Cut, no. 27, July 1982, pp.
Machine noises. On the screen we see a video recorder control panel. Someone's hand inserts a cassette. No, not just anyone's hand. We must read the image. This is a transmission by Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard. Clic-clac. The machine's contacts slap into operation. It's begun.
This summer we saw these credits 24 times . At the beginning and end of 12 transmissions — 6 X 2 — directed by Godard and his Grenoble production team for French Channel 3 (FR3).
Six programs, each an hour and 40 minutes long, a production six times the length of a fiction film.(2) For several vacation Sundays, it became a matter of allowing time. Stopping television. Or, to be more precise, slowing it down. To return to zero. To try to understand what's going on. Basically, it's very simple. Childish. It is this simplicity in Godard, this total openness, this extreme modesty, which has brought out so much critical anger and misunderstanding. So, in contrast, we must take our time.(3)
THEORY AND PRACTICE
Maybe we have to begin with ourselves in order to talk about this new use for television. What do we fundamentally expect from the little screen? What habits have we formed since the advent of TV? How have our likes and dislikes been formed? Because it's in these areas that Godard initially confronts us. We normally expect a certain violence from images. At all costs, the montage has to impose its rhythm. Quickly, quickly, always more quickly. One only has to look at commercials, which serve as a paradigm for all TV. The message must take us by surprise; it must assault us. Each moment, a new surprise, a new bit of "information." There is never an opportunity to backtrack, to look things over, to take stock of things. Each message pushes out the one before it: this is the law of televisual discourse. Its sole function. The golden rule which applies equally to what we call news as to fictional programs. Spectacle is everywhere. Spectacle — the banning of a multitude of elements judged to be useless, uninteresting, parasitic. The image factory produces television just as other enterprises produce candied fruit. One picks the fruit, removes the pits, covers the fruit with sugar, and cooks it. Godard proposes that we, who are no more than amateurs when it comes to making candied fruit, should go out and take a stroll through the orchards. We should do our own picking, experiencing the odor and taste for ourselves, feeling our own fatigue and our own pain. We must sample the fruit at its source. No more candied substitutes. The raw against the cooked.(4)
This image is not completely appropriate, because there is a different and specific motif which governs Godard's series. The series is entirely devoted to communication. "On and inside communication," Godard announced. We had taken this as some sort of joke, but with Godard there are no insignificant jokes. With him, it is useless to search for extra difficulties where there are none. We must simply listen to what is said. Each Sunday evening, we saw two programs. The first, more composed, more constructed, more didactic, was on communication. The second, dealing with various people, made us live this communication. To enter into the action. To meet someone (all these latter programs had people's first names as their titles). Thus, between first and second program, there was the opposition of outside and inside, of theoretical exposition (the "on" communication) and lived speech (the "inside" communication). These pairs of programs were as follows:
WHAT'S BETWEEN THE TWO …
So what is it, this collection of programs? Fiction? Instruction? Interviews? Portraits? Sketches? By themselves, none of these categories captures the truth of the matter. Godard's television is all of these things at one and the same time. And still something else. It is impossible to classify these programs in any particular genre. Yet this is precisely what some critics have felt obliged to do.
This doesn't prevent this critic, Catherine B. Clement, from noting a little later on,
So we have to ask: Is Godard a professor, or just a bad student? He's both, and it's this back-and-forth play between the two — this obstinate effort to break down the codes of communication, or, at least, to overturn them, to displace them, to ceaselessly disturb them — which angers, irritates, and certainly leaves no one indifferent.
To clarify this, I would suggest that most of our activities function on the basis of a binary code: serious/ frivolous; sad/ happy; laborious/ diverting; comic/ dramatic; etc. This logic, which is the logic of language, determines our judgments. It fixes our reference points, our values. It divides up our reality which we try to express through words.(8) Godard's discourse is held within this logic, as is everyone's discourse. But while we glide tranquilly inside this binary prison-house of language (at the risk of losing a great part of reality, of rejecting one aspect for another, of excluding, of becoming fixed), Godard fights back. He adopts an attitude of resistance. Like us — and more clearly than most of us — he makes use of the binary code (it is enough to watch the series to have many examples of this) as he tries to subvert this code, to transgress it, to transcend it. He is a destroyer of paradigms. For example, he takes up a position between work and entertainment. We want TV to be amusing, fascinating, charming (especially on Sunday evening and, even more so, on a Sunday evening in August). However, we find ourselves in front of a prof who gives a course and yet isn't a prof. A malicious master. A teacher who is taught,(9) professor and jokester, serious and flippant.
