennis, are we?