Thursday, August 19, 2021

Day of disasters

‘Sunny, spring-like day. Day of disasters. This morning I read the fax that Gemini Films sent me, in which they communicate me the changes of the script, script that had already been accepted and paid in part and with its production running. The changes asked and done already by Rushdie are purely and simply the totality of the film. His attitude can be summed up in the next proposition: remove me from the project. None of my ideas of misé-en-scene is considered acceptable.’ This is from the diaries of the celebrated Chilean filmmaker, Raoul Ruiz, who died a decade ago today. Ruiz’s diaries were published posthumously, in 2017, and since then a Chilean film writer - Jaime Grijalba - has been translating entries from the diaries into English and making them freely available online.

Ruiz was born in 1941, the son of a ship’s captain and a schoolteacher in Puerto Montt, Chile, though his family soon moved to Santiago. Already as a teenager, he was involved with the theatre. At university he began law and theology studies, but abandoned them in favour of working in television, at first directing sports programmes. In 1964, he took a film course in Argentina, thereafter making several political films. He is said to have written 100 plays for the avant grade theatre in his 20s. His feature film, Three Sad Tigers, won him (and one other) the Golden Leopard at the 1969 Locarno Film Festival. In 1973, shortly after the military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, Ruiz and his wife (Valeria Sarmiento, also a film director) fled Chile and settled in Paris.

There followed a productive period for Ruiz with what IMDB calls ‘surrealistic masterpieces’ - Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983), City of Pirates (1983) and Manuel on the Island of Wonders (1984) ‘perversely yet charmingly addressing the recurring Ruizian themes of childhood, exile, and maritime and rural folklore’. In the 1990s, the IMDB profile continues, ‘Ruiz embarked on larger projects with prominent actors such as John Hurt, Marcello Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and John Malkovich, alternating this sporadic mainstream art-house endeavour with his usual low-budget experimental productions and the teaching of his Poetics of Cinema (two volumes of which he published in 1995 and 2007)’.

In the last years of his life, Ruiz wrote and directed several low-budget productions in his native Chile, but his final international success was the Franco-Portuguese epic Mysteries of Lisbon (2010). He died on 19 August 2011. IMDB concludes; ‘He is little-known in his native Chile, however, despite having made the widely seen Little White Dove (1973), receiving several major arts prizes and having a National Day of Mourning dedicated to him on the day of his burial there. In the English-speaking world, only a handful of [his] films have been distributed and it is on these few films that his reputation there is built.’ Further information is also available at Wikipedia.

Some of Ruiz’s diary entries were published in 2017 (in Spanish) by Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales as Diario. Notas, recuerdos y secuencias de cosas vistas (in Spanish) with selection, editing and prologue by Bruno Cuneo.

Thanks to Jaime Grijalba - a Chilean who says of himself ‘I try to direct films, but in the meantime I just write about them - a wealth of Ruiz’s diary entries have been translated into English and made freely available online at The Ruiz Diaries.  Here is Grijalba’s introductory note: Hey! Welcome! I’ll be translating the Raúl Ruizdiaries for as long as the copyright people will get to me and sue my ass. In the meantime, enjoy, and if you think that I’m doing a good work with these translations, give up a tip at My Kofi it really helps a lot!’ He posted the first entry from Ruiz’s diary (21 November 1993) in February 2018 and is currently (i.e. in August 2021) posting entries from March 2001. 

Here are several of Grijalba’s translated entries from Ruiz’s diary.

22 November 1993
‘In flight to Lisbon. We ended yesterday’s night watching videos of Portuguese melodramas: Fado, with Amalia Rodrigues, and a cop flick by Ladislao Vadja (Marcelino pan y vino). Later I dined with the poet neighbor Waldo Rojas and Ely [Godoy-Rojas]. They come from a vernissage of Latin American artists. Euphoria and coldness. One hour before, brief meeting with Jean Diard to prepare an agitation plan. It’s about putting in contact, through his Confluences cultural center, various filmmakers from the neighborhood. There’s more every day. I’ve crossed paths with Chantal Akerman, with Alain Fleischer and lots of actors. With Jean Lefaux we’re putting together a triennial to organize a Film Without Qualities Festival and a Workshop (one month per year).

Valeria prepares a roast beef accompanied with a méli-mélo de champignons [-], the whole thing united with truffle oil. Irregular wine, but coherent. Then we screened half hour of The Secret Journey, that I finished mixing four days ago. Watchable. I think it’s tighter, more asciutto, than in the first watch. The neighbors don’t stop making commentaries, as if they were watching a vacation film. It’s true that what I’ve been doing lately, in the way that it maintains itself in secret, has lost all prestige, tends to be a home movie. But it’s watchable anyway.

Even later extremely boring nightmares and towards six in the morning it’s the time to calendar. I watch the entirety the scene in the cabaret in which Ninon, according to the script, dances a torrid dance. In fact it’s not such a bad idea to make her enter covered in a tulle and make her spin like a dervish, getting naked, but spinning and covering herself again when she’s about to get naked. Meanwhile, the audience at the cabaret watches distracted, without stopping their conversations. The kids drink soup and our protagonists don’t stop disputing with each other. It seems more a South American than a Portuguese bar, but, anyway! Portugal has always been for me a bridge and a substitute. The European body of the kingdom of Chile. At liftoff, the plane left the track, but managed to brake. Excellent pretext to drink a whisky.

