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DAY 7: A pain in the arts.
We continue Nick Roddick’s subversive columns from the daily editions of Moving Pictures at the 2002 Cannes film festival & market, with his call for pain in the arts, after the screening of Divine Intervention. There should be more of it, he says. (Cannes this year is May 14 – 25; this is to help get your head ready.)

I was thinking about the 1960s last night. Before we go any further, let me say unequivocally: I was there and I remember. That old cliche was never true: with the 1960s, it's the forgetting that's usually been difficult.

For those of you who are already muttering 'Hippie shit', maybe you should stop reading. I'm not going to apologise: at different times, I've worn both caftan and bells and Mao jacket and badge. I'm not going to apologise and I'll get back to 2002 later. But I do want to tell a story.

"the summer of love reached Britain"

It happened at the Edinburgh Festival in 1966, when the summer of love reached Britain. It was August and hot and there was a Poetry Festival as a fringe event. I went because no one under 40 went to the main Festival in those days. The poetry festival was held in the original Traverse Theatre, a long, thin upstairs room at the top of the Royal Mile. The so-called Liverpool poets were there: Roger McGough, still 20 years away from featuring on the 'O'-level Eng Lit syllabus; Pete Brown, who went on to become a minor rock musician with, I think, Jack Bruce; and Adrian Henri, who was a good poet but also wanted to be a rock musician.

He sort of achieved that goal the following summer (Son of Summer of Love), bounding onto stage with some band or other and chanting "Enoch Powell! Sanitary towel!!" to thousands of stoned hippies (footnote to non-Brit readers: Powell was our highest profile right-wing politician, who for some reason we managed to get 35 years before - or 35 years after - the rest of Europe).

Adrian repeated the trick the following summer (Here Comes the Summer of Love Again) and the one after that (Autumn of Love) but before long Hendrix had ODed and winter, as Joni said, was comin' in. Or was it the 1970s, which were about something else entirely? And whatever that was I have forgotten.

But it isn't Adrian Henri I meant to talk about here: it's Ted Joans, the only American in the Poetry Festival, not to mention the only black poet.

The Traverse stage was a small platform with seven chairs set in a semi-circle for seven poets. They would get up in turn to read, standing at the microphone in that strange, twisted-sideways stance rock musicians use in the studio. The place was packed, and people were sitting on the stage.

Joans got up to read, doing so from memory, leaving his manuscript on his chair, which was promptly - and ill-advisedly - sat down on by some member of the audience. Joans couldn't have seen this happen because it was behind his back and he didn't turn round. He didn't even move his head: instead, he froze in mid-line and, still looking straight ahead, reached behind him and pointed straight at the hapless guy on the chair.

"You're sitting on my poems, man"

"You're sitting on my poems, man," he said slowly. "Don't do that. They'll hurt you."

That kind of sums up what we all liked to think poems - or books or films - would do in the 1960s. The New Wave was getting politicised, the New German Cinema was just getting started. Even the Hollywood Renaissance of the late 1960s/early 1970s - it didn't seem that way - had an agitational agenda. If art didn't hurt - disturb, upset, provoke - it wasn't really art.

These days, however, pain - that kind of pain: ideas which hurt - does not seem to count for much. Which is commercially understandable, I guess: no one's going to shell out 10 bucks to be upset. Dinner and a date ain't about making anyone feel uncomfortable. Not any American, anyway. If you want real pain, you go to a specialist and you pay a bit more.

But at Cannes, it ought to be a little different, don't you think? And finally, on Sunday night, with Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention, it was.

After half a week of mainly same-old-same-old, here was a mind-f**k of a movie: passionate, funny and painful. I guess half of you have seen it, so won't want me to say what it was about, and the other half never will, so probably don't care. But on the slight chance that someone reading this will change their plans, let me say, very briefly, that it's about Palestine. It begins with a Tatiesque section of petty jealousies and conflicts in a Palestinian village which is beautifully timed and funny; it moves into dangerous territory with sinister goings-on at a checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah; and it ends - or almost ends - with a sequence that sends sacred cows stampeding in all directions and which I won't even try to describe.

In between, there are moments from personal lives so impregnated with the political situation that this doesn't need to be pointed out, and allegorical scenes where the allegory is not labelled in 10-foot letters and stuffed down your throat.

"imperfect people caught in an impossible solution"

It was obviously made before the present escalation in the Middle East but, because it doesn't propose practical solutions, it hasn't been overtaken by events. It simply presents a sharp, clear picture of imperfect people caught in an impossible situation, and it does so with a mixture of calmness and passion that I can't remember seeing so astutely combined before.

In short, it hurt. And it made the Festival worthwhile.

Published April 10, 2003
First published in Moving Pictures May 22, 2002

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Divine Intervention

Cannes: The Underside 8


Nick Roddick taught film and theatre at Trinity College, Dublin; the University of Manchester; and California State University, Long Beach, before becoming a journalist in the early eighties. He was Films Editor of Stills Magazine in London from 1983-4 and Editor of Cinema Papers in Australia from 1985-6. From 1987-88, he was Editor of weekly trade paper Screen International and, in 1990, founding Editor of Moving Pictures International. Since 1993, he has been Editor of Preview, a bi-monthly magazine on films in production. He is author of several books on the British and American cinema, and currently runs Split Screen, a Brighton-based publishing and consultancy company specialising in the international film and television business.

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