Sunday, August 1, 2010


A lady, commenting on the ‘roundelay’ posting of July 30th, drew my own attention to an interest we all evidently have in water. Dealt the favour of her perception, I felt spontaneously restored to that feeling for water which I have never seen more vividly celebrated as a flux for human relations than in the cinema of Jean Vigo, with its extravagant vitality, sense of play, sensuality, risk, erotic contingency and progressivism. This last element may sound extraneous, but I would give you the work of Leni Riefenstahl, to compare the effect of an authoritarian rapport with water - long on dominion, short on pleasure in reciprocating pressure. On the first, see Simone Weil’s magnificent Iliad, or The Poem of Force, 1945, on the second, Homer. Of course, we shall have to return to them both in this space.

For a delicate, albeit Sorbonne-educated child of two Andorran anarchists, there can be little greater happiness, one should think, than to be ranked higher for his silent movies in this impromptu "Hydraulic School" of aesthetics, than the writer of the Siegfried Idyll and Tristan. But there he is for me, and for that one word, play, as a revel in buoyancy. (For drier wit in this School, in drawing, I refer us all to the entry of July 28th at a blog likely to be well raided here, soon enough).

Here, in every sense, is where the cinema of France leapt from its blocks at last, as it was simultaneously doing with Jean Renoir - as Vigo insisted that it had to do. We’ve been saying that the cinema is in its infancy for so long that we’ve all turned into old men in the process. (Essay for Brussels journal, Sesame, 12/1932). Vigo worked, as Truffaut has documented, desperately feverishly, but gainfully so, to create images of humane relations as any orphan in the sun would burn to do - to redeem a father’s unlawful death in prison. He died of tuberculosis as completing L'Atalante.

Uncannily, too, the scenes of immersion, frolic, escapade, exertion and physical grace, flashing before one’s eyes from Taris, L’Atalante, and Zéro de Conduite - few enough, as his brief career allowed (1928-34) - put me entirely in mind, as ineluctably as to my first resort, into my second, a man whose debt to Vigo is unconcealed in If.... , his masterpiece.

I wonder what this corollary is, if not implicitly pre-natal, in poetic realism’s equal attachment to water and the act of development. Be that as it may, it’s rather a defining irony that Lindsay Anderson’s movie, which owes so much in humanist passion, surface energy, and fierce execration of the abuse of boys to François Truffaut’s Quatre Cent Coups as well as to Vigo’s Zéro, should have become famous, instead, for censorship battles over the sight of youth as they are in the shower - the very same trepidation of the Pentagon and the Senate of the United States, whose congenital corollary is chronic warfare.

As luck would have it in this amiably roiling cistern of data we call the internet, we have a clip from Anderson’s high-compression motion picture which goes quick to the core of his self-professed debt to Jean Vigo, and to the joy of every boy who ever got thrown into a lake. This clip responds to a diversity of motifs, but they are not compulsorily aggregated (or could we bear Die Meistersinger ?). One thing that cannot be said, is that it fails the test of our Hydraulic School, merely for taking place out of water. The artist imposes no inhumane exclusion or prior restraint. We are free to see as little art as we wish. At Cannes in 1969, If.... won the Grand Prix. Trashings of American youth in a watery land in Asia rose to 48,000.

But no honest rapport with water will linger in the contrary effects of phobia, ignorance, or superstition. “Insolence needs drowning worse than wildfire,” Heraclitus had said, and we all take his dictum on the fluidity of time as a settled law of Physics. There is too much to understand. Of course we’ll return to water here - Kenneth Grahame has already established it, as the sublimest antipode to the restaurant ever to be laid down beside that wild wood. Glancing back at this small image from Vigo, of Taris, “roi de l’eau,” is enough to possess Heraclitus’ defining aperçu forever, in the mode of Ivan Terestchenko’s valedictory monochrome of July 9th. 

Time is a game played beautifully by children.


  1. IF...tout un monde...
    It reminds me of my days at college at Cothill House near Oxford in 1964. I was seven years old, the youngest boy of the college with a Russian name and coming from France at the time, hardly speaking the language. Bewildered ? I'll let you guess. But almost by miracle I survived and in time even enjoyed it.

  2. L. how lucky we are to have you amongst us. all new to me and poetically told. where should I begin? pgt

  3. "'Now it passes on and I begin to lose it,' he said presently. 'O, Mole! the beauty of it! The merry bubble and joy, the thin, clear happy call of the distant piping! Such music I never dreamed of, and the call in it is stronger even than the music is sweet! Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us.'

    The Mole, greatly wondering, obeyed."

  4. Dear Lady, poetic tellings are possibly today's last refuge of scoundrels, but they really are very nice movies, and if one were to begin with them, I would think Les 400 Coups would offer the stablest fulcrum between Vigo and Anderson, and it is also the sweetest. Of which more, very likely -- possibly from you!

    Thank you for the reminiscence, Ivan! Anderson, too, admitted that he had grown to like Cheltenham more than he let on in the movie.

    Since your visit, I posted a photo of Père Jules' barge, for the benefit of everyone who enjoyed Hitchcock's climactic railway image in "N by NW."

  5. The piper at the gates of dawn, VT, is incredibly moving.