share


Missing Footage

The discovery of absences (lacks, lacunae) and their definition must in turn lead the filmmaker as composer to the subsequent wager against them – to fill these lacks with that which is not.

—Yves de Laurot

 

I. YVES DE LAUROT, WHERE ARE YOU?

 

An old guidebook tells me that in the 1930s MacDougal Alley, a block of mews behind the north side of Washington Square, was the only street in New York City still illuminated by gas lamps. Last night I went to a party in one of the quaint, two-storey houses that line its cobblestone length. At one point I found myself in a quiet corner where the host was showing off a series of photographs he’d taken at various nightclubs in the early 1980s. In several black-and-white flash-lit images I noticed, among a group of dissolute-looking people seated on a banquette, a man I recognised as one of my neighbours. He was a strange figure who’d sparked my curiosity for years and I jumped at this chance to discover more about him.

 

Responding to my questioning, the photographer-host said he thought the man was a Marxist filmmaker who had directed – or at least had somehow been involved with – a famous European political thriller of the late 1960s. He couldn’t remember the name of the film. As he spoke, I experienced a kind of mental gasp. This response to my casual inquiry opened up a pathway between two distantly separated parts of my life. Marxist filmmaker, European, involved with late ’60s political thrillers – the man in the photograph sounded exactly like the elusive Yves de Laurot, the filmmaker engagé whom my friend Terry Berne and I had fleetingly encountered (and ever since wondered about) when we were teenagers in California. How amazing, I thought, if de Laurot had ended up, all these years later, as my next-door neighbour. And how amazing, as well (and perhaps even more so), to discover this fact in so haphazard a manner, glancing through some nightclub snapshots in the middle of a party at a stranger’s house on MacDougal Alley.

 

I would usually see my neighbour late at night as I looked out of my fourth-story window on to a scene of deserted streets and hulking industrial buildings. At midnight he would be talking on the corner payphone or hailing a cab or walking hurriedly across Canal Street. He was about fifty, of stocky build, with a craggy face. Always dressed in black and wearing a wide-brimmed black hat, he reminded me of Fellini. I guess I had been noticing him for about a year before I learned that he was actually living in my building, sharing a loft on the second floor with a young woman who appeared only at rare intervals, shockingly thin and pale, also dressed in black. As enigmatic as her companion, she was rumoured to be a drug addict who lived in squalor and poverty but was due one day to inherit a large fortune. I don’t know about the squalor (I never saw their loft), nor about the drugs or the inheritance, but thinking back, the man’s frequent use of the payphone suggests that they were too poor to afford a phone of their own.

 

In 1974, when we were both eighteen, killing time between high school and college, Terry and I, and another friend, Wesley Seeds, shared a house for six months in the hills overlooking the East Bay. Temporarily without jobs or girlfriends, we watched a lot of TV, mostly old movies. One night on a local station a nerdy announcer filled the gap between features by interviewing a film director currently in the Bay Area to make a movie about the recent coup in Chile. The director, whose name was Yves de Laurot, spoke not only of his current project but also of his past work with such luminaries as Welles, Antonioni and Costa-Gavras. In a moment of decisiveness unusual for us at the time, Terry called up the station and asked to speak with the director. When, to Terry’s surprise, he actually got de Laurot on the phone, he offered his services for the film. To Terry’s even greater surprise, de Laurot accepted the offer and gave him an address in Berkeley to report to the next day. He did so and was instantly put to work. The job was unpaid, but that hardly mattered to Terry. In 1974, for anyone of our age and background the combination of cinema and Chile was irresistible.

 

Each night my friend returned from Berkeley filled with enthusiasm for his new life in the world of leftist filmmaking. Listening enviously to his accounts, I learned that much of the film had already been shot, in Mexico, and that the crew and cast were in California to film the climatic sequence, the attack on the Presidential Palace. They had found a building in downtown San Francisco that was almost identical to the site in Santiago where Allende had died, rifle in hand, defending Chilean democracy. (It was of course impossible to make such a film in Chile.) Impressively, de Laurot had won the cooperation of Allende’s widow, probably on the strength of his long list of credits. In addition to having worked with some of the greatest names in European cinema, he had been assistant director of two award-winning thrillers that combined box-office success with staunch anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist messages. Like so many other young American film buffs, Terry and I had been inspired and challenged by those films. De Laurot had gone on to make one feature of his own (unfortunately we had never seen it), and had also authored an important theoretical text on political cinema. Had it not been for his Marxist convictions, we surmised, he would probably be making a big-budget film with certified stars. Instead he chose to work with little money, often using amateurs and volunteers. His cast and crew, Terry told me, were passionately committed to the project and to de Laurot, although the director was, in the tradition of all great filmmakers, imperious and short-tempered.

