The problem is: to get back to zero.
From Le Gai Savoir
In 1968, alter a decade of the influential and prolific film - making, Jean-Luc Godard disappeared from view.
A narrative of his disappearance and the variety in of the film - making practices in which he has since engaged immediately introduces a set of terms that will enable us to understand his films both before and after ’68. The manner of his disappearance is instructive because it demonstrates some of the problems that Goddard felt were posed by traditional cinema. Godard didn't disappear by fleeing Paris (where he had lived and worked for twenty years) nor by going into hiding. He disappeared by refusing to make films as he had done before. This refusal did not mean that he abandoned film - making; indeed since 1968 Godard has completed twelve film and eighteen hours of television programs and is currently at work on three other projects. But if his films existed as material entities, most (though not all) simply didn't exist for the cinema. Without normal production or distribution, Godard disappeared, ill is disappearance demonstrating how films and film-makers have reality only within a very specific set of production relations.
Godard's concern to abandon and question this reality implied an engagement with two aspects of cinema, aspects which seem evidently separate but which Godard analyses as indissolubly linked. On the one hand the financing of films, the methods of production and distribution and, on the other, in the organization of sounds and images which compose the films themselves.
Both these aspects present themselves as so evident, as so natural, that it requires a real effort to understand how Godard was trying to transform them or why he felt that it was so essential to break with them. However, the fact that the production of films is financed through specific forms of national and international distribution, the fact that the audience has no existence for the makers of him except as an audience which goes to the cinema and pays money and thus has no identity except a commercial one, these features of what might be called the institution of cinema are a major determinant of the organization of sounds and images in particular films. Crucially this requires a fixed relation of dependence between soundtrack and image whether priority is given to the images, as in fiction film (we see the truth and the soundtrack must come into line with it) or to the soundtrack, us in documentary (we are told the truth and the image merely confirms it). In both cases what is presupposed is the possibility of direct address to the audience bin as the audience is not addressed either as individuals or as members of particular collectivities (family, work, school) they find their place to see and hear only as members of a cinema audience. The only available évidence is that of immediate sight and sound and the film’s activity is to make the two coincident.
The effect of this coincidence of sound and image is to offer us images of ourselves as men and women, workers and bosses, motherland fathers but images that address us in the cinema a rather than in any other of our activities. This is not to deny that these images have a reality and a force in our existence but to indicate that their production is completely divorced from the everyday business of our lives.
Godard’s refusal to continue to make films as lie had done before was a much more radical refusal of the cinema than that made by those directors who for political or artistic reasons abominate the distribution system and its control over production. Normally such directors merely demand to control of the production process rather than asking what relations are at work in the production process itself as it is evidently understood. In 1968 many French film makers radicalized by the experience of the strikes and demonstrations wished to find new methods of distribution for the political films that they now wanted to make. Godard refused to see distribution as the major problem because that presupposed that it was evident how one should make political films, it was this more basic question that Godard was to ask and it is summed up in one of the slogans adopted by the Dziga-Vertov group: ‘The problem is not to make political films but to make films politically'.
One of the major differences between Godard and other political film-makers, and one on which he is keen to insist, is that Godard's political concerns grew out of his work on film and were not imported into his film -making. When in 1959, Godard achieved immediate fame with his first feature film À bout de souffle (Breathless), he was classed as part of nouvelle vague, the generation of young film-makers which included Rivette, Rohmer, Truffaut and Chabrol. His films seemed to share their fascination with Hollywood cinema and what singled him out for the critics was a pessimistic romanticism and a particularly elliptical cutting style rather than specifically political concerns. If in retrospect, the politics of the image very quickly come to the forefront of Godard's work in the form of an obsession with advertising and the relation between sound and image, critics continued to read Godard in the light of his earliest concerns until in 1966 with Masculin/Feminin Godard began a series of explicitly political films which ended with his withdrawal from the traditional cinema.
The necessary link between politics and the image which illum inates the whole of Godard's work but which critics found so difficult to see finds one of its clearest stateivents in the film that Godard shot for French television before May 1968 but only edited in 1969. Entitled La Gai Savoir (Joyful Knowledge), the film was proposed as an adaption for television of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's eighteenth - century treatise on education, Emile. Rousseau chose to set out his ideas on education by writing a novel about the perfect education of the eponymous child, Emile. The film consists of a series of conversations in a darkened television stu d io between two characters (played by Jean -Pierre Leand and Juliet Berto). Although it may seem to have little to do with Rousseau's eighteenth - century novel, in fact it is very close to the spirit of Rousseau's text is that it takes a contemporary form (in Rousseau's case the novel, in Godard’s the television programme) to set out the problems of education.
