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According to JLG ...

Dominique Pa

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1. Theodor W. Adorno, ‘The schema of mass culture’, in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, ed. J. M. Berstein (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 53-84, pp. 80-81.


The looser the connection in the sequence of events or the development of the action, the more the shattered image becomes an allegorical seal. Even from the visual point of view the sudden evanescent images of the cinema come to resemble a sort of script. The images are seized but not contemplated. (T. W. Adorno, ‘The schema of mass culture’, 1942) (1)


    Talks between Jean-Luc Godard and the Pompidou Centre began in 2003. The initial proposal was based on the screening of films over a fairly long period (nine months), drawing both on cinema history and contemporary production, and organised around a principle of monthly meetings. The rhythm envisaged at the outset was that of a week of ‘image gathering’, two weeks of editing, followed by projection of the resultant film at the Pompidou Centre in the fourth week. The plan was that this would lead to a sort of series in which each ‘episode’, when completed, would be enriched through its proximity to those that came before. The event therefore comprised nine monthly meetings to which visitors to the Centre were to be invited with a view to discovering a new opus each time.  

2. The Galerie Sud is on Level 1 of the Pompidou Centre. It looks out at street level over Rue Saint-Merri to the Place Igor Stravinsky.   Regular correspondence was established with the filmmaker, and this epistolary reflection lead over time to the principle of an ‘exhibition of cinema’. From the beginning of 2005, JLG proposed sketches depicting how the 1100 square metre space of the Galerie Sud of the Pompidou Centre might be occupied. (2) In the spring and summer of the same year, it became clear to him that a scale model needed to be built in order to give a better sense of the potential use of the space. At the beginning of the autumn, a model of nine rooms was developed, made manually by the filmmaker. Drawing methodologically on an exploration of memory (whence the notion of archaeology), this model ‘exhibited’ cinematic thought (in cinema ...). It was intended as the prefiguration of a full-scale scenography, and provided a critical point of view on the very fact of exhibiting cinema.  












3. The Collège de France, founded in 1530, is a celebrated independent Parisian institution of higher learning whose faculty, past and present, includes numerous distinguished scholars in a wide variety of disciplines. Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Pierre Bourdieu, for example, were all professors at the Collège. Its lectures are open to the public free of charge.




4. Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematograph (Copenhagen: Green Integer, 1997), p. 29. First published in French in 1975.



Following discussion with the architect-scenographer Nathalie Crinière, financial evaluation of the project revealed an overrun in relation to the budget set by the Pompidou Centre for this event. In late January 2006, Jean-Luc Godard was obliged to return to the drawing board, and to contemplate abandoning full-size construction of his model. Nevertheless, at the time of writing, this model remains the heart of the exhibition. Despite any necessary modifications, the intention is that it be completed in such a way as to allow it to be experienced as fully as possible, its contents still spread arborescently through several rooms. These rooms are intended as the echoes of live thought, or screens irradiated by the effects of such thought, a significant aspect of which is devoted to an interrogation of the reproductive act of images.

I do not know today the final outcome of Jean-Luc Godard’s reflections and decisions. The lines that follow nevertheless seek to suggest the legitimacy of his project on the basis of the model that he made. They therefore only address my interpretation of the initial project on which I worked through correspondence and in collaboration with the filmmaker over a period of several months.

1 – In the beginning the project, then called Collage(s) de France, archéologie du cinéma d’après JLG (‘Collage(s) of France, archaeology of cinema according to JLG’), comprised nine rooms designed to be traversed by the visitor in a specific order. Thanks to an overarching logic of juxtaposition – a montage of images borrowed from art history, cinema history and the present – close in principle to that of a rebus, each room invited the visitor to engage in a process of poetic and philosophical reflection.

A few years ago Jean-Luc Godard had been keen to deliver a series of lectures at the Collège de France in which he would have linked the history of cinema to the history of the twentieth century in a way already central to Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1998). (3) This was not possible. Can this impossibility be explained today by way of the low esteem in which cinematic art is said to be held compared to the other artistic disciplines? The fact that cinema was being proposed as the reverse angle of scientific disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and history proper, whose vocation is also to illuminate historical processes, made its introduction into the Collège de France all the harder.

