Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Godard and the Sea

According to Morrey, Eloge de l’Amour represents, to some extent, a critique of history and memory.[1] If examined alongside Contempt, this insight explains or confirms Godard’s shift from reliance on or reverence for history (if we think about the plot of Contempt) to a questioning of the role or function of history in Eloge de l’Amour. And while this analysis seems reasonable, I wonder how it is expressed filmically. (Apart from the narrative structure or plot.)
Contempt may be understood, as he says in Godard on Godard, as “the story of castaways…survivors of the shipwreck of modernity.”[2] This brings the question to water; if we think about his representations of the sea, in at least three films from his early, middle and late periods, we can see how his ideas about history and memory (and maybe by extension film and filmmaking) changed or developed in filmic terms.

In Contempt, the sea is filmed as a fact. If a person chose the crew’s exact shooting location, the sea itself would probably look the same now as it did then. The quality that he captured was unaffected by anything else, purposely. (Not true of the outdoor stone steps painted blue/yellow and therefore a deliberate decision.) The sea’s relation to history was similarly evident. It was for Godard the same sea that Homer described in The Odyssey.  And as the viewer sees it, it is unending and unaltered.

When Godard made Passion almost 20 years later, he had a different method for representing the sea. In fact the idea of representation was even used differently in these middle stage films. He was not hiding from representation nor alluding to it. He confronted what he was trying to represent (the film the viewer sees) with the mechanisms and machinations of filmmaking (the world of the film within the film) until they were united. The sea in Passion is a pool of water inspired by either (or a mix of both) Ingres’ Small Bather and/or Delacroix’s Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople. (Note the unavoidable historical relevance in representing the paintings.) This image of the sea is not the sea but it is not trying to be the sea either. It is an acknowledged and embraced reproduction of the sea. And while the sea of Contempt is no more than a representation of the sea as well, it is not aware or does not force the viewer to be aware of its representative nature.
Finally, Eloge de l’Amour, coming 20 years after Passion, shows the viewer the sea once more. But this sea is different from both before it. This sea is both altered and a fact, albeit of memory. It is not the sea that anyone would see realistically if standing in front of it. It is a blatant representation of the sea but also includes one’s memory of the sea. It is not afraid to exist apart from the facts of water reflecting light because that it not all the Godard is showing; there is also the presence of the memory in this sea. History and memory and their relationships are being explored in this sea. This is not my sea, maybe not your sea but it is how someone remembered the sea sometime. It is a wholly different approach to representation, to filmmaking, than Godard has used before. Somehow this sea is both a reproduction and a representation; it includes elements from Contempt and Passion while adding something altogether new.
This view is a view unburdened by history since it is not aligned with history; it is changeable to whoever might remember. Or is it burdened by history since history informs the memory? I am not sure what exactly these analyses yield. But I can see now that Godard’s explorations of history and memory are filmically reflected in his life’s work and the changes that are evident over the course of his career seem to be more like developments of the same themes. Now the gap seems more narrow between his early, mid and late stage films; development is expected but these thoughtful experiments are clearly characteristic of Godard.

[1] Morrey, Jean-Luc Godard, 231.
[2] Godard, Godard on Godard, 201.

Godard, Levinas & Violence

It’s not a question of re-establishing tourism…between the banks of the Neretva.  We must at once restore the past…and make the future possible.  Combine the pain and the guilt. Two faces and one truth: the bridge.
Its seems difficult.
"If the face symbolizes ‘Thou shalt not kill’ how can we make a face with stones?” 
The relationship between me and the Other isn’t symmetrical.  At first, the Other matters little with respect to me.  That’s his business.  For me, he is the one I’m responsible for.  Here, a Muslim and a Croatian. 
We are all guilty for everything and for everyone.  And myself more than others.

