A Forest Pt. 7: My Delirium with André

03Apr13
delire cinematographique

You would always find me again, says the sphinx – Nothing in the north well – And he signed … – Extinguish everything! – Following a sinister vision, Don Juan … – The twilight men – They were meeting each other for the first time

In the summer of 1935 Man Ray began the shooting of a film at Lise Deharme’s country house in southern France. The other participants were Paul and Nusch Eluard, Jacqueline Lamba and André Breton. Nothing remained from this attempt at simulating cinematographic delirium but the stills and captions above, which appeared in the Cahiers d’art (N° 5-6, 1935). In his autobiography Man Ray relates the course of events.

Breton and Eluard spent a day mapping out a scenario in which all were to take part. There were sequences of the women, strangely attired, wandering through the house and in the garden. A farmer’s daughter nearby, whom we’d seen galloping across the country on a white horse without a saddle, was persuaded to repeat the ride before my camera, I would have liked to have her nude for the act, but that was out of the question. She was given a one piece white bathing suit, which at a distance, and in movement, might produce the desired effect. In one scene, Breton sits at a window reading, a large dragonfly poised on his forehead. But André was a very bad actor, he lost patience, abandoned the role. I don’t blame him, secretly I have always detested acting, making believe. The best part of the shot was the end, where he got into a temper. This was not acting. After a few more sessions, during which I was having trouble with my instrument — for it jammed often, losing half the takes, I abandoned the operation, to everyone’s regret. On our return to Paris I salvaged what I could — it looked promising but there was not enough fo a short.
Man Ray: Self Portrait

In 1964  Jacques Brunius, director and highly gifted jack-of-all-trades, convinced producer Pierre Braunberger[1] to finance a documentary which would present the surrealist group from within. Robert Benayoun joined in as screenwriter of  Le Surréalisme, as the project was entitled by now[2]. Edmond Richard was hired as cinematographer and principal photography began in and around Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, where Breton had a summer house.  Several sequences were shot which evolved around group activities like the chase for agates[3] at the shores of the river Lot, a crayfish meal which included a happening of Jean Benoît and a game of L’un dans l’autre[4] in the woods.
But the shooting was strained.  Robert Benayoun had aspirations to co-direct the film. Matters were further complicated by the fact that Brunius, an experienced director, was used to carefully plan his shots and to film on schedule whereas newcomer Benayoun had an improvisational approach.  There were also tensions among other participants. Mainly about everyone getting their share of screentime. The resulting rushes seemed to please no one. Once again filming made Breton lose his temper and nobody was willing to finish the film.  Nevertheless the unedited footage still exists. Film archivist Raymond Borde managed to save it and put it into storage in the Cinémathèque de Toulouse[5].

Le Surréalisme - Stills

References: Raymond Borde: Un film interrompu: Le Surréalisme – Archives N° 54, June 1993
Paul Hammond: The Shadow and its Shadow, 2000
Jean-Pierre Pagliano: Brunius, 1987
Screencaps from André Breton par André Breton by Dominique Rabourdin

1 One of the most important producers of the nouvelle vague, Pierre Braunberger was on very good terms with Breton. Interestingly, for a short time he was co-proprietor of the Éditions du Sagittaire. In the publication Cinemamemoire he claims to be responsible for the reedition of The anthology of black humor in 1950.
2 Brunius pursued this project since he was approached by the Cinématheque Française to make a film on surrealism for the Mémoires du monde series. An earlier title was Le hasard objectif.
3 When in 2003 Breton’s  collection was sold at auctions in the Hôtel Drouot some commentators were surprised that besides his collection of art worth a several million Euros, he also held many objects in his possession which were hard to estimate. to say the least,  like his collection of waffle irons, holy water fonts and … stones.

Last year when we approached, under a light rain, a bed of stones that we had not yet explored along the Lot, the suddenness with which several agates, which had an unusual beauty for the region “caught our eyes”, convinced me that every further step would  offer more beautiful ones and over a minute I had the perfect illusion to set foot in earthly paradise.
André Breton: Language of Stones

4 It should be well known that the Surrealists took playing very seriously. The most famous Surrealist game is certainly the exquisite corpse. Here a description of one into another:

One player withdraws from the room, and chooses for himself an object (or a person, an idea, etc). While he is absent the rest of the players also choose an object. When the first player returns he is told what object they have chosen. He must now describe his own object in terms of the properties of the object chosen by the others, making the comparison more and more obvious as he proceeds.
Alaistair Brotchie, Mel Gooding: A Book of Surrealist Games

In short, inventing metaphors on the spot. You could for example describe a lion’s mane by means of a match flame. See for a contemporary use of this principle the sweded films in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind.

5 Benayoun would later use some of the footage as well as ideas from his screenplay in the TV-documentary Passage Breton.

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3 Responses to “A Forest Pt. 7: My Delirium with André”

  1. I don’t know what it was about Breton that captured others so, but I know that he continues to captivate. Thank-you so much for this delirious fix.

  2. 2 jahsonic

    “Insolite” (see one of your prev. posts) is also used as a translation for “unheimlich,” if I’m not mistaken.

    • As you know, my native language is German. With French I am on more shaky ground, but the translation seems fitting to me, when you consider that Freud’s “Das Unheimliche” was translated into French somewhat contradictory either as “l’inquiétante étrangeté” or “l’inquiétant familier”. I ask myself if the definition used in Kate Ince’s book could also be applied to Caillois’ “fantastique”?



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