Image Picture Frame

By Jon Jost, Patrick Keiller, Sam Lamche McMullen, John Maybury and Amie Siegel

Fragments and texts collected and presented by James Leahy

Even as early as 1960 it was necessary to ask, when responding to ideas in a Godard movie, “Who is speaking?” In this seminal sequence in Le petit soldat it was Bruno, a photographer…

pierrot-le-fou-jean-luc-godard.jpgPierrot le fou, 1965 

Subjected to a sixties Godardian analysis, the sequence is “true” on account of the “beauty” of its visual and kinetic articulation – camera movement, movements within the show, and from shot to shot. These signpost the rhetoric of Bruno’s boasting about his medium.

Paris 1964

Robert (an actor): “You know that I love you and when… when… when I tell you truly that I love you, I am very sincere and…, and I truly think it.”

Charlotte (a married woman): “But how can I know you are truly sincere? How can I know you’re not acting in a play?”

pierrot-le-fou-jean-luc-godard-2.jpgPierrot le fou, 1965 

Burg Wartenstein, Austria, June 1965

“When the boy says to the girl, ‘I love you’, he is using words to convey that which is more convincingly conveyed by his tone of voice and his movements… There are people – professional actors, confidence tricksters and others – who can lie with kinesics… It is a little more difficult for them to be sincere and still more difficult for them to be believed to be sincere.” – Gregory Bateson: “Redundancy and Coding”, Wenner-Gren Conference on Animal Communication.

Godard was seventy at the end of last year. His work is about to be celebrated by a full retrospective at the National Film Theatre, and an international conference at Tate Modern. We asked some contemporary cinéastes to select an image revealing Godard’s relevance to the filmmakers of the new millennium.

nicholas-ray-jean-luc-godard-montage.jpgGodard did not meet up with Nick Ray in New York in the Fall of 1970, Truffaut did. No photographers were present. Nick pic by Christine Reguis.

Producer Margaret Matheson hailed the “many searing moments from Pierrot le fou, which has been a talisman throughout my film making life.”

Others had time to respond in more detail, and quite rightly we were reminded “Genius is always relevant…”

vent-dest-jean-luc-godard.jpgLe vent d'est, 1970

There By the Grace of Godard

by Jon Jost

A darkened cinema, anticipation. A new Godard film, his first since breaking with Gorin. One had tired of the dry theory-based experiments, leached of emotion, paint-by-number plodding through hermetic theoretical hoops. One waited. Sauve qui peut.   

Immediately a sense of relief: here again was the sense of passion, the soured but lyric sense of life, a lushness of imagery, of sound, which echoed but seemed richer still than Vivre sa Vie, or Pierrot le fou. The imagery, instantly recognizable as stamped with Godard, but suddenly denser, more complex, even opulent; the track ripe with romantic music. And suddenly, as if the gods had struck him, the actors tumble in their chairs, and Godard takes up the wand of the other cinema, the one sloppily busy across the Atlantic, a hint of the American (and elsewhere) underground: the image is optically printed, slowed, its interior meaning explored and explicated in the discarding of Godard’s flippant “cinema is truth 24 times per second.” In the context of this film, it was the announcement of a turning point – gone the simplified cartoon figures of Weekend, of Le Petit Soldat, of… (the damned one about the Maoists, title I forget). Gone the didactic dogmatism of the Gorin exercises, the knee-jerk leftism. Instead a sudden depth, a far more ambiguous sense of life, and of cinema.

slow-motion-jean-luc-godard.jpgSlow Motion, 1980

And then, fleetingly, almost as if by error, as if tickled by an angel, a brief shot in which the protagonist bicycles in the Swiss countryside, down a curving road: and the shot is multiplied over another shot of landscape, appearing almost as if by error, a printing mistake, an accidental in-camera superimposition. I am sure I saw this shot, or did I imagine it? If the latter, it was by grace of its context, but I am sure it was there. And signaled for Jean Luc... I am sure he had and has no tidy theoretical answer, for which he is surely blessed.

Jon Jost is an ex-filmmaker, happily playing (seriously) with DV, pastels, and staying away from the film business as much as life allows.

French Classic

by Sam Lamche McMullen

Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), a spy from the Outer Lands (outside Alphaville) is rude, aggressive and trusts no-one. I suppose Godard thought him a kind of Eminem for the sixties. He comes to Alphaville, where people are condemned to death for showing any kind of emotion. In one scene, a man stands on a diving board making a final speech before being gunned down. His crime: crying when his wife died. Then divers finish him off in a balletic sort of way – making it like a show, like going to the cinema – and the audience applauds.

alphaville-jean-luc-godard.jpgAlphaville, 1985

The film begins in a classic French way where a man in a car lights a cigarette and puts a gun in his pocket. A confusing, distorted voice has opened the film giving it a Sci-Fi impression. But you only discover this is the voice of Alpha-60 – a super-brain computer created by a scientist called von Braun – too far into the film. Von Braun is the man Lemmy Caution has come to Alphaville to find.

Godard’s film seems to be having a go at the uptight, rule-bound French system – if it’s not logical, it’s not true, if it doesn’t follow the rules, it shouldn’t exist. Lemmy Caution finds Alpha-60 controls the city’s population by banning conscience, love, freedom and knowledge.