We could even say that each of the six composed programs has as its objective to explode a specific paradigm. And also, in the same movement, to explode the spectator and his/her intellectual comfort: Y A PERSONNE subverted the opposition between work and play. Unemployed workers, answering an ad placed by Godard, showed up at Godard's office. Playing a boss, Godard (off-screen) greeted them and proposed a different kind of work for them: speaking on television and acting out the gestures of their trade for the television viewers.
LEÇONS DE CHOSES broke down the opposition between defining and changing. Showing objects on the screen, the program named them but in new ways. A child became a political prisoner. He appeared behind bars in the school hallway. A river became a long story. A factory assembly line became a porno film. There were gestures without feeling:
Always, the same wish to oppose and to conjugate. To uncover the secret behind this and, behind this conjunction which connects without mixing, which unites while maintaining distance. The secret of communication. Yes, this makes us laugh — this naive research. This need to displace, to condense words and things. But it also bothers us. We feel something touch us at the very roots of all our thought processes, all our mental activity. Healthy or insane? Between the two. That's what so disturbs us. Godard — always the poet — is more the poet than ever.
FROM OPPOSITION TO ANALOGY
SNAPSHOTS AND INDUSTRY: This is the opposition between professional and amateur. An opposition subverted once again. The tourist pays to photograph Indians. But the reporter — in terms of his job as reporter — wins a prize for having photographed the condemned, those about to be executed. Paradoxes of an insensitive economy, perversion of exchange.
PAS D'HISTOIRE. Here a confrontation of all sorts of stories. Written stories, spoken stories, drawn stories. But always, the stories of men, an adult language, the word of the Father which he imposes on the child with the force of Law. The opposition in effect here is that of the infant — infans, one who does not yet possess language — and that of the adult. A Lacanian psychoanalyst would call it the opposition between the imaginary and the symbolic. Godard invites us to meditate for a long time on images of a baby with its mother. Desire (the baby's, the mother's) is the desire for an impossible fusion. A desire for two to be no more than one. That is the imaginary. To contrast this, Godard shows us that love demands a separation, a frontier, a third term. The two must accept the third term, the excluded third which the entire logic of the Occident tries to forget, to deny. This excluded third term is represented on the screen by the Third World. A horrifying metaphor for our voracious love, our false love, as avid as hunger, which sets out to appropriate, when it should try to greet, to meet, to create. The other, the third, disturbs unity, and allows communication. The other is "between" —
NOUS TROIS expands this discovery. A prisoner writes to the woman he loves. The film is silent. We see the letters written out on the screen. The faces — he, she, another woman — mix and interweave throughout the course of the writing. What is in opposition here is speech and silence, writing and voice. With a provocative audacity, Godard abandons the conventions of modern cinema (speech, synchronization). He films faces that speak, laugh, dream, think. In a silence that takes us back to the birth of the Seventh Art, he employs a mode of writing (écriture) — his writing — which unravels slowly.
Here is the film that Bresson always dreamt of doing; it may go even further than Bresson. We are filled with suspense toward these words which we invent as they appear. An elementary suspense, but stronger than that in an action film. Between these faces and these words, there we are, spectators. Actors, creators, creators of the sense. No longer are we voyeurs. We are accomplices. The couple exists only in us, just as they exist only in that prison (from the very first image, Godard plays with the metaphor of the lattice — on the one hand, the bars of the prison; on the other hand, the straight lines on the writing paper). Here love is nourished by the most extreme separation, an irreducible distance. But because there is us, because a third term exists — police, bars, writing, TV — there is mediation. Therefore, exchange and communication. An admirable poem — one of the most sublime moments in Godard's cinema. The poignant beauty of silent faces. One thinks of Carl Dreyer, of VIVRE SA VIE (MY LIFE TO LIVE, Godard, 1962), of LE PETIT SOLDAT (THE LITTLE SOLDIER, Godard, 1963). Even under torture — as in Dreyer's PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1927) or DAY OF WRATH (1943) — something essential, something invincible, triumphs — something which expresses itself in silence. The spirit of childhood. The soul — malicious and silenced, inflexible and tender.
