Film at Lincoln Center announces “Never Look Away: Serge Daney’s Radical 1970s,” a series celebrating French film critic Serge Daney (1944–1992) and the films he championed in his book La Rampe, occasioned by its long-awaited English translation by Semiotext(e) under the title Footlights. The series will run from January 26 through February 4, 2024, and will feature a robust selection of works by master filmmakers, with many presented on 35mm or in digital restorations, accompanied by guest introductions.
Tickets to FLC screenings will go on sale on Thursday, December 21 at 2pm, with an early access period for FLC Members starting at noon.
In 1983, Daney released La Rampe, a collection of essays published in the seminal film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma over the course of the 1970s. In compiling some of his essential texts from a turbulent decade—one that saw filmmakers exploring new formal, political, and emotional territory as they wrestled with the comedown from the ebullient revolutionary spirit of the ’60s—Daney created a kind of collective self-portrait of a generation of film lovers who used cinema as a means not only to understand the world, but to change it.
Whether defining the moral distinction between cinema and propaganda through the films of Jean-Luc Godard and Straub-Huillet, reflecting on the legacies of Hollywood outsiders like Nicholas Ray and Samuel Fuller, considering abortion rights and the struggles of immigrant workers as seen in landmark nonfiction films Histoires d’A and Nationality: Immigrant, or leading the way as one of the first French critics to take an active interest in the cinema of sub-Saharan Africa, Daney consistently held films and society to an ethical and intellectual standard that would establish him as the most influential film critic since André Bazin.
To accompany the arrival of La Rampe in English, Film at Lincoln Center is pleased to offer a generous selection of the films that Daney discussed in its pages, presenting the films referenced above alongside classic titles by Jacques Tati, Ousmane Sembène, Akira Kurosawa, and Robert Bresson, epochal works such as Robert Kramer and John Douglas’s Milestones and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, and a rare screening of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s epic Hitler, a Film from Germany, described by Susan Sontag as “a film altogether exceptional in its emotional expressiveness, its great visual beauty, its sincerity, its moral passion, its concern with contemplative values.”
With guest introductions from translator and series co-programmer Nicholas Elliott, French filmmaker-critic Axelle Ropert, and others, this series aims not only to bear witness to the catholic taste and acute intelligence of Daney, a thinker whom Jean-Luc Godard recognized as the last in a long critical tradition started by Denis Diderot, but to bring his thought into the present and ask what it means to those working and thinking in film today.
Organized by Nicholas Elliott and Madeline Whittle.
“Never Look Away: Serge Daney’s Radical 1970s” is sponsored by MUBI, a curated streaming service for handpicked, award-winning films, and Notebook, MUBI’s print magazine devoted to the art and culture of cinema.
Léa Baron (Institut Français – Cinémathèque Afrique), Jon Davies; Stéphane Delorme; Hedi El Kholti and Janique Vigier (Semiotext(e)); Audrey Evrard; Lili Hinstin; Steve Macfarlane, Sam Di Iorio, Adeline Monzier and Anne Takahashi (Unifrance); Shanny Peer; Jake Perlin; Axelle Ropert.
Tickets to FLC screenings will go on sale on Thursday, December 21 at 2pm, with an early access period for FLC Members starting at noon. Tickets are $17; $14 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $12 for FLC Members. See more and save at FLC with a 3+ Film Package ($15 for general public; $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $10 for FLC Members). Add dinner at Café Paradiso, located in FLC’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, with our $30 Dinner + Movie Combo.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All films will screen at the Walter Reade Theater (165 W. 65th St.)
The Big Red One: The Reconstruction
Samuel Fuller, 1980/2004, U.S., 35mm, 163m
English, French, Italian, and German with English subtitles
Named after the First Infantry Division in which Samuel Fuller served in World War II, The Big Red One follows a rifle squad from the Allied attack on North Africa to the invasion of Sicily, and from the D-Day landings to the liberation of a concentration camp, recreating Fuller’s own wartime experience without a shred of the heroics or glorified camaraderie found in most war movies. With this triumphant culmination of a filmmaking career largely devoted to depicting the randomness and cruelty of war, Fuller captures the cold determination and absolute lack of sentimentality required to survive in battle, yet serves up typically potent images in which pulp meets poetry: ants crawl into the eyes of a crucifix overlooking a battlefield, a body hangs upside down from a tree in radiant afternoon sunlight, a soldier dons a helmet decorated with flowers pinned on by a child. As the nameless sergeant leading the rifle squad, Lee Marvin is at his best, allowing a hairline of vulnerability to appear in his stony façade as he wrestles with the difference between killing and murder. Film at Lincoln Center is pleased to present the 2004 “reconstruction” that recreated Fuller’s original cut of the film Daney described as the director’s “magnum opus.”
