Double Concerto plus one for Literature, Painting and Film: Alan Rrudolph's "The Moderns" (1988)

Colloque SERCIA sur le thème Cinéma/Arts, Centre international de sémiotique, Urbino, Italie, septembre 1999. Colloque international ( L’auteur très pris par la preparation d’un livre, n’a pas pu le traduire à temps pour le faire inclure dans les Actes,Le cinema et les autres arts, un recueil apparaissant en français, pour lequel ce texte avait été accepté )

Trudy Bolter (Sciences-Po Bordeaux)

Double Concerto plus One for Writing, Painting and Film; The Moderns (Alan Rudolph, prod. Altman, 1988) Alan Rudolph's movie The Moderns (1988) is set in 1926, the year in which Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises was published. Ostensibly a film about art forgeries in expatriate Paris, it is in fact a reflexive film about what, in 1926, was the most modern of the arts, film, in its relation to the sister arts, at a point in film history when it could still seem to have more in common with painting than with literature: the Warner Vitaphone sound system went into use in August, 1926, and Th Jazz Singer was released in 1927.1 But The Moderns reaches this point obliquely through dealing explicitly with writing and painting, two of the sister arts from which film derives, and only implicitly with film itself. The structure of the film is based upon the mutual reflections set up between three parallel characters, two within the diegesis and the third standing behind the text. . One is the hyper-mediatized novelist Ernest Hemingway, presented on the eve of his fame in a way which diverges from the more commonly presented image as virile outdoorsman. The contrasted character is a fictional painter, Nick Hart, who is not only set up to reference Hemingway in negative and positive ways, but also to connote the director of the film, Alan Rudolph, the third member of the trio, whose artistic practice as image-maker resembles that of the painter, who copies works of visual art using a means of mechanical reproduction that recalls the film camera


But Rudolph is also a scriptwriter, and he is thus connoted by the author-character too. Not only does Rudolph create a trompe l'oeil Paris, but as we shall see he also creates a trompe l'oreille dialogue, echoing on two fronts the counterfeiting performed by his double, Hart, thus stretching the chain of connotations into an endlessly reflecting circle with himself and the art of film at the center.. But as one character reflects another, so does Rudolph's literary and artistic Twenties serve as an objective correlative for the Hollywood film world of today. The title of the film is ambiguous-The "Moderns" could mean "our contemporaries" (at the time the film was made in 1988, or at whatever time we see it) as well as artists of the "modern" school of the first quarter of the century. Rudolph has said that he sees the Twenties as the thin end of the wedge that we now inhabit: To me, this was a period that had no purity. It was the first time art went public, and it seems that whenever something like this becomes hugely popular, it is always after the fact. the real breakthroughs had come earlier; the thing about Paris in the 20s is that the serious arts had already left town. We've been living in this counterfeit culture ever since.2

To a French journalist, he said L'art, à Paris, à la fin des années vingt, c'est l'art de vendre et d'acheter, pas celui de peindre. L'art n'est plus jugé en fonction de son mystère, de sa beauté ou de sa vérité, mais de son prix. Depuis cette époque, nous vivons dans une culture du "faux."3 The art world portrayed as being part of Twenties Paris is a mirror designed to reflect the present day. "Hollywood is the city of the future" says one character to another:"that's what they said about Paris six years ago" replies another.4 But the film not only plays time upon time and place upon place - it is also a game of overlapping texts.. The film text is set up as an ironic rival to two of the main sources of information on the mythical period of Twenties Paris, Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast (1964), and Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas (1933), both cited in the screenplay in slightly off-key ways. Rudolph (with Jon Bradshaw, his co-author) uses a process


