Friday, May 30, 2014

Godard For Ever!

Jean-Luc Godard fans have good reasons to rejoice! First off, after Film socialisme and some recent short films (e.g. 3 x 3D, The Bridges of Sarajevo) Godard has returned with a full-length film Adieu au Language, which just premiered at Cannes and will probably hit the festivals and theaters in the next few seasons or so. Thanks to some ambitious home video companies there are some more of Godard’s rarer, mid-career films that have been slowly been being released on DVD: Cohen Film Collection recently put out Hail Mary and For Ever Mozart, while Olive Films put out Histoire(s) Du Cinéma, Numero Deux, Ici et Ailleurs, Comment Ca Va, and Keep Your Right Up!. The Wilfrid Laurier University Press published two new books on him, The Legacies of Jean-Luc Godard and Two Bicycles, and now Caboose Books in Montreal has finally released their Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, whose bulk is an original translation of fourteen one-hour lectures that he gave there in 1978. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the latter title, especially since its publication has been postponed a few times, as it offers a rich portrait of a mid-career Godard as he’s grappling with his early cinephilia, political activism and potential future paths.

The book includes a preface by Godard (one page, describing his teaching experience), from its original 1980 French publication, and Serge Losique, the director of the Conservatory of Cinematographic Art in Montreal, who invited Godard at the time and who would moderate the lectures along with some others. There is an archaeology of the Histoire(s) by Godard-scholar Michael Witt, who highlights the connection between this series and the future films, and Timothy Barnard, who was responsible for the great translation of André Bazin’s What is Cinema? in the same series, has an introduction about his translation and the importance of this lecture within Godard’s body of work.

Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television offers insight towards Godard when he was at a transitory period in his career. After his heavy political years with the Dziga Vertov Group, Godard, with his new wife Anne-Marie Miéville, would retreat from France to Switzerland (where he got earlier on a dual citizenship to avoid being drafted) to form a new studio Sonimage, where the focus of his films would switch from that of political interventions towards more intimate confessions.

Godard had already spent some time in Montreal after May ’68 where he was given the freedom to make experimental video journalism – the subject of the interesting NFB documentary Mai en décembre (Godard en Abitibi) –,which Jerry White would argue influenced his later video work and ironic media appearances. When Godard returns to Montreal in 1978, he is still in his dogmatic, militant, anti-industrial period and his lecture and anecdotes reflect these positions his critiques of early Spielberg and de Palma are especially cringe-worthy – and the serious academic praise towards him overlooks the self-depreciating and ironic humor, intimacy and humanity that would soon characterize Godard’s films throughout the next decade, which are actually a lot closer to the films of Woody Allen, especially through their shared jazz influence, use of non-sequitur existential aphorisms, and problematic relationship towards women.

The lectures read like a mixture of Godard’s early Cahiers criticism, interviews about his films, and explanatory notes to his Histoire(s). It’s a fascinating read and deserves to paired alongside other recent great books (though in French) like Jean Douchet’s L'homme Cinema and Antoine de Baecque and Noël Herpe's biography on Éric Rohmer as variations on the history of cinema from the perspective of first generation Cahiers-bred cinephiles.

But since the press release for Adieu au Language the other new film book that everyone else is talking about is Annick Bouleau’s Passage du cinéma, 4992 (Jean-Marie Straub would introduce it to Godard, who would call it “the only book to tell the history of cinema”). The history of cinema is rich and vast, and these new books offer an enriching perspective on it. Since the Caboose book is now available all we can now do is wait for the Bouleau book to arrive on our shores!

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Hotel Congress at the Lightbox (Opens May 30th)

Nadia Litz and Michel Kandinsky's film Hotel Congress starts its theatrical run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday May 30th. There will be an introduction and Q&A with the directors on the opening night 8:30pm screening. Check it out if you can!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Marvin, Seth and Stanley on iTunes

Stephen Gurewitz's great indie film Marvin, Seth and Stanley is now on iTunes. Its about a father and his two sons (Gurewitz and Alex Karpovsky) who are on a road trip to go camping. The three bring a real lived experience to their roles, which recalls the performances in the films of John Cassavetes, and the 16mm footage looks gorgeous. If you like other road movies like The Color Wheel and The Brown Bunny, then you'll like Marvin, Seth and Stanley.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Stéphane Delorme on L'Enfant secret

“Now I’ve called for a more emotional cinema. So what I’m looking for is emotional texts. In the past, I avoided that, largely out of reserve. Then I wrote a short piece on Garrel’s L’Enfant secret in the first person and I realized that was a potential way forward.” - Stéphane Delorme

