It is time to say a little more about the film from which this shot comes. The Spiral Staircase tells the story of a murderer who attacks women suffering from various handicaps. The heroine, who has become dumb following a head injury, is a clearly appointed victim for the killer, all the more so (we soon understand) in that he inhabits the same house where she has the job of governess, responsíble for the care of a sick old lady and caught up in an atmosphere of hatred créated by the rivalry between two half-brothers. Having spent a níght without any other means of protectíon than the telephone number of the doctor who lives bar - not the most effective recourse for someone who can not speak, obviously - she would have suffered her fate of destined victim had the murderer not, at the decisive moment, been killed by his mother-in-Iaw - a new trauma as a result of which she regaíns her powers of speech.
How does this relate to the small child from the ghetto and the professor's inaugural lecture? Apparently as follows: the murderer is not the mere victim of irresístible drives. He is a methodical man of science whose design is to do away, for their own good and everyone else's, with beings whom nature or chance has reordered infirm, and thus íncapable of a completely normal life. No doubt the plot is derived from a 1933 Englísh novel whose author would seem not to have had any particular polítical motive. But the film came out in 1946, which makes il reasonable to suppose that it was made in 1945. And the director was Robert Siodmak, one of the collaborators on the legendary Menschen am Sonntag - a 1928 film diagnosis of a Germany ready to give itself to Hitler and one of the filmmakers and cameramen who fled Nazism and transposed the plastic and sometímes polítical shades of German Expressionism into American film noir.
Everything, therefore, seems to be explained: the extract is there, superimposed 00 the image of the ghetto's surrender, because in it a filmmaker who fled Nazi Germany speaks to us', through a transparent fictional analogy, of the Nazi program for exterminating sub-humans'. This American film of 1946 echoes the Germany, Year Zero which an ittalian director, Rossellini, shortly thereafter devoted to a different transposítion of the same program - little Edmund's murder of hís bedridden father. In its fashion, it attests to the way in which cinema spoke of the extermination through exemplary fables - Murnau's Faust, Renoir's La Regle du jeu, Chaplin's The Great Dictator. From here it is easy to complete the puzzle, to confer meaning on each of the elements that are fitted together in the episode. The merry public that is seated in front of Nosferatu is taken from the closing shots of King Vidor's The Crowd. Of little importance here ís the fictional situation in this film from the last days of silent movies: the final reconciliation in a music-hall of a couple on the verge of breaking up. Godard's montage is clearly symbolic. It shows us the captívation of the crowd in darkened movie theaters by the Hollywood industry, which feeds it with a warm imaginary by burning a reality that will soon demand payment in real blood and real tears. The letters that appear on the screen (l'ennemi public, le public) say this io their own way. Public Enemy ís the title of a film by Wellman, a story about a gangster played by James Cagney and slightly postdating The Crowd. But in Histoire(s) it is also the title given by Godard to The Crowd's producer, Irvin Thalberg the embodiment of the power of Hollywood that vampirized cinema crowds, but also liquidated the artists/prophets of cinema à la Murnau.
The episode, therefore, creates a strict parallel between two captivations: the captivation of German crowds by Nazi ideology and of film crowds by HoIlywood. Falling within this parallel are the intermediate elements: a man/bird shot taken from Franju's Judex; a close-up on the eyes of Antonioni, the paralyzed, aphasic filmmaker, all of whose power has withdrawn into his gaze; the profile of Fassbinder, the exemplary filmmaker of Germany after the catastrophe, haunted by ghosts that are represented here by the quasi-subliminal apparitions of riders taken from Fritz Lang's Siegfried's Death. The text that accompanies these fleetíng apparitions is taken from Jules Laforgue's Simple agonie that is, not only from a poet who died at the age of 26, but also from a French writer nurtured in exemplary fashion by German culture in general and by Schopenhauerian nihilism in particular. Everything is therefore explained, except that the logic thus reconstructed is strictly indecipherable exclusively from the silhouette of Dorothy McGuíre, an actress as little known to viewers of Histoire(s) as the film itself. Accordingly, it Is not the allegorical quality of the pIot that must connect the shot of the young woman and the photograph of the ghetto child for viewers.It is the power of the sentence image in itself - that is, the mysterious bond between two enígmatic relatíons. The first is the material relationship between the candle held by the fictional mute and the all too real Jewish child that it seems to illuminate. Such is, in fact, the paradox It is not the extermination that is to clarify the story presented by Siodmak, but quite the reverse: it is the black and white of cinema that is to project 00 to the image of the ghetto the power of hístory that it derives from great German cameramen like Karl Freund, who (Godard tells us) invented in advance the lighting effects of Nuremberg, and which they themselves derived from Goya, Callot and Rembrandt and his 'terrible black and white', And the same is true of the second mysterious relationship contained in the sentence-image: the relationship between Foucault's words and the shot and photograph that they are supposed to link. In accordance with the saníe paradox, it Ís not the obvious link provided by the film's plot that is to unite the heterogeneous elements, but the non-link of these words, The interesting thing, in fact, is not that a German director in 1945 should stress the analogies between the screenplay entrusted to him and the contemporary reality of war and extermination, but the power of the sentence image as such the ability of the staircase shot to come directly into contact with the photograph of the ghetto and the words of the professor. A power of contact, not of translation or explanation; an ability to exhibit a community constructed by the 'fraternity of metaphors'. It is not a question of showing that cinema speaks of its time, but of establishing that cinema makes a world, that it should have made the world. The history of cinema is the history of a power of making hístory. It's time, Godard tells us, is one when sentence-images had the power, dismissing stories, to write history, by connecting directly up with their 'outside. This power of connecting is not that of the homogeneous - not that of using a horror story to speak to us of Nazism and the extermination. It is that of the heterogeneous, of the immediate clash between three attitudes: the solitude of the shot, that of the photograph, and that of the words which speak of something else entirely in a quite different context. It is the c\ash of heterogeneous elements that provides a common measure.
How should we conceive this clash and íts effect? To understand it, it is not enough to ínvoke the virtues of fragmentation and interval that unraveI the logic of the action. Fragmentation, interval, cutting, collage, montage - all these notions, readily taken as criteria of artistic modernity can assume highly diverse (even opposed) meanings. I leave to one side instances where fragmentation, whether cinematic or novelistíc, is simply a way of tying the representative not even more tightly. But even omitting this, there remain two major ways of understanding how the heterogeneous creates a common measure: the dialectical way and the symbolic way.
Jacques Rancière/The Future of the Image/Part 1: The Future af the Image/ THE GOVERNESS, THE JEWISH CHILD AND THE PROFESSOR
edit in Grammarly by Dejan Stojkovski