[Kubrick, Scorsese, Kurosawa, Bergman, Godard, Satyajit Ray, Welles, Tarkovsky, Truffaut, Antonioni]
There are very few directors, about whom you’d say you automatically have to see everything they do. I’d put Fellini, Bergman and David Lean at the head of my first list, and Truffaut at the head of the next level. (1966)
I believe Ingmar Bergman, Vittorio De Sica, and Federico Fellini are the only three filmmakers in the world who are not just artistic opportunists…By this I mean they don’t just sit and wait for a good story to come along and then make it. They have a point of view which is expressed over and over and over again in their films, and they themselves write or have original material written for them.
[On Ingmar Bergman] His vision of life has moved me deeply, much more deeply than I have ever been moved by any films. I believe he is the greatest film-maker, unsurpassed by anyone in the creation of mood and atmosphere, the subtlety of performance, the avoidance of the obvious, the truthfulness and completeness of characterization. To this one must also add everything else that goes into the making of a film; and I look forward with eagerness to each of his films.
[On Kieslowski and his screenwriting partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz] “I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work… They [dramatize life] with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don’t realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.”
[On being asked if he consciously favors a particular style of shooting] If something is really happening on the screen, it isn’t crucial how it’s shot. Chaplin had such a simple cinematic style that it was almost like I Love Lucy, but you were always hypnotised by what was going on, unaware of the essentially non-cinematic style. He frequently used cheap sets, routine lighting and so forth, but he made great films. His films will probably last longer than anyone else’s. You could say that Chaplin was no style and all content. On the other hand, the opposite can be seen in Eisenstein’s films, who is all style and no content or, depending on how generous you want to be, little content. Many of Eisenstein’s films are really quite silly; but they are so beautifully made, so brilliantly cinematic, that, despite their heavily propagandistic simplemindedness, they become important.
Eisenstein does it with cuts, Max Ophüls does it with fluid movement. Chaplin does it with nothing. Eisenstein seems to be all form and no content, Chaplin is all content and little form. Nobody could have shot a film in a more pedestrian way than Chaplin. Nobody could have paid less attention to story than Eisenstein. Alexander Nevsky is, after all, a pretty dopey story. Potemkin is built around a heavy propaganda story. But both are great filmmakers.
Highest of all I would rate Max Ophuls, who for me possessed every possible quality. He has an exceptional flair for sniffing out good subjects, and he got the most out of them. He was also a marvellous director of actors.
[On Elia Kazan in 1957] without question the best director we have in America. And he’s capable of performing miracles with the actors he uses.
I think there’s an intriguing irony in naming the lifetime achievement award after D.W. Griffith because his career was both an inspiration and a cautionary tale. His best films were always ranked among the most important films ever made. And some of them made him a great deal of money. He was instrumental in transforming movies from the nickelodeon novelty to an art form. And he originated and formalized much of the syntax of movie-making now taken for granted.
He became an international celebrity and his patronage included many of the world’s leading artists and statesmen of the time. But Griffith was always ready to take tremendous risks in his films and in his business affairs. He was always ready to fly too high. And in the end, the wings of fortune proved for him, like those of Icarus, to be made of nothing more substantial than wax and feathers, and like Icarus, when he flew too close to the sun, they melted. And the man who’s fame exceeded the most illustrious filmmakers of today spent the last 17 years of his life shunned by the film industry he had created.
[On Stanley Kubrick] One of his films… is equivalent to ten of somebody else’s. Watching a Kubrick film is like gazing up at a mountain top. You look up and wonder, “How could anyone have climbed that high?”
[On Stanley Kubrick] Why does something stay with you for so many years? It’s really a person with a very powerful storytelling ability. A talent… a genius, who could create a solid rock image that has conviction.
In other words, we’re all the children of D.W. Griffith and Stanley Kubrick.
[On Stanley Kubrick] There’s many ways I look at his films, besides the big screen. I like watching them on the television. I like watching them with the sound off. Sometimes you can see the rhythm of the cutting and the camera moves…and when he cuts in a two shot conversation and when he destroys the invisible line and when the cut gets tighter…on which line of dialogue.
Stanley Kubrick was one of the only modern masters we had.
The last frontier may be sexuality and beyond sexuality the complexity of the human psyches. This is the territory that Stanley Kubrick has minded in his films, like Kazan, Kubrick was a New York rebel that converted into an iconoclast. He emerged from independent productions and film noir to create his own unique visionary worlds. His association with Kirk Douglas on Paths of Glory and Spartacus established him as a mayor player, but he couldn’t stand being an employee on studio projects and moved to London to make Lolita. He stayed there and hasn’t worked in Hollywood since. He is one of the rare iconoclasts who has enjoyed the luxury of operating completely on his own terms.
If Kubrick had lived to see the opening of his final film, he obviously would have been disappointed by the hostile reactions. But I’m sure that in the end he would have taken it with a grain of salt and moved on. That’s the lot of all true visionaries, who don’t see the use of working in the same vein as everyone else. Artists like Kubrick have minds expansive and dynamic enough to picture the world in motion, to comprehend not just where its been, but where it’s going.
[On Kathryn Bigelow] I’ve always been a fan of hers, over the years. (Her film) Blue Steel (1989). She’s good, she’s really good.
[On Akira Kurosawa] His influence on filmmakers throughout the entire world is so profound as to be almost incomparable,.
[On Akira Kurosawa] The term ‘giant’ is used too often to describe artists. But in the case of Akira Kurosawa, we have one of the rare instances where the term fits.
Let me say it simply: Akira Kurosawa was my master, and … the master of so many other filmmakers over the years.
L’Avventura (1960) gave me one of the most profound shocks I’ve ever had at the movies, greater even than Breathless (1960) or Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959). Or La Dolce Vita (1960). At the time there were two camps, the people who liked the Fellini film and the ones who liked L’Avventura. I knew I was firmly on Antonioni’s side of the line, but if you’d asked me at the time, I’m not sure I would have been able to explain why. I loved Fellini’s pictures and I admired La Dolce Vita, but I was challenged by L’ Avventura. Fellini’s film moved me and entertained me, but Antonioni’s film changed my perception of cinema, and the world around me, and made both seem limitless. I was mesmerized by L’Avventura and by Antonioni’s subsequent films, and it was the fact that they were unresolved in any conventional sense that kept drawing me back. They posed mysteries – or rather the mystery, of who we are, what we are, to each other, to ourselves, to time. You could say that Antonioni was looking directly at the mysteries of the soul. That’s why I kept going back. I wanted to keep experiencing these pictures, wandering through them. I still do.
[On Federico Fellini and 8 1/2] What would Fellini do after La dolce vita? We all wondered. How would he top himself? Would he even want to top himself? Would he shift gears? Finally, he did something that no one could have anticipated at the time. He took his own artistic and life situation—that of a filmmaker who had eight and a half films to his name (episodes for two omnibus films and a shared credit with Alberto Lattuada on Variety Lights counted for him as one and a half films, plus seven), achieved international renown with his last feature and felt enormous pressure when the time came for a follow-up—and he built a movie around it.
Kiarostami represents the highest level of artistry in the cinema.
[On Francois Truffaut] His love affair with moving pictures was a profound and lasting one, and you can feel the intensity of it in his criticism, even in his acting. And most of all, in his films. Truffaut’s passion for cinema, the desire that it stirred in him, animates every movie he ever made, every scene, every shot…
Truffaut carried that sense of history into his moviemaking. Back in the early and mid-’60s, people were always talking about how this movie “quoted” from that older movie, but what almost no one talked about was why the quote was there, what it did or didn’t do for the movie, what it meant emotionally to the picture as a whole. In Truffaut, you could feel the awareness of film history behind the camera, but you could also see that every single choice he made was grounded in the emotional reality of the picture…
In Truffaut, you could feel the awareness of film history behind the camera, but you could also see that every single choice he made was grounded in the emotional reality of the picture. There are many echoes of Hitchcock in his movies, blatantly so in The Soft Skin (underrated at the time of its release, and a favorite of mine) and The Bride Wore Black, not so blatantly in many other movies, and it’s almost impossible to quantify the importance of Jean Renoir to Truffaut (or, for that matter, of Henry James, of Honoré de Balzac—Truffaut was also a great reader). But if you look at those movies carefully, you will see that there’s nothing extraneous or superficial.
There are things that Truffaut did in those early movies that left a lasting impression: the opening expository section of Jules and Jim, where time and space is abolished and the images flow like music across the screen; the series of shots from Fahrenheit 451 (another underrated picture) where the camera moves in close-closer-closest on a character in imminent danger, which I admit I’ve duplicated many times in my own films. And the character played by Charles Aznavour in Shoot the Piano Player, who keeps almost acting but never does until it’s too late, had a profound effect on me, and on many other filmmakers.
Time—the desire to slow it down coupled with the harsh reality of its swift passing … Truffaut had a great gift for giving form to this sensation. In a way, it’s all encapsulated in a moment near the end of Two English Girls—yet another underrated picture, this time a masterpiece—where Jean-Pierre Léaud’s character suddenly glances at himself in the mirror and murmurs the words: “My God, I look old.” And then that moment is over. That’s life. And that’s Truffaut.
If you don’t like Sam Fuller you just don’t like cinema.
Theo Angelopoulos is a masterful filmmaker. He really understands how to control the frame. There are sequences in his work—the wedding scene in The Suspended Step of the Stork; the rape scene in Landscape in the Mist; or any given scene in The Traveling Players—where the slightest movement, the slightest change in distance, sends reverberations through the film and through the viewer. The total effect is hypnotic, sweeping, and profoundly emotional. His sense of control is almost otherworldly.
When I hear the term ‘independent filmmaker,’ I immediately think of John Cassavetes. He was the most independent of them all. For me, he was and still is a guide and teacher. Without his support and advice, I don’t know what would have become of me as a filmmaker.
Nothing could have stopped Cassavetes except God, and He eventually did. John died much too soon, but his films and his example are still very much alive.
Wes Anderson, at age thirty, has a very special kind of talent: He knows how to convey the simple joys and interactions between people so well and with such richness. This kind of sensibility is rare in movies. Leo McCarey, the director of Make Way for Tomorrow and The Awful Truth, comes to mind. And so does Jean Renoir. I remember seeing Renoir’s films as a child and immediately feeling connected to the characters through his love for them. It’s the same with Anderson. I’ve found myself going back and watching Bottle Rocket several times. I’m also very fond of his second film, Rushmore (1998)–it has the same tenderness, the same kind of grace. Both of them are very funny, but also very moving.
