Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Making cinema politically not political cinema, Godard

Politics involves both past and present. When you read Churchill's memoirs, you understand very clearly what is happening today. You think, so that is what he was thinking when he took part in such and such conference; but you only learn this twenty years later. It is more difficult in cinema: you have no time since you are dealing with the present. (Godard on Godard, p.225)
Godard has a particular approach to the way he does cinema and thinking about film the way he constructs it as a political construction is a version that rethinks the way we can talk about politics and society with different perspective. His recurrent questioning becomes the content and the form of his films. In his interview with Cashier (Godard on Godard, p.215-234) about the film Pierrot le fou he gives a description of how the questioning the things in between events (history) and daily life that lead to one another. Within this construction Godard explains that he the Vietnam references are linked to "the world of violence, and it is violence that controls the way things evolve [...] my reference to Vietnam was pure logic: it was to show Belmondo that they were playing a game, but that nevertheless the matter of their game pre-existed. 

I repeat making a film is an adventure  comparable to that of  an army advancing through a country and living off the inhabitants. So one is led to talk about those inhabitants. That is what actuality is: it is both what one calls actuality in the cinematographic and journalistic sense, and casual encounters, what one reads, conversations, the business of living in other words. (Godard on Godard, p. 224)
This is basically what Godard means when he says he makes films politically and not political cinema. Although some critics might catalog his inclusion of political themes in his films as a superficial approximation of the subject. Godard's films are essays on a subject and take form in a film that draws from the construction of characters, to the use of citation and text, and the inclusion of actuality in his films in relation to the story and the subjects. Everything that lies between the event and daily life. 

By Natalia Guerrero

Silence, the space between Éloge de l'amour - Jean-Luc Godard

When composer John Cage came up with his piece 4'33'', perceive as four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence, he was actually proposing that any sound could become music. This piece is performed in 3 movements, or sections. For the first version the audience, in front of a stage, saw the a performer reach and sit in front of the piano, open the lid and then close it to mark the end of the duration of that segment. He repeated it 2 more times. The audience sat in "silence" listening to the noises surrounding them. It was controversial to the preconceived notion of music. However, Cage when trying to explain his experiment he reflected on the duration as the essential building block of all music, where  duration is the only element shared by both silence and sound. Therefore, why not fill this with either sounds, silence or noise? The third point is that the work of music is defined not only by its content but also by the behavior it elicits from the audience, they can either be satisfied or contribute to the piece. Basically there is not such thing as silence.

In Éloge de l'amour by Jean-Luc Godard there is a recursive use of a black screen, absence of image or a sum of images that yield too much light or exposure (over exposed images). This silence in between images play a similar role as John Cages experiment. This a sequences of moving images that begin with a non visual image and lead to another image, that leads to a non-visual image, in repeat. The relation to the timing in music and the timing in cinema can be related in similar terms as John Cage did when talking about silence and the new forms of authorship when it comes to composing an art piece. 

Humberto Eco, in The Poetics of the Open Work, talks about the open-ended and aleatory nature of modern music, literature and art "pointing to the wider implications of this new mode of aesthetic reception for sociology and pedagogy, and for new forms of communication."(p.20) When talking about open text in writing, like in music, Eco explains that "blank space surrounding a word, typographical adjustments, and spatial composition in the page setting of a poetic text- all contribute a halo of indefiniteness and to make the text pregnant with infinite possibilities." (p.27) This opens to the free response of the one who reads it. 

