16 / 11 / 02 – 15 / 12 / 02
Exhibition / Films / Talks / Performance
Noël Burch BiographyInterview with Noël Burch, May 2002
What do those Old Films Mean?
Rome is burning (Portrait of Shirley Clarke)
Noël Burch was born in San Francisco in 1932 and has lived in France since 1951. In the fifties, he worked as assistant director to Preston Sturges and Michel Fano. Since the sixties, he has been a essayist, director and teacher, and. Among other things, he was co-founder, co-director and teacher at the Institut de Formation Cinématographique (with J.-A. Fieschi et D. Mancier) between 1967-1971.
Between 1972 to 1981, he was teaching practical and theoretical courses at the Royal College of Arts and Slade School, London; at the Institut des Arts de Diffusion, Bruxelles; at the Programme in France of the University of California in Paris; at New York University Department of Cinema Studies; and at the Ohio State University, Department of Photography and Cinema.
Between 1982 and 2000, he was teaching at Paris III and Paris VIII as a Visiting Associate Professor, at the University of California (Santa Barbara, UCLA); from 1993 to 2000 as Professor in Lille III, and until today at the Center for Critical Studies.
Among his numerious published works are, Theory of Film Practice (New York: Praeger,1973), a monograph on Marcel L'Herbier (Paris: Seghers,1973); To the Distant Observer (Berkely: 1979), in which Burch confronts the major modes of discourse of Japanese culture with the stylistic development of Japanese cinema, and contrasts the resulting modes of representation with those of the West. He identifies essential differences between Japanese and Western modes of representation through a Marxist approach. La Lucarne de l'infini (Paris: Nathan,1991; English title: Life to Those Shadows presents a critique of "classical" approaches to film: the assumptions that what we call the language of film was a natural, organic development. Opposed to that view, Burch's major thesis is that film language has a social and economic history, and that it evolved in the way it did because of when and where it was constructed in the capitalist and imperialist West between 1892 and 1929. From this perspective, the book examines the emergence of what it defines as cinema's ”Institutional Mode of Representation” and the socio-historical circumstances in which it took place. His most recent publication to date is the book La drole de guerre des sexes du cinema français: 1930-1956, (with Geneviève Sellier; Paris: Nathan,1996;), which deals with the subject of the evolution of the representation of gender relations in the French cinema from the inter-war years to the fifties with a special focus on films of the Occupation.
As a director, Noël Burch has made numerous reportages and documentaries, including Voyage sentimental, (Sentimental Journey, USA 1993-94) in which Burch revisits, in America, the leftists who have been close to him, and Aller-simple (One Way Ticket,1992-93, co-directed with Nadine Fischer and Nelson Scartuccini), a documentary using hitherto unavailable silent footage to tell the history of European emigration to Argentina and Uruguay.
In Correction, Please or How We Got into Pictures (GB 1979), variations on a scene from a Dorothy Sayers story constitute a reflection on the history of film language. The film retraces the ermergence of classical film language in the period 1906-1930, raising a number of theoretical questions concerning the "dominant” system of representation, in four versions of a fantasy borrowed from an old British thriller, interspersed with key scenes from the "primitive" era of English, French and North American film production.
The Year of the Bodyguard (GB/Germany 1981) deals with the subject of suffragettes in 1912 training under the first English female jiu-jitsu expert to fight the police and protect their leaders. The Impersonation or A Propos the Disappearance of Reginald Pepper (co-directed with Christopher Mason, GB/Germany 1983) tells the story of a woman painter who becomes successful only when she masquerades as a male "primitive", and is told as an unfinished art-school film.
Noël Burch: FilmographyThree 16mm shorts :
Et sur cette pierre (1963) London and New York Film Festivals
Noviciat (1965) 2nd Prize ex aequo Festival d'Evian, and Festivals of London, Knokke le Zoute, Hyères, and Amsterdam ("Wet Dreams")
Tout est écrit (1970) co-directed with Jean-André Fieschi at the Institut de Formation Cinématographique.