[On Kenji Mizoguchi] Mizoguchi is one of the greatest masters who ever worked in the medium of film; he’s right up there with Renoir and Murnau and Ford, and after the war he made three pictures—The Life of Oharu, Ugetsu, and Sansho the Bailiff—that stand at the summit of cinema. All of his artistry is channeled into the most extraordinary simplicity.
I’ve crossed paths with Andrzej Wajda a few times over the years, and I’ve always been in awe of his energy and his unflinching vision. I saw him again a couple of years ago, a little frailer but still as burning with energy as he’d been back in the ’90s, and he was preparing to make another film, now just completed, about Lech Walesa (the final installment of the trilogy that began with Man of Marble and Man of Iron). He’s a model to all filmmakers.
[On Jean-Luc Godard and Michelangelo Antonioni] I used to think of Godard and Antonioni as the great modern visual artists of cinema—great colorists who composed frames the way painters composed their canvases. I still think so, but I also connect with them on the emotional level.
[On Roberto Rossellini] He changed cinema three times. First, he and Vittorio De Sica started what was called ‘neo- realism.’ Then, with his wife Ingrid Bergman, he made a series of intimate, almost mystical stories like Stromboli and Europa ’51. Europa ’51 is about two people in a car–it’s what became the New Wave of cinema in the ’60s. At the end of his career, he directed a series of didactic films for Italian television– he always felt a duty to inform. He called these ‘undramatic,’ but The Rise of Louis XIV is an artistic masterpiece.
[On Ingmar Bergman] I guess I’d put it like this: if you were alive in the ’50s and the ’60s and of a certain age, a teenager on your way to becoming an adult, and you wanted to make films, I don’t see how you couldn’t be influenced by Bergman. You would have had to make a conscious effort, and even then, the influence would have snuck through.
[On Kenji Mizoguchi] The Japanese director I admire the most.
[On Kenji Mizoguchi] Of all Japanese directors I have the greatest respect for him. . . . With the death of Mizoguchi, Japanese film lost its truest creator.
[On Kenji Mizoguchi] Now that Mizoguchi is gone, there are very few directors who can see the past clearly and realistically.
The great thing about Mizoguchi was his tireless effort to imbue every scene with reality.
I am often accused of being too exacting with sets and properties, of having things made, just for the sake of authenticity, that will never appear on camera. Even if I don’t request this, my crew does it for me anyway. The first Japanese director to demand authentic sets and props was Mizoguchi, and the sets in his films are truly superb. I learned a great deal about filmmaking from him, and the making of sets is among the most important. The quality of the set influences the quality of the actors’ performances. If the plan of a house and the design of the rooms are done properly, the actors can move about in them naturally. If I have to tell an actor, ‘Don’t think about where this room is in relation to the rest of the house,’ that natural ease cannot be achieved. For this reason, I have the sets made exactly like the real thing. It restricts the shooting, but encourages that feeling of authenticity.
[On Mikio Naruse] Naruse’s Method consists of staging one very brief shot after another; but when we look at them placed end-to-end in the finished film, they give the impression of one long single take. The fluidity is so perfect that the cuts are invisible . . . A flow of shots that looks calm and ordinary at first glance reveals itself to be like a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current.
[On Mikio Naruse] He was a truly severe person. When he, e.g., didn’t like an actor’s performance, he said simply “No” and nothing more, sat silent. It was hard for the actor, of course, because he or she must think all by him-/herself and try various performances by himself. I, compared with him, am not earnest enuogh – I cannot help giving instructions to actors and cann’t let them think by themselves… Thus, actors disciplined by Mr. Ozu, Mr. Naruse and/or Mr. Mizoguchi were all really competent and could by themselves play rightly even if I said nothing.
[On Yasujiro Ozu] His characteristic camera work was imitated by many dirctors abroads as well, i.e., many people saw and see Mr. Ozu’s movies, right? That’s good. Indeed, one can learn pretty much from his movies. Young prospective movie makers in Japan should, I hope, see more of Ozu’s work. Ah, it was really good times when Mr. Ozu, Mr. Naruse and/or Mr. Mizoguchi were all making movies!.
[On Roberto Rossellini] He’s one of the most important representatives of Italian Realism. But also representatives of Nouvelle Vague, Godard and/or Truffaut, e.g., made a model of him. Did you know it? His way of pursuing bare truth was really fresh. I also was very benefited by his work.
[On Ishirô Honda and Godzilla] Mr. Honda is really an ernest, nice fellow. Imagine, e.g., what you would do if a monster like Godzilla emerges! Normally one would forget and abandon his duty and simply flee! You won’t? But the personel in this movie properly and sincerely lead people, don’t they? That is typical of Mr. Honda. I love it. Well, he was my best friend. As you know, I am a pretty obstinate and demanding person. Thus, that I had never problems with him was due to HIS good personality.
[On Satyajit Ray] The quiet but deep observation, understanding and love of the human race, which are characteristic of all his films, have impressed me greatly. … I feel that he is a giant of the movie industry. … Not to have seen the cinema of Satyajit Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.
[On Satyajit Ray and Abbas Kiarostami] Words cannot describe my feelings about them … When Satyajit Ray passed on, I was very depressed. But after seeing Kiarostami’s films, I thanked God for giving us just the right person to take his place.
[On Federico Fellini] Fellini’s cinematographic art is excellent. It’s in itself ‘fine art’. Nowadays no one has such a peculiar talent more… One feels in his movies, say, an existential power, which has a strong impact. Well, I met him several times, but he was so shy that he didn’t talk about his movies to me.
[On Martin Scorsese] Scorsese is, of course, a very good director and actor, but he is above all a wonderful person. He’s energetically wrestling with various matters, e.g., how films, especially colour films could be kept undameged, he also looks after retired movie makers. He is, so to speak, a bundle of energy. The Japanese movie industry also would need such a person, I think.
[On Nagisa Oshima and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence] With Mr. Oshima I discussed many issues, e.g., the issue of film directors’ associations. Many people say that he is impatient or so, but he really is a very consistant, earnest person. ‘I rely on you to develop Japanese movies’, I said him several times when we dined together. This picture must have been a very hard work, for he’s a person who cannot save work at all. The cast is also pretty interesting. A really skilled film maker he is!
John Ford is really great…. When I’m old, that’s the kind of director I want to be.
I have respected John Ford from the beginning. Needless to say, I pay close attention to his productions, and I think I am influenced by them.
[On Luchino Visconti] Visconti is a true blue blood. Whether because he was raised in such an environment or simply because of his blue-blood birth, he had a touch that none but he can have. I met him several times, but he was a hardly approachable person. If someone, e.g., during the shooting came in, he, I’ve heard, shouts at him in an aristocratic posture “leave from here!”. He is a very severe person, I’ve heard.
[On Theodoros Angelopoulos] He’s a wonderful person. What he says makes one feel as if one’s deepst soul is looked into by him. A true mature adult one could call him.
[The following is an excerpt of Kurosawa discussing Tarkovsky and Solaris]
I met Tarkovsky for the first time when I attended my welcome luncheon at the Mosfilm during my first visit to Soviet Russia. He was small, thin, looked a little frail, and at the same time exceptionally intelligent, and unusually shrewd and sensitive. I thought he somehow resembled Toru Takemitsu, but I don’t know why. Then he excused himself saying, “I still have work to do,” and disappeared, and after a while I heard such a big explosion as to make all the glass windows of the dining hall tremble hard. Seeing me taken aback, the boss of the Mosfilm said with a meaningful smile: “You know another world war does not break out. Tarkovsky just launched a rocket. This work with Tarkovsky, however, has proved a Great War for me.” That was the way I knew Tarkovsky was shooting Solaris.
After the luncheon party, I visited his set for Solaris. There it was. I saw a burnt down rocket was there at the corner of the space station set. I am sorry I forgot to ask him as to how he had shot the launching of the rocket on the set. The set of the satellite base was beautifully made at a huge cost, for it was all made up of thick duralumin.
It glittered in its cold metallic silver light, and I found light rays of red, or blue or green delicately winking or waving from electric light bulbs buried in the gagues on the equipment lined up in there. And above on the ceiling of the corridor ran two duralumin rails from which hanged a small wheel of a camera which could move around freely inside the satellite base.
Tarkovsky guided me around the set, explaining to me as cheerfully as a young boy who is given a golden opportunity to show someone his favorite toybox. Bondarchuk, who came with me, asked him about the cost of the set, and left his eyes wide open when Tarkovsky answered it. The cost was so huge: about six hundred million yen as to make Bondarchuk, who directed that grand spectacle of a movie “War and Peace,” agape in wonder.
Now I came to fully realize why the boss of the Mosfilm said it was “a Great War for me.” But it takes a huge talent and effort to spend such a huge cost. Thinking “This is a tremendous task” I closely gazed at his back when he was leading me around the set in enthusiasm.
Concerning Solaris, I find many people complaining that it is too long, but I do not think so. They especially find too lengthy the description of nature in the introductory scenes, but these layers of memory of farewell to this earthly nature submerge themselves deep below the bottom of the story after the main character has been sent in a rocket into the satellite station base in the universe, and they almost torture the soul of the viewer like a kind of irresistible nostalghia toward mother earth nature, which resembles homesickness. Without the presence of beautiful nature sequences on earth as a long introduction, you could not make the audience directly conceive the sense of having-no-way-out harboured by the people “jailed” inside the satellite base.
I saw this film late at night in a preview room in Moscow for the first time, and soon I felt my heart aching in agony with a longing to returning to the earth as quickly as possible. Marvellous progress in science we have been enjoying, but where will it lead humanity after all? Sheer fearful emotion this film succeeds in conjuring up in our soul. Without it, a science fiction movie would be nothing more than a petty fancy.
These thoughts came and went while I was gazing at the screen.
Tarkovsky was together with me then. He was at the corner of the studio. When the film was over, he stood up, looking at me as if he felt timid. I said to him, “Very good. It makes me feel real fear.” Tarkovsky smiled shyly, but happily. And we toasted vodka at the restaurant in the Film Institute. Tarkovsky, who didn’t drink usually, drank a lot of vodka, and went so far as to turn off the speaker from which music had floated into the restaurant, and began to sing the theme of samurai from Seven Samurai at the top of his voice.
As if to rival him, I joined in.
For I was at that moment very happy to find myself living on Earth.
Solaris makes a viewer feel this, and even this single fact shows us that Solaris is no ordinary SF film. It truly somehow provokes pure horror in our soul. And it is under the total grip of the deep insights of Tarkovsky.
