John Hughes

This self-interview might seem a bit pretentious to some of Film Comment's readers, don't you think? After all, you're supposed to be writing a review of Rivette: Texts and Interviews (edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, British Film Institute: $3.95, paper). And you've been fascinated by Rivette's psychoanalytic experiments in cinema for some time...

Rivette's cinema is the opposite of Herzog's Heart of Glass (1976), where the actors are hypnotised; Rivette educates and excites his actors into a kind of conscious dream-state which enables him to film the Unconscious. Whereas Herzog is only able to give us his own unconscious, which seems to be rather boringly monomaniacal. So the self-interview idea is more logical than you think. Rivette has brought the element of chance, the unpredictability of the open form, into the contemporary cinema. And Rosenbaum's book is certainly Rivette-like in its emphasis on mammoth Cahiers (or La Nouvelle Critique) interviews, with early (and spookily Christian-formalist) Rivette studies of Rossellini and Lang served up as case history delicacies for the reader-analyst. It's therefore necessary to introduce what's normally left out of a book review. For example, several months ago, on a bench near the rowboat lake in Central Park, Bernadette Lafont told me that Rivette is like 'a searchlight illuminating the depths of the unconscious,' and that acting in his films is like 'becoming a puzzle that can't be assembled properly until the film has been shot'. Isn't that more important than trying to make nonjudgments about Rosenbaum's brilliant nonbook?

That wild glint in your eyes when you mention Bernadette Lafont convinces me that we should get back to the book. For example, do you still agree with Rosenbaum's theories on the Rossellini-Lang dialectic in Rivette's films? Isn't the Bernadette Lafont-Geraldine Chaplin struggle in Noroît (1976) really a battle between Lang and Rossellini for Rivette's soul?

You could call it a battle between the politics of fantasy and the fantasy of politics -- Rossellini-Godard versus Rivette-Truffaut. But I think Rosenbaum's approach is limited by the post-auteurist residue that clings to his style like seaweed on a shimmering wave. At the same time, he's opened up his theories to the aleatory principle in Rivette. By providing the translations of the interviews on L'Amour fou and Out, he starts off the book by plunging us into Rivette's praxis at the time he was making the interviews, after having finished the films. The ideal reader should begin to comprehend that no theory can encompass what Rivette was into at the time. It's got about as much relevance to film theory as a walk along the lake in Central Park, or the reading of a Celtic legend about a blood-red jewel. The principles Rivette is exploring are far removed from lit-crit or auteurist concerns. He's a little like Roquentin in Sartre's Nausea. Rivette has abandoned the Cartesian complexities of cinema-speech as it has been probed and schematised by the Cahiers critics and their followers and, like Godard, has entered into a world of mysterious palpitations amidst the emergence of the quotidian. In a word, materialism. Godard and Rivette are the great, dialectically-opposed offspring of Rossellini's quest for a cinematic materialism: Godard, with his mad passion for logic and revolutionary clarity; Rivette, acolyte of the Dark Gods of the Unconscious. One could say that Out 1: Spectre is the right brain of modern cinema and that Numéro Deux (1975) is the left brain. It's also true that the black-and-white photographs in Spectre are Godardian, just as the sequence with the old man in Numéro Deux is influenced by Rivette. Rosenbaum gives this dialectic a tantalising intimacy by including (as a footnote in the biofilmography) Paul Gégauff's notorious account of the psychotic breakup of Godard and Karina -- the apparent inspiration for L'Amour fou. (1)

Would you agree with James Monaco, who sees Godard and Rivette as the Brecht and Artaud of cinema? It must have been a great shock to the Brechtian structuralists of Cahiers when Rivette, during the interview on L'Amour fou, stated that 'the cinema is necessarily fascination and rape...'

I think the autobiography of Barthes would make a great film. Or a film about the sexual fantasies of a Cahiers critic. Such a film has, in fact, been made: Luc Moullet's Anatomy of a Relationship (1976), where the Cahiers-type is haunted by fantasies of film cans rolling giddily into sewer openings...

Yes, we all know you have a dirty mind...

