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9. Notes and Communications



Pierre Descaves

Translated by Yvonne Templin

Sacha Guitry, who has been summoned to appear before the "Chambre Civique," and to whom the Minister of the Interior has refused an exit permit for Hollywood, has had his "defense" proclaimed and published in an evening paper. Captain Pierre Descaves, son of the famous writer Lucien Descaves, Guitry's colleague at the Académie Goncourt before its recent purge, answers him as follows:

Sacha guitry has charged in a publication that the discredit from which he is suffering is based on spite. He claims that this discredit is due to the machinations of his "antagonists" and to the malignity of his enemies. At his instigation and by way of provocation, the newspaper heads the list of these "enemies" with my name. I, the enemy of Guitry? It is an honor which I would not reject had I not, painfully, earned the right to be his judge. For the present, I shall limit my role to that of prosecutor.

Until 1939, after well-deserved successes, the worth and inspiration of which were continuously diminishing, Guitry enjoyed an honorable place in the theater. In 1939, by forcing himself into a literary society heretofore limited to professional writers, he could lay claim to an intellectual grasp and to moral responsibilities inherent in his title of member of the Académie Goncourt.

Because, during the dark years of occupation, Guitry did not show himself worthy of these responsibilities, committed errors, was guilty of breach of faith, and failed as a Frenchman,

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having been from 1940 to 1944, at a time when his wealth and expectations gave him ample breathing space, an accommodating spectator of the traitorous collaborationist policy by very quickly reopening his theater and by staging his productions;


I accuse Sacha Guitry of having acquiesced, by his attitude of the worldly man of the theater and by his solicitude that everything should go on "as before," in the abdication of those who no longer believed in France;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having deadened public opinion by his ostentation and by giving the conqueror, at the expense of bleeding France, the proof that among us there were men interested in encouraging laughter in the midst of charnel houses;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having, like a make-up artist, disguised the misery that was crushing us and of having attempted to transform it into a make-believe happiness;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having been one of the inspirers of all the cozy surrenders, of all the soft compliances, and of having contributed to the perversion of a confused public opinion; of having encouraged the idea that nothing more could happen, that everything had been gained, that it was easy to breathe on one's knees, even on one's stomach, and that the light of freedom came not from the resistance of the maquis, but from a prompter's box;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having made witticisms when we were preparing passwords and watchwords and to have seen, as freedom's flame, in our dark night, only his floodlights;

I accuse Sacha Guitry, who during happier days had placed himself at the service of the nation to amuse friendly visiting sovereigns, of having without hesitation made, from his stage, friendly overtures to booted ruffians and of having sought their applause, repeating his bows even in the wings;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having taken advantage of his position as director of a theater and of his privilege as member of the Académie Goncourt to seek and to accumulate innumerable material advantages; of having insulted the misery of the people by his well-fed, satisfied, and selfish way of life;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having advised the Académie Goncourt to follow a defeatist policy by demanding that the prizes continue to be awarded, that vacancies be filled, that all privileges be maintained;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having been false to his promises in not resigning from the Académie Goncourt;


I accuse Sacha Guitry of having been the confidant, the guest, the friend of the unspeakable Alain Laubreaux;

I accuse Sacha Guitry not only because he never attempted to pronounce the word "refusal," but because he did not, even once, formulate a word of hope;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having been one of the earliest collaborators (see the testimony of General De la Laurencie);

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having collaborated in the publication of Aujourd'hui, Petit Parisien, and Paris Soir (Paris edition);

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having given an enthusiastic interview to the paper of Dr. Ley, "Strength through Joy";

I accuse Sacha Guitry, who before the liberation knew of the fate meted out in Germany to thousands of great Frenchmen, of never having expressed a regret or attempted a protest;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having played cynically with justice;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of having in him so little of the Frenchman;

I accuse Sacha Guitry of being too cowardly to understand the indignity of his behavior and too flabby to comprehend the indignation of those who have resisted, suffered, and fought.


Je Confirme

Robert Joseph

September 16, 1946


I read "J'Accuse" in the July issue of the Quarterly [pp. 357–59, this volume] with great interest. In the course of my work with the Information Control Division, I had discussed the question of collaboration with one of the French Film Officers in Berlin. He thought that Sacha Guitry and Danielle Darrieux were classic examples of film actors who had collaborated with the Germans. Danielle Darrieux, for example, went to Berlin to make a picture which showed, among other things, the "benevolence" of the German occupation of France.

I am enclosing the newspaper reproduction of a letter written by Sacha Guitry in 1938 to the editor of the Berlin Film Kurier, a leading German trade paper. Herewith my own translation of it:

"Dear Editor:

"It has come to me from many sides that those in Germany and elsewhere who wish to do me harm have called me a Jew.

"I want to make it emphatically clear that this offensive story is no way true.

"I am a Catholic, as were my grandparents. My great-uncle on my father's side was the Comte de Châtre, and my great-uncle on my mother's side was Monsignor de Bonfils, Bishop of Le Mans.

"I was baptized at birth and went to school at the Holy Cross Lycée. I was given my first communion by the Dominican Friars.

"As far back as I can trace I have found it impossible to find anything in my family blood that is Jewish.

"My three marriages also confirm this declaration, which I beseech you, Sir, to make public.

"With thanks in advance, I remain,


(Signed) Sacha Guitry"


The editors of Film Kurier headed Guitry's letter "Sacha Guitry Defends Himself" and prefaced it with the following introduction:

"We asked Sacha Guitry to write us a piece for the annual edition of the Film Kurier in time for the German opening of his latest picture, Champs Elysées. Instead of the article, we received the following communication."

It seems to me that any man who goes to such lengths to deny something about his creed or ancestry gratuitously deserves the closest inspection, and that his letter is an exquisite textbook illustration of its kind.

Sincerely yours,
Robert Joseph


The Cinémathèque Française[*]

Henri Langlois

The purpose of the Cinémathèque Française (The French Film Library) is to establish, in the interests of film art and film history, a museum and archives which shall have the widest possible utilization. It was founded in 1936 by the principal nontheatrical motion picture producers. Others interested in preserving a film repertory joined them to take the necessary steps for the conservation of prints and documents relating to films and for the replacement of prints which have disappeared.