This is why Éloge de l'amour is one of my favorite Godard movies, when it comes to talk about the construction of memory its infinite relation to images that evoke other images. In this case the use of a non-visual image (black screen) becomes one of the sources for this being an continuous open text on the understanding of memory. The timing of non-image in between images is a silence open for the emotional and imaginative process the spectator indulges in while adapt our personal world into this images, either by association or by superimposition or juxtaposition; "a network of limitless interrelations". (p.24) Many of the images in this film are stripped from the referent, and the text (voice over) becomes part of the image, but at the same time the spectator sees himself confronted with a narration (that is a continuous questioning on memory process and thought) place over an image of nothingness, of images that are just images in movement through a space, the portrait of a fleeting space or landscape. A Time and Space that is not definite neither by the story nor by the narration, so it becomes the image of something we don't know but that we get to know by relating it to something already known. Where the initial referent of the image can become another image, a continuous process of reconstructing memory, a reconstruction that takes place in that silence, in that black screen with the sound atmosphere of the previous image, that leads to a new image. 

The entire movie is perfectly timed withing this spaces blank spaces, the spaces of images of nothing, and spaces of images of the characters of the film within this image. There is a timing or a tempo that is defined also by the division of the film in chapters, a recurrent strategy used by Godard. The spectator, as the film, seem to float in a time and place that is not definite but that is certain that it exists. It is a constant open text and the journey of memory of each spectator is a varied as the possible interpretations or associations of each image. The silence in between is not silence. 

By Natalia Guerrero

Speak On What It Is You Cannot Put Into Words: Erik Luers Final Paper Topic

For my final paper, I decided to focus on Godard's poignant voiceover narration in 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and what it says about language, knowledge, and style. I came to this choice after watching the film again fairly recently, feeling that Godard's internalized monologues to the audience were confessional and sincere. Here was a man wrestling with existential ideas and problems of ontology, admitting that he had so far only been able to grasp a small amount of their entire context.

As a starting-off point, I used David Bordwell's chapter on "Godard and Narration." Originally, I wanted to use Bordwell's theory that Godard's films invite interpretation but defy analysis as my thesis but, after wrestling with it and giving it much thought, I realized that I didn't agree with him. Still, Bordwell makes some good points in the chapter that I felt helped me shape my own argument.

I was also amused by the irony of the narration in 2 or 3 Things, by the fact that, for a film that breaks down language and questions its everlasting constrictive abilities, it so expertly employs words to describe situations that may very well be deemed indescribable. If "language is the house man lives in," 2 or 3 Things features Godard coming to terms with and challenging that impenetrable fact. We are bound by words, but we will nonetheless use them to describe our situation thoroughly. Below is an excerpt from my final paper:

There is an irony at work in Godard's choice to employ his narration over 2 or 3 Things, a film which, quite explicitly, makes a case for the oppressive ability of language. A key theme in many of his films, Godard uses the essence of language and its inability to completely describe thought as a mirroring of the human condition, the boundaries put in place by one binding the expressive abilities of the other. When, early in the film, Juliette's son curiously asks his waking mother to define 'language', Juliette responds quite matter-of-factly, “language is the house man lives in.” The film backs up this claim with scenes of her husband's obsession with the transcribing of political audio soundbytes, and the inclusion of two befuddled men, seemingly existing in another movie entirely, aroused by a constant barrage of knowledge through books. Godard appears to be implying that although language is a necessary and infinite tool, it lacks the ability to describe the indescribable, to give meaning and authenticity to the wordless. His films, often filled with what Bordwell deems “transtextuality”, that is, “citations, allusions, borrowings” (312), emphasize the narrative's need for an unobtainable degree of knowledge. By presenting close-ups of book covers sporting didactic titles, he engulfs the viewer in the onslaught. Man's greatest insecurity is that he may never learn quite enough.

