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eyes wide open

by and , trans.

Part of "Lesescenarios": a SCRIPTjr.nl special section.

The cuts and other technical information included in the text of these three cinépoems should not be understood as oblique references to film direction; they were merely intended to facilitate the creation of a temporary state of mind that the memory destroys along with the act of reading.

~ B.F.

1
a short shadow runs along an ominously lit wall
a sign with a pointing white hand runs alongside it
2
another shadow on the same wall
the hand briefly points in the opposite direction
3
the globe of a streetlamp with two candles, its two flames like human eyes
4
patches of light surrounded by darkness illuminate dull shapes left and right like a moving reflector : shop windows hover above
5
a large patch of sidewalk on which
6
a hat rolls
7
a fist punches
8
a white-gloved hand flails
9
the fist punches again
10
a pair of impeccably pressed pants reels
11
a pair of coveralls stands like a boxer
12
a bloody nose
13
a cap hovers above a scarf, seen from behind
14
a black eye
15
a hand grabs at the scarf, thrashing the air
16
falling weight
17
a hand reaches into a pocket on the ground
18
the streetlamp leans to the point of falling
19
footsteps crush the hat in a puddle of blood
20
a magnesium powder photo flash
21
a pale taylor's mannequin in a shop window
22
applauds wildly with both hands
23
a moving strip of illuminated newspaper, distant and difficult to read : Paris The ... The Spanish Embassy Ball The Youngest Princess ...
24
the dirty, meaty hand of a laborer approaches the exquisite knee of a standard-size woman; the hand grows until it's able to hold the entire knee in its cupped palm
25
but the woman has an eye in her knee
26
the hand shrinks, narrows, and curls up until it becomes
27
a drifter's hand wandering among the rocks and pylons of a jetty
28
a single illuminated shop sign appears on the screen -- then two -- then three -- a turbulent ballet ("Bar-Tabac -- Café -- Beers from Strasbourg, etc. ... )
29
superimpose the sign "Beers from Strasbourg" on the unconscious man
30
the green felt of a billiard table suddenly rises up on the other side of a shop window, chaotically slamming pairs of white billiard balls into one another
31
close-up on a fan rotating faster and faster
32
the unconscious man's respiratory tract, his lungs expanding and contracting faster and faster until they detach -- dead leaves
33
the café's revolving door begins turning furiously, emptying itself -- then refilling
33repeat
the revolving door grabs one man then two then fifteen (the pace begins slowly and accelerates)
34
a man lies horizontally, facing the wall, covered by a metal quilt, stricken with a high fever
34repeat
seen from behind the man dances the shimmy in front of the bar top
34end
seen from the front a young bartender mixes drinks in a cocktail shaker behind the bar
35
he looks at himself in the mirror
36
and sees his face as a bust on a table
37
under which are two female legs
38
he turns his head to better inspect the legs
39
behold the legs : they're as tall as the table on which sits
40
a half empty cup on a saucer with a large tip
41
an American woman
42
the young man turns his head several times
43
in the mirror : he sees himself with the woman's legs
44
around the woman : he sees an ordinary scene
45
one hat, two hats, three hats hang in the cloakroom
46
in slow motion the revolving door releases one man, two men, etc. into the café
47
a boy sleeps with his elbow on the bar, the warmth of a fly on his forehead
48
close-up on the boy's forehead and the fly
49
fade in and out on one head, two heads, three heads, four heads with caps
50
the group around a table
51
seen from behind the bartender pushes a cocktail toward a hand
52
the woman's table; a necklace around her neck, where one would expect to find it
53
the young man delivers her cocktail
54
but the woman doesn't see it
55
he turns his head toward the mirror
56
he sees the woman's head lying on the table
57
close-up of the head as a still life beside the half empty cup, saucer, and large tip
58
the young man passes the group of men in caps
59
their stooped frames cast a shadow over the woman's table, her disembodied legs sticking out from one side
60
a high, wide shot captures the woman's legs and head on the other side of the café -- lost in the huddle
61
the young man approaches the hunched men and leans in
62
the woman is no longer at her table but her neck remains, transformed into a block of wood and still wearing the necklace
63
several hands weigh each of the necklace's large pearls one by one
64
the young man punches the first face he sees
65
then a second face which fragments
66
he strikes five faces in quick succession and the faces multiply (some sixty-four to sixty-six quickly assemble)
67
five punches converge on a single point
68
they tangle together -- slowly unraveling to reveal
69
the young man's dazed face
70
superimposed with a set of moving signs : Garage (moving vertically) and Pharmacy (moving horizontally)
71
he gazes out the café window
72
view of the café interior at a 57° angle
73
liquor racks behind the bar -- in soft focus -- the café takes shape in the mirror and begins rotating slowly
74
the men's table is covered in mirror fragments