Delorme’s contribution to the Cinéma retrouvé feature Onze stations pour une histoire poétique du cinéma français on Garrel’s L’Enfant secret is an important text for his editorialship at Cahiers du Cinéma. On page 94 of the October 2012 issue (N.682), which on its cover features Hong Sang-soo, in three paragraphs he is able to emphasize strong emotions and poetry, which will be the key themes in a remapping of the history of French cinema, and through repetition the key directors that will rise to the top are Grémillon, Garrel and Carax. As well it is perhaps his most personal contribution at the magazine, especially in regards to his conviction that he could have directed the film. It is an important piece for Delorme, who now mostly just writes editorials and is selective about writing critiques and événement essays, as it culminates a focus on strong feelings associated with cinema, which will gain more momentum and become the guiding drive at the magazine. For example, in the editorial Avec ou sans Maillot (N.695), “We needed to write a manifesto for an unruly cinema for 2014… a call to unleashes our demons and to throw ourselves in the water… without a bathing suit!” In the editorial Exaltation (N.696), “There remains only one antidote, to recite towards and against everyone, like a mantra: “The wind rises! … We have to try to live!”” And now more recently, for their 700th issue they received 138 contributions of famous film people to share their own significant film experiences. Let’s keep this going! – D.D.
L’Enfant Secret
I am at the Forum des images in Paris, I’m twenty years old. One movie gives me everything, like a blinding light. For a long time, this film is remembered by its first images: a boy and a girl are in their nightshirts, they’re laughing and kissing, it’s glorious, their experience is unforgettable, their happy. In all of this, in these sumptuous white images, I don’t get much… There is a great tenderness, the paradise of childish love, the secret of childhood. I don’t yet know the great beginning of Au Hasard Balthazar (1966): two children in a barn with the black donkey, their on a swing, there is a little girl, who is pale and sick, and that is looking at them while crying – these are as much fragments of the donkey’s memory, as they are the rare years of happiness. The start of L'Enfant secret has this same silent magic, the children are the only ones to occupy this house just like in Garrel’s first film, which he made when he was 16, Les enfants désaccordés (1964). But it’s Bresson with Godard. Two kinds of mysticism married together: the sacred and modernity. The voices are lost, the image evaporates and comes back, the images are re-filmed in a visionary way, piano music breaks through the silence in regular intervals. The fragment and the rhythm does not destroy the representation but instead makes it incandescent.
I did not know that Garrel himself was re-learning how to make films, after his reclusive years, to return to the streets, and to film Paris, the benches of Paris or the lovers that stop at them to then separate. L'Enfant secret is the moment of convalescence, the return to fiction, but that remembers the liberty of the great portrait-films that he made in the Seventies with Nico. It is maybe not Garrel’s best film. Les Hautes Solitudes is more pure, J'entends plus la guitare is more profound, Le Berceau de cristal is crazier. But it is this rare equilibrium between an intimidate journal, that would reign in the French cinema, and the flood of the power of dreams, that, would unforgivably retreat. It could have been the film with potentially the biggest influence.
There is the question of a hidden child, Swann, of cinema, of a rupture and, like always, of truth. The cinema of Garrel has nothing mute about it. From his years of being amazed, he comes back talkative. The dialogue is reduced to simple maxims: “The loyalty towards others is the only movement of the soul.” Or poetic lightning bolts that Anne Wiazemsky renders familiar: “Your face is like lace.” We dream of leaving the city to go to the country to work the land, like in a song by Gérard Manset. One day being poor. In seeing them, we finally realize that there are two kinds of great films: those that impress and that even from a distance shine like a thousand fires like an exploding star (Vertigo). And those that are so close that we could hold them in the palms of our hands. L'Enfant secret, I could make this film, I could have made this film, it watches me. This isn’t a pretension, only a certitude. And if there remains only one image, it’s the first, and the last, which are the same one: a hand going through hair, a hand on one’s neck – to love or to heal. In the preface to Une caméra à la place du coeur, Leos Carax wrote about Garrel: “The air is cold. Through his hair, a man looks at a woman. Together they shudder… THE CINEMA TREMBLES.”

Stéphane Delorme

Les enfants désaccordés

Friday, May 23, 2014

Archaeology of French Film Criticism Leading up to 1951

I'm posting this grad paper on the history of French film criticism, which I wrote for a Foucault-Archaeology grad seminar, to coincide with some recent French videos and podcasts that were put online: 'Le cinéma français : une affaire d'État', Dominique Païni sur Henri Langlois, and Antoine de Baecque's Petite archéologie de la critique du cinéma (I, II, III, IV, V). - D.D. 
The Pioneers of French Film Criticism
What are the group of statements and positivies that contributed to a film culture in France that led to the formation of the film magazines Cahiers du Cinema in 1951 and Positif in 1952? Michel Foucault describes a positivity as the historical and formal a priori that are comprised of a group of statements which are in themselves acts of formulation (speech acts) that have an enunciative function in an associative domain. What concepts are being discussed in this particular realm and what are its successions?
Foucault, in discussing what should be asked from an archeological analysis, highlights,

which strata should be isolated from others? What types of series should be established? What criteria of periodization should be adopted for each of them? What system of relations (hierarchy, dominance, stratification, univocal determination, circular causality) may be established between them? What series of series may be established? And in what large-scale chronological table may distinct series of events be determined?[1]

Without going into pre-cinematic apparatuses (e.g chronophotography, the zoetrope etc.), the apparatus known as cinema started in France in 1895 with the Lumière brothers who projected their footage of workers leaving their factory. In the United States around this same time, to cite some examples, there was Eadweard Muybridge who took photographs of Leland Stanford’s running horse in close succession, thus creating the impression of motion, and Thomas Edison, who would eventually build his own studio The Black Maria, made films to be shown in Nickelodeons.
It was the Pathé Brothers who would greatly contribute to the industrializing of French film production and distribution, nationally and internationally, before World War I. The war stopped production during this period, and consequently Hollywood would then expand internationally, reducing the presence of French films. But it is in this period, shortly before and after WWI, that, according to Tom Gunning, in France, there was “the first widespread and coherent cinema movement, both in writing and filmmaking, the first attempt to articulate the nature of cinema and offer a theory of cinema’s unique aesthetic.”[2]
This was encouraged by how the city of Paris was the international capital of modern art and it was branching out towards this new medium. This burgeoning French film culture was nurtured by a new breed of intellectuals who founded film journals, created alternate forms of film exhibition in both cine-clubs and specialized theaters, and fostered close contact with filmmakers, painters and poets. The avant-garde movements, like Surrealism, would greatly impact experimentation with this new medium (e.g. Un Chien Andalou), which too would offer alternative viewing experiences and responses as well as an artistic traditions to contextualize it.
Some important early writers include Louis Delluc and Jean Epstein, along with Alexandre Arnoux, Yhcam and Jean Prevost. Jean George Auriol would create Revue du Cinema, which would later become the model for Cahiers. There were also directors who would write about their films, cinema, and its possibilities. These directors include Georges Méliès, Louis Feuillade, Abel Gance, and Jean Cocteau. The director Roger Leenhardt, who would later become a big influence on the younger Cahiers writers also started out writing criticism. Henri Langlois in 1935 would create the Cinematheque Francaise, one of the first of its kind, but it was then called the Cercle du Cinema. Jean Painlevé and Georges Sadoul presided over the Federation Francaise des Cine-Clubs.
To focus solely on one of these writers, to better illustrate their work and impact, Epstein provides a rich case study. Tom Gunning writes about Epstein,

It is not simply that Epstein’s proclamations of the boundless novelty of cinema seem as inspired today as they did in the twenties; he saw cinema as more than a form of entertainment, a mass medium, or even a new art form. For Epstein, cinema offered a mechanical brain, a machine eye – a portal into a new world transformed by technology: a way for human perception to penetrate into the very life of matter. Epstein’s conviction that cinema would open onto new domains of knowledge of the world by going beyond the limits of human consciousness represents more than just the quaint forgotten utopia prediction of a new medium from its first decade.[3]

As illustrated by the following Epstein quote, from Bonjour Cinéma, which was one of the first French film magazines, as far back as 1921 there was already a trend for more poetic and impressionistic writing. This short verse is beautifully able to articulate cinema’s position within a bourgeoning luxurious social activity (e.g. Epstein emphasis on being “well-shaved”) as well as its enrapturing capabilities (e.g. “I am taking you”). As well Epstein clearly identifies cinema with a specific Parisian theater.

