by Rob Stone — University of Birmingham, UK
July 29, 2015 – 21:06
The possibility of a dialogue between European and American cinema that encompasses influences and their legacy as well as homage, intertextuality and subversion opens up a potent line of enquiry. Tracking the influence of the French New Wave of the early ‘60s on the so-called New Hollywood or American New Wave of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, of this on the rise of the American indie films of the ‘90s and of these on low-budget contemporary European cinema reveals a specific recurring shot or sequence in common. This is the seemingly loose, drifting, often single-take mid-shot of a couple engaged in banter as they walk together, teasing and probing, attempting to impress each other and enjoying a burgeoning sense of mutual attraction and increasingly simmering sensuality, which, as Tag illustrates, features in À bout de souffle (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960), Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), Before Sunrise (1985) and Stockholm (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, 2013).
My research into flânerie on film had previously resulted in several articles on films such as En la ciudad de Sylvia (José Luis Guerin, 2007) and Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991) and provides a guideline through my monograph on the cinema of Linklater [see endnote 1]. An interest in film-flânerie also informs my short film Between Sunrise and Sunless (2013), which searches contemporary Vienna for the locations where Before Sunrise was shot, juxtaposing these with scenes from the film and enquiring, via a narration that pays homage to the peripatetic Sans soleil (Chris Marker, 1983), whether what is sought are real places or unreal times.
The prime objective with Tag was to link, compare and contrast this recurring motif of the long take or minimally edited sequence that depicts the dérive or drift of a couple whose seemingly aimless stroll is juxtaposed with the subtle yet persistently seductive gambit of their dialogue. Evidence of direct influence and explicit reference was sought initially, but instead of laying these shots or sequences side by side, a more complex game of tag emerged. Tag is a playground game that involves players passing on the task of being ‘it’ to other players by touching them. The player who is touched then remains ‘it’ until he or she can touch another player, who then becomes ‘it’. This metaphor thus lent itself to the notion of a zeitgeist or ‘spirit of the age’, which passes from one film movement to the next in a transatlantic, pan-generational palimpsest of a couple walking and talking.
As described by Mark Harris in Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (2008) and suggested by Tag, the free-wheeling, digressive charm of the French New Wave and À bout de souffle directly inspired Arthur Newman and Robert Benton to write Bonnie and Clyde in the hope that first Truffaut and then Godard would direct it, until Leslie Caron got hold of the script and passed it to Warren Beatty, who persuaded Arthur Penn to helm it instead. The introductions of the characters played by Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in À bout de souffle and by Beatty and Faye Dunaway are remarkably similar in their rejection of conventional or classic film grammar. Instead of the shot-reverse shot of a dialogue grounded in a mid-shot and then composed of close-ups, the camera drifts backwards in front of them, forwards behind them or ambles alongside, allowing their putative flânerie to divert attention from such things as narrative or spectacle. The legacy of New Hollywood and its ‘incoherent narrative’, which was begun by Bonnie and Clyde, is evident in the rise of the American indies in the ‘90s, in which flânerie fuses with slacking to provide a rich, evocative sense of drifting while dialoguing as a riposte to fast-track Reaganomics [see endnote 2]. The inevitable romanticisation of this practice is depicted in Before Sunrise, in which, as usual, boy meets girl, they walk and talk, and the film became a template for many low-budget indies as well as a model for several Mumblecore films before this apparently simple ruse went on to inspire similarly low-budget attempts at connecting with a young audience in contemporary European cinema, of which the crowd-funded Stockholm is a prime example.
Instead of simple juxtaposition of length of shot or camera angle, therefore, Tag is an attempt to summarise fifty years of impure and intertextual film history as well as to suggest its continuation. The overlaps between the excerpts are intended to suggest the ‘touching’ of the players in this long-standing game of tag, while the dialogue within and between the clips creates evocative and amusing connections. ‘Wait there!’ exclaims an eager Dunaway before the clip from À bout de souffle can conclude, while Dunaway again, exclaiming “my, my, the things that turn up in the street these days…”, provides the perfect cue for Delpy and Hawke to enter left. Thereafter, Delpy’s admission that her grandmother “spent her whole life dreaming about another man that she was always in love with” seemingly prompts Garrido to ask “who was he?” and Pereira to answer “a drunk guy”. That Tag concludes deliberately with Pereira admitting to Garrido that he just wants to keep talking to her opens the game up to future players.
Tag shows that the recurring motif of the classic unbroken shot or minimally edited sequence gets longer with each new movement or generation. It also reveals how each of these shots or sequences ends on a shot of the female, which suggests, perhaps, some residual, even retrograde objectification of her ‘supporting’ role in the dialogue and drift. Thus, in order to counter this, each excerpt ends on a freeze-frame of the final image that seeks to maintain the female subjectivity that is otherwise to some extent dismissed. Indeed, the split screen design allows for the look to pass between these females in an accumulating zig-zag as successive shots overlap and play out in which Seberg, Dunaway, Delpy and Garrido tag each other and take their turn as the ‘it’ girl.
[i] See Stone, R. and Cooke, P. (2013) ‘Transatlantic Drift: Hobos, Slackers, Flâneurs, Idiots and Edukators’ in Nagib, L. and Jersley, A. (eds), Impure Cinema: Intermedial and Intercultural Approaches to Film. London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 82-101; Stone, R. (2012) ‘En la ciudad de Sylvia and the durée of a dérive’ in Delgado, M. and Fiddian, R. (eds), Spanish Cinema 1973-2010: Auteurism, Politics, Landscape and Memory. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 169-83; Stone, R. (2013) Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater. Columbia University Press.
[ii] See Todd Berliner (2011) Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema. University of Texas Press.