1. Problems of Quotation
Some of the subtle difficulty in understanding what is raised by quotation—not any one limited instance of it, but the practice taken in its broadest generality—stems from language and its form: that a particular, perhaps unique arrangement of signs is duplicated with more or less fidelity, more or less migration from uniqueness. In the transfer of signs from one context to another, a modulation of key occurs, and as any musician knows, no melody sounds either the same or even equally beautiful in two different keys. Further, confusion may proceed from the act of utterance itself and our many ways of executing it. Do we quote a single word; a long, prolix verbal development; a trifling ditty; a knowledgeable use of slang and abbreviation. There is surely nothing to prevent quotation of the simplest, most casual remark in the most quotidian of circumstances, as we can see from Boswell’s happy recounting of a moment that occurred when Mr. Pope was visiting Mr. Spence at Oxford.
As they looked from the window, they saw a Gentleman Commoner who was just come in from riding, amusing himself with whipping at a post. Pope took occasion to say “That young gentleman seems to have little to do.” Mr. Beauclerk observed, “Then, to be sure, Spence turned round and wrote that down.”
However, even if one can find ways of uttering that artfully skirt--or merely approach—formality, as Boswell’s Mr. Pope did, still, in the preponderance of cases we find that quotation excerpts and repeats some case of relatively formal expression—Those who do not remember their history are condemned to repeat it (Santayana); The cinema is an art without a future(Lumière). The quote is weighty, and the use of it portentous to some degree. When we hear it, we hear ourselves hearing, as though through the loudspeaker of history; and when we scan it with our eyes, we blink in astonishment at a kind of déjà vu. If formalization does not lie in the deepest nature of quotation, there still exist etiquettes and tendencies, culturally positioned, that make for choosing the most sententious, pithy, provocative, and eloquently phrased wordings. I think, therefore I am. To be or not to be, that is the question. Garry Winogrand once noted that “It is the case that we can photograph anything, anywhere, at any time, but we don’t”; and in a similar vein, one could quote anything anywhere at any time but one doesn’t. Erasmus was long a font from which many quoters drank. Henry Osborn Taylor teaches us the rich utility of his Adagia, for example, which «became the commonplace book, par excellence, from which everyone, including Luther himself, drew his classical quotations. Year by year, Erasmus enlarged the collection for successive editions» (166).
I should quickly warn that quotation need not inevitably and definitively feed upon only words and textualities. In Stanley Kramer’s Judgment at Nuremberg (1959) we are given a scene in which the great Maximillian Schell, playing a German defence attorney, is ranting and shrieking in the court; and if we allow that we have been permitted (in cinema we are always permitted) to turn away the eyes, so that we might only hear him (Schell had a notably sculptured bearing, that could otherwise kidnap our attention) we can detect, even too easily, that through his performative labor he is quoting Hitler. Not, saying words that Hitler said. But, quoting the persona and voice of Hitler, making himself into Hitler for this scene by first incorporating and then broadcasting a quality of panicky hysteria, a stuttering command which finally becomes a nervous tic of paranoia. Thus, the voice alone can be quoted. The voice or perhaps the general look of a space: in various schemes of interior decoration we can observe how accepted earlier styles of draping, furnishing, lighting, and surfacing are quoted to luxurious effect. Or cuisine: how any tradition of cooking is filled with quotations, because recipes are quotations. Techniques are generally quotations, borrowing, imitating, refining but always repeating what went before.
And the source of a quotation, the hereditary substance out of which the quotational withdrawal is made, need not always be accessible or available in order for the quotation to work, if but it can be summoned to the imagination with enough force and charm. Consider for an interesting example Edward Albee’s mystifying play Tiny Alice, in whichthe great house that surrounds and encloses the set—the set is a salon that we are to take as existing inside this very house—is invisible because it is our enclosure, yet inside that one room in which we find ourselves, and set up on a little table, there is to be seen a model of that same house (as the text informs us expressly). So just as we see the model fully, the thing of which it is a copy can be perceived only by imagining our way through synecdoche.
If we think of utterance as a flow, perhaps a flowing stream, and of the molecules that fill it, the phrasings, as being relatively large and complex or relatively small and simplistic, we can see that quotation has the capacity to freeze that flow, certainly in cases where it is used in the context of what I might call “monumental” productions: books, poems, paintings, sculptures, that resist deterioration for long periods of time. Comparatively, if in a moment of speech one quotes some other moment of speech (anyone’s) the present speech flows itself, and so the quotation, extracted from a flow long gone, now flows again. Flows in the sense of vanishing with the breath and the onset of the next sounds. When one uses speech to quote speech, quotation is ethereal, it passes along with the breath of the quoter, just as the speech quoted passed with the breath of the original speaker.