There must be many, many things still unknown to humanity in this world: the abyss of the cosmos which a man had to look into, strange visitors in the satellite base, time running in reverse, from death to life, strangely moving sense of levitation, his home which is in the mind of the main character in the satellite station is wet and soaked with water. It seems to me to be sweat and tears that in his heartbreaking agony he sqeezed out of his whole being. And what makes us shudder is the shot of the location of Akasakamitsuke, Tokyo, Japan. By a skillful use of mirrors, he turned flows of head lights and tail lamps of cars, multiplied and amplified, into a vintage image of the future city. Every shot of Solaris bears witness to the almost dazzling talents inherent in Tarkovsky.
Many people grumble that Tarkovsky’s films are difficult, but I don’t think so. His films just show how extraordinarily sensitive Tarkovsky is. He made a film titled Mirror after Solaris. Mirror deals with his cherished memories in his childhood, and many people say again it is disturbingly difficult. Yes, at a glance, it seems to have no rational development in its storytelling. But we have to remember: it is impossible that in our soul our childhood memories should arrange themselves in a static, logical sequence.
A strange train of fragments of early memory images shattered and broken can bring about the poetry in our infancy. Once you are convinced of its truthfulness, you may find Mirror the easiest film to understand. But Tarkovsky remains silent, without saying things like that at all. His very attitude makes me believe that he has wonderful potentials in his future.
There can be no bright future for those who are ready to explain everything about their own film.
[The following is excerpts taken from Kurosawa’s “obituary on Andrei Tarkovsky“]
“I miss him dearly. He died at the age of 54. He died too young…,”
“He always looked at me with his adoring bright eyes. I will never forget the look in his amicable eyes. Both of us agreed on many things about life and film. But we are so different in disposition that our outputs are quite opposite in character. He is a poet, I am not.”
We talked with each other and agreed that a movie should not attempt to explain anything. Cinema is not a suitable medium for explanation. Those who view it must be left free to sense its content. It should be open to a variety of interpretations. However, Tarkovsky absolutely never explains, he gives no explanation at all. His thoroughness is incredible…
“His unusual sensitivity is both overwhelming and astounding. It almost reaches a pathological intensity. Probably there is no equal among film directors alive now. For instance we often see water in his films, which is portrayed in a manifold variety of expressiveness. Such is the case in The Sacrifice; one sky-reflecting pool and one without sky reflection. The camera shot the images under strict guidance from the director, whose aim was extraordinarily hard to achieve.”
I love all of Tarkovsky‘s films. I love his personality and all his works. Every cut from his films is a marvelous image in itself. But the finished image is nothing more than the imperfect accomplishment of his idea. His ideas are only realized in part. And he had to make do with it.
[excerpt from Kurosawa’s book “A Dream is a Genius“, on Andrei Tarkovsky]
I was on very intimate terms with Tarkovsky. I used to have my office in the old building of the Akasaka Prince Hotel, where he managed somehow to visit me. It was our first encounter. And then he saw how Akasaka looked when night fell. You may see what I mean by viewing Solaris. He made a wonderful use of Akasaka by night, although he had the images processed by reflecting them against the mirrors. The night scene of Metropolitan Highway with bright red tail lamps coming and going symbolizes the future city life. You know, I saw the film by preview in Moscow for the first time, and the scene of the highway came. To my great surprise, it proves to be the route leading to my office! “Oh! I am heading for my office now.” I felt as if I were doing so while staying in Moscow.
Every film by Tarkovsky is marvelous, indeed. He was especially marvelous in handling the Water Element, as seen, for example, in Solaris and Sacrifice. He was somehow able to shoot a pond or water pool as transparent as to allow us to see through to the very bottom. You know, if you do it in an ordinary way, you will for sure find the sky reflected on the water surface. I, too, wanted to shoot water as he did, in making an episode of the Village of Watermills in Dreams. Can you imagine what we did to achieve that? We set up huge cranes soaring to the sky to put up a huge black cloth to prevent the sky reflection on the water surface. Now the riverbed became visible.
You know, the crew on the space station in Solaris suffer from the longing to return to Planet Earth. That is why we see a long, long series of sequences of nature on earth, such as waterweeds softly dancing in a river. It makes the audience really want to return to Earth, indeed. The Japanese distribution company told me to leave a bit of it out, because nature shots were too long. If you had done so, the film should have become meaningless. After all, my insistence saved the film from being cut.
This shows that there is something a little bit difficult about his films. I am sure, however, that it is to his great merit. His films are somehow a little bit different from the rest of many ordinary films easy to understand. I hear his father is a famous poet. So Andrei has a great poetic talent and quality.
Tarkovsky told me that he always sees Seven Samurai before shooting his new films. This is to say that I always see his Andrei Rublov before shooting. […]
Andrei was an amicable, charming man. I heard he was in hospital in Paris when I was staying in Europe. I was anxious to inquire after him, and desperately tried to find out the hospital, until at last I had to give up because of the departure time of the plane. […] Soon after that, I got news of his death. Well, in short, somehow, I always felt as if he was my younger brother.
[On Orson Welles] For me he’s just a hoax. It’s empty. It’s not interesting. It’s dead. Citizen Kane, which I have a copy of – is all the critics’ darling, always at the top of every poll taken, but I think it’s a total bore. Above all, the performances are worthless. The amount of respect that movie’s got is absolutely unbelievable.
[On Orson Welles] I’ve never liked Welles as an actor, because he’s not really an actor. In Hollywood you have two categories, you talk about actors and personalities. Welles was an enormous personality, but when he plays Othello, everything goes down the drain, you see, that’s when he croaks. In my eyes he’s an infinitely overrated filmmaker.
[On Andrei Tarkovsky] When film is not a document, it is dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn’t explain. What should he explain anyhow? He is a spectator, capable of staging his visions in the most unwieldy but, in a way, the most willing of media. All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally. Only a few times have I managed to creep inside. Most of my conscious efforts have ended in embarrassing failure – The Serpent’s Egg, The Touch, Face to Face and so on.
[On Andrei Tarkovsky] My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly I found myself standing at the door of a room, the key to which, until then, had never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.
[On Jean-Luc Godard] I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a fucking bore. He’s made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin Féminin (1966), was shot here in Sweden. It was mind-numbingly boring.
[On Jean-Luc Godard in an interview with John Simon (1971)] In this profession, I always admire people who are going on, who have a sort of idea and, however crazy it is, are putting it through; they are putting people and things together, and they make something. I always admire this. But I can’t see his pictures. I sit for perhaps twenty-five or thirty or fifty minutes and then I have to leave, because his pictures make me so nervous. I have the feeling the whole time that he wants to tell me things, but I don’t understand what it is, and sometimes I have the feeling that he’s bluffing, double-crossing me.
[On Claude Chabrol] A marvelous storyteller in a specific genre. I’ve always had a weakness for his thrillers, just as I have for Jean-Pierre Melville, whose stylized approach to the crime drama is accompanied by an excellent sense of how to light each scene. I love seeing his pictures. He was also one of the first directors who really understand how to use CinemaScope in an intelligent and sensitive way.
A French critic cleverly wrote that “with Autumn Sonata Bergman does Bergman.” It is witty but unfortunate. For me, that is. I think it is only too true that Bergman (Ingmar, that is) did a Bergman…. I love and admire the filmmaker Tarkovsky and believe him to be one of the greatest of all time. My admiration for Fellini is limitless. But I also feel that Tarkovsky began to make Tarkovsky films and that Fellini began to make Fellini films. Yet Kurosawa has never made a Kurosawa film. I have never been able to appreciate Buñuel. He discovered at an early stage that it is possible to fabricate ingenious tricks, which he elevated to a special kind of genius, particular to Buñuel, and then he repeated and varied his tricks. He always received applause. Buñuel nearly always made Buñuel films.
Fellini is Fellini. He is not honest, he is not dishonest, he is just Fellini. And he is not responsible. You cannot put moralistic points of view on Fellini; it is impossible. He is just—I live him.
[On Federico Fellini] He is enormously intuitive. He is intuitive; he is creative; he is an enormous force. He is burning inside with such heat. Collapsing. Do you understand what I mean? The heat from his creative mind, it melts him. He suffers from it; he suffers physically from it. One day when he can manage this heat and can set it free, I think he will make pictures you have never seen in your life. He is rich. As every real artist, he will go back to his sources one day. He will find his way back.
[On Federico Fellini] We were supposed to collaborate once, and along with Kurosawa make one love story each for a movie produced by Dino de Laurentiis. I flew down to Rome with my script and spent a lot of time with Fellini while we waited for Kurosawa, who finally couldn’t leave Japan because of his health, so the project went belly-up. Fellini was about to finish Satyricon. I spent a lot of time in the studio and saw him work. I loved him both as a director and as a person, and I still watch his movies, like La Strada and that childhood rememberance…
Fellini, Kurosawa, and Bunuel move in the same fields as Tarkovsky. Antonioni was on his way, but expired, suffocated by his own tediousness. Melies was always there without having to think about it. He was a magician by profession.
[On Michelangelo Antonioni] He’s done two masterpieces, you don’t have to bother with the rest. One is Blow-Up, which I’ve seen many times, and the other is La Notte, also a wonderful film, although that’s mostly because of the young Jeanne Moreau. In my collection I have a copy of Il Grido, and damn what a boring movie it is. So devilishly sad, I mean. You know, Antonioni never really learned the trade. He concentrated on single images, never realizing that film is a rhythmic flow of images, a movement. Sure, there are brilliant moments in his films. But I don’t feel anything for L’Avventura, for example. Only indifference. I never understood why Antonioni was so incredibly applauded. And I thought his muse Monica Vitti was a terrible actress.
[On Michelangelo Antonioni] Antonioni has never properly learnt his craft. He’s an aesthete. If, for example, he needs a certain kind of road for The Red Desert, then he gets the houses repainted on the damned street. That is the attitude of an aesthete. He took great care over a single shot, but didn’t understand that a film is a rhythmic stream of images, a living, moving process; for him, on the contrary, it was such a shot, then another shot, then yet another. So, sure, there are some brilliant bits in his films… [but] I can’t understand why Antonioni is held in such high esteem.
[On Michelangelo Antonioni] The strange thing is that I admire him more now that I have met him than when I only saw his pictures; because I have suddenly understood what he is doing. I understand that everything in his mind, in his point of view, in his personal behavior is against his film-making. And still he makes his pictures.
