Friday, September 15, 2017

Jean-Luc Godard: Archeological Morality: Excerpts from an Interview from 2016

An Interview with Jean-Luc Godard
by Dmitry Golotyuk and Antonina Derzhitskaya

9 Excerpts Translated Here by Craig Keller

originally published in the Russian revue Séance on 22 May 2016
translated for Débordements on 12 September 2017

The following are nine excerpts from a phenomenal interview by Golotyuk and Derzhitskaya which I've translated. This comes in anticipation of the projected 2018 release of Godard's newest feature, once called Tentative de bleu [Attempt in Blue], and then later titled Image et Parole (Papyrus), and now, apparently finally, titled Le livre d'image (Image et parole) [The Image-Book (Image et Parole)]. Enjoy.

[in which D: means Débordements (Golotyuk and Derzhitskaya) and JLG: means Jean-Luc Godard]



JLG: And there were some initial philosophical essays by Albert Camus — I was young, still, before the baccalauréat — that were called Le mythe de Sisyphe [The Myth of Sisyphus] and that started with the phrase that, one time, I put into a film that was, I think, For Ever Mozart: “Suicide is the only truly serious problem.”

D: And in Notre musique too.

JLG: Maybe. Yeah, it’s phrases that are more citations. When all is said and done, they’re a part of me and I say them like I, myself, came up with them. [laughs]


D: And for new music used in your film — the recent recordings by Dobrinka Tabakova and Valentin Silvestrov — did Anne-Marie [Miéville] bring them to your attention?

JLG: No. That’s music sent to me by ECM. And from time to time, they speak to me. They regularly send me them, and at times I put parts of them in. Because afterwards, the whole thing with music-rights is easier with ECM than with others.

D: But you still have to pay them?

JLG: Ah oui, that, you have to pay. Like Eddie Constantine puts it in Allemagne neuf zéro: “Always loving, always suffering, always paying.”

D: So then, do you yourself listen to everything they send?

JLG: Not entirely. But at the time I’m making a film. Especially during editing. Suddenly I say: “Here, it would have to be a piece of music like this.” So, I look around. I try for the fact that this wouldn’t be a piece of accompaniment like in the American films, which is totally, totally unbearable. Even in Hitchcock’s films, the music is unbearable. For me at least.

D: On our part, we appreciate a great deal how you treat music — sound, in general. As musicians go, we think you’re a musician too.

JLG: No, because I’m not listening for myself. Maybe I listened a lot at one time, especially classical music, but later on, no. Later on, I never listened for myself — only when I’m looking for something: a sound that’s the equivalent of an image and that’s closer to the parole in a deep sense. Because the Americans and the Germans, they don’t have a word for “parole”. [The closest I could think of when I couldn’t sleep last night was: ‘pronouncement’; Uncas Blythe also suggests 'utterance'. –CK] They say: “Worte” or “words”. Even Hamlet says: “Words, words, words.” But there’s no word for “parole”. And la parole, I remember Malraux said (I put it once in a film, in For Ever Mozart... no, was that it?) — “When one hears one’s own voice...”


JLG: Mais oui, [Beethoven] saw the Emperor Napoléon when he was leaving for Russia. But all that, for me, even more than citations, is rather archeological remains. The film I’m in the middle of making, I call it... if it was a literary work, I’d call it “essai de morale archéologique”. But if one takes note of “essai”, the fact that it sounds very literary — so I’m just saying “morale archéologique”. And it’s pieces of film where we look for… Like, I don’t know if you know these two Italian filmmakers doing archeological research…. What are their names? I forget. It’s underground cinema. I don’t remember names. [Golotyuk and Derzhitskaya note that Godard is referring to Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi —CK]. Often the names elude me these days, and it’s not that I’m losing my memory, it’s that when I see, say, faces, quotes, but not words per se, but like tableaux or whatever. Even in my daily life, if I say to myself: “Here, I’m going to grab a cigar,” I see the image of a cigar, but the word comes later. Or: “I’m going to eat lunch at such-and-such restaurant,” but the photo of the restaurant comes later.

D: It’s closer to what you call: “language.”

JLG: Oui.


JLG: ...Going into Palestine when it started to end: the Palestinian revolution and all that. Whereas all the militants... In Cuba, in ’68, there was a big reunion of intellectuals to celebrate Castro and company and I was invited too at this time. And I didn’t want go there with anyone else, I went all by myself, just for me, paying my own way. In the end, things like that. Always later, later.

D: I think this wasn’t always the case. For example, Raoul Coutard talks about making Passion when you wanted to “piss off” Giscard d’Estaing...

