Tag from Rob Stone on Vimeo.

Tag - A game played by four films from the French New Wave (À bout de souffle) to New Hollywood (Bonnie and Clyde) to the modern American indies (Before Sunrise) and on to contemporary low-budget European cinema (Stockholm).

Creator's Statement

The possibility of a dialogue between European and American cinema that encompasses influences and their legacy as well as homage, intertextuality and subversion opens up a potent line of enquiry. Tracking the influence of the French New Wave of the early ‘60s on the so-called New Hollywood or American New Wave of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, of this on the rise of the American indie films of the ‘90s and of these on low-budget contemporary European cinema reveals a specific recurring shot or sequence in common. This is the seemingly loose, drifting, often single-take mid-shot of a couple engaged in banter as they walk together, teasing and probing, attempting to impress each other and enjoying a burgeoning sense of mutual attraction and increasingly simmering sensuality, which, as Tag illustrates, features in À bout de souffle (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960), Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), Before Sunrise (1985) and Stockholm (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, 2013). 

My research into flânerie on film had previously resulted in several articles on films such as En la ciudad de Sylvia (José Luis Guerin, 2007) and Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991) and provides a guideline through my monograph on the cinema of Linklater [see endnote 1]. An interest in film-flânerie also informs my short film Between Sunrise and Sunless (2013), which searches contemporary Vienna for the locations where Before Sunrise was shot, juxtaposing these with scenes from the film and enquiring, via a narration that pays homage to the peripatetic Sans soleil (Chris Marker, 1983), whether what is sought are real places or unreal times. 

The prime objective with Tag was to link, compare and contrast this recurring motif of the long take or minimally edited sequence that depicts the dérive or drift of a couple whose seemingly aimless stroll is juxtaposed with the subtle yet persistently seductive gambit of their dialogue. Evidence of direct influence and explicit reference was sought initially, but instead of laying these shots or sequences side by side, a more complex game of tag emerged. Tag is a playground game that involves players passing on the task of being ‘it’ to other players by touching them. The player who is touched then remains ‘it’ until he or she can touch another player, who then becomes ‘it’. This metaphor thus lent itself to the notion of a zeitgeist or ‘spirit of the age’, which passes from one film movement to the next in a transatlantic, pan-generational palimpsest of a couple walking and talking.

As described by Mark Harris in Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (2008) and suggested by Tag, the free-wheeling, digressive charm of the French New Wave and À bout de souffle directly inspired Arthur Newman and Robert Benton to write Bonnie and Clyde in the hope that first Truffaut and then Godard would direct it, until Leslie Caron got hold of the script and passed it to Warren Beatty, who persuaded Arthur Penn to helm it instead. The introductions of the characters played by Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in À bout de souffle and by Beatty and Faye Dunaway are remarkably similar in their rejection of conventional or classic film grammar. Instead of the shot-reverse shot of a dialogue grounded in a mid-shot and then composed of close-ups, the camera drifts backwards in front of them, forwards behind them or ambles alongside, allowing their putative flânerie to divert attention from such things as narrative or spectacle. The legacy of New Hollywood and its ‘incoherent narrative’, which was begun by Bonnie and Clyde, is evident in the rise of the American indies in the ‘90s, in which flânerie fuses with slacking to provide a rich, evocative sense of drifting while dialoguing as a riposte to fast-track Reaganomics [see endnote 2]. The inevitable romanticisation of this practice is depicted in Before Sunrise, in which, as usual, boy meets girl, they walk and talk, and the film became a template for many low-budget indies as well as a model for several Mumblecore films before this apparently simple ruse went on to inspire similarly low-budget attempts at connecting with a young audience in contemporary European cinema, of which the crowd-funded Stockholm is a prime example. 

Instead of simple juxtaposition of length of shot or camera angle, therefore, Tag is an attempt to summarise fifty years of impure and intertextual film history as well as to suggest its continuation. The overlaps between the excerpts are intended to suggest the ‘touching’ of the players in this long-standing game of tag, while the dialogue within and between the clips creates evocative and amusing connections.  ‘Wait there!’ exclaims an eager Dunaway before the clip from À bout de souffle can conclude, while Dunaway again, exclaiming “my, my, the things that turn up in the street these days…”, provides the perfect cue for Delpy and Hawke to enter left. Thereafter, Delpy’s admission that her grandmother “spent her whole life dreaming about another man that she was always in love with” seemingly prompts Garrido to ask “who was he?” and Pereira to answer “a drunk guy”. That Tag concludes deliberately with Pereira admitting to Garrido that he just wants to keep talking to her opens the game up to future players.

