Friday, April 27, 2012

Suppose it were Friday lxi: whose seat are we saving?

Most people associate the stages of their lives with events - it was the year Lindbergh flew the Atlantic .. The year of the Exhibition .. The year the talkies came in. But my calendar is related to friends. Every period of my life has been dominated by the figure of a friend .. 

When, after Marquitta, in which he played the part of a taxi driver, Pierre Champagne at last realised his ambition to own a Bugatti .. his first thought was to take me out for a trial spin. He drove at full speed along one of the roads through the forest of Fontainebleau. 

A car in front of us had had 
an oil leakage and left a 
slippery patch behind it. The 
Bugatti went out of control 
on this patch of oil and spun 
round, flinging us both out. 
Pierre landed on a heap of 
stones and was killed instant-
ly. I landed on a grassy bank 
and woke up to find myself in 
a van filled with game. It be-
longed to two poachers who were 
going to sell their bag in Par-
is, at Les Halles. In going out 
of their way to take me to hos-
pital they risked being arrested. 
I am profoundly grateful to them. 
Moreover, I owe them the idea 
for my stage play, Orvet.

The memoirs of Jean Renoir are as fine a companion between two covers as almost any one can know from life. Even if he were not the maker of at least two or three of the motion pictures lying forever closest to our heart, this autobiography of a creative personality's close friendships is a stunning, open-hearted staple of our kind of gentleman's library, a wonderful document on the power of the most creative influence we know. In preparing to present an entry or two on his insuperable work in the mode of Beaumarchais, The Rules of the Game, one could not fail to be drawn to comparisons with French literature on the intricate and vital moral consensuses which held together that culture's aristocracy, under the strains of the paradoxically rigid limitations its existence imposed upon the exercise of self-expression, and the agreed fictions with which it indulged their inevitable violation. Renoir has reduced that syntax to possibly the most haunting cri de coeur ever to leap forth from the dark - Gentlemen, there has been a deplorable accident.

Renoir departs from cynicism and has the power to take his characters with him. We observe his gift for acute closeness with people through any carapace of class as the solvent we feel, ourselves, in watching this movie tread its breakwater of plot development. I've been put in mind as much of Turgenev's A Sportsman's Notebook as I have, of Radiguet's Count d'Orgel's Ball, in accounting for the deeper feeling beneath the erotic desperation Renoir presents to us, as if the subcutaneous tendernesses of this film speak to greater intimacy in feudal distinctions than is possible in a mater-ialist bourgeoisie; but I think they are a personal vision.

Absorbing this movie in the dated way referenced before, with college friends (the war in southeast Asia competing for our attention on the television down the hall, and in the mail we might get from a family splintered by it), it was terribly easy to recognise improvisations of consensus for discussing our own lives, akin to those of his figures from the late Thirties. Now, cascades of flukes later, cast from one side of the spinning Bugatti of friendly fire, of HIV, of this delusional market bubble or that, instead of the other, The Rules of the Game seems timelessly prescient, substantially because Jean Renoir could be a friend.

Jean Renoir
Ma vie et mes films
op. cit.

La règle du jeu
La Nouvelle Édition Française, 1939©
John McGrath and
  Maureen Teitelbaum, translation
Andrew Sinclair, editor
Classic Film Scripts
Lorrimer Publishing, 1970©

Raymond Radiguet
Le bal du Comte d'Orgel
1924 (op. post.)
Annapaola Cancogni, translation
New York Review Books, 2005©

Ivan Turgenev
A Sportsman's Notebook
Charles Hepburn and
  Natasha Hepburn, translation
Viking, 1950©

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