 

Terry’s job was in the prop department assembling uniforms and gathering suitable guns for the extras playing Chilean soldiers. As the day of the big shoot approached, Terry enlisted his friends. Given uniforms and dummy rifles, Wesley and I were to play Chilean soldiers. (Not brilliant casting, I thought, but Terry assured us that, as de Laurot put it, under a helmet anyone could be a convincing soldier.) The filming began one evening at sunset and lasted all night. In the end it became a frantic race to get the last scenes in the can before dawn. It was exciting work, despite the long periods of doing nothing interspersed with still longer periods of doing the same thing over and over again. Throughout the night, de Laurot was an indefatigable source of energy, encouraging, cajoling and threatening his inexperienced actors and production assistants until we were performing like professionals, or so it seemed to me.

 

Terry, I remember, was the target of one of the director’s angrier outbursts when the fog machine he was operating malfunctioned and, instead of shrouding the scene in dramatic smoke, began to spit out flecks of white foam over the actors. Finally, after being told that he was a ‘hopeless American incompetent,’ Terry got the machine working and the scene was shot with the required atmosphere. Despite this mishap, de Laurot was apparently impressed enough with Terry to offer him, a few days later, a paid position on the production team. They had finished their work in California and were immediately leaving for the Caribbean to film the next sequence. After much debate, with Wesley and me, with the people working on the film, and with himself, Terry reluctantly decided not to join de Laurot. He would go through with his plan to attend college (he’d already been accepted by Bennington College in Vermont), though the prospect seemed pretty dull in comparison with working on an international film. This decision wasn’t made any easier by de Laurot who chided Terry for passing up what he called ‘the opportunity of a lifetime.’ Terry admitted to me that he was probably making a big mistake but said that he just couldn’t bring himself to leap into a new and unknown life.

 

In the year or two that followed we anxiously waited for the movie to be completed and released. Terry doubted that he would get any screen credit and I was prepared to be lost on the cutting room floor. A succession of films on Chile appeared, but never de Laurot’s. We were disappointed and puzzled. About three years later, now both enrolled at Bennington (Wesley had stayed in the Bay Area to attend art school; he would later end up working as a model maker for George Lucas), Terry and I happened to attend a lecture by Emile de Antonio. Known for his leftist political documentaries, de Antonio seemed like a good person to ask about our missing film. Approaching him after his talk, we brought up the subject of de Laurot’s Chilean film. Did he know anything about it or its director? He asked us why we were curious and we told him the story of our brief involvement. As we finished our account he started to laugh, his large, fleshy frame shaking like a building in an earthquake. When the vibrations had subsided he told us about our director.

 

For decades de Laurot (he doubted that was his real name) had made a career out of unmade films. Some great project would always be in the works, usually a political epic of some sort, but not a single scene of it would ever reach the screen. When the shooting was over, instead of moving into the editing phase, de Laurot would simply melt away. When he turned up six months later he would be driving a brand-new sports car and flaunting a brand-new sexy girlfriend. There was considerable doubt about whether he even bothered to load film into the camera. In short, he was a con man.

 

Shaken, but still not wholly convinced by this tale, Terry and I did some research. We looked up the films de Laurot said he had worked on – something I’m surprised we had never thought of doing before – and found that his name never appeared in the credits. The theoretical text (‘From Logos to Lens’) he claimed to have written did exist – it appeared in an anthology we had been assigned in our film theory class  – but that was the only trace of his career we could find. It now looked as if Terry had indeed made the right decision in not going off to the Caribbean.

