Sunday, May 9, 2021

Video - OubaelPhoumet Tribute

Yesterday, lazing about on a Saturday, I created a Youtube channel. I had considered doing so for some time, to post movie clips and tunes for personal sharing. However, my first video is a touch more special than the selection of the day; it's a tribute to the mighty OubaelPhoumet. A mysterious uploader from France (who seems to have disappeared from social media, and hasn't posted anything on Youtube in six years), he is known to the initiated for his tastefully curated videos of jazz (and other styles) paired with clips from art films of the 60's, 70's and beyond. His channel was absolutely crucial to me in my early days of cinephilia/jazz connoisseurship, and upon revisiting it recently, I'm glad to say that his selections and sensibilities are as fresh now as they were then.

My very modest homage features a moody cut from drummer James Zitro that I hope would please the man of the hour. As for the film clip, it shouldn't be too hard to guess where it's from. If you like it, then don't hesitate to seek out the real thing at the link below.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Translation - Embrace of the Souls (2020)

A quick note, not surprisingly about a translation: SMP Records, the imprint of German improvising pianist Hannes Selig, has just issued a bountiful box set dedicated to the longtime saxophone/piano duo of Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp. Special Edition Box, as it is called, gathers an unreleased 2019 studio session by the pair, a concert film of their performance in São Paulo from later in the same year (in multiple formats), and a lengthy essay by Belgian writer/ musician/ sometimes-impresario Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, titled 'Embrace of the Souls.' Last summer, while the global pandemic raged, I had the pleasure of translating this long text from the French over the course of two weeks. It is easily the most gratifying translation work I've done, and the result is much more than extended liner notes. Jean-Michel's essay captures the essence of one of the most accomplished ongoing collaborations in improvised music/jazz, and does so with a sensitivity and generosity perfectly suited to his subjects. I hope one day to be able to share the entirety of Jean-Michel's piece, here or somewhere else. In the meantime, the SMP box is available in limited quantities.

For French-reading fans of free improvised music, I recommend a visit to Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg's fantastic blog. His love of music, sounds, of pure creative expression, overflows in practically every post.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Translation - Jean-Marie Buchet on 'Hatari!' (1963)

Still from Hatari!, 1962 

Surprise! Quite generously, my friends at the Belgian film site Sabzian have agreed to publish a new translation of mine, a full-length review of Howard Hawks' ensemble adventurer, 'Hatari!' Written one year after the film's American release by Belgian writer/filmmaker Jean-Marie Buchet, it is a neat introduction to a great and under-recognized cinematic mind (Buchet's), as well as a reminder of the large-scale greatness of Hawks' film. For those keeping track, this translation is actually my first published anywhere on the web other than this blog.

If your interest in Jean-Marie Buchet's films is piqued, I highly suggest his first feature 'La fugue de Suzanne' (1974), a droll, absurdist comedy that plays like Luc Moullet crossed with Jean Eustache. It is available on demand from Avila, another wonderful resource for Belgian cinema.

Anyway, enjoy the piece, and by all means, take the opportunity to rewatch 'Hatari!'

** Jean Marie Buchet on 'Hatari!' (1963) **

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Translation - Chris Marker (The Impossible Book) (2016)

Maroussia Vossen (left) & Djaleng from Paleodia (right)
Still from Pattes de deux, 2010 (Vimeo)

For my latest (seemingly) random act of translation, I humbly present you with my 2020 quarantine project: an English translation of Maroussia Vossen's lovely memoir Chris Marker (The Impossible Book). Marker is, of course, the enigmatic filmmaker and media polymath best known for his twin masterworks, La Jetée (1962) and Sans Soleil (1983). Vossen (pictured above), a dancer and choreographer, is his adopted daughter. This slim edition from 2016, published by Éditions Le Tripode, is an unprecedentedly intimate look at the relationship the two shared from her birth to his death.