75
two pairs of balls stop rolling atop of the vertical face of the billiard table, one after another, freezing like tears
76
that confer with one another haughtily -- soft focus
77
a group of men stroll, dressed for dinner
78
one head then two then three detach themselves from the seated men
79
and advance one by one toward a magnified billiard pocket but miss their target
80
someone cuts and pastes images together to form a collage
81
a hand wipes the photos with a sponge on an obsidian slab
82
upon which lie starfish
83
that play upon the surface like moving shop signs (their brands blurred)
84
intercut the reversed telephone number on the café window with
85
starfish
86
the diners sitting at tables, throwing their heads like balls (the scene repeats itself in slow motion)
87
the woman rises -- in soft focus -- and moves toward the café door
(the tempo of the scene increases rapidly)
88
the cloakroom is filled to capacity but the woman allows herself to be stripped naked by a great many hands
89
she runs into the street
90
five pairs of shoe soles chase her on a glass sidewalk
91
the young man follows
92
but he's no match for the hybrid boat-bus vehicle that appears
93
he begins to run
94
but across the street he sees a car grow until it's the exact width of the walls on either side
95
he keeps running but fear stops him; the woman
96
has she really become that bloody, roasted animal hanging by the door of a butcher's shop?
97
the square shape of a railcar passes behind the young man
98
he rows frantically in a gondola
99
he is perched on the mast of a boat
100
he runs blindfolded
101
on the moving walkway of a department store
102
he runs in a funhouse mirror where he looks tall and slender
103
in a second mirror, he's stocky and obese
104
he runs in a third mirror, etc.
105
the young man climbs a staircase holding an ice axe
106
and bounds over steps three at a time
107
the staircase runs up and down continuously in an infinitely long ring
108
the young man stands on the balcony of Notre-Dame
109
he leans on the railing for a better view
110
a woman on the street moves toward something
111
overlay her submerged face
112
return to the woman advancing on the street
113
she stops herself in front of a gun dealer's case
114
the case
115
a Browning pistol
116
her hand hovers over the pistol which slides away
117
the woman lies on the ground while five men mill about in the street
118
she rises up and surprises them
119
cut to the case
120
in soft focus the guns begin
121
the Browning ballet
122
seen from behind the woman is dizzy and she turns around
123
staggering as she walks
124
her arms open wide as the camera zooms out
125
the young man leans on a gargoyle
126
which gives way
(the tempo changes)
127
a finely drawn red heart reminiscent of postcard illustrations
128
a sprig of Edelweiss inside the heart
129
the heart in the young man's hand
130
in close up he pulls a large red flower from his breast
131
a hand throws the heart
132
close up on the woman's feet
133
she looks, leans over, and picks up
134
a hand fan
135
she considers it in her hand; after a few beats the fan becomes :
136
a marmoset
137
which she pets
138
a phonograph
139
which she cranks
140
a Begonia
141
which she wears as a boutonniere
142
the young man watches her with a happy smile
143
he becomes a glass jar filled with swimming red fish
144
the Begonia becomes a mouse
145
the woman screams
146
a fire extinguisher
147
that she lays on the ground
148
a viper encircles the woman's neck
149
and licks her face
150
the frightened woman springs atop a park bench
151
the jar on the balcony of Notre Dame
152
turns back into the young man
153
his face wears an anguished expression
154
the woman on the bench
155
the heart on the ground
156
the woman rips open the snake with a penknife
157
blood pours out of it
158
she wipes up the blood with a handkerchief that
159
becomes a large, animated nettle bush
160
the young man leans a little too heavily on the balcony
161
and falls along the wall of Notre Dame
162
an ivory ball bounces off the billiard table and falls on the ground
163
it takes aim at Notre Dame, moving up and down until it stops on the highest part of the middle gate
164
the bas-relief image of hell-bound souls between devils (the angel's section in soft focus)
165
a close-up on the bas-relief
166
the ball rolls along billiard felt spread out on the sidewalk
167
it stops beside the corpse in soft focus
168
large white balls surround the dead body
169
seen from behind a flâneur inspects the dead man with disinterest
he pokes him with his cane, leans over, and takes the victim's wallet
170
the camera follows the man as he walks toward city hall
171
the man walks along : two long, bony hands open the wallet
172
they gently remove a picture of the dead man's wife
173
and throw it into the Seine
174
a sealed letter
175
which the hands tear open
176
the flâneur stops to light a cigarette and someone appears, facing him
177
the stranger eyes the dead man's wallet as the flâneur searches for his lighter
178
his face illuminated by lighter flame the flâneur is afraid of the stranger
179
the stranger's features gradually resolve in the flame's dim light
180
close-up : the uncanny head of the author by Man Ray.1

Benjamin Fondane by Man Ray"Fondane by Man Ray" (1928). From trois scénarii: cinepoemes.