As a library, the Cinémathèque collects and preserves documents relating to films, and purchases or receives, on loan or as gifts, positive and negative prints of films. Films and documents placed in the Cinémathèque remain the property of their owners and cannot be used commercially without their express permission. It goes without saying that in practice permission to use the films is rarely refused. Usually the films handled by the Cinémathèque are old ones; as a rule, in order to avoid commercial problems, recent films are accepted only for preservation and not for circulation.

As a museum, it assumes responsibility for exhibiting film documents and for exhibiting and distributing films which have artistic or pedagogic value. As a research center, the Cinémathèque undertakes historical research programs and provides for the publication of the results.

Although the Cinémathèque receives a subvention from the state and serves somewhat as an official film library, it is, by its constitution and bylaws, a private enterprise developed by its membership. Administered by a board of directors elected by the membership at large at a general meeting, it works for its membership both in the national and international fields. In its international program the Cinémathèque has coöperated

with the Film Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the British Film Institute, and the Reich filmarchive—the only prewar film libraries which sought to develop international film collections. At the same time the Cinémathèque has encouraged the formation of national film libraries in other countries.

Between 1936 and 1940 the Cinémathèque participated in numerous international gatherings. The most important were the Méliès Exposition in London, the "French Retrospective" in Venice, and the "Triennial" in Milan. Under its auspices, conversations were held in Paris in 1938 with representatives of the Film Library of the Museum of Modern Art, which led to the creation of the International Federation of Film Archives with headquarters in Paris. At its last meeting in New York before the war, the Federation elected Lamarique chairman, and agreed upon Paris as head-quarters of the secretariat.

The Cinémathèque managed to bring together a collection of important silent films which includes work by Zecca, Linder, René Clair, Jean Renoir, and Duvivier. Owing to the disorganization of the film industry at that time, negatives had been forgotten. The Cinémathèque purchased its old prints of the Eclair productions from a chemical laboratory where they were about to be melted down. Protea, the first film with sequences, was one of the films thus rescued. During this period the Cinémathèque exhibited or sponsored the exhibition of such films as La Fête espagnole, by Germaine Dulac, Un Chien Andalou, by Buñuel, Le Ballet mécanique, by Léger, La Terre, by Dovzhenko, La Nuit du saint Sylvestre, by Lupu Pick, La Symphonie nuptiale, by Stroheim. It was able to buy and preserve L'Ange bleu (German version), Loulou, by Pabst, La Rue sans joie, L'Image, by Feyder, Les Mystères de New York, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, and Homunculus.

The entire program was achieved without a regular staff. With only 3,000 francs from membership dues and 20,000 to 25,000 from all other sources, the Cinémathèque was forced to rely on the assistance of volunteers.

In June, 1940, the Cinémathèque entrusted its collection to the motion picture section of the French army, and eventually saw it disappear into the service of the Germans. It then faced another sort of difficulty. Some of the membership became collaborationists and wished to use the Cinémathèque for collaborationist purposes. This situation was overcome by

the loyalty of the great majority of the membership and by the courage of the directorate, which adopted the following tactics in July, 1940, which prevailed throughout the occupation:

  1. Save the greatest amount of film possible.
  2. Reconstruct the collection.
  3. Recover the lost stocks.
  4. Assume the role of protector and conservator, giving up all public manifestations, projections, or exhibitions which, in the opinion of the directorate, might be considered treasonable. (To maintain this attitude during four years under watchful enemy eyes, never to submit to pressure of any sort, would have been relatively easy if the Cinémathèque, in order to preserve its custodianship, had not been forced to maintain some semblance of being a functioning public-service organization.)

During the German occupation, the Cinémathèque's warnings of the danger of destruction by the Germans went unheeded. All plans, all requests by the Cinémathèque, to deposit its films in safety in Algiers in order to prevent the destruction of the inventory in the northern zone, were systematically rejected under the pretext that the Cinémathèque was viewed favorably by the occupying authorities, wherefore the archives would remain intact.

Eventually, in spite of obstruction, the Cinémathèque was able to save almost all of its inventory, including the entire American stock in the south zone and a considerable number of the films in the north. (This fact permitted the Americans to resume their motion picture activities in France shortly after the Liberation.)

At the end of the occupation, the Cinémathèque, though not in a position immediately to resume all its activities, was so popular that it obtained adequate funds from local town governments while waiting for the resumption of subvention by the state. During its reorganization, it encouraged the formation of film clubs throughout France, patterned after the English film societies. United into the French Federation of Cinema Clubs, they reached masses of people, guided their taste, and led to further organization of clubs throughout France. For a while, confusion, conflicts, and errors in planning made coöperation between the Cinémathèque and the cinema clubs difficult; but finally, the Federation developed a policy which made effective coöperation possible.

In February, 1945, the Cinémathèque held its first postwar exhibition, "Images du Cinéma Français." This was followed by the Cinémathèque's publication of a book, Images du Cinéma Français, by Nicole Vedres. Other projects have included an exhibition of French films in Lausanne, an exhibition of animated cartoons by Paul Reynard and Ferdinand Zecca, and posters for exhibitions in Brussels, Basle, Warsaw, and London.

The Cinémathèque was officially reopened, and is today the most complete of the film libraries in continental Europe. Contacts with foreign countries were reëstablished in October. Exchanges have been made with London, New York, and the film centers in Switzerland and Belgium, which the Cinémathèque prides itself in having helped to found. Understandings have been reached with Swedish, Danish, Czech, and Polish film centers. An Italian film center was created by uniting the previously existing centers in Rome and Milan. A film center has recently been established in Austria.

Since the occupation, there has been no artistic film activity in Europe in which the Cinémathèque has not participated. At the same time, its full program in Paris has been maintained, including courses on motion picture history at the University of Paris.

In March, 1946, under the auspices of the Cinémathèque, delegates from all European film centers, with observers from the United States and the Soviet Union, met in Paris to codify the by-laws of all film libraries into a system of standard practice, particularly as affecting noncommercial distribution. The importance of the noncommercial film to public education and to technology was emphasized. It is hoped that such agreement on standard practices will lead to the rapid expansion of cinema clubs throughout Europe.


