“A book of a thousand year’s pages dug into the earth”
Jajouka. Something good comes to you
Interview with Eric and Marc Hurtado*
Contemporary cinematic arts continue to provide us with wonders in the intersection of art history and ethnography, this generous crossroad learnt from the most fertile plastics and speculative initiatives since late nineteenth century. One thinks, the day before yesterday, about Einstein and his Documents, yesterday about Jean Rouch, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Raymonde Carasco & Régis Hébraud and today about Tiane Doan na Champassak & Jean Dubrel, Ben Russell or John Skoog. Within this constellation, the work of Eric and Marc Hurtado, separately or together as Etánt Donnes, strikes us for its enchanted character in perpetual search of ecstasy, drawing on centuries of poetry sources from Hesiod to Brion Gysin to Raimbaut of Orange. Writers, musicians, performers, Eric and Marc Hurtado have worked with Alan Vega, Genesis P-Orridge, Lydia Lunch, and Philippe Grandrieux. For decades, they left us thinking that their splendid films in 8mm, pantheistic odes to the intensities of the world, were the fruits of a symbiotic partnership – until they revealed in 2008 that Marc was only the author at the times where Jajouka’s production required a great creative clarity.
As unique as the true masterpieces are, syncretic in a style that joins resources from mythography, ethnology and pure invention, and magical in every way, Jajouka, something good comes to you tells us that now, alongside its traditional flute, Pan also worn over the shoulder a 16 mm Aaton a-Minima camera.
– Jajouka, something good comes to you is primarily the result of a very deep and unique knowledge on the history of poetry and music. Can you recall your directions and essential points of reference?
Federico Garcia Lorca was my teacher of life, love and freedom, things that had determined the orbit of his life, until his death. The force of an infinitely tender look on people and things, a word that came from far away, a man who spent the night of God with the black eyes of his beloved. It was he who said “the time has come when they put handcuffs on the flowers,” he spoke of our time, time of the oblivion of men, time to forget the beauty.
Only poets Remain: St. John of the Cross, Hölderlin, Rimbaud, Trakl, the troubadours of course, the “inventors” of love and, in recent years, an almost initiatory reading of Francois Rabelais, the Pantagruelism as Chemin Vert, where the transgression is the border between two seas, body and spirit.
This exceeded the confines of religious reconciliation as this solar beauty sparkle, between Islam and paganism. That’s what is at work in Jajouka, something good comes to you. An ancestral knowledge, which involves not only the rites and music of the place, but especially by the gestures of everyday, a certain way of being in the world, an erasure of the ego, a sort of “everyday transcendence” that, while submitting to a higher order, leaves a huge space to Joy.
The music of Jajouka immediately made me cry at the first concert I attended in Grenoble in 1982.
I could not resist the burning of my body, melted in the heat of the explosive musical cells circling the room and in my heart, like little cannibal ants.
I felt my own being devoured by hearing the echo of the music pulsing in my brain, this immediate feeling of familiarity, of love at first sight.
I discovered their music a few years ago thanks to Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, who recorded in the village in 1968.
The mixing of this album is totally hallucinatory, ecstatic; Brian Jones seemed possessed by the music, trying to penetrate the listener into the magical mysteries of the hypnotic trance produced by the rumble of drums and terrified sirens of bagpipes.
This approach, which is to bring an outside object to an interior that rejects it violently like a stone in infinite space, once digested by its own unconscious, is very similar to how I create my own art: music, poetry, film or painting.
Put a light on a light in an attempt to make the invisible visible, without any effort of interpretation and processing of the raw material, just its sublimation, making it reach places beyond consciousness.
A kind of boomerang that made me take a step back in my country of birth, Morocco and throw myself sleepwalking like a fakir on the notes-sharp blades that butchered this magical music.
– The genesis of Jajouka was very long. Since when were you thinking about this project? How did you deepen on this documentary dimension?
In 1989, we started a first draft around Jajouka, rather focusing on the discovery of the village and its rites by American poets or musicians associated with the Beat Generation. We entered into contact with Brion Gysin in 1986, with Burroughs, Timothy Leary and Paul Bowles (we met in Tangier during a first trip this year). We also had the participation of Mick Jagger who was a friend of Bachir Attar, leader of the Master Musicians, who had played with the Rolling Stones on the album Steel Wheels. Following the cessation of activity of the company co-production, we were finally unable to produce the film and stayed there for several years…
A new film project emerged in the early 2000s, this time based on an approach to documentary and fictional time in the history, rites and music of Jajouka. We left Morocco to deepen our knowledge of this tradition, with a true will of ethnographic accuracy, led by Bachir Attar on site, which allowed us to write a new scenario which is based on the film.