Friday, February 2 at 3:00pm
Saturday, February 3 at 6:00pm
Ousmane Sembène, 1977, Senegal, 120m
Wolof and Arabic with English subtitles
Ousmane Sembène, the pioneer of feature filmmaking in Senegal, explores the effects of colonialism on his country in this sui generis blend of ritual, folklore, and history. Set across multiple indeterminate time periods, the film traces the conflict that emerges as the Ceddo—the common people—struggle to preserve their way of life against the slave trade and the invading influences of Christianity and Islam, even after the conversion of their own king and the kidnapping of his daughter, princess Dior Yacine. In this politically sophisticated, visually stunning film, the role of the princess is not as a damsel in distress, but as an emblem of the resistance that was at the heart of Sembène’s work. Indeed, like many of his films, Ceddo was banned in its own country, allegedly due to a linguistic disagreement between Sembène and then president Léopold Sédar Senghor over the title: by insisting Ceddo retain double consonants, Sembène refused to follow the newly mandated Wolof standard of spelling. Writing on what he saw as Sembène’s most beautiful film, Serge Daney was sensitive to this question of language: “An account of a putsch, with the intrusion of religion into politics and the passage from one type of power to another, Ceddo is also the story of the loss of a right: the right to speak.” In his description, Ceddo sounds both timeless and terrifyingly contemporary. A Janus Films release.
Restored in 4K in 2023 by Janus Films/The Criterion Collection, from the original 35mm camera negative.
Tuesday, January 30 at 4:00pm
Thursday, February 1 at 6:30pm
Akira Kurosawa, 1975, Japan/Soviet Union, 35mm, 142m
Russian and Chinese with English subtitles
In Akira Kurosawa’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, an unexpected friendship arises between a Russian military geographer and the Nanai hunter he has hired to guide his expedition across the Siberian taiga. After the baffling fiasco of his previous film, Dodes’ka-den, and his subsequent suicide attempt, Kurosawa experienced an artistic rebirth with this Soviet-produced ode to wilderness, replacing the dynamic montage of his earlier films with stately widescreen compositions that capture the Russian Far East in all its forbidding beauty. In celebrated scenes like the expedition’s encounter with an Amur tiger (no CGI here) and the blizzard in which famed geographer Vladimir Arsenyev is saved by the titular hunter, Kurosawa pays tribute to once-indomitable nature on the verge of being encroached upon by the Trans-Siberian Railroad, capturing an endangered way of being that resonates ever more strongly in our era of climate disaster and rampant capitalism.
Sunday, January 28 at 6:15pm
Tuesday, January 30 at 6:30pm
The Devil, Probably
Robert Bresson, 1977, France, 35mm, 95m
French with English subtitles
Having largely focused on literary adaptations from 1951’s Diary of a Country Priest through 1974’s Lancelot du Lac, Robert Bresson turned his attention to the politics of the present with this epochal, searing send-up of post-’68 France. Our protagonist is Charles, a young man adrift who tries out a variety of activities to lend meaning to his life: drugs, psychoanalysis, ecology, radical politics…. With surgical precision (and, contrary to his reputation, a sense of humor), Bresson vividly chronicles how Charles and his similarly listless fellow travelers come to know firsthand the emptiness of modern existence, and the question becomes not so much how to cope but rather how to escape. The Devil, Probably is perhaps Bresson’s most explicitly political film, and among the most chilling cinematic portraits of a historical moment.
Saturday, January 27 at 6:00pm
Sunday, January 28 at 9:15pm
From the Clouds to the Resistance
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1979, Italy/Germany/U.K./France, 104m
Italian with English subtitles
“Resistance is the point of arrival of a story that begins elsewhere, earlier, with the clouds,” wrote Serge Daney of Straub-Huillet’s 1979 gem. “What is this story that spans two millennia, entwines humans and gods, then entwines humans with the most frightening of divinities—history? At what point did we start resisting? And what exactly are we resisting?” This adaptation of two seemingly disparate novels by Cesare Pavese, the towering Italian writer of the mid-20th century, stands as a signal achievement in Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub’s uncompromising body of work. In combining six dialogues from Dialogues with Leucò, a series of conversations between mythological figures about the relationship between gods and mortals, with The Moon and the Bonfires’s story of the “Bastard” who returns from America to his native village in Piedmont to discover it transformed by the war years, Straub-Huillet yield nothing of their career-long political and artistic intransigence, yet surrender to “the sensuality, the taste for narrative, [and] the joy of language” that Daney was thrilled to discover in From the Clouds to the Resistance.