The French language book, which I greatly enjoyed reading and translating, can and should be purchased here. A first-time author, Vossen proves to be a deft guide to Marker's idiosyncratic world. More than a catalogue of obscure factoids (what he ate for breakfast every day, what his family life was like) or an inside look at his films (which she consciously avoids considering at length), hers is a personal story built from rich, diffuse connections, the same sorts of connections Marker illuminated across his varied body of work.

French speakers can watch an interview with Ms. Vossen here in which she discusses the book. English readers can click the cover image below to download a PDF of my translation. It was made in a piecemeal fashion in between work and parental duties, and, due to my excitement to post it, only edited lightly. Feedback is certainly welcome, but please be kind!

More importantly, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Translation - Letters to François Truffaut (1959 - 1971)

La Napoule, 1959 (source)
François Truffaut at bottom left, Jean-Daniel Pollet third from left in third row from bottom (with draped sweater)

Having found myself with some additional free time (for reasons obvious to anyone reading this at the time of publication), I've decided to try my hand at a straight-ahead French translation, a first. The piece I chose is from the March 2020 edition of the great Trafic film journal, three letters from the vastly underrated filmmaker Jean-Daniel Pollet to his mentor at-times, François Truffaut. The two interlocutors, who connected in the late 1950's at the time of their initial successes, present an odd pair; the dynamic Truffaut, an admired critic and cinematic wunderkind who became one of the most commercially-viable filmmakers of his generation, and Pollet, a little-known New Wave outlier best known for stern, poetic works that evoked Resnais and captivated Godard. Still, there is some stylistic overlap. Pollet's more conventional comedic efforts, which he alternated with his more abstract works, approached the feel-good tone of Truffaut's most popular films. Pollet's fondness for one particular actor (Claude Melki) as his on-screen alter ego also recalls Truffaut's symbiosis with Jean-Pierre Leaud. In addition to any similarities, it seems the two shared, at some point at least, some degree of mutual professional respect.

Along with the letters, I've translated a short forward by filmmaker and writer Jean-Daniel Fargier, a long-time friend and collaborator of Pollet's. Sadly, the retrospective of Jean-Daniel Pollet's films set for March 2020 at the Cinémathèque Française (which certainly spurred the publication of these letters) has been postponed due to the unforeseen international emergency. Luckily, as a sort of consolation, Les Éditions de l’Œil has recently issued eight of Pollet's newly-restored films on DVD with accompanying booklets, as well as a sorely needed biography of the relatively mysterious director by Fargier. Each and every one of these editions is highly recommended.

Issue 113 of Trafic can be purchased here. I would certainly urge all French-reading cinephiles to subscribe. With the unfortunate recent demise of Cahiers du Cinéma, Trafic is literally peerless among film journals.


Letters to François Truffaut
by Jean-Daniel Pollet

Truffaut saved everything, scripts, correspondences, photos taken on set. His archives contain many treasures that find their way, little by little, to various publications. Pollet threw away (almost) everything. A pity. We will never know exactly how the young director of The 400 Blows responded to a request from the very young director of As Long as You Get Drunk… [i] to have a look at the script for his first feature film. Nevertheless, we get an idea by reading between the lines of Jean-Daniel Pollet’s response to the comments by his famous elder.

        What is striking in this exchange is the strong sense of complicity, founded on mutual esteem. Truffaut had just won at Cannes with his first feature, and had written a few months earlier in Arts, after seeing the premiere of his “little brother’s” [ii] first short film crowned with a Golden Lion at Venice, a magnificent review that compared its author to Jean Vigo, before making this prediction: “At 21 years old, Jean-Daniel Pollet displays a sensitivity and a vitality that make him one of the four or five best emerging French filmmakers.” We can read this on page 467 of the collection Chroniques d'«Arts-Spectacles» 1954-1958, compiled by Bernard Bastide for Éditions Gallimard. [iii]

       It is also thanks to Bernard Bastide that are able to publish these letters from Pollet to Truffaut. He generously shared his discoveries with us, made while perusing Truffaut’s papers at the Cinémathèque Française with the intention of assembling a collection of his favorite filmmaker’s correspondences with writers. Thanks to our comrade from Nîmes!

