Cut, no. 28, April 1983, pp. 51-58
In VENT D'EST Godard and Gorin went so far as to call the French Communist Party (the PCF) "enemies who pose as Marxists." The film explicitly attacked the PCF, trade unionism in France, and the Russian Communist Party for abandoning the dictatorship of the proletariat and striving merely for economic progress. In class terms, Western European and American labor unions benefit from the economic position of their own countries, from the exploitation of Third World labor, and from the division of labor according to sex. The collaborationist union committeeman in VENT D'EST represented Godard and Gorin's scorn for what many in France saw as the unions' betrayal of the working class in their failure to make qualitative demands, so that workers could integrate the personal aspects of their life with their life on the job — thus the appeal of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. And if the workers' organizations were not helping the workers, neither were the well-intentioned university students. In LUTTES EN ITALIE, Paola, the bourgeoise student, did not know how to approach the working class. First she talked to a sales clerk while shopping. Later she tried to act militantly by taking a job as a factory worker without really understanding the processes of social change.
In the critique of Russia in VENT D'EST, Godard and Gorin said that Breshnev Studios-Mosfilm had demanded the same film as Nixon-Paramount for fifty years: the Western. This triple pun about the Western referred to the backwardness of Soviet social realism as a film style and also to the fact that Russia had refused to acknowledge any lessons from China, the East. In addition, in PRAVDA, the voice off stated that the Russian government wanted its rubles to be worth Eurodollars. There were Czech workplaces that had not seen the revolution, for people were kept working in alienating jobs and functioning just like machines so as to build up capital. Czech industry demonstrated the whole problem of surplus value all over again. PRAVDA showed a Czech worker manufacturing armaments, as the voice off noted that the guns would be sold at a lower price than they were in Czechoslovakia if they could bring in foreign currency, and that even when they were sold to North Vietnam, the Czech government did not care about educating the workers to know about their solidarity with an oppressed people. Finally, Godard's critique of labor's position in Russia, Czechoslovakia, the United States and France tied in with his Brechtianism, with one of the major themes in his films: How are subjective factors related to social and economic conditions, to class and to revolutionary change? Workers were still class beings, even if they did not clearly see that. But they must take a class stand.
THE EDUCATIONAL APPARATUS
Central to Godard's own experience was the ‘68 student revolt. Even as early as 1967, in LA CHINOISE, he very clearly saw French university education as a class education, training a managerial and technocratic elite. Since even his earliest films had dealt with language, communication, false consciousness, and the mass media, Godard easily turned to examine the educational apparatus in its relation to the state.
In his cinematic portrayal of May 68, Godard sympathetically identified with the students and their slogans, written as graffiti all over Paris, such as, "Let the workers have the Sorbonne." In most of his post-68 films, Godard depicted what had become a common fact around the world in the late sixties: police repression and the whole of the state apparatus brought in to crush student protests. Godard admired the French student revolt, but he and Gorin criticized the Czech students shown in PRAVDA. As the Czech students demonstrated against Russian tanks, they carried a black flag of mourning and anarchy, not the red flag of revolution; PRAVDA accused them of suicidal humanitarianism.
Although Godard experienced the revolutionary potential of the 68 protests in France and supported the idea of a worker-student alliance, he realized these issues' complexity. In films such as LE GAI SAVOIR and VENT D'EST he portrayed the 68 protests with symbolic images such as black frames and confused voices, or he depicted the student leaders on a scratched up visual track. Yet in both those films the sound track described the 68 events as progressive. In general Godard and Gorin could draw no single conclusion from the events. TOUT VA BIEN in 1972 could only conclude that the petite bourgeoisie had to think historically and evaluate what they had lost and what strengths they had gained (mostly the former) since 68.