“I have been to the Belle Hélène theatre
I was well-shaved –
Cinema – I am taking you” – Jean Epstein, Bonjour Cinéma (1921)[4]

Richard Abel in French Film Theory and Criticism provides his own archeology of the developments in French film criticism of this period. Abel breaks up the period from 1907 to1929 into the following categories: 1907-1914, Before the Canon, 1915-1919, Photogénie and Company, 1920-1924: Cinégraphie and the Search for Specificity, 1925-1929: The Great Debates.[5] The decisive turning point that the film writing of this period is leading up to is cinema’s technological development of the use of sound recording and its accompanying changes in film production and distribution. This transition to sound would be the center of debates from 1929 to 1934 and then there will be an emphasis on the culture and politics during the Popular Front Era from 1934-39.[6]
Abel’s rigorous Foucaultian methodology provides a general framework for research on this period. Able writes,

From 1907 to 1914, we encounter something akin to what Foucault has called the initial threshold of a discursive practice. Two assumptions are relevant here. First, out of a network or weave of accepted discursive practices and established institutions, as he might put it, a series of conflicts or struggles erupts – to clear a space for a thing distinct but not yet autonomous. Here that network includes, without being exhaustive, several sciences and technologies, the socioeconomic institutions of an emergent monopolistic capitalism, the journalistic practices of disseminating information and advertising, the cultural institutions of popular spectacles, the practice and criticism of the established arts, as well as then-current philosophies of aesthetics and related theories of perception and cognition. Second, just as no one text on the cinema in this period can be said adequately to mark a point of origin for French film theory and criticism, so too are nearly all texts constituted as combinatoire, by more or less synthesized bits and pieces of other discourses.[7]

Following this bourgeoning period, WWI greatly interrupted the practice and discourse on cinema. Afterward the war the discussion of cinema in regards to aesthetic, moral, philosophical and ideological positions will become intensified, especially around the debates over cinema as either being a mass entertainment or a new art form. Abel writes about the various positions people engaged with cinema as,

According to how they take up and answer a number of crucial questions – concerning the raw material of cinema, the possible forms of films and their methods of realization, and the value or function of cinema – these half-dozen positions establish a range of both actual and potential, narrative and non-narrative film practices.[8]

The majority of the earliest specialized film journals, in its invention and pioneering period, were closely associated with the major French film companies of the time. Of the many of them the “most important” of these, according to Abel, was Ciné-Journal by Georges Dureau as it worked as an intermediary, between production, distribution, exhibitors and an audience. Many of the other magazines to emerge in this period include Filma, Le Courrier cinematographique, Cinema-Revue, Le Cinema, L’Echo du Cinema and Le Film. By 1913, the specialized film journals had become numerous enough to form their own professional organization, the Association professionnelle de la press cinematographique, and Cinema-Revue was distributing one of the earliest annuals devoted exclusively to the cinema. There were also books and manuals on film, mostly practical books directed to workmen (e.g. “How to work a projector” etc.). A second, larger arena encompassed the daily newspapers in Paris, whose interest in the cinema, whether as popular spectacle or as a new art form, quickly picked up on what the specialized film journals were doing. This public forum is to be exclusively Parisian. Abel describes this writing, “These essays, as well as others, suggest that a number of discourse modes, each associated with a set of established institutions and practices, were competing for dominance within the early French writings on the cinema and that the cinema-as-art discourse was only marginally significant, at least at this point.”[9]
The movie theater was a new social space that was breaking traditional class boundaries. As Miriam Hansen has argued, in regards to early cinema spectatorship in relation to public life, “one of the reasons why this question may have proved so troubling was that the cinema constituted a new social space that threatened to blur or even undermine the conventional boundaries between public and private, upper classes and lower classes, adults and children, even male and female.”[10] The medium was also multi-faceted in its use and it could be applied to different sectors like the educational, pedagogical, religious, industrial, business, and governmental ones. There were also questions of power and politics that were called into question by this apparatus especially in terms of the ideologies of films and potential propaganda effects. Censorship was also another important topic. The movie theaters were in close partnership with the distributors, the cine-clubs had their own political affiliations, and communist rallies also screened political and agitprop films. There was a need for a space for film to be received on its own terms. This brings us to the start of Cahiers and Positif.

