"Working with Lanzmann means filming the unfilmable"

Excerpt from a long video interview with Gilles Porte, AFC - June 2018

par Gilles Porte Contre-Champ AFC n°339

[ English ] [ français ]

In mid-June, Jimmy Glasberg and I arranged to meet at his house in the south of France "so I can tell you two or three things". I stayed an entire day…

Jimmy and I often spoke on the phone, after a screening or an AFC meeting, or after he’d read one of my editorials. How many times did he describe the camera as an "actress" ? That was Jimmy’s thing, "the camera-actress" !
Always at hand, behind his desk, the "actress" had no tripod. Set amongst old screenplays and photo books, she looked at me, like a cyclops.

Jimmy Glasberg durant l'entretien - Photo Gilles Porte
Jimmy Glasberg durant l’entretien
Photo Gilles Porte

"Here is my Éclair Coutant, Gilles. It’s 16mm… Born in 1963, she’s older than you are ! Watch it Gilles, at the time, she was revolutionary ! The first auto-silence portable camera. To reduce the camera noise caused by the contact between the film and the claw, the claw would enter the perforation thanks to a spring. The shutter angle varied from 0° to 180°… Coutant had replicated the same characteristics of the Caméflex, but the Éclair was a real "shoulder camera" thanks to its coaxial magazine… While you filmed, you could open your left eye to see what was happening on the other side… It was stupid, but before you had a central viewfinder. I don’t have to explain to you why it’s important to know what’s going on on the Left !"
And then Jimmy stopped short, like a "jam" in a film camera…
"But I don’t want to bore you with that !"
Jimmy was often like that. He’d often go on long verbal excursions with his southern accent, and then sometimes would stop short, as though he’d suddenly realized that the path he had taken wasn’t the one expected by the person he’d taken along for the ride ; I reminded him that I was there for that, precisely to take all the time necessary. So he continued and we continued our discussion for several hours.
"You know, the Coutant ruined my right shoulder ! Look here !"
And Jimmy took out the x-rays of his arm which were on the same shelf as his Coutant. I looked at Jimmy’s bones on the radiographic film and although I knew Jimmy had the Coutant "in his bones", I didn’t realize to what extent !
"I made the film Shoah with her"

Tournage de "Shoah", en Pologne (1978) : Jimmy Glasberg à l'œilleton de la caméra, entre Jean-Yves Escoffier (assistant opérateur) et Claude Lanzmann
Tournage de "Shoah", en Pologne (1978) : Jimmy Glasberg à l’œilleton de la caméra, entre Jean-Yves Escoffier (assistant opérateur) et Claude Lanzmann

Jimmy showed me notes, lots of notes… They were overflowing… It’s time, so he begins recounting, recounting his life… In the middle of all those cinematographic adventures, Shoah and Claude Lanzmann always return. As soon as we stray away, Jimmy always came back to the tracks leading to the concentration camps. Jimmy had been brought to hell by those tracks. He wished they’d lead him somewhere final. But had Jimmy, in the middle of his shutter angles, his claws and counter-claws, the paths that circled his house in the middle of vineyards and cornfields, forgotten that parallel lines never cross ?
I was not satisfied by what I’d shot. I told him as much. It was my fault. I wanted to go back. Then time went by… Covid… Our confinement meetings with the students that Jimmy never missed… More shoots…
When I learnt of Jimmy’s death, I called Dominique Gentil, one of Jimmy’s former assistants. Dominique said that he wanted to film him, too. I told Dominique that there were "a few things" on a hard drive that didn’t have much to do with the magazine of an Éclair Coutant, but which might make it possible to hear Jimmy’s voice again ? Dominique said he’d try to get "a few things" out of it… Here are 10 minutes of it… (Gilles Porte, AFC)


(Translated from French by A. Baron-Raiffe, for the AFC)