You haven’t read much Bresson scholarship. The homoerotic underpinnings of “Pickpocket” and other Bresson works have been alluded to by many others.
Youre demand for “detailed evidence” is such a familiar refrain. I suppose you require “detailed evidence” that Montgomery Clift, Raymond Burr, and Rock Hudson were gay.
Why can’t people speak more freely about Montgomery Clift? Is there some unwritten law that people can’t talk about how he was essentially driven crazy trying to hide his gayness — driven into alcoholism and terrible manic-depression.
I’m for a more open atmosphere in which you can talk about these things because it really does little good to keep silent about them.
A few minutes of Googling produced the following:
(that’s Humbert Balsam at the top)
According to Jack Larson, Monty’s main problem stemmed from the accident that nearly killed him during the shooting of “Raintree County.” Up until then he’d been ‘a very happy drunk." The accident, which practically tore his head in two led to his becoming addicted to the painkillers hat were proscribed to help him overcome the results of the several operations required to put him back together. Jack says he never had any real problem with being gay cause he didn’t care what other people thought a all. He wasn’t a traditional movie star in any way. He avoided being put under long term contract by a studio and pick and chose his projects with great care.
If the queer indicators in Bresson’s work are so obvious, then why be so eager to escape his equally obvious signs of religiosity?
Red River is yet another amazing Clift performance, where he just seems totally unaffected — not wanting much credit for being good, not offering any excuse when he’s rebellious. We know he’s John Wayne’s heart long before Wayne comes to know it.
It’s not a matter of “escaping” them at all. it’s simply that they’re quite complex. Far too many crtics regard Bresson’s religious interest in a static way — as if he were saying the same things over and over agin. This is not at all true. As I have said Bresson began as a believer and ended as a atheist. But along the corurse of that evolution he approached religious belief in very different ways. Suicide (another obsession of his) too. Both Mouchette and the heroine of “Une Femme Douce” kill themelves. But for very different reasons. The anti-hero of “Le Diable Probablement” likewise.
For all of his death-wishing, the guy in Devil Probably seems to cling to life at the last minute and even perhaps change his mind? I think that’s one of the most ambiguous endings in all of film. It’s really more like watching a very grubby murder.
I came to Bresson thankfully after priming by Renoir, Cluzot, Carne, Melville and importantly Becker et al… and later in life (in my forties) or else there’s no way it would have made the impact it did… can’t comment on the gay stuff as a straight man, but I don’t see sexuality of any stripe playing a large part in any of the Bresson’s I’ve seen…. as for atheist, as one who’s made the same journey from catholicism to atheism I find his films overwhelmingly existential. The French have a philosophical way of looking at stuff that is alien mostly to the anglo culture I grew up in… and I find depth and nuance and no easy answers in Bresson.
Nice thread by the way.
I can certainly see Bresson making a more direct confrontation with nihilism in L’Argent, for instance, but at the same time I find it very hard to detect his own feelings or moral attitude about the story he is filming.
I actually find Bresson’s later phase quite strange and un-beautiful. I watched a youtube clip of The Devil Probably and it was… stiff. Like many other filmmakers who came from the black and white era, Bresson didn’t seem to realize that the transition to color brought along many other subtler, ineffable changes in story, atmosphere, and the emotional relationship between characters and the audience. Many Bresson shots in black and white held a spare, profound beauty: the same shots in color would be merely banal.
David – I’m not unwilling to accept your interpretations. Perhaps I haven’t read enough, or the correct, scholarship. My concern is that Bressons work is highly ambiguous, and throwing any concrete interpretations on his stuff (sexual, religious, etc. etc.) will be met with some hesitation on my part. If my problem is that I’m straight, or thick skulled, then so be it. But, if you have an interpretation, I’m interested. I’m interested in hearing something beyond “it’s obvious”, “you need flash cards” etc etc. I’ll take a look at the links you’ve provided, and think more on the issues. I don’t own “Pickpocket”, and so I won’t have an immediate opportunity to look at the film itself, but will keep these ideas in mind the next time I do.
