Lu tempu di li pisci spata
Vittorio de Seta
Italy, no dialogue, 1954, 11 min
Iran, Farsi, 1986, 28 min
United Kingdom, silent, 1929, 41 min
Vive la baleine
Chris Marker and Mario Ruspoli
France, French, 1972, 17 min
‘The ugliest animal on earth is the white man’, but not in The Age of Swordfish. In 1954, in the Strait of Mesina, the beauty of the fishermen is on par with that of the fish which keeps them up at night. We say “fishermen” out of convention but what they do is hunt, embark on a one-to-one persecution (several men are required to act as one before the other animal: four rowers-arms, a lookout-eyes, a harpooner-stinger). During this almost equal persecution, time expands and contracts, coloured, like music, like in an action film. At the end of the day, the animal that is not one returns and dismembers, someone sings, and the children dance on the beach. There was 5 seconds left until il miracolo económico, until the end of this world.
We move away from the coast, the oars have disappeared, there is a motor and the rhythm changes. It slows down, curiously. A fishing boat sails out into the Persian Gulf in the close season, that is, after the fish have migrated. The skiff cannot follow them, due to its size and because traditional fishing consists of setting limits and accepting them. It is all about, in these circumstances, catching the stragglers. There are few and, on top of that, the seagulls eat them. Time stands still. The fishermen sing, of course. The crochet designs on their hats are an admirable sight, as with the way they fish, like a dancing body, with able and repetitive gestures that seem choreographed (by the very position of the camera, that modest magic).
We move ever further away from the coast. Blue water fishing, the North sea. We are warned from the beginning: the idyll of brown sails and village harbours is over; this is an epic of steam and steel. Chimneys, black smoke, the floating industry, the proletarianised fishermen. Three-kilometre-wide nets, the limits blur. Drifting from here to there, from fantasy to the documentary perspective, from the depths to the surface, splicing together the quiet dream of the fishermen and the disquieted dream of the herring twice under threat, from the nets and the conger eel, Grierson mustered all the aesthetic he could in the name of his self-declared unaesthetic, pedagogical cause. And he spotted a whale.
It is difficult to single out a herring. There are millions of them. They are a silvery current dragged and squashed by the proletarians of the sea. What is difficult, in the case of whales, is not to single them out. The very observer of the ugliness of the white man, which regains its ring of truth in Three Cheers for the Whale, provided irrefutable proof and he called it Moby Dick. ‘Whale, I love you’, says Chris Marker’s narrator and it turns out to be a logical way to feel after the engravings, the paintings, the frames, the blue overcome by the red of blood and a voiceover as thrilling as thought can be. Yes, thinking thrills: ‘The struggle, now, is between those who defend themselves defending nature and those who, destroying it, destroy themselves’. There are no more limits, only predation and a king who devores himself. Marker gives, at least, the last song to the whales.
Lu tempu di li pisci spata: Copy provided by Cineteca di Bologna