The Anarchism of Jean Vigo

Films, when they leave the hands of those who make them, begin
a lil'e of their own. The life of most is extensive (on the cinema circuits)
but short, and their influence is shallow. The life of a few is intensive
(in the specialised cinemas and film societies) but long, and their
influence is deep, and can be seen as successive new generations get an
opportunity to make films. Jean Vigo's Zero de Conduite and
L'Atalanfe, the first banned by the French government after its first
showing in 1933, the second mutilated when it appeared in 1934,
started a new life after the war, and have left traces in every new move-
ment in the post-war cinema. We saw it in the Italian 'neo-realist'
school (liicycte Thieves), in 'free cinema' (Together), in the 'Polish
school' {The Last Day of Summer), and in the French 'new wave' (Les
Quatrc ( cuts Coups).

The revival of Vigo's films together in the same programme at the
National Film Theatre last month, provided an opportunity to look
at (hem in a new light, that of the origins and personal life of the man
who made them. For when we saw them at the Academy Cinema in
the autumn of 1946 it was still said regretfully that "extremely little
is known of his life", but a few years ago the results of the patient
research of a Brazilian critic P. E. Sales Gomes were published,* and
apart from satisfying our curiosity about Vigo, they add considerably
to our understanding of the films, which require from the audience
something more than a passive receptiveness.

♦Jean Vigo by P. E. Sales Gomes (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1957).

We have to begin, not with Vigo, but with his father. Miguel
Almereyda (Eugene Bonaventure de Vigo) was born in the French
Pyrenees in 1883. His father died of tuberculosis at the age of 20, and
he was brought up by his grandparents until he rejoined his mother
and stepfather (Gabriel Aubes, a photographer), whom he knew as
'aunt' and 'uncle', at the age of fifteen. Soon after, he left alone for
Paris and was unemployed and hungny before finding work as a photo-
grapher's assistant. He frequented anarchist circles and found a close
friend in Fernand Despres, and his name was added to the files of
Police Commissioner Fouquet of the Troisieme Brigade. After being
imprisoned for two months for the alleged theft of twenty francs, he
adopted the name Almereyda (an anagram of 'y a (de) la merde"), and
following the discovery of an unexploded 'bomb', a little box of photo-
graphic magnesium, in a public urinal, he was again arrested. The
official chemist declared on 26th June, 1901 that the explosive in the
box was an unknown formula of devastating power, and Almereyda
was sentenced to a year's imprisonment in the Juvenile Prison of La
Petite Rocquette. The greater part of this sentence was served in
silence, semi-darkness and isolation. Almereyda, (writes Sales Gomes)

was never to forget the warders who would pretend to go away so as to
surprise the kids trying to talk to each other, and then hit them with their
enormous bunches of keys which they used as knuckledusters. One of them,
named Comua, would move noiselessly past the open spy-holes in the cell
doors, and bash the youngsters' faces as they appeared.

His imprisonment did not go unnoticed. Laurent Tailhade wrote
an article about him, and Fernand Despres sought the aid of a young
anarchist painter Frances Jourdain, who in turn went to Severine,
widow of the Communard Jules Valles, and together they launched a
campaign for his release but were only successful a month before the
end of the sentence. A few months later Almereyda's name reappeared
in Le Libertaire, at the foot of an anti-militarist manifesto, beside those
of Sebastien Faure, Pierre Monatte, and others. In the spring of 1903
he met a couple, Phillipe Auguste, a sculptor and Emily Clero. Emily,,
who had several children who died in infancy, fell in love with
Almereyda and left Phillipe for him. In June 1904, the Dutch anar-
chist Domela Niewenhuis organised an international anti-militarist
congress at Amsterdam at which Almereyda was one of the French
delegation, and out of this congress came the Association Internationale
Antimilitariste, the French section of which organised a congress at
Sainte-Etienne in the following year.

