New YorkFilm Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real festival
April 18 – April 28, 2019
Frank Beauvais’s Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream (Ne croyez surtout que je hurle), the opening night film of this year’s edition of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real festival (April 18 – 28), presents cinephilia as a form of self-medication. During a six-month period from April to October in 2016, he watched 400 films while living in a house in rural Alsace after his partner left him. All the images in Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream are drawn from that body of films. Inevitably, Beauvais’s project brings to mind Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988 – 98) and The Image Book (2018), as well as the ongoing proliferation of video essays that Godard’s work helped popularize. But Beauvais has a far more literary sensibility than does Godard and he uses his found footage in a far more literal-minded way: Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream is more video memoir than expansive film essay.
It’s easy to romanticize a certain kind of French cinephilia—seeing movies in 35mm at the Cinémathèque Française and then having long conversations about them in cafés afterward. Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream describes a form of cinephilia that’s far more private and exclusively digital, and Beauvais is very conscious of his isolation and how unhealthy it was. His taste is omnivorous: He sums it up as silent cinema, pre-Code Hollywood, Soviet cinema, gialli, ’70s European thrillers and far beyond. He lives in a small town that offers occasional opportunities to see theater and live music but doesn’t even seem to have a movie theater showing Hollywood and mainstream French cinema. Instead, he sits at home gorging himself on his DVD collection and compulsively downloading. (At one point he claims to have downloaded 100 Soviet films in a single day.) Indeed, Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream acknowledges the economic realities that have made “classic” cinephilia far less tenable when Beauvais notes that he and his partner were gentrified out of Paris. He values his return trips there greatly, but concedes that he doesn’t bother seeing films when he’s actually in Paris.
It’s seemingly impossible to follow both the voiceover narration and the ceaseless flow of images in Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream as Beauvais is trying to express something about modern life that goes far deeper than his experience of watching movies. Describing himself as “an impotent spectator of this flood,” he’s referring to the effect of being stuck at home behind a computer or TV monitor watching political events that horrify him, and the news cycle described in Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream replicates the film’s editing. Anyone who has participated in social media, especially Twitter, will doubtlessly recognize the prevailing sensation of being lost in a sea of images and words without context.
Beauvais’s words dominate the images he’s chosen, partially because he frequently chooses film clips that illustrate his voiceover. For example, when he describes his modest business selling books, CDs, and DVDs from his vast collection, the film finds images that could’ve been made to order. (He also earned a living programming experimental cinema sidebars for film festivals.) While Beauvais selected the film clips, Thomas Marchand edited Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, doing an expert job, most notably with a sequence late in the film in which Marchand uses the powers of montage to evoke an anxiety attack described by Beauvais in the voiceover.
The Image Book largely incorporates recognizable clips from films that Godard wrote about as a critic in the 1950s and has used as touchstones many times, like Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Johnny Guitar (1954). Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream uses brief “samples,” almost none of them recognizable. The film’s sources are listed in the end credits, as are Godard’s in the The Image Book. But the film’s meaning does not emerge from the spectators’ familiarity with the sampled clips: Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream is about Beauvais’s life—and by extension, life in 2016—rather than an engagement with film history, amounting to a fairly unusual, autobiographical use of found footage.
Beauvais’s father died of a heart attack while watching a Jean Grémillion film in 2013; this detail seems so central to the sensibility of Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream that it feels too good to be true. In any case, the period described in the film is haunted by grief and heartbreak. Beauvais spent most of his time in his home watching movies and listening to music, staying up until dawn, and only being able to fall asleep with the help of alcohol and marijuana. He experiences political events in a state of rage and misanthropy. Although he’s a gay leftist, he sounds like a character from a Michel Houellebecq novel, and his rants spill over into a moment or two of real ugliness, as when he indulges casual transphobia. But when he runs down a long list of people looking for answers and concludes, “All losers!”, his anger is clearly also directed at himself.
Beauvais’s habit of seeing at least three movies a day, as well as his geographical isolation, contributed to his sense of watching helplessly as the world went to hell without being able to do anything about it beyond complaining. Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream uses repeated motifs of animal corpses and suicide attempts to express his despair in a metaphorical manner. He eventually finds a way out, and the film comes to represent a means to redeem the six months he spent in that house.
Beauvais speaks directly about his relationship to cinema as an addiction that numbed him enough to get through the day. By recycling the same images that dominated his life for his own purposes, Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream suggests a victory over that addiction. His voiceover narration is fairly optimistic, having found a freedom in the ability to revise and reshape film history. However, it’s not exactly an example of Godard’s suggestion that the best way to criticize a film is to make another one. Instead, Beauvais uses other artists’ images to express an intensely personal voice. It suggests nothing less than that a bildungsroman truest to the experience of contemporary life should be made with editing software.