Translator's Note

Fondane originally published "eyes wide open" ("paupières mûres"; lit., "mature eyelids" or "ripe eyelids" or, most surrealistically, "blackberry eyelids") in a Man Ray-illustrated collection titled trois scénarii: cinepoemes (Robert Baze, 1928). Yale's Beinecke Library maintains a readily-accessible, digital copy of the text here: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1215303 (17 March 2013). It includes Fondane's difficult-to-read, hand-written dedication to a "Monsieur Fourcade." As I can read it, the dedication reads "à Monseiur Fourcade, grand bibliophile, qui m'a montré beaucoup d'amité en un moment pénible, don donné, B. Fondane, Paris, X, 1928" ("to Monsieur Fourcade, a great booklover who showed me a good deal of friendship at a trying time, this gift is given. B. Fondane. 10th arrondissement of Paris, 1928").

Typical of early 20th-century "scenarios," Fondane presents his "trois scénarii," including "eyes wide open," as ordered lists.2 (All three cinépoems are included in SCRIPTjr.nl's "Lesescenarios" special section.) I've maintained this formatting as well as Fondane's term "cinépoem." Concerning the latter, there's no elegant, literal equivalent in English, of course, though Fondane's term does neatly presage Scott Fitzgerald's use of the phrase "screen poet" a decade later.3 Leaving it untranslated also adds an additional term to the already crowded field of terms that refer to "readerly filmscripts" -- "closet film," "closet screenplay," "Lesescenario," &c. -- and thereby further illustrates the genre's amorphous nature. When I felt they would create clumsy translations and wouldn't unduly alienate English speakers, I've left other French terms untranslated as well (e.g., "café" and "Bar-Tabac"). In the final scenes, needing to distinguish the stroller from the assailant, I introduce the French word "flâneur," which, whatever it may lack for many English speakers, possesses a good deal of elegance and succinctity. (In the Google age, such terms are also quite effortlessly defined.)

Unusual among Lesescenarios and, indeed, read drama of any time period, are Fondane's use of the terms "ter," which I've assumed is an abbreviation for "terminer" ("end"), and "bis" ("repeat"). Fondane appears to use these terms as equivalents to the kinds of repetition markers one finds in musical notation. The duplication of numbers in Fondane's ordered list plays a part in this system as well. When s/he encounters the word "bis", I assume Fondane intends his reader to return to the first entry with the same number and read the set again before proceeding. In this way, "bis" serves as a 𝄇 and/or 𝄉, the first number in a repeated set as a 𝄆 or 𝄋. For more extensive "scene phrases" that involve more than one repeated number, Fondane seems to use "ter" as a 𝄂 or "fine" marker.

Since these markings are highly idiosyncratic, it's unclear whether Fondane intends his reader to repeat a given scene phrase once, as musical notation implies, or multiple times. The relationship between the repeated intervals -- scenes thirty-three and thirty-four -- is similarly opaque. One can interpret this and the cinépoem's other ambiguities -- e.g., Fondane's repeated use of "etc." -- a number of different ways: it helps create a highly subjective text that invites experimentation and individualized reading experiences; it adds another, formal layer of surrealism to the text; it allows Fondane to challenge the ways in which texts are ordinarily presented and read; and it helps Fondane emphasize the stanza-like poetics of his cinépoems' scenes. However, perhaps most importantly for Lesescenario studies, by sacrificing the script's directive objectivity and syuzhet clarity, which all production-oriented filmscripts are expected to have, Fondane's technique also weaves a strong anti-production sensibility into the text. (This is to say nothing of the various "special effect" challenges and technical impossibilities Fondane's script would have presented to early 20th century filmmakers.)

Concerning punctuation and layout, following Fondane's example, I don't begin sentences with capital letters or end them with periods, save in the last stanza, per the text's example, and I use commas only when absolutely necessary, that is, for reasons of clarity, in cases of apposition and zeugma, when separating coordinate adjectives, and, unlike Fondane, items in a list. Like Fondane, I never use them to offset introductory or subordinate clauses or to join independent clauses. In fact, Fondane avoids commas almost entirely, preferring instead the absence of punctuation or speed-oriented marks like semi-colons and dashes. I've privileged this feature of the text, even if it means periodically (and inconsequentially) torturing syntax and literal fidelity. Additionally, I assume Fondane's use of a space before colons -- " ... des formes ternes : enseignes ... " vs. " ... des formes ternes: enseignes ... " -- is more than accidental, namely, that it indicates some sort of longer-than-usual pause or a film-like scene and/or "camera eye" transition. As such, I've maintained the Baze edition's unusual style. I've also broken lines in single list items according to the text's example. At times, it uses carriage returns to split two semi-autonomous phrases. In other cases, line breaks occur only as a result of the page's right margin. I've done my best to discern different instances, ignoring the latter and presenting the former as faithfully as possible.