 

That was seven years ago. Last night, as I solved the mystery of my neighbour with the black hat, I felt that I had simultaneously stumbled across our missing director. My host’s description of my neighbor – a Marxist filmmaker who had directed or at least somehow been involved with a certain highly successful film made in Europe in the 1960s – easily fit de Laurot, and, although I couldn’t remember too well what the director had looked like (I’d only seen him that one night of shooting and during the TV interview), my neighbour was not wildly unlike the man I recalled. And, as I thought about it more, this neighbourhood (and, indeed, this building) is exactly the kind of place where a con artist like him might end up. It must be him, and it should be simple to confirm.  I only need to get a look at a piece of his mail, or even engage him in conversation. But would he admit to being de Laurot? Perhaps he’d changed his name, taken on a new identity. Maybe confirmation wouldn’t be as easy as I’d thought. But it doesn’t matter – I’m convinced it must be him. And to think, I almost didn’t go to that party.

 

Six years have passed since I attended the party on MacDougal Alley, since the night I wrote the first lines of this text. Without me really noticing, my Felliniesque neighbour and his girlfriend moved out of the building before I was able to find out if he was, in fact, Yves de Laurot. Such are the buffetings and distractions of life, after typing out a few pages I quickly forgot about what had seemed an amazing coincidence. I never even mentioned it to Terry.

 

But the story is not quite over. Last month as I was walking along Prince Street with my friend and neighbour Joe Laplaca, a middle-aged woman hailed us. She was trying to get someone in a wheelchair down to the street from the second floor. The elevator in their building was broken. Would we help? After a moment of hesitation we said we would. Following her up the narrow, dark staircase of a building across the street from the Prince Street Post Office we looked up and saw an old man in a wheelchair waiting on the landing. Joe, who was ahead of me, called out to him, ‘Carlo!’ Turning back toward me he whispered, ‘You remember Carlo don’t you? He used to live in our building with that beautiful junkie girl.’ I looked up at the white-haired, blotchy-faced figure and realised whom Joe meant. It was the man I suspected of being de Laurot!

 

We almost killed poor Carlo carrying him down the stairs, wheelchair and all. He wasn’t in very good shape. One arm was bandaged, his face was covered with sores and he grunted in pain as we bumped him down each stair. He showed no sign of recognising Joe and he didn’t utter a single understandable word through the whole process. Once we’d reached the sidewalk, the woman thanked us and wheeled Carlo off (to a hospital, I hoped). Joe and I resumed our walk. Naturally, my old curiosity coming back, I asked him what he knew about Carlo. He told me he was a filmmaker. My heart beat faster. That he’d made a famous political film in Europe. Could it be? Was this feeble old man de Laurot under another name? Was I going to find out for certain? Then, as Joe continued to talk about Carlo, the possibility of him being de Laurot began to slip away. It wasn’t as rapid as my moment of recognition on MacDougal Alley had been, but it was more certain. Carlo was Italian, whereas de Laurot had been indisputably French. Secondly, the film he’d made – Joe knew its title and told me – was not one of those de Laurot claimed to have worked on. And nothing else Joe told me remotely fit the author of ‘From Logos to Lens.’ Within a block I had to relinquish the image of that pathway between two parts of my life. But here, at least, was another link, leading from my black-hatted neighbour to this old wheelchair-bound man. It wasn’t as grand as the connection I’d just lost, but, then as now, I was thankful for anything that suggested life was something more than a straight line in time, day after night after day.

 

 

II. ZOË LUND IN THE LAND OF PHANTOMS

 

When I published the above paragraphs in Postcards from Alphaville (a collection of my autobiographical prose brought out by Hard Press in 1999), I tried to be as factual as possible except when it came to names. I called Yves de Laurot by the made-up name Jacques de Mercier (the piece was titled ‘Jacques de Mercier, Where Are You?’), avoided identifying Emile de Antonio and gave fictional names to all the friends I mention (in the paragraphs above they are appearing finally under their real names – I hope they don’t mind). My impulse to mask my protagonists was so strong that I even refrained from identifying the films de Laurot claimed to have worked on (as I recall, Battle of Algiers and Z). I’m not entirely sure why I avoided using real names and titles in Postcards from Alphaville, (in another chapter I gave Italian publisher-terrorist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli the alias of Gianfranco Monferrato). Did I want people to read my texts as stories rather than nonfiction accounts? Did I worry about libel laws? Did I believe that real names would somehow detract from the literary qualities of my writing, its ability to pull the reader into the tale I was telling?

