Les Invisibles

Federico Rossin

Il mio film invisibile è “Mueda, Memória e Massacre” di Ruy Guerra, del 1979. Ho scoperto questo film grazie ad un amico, un grande regista, John Gianvito. Me ne ha parlato come di un capolavoro perduto del cinema, come di un film necessario di cui si sono perse le tracce. Ho poi letto di come Guerra, nato in Mozambico e poi emigrato in Brasile, fosse tornato nel suo paese a girare il primo lungometraggio mai realizzato laggiù. E scelse un episodio terribile, il massacro di Mueda del 16 giugno 1960, in cui l’esercito coloniale portoghese sterminò oltre 600 persone che chiedevano la fine dei lavori forzati. Guerra fece un film totalmente radicale, intrecciando vertiginosamente fra loro ricostruzione, finzione e documentario e coinvolgendo nella realizzazione i sopravvissuti al massacro e i nuovi abitanti di Mueda. Ho cercato ovunque una copia in DVD di “Mueda”, contattando collezionisti di ogni continente e non sono mai riuscito a vederne neanche una sequenza: è come se, grazie alla forza delle parole di John, quel film mi fosse entrato come una spina nel cuore. Vorrei potermi togliere questo dolore – che ha poco di fame cinefila e molto di rabbia politica – vedendolo finalmente durante il festival.

Brad Stevens

The Queen’s Guards (Michael Powell, UK, 1961)

I recently attended a 50th anniversary screening of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) in London, accompanied by a few friends. During the discussion that followed, I claimed that, due to the film’s scandalous reception, Powell had never been permitted to make another feature in the UK. I later realized that this was incorrect.Indeed, the year after Peeping Tom, Powell directed The Queen’s Guards, a film which seems to have almost completely vanished.

Of the few people who have seen The Queen’s Guards, which was made for 20th Century-Fox, none seems to think much of it: Ian Christie, in his book Arrows of Desire: The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (Waterstone, 1985) suggests it was “almost like an act of contrition” for his previous fillm, and Powell himself called it “the most inept piece of filmmaking that I have ever produced or directed”. Yet descriptions of the narrative structure – which apparently involves a Guards officer (Daniel Massey) recalling his cadet training and combat experience in a series of flashbacks – suggests a possible connection with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), and there would seem to be some echoes of Peeping Tom in the protagonist’s attempt to both imitate and rebel against his obsessively traditional father (intriguingly played by Massey’s own father). It’s also worth noting that this was the last of Powell’s three attempts to work in a widescreen ratio: his other widescreen features, Oh…Rosalinda!! (1955) and Luna de Miel/Honeymoon (1959) almost qualify as invisible works themselves (I have only been able to see the latter in a panned-and-scanned television transfer).

The Queen’s Guards has not played on British television since 1974, and, as far as I can make out, has not been screened theatrically since it was shown as part of a Powell retrospective at the San Sebastián festival in 2002. The film may well be as awful as those who have seen it insist, but the available stills suggest that Powell was at least being characteristically attentive to the emotional possibilities of colour cinematography. As a late work by Britain’s finest filmmaker (I except Hitchcock, who made his most important films in America), it would be a great shame if it were allowed to languish in obscurity.

  • Greed, 1924, d. Erich von Stroheim

This adaptation of Frank Norris’ epic novel about the ruinous lust for gold among three ordinary people is, in its severely truncated form, still a great film. But Stroheim intended something much different, a vast realist canvas that would portray an entire way of life and the dreams and aspirations of the people living it. Irving Thalberg, the young chief of production at MGM, had a different point of view (miraculously, Stroheim worked for Thalberg a year later on his far less ambitious version of The Merry Widow). There is now a version of the film that supplements the missing scenes with stills, which is interesting but, ultimately unsatisfying. You spend your time imagining what the movie would have been.

  • The Elusive Pimpernel, 1950, d. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Alexander Korda, one of the people who more or less created the British film industry, was the man who wanted Powell and Pressburger to do a Technicolor remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel, the story of a British aristocrat who goes undercover in Paris during the Terror. The Archers made their own uniquely fanciful version of the story, with musical numbers, tongue-in-cheek asides and visual flourishes. Samuel Goldwyn, who had a business arrangement with Korda, detested the film and ordered massive cuts, musical interludes included. The picture was released in the U.S., with some prints in black and white! I saw it in color, on 42nd Street, and it’s always stayed with me. Michael thought that the original cut of the film was gone forever, but we’re holding out hope that it’s sitting in a vault somewhere in this world.