If TOUT VA BIEN had as its subject how petit bourgeois intellectuals could come to terms with May 68 and their lives' fragmentation, they would have to do that by educating themselves about history, outside any institutional structure. Other of Godard and Gorin's post-68 films dealt even more explicitly with this topic of political education outside the university, usually drawing on the texts of Mao Tse-Tung. As in LA CHINOISE the protagonist in LUTTES EN ITALIE discovered that her professor's voice equaled the state's voice within the university. The professor would tell students which ideas were true or false, but he would not discuss where those ideas came from, how social practice generated those ideas, or how ideas had a class nature. Yet the film also concluded that it would represent a mechanistic and spontaneous solution for the student to think she could join the working class for the sake of revolutionary agitation by quitting school and going to work in a factory. Politically she should carry on her struggles where she was at, at the university.
PRAVDA examined false consciousness in Czechoslovakia; if the state's goal were to raise the working class to the level of bourgeois intellectual life, then workers would never challenge bourgeois values of individuality and egoism. In VENT D'EST the revisionist schoolteacher gave the Third World student Louis Althusser's Lire Capital (How to Read “Capital”) instead of guns. LE GAI SAVOIR, VENT D'EST and LUTTES EN ITALIE dealt totally with radical political education, which theme then represented films' own didactic function. In LE GAI SAVOIR the protagonists wanted to find a way of educating themselves, especially about the media. They proposed to combine two strategies, method and sentiment. Their plan reflected Godard's interest in many New Left issues, such as the relation between emotional repression (Herbert Marcuse's one-dimensionality) and advanced capitalist modes of social organization. In this film Godard had the characters announce what he himself would do over the next four years. Dissolve the sounds and images that compose a film and go back to zero in terms of film form, so as to find reference points that would lead to understanding the rules for making a "revolutionary" film.
PRAVDA contained on the sound track many references to Mao's writings, especially the essay On Practice. As Godard said, PRAVDA really depicted a communist "unreality" in Czechoslovakia, for what looked like information created a deformation. The film demonstrated the ways Western ideology had swamped Czech popular democracy and how, worst of all, the workers had no control over production or the state. They functioned like machines and were denied entry into the political sphere. PRAVDA's critique, of course, gave one more French Maoist critique of Communist revisionism, where all Western Communist parties were seen as having adopted Western (ultimately, U.S.) ideology.
VENT D'EST and LUTTES EN ITALIE dealt with the whole Maoist concept of growing through political practice and criticizing one's own practice so as to effectively change society. Marxism emphasizes the importance of theory as a guide to action, for theory helps people produce knowledge about their own situation. Once people see through to the laws of the objective world and understand the play of objective contradictions in their own situation, they can then use that knowledge to change the world. But, and here Godard and Gorin agreed totally with Mao, practice comes first, for only practice provides direct contact with the world. The characters in LA CHINOISE, the voices in PRAVDA, the young woman in LUTTES EN ITALIE, even Fonda and Montand in TOUT VA BIEN were all in some sense political activists. Godard showed the steps by which Fonda in TOUT VA BIEN came to realize what Mao stated in On Practice: "If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality.” (31)
In the form of all his films from 1968 on and in the content of LE GAI SAVOIR, LUTTES EN ITALIE, PRAVDA and TOUT VA BIEN, Godard seemed to struggle for change in a way that paralleled many French Maoist intellectuals' interpretation of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. According to Mao,
In these political films Godard and Gorin wanted to change our cognitive ability, and they showed us characters struggling to change theirs. The two directors wanted to change the relations between the subjective and the objective world, especially in terms of the way we received film and the media.
As in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Godard and Gorin struggled against bourgeois and revisionist modes of thought. PRAVDA unmasked the attitudes the state ideological apparatus maintained in the workers. The established left's cultural policies frequently became Godard and Gorin's target. They heavily critiqued films made in Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Third World. In VENT D'EST the voice off said that an alternative cinema had to get into the revolutionary present and not be cluttered with past images and sounds. Imperialism could too easily creep back in via the camera and work against the revolution.
