In an enthusiastic review written at the time of the release of both Brian De Palma’s Blow Out and Straub and Huillet’s Too Early, Too Late in Paris (published by Libération in 1982), Serge Daney manages to synchronise the cinematic strategies of these apparently dissimilar works, by focusing on their shared attention to sound . Daney is moved by the ways in which each of the films privileges sound in relation to the image, so that the commonplaces of viewer audiovision are jolted, and the bearing that sound can have on narrative is foregrounded. For much of the article, Daney places Straub and Huillet’s project into the wider framework of the development of sound in motion picture history, before addressing some pertinent aethestic and political questions raised by the film.
But I want to return to the image of Travolta and Straub side by side that Daney begins with, because there are more unexpected similarities between Jack Terry’s technical assemblages and Straub’s deceptively calm landscape reflections than is apparent at first sight. The sound effects wiz Jack (played by Travolta) teaches us to use our ears, to be sensitive to each sound and what it has to tell us. Straub’s slowly turning camera gives us time to see, to intensely survey the scene and read the city and countryside as text, shaped by historical forces. Both films protest; against injustice, murder and betrayal. Travolta might not be a Marxist, as Daney points out, but the character of Jack invests all of his physical and emotional resources in a fight against the local pressures of the political order; a conspiracy of powers; one that culminates, tragically, at Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. And it is liberty that is at the heart of Too Early, Too Late, a title which forewarns us of inopportunity; of social resistance coalescing outside of a perhaps unreal, idealised revolutionary moment. It is exactly this tension in relation to time that underpins the thriller as a genre, which De Palma has excelled in.
Aren’t those opening minutes of Straub’s film a thrill ride anyway? The camera hangs out of the window of an automobile that whips round the vicinity of the Bastille in Paris again and again; the frame taking in the same buildings and roads over and over, as the traffic spills past, sometimes too close, risking a collision. On the soundtrack, the sound of the street and the horns of the passing cars. And then the voice of Danièle Huillet, reading from Friedrich Engels’s letter to Karl Kautsky of 20 February 1889. Outside of Godard’s combination of Leftist attack and panoramic scans in Weekend, and the rigour and physicality of Michael Snow’s structural experiments <—-> and La Region Centrale (the latter of which is already referenced in Daney’s article) what other moment in cinema does this bracing introductory shot closely resemble? None so much as the repeated 360-degree pan around Jack Terry’s burgled studio, the camera suddenly locked into an aberrant cycle as Jack is gripped by psychic horror at the realisation that his labour has been effaced.
An intertextual spasm snaps these works into synch, extending their respective echoes backwards and forward in cinema and social history. Too Early, Too Late returns us to the Lumières, through the image of workers pouring out of a factory in Egypt. It reminds us of cinema’s ground level origins, but also of violent grassroots historical movements – the French Revolution and the Egyptian Revolution. De Palma reminds us of Hitchcock’s powers of montage and all the colours of the dark that Italian Giallo films have shown us; and of the death of JFK, and Nixon’s lies and the death of the American Dream.
Straub and Huillet’s film ends with a coda comprising newsreel footage of protests on the streets of Cairo, of Nasser and Neguib. Scratched and spliced evidence for scrutiny; a reminder of a struggle and a crime. In a comparable sequence in Blow Out, Jack Terry snips pictures of the moment of the assassination of a presidential candidate out of a news magazine and edits them together to replay the event, looking for clues to prove that the commanding narrative surrounding the death is a fiction. Both encourage us to question reality, to challenge political consensus, to recover history.
 Serge Daney, ‘Cinemeteorology: Too Early, Too Late’ Originally published in Libération, February 20-21, 1982. Translated by Jonathan Rosenbaum. http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/1982/10/cinemeteorology-serge-daney-on-too-early-too-late/