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Translated by T. S. Murphy
“And if George Stevens hadn’t used the ﬁrst sixteen-millimeter color ﬁlm at Auschwitz and Ravensbrück, undoubtedly Elizabeth Taylor’s happiness would not have found a place in the sun.” The viewer of Histoires du cinéma recognizes in this declaration Godard’s manner of making incisive juxtapositions (rapprochements à l’emporte-pièce). And in this, undoubtedly habit has already had a share in things. She says to herself that it’s indeed interesting that before tackling the cinematic version of An American Tragedy, George Stevens had accompanied the advance of the American army and ﬁlmed the death camps in cinema. But she adds here the feeling that, if Stevens had spent the war as an announcer in New York or a parachutist in Burma, this would have ever so slightly altered the way Elizabeth Taylor, in A Place in the Sun, portrayed the beautiful heiress overjoyed by her idyll with the young Rastignac played by Montgomery Clift. Having thus sorted things out, she awaits the provocateur’s next telescoping and prepares herself to handle it in the same way. But the director doesn’t mean it that way, and a new image comes to bring literariness (littéraliser) to Elizabeth Taylor’s place in the sun. She now appears to us shadowed, iconized in a circle of light that seems to outline the imperious gesture of a painted ﬁgure apparently descended from the heavens. Her suspended position would logically make her an angel. But the halo, the watchful expression and the red cape fringed with gold apparently belong to
Discourse, 24.1, Winter 2002, pp. 113–119 Copyright © 2002 Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan 48201-1309.
114 Discourse 24:1 a saint. deﬁes the law of gravity for material and spiritual bodies. of one juxtaposition among others. Every history of cinema in this century—his century— is imperiously organized around the 1939–1945 war. a combination of two great theses: the Adornian thesis on the impossibility of art after Auschwitz and the Deleuzian thesis. and the horror encountered in the camps belongs to Godard’s history of cinema. of Renoir’s France. daughter of German speculations of the preceding century. the cinematic body of the star and the painted celestial apparition. In the triangle that connects the cadaver of Auschwitz. daughter of old Europe and devourer of her mother. in which we recognize the hand of Giotto. which connects the crisis of the movement-image to the compromise between grand cinematic montage and totalitarian directing (mise en scène). at the limit. the fact is that—contrary to what the title leads us to believe—Godard constructs one history of cinema and one only. Thus the pasting (collage) of the sacred painted image onto the profane ﬁlm redoubles in its bizarreness—both visual and semantic—the excess of the conceptual pasting that connected the lightness of the star to the horror of Auschwitz and Ravensbrück. in spring 1940. It’s not a matter here. as to the very constitution of the corpus of the history of cinema. organized around the Naziﬁcation of Fritz Lang’s Germany and the collapse. both the one thesis and the other have a weakness common to retrospective declarations of impossibility. North America. the devastated Germany of 1945. First the thesis on cinema in the century. Whatever the qualities of their guarantors might be. It includes Soviet Russia. fully assumed by Godard. the whole enterprise of Histoires du cinéma is emblematized. therefore. If the Hollywood version of Dreiser’s American Tragedy must depend on what Stevens saw and ﬁlmed in the death camps. But above all their conjunction has an important consequence. and . Between the “excessive” conceptual pasting and the impossible visual pasting. around Germany in ruins and the discovery of the death camps in 1945. Whatever can be shown to be in play in the backstabbed French spring of 1940. and a thesis on what makes up the image in general. A Franco-German history. and the Rosellinian advent of the time-image in the traumatism of defeat. the three major strands of Godardian construction actually come together in a knot: a thesis on what the century has done to cinema. The history of the two dream machines—Soviet and Hollywood—must ﬁnd its truth in the European catastrophe. and one hardly sees why this ﬁgure. The fact remains that saints rarely descend from the heavens. at ﬁrst glance. a thesis on what cinema has done to the century. This truth seems to be.
