Friday, December 17, 2010

Godard's Use of Light

In our last class, Sam said something that I had discovered as I was working on my final paper regarding light; it is not about the amount of light but the right light. This is the crux of my final paper. As I was investigating various art movements devoted to light and refining my paper topic, I concluded that this point, the right light, is most pertinent to a discussion of Godard. As we know, even in his black and white films, he utilized natural light and did not rely on the industrial lighting standard for filmmaking. Because my final paper focuses on two specific examples of Godard’s relationship to light, (Alphaville and Passion) in this post I will focus briefly on some of the ways in which Godard uses light to communicate major themes in the films Contempt, Weekend and L’Eloge de L’Amour, namely sexuality, consumerism and memory.

Light in Contempt exists in many forms but what makes it specific to the film is its use to emphasize the sexuality of Brigitte Bardot. From the tinted red and blue to the reflection off the sea or as her backdrop, whether intentional or not, light’s main function is to draw more attention to and accentuate Bardot’s sex appeal.

(But Godard’s use of the natural light of Capri makes the film’s look unforgettably beautiful whether Bardot is in the scene or not.)

Weekend has a different relationship to light. It looks duller or washed out compared to Contempt.

And while so much of it takes place outside or among nature, the dullness remains. It is this dullness which adds to the feelings of alienation or enhances Godard’s critique of consumerism. (Think Marx's alienation theory)The absence of light corresponds to the absence of joy and the ugliness of the main characters. The world that the characters live in, reminiscent of a warzone, feels somehow other than our world when the muted light is taken into account. In this way, his use of light warns the audience of the consequences of consumerism. One lingering question is the role of the fires in Weekend; how can they be understood in relation to light?

Finally, L’Eloge de L’Amour, which uses light so cleverly and skillfully. In this film, Godard often obscures the faces of the main characters.  He again uses light to emphasize a characterization in the film, in this case memory. He actually obscures and manipulates the film through his treatment of light to communicate his points.

Godard maintains a command of light even when the film is in black and white. Nothing is not sharp unless he chooses. The power of Paris as the "city of lights" is not diminished when captured in black and white. (There may be a statement here about Paris for the wealthy vs. the Paris of the worker from the two images below, as one remains crisp and the other is covered in darkness.) Memory is explored and exposed in Godard's use of light.

Godard uses light is such a deliberate way that enhances the overall themes of his films and illuminates the subtelties of his point of view. I continue to investigate his search for the right light…

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