GODARD, WELL– KEPT SE­CRETS

Ever since he emerged in the early 1960s, Jean–Luc Godard has never ceased to ques­tion, change, trans­form and rev­o­lu­tionise his film–mak­ing. Ac­cu­mu­lat­ing books, ob­jects, tapes and notes, the ge­nius who gave us Breath­less, Con­tempt and Pier­rot le fou has m

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - CONTENTS TRENDS - BY Di­dier Péron PHO­TO­GRAPHS Stephan Cras­nean­scki

The ge­nius be­hind Breath­less and Con­tempt has a habit of wip­ing the slate clean. But his in­valu­able ar­chives still ex­ist as hid­den trea­sure, some­where in France. Ex­clu­sive rev­e­la­tions.

Flash­back to a con­ver­sa­tion, pub­lished in 2010 in a French cul­tural mag­a­zine, be­tween Jean–Luc Godard and Daniel Cohn–Ben­dit. Both ac­tivists in the May 68 stu­dent up­ris­ings, they shared much more than those heady days of in­sur­rec­tion and strikes: in the sum­mer of 1969 they came up with the idea for a film, Vent d’est ( Wind From the East ), a “po­lit­i­cal west­ern” shot in Rome that ended in one big free–for–all. When Cohn–Ben­dit ar­rived at the film–maker’s home in Rolle, he was taken aback to see a team of guys busy stuff­ing boxes into vans: “Jean–Luc! You’re not se­ri­ously get­ting rid of all these screens, all this equip­ment, tapes and books and stuff?” A cigar clenched be­tween his lips, squint­ing be­hind over­size glasses, Godard chuck­led in re­sponse: “No–one’s get­ting rid of any­thing. Those days are gone. Over. It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to cre­ate any­thing now. That stuff’s done its time. What do you ex­pect me to do with it? Open a mu­seum? It’s a ma­chine, half– ma­te­rial, half–in­tel­lec­tual, that func­tioned with me. Stop! I can live for a year off what I’m get­ting for it.” He claimed to have sold ev­ery­thing to an ar­chae­ol­ogy–mad Egyp­tian. Ap­par­ently he’d done a deal with a pro­duc­tion com­pany, Wild Bunch, that al­lowed him to go on mak­ing films with­out drag­ging the weight of the past be­hind him.

Mak­ing a clean sweep has al­ways been a way for Godard to start afresh; to clear the decks both lit­er­ally and aes­thet­i­cally. It’s been his tech­nique through­out a re­mark­ably co­her­ent ca­reer that’s changed tracks re­peat­edly nonethe­less, un­ex­pect­edly veer­ing off and wash­ing the old world down the drain. He did it when, at the height of fame, he joined the Dziga Ver­tov film–mak­ing col­lec­tive. He did it again when he left Paris for Greno­ble, film­ing only in video ( some­thing he later de­scribed as a “bad patch” ). This led to an­other, more per­ma­nent move to Rolle, the Swiss town of his child­hood. Dur­ing these ten years of soul–search­ing, each move was a chance to make that clean sweep, to aban­don books and cor­re­spon­dence and notes for projects that never got off the ground. In Rolle, where he still lives and works, Godard’s stu­dio is an un­re­mark­able, two–storey build­ing where he’d be hard–pressed to store much any­way. And Godard is a hoarder, as Cohn–Ben­dit ob­serves in his com­ment on the two hun­dred books he ac­cu­mu­lated for the one Film So­cial­isme.

