Most vivid images



Images du monde visionnaire is a film which would match very well with UBUWEB. But in this case the place to go is Canal-U a French website for medical films. And it’s indeed not an experimental but an educational film which was produced in 1963 by the film department of Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz (best known for synthesizing LSD in 1938) in order to demonstrate the hallucinogenic effects of mescaline and hashish. Still it shares many traits with some of the more interesting efforts in avant-garde film making of its time. Maybe the most remarkable about it is that it is the only venture in film of notable French writer and painter Henri Michaux who wrote several accounts of his experiments with drugs. In charge with the filmic translation of Michaux’ prescriptions was director Eric Duvivier (a nephew of Julien Duvivier) whose other films include an adaptation of  Max Ernst’s collage novel La femme 100 têtes. Sceptical from the start about the success of such an undertaking Michaux was said to be quite disappointed by the result. But the following conversation with famous photographer Brassaï shows Michaux in a different mood.

Paris, Friday, 21 February 1964
I telephoned Michaux 

Me: I very much enjoyed your film about hashish and mescaline. The incantations and extraordinary images create a spellbinding effect, combined with the excellent music. Sometimes one can be really bowled over…

Michaux: I’m glad to hear you like my film. You are a good judge… The cameraman I worked with carried out my ideas and my ‘cutting’ very conscientously.

Me: I’m sorry that this film won’t be seen by the general public, that it won’t be shown in cinemas. Don’t you think it should go on general release?

Michaux: Yes, it’s under discussion. But only if the drug addict himself and the doctor who introduces the film are cut. But they would keep my voice.

Me: So really, although the film has been shown five or six times, very few people have been able to see it. The Salle de Géographie was completely packed when I went; I couldn’t find a seat. I watched the film while lying on the floor at the feet of Jean Paulhan and Dominique Aury…
From Sayag, Lionel-Marie, Brassaï The Monograph, Boston 2000


Michaux portrayed by Brassaï

Eric Duvivier’s entry in the IMDB is really meager so I made some research on the man who is somewhat misleadingly designated by Michaux as “cameraman”.
Duvivier has made about 500 educational films. Most of them are dealing with a psychiatrical theme and Duvivier seems to be the most important French exponent of this branch. In 1964 he was charged with special effects for Henri Georges Clouzot’s unfinished L’Enfer a film which has delusional jealousy as its theme (It was eventually made by Chabrol in 1994).
His aformentioned Max Ernst adaptation was very well received by André Pieyre de Mandiargues who wrote:

The visual poem belongs to a certain degree to the ancestors of cinema. The desire to bring it to the screen seems only natural. (…) Eric Duvivier’s attempt is a considerable success and I’m pleased to welcome it as the best surrealist film offered to us in thirty years or more.


A still from Images de la folie (1950), a film about the art of mental patients, can be found in Amos Vogel’s book Film as a Subversive Art.


… an unprecedented film document which, in drawings and paintings, takes the viewer through the universe of the mentally ill without explanation or analysis. – Amos Vogel

Selected filmography:

L’art psychotique, 1997
Une psychose en enfer, 1994
Les Neuroleptiques, 1978
Sur les traces de Balint, 1977
Autoportrait d’un schizophrène (with Pierre Clémenti), 1977
Névroses post-traumatiques, 1975
Les films de sémiologie pédo-psychiatrique, 1972
Image du corps, 1972
Les autopathes, 1971
Rélation médecin malade, 1967
Phobie d’impulsion, 1967
Concerto mécanique pour la folie ou La Folle Mécamorphose, 1967
Auto-stop (sotie), 1964
La perception et l’imaginaire, 1964
Ballet sur un thème paraphrénique, 1962
Le monde du schizophrène, 1961
Fou, 1958

Here you can see clips of many of these films.




7 Responses to “Most vivid images”

  1. Fascinating read. I’ve recently become curious about Eric Duvivier since I’m interested in his father’s films.

    I found my way here thanks to Mike at his esotika blog and enjoyed looking around. Cheers!

  2. Welcome to my blog Kimberly,

    although I was not systematically checking out Julien Duvivier’s films, I enjoyed the ones that I’ve seen very much. Anyway, if there’s a film with Jean Gabin or Alain Delon you can count me always in.
    I like your page design very much.


  3. Hey there, we just posted Michaux’s Images in its entirety on Ubu. I hope it’s OK to use text from this blog entry there. Thanks!

  4. 4 Dekoy

    fascinating, anyone knows where i can find complete films of Eric Duvivier… ?

  1. 1 Cult fiction #3 « Jahsonic
  2. 2 Images du monde visionnaire (1964) at Further: Strange Attractor & beyond
  3. 3 Mass Observer | Michaux’s Images du monde visionnaire

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