Winter 2002 115 Rossellini’s Italy. But it has also failed at the very knowledge of its powers: it was unable to recognize that it had already shown. Deleuze’s “history of cinema” was divided between two fathers of the time-image: the non-temporal Ozu and Rossellini. It’s not a matter of calling into question (incriminer) what cinema would still like to do after the horror of the camps. according to Godard cinema’s. But that childish camp from which the barber and his protector easily escape shows in any case that the most resolute and talented cinematic denouncers of Nazism had not the least idea nor the least premonition of the coming reality of the extermination camps. If Godard does not care anymore about supporting his historical demonstration. it’s because it hasn’t been ﬁlmed. this horror that came crashing down on reality. Nevertheless. Godard’s is coherent: he knows only Rossellini’s year zero. like thousands of other shots of suffering inﬂicted on innocent victims. Signiﬁcantly.” On the other hand it leaves the Japan of Ozu and Mizoguchi on the sidelines. It was unable to recognize in reality what it had nevertheless shown already in its ﬁctions: for example. And it does this neither by means of aesthetic depreciation nor by forgetting what Japan did and underwent between 1941 and 1945. Renoir’s rabbit hunt can always be called prophetic in retrospect. this is due to something more fundamental: a . or in the anti-Semitic raids and the concentration camp in The Great Dictator. the art of the great Japanese masters is represented by a single shot. this is not because the horror is unﬁlmable. not having been able to recognize in reality what it had foreseen. It has failed at the task that its powers imposed on it: that of ﬁlming the horror of the camps. Cinema’s merit (having shown everything in advance) is as imaginary as its error: not having seen. is none too convincing. nor do its images ﬁt the Judeo-Christian quarrel over images. but because the war and defeat of Japan do not allow themselves to be thought within the Franco-German historical quarrel. child of defeat. in its ﬁctions. error is double. Godard’s thesis is the opposite: if cinema has become “impossible” after Auschwitz. of which we can reasonably think that it is included less for the virtues of the ﬁlm itself than for those of its title: The Cruciﬁed Lovers. it is in order to found a completely different idea of the task of cinema in his century. More precisely. emblem of resistance to “the occupation of cinema by America. the year zero of Berlin in ruins. Here again the argumentation. regarded coldly. It’s not a matter of saying that art—or in any case the great constructivist cinema—is no longer possible after Auschwitz. in the rabbit hunt or the dance of death in Rules of the Game. if Godard borrows from Deleuze his cutting up of time and from Adorno the sepulchral tone of time after.
the face on Veronica’s veil. This virtue has nothing to do with the docility of the reproducing machine. this is simply because Godard has rotated her image 90 . after the martyrdom of Broken Blossoms and the massacres of Intolerance. The rabbit hunt and the dance of death in Rules of the Game. it could not see in these images of its own destiny the “ﬁgures” of mass assassinations to come. Not that the news had been at Auschwitz any more than cinema had. of our savior the Son of God. but that of the screen. Cinema should have been there because its very essence is to be there. It’s useless to suggest that there would have been some difﬁculty for ﬁlmmakers of good will to set up their working materials in the death camps. the power of the image that “will come at the time of the Resurrection” because it was always already there. the veil stretched out so that the world imprints itself there. This is why the cinema must ﬁlm Auschwitz. not rising from the bath but literally raised from the dead. it is guilty of not having recognized them. the face of the Word. If she hovers in the air. It is the mark of the true. were in short ﬁctions in which cinema already represented its own death by the Hollywood “plague. to the Hollywood ﬁction industry. and therefore missed by it. It had already betrayed the real of the image.” It is this humility alone that has preserved the power of salvation.116 Discourse 24:1 thesis on the image that is ﬁrst of all a faith in the image. but because the news never claimed anything other than “being there. it’s because cinema had already betrayed its essence. the very virtue of the image would be in question: its virtue of being everywhere and showing everything to everyone. And if it has not done so. This is why the atonement for its error could only come from the poor images in the news. no images that were available or constructible by the cinema. This triple afﬁrmation does not admit a confrontation with the documentary reality of what was in the ﬁlms or with the empirical reality of what was visible of the Nazi camps and imaginable of their principle. And this resurrection is announced by this proﬁle that descends from the heavens to trace the halo of light in which Liz Taylor appears. because it has always preceded itself. The proﬁle is that of Mary Magdalene. arms raised toward the sun. The virtue of cinema according to Godard is not that of the camera that decides. it is great for having ﬁlmed them ahead of time. It had sold its soul to the devil. The saint is not known for having practiced levitation.” But because cinema had consented to this assassination. The image here in question is something other than reproduction. Cinema is guilty of not having ﬁlmed the camps at the time. those dead that the ﬁlmmaker ﬁlmed a few years before. the very imprint of the prototype. If there were no images of the camps.