The initial title of the exhibition reflected this missed opportunity – collage/collège – but also referred to ‘collage’ in the true sense, in particular to the glue and scissors used by the filmmaker for his preparatory models. In addition, it conveyed the dynamic interplay of images confronted with one another, notably those not destined a priori to be linked, juxtaposed, or compared. I thought at this moment of the great master Robert Bresson: ‘Bring together things that have not yet been brought together and did not seem predisposed to be so.’ (4)

Jean-Luc Godard’s collaboration with a museum comes at a point in his œuvre when his work is not reaching the size of audience enjoyed by his early films, whilst his name has never been so frequently evoked and celebrated. This apparent contradiction can be partly explained by the fact that the combination within a single film of a critical dimension and a capacity for entertainment has become less and less accepted. À bout de souffle (1960), Le Mépris (1963) and Pierrot le fou (1965) achieved a perfect blend of theoretical power and spectacular lyricism. After classical cinema, so heavily dominated by Hollywoodian continuity editing and set design, underwent a decisive reappraisal in the 1960s – one emblematic of modern cinema – this combination of criticism and spectacle in turn experienced a comparable crisis at the beginning of the 1990s.




2 – During the 1990s, Godard was invited on several occasions to conceive an exhibition or, more loosely, to work within the space of a museum. Consciously or not, the project he conceived in 2005 and 2006 entertains certain distant relations with the museum created by Henri Langlois in the 1970s at the Palais de Chaillot, which deployed the same technique of the juxtaposition of the material evidence and ephemeral memories of cinema. Langlois freely combined real film objects (cameras, props, costumes), traces of the economic and mediatised reality of cinema (photos, posters, contracts), the evidence of filmmaking (scenarios, storyboards, scale models) and lyrical and nostalgic representations (frame enlargements, reduced-scale reproductions of sets, fantastic scenographies) ... Such elements doubtless explained the principle of reproduction at work at the heart of both the Musée du Cinéma Henri Langlois and Collage(s) de France.

In the latter, the duplicated pictorial artworks, press photos and literary extracts were all tied to this same principle of reproduction. By deploying this as a yardstick, or as a sort of common denominator – one derived from the act of exhibiting cinema itself – cinema is pitted against other types of image production in a way that leads in turn to an interrogation of the very functioning of its exhibition.





5. Maurice Denis, Théories, 1890-1910: Du symbolisme et de Gauguin vers un nouvel ordre classique (Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Occident, 1912). The word used for ‘durations’ in the French original here is ‘durées’, a term and notion central to Bergson’s conception of time, and to Deleuze’s development thereof in his philosophy of cinema.







6. Bresson, p. 51. We recall that Bresson uses the word ‘cinematograph’ to describe the practice of cinema as ambitious, exploratory artform, reserving the term ‘CINEMA’, usually in capital letters, for conventional fare.



3 – The novelty of this exhibition project lay partly in its environmental aspect, which might at first sight have recalled the type of film set usually constructed in a studio. The filmmaker had already experimented with such sets in Passion (1982), but in Collage(s) de France it was a question of something quite different. Space was used to describe a temporal process, that of thought itself. The visitor was invited, through his or her wanderings, to reflect on cinematic time as matter, the visual embodiment of thought in film. By walking, he or she would progressively discover the process of cinematic conception: just as Maurice Denis talked of painting as an ordered arrangement of colours, a film is a specific arrangement of durations. (5) The visitor therefore completed the journey of the exhibiting filmmaker in reverse: while the latter conceives with a view to rendering visible and audible, the role of the visitor was to look and listen with a view to reconstituting the activity of conception. This explains the titles given to each of the rooms: Mythe (Allegory), Humanity (The Image), The Camera (Metaphor), The Film(s) (Duty(s)), Alliance (The Unconscious, Totem, Taboo), The Bastards (Parable), The Real (Daydream), Murder (Sesame, Theorem, Montage) and The Tomb (Fable). However the rooms were not ordered didactically so as to reconstitute the process of creating a film. The visitor was faced with a sort of vast puzzle which had to be mentally organised.

