Imitation of life. Is it normal and logical that the film industry be compared to “the industry of death”??? All stories. One history. The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world which harmonizes. All the stories to come. All the stories that have been.
Raptors of greed. Godard begins chapter 2a of his greatest work by telling us that the film industry was first sold to the industry of death. Early on there were plenty of babies being fed and flowers growing, but where were the bursts of machine gun fire? Likewise, cinematography could have been invented in color. Color photography existed, but at the beginning of the 20th century it was decided that black and white would be the technique used to reproduce life on the screen.
Morality was still strong says Godard. But not for long. Nevertheless, cinematography began with the colors of mourning: black and white.
Godard dedicates this episodic chapter first of all to Armand J. Cauliez. There is scant info on this person, but he seems to have been a writer on film (having authored books on Tati and Renoir). The other dedicatee is Santiago Álvarez (a Cuban filmmaker).
The historian must be precise. This is his job. Cinema was the art of the 20th century, but it was really a 19th century art which was “resolved” in the 20th. From Oscar Wilde to the Academy’s Oscars…
We see a shot from Pasolini’s Salò and another from Tabu by Murnau and Flaherty. We see Godard himself as an actor in his own film King Lear and a shot of Jerry Lewis from The Nutty Professor. Godard seems to be trying to tell his story in order to tell the story of cinema. We are placed in the milieu which gave birth to not only JLG as a filmmaker, but also to Truffaut, Chabrol, Rivette and Rohmer.
For the historian of literature starts with Homer and progresses to Cervantes and on to Joyce. Godard seems to be trying to single out the films which are truly foundational to cinema, but he likewise seems to infer that there are very few. Few at the beginning? Few of true worth? Few that have not been lost?
Truly, Godard gives us the recounting of a passion to create. Film was his only way of completing himself. We could steep ourselves in the same books as the master…Goethe, etc. We can trace the art references…Klimt, etc. Diderot, Baudelaire, Malraux, Truffaut, Edgar Poe, Faulkner, Edgar Ulmer, Howard Hawks…
What is certain is that Godard values the history of cinema over all other histories, “because it projects itself.” It is a neat trick which he singles out.
The analogy is Jean-Victor Poncelet…an officer in Napoleon’s army in a prison in Moscow. Poncelet reconstructed the treatise of geometric findings which he had learned from Monge and Carnot: the properties of projection of figures. Published in 1822, the general method of the principle of projection in the demonstration utilized by Desargues to understand the properties of the circle on the mystical cones and put to use by Pascal… Make sense? In other words, “your breasts are the only that I love.” Perhaps.
Back to our French prisoner facing a Russian wall…it is the mechanical application of an idea…for projecting figures on a screen…practically, the cinematic projector.
Godard never stopped learning. He was always a child with his stamps and maps and his universe has always remained vast. By lamplight, the world is big. In memory, small… In reading and studying we find amazing intricacies and ramifications. Godard’s is truly a mind on fire.
Consider the film Night of the Hunter. It was the only film which Charles Laughton directed by himself. Godard relates to the children who float down the river, “singing lullabies to our infinity.” Some lullabies are joyous while others are horrors. It may depend on the country.
Again with Klimt…and Fred Astaire in Band Wagon. Cinema is a woman. We drown in the eyes of movie stars. And directors are drunk on space and light.
Is that Cyd Charisse? Again Klimt…and James Dean. We want to journey…and fill the boredom with joy. Enjoy. The children of Marx and Coca-Cola. We want to enjoy the boredom of our prisons. We want to pass on our spirits. It’s all true says Orson Welles.
Ahh, boredom… We must remember the cautions of Baudelaire. And remember Bresson…simplicity. Yes, the aleatory clouds will always be more mysteriously attractive than the richest city or the largest country.
Chaplin behind a camera. Laurel and Hardy. We are those of childish mind. Painted nails. The fatal beauty of Snow White. A little poem by Brecht. We enter Debord territory when pondering the television. The origin of the world as updated by Duchamp. The fatal shell. Orbs of obus. The boring spectacle of immortal sin. The image which lies.
An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom. Cinema. Raise the anchor…this country bores us.