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Eric Rohmer

volume one in the "french film series" by donavan hall


Day zero. I've been putting off writing this book for about ten years. Twice, before the Internet became the way to get information about anything, I started compiling information about the French film director Éric Rohmer. The first thing I thought I had to do was compile a filmography.

When I was in graduate school, I had a friend, Earnest, who was working on his master's in literature. He was doing his thesis on Walker Percy. He spent months compiling a book-length bibliography listing every work by and about that Louisiana author. He wasn't the first, another graduate student ten years earlier had started the project and published a hardback edition, just of bibliographic information. Not anything that would be of interest to anyone but an academic. Earnest's bibliography was more than twice as long as the previous, a gauge of the growth of interest in Percy's writing (fiction and non-) in the intervening ten years. It took Earnest about a year of combing through libraries, book catalogs, reference lists, etc. to convince himself that he finally had everything and meanwhile, new publications kept coming out that he would dutifully add to his swelling bibliography. Now, I suspect Earnest's job would be simplified with a quick Internet search. Any popular search engine could probably call up a wealth of information in a fraction of a second. And he'd probably find a link to someone's website where a decent bibliography had already been compiled and posted.

Now, in the age of Wikipedia and IMDB, compiling a filmography of Rohmer's films is not necessary. Anyone with a computer can instantly call up such a list. And since Rohmer's death (11 January 2010 at the age of 89), that filmography would be complete.

Three years ago (summer 2008) I published the first edition of a craft beer guide. Five months ago (January 2011) I published the second much-expanded edition. In the two and a half years between the publication of the first edition and the second, people's preferences had changed, or expectations, about how they accessed information. Most people, when presented with the question "Would you like to buy my craft beer guide?" responded, "No, but I'd very much like to download the app." Twenty years ago when I was (probably) just as interested in computer programming as writing novels, I would have cranked out the app within weeks. Now, I'm much more interested in words than code. Words break less easily than code which is subject to the changes of the operating system that runs it and doomed to eventual obsolescence as the technology develops.

Since last January I've been thinking about how I'm going to do the third edition of my beer guide. I only half-joke with people that I'm going to turn the beer guide into a who-dun-it murder mystery, or a literary and cultural guided tour of Long Island and New York City. Being old-fashioned in this respect, I still conceive of my projects as being printed on paper and bound in book form. However, eBooks are becoming popular as the platforms for reading them approximate more closely the paper books that people are used to. And despite the ascendancy of Facebook and Twitter, people still click on links that take them to webpages written and maintained by real people. The point here is that a writer has to give readers something that they want to read in a form that they want to read it in, and so content and form change over time and respond to external pressures such as the technology of the publication medium.

Such theoretical considerations might be of little interest to anyone not writing guidebooks and biographical works a decade into the twenty-first century. However, for the writer, it's important to anticipate just what his projected audience might want.

So, I imagine you, oh Reader of this book about the films of Éric Rohmer, to be much like me. Maybe you've only seen one film, or five, and you want to learn more about Rohmer's body of work (what to watch next, for example). Or, perhaps you've seen each of Rohmer's films a dozen times and you just can't get enough and so you want to find another kindred spirit, a fan of Rohmer's work that is just as enthusiastic as you are. Together we can celebrate Rohmer's lifetime of creative work.

My plan is to write the kind of book about Rohmer's films that I would like to read. The resulting text will probably be personal, my take on Rohmer. It will be thoughtful, but not an academic study. And, be warned, I'm prone to palavering. Rohmer might become a point of departure for excursions into a new story.

I don't have a title for this book yet, but I have a working subtitle: "A memoir in reel time." Maybe the pun is a bit silly, but I couldn't resist. Thus, my idea is to write about someone (myself) who after ten years of sustained appreciation of Rohmer's work decides to go back and watch every one of Rohmer's films and record my thoughts and reactions. This book is a memoir about my six month project of watching Rohmer's films again.

The project. By my count, I have in my personal collection twenty-five (plus or minus) Rohmer films, start with The Sign of Leo / Le signe de lion (his first film, 1959) up to The Romance of Astrea and Celadon / Les amours d'Astrée et de Céladon (his last film, 2007).

It's tempting to begin with The Sign of Leo and watch Rohmer's films in chronological order. Alternately, I could wander through Rohmer's oeuvre in much the same way I did when I was just discovering his films for myself. Or, I could group his films into associated blocks which will happen anyway since sixteen of Rohmer's films are part of his three grand cycles: Moral Tales, Comedies and Proverbs, and Tales of Four Seasons.

A decision must be made. Since I've never seen The Sign of Leo I will start there, tonight.

Reproduction. I'm going to try to avoid my archivist's tendencies and just link to the normal kinds of guidebook-like things you might expect in a guidebook, but I figure a list of Rohmer's films is necessary. I nicked the following list from Laterna Magica.

Filmographie intégrale d’Eric Rohmer

1950 : Journal d’un scélérat (short)
1951 : Présentation ou Charlotte et son steak (short)
1952 : Les Petites Filles modèles (short)
1954 : Bérénice (short)
1956 : La Sonate à Kreutzer (short)
1958 : Véronique et son cancre (short) / Véronique and her Dunce-cancre
1959 : Le Signe du lion / The Sign of Leo

Contes moraux

1962 : La Boulangère de Monceau (short) / The Bakery Girl of Monceau
1963 : La Carrière de Suzanne / Suzanne's Career
1967 : La Collectionneuse / The Collector (Girl)
1969 : Ma nuit chez Maud / My Night at Maud's
1970 : Le Genou de Claire / Claire's Knee
1972 : L’Amour l’après-midi / Chloe in the Afternoon

Comédies et proverbes

1981 : La Femme de l’aviateur / The Aviator's Wife
1982 : Le Beau Mariage / The Good Marriage
1982 : Pauline à la plage / Pauline at the Beach
1984 : Les Nuits de la pleine lune / Full Moon in Paris
1986 : Le Rayon vert / Summer (or The Green Ray)
1987 : L’Ami de mon amie / Boyfriends and Girlfriends

Contes des quatre saisons

1990 : Conte de printemps / A Tale of Springtime
1992 : Conte d’hiver / A Winter's Tale
1996 : Conte d’été / A Summer's Tale
1998 : Conte d’automne / A Tale of Autumn

Shorts / Documentary / Historical

1964 : Nadja à Paris (short)
1964 : Les Métamorphoses du paysage, l’ère industrielle / Changing Landscape (TV, 23 mins)
1965 : Paris vu par… (sketch Place de l’Étoile) (short)
1966 : Une étudiante d’aujourd’hui (short)
1967 : Fermière à Montfaucon (short)
1975 : Villes nouvelles (doc)
1976 : La Marquise d’O…
1978 : Perceval le Gallois
1979 : Catherine de Heilbronn (TV)
1983 : Loup, y es-tu ? (short)
1987 : 4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle
1989 : Les Jeux de société (TV)
1993 : L’Arbre, le maire et la médiathèque
1995 : Les Rendez-vous de Paris
1999 : La Cambrure (short)
2001 : L’Anglaise et le Duc / The Lady and the Duke
2004 : Triple agent
2007 : Les Amours d’Astrée et de Céladon