Post-WWII French Film Criticism
As many French film critics have discussed, from Jean Douchet to Antoine de Baecque to Serge Daney, this post-WWII period was a unique social phenomenon in world history. Daney in particular would emphasize the routine experiences of this time as a social phenomenon, which would later end with the rise of the television and its accompanying alienation. Who were these individuals going from cinema to cinema? What is the name for this kind of person? What exactly is this scopohilia, which Freud building upon the Greeks described as “the love of looking”? What causes it and what are its effects?
There was a new culture being born. Douchet talks about how the early young Cahiers writers, like Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette and Claude Chabrol; would escape the oppressing realities of the Occupation by watching films as a form of protest. After the war, these cinephiles would join groups and identify with certain directors, writers, and programmers. There was an increase in screenings around Paris in this period and the same group of people would spend their time going from one screening to the other where they discovered the history of cinema. The social routine of going to see films led to passionate post-screening discussions. There were friendly discussions and more polemical debates that were happening during this period. Within the context of France’s rich intellectual history there were different camps that the audience fell under and this impacted their responses.
The Cahiers discourse was building upon the intellectual debates of the period that included engaging with the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre and André Malraux who were important philosophers of the time. There were many of Sartre’s ideas that were appropriated like that of existential philosophy and a firm insistence on taking a position and remaining loyal to it, and of the ontology of the arts (c.f. Bazin’s The Ontology of the Photographic Image). These would remain formative influences for the writers at Cahiers.[11]
One of the unique traits that characterized the early Cahiers writers was their polemical spirit and combative appreciation of American Hollywood films. This energy was inseparable from a generational gap with older cinephiles that fetishized silent cinema or more socially engaged works that disregarded film form. There were arguments over Hollywood and its ideology and production, especially amongst the communist, but also by the nationalist and French technicians, especially after Léon Blum in 1946 signed a political-economic accord to allow the infiltration of American films into the French market, solely leaving its own production to a thirty percent share of the market.
There is also a social history unrolling. In a later series at Positif entitled “le cinéma et nous” many first generation Positif critics wrote about, among other things, their experiences from their youth during this Post-WWII era. The series was initiated in a convivial spirit to get some of the magazines writer’s to answer two questions: What is the value for you of seeing a good movie? What exactly do you expect to take in from seeking out films? One of its goals was to elaborate on what animated the individual writers and to better articulate the spirit of the magazine.
Robert Benayoun writes, “What do I expect from cinema? Not that this answer is exhaustive, but I want it to enlighten, for it to bring forth something new in myself. It's vital that its imagery be both stimulant and exalting.” Emmanuel Carrère writes, “I don’t know any better words to describe the cinema then those by Cocteau, who was amazed by its power to show, “death at work.” Paul-Louis Thirard writes, “The cinema brought forward my first political conscience. For many years, I saw no contradiction between my taste for engaged, militant films, [...] where eroticism and revolution were on the same plane.” Françoise Audé describes her youth at ciné-clubs, “Seeing a film at a film-club, was for me, the occasion of a nocturnal outing and an encounter with people. It was also now indistinguishable of a prolonged discussion where I started to feel the political tensions between the attendants. The cinema then is thus associated in my emotional memory to the euphoria of the Liberation – everything is possible – and to the idea of liberty and to the idea of engagement.” And Michel Sineux writes, “Like for many people of my generation, I had the chance to discover cinema in its temples – caves unlike anything you’ve ever seen, between a rococo theater and a musical (Le Parisiana!) – and not in these multiplex, that are all over the place today and that are reducing the experience to a collective televisual spectacle.”[12]
The seeds of cinematic modernism were also being sown in this period. András Bálint Kovács in Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950-1980 elaborates on the genealogy of forms that contributed to cinema’s modernist evolution. There was a clear contrast between classic films and modernist ones. De Beacque describes how Rear Window and Monika are modern in terms of employing a surrogate viewer character into the films themselves that interrogates the role of the spectator.[13] The cinema has evolved over the century, experiencing the terrors of the Holocaust, and the films were now ready to bear witness. There was an original naivety that had been lost. There were also new film festivals taking place where films from all over the world were being discovered along with new film movements from these cinematically unexplored territories. This was the moment when film was becoming an art form, more so than before, and criticism would be its mediator.[14]
In this period, there was a shift in criticism from a focus on art criticism, on say a painting, with great texts by Denis Diderot and Charles Baudelaire, or literary criticism, by Stéphane Mallarmé and Roland Barthes, towards the cinematic apparatus, the Seventh art form, which was viewed as synthesizing all of the previous ones. After the six previous art forms, as Hegel describes them in Lectures on Aesthetics, which includes architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, music, and poetry; then came cinema and it required a new form of analysis.[15] As Godard writes about the original Cahiers project, “We have won by getting people to admit the principle that a film by Hitchcock, for example, is as important as a book by Aragon or Chateaubriand. The auteurs of films, because of us, have definitively entered the History of art.”[16]
So then there was a new set of questions that needed to be asked: how to talk and write about the cinema? What kind of writing is it? How should it look like? What problem faced the film writer? There is then also its slow introduction into universities. What departments have more validity and authority over the emergence of cinema studies? Is film criticism just rehashing its plot? A description of its images? These questions needed to be thought about and answered. What was needed was a poetic of a critique that was able to bring a passion to the analysis of visual detail, with a taste for enumeration. [17]
Though it wasn’t until the cinematographic magazine that cinema found its greatest ally and cinema writing found its most suitable outlet. There would be house writers arguing for certain directors and aesthetics. Its monthly output created a sense of urgency. Its legacy would become a trace of cinema’s history. This is compared to ephemeral pieces of journalism that would be read and then discarded, and books that take longer to publish and reflect solely one individual’s perspective.

Cahiers du Cinema and Positif
Jim Hillier on this period at Cahiers writes, “It is still a pretty widespread, though rather vague, idea that film criticism and theory as we know it today – and even film-making too – owe almost everything to French film criticism in the period since 1945, and particularly to the achievements of the journal Cahiers du Cinema, founded in 1951.”[18] As the archeology of this period illustrate, there were many important contributions leading up to the creation of these two magazines. The aesthetic positions at Cahiers and Positif were also already formed before their first issues. The magazines would provide a permanent home for their debates. They would evolve over time. Especially Cahiers as it was riddled with many internal contradictions that led to changing chief editors, writers and publishers. Positif has always been more consistent.
The debates in this period centered more over certain films. Some of the most stimulating writing arose within these debates. To illustrate this with one example there is the famous debates over the reception of Citizen Kane between Bazin and Sartre. De Baecque writes about it as being “the first great critical debate of the postwar period.” De Baecque in his essay Bazin in Combat writes,   

First, Sartre attacks Citizen Kane, for fairly bad reasons and with fairly bad arguments. Since it is an American film, the Communist Party falls in behind him in the nascent cold war atmosphere. It is is Bazin who retaliates, in issue 16 of Temps Modernes, early 1947. Fully cognizant of the stakes at hand, he adamantly establishes the artistic and cinematic nature of Citizen Kane by comparing the film to many major benchmarks of artistic thought, whereas Sartre had denigrated the film as a substitute for a novel, an ersatz of outdated literature. Bazin deploys two strategies. First, he cites prestigious literary references, like Joyce and Dos Passos, to situate Welles’ film prominently within the history of American literary forms, forms that Sartre appreciated so much himself. Thus Bazin skillfully steps into his opponent’s terrain the better to counter him. Second, he demonstrates the film’s style to be more than mere free play; neither formalist nor aesthetic; it corresponds to the auteur’s cinematic, even philosophical project.[19]