In Giotto’s fresco the saint’s feet are ﬁrmly planted on the ground. I applied myself to interpreting this mystery in a Mallarméan sense. Godard has not simply intended. of this empty tomb that was the heart of romantic art for Hegel. brought back to the pure gesture of a performance. inherited from the Byzantine icon. therefore. near the empty tomb. Noli me tangere: don’t touch me. Giotto is the painter who drew the sacred ﬁgures. In the Western pictorial tradition. He has released the ﬁgure of the saint from a plastic dramaturgy whose sense here was precisely absence. in which the real demands its price in real blood and real tears? Undoubtedly I had believed it possible to honor Godard in this way while discreetly rescuing him from the surrounding neospiritualism. following others.” Could one not. by contrast. like the speech of the visionary Johannes brought the young mother of Ordet back to life. the one who brought them together to make them into characters in a drama who occupy a common space. At the time of the debates that took place at the Locarno Festival. to deliver the pictorial image from the original sin of perspective and history. Her arms are raised toward the Savior that she recognizes. place the cinematic privileging of “projection” celebrated by Histoires du cinéma under the patronage of Mallarmé? Could one not just as well identify the Mallarméan scorn for the old ﬁction of “Ladies and Gentlemen” with the Godardian denunciation of these equivocal games of the real and the imaginary. their entire signiﬁcation. raising the rich heiress—and with her the cinema—from the tomb. even ventured to juxtapose a photograph of a team of surgeons in the midst of an operation with the Deposition of Christ in order to improve the latter’s plastic composition. What he opposes to ﬁction is not the claimed illusionism of performance. out of their solitude. These two laudable intentions were equally misplaced. Godard’s master in iconographic matters. Mallarmé in fact opposed a purely human celebration of artiﬁce to the neomysticism of the Symbolist era. In place of the Noli me tangere stands the absolute image. By cutting in Mary Magdalene’s proﬁle.Winter 2002 117 degrees. it is the image as the imprint of presence. It is necessary. Godard’s art is resolutely anti-Mallarméan. The cutting and pasting in which Godard indulges here take on. and whose hand turns her away. to the pure projection of a “magniﬁcent ordinary” (quelconque) on a “vacant and superior surface. Elie Faure. the promise that descends from the heavens. The cinema “projects” these icons of . He thought out a ﬁction disconnected from resemblance and incarnation. to take literally the phrase that says the cinema is neither an art nor a technique but rather a mystery. the incurability of separation. then.
In this way Godard’s cinema renews . It is necessary. that a new spiritualism. to the games of ﬁction. It is necessary. The prestige of videographic art here transforms the melancholic discourse on the king-spectacle into a new sparkle of the idols of ﬂesh and blood. it is from the very heart of this videographic manipulation of images. like the divine image is prior to human artiﬁce. The gesture of the manipulator. Cinema’s original sin. Histoires du cinéma reverses. is necessary. under industrial constraint. to testify to presence. Rembrandt. the reign of spectacle and the simulacrum. is to take itself for an adult. that glass of milk. where one readily sees the reign of artiﬁces and simulations of the machine. But the paradox. it is necessary to create these icons by the force of editing. who takes apart and re-pastes (recolle) to his taste all the compositions of painting and all the linkages of ﬁlm.118 Discourse 24:1 presence. right up to these current superimpositions in which the icons cut into the works of Giotto. when it was really there to show. What is before art is precisely the image. to devote itself. that bunch of keys. while challenging the empire of language and sense. by way of pop-art derision and the Brechtian pedagogy of the critique of the image. It’s a matter rather of recognizing the paths by which the apparent iconoclast of the Sixties has slowly changed into one of the most rigorous servants of the icon (iconodules). to submit the linkages of images to all of the prestige of homonyms and plays on words. or that hairbrush whose brief ﬂashes outlive the forgetting of their “histories” because they were prior to those histories. of course. And precisely the painting/literature/cinema collages have highlighted this displacement. then. to take an image of wind blowing on a female body as a metaphor of originary “murmuring. before the artiﬁces of ﬁction and perspective. while enhancing the pure presence. a new sacralization of the image and presence arises. the great contemporary doxa that emphasizes the fatal screen. and slaughtered rabbits as a preﬁguration of the Holocaust. from the Dadaist impertinence of the New Wave. Its childhood virtue is thus the opposite of any celebration of artiﬁce. can be read backwards: in order to bring the scenarios of cinema back to the pure icons of an “unmanipulated” presence of things. to render all the images polyvalent.” the struggle against death of the “youngest of the ladies of the Bois du Boulogne” as a symptom of cinema. The childhood of art is what is before art. Monet and whatever others are there to guarantee the power of presence that consecrates the icons proper to cinema— that dropped lighter. according to Godard. There’s no point in rescuing Godard from this spiritualism of the icon that he fully claims. They bring to light what the contemporary developments of video art already attest to: on the contrary.
First published in Cahiers du cinéma 536: 58–61 . To demonstrate everywhere the innocence of this art that must be guilty in order to prove a contrario its sacred mission is perhaps the most intimate melancholy of Godard’s enterprise. cinema has betrayed its historical task. It wants to show that. And this is undoubtedly the most profound paradox of Histoires du cinema.Winter 2002 119 the interminable tension between the two antagonistic and interdependent (solidaire) poetics of the aesthetic age: the afﬁrmation of the radical immanence of thought in the materiality of forms and the redoubling to inﬁnity of the games of the poem that takes itself as its object. But the demonstration of the calling and the betrayal offers an opportunity to verify exactly the opposite: cinema’s calling to the inﬁnite possibility and radical innocence of its manipulations.” It’s understood that the “wrong man” haunts Godard’s ﬁlms. with its calling to presence. The author of Thus Spake Zarathustra once made a fable of it: the “ascetic of the spirit” is always at the same time a “magician. A “wrong man” in the manner of Hitchcock is the one who is wrongly taken for the guilty one. In the manner of Dostoyevsky. it’s something else entirely: the one who vainly does his best to pass for the guilty one.
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