Only if it were essential to the plot


“My lawyer said that the judge did not have a right to pass a judgement on this affair since it was, in fact, his own fantasies that he had put into the film. One of the articles of the law maintains that one cannot be at the same time a judge and an interested party. Well, he is an interested party, and so, in fact, he cannot judge. The court was beside itself.” ~ Alain Robbe-Grillet.

“The grounds upon which the Italian judge banned the film was, Robbe-Grillet argued, ‘non-narrativity’. He found this judgement ironic on three counts: first, that a film which celebrates the spirit of feminine revolution should be accused of being a macho, anti-feminist work; second, that the film should have been condemned for ‘outraging morals’ in Italy (the judges condemned Robbe-Grillet for the same reasons that the witch is condemned, and like the witch, the film was ordered to be burned); and third, the judge understood nothing about the plot, and so could find nothing to justify the erotic scenes which could have been tolerated only if considered essential to it, and therefore, the film was found to be pornographic. In Bologna, where the film was banned, spectators rioted and destroyed the cinema when their expectations of sadistic porn, encouraged by the lurid Italian posters for the film, were disappointed. For Robbe-Grillet, they were so shocked by the narrative that they condemned the film for non-narrativity, just like the Italian judge: ‘Lovers of pornography’, he claimed, ‘are on the side of repressive justice.'” ~ John Phillips.

Extracts from Alain Robbe-Grillet by John Phillips.


Maybe this is why porn films so often insist on having stories, despite the fact that these are mainly unwelcome diversions from the main event. Being able to claim that you’re telling a story could be a useful legal defense.

Thinking about musicals recently, in a way there’s a parallel in the way they halt story progress in order to celebrate a moment. Porn films often do a similar thing. Maintaining dramatic tension or conflict during a sex scene could be rather awkward, and indeed attempts to do this have often resulted in some fairly unpleasant, violent sex and dubious attitudes to same. So the plot tends to move in fits and starts, and we allow this because the set-pieces, either musical or sexual, are the main point of it rather than decoration. But I think this doesn’t work so well in porn, which cries out for the rewind function to give the viewer control over the imagery.

Robbe-Grillet’s films are so fetishistic that there is no clear boundary between the erotic and “non-erotic” or “narrative” scenes. And the “plots” mix up past, present and reality and imagination, without defining which is which, and I find this takes away the pressure to switch from story-watching to voyeurism/onanism while experiencing the films, which are sexy, twisted and uncomfortable, visually attractive, and all rather similar (the one under discussion in the courts was PROGRESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE). Phillips’ book is a smart jaunt through that kinky world.


4 Responses to “Only if it were essential to the plot”

  1. Thanks! I’ll be fascinated to read it!

  2. Great work. I still find him mysterious, not because his plots are impossible to untangle but because his warring tendencies — the feminist and the sadist — are hard to reconcile, especially as both are so unapologetically celebrated.

    AR-G was on a plane that nearly crashed once, and was interviewed for television afterwards. A wag rather cruelly pointed out that his account of the events followed all the traditions of conventional linear narrative.

  3. I met him once in the early 70’s when he visited new York and screen Glissements. His widow, the noted dominatrix, works these days with Dennis Cooper.

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