Thursday, August 8, 2013

Robert Bresson, stills - A Condemned Man Escapes, Mouchette, The Devil Probably

The first time I saw Robert Bresson's The Devil Probably was circa 1983, in a private screening at the Bleecker Street Cinema, where I worked. The Bleecker at that time was leased from Sid Geffen for a year by John Pierson, & John was considering a theatrical run of the film which had been at the NY Film Festival in 1977, which did not occur. I cannot remember if it was meant to "piggyback" as it were on the release of L'Argent, although that seems like it would have been part of the programming logic.

I will try not to put words in the mouths of John Pierson, or others present, but I recall that the utter dourness of the film, its constant focus on imminent ecological disaster in the world, coupled with the relative age of the film, six years or so after its making - the young people at that time appeared from an earlier decade, a hippie culture in total eclipse in a New York City hell-bent on gentrification and what was then called Reaganomics.

The one comment I recall is John Pierson saying to me in his glib, alpha-male way, "you want to see this don't you? you're a Bresson-person aren't you?" I hadn't thought about it until then but since then I have taken it as a truism. If I were forced to say something like this. (Mercifully I have not.)

The Bleecker was a strange but ultimately amazing place to work. John Pierson's year-long lease was a bit of stability in an otherwise mercurial if not absurdist organization. The Bleecker qualified as a "bad-first-job-for-your-media-of-choice" for young people, in this case those interested in film, the same way that the Strand Bookstore did for one-time English Majors. I was at the Bleecker 2 years, & in the first year, working for Sid Geffen there were something like 25 managers in the place. Days before John Pierson took over the Bleecker, I had been told by the then-manager, "Sid doesn't want you to think you're fired, but we're going to have to cut your hours to Zero." So it went. I was very young then and fairly pragmatic. In its favor I would say that except for a few (such as the manager who told me I wasn't being fired) there was a total lack of Fordist principles on site: One didn't have to pretend one was one's job. Given that the owner was a bit of nut, he was irrational, cruel, senseless, the place nevertheless functioned & functioned well (of course ultimately that benefited the owner) as a collective anarchy of sorts. The world of movie-going itself has changed so much. It was how you saw movies then & also how you saw others. I recall seeing Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh going to movies there, during the year they were tied together, & locals such as Kathy Acker, Sylvere Lotringer. One of my co-workers was friends with the musician Evan Lurie, another frequent visitor. Not to mention some spectacularly difficult characters - it was a space you could enter & use both the bathrooms & a payphone without buying a ticket so the theater had multiple roles to play, physically. New York City had taken long-term mental patients out of hospitals a few years before, many of whom ended up on the nearby streets, and the then easy access of Washington Square & its public restrooms. But that sort of porousness of spaces no longer exists in New York City.

fun fact: the band the Bush Tetras worked at the Bleecker just before my time there. Supposedly their song "Too Many Creeps" refers to working there.

All that seems like such a long ago world now, whereas the portent of the newscasts in The Devil Probably, the dead forests, the polluted water & air, are now with us constantly, we live day-to-day now in the caprices of ecological disaster.

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