I have departed from the text in a few minor ways.

First, I've silently emended certain inconstancies. For example, " ... , etc." appears in scene twenty-eight vs. " ... etc" in scene forty-six, and I've standardized instances per the first example. Second, following SCRIPTjr.nl house style, and assuming the difference creates a negligible variation, I've added a space before all ellipses -- "Paris Le ... " vs. "Paris Le... " -- and before and after all dashes: " ... -- de trois -- ballet mouvementé ... " vs. " ... -- de trois --ballet mouvementé ... " The latter also standardizes dash presentation across Fondane's three cinépoems. Neither "horizontal bar" nor "mtasipoj" collapse the space after dashes, which leads me to believe the "eyes wide open" instances are either typos or printing errors.

I've also corrected a handful of, what I consider, ambiguous (pro)noun references, translating the "elle" in stanza 122, for example, as "the woman" rather than "she." Finally, since Fondane's text is right justified, it's difficult to tell if the wider-than-usual word spacings that periodically appear in the text are intentional -- perhaps serving a purpose similar to Fondane's use of spaces before colons -- or merely the result of typesetting. Because they appear fairly randomly and, at times, in the middle of complete clauses, scenes, and thoughts, I've assumed the latter and haven't preserved instances of nonstandard word spacing in my translation.

Fondane's cinépoems, including "eyes wide open," have received some critical attention. See, for example, Nadja Cohen's French-language article: “‘Paupières mûres,’ un scénario intournable” (“‘Eyes wide open’: An Unproducible Screenplay”),4 which includes the full text of Fondane's "eyes wide open"; Peter Christian, "Benjamin Fondane's 'Scenarii Intournables'";5 and Eric Freedman, "The Sounds of Silence: Benjamin Fondane and the Cinema."6 I've included all three in my "Lesescenario Bibliography": the most comprehensive resource available for closet screenplays and relevant secondary texts.7

Finally, my thanks are due Nicholas Roth both generally, for an engaging, ongoing Lesecenario conversation, and specifically, for bringing Fondane's cinépoems to my attention.

Idem velle et idem nolle ea demum firma amicitia est.

I dedicate this translation to him and my late grandfather: paterfamilias, patriote, francophone, homme de lettres.

  1. In French, the latter half of this passage reads, "la tête fantastique de l'auteur par Man Ray." The French word "auteur" has many meanings, including "creator," "author," and "perpetrator [of a crime]." As such, Fondane seems imply that he himself is the robber-murderer from the early scenes of "eyes wide open": a deft linguistic gesture that, without comment, might find itself lost in translation.
  2. See, for example, Georges Méliès' scenario Le voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon). Versions of this scenario can be found in various places, for example, online: Tim Dirks, "Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon) (1902)" (filmsite, n.d. http://www.filmsite.org/voya.html [1 January 2010]), and, in print: Lewis Jacobs, The Rise of the American Film (Harcourt Brace, 1939), 27-28 and Kevin Alexander Boon, Script Culture and the American Screenplay (Wayne State UP, 2008), 5. The original French version of Méliès' scenario can be found reprinted in the November 1984 issue of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris).
  3. The Pat Hobby Stories. Scribner, 1995. 93.
  4. Ce que le cinéma fait à la littérature (et réciproquement) (The Effect of Film on Literature [and Vice Versa]). Spec. issue of Revue LHT 2 (December 2006). http://www.fabula.org/lht/2/Cohen.html (30 March 2013). I've taken certain liberties with Cohen's title, which perhaps deserve a brief comment. "Un scénario intournable" literally translates as "an unturnable screenplay," implying, in French, a rather elegant connection between film production and crafts such as woodturning and pottery. However, in English, the word "unturnable" is too vague to establish the same metaphor, and "cousin" words like "unmakable" and "uncraftable" are too clunky to comfortably read. As such, using I.A. Richards' terms, my translation of Cohen's title dispenses with the metaphorical "vehicle" (woodworking/pottery; a.k.a., the "figure" or "source") and, instead, for clarity's sake, uses the "tenor" (film production; a.k.a., the "ground" or "target"). (See I.A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric [Oxford UP, 1936], 96.)
  5. In Dada and Surrealist Film. Ed. Rudolf Kuenzl. MIT Press, 1996. 72-85.
  6. Screen 39:2 (1998): 164-74.
  7. Quimby Melton, "Lesescenario Bibliography" (Google Docs, 30 March 2013. http://goo.gl/1v9is [accessed March 30, 2013]).

Citation: Fondane, Benjamin. 5 March 2014. "eyes wide open." Translated by Quimby Melton. SCRIPTjr.nl. http://scriptjr.nl/scripted-narrative/translations/eyes-wide-open-benjamin-fondane (accessed [PST / -8:00]).

Updated: March 5, 2014 at 4:26 pm (PST / -8:00)

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