Apparitions of Clémenti

Date: 19 October 2000 | Season: Leeds Film Festival 2000

Thursday 19 October 2000, at 6pm
Leeds City Art Gallery

To honour the memory of the Pierre Clémenti, who died last year, a rare screening of his very personal experimental films. The flamboyant French actor is well-known to aficionados of European cinema, as he has appeared in important films by directors such as Visconti (The Leopard, 1963), Bunuel (The Milky Way, 1969), Bertolucci (The Conformist, 1970), and Jancso (The Pacifist, 1971). His acting ability may have been limited, but his sultry, bohemian good looks meant he regularly played small but significant parts, belatedly receiving his first major starring role in Benjamin (1967) by Michel Deville, opposite Catherine Deneuve (together again following Bunuel’s Belle de jour the previous year). Clémenti seemed to shy away from box-office success and favoured artistically challenging work, appearing in several early existential films by his friend Philippe Garrel, and such difficult works as Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) and Pasolini’s Pigsty (1969).

In his own films, he pursues an intimate, poetic vision, weaving a complex tapestry of fact and fantasy. Influenced by the diary films of Jonas Mekas and Taylor Mead, and excited by screenings of the American underground, Clémenti created his own informal and psychedelic cinema style. Visa de censure n° X (1967-75) was named after the ‘visa de controle’, a document that must be issued for each film before public screenings in France, a country which at that time was over zealous in restricting works that were politically or socially undesirable. This air of extreme censorship meant that few French personal films were made in the late 1960’s, a period which saw the most experimental film activity in other countries. This first film is an eclectic mix of superimposition, neon light traces & time-lapse photography, combining real life footage with theatrical invention to capture an evocative memory of a free-wheeling era.

Always courting controversy and flaunting a disregard for authority, in the late 60s Clémenti was active in the radical Parisian youth movement and in 1971 was arrested in Italy on drugs charges. Following his incarceration he began to work on New Old (1979), a film and book which chronicled his activities as an actor and the everyday events surrounding the conception of his only fiction film A L’ombre de la canaille bleu (finally realised in 1987). Feeling he was at a point of no return, Clémenti embarked upon this stark confessional.

After his heydey, Clémenti continued to appear in numerous feature films. Some, like The Son Of Amr is Dead (Jean Jacques Adrien, 1978) were artistic and critical successes, but as his looks faded, he became less in demand and was forced to lower his standards, stumbling through rarely shown European productions as ill-health incapacitated his ability to perform. His last role was a minor part in Hideous Kinky (1998), a tale of enlightenment that must have been a sore reminder of his own spiritual journeys of the past. Clémenti died of cancer, aged 57, in December 1999.

Pierre Clémenti, Visa de censure n° X, France, 1967-75, 16mm, colour, sound, 42 min
Pierre Clémenti, New Old, France, 1978-79, 16mm, colour, sound, 64 min

This programme subsequently screened at London ICA Cinema and Brighton Cinematheque.

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