Tag shows that the recurring motif of the classic unbroken shot or minimally edited sequence gets longer with each new movement or generation. It also reveals how each of these shots or sequences ends on a shot of the female, which suggests, perhaps, some residual, even retrograde objectification of her ‘supporting’ role in the dialogue and drift. Thus, in order to counter this, each excerpt ends on a freeze-frame of the final image that seeks to maintain the female subjectivity that is otherwise to some extent dismissed. Indeed, the split screen design allows for the look to pass between these females in an accumulating zig-zag as successive shots overlap and play out in which Seberg, Dunaway, Delpy and Garrido tag each other and take their turn as the ‘it’ girl.


[i] See Stone, R. and Cooke, P. (2013) ‘Transatlantic Drift: Hobos, Slackers, Flâneurs, Idiots and Edukators’ in Nagib, L. and Jersley, A. (eds), Impure Cinema: Intermedial and Intercultural Approaches to Film. London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 82-101; Stone, R. (2012) ‘En la ciudad de Sylvia and the durée of a dérive’ in Delgado, M. and Fiddian, R. (eds), Spanish Cinema 1973-2010: Auteurism, Politics, Landscape and Memory. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 169-83; Stone, R. (2013) Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater. Columbia University Press.

[ii] See Todd Berliner (2011) Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema. University of Texas Press.

As a non-native English speaker, for me it was extremely fascinating to find out that the word “tag” is the name of a popular playground game (known as “acchiapparella” in Italian). The connection with the game reminds me of the playful, cinephilic side of intertextuality. In fact, as Francesco Casetti recalls, finding intertextual connections has the aim to individuate “a tribe of texts”, but it is also a way to demonstrate the affiliation with another “tribe”, the cinephiles’ one (Casetti, 2006:36). 

On the one hand, as Stone argues in his curatorial note, his video explores the influence of Nouvelle Vague (specifically, of Godard’s Breathless) on New Hollywood and American independent cinema, and back again on contemporary European films (the low-budget Stockholm). He individuates, indeed, a tribe of texts generated by Breathless’ aesthetic, focusing particularly on a specific, recurrent shot, the “single-take mid-shot of a couple engaged in banter as they walk together”. The films converse with each other in many fruitful ways: in the first two scenes, for example, the main characters show a sort of ease and impertinence, while in the other two the characters are over-thinking about love and life, or truth and lies. In all the scenes, what impresses me the most is the unique contrast between a casual, ordinary act (walking), with the precise and codified nature of the courtship. Every character plays according to the rules of the game: even the (supposedly) honest confessions, especially of the male characters, about their feelings and about their past, seem to be an expected part of the play. 

On the other hand, the playful intent suggested by the title represents a sort of invitation for every cinephile to join the game (and the tribe) -- that is, to pursue the line of inquiry opened by Stone, the investigation of this specific motif. 

All these analytical insights, as well as the metaphor of the game as a starting point for further, intertextual explorations, are suggested in Tag without a voiceover commentary. Nonetheless, sound plays an essential part in suggesting and reinforcing the connections between the scenes. The emphasis on the dialogues explains why Stone decides not to simply juxtapose the frames, but to create an overlap, especially between the first two scenes. 

Casetti defines the film scholar as a bricoleur  that practices the reading of texts “as a journey, as an uninterrupted movement, as a tireless transit” (Casetti, 2006:36). Therefore, with its intertextual flânerie, Tag is definitely a game that is worth playing.

Works Cited

Casetti, Francesco. “Intertestualità e lavoro sul film: possibilità per la ricerca," in Giulia Carluccio, Federica Villa (eds.), L'intertestualità. Lezioni, lemmi, frammenti di analisi, Torino: Kaplan, 2006. Translated by the author of the review.

This is a really interesting and inventively constructed video. I watched it a few times before reading the supporting statement to see if the video took me to the intended places. It did. The title, concept and execution establish a structured playfulness that reflects the form and content of the films brilliantly while the chronological sequencing straightforwardly reveals a debt of influence. The structuring idea of the game of tag introduces a way of thinking about influence that is not based solely on the usual vertical axis along with its hierarchical implications. Rather than the teacher and pupil relationship of the classroom the game of tag implies the lateral peer relationships of the playground. I think the video works mainly because of this tension between the diachronic temporal sequencing and the synchronic spatial arrangement of the clips. It is an extremely effective way of demonstrating in the form and structure of the video the ways in which influence moves in unpredictable ways – sometimes directly forward, sometimes drifting or zigzagging in space and time.

The playing off of one scene with another replicates the play of dialogue between the couples and draws attention to the specificity of the scenes as a recognizable form distinct from the many uses of walking & talking scenes in cinema. More typically walking & talking in cinema is part of the narrative drive in which the movement of the narrative is attached to some form of locomotion and provides an opportunity to insert dialogue that furthers the plot while the characters simultaneously move forward. Although these clips differ in terms of the narrative contexts from which they are taken, the juxtapositions reveal the ways in which these walking and talking scenes form something closer to dance interludes, or to eddies in the main narrative stream. All of this is evident in the video, without reading the statement, which is a testament to its effectiveness.