Jean Vigo[*]

Siegfried Kracauer

Translated by William Melnitz

Siegfried Kracauer, literary editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung from 1920 to 1933, writing extensively on cultural affairs including cinema, came from Paris to the United States in 1941 and is now an American citizen. He has worked on the staff of the Modern Art Film Library and has received two Rockefeller grants and two Guggenheim fellowships to further his research in the history and political significance of the German film. His book From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film has just been published by the Princeton University Press. His other works include a novel, Ginfest, and a biography of Offenbach in the Second Empire, Orpheus in Paris.

. ….

Introductory Note

Vladimir Pozner

I SAW JEAN VIGO for the last time in the summer of 1934. He looked even younger than he was—an adolescent with a pointed face, about to die from tuberculosis. Very few people knew his name then, or his work. A propos de Nice had been shown in a few theaters only, Zéro de conduite had been considered too "harsh" for general release, and, if I am not mistaken, L'Atalante had not yet been released. As a rule, rebels are not popular, and in the motion picture industry probably less so than anywhere else. And Vigo was a rebel, on two counts: against the screen formulas and, even more intensely, against the established order of things. He used the camera as a weapon, not as an anesthetic.

In today's France, Vigo's pictures are shown in the neighborhood theaters.

Jean Vigo

Jean Vigo—who died before he was thirty, in the autumn of 1934— left only a few films. His first film, A propos de Nice, can only be mentioned

here, since for years it has been inaccessible. In 1933, this satirical documentary was followed by Zéro de conduite, a film influenced by René Clair and the French avant-garde, depicting a students' revolt in a boarding school. The brief series ends with L'Atalante (1934), a masterpiece that brought Vigo to the forefront of French motion picture directors. Among them, perhaps only Vigo and the René Clair of the great Parisian films have been able to discover and conquer territories reserved exclusively to the film. And although Vigo lacks Clair's wonderful lightness, he surpasses him in his profound concern with truth.

His very method of composition reveals an original relation to the screen. Vigo's plots are not the classic, hermetically sealed constructions designed to produce suspense by themselves alone; rather, they are slight, very loosely knit, and not at all purposeful. The plot of L'Atalante could not be simpler: Jean, the young master of the river steamer "Atalante," has married Juliette, who soon longs for Paris, away from the monotony of cabin, water, and landscape. She deserts her husband, who, jealous of Paris and the whole world, would be lost in the city if it were not for Père Jules, his old factotum: Père Jules brings Juliette back to poor Jean. The emphasis is on the numerous little single episodes, each more pregnant with suspense than the commonplace story itself. These little episodes compose the plot without, however, depending on it for structure and meaning. The opening passage, in which Jean and Juliette in festive attire proceed like strangers, silently, side by side, through the forest across the field to the beach, far ahead of the wedding party, is a perfect piece of poetry. By stringing his episodes like pearls, Vigo endows a technical fact with aesthetic significance—the fact that the celluloid strip is virtually endless and can be interrupted at any time.

More important are the conclusions Vigo draws from the fact that the camera does not discriminate between human beings and objects, animate and inanimate nature. As if led by the meandering camera, he exhibits the material components of mental processes. In L'Atalante we experience with all our senses how strongly the fogs of the river, the avenues of trees, and the isolated farms affect the mind, and how the sailor's relationship to the city is determined by the fact that he looks at the lodgings perched on the quay from sea level. Other film directors, too, have identified objects as silent accomplices of our thoughts and feelings. But Vigo goes still further. Instead of simply revealing the role objects may play in conditioning the mind, he dwells upon situations in which their influence

predominates, thus exploring camera possibilities to the full. And since increasing intellectual awareness tends to reduce the power of objects over the mind, he logically chooses people who are deeply rooted in the material world as leading characters of his two full-length films.

Immature boys are the heroes of Zéro de conduite. Early in this film two of them ride to school at night in a third-class railroad compartment; it is as if they were left to themselves in a wigwam that imperceptibly fuses with their dreams. We see a man's legs on one of the benches, and then, on the other bench, we see the upper half of a sleeping traveler. This halving of the sleeper, marking him as an inanimate being, increases the impression of isolation from the world, an impression already aroused by the smoke which shuts out the world behind the car window. The partition of the compartment lies somewhat obliquely in the picture, an angle which points to the fact that this entire sequence cannot be located within real space and time. Their adventurous ride stimulates the two boys to pranks. From unfathomable pockets they produce alternately a spiral with a little ball springing out of it, a flute, shriveled toy balloons blown up by the younger boy, a bunch of goose quills with which the older one adorns himself, and finally cigars a yard long. Photographed from below, they squat exaltedly as the smoke of the locomotive mingles with the smoke of the cigars, and in the haze the round balloons float to and fro in front of their pale faces. It is exactly as if the two in their magic wigwam were riding through air. With a jerk, the sleeper falls. "Il est mort!" one of the boys cries, frightened. With the balloons hovering around them, they get off the train; outside we read the sign: "Non Fumeurs," and immediately the wigwam is retransformed into an ordinary railroad compartment.

While the objects in Zéro de conduite participate in childish play or occasionally frighten the boys, they become fetishes in L'Atalante. As such, they possess Père Jules. Michel Simon's Père Jules ranks among the greatest characters ever created on the screen by any actor or director. The old man, a former sailor, takes care of the "Atalante" in company with his accordion, innumerable cats, and a feeble-minded boy. Grumbling to himself inarticulately, he walks up and down between the steering wheel and the cabin in a sort of daze—so much one with the "Atalante" that he seems carved out of its planks. All that affects him is physical actions, which he, however, does not experience consciously, but immediately translates into similar actions. Jean lifts Juliette with whom he stands back to back: witnessing this amorous scene. Père Jules begins to shadow

box. Juliette tries on him the coat she is sewing: the coat induces him to imitate an African belly dancer, and since Africa to him is not far from San Sebastian, he avails himself of the same coat, as he would of a red cloth, to irritate an imaginary bull. He does not remember the events, but reproduces them following certain signals.