Like Brecht, Godard fought too easily digested or predigested modes of thought. Brecht and Godard found such modes of thought in philosophy which discussed “self-evident truths," or in narrative form which depended on a fixed view of character and elicited a predictable emotional effect. In literature and film, this kind of narrative omitted explaining the social and class context from which the characters' or authors' ideas emerged, and within which the play and film would be received.
In TOUT VA BIEN, LUTTES EN ITALIE, and LE GAI SAVOIR, Godard and Gorin examined how ideology organized practical social behavior (ideology here referring to the daily uninterrupted reproduction of productive relations in the psyche). (33) With Mao's concept of the uneven development of contradictions, Godard and other Maoists had a theoretical vehicle with which to appreciate women's liberation and Third World nationalist movements as progressive on their own terms. In his earlier films Godard had considered the relation between women's economic and social oppression and women's subjective oppression; in WEEKEND he took up this same theme for Blacks and Arabs. Both women's movement writers and anti-colonial writers such as Frantz Fanon have discussed the psychological "imperialism" absorbed by oppressed peoples, i.e., the concept of the colonized mind. Godard and Gorin accepted this evaluation of oppressed people's subjective behavior as well as other critiques by the New Left of the political implications of daily life. In all their films from 1968 on, they sought to analyze the political consequences of seemingly "natural" perceptions and of one's unexamined daily conduct.
In 1969 Godard and Gorin structured a whole film around examining ideology in everyday life. They drew on the ideas of Louis Althusser as they presented as a protagonist in LUTTES EN ITALIE a young woman activist who wanted to understand the structural conditions of her life. She first defined ideology as the necessarily imaginary relation between herself and the real conditions of her existence. The film introduced the various areas of her life — militant activity selling a radical newspaper, family life, an afternoon with a lover, shopping, going to class — in flat emblematic images. The protagonist could evaluate these instances of her life only as isolated phenomena. Visually those instances were joined together by black sections in the film. Slowly the woman, Paola, began to understand that ideology functions by such regions, which seem more or less autonomous but are connected. As the voice over said, her life was cut up into rubrics. In learning to connect these areas of her life, she learned that ideology always expressed itself through a material ideological apparatus, which organized its material practices according to a practical ritual (going to school, falling in love, going shopping, watching television, etc.).
Godard and Gorin had the protagonist learn how her behavior in each area of her life served existing production relations, now represented visually by shots of factory work which replaced the black spaces. She understood the underlying governing social phenomena that bourgeois ideology hides. She concluded that as a militant she would attack the determining region of bourgeois ideology, the legal and political sphere. She understood that such activity would have repercussions in different ways in all other areas of her life.
LUTTES EN ITALIE presented an oversimplified view of Althusser's concepts of ideology. It certainly could be challenged as a political statement. However, there could be no response to the film at all except on political terms. The visual organization of the film derived from Godard and Gorin's effort to find cinematic equivalents for coming to understand one's position in ideology. The content was about ideology and nothing else. The film not only invited but demanded a political interpretation.
In a long article on the film, Gerard Leblanc criticized the film for not analyzing the objective contradictions of a young militant's life in either France or Italy, although ostensibly Paola belonged to the group Lotta Continua. (34) The contradictions presented in the film did not reflect the complexity or historical context of real social conditions in Italy and France in the late 1960s. In addition, the film did not analyze ideology as a force for material transformation but only as an object of knowledge. The film depicted ideological apparatuses as a system of imaginary representations. Since the film showed Paola proceeding to transform herself subjectively by rethinking her daily life and political practice, it implied that understanding ideological mechanisms and transforming one's daily life from a bourgeois to a revolutionary one was a task one could achieve by oneself rather than by collective activity within a political organization. In political terms the film allowed for the subjective transformation of a bourgeoise militant but gave no indication how France and Italy in 1969 might be transformed.
