horizontal bar

by and , trans.

Part of "Lesescenarios": a 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.

in all caps a wall reads : Freedom Equality Brotherhood
the three words sprawl across the wall, the first in large print, the others in soft focus
the letters shift around, miraculously, nimbly forming semi-intelligible, semi-absurd words
a head watches the dance attentively
the head of a stylish young man holding a suitcase
who is painted on a ballet advertisement
on the sidewalk a laborer reads a newspaper
the young man's head leans out of the poster
over the shoulder of the laborer he reads :
the worker throws down the paper and runs away
the young man steps down and picks up the paper
he leafs through it for a moment
and puts it back where he found it
seen from behind the young man busies himself in front of the poster
happy to be free he pirouettes, turns right, and walks down the sidewalk
at such a rapid pace
that he trips and falls over and over again
he snatches at the beard of a man walking nearby
the man maintains his stride and doesn't turn around
a young woman's bosom
upon which lies a scrap of cloth that she holds in her hands
cut to a boy
of whom nothing remains but a skeleton holding a satchel under its arm
the young man collects all this in his suitcase; he rings the doorbell of the first house he comes to and leaves the suitcase in the hand of a porter hovering in the doorway
the porter is an old bearded goat
the young man flees in fear
but the sidewalk rolls in the opposite direction
he stops in front of a taylor's shop window
a group of mannequins stands at attention and immediately begins marching
the young man enters the shop -- and kills the only customer
a view of the shop interior : on the other side of the window the young man flees the scene
cut to the porter showing the suitcase to the police and describing the young man
insert scene fifteen : of the young man
an old man explains something
insert scene eleven : the poster escapade
the old man unrolls a poster
insert the poster which offers 100,000 Francs for the young man
at the same time the young man flirts with a young woman he sees standing in the doorway of a store
she smiles at him
he dares to approach her
she makes eyes at him
he kisses her
the young woman is a mannequin who breaks in his hands
a low shot of the angry young man shattering the store window
a row of legs suddenly starts dancing
he flees followed by a security guard
the chase
the security guard catches up with the young man and asks to light his cigarette off the young man's
the young man enters a dance hall
dancing couples move mechanically and in sync
wanted signs appear everywhere, offering the 100,000 Franc reward
furtive hands tear them down
at the police station several winded officers report the young man's misdeeds
a half-kangaroo, half-human child files a complaint
a one-eyed man claims
the young man ripped his eye out and set it in a ring
close up -- the eye ring
return to the one-eyed man
two individuals explain to the police chief that
they're Americans on vacation : they were both walking along the street when
speaking together : the young man approached them, pulled off their heads, and after a moment's consideration put each on the other's shoulders
in the street people snatch up special editions of the newspaper
several people open the newspaper and read about: (insert the first page -- the article title -- then the photo at 75 degrees)
a newborn with the head of the prime minister (with beard)1
a lion tamer accused of cohabiting with a lioness
a dance hall that's just opened inside a church
the angel of Notre Dame pissing on passersby
a whale appearing at the Place de la Concorde during a storm the previous night
a Bordeaux student's monomial algebraic expression that mocks God2
the anxious face of the young man
who throws himself into the Seine
but is pulled out by a fisherman's line
he shoots himself with a revolver in front of the statue of Marcellin Berthelot3
and falls to the ground in a torrent of blood
the young man throws himself off the Eiffel Tower
but his umbrella acts as a parachute
(the young man is decidedly immortal) his face is immensely sad
a female florist in a corner shop
offers him a bouquet of violets
he removes a cigarette from a pack
she offers him a second bouquet
he removes a match from a box
frustrated he isn't looking at her she offers him a pair of scissors
the young man takes a few of the violets and attaches them as a boutonniere
and tosses her a coin
it combusts and burns the florist's hands
the young man enters a Bar-Tabac4
and orders a beer from the proprietor
cut to Crédit Lyonnais 5
the young man selects a pair of shoes from a catalogue
wearing a respectable beard the manager exits his office : Manager -- writing down the young man's shoe size
the young man finds himself wandering the grounds of the Jardin des Plantes, gazing at the zoo's animal cages
cut to a zebra
whom the young man amuses by throwing a check through the bars
cut to an ostrich
eating an Eskimo
the young man tosses his violet boutonniere
and applauds fiercely
a hyena (in its cage -- insert the sign first)
a monkey with the head of an anguished man which falls off with an astonished expression
and lands beside the smoking revolver
the young man fired
a beautiful woman approaches the young man in an alley
emerging from an empty cage
he's afraid, seeing the woman walking free in the alley6
he undresses courageously
he forces the woman back into the cage by cracking a whip
he gazes at her happily -- he offers her a bottle of perfume
she smells it; she offers him a kiss
he risks it with some difficulty
a long kiss
the young man latches the cage door behind him
and walks away whistling
illuminated advertisements in the night
a woman standing on a street corner gestures to him
he follows her
the feet of a large bed flip upside down
the woman sleeps
the young man stands beside the bed, counts a few coins, and leaves them on the nightstand
dentures in a glass of water
a cat o' nine tails7
an eye
the young man pulls back the bed sheets, grabs the woman's breast, and pulls it like taffy
a screaming mouth
the mouth ejects an increasingly complex series of binary code8
the woman sits on the edge of the bed wearing an oversized shirt made from banknotes
cut to an image of the bedroom superimposed over the word : "love" in lower-case letters that grow until they cover the screen
sitting on the curb with his legs in the street the young man cries
superimpose car wheels, busses, and human legs on him
when he opens his eyes he finds he's surrounded by a herd of cattle
he tries to milk one of the passing cows
but she kicks him
a security guard kicks him
he stands up only to find himself facing a man's shiny, bald head
seen together : the dazed young man follows the head
an ad for Cadum soap reflects off the bald man's head, blinking on and off at regular intervals9
insert the wall with the torn ballet advertisement
the young man hesitates, considering two eternities of ennui : while he thinks, his doppelgänger steps out of the wanted poster
and kicks a man wearing a sandwich board in the middle of one of his advertisements
the one with the bald man's shiny head
can he really be free? the young man embraces his doppelgänger who
turns his head sharply and flees :
moving quickly, an army's worth of scooters carry banners that read : 100,000 Franc reward
the young man rubs his eyes
the doppelgänger reappears and approaches the young man, running the torn wanted poster across his leg
the sight of the poster makes the young man take a step back
he chases the poster
but it begins receding
the poster gets smaller and smaller
the poster gets larger and larger
it grows larger and larger until it fills the entire screen
the poster becomes a spotlight
hovering steadily near the torn ballet advertisement, going for broke : the young man flips a coin
his face is hopeful but when the coin falls he seems indifferent
so much for that! he decides to live : he rejoins the normal street traffic; he spontaneously offers a cigarette to the first security guard he meets
pan in on an anthill
it's the classifieds page
a few signs -- (at first appearing stretched but then getting shorter) : Golden Rule Insurance, General Insurance, Insurance Partners, Italian Insurance Co., Winterthur Group, Yorkshire Insurance Co. Ltd., Gresham Insurance Limited 10
seen from behind the young man punches a time clock
he kisses a hand for a long time11
it's a hairy hand, attached to an arm running under a cassock and up to the head of a priest
on the steps of a church
the young man with a statue of Voltaire
with the statue of Voltaire dressed as a bride