 

The answer to each of these questions is ‘yes.’ Or, rather, was ‘yes.’ Today I have no hesitation to welcome real names into my writing. But although I’ve used this opportunity to plug in some suppressed names, that’s not why I feel compelled to return to my tale of de Laurot and his phantom films. It’s missing information, not missing names I’m after.

 

The year I attended that long-ago party on MacDougal Alley and began writing about Yves de Laurot was 1983; Joe LaPlaca and I encountered ‘Carlo’ in 1989; ‘Jacques de Mercier, Where Are You?’ was published in Postcards from Alphaville ten years later, in 1999. But I’m not sure which year to attach to the next revelation, nor even how it came about.  Probably during some time-killing Google session when I couldn’t face editing yet another problem-ridden exhibition review for the art magazine where I worked. A concatenation of websites and chance allusions must have led me to discover that the ‘shockingly thin and pale’ woman who lived on the second floor of my building was actress-screenwriter Zoë Lund, and that the man she lived with at the time was Yves de Laurot.

 

It thus turns out that my conclusion at the end of ‘Jacques de Mercier, Where Are You?’ was wrong. The director whom Terry Berne and I encountered in 1974 did end up living at the same address as me, a six-storey loft building on Greenwich Street at the northern edge of Tribeca. He was also the ‘Carlo’ whom Joe and I carried down several flights of stairs in 1989. (I keep putting ‘Carlo’ in quotation marks not only because I am now certain he was de Laurot, but also because I’m not even sure Carlo is the name Joe called him by. When I wrote my account I may have changed the name, as I changed all the other names in the story, or I may have simply not remembered it. Then again, Joe may actually have said ‘Carlo.’) What threw me off in 1989, what convinced me that de Laurot was not the auteur of the Chile film, was Joe having gotten the details of de Laurot’s career wrong, either because he had misremembered them or because de Laurot/Carlo had purposely supplied misleading information along with a false name.

 

In fact, deception was practically a way of life for de Laurot. In a biographical sketch that Zoë Lund wrote in 1992 – available, along with a lot of other information about Lund and de Laurot, on a website created by Zoë Lund’s former husband Robert Lund (http://www.zoelund.com/) – she describes how, when she launched her career as an actress and screenwriter, her unnamed companion and co-writer (a ‘French/Polish filmmaker and writer’ who is well-known for ‘hair-raising guerrilla filmmaking’) ‘stayed far in the background during my public venues for reasons he considered licit. I tried to understand his security concerns, but thought it was all a bit overwrought. He still wishes to remain anonymous – thus the awkwardness on these very pages of not including his name.’ The intimations of de Laurot’s paranoia one can detect in the phrase ‘security concerns’ could explain why he might have given Joe Laplaca misleading information about his past.

 

So, who were Yves de Laurot and Zoë Lund? I use the past tense because he died in 1993 and she in 1999 (the year my story was published). As might be expected, information about de Laurot is sketchy. Apparently he was born Edward Lada Laudanski in Lodz, Poland, in 1922. According to his own account, he participated in the Polish resistance during the Second World War and made a heroic escape during the Second Warsaw uprising. Lund says that after the war de Laurot, who often went by the name Edouard, took degrees in philosophy (at the Sorbonne) and English literature (at Cambridge University). At some point he became involved in cinema, first in Paris and then in New York where he co-founded the journal Film Culture with Jonas Mekas (there’s a brief fascinating online video http://www.webofstories.com/play/11249 in which Mekas confirms some of de Laurot’s wartime exploits). In the late 1960s he directed two television documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Black Liberation (1967) and Listen America (1968). In the early 1970s, he was a key figure in the cinema engagé movement, frequently contributing to the influential journal Cinéaste.

