The Image Book ( Le Livre d’image) Jean-Luc Godard (Swi 2018) J-L Godard (narrator)
Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 2nd Dec 2018; ticket: £9.75
consciousness is an old movie
There is the cliché that when you die your life passes before your like the unravelling images from a film. So is Godard dying? He talks about the film as his testament (and there is a clip in the film from Cocteau’s Testament of Orphee in which Cocteau himself is pierced through the body by a huge spear thrown by a God). Or is Livre’d’image a testament of a civilisation that is now dying, moribund asphyxiated swamped by its own images?
What does J-P want to make us conscious of…?
Does Godard ask questions to which there are no answers?
Questions are sometimes more pertinent than answers.
As the fate of Narcissus tells, what started off as a mirror image in pool of water was never an innocent moment. Once the image is released from the bounds of the psyche, immobility follows. Death follows immobility.
The last clip in The Image Book: we see a French open air dance hall where formally dressed men in top hats sport with some Can Can dancers. It is a long clip almost as long as a couple of the train clips. As the camera tracks and circles with one of the couples the man collapses onto the dance floor, falling prone as if dead. The last image in the ‘Book’.
Godard’s last dance…
The sound track has all the hallmarks of a Godard movie. The mix comprises: voice over, music and sound effects. Much of the voicing is done by J-L himself adopting different pitches and timbres, but the most characteristic of his voicings revisits the voice from Alphaville, a voice that comes from the depths of the time, lending to Godard’s text a faux prophetic absurdist quality. The tracks retake Godard’s play with music: ironic counterpoint, his overlaying of images a sudden overwhelming sample from a full orchestral arrangement, which dies back as quickly as it unexpectedly appears. A score that underlines, undermines, undercuts overwhelms underplays, the images. Likewise Godard’s use of sound effects: the rap of the gun, the piercing whistle of the train, the sound of the ocean. Viewed mutely the train is a powerful image, departing or arriving like Chiron’s boat. But married to the sound image of the whistle, the effect of the train image deepens, draws in the viewer, leaves us vulnerable and opened up or startles us awake. Likewise the sea as image captivates. Our eyes focus on its surface whether in stillness or in violent motion. Add sound to the image of the sea, and we are connected to creation and thanatos. The gun is the sign of power, when we hear it bark, we know everything is changed.
The use of sound image by Godard teases us: picture + sound = film image. But this revisiting of sound a la Godard in Le Livre d’image, suggests that Godard’s intention is to make us the audience conscious that the film image is first of all, manipulation. And consciousness is the only protection against those things that would be done to us in the name of Cinema. A celebration and a warning about Cinema. In the name of being conscious we can love those things that would distort and twist what we see.
Godard quotes Brecht: Only fragments have the mark of authenticity. What’s it mean?
Today a whole section of the film industry is dedicated to ‘mining’ archive film in the name of presenting us with authenticity. In Jackson’s ‘They shall not grow old…’ First World War archive is not only colourised and restored but rendered in 3D to ‘give’ us the ‘real’ experience of being there in the trenches. But what is this ‘give’? Is anything more ‘given’ than the rendering up to us of archive as spectacle?
In this type of restoration archive becomes a double spectacle: a spectacle both in itself and of itself, of both means and ends. Seeing spectacle as spectacle restored to us as spanking new, the viewer is overwhelmed by the technological wonder that this material represents. New film for old. The transformation of this old stock by heroic feats of digital engineering and manipulation. This technological achievement in itself almost outdoes the content it presents: the trenches, the dead, the wounded, the tanks, the artillery, the scenes behind the lines. After the digital rebirthing of all this material, what we see is the shiny surface of an alien time and place, a war and its appurtanences now long gone. A seductive spectacle of detail that persuades us we have looked on the face of war: the bad teeth of soldiers, the grin on the face of the man about to go over the top. A spectacle that draws us into a specious familiarity with content, as witnesses to what we did not witness; as objective observers to that which is not objective.
The fragment in its very incompleteness pulls us closer to ourselves, focuses our consciousness. There is no pretence that the fragment is anything other than fragment. The fragment is all that is left of a whole that is not there. The fragment calls upon not just the eyes but the mind to penetrate and complete what have before us. Through fragment we are directed into an engagement with ourselves to complete imaginatively that which is absent, to bring what is latent into presence. We are conscious that we ourselves are the instruments of this process of recreation. Ourselves as an agent, not another. The fragment and the glimpse authenticate ourselves. When we see what appears to be the whole, it is a surface pitted with the acts of bad faith in which we abdicate responsibility for our own instrumentality.
Le Livre d’image is filled out with images that refuse to resolve. Images that are degraded distressed incomplete. Images that trigger responses in us but without clear object. Responses that are triggered as if by some precognitive emotional memory. But responses that are our own. Responses that are not directed to any end or purpose, responses not designed to manipulate us or to make us want to believe or disbelieve some story, to buy some consumerist junk, or to judge or to choose. A film of pure affect. Timeless.
I can’t read Godard’s intention in making his last film. On his part it may be a sort of playful act of creation, a sorting through, an arranging of image clips for his pure joy in the material. A desire to bring together in one filmic steam all he knows and loves in Cinema. Be that as it may, Godard’s film and tv output has always been directed towards the idea of making the viewer aware of what is set before them. Put together like a filmic variation of one Gysin and Burroughs’ cut ups, the clips create a state of receptive affect which communicates a streamed sense of pure being, where our consciousness is allowed freedom to look to search to be affected but never to be controlled nor allow questions to be answered.
PS a question to which there may be an answer.
The (I)mage Book? Why have the UK distributors chosen to give the word image a capital letter? In Godard’s title ‘Le Livre d’image’, ‘image’ is caste in lower case.