How I Made Some of My
What Maisie Knew
I started my first film in 1973 because my friend Chantal Akerman
who was going back to Europe gave me a box of outdated film stock
that she had and couldn’t take with her. Without any clear
idea other than exploring a young girl subjectivity and how she
sees grown-ups around her, I shot with some of my friends the scene
in the “loft with the fog” and some of the ‘solo”
for each of the five women. The reference to the Henry James’s
novel that I had read many years before when I was a teenager came
back to my consciousness in the fever of the feminist movement of
the early 1970s. Looking at the “fog” footage I elaborated
other scenes in the countryside and introduced male figures as “interlopers”.
I tied all the narrative strings together by shooting a series of
scripted scenes in what I called “the apartment with doors”
in fall 1974.
I had a minimalist sound strategy, shooting MOS (without sync sound)
and adding some sparse sounds later. The sound track is constructed
around multiple variations of five kind of sound: piano sound, white
noise sounds like wind, silences, whistling tea kettle or nature
sounds, some effects like clapping or closing doors and some words.
The girl in my mind was at a stage of her consciousness before language
and growing to be four years old at the end of the film when her
“governess” finds her in a closet, opens the door and
says to her “Maisie it is time for supper”.
The film is about looking. My bet was that slight variations of
few recurrent elements would encourage the viewer to free associate
and to fantasize a kind of narrative.
WHAT MAISIE KNEW, 1975, 60 minutes, 16mm
B&W. With Epp Kotkas, Kate Mannheim, Saskia Noordhoek Hegt,
Linda Patton, Yvonne Rainer, Jerry Bamman, James Barth, John Erdmann,
Gary Stephan & Philip Glass.
(NOW) or Maintenant entre parenthèses
I shot (NOW) in two hours more or less keeping everything
that was shot in continuity. I had a studio thanks to a friend that
was letting me her loft when she was away in France. So both Linda
Patton and James Barth came to the studio because I had asked them
to help me tryout things for what I then called “Film Portrait”
later titled “The Camera: Je”. At the time I was shooting
the same images both in B&W and Color and I did that on that
afternoon. The film shows a manipulation of objects and a kind of
literalness in the use of the word NOW that I liked.
Film = Now - Projected Film = (Now).
The translated title in French with the parenthesis being spelled
out adds to the joke.
(NOW) or MAINTENANT ENTRE PARENTHESES,
1976, 16mm Color 10 minutes,
SILENT (24 frame per second) - With Linda Patton and James Barth
The Camera : Je, La Camera : I (1977)
The Camera : Je, La Camera : I is an exploration by the
photographer-filmmaker of the act of shooting photographs. The film
wants to make the spectator identifies with the eye of the photographer
on her subjects and the city she lives in, New York. The film uses
a technique of “subjective camera”, to give the spectator
an active sense of the dual problematic in the relation “cameraperson
to subject”, “photographing to photographed”.
This technique of “subjective camera” places the person
who looks at the film in the same relation with the screen as the
one of the photographer with her subjects. This strategy, therefore,
gives to the spectator a direct experience of the tension as well
as the wanderings and timing of a photographic session. The filmic
strategy makes the spectator understand and perceive the relation
between photographer and subject, a relation which is not about
dialogue but about power, power of saying yes or no to the taking
of the photograph, power however undermined by elements of anxiety,
coming from both sides, the photo subject and the photographer.
The situation is turned around at the end of the film when the power
is shown to belong to the performer on the screen, a spectator of
the photographs acting as a critic, looking at the photographs displayed
in front of him, and questioning by his look the work of the photographer.
We guess along the way the character of the photographer, a woman,
through the kind of pictures she is taking: portraits in the first
part of the film, streets and buildings in the second part. This
double structure is conceived as a metaphor of the inherent dual
aspects of the act of taking a photograph: The compulsion of staying
disengaged by being removed from the subject to maintain the distance
which is felt necessary to take a photograph, is opposed to the
desire to participate and be included, to be inside it. In the action
of looking at the film, the spectator identifies this dichotomy
“exterior-interior”, the spectator looking from the
outside, at a scene which is shown to him as perceived from the
inside in a subjective manner. Other dichotomies are used in the
film, such as stasis-movement, volume-flatness, real time-theatrical
time, color-black & white, English-French.