In the middle of the preparations for it, Jean Vigo was born, on
April 25th, 1905 : the son, wrote Jourdain, "of undernourished parents,
in a dirty little attic full of half-starved cats" (which were a mania of
Almereyda's). They nicknamed the child Nono, after the hero of a
children's story by Jean Grave, and he was carried around as a babv
from meeting to meeting. After the congress, Almereyda and Gustave
Hcrve were tried and imprisoned at Clairvaux for calling on conscripts
to revolt, and when liberated by an amnesty in July 1906, they founded,
with Eugene Merle, the weekly La Guerre Sociale, with socialist, anar-
chist and trade-unionist editors. The paper's constant appeals to
soldiers led to a stream of arrests, and Almereyda was sentenced in
April \ { H)H to two years' imprisonment for his praise of the mutiny at
Narhonne. a further year for an article attacking the Moroccan expedi-
tion, and a few weeks more for his insults to Clemenceau.

Miguel Almereyda remained in prison until August 1909. In spite of his
ill health he immediately threw himself into the campaign in support of
I'lamisco Teiier, the teacher who had been condemned to death in Barcelona,
I or several days La Guerre Sociale became a daily and Almereyda played
a prominent part in the demonstrations which culminated in a cortege of
S00.000 people, led by Jean Jaures.

Nono, meanwhile, was sent to Montpellier, (where Gabriel Aubes
had opened a photographer's shop), and was given a respite from the
hectic life which was ruining his parents' health. Almereyda was im-
prisoned again during the railway strike of 1910, and in the following
year he had his head cut open by a policeman's sabre. Although his
paper had been started with the aim of uniting the left wing in France,
there was a rift, first with the revolutionary syndicalists and then with
the anarchists. Sales Gomes remarks that "as is usual in France, it
slid from the social left to the political left". The rupture between La
Guerre Sociale and most of the anarchists was complete by October
I'M 2. and in December Almereyda joined the Socialist Party, and in
March l c M3, he and Merle left La Guerre Sociale to start a new paper
Le llomwt Rouge, which became a daily a year later.

War broke out. Jaures was assassinated. The socialists, the syndi-
calists and the anarchists were all divided. Among the syndicalists,
Pierre Monatte resigned from the central committee of the CGT in
protest against the allegiance of the leaders to the "Union Sacree" of
national unity, but Gustave Herve, hitherto the most militant of the
ant i- militarists, went to the opposite extreme of bellicose chauvinism,.
Among the anarchists, Jean Grave of the Temps Nouveaux, supported
the war, Sebastien Faure of the Libertaire, opposed it. Le Bonnet
Rouge adopted an equivocal position of "republican defence", and,
according to Sales Gomes, received a secret subsidy from Malvy, the
Minister of the Interior, as well as from a mysterious individual who
made frequent visits to Switzerland to bring back reports on German
a I fairs for the Surete— and was later executed as a German spy. Confi-
dential documents were passed to the Bonnet Rouge for use in press
campaigns for the military policy favoured by Malvy's faction in the
government. Almereyda's style of life became more opulent. His
enemies began to speak of his cars, houses, and mistresses. His anar-
chist friends no longer visited him. Emily and Nono were installed
in a villa at Saint-Cloud, where the boy was sent to school, but he saw
little of his parents. Almereyda's health became worse and he had
frequently to resort to morphine. His articles became short and few,
but the tone of the Bonnet Rouge became more and more pacifist, in
the sense of supporting the various interests, left and right, which sought
a negotiated peace. It published the appeals of Romain Rolland, and
Wilson's demand that the combatants should make known their peace
terms as a prelude to negotiations were received with enthusiasm, as
was the March revolution in Russia. Meanwhile, at the front,

from the end of April to the end of June 1917, the situation became
revolutionary. Officers were shot, red flags raised, the soldiers sang the
Internationale. It was learned at the front that Indo-Chinese soldiers had
been ordered to fire on striking women workers in Paris, and mutineers were
about to march on Paris . . . These facts did not become generally known
until much later.

