Juan Vicente Aliaga, co-curator with François Leperlier, of the touring exhibition ‘Claude Cahun’, Jeu de Paume, Paris 2011 and La Virreina Centre de L’Imatge, Barcelona, 2011 -12
One particular moment that really struck me in the film is where Thynne uses ‘models’ to renact Cahun’s photographs of herself. I really liked that as I think it was a good way to highlight the performativity of gender-based gestures and the physicality of the body. It made the social context in which Cahun lived with her partner much clearer for the audience of the show…and also the political aspects of her work. It was informative, compelling well-structured…
It was very important for the lesbian community that the film was shown at the Jeu de Paume given that someone who is openly gay or lesbian is not that well accepted in France and it was important for the audience to see that in the film in a simple way without making any propagandistic statement but without hiding it – we talked a lot about it during my tour of the exhibition, and was also commented on a lot in the reviews of the exhibition which isn’t that usual in France…
…Visitors were very interested in what happened in Jersey during the war – Cahun’s resistance activity which Thynne’s film showed that they didn’t know about….
The exhibition was structured into sections that might not have been clear to the audience – having the film in the last section brought the audience’s attention to it and several of them said to me that the exhibition makes more sense now that we have seen aspects of her life in the film….just showing the photographs it’s hard to provide that context and the film completed the picture.
Linsey Young, curator, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (curator of ‘Claude Cahun’ at Inverleith House, Edinburgh, 2011
We chose to use Playing a Part in our show because Lizzie Thynne is an authority on the subject of Claude Cahun, a trustworthy source, who has mediated her work in a way that makes it accessible. Cahun’s work can be very dark but Thynne gives it a human level… the performative aspect was also very important – the link between the performances in the photographs and in her life, particularly in the Resistance, as when she and Moore stuff subversive leaflets into matchboxes… I had often read about Cahun’s focus on gender identity but the film puts her in a much wider historical and political context, which is really fascinating... There’s an obvious intimacy of relationship to Cahun’s work in the film, a lot of time has been spent looking at the work in Jersey and with people who knew her – this was very valuable in enlivening a complex subject, especially with the very diverse audience that we had at Inverleith House as it is in the Royal Botanical Garden… The film has a strong sense of place. Thynne highlighted for me the difference between Cahun’s interior portraits as a young woman and the exteriors in Jersey in the garden when she is older, which are still surreal but more humorous and relaxed. We wanted to show the earlier more well-known photographs as well as these outdoor images, where she is outside in nature, with her cats, because they linked to our setting in the Botanical Garden.
Alain Le Provost, Les Amis du Musée des Beaux Arts, organizer of film season, L’Art de Filmer l’Art, Nantes, 2011 – 2013
L’idée de la saison, ‘L’Art de Filmer l’Art’, une programmation de films sur l’art, est qu’il y a deux niveaux de lecture pour les films. Le premier est de voir le film comme un simple documentaire (ainsi dans Playing a Part nous apprenons beaucoup de choses sur la résistance de Claude Cahun à Jersey)
Le second est de voir le film comme aussi une œuvre réalisée par un réalisateur-artiste (dans le film il y a des choix dans le montage, les reconstitutions, la musique qui ne sont pas innocents).
Il n’existait pas de films en français sur une artiste importante d’origine Nantaise. Il fallait aussi pour notre programme parler du surréalisme vu sa
place particulière pour Nantes et son musée.
La volonté de Lizzie Thynne à présenter les autoportraits de Claude Cahun comme des oeuvres de Marcel Moore a un côté polémique qui me plait bien. La découverte et l’importance du rôle de Moore est une idée qui faisant débat a pu donner à réfléchir sur notre regard sur l’oeuvre de Claude Cahun..Et si j’ai choisi avec joie ce film c’est simplement qu’en le voyant j’ai eu de l’émotion – une émotion plus importante et différente que la seule vue des photos de Cahun. Ce n’était pas un simple documentaire, il y avait un point de vue formulé par la réalisatrice qui donnait matière à reflexion et discussion.
Playing a Part provides a deeper level of understanding than we are able to provide in our displays in a user-friendly way. It encourages thinking about her collaboration with Marcel Moore, questioning her motivation in making her work.
Selected translated audience responses from a screening as part of L’Art de filmer l’art season, Nantes 12 March 2012
‘The surrealist environment is very well represented in this film, by the choice of materials and the editing – a perfect osmosis between the film and its subject – a remarkable balance between the surrealist and the instructive aspects’
‘One sees a range in the film between the historical and the historical novel’
‘I saw the film at the Jeu de Paume after seeing the exhibition – the dance in the film makes the photographic work come alive and gives it great importance – it’s vital that the work doesn’t seem stuck in time – it’s really important too to see their common work and to experience the power of their fight together (as artists and as ‘resistantes’)’
‘I only knew that Cahun was a photographer who worked a lot on identity – this film opens wide horizons on her and her companion. Beautifully edited with very interesting materials, of very high quality throughout’
‘The dance interludes contributed a great deal to enlivening the narration’
‘The film enhanced my understanding of the subject through its structure and its analysis of the work based on the love relationship of its artists’
‘Very good interaction between photos, testimony and mise-en-scènes’
‘This film is, I believe, a masterpiece of its genre and its interest lies in the fact that watching it one has the impression of seeing Cahun alive in front of one’
‘I didn’t know about Marcel Moore, only Cahun as an artist. I really liked the conceptualization and the editing of the film, mixing in an intimate way the life and work of the artists, present and the past, still and moving, reconstructions and images from the time – it brought Lucy-Claude and Suzanne-Marcel back to life for us’
Selected translated visitor responses to screening during ‘Claude Cahun’ exhibition, La Virreina Centre de L’Imatge, Barcelona, 2012
‘In the film we can see two exceptional women in context where they were scarce and the film reflects this to perfection’
‘The relationship between the two friends, lovers, sisters was a revelation’
‘I liked the film because it mixes her personal life with her relation to the artistic world of her time’
‘It was very interesting to see the political side of Claude Cahun, that she was a Jew and against Nazism’
‘It helps you understand the work and opens doors on surrealism, cubism etc’
‘The most surprising element was her fight against the Nazis. I knew Cahun for her photographic work but not her political side’
‘I loved the performance bits which gave you a better idea of the subject’
‘I thought the actress in the film was Claude Cahun herself!’