[On Alfred Hitchcock] I think he’s a very good technician. And he has something in Psycho (1960), he had some moments. “Psycho” is one of his most interesting pictures because he had to make the picture very fast, with very primitive means. He had little money, and this picture tells very much about him. Not very good things. He is completely infantile, and I would like to know more – no, I don’t want to know – about his behavior with, or, rather, against women. But this picture is very interesting.
In my job it’s a torment not to be physically nimble. To have to drag a great heavy body around with one is dreadfully unpleasant physically.
I’ve often thought how Hitchcock must suffer from it. Much of Hitchcock’s limitations, I think, but also his greatness within them, are to be found in his heavy body. His way of always working in the studio, using a static camera, not moving about, he has erected it all into a system, using long scenes where he won’t have to give himself the trouble to move about.
[On Francois Truffaut] I liked Truffaut enormously, I admired him. His way of relating with an audience, of telling a story, is both fascinating and tremendously appealing. It’s not my style of storytelling, but it works wonderfully well in relation to the film medium.
I suppose I must have a particular weakness for silent films from the second half of the twenties, before the cinema was taken over by sound. At that time, the cinema was in the process of creating its own language. There was Murnau and The Last Laugh, with Jannings, a film told solely in images with a fantastic suppleness; then his Faust, and finally his masterpiece, Sunrise. Three astonishing works that tell us that Murnau, at the same time as Stroheim in Hollywood, was well on the way to creating a magnificently original and distinct language. I have many favourites among the German films of this period.
[On Marcel Carné and Julien Duvivier] Carné and Duvivier were decisive influences in my wanting to become a filmmaker. It was between 1936 and 1939 when seeing Carné’s Quai des brumes, Hôtel du Nord and Le jour se lève, and Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko and Un carnet de bal had a huge impact on me. I told myself that, if I ever managed to become a director, that was how I wanted to make films, like Carné! Those films affected me enormously.
Among today’s directors I’m of course impressed by Steven Spielberg and Scorsese [Martin Scorsese], and Coppola [Francis Ford Coppola], even if he seems to have ceased making films, and Steven Soderbergh – they all have something to say, they’re passionate, they have an idealistic attitude to the filmmaking process. Soderbergh’s Traffic is amazing. Another great couple of examples of the strength of American cinema is American Beauty and Magnolia.
[On Quentin Tarantino] Tarantino named his production company after one of my films. He’d have done better to give me some money.
[On Steven Spielberg] I don’t know him personally. I don’t think his films are very good.
[On Steven Spielberg] It is strange, he had no idea about the Holocaust so he went and looked elsewhere for inspiration. When we don’t have an idea about something, we look first of all within ourselves.
One evening in Hamburg there are three people in the auditorium. The show begins. Orson Welles comes on stage and introduces himself: author, composer, actor, designer, producer, director, scholar, financier, gourmet, ventriloquist, poet. Then he expresses surprise that so many people have come, even though there are so few. Doubtless The Trial proves that it isn’t easy for a wonder kid to grow old gracefully, and maybe it is to be feared that his giant wings are hindering our Shakespearian albatross from making progress in old Europe. And yet may we be accursed if we forget for one second that he alone with Griffith, one in silent days, one sound, managed to start up that marvellous little electric train in which Lumière did not believe. All of us will always owe him everything.
Alain Resnais is the second greatest editor in the world after Eisenstein. Editing, to them, means organizing cinematographically; in other words planning dramatically, composing musically, or in yet other words, the finest, film-making.
There are several ways of making films. Like Jean Renoir and Robert Bresson, who make music. Like Sergei Eisenstein, who paints. Like Stroheim, who wrote sound novels in silent days. Like Alain Resnais, who sculpts. And like Socrates, Rossellini I mean, who creates philosophy.
In the world of today, whatever the domain, France can now shine only through exceptional works. Robert Bresson illustrates this rule in the cinema. He is the French cinema, as Dostoyevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German music.
I don’t believe in the body of work. There are works, they might be produced in individual installments, but the body of work as a collection, the great oeuvre, I have no interest in it. I prefer to speak in terms of pathways. Along my course, there are highs and there are lows, there are attempts… I’ve towed the line a lot. You know, the most difficult thing is to tell a friend that what he’s done isn’t very good. I can’t do it. Eric Rohmer was brave enough to tell me at the time of the Cahiers that my critique of “Strangers on a Train” was bad. Jacques Rivette could say it too. And we paid a lot of attention to what Rivette thought. As for François Truffaut, he didn’t forgive me for thinking his films were worthless. He also suffered from not ending up finding my films as worthless as I thought his own were.
[On the death of Kenji Mizoguchi] The greatest of Japanese filmmakers. Or, quite simply, one of the greatest of filmmakers.
Kenji Mizoguchi was the peer of Murnau, of Rossellini. His oeuvre is enormous. Two hundred films, so it is said. No doubt there is a good deal of legend about this, and one can be sure that future centuries will bring quite a few Mizoguchi Monogatari. But there is also no doubt that Kenji is extraordinary, for he can shoot films in three months that would take a Bresson two years to bring about. And Mizoguchi brings them to perfection.
There can be no doubt that any comparison between Mizoguchi and Kurosawa turns irrefutably to the advantage of the former. Alone among the Japanese film-makers known to us, he goes beyond the seductive but minor stage of exoticism to a deeper level where one need no longer worry about false prestige.
If poetry is manifest in each second, each shot filmed by Mizoguchi, it is because, as with Murnau, it is the instinctive reflection of the film-maker’s creative.
Mizoguchl‘s art is the most complex because it is the simplest. Camera effects and tracking shots are rare, but when they do suddenly burst into a scene, the effect is one of dazzling beauty. Each crane shot (here Preminger is easily outstripped) has the clean and limpid line of a brush-stroke by Hokusai.
Ugetsu Monogotari is Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece, and one which ranks him on equal terms with Griffith, Eisenstein, and Renoir.
[On Kenji Mizoguchi] He is probably the only director in the world who dares to make a systematic use of 180 degree shots and reaction shots. But what in another director would be striving for effect, with him is simply a natural movement arising out of the importance he accords to the décor and the position the actors occupy within it.
The art of Kenji Mizoguchi is to prove that real life is at one and the same time elsewhere, and yet here, in its strange and radiant beauty.
In the temple of cinema, there are images, light and reality. Sergei Paradjanov was the master of that temple.
Take a drawing by Matisse, a simple curve of a leg or a shoulder. Is there a basis, at the beginning when he starts drawing his curve? There isn’t. This is what I’m trying to say. And that’s what comprises the originality of Max Ophuls, which he acquired a little bit at a time, because in Liebelei, in Letter from an Unknown Woman, in his American films, it’s not there. It’s a freedom that is earned and that is found, that isn’t applied. On a basic level, it’s neither better nor worse as a way of making a film. But there’s something extremely original that we found so satisfying back in the day and that continues to satisfy me now … There’s a kind of pure cinema of that era – you might even call it experimental – which has disappeared. There’s no literature…not that there’s no text or dialogue, but there’s no pre-literature.
Cinema begins with D.W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami.
[On Stanley Kubrick] Began flashily by making glacial copies of Ophuls‘s tracking shots and Aldrich’s violence. Then became a recruit to intellectual commerce by following the international paths of glory of another K, an older Stanley who also saw himself as Livingstone, but whose weighty sincerity turned up trumps at Nüremberg, whereas Stanley Junior’s cunning look-at-me tactics foundered in the cardboard heroics of Spartacus without ever attaining the required heroism. So Lolita led one to expect the worst. Surprise: it is a simple, lucid film, precisely written, which reveals America and American sex better than either Melville or Reichenbach, and proves that Kubrick need not abandon the cinema provided he films characters who exist instead of idea which exist only in the bottom drawers of old scriptwriters who believe that the cinema is the seventh art.
[At the 2004 Cannes Film Festival about filmmaker Michael Moore] Post-war filmmakers gave us the documentary, Rob Reiner gave us the mockumentary and Moore initiated a third genre, the crockumentary.
There are two main groups of directors. On one side, with Eisenstein and Hitchcock, are those who prepare their films as fully as possible. They know what they want, it’s all in their heads, and they put it down on paper. The shooting is merely practical application – constructing something as similar as possible to what was imagined. Resnais is one of them; so is Demy. The others, people like Rouch, don’t know exactly what they are going to do, and search for it. The film is the search. They know they are going to arrive somewhere – and they have the means to do it – but where exactly? The first make circular films; the others, films in a straight line. Renoir is one of the few who do both at the same time, and this is his charm.
Rossellini is something else again. He alone has an exact vision of the totality of things. So he films them in the only way possible. Nobody else can film one of Rossellini‘s scenarios – one would have to ask questions which he himself never asks. His vision of the world is so exact that his way of seeing detail, formal or otherwise, is too. With him, a shot is beautiful because it is right; with most others, a shot becomes right because it is beautiful. They try to construct something wonderful, and if in fact it becomes so, one can see that there were reasons for doing it. Rossellini does something he had a reason for doing in the first place. It’s beautiful because it is.
There is theatre (Griffith), there is poetry (Murnau) there is painting (Rossellini), there is music (Renoir), there is dance (Eisenstein), and therefore there must be cinema; and the cinema is Nicholas Ray.
If the cinema no longer existed, Nicholas Ray alone gives the impression of being capable of reinventing it, and, what is more, of wanting to. While it is easy to imagine John Ford as an admiral, Robert Aldrich on Wall Street, Anthony Mann on the trail of Belliou la Fumée or Raoul Walsh as a latter-day Henry Morgan under Caribbean skies, it is difficult to see the director of Run For Cover doing anything but make films. A Logan or a Tashlin, for instance, might make good in the theatre or music-hall, Preminger as a novelist, Brooks as a school teacher, Cukor in advertising – but not Nicholas Ray. Were the cinema suddenly cease to exist, most directors would in no way be at a loss; Nicholas Ray would.
Like Orson Welles before him, Nicholas Ray left Hollywood before shooting ended, defeated, slamming the door behind him.
…for five years, in my opinion, [Alfred Hitchcock] really was the master of the universe. More than Hitler, more than Napoleon. He had a control of the public that no one else had. Because Hitchcock was a poet. The public was under the control of poetry. And Hitchcock was a poet on a universal level, not like Rilke. He was the only poet maudit to have a huge success; Rilke wasn’t one, Rimbaud wasn’t. And something which is very astonishing with Hitchcock is that you don’t remember what the story of NOTORIOUS is, or why Janet Leigh is going to the Bates Motel. You remember one pair of spectacles or a windmill — that’s what millions and millions of people remember. If you remember NOTORIOUS, what do you remember? Wine bottles. You don’t remember Ingrid Bergman. When you remember Griffith or Welles or Eisenstein or me, you don’t remember ordinary objects. He is the only one.