2. Godard Quotes
Jean-Luc Godard is celebrated in his works for using considerable quotation, but most of the time scholars and viewers take notice when he puts onscreen words or passages from published earlier works, not when he has a character say what he once, much earlier, had another character say in another context. Any artist might refer to earlier work in this latter kind of way, but Godard seems to etch formal texts into the surfaces of his films, in the manner of a stonecarver.
Any particular Godardian instance of quotation could be used as a way of exemplifying a working technique. As to the much-heralded “importance” of particular quotations in bolstering his filmic constructions, he works in using those the way any artist would in expanding, clarifying, perhaps even modifying his statement according to some appropriate material he has found through his own study. The act of quotation reflects upon a quoter’s life broadly, outside the context of the quotation, if only by evidencing a certain field of access and interest. The quotation is a kind of gateway into an opportunity for intellectual play: a tacit quotation, on the part of the student of quotation-in-general, of the “library” that always serves as a resource. After all, we are none of us alone: we think and speak in the living context of thought and speech taken most fully through generalization beyond any single text. Yet in the contemporary age, it is no longer possible to be fully aware of Thought and Speech in their sums, and one must rest content with what amounts to consciousness via framed quotation, a way of understanding based on a more or less artful selection from all that has been thought and all that has been said. We each find the source we desire. Our sources, once they are found and revealed, offer a key to our desire.
In making a quotation, we also change the key of the original, unavoidably, since the original was constructed in line with a certain mode of building and refining but our present use is a different one. There is a translation of sort in play, in that a group of forms—let us satisfy ourselves with verbal quotation, and say “words”—that had a complete (or complete enough) meaning in the first case are now reemployed and in another context, where the meaning suffers from change. Perhaps now that new meaning echoes its ancestor. Perhaps it ironizes. Perhaps it reflects nostalgically on a time and a usage that are long gone. Perhaps it teaches, perhaps it merely sings with feeling. In Le mépris (1964) Godard puts Jack Palance in a projection room where, across the bottom of the screen, is inscribed Lumière’s statement, “Cinema is an art without a future,” but in Italian, since we are at Cinecittà. “Senza avenir.” “Sans futur.”
3. The Torlato-Favrinis
I must remark upon something Godard accomplished in Nouvelle vague (1990).
He gives over a remarkable, long sequence of grieving, set in a gorgeous country estate beside a pine-girdled lake, and featuring a character who’s known as Elena, the Contessa Torlato-Favrini (Domiziana Giordano). She gets into a boat with her lover- friend (Alain Delon) and together they row out across the water. Out, out, out, out . . . out, out. She lets herself over the gunwhales and paddles around with apparent pleasure, now encouraging him amicably to come in for a swim. This is what people do, after all (she is quoting the commonplace), they prefer not to be swimming alone. “Come on in, come on in, come on in!”
Says he calmly, “I can’t swim. Can’t swim.”
“Come on IN!,” she urges, because maybe he’s being shy. It is lovely, and she really does not want the masturbatory ignominy of having the pleasure all to herself while he watches.
Very informatively, not unlike a news reader: “Can’t swim.”
Now she seems even pushy, because things are getting serious: “COME . . . ON . . . IN!”
He really must hold his “ground” in the boat, however. It’s not a matter for play: “Can’t swim!!”
“Come. On. In!”
“Can’t swim,” reticent, hesitant, fearful, abrupt.
“Give me your hand.” Why he offers it we will never know, but of course she pulls him into the water.
And now he drowns.
As she watches.
So, this is pretty alarming and involving as a cinematic deploying of action, most of the action being speech. It’s hard not to notice that after the beginning of this “conversation,” each of the speakers is quoting the self, that is, saying again and again and again what she or he heard herself or himself say before. The conversation is internally built upon quotation, then. And as this syntactical quotation mounts, the tension mounts, because we come to sense that for reasons entirely outside of this boat ride—perhaps their history together—neither of these two really takes the other fully at face value. It’s even a little strange, perhaps, to watch a swimmer refusing to treat as honest the words of a partner in a boat, when he says, “I can’t swim.” Eerie, strange, even creepy. While also being quotational.
But the scene is a quotation in another sense, as film lovers might recognize. (Godard himself is a film watcher; and he of course posits himself as such by making open reference to other filmic material in a regular way.) The scene of a female watching a male drowning is (of course) taken quite directly from John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1946), where it was played with Gene Tierney in sunglasses rowing a boat and the adolescent Darryl Hickman, pudgy, crippled, and drowning in a placid, gorgeous lake. The Godard version is almost a steal. Stahl’s cinematographer Leon M. Shamroy shot Heaven in three-strip Technicolor, mid-day lighting, summertime, with the colorations crisp and saturated in the green-blue water, the surrounding pines. Working for Godard, William Lubtschansky used Eastmancolor negative and slightly underexposed, so that the colors are muted, the forms blending into one another more.