Translator's Note

Fondane originally published "horizontal bar" ("barre fixe," a reference to the gymnastics apparatus) 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: (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 "horizontal bar," as ordered lists.12 (All three cinépoems are included in'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.13 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., "ennui").

Assuming it isn't a simple printing error, which I think we're safe in doing, one can interpret the absence of scenes 17 and 33-38, the repetition of scene 18, and the cinépoem's other ambiguities -- e.g., Fondane's refusal to describe the murder method in scene 30, provide actual dialogue for his "pontificating man" in scene 40, or describe the contents of the newspaper page in scene 69 -- 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 allows Fondane to interrupt and manipulate the reading experience and, reminiscent of the metatheatricality of Brechtian epic theatre, emphasize the artificiality of the text, that is, remind the reader s/he is reading a text or, more specifically, a cinépoem. 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, 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 -- " ... rappel du 15 : du jeune homme ... " vs. " ... rappel du 15: du jeune homme ... " -- 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.

I've corrected a handful of, what I consider, ambiguous (pro)noun references, translating the "il" in stanza 24, for example, as "the young man" rather than "he." And 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 "horizontal bar," 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”),14 which includes the full text of Fondane's cinépoem "eyes wide open"; Peter Christian, "Benjamin Fondane's 'Scenarii Intournables'";15 and Eric Freedman, "The Sounds of Silence: Benjamin Fondane and the Cinema."16 I've included all three in my "Lesescenario Bibliography": the most comprehensive resource available for closet screenplays and relevant secondary texts.17

