At the turn of the 20th century, the 'flâneurs' started disappearing from the Parisian landscape. Walter Benjamin became, in his posthumous book 'Das Passagen-Werk', the witness of their extinction.
What if one century later, against all odds, the art of flânerie was reappearing in Paris?
This film was produced in the context of the collaborative research project "politiques de la distraction" and published on the journal Débordements.
One of Sight and Sound’s Best video essays of 2018.
This audiovisual essay started from a single word: « tactile ». On the one hand, the word refers to our main mode of interaction with smartphones: at any given time, in public transport, in the streets or when we lie in bed, we caress their screens with tenderness or impatience depending on whether we use them as a photo album, a virtual shop or a professional mailbox. But the same word « tactile » is also the adjective Walter Benjamin chose, as early as 1935, to name the way we perceive architecture when we stroll around the city. According to Benjamin, this term refers to a distracted mode of perception, that has more to do with usage and consumption than with contemplation. This coincidence, or this pun really, is what gave birth to this video essay, in which I explore this incidental encounter between Walter Benjamin's writings and contemporary practices related to smartphone use.
My most recent video work tends to start from a simple hypothesis: that cinema (both past and present) can help us explore and document contemporary practices related to new media. Here, it is an unfairly forgotten 1969 surrealist film by Robert Benayoun entitled Paris n'existe pas that serves as raw material for this audiovisual investigation. Within the original film, two epochs and two modes of images meet, as the main character has dreamlike visions from the past: the 1930s (when Benjamin was writing the first version of his aforementioned essay), present onscreen in the form of archival black and white footage ; and 1969, when the fictional story was shot. From there, it was tempting to prolong the character's « flânerie » through time and space by adding new images to the original material: images shot in the streets of Paris in 2018, as well as recorded from the screens of the different devices we now use to orient ourselves in urban context...
Borrowing words and ideas from Walter Benjamin, Susan Buck-Morss, Guy Debord and Rebecca Solnit, this video essay is an audiovisual wandering that documents and reflects on different urban practices where spatial circulation and digital navigation meet.
Kind words from video-essayist filmscalpel about this film can be read here.