So what be­came of these ar­chives that spent 2010 shift­ing from place to place? A cer­tain amount of mys­tery sur­rounds their where­abouts, known only to be a se­cret lo­ca­tion, un­der lock and key, some­where in the cen­tre of France. Stephan Cras­nean­scki of Sound­walk Col­lec­tive, an art mu­sic group based in New York and Ber­lin, was given ac­cess to this pe­cu­liar trea­sure. Work­ing with Godard’s sound en­gi­neer François Musy, he as­sem­bled un­re­leased frag­ments of sonic ma­te­rial recorded on Godard’s film sets, mixed them and set them to mu­sic as What We Leave Be­hind — in an­swer to the ques­tion of the traces we leave, of mem­ory and the fleet­ing­ness of mem­ory in a rib­bon of crack­ling voices freed from the weight of obliv­ion, prophets swirling in limbo. Stephan Cras­nean­scki re­turned sev­eral times, pho­tograph­ing what­ever hap­pened to catch his eye, from emp­tied boxes to notes scrib­bled on pages torn from books, from stacks of equip­ment whose pur­pose — none of it works — we’ll never know, to white plas­tic bags like the body bags in Amer­i­can crime dra­mas. “I only pho­tographed a tiny part of this enor­mous ac­cu­mu­la­tion of things, tapes, film rushes, books stashed in boxes on shelves … The master’s house was sink­ing un­der its weight so he threw it all over­board to pre­vent the ship from go­ing down. The en­ergy be­hind this ges­ture was ‘get­ting rid’ and the gram­mar that struc­tured it was ‘get out!’,” says Cras­nean­scki. The ar­chives are stored in a “neu­tral space” starkly lit by flu­o­res­cent lights that has all the glam­our of an in­tel­lec­tual’s at­tic, yet Cras­nean­scki in­sists on the in­ten­sity of sim­ply bring­ing these ob­jects into view, the sus­pended state be­tween dust and leg­end — in the ( su­perb ) 2002 short film Dans le noir du temps ( In the Dark­ness of Time ), a man and a woman empty a li­brary of its books, calm­ing drop­ping them into black bin lin­ers. —›

“Jean–Luc! You’re not se­ri­ously get­ting rid of all these screens, equip­ment, tapes, books and stuff?”

One of the boxes that Cras­nean­scki pho­tographed was packed with dog–eared books by Charles Fer­di­nand Ra­muz, a Swiss au­thor and par­tic­u­lar favourite of Jean–Luc Godard. At one point Godard had plans to adapt one of Ra­muz’s 1919 nov­els, Les Signes parmi nous, de­scrib­ing the project thus in 1988: “A bi­ble hawker ar­rives in a vil­lage near Vevey and de­clares that the end of the world is nigh. A ter­ri­ble storm rages for five days, then the sun comes out again and the hawker is kicked out of the vil­lage. Film is that hawker!” An earth–shat­ter­ing an­nounce­ment, a group re­ac­tion, a fi­nal storm, a re­turn to calm and clos­ing cred­its. The maker of Bande à part ( Band of Out­siders ) com­pares the role of film to that of an an­gel who, on his way to earth, for­gets his mes­sage and crash–lands in the mid­dle of an in­dif­fer­ent crowd. “Film has noth­ing but projects, un­like tele­vi­sion which has noth­ing but rejects. It spits, seeps and vom­its. Film opens, shows and wel­comes. [ … ] Hence the over­whelm­ing sen­ti­ment that film is the in­fancy of art …” wrote Godard in 1987. This in­fancy has grown old and so has Godard, that most im­petu­ous and avant–gardist of all the young Nou­velle Vague film–mak­ers, who went from the en­thu­si­asm of the 1960s to the ster­ile anonymity of the 1970s be­fore re­turn­ing, with­out il­lu­sion, to the star­i­fied cin­ema of the 80s ( Hup­pert, Delon, Depar­dieu and the aborted project for Prénom Car­men ( First Name: Car­men ) with Ad­jani, who left the set in tears ). Spunky, sporty, in­so­lent and funny at first, he came within inches of death in 1971 af­ter a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent put him in hos­pi­tal ( and, briefly, a coma ) for six months — a re­play, al­most, of the car crash that killed his mother in 1954. Godard was thrown off–bal­ance by the experience, which left him ago­ra­pho­bic and prey to bouts of an­guish. The Brazil­ian film–maker Glauber Rocha, who vis­ited Godard on the set of Vent d’est ( which by then had de­scended into chaos ), de­scribed an acutely melan­cholic fig­ure: “See­ing this thin, bald­ing, forty– year–old man, I felt like a kindly aunt who feels bad about giv­ing candy to a sad nephew. He in­spires great af­fec­tion. It was like see­ing Bach or Michelan­gelo eat­ing spaghetti in a blue funk …”.

One of the many pages an­no­tated by Jean–Luc Godard, taken from one of the archive boxes, and pho­tographed by Stephan Cras­nean­scki.

Some of the orig­i­nal masters and fi­nal sam­ple prints of His­toire( s ) du cinéma sit be­side record­ings of lead­ing critic Serge Daney.

Above, an an­no­tated photo in Jean–Luc Godard’s hand­writ­ing; Op­po­site, a pro­duc­tion sched­ule for Notre musique.

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