JLG: Pff! Maybe I said that. But Raoul, trust me, he had no clue. And that’s to say he had his own interpretations. He was a former indochine like [Pierre] Schoendoerffer or whoever. I remember that on Pierrot le fou, — maybe I wasn't very direct on the matter, but he couldn’t stand either the Jews or the Arabs. He had a small preference for the Jews over the Arabs, but he couldn’t stand either of them. [laughs]

[Pff! Peut-être que je disais ça. Mais Raoul, il ne comprenait pas très bien sûrement. Et enfin, il avait ses propres interprétations. C’était un ancien d’Indochine comme Schoendoerffer ou comme ça. Je me souviens que sur Pierrot le Fou, moi, c’était pas très net, mais il détestait aussi bien les Juifs que les Arabes. Il avait une petite préférence pour les Juifs contre les Arabes, mais il détestait les deux. (Il rit.)]


D: It makes me think of Jean-Marie Straub who believes that Webern’s abstract music is more political than that of Berg (with his Wozzeck), and that Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach counts among his most political films.

JLG: Yes, I understand. He lives here, Jean-Marie Straub.

D: Where does he live?

JLG: He lives in Rolle. Maybe he’s very ill, I don’t know. He has a woman friend who’s living with him since Danièle Huillet’s death. We barely saw one another, then after that we see each other less often because actually, we don’t have much to say to one another. From time to time he sends me his films.

D: Do you appreciate them, his new films?

JLG: I appreciate his work, contrary to others. I think that he’s more of a sculptor who measures the stone. What bugs me is that he always starts from texts, but the text is like stone, and he films stone that’s hammered out. This is how it seems to me. He made a small film about Montaigne [Un conte de Michel de Montaigne, 2013] that people found to be nothing and unbearable with always these neverending shots where nothing happens. [laughs] But I think he’s a sculptor who has a Michelangelo side to himself too. If I was doing criticism these days, it’s with this language I’d seek to be dispensing of — oh well, whatever, that’s what I’d say.


D: And sometimes you jumble up borders between one thing and another — comparing Notre musique to a book, while defining Film Socialisme as a symphony in three movements, or saying Tentative de bleu, your new project, that it has to do with sculpture. Is it really a film for three screens?

JLG: Not for right now. Maybe, if I come to finish it like this, we’ll try to shorten it up. But to shorten it while putting it on three screens, that means dividing it into three parts. [laughs] And making out of it a... what would you call it? — an installation, or an exposition on three screens, which is very facile. Rather than put it like that, because it bothers me that the screen stays flat. We’ve lost... Actually, it’s normal, it evolves, but we’ve lost a little the sensation of space, a lot actually, that there was in the first films, before the Second World War. Everything has become flatter, if you will, and very different from painting. A good photo in one instant speaks better than an image. Even tracking-shots: I remember the quote from Cocteau who said that making a tracking-shot was completely idiotic because it renders the image immobile.

D: Is this even the case during the shoot?

JLG: Not entirely. Sometimes, actually... Here, now, I’m taking... in place of doing a scenario, rather what the Americans call “storyboard,” but not at all in order, more unconscious stuff. Like a painter. Classical painters make sketches first. Often, I prefer attempts [tentatives, studies], Delacroix’s preparations than his big paintings, because you feel something moving. Later, the big painting, it’s static, and one puts words on top of it. You say: “Freedom guiding the people.” But beforehand, when he draws it like so-and-so, you can feel freedom in the work.

D: So, you still haven’t “mounted” [monté] anything for your new film?

JLG: Here — I’m starting to. After: what I call a scenario idea, a sketch [attempt/tentative] of the scenario, but which is done only with photos, if you will. Once, they came often. I know that for his first films in America, Fritz Lang made reports about the region or about other stuff, then the scenario came. But he didn’t try to write anything. Maybe, rather like a musician, if you will, who works at his piano before writing his symphony, because when he writes, he writes. That’s why I’ve always really liked free-jazz without really being able to stand it. But because nothing was written out.

D: Is Tentative de bleu still the title?

JLG: No, it’s just called Image et Parole. [One year later, it’s now called Le livre d’image, or The Image-Book. -CK] And then, between parentheses: “Papyrus”. [And now one year later, between parentheses: Image et Parole. –CK] It’s like if you find an old piece of papyrus where everything’s all stuck together. Those two Italian filmmakers, they’re making films like that, where sometimes you simply see bits of 35mm. They’re looking at image after image, that is, it’s an archeological discovery that allows one to find certain details of... a broken vase, and so on.


D: The former title of your new project, Tentative de bleu, makes one think of painting.