 

Lund, who was born Zoë Tamerlis in New York City in 1962, says that she and de Laurot met when she was seventeen (and already a college drop-out), which would have been in the late 1970s. During the seven years she says they were together, their main creative project wasn’t cinematic but co-writing a book titled Curfew: USA. In 1980, Lund starred in Abel Ferrara’s film Ms. 45, which led to the achievement she is best-known for, writing the screenplay of and acting in Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992). In this film, Lund plays a junkie who, in a memorable sequence, shoots up Harvey Keitel with a dose of heroin that induces a religious vision and delivers her so-called Vampire Speech, extolling the notion of self-sacrifice.

 

Was Lund herself a heroin addict? Reminiscences from friends like Richard Hell suggest that she was: ‘I’ve known a lot of serious drug users,’ he recalled at the Balthazar Film Festival in 2002 ‘but Zoë was Queen. You’ve got to admire someone as committed to it as she was. She didn’t just LOVE heroin, she believed in it.’ For Lund, heroin was utterly distinctive in its effects and, ultimately, a portal into moral realms. ‘The other drugs are drugs of illusion,’ she wrote in 1986, while ‘heroin is the drug of disillusion.’ It didn’t replace emotions with mere bliss: ‘On heroin, you can cry. You can feel loneliness and fear. Above all, you can feel the anguish that is “transformed into history.” All other drugs either achieve or are taken in an attempt to achieve the escape from that anguish.’ In another text, which Robert Lund identifies as ‘a personal note on the role of heroin in Zoë’s life,’ she spells out what she saw as the moral and political impact of the drug: ‘Heroin obligates. It is not a distraction… When Lou Reed says he doesn’t care at all, he is declaring his final engagement, his ultimate engagement. There is nothing left but utterly moral choices and judgements, and nothing to be done but the gratuitous act.For that reason it is feared and loathed. It is utterly Un-American.’

 

Lund’s addiction, and the substance abuse indulged in by many of the people around her, no doubt contributed to the chaos and confusion that permeated her life.  Things are especially messy when it comes to the authorship and ownership of her and de Laurot’s films and writing projects. The screenplay of Bad Lieutenant, for instance, is officially credited to Abel Ferrara and Lund, but in a 1996 interview she says that, although the original plan was for her and Ferrara to author the script together, she ‘wrote every word of that screenplay.’ Jonas Mekas, however, suspects that it was actually de Laurot who secretly guided Lund’s crafting of the screenplay.

 

There is no dispute, at least as far as I know, about who wrote Curfew USA, but Lund’s explanation of why it was not published is typically tangled: ‘We [she and de Laurot] had had our book typeset and intended to publish it ourselves. Only one established publisher had ever seen the book. Indeed, it had been accepted and was going to press. Then the editor went mad, taking himself for a prominent character, and the project was scuttled by mutual agreement. After that incident, we decided not to pursue the conventional route. Unfortunately, our book remains in manuscript form because the Compugraphic discs were lost in the flurry of our separation.’

 

Murkiest of all is the fate of de Laurot’s films, which is the subject of Robert Lund’s online essay ‘The Film Footage of Edouard (Yves) de Laurot.’ In the very first paragraph Lund describes how a large amount of 35-mm film shot by de Laurot over four decades (1950s–1980s) was being stored in the Greenwich Street loft where he and Zoë were living. When Zoë moved out of the loft in 1985 to live with Robert Lund, de Laurot also decamped to a friend’s place, leaving behind much of the footage in the now-empty loft. Lund says that when de Laurot told this to him and Zoë they retrieved about twenty boxes of positive and negative 35-mm film and stored it in the 10th Street apartment where they were living.

 

In 1996, they lost this apartment and deposited de Laurot’s footage at Anthology Film Archive. Zoë then set out to edit the footage herself, against Robert Lund’s ‘vehement objections.’ This material was shown at a de Laurot tribute at the Paris Cinémathèque in February 1997. According to Lund, Zoë and her new boyfriend (she and Lund had split up) kept this footage at their Paris home. After Zoë’s death, the boyfriend refused to turn over any of her possessions to Lund, who had granted Zoë a divorce with the stipulation that they share ownership of de Laurot’s film footage.[1]

 

Also unavailable is the footage that de Laurot took with him when he left Greenwich Street in 1985. Robert Lund explains what happened to it:

 

During the last years of the 1980s, the ‘friend’ with whom Edouard was living exerted great control over him. He lived with us for a while, but she threatened to destroy all of the film he had brought to her place if he did not return. When he returned to her home, she became increasingly oppressive, injuring him seriously during one of their fights, eventually cutting off virtually all contact with the outside world. . . . When Edouard died in the early 1990s, the portion of the film he brought with him was kept by the ‘friend’ with whom he lived, who has subsequently contested ownership of the material.