This idea is particularly true given 2 or 3 Things' most famously linguistic scene approximately twenty-five minutes into the film. Sitting in a cafe by herself, relaxing with a glass of Coca-Cola, Juliette glances at another woman reading a hip 60s fashion periodical. Godard shows us this woman's enamored face while providing us with shots of the magazine's colorful pages, each featuring women in chic attire and cosmetic overstatements (i.e. the woman with the United Kingdom-inspired lipstick). As Juliette glances over, Godard's questioning narration kicks in, asking how it is possible to accurately describe the scene unfolding before our very eyes. Does the word 'magazine' efficiently describe what it is? How can descriptive language sum up not only mood, but essence? At the aforementioned garage scene later in the film, Godard again prompts us to remain wary of the restricted fundamentals of this man-made communication system. While we observe Juliette at the garage greeting her husband lovingly, there is something that occurs between them, between them and their placement on the Earth, that is beyond language and conceptualization. Godard's voiceover, comically enough, realizes its uselessness even as it continues forward; the director admits that he cannot do much more than relate it to Faulkner. Since the spelling out of that which is instinctively organic is reckoned useless, no one therefore bothers to attempt the task. Language supplies us with the illusion of thought, of the comfort of placing the enormity of the universe into a few common phrases. By doing so, it teaches us less about the world and rather more about man's never-quite-complete definition of it. 

Erik Luers

Jean-Luc Godard’s cinematic construction of History and Memory

There is a common denominator in Godard’s films, the construction of history and memory. Themes of memory and time, how to record history, using archives of images to tell a story, history as storytelling in an attempt to arrange certain memories, the diffused boundaries between fiction and non-fiction (documentary and fiction, the real and the imagined), cinema as archive of time and memory, the image as archives of images of time; the conception of cinema as both history and memory, a way of remembering the past but also the present. This is a search to understand the cinematic construction of history and memory in Godard’s films Notre Musique and Tout Va Bien

The first one ending with the reflection of being your own historian and how that movie is a record of history for those who don’t keep one; the second movie is a continuous use of images, sound, music, quotations to evoke a reality that is not there anymore and its reconstruction through the use of images and thoughts evoked by a landscape, an image of something that evokes something else.

Specifically for this post I would like to focus on the construction of space, used as a tool for narration, in both films. In Tout Va Bien there is a Brechtian approach to history and the uprising events going in on in France in 1968. 

In Notre Musique, Sarajevo becomes the stage, in this case a landscape. A landscape of memory and history in an attempt of being reconstructed, curiously done by an Israeli journalist, Judith Lerner (as in Tout Va Bien by Yves Montand) in many ways becomes a documentary portrait of this city that is being rebuilt after war through the questioning of other wars like the Israel and Palestine conflict. The camera becomes a silent witness of this portrait in the documentary scenes where we constantly see the daily life of Sarajevo through its streets and the visiting of the landscapes used for remembering the lost lives, (the markets, the streets with cars and pedestrians, the constant focus on the women and children on the street, the public transportation like trains are constantly making a pause on the film, a transition between documentary and fiction, between the true life characters like Godard and the poet playing themselves and the fictional characters like the journalist and the french young woman Olga).
A Bosnian women with her child. This sequence was followed by a sound mix of falling bombs.
The journalist visits a memorial landscape, where the stones represent the dead from August 1990-June 1997. The translator explains that each stone is attached to a card and this card to a face and the information of the position the body was found.

The interesting use of documenting a landscape within the narration of the story in this film leads to the use of landscape as a stage, also like in Tout Va Bien, but this time it is a physical space that exists and its intervened with objects, books (piles of books brought by different people) and characters that interact with them by siting texts in reference to war, land, the dead, wars in the name of colonization, and the need for poets and writers so time can survive. There is also the landscape of the bridge that is constantly referenced through the narration of the story and the quest of the journalist of a past and present and its relationship to land (the war battles for land). This landscape is a space for imagination. At one point of Notre Musique there is a sequence of the journalist sitting in the middle of the shot by the bridge, when she looks to the right she see 3 Indigenous People in getting out and in a car, when she looks to the left she see them again but this time on horses and wearing the classical Indigenous American outfit, a shot and reverse shot. This sequence followed the visiting of the stones in the pictures above and the reading of a text that reflected on the me and the other, history and memory. The associations personal memory can come into play with contexts that resemble it, two truths that happened in the same time in history. The quest of the journalist as she reads Levinas Entre Nos, Restore the past and make the future possible.
Poet reads in spanish: Hay que hacer que la revolución cree una interminable fuerza de creación que fortalezca los recuerdos, que precise los sueños, que corporice las imagenes. That reserves for the dead a better fate. 