of skewed reference which challenges these texts (themselves askew in the sense of not being historically truthful) at the same time as it attaches them as adjuncts to his own.. The result is a gallery of verbal and visual pictures (Rudolph's, Stein's, Hemingway's) each one-like all the paintings used in the film- in some way a "forgery", and all of which seem to hold equal weight. This being so the inescapable conclusion to which the web of reflections leads us, is that films in general-and The Moderns in particular- are works of art containing the same "essence of modernity", and having at least the same masterpiece value, as paintings by Matisse, Modigliani or Cézanne or literary classics like the Paris books by Stein or Hemingway: all the links may be twisted, but the chain of art is still either pure gold (or dross, depending on the way you receive the mixture of parody and lyricism which somewhat confuses the issues of the film).. Defining the term "modernism", Charles Harrison has said: Alike in all the arts, modernism is at some point grounded in intentional rejection of classical precedent and classical style. Modernism is always and everywhere relative to some state of affairs conceived of as both antique and unchanging.5 Using the word in this sense, we may say that The Moderns is a "modernist" variation on the classical Hollywood biopic form, showing a group, rather than a central hero, and relegating the actual historical characters Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, to the margins of the story rather than placing them at the center, as was done with the writer-character in The Life of Emile Zola (1937), for example. (This bending of genre is comparable to the playful technique used by Gertrude Stein in her Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, Stein's partner, which is in fact a memoir of Stein's own life6 ) Like the standard Hollywood biopic ( and like Stein's and Hemingway's Paris memoirs) The Moderns is heavily fictionalized, but whereas William Dieterle, the director of The Life of Emile Zola, placed a title in the first frames of his movie underlining the distance from history taken by his tale, the historical basis ....has been fictionized for the purposes of this film "and will not adhere to the literal historical truth". Alan Rudolph leaves his spectator to figure this out for himself, choosing either to be fooled, or to set off in search of the sources sometimes so clearly targeted, sometimes so maddeningly vague.


If it is relatively easy to pick up the references to Hemingway and Gertrude Stein after quick re-readings of the short books they authored about the Twenties, it is not so easy to sift out the lines that one imagines must come from somewhere in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which we assume must be targeted when a characters speaks them standing under a portrait of the author in question.(A totally fictitious picture, since no such oil portrait of Fitzgerald was ever made)7 One wonders about the works of André Breton, when a long-and important section in French, is spoken by a "surrealist poet" just before the camera shows us an artist doodling in a Breton-like vocabulary in the Selavy Bar where much of the action of The Moderns takes place, whose caissière is a red-haired lady named Rose. This portion of screenplay suggests that Hart and Oiseau, the failed artists (in terms of critical success and acceptance into the sanctum sanctorum of Parisian cultural life, Gertrude Stein's salon), who are on their way to Hollywood, are really in harmony with the newest of the new in French artistic theory. Says the poet:, who here justifies the role implicitly given by Rudolph's film to cinema as the daughter, but ultimately also the modern matriarch of all the arts: Pris de la frénésie et de l'ombre, il réclame des sujets excessifs, des états culminants de l'âme, une atmosphère de vision, une vie portée à l'incandescence. Il implique un renversement total des valeurs . Il est plus captivant que l'amour, plus puissant que la morphine, plus excitante que le phosphore même. De quoi s'agit-il? Mais du cinéma, bien sûr. Rudolph's film - like the standard biopic on whose theme it represents a "modernist" variation - does carry some elements of historical truth. Stein and Hemingway were both in Paris in this period, although, in 1926, Hemingway was on the eve of his divorce from his first wife Hadley and also on the verge of leaving Paris. This was the point in his life at which he ended A Moveable Feast, referenced quite explicitly at the end of the film when the Hemingway character , at the Gare St Lazare, seeing Hart off or perhaps leaving Paris himself, composing aloud and looking for the right formula, says Paris is a bon repas....a traveling picnic...Paris is a portable picnic …


and other words referring to the same text are the last we hear in the film. Walking with a friend on the way into the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art where Hart's forged pictures are on display, Hemingway says to a friend John, if you were lucky enough to have lived in Paris, lucky enough to be young, it didn't matter who you were because it was always worth it, and it was good. These lines of dialogue refer to and partly repeat the words spoken to a friend in 1950 by Hemingway which serve as the Epigraph to A Moveable Feast, and go like this: If you were lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast8 At the same time, the film dialogue repeats and changes the lines which close A Moveable Feast

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.9 The dialogue, both using and refusing the Hemingway model, skews the text it comes from while giving a gloss of authenticity to the film. this is also the case with the quotations taken from Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B Toklas. One of the set pieces of the film is an evening at Gertrude Stein's picture-filled drawing-room on the rue de Fleurus, in which the dialogue is peppered with borrowings from an interesting mixture of sources. Hart arrives with his friend the journalist Oiseau, and they are ushered in by Alice B. Toklas to the salon, where Gertrude is holding forth, GERTRUDE STEIN: I've come to the conclusion that I dislike the abnormal. It's so obvious. The normal is so much more simply complicated and interesting. (---) OISEAU TO ALICE: ...Does Hadley like his new friends?


