Yesterday’s gallery was by way of introduction to Remembrance of Things to Come, a 2003 film study of Denise Bellon’s life and career which I caught recently. It was made by Bellon’s filmmaker daughter Yannick, along with Chris Marker (who died last year). Like Marker’s La Jetée (1962), this film makes an impressive virtue of necessity. Where four decades earlier Marker simply lacked the means to shoot moving film and used stills instead, here the stills – that is, Denise Bellon’s photographs – are actually the subject, and aside from a few fleeting pieces of footage, it is these images which tell the story.
It is a story from “when post-war was becoming pre-war”, when the avant-garde was torn between brittle utopias and brutal reality. Bellon was there to immortalise them at work and play, with portraits of the Surrealists in their pre-war heyday and their depleted post-war gatherings. But there is so much besides. Bellon’s lens consumed the Outsider architecture of the Facteur Cheval, anatomical models, the mutilated faces of war veterans, Parisian street scenes, silent siren Musidora, a Lumière brother, the Paris Exposition of 1937, the tribes of sub-Saharan Africa, the city-dwellers of the Maghreb, Finnish military manoeuvres, French civilians surrendering scrap metal for the war effort, oxen being herded through the streets of Lyon, Yannick and her sister (actor Loleh Bellon) in advertising images.
The same voracious lens captured things of which we might otherwise be ignorant. Henri Langlois’s mythical bathtub, for instance, where he stored French film masterpieces before founding the Cinemathèque. Or the Loyalists’ little-known attempt to re-take Spain in 1944.
Remembrance of Things to Come is an important document of an undervalued 20th century photographer, and well worth seeking out. The trailer is below (and if you understand French or Spanish you can see the whole thing here, narrated in the former and subtitled in the latter.)