Wednesday, December 21, 2011

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


  1. Haven't watched Éloge de l'amour, may I consider myself a Godard's fan? After reading this I dyinf to watch it!

    Do you happen to have watched 7 Days in Havana - namely "Ritual" short, directed by Gaspar Noé?

    Its editing is also very interesting because of those "Black shots." I tried to analyse a short clip from that movie. Even though you don't speak Spanish, take a look to the excerpt:

    Indeed, I tried to ask the film editor himself about this topic. But I nevet got answer.


  2. hi, i'll start by asking : is english your natural language ? - reading your text, i couldn't help but finding some expressions somewhat "awkward", so i wondered - well, i'm french, and my english will prove much "awkwarder", so please forgive this question (especially after reading the "about me" text, on the right side of the screen : you seem to be american - probably some kind of teacher indeed - maybe some typos ?...)

    concerning "éloge de l'amour", i saw it long ago, and it is not "one of my favorite godard" (yet, i remember liking it better, on a second viewing - which is usually the case with jlg) -

    to begin with, i was quite surprised with your approach, which may give the impression, to one that has never seen it, that this is an abstract film - of course, all of godard's movies are, at some point, abstract, but would you agree that this one proposed to the audience, after many years of ever more complicated and "abstract" movies, a simpler object, containing caracters and some kind of "plot" ?

    but the main point is about the "black shots" - i have to admit that i completely forgot about them, in that film - but i've just seen (for the first time) "lotte in italia" (his 1970 film), and indeed, in this film, not only "black shots" appear, but they are commented (by a voice that, in this most didactic film, tells without any doubt the convictions of the author - or, at least, the convictions that the author wants to convey) - so, what does the voice say about "black shots" ?

    the film has four parts, and the black shots appear in the first part, which shows the "naive" conduct of a young political militant, who spoils her good intentions by acting in keeping with the capitalistic order of society - then, in the second part, by entering in a dialectical engagement, that links theory with practice, she gets to some better understanding of her position, of her goals, and the ways to get to her goals - this evolution from the first to the second part is then discussed in the third part (the fourth part concerns the film that is being made for the television, and the way in which these conditions of production affect it)

    so, what about the black shots ? - well, they are presented by the commentary as signs of the misunderstanding of the "naive" student, who fails to LINK the elements of her living with the meaningful structure that gives shape to it (that is : the whole production system of society) - and the explanatory part tells us that, when the militant gets to a better understanding, she should be able to replace the black shots with pictures of factories, of working places, of institutions that shape her life -

    so we see that the black shots have, in this film, a function very different from that which you perceive in "éloge de l'amour" - of course, godard has changed much, since "lotte in italia", and his use of black shots is certainly different in "éloge" - i just thought it could be interesting, to remember these italian "black shots"...

    the film ends with these words : "lavoro - lotta - lavoro - lotta"
    ("work - fight - work - fight")

    thanks anyway, for the work

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