‘The film is very interesting because it covers the historical context which the exhibition is lacking’
‘The video was most interesting because it helps you understand the work and the content of the exhibition’
Tessel M. Bauduin, University of Amsterdam, review of ‘Claude Cahun’ show at La Virreina Centre de L’Imatge, Barcelona, 2011-2012 Photography & Culture 5, 2 (2012): 239-242
To get a better idea of the artist as a person it is necessary to see the film ‘Playing a Part: The Story of Claude Cahun’ by Lizzie Thynne (2005), shown outside of the exhibition space. The show itself provides a rather limited amount of information about the artist: a rather introductory catalogue and a leaflet, a chronology, and citations of the artist emblazoned on the walls.
L’importante expo Claude Cahun au Jeu de Paume, quatorze ans après celle du Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, qui révéla le travail photographique de cette Nantaise proche du mouvement surréaliste, nous a permis de découvrir le très intéressant documentaire de l’Anglaise Lizzie Thynne, Playing a Part : The Story of Claude Cahun (2005), 45’, récemment présenté au festival « Films de femmes » de Créteil…
L’intérêt du film est de replacer ces photos dans le contexte de l’époque. Grâce à divers témoins (dont il est impossible à l’heure actuelle de préciser l’identité : un sous-titre à leur apparition écranique n’aurait pas été du luxe !), on peut se faire une idée plus précise de l’originalité de Cahun. Le film même change de genre et documentaire intercale des séquences de fiction, sous forme de reconstitutions très bien faites et amenées par le montage, assez plausibles (sauf, peut-être, ce geste de décontraction punk avec lequel l’héroïne repousse du pied sa veste posée au sol, réflexe un peu vulgaire qui confond désinvolture et détachement, arrogance et distance, impertinence et émancipation), avec des comédiennes plus vraies (et jolies) que nature, dansotant gracieusement (animant le temps d’attente entre les poses photographiques), dans un style isadorien, et montrant la spécificité du travail de prise de vue de Cahun. Car ses autoportraits sont des poses ou des postures, certes, mais, surtout, des mises en scène d’actions éphémères, de rituels inventés de toutes pièces, ou presque, destinés à être fixés photographiquement. D’ailleurs, ce n’est pas anodin, l’artiste a également été comédienne, ce qui donne une idée de son intérêt pour le travestissement en général et pour la recherche de personnages en particulier….Un passage du film traite avec pertinence du concept de dandy, un état d’esprit, un air froid, une impression de ne jamais être étonné de quoi que ce soit, qui définit parfaitement le personnage de Claude Cahun et son idéal de beauté.
Tim Wall et al., Three-D (7) 2006,p.14
…an intriguing act of biographical retrieval that at times made one of us wonder whether we were viewing an elaborate fiction – which is meant as a compliment. Moving and innovative.
Tony Dowmunt, Journal of Media Practice 7 (2) 2006,pp.161-163
…a richly informative and innovative character study, that manages at the same time to be both a compelling piece of story telling, and an acute analysis of an artist’s work.
Gen Doy, The Art Book, 14 (1) Feb 2007
…a timely addition to existing scholarship on Cahun’s work and achievements…both documentary and suggestively artistic at the same time.
Tee A. Corinne, review of Intersexions: Queer Visual Culture at the Cross Roads, CUNY, November 2004
Playing a Part is riveting. Cahun… is presented with a complexity which matches her art.
Rod Kedward, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Sussex, 2006
…beautifully made and left us moved and enriched. Its artistry was superb.
Tirza Latimer, Curator of Acting Out: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkeley; Frye Museum, Seattle; Jersey Museum, 2005-2006)
The film offered another portal and another angle of vision and did justice to aspects of the biography (Cahun and Moore’s intimate partnership) usually trivialized or effaced. This love, this desire, is part of what heroism looks like, the film insisted… I also found the experimental narrative strategies particularly apt and engaging.
…enables the spectator to ponder the difficulties of representing subjective memories, offering a rich and original insight into the nature of displacement and exile in the aftermath of war and its lasting effects on a single family.
…cleverly interweaves a wide range of kinds of footage and time periods into an evocative and coherent whole… The mother’s voice comes through strongly in the remarkable (voice-only) interview that is used very effectively and movingly with the family archive stills.
The film is moving, honest and sensitive. It tells a family narrative and a collective narrative at the same time , a story of our past and a story of deep, cross-generational memories. The music, visual elements and the voice of the narrator and the voices of interviewees (including the lady on the Helsinki street recounting the day when the war started) all make the meanings of the past in the present so concrete