       We are also very grateful to Laura Truffaut, who manages her father’s estate in concert with her two sisters, Eva and Joséphine, for authorizing this publication.

Jean-Paul Fargier

First contact after Cannes, and the success of The 400 Blows
(No date, likely May 1959)

I hardly know you, but I take great pleasure in the news of the success of your film, which makes me wish for you, as if it were for myself, the best at Cannes. The unanimous praise that I hear from all sides for The 400 Blows, from people incapable of false praise or snobbery, increases my desire to see your film… which, as it is, you certainly don’t like, but don’t cut too much of it, so there’s some left for the street (?).

Jean-Daniel Pollet

Reply to Truffaut’s response to his script for The Bastion (Le Bastion) (which would be made as Line of Sight [La Ligne de mire] in 1960)

Jean-Daniel Pollet
58, bd Maillot
Neuilly (Seine)
Tél. MAI 46 20


I received your letter with great joy, and I thank you sincerely for your interest in my project. I too would be very happy to discuss it further with you. I also impatiently await an opportunity to see your film, about which I’ve only heard good things said (except by the director of Regent!).

       Regarding the similarities of my script to The Rules of the Game, which I have seen twice (unlike my friend F. Mazel [iv]), they don’t concern me, though they now seem obvious. Nevertheless, it would be futile to try to determine how many of them stem from accident and how many from influence. I should, however, be wary of them. Perhaps unfortunately, I’ve reached a point where it may be too difficult to modify the structure of our script. My belief is that the spirit and style with which (I hope) we treat The Bastion, which are quite different from those of The Rules of the Game, are the best guarantees against the seemingly inevitable script similarities.

       The Bastion will have nothing of a continuous game of hide and seek, nor do I pretend that it will achieve the complexity and richness of The Rules of the Game. Everything will be simpler, more direct. There will be no “game” for one to enter into, no “game of love and chance,” [v] none of the enticing “moods of Marianne.” [vi]

       Ultimately, I hope to not make a “sub-Rules of the Game,” which would be excruciating, as any comparison that comes to mind would of course be unfavorable to me.

Regarding the hunting sequences, it is inevitable that they directly recall The Rules because hunting can only be shown from so many perspectives. There’s that of the trapper, that of the butcher, and that of the butcher who believes he is a trapper, the most common in our country. Here, I am less afraid. There is no more plagiarism, or even resemblance, as there is practically no choice is in the method of shooting it. There is only the renewal of the same elements. Moreover, above the theme of hunting, there will be that of war.

I will stop for fear of boring you. Besides, if you preferred, it would be simpler to give you a detailed treatment with dialogue, which I have completed. Then you will easily be able to tell me if the danger is diminishing or increasing.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Jean-Daniel Pollet

Request for support for the release of Love is Gay, Love is Sad, 1971 [vii]

Dear Truffaut,

       Love is Gay, Love is Sad will open at the Publicis-Vendôme [viii] on Friday. The decision was made 48 hours ago, and the publicity resources that have been pledged are quite feeble.

       Renoir and Resnais, one year ago, and Chabrol more recently, have, in their kindness, expressed their appreciation of my film with a few quotes. Their statements constitute an essential element upon which I rely to avoid an all-too discreet premiere.

       I would like, or wish if it’s more effective, to see your name join theirs, if you thought it possible after attending one of these preview screenings:

-       Tuesday at 3 & 9pm at la salle Pontheiu
-       Wednesday at 9pm at Studio 407, 33, Champs-Élysées, 4th floor
-       Thursday the 25th at 10am at the Petit Marbeuf

If you cannot make it to any of these screenings, you can let me know at 222 85 83 and I can organize a screening at your convenience.

In hopes that this is not a bother to you, I send all my love.