(They are still not generally known, and according to a book to be
published next year, The French Army Mutinies, 1917, by John Williams,
which describes the events and the massacre of the mutineers by Petain,
there is a "strict official censorship on the whole subject which is still in
force" — 44 years later).

Almereyda was arrested at Saint-Cloud on August 6th. On the
13th August he demanded to see a lawyer on the following day. But
in the morning he was found strangled in his cell. The autopsy showed
that he was already dying of peritonitis. An official statement said
that he died of a haemorrhage, a second statement a week later said he
committed suicide. Examining the extensive literature of the case,
Sales Gomes concludes that there is little doubt that he was murdered
by a common-law prisoner. But on whose orders? Jean Vigo was
always convinced that his father's death was on the orders of Clemenceau
in the course of his campaign against Caillaux and Malvy. The usual
hypothesis was that it was instigated by Caillaux and Malvy because of
the damaging secrets held by the victim. Sales Gomes suggests that a
simpler explanation was the long-standing hatred between Almereyda
and the police, who had been unable to settle their score with him while
he was protected by Malvy, but who now had him, sick and defenceless
in their hands.

In the posthumous execration of Almereyda as a traitor, only one
voice was raised in his defence, that of Gustave Herve. Called as a
witness in the Malvy case, Herve, now a bombastic nationalist, never-
theless denied the accusations levelled at his former comrade.

Jean Vigo was twelve years old. The young pacifist writer Jean
de Saint-Prix (who himself had not long to live) saw him in a cafe,
"pale, sickly and taciturn" and wrote to a friend, "We write articles
about 'Jean Vigo' and the atrocious death of his father, without really
thinking of this poor unhappy child. A lack of imagination". Fernand
Despres took the boy to the house of Gabriel Aubes at Montpellier,
where he began to keep a diary, writing at the time of the Malvy trial,
"J'cd lu la deposition de man Tonton Herve sur mon pauvre petit pere,
elle m'a fait plaisir", and he wrote to thank Gustave Herve. Prudence

made it impossible for M. Aubes to send him to school at Montpellier,
l he lycee at Ninics refused to accept him, so he was sent under the name
of Jean Salles to the lycee at Millau, lodging at the week-end with the
innkeeper, and working in the holidays in the photographer's shop,
though Gabriel Aubes told him that there was more future in the job
of cinema projectionist. In 1922 he went to live with his mother
in Paris, attending the lycee at Chartres under his real name.

Vigo set about gathering information about his father "seeking not
only to demonstrate that Almereyda had not been a traitor, but that
he had never ceased to be a revolutionary", but he only sought out the
friends of his father from the anarchist period before 1911. When
ho read Albert Monniot's book about his father he was not disconcerted,
for since the account given there of Almereyda's life from the period
of Ic I Hurt aire to that of La Guerre Sociale was pure fantasy, he con-
c hided that the rest of the story was also. Vigo became estranged from
his mother because of her refusal to participate in this cult of his
lather's memory.

He left Chartres in 1925 for the Sorbonne, where he read ethics,
sociology and psychology. Depressed and in poor health, and worried
about the question of military service which he was determined to avoid,
he read in the published correspondence of the young philosopher who
had observed his misery in 1917, the letter about himself, and felt that
he, his father and Jean de Saint-Prix were brothers in misfortune. He
made the acquaintance of the Saint-Prix family, confiding in them his
interest in the cinema, and his reflections on a remark of the film
director Jean Epstein that "This photography in depth reveals the angel
that, exists in man, like the butterfly in the chrysalis".