For Godard , and for the characters in the flim, the central problem of education is to provide some uuderstancing of the sounds and images that bombard us in our daily lives. Such an understanding must be based on grasping the relation between sound and image bccausce until we grasp that we will not, in the words of La Gai Savoir, be able to make real television or cinema. Instead, all that we can engage in is a repetition of sounds and images in which we are con trolled by a language that we do not understand - and ignorance that applies just us much to the makers of television or film as it does to viewers. Just as Rousseau's novel offers an imaginary ideal curriculum, so Godard suggests a three-year course which would enable us to answer the question of who is speaking in any image or articulation of images. The mythical th ree-year course proposed in La Gai Savoir not an unreasonable description of Godard’s own activity in the three years after 1968. Taking his film at its word: that it was neccssary to start from zero; more exactly, as Juliet Berto points out, to get back to zero, Godard began un investigation in to the language of film which is perhaps the most conscious and most rigorous in the history of the cinema.
The immediate aftermath of May ’68 was, however, composed of a series of false starts. After shooting La Gai Savoir and before editing it, Godard had to finish shooting a film with the Rolling Stones which was to appear as Sympathy for the Devil (Godard's own version of the flim was entitled One Plus One and included no final complete version of the song). In the immediacy of the May events he had collaborated in the production of Cinetraets, short silent anonymous montages of stills made very quickly for insiant distribution, and in August of that year he made Un Film comme les autres (A Film Iike Any Other) which combined images of May with a soundtrack predominantly composed of conversations between workers and students. Godard then went to America to make a film produced by the American cinéma - vérité film-makers, Leacock and Pennebacker. Provisionally entitled One A .M . (One American Movie ) Godard abandoned this project after disagreements with the producers, whose own attachment to the simple truth of the documentary image was in direct contradiction with Godard’s own investigations. Pennebacker subsequently edited the material that Godard had shot and some footage o f his own in to One A .M . (One American Movie). It was only after a further abandoned project in Canada, provisionally entitled Communications, that Godard was able to continue the investigations that he had mapped out in La Gai Savoir in a film shot in England and entitled British Sounds.
Commissioned by London Weekend and produced by Kestrel Films British Sounds was never shown in its entirety on television. As the title suggests the film is concerned with sounds and how sounds can be used against the image of Britain provided by the Union Jack. The film refuses the defining relations of documentary in which (he im age functions as confirmation of the sound; instead there is a struggle between the two which composts the film. The correct sound, provided by a Maoist analysis of British capitalist society, is kept in tension with a variety of other sounds and a series of images, none of which provides the correct image of society am which, in their juxtaposition, provide the material on which the spectator must work. In its emphasison the soundtrack, in its refusal of the notion of a correct image, in its explicit Maoist politics and in its financing by a television company which then refused to show it, British Sounds bears a close resemblance to the next four films that Godard was to make: Pravda (1969), on Czechoslovakia; Vent d’est (Wind from the East) ( 1969), a revolutionary ‘western’, Lotte in Italia (Struggles in Italy) (1969), on a young woman militant in Italy; and Vladimir et Rosa (1970), on the Chicago conspiracy trials. These films were not signed by Godard but by the Dziga-Vertov group.
Ever since making La Chinoise in 1967, Godard has been in contact with Maoist militants from the French Union of Young Communist' (Marxist-Leninist). On both British Sounds and Pravda he collaborated with such militants and from Vent d’est onwards this collaboration became formalised in the creation of a group which was named after the Soviet film-maker Dziga Vertov and in which Jean-Pierre Gorin was to play the leading role. Dziga Vertov was chosen as a name to indicate a break not only with Hollywood but also with the tradition of Soviet film - making identified with Eisenstein. Eisenstein’s décision in 1924 to make a historical film about the battleship Potemkin instead of analysing the current class struggle was defined as a decisive moment of defeat in Soviet cincma. Vertov’s importance for the group was two fold: on the other hand he continued, much longer than Eisenstein, to insist that the film -maker's prime concern must be the current state of the class struggle; and, on the other, his emphasis on the importance of montage before, he shooting coincided better with the group's practice than did notions of montage in Eisenstein’s writing.
The culmination of the Dziga -Vertov group's experiments was to be a film entitled Jusqu'à la victoire (Until Victory), on the Palestinian revolution. Material for the film was shot in Jordan in (he first half of 1970. The analysis proposed in the film (the success of the Palestinian revolution) was, however, cast in doubt by the events of September 1970. when the Palestinians were crushed by the Jordanian army. This, coupled with an in creasing disintegration of the Maoist movement in France, led to the abandonment of both the Dziga -Vertov group and Jusqu'à la victoire in favour of a commercial film Tout va bien (Everything’s O K ) directed jointly by Jean-Pierre Gorin and Godard. This project, delayed by a very serious motor bike accident in which Godard was involved used major stars (Yves Montand and Jane Fonda) to investigate the effects of May 1969 on conceptions of subjectivity and politics in France and thus to pose, from a nonsectarian position (there is no explicit Maoism in the film ) the problem of the relation between intellectuals and theihc revolution. Later in the same year, 1972. Godard and Gorin made a film called Letter to Jane, which through the analysis of a photograph of Jane Fonda in Vietnam raised again the difficulties of the intellectual’s role in the revolution and partially criticized Tout va bien for remaining caught within the dominant forms of cinema.
excerpt from the book Godard:Images,Sounds,Politics. by Golin MacCabe/ Part1 : Godard since '68