2019 Film Essays

Photographic Memory in Frank Beauvais’ ‘Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream’

Just Don't Think I'll Scream Documentary

I approached Frank Beauvais’ documentary Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream (Ne croyez surtout pas que je hurle) from the perspective of a film fan. Along with editor Thomas Marchand, the director ingeniously cobbles together a memoir supported with decontextualized clips from movies that are not easily identified. The narration comes from a Parisian who fled to a rural area and now reckons with the 2015 terrorist attack that rocked his beloved home city. Beauvais frames his diaristic voiceover by using images edited from the hundreds of films he watched during his sojourn in France.

Despite the high volume of clips in Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, there are no recognizable actors, no moments that jump out as obvious highlights from cinema. This is a supercut without superlatives, full of words and pictures. Essay videos and films have traditionally used text instead of voiceover in tandem with imagery, which I believe results in a quick “reading” of the image in order to stay afloat with the fluidity of the editing. I imagine that French audiences have a drastically different experience with Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream by not having to read the subtitles, and simply taking in the narration and piecing it together with the images. But as an essay, there is still pleasure in reading the text and absorbing the visuals along with it. Each image is paired with one spoken or read thought that lasts only long enough to unite the visual with the literary. In fact, the editing is so terse that the editor in me felt the desire to let the clips breathe more, or at least to vary the rhythm of the cutting. But I have to concede that Mauvais’ consistency ultimately comes across as confidence. As other critics have pointed out, it could also be a way to skirt copyright infringement. While the clips do go by at a monotonous, metered pace, the filmmakers pay close attention to brightness, hue, aspect ratio and movement so that the transition from one clip (one thought) to the next flows with a poetic certainty.

Just Don't Think I'll Scream Documentary

Somehow, I seemed to only recognize one movie clip after 30 minutes of Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream. Even then, I could only be half confident that it was indeed Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Appropriately, I’m not entirely certain I saw what I saw. The filmmakers have rendered hundreds of movies anonymous and repurposed them to tell Beauvais’ own story. What unites all these random films is that Beauvais watched them during a period when he lived in the French countryside. Rather than showing home footage, the director’s presentation of manufactured memories support his recollections. Beauvais talks about his life after leaving Paris in order to save money, and how he found out about the terrorist bombings at Saint-Denis.

Sometimes in Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, the synchresis between word and image is resolute; the filmmakers speak about locking a door and deliver a close-up of a hand turning the bolt above a knob. Beauvais says, “Me and my friend are going back to Paris,” which is accompanied by a first person image of someone driving at night down an empty highway. It recalls the opening credit sequence of Mike Leigh’s Naked, but I know it can’t be the same. My own memory is triggered by how the clips are edited. Suddenly, I feel that I can almost assign each excerpt a time and place (where was I when I first saw it?) but memories of my own life are typically less reliable than images I see from films. Beauvais seizes moments out of cinema to substitute for his lack of recollections. Such appropriation is where videographic film criticism or memoir is situated today and tomorrow.

Just Don't Think I'll Scream Documentary

At one point, the narrator remembers an annoying carpool share with someone who brags about working in tech and contributing to the glut of location-detecting software. He recalls the lyric of a song by Zippo, simply “Now I have an axe,” which is complemented by a Giallo-esque image of a small hatchet coated in fake movie blood. But then this clip is followed by another image with no narration, perhaps the first instance of such an edit in the film. The clip shows someone casually rinsing blood off a woman’s shoe, as if to further comment on the previous idea that this annoyance was ultimately washed away and forgotten. I found myself craving more of these types of these juxtapositions, to break free of the rigid structure where Thoughts with a capital T do not bleed over from one shot to the next.

In a sense, Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream is the 21st century embodiment of what Chris Marker did with Sans Soleil in 1983, only Beauvais has at his disposal what Marker could only dream of: total unfettered access to a database of digitized world cinema. The collaboration between writer and editor must have been a fascinating dance as one person was responsible for the montage and another for the essay portion. At its most basic function, an essay film or video essay earns its moniker when the audio matches the video, to the point where an association is created. Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream satisfies that aspect 100 percent, but adds layers of meaning on top that boggle the mind.

Just Don't Think I'll Scream Documentary

Throughout Beauvais’ essay, there are subtle digs at 21st century technology. His statement “I turn my phone back on” accompanies a black and white, vintage Academy aspect ratio image of a man in business slacks from the waist down, stamping out a cigarette with his dress shoe. This juxtaposition of word and image is particularly striking, telling and humorous. The speaker’s apparent distaste for the internet is ironic, as Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream is filled with copious Soviet-era clips from East Germany that he was able to pirate. The activation of a phone is what viewers hear, but what’s shown is a cigarette butt crushed on the sidewalk. Perhaps this reflects that both actions are the result of an afterthought; something an addict does multiple times a day, whether your medicine is a phone or nicotine. When Beauvais later says, “I decide to pin it to my Facebook wall,” there’s a grim and gray stone wall on screen. Not only that, but the wall is bare with nothing “pinned” anywhere. It’s simply an obstacle to freedom of movement and sight. One gets the impression that Beauvais loves the internet for bringing him unfettered access to torrents, but social media leaves him cold.

In Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, it’s rare to see a pair of eyes staring back at you. The film is edited in such a way that the people are mostly anonymous and the clips can be taken out of context to support the ideas presented. I consider myself quite cinema literate but also the ideal audience for this type of film: someone unencumbered by the familiarity of the chosen clips. I could not be distracted by recognizing any film. And so Beauvais does what the essay filmmaker ought do: he appropriates film to his own ends. The combination of words and pictures rings nary a false note.

Philip Brubaker (@lens_itself) is a writer-filmmaker and has contributed video essays to Fandor and MUBI.  He lives in Florida where he avoids stepping on lizards daily and draws inspiration from Spanish moss.

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