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New Left Review 38, March-April 2006

Liberation from bourgeois marriage, central radical demand from Sand and Kollontai to Piercy, is subsumed in the age of global capital by calls for same-sex property rights. Wollen’s unmade film treatment celebrates loves unsanctified by church or state—de Beauvoir’s relationships with Sartre and Algren.


Peter Wollen wrote the treatment of ‘Necessary Love’ in 1995 for Bandung Productions, one of a series of films on love triangles for Channel 4 that was never made. Each was to have a woman at its apex: De Beauvoir, with Algren and Sartre; Kahlo, with Trotsky and Rivera; Spielrein, with Jung and Freud. Wollen settled on Paris and Chicago, but might equally have chosen Zürich or Coyoacán.Film-making has been interwoven with film theory from the start of Wollen’s career. In the 1960s, script-writing formed a backdrop to his nlr essays, as ‘Lee Russell’, on Hitchcock, Renoir, Kubrick, Malle, Fuller, Hawks, Rossellini, Ford; and to his exploration of the language of film that became Signs and Meaning in the Cinema. Wollen’s ontology of the medium derived from the experience of film-makers as theorists: Godard, Hitchcock, Eisenstein on narrative, realism, movement, the camera’s ‘I’. With the advent of a new cine­matic avant-garde in the 70s Wollen turned to film-making, in collaboration with Laura Mulvey; Penthesilea and Riddles of the Sphinx were two notable results. As a curator (exhibitions on the Situationist International, Kahlo and Modotti) in the 80s and 90s, Wollen used film as documentary essay, producing beautiful work on the art of Komar and Melamid and the photography of Milton Rogovin.In an interview published as an afterword to the 1998 edition of Signs and Meaning, Lee Russell, the interviewer, presses Wollen to choose: which is it to be, auteurism or the avant-garde? ‘I am still an auteurist. I still give priority to the avant-garde.’ Wollen might just as well have been interviewing Russell, or Lucien Rey, his nlr alias for a series of political texts, many of them necessarily anonymous—‘Persia in Perspective’ (1963), ‘The Revolution in Zanzibar’ (1964), ‘Holocaust in Indonesia’ (1966)—as well as interventions on women’s liberation and, with Juliet Mitchell, on ‘The Freudian Slip’. Utopian commitment, psychic freedom, Paris, American noir, the alien girl: ‘Necessary Love’ retraces longstanding themes in Wollen’s work as practitioner, cinephile, theorist.



Paris. A cat scratches at a park bench, mewing and whining. A woman approaches and unwraps some remnants of food from an old newspaper. As she starts to feed the pathetic scraps to the cat, the camera moves past her towards two figures, a man and a woman, who are walking across a lawn. Their backs are turned to us but we can hear their voices. They are discussing a contract. They pledge that their love for each other will always come first. It is a ‘necessary love’. They agree that both of them may have as many affairs, as many sexual relationships, as they wish. But they must tell each other everything about these ‘contingent loves’. Nothing can ever be held back. They are to be completely ‘transparent’ to each other. Their alliance will be forever unshaken. They stop walking and seal their contract with an embrace and a kiss.

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Peter Wollen, ‘Necessary Love’, NLR 38: £3

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