Godard ON Godard
One afternoon towards the end of a Gaumont newsreel, my eyes widened in pleasure: the young German Communists were parading on the occasion of the May Day Rally. Space was suddenly lines of lips and bodies, time the rising of fists in the air. On the faces of these young Saint Sebastians one saw the smile which has haunted the faces of happiness from the archaic Kores down to the Soviet cinema. One felt for Siegfried the same love as that which bound him to Limoges. Purely through the force of propaganda which animated them, these young people were beautiful. 'The beautiful bodies of twenty-year-olds which should go naked.'
Yes, the great Soviet actors speak in the name of the Party, but like Hermione of her longings and Lear of his madness. Their gestures are meaningful only in so far as they repeat some primordial action. Like Kierkegaard's ethician, a political cinema is always rooted in repetition: artistic creation simply repeats cosmogonic creation, being simply the double of history. The actor infallibly becomes what he once was, the priest. The Fall of Berlin and The Battle of Stalingrad are Masses for a consummation.
In relation to history, the Soviet actor interprets his role (his social character) in two ways: as saint, or as hero. Corresponding to these two basic agencies are two major currents in the Soviet cinema: the cinema of exhortation and the cinema of revolution, the static and the dynamic. 'In the former the expression outweighs the content, and in the latter the content outweighs the expression' (Marx). Whereas in Michurin or The Rainbow the plot takes first place and so articulates the movements of the characters, in Zoya and Ivan the Terrible 'the consciousness of self which transforms a class into a historical actor forms part of the revolutionary act. It engages itself in the drama of History through the spontaneous and passionate poetry of the event' (H. Rosenberg). And the reason I admire The Young Guard so deeply is that it oscillates between these two poles, a heart beating ceaselessly between the cult of the Absolute and the cult of Action. One remarkable shot sums up not only the aesthetic of Sergei Gerasimov (who tells his actors he will not be content unless he finds both Rastignac and Julien Sorel in them) but perhaps of the whole Soviet cinema: a young girl in front of her door, in interminable silence, tries to suppress the tears which finally burst violently forth, a sudden apparition of life. Here the idea of a shot (doubtless not unconnected with the Soviet economy plans) takes on its real function of sign, indicating something in whose place it appears. And it is curious that this sign acquires formal beauty only at the moment of its defeat: the village fleeing before the invader, the arrival of the Germans, shown in a single shot with fantastic virtuosity, the death of the young people, intensified in effect by repeating the same camera movement five times. These moments are brief, but their very swiftness seems everlasting, 'as the child creates a world out of a single image'. (By what strange chance are these heroes in their darkest hours arrayed in the vestments of our childhood? Zoya barefoot in the snow, Ivan rolling at the feet of the Boyars, Maria Felix with revolver in hand to prevent the great sacrilege, the violation of this woman who is as much part of us as the earth.)
Aside from the Soviet cinema, there are few films revealing such deep political experience. No doubt only Russia feels at this moment that the images moving across its screens are those of its own destiny. (Another significant shot in The Young Guard shows a young girl unable to cry because she is a poor actress, but one look at her actress-comrades weeping for the sacred cause is enough to bring tears flooding to her cheeks.)
If one excepts the Giralducian Kuhle Wampe by Brecht and Dudow,
(O dark young girl
Why do you weep so
A young officer in Hitler's guard
Has ensnared my heart)
the Nazi propaganda film might be defined in these words by Georges Sorel: 'an arrangement of images capable of provoking instinctive feelings corresponding to the manifestations of the war engaged ... against modern society'. It is impossible to forget Hitlerjunge Quex, certain sequences from Leni Riefenstahl's films, some fantastic newsreels from the Occupation, the baleful ugliness of Der Ewige Jude. This was not the first time that art was born of coercion. The last few seconds of Fascist joy may be seen through the bewildered smile of a small boy (Germany Year Zero).
The last shot of Rio Escondido: the face of Maria Felix, the face of a dead woman whom the voice of the President of the Mexican Republic covers with glory. In dealing constantly with birth and death, political cinema acknowledges the flesh, and metamorphoses the holy word without difficulty.
Unhappy film-makers of France who lack scenarios, how is it that you have not yet made films about the tax system, the death of Philippe Henriot, the marvellous life of Danielle Casanova?
Godard ON Godard/Critical writings by Jean-Luc Godard/Early Texts 1950-1952