The two magazine’s founders can help distinguish the differences between the magazines. The spiritual father of Cahiers Bazin became a martyr figure and his most famous texts were published together in What Is Cinema?, which would become a standard academic text. All the while Positif's founder, Bernard Chardère, has almost been totally ignored, even though he has been immensely prolific. The notoriety of the former suggests the popularity of grand all-encompassing statements compared to the latter whose more modest aim was that of spectatorship and the pleasure of analysis. Another major difference between Bazin and Chardère are their geographic and religious views: Chardère's Lyonais Jansenism proposes an open humanism while Bazin's Parisien Catholicism is more dogmatic. Chardère discussing his approach writes, "We will say positive things about the films. Talk about its good qualities. It's humanity […] We have to save the images, these old films. It's not easy, were a minority."[20]
The layout organization of both magazines is also important. At Cahiers there was a rough and cramp mise en page that was more similar to alternative newspapers. While at Positif since they had fewer essays there was a more open concept and it looked closer to a literary journal with a strong emphasis on creative graphic design. Both magazines were interested in writing about contemporary films, to survey director’s entire body of work, and review the growing field of film literature.
Michel Ciment, the current head of Positif, writes about the origins of the magazine in his essay For Your Pleasure: A Brief Overview of Fifty Years of Positif,

What made Positif distinctive in the 1950s, which were heavily influenced by the Left. Particularly in the cultural area through the domination of the Communist party and its fellow travelers, was its ability to merge a love of cinema in all its forms (particularly Hollywood movies) far from Stalinist puritanism, and at the same time, become actively involved in political battles. Anyone who did not live through the period would find it difficult to imagine how deep and intense were the political differences elicited by the colonial wars, the still-powerful influence of the Church and its moral order, and the role played by censorship. Although one might criticize the magazine for having missed out on important filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini and Alfred Hitchcock, the editors at the time could well reply as Jean-Paul Sartre might in another context, but with better reasons than he had: “We were wrong, but we were right to be wrong.” For defenses of Rossellini and Hitchcock were to be found elsewhere, in the name of “grace” or other religious values, with an emphasis on “miracles” or “confessions.” At the time, it appeared to be more important to defend other values.[21]

Another one of Positif’s unique quality is its closeness with the Surrealist movement. Many of its original writers were part of André Breton’s group of friends and their unique approach to film analysis emphasized the fantastic as they opened up the images of the screen towards their own creativity as spectators. Even though the Positif writers are less known today because they did not become famous filmmakers, there were still some that did go on to make films like Benayoun, Chardère, Kyrou and others would also go on to make documentaries. There were also many of their writers that were also novelist and poets like Carrère, Vitoux, Rambaud, Kral.
Chardère was twenty when he created Positif and its other writers included Roger Tailleur, Guy Jacob, Paul Lauis Thirard, Ado Kyrou, Marcel Oms, Raymond Borde, along with other guest writers. From Positif’s first review of Claude Autant-Lara’s L’Auberge Rouge, a film lumped into Truffaut’s attack on the tradition of quality since it was written by Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, in their first issue, they were already reacting to the intellectual bullying of the Parisian magazine. And since then its more modest and humble history, which is still going strong, could be seen as being a response to Cahiers’ more eccentric interpretations.

In conclusion, the post-WWII period in France reflected a wide net of ideas regarding politics, morality, social space and aesthetics. The cinema and the debates around it played a significant role that led to the birth of a new film culture, which was not at all singular but varied, and the creation of Cahiers and Positif are solely one artifact reflecting these tensions and their longevity is a testament to the project’s original value. There were many small and large histories that intersected at this time, which included engaging with the major films and filmmakers, celebrity thinkers, and major events. Whether one camp is right or wrong, what is impressive about this project is to consider it within the emergence of a conscious cinephilia that was at the time an essential characteristic of France in the Fifties. This phenomenon was an important part of the post-WWII intellectual life.

[1] Foucault, Michel. Archaeology of Knowledge. Translated by A.M. Sheridan Smith. Abingdon: Routledge Classics, 2002.
[2] Gunning, Tom. “Preface.” In Keller, Sarah and Jason N. Paul, ed. Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012.
[3] Gunning. Ibid.
[4] Keller, Sarah and Jason N. Paul.
[5] Abel, Richard, ed. French Film Theory and Criticism: A History/Anthology – 1907-1939 – Volume I: 1907-1929. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
[6] Abel, Richard, ed. French Film Theory and Criticism: A History/Anthology – 1907-1939 – Volume II: 1929-1939. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
[7] Abel.
[8] Abel.
[9] Abel.
[10] Hansen, Miriam. Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.
[11] De Baecque, Antoine. Les Cahiers du Cinéma, Histoire d’une revue – Tome I: À l’assaut du cinema. Paris: Editions Cahiers du cinéma, 1991.
[12] Goudet, Stéphane, ed. L’amour du cinéma: 50 ans de la revue Positif. Saint-Amand: Editions Gallimard, 2002.

[13] De Baecque, Antoine. La Cinéphilie: Invention d’un regard, histoire d’une culture 1944-1968. Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2003.
[14] Kovács, András Bálint. Kovács, András Bálint. Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950-1980. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
[15] Kovács, András Bálint. Ibid.
[16] De Baecque.
[17] Goudet.
[18] Hillier, Jim, ed. Cahiers du Cinéma – The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985
[19] Andrew, Dudley and Hervé Joubert-Laurencin ed. Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory & Its Afterlife. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
[20] Goudet.
[21] Ciment, Michel and Laurence Kardish, ed. Positif 50 Years: Selections from the French Film Journal. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002.

Rivette sur Renoir

Godard and Allen


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Letter in motion

Jean-Luc Godard sur France Inter

+ Jean-Luc Godard (Part I) : "Il ne faut pas restaurer les films"

"En compétition avec le film Adieu au langage et absent de la Croisette le cinéaste a accordé une interview exclusive à Patrick Cohen."

