When thinking about the possibilities of comparative cinema, it may be worth stopping on the word ‘comparison’ before thinking about ‘cinema’. If a peasant is able to foresee the storm only by looking at the bark of a tree, and if an Eskimo can name three hundred different shades of white, what can film spectators see in the expression of the filmed eyes? After seeing so many close shots, do we learn to compare and recognise in a face what we couldn’t have seen before? Do we acquire, through cinema – and through the camera’s function as both a telescope and a microscope, as Vertov would have it – a plus of sensibility that enables us to see an emotion in disguise? If it wasn’t this way, cinema would only be a decorative medium, but never a form of thought, or a way to connect distant images, to bring together the images of cinema and the images of the world.
Comparative cinema would then consist in tracing that connection, those secret threads that connect cinematic images and project them onto the images of our own lives; for instance, the way cinema enables us to see and think about politics and love.
In this first issue we wanted to take as a point of departure the experience of the spectator and of the projection, after Langlois’s ideas on programming as a germ or possible form of montage. Our first interpretation of a film is marked by the space and context in which it is programmed. Some film curators apply a critical sense and think thoroughly about that space, with an essayistic perspective, if you will: they are interested in the associations and comparisons that may emerge, often unexpectedly, between different films, as in a test of sorts where one looks through the microscope expecting something to become visible.
We have addressed this question in two different ways: some of the articles in this issue study the work of certain film curators – such as Nicole Brenez, Alexander Horwath, Carlos Muguiro, Ricardo Matos Cabo or Federico Rossin – which establishes formal links within a certain period or historical question – such as Russian cinema post-Vertov, French avant-garde cinema or collective cinema; while other articles examine the way certain journals have made visible their politics and their elective affinities via film programmes, thus moving from text to image. We have decided to use as a conceptual basis for this issue a conference given by Jean-Luc Godard at the Cinémathèque Suisse in 1979, where he discussed preliminary ideas that would later materialise in Histoire(s) du cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, 1988–98).
Digital tools have enabled us to work with images, films and sounds extracted from cinema using one and the same tool as for writing – the computer. Furthermore, the digital archive is increasingly varied (no one fairly used to navigating through the internet will be surprised when moving from a Hollywood film to a music video and an avant-garde piece) and hence new constellations are constantly being created that importantly differ from canonical histories. This seems to be the appropriate time to launch a publication on comparative cinema, or at least a time when we have the adequate media to test the godardian idea – 'to see is to compare'.
This publication is dedicated to the memory of Domènec Font.
‘We have to explain what montage is. Let’s think of an image, let’s say "Mnemosyne", and then in another one, a painting, "Melancholy". In the middle, since it is impossible to unite the images, there is an empty space, and in that gap emerges a third, invisible image, the real. I strongly believe in invisible images. Aby Warburg wouldn’t disagree, and if Godard was listening, he would praise me and say, “this is what montage is!”. Montage doesn’t have anything to do with the union, or fusion of images. Because images are autonomous as Leibniz’s monads. Between them, there are abysses: above and below, to the sides, we can see horizons. The goodness of a public medium is that spectators fill those empty spaces and realise the montage. The bigger the contrast between images, the easier it is for a third element to emerge: epiphany.’
(KLUGE, 2010: 299-300)
‘It was in 1973 during the Rossellini restrospective. The opening night, in the packed Gran Auditorio de la Fundação, with Rossellini and Langlois amongst the audience, we projected Rome, Open City (Roma, città aperta, 1945), which was forbidden at the time and at the end, I listened to the biggest demonstration that I have ever experienced in a cinema space. When discussing the event, Langlois said: “Very soon something will happen in your country.” I thought he was being naïve and, tired of listening to this sort of prophecies, I didn’t give him much credit. A few months later, the 25th April happened. Later on, I asked him why he had said so. “Oh, you know, silent cinema has taught me many things.”’
João Bénard da Costa
(DA COSTA, 1986: 35)
KLUGE, Alexander (2010). 120 historias del cine. Buenos Aires: Caja Negra.
DA COSTA, João Bénard (1986). 50 Anos da Cinemateca Francesa 1936-1986. Lisbon: Cinemateca Portuguesa.
Gonzalo de Lucas
The Cinémathèques and the History of Cinema
On a Screening of Ozu
Interview with Alexander Horwath: On Programming and Comparative Cinema
Álvaro Arroba (in collaboration with Olaf Möller)
History of a Journal: the Cahiers du Cinéma in 1981 through a programme at the Cinématheque. Interview with Jean Narboni
Russian Film Archives and Roy Batty's Syndrome: On the Three Programming Criteria for 'Ver sin Vertov'
Discrete Monuments of an Infinite Film
Reflections on 'Rivette in Context'
‘Le Trafic du cinéma’: On the Relationship between Criticism and Collective Programming Through a Publication; the Case of Trafic and the Jeu de Paume
Memories of a Retired Film Programmer
Transmission at the Cinémathèques
14/09/1968, a Programme by Henri Langlois
Pablo García Canga
'Jeune, Dure et Pure ! Une histoire du cinéma d'avant-garde et expérimental en France'. Programming as a montage of films and thinking about film: a gaie audiovisual science
Interview with Federico Rossin on the Retrospective 'United We Stand, Divided We Fall'. A Brief History of Radical Film Collectives from the 1960s to the 80s
Nathaniel Dorsky. Devotional Cinema