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Rina Sherman


The Art and the Manner of the Portrait

A major strand of my work over the years has become portraits, as seen in two collections, VOICES and Witnesses of our Times

The Voices portraits are often feature length films composed of four or five close up shots, the Witnesses of Our Times are longer, extensive projects on which I often work for many years, e. g. filming with Michou for 3 years in Montmartre, or Swimming the Blues, a film and breviary that will be released in the fall of this year for the centenary of Jean Rouch's birth (2017_2018), or filming as I have for the past three years with Claude Mollard to retrace his intervention in many of the major cultural projects in France over the past fifty years.

In most of these cases, I film alone a person of which I know a great deal, little or nothing. At times I have the opportunity to prepare, other times, not. 'Prepared' or not, at some point prior to filming, sometimes a day before, sometimes a few minutes before, I stop thinking about it in any way. And when I start filming, I go blank. I may keep a Bristol card with key words nearby, but essentially, once I film, for me, it is a work of feeling, of ebb and flow of 'vases communicants'.

The way in which and when one keeps quiet is often the best way to allow the filmed person to fill that sensitive space and best decide how and what they want to share. Another key is to ask 'synthesis questions' if you were to ask questions at all (which I try to avoid, preferring queues), that is, questions that avoid lengthy anecdotes but rather provide concise answers.

To provide but one recent example, last week I filmed Michel Zink, a specialist of medieval poetry, and I asked him something to the effect of 'how would you describe the evolution of the human being from the end of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the the Renaissance?' He mumbled bravo, swallowed a breath of air and went on to provide a brilliant ethnographic summary of a period of history that stretches over several centuries. In essence, for me, it is a work of improvisation and feeling, being able to think on your feet. But improvisation is not improvised.

You have to be at the ready, physically in great shape, mentally clear minded and psychically open to all eventualities; a state that takes years to achieve, if ever... a fascinating process.

My portrait work is in an oblong manner an outcome of many conversations with Jean Rouch about the use of commentary and music. Rouch was critical of 'talking heads' style filmmaking in which a long interview would be sausaged up and gaps filled with real life vignettes, more or less staged. Which is what makes up a great deal of documentary filmmaking of today as dictated by TV editors. He was also critical of furnishing the filmic space with music whenever the talking heads became quiet. I kept saying to him, it may be true that the talking heads we inherited from radio and then tv is not a procedure that best uses what the film medium can offer, but it can also be said that there is little more photogenic than the human face in close up talking. Hence the Voices collection of portraits.

But when I started working on a portrait of Claude Mollard, who has been Jack Lang's right hand man for decades and who has been influential or implemented all the major cultural projects for the past fifty years - a living memory-, such as Christo's wrapping of the Pont Neuf, Centre Georges Pompidou, Colonnes de Buren in the Palais Royal... I told him that talking about cultural engineering is not photogenic, we have to show it 'en train de faire' (busy doing, developing, constructing) for the projects that are happening, such as the Jardins d'orient (IMA, 2016) or the Memorial de Jeanne d'arc (Rouen, 2014), and revisit with past actors projects of the past. Hence we filmed with Claude Mollard and Jean-Hubert Martin who did some of the first hangings at the Centre Pompidou, or with Daniel Kahane, architect responsible for national buildings in the attic of the pavillon Marsan at the Musée d'art décoratifs, or again with Renzo Rossellini at the exhibition at La ferme du buisson during the exhibition around Roberto Rossellini's film of the beginning of the Centre Pompidou. It is certainly more tricky to film more than one person talking and moving without knowing what they are going to say or where they will be moving, but the result is just so much more lively. So from these considerations, grew, on the one hand wanting to explore the mise en scène of speech and the human face, and on the other hand, to devise methods of filming that moves away from the interview talking heads method.

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"Life is unfair" is not a fatality

The Anthropology-Matters forum mailing list on behalf of Rina Sherman

Sunday, April 16, 2017 5:37 AM

To: ANTHROPOLOGY-MATTERS

Subject: Re: AAA conference fees (American Anthropological Association)

Hi,
There are several ways of looking at and dealing with the *entre nous* mentality of the "haves" holding on for what it is still worth by any means to what they consider to be the right way.

One would be to work pro-actively albeit belatedly towards making it possible for the largest number possible (fees, travel & hotel) to attend this and other similar conferences, independent of international status or not and independent of origin, tenure, etc. but rather on the basis of the desire to learn, share and contribute.

Another would be to let them get on with their *huis clos* and create alternatives, that is, to stop wanting to play in their yard and create other avenues for sharing and expressing. Create a narrative worthy of audience. Soon they'll be knocking on your door!

