The New You Project goes out with a BAM!


An Autumn Tale

Jonathan Baumbach recently introduced a screening of Eric Rohmer’s An Autumn Tale at BAMcinematek, which was perfect as its one of the influences in YOU or The Invention of Memory. Flavorwire covered the event. Here’s Jonathan’s introduction:

“A few weeks ago, circumstantially, I ran into Arthur Penn’s ‘Night Moves’ on TV, another worthy late film, a film in which the private detective hero, played by Gene Hackman, declines to go with his wife to see ‘My Night at Maud’s’ with the witty explanation that viewing a Rohmer film is ‘like watching paint dry.’ I remember the remark getting some knowing laughs in the theater the first time I saw ‘Night Moves.’ Sometimes watching paint dry, the right paint of course, can be a profound experience.

My predilection as a writer of fiction is for formal audacity, more in keeping with, say, early Godard than Rohmer, early or late. And so Rohmer has won me over in the long haul almost without my noticing the change in my feelings, and against my notion of myself. No matter, I still remain hugely fond of Godard’s answer when asked rather huffily if he didn’t think a film should have a beginning, middle and an end. ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘but not necessarily in that order.’

Rohmer might have answered the same question, ‘Yes, but not so you’d notice.’

‘An Autumn Tale’ is the last of Rohmer’s Tales of the Seasons, which is his third and most recent series and was made when the director, clearly in his prime, was over 70. Over the years, while doing something of the same thing again and again—as Rohmer says in explaining the terms of his first series, ‘what I call a conte moral is not a tale with a moral, but a story which deals less with what people do than what is going on in their minds while they are doing it’—Rohmer’s work, within its limited parameters, has made the same old thing more different and more beautiful as he’s gone along. As we know—the secret has been long out—Rohmer combines in most of his films literate talk about personal matters with an unobtrusively elegant camera.

We are trained to think that personal matters are less important than the global, but in fact the world tends to be too much with us and only of the moment. The personal, which is where we begin and end, is about everything.

The reason I chose ‘An Autumn Tale’ to introduce, beyond its being my favorite Rohmer film is that its basic plot device—one woman for her own self-deceived reasons advertising for a mate for another—is employed with notable variation in my latest novel, You or the Invention of Memory. And the reason for my shameless borrowing of the displaced behavior in Rohmer’s film is because it says so much about character while also being slyly comic. There is always the whisper of self-deceit, as Rohmer has been telling us throughout his extraordinary career, in the noblest of our deeds. Like most of us, like countries themselves, Rohmer’s characters, with the best of misguided intentions, often confuse self-regard with generosity. Ultimately, Rohmer’s art makes us feel good about feeling bad in the comic recognition of a personal and therefore universal hypocrisy shared with his characters. Enough said.

The rest is Rohmer.”


Jonathan Baumbach will be reading from YOU at Mixer in September, and also for The Brooklyn Rail, which is serializing his next novel, to be published as Dreams of Molly by Dzanc Books in 2011. Meanwhile, he’s written about his favorite short stories for the Emerging Writers Network, and is at work on a new collection…



One Response to “The New You Project goes out with a BAM!”

  1. I knew there was something to my Baumbach – Godard comparison. Can’t wait for the reading in September. I’ll be there.

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