ALICE: Ah, the pilot fish. Charming lot. Not terribly interesting but I like their taste. NICK Hart (to HEMINGWAY):Do me a favor, pal - tell me a good joke. HEMINGWAY: You're standing in one. You know, Hart, there's only two things that can really kill a man-suicide and gonorrhea. (---) GERTRUDE STEIN (to HART): Young man, Come....I have a very important question regarding your work. How old are you? HART: Thirty-three GERTRUDE STEIN: It won't do at all. American painters are twenty-six this year. HART: Well, I'm not. GERTRUDE STEIN: Precisely my point. You won't fit in at all. NICK HART: (incomprehensible)..won't approve of that, either.I can always move towards the theatre GERTRUDE STEIN: I'll introduce you to Jean Cocteau (laughter)........ Hemingway! Remember, the sun also sets! HEMINGWAY: Yes, right on your big.....Hey, Bunny ? BUFFY: I don't think we speak to Miss Stein that way. HEMINGWAY: She never listens anyway Some of the sources of this dialogue are easy to trace. Gertrude Stein's first remark, about her interest in the normal, comes from the Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, at a point in the narrative where, in the persona of Alice B. Toklas, she is relating Stein's failure to get her medical degree and her ensuing breakaway from a projected career studying pathological psychology:

She always says she dislikes the abnormal, it is so obvious. She says the normal is so much more simply complicated and interesting.10 When Oiseau and Alice are discussing Hadley Hemingway's feeling about Ernest's new friends, however, the Paris memoir being referenced is not the Gertrude Stein book, but Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. The "pilot fish" is Hemingway's term for the person who acts as a scout for the rich , looking out for whatever is new-and attention-worthy:

The rich have a sort of pilot fish who goes ahead of them, sometimes a little deaf, sometimes a little blind, but always smelling affable and hesitant ahead of


them...He is always going somewhere, or coming from somewhere, and he is never around for very long .... These rich loved and trusted him [ an unidentified character] because he was shy, comic, elusive, already in production, and because he was an unerring pilot fish....The rich came led by the pilot fish. A year before they would never have come. There was no certainty then. The work was as good and the happiness greater but no novel had been written so they could not be sure....In those days I trusted the pilot fish....Under the charm of these rich I was a s trusting and stupid as a bird dog who wants to go with any man with a gun, or a trained pig in a circus who has finally found someone who loves and appreciates him for himself alone.11 In A Moveable Feast, the pilot-fish is a harbinger of doom, leading to the breakup of Hemingway's pure, hard-writing life and his marriage to Hadley. The date of the film, 1926, is about the time in which Hemingway became involved with his second wife: he divorced Hadley, the first wife, in 1927 and left Paris in 1928. When in the film, Gertrude Stein asks Hart how old he is, the dialogue reproduces a section in the Autobiography of Alice B Toklas relating the meeting between Gertude Stein and Hemingway, putting Hart more or less in the position of a certain George Lynes:

I remember very well the impression I had of Hemingway that first afternoon. He was an extraordinarily good-looking young man, twenty-three years old. It was not long after that that everybody was twenty-six. It became the period of being twenty-six. During the next two or three years all the young men were twenty-six years old. It was the right age apparently for that time and place. there were one or two under twenty, for example George Lynes but they did not count as Gertrude Stein carefully explained to them. If they were young men they were twenty-six. Later on, much later on they were twenty-one and twenty-two. So Hemingway was twenty-three, rather foreign-looking, with passionately interested, rather than interesting eyes. He sat in front of Gertrude Stein and listened and looked.12

The screenplay of The Moderns, written by Alan Rudolph with Jon Bradshaw, a magazine writer who died in 1986 before the film was made, creates a fictional Hemingway who both references and diverges from the persona drawn in the classic Hemingway account of Twenties Paris. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway , living on his wife Hadley's inherited income which was about equal to three times the average French worker's salary , he describes himself