Instead of using the objects at his disposal, he has become their property. The magic spell they cast over him is revealed in a unique episode in which Père Jules shows Juliette all the mementos he has brought home from his voyages. The piled-up treasures which crowd his cabin are depicted in such a manner that we feel they have literally grown together over him. To evoke this impression Vigo focuses on the objects from various sides and on many levels without ever clarifying their spatial interrelationship —using nothing but the medium shots and close-ups made necessary by the narrowness of the cabin. The alarm clock, the musical box, the photograph portraying Jules as a young man between two women in glittering dresses, the tusk, and all the bric-à-brac emerging little by little form an impenetrable wickerwork constantly interspersed with fragments of the old man himself: his arm, his tattooed back, his face. How accurately this piecemeal presentation renders his complete submission to the rarities around him can also be inferred from the fact that he preserves in alcohol the hands of a decreased comrade. The idols, on their part, display triumphantly their inherent powers. At the head of their great dé filé Vigo marches a doll which, when set into motion by Père Jules, conducts mechanical music from a puppet show like a bandmaster. The magical life of the doll is transmitted to the curiosities that follow in the parade.

" …un documentaire bien romantique," Brasillach writes in his Histoire du cinéma about A propos de Nice, "mais d'une belle cruauté, où les ridicules des dames vieilles et amoureuses, des gigolos et de la bourgeoisie décadente étaient férocement stigmatisés." Responding to the overwhelming appeal of material phenomena, Vigo, however, more and more withdrew from social criticism. In L'Atalante it appears, indeed, as if he actually had wanted to affirm an attitude hostile to intellectual awareness. Could it be, then, that Vigo's career had taken a retrogressive course? But in Zéro de conduite satire still manifested itself, and perhaps he indulged in the magic of mute objects and dark instincts only in order, some day, to pursue more thoroughly and knowingly the task of disenchantment.


Two Views of a Director—
Billy Wilder

Herbert G. Luft

Charles Brackett

Herbert G. Luft has been active in Hollywood since 1943 as a film editor, translator, and in studio research and production departments. He is an associate member of the Screen Writers Guild, drama editor and book reviewer for the Los Angeles B'nai B'rith Messenger, and West Coast correspondent for the National Jewish Post. Currently he is engaged in the production of television films.

Charles Brackett, formerly a novelist and drama critic of the New Yorker, has written and produced many notable films, often in association with Billy Wilder. Among their pictures were Ninotchka, Hold Back the Dawn, The Major and the Minor, The Lost Weekend, A Foreign Affair, and Sunset Boulevard. Mr. Brackett is president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

. ….

The editors wish from time to time to publish appraisals of the work of important American film directors. They recognize, in printing Mr. Luft's article about Billy Wilder, that the author's viewpoint is not a wholly objective one but has been formed by his bitter personal experience. For this reason they asked Mr. Wilder's friend and one-time collaborator, Mr. Charles Brackett, for the comment which follows Mr. Luft's article. The two pieces certainly do not say the last word about Mr. Wilder's work, but they point up one distinction he shares with few of his contemporaries—he is one of the rare directors of this cautious day whose work may be called controversial.

I. A Matter of Decadence

Herbert G. Luft

Early in 1929, in berlin, just before the close of the silent era, a group of motion picture students discovered an outlet for their youthful enthusiasm —away from the theatrical setting of studio-made film. Nothing much happened in the little opus they called Menschen am Sonntag, a semidocumentary made for producer Moritz Seeler, but for the first time the camera looked upon real people.


Four middle-class citizens, worn from the week's drab routine, go out to spend a Sunday at Wannsee beach! This bit of simple, rather melancholy reportage became Robert Siodmak's initial chore as director, his assistants being Edgar Ulmer and Fred Zinnemann, with pioneer Eugene Schuftan handling the camera. The screen story was conceived by twenty-three-year-old Billy Wilder, a journalist from Vienna who had started as a copy boy, then graduated to sports writer before leaving for Berlin to become crime reporter on the Nachtausgabe.

Even today, People on Sunday still is regarded as one of the finest examples of screen art.

Wilder's career is one of the most fascinating success stories of the cinema. With the rise of Nazism, the young writer goes to Paris where he becomes a full-fledged film director (Mauvaiso graine). Thus, with an actual directing credit to his name, he arrives at the Hollywood scene in 1935. Today, he amuses himself by relating his earlier experience: "I dragged my carcass up and down Hollywood Boulevard, and starved around for a year and a half before I sold two original stories."

In 1938, Wilder collaborated for the first time with Charles Brackett on the screen play of Bluebeard's Eighth Wife. He kept on writing with an ever-increasing speed, turning out Rhythm on the River, Midnight, and What a Life!, the latter based on the Henry Aldrich character. In 1939, Wilder joined Ernst Lubitsch, working with Brackett and Walter Reisch on the screen play of the Greta Garbo picture Ninotchka, which became a sensational success. Then followed a series of craftsmanlike Brackett and Wilder scenarios such as Arise My Love (Ray Milland and Claudette Colbert), Hold Back the Dawn (Charles Boyer), and Ball of Fire (Barbara Stanwyck), all of them dated 1940 to 1941. As a director, Wilder came into his own with The Major and the Minor (1942), a mildly amusing comedy with Ginger Rogers.

Still collaborating with Brackett and now functioning as a triple producer-writer-director team, Wilder next presented Five Graves to Cairo (1943), a war yarn with Erich von Stroheim portraying Marshal Rommel. It was not until 1944 that Wilder, with Double Indemnity, his only co-authorship with Raymond Chandler, established himself as a truly unorthodox film maker.

Between film assignments, Wilder went to Berlin for six months as chief of the motion picture division for the American Information Control. In

November, 1945, back in Hollywood, Wilder hit the peak with The Lost Weekend. This film brought him recognition as one of our foremost directors. Next on his schedule was the Austrian monarchy—plus Bing Crosby—in Emperor Waltz, a lavish Technicolor spectacle.

