Positif editor Michel Ciment on the good sense of ‘amateurism’ and loving movies

Long term editor and contributor to Positif, France’s major magazine of film-lover fanaticism; author of Kubrick: The Definitive Edition, “The best book ever put together about a filmmaker” (James Toback); field commander of the anti-Cahiers camp, firing pointed polemics and withering wisecracks deep into enemy territory (“When Godard says, we were the first one to give the director its place in the cannon–it’s absolute bullshit”):

Ladies and gentlemen, Michel Ciment is in the house.

“They were all students who started this magazine,” Ciment explained of Positif‘s earliest days.  “The characteristic of it was amateurism, not in the bad sense of the word, but in the good sense of ‘to love.’  People who loved movies….  I think the magazine has been faithful to [founding editor Bernard] Chardere’s initial young-man, passion-for-cinema openness.”

This ecumenical enthusiasm for all kinds of movie making is amply on display in Positif: Fifty Years, an English-language anthology of the magazine’s greatest hits, published by MoMA in 2002.  But Ciment himself is an even more eloquent embodiment of the Positif spirit.  Shuttling back and forth between modernist masterpieces and pop ephemera, the 70 year-old critic displayed a level of physical energy and up-to-the-minute awareness that put this 24 year-old interviewer to shame.  Merely suggest a topic for discussion, and Ciment takes off like a bottle rocket.

On Positif‘s origins in the city of Lyon: “Because of the provincial aspect [the founding editors] were not inside this self-centered Parisian intellectual life, which is at once great but also has its limitations… Like Belgium is sometimes more open than France to a lot of intellectual currents because they are more curious and so on, because they are not the center.  When you’re in the center it’s sometimes easy to forget that there is something around the center.  So I think that in a way the magazine has kept this spirit.”

On the critical philosophy of the magazine: “When we look at a film, the only criterion really has never been ideological, has never been theoretical—it has always been, do we like this film?  Which can be Last Year at Marienbad or a John Ford movie.  There is not any category.  And it’s why we survived the horrible theoretical decade of the 70s with Lacanism and Maoism and structuralism, and so on.  Because people had totally forgotten what cinema was about.  They were just looking at films and trying to put films into slots.  Either they fitted into the slot or they didn’t fit into the slot.  Positif never reacted like that.  After that of course, once the pleasure is there, once the love is there, there is a will to analyze, the will to use concepts, the will to use psychoanalysis or sociology or history or whatever.  But the aesthetic approach has always been paramount.”

See Mavericks and Outsiders: Positif Celebrates American Cinema at the Walter Reade Theater January 30 – February 4, 2009.

For an extended interview with Michel Ciment by Paul Brunick, please see the Mar/Apr issue of Film Comment magazine.

Explore posts in the same categories: Film Comment, Filmmaker interviews, French cinema, on @ the walter reade

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