There may be something in what Orpheus M has to say about Bresson in colour, cos i must admit i found both Le Diable Probablement and L’Argent (some time back) so hideous i couldn’t see them through- though the colour was not what i found off-putting-, which of course means i may well have missed out on their true worth and meaning; i should give them another go, maybe i’ve evolved since and now made of more mature and sterner stuff, but it feels a horrendous prospect. I did find a lot to admire in his earlier films. I would certainly stick with my assessment that as well as intended and often achieved purity and a concentrated vision, there is also mannerism and not the true (self-)effacement of style that his fans claim. I would say Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, for example, is more genuinely self-effacing. Ray is not such an obvious auteur, and seems unduly neglected for it in some countries. What i’ve heard about Bresson has not at all dissuaded me over the arrogance i already thought i detected behind his theorising and my mistrust of his spiritual purity. Far from it. As for the quotes by Godard and Hoberman- such certainty!-, well i believe some critics and directors can let their brains go to their heads and the circles (the generally very admirable i.mo) Rosenbaum moves in may have its share of such folk. There’s a guy who writes reviews on the net called Howard Schumann who strikes me as very unpretentious, decent and self-effacing who loves Balthazar (as he also does Pather Panchali), so where my perception of Bresson and that film in particular is concerned I keep thinking the fault lies in me.
As for the sexuality issue, well, David is highly sensitised to detecting such things so i look forward to seeing some of the films again in a different light. But David, you’re a pretty tough cookie.
Nathan M. :
“Perhaps Bresson was tired of a completely earthbound cinema.”
What makes other films “earthbound”? What are Bresson’s films, celestial?
I’ve done some more thinking on the subject and I think I’ve figured out what’s been irking me. As we all know, Bresson had a problem with acting in film. He thought it made film—to use a term often used though not by him—Canned Theatre.Well, for one thing, all poetry is, technically, meant to be performed. Would it be best if a poet reading his work on, say, the radio, do it flatly? Would it be better if he kept the “acting” out of it? No. It’d be really damn awful. I agree with Bresson, most films are just canned theatre. But it’s got nothing to do with the acting.
Most obviously, it’s got to do with all the damned sitting around and talking that goes on in so much cinema. There’s that old rule-of-thumb introduced after the advent of sound: a film is only good if it can be at least roughly understood with the soundtrack dropped out.
Even more importantly though is the issue of dramatic action. As someone who is currently a theatre student, let me say that any one of my instructors would flip his or her lid if they heard me say that theatre is about “acting”, the thing which Bresson claimed was the problem. It’s not. It’s about dramatic action. Something which is absent in it’s traditional form from the oeuvre of most of the great filmmakers. The absence of traditional dramatic action (which I don’t really feel like getting into in great depth, but let’s for now just define it as heightened conflict and resolution between characters, followed by more of the same, and so on until the end) is part of what distinguishes cinema from the theatre as its own art form. Luckily, Bresson seems to understand this too.
The problem comes in why exactly Bresson seems to think that acting needs to be gotten rid of to make cinema less like canned theatre. As I said, poetry is acted too, that doesn’t make it theatre. Nobody would say it is. It’s poetry. Why is it poetry? Because of certain tasks which it performs, in certain ways, which theatre doesn’t. The same with the difference between cinema and theatre.
I’m not saying that this disqualifies Bresson, I’m just saying I’d like to hear why the removal of performance is supposed to make cinema more cinematic.
Brooks — read Bresson’s book “Notes on the Cinematograph” (which is widely available.) he makes his case there. Whether you accept what he has to say is another matter. “I can’t see it” doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We’re not talking “Emperor’s New Clothes” here.
Kenji — Late Bresson is scarcely a walk in the park. I don’t think it has anything to do with color. “Une Femme Douce” — his first color film ,which you don’t mention — is quite straight forward. And speaking of same it brought the world Dominique Sanda.
Sanda, of couse, famously “betrayed” Bresson by becoming not merely a professional actress but a screen goddess of the first order. No one who has ever seen Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” has ever stopped talking about her in it.
A number of years back Sanda gave an interview in whcih she said Bresson would frequently call her on the phone and say nothing. She knew it was him. He wanted to hear hear voice. She was rather annoyed. But such things are common with Bresson, as Anne Wiazemsky shows in her memoir — which I hope someone will translate into English.
