Source: http://www.francemagazine.org/articles/ ... icle_id=16
By Andrιa R. Vaucher
At 50, the world's greatest film magazine is broadening its focus while remaining loyal to its founding principles.
I first visited the offices of CAHIERS DU CINEMA in the late 1980s.
As a young film and cultural critic, one of my professional dreams was to be published in the magazine, which, to me and thousands of other cinιphiles, represented the epitome of serious film theory and criticism. Pascal Bonitzer, the head of the screenwriting department of the Femis, the French film school where I was teaching at the time, had graciously arranged a meeting for me with Cahiers' editor-in-chief, Serge Toubiana.
It was a steely fall afternoon when I arrived at the passage de la Boule-Blanche, a 19th-century pedestrian arcade down the street yet miles away from the bustle of the Bastille. Through the leaded glass windows, I glimpsed a lone figure, a young woman, writing quietly at a desk. There was no one else in sight.
I had expected a lively newsroom, critics eloquently arguing about semiotics or Scorsese, others writing film scripts or preparing shoots. Instead, the Cahiers offices were eerily silent and offered few signs that a monthly magazine was being put to bed, that the writers and editors were on deadline.
There were even fewer signs to indicate that this was the hotbed of French film criticism.
I climbed the stairs to the second-floor library where the staff was assembled around a large table for the weekly editorial meeting that I had been invited to attend. Smoke from strong Gauloises cigarettes and Toubiana's Cuban cigar hung heavily over the table. But the heated arguments, the passionate defenses and the poetic discussions I had imagined never materialized. As the young men and womenall, except Toubiana, in their twenties and early thirtiessat around the table and divided up the films to be covered in the December 1989 issue, the tone was polite, friendly and often jocular. The only time the atmosphere even approached anything resembling "hot" was when a new writer, unaware that Toubiana was a James Cameron fan, panned The Abyss. The other journalists, well aware of their boss's point of view, exchanged knowing looks, and when the rookie ended his tirade, the room was still. Toubiana, a tall, imperious figure, succinctly presented his contrary opinion and the "argument" ended.
It was clear who was in charge, who set the tone of the magazine.
Now more than a decade later, as Cahiers du Cinιma celebrates its 50th anniversary, the tone of the magazine is being set by a new editorial regime. Acquired by Le Monde in 1998, Cahiers has reinvented itself with a new look, an expanded format, a DVD collection and a hip new Web site. After decades of struggling to make ends meet, it seems as though the venerated film journal, now half as old as the history of cinema itself, has reasons to rejoice.
But while French readers have enthusiastically embraced the "new" Cahierssubscriptions are up 60 percent, newsstand sales have risen almost 40 percent, the Web site boasts 1,500 hits daily, half of which come from outside of Francesome critics are convinced that the periodical has lost its edge and might soon become just another mainstream movie magazine pandering to star-studded American blockbusters.
This cynicism is nothing new. Since Cahiers du Cinιma was first published in April 1951 by a group of young critics and cinιphiles, each time the magazine has entered a new incarnation, changes have been greeted by intense debate. And looking back over the past 50 years, it appears as though every decade has ushered in some major transformation.
Cahiers du Cinιma began as a tribute to Jean-Georges Auriol, the editor of a French film magazine, Revue du Cinιma, who had recently died in an automobile accident. Three established Revue criticsAndrι Bazin, Lo Duca and Jacques Doniol-Valcrozestarted the magazine to continue Auriol's work and became Cahiers' first editorial triumvirate. In homage, the editors chose the bright yellow color of the Revue cover for the cover of their new magazine.
Most of the original Cahiers critics had written for Revue or were culled from Objectif 49, an elite cinι-club that boasted Jean Cocteau, Robert Bresson, Renι Clιment and Astrud Astuc as members. The original group of Cahiers writers expounded upon many of the themes first explored in Revue. There were articles on realism, a subject about which Bazin had written extensively, and essays on French cinema with articles about or by Clιment, Renι Clair, Cocteau, Jean Renoir and Georges Clouzot. The Cahiers critics were especially interested in American cinema, showering countless words of praise upon American B movies that even stateside critics overlooked.
