Archive for Alain Robbe-Grillet

The Anachronism, and how to get it

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2015 by dcairns


In Robbe-Grillet’s Czech shot early opus, THE MAN WHO LIES, the sixties look of the principle actresses seems like some kind of clever idea — the film seems to be set during WWII, some of the time, and at a non-specific time after WWII the rest of the time. Given that the comparatively youthful Jean-Louis Trintigant (ah! it was all so long ago!) claims to have been involved in said war as a resistance hero/traitor/hero, it doesn’t seem likely that the post-war part of the narrative is meant to be set in the sixties. So it seems like Robbe-Grillet is up to his usual games with time and memory and reality.

In another Czech film of the sixties, CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS, however, experiments with narrative do not seem to account for the wildly anachronistic appearance of the women. Bushy eyebrows, bob, no makeup, a hat that could have sat on Rita Tushingham…


Was it Marshall McLuhan who said that you cannot see an environment when you’re in it? Are we to assume that certain sixties filmmakers were unable to recognize that women had not always styled themselves in beehives and white lipstick? The hair and makeup department of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO likewise let the side down, but was David Lean, the great perfectionist, unable to spot that Julie Christie was being arrayed in a manner that suggested Carnaby Street rather than Imperial Russia?


CLOSELY OBSERVED TRAINS is an excellent film, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is at least partly an excellent film. I’m not too sure about PARTY GIRL, because I can never make it through that one. The wilful trashing of any period atmosphere in what is supposed to be a prohibition-era gangster film throws me badly (so does the cast, I admit). And director Nick Ray had lived through the era he was portraying, so it makes no sense. We could blame the studio, but then look at the rather convincing historical sense displayed in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.

I’d love to hear your favourite examples — not wristwatch-and-toga combos, just period moves where the whole feeling screams aloud the period when it was made.

The Image

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on July 23, 2015 by dcairns


This fortnight’s edition of The Forgotten looks at THE MAN WHO LIES, by writer-director Alain Robbe-Grillet. I’ve meant to write something about him for ages, but never found an angle that made him clear to me. His erotic fantasies — sexy but queasy and dodgy — are presented in detail but never explored as to meaning, and don’t seem particularly connected to his interest in deconstructing narrative. A clue was provided by Mme. Robbe-Grillet’s revelations about her marital life, and I now see Robbe-Grillet as some kind of Hitchcockian fetishist, constructing filmed rituals as a kind of sublimation of the conventional sex drive.

As I explain here.

Only if it were essential to the plot

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting, Politics with tags , , on January 14, 2015 by dcairns


“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.