Le Monde, Saturday, November 13, 1999

An American in Roubaix

During the editing of his film, « Cities of the Plain, » shot in digital video in the region of Roubaix, Robert Kramer gave an interview to the critic Patrick Leboutte. We publish extracts from this text which will appear November 19 in the magazine L'Image, le monde, une revue en cinéma.

....Perhaps it's no longer necessary today to travel. Or, from another point of view, if the world is the same everywhere, this means that you can film it anywhere, in any place. In some ways, the local reflects the global more than ever.
This spring, I filmed in the new shopping center of Eurolille, which looks like a vast international airport, totally depressing, completely antiseptic. You come out of the subway and you dive into the breach. (...) This is the new way of the world, and this is of interest to cinema.
The problem is not knowing where to film, since to a certain extent you film all the shopping centers of the world when you shoot here. The problem is knowing how to film what is interesting about it. (...) What does a human being become in this context? What is left of him? This is the new challenge: filming what is left.
As soon as I got to Roubaix to teach at the Fresnoy school in Tourcoing, I knew that the terrain posed some interesting questions. It clicked right away: (...) I had the feeling that the North (of France), and Roubaix in particular, were living in a time when the memory of the past was being actively passed on in the solidarity or the bias of the surrounding communities in their resistance to everything the center represented. At the same time, with a little perspective, our world-citizen's, our traveler's, our reader's perspective, I realized that it was all folklore, already the past, that soon everything would be swept away.
All during the shoot in Roubaix, I had the impression we were doing a kind of historiographic work about those things that will have disappeared in ten years, and sometimes I said to myself that, if the film weren't any good, at least I would have contributed to the archives for posterity: After all, that's one of film's functions. (...) I think we have to grieve in order to advance. We shouldn't be too nostalgic. You have to get into the flow and see what happens. You have to elude death, continuing to place your bets and keep going.
In this sense, I still think like an American. I know that in life, the rule is movement, and stasis the exception. (...) I was just sixty years old, and that is just amazing. (...) I never thought I would get past forty. My father died at fifty-eight, so I have no model for living beyond that age. So the only model I have is myself, with one foot in a demoralized era, the other in whatever will become the new civilization, with a new idea of the body, a new mental mode, a new relation to language.
How to communicate by e-mail? Is this really talking? What pleasure comes from images and keyboards? I wonder if, for the next generations, the world isn't all used up. In these conditions, I don't know really how to talk about passing something on. (...) What is good, I believe, is wanting to work and following the logic of your thoughts. After that, we'll just see.


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