(falsely) as being very poor, writing in cafés to escape his cold room, but also living in devoted harmony with Hadley and their young son, Bumby, as well as the cat babysitter, F Puss. In Gertrude Stein's recollection of the period, a very young Hemingway sits devotedly at her feet like a willing student. James Mellow cites a letter in which Hemingway wrote to Sherwood Anderson, who had introduced him to Stein, ending "We love Gertrude Stein,"13and Stein and Toklas were Bumby's godmothers. However, in the film, Rudolph suggests the contempt that Hemingway ultimately developed for his one-time mentor and literary model, expressed in A Moveable Feast, and generally caricatures the Stein salon as being both precious and perverse. Alan Rudolph's Gertrude Stein questions and evaluates the young painter exactly as the wealthier, but not more powerful art-consumer Bertram Stone deals with artists in the very first sequence of the film, when, sitting beside his wife (who is another kind of consumer, constantly nibbling chocolates or drinking whisky) he is offered a choice of painters as if they were so many dishes on the menu while the art-dealer vaunts their merits as if he were peddling the plat du jour. (Indeed Stone's name begins like hers with an S and a T, although it finishes off with three letters that are pronounced exactly like the verb to "own", possession being nine-tenths of his persona.) In The Moderns, the Hemingway character is a kind of "lounge lizard": this characterization suggests that the widely known sporty outdoors Hemingway was perhaps a fake. Rudolph's Hem is more like the stereotype of a bitter failed writer than a snapshot of a rising star: he is something of a barfly, capitalizing on his fame to cadge drinks from tourists, visiting the tarts who live opposite Hart's studio, and generally boring everyone who will listen with his aphorisms. (An example of his incoherent but oracular style is the dirge he pronounces at the funeral of the mock-suicide Oiseau: The dead are the most brave. They take their love with them. Can you even imagine the courage to love someone, who loves you, when there's nothing you can do about it? At worst, the Hemingway in The Moderns (many of whose lines were improvised by the actor, Kevin J. O'Connor)14 seems almost like a contestant honing his wit to enter the Harry's Bar and American Grill International Imitation Hemingway Contest, founded in 1980.15 At best,


however, his portentous comments on the action of the film, make it seem as if the action of The Moderns is a kind of Hemingway first draft, a novel in the making - or indeed, that the historical Hemingway was actually an alter ego of the Jake Barnes of The Sun Also Rises, unflatteringly described by a companion on a fishing trip as follows:

You're an expatriate....Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing. Not even in the newspapers...You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You're an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés.16 The Hemingway of the film is constantly mistaking people's names (He calls Buffy Bunny, and uses the name Clark for Nick), as if he were in a state between fact and fiction and couldn't decide whether to use the names they bear in diegetic reality or that he will give them in his fiction.17 But this confusion also reflects the instability of character-identity in this film, which in turn mirrors the instability of the collage of texts, disallowing any sure identification of sources or any sense of historical authenticity.. In the opening sequence, Hart is like Hemingway in this, since Hart calls Oiseau a series of declensions on his name, whether Oisif or Oiselle, the name of a Parisian art critic in the diegesis confusion comes when an expatriate, just off the boat, says to another one:

See that guy over there? He just wrote a book called The Sun Also Rises. Oh, that's Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The ultimate confusion of course is felt at the end of the film when paintings by Nick Hart are called a Matisse, a Modigliani and a Cézanne. Born in 1899, the historical Hemingway would have been twenty-six years old for at least part of 1926, the year in which Gertrude Stein tells the painter, Hart, that this is the right age for painters that year. Here, he scenario-writers have also used an event linked to the biography of Hemingway (as told by Gertude Stein) as part of the narrative concerning the painter Hart. But this is not the only way in which the painter Hart mirrors and merges with the character Hemingway as developed in he film. during the sequence in Gertrude Stein's salon, Hart insults


