dimanche 17 mai 2009

A Note on Filming Cassis

The year was 1966. The month of July. I was visiting Jerome Hill, who had made a film about Schweitzer and, a few years later, made his masterpiece, Film Portrait. Jerome loved France, especially Provence. He loved Provence so much that he decided to buy a little spot in Cassis, which he did. He spent all his summers in Cassis. The spot he had acquired was the most unique spot in Cassis. It was a spot on which stood a little white house in which Napoleon used to stay. Later, much later, Churchill used to come there and paint. But for me, the most exciting piece of information about it was that right behind it, on a little hill, there was another spot: the studio of Seurat. From that spot Seurat watched the light changes on the bay of Cassis, and painted his incredible pointilistic canvases. Jerome’s, that is, Napoleon’s house stood on the shore of the sea. By the way, in Jerome’s house, there were several original beautiful Seurat paintings.

My window overlooked the sea. I sat in my little room, reading or writing, and looked at the sea. The sun was doing wonderful things on the surface of the sea. As the day progressed, and into the evening, and especially in the evening, as I looked at the sea, and the light, I thought I began understanding Seurat: Seurat was a realist painter. I could see from my window the same pointilistic imagery, the same play of light. It was the angle, the special angle, the special spot which Napoleon chose, and which Seurat chose, that made it so. Same as when I visited Cezanne’s studio and home, I began understanding Cezanne: he was also painting what he saw.

I decided to place my Bolex exactly at the same angle of light as Seurat’s, and film the same view, from morning till after sunset. I was curious to know or rather see how the sea was changing, as the day progressed, and if it had any information about what Seurat saw. Not having a tripod, I tied my Bolex with a string on the balcony outside my window, and began clicking, a few frames every few minutes. Very soon the string got loose and my Bolex began moving this way and that way. I thought what the heck, let it move, and I continued my single frame filming all day long and into the night. Jerome was very curious about the results of my obsession.

Later I looked at the film, and I was not sure what it told me about Seurat. But years later, Jean-Jacques Lebel, the French artist, and a good friend, who knew nothing about my intent or reasons, but who knows Cassis very well, told me how amazed he was that the film had caught the light and the colors and the textures of the painters who painted the same or similar views years and years earlier.

A footnote on Jerome’s love for Provence: when Jerome died, in 1972, in his will, he established a Camargo Foundation, operating from his Cassis home, to support exclusive research into the history, culture and language of Provence.

Jonas Mekas , August 19, 1998