 

Was this ‘friend’ the woman Joe LaPlaca and I encountered on Prince Street in 1989? More importantly (at least to me), does anything remain of de Laurot’s Chile film at the Anthology Film Archive or at the homes of one of Lund’s or de Laurot’s former companions? This narrative began many years ago with the answer to a question (the identity of the neighbour I used to see talking on a payphone late at night at the corner of Canal and Greenwich Street), but as usually happens when we start to root around in the past, the answer blossomed into many further questions. At least, as I finish this in November of 2012, I’ve been able to answer a few of them. Oddly, no one, neither Zoë nor Robert Lund, nor film historian Nicole Brenez, who has written on de Laurot and Zoë, ever mentions any Chile-related project. But this doesn’t mean the footage might not be there. As she told Brenez and Agathe Dreyfus in a 1996 interview, when combing through de Laurot’s film archives in the mid 1990s, Zoë Lund found ‘things that I’m not even sure where they came from; images of Edouard and other people in Argentina, in Arizona, in Africa.’

 

I leave for another day, or a different writer, further pursuit of the many topics and themes that traverse this story. For instance: the impact of heroin on downtown bohemia of late 1970s New York, the ambiguities of film credits (who is the real auteur of Bad Lieutenant?), the terrible vulnerability of artworks to physical destruction (conjured by the complex history of de Laurot’s films). It would also be intriguing to trace the eclipse of 1960s political activism via the trajectory from Black Liberation to Bad Lieutenant. Another text waiting to be written is an elegiac travelogue in the manner of the great Iain Sinclair memorialising the countercultural habitat erased by the gentrification of Lower Manhattan. And what about Zoë Lund? Brilliant, beautiful, doomed, elusive, a fascinating subject for a memoir or a biography. Not a book I’m prepared to write, but one I’d be more than happy to read.

 

 

III. THAT WHICH WAS, THAT WHICH OUGHT TO BE

 

Maybe I have to come back to de Laurot and Lund once more, in the summer of 2014 as I ready this text for publication (and republication). At this point I don’t see how to weave the information and ideas that keep turning up into any cohesive narrative. Best, then, to leave them as fragments, not unlike the many stray pieces of film that de Laurot left behind. Imagine each of the following sections as a short reel of footage stuck into a film canister, identified only by some words scrawled with marker on a piece of masking tape, deposited here for possible later use in some more comprehensive whole.

 

 

Names

 

I now realise why it took me so long to connect Zoë Lund and the pale woman on the second floor of my building. ‘Zoë lived and worked under many names. In the years with de Laurot, for instance, she was known to her neighbours as Vanessa Lancaster’ reads a footnote to a 1996 interview with Lund by Nicole Brenez and Agathe Dreyfus. Like everyone else at 474 Greenwich Street, I knew her as Vanessa, not Zoë. According to Brenez and Dreyfus she also on occasion went by the name Tamara Tamarind.

 

Names have been a problem with this story from the beginning. Should I now start to call de Laurot ‘Edouard’ instead of ‘Yves’? Although it wasn’t the name I knew him by, it was the one he used most consistently after the 1950s.

 

I’ve recently learned the name of the ‘friend’ with whom de Laurot was living on Prince Street – Solange Marcin. I even know the address where they were living: 106 Prince Street.  Marcin, who must certainly have been the woman who beseeched Joe Laplaca and me in 1989, died in 2009; I have no idea what happened to the de Laurot films she possessed. The year before her death, Marcin, who co-founded the Cinema Engagé collective with de Laurot in 1965, wrote to Nicole Brenez that de Laurot ‘passed away early one morning in my bed in Prince Street’ in 1994.[2]

 

 

Jonas Mekas

 