the collector Stone's American wife (who is, in reality, Harts own spouse, since she never divorced him before marrying Stone). Stone challenges him to a duel, which Gertrude Stein alters to a boxing-match three rounds long to be undertaken in the American Gymnasium in Montparnasse. This boxing match as developed in the film is not only a reference to the boxing in The Sun Also Rises, but also an interesting adaptation of an event in Hemingway's own life, which took place in 1929, as reported by one of his biographers, James R Mellow: using this material, the screenwriters replace the historical Hemingway with the fictional Hart. As Mellow relates the story, Hemingway had a date to box with the writer Morley Callaghan, but, feeling the effects of a heavy lunch, he wanted to keep the rounds down to a duration of one minute each, with two-minute rest periods in between - the most he felt he could handle. F Scott Fitzgerald was on the bell and unfortunately let the first round go on for three minutes and forty five seconds, enough time for Hemingway's face to be hit many times, for his lip to be cut, and for the overfed contender to be forced to sink to the ground. 18 In The Moderns, the fictional Hemingway acts out the part of the real Fitzgerald and has the job of ringing the bell at the end of the rounds, a job which he muffs exactly the way Fitzgerald is said by Mellow to have done. Hemingway, engaged in conversation with Stone's henchmen, forgets the time and lets the round go on too long, so that the collector is able to force the painter Nick Hart to the canvas and finish him off with kicks, ultimately knocking out the referee as well. (Says the Hemingway character in lieu of more substantial comfort, "A fight is just a fight, and when it's fought, it's something else.") What things are and aren't, and what they seem to be, how one thing can seem like another, and the irrelevance of names: the confusion generated by questions of identity and the randomness of notions of value is one of the leading thematic networks of the film. The very genre of The Moderns is put into doubt: heavily indebted to literary models (to such an extent that the gates in the first sequence opening onto the Eiffel Tower can only remind us of the covers of a book) and referencing landmark paintings, it spills over the boundaries of the usual film text. Rudolph's Paris of The Moderns was well publicized by journalists as being a fake actually created in Montreal. (The random, totally conventional nature of the Parisian-ness of Rudolph's diegetic city is constantly emphasized: the Paris landscape perceived through the back window of


a car or the window of an apartment is as often an obviously painted background as an actual street, and, instead of architecture or monuments, posters usually convey the sense of time and place.) All the pictures used in the film are fakes, but if the authors referred to in these counterfeit art objects are easy to identify, the actual pictures themselves are impossible to pin down: the key canvas, the Cézanne, vaguely reminds us of Les grandes baigneuses, or perhaps of Matisse's Bonheur de vivre and details of pictures imprecisely recalling famous modernist icons, such as Picasso's Les demoiselles d'Avignon, flash across the screen. Like the trompe l'oreille dialogue, these picture-references give a skewed, disorienting sense of referring to identifiable but apparently historical models So, too, is there confusion among the identity of the characters. Rachel, Stone's wife, is really Hart's wife. Nathalie de Ville's lover, Armand, is really a cross-dressing woman. Oiseau, the suicide is really alive, but passing as a woman during his own funeral. Stone, the real suicide, a former apprentice to the magician, Houdini, emerges from the coffin at which he has replaced Oiseau, as if he has just performed a masterful escape number following an epileptic fit that feigned death. At the very end of the film, another identity crisis for Oiseau takes place in the sequence set in the Museum of Modern Art - which, incidentally, opened in 1929 on the twelfth floor of a skyscraper and not in the bank -like structure portrayed. A woman called Ada Fuoco comes up to the journalist him and asks him if he isn't Irving Fagelman, her childhood friend from Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Oiseau backs away, saying in French that he doesn't speak English. Ada Fuoco walks off in a state of perplexity - but a look at the credits at the end of the film tells us that the character, Ada Fuoco, is played by an actress really called Ada Fuoco. The principle of shifting and overlapping identity is fundamental to this film, which is itself an artistic collage whose list of components extends even to the paratext.. non-

This set of overlapping identities radiates outwards from the central pair of contrasting characters, the fictional Nick Hart, refers to the semi-historical Hemingway and is intended as a parallel character working in tandem with that of the author. . Nick Hart's name is interesting- Nick Adams was the name of the Hemingway character in his early stories, taken by


many readers to be a pseudonym for the author himself. The painter's name Hart, not only refers to his vital organ, but, when pronounced by a French waiter, as in the opening of the film sounds like "art"19, but it also begins with an "H", clearly stressing the link to the writer There is