Throughout his entire career, Hitchcock has never used an unnecessary shot.
Before the war, the film director was not comparable to a musician or a writer, but to a carpenter, a craftsman. It so happened that among the craftsmen there were artists like Renoir and Ophüls. Today the director is considered as an artist, but most of them are still craftsmen. They work in the cinema as one does in a skilled trade. Craftsmanship does exist, but not as they see it. Carné is a craftsman, and his craft makes him make bad films. To begin with, when he was creating his craft, he made brilliant films: now he creates no longer. Today Chabrol has more craft than Carné, and his craft serves for exploration. It is a worthy craft.
Dreyer, Antonioni, Rivette, Rohmer, Marker, Bresson do not and never will make anything but the film they want to make.
[On Jacques Tati] He sees problems where there are none, and finds them. He is capable of filming a beach scene simply to show that the children building a sandcastle drown the sound of the waves with their cries. He will also shoot a scene just because at that moment a window is opening in a house away in the background, and a window opening – well, that’s funny. This is what interests Tati. Everything and nothing. Blades of grass, a kite, children, a little old man, anything, everything which it at once real, bizarre and charming. Jacques Tati has a feeling for comedy because he has a feeling for strangeness. A conversation with him is impossible. He is par excellence, an anti-theoretician. His films are good in spite of his ideas. Made by anyone else, Jour de fête and Hulot would be nothing. Having become with these two films the best French director of comedy since Max Linder, Jacques Tati may with his third film Mon Oncle, become quite simply the best.
[in Paris, 10/18/66] Until I am paid on par with [Henri-Georges Clouzot, [Federico Fellini and [‘Rene Clément’], I cannot consider myself to be a success.
When Allen, De Palma, Scorsese, and Tarantino echo shots or sequences from other filmmakers, the gesture is always one of postmodernist appropriation, not one of critical transformation, and the same thing can be said about the homages of (among others) Truffaut and Bertolucci. But when Rivette literally quotes the “Tower of Babel” sequence from METROPOLIS in PARIS BELONGS TO US, thereby criticizing the metaphysical presuppositions of his characters, or when Resnais virtually duplicates a sequence of shots from GILDA inside Delphine Seyrig’s room in LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, thereby locating the romantic mystifications of Alain Robbe-Grillet within the even larger romantic mystifications of Hollywood, a certain kind of critical commentary is taking place. The same process is at work on a much more elaborate scale in CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, when Rivette applies the critical discoveries of doubling in Hitchcock to the “double” structure of his own film, doubling shots as well as scenes. But the same thing obviously can’t be said for Woody Allen and De Palma appropriating the baby carriage from POTEMKIN in BANANAS and THE UNTOUCHABLES or for Tarantino getting Uma Thurman in PULP FICTION to imitate Anna Karina’s dance around a pool table in VIVRE SA VIE.
Criticism taught us to admire both Rouch and Eisenstein. From it we learned not to deny one aspect of the cinema in favor of another.
Rouch’s originality lies in having made characters out of his actors – who are actors in the simplest sense of term, moreover, being filmed in action, while he contents himself with filming this action after having, as far as possible, organized it logically in the manner of Rossellini.
[On Billy Wilder] After ‘a Seven Year Itch,’ he decided no longer to be tongue-in-cheek about tragedy but, quite the contrary, to take comedy seriously. In doing so took he took out a double indemnity for cinematographic survival, and success followed quickly. Even as he threw all the great human values to the wolves, he became one of the new great of Hollywood; and even as he replaced Wyler and Zinnemann in the hearts of the exhibitors, he established himself as a worthy heir to Lubitsch in the hearts of cinephiles, for he had rediscovered the Berlin jester’s soul of Billy the Kid, and malice served him henceforth, as tenderness, irony as technical know-how. After Ariane and Marilyn, and in spite of One, Two, Three false steps, Irma la Douce, thanks to the keenness and delicacy of it’s Panavision, thanks to the limpidity of the acting of Jack and Shirley, thanks to the delicacy of the colours of LaShelle and Trauner, sweet Irma, as I say, sets a wonderful seal on a twin ascension to box-office and to art. The outcome: a combination of qualities peculiarly sufficient to turn a gentleman-in-waiting into a film-maker arrived.
We were the first directors to know that Griffith exists. Even Carné, Delluc, and René Clair, when they made their first films, had no real critical or historical background. Even Renoir had very little; but then of course he had genius.
[On Charlie Chaplin] He is beyond praise because he is the greatest of all. What else can one say? The only filmmaker, anyway, to whom one can apply without misunderstanding that very misleading adjective, ‘humane’. From the invention of the sequence shot in The Champion to that of cinéma-vérité in the final speech of The Great Dictator, Charles Spencer Chaplin, while remaining marginal to the rest of cinema, ended up by filling this margin with things (what other word can one use: ideas, gags, intelligence, honour, beauty, movement?) than all the other directors together have put into the whole book. Today one says Chaplin as one says Da Vinci—or rather Charlie, like Leonardo.
John Cassavetes, who was more or less my age, now he was a great director. I can’t imagine myself as his equal in cinema. For me he represents a certain cinema that’s way up above.
[On Georges Franju] He seeks the bizarre at all costs, because the bizarre is a convention and behind this convention one must, also at all costs, discover a basic truth. He seeks the madness behind reality because it is for him the only way to rediscover the true face of reality behind this madness. This is why with each close-up one has the feeling that the camera wipes these faces, as Veronica’s handkerchief wiped the face of Our Lord, becauce Franju seeks and finds classicism behind romanticism. In more modern terms, let us say that Franju demonstrates the necessity of surrealism if one considers it as a pilgrimage to the sources.
[On Roger Leenhardt] The most subtle film theoretician in France. He hates paradoxes, but creates them. He hates false arguments, but offers them. He hates the cinema, but loves it. He doesn’t like good films, but makes them.
The following is excerpts taken from BERGMANORAMA , which was originally published in Cahiers du Cinéma, July 1958
In singing the praises of Welles, Ophüls, Dreyer, Hawks, Cukor, even Vadim, all one need say is, ‘It’s cinema.’ And if we conjure the names of the great artists of past centuries for purposes of comparison, we have no need to say more.
The cinema is not a craft. It is an art. It does not mean team-work. One is always alone; on the set as before the blank page. And for Bergman, to be alone means to ask questions. And to make films means to answer them. Nothing could be more classically romantic.
Of all contemporary directors, admittedly, he alone has not openly rejected those devices beloved of the avant-gardists of the thirties which can still be seen dragging wearily on in every festival of amateur or experimental films. But this is audacity rather than anything else on the part of the director of Thirst: for Bergman, well aware of what he is doing, uses this bric-a-brac in a different context. In the Bergman aesthetic, those shots of lakes, forests, grass, clouds, the deliberately unusual camera angles, the elaborately careful back-lighting, are no longer mere showing-off or technical trickery: on the contrary, they are integrated into the psychology of the characters at the precise instant when Bergman wants to evoke an equally precise feeling: for instance, Monika’s pleasure is conveyed in her journey by boat through an awakening Stockholm, and her weariness by reversing the journey through a Stockholm settling down to sleep.
At the precise instant. Bergman, in effect, is the film-maker of the instant. Each of his films is born of the hero’s reflection on the present moment, and deepens that reflection by a sort of dislocation of time–rather in the manner of Proust but more powerfully, as though Proust were multiplied by both Joyce and Rousseau–to become a vast, limitless meditation upon the instantaneous. An Ingmar Bergman film is, if you like, one twenty-fourth of a second metamorphosed and expanded over an hour and a half. It is the world between two blinks of the eyelids, the sadness between two heart-beats, the gaiety between two handclaps.
Employed almost systematically by Bergman in most of his films, the flashback ceases to be what Orson Welles called one of those ‘poor tricks’ to become, if not the theme of the film, at least its sine qua non. In addition, this figure of style, even if employed as such, acquires the enormous advantage that it considerably enriches the scenario since it constitutes its internal rhythm and dramatic framework. One need only have seen any one of Bergman’s films to realize that each flashback invariably begins or ends in the right place; in two right places, I should say, because the remarkable thing is that, as with Hitchcock at his best, this sequence change always corresponds to the hero’s inner feeling, provoking in other words a renewal of the action – which is an attribute of the truly great. What one mistook for facility was simply a greater rigour. Ingmar Bergman, the intuitive artist decried by the ‘craftsmen’, here gives a lesson to the best of our scriptwriters. Not for the first time, as we shall see.
When Vadim emerged, we praised him for being up to date when most of his colleagues were one war behind. Similarly, when we saw Giulietta Masina’s poetic grimacing, we praised Fellini, who’s baroque freshness had the sweet smell of renewal. But this renaissance of the modern cinema had already been brought to it’s peak five years earlier by the son of a Swedish pastor. What were we dreaming of when Summer with Monika was first shown in Paris? Ingmar Bergman was already doing what we are still accusing French directors of not doing.
Wishing won’t make just anyone a goldsmith. Nor will trumpeting from the rooftops mean that one is in advance of everyone else. A genuinely original auteur is one who never deposits his scripts with the homonymous society. Because that which is precise, Bergman proves, will be new, and that which is profound will be precise. But the profound novelty of Summer With Monika, Thirst, or The Seventh Seal is first and foremost their wonderfully precise tone. A spade is a spade for Bergman, certainly, but so it is for many others, and is of little consequence. The important thing is that Bergman, blessed with a foolproof moral elegance, can adapt himself to any truth, even the most scabrous (cf. the last sketch in Waiting Women). That which is unpredictable is profound, and a new Bergman film frequently confounds the warmest partisans of the preceding one. One expects a comedy, and along comes a medieval mystery. Often their only common ground is the incredible scope of their situations, more than a match for Feydeau, just as the dialogue is more than a match for Montherlant in veracity and, supreme paradox, Giraudoux in delicacy. It goes without saying that this sovereign ease in building a script is accompanied, when the camera starts to turn, by an absolute mastery in the direction of actors. In this field Bergman is the peer of a Cukor or a Renoir. Admittedly most of his actors, many of whom also work with him in the theatre, are remarkably talented. I am thinking in particular of Maj-Britt Nilsson, whose stubborn chin and sulky contempt are not without a touch of Ingrid Bergman. But one has to have seen Birger Malmsten as the dreamy boy in Summer Interlude, and again, unrecognizably, as the respectable bourgeois in Thirst; one has to have seen Gunnar Björnstrand and Harriet Andersson in the first episode of Journey into Autumn, and again, with different eyes, different mannerisms, different body rhythms, in Smiles of a Summer Night, to realize the extent of Bergman‘s amazing ability to mould these cattle, as Hitchcock called them.