Jean-Luc Godard invité du 7/9

Monday, May 19, 2014

Jean-Luc Godard, Dziga Vertov Group and Woody Allen

What makes Jean-Luc Godard’s films so unique and what about them changed and what would remain the same as he would evolve as a filmmaker? Is there anything in particular that can unite films as diverse as Le mépris (1963), 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle (1966), Le Vent d'est (1969), Soigne ta droite (1987), Histoire(s) du cinéma (1998), and Film Socialisme (2010)? Since his first full-length feature À bout de souffle (1960), a Parisian crime thriller influenced by the Hollywood film noirs from the 40s - and which proved its cinephilic credentials by being dedicated to the B-movie studio Monograph Pictures - to his agitation-propaganda, video work and the most recent digital and 3D films, Godard has engaged with three primary principals: cinephilia, formal experimentation and politics. If some of his films are so different than the others it is because in them Godard solely pursued one of these principals to the disregard of the others. But if there is consistency to Godard’s oeuvre it is that he inevitably returns to an equilibrium.
Having revolutionized the ideas of a modern, self-conscious cinema first through criticism as a film critic at Cahiers du Cinema and then through filmmaking along with the nouvelle vague directors, Godard has then spent the subsequent fifty years of his life making over one-hundred cinematic works on a variety of formats, which are consistent in their constant interrogation of the world and the medium’s potential. This paper will explore Godard’s signature filmmaking traits with a particular focus on his Dziga Vertov Group (DVG) films and his subsequent film and video work. As well as how these new political filmmaking practices were conceptualized at Cahiers as they themselves were radicalizing.
The mass student protests in May 1968 was the catalyst for Godard to spend 1969 to 1973 with the DVG where with Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Henri Roger and Paul Burron, among others, they escaped the authorial point-of-view for that of the collective. They made over ten films that represent the theoretical summit of what is the ‘political film,’ which was for them a form of social intervention that also radicalized the film form. After this period in his life, Godard, with his new wife Anne-Marie Miéville, moved to Grenoble where he started an alternative video production and distribution company, Sonimage. Like the Hitchcockian wrong man, Godard needed to fall from grace, having to denounce the entertaining commercial films of his early career to pursue the logical conclusions of a cinema of protest, before he can re-invent himself in the 80s having matured, where he now could focus on the intimate and explore the political through the personal.
There is a binary for Godard, which is that cinema offers both the potential for an authentic human experience along with a form of deception. For Godard, acknowledging how that the later – cinema’s veil of fiction – is corrupt inevitably complicates the former and makes it more difficult to search for authenticity and honesty in the creative process. If Godard has appeared cynical or ironic, in either his films or public media appearances since the 80s, it is because these positions have become the general starting point for a serious discussion of the human condition within the growing, omnipresent televisual and new media landscape of late capitalism.

Dziga Vertov Group
“The problem is not to make political films, but to make films politically,” writes Godard. This mantra is useful to understand the DVG films. To make a political film or to make a film politically there are some defining questions that must be asked: What is the role of cinema on the cultural front-line? What can a film achieve on a local, national and global context? How to film the Marxist class struggle? What is the ideal organizational form of a society? What alternative does communism and socialism have to offer against a dominant global capitalism? What is the relationship between theory and practice? These questions don’t have any easy answers nor are they static but instead are both personal and social, and evolve with maturation and in response to a changing world.
The DVG films and Cahiers in the 70s due to their militant position offer an interesting case study to answer these questions. Jean-Luc Comolli and Jean Narboni were the chief editors at Cahiers from 1965 to 1974 and they changed the editorial position of the magazine from a classical cinephilia towards a more modernist one, which emphasized emerging new world cinemas, political films and theoretical texts. This is the period of fighting back against the “authoritarian” Fifth Republic of Charles de Gaulle. There is the protest against the censorship of Jacques Rivette’s La Religieuse (1966) and there is the Henri Langlois affair, there is the closing down of the Cannes film festival and the May 1968 student riots. This period of heavy politicization at Cahiers not only reflected larger cultural ideas of political engagement but was also an attempt to catch up with the social engagement of one of its foundational figures Godard whose film La Chinoise (1967) was a catalyst for their change. With this change came a distancing between the magazine and its publisher Daniel Filipacchi who they would eventually split with due to disagreements over having to publish more on a popular cinema (which is what he preferred and also had commercial imperatives) and afterwards they reduced their publishing to only four issues a year, which they would print at the French Communist Party publishing house. There is a retreat to marginality, which is against a mainstream cinema and the official ideology of France. These changes would be in parallel to Godard’s political utopianism, which he was trying to achieve with his own filmmaking practices with the DVG.
One particular incarnation of Comolli and Narboni’s new editorial position would be their essay “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism.”[1] It was a way for them to lay out a proposition for a more scientific form of film-criticism beyond a less ‘subjective’ aesthetic, religious and moral criteria. For Comolli and Narboni, “This implies awareness of its own historical and social situation, a rigorous analysis of the proposed field of study, the conditions which make the work necessary and those which make it possible, and the special function it intends to fulfill.”[2] By this Comolli and Narboni mean that they would interrogate their subjectivity just as they would the films and their relationship to its ideology. One of the important points of the essay is when Comolli and Narboni describe the relationship between cinema and the economy,

One the one hand it is a particular product, manufactured within a given system of economic relations, and involving labor-factored within a given system of economic relations, and involving labor (which appears to the capitalist as money) to produce – a condition to which even ‘independent’ film-makers and the ‘new cinema’ are subject – assembling a certain number of workers for this purpose (even the director, whether he is Moullet or Oury, is in the last analysis only a film worker). It becomes transformed into a commodity, possessing exchange value, which is realized by the sale of tickets and contracts, and governed by the laws of the market. On the other hand, as a result of being a material product of the system, it is also an ideological product of the system, which in France means capitalism.[3]