At a sanatorium in Switzerland, where he was sent (thanks to the
same Fernand Despres and Francis Jourdain who had come to the aid
of his lather) he met another patient Elisabeth Lozinska, the daughter
of a Polish manufacturer, who became his wife, Lydou. They settled
a I Nice, where Vigo had been promised a job as assistant cameraman
in the FrancolFilm studios, and they moved into a house called Les
Deux Frires, furnished by an anarchist veteran of the penal settlement
of Devil's Island, Eugene Dieudonne. The job did not last, but Vigo
continued to hang around the studios, until Lydou's father lent them
some money and bought them a cine camera. Vigo planned a documen-
tary film about Nice, which he made with the cameraman Boris Kaufman
who came to live with them at Les Deux Freres. The film they made
A I'ropos de Nice was first shown in Paris in May 1930. The method
of the film, much of which was made with the camera concealed, was
to contrast the life of the rich visitors at the casino with that of the
poor inhabitants of the old city, the well-nourished limbs of the holiday-
makers playing on the beach with the stunted and crippled limbs of the
slum children, the carnival with the cemetery ("a bitter comment",
Dudley Shaw Ashton remarks, "on the unpopularity of funerals in
money-making holiday resorts"). Speaking in Paris on the theme Vers
un Cinema Social, Vigo declared that

In this film, by interpreting the significant facts of the life of a town,
we are spectators of the trial of this particular world. Indeed, by displaying
the atmosphere of Nice and the kind of lives lived down there — and, alas,
elsewhere — the film . . . (illustrates) the last gasps of a society whose neglect
of its responsibilities makes you sick, and drives you towards revolutionary

He started a film society in Nice, Les Amis du Cinema, and in the
following year became a member of the committee of the Federation
Franchise des Cine-Clubs. He was commissioned by Gaumont to make
a short documentary, for a sports series, on a champion swimmer, Jean
Taris: it was made in a swimming-bath with port-holes in the sides,
and the principle interest of the film is in the under- water shots made
through these. After this, Vigo and his friend the Belgian director
Henri Storck sought in vain for work at the studios, and he had to sell
his camera to pay for Lydou's confinement. Their daughter was born
in June 1931, and in the following winter he was asked to submit a
script for another sports film, on the tennis champion Cochet. Sales
Gomes describes the scenario which Vigo and Charles Goldblatt pre-
pared, in which crowds of children invade the tennis court with a variety
of improvised ball games, ending with a satire on the adulation of
sporting heroes.

The subject became simply a point of departure to which Vigo attached
a theme which was close to his heart: respect for a child and its freedom.
He liked sport but suspected all discipline imposed from outside and saw
group gymnastics simply as military training. In his eyes sport consisted
in a harmonious development from children's play, (as in the scenario where
Cochet shows the children how to strike the ball with more economy of
effort and skill), and must be self-selected by the child in complete freedom.
The script was accepted by Gaumont, but at the last minute was
turned down again.

Then in the summer of 1932 he met a businessman and horse-breeder
Jacques-Louis Nounez who was an admirer of Chaplin and Rene Clair,
and wanted to produce middle-length comic and fictionalised document-
ary films. Vigo prepared at his request, a script about the Camargue
which was abandoned, but the next choice was the film which Vigo
wanted to make about school children, which became Zero de Conduite
"nought for conduct." The film was made, working against time
over the Christmas holiday in a Gaumont studio hired for a fortnight
and the exterior shots were done at the school at Saint-Cloud which
Vigo had attended. As to the 'story' of the film, let us borrow the
summary from Roger Manvell's book:

This film has a theme rather than a story. The theme is the revolt of a
number of boys against the repression of narrow discipline and evil living
conditions in a sordid little French boarding-school. It is realistic in so far
as these conditions (the dormitory, the classrooms, the asphalt playground
with its sheds and lavatories, and leafless trees) are faithfully observed. But
it is non-realistic (or, more surely surrealistic) in its presentation of human
relations. The masters are seen from the distorted viewpoint of the boys
themselves; the Junior Master is a 'sport', so he develops into an acrobat
who stands on his head in the classroom, imitates Charlie Chaplin and,
when he takes the boys out for an airing, leads them in the pursuit of a
girl down the street.