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 1928, the Prime Minister of France was Raymond Poincaré: a conservative politician, member of the center-right Parti Républicain Démocratique party, and wearer of a distinctive beard: (accessed 13 April 2013).
  2. This is perhaps a reference to the Institut de Mathématiques de Bordeaux: a sort of French MIT founded, as the "école de radiotélégraphie de Bordeaux," in 1920, eight years before Fondane published "horizontal bar." This historical note also perhaps helps contextualize the imagery in scene 131.
  3. A French Chemist, Marcellin Berthelot served as president of the scientific defense committee during the Prussian Siege of Paris (1870–1871) and, afterward, as chief of the Commission des Substances Explosives. He is perhaps best remembered for his investigations into the synthesis of organic compounds -- which led directly to the development of the hydrogen bomb (something Fondane couldn't have known about in 1928 but that informs the scene's violence retrospectively) -- and a now-disproved, eponymous principle of thermochemistry: the Thomsen–Berthelot principle, which argues all chemical changes are accompanied by the production of heat and that processes which occur will be the ones in which the most heat is produced.
  4. Considering scene 94, Fondane's word "une pharmacie" doesn't translate well into 21st century English, for a variety of cultural and generational reasons. Historically, on both sides of the Atlantic, apothecary, druggist, and chemist shops served a variety of pharmaceutical, social, and gastronomic roles. And while this is still true in France, pharmacy snack counters haven't been a part of American life in decades. As such, rather than risking producing a clumsy translation, I've swapped in Fondane's compound term from "eyes wide open."
  5. Presumably, this is a reference to the Haussmann-style Crédit Lyonnais headquarters -- now LCL S.A. headquarters -- at 19 Boulevard des Italiens in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris: (accessed 14 April 2013).
  6. Fondane's italics.
  7. Translating Fondane's term "des guiches" poses some difficulty. "Guiche" can refer to any of the following: the human perineum; a "kiss-curl" or "spit-curl" hairdo, which was popular in the early 20th century; a razor strop or other strip of leather (such as a rifle sling or shoulder strap) or a whip made from such strips. Considering what appears to be the woman's profession, many of these things would make sense. However, considering the act of violence that takes place in scene 129, the various body parts scattered around the room, and the rack-like rotating bed, I'm assuming the woman specializes in S&M and bondage, which would justify the presence of a cat o' nine tails. If the line read "la guiche" or "une guiche," indicating the presence of a single strip of leather, I might assume the young man was looking at a razor strop. Compounded with the elastic breast in scene 129, the false teeth in scene 126, and (glass) eye in scene 128, we might further assume the young man found himself sleeping with a one-eyed, toothless, (perhaps old) transvestite wearing some sort of prosthetic breast. Given the language of the text, though, I conclude the superior translation places the young man in an S&M den, looking at an array of Orphic kink, a rack-like bed, and a cat o' nine tails or, possibly, a series of live or photographed perinea by some early 20th century Robert Mapplethorpe.
  8. Fondane's original suggests the mouth "sortent de petits zéros," that is, "ejects small zeros" (of increasing size and quantity). However, I'm assuming this scene and scene 75 work together to form a sort of leitmotif. In certain contexts, one can translate the French term "zéro" as "cypher," and I've essentially exercised this option. Moreover, Fondane was many things -- poet, critic, impresario, &c. -- but he was not a mathematician. And while the basic concept circulates rather widely today, in 1928, programming code, such as that practiced at the "école de radiotélégraphie de Bordeaux" (see supra n2), would have been relatively esoteric. Scene 75 suggests Fondane had a newspaper reader's familiarity with the types of research and technological developments taking place in engineering circles, and while I assume he meant to suggest the sort of rich image I offer in translation -- that is, one of a mouth spewing forth encoded language -- I also assume that, in 1928, like most of his contemporaries, Fondane simply didn't understand enough about the way programming code works to express himself properly.
  9. Founded in 1907 by an American businessman, Cadum soap, as a brand, occupies roughly the same cultural position as P&G's Ivory in the United States. Following a series of purchases, sales, and consolidations, it's currently owned by L'Oréal. (See [accessed 14 April 2013].)
  10. I assume Fondane's word "Gle" is an abbreviation of the word "règle" or "rule" and translate the business name accordingly, into one that will be familiar to most Americans. I've taken similar creative liberties with some of the other company names to make them meaningful to contemporary readers. Fondane's original list reads: "la Gle d'Assurances, Les Assurances Générales, The Insurence, L'Assiguratrice Italiana, Wintherthur, Yokrshire, Gresham."
  11. Fondane may have intended this scene to have masturbatory or other sexual overtones. Rather than a hand-kiss, one could translate this line as "He fucks a hand for a long time." This would add a fairly transgressive sensibility to the scene that follows.
  12. 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. [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).
  13. The Pat Hobby Stories. Scribner, 1995. 93.
  14. 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). (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.)
  15. In Dada and Surrealist Film. Ed. Rudolf Kuenzl. MIT Press, 1996. 72-85.
  16. Screen 39:2 (1998): 164-74.
  17. Quimby Melton, "Lesescenario Bibliography" (Google Docs, 30 March 2013. [accessed March 30, 2013]).

Citation: Fondane, Benjamin. 5 March 2014. "horizontal bar." Translated by Quimby Melton. (accessed [PST / -7:00]).

Updated: March 5, 2014 at 4:26 pm (PST / -7:00)

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