Comolli and Narboni would adopt a more aggressive Marxist-Maoist position where cinema was utilized as a tool on the cultural front against a capitalist industry of profit. As Sylvia Harvey argues in May ’68 and Film Culture the impact of May ’68 greatly contributed to the development of Marxist film criticism in France.[4] The emphasis at Cahiers and at other intellectual cultural journals like Cinéthique, Tel Quel and Positif would be that of a bourgeoning new kind of film writing based around theories of ideology and a materialist understanding of culture and culture production. Christian Metz and the study of semiotics along with Jacques Lacan and psychoanalysis would become important analytical tools for the Cahiers film-criticism in this period.
In this period the ideas of the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser were becoming influential. In his essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” Althusser defines society dually: It has an infrastructure, which is it’s the economic base (e.g. the ‘unity’ of the productive forces, the relations of production), and a superstructure, which includes the state and the law.[5] There are two potentially different forms of state apparatuses: there are the Repressive State Apparatuses and the Ideological State Apparatuses. The basic difference between the two is that the, “Repressive State Apparatus functions ‘by violence’, whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function ‘by ideology’.”[6] The Ideological State Apparatuses present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialized institutions, which includes religion, education, family, media etc. And even though the idea of ideology is an abstract concept it is rendered physical by concrete subjects incarnating them. As Althusser writes, “there is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects. Meaning, there is no ideology except for concrete subjects, and this destination for ideology is only made possible by the subject: meaning, by the category of the subject and its functioning.”[7]
What is interesting about the cinema and film criticism of this post-68 period is how by pushing the boundaries of cinema and politics it exemplifies an uncompromising commitment to political cinematic forms as well as the limitations on what they can accomplish. Godard was already becoming more politicized before he joined the DVG. The iconoclastic cinephilia of Godard’s early films and the nouvelle vague in general was meant to be a revolutionary rupture within film history. Godard’s key filmmaking stylistics created a shift in acceptability in filmmaking practices and led to a transition towards a new modern cinema. Some of these stylistics include technological effects that arise from practical filmmaking solutions, a nonchalant worldview as incarnated in people’s attitudes and gestures, a youthful and fast-pace style, an original and daring approach to the creation of content and adaptation, and a sense of daring and scandal. Even though there was a joyous and entertaining quality to Godard’s pre-La Chinoise films there was a still a political aspect to them. For example Le Petit Soldat (1963) is about a soldier during the Algerian War, and Les Carabiniers (1963) is about a dystopian society always at war. Even in his famous interview with Fritz Lang Le Dinosaure Et Le Bébé (1967) Godard was already describing the negative effects of French censorship and his combative nature against it.
When the DVG goes to Czechoslovakia to make Pravda (1969) or Italy in Lotte in Italia (1969) they are travelling to engage with international social movements while creating films that attests to this radical spirit. Their Marx infused method aims for the revolutionary seizure of power and their tactics called for an organized movement. Some of their championed causes included the workers movements, civil rights and third world struggles. A goal of the DVG was to highlight protest, which the media was not covering, along with to democratize the filmmaking apparatus by allowing the workers and strikers to make their own films. The group is generally credited to have made nine full films: Un Film comme les autres (1968), British Sounds (1969), Pravda, Le Vent d'est, Lotte in Italia, Jusqu'à la victoire (1970), Vladimir et Rosa (1971), Tout va bien (1972), and Letter to Jane (1972).
The group was in activity up to 1972 and they disbanded after the pair films Tout va bien, about a manifestation at work meat factory and how it was reported in the news, and Letter to Jane, a gauchiste critique of the Tout va bien American star Jane Fonda and her liberal humanitarian activism for the anti-Vietnam War movement. The films of the DVG are famous stylistically for their aesthetic techniques that include a Brechtian form, a Marxist ideology and lack of personal authorship. Quite a few of the films remained unfinished or were denied the right to be projected. If by pushing cinema, which at its roots is an industrial narrative art-form that is most regularly identified with the Hollywood factory, towards politics the DVG and Cahiers were proposing a radical break with its tradition and instead the pursuit in uncharted territories of a new political cinema.
The DVG film about the Palestine Liberation Organization Jusqu'à la victoire could not be completed by the group so Godard and Melville would later make from the material Ici et ailleurs (1974). Godard and Melville would go on to create other works on video, which includes Numéro deux (1975), France/tour/détour/deux/enfants (1977), Comment ça va? (1978), as well as some short-films, documentaries and other miscellaneous videos. After this Godard’s return to more traditional fiction films was first with Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980), which was the first of a series of films marked with autobiographical currents. The other films include Passion (1982), Lettre à Freddy Buache (1982), Prénom Carmen (1984), Détective (1985), and Grandeur et décadence d'un petit commerce de cinéma (1986). These films were also controversial and Godard was never a director to receive unanimous praise – for example, see the negative critiques on his films from the Positif throughout his entire career – and some of his films like Je vous salue, Marie (1985) would condemned by the Catholic Church for alleged heresy. In this period Godard also adapted King Lear (1987), which became an extraordinary and freewheeling mediation on William Shakespeare and language.