Deleuze wrote on Godard that his film is open and inclusive. He always used the word AND. In this case his films would be and attempt of History and Memory. A place for questioning, for dream and reality, for interior and exterior. History is the search within the memory of others and our own. Notre Musique is a shot and reverse shot of History and Memory, of me and the other, of the individual and society, living and death. Both Tout Va Bien and Notre Musique become Godards attempt of a historian. Sarajevo is a starting point to reconcile with the past by starting a conversation about the land a common land, a common landscape where you can then find forgiveness.
By Natalia Guerrero 

Reclaiming Agency: The Emancipated Spectator in 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle

My project examines Ranciere’s notion of the "emancipated spectator" in Jean-Luc Godard’s 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle. As a filmmaker, I believe Godard assumes the role of ignorant schoolmaster, one who does not assume authority of the films “meaning” but one who is willing to engage in the process of learning with the spectator. 

This is clear in Godard’s use of the interview in 2 ou 3. By filming interviews with women in hair salons and clothing stores, Godard presents what Ranciere refers to as “a third thing,” that which neither schoolmaster nor ignoramus can posses authoritative meaning of. Instead both are left to engage in the process of translation: interpreting the signs in the interviewees words and body language to ascribe a meaning to the work.

I also examine Ranciere argument against Plato’s, and later Debord’s, critique of mimesis. Since theatre is traditionally merely a representation of reality, Plato claims this leaves the spectator in a state of ignorance. Debord likewise argues the appearances in the spectacle fail to communicate the reality of the spectacle: that there is a disconnect between appearance and reality. The spectator, lost in a world of false representation, becomes dispossessed of her selfhood. Godard deals with the problem of representation in 2 ou 3, however unlike Plato and Debord concludes the society of the spectacle does not have the power to rob people of their agency. Instead, like Ranciere, he believes the spectator, in the act of interpreting and translating the world of signs before her, assigns meaning to these appearances. This suggests the possibility of a society where the subversion of meaning by consumer culture may be reversed. 

 Mike O'Malley
This is a short excerpt from my paper.

    In the Emancipated Spectator, Jacques Ranciere adapts the premise of Joseph Jacotots Ignorant Schoolmaster and applies it to the practice of art. Ranciere makes the connection between the schoolmaster and the filmmaker stating that both are trying to transmit knowledge to their pupils/audience. But this very relationship rests on premise that the filmmaker/schoolmaster is exulted by his knowledge and only he can reveal the truth to the ignorant spectator. “The ignoramus is not simply one who does not yet know what the schoolmaster knows. She is the one who does not know what she does not know or how to know it, for his part the schoolmaster is not only the one who possesses the knowledge unknown by the ignoramus. He is also is the one who knows how to make it an object of knowledge, at what point and in accordance with what protocol.” (Ranciere 8)
     Stultification results from the attempt to objectify knowledge which denies the spectators equality of experience. Ranciere argues that it is not the schoolmaster’s experience and wealth of knowledge that educates the ignorant spectator, rather it is her ability to show that she can learn on her own by, looking and listening, figuring out the meaning of what she has seen and heard, and comparing what she discovers with what she already knew. Is this not also the goal of the filmmaker? The filmmaker shows us scenes in order to provoke us into thinking and engaging with our own understanding of the world. Ranciere refers to this as the “distribution of the sensible”. Rather than position himself as a fountain of experience and knowledge that the spectator should revere, the filmmaker must instead awaken the spectator to engage with her distribution of the sensible. Yet, the modern cinematic apparatus rests on the process of stultification that cuts off the spectator from her emancipation.
     Brecht’s development of the epic theater in the 1930’s was an attempt to challenge this conventional apparatus. Brecht wanted to challenge the illusory nature of the theatre, one that allows the spectator to comfortably sit in her seat and enjoy a play about poverty as a form of entertainment rather than a form of social engagement.
     For Brecht the entertainment value of the theatre cast a veil over the political and social importance of works of art, allowing audiences to disengage from the politics behind them. A work, no matter how revolutionary its potential, can still be assimilated by the system of production that simultaneously delivers the it to the public without allowing space to challenge the injustice of that very system.  This realization is reached by Walter Benjamin who was also a close friend of Brecht who said “The bourgeois apparatus of production and publication can assimilate astonishing number of revolutionary themes, and can propagate them without seriously placing its own existence or the existence of the class that possess them into question“ (Benjamin 90). In order to challenge the spectators distribution of the sensible the artist must attack the forms in which art is delivered or risk it merely becoming another cultural object delivered by the commodity system that is hallowed of meaning.
     These complaints are echoed a quarter century later in the work of Guy Debord and Godard. Though Godard will go on to fully realize the potential of these questions, Debord will struggle with his position as artist. It is important to note how Debord’s development of Brecht leads him to the creation of his film and book The Society of the Spectacle. In it he expands Brecht’s notion of the illusory theatre to include society as a whole. For Debord art had become a commodity, something to be exchanged as mere artifacts from a culture increasingly separated from the true meaning of life. Instead of seeing art or life, the spectator is caught up in a world of appearances and is unable to see beneath to the true nature of things. Debord argues for the end of production of art objects and the reintegration of art into everyday life.