Today I finally looked for some mention of de Laurot in a book that has been on my shelf for years, but which until now it never occurred to me to consult: Jonas Mekas’s I Had Nowhere to Go (Black Thistle Press, 1991). Consisting of diaries from 1944 to 1955, the book follows Mekas from a Nazi forced-labour camp, through years as a displaced person, and finally to New York. Knowing, now, that de Laurot and Mekas founded Film Culture in the mid-1950s, I start browsing toward the end of the book (there is no index). He turns up once, in the entry for 4 March, 1954, identified only as Edouard:

 

That evening we were sitting late, Edouard came and, as usual, we went into a long argument about American and Europe. ‘You see,’ said Edouard, ‘they don’t have any conception of life; they don’t have any sense of purpose, They are just living for their money, the Americans.’ He was walking round and round in the room, shooting his bands out all over the place, flooding us with his unending stream of words.

 

I’m sure this must be de Laurot. A page later Mekas identifies him as Polish: it seems impossible that Mekas would have been friends with more than one Polish refugee named Edouard in the mid 1950s.

 

 

To-Do List

 

Contact Anthology Film Archive to inquire whether they possess any footage from de Laurot’s Chile film.

 

Look up all of the texts and interviews de Laurot published in Cinéaste in the early 1970s.

 

Write an entry on de Laurot to be inserted into David Thompson’s A Biographical Dictionary of Film (third edition) right between Dino de Laurentiis and Alain Delon. And one on Zoë Lund that would go between the Lumière Brothers and Ida Lupino.

 

Waylay Harvey Keitel, who I regularly catch sight of around my neighbourhood, and try to ask him some questions about Zoë Lund.

 

 

Proleptic Cinema

 

Why have I failed, through all of these pages and across several decades, to discuss the revolutionary politics that were at the centre of de Laurot’s films? Is it because having at some point decided he was a fraud, I couldn’t take his politics seriously? Partly, perhaps, but my lack of enthusiasm for addressing his, and, indeed, Zoë Lund’s commitment to social change via cinema may ultimately be a consequence of my orientation toward the past rather than the future.

 

At the heart of De Laurot’s theory of film was the concept of ‘prolepsis.’ Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines prolepsis as ‘the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished.’ For de Laurot, each stage of proleptic filmmaking paved the way for a new level of critique, and a new Hegelian transcendence. ‘Contradictions,’ he wrote in 1970, ‘which couldn’t possibly be discovered at the script level – no matter how long the script was being written – can only be found during the process of filming. And in turn, no matter how long the film would be in filming, certain contradictions would be found only through the process of composing.’[3] A piece of filmed footage was, he believed, ‘less real than that which ought to be.’ Instead, its function was to reveal nothing but ‘lacks’ and ‘lacunae’ and ‘desiderata.’

 

By applying prolepsis to ‘that which is,’ the filmmaker chooses an orientation toward the future; refusing to grant the status of reality to filmed material or, by extension, to the present society, the filmmaker and, ultimately, the viewer, can project themselves into a revolutionary future. It is not the experience of watching the film that matters but what happens after the viewer leaves the theatre – the political force of a film, says de Laurot, happens only a posteriori.

 

Zoë Lund’s 1993 film Hot Ticket (which Nicole Brenez writes about beautifully in her 2007 book Abel Ferrara) magically condenses de Laurot’s theories into a minute and a half of visionary cinema. It ends with Zoë, who has just stepped out of a movie theatre into a nighttime Rotterdam street, quoting de Laurot: ‘That which is not yet, but ought to be, is more real than that which merely is.’

I like to think that I am as aware as de Laurot or Lund of the lacks and lacunae within any so-called reality, but I also have to admit that my response to these absences is fundamentally different from theirs, and not necessarily for the better. Unlike them, I have been filling the lacks with that which was, rather than that which is not yet. In other words, I am turned toward some unchangeable (albeit infinitely expandable) past rather than toward any more just future. A sad situation for someone who was once a teenager in the heyday of revolutionary cinema, who was once thrilled to be joining, if only for a single night, the struggle against fascism in Chile. But perhaps all I have done is to live out the miserable failure of a particular generation of Americans, a generation all too ready to let its ideals be sucked into the polished consumerist infernos of people like Steve Jobs and Jeff Koons. Is this part of the reason I keep turning back to Edouard de Laurot and Zoë Lund?

