Friday, June 3, 2016

Watch This: Alain Resnais' Cinematic Love Letter to Libraries Everywhere


Alain Resnais (born on this date in 1922) was one of the world's most important and influential filmmakers. Among his other great works, he made the short film TOUTE LA MÉMOIRE DU MONDE (ALL THE MEMORY IN THE WORLD) in 1956.

It is a beautiful document of Paris' Bibliothèque nationale de France, taking the viewer through the hallowed halls of this truly remarkable repository of French, and world, culture. We see the day-to-day workings of the library, some of its greatest treasures, and learn some of the history of the place. The awe we feel at the scale and beauty of the place is given a somewhat subversive coloring by the wry narration and Resnais deliberately distant perspective, as if he were making a film about the underground caverns of another planet.

The film is also a testament to the importance of memories and our preservation of them, in fact our duty to memories and our antecedents. In this era, when our memories may be limited to the shelf life of our data formats, and when our national affairs seem to play out in an amnesiac haze, this duty is as great as ever.

In one scene, the camera tracks up an enormous stack of paper periodicals as we hear the narration of Jacques Dumesnil:
"Among these collections, Rimbaud's first writings were found, published in an obscure journal in the Ardennes. Who knows what other illuminating works these pages may hold? Who knows what will testify most cogently to our civilization tomorrow?"
And when the camera finally reaches the top of the huge pile we see that it is a stack of comic books.

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