After his initial prewar films, something changed Wilder's trend. Though he had watched the pulse of Hollywood and had learned the mechanics of successful motion picture making, seemingly without regret he turned from the media of his much hailed Academy Award winner to more and more controversial subjects such as A Foreign Affair and Sunset Boulevard. It was as if an impetus that could not be restrained was forcing him on and on.

Twenty-two years have passed since Wilder, having discovered the common man on the streets of Berlin, comes forward with another reportage, an item about a fellow newspaperman (which could have had an affinity with his own life?). Ace in the Hole[1] unravels the tragedy of an unscrupulous reporter who has skidded to the bottom of the ladder into complete moral and physical disintegration. Given a slight chance to rise once more, this newshound frantically pursues a story to the point of killing a man buried in an underground cave-in. He deliberately delays rescue by bribing the authorities to use outmoded methods simply because it makes better copy and sells more papers while the victim suffers longer. To this end the reporter lies, cheats, and misleads the public, all to build up an unfortunate accident into the day's headline. Here Wilder has conceived a set of characters who appear totally repulsive and whose reactions are never normal. He has accentuated it all by adding a punch-drunk mob, the mere sight of which makes you hate the whole human race. He has lampooned yellow journalism, but has failed to attack the metropolitan scandal sheets who balloon murder cases and obscene bedroom yarns and actually have created an inexhaustible market for low, gutter reportage. The slant of the theme is worlds apart from the unpretentious approach of People on Sunday of 1929.

In an interview, during the production of Ace in the Hole, in August, 1950, Wilder stated: "All I try to do is get myself a story, splash it on the screen and get it over with. And I try, for God's sake, to have news in every

picture I make! To open up, to unroll a problem is interesting enough. We don't have to know the answer, too." Can it be that Wilder thinks to jar the public loose from its inertia and force it to work out its own problems with something of the fervor of our local tabloid editors?

There's no doubt about it, Wilder makes news in every picture, yet, paradoxically, employs the same technique of ruthless exploitation that he castigates so often on the screen, oversimplifying complex human emotions in order to bring out his utterly cynical viewpoint. One can also note his peculiar flair for a high-pitched, spectacular finish. The hero-villain of Ace in the Hole, dying, stabbed with a pair of scissors, pays his debt to society by assuming a self-righteous pose and angrily shouting his confession down from a mountaintop to a throng of thousands. Drama, yes! But an easy deathbed repentance for misdeeds mere confession cannot wipe out.

Another vital parallel is the pronounced kinship of Wilder's characters. The obsessed reporter shows a striking resemblance to Walter Neff, the insurance agent from Double Indemnity, who is also killed by his partner in crime, the wife of his victim.

Wilder lashes indifference, yet has displayed the same indifference to enliven his own films. Survivors of Nazi concentration camps whose bones were broken in the dungeons must have been just as deeply hurt by the happy-go-lucky treatment of postwar Germany in A Foreign Affair, as Papa Minosa is now in Ace in the Hole, discovering that his own son, doomed to suffocate in a mountain trap, has become the involuntary object of a noisily staged fairground merriment.

A Foreign Affair has deserved the distinction of presenting one of the most revolting episodes ever projected onto the screen, namely a love idyl, a rather harmless one on the surface, yet by implication more cruel than a picture showing the furnaces of an extermination center with human ashes still smoldering. The flendishly devised contrast, a "catch-and-get-me" game played against a room filled with archives of war-crime trials, makes the scene, to people with memories, loathsome. It is in even worse taste than if our screen lovers were to go into a final clinch over the still warm body of a slain rival, because the incident offends not only the sentiments of a few but mocks the torture of untold millions.

While the earlier Wilder in Arise My Love castigates the isolationism at

the beginning of the European conflict, the later Wilder deals with the aftermath of war with the luxurious cynicism of a sophisticate who has acclimatized himself to the ivory tower of Beverly Hills. Even if Europe's surface looked to him in 1947 as he shows it in A Foreign Affair, it is a superficial viewpoint bound to mislead an uncertain public.

There are those who would scold us, saying that we shouldn't take motion pictures too seriously. They forget that films have become the universal language of our age, and that nowadays the screen is accepted as an image of life. I recall that in 1945 a friend (a woman who had just returned from a German concentration camp) wrote me about her most heart-breaking experience. She had wept for the first time in six years, wept when she saw her first movie, a superficial picture others devised while she had been undergoing unspeakable sufferings. To her, the callousness of the world at large seemed more cruel than the atrocities of the enemy.

There is a distinct pattern in the work of Billy Wilder that leads us to conclude that he undoubtedly is amused by the callousness of our time. In Ninotchka, the character Bulgaroff asks, "How are things in Moscow?" and Ninotchka answers, "Very good. The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians."

The Lost Weekend, the odyssey of a drunk by Charles Jackson, attributes the hero's alcoholism to his sex frustration. Wilder, who, of course, couldn't touch upon the homosexual angle, seems to be rather amused by the plight of the alcoholic. He portrays him as a gentleman lush who sees himself in a third person and comments with a nasty sense of humor. The director inserts deliberate touches, such as the bat scene, for the mere shock effect. Here as in Ace in the Hole, he treats his characters with an obscene, obnoxious witticism, which to a lesser extent is apparent even in the harmless Emperor Waltz, a travesty on a bygone world of phony grandeur.

Wilder not only creates news in every picture, but also is on the look-out for off-the-beaten-track titles. Ace in the Hole happened to be the title of a novel by Jackson Gregory (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1941) which has no connection with his story. The title of Five Graves to Cairo is a hoax in itself. The picture opens by showing us a map revealing that the German Africa Corps in 1945 had five secret ammunition dumps throughout Egypt spelling out the five letters of "Egypt." Wilder, of course, knew that the equivalent German word would make eight letters or eight graves.