JLG: Oui, I think that there will be a reference to the end of painting, but it’s not very clear-cut. Because I’m doing a very long introduction. A bit like if before seeing the hand, one sees, separately, the five fingers, and afterwards, only sees the hand. So, I’m doing five elements: war; journeys; law; in the sense of Montesquieu, L’ésprit des lois...; and then, the last one, which is called La région centrale in remembrance of an American underground film [sic - Canadian, by Michael Snow –CK] — and then afterward, the hand. So, with the hand, it’s a small story based on a book that seemed interesting to me, which I call L’Arabie heureuse [Happy Araby]. “L’Arabie heureuse” was a term that in the 19th-century voyagers used (Alexandre Dumas, for example) to speak about this world region, the Middle-East, which today is in distress. And I have the story of a... Like you can’t find gasoline — people want to rest there. But then the leader wants to invade all the other betraying Arab countries, and so on. And he makes a fake revolution that doesn’t work out, then after everyone ends up the same. I’m shooting without actors. I don’t want actors. You hear passages from the book — there’s a narrator who speaks like he’s read passages of the book, and you come to understand it’s a kind of fable.

D: So, there won’t be any actors?

JLG: No, not at all, none. For example, my collaborator Jean-Paul Battaggia said to me: “Listen, to tell such a text you can get Jean-Pierre Léaud, he’d be great.” And then, I said to him: “No, because he’s an actor acting a text, and there cannot be any actors.” So, that’s the deal, I have to find an unknown.

D: You mentioned Léaud and that makes me think of Anne Wiazemsky and of a very strange project that has to do with her. Are you aware that Michel Hazanavicius...

JLG: Oh, I don’t want to deal with that. That makes me sick. But, yeah, I don’t give a shit.

D: This idea sounds stupid.

JLG: Oui, oui. But it’s the same producer, Wild Bunch, who made my most recent films. They don’t even dare speak to me about it. [laughs] It’s stupid.

D: But you can’t do anything about it?

JLG: Pff, no — that’s people; people are free to do what they do.


D: Basically, one can say that contemporary art privileges the idea and dismisses the form, or rather beauty. At what point is beauty such as it is relevant for you? Do you consciously seek out beauty?

JLG: No, not anymore. Actually yes... I don’t know, certain times, but not necessarily. Because within all this modern stuff, when I take a look at it, I think the words come after, and only then comes the execution. People say: “We’re going to make an installation called so-and-so.” Which Agnès Varda does now, or who... what’s her name? This Belgian filmmaker who died, I forgot... Chantal Akerman. But it’s only words. It doesn’t work.

D: I like the definition of beauty given by the composer Helmut Lachenmann: “Beauty is the refusal of habit.” I think that one can apply this phrase to what you do, especially since Film Socialisme.

JLG: Oui.

D: In Notre musique, a Bosnian student asks you if the little digital cameras might save cinema. Were you already considering the possibility of using them?

JLG: At the time it didn’t exist, right? But very quickly I’ve... I liked it a lot... We used to make things smaller, like the 16mm or whatever. To be simpler, smaller. Nowadays, three of us make a film. That’s enough. If you had to... I’d really have liked to make (but this was at the time) a film in Hollywood. I tried, but it never worked out...

D: The Story?

JLG: Oh, way before. What I liked was to make a film based on a best-selling book. I told an American producer: “Yes, I’d really like to make a film, but I’d just be a metteur en scène. You choose the actors, you choose the sets, you choose everything. Me, I just want to do the direction. I don’t want anything to do with the rest.” And that’s not what they wanted.

D: When was this?

JLG: Oh, a dozen years ago. [Godard may be referring to his proposed adaptation of the Daniel Mendelsohn book, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. —CK]

D: Why did you want to impose these constraints?

JLG: Ugh, to try to do something like everyone else. But also to do with being tired, because of age. You know, it’s exhausting to always run around and do too much, it doesn’t interest me anymore, I no longer have the desire. Already with three people it’s exhausting, because the two of them are friends and affectionate their entire lives, but only a little with the discussion of making movies, that’s not there. It’s missing. So, you talk to yourself in these instances. But when it comes down to it, it’s just habit too. [laughs]

[Bah, pour essayer de faire avec ce qui reste. Mais par rapport à la fatigue aussi, à l’âge. Vous savez, c’est fatiguant de toujours courir et faire trop, ça ne m’intéresse plus, j’en ai plus envie. Déjà à trois c’est fatigant, parce que les deux autres sont des amis et sont très précieux pour toute la vie, mais en ce qui concerne la discussion un peu sur le cinéma, il n’y en a pas. Ça manque. Donc, on discute avec soi-même dans ces cas-là. Mais au bout d’un moment, c’est l’habitude aussi. (Il rit.)]

D: Can we say that these small digital cameras give you what you wanted to attain with the Aaton 35-8?

JLG: At the time — yes.

D: To do smaller...