The Vice-Principal is tall, darkly dressed, and elaborately sinister in his
broad-brimmed hat. He sneaks round the school, purloining and prying.
Me minces round the Principal, who is represented as a dwarf with a big
black beard and a bowler hat. He is a dwarf because they fear him and his
final authority over them. An interview with one boy culminates in a
ferocious scream and melodramatic lighting, for the Principal possesses, or
seems to possess, the magical powers of a witch-doctor.

The plan for the revolt passes through various phases or episodes,
culminating first of all in the major revolt at night in the dormitory and
I hen later in the shambles on Speech Day, which is a celebration attended
by local officials dressed either like ambassadors or firemen. The dormitory
revolt has the beauty of a pagan ritual touched with imagery which the boys
have learned from the Catholic Church. It begins with a pillow fight, then
passes into a processional phase shot in slow motion as the boys move in
formation, their nightshirts looking like vestments and the feathers from
(heir torn pillows pouring over them in ritual blessing. And it ends finally
in the morning, when the ineffectual dormitory master is strapped to his
bed, which is tilted on end so that he leans forward in sleep like the effigy
of a saint put over an altar . . . The revolt in the playground on Speech Day
closes the film with a riot of schoolboy anarchy.

Vigo used only three professional actors. The boys were mostly
children from the 19th arrondissement, an intimate 'East End' district
of Paiis, and other parts were played by painters and poets of his
acquaintance. The Prefect of Police was played by Gonzague-Frick,
an anarchist poet, friend and executor of Laurent Tailhade the defender
in !*><>! of the young Almereyda. The fireman was played by Raphael
Diligent, cartoonist of La Guerre Sociale, Henri Storck played the priest*
the assistant directors were Albert Riera and Pierre Merle (son of
Almeivyda's colleague). The music was written by Maurice Jaubert.

Sales (iomes relates the episodes in the film to the incidents of
Vino's schooldays at Millau and Chartres. The boy's names are those
of his own school friends, their individual sorrows and persecutions
wore those of the son of Almereyda. But there are also reminders of

the life of Vigo's father and the experience of the Children's Prison of
La Petite Rocquette, which Almereyda had described in Le Libertctire
and in L'Assiette au Beurre. And when the persecuted boy Tabard
turns and bursts out "Monsieur le professeur, je vous dis merde!" he
echoes a famous challenge addressed to the government which Almereyda
had published in La Guerre Sociale, headed in large type, Je Vous Dis

Some critics have emphasised the allegorical character of the film,
noting the significance of the pulling down of the national flag and the
hoisting by Tabard of the skull and crossbones. Andre Bazin observed
that "for Vigo the school is nothing less than society itself," and George
Barbarow wrote :

The Conspiracy about hidden marbles is transformed into the whole
routine of revolt. The dormitory aisle becomes a public square, the Procla-
mation is read to the assembling mob, the mob turns into a riot and battle
with the police (the pillow fight).

Others have seen it as a film about childhood entirely bereft of the
usual sentimentalities, but at the same time full of a lyrical tenderness.
Sales Gomes notes the completely different tone of the critics of 1933,
when after a few showings the film was banned from public performance
in France, and those of 1945 when the ban was lifted. The key
adjectives in 1933 were words like hateful, violent, destructive, perverse,
obscene, scatological. In 1945 and the succeeding years the phrases
used were 'intense poetic force', 'delicious poetic satire', 'incredible
richness of invention'. You would not think they were talking about
the same film.

While Zero de Conduit e was still in the course of production,
Nounez and Vigo were discussing what to make next. Vigo thought
of a film to be called Le Metro, about a man who worked in a room
overlooked by the overhead railway, who spent his Sundays travelling
by train so as to see his room from the outside. He wrote the shooting
script of a film to be adapted from a circus story by Georges de La
Fouchardiere, an old anarchist and pacifist novelist. But the project
which he most cherished, and for which preliminary arrangements were
made was the film about the penal colony, based on the life of Eugene
Dieudonne, the anarchist who had been sentenced to death before the
war and whose sentence had been commuted to one of life imprisonment.
(After twelve years he had been released thanks to the efforts of Albert
Londres). Meanwhile Zero de Conduite had appeared and had been
banned. Nounez had lost the money invested in it and there was no
more question of the Devil's Island film. Indeed a journalist, interview-
ing the secretary of the film control commission asked whether / am a
Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn Leroy's film which had just
appeared) would have been permitted had it been made in France, and
received the answer "Probably not. The representative of the Minister
of Justice would have been opposed to its presentation." The next