A Foreign Affair, an original, clearly mirrors the mark of his unhealthy boulevard witticism. The camera focus on a pile of rubble was not exactly a fitting place for wholesome comedy. There are the ruins of Berlin, but not one word to explain why the city had to be utterly destroyed before the spirit of oppression could be broken. The Nazis are seen as double-crossers, yet drawn with much charm and noblesse, living in an atmosphere of comparative ease, with a romantic façade covering up a decade of mass murders. Those praising the guts of the story didn't see the malefic travesty. Our occupation forces appear undisciplined and ill-behaved. It is not funny to see Berlin's citizenry tyrannized by the same clique of Nazis whom we have cursed so often, or to view frauleins complacently ruling the destiny of American officers, or to realize that a huge black-market exists under the very eye of the military government. Undoubtedly, the frivolous slant of the picture helped to increase animosity against America among those who have lived under the yoke of the Nazis.

Sunset Boulevard sets another bad example for this country. It presents a distorted Hollywood setting centering around a secluded mansion wherein it unravels the tragedy of a love-hungry actress who refuses to admit that she has grown old. The heroine is just as superficial as the congresswoman in A Foreign Affair, and just as exceptional. The story is that of the melodramatic cliché of silent movies, a paraphrase on the pathos of an era it went out to ridicule, except that Sunset Boulevard takes its own pathos seriously. Here, as in the flickers of the Pola Negri variety, the aging woman buys herself a lover. This time the gigolo comes in the disguise of a film writer. Only once in a blue moon, if ever, do we find such a scribe.

Wilder's "Hollywood" is ice-cold, calculated theater, far from the American way of thinking, and out of step with the real worries and ideals of the film industry which is still bubbling over with the growing pains and vitality of youth. The decadent atmosphere of Sunset Boulevard is only matched by the endless narration of a dead man floating in a swimming pool. The picture flays some of the finest creators of the silent screen, such as Erich von Stroheim, Buster Keaton, and H. B. Warner, who in their days showed a more intelligent approach in creating well-rounded characters than do some of today's top-notch boys. As in Ace in the Hole, Wilder, master of systematically developed sensationalism, again tops everything with his bombastic finish. The murderess of Sunset Boule-vard

walks into the spotlights for a final close-up, with the camera grinding on, Hedda Hopper reporting—and the story ending in repulsive pandemonium.

All in all, Billy Wilder's later pictures are of a shockingly deteriorating nature. Other film makers have portrayed mass hysteria in Fury, Ox-Bow Incident, and The Well more honestly and more realistically, yet with a deeper belief in the innate decency of man. But Wilder has picked out exceptional characters with no redeeming features whatsoever and presents them to us as average Americans. His heroes have no integrity and expect none from anyone else. Like many Germans, Wilder depicts only the weaknesses and shortcomings of the American people, ridicules their habits, but never senses the strikingly salubrious strength of this vibrantly young republic. He says in an interview on the Ace in the Hole set: "We are a nation of hecklers, the most hard-boiled, undisciplined people in the world." Is he referring to his particular Hollywood?

Wilder, who has spent his years in America in a metropolitan atmosphere and, according to his own humorous account, sold his first two stories to a producer in Lucey's restroom, has evidently never been in touch with the "average" American, nor met those who create the physical and cultural wealth of this country. He hasn't seen Americans as they are, or as they should be, but as he—perhaps against his will—was indoctrinated to conceive the "Yankee" when he was still abroad. Subconsciously, he has accepted the cartoon characterization of the uncivilized, unconcerned weakling, the savage of the Wild West who loves only money and owes allegiance to none. To him, evidently, as with the philosophers of the Third Reich, Americans are a frightening array of ruthless, perverse, and criminal elements.

The America of Billy Wilder is not the America I found when I came to this country after having lived in Nazi Germany for six years. I had gone through the concentration camp of Dachau and through the earlier phase of World War II in England. For me—as for the vast majority of newcomers—America has meant a symbol of freedom, not a hoax. If these United States were as decadent and corrupt as Wilder would lead us to believe they are, this country never could have risen to such a position of strength and moral leadership in the world of today.

One can only conclude that Wilder's world is more continental than American. He portrays Americans as if they were demoralized Europeans

uprooted between two world wars. The earlier German-made films (Caligari, Mabuse, Waxworks), masterpieces as such, dealt with the same mixture of Old World fears and arrogance, with violence and the sickness of the mind.

Somewhere, somehow, like so many other Hollywoodians, Wilder seems to have lost his human heart on the way to the top. Billy Wilder, a man of original ideas, has the makings of a great film writer and director, if he would lift his talents into a higher sphere of truthful interpretation and moral responsibility. But what he seems to want is sensationalism at any price. Perhaps he will give us a different answer with Stalag 17.

II. A Matter of Humor

Charles Brackett

I read Mr. Herbert G. Luft's article about Billy Wilder with a certain fascination. It is like reading an essay about Van Gogh by someone who is color blind. No, more than that—this appraiser of Van Gogh is made actively ill by the painter's favorite color.

Mr. Luft not only doesn't like a joke, he detests a joke. This is a limitation of nature to which one should be charitable. Certainly Mr. Luft's tragic experience in a concentration camp should cause one to overlook it. But in choosing Wilder for his subject, Mr. Luft has thrust his deficiency on the reader in a way that cannot be ignored.

Predominant among Billy Wilder's qualities is humor—a fantastically American sense of humor. It was the outstanding trait of the young man with whom I started to work some seventeen years ago. He was sassy and brash and often unwise, but he had a fine, salutary laugh. Also, he was in love with America as I have seen few people in love with it. I mention this because one of Mr. Luft's theses is a belief that Wilder fails to appreciate, and dislikes, America.

Now let us observe the conduct of Mr. Luft when he happens on a joke. He shudders first, then he begins to weigh it on sociological and ethical scales—and, alas, those scales aren't working very well. Take, for instance, the line from Ninotchka which he views with horror.

Ninotchka, reporting solemnly on her native land, says, "The mass trials have been a great success. In future there will be fewer but better Russians." This happens to be a line tossed into the script by Ernst Lubitsch, but I spring to its defense with ardor, as would Billy Wilder. Could a single

sentence better compress the inhuman Russian point of view? Could that point of view be held up to ridicule in a healthier way?

The indifference-to-America thesis runs into some difficulty when our essayist reviews Arise My Love and Hold Back the Dawn.