Reading or re-reading The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by J. Hogg. It should be the film that I’ll make next year around this time. Three days ago we worked with Jérôme Prieur, who wrote the prologue of the Marabout edition. I don’t know what to think. From Ian Christie to Françoise Dumas, more than twenty friends try to convince me that I adapt this Neo Gothic novel that I like and gives me ideas for other films, but I’m not sure that the novel itself lends itself for a filmed recreation. There are true moments of madness and I feel images coming of hilarious cruelty, but, like The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton, I feel that these novels work more as fans than as vacuum cleaners. They scatter and impregnate, but in themselves they aren’t idea magnets. But I could be wrong. In any case we’ve convened to place it in 1830’s France and end it towards the end of the XIX century with the discovery of the justified sinner, suspended, frozen in a glacier.

This sudden association with E. A. Poe has me in a good mood. It’s strange the way in which fictions associate to generate filmable images: La chouette aveugle by Hedayat didn’t summon (although it did discover) imagery, but the contact with El condenado por desconfiado by Tirso de Molina was enough for it to secrete audiovisual figures of enormous potency. In 40 minutes we shall land. Enough time for a cognac and to take a nap.

Later. In the neighborhood of Graça, waiting for André Gomes, actor and plastic artist. The whole afternoon studying the work plan, which is quite tight. Some streets are missing. The rest is all chosen already. I think it’s the first time that a production is this advanced. Yes, I think it’s the first time. I still feel that I’m not prepared the same. What’s missing above all is a coherent way to organize the shots. I’m trying to follow species of the spiral kind from right to left or alternating details and wide shots. Something to hold onto. And, of course, I keep avoiding eroticism. And I wrote the script (like the one for Three Crowns of the Sailor) coming out of the hospital and a urgent desire to fuck, doubled this time by the generous effect of a treatment with vitamin E.

From the window of the hotel (the same room I had while prepping Three Crowns of the Sailor) you can see the Castle and the river. Intriguing twilight. It stopped raining. Lots of transparency. But I want fog. But I want to work with a lot of diffusers. Women’s stockings, 30’s silk breeches (today’s don’t filter the same, the supplementary nylon or the treatment of the silk gives it a stupid multicolored and sweetened effect). Anyway. The eroticism reemerges where one least expects it.’

26 July 2000
‘Yesterday I worked two hours in the morning shooting objects, specially chairs: wood with wood: the chair on the wooden floor next to a piece of firewood and a match that burns and putters out. Then I went to have lunch with Luis Villamán. It was my birthday and his was on Monday, so we celebrated it as single men. Then I went back home, took a nap and I was reading until 5 pm, in which I started to work with Andrés. We examined some exercises and then we talked about theory and we started to shoot. He’s quick and had a couple of interesting ideas. At 7 pm the Rojas’, Jorge and Catherine came and we went to celebrate my birthday at a Chinese restaurant (Pacifique). I went to bed at 1 am. At 8 am I got up and I spent the entire morning editing Déclaration d’intention. At 12.30 hrs. I went to have lunch with the girl they’re proposing me as coach for Laetitia. Then I went to buy some books.’

11 March 2001
‘Cloudy and rainy. Yesterday I had lunch with Collin and we worked the whole afternoon (until 16.30 hrs.) with Stéphane. We finished the analytical read. The first, because many will come. Then a nap and reading of Schehadé. I read the second act and immediately some pages of Hebdromadaires by Prévert, a series of ramblings on this world and the other. Generous and stimulating. I dined with Gilbert and Leonardo, who mechanically insists in making me work on Dorian Gray and is still deaf to my explanations, which are simple. I’m under contract (“word contract”, the worst of all) with Paulo. I returned at 12. I saw a bit of television, a local soccer match. Soccer is still the only interesting thing among the live TV shows. I’ll spend the morning reading and taking notes and hearing (more than listening) music by Berg and Max Reger: from melancholy, melancholy and a half. I’ll have lunch with the Rojas’ couple and Andrés. Then I hope to work some, unless the heaviness leads me to lay down on bed.’

13 March 2001
‘Cloudy and fatal. Yesterday I started a new experience: a parallel carnet. As if someone said, a light way of leading a double life. And who says double says triple: I bought a third carnet (made of leather, in homage to [-]).

Last night I woke up at 2 am and I started to read the Hebdromadaire, the conversations with Prévert: “ ‘Are the sages of interest to you?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because I’m ignorant.’ ‘What it’s for you to be ignorant?’ ‘I ignore it.’ “. And adds: “Maybe the ignorant ignores what he knows and the sage knows what it is that he ignores”. Last night the semi-insomnia was provoked by the fear of filling the sound bar too much, to charge of commentaries without knowing much le comment dire.