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of film-makers. Those who walk along the streets with their heads down, and those who walk with their heads up. In order to see what is going on around them, the former are obliged to raise their heads suddenly and often, turning to the left and then the right, embracing the field of vision in a series of glances. They see. The latter see nothing, they look, fixing their attention on the precise point which interests them. When the former are shooting a film, their framing is roomy and fluid (Rossellini), whereas with the latter it is narrowed down to the last millimetre (Hitchcock). With the former (Welles), one finds a script construction which may be loose but is remarkably open to the temptations of chance; with the latter (Lang), camera movements not only of incredible precision in the set but possessing their own abstract value as movements in space. Bergman, on the whole, belongs to the first group, to the cinema of freedom; Visconti to the second, the cinema of rigour.
As a man of the theatre, Bergman is willing to direct plays by other people. But as a man of the cinema, he intends to remain sole master on board. Unlike Bresson or Visconti, who transfigure a starting-point into something entirely personal, Bergman creates his adventures and characters out of nothing. No one would deny that The Seventh Seal is less skilfully directed than White Nights, its compositions less precise, its angles less rigorous; but–and herein lies the essential difference–for a man so enormously talented as Visconti, making a very good film is ultimately a matter of very good taste. He is sure of making no mistakes, and to a certain extent it is easy. It is easy to choose the prettiest curtains, the most perfect furniture, to make the only possible camera movements, if one knows one is gifted that way. For an artist, to know oneself too well is to yield a little to facility.
Of all the Japanese directors, Kurosawa has been the most accessible to the outside world. There are obvious reasons of this. He seems, for instance, to have a preference for simple, universal situations over narrowly regional ones. The fear of nuclear destruction, graft in high places, the dehumanising effect of bureaucracy, simple conflicts of good and evil, the moral allegory in Rashomon and so on. But most importantly, I think, it is his penchant for movement, for physical action, which has won him so many admirers in the west.
Bicycle Thieves is a triumphant discovery of the fundamentals of cinema and De Sica has openly acknowledged his debt to Chaplin.
If there is any name which can be said to symbolize cinema—it is Charlie Chaplin… I am sure Chaplin’s name will survive even if the cinema ceases to exist as a medium of artistic expression. Chaplin is truly immortal.
Old masters like Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and Eisenstein aimed at a range of responses which the modern film-makers do not even feel obliged to attempt.
As for innovation, all artists owe a debt to innovators and profit by such innovation. Godard gave me the courage to dispense largely with fades and dissolves, Truffaut to use the freeze. But all innovation is not external. There is a subtle, almost imperceptible kind of innovation that can be felt in the very texture and sinews of a film. A film that doesn’t wear its innovations on its sleeve. A film like La Règle du jour. Humanist? Classical? Avant-Garde? Contemporary? I defy anyone to give it a label. This is the kind of innovation that appeals to me.
[On Jean-Luc Godard] Godard especially opened up new ways of… making points, let us say. And he shook the foundations of film grammar in a very healthy sort of way, which is excellent.
If Godard has a hallmark, it is in repeated references to other directors, other films (both good and bad), other forms of art, and to a myriad phenomena of contemporary life. These references do not congeal into a single significant attitude, but merely reflect the alertness of Godard’s mind, and the range and variety of his interests.”
[On John Ford] A hallmark is never easy to describe, but the nearest description of Ford’s would be a combination of strength and simplicity. The nearest equivalent I can think of is a musical one: middle-period Beethoven.”
[On Ingmar Bergman] It’s Bergman whom I continue to be fascinated by. I think he’s remarkable. I envy his stock company, because given actors like that one could do extraordinary things.
On my first visit to Stockholm I was particularly keen to meet Bergman as I had been a great admirer of his work ever since I saw The Seventh Seal way back in mid-fifties. Bergman of today is not the Bergman of thirty years ago. He has pared down his style to a chamber music austerity. But he is still capable of handling big subjects, as witness Fanny and Alexander. At the opposite and more characteristic pole lies Scenes From A Marriage, a relentless study of two people — husband and wife — compelling and exhaustive…
I met D.W. Griffith only once and it was not a happy meeting. A cocktail party on a rainy afternoon in the last year of the 1930s. Hollywood’s golden age, but for the greatest of all directors it had been a sad and empty decade. The motion picture which he had virtually invented had become the product—the exclusive product—of America’s fourth-largest industry, and on the assembly lines of the mammoth movie factories there was no place for Griffith. He was an exile in his own town, a prophet without honor, a craftsman without tools, an artist without work. No wonder he hated me. I, who knew nothing about film, had just been given the greatest freedom ever written into a Hollywood contract. It was the contract he deserved. I could see that he was not at all too old for it, and I couldn’t blame him for feeling I was very much too young. We stood under one of those pink Christmas trees they have out there, and drank our drinks and stared at each other across a hopeless abyss. I loved and worshipped him, but he didn’t need a disciple. He needed a job. I have never really hated Hollywood except for its treatment of D.W. Griffith.
I’m not bitter about Hollywood’s treatment of me, but over its treatment of D.W. Griffith, Josef von Sternberg, Erich von Stroheim, Buster Keaton and a hundred others.
[On René Clair] A real master: he invented his own Paris, which is better than recording it.
[On Federico Fellini] He’s as gifted as anyone making pictures today. His limitation–which is also the source of his charm–is that he’s fundamentally very provincial. His films are a small-town boy’s dream of a big city. Is sophistication works because it is the creation of someone who doesn’t have it. But he shows dangerous signs of being a superlative artist with little to say.
[On Federico Fellini] Fellini is essentially a small-town boy who’s never really come to Rome. He’s still dreaming about it. And we should all be very grateful for those dreams. In a way, he’s still standing outside looking in through the gates.
[On Stanley Kubrick] Among those whom I would call ‘younger generation’ Kubrick appears to me to be a giant.
…I believe that Kubrick can do everything. He is a great director who has not yet made his great film. What I see in him is a talent not possessed by the great directors of the generation immediately preceding his, I mean Ray, Aldrich, etc. Perhaps this is because his temperament comes closer to mine.
[On being asked how he felt about contemporary American directors] Stanley Kubrick and Richard Lester are the only ones that appeal to me—except for the old masters. By which I mean John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford. I don’t regard Alfred Hitchcock as an American director, though he’s worked in Hollywood for all these years. He seems to me tremendously English in the best Edgar Wallace tradition, and no more. There’s always something anecdotal about his work; his contrivances remain contrivances, no matter how marvelously they’re conceived and executed. I don’t honestly believe that Hitchcock is a director whose pictures will be of any interest a hundred years from now. With Ford at his best, you feel that the movie has lived and breathed in a real world, even though it may have been written by Mother Machree. With Hitchcock, it’s a world of spooks.
[On Alfred Hitchcock] There’s a certain icy calculation in a lot of Hitch’s work that puts me off. He says he doesn’t like actors, and sometimes it look as though he doesn’t like people.
[On Alfred Hitchcock] I think he was senile a long time before he died.
I think it’s very harmful to see movies for movie makers because you either imitate them or worry about not imitating them and you should do movies innocently and i lost my innocence. Every time i see a picture i lose something i don’t gain. I never understand what directors mean when they compliment me and say they’ve learned from my pictures because i don’t believe in learning from other people’s pictures. You should learn from your own interior vision and discover innocently as though there had never been D.W. Griffith or Eisenstein or Ford or Renoir or anybody.
The people who’ve done well within the [Hollywood] system are the people whose instincts, whose desires [are in natural alignement with those of the producers] — who want to make the kind of movies that producers want to produce. People who don’t succeed — people who’ve had long, bad times; like [Jean] Renoir, for example, who I think was the best director, ever — are the people who didn’t want to make the kind of pictures that producers want to make. Producers didn’t want to make a Renoir picture, even if it was a success.
[On the death of Jean Renoir] The Greatest of all Directors.
[On Jean-Luc Godard] He’s the definitive influence if not really the first film artist of this last decade, and his gifts as a director are enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker—and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin. But what’s so admirable about him is his marvelous contempt for the machinery of movies and even movies themselves—a kind of anarchistic, nihilistic contempt for the medium—which, when he’s at his best and most vigorous, is very exciting.
[On Luis Buñuel In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich] Jesus, it’s all true. He’s that kind of intellectual and that kind of Catholic [. . .] A superb kind of person he must be. Everybody loves him.
[On Luis Buñuel In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich] He is a deeply Christian man who hates God as only a Christian can,” and, of course, he’s very Spanish. I see him as the most supremely religious director in the history of the movies.
[On Kenji Mizoguchi] No praise is too high for him.
I never could stand looking at Bette Davis, so I don’t want to see her act, you see. I hate Woody Allen physically, I dislike that kind of man. [‘Henry Jaglom’ (qv]: I’ve never understood why. Have you met him? Oh, yes. I can hardly bear to talk to him. He has the Chaplin disease. That particular combination of arrogance and timidity sets my teeth on edge…Like all people with timid personalities, his arrogance is unlimited. Anybody who speaks quietly and shrivels up in company is unbelievably arrogant. He acts shy, but he’s not. He’s scared. He hates himself, and he loves himself, a very tense situation. It’s people like me who have to carry on and pretend to be modest. To me, it’s the most embarrassing thing in the world-a man who presents himself at his worst to get laughs, in order to free himself from his hang-ups. Everything he does on the screen is therapeutic.
[In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich] Chaplin’s a great artist—there can’t be any argument about that. It’s just that he seldom makes the corners of my mouth move up. I find him easy to admire and hard to laugh at.
[On Charlie Chaplin] a “genius” as an actor, but merely competent as a director;
Chaplin was deeply dumb in some ways.
In handling a camera I feel that I have no peer. But what De Sica can do, I can’t do. I ran his Shoeshine recently and the camera disappeared, the screen disappeared; it was just life . . .