Godard goes further, however. In using this quotation, he takes the position of a Talmudic scholar and makes open indication that even the quotation itself is a quotation: he quotes a quoting. Because, first, in Jean Renoir’s Toni (1935), the spurned girlfriend Marie (Jenny Hélia), in a call for attention, rows out in a boat and jumps overboard. Overexposed film again, a stick figure against a paper lake. (And she survives). As well, the husband, wife, or lover---the male-female---protagonists caught up in a lake, mortally confined in a boat, with the threat of death hanging over them, had been the first turning moment in F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Story of Two Humans (1927), where in order to please the nefarious Margaret Livingston the docile but handsome George O’Brien makes to strangle his helpless wife Janet Gaynor (and presumably throw her body overboard). The husband in that film has a second thought, mercifully. But Godard is bringing all of these layers of cinema, subtly and latently, into his moment in Nouvelle vague. Perhaps as though to indicate an old and too familiar theme. To speak of “too familiar”: we can hardly forget George Stevens’s A Place in the Sun (1950), with shameful George (Montgomery Clift) and ravenous Alice (Shelley Winters) boating on Loon Lake, not happily for her; this being a re-do of the Josef von Sternberg An American Tragedy (1931), where Phillips Holmes was terminally impolite to Sylvia Sidney—boat, lake, death, electric chair—all of it coming through translation from Theodore Dreiser, whose Clyde murders Roberta on the page rather than in filmic space. Even Dreiser’s 1925 novel was quoting, as I’m reminded by Daniel Varndell: in 1906 Grace Brown was found dead in Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks, and Chester Gillette was later executed for having drowned her.
Perhaps more than other forms, however, cinema seems organically related to quotation. To intimate that with its relentless cyclicity cinema bans death, insists upon repetition and rebirth. Or surely quotation does, extending the life of the object through reflection upon, and open indication of, its life.
To press further.
Through the film we’re intensively watching the slow unwrapping to vision of the great Torlato-Favrini estate, as I’ve said. Uncountable wealth beneath the surface of everything we see. Wealth and ancestry. And now comes a time when everybody who has been visiting appears to be leaving, a Grand Departure from a Great Mansion, so there is a vague, but touching reflection of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (which premièred 1904). To both couch and tickle our sensibilities, our haunting nostalgia, Godard gives us to hear Paul Hindemith’s very provocative, other-worldly Die Trauermusik, which is a mournful dirge for full orchestra, and then a long excerpt from the slow movement in the middle of his Mathis der Maler, “The Entombment.” One senses prismatic spaces, high caverns, transparency, light. So there’s a sense of grief and grieving, something far greater than the shock of seeing a man go into the water and sink under. We grieve not only for his character, his body, but for the world in which his words, building upon one another, amount to a silent nothing, the world of the rich, as it turns out here, who do not connect, with one another or with strangers, with nature, with their past, with anything, a world, by the way, slowly falling apart, as the film meticulously shows.
Later, there’s something of a flip, where the lover’s identical twin—which is to say, another man (also played by Delon) whose resemblance to the now-dead lover is so perfect and so striking he could be a ghost--shows up and takes the Contessa out in the boat, in a similar way. Now he drowns her, although it turns out she’s not really drowned, not drowned for real (as in Toni), so life—death—the whole antithesis is something we can imagine playing out metaphorically. But at the same time, of course, the idea of the reincarnated lover, the second boatman who is also the first, or the first again, or the first reborn as someone else, is straight out of Vertigo, with a gender twist—until we recollect that because Alain Delon was one of the icons of star beauty of his time, like Kim Novak, the gender twist itself has vanished. The long sequences, chained together, inevitably constitute echoes and replayings, variations upon themes, which are, of course, quotations. If a variation does not quote a theme, it cannot be recognized as a proper variation.
At any rate, while the boat trips and the drownings, the mansion and the pine trees, the placid lake and the sports cars, the vacating of the property and the lazy light are on the screen, some viewers sensitive to musical tone (Godard is always sensitive to musical tone) will feel a certain additional, and perhaps queer, resonation of memory. This, that, and the other, the Contessa Torlato-Favrini. Here, there, and elsewhere the Contessa Torlato-Favrini. Needless to say, the name has been made up in order to evoke a musical tonality, to inspire a musical consciousness, which is to say, nothing other than a consciousness capable of detecting, and taking pleasure, when a sound recapitulates another sound, when a sounded phrase echoes (quotes) another sounded phrase. Torlato-Favrini, with the distinctive “ahh” sound in Torlato and the distinctive “eee” sound of Favrini. The Contessa and what the family is going to do, what will happen now to the Torlato-Favrinis. Why be coy: the cars driving in and out of the estate have TORLATO-FAVRINI emblazoned on their doors. Characters keep murmuring “Torlato-Favrini” and the viewer who could swear he is encountering a phantom might well mutter, “Damn, I’ve heard this somewhere before.”