JLG: Oui. Smaller quality? Today, it’s the same to me. The film I’m making... It’s like it’s more archeology, the quality of the image doesn’t matter to me.

D: To sum it up, you treat digital in two ways. On the one hand, you start from its faults to create rich textures, which might be called digital expressionism...

JLG: Oui.

D: And on the other hand, you use them in the normal way; you continue to do what you did before, in 35mm. Can one imagine such a film as Notre musique being shot in digital?

JLG: Oui, oui, it could have been done.

D: Now, it’s the same for you?

JLG: Now, it’s the same for me, and then with digital, very little money is required. For the upcoming film, the producer, Wild Bunch, is giving 300,000 euros. Voilà, c’est tout. And so, with 300,000 euros, you have to deliver at the end of two years (it leaves a bit of time: one year to make the five fingers and then one year more to make the hand). And then, if that’s not enough, what I earn sometimes like the money in France with the revenues of films that show on television, I give back to the producer — I don’t ask him to repay. That’s to say that with 300,000 euros three people have to live off of it and make the film for two years. So, if I’m paying these three people, then including me, on the money for the film, that makes 9000 euros per month. And so, nothing is left over for the film. So, I have to give, and fortunately there’s a little, what I have for the producer. I don’t ask anything of the producer. Voilà, so, there you have it, the economy of the film. And it would be interesting to know that within the actual economy it might be the same way.

D: But at the level of the image: of the light, of the depth of the shot — that’s a little different between 35mm and digital, isn’t it?

JLG: Oui, oui. Then, it depends whether one does lighting or one doesn’t. Me, I innately feel what exists. I always try to keep it. But even with the two others, with Jean-Paul [Battagia] and Fabrice [Aragno], it’s hard because they have crew traditions, and when they show up, they bring all of this into it. And I tell them: “This is a set — nothing must be touched — keep your business out of here.” [laughs] But there are a lot of things that can’t be done. And can’t try to be done, that’s all.

D: Why did you change the aspect-ratio of the image?

JLG: To accommodate television these days, that’s all.

D: But at the time you sent to the Cahiers du cinéma a page with two images from Notre musique as projected in three different aspect-ratios. You wanted to show how the 16:9 satellisait a person and concealed the truth. [The original Cahiers article showed a 1.37:1 frame of a woman's face from Notre musique, followed by its cropping to 1.66:1, then to 1.78:1 (16:9), over which Godard marked in pen: "esclave-satellite," or "satellite-slave."]

JLG: Oui, it’s not a good ratio. But it’s the aspect-ratio in today’s reality. I mean that once painters, they painted what they had available. When paint tubes were invented, that changed a lot — impressionism, etc. So, you can only make reality. It doesn’t matter… And then after, if I put a film on DVD, that passes for normal, no one makes a big deal. Whereas in the theater everyone freaks out... Even with television: there’s not one viewer who equates the one with the other. So, there’s nothing to be done. You have to try so that there remains one thing and it’s this thing you have to select to go off from and have to find — if you will.

D: At the beginning of Adieu au langage, we see a mysterious object with elements of a 3D camera. It appears for a few seconds in the light of a flare ceaselessly moving — and then, near the end, it lands on the cover of a book by Van Vogt. And you’re the one who put it there; the actual cover is different.

JLG: Oui, it’s a different image I put on top of the cover of the Van Vogt. So you could see the title.

D: Why did you do this?

JLG: Because what the cover was didn’t suit me. Whereas that one, it was an image (I don’t know where it came from) of an Indian totem or whatever. I thought it was better. If I was the one who published the book, I would have gone with that. [laughs]


D: For these last 35 years, you’ve worked with several directors of photography, like, besides Coutard, William Lubtchansky, Caroline Champetier, Julien Hirsch. Why did you change them up? Why, for example, did you break with Coutard, even though he did beautiful work on Passion and Prénom Carmen?

JLG: Ugh, we made lots of films. Later, I was going somewhere else, and he was staying where he was at. Lubtchansky or whoever — same. There’s a lot of them; I started out with them. At times… Lubtchansky, he had an assistant who was Caroline, Caroline had an assistant who was Julien, bah voilà, on passait... Then after, it came to an end. [laughs]

D: Sometimes, you left Caroline Champetier alone on the set. You even sent her to Moscow to shoot a scene for Les enfants jouent à la Russie.

JLG: Oui, oui, and she did a great job. Because she’s someone who wanted to be involved with everything, who talked about everything, who discussed everything. I said to her: “Bah, tu veux? Tiens, voilà a bag of money. Go on, go to Russia and film the death of Anna Karenina. I have nothing to do with it.”

D: This terrifed her.

JLG: Ah oui, sûrement.


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