Collage(s) de France was therefore a theoretical environment designed for an 1100 square metre exhibition space in which images and words were mixed together and juxtaposed. A few original artworks chosen by the filmmaker were included alongside numerous reproductions, duplications and re-creations. Here is old master Bresson again: ‘The mix of truth and falsity produces falsity (photographed theatre or cinema). Falsity, when homogenous, can produce truth (theatre).’ (6) It is not without a certain theoretical irony that the filmmaker most attached to challenging theatrical clichés in post-war cinema should have been proposing to the museum visitor an experience not completely without theatricality. But in fact the effect was quite different: the proposed exhibition was a maze in which the author of Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1998) achieved scenographically what he had hitherto accomplished through montage. Rather than the images, it was now the visitors who filed past. And let us recall that procession is one of the ways in which the human body had already figured in several films, including Grandeur et décadence d’un petit commerce de cinéma (1985), For Ever Mozart (1996) and the mysterious On s’est tous défilé (1987) ...




In fact the visitor was invited to experience the time of a film’s conception in a new way: the time of ‘materialisation’ (to use JLG’s words), the time that passes between the phases of imagining and making, before arriving at the condensed time of the finished work, which is then painfully separated from its maker and swallowed up into the tomb of distribution and communication.

4 – In the 1960s, at the time of the birth of the New Wave, the street was the principal set and opened up a new visual field; filmmakers were free to shoot using hand-held cameras, and scripts were liberated from strict narrative obligations, resulting in lots of dialogue for comparatively little story.

In the 1970s, after the period of video activity with Sonimage, which succeeded the collaborative Groupe Dziga Vertov venture, both of which were predominantly experimental in nature, the environment was no longer either pastoral or urban, as if the experience of the street during the events of May 68 had exhausted JLG the flâneur. With the decisive collaboration of Anne-Marie Miéville, it was now created through the manipulation of the video image in films such as Numéro deux (1975) and lengthy series such as France tour détour deux enfants (1979). Here the environment stemmed from thought articulated graphically. During this period, the screen was used for a sort of mise en page, where screens multiplied within the screen and writing became even more central to the image. From the beginning of the œuvre, typed or cursive writing has frequently taken the place of filmed reality, the arbitrary signs of language filling the entire screen. The détournement of shop-signs, newspaper headlines and posters on buildings, for instance, has consistently conveyed this strong interest in written language. The credit sequences too were always composed in remarkable ways. One should also doubtless recall Godard’s interest in the Soviet filmmakers, the formal strength of whose imagery was as much a question of overall graphic effect as of realistic or historical reconstruction.

The 1980s is the decade in which there emerges in Godard’s work a greater concern for ‘sets’ in the conventional sense, and where painting and choreography also meet, for instance in the recreations of the great paintings and actors’ gesticulations in Passion (notably those of Michel Piccoli and Isabelle Hupert). Indeed agitated corporeal movement is central to the films of this period (Prénom: Carmen, 1983; Détective, 1985; King Lear, 1987), as if the characters’ hysterical impulses were simultaneously clashing and merging with the key characteristic of the shots: their pictoriality. Disturbed by the movement of the actors and by montage, the paintings recreated as film sets became stages in the process of thought.

One should also note, from the 1980s to the present, those films that use ‘found sites’. In keeping with the borrowed extracts of symphonic music, these sites are strongly marked by a rather grandiose architectural quality, from the interiors of large hotels (Détective) to the destroyed Sarajevo library (Notre musique, 2004). Such locations, including the most monumental ones, give the impression of having been constructed for the purposes of the films.

Music, the depth of the sound track (overlapping music, noise superimposition, layered ambient sound) and high sound levels accentuated this sense of monumentality. Sometimes sound provided overarching spatial unity: at the time of Nouvelle Vague (1990), for instance, as well as in Histoire(s) du cinéma, the screech of a crow or raven recurred insistently. This cry gave the impression of being a mark of ownership stamped on the decor, a sonic signature that sealed the image. In graphic terms this auditory rent of a black bird, bordering on the unpleasant, was reminiscent of the sound of a black felt-tip pen being used. (We recall that the filmmaker has often worked with felt-tips for the title cards in his films.) The use of bird noise should be seen, therefore, as a way of appropriating and signing an existing environment.