It’s partly that the sound of the name seems to inhabit an echo chamber. Seems to rebound.
4. Make It New
The Contessa Torlato-Favrini is also, somehow, magically, through the transports and inventions of cinema (which, in this case, has become synonymous with Godard himself), and by nature of forces we are left powerless to imagine, the presently (and unfathomably) existing daughter of: the Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini from Joseph Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa (1954). Vincenzo meets the figure of the dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner) at a gypsy encampment on the Côte d’Azur, then sees her in a glorious fuchsia gown at the casino in Monte Carlo, and takes her home to his palace in Rapallo. Mankiewicz wanted a James-Mason-styled homosexual who could marry--take, take on, and take over--the Spanish dancer, earlier discovered (by Humphrey Bogart in the employment of the effete and self-wounding Warren Stevens) performing without her shoes and afterward quite reasonably nicknamed the “barefoot contessa.” On their wedding night she would discover his homosexuality and there would be a suitably dramatic scandal. But the censors forbidding, in anger Mankiewicz invented the bald excuse, “In the war he had an injury that got in the way of him culminating the marriage,” all kinds of nonsense of this sort. The gonadial bullet as life-saver!--reprised with a replacement land mine in Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One (1981). The secret problem of the Torlato-Favrinis, then, is that neither Vincenzo (Rossano Brazzi) nor his sister Eleanora (Valentina Cortese) can have children—her husband was killed by a nautical explosion in the war and left her childless. Thus, there will be no more Torlato-Favrinis, not, at any rate, in Mankiewicz’s world. Eleanora and Vincenzo guide Maria through a corridor of family portraits, Vincenzo’s favorite being one of Borgia’s favored assassins. Godard eclipses that corridor, creates a new contessa, and thus brings the Torlato-Favrinis back to life as a family, but only for the duration of a portion of his story, at which point he, too kills them off. This killing is a quotation. Even the presence of the Torlato-Favrinis in Nouvelle vague, even their simple manifestation, is a quotation, for why else would these characters need to be named something so mellifluous as Torlato-Favrini? We may recall that when Vincenzo and Eleanora, peering down from their stone parapet, see Ava Gardner in the surf below, then gloriously emerging from the water, he looks at the sister and says, “The last contessa.” And Godard seems to have added, for his part, “No no no. I was not wounded in the war. I will travel back in time to find Ava Gardner coming out of the surf, and with her I will father a new contessa.” A Godardian trip through the history of cinema, of which he has made many. So he brings back a new Contessa Torlato-Favrini, that is, brings her back to life, revivifies cinema.
“Make it new,” said Ezra Pound. Quotation makes it new.
Vincenzo is happy to inform Maria that the family motto is, “Che sera, sera.” A quotation containing a repetition. And a quotation that was quoted, since Jay Livingston and Ray Evans were watching this film in a movie theater and when this moment came they froze and one of them jotted that motto down on a napkin. It became their trademark song, sung by Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much, a film that resides as a quotation in the shadows behind the more powerfully lit quotations in Nouvelle vague.
To make it new is to conquer death, no less; to exercise the fantastic ability to engage with the temporality and history of cinema through one’s discreet love of film, by bringing the dead back. Godard of course was somewhat obsessed by Jean Cocteau’s comment that “In film we actually see death at work,” because we’re watching the characters aging as we’re watching the film unspool. I mean, no matter what’s happening there, everybody in a film, surely this film, gets older as you watch it, because you’re getting older, too. Every memory of a past moment is a way of quoting it for use now, quoting, translating, rekeying, putting on a new masquerade.
Vincenzo tells a little joke for Maria and his sister. He imagines that when they are deceased there will be sports cars named for the Torlatos and the Favrinis. And the Torlato-Favrini will, of course, be a limousine. Whether cinema is a sports car or a limousine may depend a little on the consciousness one brings to receiving and enjoying it: it can rush us into an adventure of movement; it can deliver us with lavish grace. In the former case, as it seems to me, one must catch one’s breath, gasp with wonder, and the echoes of quotation have no time to rebound against the walls of the villa of one’s experience. In Nouvelle vague, Godard is driving neither a Torlato nor a Favrini.
Henry Osborn Taylor, Thought and Expression in the Sixteenth Century, Macmillan, New York 1930.