26 November, 2006

The Films of Alain Robbe-Grillet: 1

One of the most important literary figures of the 20th Century, Alain Robbe-Grillet created a new form of fictional discourse, the "nouveau roman", which was based on almost scientific descriptions of objects and actions in a set of symettries which don't offer a linear plot, realistic characters or any kind of psychological or emotional developement. He has also written "collage" novels which utilize the images of David Hamilton and Rene Magritte, among others. From LES GOMMES to LA REPRISE he has created a world where the pulp fiction of the serie noire, Sax Rohmer and Ian Fleming collide with the philosophical aesthetics of Sade, Andre Breton and ancient Greek tragedy.

Here we will be looking at his career as a writer and director of films which begins with his innovative and influential screenplay for the 1961 Alain Resnais film L'ANNEE DERNIERE A MARIENBAD, which has since gained the status of a classic of cinema. The structure of his own films which followed, beginning with L'IMMORTELLE in 1963, present an increasing focus on eroticism, specifically Sadomasochism, are of definite import to our subject here when considering Franco's cinema beginning with NECRONOMICON (1967), proceeding through VENUS IN FURS and continuing through the 1970s, 80s right up to the de Sade 2000 meditation, HELTER SKELTER.

The formal structures of, say, VAMPYROS LESBOS and VENUS IN FURS both owe something to L'IMMORTELLE, from the setting, Istanbul, to the main characters: an exotic woman, who is seemingly under the control of an oppressive male, leads a naive protagonist into a dangerously expanded form of consciousness. It's not clear that Jess Franco used Robbe-Grillet's or Resnais' films as models in a conscious way but they represent an approach which would lead Franco again and again away from any meanings to be found in dialogues, plots and character toward his own personal genre where the style of the film at hand was in itself the meaning. This would be further obscured by the fact that in the 1970s both Robbe-Grillet and Jess Franco began to include more nudity and explicit sex onscreen to the point where their films were condemned by Church (the Vatican named Franco, along with Bunuel, as one of the two most dangerous filmmakers for Catholics) and State (Robbe-Grillet's 1974 GLISSEMENTS PROGRESSIFS DU PLAISIR was the target of a criminal prosectution in Italy which resulted in a court order for it to be subjected to a pubicly burning!) . GLISSEMENTS... breaks numerous aesthetic and cultural boundries and is not an easy film to watch as I found out during a mid 1970's screening in Manhattan, with Robbe-Grillet in attendance, where I suddenly found myself so repulsed by the film's transgressive imagery and atmosphere that I had to suddenly bolt the theater for fresh air. In the lobby I found myself faced with Robbe-Grillet himself, who was awaiting the post-movie discussion. He smiled as our eyes met for a second. I wanted to apologize or explain, but I didn't say anything. He seemed to understand and proved to be a very modest and witty commentator on his own work.

Robbe-Grillet did not follow Franco into the realm of hardcore sex films and has gone on to much cultural and critical acclaim in France and internationally. His film work is in dire need of reevalution and needs to be more widely available in our digital age where the most marginal product seems to be available on HD DVD and beyond. In the past he has noted that he prefers his films to be experienced theatrically rather than on video media.

Franco has made over 200 films, including alternate versions, while Robbe-Grillet has made a mere 10, but they seem to continue along parallel paths. At 76, Franco's most recent digital film SNAKEWOMAN (2005) deals with the Eternal Feminine as does the 84 year old Robbe-Grillet's C'EST GRADIVA QUI VOUS APPELLE, which deals with an archaeological invesitgation of a female deity. And archaeology is what this blog is all about...

In the future we'll be taking a look at Robbe-Grillet's rarely seen L'EDEN ET APRES (1970), see image at top of blog. None of Alain Robbe-Grillet's films have appeared as legitimate DVD releases as far as I know.



Tim Lucas said...

Robbe-Grillet coming to Italian DVD:



Robert Monell said...

Thanks for the info and links, Tim. I hope to see these and all the others on US DVD in the future.
I especially appreciate LA BELLE CAPTIVE, his most artistically and and technically accomplished film.

magick mike said...

Robbe-Grillet is probably my favorite director of all time; Slow Slidings of Pleasure and N Took the Dice are his only two films I've yet to track down, but I highly anticipate finally being able to see them.

There was also a Japanese DVD release of the Blue Villa, aside from the Italian releases mentioned above; unfortunately the Italian releases (well, the release of Playing with Fire at least) is Italian dubbed and doesn't include the French soundtrack.

Since it seems like top-lists are all the rage on this blog currently, I'll post my top five Robbe-Grillet films while I'm working on my top ten Franco:

1) Eden and After
2) Playing with Fire
3) L'Immortelle
4) Trans-Europ-Express
5) La Belle Captive

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for your comments and list, Mike. I admire ARG's films for their risk-taking and playful style. I haven't seen N TAKES THE DICE; THE BLUE VILLA or his newest one.
My favorites would be in order of preference:

Please email me your Franco 10 Best list so I can post it with an image as a separate blog. RM