The use of two languages English & French alludes to the emotional
relation the photographer has with those two languages. A going
back and forth between observation and sentiment and/or imagination,
the film is a self-portrait of the photographer-filmmaker during
the years 1976-1977. Babette Mangolte (Text written in 1978)
In this text written in 1978 I don’t make as clear as I should
that the spectator becomes a participant at the same time that he
sees himself as a spectator being photographed. The photographer-filmmaker
in calling the shots makes violence to the film spectator’s
self. The inside is seen as the place where attention span, control
and intentions can be explored while the outside is total distraction
THE CAMERA : JE, LA CAMERA : I, 1977,
16mm, B&W and Color, 88 minutes
In English and French, with numerous performers and models.
THE COLD EYE (MY DARLING BE CAREFUL)
A “narrative” film centered on young artists living
in New York City around 1979.
The film is about a certain stage in the development of a young
artist confronting the real world in terms of her own idealistic
notions of what art is supposed to do. You never see her. She is
the camera’s eye and when someone says to the camera “My
darling be careful”, it could be addressing her or you the
The subjective camera set-up challenges the spectator’s position
as an impartial observer.
Babette Mangolte (text written in 1980)
The Cold Eye (My darling Be Careful) is my third and last
film of my “subjective camera cycle” that is exploring
the spectator’s position when he or she is confronted with
a direct gaze from the screen coming straight from the movie camera
lens while being induced to an impossible identification with the
character behind the camera who is implied in the film narration.
In the case of the film The Cold Eye (My darling Be Careful)
all the protagonists look at you spectator while a voice that isn’t
your own but is the one of the film main character, Cathy (played
by Kim Ginsberg), who in the film narrative is occupying the camera’s
position. Cathy is answering questions or comments addressed at
you the spectator. The spectator is placed in a position where desynchronization
between eye and intellect is needed to cope. It is like an induced
In term of the practicality of the shooting, each performer had
to be trained to talk to the movie camera even though the voice
they were answering was coming from a spatial position that was
not the one of the movie camera where they addressed their gaze
but another one sufficiently removed to make sure Cathy talking
to them could be recorded without picking camera noise. In general
Cathy was at a ninety degrees position in relation with the performers
and the motion picture camera and she was out of sight of the performers.
The script, written by James Barth and based on a detailed outline
by me, was completed for every scene before the rehearsal phase
with the performers. I did several practice runs with each performer,
using a still camera as a stand-in for the movie camera that I rented
only for the shooting day. The only improvisation was in the camera
work in the various locations, all in New York City. It is particularly
the case in the art opening scene or in Alan’s apartment as
well as in the café Borgia location. I wanted to show that
Cathy is preoccupied by shapes and volumes rather than function
and I could do it by exploring what and how she sees in her point
of view shots. By showing how she sees, I imply how an artist in
this case, a young woman painter, worked all the time at finding
ideas about what is her main preoccupations while being also engaged
in mundane conversation.
Babette Mangolte September 2004
THE COLD EYE (MY DARLING BE CAREFUL),
1980, 16mm, B&W, 90 minutes
With Kim Ginsberg, George Deem, Power Boothe, Saskia Noordhoek-Hegt,
Ela Troyano, James Barth, Maggie Grynastyl and Valda Setterfield.
Script by James Barth and Babette Mangolte,
Direction, Cinematography, Editing by Babette Mangolte, Camera Assistant
There ? Where ? 1979
The film is testing how disembodied voices stimulate the viewer’s
imagination while looking at the empty roads and man made landscapes
of an unmarked California. The film is also exploring how looking
is linked to driving and moving in space.
THERE? WHERE? 1979, 8 minutes, 16mm Color.
With Cameron Bishop, Judith Spiegel, Babette Mangolte & Louis
Visible Cities 1991
The title is a pun on Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities
in which Calvino imagines a dialog between two rulers, Genghis Khan
and Marco Polo fantasizing about ideal cities and where the ideal
is between the nomadic & the mercantile. In my version I look
at new constructions of condominiums cities in Southern California
and invent a dialog between two powerless women of different generations
with the divisions from East/West Coast, in a world dominated by
men and money.
VISIBLE CITIES, 1991, 31 minutes, 16mm
Color. With Archer Martin and Christine Berry Music by Michael Pelz-Sherman
What Maisie Knew (1975), There
? Where ?(1979) & Visible Cities
The three films were made in different settings, at different times
and originated with different conceptual preoccupations but they
share one important premise about space, in particular domestic
space. Space defines us and defines the way we think, rather than
the other way around.
