Watchin' Stuff: Pierre Clementi

Another guest poster brings us a juicy peek at a hidden corner of cinema! Marcus Herring, longtime friend of the Cinefamily and our blood brother in total madness, schools us on Pierre Clémenti: icon of the French avant-garde, and one of the most intense European actors of his generation. Watch some of Marcus’s music video work here!

Sometimes, once you learn the meaning of a new word you’ve never seen or heard before, almost immediately afterward you’ll start seeing the word everywhere. Say you’d never heard the term “synesthesia” — but once you understand the definition, “synesthesia” starts turning up in every book, magazine, and movie you come across. It doesn’t seem to be a matter of zeitgeist; likely, you’ve probably just skipped over it if you didn’t know about it beforehand. This concept (which really needs a term itself) explains perfectly my experience with French actor/filmmaker Pierre Clementi.

Most of us might recognize his pouty visage from the sugar pot sex scene in Sweet Movie (as seen in the image above), but Clementi seems to have worked with every A-list European surrealist director of the 1970′s: not just Sweet Movie’s Makavejev, but also Visconti (in The Leopard), Bertolucci (in The Conformist and Partner), Bunuel (in Belle de Jour and The Milky Way), Pasolini (in Porcile), Phillipe Garrell and more. He really is a touchstone actor in the world of Euro art house, as well as being a revolutionary filmmaker in his own right — and I don’t mean revolutionary as never-been-done-before, but rather, as in true rebellion. He seems to have been dramatically affected by the Paris student riots of 1968, and the promise of youthful revolution would drive not only his personal work but also his choices as an actor.

Clémenti’s silent short La Revolution N’est Qu’un Debut features footage he captured of the ’68 Paris riots overlayed with pink and blue color washes, and circular mattes. It typifies the uniquely trippy youth politics of the 1960s (where the political message is so often obscured by candy-coated hedonism) as text propaganda flashes onscreen: calls for Liberte and Egalite, but also demands for Loukoums (I’m not sure whether he’s referring to a French band of the time or the confectionary Turkish delight so popular in France.)

Watch an excerpt from “La Revolution N’est Qu’un Debut”!

As he became established as an actor, Clémenti stuck to his core beliefs and became very choosy about his roles, kind of like pre-Pirates Of The Carribean Johnny Depp’s film choices in the ’90s. Clémenti only accepted roles throughout the ’60s and ’70s which jived with his own revolution-infused personal dogma. Fellini tried to cast him as the lead in Satyricon, but Clémenti purposefully sabotaged his chances by asking for ridiculously exhorbitant fees in order to not get the part. Instead, he chose to run off with Phillipe Garrel (the legendary figurehead of the Zanzibar film collective) to Morocco for the filming of Garrel’s B&W acid-hippie-Jesus feature La Lit de la Vierge. In 1972, Clémenti would hook back up with Garrel and Nico(!) to make the remarkably beautiful La Cicatrice Interieur. Barely a feature at a running time of sixty minutes but staged with a remarkable economy of shots (maybe twenty in the whole film), La Cicatrice Interieur is notable to music fans will who recognize at least one scene as the source for Nico’s “Desertshore” album cover.

Watch an excerpt from “La Lit de la Vierge”

Watch an excerpt from “La Cicatrice Interieur”

During Clémenti’s tenure with the Zanzibar collective and their travels, he always brought his Beaulieu camera along and filmed intermittently behind-the-scenes, capturing the naked splendor of their Euro-hippie exploits and occasional staged art pieces. After capturing footage over nine years between ’67-’76, Clémenti chopped up, sped up, densely overlayed, and dramatically recolored it all to produce his feature length psychedelic opus Visa de Censure Numero X. Clémenti perfectly paired his visual hallucinations with a psych fusion soundtrack consisting of an entire album from The Delired Chameleon Family, itself a side project by French psych jazz masters Clearlight (not to be confused with limp 1960s L.A. rockers Clear Light). I do my best to ripoff this movie in my own work every chance I get. Overall, the film is a brilliant reminder of just how much longer the promise of the psychedelic ’60′s persisted in continental Europe versus how quickly it died in the US.

Watch an excerpt from “Visa de Censure Numero X”

As the ’80s began to roll in, it seems Clémenti began to feel the promise of the ’60s was lost, and his work began to reflect a much darker tone. I am certainly not brave enough to delve too far into his later career (’90s, anyone?), but Bret recommended I watch Alan Fleischer’s Zoo Zero (released in the respectable year 1979) with Clémenti and Klaus Kinski, and I was really floored. I know it’s not right to say this without having seen the rest of his work, but I wish this was his last film, because my limited imagination cannot see it getting any better than this insanity. He did act in and direct many more films beyond Zoo Zero, and I am still wading through them. Sadly, he died rather young in 1999, at the age of 57.

For further reading on Pierre Clémenti, check out this recent Village Voice profile!