I wanted to take a moment and consider Godard’s approach to relationships of/and violence in Notre Musique.  He quotes Entre Nous by Emmanuel Levinas, a writer whose philosophy rejects the tendency of Totality to try to efface the radical alterity of the Other into its model of sameness.  For Levinas, this tendency is violence and it exists equally in war and in the history of Western Philosophy.

One of Levinas’s central ideas is that the history of western metaphysics carries on a tradition that puts the notion of rationality, which he defines as the move to totalize the Other into a pre-existing category, above any real concern for the Other.  In short, to rationalize is to attempt to make the Other into the same.  Of this tradition and particularly Heidegger he writes, “To affirm the priority of
Being over existents is to already decide the essence of philosophy; it is to subordinate the relation with someone, who is an existent, (the ethical relation) to a relation with the Being of existents, which, impersonal, permits the apprehension, the domination of existents (a relationship of knowing)” (Totality and Infinity, 45).

For Levinas, the encounter with the Other is, by its very definition, not something that can be understood as a sameness. The experience of the Other in life is the face-to-face experience of the infinite. Any movement to try to understand the Other as something that is “the same” ultimately fails because the being of the Other
is infinity. The Other is not a negative other-than me, it is completely Other-wise.  Infinity is the always beyond its own definition, it overflows its definition, and so any idea or notion that seeks to contain it cannot succeed. In his book Totality and Infinity he writes "The absolutely other is the Other.  He and I do not form a number.  The collectivity in which I say “you” or “we” is not a plural of the “I.”  I, you - these are not individuals of a common concept.  Neither possession nor the unity of number nor the unity of concepts link me to the Stranger, the Stranger who disturbs the being at home with oneself [ le chez soi ].  But Stranger also means the free one.  Over him I have no power.  He escapes my grasp by an essential dimension, even if I have him at my disposal.  He is not wholly in my site.  But I, who have no concept in common with the Stranger, am, like him, without genus.  We are the same and the other.” (39)

Levinas argues that any attempt to identify the Other is an act of metaphysical violence.  The Other is always
already there before I experience it so I am always existing already there for-the-Other.  It is in the face-to-face experience of the Other that I am called to it.  I do not define the Other, its infinite being calls to me for a response to it.  I can only ever respond to this face, I cannot define it.  My ability to respond to the Other is, in a way, my response-ability.  This responsibility for the Other and toward the Other is what Levinas calls ethics.

It is this idea of ethical responsibility that I believe Godard is considering in
Notre Musique.  In his first act, Hell is violence.  In Purgatory we are shown the attempt to rebuild a bridge destroyed by war.   The bridge represents the in-between that exists between these opposing sides and the lasting imprint of violence.  A female character says, "I wanted to see a place where reconciliation is possible."  In considering the history of violence and one’s responsibility for the Other, perhaps Godard is saying the same thing.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Féminin masculin

With Godard’s emphasis on the exchange value in/of capitalism as colonizing (most often, although not exclusively) the female body, contemplations of prostitution, trade, manual labor and misogyny abound.  We have discussed this from Vivre sa vie (1962) to 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (1966) to Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1979).  The dialogue or narration in these films highlight the trajectory of influences from Brechtian distanciation with Nana to Rouchian ethnography with Juliette to the internal thoughts of Isabelle as externalizes her focus while her body is in the act of a sexual-barter.  

Vivre sa vie

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle

Sauve qui peut (la vie)

Morrey discusses Debord’s argument of the effacement of freedom by the “alibi” of choice in consumer capitalism.  I want to take this level of prostitution, labor and capitalist choice into another colonization of the body and look at the labor of war on the male body (although we now have many women in the armed forces, for the sake of this argument I will focus on the male war-body as juxtaposed to Godard’s female sex-body).  While Godard focuses on prostitution as a choice/non-choice within a capitalist system, it is important to acknowledge that prostitution is a profession that retains a long history (it did not birth from capitalism).  Likewise, the soldier is a profession with a history of ideals including protection, honor and sacrifice that are aligned with and by the body as implemented through national identity (other than mercenaries who also retain a long historical practice).  The dilemma with the contemporary global market economy is that the retained national allegiance of the soldier is problematized as countries negotiate new trades and alliances.  We all know these issues of war and legitimacy…I need not elaborate especially in this time regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in this time of the US’s global influence. 