Finally, the last film, AVANT ET APRÈS, serving as a summation of the series, is based on the opposition of author (auteur) and interpreter. A young man, headphones over his ears, recites a text that Godard whispers to him. The process seems strange, and even insulting to the spectator, since it goes on for almost 45 minutes in one fixed shot. We would have preferred that Godard speak directly to us. But this intermediary, this double — who in a disturbing way manages to capture the author's intonations, accent, and delivery — is the very image of television. He is the medium, the mediator, between one who has something to say and we who listen. Between Godard and us, there's this young man. But there is still much more: the TV technology that we never see. What exactly does Godard say through this young man? He speaks to us of the images of these programs, produced at Grenoble, but decoded, transcoded, reduced, in Paris. To speak to his working-class neighbors in Grenoble by means of TV, he has to send his images to Paris. The image needs a SECAM permit.(12) In order to reach us, an artisanal form of TV, stuttering like a child, has to use Parisian TV — a centralized, "Napoleanic," imperialist TV. We are used to supporting this sort of detour. It's habit. But let an actor repeat before our eyes the words of someone dictating words into his headphones, and suddenly we don't do as well. Why?
THE MIRROR AND THE BLANK SLATE
Undoubtedly because Godard's TV underlines it, we notice something which we generally live through without seeing or noticing at all. We are normally in the position of a child to whom the adult says, "Don't pick your nose! Don't drag your feet!" (Significantly, this sort of talk is the object of one of the programs, PAS D'HISTOIRE.) We must come to consciousness about our situation.
But this situation is not explicitly expressed in the program. The form of communication that Godard employs is analogic. It's like mimicking a child's comportment in front of the child. There's nothing more irritating than seeing in a mirror that we are something different than we imagined. It's me and not me. It's him and not him. All analogic communication abolishes the frontiers of the self. The actor who speaks for the auteur becomes indistinguishable from that auteur. All identify is disturbed. The actor's, the auteur's, and, at the same time, ours. The "self" is subverted.(13)
Thus, Godard explores the two major forms of all communication: the binary (also called the "digital") and the analogic. With a virtuosity distressing to us, Godard passes from one form of communication to the other. It is this sort of action which people won't forgive him for. Our civilization emphasizes binary communication, the logic of language, a "semio-logic" which puts terms into opposition: white and black; good and bad; you and me; inside and outside; etc.. As for analoqic communication, it serves as a captivating staple of cinema and TV — as long as it doesn't violate the precise limits of "spectacle." Like dreams, analogic communication constitutes an island of delicious regression. Yet analogic communication still remains under the control of a binary system: cinema isn't life, isn't a dream, isn't reality. To oppose this, all of Godard's effort has tried to allow one domain to break out of the other's control (this is exactly what the Surrealists vowed to do).
Godard doesn't choose between a photo (analogic) and a text (binary). He makes the photo and the text confront each other. (This is the subject of the third program, PHOTO ET CIE. Its also the theme of his film, COMMENT ÇA VA? (1976), in which he asks how a press photo from Portugal can be turned into a mythic object.) This is why, according to Godard, the TV screen is simultaneously a mirror which reflects the spectacle of things and a blank slate where the enunciation of things can be inscribed (fifth program, NOUS TROIS). The screen is no longer this place of fascination, this mirror of delights, where we can take hold of ourselves. Godard's screen oscillates between fascination and reflection.(14) This word appears so often during the program that it could well be symptomatic. Commenting on the photo, two words mix: reflex — reflection. In other words, a passage from image to consciousness, from image to symbol. And a return to the image in a ceaseless motion. Because, contrary to the tacit law which governs exchange in our society, there is no justification in privileging one term while excluding the other. There is no symbol without image, no consciousness without mirror. Within reflection, there is first of all a "reflex."