[On Buster Keaton] Keaton was beyond all praise…a very great artist, and one of the most beautiful men I ever saw on the screen. He was also a superb director. In the last analysis, nobody came near him. Keaton, one of the giants! … Now, finally, Keaton’s been ‘discovered’. Too late to him any good, of course – he lived all those long years in eclipse, and then, just as the sun was coming out again, he died. I wish I’d known him better than I did. A tremendously nice person, you know, but also a man of secrets. I can’t even imagine what they were.
[On Michelangelo Antonioni] According to a young American critic, one of the great discoveries of our age is the value of boredom as an artistic subject. If that is so, Antonioni deserves to be counted as a pioneer and founding father. His movies are perfect backgrounds for fashion models. Maybe there aren’t backgrounds that good in Vogue, but there ought to be. They ought to get Antonioni to design them.
[On Michelangelo Antonioni] I don’t like to dwell on things. It’s one of the reasons I’m so bored with Antonioni – the belief that, because a shot is good, it’s going to get better if you keep looking at it. He gives you a full shot of somebody walking down a road. And you think, ‘Well, he’s not going to carry that woman all the way up that road.’ But he does. And then she leaves and you go on looking at the road after she’s gone.
[On Josef Von Sternberg] The King and Queen of camp.
[On Josef Von Sternberg] Admirable! He is the greatest exotic director of all time and one of the great lights.
[On William Wyler] Wyler is this man. Only he’s his own boss. His work, however, is better as boss than as director, given the fact that in that role he spends his clearest moments waiting, with the camera, for something to happen. He says nothing. He waits, as the producer waits in his office. He looks at twenty impeccable shots, seeking the one that has something and, usually, he knows how to choose the best one. As a director he is good but as a producer he is extraordinary.
[on Anthony Asquith] One of the nicest, most intelligent people who was ever in films . . . and my God, he was polite. I saw him, all alone on the stage once, trip on an electric cable, turn around, and say, “I beg your pardon” to it.
[about director W.S. Van Dyke, aka “Woody”] Woody made some very good comedies. And what a system he had! . . . His retakes sometimes took longer than his original shooting schedule . . . He’d shoot a “Thin Man” or something like that in about 20 days. Then he’d preview it and come back to the studio for 30 days of retakes. For comedy, when you’re worried about the laughs, that makes a lot of sense.
I don’t condemn that very northern, very Protestant world of artists like Bergman; it’s just not where I live. The Sweden I like to visit is a lot of fun. But Bergman’s Sweden always reminds me of something Henry James said about Ibsen’s Norway—that it was full of “the odor of spiritual paraffin.” How I sympathize with that! I share neither Bergman’s interests nor his obsessions. He’s far more foreign to me than the Japanese.
[On Robert J. Flaherty] I don’t see where he fits into films at all, except as being one of the two or three greatest people who ever worked in the medium.
Always with huge gratitude and pleasure I remember the films of Sergei Parajanov which I love very much. His way of thinking, his paradoxical, poetical . . . ability to love the beauty and the ability to be absolutely free within his own vision.
I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman.
Why is Kurosawa so good? Because he doesn’t belong to any genre. The historical genre? No, this is more likely resurrected history, convincingly true, not bearing any relation to the canons of the “historical genre.”
[On Akira Kurosawa] The main thing is his modern characters, modern problems, and the modern method of studying life. That’s self-evident. He never set himself the task of copying the life of samurai of a certain historical period. One perceives his Middle Ages without any exoticism. He is such a profound artist, he shows such psychological connections, such a development of characters and plot-lines, such a vision of the world, that his narrative about the Middle Ages constantly makes you think about today’s world. You feel that you somehow already know all of this. It’s the principle of recognition. That’s the greatest quality of art according to Aristotle. When you recognize something personal in the work, something sacred, you experience joy. Kurosawa is also interesting for his social analysis of history. If you compare The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, which share the same plot, it is especially visible. Kurosawa’s historicism is based on characters. Moreover these are not conventional characters, but ones which issue from the circumstances of the protagonists’ life. Each samurai has his own individual fate, although each possesses nothing except the ability to use a sword; and, not wanting to do anything else because of his pride, each finds himself serving peasants to defend them from the enemy. There is a text of pure genius at the end of the film, remember, over the grave, when they plant rice: samurai come and go, but the nation remains. That’s the idea. They are like the wind, blown this way and that. Only the peasants remain on the earth.
I love Kurosawa, although I don’t like his Throne of Blood, for example. I think he copied Shakespeare’s plot in a superficial manner and transferred it to Japanese history, without really succeeding. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is much more profound, both in the character of its protagonist and in the tragedy that penetrates the action. I love The Seven Samurai and Sanjuro. Remarkable pictures. Remarkable director. One of the best in the world, what can I say.
I like Fellini for his kindness, for his love of people, for his, let’s say, simplicity and intimate intonation. If you would like to know – not for popularity, but rather for his humanity. I value him tremendously.
A director like Spielberg has an enormous audience and earns enormous sums and everybody is happy about that, but he is no artist and his films are not art. If I made films like him — and I don’t believe I can — I would die from sheer terror. Art is as a mountain: there is a peak and surrounding it there are foothills. What exists at the summit cannot by definition be understood by everyone.
[When asked why he ‘never showed up in Rome] I was too shy. Bergman and Fellini are way too big for me.
I have a horror of tags and labels. I don’t understand, for instance, how people can talk about Bergman’s ‘symbolism’. Far from being symbolic, he seems to me, through and almost biological naturalism, to arrive at the spiritual truth about human life that is important to him.
There are two basic categories of film directors. One consists of those who seek to imitate the world in which they live, the other of those who seek to create their own world. The second category contains the poets of cinema, Bresson, Dovzenko, Mizoguchi, Bergman, Buñuel, and Kurosawa, the cinema’s most important names. The work of these film-makers is difficult to distribute: it reflects their inner aspirations, and this always runs counter to public taste. This does not mean that the film-makers don’t want to be understood by their audience. But rather that they themselves try to pick up on and understand the inner feelings of the audience.
There are few people of genius in the cinema; look at Bresson, Mizoguchi, Dovzhenko, Paradjanov, Bunuel: not one of them could be confused with anyone else. An artist of that calibre follows one straight line, albeit at great cost; not without weakness or even, indeed, occasionally being farfetched; but always in the name of the one idea, the one conception.
There are many reasons I consider Bresson a unique phenomenon in the world of film. Indeed, Bresson is one of the artists who has shown that cinema is an artistic discipline on the same level as the classic artistic disciplines such as poetry, literature, painting, and music.
The second reason I admire Bresson is personal. It is the significance of his work for me–the vision of the world that it expresses. This vision of the world is expressed in an ascetic way, almost laconic, lapidary I would say. Very few artists succeed in this. Every serious artist strives for simplicity, but only a few manage to achieve it. Bresson is one of the few who has succeeded.
The third reason is the inexhaustibility of Bresson’s artistic form. That is, one is compelled to consider his artistic form as life, nature itself. In that sense, I find him very close to the oriental artistic concept of Zen: depth within narrowly defined limits. Working with these forms, Bresson attempts in his films not to be symbolic; he tries to create a form as inexhaustible as nature, life itself. Of course this doesn’t always work. In fact, there are episodes in his films that are extremely symbolic and, therefore, limited–symbolic and not poetic.
For me Bresson stands as an ideal of simplicity. And from that point of view, I, just like everybody else who strives for simplicity and depth, can’t help but identify with what he has achieved in this field. But on the other hand, even if Bresson would never have existed, we would have eventually come across this notion of a lapidary style, simplicity and depth. And when people tell me during the shooting of my film that a certain scene is in a way reminiscent of Bresson–and this has happened–I will immediately change the approach to avoid any resemblance. If there’s such an influence, it doesn’t show on the surface of my work. This is an influence of a deeper nature. It’s a moral influence between artists, without which art cannot exist.
Bresson is perhaps the only man in the cinema to have achieved the perfect fusion of the finished work with a concept theoretically formulated beforehand. I know of no other artist as consistent as he is in this respect. His guiding principle was the elimination of what is known as expressiveness, in the sense that he wanted to do away with the frontier between the image and actual life; that is, to render life itself graphic and expressive. No special feeding in of material, nothing laboured, nothing that smacks of deliberate generalisation.
Bresson is a genius. Here I can state it plainly — he is a genius. If he occupies the first place, the next director occupies the tenth. This distance is very depressing.
When I am working, it helps me a lot to think of Bresson. Only the thought of Bresson! I don’t remember any of his works concretely. I remember only his supremely ascetic manner. His simplicity. His clarity. The thought of Bresson helps me to concentrate on the central idea of the film.
Robert Bresson is for me an example of a real and genuine film-maker… He obeys only certain higher, objective laws of Art…. Bresson is the only person who remained himself and survived all the pressures brought by fame.
Bresson has always astonished me and attracted me with his ascetics. It seems to me that he is the only director in the world, that has achieved absolute simplicity in cinema. As it was achieved in music by Bach, in art by Leonardo da Vinci… Tolstoy achieved it as a writer…for me he’s always been an example of ingenious simplicity.
What is Bresson’s genre? He doesn’t have one. Bresson is Bresson. He is a genre in himself. Antonioni, Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Dovzhenko, Vigo, Mizoguchi, Bunuel – each is identified with himself. The very concept of genre is as cold as the tomb. And is Chaplin – comedy? No: he is Chaplin, pure and simple; a unique phenomenon, never to be repeated. He is unadulterated hyperbole; but above all he stuns us at every moment of his screen existence with the truth of his hero’s behavior. In the most absurd situation Chaplin is completely natural; and that is why he is funny.
Chaplin is the only person to have gone down into cinematic history without any shadow of a doubt. The films he left behind can never grow old.
What can one say, for instance, about the way Antonioni works with his actors in L’Avventura? Or Orson Welles in Citizen Kane? All we are aware of is the unique conviction of the character. But this is a qualitatively different, screen conviction, the principles of which are not those that make acting expressive in a theatrical sense.
Antonioni has made a strong impression on me with his films, especially with adventures… I realised then, watching this film, that “action”, the meaning of action in cinema is rather conditional. There is practically no action going on in Antonioni’s films. And that is the meaning of “action” in Antonioni films. More precisely, in those Antonioni films that I like the most.
I remember Vigo with tenderness and thankfulness, who, in my opinion, is the father of modern French cinema.
[On Kenji Mizoguchi] One of the “exalted figures who soar above the earth… such an artist can convey the lines of the poetic design of being. He is capable of going beyond the limitations of coherent logic, and conveying the deep complexity and truth of the impalpable connections and hidden phenomena of life.
