Orienting Design, Discourse and Perception in C’était un Rendez-Vous
"Couldn't an exciting film be made from the map of Paris? ... From the compression of a century-long movement of streets, boulevards, arcades, and squares into the space of half an hour?" - Walter Benjamin (83)
In 1976, Claude Lelouch mounted a steadicam to the front bumper of his Mercedes and drove through early morning Paris at breakneck speed, from Porte Dauphine to the Sacre Coeur Basilica. He titled the unedited eight-minute take C'était un Rendez-Vous ("It was a date") in reference to its final moments, in which a young woman emerges grinning—and relieved—atop the Montmartre steps to meet the driver. The title's simplicity is a red herring, and the film disavows it quickly. An introductory intertitle opens, stating plainly that the film we are about to see has not been manipulated, before dissolving into a forward-moving shot inside a pitch-black tunnel on Paris' périphérique highway. A rectangle of light grows from the centre of the frame, recognizable as the tunnel's exit, and, as the camera penetrates it, the soundtrack of engine noises and tire squeals kicks in. The proportions of the light box and the darkness around it give it the immediate appearance of a cinema screen, a connection cued doubly by the sound's synchronized introduction when we enter the space (see figs. 1-4). The analogy advertises a lineage of ideas that will emerge during the film, evoking Benjamin's quote and the city symphony film among an abundance of other theorists and works that have thematized the links between the fabrics of the moving image and the city.
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