Wednesday, January 31 at 6:00pm
Saturday, February 3 at 3:45pm
Here and Elsewhere
Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville, 1976, France, 52m
French, Arabic, and German with English subtitles
In 1969, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin were commissioned by the Arab League to make a film on the Palestinian struggle for independence, but abandoned the project after laboring for two years over the footage gathered on multiple trips to the Middle East. Upon returning to the material in 1974 with his new collaborator Anne-Marie Miéville, Godard was shocked to learn that he was originally provided politically distorted translations of the words spoken on camera by Palestinian fighters—men who had since died in the Jordanian civil war. Spurred by this realization of the initial film’s shortcomings, Godard and Miéville added their own voices to the footage to produce a fascinating analysis of the production of political images. Yet the supreme irony of Here and Elsewhere is that while it sharply deconstructs its own images—notably when Miéville takes Godard to task for the way he filmed a pro-Palestinian woman—it appears blind to the wider question of its partisanship. It remains an extraordinary example of Godard’s ability to think history through cinema—and, as Serge Daney noted, to pay tribute to the dead.
Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment of a Cinematic Scene”
Jean-Marie Straub, 1972, Germany, 15m
German with English subtitles
Readings from Arnold Schoenberg’s analysis of anti-Semitism and Bertolt Brecht’s description of the inextricable link between fascism and capitalism lead into a montage of archival images set to the music Schoenberg wrote to evoke “threatening danger, fear, catastrophe.”
Wednesday, January 31 at 8:30pm
Sunday, February 4 at 1:00pm
Charles Belmont and Marielle Issartel, 1973, France, 85m
French with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere of Digital Restoration
Charles Belmont and Marielle Issartel’s landmark documentary about the struggle for abortion rights in France opens with a card stating that the women we are about to see—women seeking abortions, campaigning as activists, or living with the consequences of the repressive laws governing reproductive health—are not exceptional. Yet Histoires d’A stands apart from the dogmatic militant cinema of its era precisely because it allows us to see its subjects not as illustrations of a trend, but as individuals with their singular problems and—most importantly—their perspectives. Banned by the French government upon its release in 1973, Histoires d’A became what Serge Daney called an “organization film,” one whose makers and supporters were forced to organize in order to create an illegal distribution network, through which the film was ultimately seen by tens of thousands of viewers. The ban on the film was finally lifted in November 1974, shortly before the opening of the parliamentary debates that would lead to the legalization of abortion in France.
This new restoration was completed with the support of the Centre National du Cinéma and Les Amis de Charles Belmont, under the supervision of Marielle Issartel and Philippe Rousselot.
Friday, January 26 at 8:15pm
Thursday, February 1 at 4:30pm
Hitler, a Film from Germany
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1977, Germany/France/U.K., 35mm, 442m
English, German, French, and Russian with English subtitles
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s rarely screened masterpiece is a peerless work of mourning that explores German collective guilt through a dizzying assemblage of monologue, pastiche, and grandiose theatrical visions. Its great admirer Susan Sontag wrote: “Syberberg assumes importance both for his art (the art of the twentieth century: film) and for his subject (the subject of the twentieth century: Hitler). The assumptions are familiar, crude, plausible. But they hardly prepare us for the scale and virtuosity with which he conjures up the ultimate subjects: hell, paradise lost, the apocalypse, the last days of mankind. Leavening romantic grandiosity with modernist ironies, Syberberg offers a spectacle about spectacle: evoking ‘the big show’ called history in a variety of dramatic modes.” While Serge Daney shared Sontag’s position that Syberberg’s achievement was so important as to dwarf most contemporary film production, his own seminal text about Hitler, a Film from Germany focused on Syberberg’s position as a filmmaker battling a master of propaganda: “As a filmmaker closer to [Walter] Benjamin than to Brecht, he’s going to hold Hitler, that other (bad) filmmaker, accountable. And he defeats him, by turning his own weapons against him, at the end of a titanic seven-hour duel: a film.”