By contrast, Collage(s) de France absorbed the world into its space. Past and present were swept together to form a journey: the traces and evidence piled up, came together, were attracted to one another, and clung together in a furious clash of images. Here it was no longer a question of capturing an environment on film, but of the environment flooding into the exhibition in concentrated form. This exhibition was realised in its ideal form in the various models.











7. Pierre Reverdy, ‘L’Image’, in Œuvres complètes (Paris: Flammarion, 1975), pp. 73-75. First published in Nord-Sud, No.13, March 1918.








8. The expression used here in French is ‘effet-dispositif’. Often translated in a cinematic context as ‘apparatus’, the term ‘dispositif’ designates the totality of a given work’s signifying components, the manner in which these are arranged, and the relationship established though such arrangement with the viewer-listener-visitor.


Successive scale models of the exhibition were made to finalise the thinking and distil the meaning. Aesthetically the result was far from gratuitous; on the contrary, it introduced a blaze into the institutional space of the museum: where the various elements might be able to exist together at a distance in the outside world, here they caught alight as a result of their proximity to one another, and of the friction between the pasted documents. Furthermore, it is possible that the filmmaker-turned-architect would have come to fear full-scale construction of his models, and been tempted to claim less and less responsibility for them as they reached their full proportions (‘archaeology of cinema according to JLG’ ...). One can understand Godard’s apparent fondness for Pierre Reverdy’s poetic reflection cited in JLG/JLG: Autoportait de décembre (1995) and elsewhere: ‘The image is a pure creation of the spirit. It cannot be born of a comparison, but of the bringing together of two more or less distant realities. The more distant and just the relationship between these two realities that are brought together, the stronger the image will be – and the more emotional power and poetic reality it will have. Two realities with no relationship between them cannot be usefully brought together. [...] An image is not strong because it is brutal or fantastic – but because the association of ideas is distant and just.’ (7)

5 – Even if it does not interest him, Jean-Luc Godard’s proposal cannot be appreciated without reference to a phenomenon that has left its mark on the milieu since the 1970s: installation art, ally and rival of the traditional artistic disciplines. The conventional approach to exhibition, exemplified by the display of pictures in rows on gallery walls, has been thrown into crisis, or at least perturbed, by propositions where light no longer occupies its mythically zenithal position. With the disappearance of all hierarchy between walls and floor, the spectator has been invited to explore the entire room. Installations are frequently characterised by their use of ‘found’ everyday materials on which museums confer artistic status. Another defining feature is the presence of moving images: just as the beams of light have complicated the traditional museum visit, so the use of projected moving images has further disorientated the visitor.

With its reproductions of found images, moving or not, the principles of installation art were all present in Godard’s project. But he was suspicious of ‘installation-effects’, which in his view come too close to mere curiosity for the little machines on display. (8) Neither artistic ‘celibacy’ nor ‘desiring machines’ attract him. It was doubtless with a view to minimising the installation-effect that he appeared to foreground the environmental aspect. The invitation to let one’s attention wander was also an incitement to visitors to lose themselves, and diverted attention away from the machines required for the projection of the images. And here the exhibition rejoined cinema, where ‘everything is done’ in the theatre, in the interests of the existence of the fictional characters, to make the viewer forget where the images come from.




In the past the filmmaker has devoted considerable attention to reflecting on the conditions of a film’s production by disrupting spectatorial investment through techniques such as narrative rupture, looks to camera, interrupted music, non-linearity of events and so on. He has also frequently represented the cinematic ‘machine’ and deprived the viewer of illusion, while nonetheless retaining a certain lyricism. Similarly, the sudden breaks to which he subjects his borrowed musical extracts serve to defer, if not prevent, the formation of his characters.

More than ever before, perhaps, Collage(s) de France offered a complete fusion of a work and what had governed its conception.

6 – From the outset this exhibition project was essentially a moral essay. But its environmental aspect simultaneously produced the effects of a fiction in which the central character was JLG himself. Or, more precisely, his thought in motion, organised into the shape of an exhibition. In a way it recalled Eisenstein’s dream of filming Marx’s Capital: the mise en scène of a kind of theorem ...

