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Wednesday, February 13, 2008


In Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, the gnarled old sea-dog Père Jules fiddles unsuccessfully with a gramophone before spinning the 78 he is trying to play on his finger. Music suddenly wheezes into life. He stops, restarts, and it happens again. The camera pans back to show the cabin boy playing the accordion in time to his 78-spinning, though Père Jules indignantly asks if the boy has never seen someone play a record with his finger before.

It reminded me of the scene in Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou where they visit a cinema and see a woman in the bath on-screen, her leg fetchingly hoisted above the rim. The cinema audience stand up for a better view, then rush the screen. In the fracas the screen is torn down, to reveal, behind it, a woman in the bath.

L’Atalante has also the merit of being one of the most cat-infested of films. If only one of the cats in that still could have been persuaded to sit on a slowly rotating 78, like the rabbit on the stereo in that episode of Father Ted. And how does Père Jules get those kittens to stay on his shoulder as he lurches around the péniche?

Vigo’s father was an anarchist who adopted the surname Almeyreda, an anagram of ‘y a la merde’, ‘there is shit’.

Beckett on the Grand Canal in ‘Enueg I’:

I trundle along rapidly now on my ruined feet
flush with the livid canal;
at Parnell Bridge a dying barge
carrying a cargo of nails and timber
rocks itself softly in the foaming cloister of the lock

{Quotation ends}

L’Atalante puts in at Le Havre, not too far from Tristan Corbière’s Roscoff. From ‘La Fin’:

Ecoutez, écoutez la tourmente qui beugle! …
C’est leur anniversaire – Il revient bien souvent –
Ô poète, gardez pour vous vos chants d’avuegle;
– Eux: le De profundis que leur corne le vent.

… Qu’ils roulent infinis dans les espaces vierges! …
Qu’ils roulent verts et nus,
Sans clous et sans sapin, sans couvercle, sans cierges …
– Laissez-les donc rouler, terriens pavenus!

And in Christopher Pilling’s English:

It’s their birthday again! – Listen; hear the blizzard
Raging, and you’ll feel the strength they go on pitting …
O poet, may your blind man’s songs stick in your gizzard;
– Theirs: the De profundis of the wind’s trumpeting.

… May they roll endlessly in their virgin expanses! …
May they roll raw in their blubber,
With no nails and no coffin, no lid, no candles …
– Let them go on rolling, you upstart landlubbers!

{Quotation ends}

Vigo and Corbière, both dead of TB at 29.

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