CINEMA AND IDEOLOGY
In their last joint work together, Godard and Gorin made LETTER TO JANE to contribute to an understanding of the cinema and ideology. In Althusser's sense, they treated film here as an ideological process embedded in a specific ideological apparatus which governs the rituals that define cinematic practice. The film was made out of a few slides and Godard and Gorin's voice-over commentary analyzing these slides. Godard and Gorin discussed journalism, the star system, and the dependence of Third World countries such as North Vietnam on our press and our radical stars — in this case on Jane Fonda. They talked about the rituals and codes of a certain kind of cinematic expression of helpless dismay while facing immense social suffering. They discussed the implications of photojournalistic form. They used the topic of Fonda's militant practice as a round-about way of rephrasing the question, "What is the role of the intellectual in the revolution?" — the statement of which question they found inadequate because of the way that the mass media diffuse, control, and deform information.
Primarily in LETTER TO JANE they demonstrated the function of bourgeois photojournalism by analyzing in detail a photo of Jane Fonda taken in North Vietnam. It had appeared in L'Express with the caption, "Jane Fonda interrogant des inhabitants de Hanoi sur les bombardements americains" (Jane Fonda questioning Hanoi residents about U.S. bombings). The film's commentary stated that the examination of this news photo was a scientific experiment, first to see its form and then to see the photo as a "social nerve cell." In this film, as in PRAVDA, the sound track cited the three kinds of social practice that Mao said could generate correct ideas — the struggle for production, the class struggle, and scientific experimentation. (37)
In discussing the photo as a "social nerve cell," Godard and Gorin noted that the caption was written by L'Express writers untruthfully (Fonda was listening and not questioning) without any contact with the North Vietnamese. That is, L’Express journalists did not contact those who probably controlled the process of producing the photo but who did not control its distribution (and thus were limited in completing the act of completing the act of communication they planned). Fonda was photographed by journalist Joseph Kraft in her role as a star, as a certain kind of ideological merchandise. Godard and Gorin said that if L'Express were able to lie in the photo's caption, it was because the picture made that possible: "L'Express is able to avoid saying, 'What peace?' — leaving this up to the picture alone." (38)
The directors concluded that Fonda was being used in the photo solely as a star. She stood in the foreground with a look on her face which conveyed a tragic sense of pity, and the Vietnamese were seen only out of focus or with back turned. Godard and Gorin criticized her tragic look in the way that Althusser critiqued the mirror-like specular aspect of ideology, which positioned people in seemingly natural and inevitable social roles. Such a photograph, according to the film's sound track,
The voice-off also asserted elliptically at this point that such an expression illustrated a look that came into sound film with the New Deal, but the economic connections to film form here were not made explicit.
One of Godard and Gorin's serious conceptual shortcomings in LETTER TO JANE was that they did not analyze the relation between the contradictions they pointed out in Fonda's role as a militant and the contradictory or mutually reinforcing ways the media have been used by different political groups and economic interests. North Vietnam, Hollywood, L'Express, and Godard and Gorin in both TOUT VA BIEN and LETTER TO JANE all had different reasons for using Fonda as a star. They all used her and her image in the context of different political and economic situations. Her image was world-known and diffused by a technical apparatus that extended throughout the world. But it had been used in very different ways, from the sex-star of BARBARELLA to information rallies about political prisoners in South Vietnam. Fonda played on contradictions, as they did. In this case, she did so to raise political support. Godard and Gorin criticized Fonda because she did not evaluate or act out of the contradictions in her own practice and situation as an actress. They wanted her to question how she might become a militant Hollywood actress, creating a new politicized approach or style. They principally raised an aesthetic demand. They did not consider, at least publicly, how they had just "used" her in TOUT VA BIEN. For example, during the filming of that film, it was known that the politically Left actors Fonda and Montand wanted to have but were given very little collective input into the style and content of the film. Godard and Gorin did not examine their own role in the constellation of ideological contradictions that made up the "moment" of either TOUT VA BIEN or LETTER TO JANE.
