by Ryland Walker Knight
—The halls have eyes
[The Resnais series playing at the PFA this November and December is part of a broader, traveling retrospective with a concurrent run in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center and a proposed stop at the newly renovated Museum of the Moving Image in early 2010.]
Though I arrived halfway into Le chant de styrène, it still tickled me into the goofiest posture possible all teeth, every limb under another, as if pushing into the chair hard enough would help release the giddy brio building up in my bones. Put otherwise, Queneau's puns (oh to be actually fluent!) and Alain's balletic geometry pretzel'd me up into a great mood. Then Toute la mémoire du monde grumbled onscreen out of focus and an odd English voice started escorting me around the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, trying its damnedest to not "do a Borges," to just present a topographical index, we can suppose. However, Alain's image-making inflects this portrait—everything's a tracking shot—with both pride and unnerved anxiety, a weird fear of the calculation of this repository. Each structure our Alain encounters seems to strike him as a possible tomb, and every system a trap, however useful it may be, for any system can ossify. Next: Guernica's a dirge. Solemn though fiery and sometimes mannered, its idea of barbarism will be further fleshed with "real" documentary work in the opening salvo (anti-salve) of Hiroshima, mon amour (still some of the hardest images for me to watch; the sexy sand-shower just prior must play a role, of course, in that reaction). Then the treasure of the night, the very rare (and neglected) Statues Also Die, whose title sounds so much more elegant in French, Les statues meurent aussi, with that "aussi" dangling, like a tsk. Talk about angry: as Rosenbaum already lined out, the final reel of this bad boy is one of the most direct anti-imperialist/anti-racist screeds in cinema—and in 1953! It's a text by Chris Marker, which is another level of cool (and smarts), which is another reason to root with it, which is (of course) really easy. It's also a fine object lesson outside of the polemic, though the political is unavoidable (I must remind myself), as we see just how loaded every thing is in these so-called aboriginal cultures; how histories are most often mythologies; how tradition cannot be ignored; how, ultimately, revolution is a dream and hardly a reality; that is, how little we fight these worlds we're locked into every day. Another way at this idea is right up front in Night and Fog: that, yes, weeds grow but scars and train tracks remain reminders, and nothing's been razed. I quickly realized I was too tired to let that movie work me over (as it always does), and I tipped out in the dark to a misty rain outside.