Sunday, February 4 at 3:00pm with one 30-minute and two 5-minute intermissions
Lightning Over Water
Wim Wenders and Nicholas Ray, 1980, Germany/Sweden, 91m
English and German with English subtitles
Wim Wenders launched Lightning Over Water to give his ailing mentor Nicholas Ray, the Hollywood outcast who had attained legendary status with Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger than Life, a last chance at making a movie—not only as a co-director, but as the star and subject of a film made between Ray’s hospitalizations and Wenders’s trips to California to work on a big-budget picture. Lightning Over Water is a scrappy movie, alternating between glorious 35mm shots of a vanished downtown Manhattan and all-too-raw video footage of the skeletal Ray, but it is a tremendously moving one, drawing its power from the sincerity with which it records its makers’ searching spirit: Ray trying in his last months to face himself, Wenders struggling to understand his motivation in initiating this project, and both men striving to find the movie they set out to make together. In the end, Serge Daney writes, “Wenders found his film’s real subject, which is neither Ray’s death nor the film within the film, but the truth of his relationship with Nicholas Ray.” Like several of the greatest Ray films, Lightning Over Water is ultimately a film about a father and a son. A Janus Films release.
4K digital restoration by Wim Wenders Stiftung at BASIS Berlin Postproduktion laboratory, using the original negative, with funding provided by the Film Foundation and Förderprogramm Filmerbe (FFE). Friday, February 2 at 6:30pm
The Lusty Men
Nicholas Ray, 1952, U.S., 35mm, 113m
Early in Wim Wenders and Nicholas Ray’s Lightning Over Water, one sees a long excerpt from The Lusty Men in which Robert Mitchum’s busted rodeo rider Jeff McCloud limps across a desolate landscape to the old shack where he was born. Wenders comments: “It’s more about coming home than anything I’ve seen.” Yet as Ray’s characters know all too well, the search for a home often keeps you on the road; in The Lusty Men, McCloud heads back out on the rodeo circuit with his hot-headed protégé Wes (Arthur Kennedy) and Wes’s loyal wife Laura (Susan Hayward). The unlikely trio set out to win the money for the couple to buy a farm and settle down, but are soon distracted by the thrill of the bronco ride and the growing attraction between McCloud and Laura. Juxtaposing documentary footage of real rodeos with elegiac black-and-white studio photography, The Lusty Men is a poignant record—at once melancholy and exhilarating—of a nomadic life of trailer camps, craps games, post-show benders, and 10 seconds of death-defying glory on the back of a wild bull.
Friday, February 2 at 8:45pm
Robert Kramer and John Douglas, 1975, U.S., 195m
In 1975, John Douglas and Robert Kramer, both former members of revolutionary filmmaking collective The Newsreel, emerged from isolation to take stock of their generation’s hopes and struggles with Milestones, a kaleidoscopic epic that follows dozens of characters both willfully marginal and yearning for community as they reckon with the aftermath of the radical ’60s. In an introduction to the film written shortly before its premiere at the Directors Fortnight in Cannes in 1975, Douglas and Kramer presented their film as “a vision of America in the Seventies and […] a journey into the past and the future. It is a film with many characters. People who are conscious of a heritage founded on the genocide of the Indians and the slavery of the Black Man. A nation of people—trying to correct the errors of the present—the attempted genocide of the Vietnamese people. Milestones is a complex Proustian mosaic of characters and landscape which weave together to form the fabric of the film. There are many scenes in many cities, faces and voices without endings but many beginnings. The film crosses America from the snow-covered mountains of Vermont, to the waterfalls of Utah, to the caves of the Hopi Indians, and the dirt and grime and energy of New York City. Milestones is a film about rebirth, of ideas and faces, of images and sounds.”
Monday, January 29 at 6:30pm
Sidney Sokhona, 1976, France/Mauritania, 85m
French with English subtitles
Sidney Sokhona was a young Mauritanian living in Paris when he embarked on a film project to document a rent strike at the hostel where he and 300 other immigrants were housed in squalid conditions. Born of necessity but in the most modest circumstances, with a borrowed camera and volunteer crew, the film that premiered five years later at the Cannes Film Festival had developed into a politically astute, formally dazzling hybrid of documentary and fiction in which Sokhona himself played the role of a young man clandestinely arriving in Paris in the trunk of a car to be confronted with the dead ends of a crippling bureaucracy, inadequate housing conditions and employment opportunities, overt racism, and the well-meaning but domineering efforts of the progressive Left. Deftly moving between bracingly comedic reenactments, surreal didactic scenes, and documentation of the rent strike in a tone sometimes reminiscent of Sokhona’s friend Med Hondo’s Soleil Ô, Nationality: Immigrant makes a convincing claim to the goal Sokhona would set in a landmark 1978 article for Cahiers du Cinéma: “It is up to us, as African filmmakers who have a place to carve out for ourselves, to make films politically better than anyone else.”
