The idea of the film appeared while France was plunged into a state of emergency, following the November 2015 terrorist attacks. The police and army were everywhere, and politicians and state ideologues were, as usual in such a context, taking advantage of the situation to legitimize stronger surveillance of the population, justify questionable identity controls or searches, and distill and infuse fear amongst citizens. At that time, I was living all by myself, in a small village in Alsace not far from the German border. I had broken up a few months before and was expecting a vacancy in a friend’s flat to move back to Paris. I kept fighting with a fiction script I felt less and less inclined to develop, being tired of readjusting and reshaping ideas to fit a market I wasn’t actually drawn to. Feeling depressed, I indulged in severe binge-watching of movies, trying frantically to escape my anguish. At one point, the necessity of stopping this stream of images I submitted myself to became obvious—I needed to get out of the position of passive, mesmerized viewer I shut myself into and try to build something out of it. I then decided to recycle those images I stuffed myself with and go back to the found- (or, rather, “stolen-”) footage form I had formerly explored on two short works, and to rely on this form to give an account of my experience of the last six months I was to live in the village before my planned departure. This account connected a worldwide state of emergency, a national one and my own distress.
Once the general shape of the project was drawn, I started working on my own before even leaving the village. I began by rewatching every single fiction film I had seen since April 2016 and extracting segments that would constitute a sort of pictorial database I sensed I had to establish before taking any further step. Right after my arrival in Paris, we got together with Thomas Marchand, the editor, and started sorting and indexing thematically the 60 hours of snippets I had brought back with me. I was convinced I had to get familiar with all the images we decided to keep before starting to write any kind of narration. So, we spent almost four months filing extracts and watching them over and over. It was only afterwards, while Thomas was working on another movie, that I actually began writing the text and opted for a retrospective chronological approach. I recorded that narration on a small dictaphone, and we used that rough and unpolished recording to start the second stage of editing, the “puzzle phase” as I call it, which consisted of testing systematically and ordering all of the shots we had selected over the voice, knowing we were looking for a dynamic between sound and image that could hold the time of a feature. We constantly searched [for] a balance between counterpoints, free associations, metaphorical hints, poetical hunches, homophonic nods and, on the other hand, more illustrative parts. For instance, the apartment I was living in and the countryside behind my windows would be incarnated as to convey to the viewers a tangible and realistic insight into my physical environment.
All the excerpts used in the film stem from the circa 450 fiction movies I watched during the six months evoked in the narration. It was plain, from the beginning, I wouldn’t use material coming from experimental works, animations or documentaries, the idea being to try to explore the polysemous quality shots acquire once they’re discovered out of their original context—when they’re not linked anymore to a classical efficient grammar of fiction, once they’re stripped bare of their first functional identity.
As for the nature of the extracts themselves and what drives me toward some rather than others, it is very subjective. I made a rule of not using faces of professional actors, for two reasons. First, they symbolize the industry, money, capital and, as such, I feel I can’t include them in an intimate first-person account nourished by my disgust with what they stand for. And, using the face of a recognizable actor or actress could drive the viewer to the quiz mode, a danger the editor and I constantly fought against. If the spectator steps into the film trying to identify the origin of each shot, wondering if he guessed right, I fear he’ll become unable to connect to the narration. The shots I’m sensitive to would actually be the “lost” ones, the ones one wouldn’t first remember after watching a film: introducing shots, inserts, stock shots, parts of the bodies, objects, incidental landscapes. They have their own poetry that just begs to resurface in another arrangement, out of their initial, often conventional place.
Other sets of rules applied might be more obvious to decipher: no sound, never use two shots from the same films that were already edited together, respect of the ratio and speed of the original source, no loops.
This introduction was based on the interview "This Sweet Sickness: Frank Beauvais On His Obsessive, Archival-Based Memoir, Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream" by Sierra Pettengill for Filmmaker Magazine.
As a complement, I'd like to share this excerpt from Robert Parrish's first volume of memoirs, Growing Up in Hollywood, that recounts a conversation between Harry Kaufman and himself at the time he was working as an editor.
"Do you go to the movies a lot?" he asked. I told him that I saw practically every movie that came out of Hollywood, and a lot of foreign films. He said, "Good. Keep on going as often as you can, but from now on watch out for montages, especially in MGM and Warner Brothers pictures. When you see a particularly good one, let me know, and we'll steal it." I thought he was joking, so I gave him a kind of patronizing, chickenshit smile and said, "How do we do that?" He said : "We borrow the print, clean it up, and knock off a dupe negative and put it in my library here." He pointed to some long flat film cans that had labels in his pinched handwriting - "Building the West", "Police Car Chase," "Roman Empire," and "City on Fire" were among them. (...) I said, "Can we get away with that, stealing some other studio's film ? For example, won't MGM recognize Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable if we use Vorkapitch's montage from Boom Town?" Kaufman said, "We don't use Gable and Tracy. When we come to the parts that might be recognized we cut them out (...) Let me worry about that. You just keep going to movies and looking for montages, and when you see a good one let me know, OK ?"
The screen captures illustrating this introduction all stem from movies watched during confinement in March, April and May of 2020.