Robbe-Grillet, Fano and N Took the Dice
Alain Robbe-Grillet is known in the cinematic world mostly as a result of his connection, as screenwriter, to Alain Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad. He is a pillar of the Nouveau Roman movement of the 1950s but he is also a filmmaker in his own right having directed 10 films, including L’Immortelle (1963), Trans-Europ Express (1966) and L’Éden et après (Eden and After, 1970).
Interestingly, Robbe-Grillet’s books have occasionally been described as failed films or aborted cinematic efforts. Such criticisms delighted the French author and only encouraged him to pursue his interests in cinema.
Robbe-Grillet approached filmmaking in the same way he approached literature and his refusal to embrace conventional forms was most apparent in N a pris les dés (N Took the Dice), a 1971 made-for-TV film he conceptualized while working on Eden and After.
Robbe-Grillet had received a financial advance from a film distributor as well as funds from a television station interested in airing his films. Eden and After and N Took the Dice were therefore simultaneous attempts at maximizing scarce resources for the purpose of developing a cinematic vision based on experimentation and initiative.
N Took the Dice is essentially a reworking of Eden and After made possible by the roll of a dice (scenes from the 1970 film were combined with outtakes and additional footage in an aleatory way). Robbe-Grillet was always interested in music and since he perceived Eden and After to be serial in nature, it only made sense that its sister film would stand in opposition to that.
The French author was still working on L’immortelle when Last Year in Marienbad was released. He had envisioned a “musique concrète” soundtrack for Resnais’ film but the celebrated director opted instead for a less-experimental approach which left Robbe-Grillet mildly disappointed.
That experience contributed to Robbe-Grillet seeking his own path and teaming up for most of the 1960s and 1970s with composer Michel Fano, a graduate of the Conservatoire de Paris and close friend of Pierre Boulez. Fano thus became Robbe-Grillet’s “compositeur attitré.” A serialist by training, Fano embraced the possibilities presented by the French writer’s films and applied himself to further exploring the “continuum sonore.”
Fano was concerned with integrating all the possible ranges of sonic elements within the score of a film. Refusing to discriminate between musical and non-musical sounds, he did away with sound hierarchies and composed music based on fragments he would collect before, during and after shooting. While working for Robbe-Grillet, Fano usually acted as both sound engineer and composer. He was therefore able to experiment and take advantage of opportunities presented to him while preparing his “partitions musicales.”
Robbe-Grillet, however, occasionally felt like Fano went too far.
“Fano’s structures are always very subtle and not easily perceptible to the average viewer,” Robbe-Grillet remarked in an interview published in The Erotic Dream Machine. “Fano’s reels are much more impressive for viewers who are also connoisseurs.”
Incidentally, the producer for N Took the Dice did not see the need to pay Fano an additional fee to rework the score put together for Eden and After. The responsibility to rearrange the score therefore landed on the shoulders of editor and long-time Resnais collaborator Bob Wade, whom the director respected for his ability to understand how to reach the average viewer and the non-initiated.
The “partition musicale” for N Took the Dice is, therefore, an interesting hybrid born out of exchanges between Robbe-Grillet, Fano and Wade. It is not always successful but it holds a number of surprises and interesting accidents that transgress the frameworks most of us are too familiar with.
… sound excerpts below for those of you on a tight schedule – otherwise, do allocate the next 90 minutes to experiencing Robbe-Grillet’s game of dice.
Category: 2009-2010 Archives