I raise this issue of Godard and Gorin's own stance because they had a relation to their own practice that was far more ambiguous and unarticulated than that analysis of Fonda's practice which they attempted to make within LETTER TO JANE. They "made political films politically" after 1968, striving for a correct and revolutionary film form. They considered French militants their intended audience. However, by the time they made LETTER TO JANE to take on tour, they knew they could make more money with that filmed slideshow with foreign university students, particularly U.S. ones, than in France. TOUT VA BIEN was made, as was discussed in the opening shots of the film itself, with big studio money and stars (a precondition for getting the money). Yet when Godard and Gorin summarized the functioning of the cinematic ideological apparatus, they could not discuss the contradictions in their own practice nor analyze their own relation to production and consumption. They too received money as "stars." They could choose whether to film in 16mm, wide screen Cinemascope, or a slideshow format. They did not discuss the contradictions involved in each of these decisions. In LETTER TO JANE they also did not discuss the commercial failure of TOUT VA BIEN nor the political effect of its being seen primarily in 16mm distribution channels in the United States and England. And although they criticized Fonda for a kind of schizophrenia in that she could make a Hollywood film like KLUTE and also agitate on behalf of North Vietnam, they themselves did not consider the political implications of the fact that U.S., French, British, and Italian university students and film intellectuals have been primary receivers of their most political films. In his film and television work since 1972, Godard has demonstrated that such ambiguity has continued to permeate his work — the Brechtian strain being seen in NUMERO DEUX and his television work, and the politically weak attempt at commercial success evidenced in SAUVE QUI PEUT LA VIE.
1. I have written extensively on the unique cinematic tactics Godard developed in this period. See my "Critical Survey of Godard's Oeuvre" as well as descriptions of individual films in Jean-Luc Godard: A Guide to References and Resources (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979); "TOUT VA BIEN and COUP POUR COUP: Radical French Film in Context," Cineaste, 5:3 (Summer, 1972); "Godard and Gorin's WIND FROM THEEAST: Looking at a Film Politically," JUMP CUT, No. 4 (Nov.-Dec., 1974); "The Films of Jean-Luc Godard and Their Use of Brechtian Dramatic Theory," Ph.D. Dissertation, Indiana University, 1976.
2. Interview with Godard, conducted by myself, Champaign, Illinois, April 4, 1973.
3. Annie Goldman, "Jean-Luc Godard: Un Nouveau Réalisme," N.R.F., 14:165 (Sept. 1, 1966), 564.
4. Godard, interview with Pierre Daix, "Jean Luc Godard: Ce que j'ai á dire," Les Lettres françaises, No. 128 (April 21-27, 1966), p. 17.
6. Godard, interview, with Yvonne Baby, "Jean-Luc Godard: Pour mieux écouter les autres," Le Monde, April 27, 1972, p. 17.
7. Godard, interview with Sylvain Regard, "La Vie moderne," in Nouvel Obaervateur, 100 (Oct. 12-18, 1966), 54. Translation mine.
8. Godard, LA CHINOISE (screenplay), L'Avant Scène du cinéma, No. 114 (May 1971), p. 20. Translation mine.
9. Ibid., p. 20. Mao Tse-Tung, "On Contradiction," Selected Readings from the Work of Mao Tse-Tung. (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1971), pp. 85-133. Brecht shared Godard's enthusiasm for this theoretical text. In 1955 Brecht wrote that it was the book that had made the strongest impression on him the year before.
10. Godard, interview with Michael Cournot, "Quelques évidentes incertitudes," Revue d’esthétique, N.S. 20:2-3 (Winter '67), l22.
11. Jean-Luc Godard, Alexandre Astruc, Jean Renoir, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, "Conference de presse (Feb. 16, 1968): L'Affaire Langlois," Cahiers du cinéma, No. 199 (March 1968), pp. 34-41.
12. An excellent review of French theoretical writings coming out of May 68 is Jane Elisabeth Decker's "A Study in Revolutionary Theory: The French Student-Worker Revolt of May, 1968," Ph.D. Dissertation, Washington University, 1971.