symmetry in their differences as well as in their similarities. Hemingway is already a success: Hart is still, after six years in Paris (the same amount of time spent there by Hemingway, although not within the same dates) a failure. Hemingway has been able to give up newspaper work and devote himself to pure art: Hart is still making a living sketching caricatures for the Paris Herald Tribune. Both Hem and Hart, working in cafés at solitary arts, are, as Oiseau says in the opening sequence of the film "among the throng but not of the throng". But, just as the character Nick Hart echoes and overlaps with the character Hemingway, he also overlaps and merges with the director Alan Rudolph, implied behind the Hart who undertakes the central action of the film, the forging of three works which are said to embody "the true spirit of modernity", a Matisse, Modigliani, and very importantly a Cézanne. Hart accomplishes a quintessential and mythic action performed by many writercharacters (and other artists) in American Film, since he agrees to prostitute himself in exchange for money (and personal attention from Nathalie de Ville), by forging the three great pictures from her collection that she wishes to steal from her husband (the idea being that she will take his originals to America, replacing them with Hart's copies). The irony, of course, is that by so doing, one has the feeling that Hart rather than debasing it, is reaching a higher level of excellence than he does in his own art, and that he only improves the quality (as read by the critics) of the paintings he is paid to forge. We see him at work with a kind of magic lantern, projecting the images of the originals onto a rectangular white canvas, a metonymy for the cinema screen. Hemingway, doing "research" with the tarts next door, is framed in a window as if he were part of just another more painting, incorporated with the others into an implied master image including them all-the Rudolph film. During the forging sequence, Hart is likened to the director when he is presented as having a memory which duplicates one characteristic procedure of Rudolph's film, the sliding from still photograph or documentary film, through fiction filmed in sepia which imitates

historical footage, to a full-color diegetic reality. Hart's studio is full of photographs of himself


and Rachel, or of Rachel alone: when he is riding in a car with Nathalie de Ville, he imagines scenes of what might happen with her as if they were frames of a film. The images in his life slide from past to present like the frames in Rudolph's film. Hart's imagination, perceptions and memory, presented in a series of pictorial flashes more fully than those of any other character in the film, duplicate the weavings in and out of visual reality conducted by the film director. His memory is, on a small scale, constructed like the "memory" of the film as a whole (Thus his "Paris"-a collection of little Eiffel Towers to which the waiter in the opening sequence makes a contribution- is a scale model of Rudolph's Paris, in xhich imaginations are so dominated by the presence of the Tower that a painter sitting at his easel in a dark street adds one to his picture even if the monument is invisible to him.) So, in a number of ways, the character of Nick Hart, a kind of sideways

Hemingway, is also slanted towards the image of the director as this is implied within the text,. Some of the light shed by the main character upon the director is diffused and deflected, and spills over the boundaries of the film text proper. The reviews of The Moderns (as for example the file in the Bibliothèque du film or the collection presented on RottenTomatoes.com ) convey information which can only be considered a part of the film text, since much of this material is totally coherent with the themes of the film. Alan Rudolph is the son of a movie director and the protégé of Robert Altman, another movie director who could be considered a kind of father-in-art: if we accept the equivalency of copying a painting with "forging" the past in an ironically historical film, then we have to equate Alan Rudolph himself with his character, Nick Hart. Yet again, many of the paintings used in the film were actually produced by a real forger, David Stein, who had actually spent time in jail for having imitated art - the opposite to what happens to Hart, whose forgeries, partially the result of mechanical reproduction, go down in history as examples of not only what is archetypal in modernism but also of what is inimitable, with just those touches added by him which diverge from the originals (he has changed the face of the Matisse to resemble that of his wife Rachel) being praised as the height of the sublime.specificity of what are perceived to be originals. But if Hart connotes the extra-filmic character of David Stein, the art forger, and thus refers through him to Alan Rudolph, a member of his diegetic"team" also connotes Rudolph


in his role of scriptwriter. This is Hart's friend Oiseau, the future Hollywood scriptwriter, an interesting character probably based partly on two figures in expatriate Paris, the journalist William Bird, and the bilingual journalist Eugene Jolas, who explicated the new art movements in Twenties Paris to American readers and helped to create the myth while it was still continuing in reality20. Says Oiseau, If it weren't for me, people would have thought "surreal" was a breakfast food. Oiseau is fed up with Paris, and wants to get out of his contract with the Paris Tribune - thinking this is too difficult, he stages a mock funeral for himself after publicizing a mythical suicide and having published the obituary which he wrote for himself. After he attends the funeral disguised as a woman, he and Hart, whom he has finally convinced to go, leave France for Hollywood. Meeting Hart at the bar, Oiseau says (in his female disguise)

