Pierre Etaix said of his comic films, “I never felt I was creating something important.” Perhaps the torn portrait of himself in the film Rupture is a working model for this type of artist. Once he sees his severed self in the ripped photo (ripped by an indifferent lover), he helplessly launches a series of intricate gags involving his writing desk. If only he weren’t an adult, his childlike struggles with pen nibs and ink blots could be fun play, not fraught. He’s played with by physics: gravity, flow—and by artifice: photos, stamps, a cigarette lighter in the shape of a gun. His pain plays out in the live deconstruction of his ego. The simplest actions become impossible. Even his deliberate-seeming death is unintentional.
Does ecopoetics tell the artist to forget the ego, like this? To fall apart, in a rupture from the industrial art economy? It probably should. The amplified demands of identity, as in the persistent cultivation of career, seems anathema to the enmeshed, connected stance of a deep ecological poem. A return to health, of the earth and of the poet, in tandem, is our goal, but the ‘industrial’ poet’s fixation on career and ego gets in the way. Yet self-importance seems to be the zenith to which career naturally shoots, even unintentionally. Career, in turn, is the carrier of the artist’s work, what gets it noticed. But like large noticeable clown shoes, there’s something about career that is inherently comical. Should non-ecopoems, town and city poems, as it were, court comedy and absurdity then? They probably should.
Clips from Rupture are hard to come by, but above is a clip from Etaix's longer film Yoyo. The egalitarian antics of this performing family seem to offer possible solutions to the 'industrial' or urban artist's dilemma.
We say so-and-so is an important painter of 20th century Europe; so-and-so is a ‘leading’ writer in the Americas. Status rankings are broadly human, not limited to the art world, and are at least partly natural—but is an author-centric (as in, self-centered) model for art really all we can aim for? Bernard Krause, in The Great Animal Orchestra, describes the work of musicologist Louis Sarno, who recorded the songs of the Ba’Aka tribe in central Africa. Krause describes how these complex songs harmonized with natural forest calls of local wildlife, but changed with the introduction of ‘civilized’ noise. With the changes came new varieties of health crises. He relates Sarno’s observation that a return to physical health involved retreat into the deeper forest and the medicine of connected songs. A remedy did not involve cutting a recoding deal in a distant city.
With much of art wedged firmly in the industrial model, how to freely thrive and still learn from other artists and from one’s predecessors? How to cheer up in the face of our apparent eco-illogical doom? Influence and imitation spill continuously into a cultivation of fame, or an abject fear of the lack of it. It is thus perhaps restorative to spend time with satirists, comedians and clowns. As remote as their charades seem to be from the wild dreams of nature, their stories do one thing reliably and powerfully: turn the urban world to jelly. Clowning brings down structures, snips the strict webs of fashion, sends all the up elevators down. High and serious art must devise revolutions, it seems, to liberate anyone more than an individual urban character. Satire, in contrast, has a certain intrinsic leveling power that naturally flows from a given state of crisis and excess. It is the stance of 'enough is enough.'
Some films - comedies, satires and related. (Definitely a growing list, and the predominance of French language films is incidental— I've just been haunting that shelf lately at my local library.)
L'iceberg - Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Bruno Romy
The Fairy - Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Bruno Romy
Le Havre - Aki Kaurismäki
The Man Without a Past - Aki Kaurismäki
Day for Night - Truffaut
Jour de fête - Jacques Tati (Charming early film; interesting negative portrayal of then-novel automobiles).
PlayTime - Jacques Tati
The complete films of Pierre Etaix.
The Taking of Power by Louis XIV - Roberto Rossellini
Orpheus - Jean Cocteau (not comic, per se, though it has its moments, for reasons I explore here).
Also, though I haven’t seen it, Song from the Forest (2013) traces Sarno’s career and looks fascinating. Trailer here.