The Hateful Dramas of Blutch’s So Long, Silver Screen

Re-reading Blutch’s masterful So Long Silver Screen, which I have previously written about.  It’s actually one of the few times I’ve ever concluded a piece of comic writing telling people to buy something.  Which proves both that I am first everything I hate, before anyone else is.  And secondly, just how huge of an experience So Long, Silver Screen was for me.

I have been thinking about Blutch a lot lately because for my own art, I’m trying to get into these very visceral ugly dramatic spaces—I’m trying to carve geography out of the side of Bergman, Zulawski, and Ferrara and steal it away for my comics.  But the corralary of trying to work with those beats, is needing to figure out how to get them to pop off in comics properly—but unfortunately there are very few comics that have this kind of dangerous dramatic intensity.  I would say the end of Oyasumi Punpun comes to this space—and someday I will write about that—I think Blutch is an artist who also carries this off.  Of course So Long, Silver Screen is one long love letter to the best cinema has to offer.  But beyond it’s essayistic qualities, and deconstructive connections to film, the interior dramatic segments also have some of the most primal stuff I’ve seen.  

I’m thinking mostly of the ugly passionate arguments between Blutch’s stand-in and the women of the comic.  His sort of violent psycho-sexual interactions with them are really incredible.  The book actually opens with a woman in a darkened room looking for her lover, who suddenly attacks her with a pillow from behind, suffocating her, before preparing to have sex with her, while opining about cinema.  The woman suddenly wakes up to correct him about Paul Newman before another woman, a much older woman appears and begins to chastise the male character, before the two of them also get into a violent fight.

Now Blutch isn’t the first artist ever to depict these sorts of things, but he is one of the few who captures a certain kind of hatred that you really only see in films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Scenes from A Marriege—it isn’t totally just hatred, because that would be boring.  But rather we’re talking about the hatred of people who have felt deep emotional history between one another, and lack the emotional tools to communicate their pain verbally and so have to resort to violence—it’s like in that scene in Possession in the kitchen where Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neil are fighting, but they have their backs to one another, and you can see their bodies almost ripping apart from one another—it’s something about body language and framing—which Blutch has.

I think Blutch’s style lends itself to the kind of malleability needed to pull off these kinds of emotions.  The deep shadows that can suddenly come from nowhere and obscure and cloud faces, which allow us to imagine their emotion—Blutch has a working symbology for the deeper psychological motivations of his characters as they interact with one another.  And then past that, he understands the push and pull of characters who have emotional ties to one another.  He knows that the body has it’s own sight, and can see with it’s back turned, certain feelings and individuals.  He shows us the sinewy hate filled contortions of this male character, who the woman can’t see because her back is turned, which puts us as a reader on edge.

And when Blutch’s characters physically fight, it’s not really punches, so much as grappling.  Limbs and fingers interlocked, characters lose their balance together and fall over—it gives his fights the sexual energy which underlies the hateful things his characters are doing and saying to one another.  And the figures move with desperation when they are pinned down.  They clutch, rip, and knee whatever they can.  

And what’s more, this violence and hate, quickly can turn into sex and love.  He blurs the lines between the two, and it allows for these orgasmic epiphanies like the one he ends the book on.

So Long, Silver Screen is about fighting.  It’s men and women fighting and not understanding one another, but trying to understand one another.  It is about women’s place in film history, and agency in the world—the penultimate page is one last violent fight where Blutch’s protaganist is fighting another lover, interrogating her bullishly the whole time: “Who grabs your legs? Who spreads em wide? Huh?  Who sticks his nose in your cunt?  Who lives and breathes you?”

The woman  stops him and says to him: “me too, Paul”.  You don’t get the emotion of that moment without all of the horror in front of it.  Blutch earns that moment with every inch of the page.  Truly masterful.

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