13. Gorin, interview with Lesage, Paris, July 18, 1972; and Godardand Gorin, interview with Kent Carroll, Focus on Godard, ed. Royal Brown (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1972).
14. For a further discussion of the composition of the student groupuscules and the politics of spontaneity, see Decker, pp. 182-209, 234-37. See also Robert Estivals, "De l'avant-garde esthétique à la révolution de mai," Communications, No. 12 (1968), pp. 84-107. In all of the student groups, even though a primacy was placed on direct action and fighting on the barricades, there was also a consensus that the working class must make the revolution. The general strike was possible because working class militancy was at a high level — and has continued so, with a history of wildcat strikes since 1968. Gorin had rejected the Maoist groups per se by May 1968, and his description to me of the history of the Maoist groups indicates some of the complexities surrounding spontanéisme as a political issue in the left in France:
15. Godard, interview, Kino-Praxis (1968). This was a film broadside published in Berkeley by Jack Flash, pseud. for Bertrand Augst.
16. Patrick Kessel, La Mouvement "Maoiste" en France 1: Textes at documents, 1963-1968 (Paris: Oct. 18, 1972). See pp. 27-67 for a chronology of events from 1952 to 1964, including the Sino-Soviet split in 1962-63, that led to the splits from the PCF. Brochure cited, pp. 151-52. Translation mine.
17. Godard said that he had interviewed some of the staff of Cahiers marxistes-léinistes in preparation for LA CHINOISE.
18. Kessel, p. 208. Translation mine.
19. Gorin, interview with Lesage, July 18, 1972.
20. Gorin, interview with Martin Walsh, Take One, 5:1 (Feb. 1976), 17.
21. Gérard Leblanc, “Sur trois films du Groupe Dizga Vertov," VH 101, No. 6 (1972), p. 26.
22. Tom Luddy indicated that Godard edited both films (May 14, 1975, phone conversation with Lesage). Luddy also said Raphael Soren and Ned Burgess were unofficially part of the Dziga Vertov Group then, and that the group's function was primarily to make suggestions for scripts.
23. Gorin interview, July 18, 1972.
24. Mao Tse-Tung, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art,” Selected Readings, p. 276.
25. WIND FROM THE EAST and WEEKEND, Nicholas Fry, ed., Marianne Sinclair and Danielle Adkinson, trans. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), p. 125.
26. Godard, interview with Kent E. Carroll, Evergreen Review, 14:83 (Oct. 1970).
27. French edition available to Godard was Bertolt Brecht, Me-Ti: Livre des retournements, ed. Uwe Johnson, tr. Bernard Lotholary (Paris: L'Arche, 1968). Translated from the German, Brecht, Gesammelte Werke, XII, introduction Klaus Völker, series ed. Elisabeth Hauptmann (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1967). Translations are mine.
28. PRAVDA, text of voice-over commentary, Cahiers du cinéma, No. 240 (July-Aug. 1972).
29. Gorin interview with Martin Evan, Le Monde, April 27, 1972, p. 17.
30. Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon, 1964). Guy Debord, La Société du Spectacle (Paris: Buchet-Castel, 1967), tr. and rpt. in Radica1 America (entire issue), 5:5 (1970).
31. Mao Tse-Tung, "On Practice," Selected Readings, p. 41.
33. Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes toward an Investigation)," Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, tr. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), pp 127-186. Louis Aithusser's "I.S.A." essay is dated Jan.-April 1969, but did not appear until 1970 in La Penseé. Gorin, who structured LUTTES EN ITALIE, came to know these concepts through Althusser's lectures. The film follows Althusser's ideas almost exactly and was made in 1969.
34. Gérard Leblanc, "Lutte idéologique en LUTTES EN ITALIE," VH 101, No. 9 (Autumn 1972), p. 86.
37. Mao Tse-Tung, "Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?" Selected Readings, p. 502.
38. Godard and Gorin, "Excerpts from the Transcript of Godard and Gorin's LETTER TO JANE," Women and Film, 1:3-4 (1973), 51.
39. Ibid., p. 49.