Few documents attempt to describe this Moroccan mythology, one can find avenues of research in Westermark, in his book on pagan survival in Morocco and the ethnographic study of Abdellah Hammoudi, The Victim And His Masks (1988) that addresses these carnivalesque rites, but the best description of these was that of Brion Gysin in The Pipes of Pan back in 1964, a text that intertwines poetry and reality, a poetic fact about these ceremonies.
Brion Gysin recognized in the figure of Bou-Jeloud that of the god Pan, and the ceremonies in the Roman Lupercalia, which are mentioned in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
He went to Tangier at the invitation of Paul Bowles. He then stayed at Jajouka and that experience was like a thunderbolt to him. He was one of the few to capture, in essence, the real magic of this music. He created the Dreamachine, literally a dream machine, a kinetic sculpture that induced hypnotic states around the rhythm of alpha waves produced by the brain. Jajouka music seemed to be the only music really appropriate to accompany the hypnagogic pictures induced by this bright and spinning machine.
Bachir Attar said about our film “it shows for the first time the visions that pass through us when we play or listen to our music.”
Two different time frames, one of the legend (Bou-Jeloud /Pan) and one of the real (the rites of healing and celebration) interpenetrate each other to form a unit objective, the myth that merges with its mirror image, the reality.
The genesis of the film was very long but at the same very short timed, because we were interested in rituals without time, an ageless music.
Time in the film is not bounded; we lost all senses with the mixture of reality and legend.
To me, time is not important in the genesis and production of a work: one day, ten years, who cares?
All works must have the shape and the strength of eternity in them, something that must be its engine and its final result. Reflection is permanent and in the same time impossible, because you touch the invisible, the impalpable presence which lives in and around the filmed object.
It is only a question of printing the flesh, like a wind that flows through you and makes you more lucid, less human, and more heaven-bound
I’m not interested in the idea of a traditional documentary; you have to escape this formula, try to dance on a wire drawn between reality and dream, close your eyes by letting yourself be carefully guided through the mind, free from any kind of prefabricated conscience.
– Did you plan immediately ahead both the mythical shape and documentary feature film mix that characterizes your film?
Yes I think. The film ultimately deviates from the little scenarios it had. The scenes found new direction as the body turned on itself to find its light.
Unplanned images have also appeared during a second period of filming without the team, when we found ourselves alone with Marc planning to connect some images that would’ve been impossible to achieve with the tension of teamwork.
The film has strong thoughts and written-in-advance foundations, but it also feeds on this very free light force that adapts to places, situations, people that we met by surprise, an adaptation / camouflage grounding of Jajouka, his heart beating to blend into the space around us, to be one with reality and the myths that wind all around.
At Jajouka, we feel very violently the antagonism between dream and reality, both broiled together in the same land, but not having the same weight or color following the angle of spiritual sight.
– Can you describe the set of Jajouka, particularly the relation with locals and musicians?
The shooting took place in three phases.
First with a big phase of all the scenes, where we worked with many actors, such as the tomb scene and the festival team.
A second with reduced for more intimate scenes with Bou-Jeloud or Aisha Kandicha team.
A final period of shooting with only Eric and I to shoot all the scenes more “dreamlike”, without actors.
The village of Jajouka is very special, the top of the village is an area where the house is of musicians are located and this is the only place where you can film the rites of Bou-Jeloud / Pan.
An imaginary line divides the village in two, the line stretches between the mosque and the tomb of Sidi Ahmed Sheikh; below this line we did not have the right to shoot scenes with Bou-Jeloud, this space is reserved for rituals that relate to Islam as those related to healing by Saint Sidi Ahmed Sheikh.
Jajouka music can only be played by the only family Attar, Attar descendants of the shepherd who received music education by Bou-Jeloud / Pan at the time of formation of the village.
The teaching of this music goes from father to son. The father, head of the musicians must elect from among his sons the one who will succeed him to continue to teach others, the key musicians of this music, and to that dedicate his entire life.