Lemmy Caution is not a classic hero – not a sex-addicted secret agent like James Bond – he’s not charming and good-looking but you get the impression Godard thinks he’s cool. When he meets Natasha von Braun (Godard’s wife, Anna Karina) who works in the service of the State, he dismisses her ‘til the end when he obviously falls for her and, having destroyed Alpha-60’s control room, drives her out of the city to freedom. Although he’s still not a nice character, by the end of the film Lemmy Caution acts with a conscience and with love. This is not a kissy-kissy-bang-bang film like so many Hollywood movies.

Sam Lamche McMullen has cinema in his blood, and, as a thirteen-year-old pupil at the Lycee Francaise, first-hand knowledge of the French system.

Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle

by Patrick Keiller

2-or-3-things-i-know-about-her-jean-luc-godard-2.jpgDeux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle, 1967 

Voice (whispers): “… since each event transforms my daily life, since I unceasingly fail to communicate… I mean to understand, to love, to make myself loved… and that each failure makes me experience a solitude since…”

Voice (whispers): “… since… since I cannot escape the objectivity which crushes me nor the subjectivity which exiles me, since it isn’t possible to raise myself up to being, or to fall into nothingness… then I must listen. I must look around me more than ever… The world… My likeness… My brother…”

Voice (whispers): “The world alone today, where revolutions are impossible, where bloody wars menace me, where capitalism is no longer very certain of its rights… and the working class is in retreat, where progress… the lighting progress of science gives future centuries a haunting presence… where the future is more present than the present, where the furthest galaxies are at my door. Mon semblableMon frère…”

My most sustained experience of Godard’s films was in the ‘60s, a long time before I ever had any idea of making a film. In the ‘80s, I hardly dared look at them; Godard was the forbidden ground, the fact and scale of his achievement heightening an already advanced sense of cultural poverty. In any case, he was rive droite – we watched Marker, or Melville. Then, in 1989, I decided to try to make a longer film, and someone suggested having a look at Deux ou trois choses..., which was in a season for the Warhol exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. This sequence in particular – of material in motion – seemed to encapsulate everything I had been thinking about for years, and I began to wake up. Now, as that initiative fades, Godard is waking me up again.

Patrick Keiller’s best known films are London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997). He has recently completed The Dilapidated Dwelling, a documentary about housing.

Those Whom The Gods Wish To Destroy…

by John Maybury

pierrot-le-fou-jean-luc-godard-3.jpgPierrot le fou, 1965

The Godard mind fuck – hero to zero. The most beautiful man – Jean-Paul Belmondo – paints his face Yves Klein blue – wraps a metre of banana yellow dynamite around his head – burning his fingers with the matches before successfully lighting the fuse. In Godard’s world of beautiful, witty, literate outlaws – a universe in a cup of black coffee – of comic strip montage, of ephemeral grace, of glamorous anarchy, of chance morphing into fate, happiness and love are shadowed by violence and loneliness. “A kind of tapestry, a background on which I can embroider my own ideas” (J-L.G.). Godard’s cinema from the sixties exists as a series of reports from the ideological frontline – the absurdity and alienation techniques do so much more than mere storytelling. This final explosive moment is pop-art-poetry-panto angst. In a review of a Renoir film (Elena et les hommes) Godard inadvertently describes his own work: “This film is art and at the same time a theory of art; beauty and at the same time the secret of beauty; cinema and at the same time an explanation of the cinema.” Any frame, any scene, any montage, any soundtrack from A bout de souffle (‘59) to One Plus One (‘69) would suffice - sheer luxury – would be just as significant to my personal lexicon, but I fell in love with Belmondo as a teenager and Yves Klein was an art-school idol. Visual violence will always be in ‘vogue’ – so the dramatic finale of Pierrot remains for me, nostalgically, le dernier cri – most of these words are stolen but, like Jean-Luc, I don’t give a fuck. Think about it twice, for once. Tell me you love me. Tender is the night. Genius is always relevant.

John Maybury is a Film & Video Artist.

An Aural Equivalent

by Amie Siegel

weekend-jean-luc-godard.jpgWeekend, 1967

Godard’s teasing, subtle understanding of voyeurism and its place within the (erotic) agenda of narrative expectation and deferral is wonderfully expressed in a scene from Weekend. A man and woman are silhouetted against a bright, curtained window. The details are not too visible, although we can see that she is in a bra and panties and he is fully dressed. She tells him the story of a sexual encounter, first with a man in several public spaces – car, elevator – and then later joined by another woman. As she recounts these erotic adventures, the music moves in and out, alternating in volume, often washing out the words entirely or making them barely audible. As we strain to hear the details, some of which include a bowl of milk and a well-placed egg, we are brought to understand our desire, our intrinsically voyeuristic need, to know these events. So it is only through blockage or frustration, the denial of our ability to hear the erotic developments, that we realize our desire for them. Although the camera movement, repeatedly tracking in and out from the couple, also both elicits and frustrates our desire to “come close” to events, Godard’s most wonderful achievement in this scene is a kind of aural equivalent for a phenomenon, voyeurism, that is usually dominated by looking, by vision. A rare moment of power and domination for the medium of sound.

Amie Siegel has given readings of her poems and experimental writings throughout North America, and her award-winning film The Sleepers has been recently shown in Glasgow and in Berlin.