In addition, the films share a relation with literary texts that
are referenced in the film titles and reveal some of the filmmaker’s
THE SKY ON LOCATION 1982
The landscape is not seen in its postcardish grandeur as captured
in the photographs of Ansel Adams, nor through its shapes as in
a Cezanne or Constable paintings, but rather the film captures the
mood of the landscape as in a Turner painting. The film attempts
to construct geography of the land from North to South, East to
West and season-to-season trough colors instead of maps.
Babette Mangolte (text written in 1982)
The Sky on Location explores the concept of wilderness
that was unknown to me when I was raised in France. During the romantic
period at the junction between the eighteen and nineteen centuries,
the Europeans saw landscape in its majestic quality; they spoke
of its “grandeur” and dreamt of climbing the Alps. But
although the pikes could be inaccessible they were known and to
think a landscape essentially as untamed and wild is a concept of
the new continent with an unknown territory that had to be discovered.
I traced the history of this discovery and domestication of the
land in the painting of the Hudson River School where you see how
the unknown was slowly colonized and tamed. I also studied the photographic
surveys of the 1850s and 1860s to prepare the filming.
The idea for the film came while I was traveling in 1975 on buses
rooming the West. Spending often a night in the bus I was leaving
a sunset in Arizona and waking up by sunrise in Wyoming. I noticed
that the color of the sky changed from North to South and that color
shift was what I tried to capture starting 1980 and 1981 when I
shot the footage that became The Sky on Location. The unmapped
vastness was compelling. I went off the road, slept in the wild
and exposed myself to the elements, to feel in my muscles and bones
the weariness of the first emigrants who crossed that land. Can
we imagine how somebody sees some unknown and awesome thing for
the first time? For once my foreignness was an asset in making a
film. I had no prejudice or misconception like the ones I heard
from a friend born in Douglas, Arizona, who, when I told him I was
going to trace the four seasons in the landscape of the West, replied:
“But there are no seasons in The West”. He was wrong.
The colors if not the shapes change radically from winter to summer,
specifically the color of the sky.
I think landscape moves because the sunlight moves across it. And
if you can capture the changing light you have transformed the land
and the way we look at it. Although I shot mostly static shots I
could evoke movement by fast cutting which is easier to do with
static shots than panoramic or tracking shots. At first I had decided
to shoot only spaces that were untouched by man made structure and
also that were totally emptied of humans. But distance and scale
was difficult to show in shots that were never connected to a known
dimension. The image of something that is a boulder could be just
the image of a small stone. I included some human figure here and
there that suddenly created the surprise effect of distance or proximity.
You need scale to understand what you see and jolt your viewer.
A shot that suddenly revealed the vastness or smallness of what
you saw was needed to create that jolt.
The three voices are essential to break any possibility of contemplation
and complacency and introduce the energy and excitation of being
there. It also permitted to establish how much what we see is conditioned
by what we know. Babette Mangolte September 2004
THE SKY ON LOCATION, 1982, 16mm, Color,
FOUR PIECES BY MORRIS 1993
Script, Direction, Cinematography, Editing by Babette Mangolte,
Camera Assistant Ralph Cheney, Mark Daniels, Neil Harvey. Location
sound Ralph Cheney - Assistant Editor Maureen Judge
Music by Ann Hankinson & Johannes Brahms Requiem and Richard
Strauss Last Song.
The film is a reconstitution of the seminal performance work done
in the early Sixties by the sculptor Robert Morris.
The filmmaker’s problematic was to create a film which, in
the Nineties, can give a sense of the aesthetics of another generation
without debasing it by transforming it. In particular the modernism
concerns of the Sixties performance artists and dancers were centered
on casual gestures and duration. Several of those preoccupation’s
have been integrated in today’s dance vocabulary (like casual
movement and untrained bodies), but some remain elusive, like the
concept of theatrical time, which at the time was totally renewed
in the performance work of the period due to John Cage’s enormous
Film is the medium of duration, but what we call duration is historically
determined. Film spectatorship expectations greatly change in different
generations. My biggest question was how to represent the sense
of time of another generation. I gambled that if I could create
a sense of heightened presence of the performer on screen by restructuring
the sound space of the image, I could use the distended time-duration
of the Sixties to my advantage and emphasize the importance of the
The film’s premises rest on maintaining the concept of art
as displacement / art as a frame which I thought was at the center
of the impact of the performances at the time when their making
revolutionizes the new dance in the New York art scene of the early
Babette Mangolte, 1994
The making of the film was extremely pleasurable because the daily
contact with Robert Morris was intellectually stimulating and fun.
