Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Rivette. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rivette. Show all posts

Friday, October 11, 2013

RAMBLING WITH RIVETTE


So I was doing a word search for “Pynchon+female+flaneurs” y’know, the way you do, and it turned up a movie review on letterboxd.com, by Chuck Williamson discussing Pont de Nord, a 1982 movie directed by Jacques Rivette, which I’d never heard of.  I think it has the least relevant DVD cover I've ever encountered.


Rivette used to be one of my main men: Celine and Julie Go Boating was the movie that drew me in. I never saw the whole twelve hours of his movie Out 1, but I did make it through the 4 hours of the shorter cut Out 1: Specter.  If I’ve cooled slightly on Rivette it may be partly that so few of his films get wide distribution, also frankly there always seemed a bit too much acting going on in his movies; not helped by the fact quite a few of the movies were about people in theater groups.


Anyway, the Williamson review started like this: “Cervantes by way of Thomas Pynchon, Le Pont du Nord is an improvised game of female flâneurs, urban modernity, panoptic surveillance, and apophenia run amok. It recasts Paris as a labyrinthine game board, a liminal space in the throes of renewal whose razed and roughhewn layout houses an intricately patterned maze.”


Intrigued?  Well I was.  I found a few stills online – two women posing around in Paris, one of them instantly recognizable as Bulle Ogier (a Rivette favorite), the other unknown to me: in fact it was Bulle’s daughter Pascale, though they don’t play mother and daughter in the movie. 


A root around on Amazon suggested Pont de Nord was available on DVD in the UK but not in the US, and although I really wanted to see the movie, I thought it was just going to be one those intense passing urges that the internet fosters then erases.  But I thought I’d check on YouTube, maybe find a trailer or some such, and there was the whole thing.  There are, of course, all sorts of reasons to fret about the royalty-free zone that is YouTube, but I am a weak man – I watched it.



It is amazing and wonderful stuff, full of game playing and psychogeography, and really 90 percent of the film has the two female leads Marie (played by Bulle) and Baptiste (played by Pascale) wandering around Paris, usually together; and if you say that the flaneur has to be a solitary figure, well I’d say you’re being a bit harsh.


 With the occasional exception, the Paris seen in the movie is disorientatingly unfamiliar.  The women walk the underpopulated the edgelands of the city, walking through wastelands, past ruins, past things being demolished, along railway lines, up staircases that seem to lead nowhere in particular.   These two singular (and I think you’d have to say rather actressy) women look around them, look for clues, and why deny it, they also look very good.


 They are essentially homeless women, in that Marie has just been released from prison and has nowhere to go, and Baptiste is a sort of street urchin who seems to be suffering from an unspecified mental disorder.  You can’t help noticing that they and their clothes stay remarkably clean despite them having no obvious arrangements for ablutions or laundry, but it’s not really that kind of movie.



There is a sort of thriller plot: you can get away with a lot if you include a thriller plot.  Pierre Clementi is wonderfully, reliably, creepy as the bad criminal boyfriend, and there’s a lot of stuff with a map, actually two maps, of Paris, showing the city as a (thoroughly incomprehensible) game, with different squares representing tomb, prison, pit, auberge, and so on. This inevitably doesn’t add up to as much you’d like, but somehow you never expect it to.

I couldn’t help thinking I’d have been pretty happy if most of the plot and dialogue had been ditched and I could have watched the two women walking around this unfamiliar, transitional Paris, and I’m sure there must be some avant- garde filmmaker out there who’s made a movie much like that.


But what you do get in  Pont de Nord is a sense of danger, the sense that these two women wandering the city are very vulnerable, that no good is likely to come of it, and certainly that the men in the film are unlikely to be any help.  And in the end, things do turn out very badly, though not in the way you’re expecting.   No spoilers from me.


There’s a good deal of discussion in academic circles about the extent to which female flaneurism even exists.  I only follow some of it.  There is an argument, much of it having to do with masculine sexuality and gaze, and the different ways in which men and women relate to the city, which suggests flaneurism in the Beaudelairean sense is a specifically male response to certain crises in 19th century capitalism.  There is also, naturally, a desire for women to reclaim the territory.

         There’s an interesting 2002 essay by Helen Scalway titled “The Contemporary Flaneuse: Exploring strategies for the drifter in a feminine mode.”  It discusses the difficulties, and “negotiations” demanded of a solitary woman walking in London.  She describes an area close to where I used to live: she describes the horrors of the Westway very accurately.

  She also writes of the area in general, “Aggressively fast boy cyclists on the pavements. - and all the stopped people: unemployed youths, claiming space by their demeanor - probably because they have no space anywhere, really; all the homeless, the beggars, the drugged, drunk, deranged, predatory; other victims of care in the community.”

These things have to be negotiated my male walkers as well, but in a different way no doubt.  Scalway also takes an interesting dig at Iain Sinclair, quoting the opening lines of Lights Out for the Territory, familiar enough to many readers  “The notion was to cut a crude V into the sprawl of the city, to vandalise dormant energies by an act of ambulant sign making.”


Yes, there is something unnecessarily “manly” and macho about that wording, isn’t there?  In part I suspect it’s because Sinclair doesn’t want to come across as some, effete middle-class boulevardier, he wants to show how serious he is, a man on a mission, with a special literary project.  In person he doesn’t come over as macho at all.  But sure, I can’t imagine any woman ever putting it quite that way, and Scalway certainly doesn’t. 
Scalway continues, “I think about the manner of my walking. So then how actually, do I walk? It’s a looking for spaces to slip through and round, weaving and threading a path through which opens and closes, darting, dodging and dancing, two-stepping, giving way, persistently returning.
“My passage is not, cannot be, like that of Iain Sinclair’s narrator who freely uses words such as march, stride, slog, swinging out into the main drag, yomp.  The words that come to my mind to describe my movement through the street imply that it's a much more difficult negotiation.”
         I like that, I like that a lot.

Helen Scalway’s website is here: