Cinema is obviously cited in Godardian films, from the first famous feature-length, À bout de souffle (1960), to the latest, Adieu au langage (2014), not to mention Histoire (s) du cinéma (1988-1998). But, in the case of Godard, this is a “poetics of quotation” (Derrida), not a simple tribute to some directors. The “pieces” subtracted, extracted, and then embedded – submerged and saved (as Primo Levi would say) – in “his” films deform and assault the “pieces”, as Benjamin had suggested to do with fragments and pieces. The figures are bowed discursively, and the discourses figuratively. The noir genre, the B-movie, Dreyer, etc., are taken from their contexts and grafted into the Godardian text; that is a moving palette of irregular and unrestricted borders.
Susan Sontag: «Godard is now the only director who is interested in “philosophical films” and possesses an intelligence and discretion equal to the task». So, philosophy. Not only, and not so much, because Godard refers to German and French phenomenology (Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty) or to other philosophers, like Wittgenstein, but because the affections and the perceptions of art, according to Deleuze's language, produce thought differently like philosophical concepts do.
Jean-Luc Godard's first period (1955-1967) is a longtime good-bye to language, a denaturalization of peaceful coexistence of image and sound, a radical criticism of the anchoring between visual and sound, a restructuration of the field of cinema and its language, breaking the covenant between the spectator and the screen, and shattering primary and secondary identification by fibrillating and collapsing the good organic forms of narration of classicism, making opaque Hollywood transparency, disturbing and deactivating the spectator's enchantment subjected to the dispositif.
Too often, Lyotard complains in the 1970s that art is subordinate to the politics, within the most comprehensive device that sees the discourse linking and catching the figure; this is what the ordre du discours does channeling intensity and energy, placing them in a well-made form. Like Brecht and Benjamin in the 1930s, Godard, in the years of societé du spectacle, responds to the aestheticization of politics with the politicization of art. Art has its own politics – as claimed by Trotsky to Lyotard – that can not submit to political “messages”. This is the deep sense of politics in Godard, and in the 1960s his politics is, in particular, splitting the audio from the visual, introducing a new form of ostranenie (Sklovsky) to awaken the consciousness of the sleeping spectators that are subjected to the big screen (a sort of Lacanian Grand Autre), subjects because they respond to screen interpellation (in the Althusserian sense).
In this second period, there is a passage to the political act, the building of a politics of image against the image of politics, which characterizes, in a peculiar way, the years from 1968 to 1972. In a roundtable (with Fuller, Corman, Vidor) that took place in L.A., someone asked to Godard if he prefers to make films or set up social and political speeches. The answer was that there is no difference between the two activities. The target was to make political films politically, making films and making politics, doing politics through movies and making movies through politics. Changing the audience, awakening it, disengaging it from primary and secondary identification (Metz): this is already starting to change the world. Prophetically, as today happens everyday in the visual economy, our world is increasingly marked by images: changing the way of seeing, jumping outside the cage of the spectatorship, is a new form of criticism of political economy. It must underline the extreme innovative character of this politics of image but, at the same time – using for example Debord – there’s also the chance to criticize Godard’s naive faith in Maoism. This is not the most important radical part of this period. His critique of the political economy of images and sounds (his praxis) is more radical than his faith in Maoist contents or messages.
In the second period (1968-1972), Godard has radicalized the process of deconstruction of images and sounds, starting from the criticism of the ideological instance of the authoritarian, possessive, individualist, bourgeois subject, who is considered the master of the works that he/she realizes, including the artistic ones. So there is also a criticism of the politique of auteurs.
Godard's third period begins in December 1973, when he founded, together with Anne Marie Mieville – a photographer known two years earlier – just before Godard's motorcycle accident, the Sonimage production house in Grenoble, one of the centers of the workers' struggles '68.
The simplicity of form, Robert Morris once wrote, does not correspond or postulate a simplicity of experience. As Godard repeats, life is complicated. The simplest, but paradoxically, equally, non-existent forms of this third period have the function of ordering and reordering the relationships that embody the fabric of experience, increasingly conceived, both by Morris and by Godard, as processual. So, once again, the stakes are not only a certain use of editing (the method of relationships, which establishes relationships that characterize the experience, especially the social experience), but also a reflection on the montage as a way to organize a sort of disassembly (analysis) of the society of communication, in other words: the social is drowned in the communication, Godard tries to analyze the communication to free the social.
This third period is a work of deconstructing the communication society (Godard and Miéville analyze much the television, using the video to experience new forms of montage), which, as Deleuze would say, first of all, communicates commands.
The return of Godard to the Cinema, de facto, is the encounter of his modernity with classicism. His cinema is increasingly a crisis. But not only and not so much a Kantian Kritik – that, instead, has marked his political and film work since 1968 – but rather a Husserlian Krisis. Crisis as a renewal: tradition, the past, in a word the history, is resumed, dialogue with cinema, all with the part, the vastness of cultural horizons, are included in the specialization of a medium (the cinema) that has always had universalistic or synthetic pretensions. Godard, as later in his Histoire(s) du cinéma, after breaking the borders of transparent classicism, the narrative and representative film, and outlining the boundaries of the specificity of the film medium, pours and converts all the stories (included the histoires of the History) into cinema. Only cinema (seul le cinéma), considering its hybrid, multimedia, if not postmedial nature, seems to be able to welcome this vastness. Doing it, Godard renews it once again and powerfully. The whole History, not just the latest tools of mass communication, but also all the History, including the beauty, painting and music (with his Mozart and Beethoven), coming back in his films.
History is the matrix that generates all the stories, all the rhetorical forms, all the modes of representation, but at the same time these stories, these forms, these modes, tell and represent History.
Cinema is a historical phenomenon, linked to industry, especially to the military industry (at the beginning) and to the cultural industry, as Adorno said. But cinema is also linked to the most general devices of subjection, which Benjamin had already analyzed. The cinema is also related to Modernism, to the development of science and technology, to the mutation in ways of observing reality. And so on. In short, cinema is historic. But cinema is also what has shown and narrated History. Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma has to do with all this: it's (film)making History in the history of cinema, as well as making movie history (inscribing it) in History. Showing and telling his own (hi)story as filmmaker, history of cinema, Godard shows and tells the History of Twenties Century.
(Lewis Klahr, Porcelain Gods)
Godard does that using the collage as method. This is what he has in common with Lewis Klahr.
The artistic practice of the collage artist/animator Lewis Klahr is equally reminiscent of those postmoderns who disassemble the concept of the same, including that of the modernist tradition of collage, that of Picasso and the filmmaker and artist Cornell. Klahr's work is deeply marked by affinities with the spirit of postmodern art, which rethinks its relationship in contrast to the founding fathers of modernism. His collage is not a copy that adheres to the model of modernism, of Cubism or Cornell, but must be considered as and associated with a major part of post-war art, with the simulacrum. We have become from now on simulacra, our existence is aesthetic. In the work of Lewis Klahr, melancholy is the synonym of a crisis.
(Thanks to Paul Grant for helping me with the translation, and Lew Klahr for the image
that is a part of a bigger sequence of collage made taking inspiration from Le Mépris)