On the subject of “choice” and the soldier, many (although certainly not all) of our warriors are young and basically educated (high school) prior to their enlistment.  Many of them have limited employment/educational choices.  Indeed, my father enlisted with the Navy when he was 18.  At the time he could chose to join the Navy with the possibility of educational compensation after his initial service, or he could chose to stay in Illinois and work at the steel mill on the Mississippi River.  For my father, joining the Navy meant an education and employment.  I guess what I am trying to express is: what is the essential difference between representations of those working in the trade of sex and the trade of killing?  I’m not trying to negate one over the other- these are choices.  Choices based on survival.  However, the choice of the prostitute is often negative and the choice of the killer is valorized as the protector.  What Godard chooses to do is “represent” the prostitute (more often) as opposed to the warrior.  This in and of itself drastically juxtaposes his work to other (traditional/normal/safe) cinematic protagonists or the Hollywood system, for example.  Although, it is also evident that an instant critique towards Godard is that his work can be construed as a chauvinistic approach especially in regard to capitalism as a colonization of the female sex-body (as opposed to say the male war-body).  However, as Aiste mentioned to me in conversation on the topic, he is obviously “concerned.”  And he is much more concerned about this topic than most other filmmakers.  I guess my concern regarding the female sex-body is my own curiosity about the “prostituted” bodies of the warrior and the warring mentality of humanity in general, as well as the issues over representations of sex (pornography versus love) and violence.  I have no answers here, just more concerns; more questions. And I’m thankful to Godard for making the choice to address the topics of prostitution and labor though his (perplexing at times) discourse.  

Codey Wilson of YouTube fame

Sauve qui peut (la vie)

Codey Wilson 


Sunday, November 28, 2010

History: Digital and Analog

I happen to spend one very long evening at a screening of some of the Harun Farockis' work. The post-screening discussion returned to several reoccurring themes, i.e. operational image, materiality of the image, and of course the only other filmmaker mentioned, Godard. Cinema as historiograph, image as memory, digital vs. analog are among questions raised by both, Farocki and Godard. Since we have been thinking Godard for the past couple of months, here is a link to a brief interview with Farocki:

It is impossible to not think of those very same questions (image as history, the materiality of the image, history of cinema) when watching Godard's 'Éloge de l’amour'.

'The image, sir, alone capable of denying nothingness, is also a gaze of nothingness on us'. 

Is this to say that although cinema has the potential to write history, our history is also being written in the present as we are watching the image? And if this distinction between past and present is so uncertain, then why this clear visual division among images in the film? I felt Godard's choice to make the very, and deliberately so, obvious turns from the subtlties of black and white cinema to stark digital were somewhat alienating. I guess, there is no Godard without Brecht. And if so, the reason for such a choice  must lie not (only) in the reading of image content, the story time as past or present, but maybe also in the material qualities of the image, i.e. our relationship to the digital vs. analog, and the meanings that arise from processing different kinds of images. When I am watching the blue rocks in orange waters I struggle connecting those images to the 'story', yet I do think of the photographic vs. manipulated, image as history, cinema as 'fiction' and as 'reality'.