In fact, the criticism of this period has often been characterized by what the late Serge Daney, Cahiers' editor-in-chief during the 1970s, called "blind Americanism," with many young Cahiers writers cutting their critical teeth on American film. Franηois Truffaut, the harshest of a group of ambitious young critics that included Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer, wrote essays on James Dean and Alfred Hitchcock. Jean-Luc Godard, a more personal and elliptical writer, composed significant essays on Nicholas Ray and the American Western.
These outspoken Young Turks made their mark on the magazine. The group held disparate opinions on practically everythingHoward Hawks, modernism, realism. Everything, that is, except the politique des auteurs and mise en scθne, two film theories that will forever be linked to Cahiers. The magazine's critics were unanimous in their belief that the film auteuror directormust be considered as much an artist as a painter, novelist or poet and that a film must be imbued with the auteur's personality.
They also agreed that techniquemise en scθnewas as important as content and that a true auteur could turn even the most banal subject into a work of art. In their exploration of mise en scθne, the Cahiers writers touched on issues of style, form, content and meaning.
Throughout Cahiers' first decade, circulation remained small, and the magazine's ideas and debates had little impact outside of France. This all changed, however, when the first wave of Cahiers writers began making their own films in the early 1960s. When the films of Truffaut, Godard, Cocteau, Chabrol, Rivette and Resnais received international critical acclaim and distribution, the critical status of Cahierswhich was seen as the breeding ground of these innovative filmmakerssoared. This nouvelle vague of French cinema made Paris not only the film capital of the world but the epicenter of smart, stimulating film criticism. Cahiers' circulation rose and, for the first time, the magazine had a readership outside of France. American film critic Andrew Sarris found financial backing for a U.S. version, and between 1968 and 1969, 12 issues of Cahiers were available in English. Unfortunately, the inelegant translation made the already complex writing seem even more arcane.
During the 1960s, the Cahiers critics clarified their position on mise en scθne, generally agreeing that a film had to be seen as a whole and that "expression" was what unified technique and content. American films, which were deemed the epitome of classical filmmaking, were used to illustrate many of the magazine's ongoing debates on authorship and mise en scθne.
Just as the events of May '68 turned so many of France's social, political and cultural values on their heads, so did they change Cahiers' values. The writing began to shift from aesthetically based Bazinian criticism to politically centered Brechtian criticismthe Cahiers critics felt that cinema had to participate in changing the world and history. The focus moved from American cinema to "new" cinema, with articles about Antonioni, Robbe-Grillet and other filmmakers who, at the time, broke with the traditional methods of storytelling.
Criticism expanded to encompass Claude Lιvi-Strauss and structuralism, Michel Butor and the new novel, and other authors whose readership extended beyond their usual public. At the end of the decade, Eric Rohmer was ousted as editor and Jacques Rivette took over, becoming the major influence on the magazine. In the late '60s and early '70s, Cahiers lost readers and underwent a series of ownership crisesthe very austere cover designs from that period mirror the changes taking place at the magazine.
The 1970sstill referred to as the magazine's "Mao decade"marked its commitment to liberal leftist politics. The anti-Americanism that was prevalent among European intellectuals during this period seems to have spilled onto the pages of the magazine. While American films were still extensively written about, there was a rereading and repositioning of past works and an interest in "new" American cinema represented by filmmakers such as Shirley Clark and Cassavetes. There were articles on Cuban film and on Eisenstein and the Soviet cinema of the 1920s. During this time, the Cahiers staff became interested in criticism itself, borrowing ideas from the post-Freudian psychoanalytic work of Jacques Lacan, from philosopher and grammatologist Jacques Derrida and from Michel Foucault's writings about politics and history. Cahiers journalists applied Jacques Lacan to Fritz Lang and erotic novelist Georges Bataille to Jerry Lewis.
In the 1980s, with multiplexes springing up all over France and American mega-hits raking in box-office receipts, Cahiers du Cinιma again found itself in a state of flux. When I visited the magazine's headquarters that chilly autumn afternoon, some readers were wary of where Cahiers was headed.