  • The Paradine Case

As I get older, Alfred Hitchcock’s films seem better and better, and they become richer and more complex with each new viewing. That includes the supposedly unsuccessful pictures, like Topaz or Torn Curtain. This picture, about a British lawyer’s growing infatuation with the mysterious woman he’s defending on a charge of murder, is in a slightly different category. Hitchcock felt that the script, for which Selznick himself took credit, was never quite right. He himself had worked on the original draft, but he also tried to make the film work as it was – his original cut was 3 and a half hours. The Paradine Case would probably be imperfect in any form, but imperfect Hitchcock is more exciting than most movies.

  • The Other Side of the Wind, d. Orson Welles, 1970-75

During the last 20 years of his life, Orson Welles made movies outside of the industrial norm. He worked in the manner of a painter or a composer, shooting a little here, a little there, reworking this and fine-tuning that, over lengthy periods. When Welles passed away, he left many projects in various states of completion. His magnum opus, though, was this movie about an aging Hollywood veteran director (played by real veteran director John Huston) who makes an arty “youth” film in an effort to stay current in the then new “New Hollywood,” and as a veiled expression of homoerotic longing for his young male star. The project developed slowly over the years, changing form and tone, and Welles intended to cross-cut between cinema-verité style footage of a birthday party for the director and the film within the film. At the time of his death, the rough cut and all the materials had been seized as an asset by the Iranian government (the principal financier was Iranian) and then impounded by the French government. Over the years, there have been many attempts to complete the film. Thus far none have come to fruition. In 1975, when Welles was honored by the AFI, he showed two extended sequences, both absolutely dazzling – they are now easily viewable on YouTube. I hope that someday, we’ll be able to see the picture in some kind of form that does justice to Welles’ intentions.

  • The Magnificent Ambersons

The young Orson Welles followed up Citizen Kane with this adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s novel about the slow downfall of an Indianapolis family as their entire way of life is destroyed by industrial progress. Where everything went right for Welles on his first film, everything went wrong on his second. The studio management had changed and was far less sympathetic to Welles and his artistry, the film had a disastrous preview and when drastic cuts were ordered Welles was in South America shooting his documentary It’s All True. The film was severely truncated and a new ending was shot by another director. It should be said that Welles was such a genius that The Magnificent Ambersons really is a great film despite its obviously compromised form – every piece of it is so potent that you can somehow feel the vast missing stretches. But when you read Welles’ shooting script and come to fully understand what he intended, it will break your heart. For many years, film scholars held out hope that the work print of Ambersons had survived and might be sitting in a South American archive. Those hopes are dwindling. It appears to be gone forever, just like the late-Victorian splendor of the Amberson mansion.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention at the outset that Françoise Romand has been a good friend for over two decades. But I hasten to add that she became a friend because of my immoderate enthusiasm for Mix-Up (1986), her first film–one of the strangest as well as strongest documentaries that I know.

Filmed over just twelve days, but recounting a multilayered real-life story that covers nearly half a century, Mix-Up recounts and explores what ensued after two middle-class English women, Margaret Wheeler and Blanche Rylatt, gave birth to daughters in November 1936 in a Nottingham nursing home, and the babies were inadvertently switched. The switch came about through a filing error that was only confirmed 21 years later, after Wheeler persisted in pursuing her own queasy suspicions, meanwhile keeping contact with the Rylatts. But by then, of course, Peggy and Valerie had grown up with the wrong mothers, Blanche and Margaret respectively.

Reseeing Mix-Up recently, and finding it has only expanded and improved over time, I continue to wonder why it isn’t more widely known. Romand’s films, described in her self-interview, are all quite different from one another (and her autobiographical Thème Je, which she calls The Camera I in English, is even more radical and transgressive than Mix-Up), and this gives her a somewhat elusive profile as an auteur.