 

 

Secrets of the Prop Closet

 

In a recent email, Terry Berne reminds me that his

 

main reason for hesitating to join de Laurot and his followers in their move to the Caribbean was because along with the fake armament in the closet whose key I was sole possessor of were a dozen real rifles along with ammunition, and in the crew’s late night conversations after filming, the subject of armed revolution was the main topic. Their desire to have me join them in the next stage of their adventure was clearly not just to help finish the film…

 

Terry also recalls that these ‘nighttime conversations were accompanied by the live coverage of the siege of the house Patty Hearst kidnappers had been discovered to be hiding in, and the sympathies of de Laurot and the crew were obvious.’[4]

 

A dozen real rifles! How could I have forgotten this crucial detail when I first recounted in ‘Jacques de Mercier, Where Are You?’, the story of de Laurot’s Chile film? It places the nonappearance of the film in an entirely new light. Rather than being a scam (as Emile de Antonio suggested) the production may have actually been a front for weapons smuggling and armed action, what we would now call an ‘international terrorist cell.’ Why did I suppress the presence of real guns, and instead construct a narrative in which my friend’s choice not to follow de Laurot to the Caribbean looked like a lack of daring rather than a sensible desire to avoid prison or worse? Maybe I simply didn’t want to acknowledge brute reality, the proximity of actual violence.  Portraying Terry’s dilemma as that of a young writer caught between the temptations of aesthetics or action, between convention and adventure, between two possible paths into life, kept everything within a familiar frame of reference. As I sought, while writing ‘Jacques de Mercier, Where Are You?’, to reconcile this chapter of my youth in Northern California with the apolitical, nonengaged state I found myself in – placed myself in – after moving to New York, it was much more convenient to forget about the guns hidden in the prop closet and the fiery end of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

 

 

Plugging In

 

Last night as I was falling asleep I realised that Terry Berne not only brought me into contact with de Laurot when I was eighteen but was also responsible for introducing me to the building where Zoë Lund and Edouard de Laurot lived. In January 1979. Terry was living in New York and playing drums in a band called The Tenant. He invited me to come watch the group rehearse in a third floor loft of a dilapidated building in what was then a woefully deserted corner of Manhattan. Most of the lofts in the building were occupied by musicians or artists, many of whom rented out rehearsal space to various downtown bands. The building was thus filled day and night with vey noisy music (it was the time of No Wave). I sat on the floor of the dark loft and listened to The Tenant rehearse. After an hour the leader of the group, Robert Appleton, asked if I played guitar. I said yes but that I’d only ever played acoustic guitars. He handed me an electric guitar; I plugged in. After another hour I was invited to join the band. The next day I bought a cheap used guitar at one of the music stores that used to line 48th Street, and played with the band for the remaining three months of its brief existence. Like me, Terry had no idea at the time that the elusive Yves de Laurot was living in the same building where we were rehearsing. A year later, I moved into a loft on the fourth floor of the building, a space I still live in, now with my wife and two daughters.

 

As I was writing the preceding paragraph I suddenly realised that the space where The Tenant rehearsed was directly above Lund and de Laurot’s loft. What a strange feeling of satisfaction it gives me to think that once upon a time Zoë Lund and Edouard de Laurot may have heard me play, haltingly but loud, on my red Epiphone Coronet.

 

 

[1] The material that Zoë didn’t use in her re-edits remains at Anthology Film Archive, donated by Zoë in exchange for the use of their editing facilities, according to Robert Lund.

 

[2] See Brenez’s article ‘Edouard de Laurot: Engagement as Prolepsis’ in Third Text, January, 2011. The year Marcin gives for de Laurot’s death conflicts with other sources that say he died in 1993.

 

[3] ‘Composition as the Praxis of Revolution: the Third World and the USA,’ Cinéaste, Winter 1970–71.

 

[4] Thanks to this recollection of the concurrent SLA siege coverage I can now fix more precisely the period of our encounter de Laurot: April–May 1974.

 



ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR


is a New York-bsed poet and art critic. His most recent book is The Miraculous (Paper Monument). He teaches critical studies at the University of Houston School of Art.


READ NEXT

Poetry

September 2015

She-dog & Wrong

Fiction

December 2011

Travel

Fiction

February 2014

Coral