"Batman on the cover?" an angry subscriber had written in the October 1989 issue, chastising Cahiers editors for blindly following the flock of middlebrow publications fκting Tim Burton's blockbuster as it broke box-office records across the nation.
With American films sailing through Europe and blowing homegrown productions out of the running for cinema seats, Batman represented more than a movie. By the late 1980s, the French film industry had changed, and as it always had, Cahiers du Cinιma was changing along with it.
"In the '80s and '90s, Serge [Toubiana] was thinking about the crisis of French cinema," states Bill Krohn, the magazine's Los Angeles correspondent since 1978. "We've always paid a lot of attention to the changing frontiers of the world and of cinema."
Krohn remembers that about the time the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, Toubiana, who began at the magazine in 1973 as Serge Daney's assistant, changed the format of the magazine. But though the look of the new 1990 Cahiers was glossier, inside it was still the same magazine, filled with articles that appealed to a very specialized public.
Often a blend of structuralism, psychoanalysis, political theory and philosophy, Cahiers du Cinιma rhetoric is frequently dense but always thought-provoking. "There's not even a vague alternative in film criticism," says director Olivier Assayas, whose first feature, Disorder, made the cover in 1986. "It's still the most interesting writing on cinema there is."
But in a media marketplace dominated by such publications as People, Paris-Match and Premiθre, Cahiers du Cinιma had trouble attracting a larger readership, and by the mid-1990s, Toubiana was forced to look for outside financial help.
Toubiana concluded the deal with Le Monde in 1998 and soon after left the magazine. Franck Nouchi, an editor-in-chief at Le Monde for 15 years, is now Cahiers du Cinιma's editorial director. Charles Tesson, whose byline has often appeared in Cahiers during the past 20 years, is the new editor-in-chief.
"Cahiers was no longer what it once had been," Nouchi explains. "No one talked about it anymore. It had lost its audience."
"I didn't have the motivation to reinvent the magazine again," says Toubiana. "I had been with Cahiers for 25 years, and I was tired. I was 50 years old and I wanted to do other things, but I had no idea what." Toubiana, who has directed critically acclaimed documentaries about Franηois Truffaut, Gιrard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert, now works as an editorial consultant for MK2, preparing DVD collections of titles owned by the production and distribution company. This includes works by Truffaut, Chabrol, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Charlie Chaplin.
Meanwhile, Nouchi and his team have revamped the magazine, and the "new" Cahiers du Cinιma, with Maurice Pialat on the cover, hit newsstands in April 2000. The content of the magazine has been dramatically expanded to cover television, video, DVD, the Internet and film industry news. "I wanted to open up Cahiers," explains Nouchi. "It had become something of an ivory tower. Now, anything can be written in Cahiers as long as it opens a debate on cinema and culture."
With full-page glossy ads from such companies as Hermθs, Marithι + Franηois Girbaud and Philips and readership soaring, Cahiers enters its second half-century stronger than ever. The book-publishing division is flourishing, and the first Cahiers DVD collection will be out this fall. The magazine continues to be put out monthly primarily by journalists under 30, many of whom, like their predecessors, will go on to make films of their own. At the same time, several older, established voices of French film criticism have returned to the fold; Thierry Lounas coordinates the Web site for which Jean Douchet writes a DVD column. Antoine de Baecque recently interviewed Derrida.
Remarkably, the atmosphere at the Cahiers du Cinιma offices is only slightly more hectic than it was when I first visited; it is still nothing like the headquarters of an American publication. Bill Krohn compares the ambiance to the ancient camera obscura: "Just as that remarkable invention imprinted the world directly onto a piece of film, this hermetic environment down the block from the Bastille is a little space sealed off from the world where all the images of the world are projected."
As today's new media intensifies and multiplies the world's images, Cahiers du Cinιma continues to evolve yet has lost none of its original integrity. "Bazin always respected film," Toubiana told me in the late '80s. "Even when he didn't like a film, he gave it a chance. Because in all films there is a desire to say something, and even if that desire is not clear, it is the critic's responsibility to find out what it is."
Nouchi admits that Le Monde didn't buy Cahiers for financial reasons. "They did it to save the world's greatest film magazine."s
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