So we worked almost exclusively with family members and only two players who came from outside the village for the roles of the fool and that of the girl from the beginning of the film. All other players were musicians and members more or less distant from the Attar family living in Jajouka.
Collaboration with these villagers was cheeerful, always sharing creative energy and joy.
The people of the village outside the family were very discreet and always stayed away from filming, watching us work remotely, hailing from afar, continuing their work in the fields, still curious and quiet without actually attempting to into our work.
– Why the choice of Super 16mm?
The support of Super 16 mm was the obvious choice for this shoot. We could not think of meeting Bou-Jeloud and Aisha other than greeting their golden light with the silver salt film.
We are “worshipers” of the film, the image has never reached such a level of excellence and accuracy, whether in 8, 16 or 35 mm.
Jajouka was one of the last films shot in Super 16 format, unfortunately since replaced by video.
A second critical factor was the need of lightness and mobility for some hand-held camera shots that would have been impossible to achieve in 35mm, which led us to turn with the 16mm A-Minima AATON.
Cinema is the magic lantern of Aladdin, he gives us things we want but we cannot really imagine, it’s still a marvel in the order of a miracle to see the developed images being projected.
– How would you describe the jump that occurs between your previous films such as Royaume or Blue, and Jajouka?
Movies like Royaume or Blue were shot in 8mm film, the image has a magical force, alchemical, amalgamated / overprinted colours, forces of nature, man disembodied in the background, where the space becomes liquid, the microcosm is the macrocosm and vice versa.
These films I shot are made of self-filming and have all this obsessive vision of a contemplative metamorphosis: being in the sun, in the wind, in the eye of the camera, which becomes a sort of second sex, which transports me into this ecstatic state of complete dissolution of my mind and my body in the film itself, the camera becomes flesh and blood image.
In Jajouka, the work is totally different, Eric and I were infants in our mutual experiences in the image, the two opposing visions are metaphysical, Eric has a vision that goes through the belly of the Earth and I, one which sprays in space and light of the sun.
These two forces collide, combine and give a very special four- eyed vision.
Jajouka is the result of the meeting of two worlds, two people, both of which are based in one from an atomic fusion of image and, especially, thought.
As in our theatre, it’s the fight that evolves into our creation, the meeting is in the mesmerizing dance of the filming of the stage, a feeling of fullness that comes to eradicate any questioning by the violence of a truth of the eye that is imposed on us in the whirlwind of the clash of elements that surround us.
24 frames per second … and the rest is a night dream that carries the film in a magical glitter, this is the mysterious and poetic power of the cinema image that interests us and carries the entire film.
– Jajouka miraculously revives the mythographic breath of some films by Pier Paolo Pasolini, at the confluence of Repérages en Palestine and Medea. We refer of course also about Paradjanov, José Val del Omar … Do you have any landmarks in the history of cinema?
We had not seen Pasolini’s Medea before shooting the film. I attended a screening recently and it was a shock, near the theme, aesthetics etc. We have always loved Pasolini (to me a brother of Garcia Lorca, through his life, his poetry, his plays or his tragic death) and equally the great Paradjanov.
Parajanov’s films have always moved me, especially for their timelessness. He places the legend nowadays, yet without visual reference of this movement. It is now and at all times.
As aesthetic converge, it is due rather it seems to me the miracle of poetic miracle that influence. It could not be otherwise, responses are often similar to the same questions …
The hieratic characters is because they are signs in the world. The man and the woman again become meaningful, they exist in a cosmic string, as part of a whole, beyond all psychology.
I try to have no reference, no influence in my work, I want it to be as naked and pristine as possible. We all crossed thousands of images that remain in our memory, whether film or a fleeting image on our way.
My main effort is to be free in creating, always trying to renew myself, invent other worlds, therefore not be influenced by other artists.
I think rituals, legends, music, clothes, lights, animals, natural scenery of the village, give this film sound, which inevitably brings a tale imagery of the Arabian Nights.
It was imposed on us without us tried to stage it in a pre-determined shape.
This film is like a thousand years old, the pages are carved into the land of Jajouka’s book.
*Interview originally published in « ‘Un livre de mille ans aux pages creusées dans la terre’. Jajouka. Quelque chose de bon vient vers toi, Entretien avec Eric et Marc Hurtado », Images de la Culture n° 28, mars 2014, 2014 .With the gentle authorisation of the editor and our deepest thanks to Marc Guiga.