Jean-Daniel Pollet

[i] Pourvu qu'on ait l'ivresse... (1958), Pollet's first short film, distributed by Cocinor, the same company that marketed Truffaut's breakthrough feature. (link to view)
[ii] Fargier used the French word "cadet," which, militaristic English connotations aside, means "youngest sibling."
[iii] Released in March 2019. (link)
[iv] François Mazel, writer and brother-law of Pollet. Mazel is credited with the story and dialogue for Pollet's aborted first feature, Lost Nights (Les Nuits Perdues), undertaken and abandoned in 1958. (source)
[v] A reference to The Game of Love and Chance (Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, 1730), a romantic comedy written by Marivaux in the tradition of the Commedia dell'arte. Presumably, a dig at the staidness of The Rules of the Game.
[vi] A reference to The Moods of Marianne (Les Caprices de Marianne, 1833), a play by Alfred de Musset that served as the basis for The Rules of the Game.
[vii] L'amour c'est gai, l'amour c'est triste (1971), Pollet's fifth feature and one his "commercial" projects, starring Bernadette Lafont and Chantal Goya alongside his actor of choice, Claude Melki.
[viii] Movie theater formerly located on the Champs-Élysées.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Subtitles - Tokyo Days (1988)

Having caught something of the subtitling/ translating bug, I'm back sooner than expected with another tiny treat. This time it's a short but very special film from one of my favorite filmmakers, Chris Marker's little-seen short 'Tokyo Days' from 1988. A lighthearted post-script to his 1983 masterpiece 'Sans Soleil,' 'Tokyo Days, is one of Marker's simplest and most accessible works, a lithe little video journal made on one of his many trips to the Japanese capital. It's mostly dialogue free, but actress Arielle Dombasle (a regular of Eric Rohmer, whom she lovingly name-drops) does flit in early on to provide dizzying French-language commentary (thus the need for subtitles). I've provided partial subs for the film, and once again, my friend Jon at the inestimable has graciously agreed to host it for streaming and downloading.

Watch or download 'Tokyo Days' here. Take heed; as Jon says, it's "probably the best copy you’ll be able to find for this one."

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Subtitles - Farewell, Summer Light (1968)

For my annual year-end act of giving, I present you with my latest sporadic translation done over Christmas/ New Year's holiday break. Rather then a port of an essay or piece of writing not available in English, I've opted to translate subtitles for a lovely film that deserves the attention of Anglophone cinephiles everywhere, yet gets almost none: the great Yoshishige Yoshida's 'Farewell, Summer Light' (1968). It's a rare beauty, a romantically photographed road-movie/ European reverie made by Yoshida in the transitional period between his poetic, black-and-white films of the mid-60's, and the more expressly political works he undertook subsequently, starting with 1969's 'Eros + Massacre.' You can watch a brief, head-scratcher of a trailer here, courtesy of the Art Theatre Guild's bountiful Vimeo page.

I do not read or understand Japanese, but 'Farewell, Summer Light' is currently available in a French language DVD (from which the image below is taken). The original subs that I translated come from this release. To my knowledge, no acceptable English subtitles of the film exist online. Even if they do, I offer mine all the same, in the spirit of seasonal goodwill. I both enjoyed and was humbled by the experience of translating French subtitles for a Japanese film into English, even if just as an exercise. I intend to try more translating soon.

To round out this particular project, I hope to re-rip the film and fine-tune the English subtitles, so that at some point, I can upload a screening-caliber version of this shamefully obscure gem. As such, any feedback is appreciated. (Also, please let me know if the link goes down.) Thank you, and enjoy!

** Update: As of 1/13/20, 'Farewell, Summer Light' is available to stream and download with hardcoded subtitles via the wonderful RF has long been a source for cinema finds, offering easy access to lost gems as obscure and disparate as Visconti's Camus adaptation, Varda's ‎'Nausicaa,' and Naruse's 'Wife,' all with no strings attached for viewers. Thank you for hosting Jon, and keep stockpiling these treasures!