Admittedly, neither are entirely satisfactory, but in many areas of life, the second option has been underway for decades, and eventually, the main court will stop being so much of a draw, unless the general attitude becomes more inclusive and unless a preparedness to accept a shift of paradigm is developed at greater speed than the present.

In more general terms, it is urgent to establish a post-racial post-sexist post-homophobic post-economic discrimination society, for yes, it comes into play in the topic of this discussion. "Life is unfair" is not a fatality. Society can be about ongoing checks and balances rather than holding on to what no longer works entirely.

Rina Sherman

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You have to reflect the times... Nina Simone

That is why, I went from being a member of Possession Arts in South Africa, to being an actress at Dhlomo Theatre, and from there into exile; it was my stand toward what was happening in South Africa, that is, one of the greatest and longest running crimes against humanity, in which most, if not all Western countries, had at least in part, a hand. Then again, life called on me to stand up, when Didier Contant fell mysteriously from a building in Paris in 2004, before he could publish his next article about the death of the Tibherine monks, to undertake action in justice and bring those to court who had partaken in the viscous slander campaigns that lead to his fall. Today, again, it is time to reflect the times, in the face of global military violence against civilians, of which children, rampant racism against people risking their lives in rubber boats, to survive, and the all-round cynicism and corruption of politicians, I say, Do Not Vote, Massively, do not vote. Rina Sherman

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Alexandre Astruc (July 13, 1923 - May 19, 2016)


THE BIRTH OF A NEW AVANT-GARDE: LA CAMERA-STYLO
by Alexandre Astruc

originally printed in 'L'Écran française' 30 March 1948 as "Du Stylo à la caméra et de la caméra au stylo"

La 'caméra-stylo', idée d'Alexandre Astruc, qui a inspiré une génération de cinéastes, de Jean Rouch à Michel Brault, tous ceux qui ont cherché à écrire leur cinéma à partir de la réalité.

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Bon vent Siné !

sine

Cher Siné,

Pour les aventures de cinéma, pour mon film, Mesdames Messieurs les locataires, tu étais partant. Nous nous sommes rencontrés à Noisy-le-Sec en 1994, où j'avais passé neuf mois à faire de la recherche pour ce film sur la vie en ville.

Nous avons ensuite passé des journées inoubliables ensemble, avec Gilbert Artman d'Urban Sax, chez toi et dans un troquet, des journées bien arrosées à la mescaline à un tel point que jj'avais peur de perdre le point sur l'Eclair Coutant que m'avait prêtée Ody Roos.

Puis, tu es venu, avec Jean Rouch, Germaine Dieterlen et Françoise Foucault, et bien d'autres amis, pour le faux mariage d'un vrai couple mixte, dans la salle des mariages chanter Le Gris, et, ensuite à l'église, écouter le chant de Thierry Dubost improvisant en haut contre une version de ma musique, "Un air de Paris".

Avec un dessin érotique de ta main, accroché au-dessus de ta tête, tu nous as raconté comment ils ont jeté des Algériens dans la Seine, le 17 octobre 1961, un petit sourire en coin. Tu nous racaontais comment tu revenais à Noisy-le-Sec, en scooter, de Paris, le soir des jazz clubs ; tu disais, il fallait que ça roule pour tenir l'équilibre, et les feux rouges ?

Merci et bon vent Siné !

Paris, le 5 mai 2016

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Composer sur le vif le réel

consiste à filmer des images en y intégrant des notions de montage au moment même de leur réalisation.

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Louis Armstrong & Mahalia Jackson
Just A Closer Walk With Thee

Recorded Live: 7/10/1970 - Newport Jazz Festival - Newport, RI

I first saw this film at the séance du samedi matin of Jean Rouch at the French cinémathèque, an unforgettably moving experience, that had a lasting influence on me and the way I filmed, especially when filming many years later on stage for three cnsecutive nights the South African musicians at La Villette Afrique du Sud Musiques de liberté. I also remember a conversation with Ricky Leacock over dinner with Jean Rouch on the rue de Grenelle about filming Monterey Pop, a film by D.A. Pennebaker, saying something to the effect of he stopped filming concerts because he became tired of filming up peoples' noses, that image has remained with me ever since. How learning happens. It is all about transmission, "petit à petit".

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Cuttings - Coupures

"The Art and the Manner of the Portrait
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"Life is unfair" is not a fatality
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You have to reflect the times... Nina Simone ______________________________

La Caméra-Stylo - Alexandre astruc
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Bon vent Siné ! - Le 5 mai 2016
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Composer sur le vif le réel
______________________________

Louis Armstrong & Mahalia Jackson
Just A Closer Walk With Thee

Recorded Live: 7/10/1970 - Newport Jazz Festival
______________________________

 

  
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