Saturday, November 27, 2010


Godard critiques modern capitalistic society in his films. A variety of things are bought and sold throughout his filmography; ranging from sex, food, newspapers, pop songs, drinks, clothes, and even personal history. One of the most incredible scenes which comments on commercialism is at the end of Tout Va Bien when a continuous tracking shot pans left to right behind the cash registers at a super grocery store. Every person checking out has carts filled abundantly. The store has piles of food in the background. The grotesque array of products frighteningly reflects reality.
Scene from Tout Va Bien
As the camera tracks back to the left, a group of young adults come and eventually start declaring everything is free, and start grabbing at the goods. The other customers begin to follow suit, and also begin to raid the products. In this sequence, Godard captures the idea that "it is practically impossible for the consumer to live in the present moment" (Morrey 64). Commercialism in the 60's created so many new items for purchase, that it was impossible to keep up with new products. When given the chance to take whatever they can, with little hesitation the stealing begins. It's amazing how fast the scene turns from following capitalistic law into free-law. I have to wonder if a group of people did the same thing at a grocery store, would such a scene truly be started?
Customers fleeing the store with 'free' groceries.

Jane Fonda's character asks, "To change everything, where do you start?" in lieu of a story she is writing. I think it is fascinating question it terms of how Tout Va Bien examines the bourgeoisie capitalism. Would destruction of the system be able to change it all? Or do we need to live like the tribal society presented at the end Week-End to escape all the buying and selling?

A Recent Godard Interview

here's a recent JLG interview that he briefly told about Film Socialisme, Oscar and the Auteur. Seems like he's still sarcastic about Truffaut…


Monday, November 22, 2010

First Turning Thoughts on Éloge de l’amour

Éloge de l’amour opens with a filmic return to the city of Paris, and Alphaville, with bright headlight circles beaming through rain, and this circle is part of a film of circles, finished, unfinished, followed. The film opens with the question, “Do you remember their names?” A recounting follows. This question is the beginning, and yet, it is a beginning that foregrounds what came before this moment that is the future of the previous moment as well as our present in the film. This present calls forth a recollection of past. We start in a cycle of remembrance, we follow the circle. Edgar is on a quest, striving to create a project of defining adulthood, for him the blurry and missing present in the cycle of life that moves from childhood to old age. The long in-between eludes him. Throughout the film, we hear the beginnings and ends of conversations, the middle often subsumed by music, wind, or the characters’ backs facing us--reinforcing the slippery slope of present, heart, center. The project remains incomplete. 
And then, the two years earlier to which the film’s characters constantly allude returns, for our first time: the image switches from black and white film to saturated video. As Douglas Morrey notes in Jean-Luc Godard, the past is more rich and live than the uncapturable, less vivid present (229). It vibrates, resonates with color. And then we make the turnaround--events and conversations we have already heard of, phrases uttered when phrases were still possible, make their way back to us in the form of their seeds. We realize how they have changed, what it was like when someone else spoke them, and what their reception inscribed on them after their release into the world. Superimpositions act like layered memories, images of the ocean evoke the unending cycles of tides larger than human activity and history.

Throughout, we get the sense that we don’t know where we are going, but we are held, suspended, cradled in the strange comfort of the circle that can contain an unfinished project, which is also its end. On viewing the film, I felt unmoored, like those boats bobbing on the orange-blue sea, but never lost because I was coming back around, just like those boats can never fall off of the planet.
In his interview with Jean-Luc Godard in Cinema: The Archaeology of Film and the Memory of a Century, Yousef Ishaghpour says, “history is unachievable because it would take an eternity to compile a history of the shortest time.” We all know how this feels. I tried to write about an experience in my journal recently and never got to it because I started writing about the pen I was using and how it got to me and where I took it and what people said about it, and by the time I was done writing about the pen I was writing with, I was tired. Like Edgar says, “no one ever tells the other story” and perhaps that is because each point and thought is connected to others, also connected to others, and we can’t tell the story that way. Even if we get back to it, around to it, things have changed with the weight of history and time. The story you tell is another story anyway. The present and future change the past, and Éloge de l’amour somehow manages to show us this in the transition from black and white to supercolor, through repeated words foretold, as Edgar, Berthe, and the other characters struggle to complete a cycle while inside of many others. There is something in this that says, take heart. In praise of love. 
Tomorrow I leave for Paris and it is the beginning of a journey, led up to forever, and already receding. This film makes me hope it rains while I am there.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Slow Motion///Elements In Synthesis

