Saturday, May 06, 2017

Le Sang des bêtes / Blood of the Beasts (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Georges Franju, France 1949
Print source: La Cinémathèque française, Paris
Running time: 22 minutes
The Nitrate Picture Show, George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, 6 May 2017

About the print: Donated to La Cinémathèque française by André Joseph, editor and first assistant of Georges Franju, cofounder of the Cinémathèque, the print is in great shape, with very few scratches or splices. Shrinkage: 0.6%

About the film: A haunting documentary classic that details the daily operations of Paris slaughterhouses.

AA: Introduced by Jurij Meden, screened with e-subtitles in English, a personal print of the director Georges Franju from the year 1949.

My first interview with a film director was with Franju in February 1976. He was then visiting Finland with his latest film, Nuits rouges / L'Homme sans visage. Franju even visited Tampere where I was studying journalism and mass communications as a main subject at the Tampere University. I conducted the interview in French with our television unit in the context of our tv practicum. One of the questions that intrigued me was why this gentle and kind soul had made splatter films such as Le Sang des bêtes and Les Yeux sans visage. He told us that he actually had a fobia of blood and made those films in order to overcome it.

Revisited a surrealist masterpiece of the documentary, Franju's first solo film. Everything in the film has been filmed with a documentary approach. The surrealism emerges from the context, from the montage of juxtapositions and collisions.

Shot by Marcel Fradetal, to become Franju's trusted cinematographer during four decades, Le Sang des bêtes is visually poetic, in contrast to Luis Buñuel's matter-of-fact, newsreel-like approach. It contains haunting and striking images that could be hanging on the wall.

The framing story is about the wasteland, terrain vague, in the outskirts, aux portes de Paris. Children are at play, young lovers meet, laundry is drying on the clothes-line, trains keep a-rolling.

We inevitably approach the slaughterhouse. What happens there is shown unflinchingly, without looking the other way. Bulls, horses, and lambs are slaughtered professionally and efficiently. It happens amazingly fast.

Many viewers are horrified by this, and because of this audience reaction Le Sang des bêtes belongs to the context of the horror film. Together with my brother Asko Alanen I wrote a history of the horror film in the 1980s, and one of the issues that intrigued us was that as a rule horror films were banned in Finland until the 1960s. My theory about this is that horror is an urban genre. Finland until the 1960s was an agrarian land where hunting, fishing, slaughtering animals and other stark facts of life and death were an everyday reality for most. Horror and especially bloody horror was incomprehensible to many still in the 1980s when we got Europe's most prohibitive video legislation. In urban life the graphic realities of birth, life and death are generally hidden from us, yet there is a perennial interest in them. (It is perhaps also significant that horror film aficionados are predominantly male).

Le Sang des bêtes is a great work of poetry because it faces the issue of death with an approach that brings a haunting intensity and sensitivity to each image. Substantial contributions are provided by the composer, none other than Joseph Kosma, and the writer of the commentary, Jean Painlevé, himself a surrealist master of the documentary genre.

To see Georges Franju's personal print of his first masterpiece was one of the great privileges of The Nitrate Picture Show.

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