By Violet Lucca in the January-February 2016 Issue
It’s nothing new to state that a city can be a character, or to be fascinated by how the Champs-Elysées looks today as opposed to how it parades by in Breathless. Roland-François Lack’s acts of “cine-tourism” go deeper. Exploring the liminal realm between space, film, memory, and cartography, they focus on French and British cinema, pulling from contemporary maps, phone books, and other archival material to provide a holistic view of locations seen in documentary and fiction films from all eras.
A film professor living in London, Lack contextualizes images of the past without straitjacketing them into a historical narrative. You can take an ideal self-guided tour of London through sequences in Dassin’s Rififi, Melville’s Army of Shadows, and Chéreau’s Intimacy, or of Parisian suburbs through Les Vampires and Eyes Without a Face.
Lack frequently returns to the work of Robert Paul, a filmmaker and tour guide active between 1895 and 1910 whose studio was just around the corner from the professor’s house in Muswell Hill. (Lack writes only about places he has visited.) Paul’s films and photographic tours are broken down shot by shot, with detailed descriptions of how actors move through the streets, how real locations in the area were fused with studio settings, and the public reception of his actualités and fantastical fictions. It’s a brave new way of considering how filmmakers can fashion mise en scène from the world around them.