The problem I have with Brecht is that he was too... pure. It's a kind of heroism that we shouldn't ask from Rivette. How do you relate the allegorical simplicity of The Caucasian Chalk Circle to the German S&M-leather underground that links Lang to Rivette (and to Godard, against his will). The closest thing to the 'pure' Brecht in the cinema today is probably Padre, Padrone (1977). But there are other Brechts. There is the perspectival-ontological Brecht of La Règle du jeu (1939), Not Reconciled (1965) and The Age of the Medici. There is the mystical-ecological Brecht of Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967) and subsequent Godard. And there is the psychoanalytic Brecht of Buñuel, Fellini, Rivette and In the Realm of the Senses (1976), where the 'castrative' close-up is Epic Theatre on the level of the final waterfall sequence in Johnny Guitar (1954). And I should mention the last section of the Out interview, where Rivette talks about 'this ecstasy of the spectator's... this idea of a game, of pleasure, is also found in Renoir, it's found in Rouch, it's found in Godard... the whole last part of [Brecht's essay] "A Little Organum for the Theatre" is concerned with this...' But it's true that Rivette, like Nick Ray, understands very little about Marxism. Neither does Rouch (who made a film in New York recently (2) on which I was privileged to serve as the grip). However, Rouch's idea of the director as 'a dancing Socrates' is certainly Brechtian -- by way of shamanism. When I asked Rouch about this he said, 'I got the idea from Nietzsche. This "dancing Socrates" is very rare in the West. But in Africa I met people like this all over the place...'. Perhaps Rouch's 'master madmen' are the prophets of a new Marxism...

What will your Stalinoid adversaries at Cineaste think of that? And what does it have to do with Rivette?

Who's Rivette? It's raining outside the windows, a crazy friend just called me long-distance from an abandoned farm in the wilds of British Columbia, the sound of the rain reminds me of the ocean, the ocean reminds me of Noroît, Noroît reminds me of Bernadette Lafont, which causes me to think of the mountains where she was born. Bernadette said that Rivette is Mao and his films are a Cultural Revolution. Why? Because Rivette has returned to what Rouch calls 'the lost Dionysiac traditions of Greek Tragedy.' Rivette's experiments with his actors, his 'beautiful animals', represent an attack on that ultimate gold nugget of bourgeois society: the solitary ego. The fiction that so few learn to escape. And Rivette's films help us learn the way to escape. It is simply understanding that each of us is many people. In us, Langian gods and goddesses coexist with the Joycean mutterings that Rossellini's Voyage in Italy (1953) was the first to chart.

  1. "It seems possiblie that the following incident involving Godard and Anna Karina, described by Paul Gegauff, inspired the climatic scenes of destruction in L'amour fou:

    'Finally the door opened. What a scene! Jean-Luc, stark naked, in an icy, totally wrecked room. He had sent the piano flying in splinters, cut the strings, sawn the legs off the furniture, ripped the paintings, torn up the prints, slashed the hangings and curtains, shattered the telephone, broken the windows, drenched the carpet in India ink, smashed the vases, deciptated the busts, and all this methodically, in the spirit of Bonaparte rather than Attila, and much less concerned with revenge than with justice. All his clothes and Anna's were lying on the ground in tatters, the sleeves slashed with a razor, in a mess of wine and broken glass. Jean-Luc's first words appeared to be a justification: "Anyway, it's a furnished flat."

    'It was then, growing accustomed to the semi-darkness, that I noticed Anna on a sort of dais in the far corner of the room, also quite naked. With a top hat on her head, the sole survivor of the massacre, and her arms slowly waving, she was dancing a kind of lascivious jig. For a couple of hours Jean-Luc sat there in a prostrated silence right out of a Russian novel, in spite of himself admiring his wife's shapely lines. "I'd offer you a glass of something," he said, "only there aren't any glasses left." Then: "Go and buy us a couple of raincoats so that we can go out."' ('Salut les Coquins!', Lui No. 84, Jan. 1971, p. 106.)"

    (Rivette: Texts & Interviews, p. 94-5) (Ed.)

  2. Dionysos, completed in 1984 (Rouge Ed.)

Originally appeared in Film Comment (May-June 1978). Reproduced from Rouge, edited by Helen Bandis, Adrian Martin and Grant McDonald. Published in Rouge 4 (2004) as "John Hughes On (And With) Jacques Rivette" by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Available online at