“Etre témoins de notre moment humain au travers du cinéma, pour suivre le sens de l’histoire définir le sens du cinéma, remonter à ses sources, suivre son evolution pour en mieux définir l’état actuel, où devenu plus qu’un art, il est un moyen d’expression où l’art a sa place: avec << artsept >>, revue du septième art, mais aussi de tous les arts au service du cinema, nous tenterons de définir l’homme d’aujourd’hui par son comportement visible.”
Selected Subject Headings
- Actresses - France
- Cinéma vérité
- Dialogue in motion pictures
- Documentary films - history and criticism
- Documentary films and anthropology
- Film criticism - France
- Erotic films - France
- Essay films
- Ethnographic films
- Experimental films - France
- Filmmakers’ writings
- Humanism - 20th century
- Love in motion pictures
- Motion pictures - aesthetics
- Motion picture plays, French
- Realism in motion pictures
In late 1955, French censors were busy requesting some scenes being cut from Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog, a short documentary film shot on the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and Majdanek. What bothered the censors was the footage of bodies being dumped into mass graves, but importantly, the presence of a photograph that pointed towards Vichy France’s role in the deportations of French citizens to the German death camps.
In 1963, film critic and theorist Raymond Bellour started a short-lived and little-known periodical, Artsept; in each issue the reader was greeted by a manifesto of sorts, which we’ve reproduced above in French. Its first statement, “to be witnesses of our human moment through cinema,” points to the political stance embraced by the periodical, as its first sober cover list the names of several filmmakers, Resnais among them.
We bring history into the foreground as it is this specific context that makes Artsept such a remarkable publication; “witnesses” must have been a loaded word in France in 1963, as the country was busy then welcoming almost a million of pied-noirs, a human exodus taking place after Algeria regained independence in 1962; Godard’s Le petit soldat (1960) had been banned, and again, Resnais released Muriel ou le temps d’un retuour in 1963, cryptically alluding to the psychic ravages of torture and war; incidentally, the Algerian war.
Firmly grounded in French’s cinema history and theory, Artsept was a modest and valiant scholarly effort to reclaim cinema as an art form, but also as a powerful intellectual, political and social medium, a thinking form. It is not by coincidence that the first issue is titled “Un cinéma réel” and that Bellour’s heads his introductory essay with a literary quote from Paul Nizan, a novelist and philosopher, not a filmmaker; and it is not a coincidence that the filmmakers featured in the first issue were those that comprised what’s been designated as the Left Bank group, filmmakers using the filmic medium to weave “essay films,” that most philosophical and perhaps political of cinema’s forms: Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, Jean Cayrol, Armand Gatti, Henri Colpi and Claude Durand.
With a square format and illustrated in black and white, each published issue was dedicated to a theme: the first one to “real cinema,” the second to “cinema and truth” and the third and last one, appropriately, to “love.” Besides extensive articles on specific films, each issue includes a thorough filmography and bibliography of all the filmmakers who are either the object of study or that have contributed their thoughts to the magazine: Dziga Vertov, Joris Ivens, Richard Leacock, Robert Drew, Lindsay Anderson, and Mario Ruspoli are featured in their pages, as well as ‘reports’ from Great Britain and Canada; nonetheless, the main focus is on French filmmakers and criticism: Jacques Rozier, François Truffaut, Pierre Kast, Jean Rouch, Georges Franju, Robert Lapoujade, Georges Sadoul, Roland Barthes, Michel Leiris and countless others. Besides Agnès Varda, women are scantly represented, but in the issue dedicated to “love” and eroticism we can find an interview with Jeanne Moreau and also a curious text on Brigitte Bardot: “Je vous invite à l’indécence.”
It appears that the magazine ceased due to lack of funding, but despite its short life it continues to be an extraordinary document; not only by how prescient the editors were in discerning the filmmakers that would shape the forms that cinema could take to articulate thought and repressed histories, but also as a fresh snapshot of an intellectual milieu that would in future years affect how we currently think of European cinema.
Bellour would later on become an influential film theorist, and his ideas would travel to the United States via his translated writings and his visiting professorships; he was a decisive influence in the early Camera Obscura, and his role as an editor continues with another journal about cinema, Trafic; in a recent collection of his writings Bellour sets out to describe what he has described as “between-the-images,” or “the slow but inexorable change in moving images […]: between stillness and movement, inside the photographic analogy, and between language and image.”
Artsept was published in a time in which one could state: “For cinema is not only the moving image; it presupposes a particular dispositif determined by a social framework inside of which its images develop in the dark, in silence, and in time, according to a process of unequivocal attention and specific memory.”
We live under very different dispositifs right now, a radically new visual regime. In Resnais’ film though, Muriel is the name of a girl who had been tortured in Algeria during the war. This and many other memories are kept alive for us in between Artsept’s pages and the moving images it aimed to preserve.
To peruse the indexed contents of Artsept, please log into the database.
Artsept (Lyon), no. 1 (January-March 1963): 4. The text is also published in no. 2 (April-June 1963): 1, and in no. 3 (October-December 1963): 1.
For concrete numbers of deported French Jews, please consult Wikipedia.
Marc Kravetz. “Je vous invite à l’indécence.” Artsept (Lyon), no. 3 (October-December 1963) : 109-118.
The indexed contents of Traffic can be found in ccindex's database. Infoweb record forthcoming.
Raymond Bellour. Between-the-images. Zurich: JRP Ringier; Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2013.
Ibid., p. 11.