So it is astonishing that this approach to communication has elicited so much anger (yet as soon as one works in the area of communication, one quickly realizes that it is particularly difficult to communicate — about communication, to find an adequate meta-language). For Le Monde,
In order to bring about a radical form of counter-sense, these emissions obviously have "something" capable of troubling the most lucid minds. But what is this "something"?
MADNESS WITHOUT A DEFINITION
Take, for example, the second series, which prolongs each "composed" program. The rules of the game consist in giving speech to someone (or several people). For once, let us start at the end of the series. On the last evening, you could see a talkative young woman and a man who never spoke (JACQUELINE ET LUDOVIC). Here Godard alternates long sequences one after the other. It's the only montage that he uses. And again, each cut is underlined by two words inscribed on the screen: speech — silence. It couldn't be clearer. Then, Godard converses with her, and then with him. The same austere shot for each of them: a fixed, medium shot of the person seated near an empty bookshelf. Evidently, television, a grand image devourer, has habituated us to "more" visual satisfaction. When Jacqueline speaks, one can at least find contentment by listening to the soundtrack. She talks of her repeated attempts to have a private audience with the Pope. We are intrigued. Little by little, we realize that this woman is going mad before our eyes. She finally reveals her dearest desire: to marry Paul VI, to call herself Madame Montini, to abstain from sexual relations, to manufacture counterfeit money. She declares with the jubilant air of a discoverer,
Mental illness — since this is what is in question here — only has one place assigned to it in our societies: the asylum. It has to hide itself. Never — until now — has television allowed it to enter our homes, without labeling it, without declaring it to be madness. What this new program lacks is a moderator, a specialist, who would interpret, make sense of the illness. The interpreter who was also present earlier (the young man who stood in for Godard in AVANT ET APRÈS) is now absent. Certainly, the mentally ill aren't presented without any mediation. Godard, invisible, asks questions. (16) But this absent mediator — only his voice is present — makes a point of not controlling what happens, what we should think or do. He can allow interminable silences without breaking in. Thus, he is not on our side, he doesn't play our game. Instead of establishing the distance which would allow us to grasp madness, to accept its difference — its otherness ("I am going to show you this case …"), he works to bring us closer to it, to efface the difference. At the end of the program, this becomes very clear: when Ludovic, the schizophrenic, tells how he locks his door three times before going to sleep, Godard sets out to beat his record:
The madperson is not the other — he/she isn't the object of a study, of a commentary, of an exposé. The madperson is Godard, is the other, is me. There is no more question of educational television, of didacticism. The mediator tries to place us in front of an unbearable mirror.
CODE, RELATION, DESIRE
In contrast to normal practices, when a journalist from Libération (17) interviews a certain JEAN-LUC (Godard), the journalist is very much present in the image. Too present, since from the opening shot he is shown from behind, and from time to time his silhouette obscures Jean-Luc's face. The TV viewer will soon understand the obvious error of commentators on the programs. Even the network indicted itself in the way it presented the series (this time, the mediator, the moderator, was there, and maybe too much there):
In the past, the first experiments of Cubism, Surrealism, even Impressionism, were introduced similarly. As errors in technique. Woe to those who tried to meddle with the code of communication. Yet this is precisely what Godard is up to. He is not content to change the subject matter of television: to simply allow a madperson, a peasant, children, a prostitute, an old woman, to speak. He changes our relation to these people. Consequently, he changes the code that allows us to communicate with them. Here he demonstrates that he is at the head of a revolution — at the very least, a revolution in the strategies of mass communication. This is so because the true subversion is not that of allowing a marginal figure to speak on TV in place of a minister. Jacques Chancel (18) can do that himself. The true subversion is to change the place of the one who speaks. And, in the same action, the one who listens. I can't listen to Ludovic or Jacqueline as I normally listen to Edmond Maire, Poniatowski, or Mireille Mathieu on TV.(19) Each of these personalities comes to me as a celebrity, a role. The moderator who introduces them has the precise function of defining this role, pinpointing it. That's what Jacques Chancel does at the beginning of each Radioscopie. The emcee is like a hat put on the celebrity to define him or her. Or better yet, a hairstyle, since the emcee gives a coiffeur to the celebrity, which designates him or her, provides a label, an identity. In the same way, the condemned, the crucified, were exposed to the crowds of Roman antiquity.