But perhaps the most serious obstacle is that her masterpiece poses a genuine challenge in how it makes art and life indistinguishable, merging artistic choices with ethical initiatives, and dares us to do likewise in following her. The implicit rivalry between the two mothers and their respective cultures and approaches to life is everywhere apparent, but part of Romand’s genius is the way she gets the entire family engaged in the serious game-playing of this film’s production, a game we become obliged to play as well. This makes her art both an unpredictable, risky adventure and an unusual form of healing, for the people on-screen as well as for us. The film’s hopeful closing motto, “We all belong together,” may sound a trifle optimistic, but the film itself is nothing less than a  multifaceted demonstration of this thesis.

Because various stages in this long narrative are made to coexist in the present, the plot and characters ultimately register with the density of a 500-page novel. And the subject is treated so exhaustively that the film’s 63 minutes register like a much longer film.

But at no point does Romand pretend to offer an objective, “balanced” account of what happened (even though her recurring imagery, some of it surrealist and/or allegorical,  includes babies being weighed on matching scales), and the viewer is obliged to become no less invested.

Carlos Muguiro

El cine ruso y soviético conforma en sí mismo un gran continente invisible. Esa geografía ha justificado, en mi caso, decenas de incursiones tras la obra de Rustam Khamdamov, Victor Sklovski, Vladimir Kobrin, Yuri Shiller o los fondos del VGIK. En ocasiones, sin embargo, la cuestión no es tanto la visibilidad sino el modo misterioso en que se manifiestan esas películas que uno ha buscado, perseguido e invocado durante mucho tiempo. Mitchurine (Michurin), por ejemplo, no es una película propiamente invisible, aunque el Mitchurine que vi en octubre de 1998 fue de una visibilidad irrepetible.

Vi por primera vez Mitchurine, de Alexander Dovzhenko, una tarde a finales de octubre de 1998 en La Habana, el mismo día que la televisión anunciaba la entrada del huracán Mitch por el oeste de la isla. A la salida de proyección el malecón estaba cortado al tráfico por las batidas del mar enfurecido y el cielo anunciaba la terrible tormenta. El rostro más salvaje y oscuro de la naturaleza, tal y como se manifestaba aquella noche, pugnaba en mi mente con las imágenes del paisaje bucólico de los manzanos en flor que acaba de ver en el cine, con el hortus soviético de Michurin, con las postales edénicas de Dovzhenko, con la naturaleza racional y obediente retratada en el film. Proyectado bajo los vientos del Mitch, el Mitchurine de Dovzhenko planteaba de una manera doliente, demasiado real, involuntariamente provocativa, como si el huracán fuera a respuesta al film, la escisión entre cultura y naturaleza que en buena medida recorre todo el cine ruso.

Los manzanos de Dovzhenko me llevan a otro árbol: el cine que nunca filmó el escultor Jorge Oteiza. Entre los numerosos manuscritos inéditos que se conservan en el archivo del artista vasco hay unas breves notas para una película que nunca realizó (ni aquélla ni ninguna otra) y que encabezó con las palabras Documental del árbol. Imaginaba el escultor, a comienzos de los años sesenta del siglo XX: “La cámara da una vuelta entera y boca abajo recorre el tronco, lo empieza a subir. La cámara es lo que mira el hombre. Se tira el hombre sobre la sombra y la abraza”. El movimiento descrito en papel encuentra cierta equivalencia con algunas bobinas en Super 8 filmadas por el escultor, a medio camino entre la pirueta amateur y la experimentación a la manera de Val del Omar, en palabras del propio artista, que hace así referencia a su amigo, José Val del Omar, el director de Fuego en Castilla Aguaespejo granadino. Esos rollos de Super 8 están en el archivo de la Fundación Oteiza en Alzuza (Navarra). En el gran talento, muchas veces intuitivo, de Jorge Oteiza, encontramos a uno de los grandes pensadores heterodoxos de la historia del cine español. Sus ideas sobre el vaciamiento del espacio, la experiencia extática de la contemplación y la pantalla-muro nunca encontraron plasmación concreta en un film a pesar de que, tras abandonar la escultura, Oteiza consideró seriamente llevar a cine sus ideas. No lo hizo, pero cada día se hace más evidente y necesario incorporar a este cineasta sin películas a la historia del cine español más audaz. Precisamente por su cine invisible.