proposal was a scenario about an international congress of tramps, but
this idea "would have given too much encouragement to Vigo's non-
conformism. and this no doubt was the reason why it was discarded".
The final choice was an original scenario by Jean Guinee, with the title
Vigo kept the bare bones of this story — a typical French film script
of the period, about the skipper of a motor barge on the Seine and his
village bride, who is attracted by the bright lights of the city, where her
unimaginative husband will not stay long enough for her to see the
shops and impetuously embarks without her until, after grief and loneli-
ness they are re-united. But he added immensely to this slight and
sentimental story with two splendidly realised characters — Pere Jules
the mate, played by Michel Simon, who comes to life in quite a different
way from the platitudinous homely philosopher of the original script:
and the peddler, played by Gilles Margaritis, who, as magician, trick-
rye list, one-man-band and tumbler, attracts the bride with the promise
of the glitter and wonder of the world of the city. The film is full of
strange and beautiful episodes, right from the opening shots when Jean
and Juliette, the newly-married couple, walk from the village, along
holds and unmade roads to the place where the barge is moored, with
the relations following two-by-two at a disapproving distance. Or the
scene where Pere Jules and the ship's boy are in the cabin and Pere
Jules is trying to operate the gramophone he has assembled from bits
and pieces. He puts his finger-nail on the record idly and it appears
In play, (the boy is playing the accordion on his knee). He stops, more
intrigued than astonished, and the boy stops. He stops again but the
boy does not stop in time. The deception dawns on Pere Jules and
he turns to the boy: "There are plenty of more remarkable things
than playing a record with your finger. Take electricity: do you know
how that works? Or the radio?" And the scene where, miles apart,
Jean and Juliette turn and toss in their beds, full of desire and remorse.
< )r where Jean, remembering the bit of country lore she has told him,
I hat if you open your eyes under water you see your lover's face, dives
into the river and swims (like Taris) below the surface, while the image
of Juliette in her long bridal dress, floats, out of reach, around him.
Or the sad, grey beauty of the riverside scenes in the half industrial,
half agricultural region of northern France, reminiscent, as Elie Faure
noted, of the landscapes of Corot.

Most of the technicians and some of the cast of L'Atalante were
Vigo's friends from Zero de Conduite. Jean Baste who played the
skipper had been Hugnet, the 'sport' among the schoolmasters of the
earlier film, Louis Lefevre, the ship's boy was the "terror of the 19th
arrondissement" who had played Caussat in Zero. Again he drew upon
old friends of Almereyda, like Diligent and Fanny Clar of La Guerre
Sociale for the small parts. Francis Jourdain, the painter and faithful
friend of Vigo's father, designed the sets; even the film's editor Louis
Chavance, was a young technician of anarchist sympathies. Two well-

known players were employed : Dita Parlo as Juliette, (she later played
the peasant woman in Renoir's La Grande Illusion), and Michel Simon
whose Pere Jules was the finest performance of his career. When Simon
was asked by Albert Riera to take the part, he was asked who Vigo
was, and on being told he was the maker of a film banned by the censor-
ship, replied, "Oh! Bravo, ]e suis tres content.".

In the script Pere Jules had a mongrel, but Vigo replaced it by a
dozen of the stray cats beloved by Almereyda. Pere Jules has a cabin
full of bizarre souvenirs ("trouve a Caracas pendant la revolution") at
which Juliette stares wide-eyed with wonder. His conversation with
her, half-boasting, half-seducing, his evocation of exotic placenames,
his expertise with her sewing-machine which astonishes her (though we
guess where he learned to use it) suggest that he is a man with a past.
Inscribed among the nudes tattoed on his body are the initials of the
slogan M or t-aux-V aches, the old war-cry of the downtrodden, taken up
by the anarchists in the eighteen-nineties.

