A catastrophe / is the first strophe / of a love poem.
It has been a long-time principle of Godard's, if one unspoken: take what is manifestly personal, in-folded, what is coded and haunts, and recite it, align it with the rest of the personal: everything will fall into place, like words in a sentence, because beauty is a language. And like the best efforts of Montaigne, or Woolf, or Perec, the results will speak for themselves at the moment the narrator has no longer the strength to do the talking. That is to say, the Godardian inversion doesn't always hold: Language isn't always beauty. It's "the house man lives in", to be sure, but a house is not a home — it's mere residence, and its diction connotes the temporary, the transitory, the interminable. Let's repeat: is not a home — at times, instead, and in paradox with 'peripatetic', a place of arrest.
Today I feel a little like Roger Leenhardt, at least like the Leenhardt described in an email I received from an acquaintance a few weeks ago. After Les Dernières vacances [The Last Vacation, 1947], the public rejected Leenhardt's fictions, so he turned toward making works that were largely documentary in nature. Today, I too feel I'm only observing. (What's a prison without its panopticon? What's the panopticon turned inward on itself and clairvoyant beyond the [expressly] concrete?)
Let's put ourselves in the position of Marcus Messner, Roth's latest protagonist, and grope towards feeling positively indignant. — Oxymoron? No. Err... again: paradox? Well, after all, the truly indignant await that sensitive enclave who will, as my acquaintance wrote in the context of Leenhardt's years on the commercial downswing, rediscover "his discretion — his tact — his modesty".
The indignance gasolining somatics. Sophia de Mello Breyner: "Every gesture must carry / Solemnity and risk".
Jean-Luc Godard's new work, Une catastrophe [A Catastrophe, 2008]: created as the official "festival trailer" for the 2008 Viennale. Viewable and downloadable in QuickTime at the Viennale site here. (A version has also been placed on YouTube, but the preceding link carries a reasonably acceptable resolution for a QT download, and a reliably synched soundtrack — two traits videos posted on YouTube consistently lack.)
It begins with the sounds of a tennis match — thematic shorthand in Godard for the shot/counter-shot, itself shorthand, metaphor, allegory for a dialectical world — a utopia that remains yet in the future, and has nevertheless been lost: a construction in the mind; here and not-here; a "third image"; the third-eye. The sounds shroud footage from the "Odessa Steps" sequence of Eisenstein's The Battleship Potyemkin [Bronyenosyets Potyemkin, 1925]: a long-shot of the citizens' flight, followed by a medium-shot of a woman standing her ground, holding a child in defiant new-pietà. (Death of the gaze: we must recall, from the same sequence in Eisenstein's film, the image of the butchered pince-nez on the cloven face; and of the slowed-down fall of the Baudelairean beauty in close-up, hexed by Fromanger's drip, set to the strains of the Allegro moderato of Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor in Episode 1A of the Histoire(s) du cinéma.)
Then: death on the 'field of battle' and glory (the crowd applauds) — with reverse-shot: the silhouette of a soldier facing in the opposite direction of the aforeshown dying. Tanks roll in, direct from Godard's 1996 For ever Mozart (which we note JLG presents in its intended 1.37:1 aspect ratio — i.e., not 1.66:1) — but Godard 'strikes' us, underscoring the cut from the image of the soldier to the image of the tanks, by laying the sound of missile-fire across the soundtrack at a cringingly elevated level in the mix. The missiles' image follows only later, a few seconds on, and arrives like a redundancy, or something robbed of its power by: (a) its muteness; (b) its toxic beauty — the trails 'flower' into existence, as though recalling the famous footage of the blossoming bombs dropped by B-52 over the Vietnamese countryside (invoked by that supreme aide-mémoire, Chris Marker's 1982 Byez solntsa / Sunless / Sans soleil) — and, by latent association, the other fleurs de Godard — the personal garden, and closing "Garden of Eden", in JLG's Notre musique [Our Music, 2004], which makes use of this same footage of the offending F-15 in the film's opening segment, "1st Kingdom: Hell"; the explosion of the Twin Towers re-made "cinematic" by the fireworks display that erupts into full-bloom in Hitchcock's 1955 To Catch a Thief (la petite mort, la grande mort) in Liberté et patrie [Freedom and Fatherland, 2002]; and by the Borgesian sanctification in the final moments of the last episode of the Histoire(s). To name only a few (and not even to mention that recurring field of 'marching Reds'...).
Before we move on, let's mention the most obvious motif, emerging/re-merging throughout several Godard works of recent years: "A catastrophe is the first strophe of a love poem." Yes, it's brilliant, and repels/compels at once — what's that line from Pierre Reverdy? — (ah oui: "Une image n'est pas forte parce qu'elle est brutale ou fantastique — mais parce que l'association des idées est lointaine et juste.") — but we mustn't neglect the association, no matter how lointaine, how latent, with the Shoah — ultimate catastrophe, annihilation (this is etymology). But still — and yet charged with equal repulsion — existing in a kind of opposition to Lanzmann: that is, dialectical sublimation, utopia, Possible — all this itself, naturally, one-half of the (cooled?) dialectic with Monsieur Claude. (Brody's neuroses, ham-fisted as they are [and which adjective he would probably also deem anti-Semitic], remain irrelevant.) So it is.
After the fighter-jet, and with the invocation of the love-poem (in all its crisis) complete, the recitation may commence: from "Dat du min Leevsten büst" ["That You Be My Dearest"], a traditional poem in Plattdeutsch ("Low German", cousin to the Plautdietsch dialect used in Reygadas's Stellet Licht [Silent Light, 2007] ), recited here, at least in its French translation placed parallel on the soundtrack, by André S. Labarthe (as identified in an email from Nicole Brenez). The background music is Schumann, the first piece from his 1838 collection Kinderszenen [Childhood Scenes], Of Foreign Lands and Peoples [Von fremden Ländern und Menschen]. The image-track: Menschen am Sonntag [People on Sunday, Curt Siodmak, Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Fred Zinnemann, 1929]. The stop-motion process that Godard applies to the extract does what it always does when he brings it into the mix: it examines the imprisonment in love, and the beauty; the catastrophe in love, love born from the catastrophe. Always the cinema as electron-microscope in Godard — and let's not miss the fact that the footage has not been dumped-in or incorporated direct from 'video-in', but rather has been filmed, that is video-shot, from in front of a display upon which Menschen am Sonntag pulsates, via electron-gun of the cathode ray tube... "Fade away, and radiate..."
Kumm du Klock een
Ik slap alleen.
Klopp an de Kammerdör
Fat an de Klink
Dat deit de Wind.
Come at midnight
Come at one o'clock
I sleep alone.
Knock at the chamber-door
Open the latch
That it's the wind.
The Rest of the Personal. — Le repos du personnel. In REM I'll tell you of a greater tragedy. —
A love poem is the first stroke of a catastrophe.
PHILIPPE LANÇON: Have you read Tony Hillerman's novels?
JEAN-LUC GODARD: The polars with the Indian detective? Yes. They're fantastic. I would have liked to make a film based on one of them. But it would have run at least seven hours.
PHILIPPE LANÇON: Do it!
JEAN-LUC GODARD: I don't have the energy for it anymore. I'd have to go over there. It's no longer possible.
—Libération, 12 July 2006