Friday, January 26 at 4:00pm
Thursday, February 1 at 9:00pm
Jean-Luc Godard, 1975, France, 88m
French with English subtitles
Initially pitched to his producers as a remake of Breathless, Godard’s first long-form experiment with video ultimately had only the most tenuous connection to his celebrated debut. Number Two is instead an intimate, at times raw look at a French family of the 1970s, complete with an uncommonly frank depiction of the sexual dynamic within a married couple. While the film abounds with Godardian binaries—man/woman; parent/child; cinema/television; landscape/factory—perhaps the most fruitful dialogue is between the filmmaker himself, shown operating video machines in his studio in Grenoble, and Sandrine, the homemaker who appears on video monitors speaking words largely drawn from Godard’s private conversations with his co-producer and life partner Anne-Marie Miéville. According to Daney’s framing, in Number Two, the Voice is Her and the Eye is Him, and the sound/image tension at the core of Godard’s cinematic project reaches a new complexity.
Friday, January 26 at 6:00pm
Wednesday, January 31 at 4:00pm
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975, Italy/France, 35mm, 117m
Italian, French, and German with English subtitles
Among world cinema’s most infamous works, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film transposes the Marquis de Sade’s seminal 1785 novel about the depravity and perversity of the French ruling class to Italy in 1944, one year before Mussolini’s death and the end of World War II. Divided into four sections (drawing inspiration from The Divine Comedy), Salò chronicles four wealthy brutes—referred to only as the Duke, the Magistrate, the Bishop, and the President—as they abduct a group of prostitutes, teenage boys, and their own daughters for a bacchanal that rapidly becomes a shocking and grotesque experiment with the limits of human cruelty (and pleasure). An indelible, mind-razing work on fascism, violence, and desire, Salò endures as one of film history’s most masterful shots across the bow. According to Daney, Salò was “a film devastating in its innocence, its persistence in not saying anything that can’t be shown right away—no matter how awful,” in which Pasolini demonstrated his idea that the unbridgeable difference between masters and slaves, the dominant and the dominated, the bourgeoisie and the people, lay in their respective relationships to desire.
Saturday, January 27 at 8:15pm
Saturday, February 3 at 9:15pm
Le Théâtre des Matières
Jean-Claude Biette, 1977, France, 81m
French with English subtitles
Though practically unknown in the United States, Jean-Claude Biette is considered by a small coterie of contemporary filmmakers and critics to be the most significant French director of the post-New Wave era. A former assistant to Pasolini, an influential Cahiers du Cinéma critic, and a lifelong friend to Serge Daney, Biette struggled to get his films produced because he was skeptical of screenplays and the bureaucracy of arts funding. Yet his first feature Le Théâtre des Matières is alive in a way that feels neither slapdash nor improvised as it follows the trials and tribulations of a small theater company operating on the margins of the Parisian establishment in the late ’70s. Displaying Biette’s taste for offbeat casting and narrative riddles, his knack for creating mysterious atmospheres in the vein of Jacques Tourneur, and an eye for framing as rigorous as his master Fritz Lang’s, Le Théâtre des Matières joins Marie-Claude Treilhou’s revelatory Simone Barbès, or Virtue and the handful of other films produced by Paul Vecchiali’s Diagonale in forming what writer-director Axelle Ropert has called “a clandestine history of French cinema, and certainly one of its most beautiful.”
Sunday, January 28 at 2:00pm
Jacques Tati, 1971, France/Italy, 96m
English, French, and Dutch with English subtitles
In his last on-screen appearance, Jacques Tati’s beloved alter ego Monsieur Hulot is a car designer trying desperately to get his latest model from the workshop in Paris to a car show in Amsterdam. Mechanical failure and obstinate customs agents await, but the greatest challenge is the gridlock that seems to cover half of Europe. In Trafic, the feeling of loneliness and escape generally associated with the road movie is replaced by the cacophonous collective experience of the traffic jam, which Tati breaks down into the comedic patterns, isolated sounds, and technological quirks that make him such an essential witness to modernity. Serge Daney wrote: “Who today is able to pick up and imitate the most quotidian gestures (a waiter serving a beverage, a cop moving traffic), and at the same time incorporate these gestures in a construction as abstract as a Mondrian canvas? Tati, obviously, the last of the theorist-mimes.”
Sunday, January 28 at 4:00pm
Saturday, February 3 at 1:30pm