FILM / Director's Cut: Zero points: Veteran film-maker Henri Storck recalls his work with the surrealist Jean Vigo

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The Independent Culture
IN 1913, when I was six years old, I saw my first film, Quo Vadis. In those days they screened films in bars and people would smoke and drink while they were watching them. In Quo Vadis there's a chariot race in which the horses gallop towards the camera, and I was so frightened I started screaming. My parents took me home and I cried all night. That was my baptism into cinema. I went to see it again a few years later to find out why I was so afraid. And I saw that the horses were afraid when they caught sight of the cameraman. I think they communicated that fear to me.

Later, after I had decided to become a film-maker, I met Jean Vigo at a conference of independent cinema in Brussels in 1930. Madame Germaine Dulac was there too (the avant- garde director of The Smiling Madame Beudet and The Seashell and the Clergyman) - she was Head of Production at Gaumont, and hired me and Vigo as assistant directors.

I worked with him on Zero de Conduite - he took one or two episodes from my own childhood and put them in the film. The scene when one of the boys rebels against his teacher and says 'Je vous dis: merde' happened to me although I didn't actually say that. And I played the cure because the actor didn't turn up for his scenes. I didn't have much to do - in one scene, where one of the teachers is chasing a woman, you see a skirt disappearing round a corner . . . not the woman's skirt, but the cure's. I caused a bit of a scandal in the little town where we were shooting, though, because I danced in the streets in my cassock.

Vigo was a film-maker of great gaiety and joie de vivre but very nervous. He had TB, which was what made him so intense. He was a real live wire - he'd make all the kids very excited. To calm down, we'd have egg- fights every evening. He was a great practical joker. In the Paris Metro, he'd pretend to be an epileptic, or rush to the door as the train was pulling into the station and then not get out.

I wanted to make feature films too, but my first was such a failure that I was discouraged. I was probably wrong, but I love what I ended up doing, which was documentaries - they created a relationship between me and working people.

Born in 1907, Henri Storck has collaborated with Jean Vigo, Boris Kaufman and Joris Ivens. A season of his own work continues at the National Film Theatre on London's South Bank, where he will appear in person next Monday (details on 071-928 3232). 'Zero de Conduite' is released on video next month.