Eisenstein was a director completely misunderstood by Soviet leaders, especially by Stalin. Misunderstood — because had Stalin understood the essence of Eisenstein’s work he’d never have started to persecute him. This is a total mystery to me. I know how it happened, more or less I have an idea. Eisenstein was brilliant, thoroughly educated; at that time in cinema no director was so educated, so intelligent. Cinema was made by young boys then, typically self-taught, with no formal education at all, they came to cinema sort of straight from the revolution.
Eisenstein was one of the few, perhaps the only one who appreciated the significance of tradition, he knew what continuity was, cultural heritage. But he didn’t absorb it, in his heart, he was over-intellectualised, he was a terrible rationalist, cold, calculated, directed only by reason. He tried his constructions on paper first. Like a calculator. He drew everything. Not that he drew film frames but that he would think everything over and then he’d cram it all inside the frame. He didn’t draw from life, life didn’t influence him in any way. What influenced him was ideas which he constructed, transformed into some form, as a rule completely lifeless, rigid as iron, very formal, dry, devoid of any feeling. Film form, its formal features, photography, light, atmosphere — none of it existed for him at all, it all had this thought-out character, whether some quotes from paintings or other contrived compositions.This was in a sense a typical concept of synthetic cinema, where cinema appeared as a union of graphic arts, painting, theatre, music, and everything else — except cinema as such wasn’t there. As if the sum of all these parts were to result in this new art.
Eisenstein didn’t succeed in expressing through his art what we call the specific art of cinema, he utilised a bit of everything and didn’t notice what was specific to cinematography. Had he noticed, he’d have cut, thrown aside all remaining types of art and would have left only “it” in it.
[On Sergei Eisenstein and Alexander Dovzhenko] It is difficult for me to speak about him because I am afraid of being misunderstood. Beyond a doubt, I consider Eisenstein a great director and regard him highly. I really love Strike, The Battleship Potemkin, and The Old and the New, but I cannot accept his historical pictures. I think they are unusually theatrical. Incidentally, Dovzhenko spoke exhaustively about this; perhaps they had some kind of problem with each other. Major artists often have sharp conflicts amongst themselves, but in any case his words “A daytime opera” seem correct. Because everything is flimsy. Cinema should capture life in the forms in which it exists and use images of life itself. It is the most realistic art form in terms of form. The form in which the cinematic shot exists should be a reflection of the forms of real life. The director has only to choose the moments he will capture and to construct a whole out of them.
[On Alexander Dovzhenko]…In that era of silent movies, he made miracles… poetic cinema.
Dovzhenko is certainly closest to my heart because he felt nature like nobody else, he was really attached to earth. This is for me very important in general. Of course here I have in mind the early Dovzhenko from his silent period — he meant a lot to me. I’m thinking above all about his concept of spiritualisation of nature, this sort of pantheism. In some sense — not literally of course — I feel very close to pantheism. And pantheism has left a strong mark on Dovzhenko, he loved nature very much, he was able to see and feel it. This is what was so meaningful to me, I consider it very important. After all Soviet filmmakers could not feel nature at all, they didn’t understand it, it didn’t resonate with them in any way, it didn’t mean anything. Dovzhenko was the only director who did not tear cinematographic image away from the atmosphere, from this earth, from this life, etc. For other directors all that was a background, more or less natural, a rigid background while for him this was the element, he somehow felt internally connected with nature’s life.
Originally, I didn’t like [John Ford]–because of his material: for example, the comic secondary characters, the brutality, the male-female relationships typified by the man’s slapping the woman on the backside. But eventually I came to understand that he had achieved an absolute uniformity of technical expertise. And his technique is the more admirable for being unobtrusive: His camera is invisible; his staging is perfect; he maintains a smoothness of surface in which no one scene is allowed to become more important than any other. Such mastery is possible only after one has made an enormous number of films. Questions of quality aside, John Ford is the Georges Simenon of directors.
[On Michelangelo Antonioni] Antonioni is the only important director I have nothing good to say about. He bores me; he’s so solemn and humorless.
The talent of Godard goes toward a destructive object. Like Picasso, to whom he’s compared very often, he destroys what he does; the act of creation is destructive. I like to work in tradition, in the constructive tradition.
[Eric Rohmer] is the best French director now. He became famous very late compared to the rest of us, but for 15 years he’s been behind us all the time. He’s influenced us from behind for a long time.
Hitchcock loves to be misunderstood, because he has based his whole life around misunderstandings.
Nowadays, the work of Alfred Hitchcock is admired all over the world. Young people who are just discovering his art through the current rerelease of Rear Window and Vertigo, or through North by Northwest, may assume his prestige has always been recognized, but this is far from being the case.
In the fifties and sixties, Hitchcock was at the height of his creativity and popularity. He was, of course, famous due to the publicity masterminded by producer David O. Selznick during the six or seven years of their collaboration on such films as Rebecca, Notorious, Spellbound, and The Paradine Case.
His fame had spread further throughout the world via the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the mid-fifties. But American and European critics made him pay for his commercial success by reviewing his work with condescension, and by belittling each new film.
In examining his films, it was obvious that he had given more thought to the potential of his art than any of his colleagues. It occurred to me that if he would, for the first time, agree to respond seriously to a systematic questionnaire, the resulting document might modify the American critics’ approach to Hitchcock.
That is what this book is all about.
There are two kinds of directors; those who have the public in mind when they conceive and make their films and those who don’t consider the public at all. For the former, cinema is an art of spectacle; for the latter, it is an individual adventure. There is nothing intrinsically better about one or the other; it’s simply a matter of different approaches. For Hitchcock as for Renoir, as for that matter almost all American directors, a film has not succeeded unless it is a success, that is, unless it touches the public that one has had in mind right from the moment of choosing the subject matter to the end of production. While Bresson, Tati, Rossellini, Ray make films their own way and then invite the public to join the “game,” Renoir, Clouzot, Hitchcock and Hawks make movies for the public, and ask themselves all the questions they think will interest their audience. Alfred Hitchcock, who is a remarkably intelligent man, formed the habit early–right from the start of his career in England–of predicting each aspect of his films. All his life he has worked to make his own tastes coincide with the public’, emphasizing humor in his English period and suspense in his American period. This dosage of humor and suspense has made Hitchcock one of the most commercial directors in the world (his films regularly bring in four times what they cost). It is the strict demands he makes on himself and on his art that have made him a great director.
The main complaint against some critics–and a certain type of criticism–is that too seldom do they speak about cinema as such. The scenario of a film is the film; all films are not psychological.
Every critic should take to heart Jean Renoir’s remark, “All great art is abstract.” He should learn to be aware of form, and to understand that certain artists, for example Dreyer or Von Sternberg, never sought to make a picture that resembled reality.
[On Jean Renoir] The world’s greatest film-maker.
[On Jean Renoir] I think Renoir is the only filmmaker who’s practically infallible, who has never made a mistake on film. And I think if he never made mistakes, it’s because he always found solutions based on simplicity—human solutions. He’s one film director who never pretended. He never tried to have a style, and if you know his work—which is very comprehensive, since he dealt with all sorts of subjects—when you get stuck, especially as a young filmmaker, you can think of how Renoir would have handled the situation, and you generally find a solution.
[On Roberto Rossellini] Rossellini reinforced a trait already evident in Renoir: the desire to stay as close to life as possible in a fiction film.
I’m very influenced by men like Rossellini—and Renoir—who managed to free themselves of any complex about the cinema, for whom the character, story, or theme is more important than anything else.
[On Roberto Rossellini] In some of my films I’ve tried to follow a single character simply and honestly in an almost documentary manner, and I owe this method to Rossellini. Aside from Vigo, Rossellini is the only filmmaker who has filmed adolescence without sentimentality and The 400 Blows owes a great deal to Germany Year Zero.
Clearly, Vigo was closest to Renoir, but he forged further into bluntness and surpassed him in his love of the image. Both were brought up for the task in an atmosphere that was both rich and poor, aristocratic and common. But Renoir’s heart never bled…[Vigo’s] films were faithful, sad, funny, affectionate and brotherly…
[On Jean Vigo] What was Vigo’s secret? Probably he lived more intensely than most of us. Filmmaking is awkward because of the disjointed nature of the work. You shoot five to fifteen seconds and then stop for an hour. On the film set there is seldom the opportunity for the concentrated intensity a writer like Henry Miller might have enjoyed at his desk. By the time he had written twenty pages, a kind of fever possessed him, carried him away; it could be tremendous, even sublime. Vigo seems to have worked continuously in this state of trance, without ever losing his clearheadedness.
My religion is cinema. I believe in Charlie Chaplin…
Like Fellini, I think that the “noble” film is the trap of traps, the sneakiest swindle in the industry. For a real film-maker, nothing could be more boring to make than a “Bridge On The River Kwai” – scenes set inside office alternating with discussions between old fogies and some action scenes usually filmed by another crew. Rubbish, traps for fools, Oscar machines.
Luis Buñuel is, perhaps, somewhere between Renoir and Bergman. One would gather that Buñuel finds mankind imbecilic but life diverting. All this he tells us very mildly, even a bit indirectly, but it’s there in the overall impression we get from his films. Even though he has very little stomach for “messages,” Buñuel did manage to make one of those rare, truly antiracist movies, The Young One (1960), the only film he has shot in English. It succeeded because of his masterful ability to intertwine sympathetic and unsympathetic characters and to shuffle the cards in his psychological game while he addresses us in perfectly clear, logical language.
[On Federico Fellini] I believe Federico was more concerned with the outer life of the people in his films. I am concerned with their inner lives—why they do what they do.
[On Ingmar Bergman] …he’s a long way from me, but I admire him. He, too concentrates a great deal on individuals; and although the individual is what interests him most, we are very far apart. His individuals are very different from mine—but he’s a great director. So is Fellini, for that matter.
Parajanov, in my opinion, is one of best film directors in the world.
[On Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut] Godard flings reality in our faces, and I’m struck by this. But never by Truffaut.
[On François Truffaut] I think his films are like a river, lovely to see, to bathe in, extraordinarily refreshing and pleasant. Then the water flows and is gone. Very little of the pleasant feeling remains because I soon feel dirty again and need another bath. His images are as powerful as those of Resnais or Godard, but his stories are frivolous. I suppose that’s what I object to. René Clair told light stories too, but they touch me more. I don’t know why Truffaut’s leave me unmoved. I’m not trying to say that he has no significance. I only mean that the way he tells a story doesn’t come to anything. Perhaps he doesn’t tell my kind of story. Perhaps that’s it.