Too much or too little labeling, too much or too little mediation. Through this excess or this lack, the subject of communication is displaced. There's no longer Jacqueline, the crazy person, or Louison, the peasant, or Jean-Luc, the filmmaker. There's Jacqueline and speech, Ludovic and silence, Jean-Luc and the difficulty of communication. A light falls on what is usually kept in the shadows: the apparatus that puts us in contact with our equals so close and so far away. The code is spotlit; it becomes an object we can seize (ordinarily, the code, as Law, is a hidden power, yet one no one can ignore).(20)
When the TV viewer is put in the presence of a "madperson" — one not "wearing a hat" — that viewer will have the feeling that someone's playing a very bad joke. He or she will be angry at Godard (moreover, we will declare that the filmmaker is making fun of himself, not of us). But when Jacqueline's discourse is interrupted to make way for Ludovic's, we must recognize that we've been tricked. Our aggressivity marks the ambivalence of our desire; we do and don't want to communicate with Jacqueline. Yet Ludovic doesn't speak. The camera holds on his long silences. Not the slightest ellipsis. Duration becomes overwhelming. The poor spectator is at the mercy of a brusque alternation — speech and silence — no longer knowing what he or she really wants: Jacqueline's speech or Ludovic's silence.
In other words, what we see is not the spectacle of madness: we'd like that. The success of several recent films like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST shows that. But in Godard's film, there is no spectacle. Madness is not re-presented, mediated, enclosed, labeled, coiffeured. What is expressed is our desire. Deep within us, before rationalization sets in, our desire (or our repulsion) holds sway. Desire which impels us toward an other, so like ourselves, and so different. This is so because these two mentally disturbed people resemble us — an inescapable fact. We are caught up by Jacqueline and Ludovic. Jacqueline's story follows an implacable logic. It is as gripping as a novel or a monologue by Alain Decaux(21) on TV. And at some time or another, we have all felt such a fear at being trapped if we speak, and so we can all recognize ourselves in Ludovic's silence.
THE EYE LISTENS
So is Godard a sadist? Yes, insofar as he never gives us what we expect from television. He deceives us, he diverts our expectations. At every moment, he changes the channels of communication, whether by stretching them out through interminable detours (the manuscript letter in NOUS TROIS) or by provoking short-circuits (the direct contact with madness in JACQUELINE ET LUDOVIC). But by so shaking up our desire, working on it (just as the teacher always directs the student's desire toward new paths of discovery), he unveils a certain perversion of television, of cinema — of audio-visual communication, to be precise. For example, our hunger for images. It seems natural to us that the presence of photos allows us to receive ever larger amounts of visual information. Each filmmaker learns, when filming someone talking, to multiply the shooting angles, to get close ups and longshots, to frame the speaker's face, his or her hands, or profile or mouth or ears, etc.. We are so used to this procedure that we are surprised when Godard offers an hour of interview with a peasant shown through a single shot of the peasant in his field with his tractor. A rupture of the code. An ascesis of the eye. A deception.
And then, little by little, like a blind person learning how to use his or her senses, we learn to listen. Yes, these six programs are astonishing for their vocal beauty. The child who stutters his (sic) way through his schoolbook. Marcel, the amateur filmmaker who energetically sings his words with a countryside accent. The beauty of a voice as rough as the bark of a tree, a voice which one never hears on TV. Convinced that he has a bad voice, Marcel explains that he may add narration to his film.
A perversion of the cliché, of the code that excludes all difference, all singularity. It was precisely these singular voices that fascinated us for six weeks. The voice of a mathematician (RENÉ) who speaks like a peasant. The voice of a peasant who spoke like a worker. An unemployed man who gives a weight to each of his words. A housewife who tries to express herself, trembling all the while ("I didn't have enough lesson in elocution," she says, and finishes by singing the "International").
In the end, all these voices become song, in spite of themselves. Godard is the songmaster, the poet who reveals the musician asleep in all of us.