"Paul, Denise, and Isabelle meet and, in various combinations, talk, argue, observe, and make love, then separate. There are no thunderous emotional confrontations, but, by the end of the film, one's perceptions have been so enriched, so sharpened, that one comes out of it invigorated. Every Man for Himself leaves you with a renewed awareness of how a fine movie can clear away the detritus that collects in a mind subjected to endless invasions by clichés and platitudes and movies that fearlessly champion the safe or obvious position. It's a tonic." 
Vincent Canby NYT, 10.8.1980

Godard's oeuvre has been built on radical experimentation with the fundamental elements of cinema, and Every man for Himself  is singular up to this period in its unified resonance of theory and process.

Godard effectively activates an analysis of cinema and syntax. 
The film still,  like letters to words in a sentence...

Montage: one consecutive image onto another=movement.
Context through word {spoken or text} and image...
 With succinct and sometimes rather comedic staging, Godard elaborates on recurrent themes of his work:
labor, hierarchy, servitude and the analogous relationship  between creation and prostitution. 

"Dialectics on the soundtrack can be tuned out.
When they are in the images
they pass directly into one's memory bank."

Vincent Canby NYT, 10.8.1980

Leif Huron


It’s difficult to believe that there is an aspect of Godard’s work that we haven’t discussed in detail.  With so many images, or perhaps interpretations, there is a component of Godard’s work that has remained primarily latent…at least until we consider Sauve qui peut (La Vie), aka Every Man For Himself aka Cover your ass.  In Sauve qui peut, the audience is treated to a blatant expose of carnal desires.  Throughout the film, there are robust expressions of erotic content.  Ultimately, these themes have been present in Godard’s work since Breathless.  At the same time, the vigorous approach to corporeal analysis transforms into the focus of Sauve qui peut.

There are several examples of erotic discourse within the Godard trajectory.  Several that come to mind include the Hotel room discussion between Michel and Patricia in
Breathless.  Speaking of lovers past, the characters count on their fingers to calculate their number of sexual encounters.  During Michel’s turn, he flashes his whole hand once, twice…multiple times to show that he has had numerous experiences. 

Week-end, Godard makes use of Georges Bataille’s Histoire de L’oeil to construct Corinne’s explicit dialogue scene.  The use of suggestive sexual dialogue informs the viewer that this is a more profound level of interpretation from the director.  As Morrey states, “The appeal to this novel, in which the narrator and his lovers repeatedly smear each other in their piss, shit, blood and sperm, would seem to be an abject, unclean, unrecuperated sexuality, in which the true strangeness of desire appear ungovernable by an normative discourse.” (75)


Tout va bien, the sexual nature of Godard’s exploratory is expressed via graphic imagery of the male phallus.  During the “On va au cinema, on bouf, on baisse” scene, Yves Montand debates libidinous dynamics with Jane Fonda.  After exclaiming that the couple is reduced to “going to the cinema, eating, fucking,” Montand is exposed by Fonda. In her argument, Fonda reduces Montand’s thought process to a single visual: The image of a penis sitting static within a female hand.  The penis serves as an exclamation point to the dialogue within the scene.

These examples serve as a precursor to the shock value that awaits in
Sauve qui peut.  After an extended period of time away from feature filmmaking, Godard returns with his most explicit approach to sexualized cinema. The more prominent scenes include the suggestion that a cow’s tongue can serve as an adequate source of carnal pleasure.  Likewise, Paul Godard questions whether a soccer coach has ever had erotic thoughts in relation to his daughter, “Do you ever have the urge to feel up her tits or to fuck her up the ass?” The scene in which Paul Godard jumps over a table to embrace his ex-girlfriend suggests the impossibility of connection between men and women.