Some critics see a diminishing of Vigo's social criticism in this film,
but this simply reflects the habit of labelling films as "social comment" or
"love story", a habit which blinded critics to the tenderness of Zero
de Conduite as much as to the social awareness of L'Atalante. Vigo
did not see the troubled heart as a separate thing from the struggle for
existence. When Juliette has her purse snatched and cannot buy a
ticket back to the barge, the pitiful half-starved thief is chased and half-
lynched by the well-nourished citizens in a scene which as Sales Gomes
notes "curiously recalls the illustrations by anarchist artists like Steinlen,
Grandjouan and Gassier in the years before 1914". When she looks
in vain for a job in Paris, we see the real queues of unemployed standing
in the snow with the police ever on hand to prevent disorder. Jean is
sent for at Le Havre by the barge owners and would have lost his job
but for Pere Jules who blusters and frightens the bureaucrat in the
shipping office.

The film was shown to the press and the distributors in Paris on
April 25th 1934. Gaumont, alarmed by the unenthusiastic reception
by the trade, urged Nounez to make alterations, and the film was re-
edited with a popular song Le Chaland qui Passe tacked on, the film
was renamed with this title, and Jaubert's music mutilated. Jean Vigo
only saw the film once. He died later in the year at the age of 29,
and his wife whose health had been as precarious as his own, died in

The film was not restored to its original form until 1940.
His last public act was to sign a manifesto circulated after the fascist
riots of February 1934, and signed by supporters of all factions of the
left beside his signature were those of Pierre Monatte who had signed
an earlier revolutionary manifesto with Miguel Almereyda in 1902,
and Ellie Faure who had helped to pay Almereyda's fare to Amsterdam
in 1904.

* * *

Vigo left four films, with a total running time of no more than 3 and a half
hours. All his work was done in a hurry, working against the clock,
and against continual ill-health, and always short of money. "One
somehow feels," Roy Edwards remarked, "that despite the devotion of
Ins friends and his wife, not only Vigo's childhood but his whole life
was a sort of improvisation". But generations of directors have learned
from the films, ignored by the big distributors and circulated by the
film societies and cine clubs. Seeing once more the scene in L'atalante
when Jean rushes blindly out to the sea at Le Havre, we are reminded
of Fellini's use of similar imagery in La Strada and more recently in La
Dolce Vita, or of Truffaut's in Les Quatre Cents Coups, or Konwicki
and Laskowski's in The Last Day of Summer. Seeing Zero de Conduite
once more, we think above all of Vittoria de Sica's Sciuscia, Bicycle
Thieves, and Miracolo a Milano.

And reading the biography by Sales Gomes we are struck by the
fidelity of Jean Vigo to the anarchist milieu which his father frequented
before he was stifled in the cess-pool of French politics. Following the
author's hint I looked up the old collection of articles Les Feuilles de
d'Axa with Steinlen's illustrations. Here is the barefoot child gazing
in (he shoe-shop, like the contrasts in Nice, or like Juliette looking
wistfully in the luxury shops of Paris, here is the hungry thief chased
and half-lynched by the good citizens, here are the lines of workers out-
side (he factories guarded by police, here the imprisoned children.

The earlier critics of Vigo saw in him a certain prurience or disgust
at the physical world of sex and bodily functions. Later they discovered
instead an extreme tenderness and lyricism, which they regarded as a
development from his anarchism. Dudley Shaw Ashton for instance,
writes that "L'Atalante has a warm adult attitude to sex which I have
not found in any other film. In UAtalante there is no longer anarchy,
the revolution which it advocates is a constructive one."
But isn't this anarchy too?

Posted By

Jun 4 2016 08:26


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