Avant-garde Films Looking Back

'AVANT-GARDE' made its appearance more or less at the same time all over the world, but perhaps the most definite, systematic and long-lived movement developed in Paris.

Nothing, at one time, irritated me more than avant-garde films. Most of the younger and more enterprising minds in the French cinema were in revolt against what had so quickly become a fashion, a box of tricks, a set of easily copied mannerisms. Satiety spoiled our pleasure when, as we might have foreseen, innumerable followers vulgarized the discoveries given us by the all too few inventors. The taunts of men like René Clair, Luis Buñuel or Robert Desnos were not of course flung at what was new and original, but at the catchpenny use that debased it. Tmorrow's vanguard was pitted against the rearguard of yesterday.

No film is good for the sole reason that it introduces something new, and if genius is usually accompanied by daring, daring alone is no guarantee of genius.

One of the discoveries, or rediscoveries, of the post-war generation had been the absurd. The wonder of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the fantastic of the Romantics, assumed in the first quarter of " 20th century the colours of the absurd. People who were easily pleased, particularly with the ideas of others, indulged in absurdity that was completely gratuitous, refusing to recognize that even the absurd has its own ineluctable logic whose laws may not be ignored or broken with impunity. Those of the rising generation who had felt the influence of Lafcadio's 'gratuitous act', who had absorbed Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Valéry, Gide, Jarry, Apollinaire, Picasso and Dada, now discovered surrealism and psychoanalysis. They learned with Freud to distinguish the determining factors in the absurd, and above all a relativity of the absurd, without which the very word is meaningless. This discovery of the absurd was significant only if it was extended by other discoveries, its glorification had no value but to denounce a lap already run by human reason, beyond which the absurd would be able to take its place in a broader rationality. In this adventure the duller wits floundered about in the most exasperating fashion, nowhere more than in the cinema, where so few brilliant men would risk themselves.

The lapse of time allows us to discriminate better today, yesterday's passions having cooled to make room for others. Now we are able to see that even bad avant-garde films did not entirely deserve the oblivion that has swallowed them up. They must be mentioned if only because they shared in the tendencies of the good ones, because in their failure they show us what they might have been and reveal the quality of the best.

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