WORK WITHOUT LOVE
Naive and innocent voices, repressed and suddenly liberated. But also, cheating mercantile voices. We can't forget the long interview with the reporter who nearly won the Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of an execution, by bayonet, in the stadium in Dacca. For almost a quarter of an hour, he complacently explains reporters' techniques. What is the purpose of this know-how? That's the forbidden question. The professional in whatever field — cineaste, policeman, mercenary, or journalist — is paid never to ask, "What is my work doing? What is the goal and point of my job?"(22) Godard merely has to illustrate this discourse on photography by the photograph the reporter took (for 15 minutes on our TV screen, we see the instantaneity of an execution) in order for us spectators to realize the radical perversity of information systems. No, the program does even more. This man who photographs an ordeal without asking any questions other than technical ones — "(for dramatic effect, you should photograph the same situation in color, and then in black and white …)" — illustrates what the division of labor does to us.
Exchanges without responsibility ruled by the economy's omnipotence. Each robot in place, each worker at his or her place in a great chain, whose purpose must remain unknown. Godard often returns to this metaphor of the crazy, unseeing chain that is the reverse of good communication. It's a chain in which each individual can actually leave his or her position to become responsible, to gain awareness, to understand the purpose of what he or she is doing.
Godard the poet is therefore also a moralist. With an admirable fidelity to himself, he takes up again, with this parable of the photograph, an old project which he had announced around 1963: The only honest film about concentration camps, said he at the time, would have to show a Kapo overwhelmed with technical problems: how to kill 200 Jews when you only have 50 cans of gas.
That's what happened here.(24) Godard was accused of cynicism when he was simply trying to hold up a mirror in front of our own criminal irresponsibility. It's cynicism to communicate without love. In contrast, all of Godard's efforts tried to make us feel this lack of love rather than camouflage it. Or as Jean-Luc said,
1. Guy Lux: popular host of a variety show on French TV for many years. Georges Marchais: Secretary General of the French Communist Party. Sylvie Vartan: popular top-40s singer [trans].
2. Let's hope that these 10 hours of film will be re-seeable in movie theatres.
3. "Strikes give the workers time. Time is more important than salary" (second program: JEAN-LUC).
4. "This is a reference to anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss's book, The Raw and the Cooked [trans].
5. Between the first and second shows, there was also the opposition of discourse to meeting. Thus discourse/ personal story. The first two titles announce all the others: first, Y A PERSONNE — SOMEBODY. Then LOUISON — in other words, somebody specific.
6. Untranslatable pun signaling a certain breakdown of language [trans].
7. Catherine B. Clement, "Devoirs de vacances pour l'examen de communication" ("Vacation Homework for an Examination in Communication"), Le Monde, August 20, 1976.
8. See Collet's article, "Critique et cinéma vont en bateau" ("Criticism and Cinema Go Boating"), Etudes, April 1975.
9. "One has to be twisted," Godard told journalists, "to see that as a teacher's discourse. It could as easily be the discourse of a student."
10. Sixth transmission: AVANT ET APRÈS.
11. Fourth transmission: PAS D'HISTOIRE.
12. SECAM: union in charge of freight and maritime transport [trans].
13. Untranslatable pun: "le 'je' est en jeu!" [trans].
14. "Reflection" here means reflective thinking [trans].
15. Le Monde, August 29, 1976 (see n. 7).
16. Just as he was invisible when the unemployed workers came looking for a job (Y A PERSONNE).
17. Libération: leftist daily paper [trans].
18. Jacques Chancel: popular radio interviewer [trans].
19. Edmond Maire: head of France's largest union. Poniatowski: rightist Minister of the Interior. Mireille Mathieu: popular French top 40s singer [trans].
20. See the analyses of Jean Baudrillard, Pour une critique de l'economie politique du signe (Paris: Editions Gaillimard, 1972).
21. Decaux: popularizing French historian [trans].
22. First transmission: Y A PERSONNE.
23. Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, ed. Jean Narboni (Paris: Editions Belfond, 1968), p. 367. The quotation comes from 1965.
24. "The Association of Journalists and Reporters responded with extreme furor to the program, PHOTOS ET CIE" (see Le Monde, August 14, 1976).