I also had all freedom to devise the complex tracking shots and
gliding camera work, which are meant to be seamless and invisible.
I trained myself to know the movement so well that I could guide
the tempo of the tracking shot by pure instinct. The task was particularly
challenging in Site and Waterman Switch. I also
felt that showing two renditions of Waterman Switch was
interesting, the first one emphasizing the proscenium effect of
the choreography, the other one using point of view shots and inducing
the spectator in the narrative. The sound track was the most interesting
element to invent for me. It is by sound that you create presence.
I feel very grateful that Robert Morris gave me total freedom in
Babette Mangolte September 2004
FOUR PIECES BY MORRIS, 1993, 16mm, Color,
Choreography by Robert Morris
Film By Babette Mangolte
Site: Andrew Ludke, Sarah Tomlinson (Original Cast 1964 Robert Morris,
Carolee Schneeman) – Arizona: Andrew Ludke (Original Cast
1963 Robert Morris) –
21:3: Speaker Michael Stella Voice Robert Morris (Original Cast
1963 Robert Morris) –
Waterman Switch: Pamela Weese, Susan Blankensop, Michele Pogliani
(Original Cast 1965 Lucinda Child, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Morris)
Program Notes for Les Modèles de Pickpocket
At a time when documentaries often means a hybrid between infocommercial
and docudrama and when fake-documentary is lurking everywhere, my
documentary Les Modèles de Pickpocket represents
a return to a desire for authenticity that could seem out-dated
and that I had never claimed in any of my previous films before.
But authenticity is at the core of Robert Bresson’s filmmaking
and is also a sign of a historical moment in the 1950s and 1960s
where things, like objects were still scarce and when sounds and
sensations in isolated forms mattered more than decorative kinetic
displays and speed. I was also concerned with another kind of authenticity
needed, forty years later, for historical validation.
From the start, while working on the project, I felt strongly that
whatever “facts” would be uncovered by my presence and
interaction with the “models”, those facts themselves
would not justify the enterprise. I needed to be able to establish
a sense of presence that is at the center of the creation of authenticity
in Bresson’s films and I also needed to evoke Bresson on his
terms to give voice to his ideas so they could be bounced off the
fragmented memories of the “models”.
The strategy for my work as a filmmaker was simple: I had to be
as unobtrusive as possible but as attentive as possible so the other,
the “model” could feel that whatever was said was in
confidence. I had to be a listener and de facto created a film that
is about listening. Creating a sense of intimacy for the viewer
was important and when I fail to raise the money to shoot on film,
I felt that at least the tool of a small digital video camera could
become an asset permitting me to work almost alone and with no heavy
apparatus to move around.
To capture Bresson’s voice, I worked in libraries and immerse
myself in all the interviews that were published at the time preceding
the making of Pickpocket and heard all the sound recordings and
television documentaries done in the 1960s when Bresson’s
fame peaked. This research about Bresson’s ideas in the late
1950s helped me when I had to convince the “models”
to trust me and to give me access. In documentary, access as well
as trust is everything.
Babette Mangolte (September 2004)
LES MODELES DE PICKPOCKET
This is a documentary about the « models » of the Robert
Bresson’s film Pickpocket (1959). The documentary
investigates Bresson’s method and direction and reveals the
persona of the people whose life was changed by the making of the
film and the interaction with Robert Bresson in the summer 1959.
MARTIN LASSALLE (the “Pickpocket” currently living in
MARIKA GREEN (“Jeanne”, currently living in Lans, Austria)
PIERRE LEYMARIE (“Jacques”, currently living in Caen
and Paris, France)
Scenario and Direction: Babette Mangolte
Camera, Sound, Editing : Babette Mangolte Assistant editor: Kenny
Additional sound recording: Nicolas Hirsute, Jim Smith Additional
Camera: Mark Daniels
Post Production in Paris: AVIDIA - Copyright © 2003 Babette
Mangolte & REGARD NOMADE –
Beta Numérique PAL & NTSC format 16 :9, 89 minutes, French
with English Subtitles