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Godard and the Permanently New

by TFH Team Jun 03, 2014

Thoughts occasioned by the release of Adieu au langage

Godard and the Permanently New

One “It has to face the men of the time and to meet/The women of the time. It has to think about war  And it has to find what will suffice. It has/To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage, and, like an insatiable actor, slowly and/With meditation, speak words that in the ear, 

In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat…”

Two  “…no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. …what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it….novelty is better than repetition.”

-and modernity, novelty, superventing contemporareity  in his cinema begins with a re-evaluation of screen time, direction, and space and his satisfactions at segmenting space as determined by human geography in domestic architecture rather than narrative considerations, the triangle of bent knee, the square spine-divided back, the slant of razor on chin, the oblique sculpture of the world’s anatomy, the stripes, a rectangle page, a book about painters, the Picasso angles. People read books in his movies and we watch them.

Three Sound. “In poetic language, in which the sign as such takes on an autonomous value, this sound symbolism becomes an actual factor and creates a sort of accompaniment to the signified.”

Godard applies sound as neither words nor music nor thunder grumble or hinges’ shriek nor engines nor dialogue nor gunshots nor piano chords but all these and all these applied in an acoustic stream or collage to make a better sense than intercourse or soundtrack subjugated to narrative. Sound may occur after an event, synchronistically, editorially.” Sometimes you see sound and hear an image,” he says.

Color. The white. Everywhere before is wallpaper or milk green walls and Godard talks about the difficulty he and Coutard have getting the film walls white-true white-with no blue cast-it is hard to be new, to cover over the Wars’ faded rose-and-vine and industrial  sick blues with the crisp blank of the present.

The white walls are the unconditional surfaces for the texts, things to be said or shown, those being maybe a postcard tacked up, a Picasso postcard in blazing reds, ice blues, yellows, the stage set for a musical,  Four “Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.”

A Woman is a Woman in widescreen, Singin’ In The Rain as acted in everyday life now and here in Paris today, with your friends dancing out problems.

Form is function, the code of high modernism-and Godard says, “Montage is Morality,” and if you cut from a butchered corpse to a grinning man you condemn that man as murderer or sadist.

Later the white walls of Le Mepris, Pierrot le fou, of La Chinoise, Made in U.S.A. The appreciation of atmosphere, the space between humans, as  Belmondo explains in Pierrot… that which Velasquez said he painted, sfumato,  and too the space between god and human and human and human. Weekend. 

With Deconstruction, form is at war with function, their affinity has been achieved and is ripe for dissolution, an explosion  is necessary in fact. He shoots part of a great work of Deconstruction,  Numéro deux  with a 35mm camera filming murky scenes of his actors on a TV screen.

Asked in a Q&A at the Museum of Modern Art if he misses or laments  three strip Technicolor, he scoffs and says if the studios wanted to shoot that way, they would. He is a realistic elegist. We will never get used to that paradox: one who despises the past that he misses, embraces a present he loathes and celebrates both.

Five “…the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence… a feeling that the whole of the art of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the art of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.”

Anna Karina says that in her husband’s films, the characters wear clothes from a Paris department store, not haut couture or costumes from a designer and a critic sniggers that this is petty, “feminine” observation. No, she struck on an essence. On the hope of every artist for whom opportunity and possibility are qualities factoring into her or his aesthetic judgment, no, excitement about a piece. None of my college friends had stills from David Lean films on their walls or reproductions of Michelangelo’s works. They had Jean Seberg. They had Pollock. Who couldn’t throw paint? Who couldn’t  shoot Breathless?


Breathless seems to open windows and kick down doors but it’s the most difficult movie, too difficult to talk about now. I analyze it and fail to score a point, convince myself only of my love for it, like evaluating a face, its irrational allure and mystery.

I give a VCR copy of Prénom Carmen to my brightest writing student, one who has never seen Godard, he comes back and says, “Is there something wrong with this tape? Not the tape, I mean, the movie. Is there something wrong with the movie?”

There are no ideas. In his interview for Adieu au langage, his latest, he says he wanted to make a film with no ideas. In Godard -speak, that means a film that is an idea, all idea, one that resists any paraphrase or interpretation. Later one interviewer asks him the film’s message. He is used to this shit and nicely answers a different question, an unasked one.

I see Je vous salue Marie at the Orson Welles cinema in Cambridge, MA, (we often say where we have seen a film because that is important) and I push through nuns picketing the theater and outraged Catholic people with placards, a serio-comic protest,  so like a protest as filmed by Godard, ( who is drawn to protests) over a matter of not sacred ideas but how sacred are ideas. Catholics picket a deeply religious film about god and Mary and Eden.

I want to say, Bresson is gone! You have only Godard, (who knows or cares what he believes?)  He champions Peguy and Simone Weil (a section of In Praise of Love is filmed outside the Renault factory where Weil- no library cafe academic theorist, but one who lived history as Jewish/Communist/Christian mystic–worked for a year in the 1930’s and found that workers do not like each other nor causes and she later saw Christ, she swore. A visitation!).

No one pickets Passion. I see Passion at the same theater on an icy afternoon and see his blue sky, see a jetliner’s contrail draw a straight line across the blue sky and I have to swallow tears.

As with the best fiction I read it takes me two or three or four or five or six or seven  or eight or nine years to understand a new Godard film or begin to do so and the films may be revisited of course and each time yield up new meanings, make new connections , but unlike other films, or books, this is not because I have changed and grown but because history has caught up to the movie. He shoots part of Film Socialisme aboard the Costa Concordia before it was a shipwreck, a grave, and the film seems prescient, haunted, shot as if he knew.

Six In struggling against anguish one never produces serenity; the struggle against anguish only produces new forms of anguish.


In Histoire(s) du Cinema, Jerry Lewis and his nails-on-a-slateboard film, The Day the Clown Cried, are given a comically solemn few moments  but then Godard isn’t Stanley Kramer.


Well. He doesn’t say, “Here is this wrong and here is how to right same,” no, never. He says, “Here is this and that. No comment.”

Peripatetic mind which pinballs between high culture: Balzac, Foucault, Beethoven, Walter Benjamin, Malraux, Cioran;  popular culture: Sirk, or  Ford or Fuller; lowpop: comics, ads, pornography; and his imitators simply cannot do this because they have nothing to say that connects Auschwitz to The Bicycle Thieves to Moliere to High Sierra to golf to the stock exchange to Poe to computers to Alain Delon and Nouvelle Vague.

Seven The most important part of teaching is to teach what it is to know. 

I use textbooks which are about how to write. I assign one. So that students know to do the opposite of what the book says. Do the opposite of what some soi-disant expert expects, assigns, advises. Do the opposite.

Asked for his advice to film students, Godard says make a film about your day, and I say to my students and have for 30 years write about your day—not cops vampires gothic wizards but your day of ideas and sex and gods and football and text messages and on the net I see stills from  their interesting unscripted  lives, in blazing reds, ice blues, yellows…

A story of our day…

As Joyce did in Ulysses, Godard says, just one little day. Always now.


ONE   Wallace Stevens

TWO and FIVE  T.S. Eliot

THREE Roman Jakobson

FOUR  and  SIX and  SEVEN Simone Weil

James Robison is a short story writer and novelist who watches films and has worked on screenplays.