During the mixing Sergio Castilla called from Chile, pleading me to not use for my film the Delora nº 3 by Leng (or that I use it but that I stop using it). I don’t know how he got the number of the mixing room.

Second day of mixing. It rains. I’ll go at noon to give a look (again) to the old book shops. I keep searching for Le chant de l’equipage by Mac Orlan. I started to leaf through Claude Farrère. Hesitating if entering or not in the meanders of Thomas de Quincey: “The bad fortune wheel”. It only takes three lines to bring up the despair and the desire to die. I can’t manage to concentrate on the Chilean film, which is approaching me quickly and menacingly. I have to pay the phone.

Curious to write on top of the wrinkles of the paper (which seems to turn eloquent to us as it fills with signs, as it a second writing would fight to emerge and impose itself).

11.10 hrs.
Some images for Cofralandes: series of interiors that culminate via approaching into detail shots (an object), that takes us to another interior, until that from detail to detail we find ourselves in a garbage dump (or in a store) in which all the objects seen in the other interiors can be seen. Each object tells its story. Stories of a salt shaker: salt flats, salaries, rites of the salt. Ashtray: same.

19.30 hrs. Back to the mixing. We’re in the third reel. I had lunch with Lucho Villamán, who’s preparing for his trip to Chile. I waver between preparing something to eat or go to a restaurant. But without means to talk it’s almost preferred to stay at home. To read and write.

Each day I give a step more towards my novels. I decided to finish Jamaica Inn, but I’ll need another title and I can’t find it.

Finally it’s nice to write on this paper. Permanent sensation of writing a palimpsest (is it written like that?).

I bought Positif. Articles on the documentary. I guess they’ll say something that isn’t the usual common ground. Picabia: “L’art est le culte de l’erreur”. And Gauguin: “Quand l’Ètat s’en mêle, il finit bien les choses”.

How to make a film that isn’t poetic art.

I started the reading of The Prince of Fools by Gérard de Nerval. The only that I don’t manage to do is go to the cinema. I don’t have a way to complaint that people don’t go to see my films. In fact, I don’t complain. Tomorrow I’ll do an effort and I’ll go see Traffic, to see Benicio del Toro act, to whom Paulo proposed the main role in The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

I saw on TV, in Actors Studio, an interview with Stanley Donen. Always surprising the simplicity and brutality of the American formulas. The ideal of our time: formulas so simple that they turn mysterious. “Encore une fois: le prince des sots”. May it be.

21.15 hrs. What is a novel? What is a film? What is art? To ask Serge Daney what is at this point. It isn’t, but what is a not Daney? A common French? The French mediocrity. No, nothing. Good, we’ll see. All that is see is not novel. What is novelated is what it’s told as revealed. On the account of what? Say it, Vaché.

At this point I’m little by little recovering the library of Paul de René that was burnt by the Nazis and a from which a few copies are left. All with the same kind of filling.

It seems that Pinochet will be judged for concealment. “Concealment”, the word that perfectly fits Chile. Country of concealment. Lost between absolutes and tales (see Lulio).

I have to do something with my books that isn’t burning them... Or sell them and win money, which would be worse. But so much ungrateful complaining.

The next week I travel to Chile (I said Chile: I travel to Cuba, where Valeria is, which, in this world, is my wife). Well. Tonight readings and leisure. Some red wine and [-] unreasonable.’

17 March 2001
‘Sunny, spring-like day. Day of disasters. This morning I read the fax that Gemini Films sent me, in which they communicate me the changes of the script, script that had already been accepted and paid in part and with its production running. The changes asked and done already by Rushdie are purely and simply the totality of the film. His attitude can be summed up in the next proposition: remove me from the project. None of my ideas of misé-en-scene is considered acceptable. I’m almost sure that they’ve given the script to read to what they call a “doctor”, a specialist in dramatic construction. This for the project is the flatness, we’re at the starting point.

I tried to expel the disaster dedicating myself to make the tax declaration and it’s a horror what I’ve earned and spent, essentially inviting friends to eat. I foresee a less friendly and very lonely future. More meals at home. Patience. Then an urgent fax from Hong Kong came asking me for the list of subtitles of Three Crowns of the Sailor, which I made nineteen years ago. Everywhere asking me for this and that, colloquia and nonsense. On the other hand, Comedy of Innocence is what they call a serious failure (90-something thousand tickets: honorable, but small).

Well, yesterday we were feasting in a restaurant the almost end of the mixing (reel 6, only one left). Yesterday the meeting of the Circle was a serious failure because Gérard was missing, who was in a police station, where his son had been jailed, who was protesting for the rights of the African immigrants. We did anyway a  schedule for the magazine. Some good ideas.

The day of all catastrophes. Salman Rushdie communicates through his agent that he wants to change all the scenes of the script to transform it into “the great popular success that we all want” (we all want?) Then, the always ingrate task of declaring taxes. I’m at the Flore waiting, hopeless, for Paulo, from whom I got a somewhat confusing message saying that he’ll be at the Flore between 12.00 and 13.00 hrs.’

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