7 feature-length portraits in series Cinéastes de notre temps (co-directed with André-S. Labarthe or Jean-André Fieschi): Samuel Fuller, Josef von Sternberg, French cinema of the 1920s, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Shirley Clarke (1966-71)
Correction please or How We Got into Pictures (52', Arts Council of Great Britain, 1979) Variations on a scene from a Dorothy Sayers story constitute a reflection on the history of film language. Festivals of Edinburgh, London, Melbourne, Berlin, Cannes, Montreal and Athens (Ohio)
The Year of the Bodyguard (54', Channel 4, ZDF, 1981). How the suffragettes in 1912 trained under the first English female jiu-jitsu expert to fight the police and protect their leaders.
The Impersonation or A Propos the Disappearance of Reginald Pepper (co-ditected with Christopher Mason : 56' Arts Council, ZDF, Channel 4, 1983) The story of a woman painter who became successful only when she masqueraded as a male "primitive" is told as an unfinished art-school film. (First prize for the best experimental film, Festival of Melbourne, 1984)
Not Distant Observer conversations with 5 Hungarian directors of the "Budapest School" (40' Channel 4, 1985)
What do those old films mean (1985-1986, Pi Productions (Hubert Niogret) for Channel 4 /FR3) Six 26' programs on various aspects of the social history of the silent cinema in six countries : Britain, U.S., Denmark, France, U.S.S.R., Germany.
One Way Ticket (1992-93): Feature-length programme using hitherto unavailable silent footage to tell the history of European emigration to Argentina and Uruguay. (co-directed with Nadine Fischer and Nelson Scartuccini) for JBA Productions, INA, la SEPT and Channel 4.
Sentimental Journey — Refusniks, USA (1993-94) Feature-length program, in which the director revisits, in America, the leftists who have been close to him. Produced by JBA for ZDF, Channel 4 and Arte.
Red Hollywood (1995) — Unreleased 2-hour video on the film-work of the Hollywood Communists (1932-1954) (co-dir. with Thom Andersen).
1997 - 1998 Collaboration with Michèle Larue on the documentary Cuba entre chien et louve ("Machos and matriarchs") (Planète), the short fiction video, Trio (G.R.E.C.) and a short documentary : S-M Art.BOOKS
Praxis du cinéma, Gallimard 1969. Translated into : English, Serbo-croate, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian (re-issued 2000), Persian, Korean, Romanian and Czech, re-issued USA (1981) and France (Collection Folio, 1982)
Marcel L'Herbier, Seghers 1973
To the Distant Observer, Form and meaning in the Japanese cinema: Scolar Press, London and University of California Press, 1979 (French translation : Pour un observer l'ontain, Gallimard 1982; Dutch translation, 1984)
La Lucarne de l'infini (Editions Nathan, 1991) Spanish translation : El Tragaluz del infinitud (Ediciones Catedra, Madrid, 1987) English translation : Life to those shadows (University of California Press, Berkeley, BFI Londres, 1990) Also Italian translation. PRIX JEAN MITRY 1992 (best film history book of the year).
In and Out of Synch - The Awakening of a Cine-Dreamer (collection of unpublished articles) (Scolar Press, Aldershot, 1991) Spanish translation (choice of articles slightly different): Itinerarios (Festival de Bilbao, 1986)
Revoir Hollywood (collection of translations from American and English scholars on various aspects of classical Hollywood) Nathan, 1993.
Les communistes d'Hollywood Autre chose que des martyrs (with THOM ANDERSEN). Three essays dealing with the literature on the Blacklisting, on the films made by the blacklistees and on their gender politics (NB). Editions de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1994.
La drôle de guerre des sexes du çinéma français: 1930-1956, with Geneviève Sellier - Evolution of the representation of gender relations in the French cinema from the inter-war years to the fifties and especially the films of the Occupation. Nathan, 1996 Prix du syndicat de la critique cinématographique.
De la beauté des latrines - Pour une poétique matérialiste du cinéma populaire (Work in progress)