“Ambiguity” is the hobgoblin of ideolgically-hobbled minds, Nathan. There are a great many people who claim to believe that Adam Lambert is straight because they “haven’t seen any proof.” I swear if he were giving someone a blow-job right before their eyes they would say “Well it’s all very ambiguous isn’t it?”
Please read the links I’ve provided. They’re scarcely definitive (there’s tons more if you care to delve into the breadth of Bresson scholarship), but they’ll give you a running start if you really want to deal with homoeroticism in Bresson. If not, there’s nothing I or anyone else can say.
Well, i find your anecdotes very interesting but there must be something wrong with me, as i remain aloof to the charms of Sanda. It may be that i saw her first in my teens in The Mackintosh Man (based on a book i’d liked at the time) and that was one of the most awkward, cold, passionless and wooden performances i’ve ever seen, and it turned me against her. I wonder now if it came from Bressonian restraint, but it felt to me then not just underplaying it was almost as if there was nothing there, vacancy, an empty husk. Huston certainly didn’t know how to get the best out of her. Anyway, it was after The Conformist in which she is certainly much more convincing (she was also better again in 1900) and there’s the famous desperate moment clawing at the car as well as the dance that stay in the mind. Or maybe she’s just not my type. It was Storaro’s work i admire most in the film.
I can understand why some people here cannot see any gay subtext in Pickpocket. I mean, if the Kassagi character was not gay (hypothetically, if you want), how would the scene where he meets our “hero” have been filmed? What differences would be involved between the scenes (if it was a homosexual pickup, on the one hand, and two straight guys meeting on common ground, on the other)?
The proof that Lambert is not straight is that they didn’t let him win. They gave it to the ultra-bland Kris Allen instead.
David – This is what strikes me about your arguments for your ideas: "There are a great many people who claim to believe that Adam Lambert is straight because they “haven’t seen any proof.” I swear if he were giving someone a blow-job right before their eyes they would say “Well it’s all very ambiguous isn’t it?”
Who’s talking about Adam Lambert, or Rock Hudson, or Montgomery Clift? I’ve never mentioned one of them, and I’ve never denied, or even attempted to discuss, their sexual orientation. The impression that I’m getting, and this is what irks me, is that you don’t want to argue your position. You want to say how idiotic I, and others, are for “not getting it”. So what if we don’t get it? So what if I’m hopelessly straight?
I’ve read the links provided by you, and yes, they do allude to the homoeroticism in Bresson, but they don’t really examine it at all. In fact, in each article dedicates only a line (maybe two) to the subject, and the impression that I get from every one of them is that while homoeroticism is present in his work, it’s not focal. I have no problem if Bresson has homosexual imagery in his work. My problem lies in the idea that, because of a couple scenes here or there, we are attempting to interpret both him and his work in an extremely sexual fashion. Please cut all the crap about how I don’t get it, or I’m too straight, or whatever.
Brooks – I think what I was alluding to in my quote is that most movies are concerned with sociology and psychoanalysis. I think that those two disciplines are best suited for moviemaking, and that perhaps Bresson was working toward a way to get away from those two things. Naturally, anyone making a movie cannot get completely away from them, because movies are functionally observational in nature, and usually involve humans. That said, by denying his actors any expression of emotion, Bresson strips much of the psychoanalysis out of his movies (again, not completely). The word “earthbound” was probably a poor choice on my part.
So what? It’s the smug priviilege of the Heterosexual Dictatorship (Christopher Isherwood’s ever-apt and useful term) to make everything default to straight. Gay is not to be considered except to isolate and exile it from all serious disccusion.
As a gay man I am required by this culture to know abosolutely everything about heterosexuality and respect it beyond measure. You, on the other hand don;t feel you’re required to know ANYTHING AT ALL about The Ghey and consider it a terible impossiion to even consider attempting to do so.
As I said, the links I gave you (which took me exactly 2 minutes of superficial Googling to find) weren’t definitive statements about Bressonina homoeroticism — just starting points. There’s a lot more about Bressonian gayness out there. If you’re really serious about this you’d go look for it. If not, YOU cut the crap!
right about here would be a good point to stop the flow of this conversation. because its gonna turn into a huge debate about sexuality, which, like religion, is too difficult, emotional, and divisive to debate.
unless we’re going to relate homoeroticism to cinematic representations in a critical/analytical way, we’re moving in the wrong direction, i think. otherwise, i personally dont have much interest in playing the “spot the gay guy/reference” game. and i certainly dont have any interest in hollywood-style gossip about who was gay and who wasnt.
