Alain Noslier

Dancing to a Different Drum

By Michael Kemp

Between the years of 1986 and 1989 French film-maker Alain Noslier produced four short and rarely-screened films, virtually unseen by the general public, but spoken of in hushed and revered tones by the underground film cognoscente; before vanishing into a shadowy retirement…

What follows is a short overview of these rare and elusive vignettes:

Noslier’s first film Awakening (1986) has the feel of one of Rimbaud’s gentler Illuminations with the little paper boats floating downstream and two children standing at the root of the world tree…

The ancient clock in the branches and the copies of Wind in The Willows flying down through time and space. A chapter opens: “The piper at the gates of dawn…”

A few years later in the city we find the derelict wino on the urban street corner, and the young lovers at the bus stop, a soundtrack of The Pretenders’ Back on the Chaingang playing, and the lovers reading Jean Vigo. Memories of the childhood river still visible thru’ an enchanted glass portal…

…and a strange epilogue in which white feathers float downstream to the strains of Young and Innocent Days.

L’Homme qui Revient (1987)—the man who returns—grainy b&w texture - an old man making his way to his destination, his own past. Rooks caw; a cut to colour and Le Mystčre des Voix Bulgares, haunting and foreboding. More clocks in the trees and the screams of peacocks. Alcohol, the great fortifier - but also the shadowy bringer of melancholia…

The madonna and child, departed. The aching void. The persistence of memory…

Flowers for the graveyard, the trees tangled beyond the cemetery gates.

The Healing Touch (1988)—an autobiographical piece—opens on the beach. The masked figures, the faceless ones; bringing back drifting memories of Miklos Jancso’s Private Vices, Public Virtues (1975).

An abandoned body at the water’s edge, clutching a signed photograph of, shall we say, Madame X. More peacocks…

Feathers in the sand, imprints of masks. Waking up in a parallel universe, digital alarm clocks, books, records, movie posters; a sense of London in the late 80s. Back to the daily grind: the morning train, the suit and tie, the mainline stations; back on the chaingang…

Tyrannical regime of the office clock, tensions of the workplace spilling over into stylized violence. The executive briefcase emptied out and abandoned, official papers cast to the winds…

The reverie in the aquarium window. The path that leads from the gnarled graveyard through to the ancient chapel of rest. A spiritual redemption…

Journeys without words. Let the dark waves do the talking…

A red scarf thrown overboard, captured in a sepia still, later discovered, with other photographs, by the children of the future, engaged here in a game of blind man’s bluff. The distant sound of windchimes…

…and Noslier’s final film, The Blindman and The Mirror (1989) - a journey in search of director Douglas Sirk. Another train snakes out of Clapham Junction, for Dover, and thence on to Switzerland where Sirk lived in anonymous retirement. A pilgrimage of sorts.

Flaming colours and wonderfully lurid melodramatic vistas. Old movie stars and forgotten cinematic themes. A world of wonder, tempered with innate pessimism. A labour of love, nevertheless. I think underground film-makers George & Mike Kuchar were inspired by Sirk’s 1950 Hollywood movies too, but the difference being that the Kuchars were both mad (witness 1972’s The Sunshine Sisters for proof of this!).

“I may well be mad, but the gods, always being in favour of madness, are on my side…”

These four films form an elegant, if slight, chapter in the history of unknown French film - the very least we can do is petition the BFI for a DVD release.