     While Brecht and Debord offer an alternative view of producing work so that the form itself is also political, through various techniques both seem to miss a critical point. Both are overly concerned with educating their audiences to the injustices of the world as they, the artists, see them. There is an implication that their positions as artists have granted them special knowledge to the state of affairs that are unknowable to the masses. The irony is that in an attempt to liberate the spectator from the stranglehold of the spectacle, these artists have exulted themselves into a special position of knowing.
     Perhaps this has less to do with these men and more to do with the very structure of the cinema. The spectator comes to sit and watch. She is told there is a message encoded into the work and if her intellectual credentials are high enough she will understand the intention of the filmmaker. But why should she be so fascinated by the intentions of the filmmaker. Her assumed interest in this illusory authoritative figure is based on the presumption that the meaning of the work is his, and she must discover it with his help. But first she must admit her own ignorance of the world.
     This claim of definitive ownership denies the spectator her function as a collaborator of meaning. Her decoding of a work is superfluous compared to the “true” meaning intended by the artist. The intention of the artist becomes an end in itself, one that excludes the participation of the viewer. The concept of this truth exults the experience of the filmmaker as primary and all other experiences as insignificant. How are spectators expected to engage with a work that denies their very knowledge as beings? This is the crisis of modern art. It is a crisis that asks spectators not to be collaborators but consumers.

Oz Skinner

Prostitution and Modernity

Anyone who has seen a few Godard films can notice the recurrence of the prostitute.
Especially when it comes to Vivre Sa Vie amd the image of Anna Karina. Aside from the plot context in which woman appear as prositutes in Godard's work, the prostitute can be used as commentary on  economics.

Godard uses the female form and sale of sex as a metaphor for capitalistic ideas, which is certainly present in the film.  Morrey points out the implementation of distancification techniques used by Godard, in part by the insertion of tableau, as a way for the spectator to not become too lost in Nana's experience and narrative that they cannot draw connections between there own lives as the consumer.  

2 or 3 Things I know about her seem to take this connection between consumer driven society a step further. He again, uses prostitution as metaphor and commentary, this time to address the upper middle suburbia in Paris. A way to again, show the lengths at which society will strive for the consumption of things in which it does not need.

The prostitute can also serve as a metaphor for film, at least classical or hollywoodian film, because of the focus on beautiful imagery or beauty itself, which to Godard is the focus on something so fleeting.

Godard, while critical of both beauty and modernity, does not seem to hide his fascination with the material. Reconciling the allure to a consumer driven society and playing with ways in which it is a destructive force seems to be a large drive in his work.