Arise My Love was a comedy with serious undertones and was decried by every America-Firster as warmongering and jingoistic. In it there were tender and adoring references to America—and I can testify that they were put in by Billy Wilder. In those simpler days I took my country's virtues very much for granted.

Hold Back the Dawn, which came a year or two later, was certainly a bouquet laid at the feet of America by two people who loved it dearly.

Mr. Luft brushes aside The Major and the Minor as inconsiderable (though I can assure him it filled countless theaters with the lovely and important sound of laughter), and comes to The Lost Weekend. Here, for Pete's sake, he finds Wilder at the peak of comicality—poking fun at the infirmities of a hopeless alcoholic! This interpretation defeats me. The very core of The Lost Weekend was its insistence that a drunk is not the comedy figure he had usually been on the screen, but a tragically sick man. Throughout the script, Don Birnam, the protagonist, was treated with the compassionate respect any sick man commands. Mr. Luft seems to think the bat-mouse hallucination was interjected by us, or rather by Wilder, as a prize boff. If he will glance at Charles Jackson's novel, he will find it exactly as it was played—a scene of utter terror. Incidentally, the Freudian significance of the scene is that the mouse (representing man himself) is being destroyed by the bat (the winged mouse—man with imagination; in Don Birnam's case, the frustrated writer).

Now we come to A Foreign Affair, which, according to Mr. Luft, "clearly mirrors the mark of Billy Wilder's unhealthy boulevard wit." That picture played in the great rubble pile of Berlin. It is a city which most of us in America had regarded with loathing, horror, and dread for the ten preceding years. The war is concluded, and now over its debris are swarming exuberant young Americans—young men whose desires and delights are strong in them, thank God. There's larceny in their hearts, and fun in them and health in them. Does Mr. Luft want a glimpse of the truth about those young men? No. It evokes that horrid sound of laughter. He wants an explanation of why the city had had to be utterly destroyed.

That was something the audience knew, and we saw no point in boring them with it again.

The Berlin woman, played by Marlene Dietrich, was such a complete heavy that some humanization of her character became necessary. Therefore she was given a scene which explained what made her tick. I suppose that is what makes Mr. Luft describe her as "drawn with much charm and noblesse." About the audience's reaction to her, I can only report that she ended by going to a labor camp, amid the delighted laughter of American audiences. Apparently to Mr. Luft it was a wistful and romantic exit.

In his criticism of Sunset Boulevard, Mr. Luft points out that the heroine was "exceptional." Really? Wasn't she just the average woman who once earned fifteen thousand dollars a week and had thirty million fans in love with her? Of course she was exceptional! She was also tragic. Perhaps we should have told about her with a more audible lump in our throats. We thought it effective to suppress the pitying sounds and let the audience find the pity for themselves.

Now in Mr. Luft's article comes a sentence which I have to quote and analyze. "Wilder's Hollywood is ice-cold, calculated theater, out of step with the real ideals of the film industry, which is still bubbling over with the growing pains of vitality and youth." Is that true? Even if you block that metaphor, is it true? The exact purpose of the young girl in the picture —the sympathetic character—was to embody the ideals of the town, the passion for truth on the screen, the passion for good pictures.

Again I quote: "The picture flays some of the finest creators of the silent screen—Erich von Stroheim, Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner …." Flays them? It merely records that time, which flays us all mercilessly, has not spared them. If they had not been great, that fact would have had no dramatic significance.

To answer another charge of Mr. Luft's, certainly there was sensationalism in the ending of the picture. People like Norma Desmond fade out with a bang, not a whimper.

I come to Ace in the Hole, a picture with which I had no connection. It told the story of a ruthless heel. No one was asked to like or admire him. The story of his using the victim of an accident to rebuild his shattered career was not a pretty one, nor was it presented as what any newspaper man would do under the circumstances, but it did point up certain cynical

qualities in the press and certain appalling habits of behavior in crowds who gather to watch events charged with misery. It was in the vein of American self-criticism which has been a major current in our national literature since the days of The Octopus and The Pit and The Jungle. Because he was born in Austria, is Billy Wilder to be excluded from that vigorous and important trend? I don't think so.


Dialogue Between the
Moviegoing Public and
a Witness for Jean Cocteau

Raymond Jean

Raymond Jean was an assistant professor of French Literature in France, and is currently an associate professor of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania. His publications include articles in les Cahiers du Sud, Mercure de France, and Cahiers du cinéma and a booklet of poetry by the Editions P. Seghers in Paris. The following article is a part of a short essay resulting from a conversation between the author and Jean Cocteau.

. ….


May I let you in on a secret? I have an awful feeling that Jean Cocteau, in his recent works, is complaining more and more about us.


Yes, his complaints are coming more frequently nowadays. He seems to be suffering.


Do you think he's really suffering, I mean in a sincere way?


I do.


But from what?


It's hard to say.


From not being understood?




Do you mean in regard to his work for the films?


That in particular.


You will admit that he's largely responsible. When you want to be understood, you must express yourself clearly. His films are beyond me sometimes.


Do you mean that they're over your head?


How do you mean?


Do they leave you indifferent? Or do they annoy you?


Eh …eh …Well …


Sometimes, maybe?


Sometimes …yes …but …it's something else.




Well, I don't understand the obscure allusions in his films.


What obscure allusions?


What he's trying to say.


But he's not trying to say something. He just says it.


I know that story, too. You're going to tell me I have only to look at the film without looking for hidden meanings in it. But that's asking too much of me.


Your symbols and your logic lead you astray. You are looking, at any cost, for a meaning in those things which have other values than meaning alone. You reason too much about these things, as you always will. And how you distort them!


What else should we do?


You are trying to understand, you say. Are you sure you are trying to see what is going on in front of you? What Cocteau is reproaching you for is your inattention, your lack of eagerness to look closely at what took months of meticulous work to prepare. In his films, the least image missed, he says, ruins the whole. But when it comes to knowing what the film means as a whole, you're at a loss because you have missed that single image. You don't understand, and you are dissatisfied because you don't understand. But while the film is going on you are talking, laughing when you shouldn't be, passing around popcorn or candy and crumpling paper, or getting affectionate with your date. (He—Cocteau—is still speaking.)


