I would like to accompany 2011's Nana with a printed text at the door of a public screening, a text written precisely before the word “contextualize” (b. 1934) existed as the verb form of “context” (b. 1840).
It would be Jean Epstein, 1921—
"Now the tragedy is anatomical. The décor of the fifth act is this corner of a cheek torn by a smile. Waiting for the moment when 1,000 meters of intrigue converge in a muscular denouement satisfies me more than the rest of the film. Muscular preambles ripple beneath the skin. Shadows shift, tremble, hesitate. Something is being decided. A breeze of emotion underlines the mouth with clouds. The orography of the face vacillates. Seismic shocks begin."
"The film is nothing but a relay between the source of nervous energy and the auditorium which breathes its radiance…" (from “Magnification”)
Or Antonin Artaud writing in 1927—
"The human skin of things, the epidermis of reality: this is the primary raw material of cinema. Cinema exalts matter and reveals it to us in its profound spirituality, in its relations with the spirit from which it has emerged. Images are born, are derived from one another purely as images, impose an objective synthesis more penetrating than any abstraction, create worlds which ask nothing of anyone or anything…" (from “Cinema and Reality”)
—then, Artaud’s great reversal from six years later, “The Premature Old Age of Cinema,” 1933—
"Life cannot be remade. Living waves, inscribed in a number of vibrations that is forever fixed, are waves that are henceforth dead. The world of the cinema is a closed world, without relationship to existence. Its poetry exists not on the other side but on this side of images. By the time it collides with the mind, its dissociative force has been broken. There has been poetry, to be sure, around the lens, but before the filtering by the lens, the recording on film."
It would be Élie Faure—
"…mobile composition, ceaselessly renewed, ceaselessly broken and remade, fading away and reviving and breaking down, monumental one flashing instant, impressionist the second following…"
"…multiple and incessantly modified relationships with the surroundings, the landscape, the calm, the fury, and the caprice of the elements, from natural or artificial lighting, from the prodigiously complex and shaded play of values, from precipitate or retarded movements, such as the slow movements of those galloping horses which seem to me made of living bronze, of those running dogs whose muscular contractions recall the undulations of reptiles."
"…animals may take part in these dramas, and newborn children too, and they participate by their play, their joys, their disappointments, their obscure dramas of instinct…" (“The Art of Cineplastics,” 1922)
Or Vachel Lindsay—
"The world-old legends and revelations of man in connection with the lovely out of doors, or lonely shrines, or derived from inspired crusading humanity moving in masses, can now be fitly retold."
"Note how easily memories are pulled up, and appear in the midst of the room. In any (photo)play whatever you will find these apparitions and recollections." (The Art of the Moving Picture, 1915)
Or it would be a later text extolling the virtues of an earlier cinema, a slightly pre-linguistic cinema, when things were things, acts were facts; it would be Jacques Rivette’s seminal 1950 article “We Are No Longer Innocent” (which should be read in its entirety), his title being a lament from those born later, those born inside cinema’s prison house of language, but the least tearful of all laments for what has been lost in cinema, with Rivette more resembling Antigone—
"To see a film by Mauritz Stiller, F. W. Murnau, or D.W. Griffith today is striking, and revealing also of the exceptional importance that every human gesture—indeed, the functioning of the entire sensible universe—assumes in their films: an act as simple as drinking, walking or dying possesses a density—the plenitude of meaning and the confused evidence of the sign—that always transcends interpretations and limitations, and that we would be fain to find in films today. Jean Vigo and Jean Renoir are perhaps the only ones who still suggest an incessant improvisation of the universe, a perennial, calm, and sure creation of the world. Silence explains nothing…"
Or it would be a Huillet/Straub quote, who work in this way—
"HUILLET: When Griffith frames an embankment, an electric pole and a railroad track below, it becomes a mysterious image and at the same time an absolutely realist image. If you are not capable of this alliance of realism and mystery, it is better not to begin a picture."
"…intelligence comes from the senses, not the other way around!" (“Conversation avec Danièle Huillet et Jean-Marie Straub” by Benoît Goetz, 1998)
Or there would be no paper handed out at all, instead, simply a large card above the door of the theater that read:
The forming of the five senses is a labor of the entire history of the world down to the present. MARX
In favor of phenomenal coexistence, Valérie Massadian, director of Nana, once chose to screen Nana preceded by Lasquite's Saint Bernards, 2011, a YouTube video showing 42 Saint Bernards roving the woods while a little girl hollers up the dickens.
Something else of high importance but about which I can say little at present; Massadian in an interview at Viennale:
"Women, feminine individuals, whether girls or older, from many different cultures and of different ages may see the same [Nana] that men see, but they receive it with something that has no word. It's very feminine and animal and has no word. It's not an identification. There is an added perception that is completely feminine."
To be continued…
This is Part 1 of several entries Andy Rector will make throughout the month as MUBI plays Nana in most countries around the world through March 1, 2016.
Further recommended articles on Valérie Massadian’s Nana:
Jay Kuehner, Nana
Robert Koehler, Her Own Devices
Blaire McKlendon, Naked Childhood