When I was a kid, we didn’t get shot at when we went to see silly movies in the dark. The cinema came to us thanks to the “great Zampano” who traveled through our countryside with his “gasifier” and showed us a series of nine turnips, one a week, which conditioned the projection of the tenth, a “good film” (finally claimed to be such, but now “vintage”). Take it or leave it… This is why I remain very attached to “Only Angels Have Wings” and “Three Bengal Lancers”.
Sixty-five years after seeing them, several films (or rather some of their sequences) still haunt my nightmares – which raises the question of the influence of images and cinema on young minds. But they are never those whom morality fathers and mothers suspect. Better Lola’s garter belt than the TV news.
In the making of my nocturnal terrors, there was, for example, “La Terre Qui Meurt”, by Jean Vallée (1936), seen in 1946 (for my tenth birthday): the old Lumineau was burning alive in the fire of his beaker and joined in my fresh memory the “resistant” fire of the bakery of my grandmother’s hometown, during the Shrove Tuesday holidays (tsss…) of 1943.
Louder, randomly on a tour of the “great Zampano”, I was shocked by the awakening of the stiffs (authentic broken faces taken as “extras”) rising from the mass graves of Verdun for the film by Abel Gance, ” I accuse” (1937-38 version). The face of Victor Francen had predisposed me to it just by the poster on the corner of “my” street. I slept very badly during the winter weeks of 1947… and I still can’t bear it.
At the end of the 1940s, we (us kids) were inundated with photographed horrors and stories of war: mass graves filled with diggers, camp survivors waiting for Godot in the mud, the Japanese fleeing flamethrowers like cockchafers, the tales of cannibalism reported, in great detail, by those who had passed through Bergen-Belsen on their “return from Germany” via the British zone. It was that reality was in the process of overcoming its representation and above all fiction. Werewolves, bogeymen, and “living dead” had other names that scared us otherwise. The irruption of a man in a leather coat and his big black dog in our kitchen, one winter evening, while we were eating soup had inaugurated the mutation. Although the dog looks like the “Brisquet’s dog”. And yet the seemingly tranquil image, published by “l’Illustration” (1941), of a Russian woman and children (of my age) taken out from under a wooden house by German soldiers, continues to haunt me with its subliminal violence. But maybe they were Ukrainians…
In the days of Oradour, whose rumors filled people’s heads – to the point that, on the other bank of the river, we were thought to be “hanged” and our village burnt down – the appearance of a close priest made me sick and gave me a lasting tremor of fever. Haggard, his hands bleeding, the estimable priest told us how the SS (the last to get the hell out of here) had ordered him to dig a grave with those they were going to shoot the next moment – the priest had survived. to say it… he still says it in my memory.
In August of that year, on the way to a second exodus, I remember the remains of the strafing of a German convoy: a mountain of charred typewriters on a van… and, above all, in the dust of the road , between the hedges that hid a forbidden sight from us, the hoof of a horse cut clean, covered with flies clustered on “raspberry jelly.” A rancid odor floated over the countryside we were crossing. A 14 year old told us he found the smell of the trenches. I still have it in my nose…
Drawing : The ScreamEdvard Munch, National Gallery, Oslo.
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How are childish terrors born?
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