Does he reproach us for all that?


He reproaches the French film-going public—little given to granting a film its complete attention—for behaving in that way and considering itself authorized at the same time to pass flippant judgment on works which take much time and work to produce.


Well, I pay for my seat to enjoy myself.


That's exactly what you don't do.


What's that?


Enjoy yourself. I am speaking of course of that false élite of the big premières who claim to be the only ones who ever think, who make comments and judge the value of the film, who think they know it all and can say in two words what they think they understand.


You mean the intellectual snobs.


Yes, and the other imbeciles. They are the people who revolt Cocteau. He told me that the people with nothing to do, the idlers, are the most dangerous people in the world; for having nothing better to do with their time, they are always prepared to speak ill about anything, spread wrong impressions, criticize, and falsify.


That's right. But I thought nevertheless that our man Cocteau depended on these same intellectual snobs for a lot of free publicity.


Of course, he does benefit by the support of those people who, dazzled by the brilliance of his works, acclaim them without understanding them.


But who does understand them, then? That's what I'm waiting for you to tell me. I can see you are going to end by telling me that Cocteau's real audience is the popular audience.


No, but the members of that audience have ideas of their own. They want you to tell a story, and to plunge right away into the narrative; they want to identify themselves with the hero and the heroine, and are delighted to see how good-looking they are at such close range, to take part in their journeys and adventures, to share in their love affairs. All this, they do quite simply and honestly.


And what do they think about the ideas in these films of Cocteau?


Since they are concerned only with the form of the picture and not with the content, they don't care about the ideas. They are interested only in what they see. They like to be transported to another land, of the marvelous, the supernatural, fairy tales. That's all they look for in the sumptuous and facile productions of American westerns and musicals. They're not at all interested in quality and technique.


Then our poet Cocteau is the poet of the crowd.


I don't mean that. But from the crowd he gets the most favorable reactions, those which he wants the most. The studio sceneshifters disappoint him less than the critics. And then we have the facts …


What facts?


The facts of his success. You seem to forget that Cocteau has succeeded—and this is something without precedent—in reconciling artistic success with commercial success. This has amazed even his producers. You can see for yourself the general success that L'eternel retour and Orphée have had. They have been playing for long runs even in neighborhood theaters.


Yes, because of the infatuation of working girls.


I believe rather because he pleases the young. That puts things in their proper place. And then perhaps Cocteau appreciates more the active interest of the working girl than that of the girls from a Catholic psychoanalytic center who persisted in seeing a phallic symbol in the smokestack of a factory in Sang d'un Poète.


You can't be serious.


I certainly am.


Didn't this also fool the young people who support him?


That's not very probable. For Cocteau has never stopped being young himself. His secret? He belongs to no school (schools can become hard and dry up) but rather to a movement. From one movement to another, he goes beyond the avant-garde and always comes out in front of these movements with something completely new and different. He never sits idle.


And what about the place his films have in all that you've said?


They have their place. Many young people who are interested and stimulated by them turn to Cocteau.


What is his opinion of these young people?


He thinks that our modern cities are stifling them, preventing them from working and from expressing themselves.


Is he ever severe with them?


No. He only reproaches them for letting themselves be led astray by passing fashions, for making decisions without consulting any authority, for remaining obstinate in their opinions, and for not working.


How are they supposed to work?


It's true that the doors of the jungle that is the movie business are closed to them. And also, they would rather hope to get a few million from some Aga Khan than to have to work.


So Cocteau is not optimistic about them.


No, that's not it. He thinks rather that those of them who have anything to say will say it in the end.




And then he knows quite well that among these young people he has a chance of not remaining unknown.


Unknown! You must be joking!


No. Already too often photographed and interviewed and too much adapted to the public's idea of him, he no longer resembles himself.


That's because of the legend which surrounds all artists.


Why are you smiling? Do you think that the idea of a legend is the same thing as the legend itself?




You're wrong. The poet himself has probably helped to contribute to the false picture which surrounds him. But only in order to protect himself. What you know is only an effigy, a Cocteau of straw which you think is the real Cocteau. The other Cocteau, the true Cocteau, remains intact.


Is that why he attacks this day and age so freely?


He has not himself been spared insults.


Why not?


Probably because he is a man who has chosen to remain free and has not allowed himself to become occupied with any work other than his own. And also because he is of an extreme nobility and refinement— qualities not easily tolerated today.


Do you really think so?


Yes. And what's more, people refuse to believe that these qualities of his can be reconciled with his avant-garde spirit, with his aesthetic originality, and with his love for the beautiful. Clown or serious artist, only you can make the distinction.


Many people also feel uneasy and uncomfortable before his films and his other works.


That's another matter. He always goes too far. Rare are the people who like anyone who goes too far. Certain everyday realities are just not tolerated; even more, certain plays and films are not tolerated. People have their teeth set on edge when they are presented with the shrill, the violent, the virulent. Take Buñuel, for example. People prefer to close their eyes. If they are compelled to look at these films, any injury done to them serves as a cure, an exorcism.


Don't you recognize in that something harmful?


That's just one of the many aspects of poetry and art.


That's true.


Cocteau knows this. Not long ago, he organized with Objectif

49 the "Festival du Film Maudit" in Biarritz where they were to show some of these films, "exorcised" by the exploiters from the big motion-picture theaters, by the jury, and by the regular moviegoing public.


And if the regular moviegoers were to walk out suddenly, who could stop them?


The others.


What? Whom do you mean?


I mean those young people intensely interested in the film as an art; those old people, curious about something new and different; the intellectual snobs; the affected people. I mean all those people who go to the cinema clubs everywhere to see these films which the big theaters never present. Fortunately, those people still exist!


But they are definitely in the minority!


As a matter of fact, you start out making these films for only a handful of friends.


That's admirable!


And, by your leave, you sometimes make them even for yourself. That's the best way to go about it for that is an end in itself. "The more we become advanced in age, the more our work should enrich and reflect us as if they were a child who resembles us."[1]

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