Jesus, I just ran into Maurice Ravel in the men's room. He didn't recognize me. (Sees Americans) You know, Paris has been taken over by people who are just imitators of people who are imitators themselves. It's become like a parody. Believe me, Hollywood is going to be a breath of fresh air. ....This whole experience gives me a great idea for a picture I could write. It would be perfect for Von Stroheim. Not only is identity a problem for the spectator, it is also a problem within the diegesis. Nathalie de Ville's henchmen, who come to steal the originals of her paintings from Hart's studio, take the copies instead. When Nathalie tells Stone that his pictures, the real originals, are fakes, he believes her, because, not only are her own pictures "authenticated", but the critics at Stone's party affirm that the Stone pictures are fakes, whereupon the owner slashes them and throws them into the fire. On the other hand, at the end of the film, a critic holding forth in front of the forged pictures lauds them in the following terms:

Ah, yes, Henri Matisse. Odalisque-study if you will the face-it's the most realized of all his work and to my mind the best...Cézanne, considered to be the father of modern (modernism?)..this revelation cannot be taught nor can it be duplicated. Only the greatest artists can achieve what has happened here, and then only in a rare moment of time...;


The art critic seems to confirm what

Libby Valentin, the art-dealer played by

Geneviève Bujold, says to Hart early on in the film when she is trying to get him to sell out and forge Nathalie de Ville's pictures: I never liked Caravaggio myself, but your father's Caravaggio, I loved. Your father is a master and you've inherited all his skills. Not only is Hart as great a forger as his father, able to improve the works he copies, but the conclusion is clear: a forgery can also be superior to the original upon which it is modeled, an d Rudolph's Paris should be considered as at least the equal of Hemingway's or Stein's. Thus The Moderns is actually a defense of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, whether this means be the magic lantern used by Nick Hart or movie camera wielded by Alan Rudolph. The Moderns is a film that seems to have been written for an ideal spectator who will know about the all the literary texts, and all the painters involved in Rudolph's elaborate scheme of connotations, a viewer who will remember to watch the credits, and who will read the reviews: This point is illustrated by the example of the painter, Cézanne, whose importance within the film text proper is considerably different than it seems when a certain amount of knowledge of the literary sources used in constructing the screenplay is brought to bear upon the film. In the film, outside of the critics who have the last word on the authenticity and value of works of art, Cézanne is chiefly of interest to the painter, Hart, who though an occasional (and unwilling) forger himself, lauds Cézanne who, he says, "was never tempted to cheat." Cézanne was also responsible for Hart's artistic vocation, since, he says, when, as a boy, he first saw a Cézanne he burst out into perspiration as if he had a fever, undercutting this statement with irony by saying that in fact the illness was physiological and not due to esthetic shock: the child did have a fever, but , in the ensuing period of enforced idleness, he began to draw. This finding of a vocation because of the works of Cézanne corresponds to what happened to Gertrude Stein who, having bought a Cézanne from the dealer Vollard, started to write fiction (Three Lives) while contemplating the Cézanne:


It was an important purchase (the Cézanne), because in looking and looking at this picture Gertrude Stein started to write fiction She had begun not long before as an exercise in literature to translate Flaubert's Trois Contes and the she had this Cézanne and she looked at it and under its stimulus she wrote Three Lives21 Paul Cézanne, via Gertrude Stein also influenced the writing of Ernest Hemingway. James Mellow suggests that his character, Nick Adams, who appears in his first published work, the collection of short stories entitled in our time, is in fact an aspiring writer 22, a point brushed in with only a few words in the published version. However, in the original typescript, Hemingway appends to the story "Big Two Hearted River (II)" a stream-of-consciousness passage of eleven pages including material which makes it clear that the character is a Hemingway double Nick Adams, a fisherman-writer , whose stories carry the titles of stories by Ernest Hemingway 23 (---) The great hope of Nick Adams the writer-and of Ernest Hemingway--was to write stories as objective and real as the paintings of Cézanne, to do the country as Cézanne had done it. ("You had to do it from inside yourself.") Nick/ Hemingway remembers the Cézannes he has seen, the portrait of Madame Cézanne at Gertrude Stein's .... and so on. In an encyclopedia entry for Gertrude Stein we learn that in her Lectures in America of 1935 she compares her literary technique with that of the cinema No two frames of a motion picture are exactly alike, yet the sequence presents to the eye a flowing continuity. Similarly, Miss Stein, by the use of partly repetitive statements, each making a limited advance in the theme, presents an uninterrupted series of instantaneous visions, so that one grasps a living moment in precise, ordered forms.124 If such is the style to which the influence of Cézanne was able to lead Gertrude Stein, and if Alan Rudolph and Jon Bradshaw were consciously aware of the connotative resonance their collage of periods, places, characters, texts, and media could engender - a series of echoes of which I believe I have only been able to hear the loudest - then, upon study, this rather uneven film about art becomes more artistic then it at first seems to be. Behind the sometimes clumsy parody of cultural myth

