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Nicholas Ray's We Can't Go Home Again (1973) + Straub-Huillet's En râchachant (1982)

An evening in tribute to Serge Daney, co-presented with Semiotext(e), on occasion of the release of the first English-language collection of Daney’s film criticism.

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Nicholas Ray's We Can't Go Home Again (1973) + Straub-Huillet's En râchachant (1982)
Nicholas Ray's We Can't Go Home Again (1973) + Straub-Huillet's En râchachant (1982)


Oct 16, 2022, 7:30 PM

2220 Arts + Archives, 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057, USA

We present an evening in tribute to the great film critic Serge Daney on the occasion of the release of the first English-language collection of his writings, The Cinema House and the World.

Presented with Semiotext(e)

Introduced by translator Christine Pichini

Widely considered the most important French film critic of his era, Serge Daney was best known as the editor of Cahiers du Cinéma from 1973 to to 1981, where he transformed the journal’s austere post-May 1968 Marxist leanings into a passionate and lyrical engagement with the aesthetics and politics of moving-image art. Much as he mourned the failure of political revolution and the decline of the commercial American and French cinema of his youth, Daney’s response was to “conceptualize an alternative cinema and then to discover it—whether it was hiding out amid the new mainstream (as in films by François Truffaut), within the marginal or underground cinema (such as those of Akerman, Marguerite Duras, or Godard’s video-centric films of the mid-seventies), or in movies from around the world that weren’t being distributed in France and which he saw in travels to far-flung film festivals and conferences” (Richard Brody, The New Yorker). Daney described the act of writing film criticism as “an eternal return to a fundamental jouissance,” or ecstasy—a typical evocation of his lucid and highly conceptual mode of thinking, one that has proven difficult to translate into English. Daney’s style—”dense with theoretical tangents, promiscuously associative, and characterized by a prose that shifts constantly between the poeticism of Continental philosophers like Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida and the casual tempos of first-person journalism” (Beatrice Loayza, Bookforum)—remains thrilling and instructive for those who continue to reckon with cinema's place in a postmodern, media-saturated culture.

The publication of The Cinema House and the World will be the first chance for many to fully engage with Daney’s work. As a salute to this Herculean task of translation, we are thrilled to present two works close to Daney's heart [or two of Daney's favorite filmmakers] and to welcome the volume's translator, Christine Pichini, in person.

Copies of The Cinema House and the World will be available for sale at the event. A special new publication of Serge Daney’s writings, assembled by Semiotext(e), will be given to all ticket holders.

Special thanks to Hedi El Kholti and Janique Vigier (Semiotexte), Andrew Carlin (Oscilloscope), Kazu Watanabe (Grasshopper Film), and Andy Rector.

We Can’t Go Home Again

Directed by Nicholas Ray

1973/2011, U.S., DCP

“[Nicholas Ray said in an interview in Cahiers that] cinema had only just begun, that we had only glimpsed it, that it would surprise us. Strange remarks for a Hollywood filmmaker, remarks we shouldn’t have forgotten. Presented at Cannes in 1973, resdiscovered after his death in 1980, smuggled in and scheduled to be screened in English at the Action-république for a week, We Can’t Go Home Again tells us that we were right. We were right to put him ‘aside,’ for the filmmaker who no longer shoots circles back, posthumously, a cinematic loop. A unique trajectory: he is the only one to have pursued his two favorite objects—cinema and youth—on their most recent adventures. From his exile, from his retreat, at the beginning of the seventies, he was the only filmmaker of his generation to bear witness in vivo to what youth and the cinema were becoming. And not because, for lack of anything better, he surrendered late in life to “experiences,” but because he is one of those filmmakers who can only be contemporary. Which is why Godard liked him so much. Which is why, in our imagination, Ray didn’t age, any more than cinema did. We Can’t Go Home Again is simply another Nicholas Ray film, dated 1973. Another film about youth, post-’68 youth, chatty and generous, drugged-out and pragmatic, violent and sentimental. Another film about education, Ray’s great theme, with, this time, the filmmaker presented onscreen for what he is: a name, a faded glory, the film professor who made, once upon a time, Rebel Without a Cause. Another film about fathers who aren’t fathers, who fake the Oedipus complex, imitate their death, tie knots that can no longer be severed [...] This film is unique: in it a filmmaker disintegrates and re-composes the very material of his film. The screen is colonized by smaller images that vibrate, coexist, blur. Cries and confessions float on a black background but that black background is sometimes the shadow of a house, with a roof, the kind that children draw. no longer a house for characters, but a house for images “that no longer have a home”: cinema. You can’t go home again...

In 1977, the first Semaine de Cahiers was in full swing in New York, at the Bleecker [St. Cinema]. I learned that Ray—who was teaching a block away—had just left the theater during the screening of Number Two. I ran after him. We were introduced. He didn’t like Godard’s film: too severe, intellectual, self-destructive. I chuckled to myself. He himself, he added, had made a film like that, before Godard, but the reels had been lost somewhere, while re-editing. In 1980, his widow, Susan Ray, came to Paris with the film in tow. She wanted to finish it, reassemble it, add some things, in keeping with Ray’s wishes. Was she correct in doing so? I’m not certain. What is certain is that no cinematheque in the world should sleep soundly knowing that it doesn’t have a copy of We Can’t Go Home Again in its bunker.”

-Serge Daney, Cahiers du cinéma #310, April 1980 (translated by Christine Pichini)

preceded by:

En râchachant

Directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

1982, 8m, DCP

“There was a time when going to the movies meant seeing two films, a big one and a small one. There was a time when going to the movies meant saying, still mesmerized: "it was a beautiful program!" Is this time finished? Not quite. The audience who laughed watching Pauline at the Beach…has every chance to laugh watching En rachâchant…This excellent production of seven minutes and a few seconds by Diagonale is the ideal complement to a program. First, because it proves that the Straubs are funny. Second, because there is a family resemblance between the two films: their strange relation to the idea of education, the clarity of the mise en scène which doesn’t suffer from the current evil plaguing French cinema: cellulite. En rachâchant is first a text by Marguerite Duras. The Straubs loved it, and loving it, they filmed it. Faced with the fait accompli, Duras must have found the film worthy of her text. Duras is therefore kind. In black and white (the photography is by [Henri] Alekan and it is superb), in a kitchen, and then in an empty classroom, a few actors and a young child resist stubbornly. "Child Ernesto" (that’s his name) declares that he won’t go to school anymore for the simple reason that it teaches things that one doesn’t know. How will the child learn what he doesn’t know (asks, threateningly, a dinosaur of a teacher)? "In-ev-i-ta-bly", answers the child who, having looked at his mother with indescribable gentleness, leaves the grown-ups to their confusion and slams the door.

The film is funny and quick. It’s not a "short" but a real film, in short. We must see it thinking on the one hand of Renoir (who had very libertarian ideas about education, thinking that we only ever know what we know already, and of whom—I know this—the Straubs have thought) and on the other of Alain Resnais whose next film Life is a Bed of Roses (coming soon!) begins from the reverse hypothesis: that education, strictly speaking, is filler. A great topic of our time.” 


-Serge Daney, Liberation, April 7, 1983 (translated by Andy Rector and Laurent Kretzschmar).


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