Godard, Capitalism and Woody Allen
In Anne-Marie Miéville’s Nous sommes tous encore ici (1997) Aurore Clément plays a stand-in for Miéville while Godard acts for himself as the two of them relive and discus their intimate romantic and personal dramas, in a tradition similar to what Godard did with Anna Karina in the 60s. The film is divided into three parts. It begins with two women (Clément and Bernadette Lafont, two icons of the nouvelle vague) reciting one of Plato’s Dialogues as they perform domestic chores, and then it goes to Godard on an empty stage where he recites Hannah Arendt's essay "The Nature of Totalitarianism," and finally in its longest section Clément and Godard go about a day in the life of a married couple as they discuss their social disappointments and personal fears.
Godard is often typified as being an angry, reclusive, vague, impenetrable, unwelcoming, serious, formalist etc. There are too many negative character traits associated with him even though the films themselves remain most of the time unseen, especially his output since the 70s, and this unfair characterization tends to overlook the diversity of his oeuvre and his warmth, generosity, honesty and humor. It is true that since the DVG films some of Godard’s key themes include a negative critique of capitalism and the human alienation that occurs within it – as illustrated by the reoccurring character of the prostitute in his cinema, selling herself to the uncultured business man – and an impenetrable approach to form – for example, the allusive Navajo subtitles for Film Socialisme – but since his departure from the DVG there has also been an internal questioning of humanity, which has made him less cynical. For example in the extended documentary-television series France/tour/détour/deux/enfants on a mother and her two children, there are the children that speak for themselves, and reflect a kind humanity, which both humbles the criticalness of Godard’s inquiry, and shows how Godard’s critique of a capitalist society has validity, because at times the children reflect on the sadness of the world. In Sauve qui peut (la vie) the mother-children relationship is a site of emotional struggle within a very harsh landscape.
This transition from the political to the personal is a really interesting shift in Godard’s career as it illustrates the limits of the former and interrogates the idea of the self-expression and the creative process of the later. The Godard-Miéville pair and their output is actually very similar to another director and his work and the relationship with his wives: Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, and Allen with Mia Farrow. If one looks at Allen’s career and his films after his shift away from slapstick comedies to more serious intellectual comedy-dramas: the films between Annie Hall (1977) and Celebrity (1998). Even though Allen's films after this start to feel more like a routine activity then they do as political statements, in these early films there are many key social themes and personal anguishes that are being explored, which make for an interesting comparison with the films by Godard from this period.
The most obvious connection between Godard and Allen is the documentary Godard made on him, Meetin’ WA (1986). Opening on a shot of Godard looking out a window onto Central Park with a superimposed drawn portrait of Allen onto, Godard begins by describing his friendly relationship with the famous New York City director. This is the beginning of their eventual meeting. In Meetin’ WA there then a lengthy conversation between the two that is filmed in Godard’s characteristic filming style as it is interjected with sub-titles and has an unusual approach to perspective, sound and editing. The two directors discuss the press, acting, architecture, inter-titles (“The way you use it is a cinematic device, the way I use it is a literary device.”), cinematography, the changing nature of cinema, and the dying repertory culture in New York. There is a shared anxiety between the two directors and it is more than just personal as they bring these doubts to the visuals of their films.
Some scenes that stick out in Allen’s career that seem Godardian include: The scene in Annie Hall (1977) where Allen’s character goes to Los Angeles and critiques the sitcom with its laugh-track, in Stardust Memories (1980) there is the director who is angry towards his appreciative audience, in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) the young woman who meets a character that walks right out of a movie-theater’s screen, the dealing with gender and race issues in Radio Days (1987), and the documentary on the philosopher in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). The list can go on. Another connection between both directors is their interest in doomed couples that inevitably break up (e.g. the couple in Tout va Bien). They both also have an interest in jazz that they include on the soundtrack of their films. Godard has even casted Allen in his film King Lear.
Though there are influences by other comedy directors on Godard, most notably Jerry Lewis and Frank Tashlin but also Jacques Tati, Woody Allen and his anxieties, which are both personal and social, are an important reference point for Godard’s 80s films. It is through this return to a classic interest in cinema and the films of Woody Allen, and away from the directly political, that Godard was able to re-invent himself in the 80s by shifting the subject of his films more towards himself in a stylized comic representation, which would become a starting point for him to discuss personal experiences, though somewhat ironically, and their relation to the social body.

A key aspect of Godard’s cinema is its role as historical memory, which is both political and cinematic. This can be seen in Histoire(s) du cinéma in regards to politics through its interrogation of the ability of cinema to document and make sense of war and the abuse of human right. This can be seen in Alain Fleischer’s documentary Morceaux de conversations avec Jean-Luc Godard (2009) in terms of film history when Godard takes Jean Narboni into his film collection and discusses the key directors of the medium as they browse through his VHS collection. Raymond Bellour highlights this Proustian quality to Godard in the essay “When the Photograph of Cinema is Written”[8] where he discusses Jean-Francois Chevrier’s book Proust et la photographie and its relation to Godard and other art-film directors like Michael Snow, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Chris Marker, Marguerite Duras, Jacques Fieschi, and Thierry Kuntzel. Bellour highlights the modernity of nostalgia amongst all of them and how this trait builds upon the classical film narrative model, “being Proustian means scratching that film, not accepting its mirage.” For Bellour being Proustian also means,

attacking the image’s substance, its irrepressible tendency towards naturalism, and its mechanical consent to tendency towards naturalism, and its mechanical consent to the dispositive (there are many ways of going about this, but the voice – words, phrases – is certainly one of the privileged access points: touching the image from the outside, it alters and reconstructs it, modifying its enunciation).[9]

While for Daniel Morgan in Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema describes Godard more in pictorial terms. [10] There are five key filmmaking stylistics to Godard’s work since 80s, according to Morgan, and they are: an argumentative quality to the montage, manipulated images, a medium specificity, an authorial point-of-view, and a natural beauty.[11] The films have less to do with a photographic realism as elaborated by André Bazin and more to do with painting and a wider tradition of image making. For Morgan,

His understanding of cinema, as I’ve been arguing throughout is fundamentally impure, containing multiple styles, media, and forms of appeal. And so photography is not entirely eliminated from Godard’s account of cinema: it takes a place within the wider ecology of artistic media that cinema contains and is built out of, no longer the privileged medium, but one of many.[12]

There is a sense of rediscovery that comes from acknowledging the impurity of cinema, and through this comes the potential to renew the contemporary relevance of its forms. The cinema has a complicated relationship to represent the social and political realities of they day as it evolves with the new technologies of media production and distribution. Godard brings to this whole situation an emphasis on the medium’s aesthetic potential, its philosophical role, and ability to protest. With Godard’s new films like the recent 3D projects 3 x 3D (2013) and Adieu au Langage (2014) he is paving the way for the future of cinema.

[1] Comolli, Jean-Luc & Jean Narboni. “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism” from Movies and Methods Volume II. Bill Nichols ed(s). California: University of California Press, 1992.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Harvey, Sylvia. May '68 and Film Culture. London: British Film Institute, 1980.
[5] Althusser, Louis. On The Reproduction Of Capitalism: Ideology And Ideological State Apparatuses. New York: Verso, 2014.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Bellour, Raymond. Between-the-Images. New York City: Distributed Art Publishers, 2012.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Morgan, Daniel. Late Godard: and the Possibilities of Cinema. Berkeley: University of California, 2013.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.