Perhaps someone should start a new, separate topic : homosexuality in cinema, the legitimacy of queer readings of classic films, etc.
Could be some very interesting discussion.
It will, only be interesting if people take their blinders off and actually engage with it.
This thread is about Bresson. Homoeroticism is one aspect of his work. I’ve been trying to discuss it. No takers.
I think it’s a feeling you either get or you don’t. And it may have everything to do with whether you are primed to see or feel these things. I do think it’s difficult to read a convincing heterosexuality into many of Bresson’s films, so sexuality is a gray area for him in his work, to be sure. What isolates his isolated protagonists? What does that isolation feel like? Well, for one thing, it can feel like being gay.
Escaping from death row. Wanting to die and leave a dishonest, hypocritical world. Bresson’s plots often conjure images and feelings of liberation — and we all relate to that in our own personal ways.
True, but there are specific ways as well. In “Un condamne a mort s’est echappe” Fontaine is saved by a boy he at first believes has been placed in his cell in order to kill him. He discovers this isn’t the case and at the end embraces him clearly overwhelmed with love and desire.
In “Pickpocket” Michel is seduced inot a life of crime, tracked by the authorities and saved by a girl he’s largely ignored thoughout the action.
In “Diary of a Country” pirest the only moment of happiness our hero discovers in his brief, sad life is a motorcycle ride with a very hot guy.
You do the math.
True, but there are specific ways as well. In “Uncandamne a mort s’est echappe” Fontaine is saved by a boy he at first believes has been placed in his cell in order to kill him. He discovers this isn’t the case and at the end embraces him clearly overwlemed with love and desire.
In “Pickpocket” Michel is seduced inot a life of crime, tracked by the authorities and “saved” by a girl he’s largely ignored thought out the action.
That’s very interesting. And that inarticulate yearning between men often occurs in Fassbinder as well, to name a director who foregrounded gay issues but who also made films that aren’t always specifically gay in every detail.
Well Fassbinder’s a whole ’nother story.
But now that you mention him, in “The Third Generation” an excerpt from “Le Diable Probablement” is viewed on a TV screen.
Fassbinder was interested in love between men who didn’t quite know they were gay, and how the more loving of the two will be sort of led along — it’s the plot of Berlin Alexanderplatz, not to mention a lot of the early gangster films.
I’ve heard that Le Diable, Probablement could be read as one big case of homosexual anxiety. But I really think you’re seeing what you’d like to see in Bresson and maybe that’s his intent. A Man Escaped is based on a true story and if two men hug each other in the end of the movie I really don’t see that as gay. Seems like you’re focusing far too hard on tiny details and missing the much larger picture.
You’re the one missing he much larger picture. In the true story the kid went along with hero because he promised to take him to a whorehouse when they got out.
As you’ll notice this doesn’t figure in Bresson’s film.
As for “Le Diable Probalement” you’re the one projecting “homosexual anxiety.”
David – “Gay is not to be considered except to isolate and exile it from all serious discussion.” This is what I don’t understand. I’m trying to do exactly that: bring the subject of homoeroticism in Bressons films into a serious discussion. I am, in fact, trying to consider an interpretation that I haven’t read about much, or thought of independently before. I am genuinely interested in knowing more about your ideas. Your most helpful post is only a few above this one in which you detail some examples from three specific films. I’ve never indicated that Bresson should be read as default straight. If anything, I agree with Justin in that there’s very little sexuality at all in Bressons work, and I wouldn’t read it by default in either direction.
Maybe as some have suggested, this discussion should end. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. That was not my intention. My intention has been to try to understand a viewpoint on Robert Bresson that I had not yet encountered. Some of your assumptions about my open mindedness, ability to understand, and willingness to accept homosexual interpretations of cinema have been downright insulting. I’m not the only one on this thread who doesn’t find the sexuality so obvious. “A Man Escaped” is no “Johnny Guitar”.