The passing of Eric Rohmer brought a flood of memories back to me about my teenage years, and how I came about getting into filmmaking. There was a time when I thought films like “Armageddon” were what filmmaking was about. If you can’t show your movie on 4 screens, all day long, then what good is the thing you made? Eric Rohmer taught me otherwise, and he did it in a little town in Oklahoma that I can’t even remember the name of. I’ll get to that, but let me touch on Rohmer for a minute.He was born Jean-Marie Maurice Scherer, Eric Rohmer was just one alias he used, and its the one that stuck in his filmmaking career. Mr. Rohmer was a teacher and novelist, that soon was writing film critique at the same magazine as Truffaut and Godard. He watched his contemporaries go into directing, and he was quick to follow. Before he knew it, Eric found himself at the forefront of the New Wave movement. Godard and Truffaut were more famous, and getting more attention with their love and re-invention of the American genre film, where as Rohmer was more reserved, observational, and literary. His most remembered films were made as part of a six part series called Six Moral Tales. While his friends were making more plot driven films, running down the streets of Paris with Aaton’s in hand, he was watching his characters in real time. He’d present them with an issue that they’d have to work their way out of…or not! As much as I love the freedom of the New Wave, I love the quiet he brought to the genre. If Godard taught me to run, Truffaut taught me to love, Rohmer taught me to listen.
Chloe in the Afternoon was the first Rohmer film I came in contact with, and the way that I was introduced is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. There was a Secret Film Society that met in a nearby farm town, as I said I can’t remember the name of, and its only secret because nobody knew it existed. This was before Netflix, and people would trade prints or VHS copies for underground screenings of films. I was invited by the high school art teacher in my home town. No big deal, except I wasn’t even in her class. She found out from other teachers how much I loved cinema and asked me if I’d be interested in coming to the screening. What added that extra bit of intrigue was that she told me I’d have to keep it secret, because if the school found out we were hanging after hours, she could get fired. Sounds like the perfect set up for one of Eric Rohmer’s Moral Tales, doesn’t it?
We drove into the town. It was the typical kind of place where farmers and cattlemen hung out. There was a diner, small bar, and most importantly there was an old cinema on the main street. I’m not even sure it was still technically “open.” So here I was with a bunch of people I didn’t know, and a teacher I’d only met in passing. Everything was yellow, and faded maroon. The carpet smelled of mildew and stale popcorn. I took my seat in the theater among maybe twenty other people in total. The lights dimmed, and the guy in the booth rolled the print. To the young naive Catholic boy I was at the time, Chloe in the Afternoon sounded pretty darn exciting. The print was battered and bruised, the audio was trashed, but it was cinema! It wasn’t anything like my mind had expected, it was everything else I hadn’t imagined. In comparison to what was playing at the AMC 20 in the big town of Tulsa, this was a life changing experience for me. The print kept breaking, I mean literally broke about twelve times. They’d splice it and try again. Eventually, we had to stop the screening because the projector was eating the print. I went home that night never again looking at cinema as something that you pay $8.50 to see, drink a soda in a room with 200 people, and forget. The movies are for entertainment, but Cinema was meant to get in your bloodstream, to tell you a story!
I’d like to think that I carry Mr. Rohmer’s observational qualities into my work. Let the people tell their story, let their actions and emotions guide your camera. Listen more than you question. Use the natural light. Thank you Mr. Rohmer for being a part of who I am today. After all, if you know me, you know I secretly want every piece I do to be its own little New Wave film.