Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno. 2009.

The subject of this documentary - Clouzot’s unrealized film, Inferno - is mesmerizing and, for me personally, could not be more involving. The contours of the story will be familiar to anyone who’s read about some of Orson Welles’ fiascos, or to people who have seen the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, though that film, I’d say, ends up deflating its subject, killing it with overstatement - exactly what this film blessedly doesn’t do. 

Given an “unlimited budget” by the film’s American backers, Clouzot indulges his every whim, getting so thoroughly lost, it seems, in his own fantasies that you’d almost think he’d intended to all along. It should be said that there is no particular flare in the documentary’s filmmaking itself - the subject and the imagery (from the 185 extant cans of film) make it what it is - but in this one respect it is brilliant: it leaves the obsessive quality of the film Clouzot was making deliciously underanalyzed, letting the imagery speak for itself. Watching it, you know without being told that it could never all be put together in a single film. But by the end, somehow, you feel you’ve experienced the film. Fragmented art is an experience too. It’s useful to be reminded of art’s essential slipperiness.

One crew member says something near the end of the film that stuck in my head because, well, it’s the whole film boiled down to a phrase. He says something about how what he learned from watching Clouzot, watching him follow this darkening course through the last days of a film that everyone knew was collapsing, was that you had to “see your madness through.” When analyzed in any sense outside of obsession, this simply doesn’t hold up, but there’s a poetic truth to it that is often instinctually observed: self-destruction is often the most attractive, most artistic substitute for creation.

Saint Passionate


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