Perhaps the most explicit scene in Sauve qui peut is what Morrey labels the “orgy” scene.  Although it is not an orgy in the traditional sense (refer to Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick, Stanley for perceived mainstream orgy) the scene does bring several questions to light.  During the scene, the boss gives succinct directions in relation to sexual acts and process.  The absurdity of the scene has the tendency to promote laughter as opposed to erotic stimulation.  However, when compared with the wealth of examples that precede this sequence, the viewer can legitimately question the intent of the director.  First, how does the sequence fit within the area of gender studies?  Should we accept the depiction at face value and view it as a harsh criticism or reinforcement of the male gaze?  Secondly, what do these examples suggest about Godard?  During the course we’ve been speaking of the presence of the Godard surrogate.  Does this depiction show Godard for what he really is?  A cinematic Henry Miller or a highbrow Ron Jeremy?  Lastly, should these depictions have extenuating consequences?  It’s widely known that Nabokov faced intense scrutiny for his authoring of Lolita.  Is it justified to expose Godard to similar examination?

I’m curious to hear the dialogue during our next class session.  Unlike before, it is no longer possible to turn a blind eye to Godard’s sexual dynamics.  Quietly, he has dispensed carnal representations within his films.  Like a slap to face, I believe that we have all been woken by the director. If before, we chose not to address the matter, following Sauve qui peut, we have no other option.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Finally, an excuse to post this great song! Dutronc plays Paul Godard in Every Man for Himself...some years after this 1967 hit. If anyone is interested in a translation of the lyrics:


Monday, November 15, 2010



Paintings and Reproductions from Passion

These are the paintings being recreated in the film within Passion. (As I have been working on this post, I found that there also may be recreations of these images throughout the rest of Passion and outside of that film within the film as well.) The only image from Passion that I could not find was the reproduction of Goya’s “The Family of Charles IV." (The complete list of reproduced paintings is from Chapter 7 of Speaking about Godard.)

Goya's "The Family of Charles IV"

There is no doubt that the overall theme of light—the search for the (right) light--is of paramount importance to Godard and is a major theme in Passion. It is interesting to look at these paintings in an attempt to further understand or identify what light he was drawn to or looking for.
In the El Greco, Ingres and Goya’s “The Nude Maja” the use of light is focused on the divine and the female form respectively. And those are precisely the parts of the paintings that Godard highlights for reproduction. The other three Goya’s show light very strongly. “3 de Mayo” illuminates the men being executed and in that sense, the light assists in their deaths. The parasol in "The Parasol" is used to shield the woman from the light outside and Goya captures the light pouring in the room from outside in “The Family of Charles IV.”
The Rembrandt, the Delacroix and the Watteau are paintings out of doors. In some ways, Godard’s reproductions of these actually clarify (at least for me) the focus of the light and his interpretation of the paintings themselves. (And as James Roy MacBean says, in an essay for Film Quarterly, “Passion, unlike Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch,” will offer a precise source of illumination” in the visual sense.[1])
This post is an obviously primitive, cursory exploration of the film, the paintings and theme of light. But viewing the paintings alongside the reproductions is my first step towards a more thorough investigation into these topics.

[1] James Roy MacBean, “Filming the inside of His Own Head: Godard's Cerebral Passion,” Film Quarterly
 Vol. 38, No. 1 (Autumn, 1984): 20.


Rembrandt's "Nightwatch" top
Godard's reproduction below


El Greco's "Assumption of the Virgin" left
Godard's reproductions right


 Goya's "The Nude Maja" top
Godard's reproduction below


Goya's "3 de Mayo" top
Godard's reproduction below

Goya's "The Parasol" top
Godard's reproduction below

  Ingres' "Small Bather" top
Godard's reproduction below

Delacroix's "Entry of the Crusaders into Contantinople" top
Godard's reproductions below

Watteau's "Pilgrimage to Cythera" top
Godard's reproduction below