is an esthetic statement about film as a kind of "total work of art"


containing its sisters, at the same time that it outdoes them. To rephrase the inimitable Gertrude Stein, a book is a painting is a film.. The word concerto has been defined as having two meanings, one which coming from the Italian "consertare" designates a group of instruments making beautiful music together, and another, from the word "concertare" which indicates rivalry between the different players.25 Alan Rudolph and Jon Bradshaw have written a film which suggests that art and literature at one and the same time compete and blend in the "mixed-media" work of art which film is by its very essence, a kind of concerto to which the modern movement including Cézanne, Stein and Hemingway have only been a prelude.

Noxell-Smith, Geoffrey (ed) : Oxford History of World Film, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 211. Richard Combs, « Interview with Alan Rudolph », Monthly Film Bulletin, 1989, page 69 In a Telerama of 1988, Rudolph had excepted Picasso and Man Ray from this generalisation, see below Note 3. 3 "L'Argent de l'Art" « Propos d'Alan Rudolph recueillis par Vincent Tolédano », Télérama, N°2017, 7 septembre 1988. 4 It was Gertrude Stein who said that Paris was « where the Twentieth Century is happening. » ‘So Paris was the natural background for the twentieth century; America knew it too well, knew the twentieth century too well to create it, for America there was a glamour in the twentieth century that made it not be material for creative activity. » Gertrude Stein, Paris France , New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, p.24. 5 « Modernism », pp 142-155, in Critical Terms for Art History, ed Robert S Nelson and Richard Shiff, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1996 (1st edition),page 142. 6 Gertrude Stein, Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, New York, Vintage Books, 1990. A sequel Everybody's Autobiography, was issued some years later 7 Thanks for this information to Pascale Antolin, Maître de Conférences à Michel Montaigne Bordeaux III, and author of a recent book on Fitzgerald (Pascale Antolin-Pires. L’Objet et ses doubles. Une relecture de Fitzgerald. Pessac : Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2000. 247 pages.) 8 Ernest Hemingway, Epigraph A Moveable Feast , (Paris est une fête), (1964), New York, Scribner, 1996, on title page 9 A Moveable Feast page 182 10 Gertrude Stein, Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, op cit, page 91 11 A Moveable Feast ; op cit, pp 179-180 12 Autobiography of Alice B Toklas , op cit, pp 229-30 13 James R. Mellow, Hemingway A Life Without Consequences , New York, Da Capo Press,1993, page 149 14 Jaehne, Karen, "Time for The Moderns ," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1988, p.27. 15 Voir George Plimpton, ed., The Best of Bad Hemingway, New York, Harcourt, 1989. 16 Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, New York, Arrow/Vintage, 1994, page 101 Also quoted by Charles Poore in his memorial article for Hemingway in the New York Times on July 3, 1961. 17 One of the confusions he makes is "Buffy" for "Bunny" It's perhaps worth noting that Edmund Wilson, the critic and friend of Fitzgerald, bore the nickname "Bunny" 18 Mellow , Hemingway A Life Without Consequences, op cit, page 387 19 Jaehne, « Time for the Moderrns », op cit, p. 25. 20 See the chapters in American Writers in Paris 1920-39 » Gale Research , Dictionary of Literary Biography, ed. by Karen Lane Rood ; foreword by Malcolm Cowley. - Detroit, MI : Gale Research, 1980. 21Stein, Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, page 39. In fact she had written an earlier novel, Q E D, lost for many years and published posthumouèsly . 22 Mellow , Hemingway, op. cit., p. 272 23 Ibid, p. 274 24 James D Hart, ed, Oxford Companion to American Literature, New York, Oxford University Press, , 1995, page 634. 25Xavier Lacavalerie, « Union miracle : Critique du disque d'Alfred Brendel, Les cinq concertos pour piano de Beethoven », Télérama 12 May 1999, p.110.
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© Trudy Bolter 2009

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