Resnais Monteur

Alain Resnais editing (Courtesy of BFI)

Back in Paris, I needed to find an editor who was willing to work without wages, as part of the co-operative, like the other technicians. People mentioned Resnais of whom I knew nothing. I write to him. He replies requesting my scenario. I send it to him.

His next letter was discouraging: 'Your research is too similar to mine ... I am sorry'. I ring and insist. He agrees to look at the rushes. We meet at the Éclair Laboratory in Epinay.

There are ten hours of silent images. We are planning to show him only four. He sits in the middle of the room towards the front and me four rows behind him. We don't exchange a word whilst the film passes in silence, although I could have spoken the dialogue to him out loud. After two hours he stands up and says: 'I have seen enough, I don't believe I could work on that film'.

He is smiling but distant. I am demoralised and ask him what I should do. He says: 'In any case to edit a film you need to number the material, one number each foot. If you wish I will lend you a rewind with a crank, a rewind without, a piece of film marked up for the length of a foot, and a small synchro'. I had the distinct impression he had spoken Javanese!1

He brings everything to the rue Daguerre.2 I screw the rewinds on a table and start numbering the film outside of the perforations with white ink and a tiny nib. I turn once, tick, then write down the numbers: one for the shot, one for the take (1st time, 2nd time, etc.). I was on a treadmill.

After ten days of working with almost no break, I ring Resnais: 'I have finished what you asked me to do'. 'You have numbered 10,000 metres in ten days! You are mad! Okay, I will come and do your editing but on my conditions. I agree to the co-operative salary, but I want my lunch paid for each day. Also I stop at 6 p.m.'

In short, working for nothing but no overtime!

I hired a CTM editing machine and fixed up the rest of the installation. Resnais was living in the 14th arrondissement like me. He came on his bike with clips on his trousers. He was punctual.

I will never forget his generosity, the way he worked for months on this editing without any wages, nor the lesson I retained from it. Noticing that 'La Pointe Courte' was shot at a slow pace without safety shots (no cutaways, no alternative angles, no safety close-ups), he was saying that we needed to keep the rigidity of the film, its slowness and its bias without concession.

But he also made remarks like:

This shot reminds me of Visconti's 'La Terra Trema'3

'Who is Visconti?' I would ask.

'There is in Antonioni's "Il Grido"4 the same taste for walls'

'Who is Antonioni?'

Resnais did not try to use his talent as an editor to transform the film, re-arrange or adapt it to a simpler form, more lively or rapid. He was looking only for the right rhythm of this film.

I also remember the dazzling laugh of Anne Sarraulte, Resnais' trainee assistant, the wrinkling of her eyes and her cascading giggles.

The 'Estro Armonico' records which I had listened to when writing the film also influenced the rhythm of the editing. When Resnais was riding home on his bike, I listened to Brassens, Piaf, Washboard Sam and Greco when she was singing Queneau:

'If you think little girl, little girl, that it will, that it will, that it

Will last forever

You got it wrong little girl'.

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