Collage(s) de France invited the visitor to embark on an intimate voyage, albeit one permeated by the upheavals of the world. It is the tension between these two poles – autobiographical fiction / investigation – that generated the poetry. A poet such as Victor Hugo combined in his work intimate writing, politics and moral essay. Les Châtiments, for example, is a poetic gesture in which this tension between ‘autofiction’ and critique of the world is played out. It therefore comes as little surprise that Hugo’s texts should punctuate the voice-off commentaries and dialogue of several Godard films, including Passion, For Ever Mozart and La Monnaie de l’absolu, episode 3A of Histoire(s) du cinéma, which expresses outrage at the war in Yugoslavia ...



9. The original French, ‘Raconte pas d’histoires’, suggests both ‘Don’t tell stories’ and ‘Don’t tell lies’.






10. The expression used here in the French, ‘faire ses devoirs’, means both ‘do their duty’ and ‘do their homework’.



Collage(s) de France was a response to something for which the filmmaker had often been reproached: not telling a story. One day he jokingly recalled how he used to be reprimanded as a child (‘Don’t tell stories’) (9), whereas in his work as a filmmaker he is now asked by producers to tell them. In fact he has always sought a balance between fiction and ethical gesture. In his work, Goethe’s Werther clashes with Mallarmé’s Igitur, David’s political touch with Duchamp’s scrupulous nominalism. In tackling the exhibition, the filmmaker was telling a story in which the spectators were the fictional characters, or the frames on a strip of celluloid where the latter represents the proposed route through the gallery. This project extended the thinking of Histoire(s) du cinéma, which had already taken history in the direction of poetry and of the essay.

7 – Each room was conceived with the aim of encouraging viewers to construct their own collages from the forest of images. Visitors were therefore put to work and called on to participate in the activity of assemblage, to do their ‘duty’ in the exhibition (as the title of one of the rooms puts it). (10)

Collage(s) de France was a utopia unrealisable on film. This utopia maintained a volatile balance between fiction and aesthetic and ethical judgement, between belief and delivery of a lesson. This utopian cinematic possibility was cinema transformed into thought.




We recall that JLG has always been interested in what is divided. In the first room, for example, was written ‘Hollywood, the Mecca of cinema’. Hollywood was thus located on the side of belief, confronting a documentary image of an Algerian family on the wall opposite.

Fiction is fuelled by belief, documentary by evidence. Out of this division emerges the theme of the filmmaker split between the project and the result, conception and perception, the exception and the rule ... the film and cinema. In different ways, Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1979), Prénom: Carmen (1983), Soigne ta droite (1987) and Éloge de l’amour (2001) all told the story of this division, and the exhibition became the utopian place of refuge where it might be resolved. But the director of Le Mépris and Passion also put himself in danger in this refuge: by entering the museum, did he remain a filmmaker? Did cinema exist without films?

8 – In fact the division lay elsewhere. On the one hand the world of cinema, unconcerned by the fact that the filmmaker was conceiving an exhibition, and on the other the world of museums, embarrassed by the notion and use of reproduction, as much from an economic, aesthetic and moral viewpoint. This exhibition introduced reproduction into a place whose calling is to exhibit non-reproducible originals, a place founded on authenticity and inalienability. Whereas what Godard wanted to exhibit was devoid of all value. Paradoxically, therefore, it was by using reproduction that he entered the museum world.

In fact he has long been located on an island between the worlds of the museum and of cinema, where he has incarnated the tension in the relationship between cinema and the other arts. The exhibition project registered this tension by displaying the ontological basis of cinema – reproduction – on the walls of a museum: a film is a recorded copy of reality; it is also the copy of a negative, and is distributed thanks to the duplication of copies. Every aspect of cinematic art is determined by the fact of reproduction. Collage(s) de France was therefore an exhibition of the every essence of cinema. Since reproduction manifests itself through enlargement, reduction and change of format, processes such as photography, image transfer, video and photocopying were all used. So the filmmaker enlarged, reduced and divided. In other words he performed the work of an art historian: he scrutinised, but remained an editor in his approach to cutting things up and reassembling them differently. This is what reproduction makes possible.

If we consider modern art, especially contemporary art of the past forty years, as a sort of generalised process of recycling (Pablo Picasso and his collages, Marcel Duchamp and his readymades ...), Jean-Luc Godard proposed a new and exemplary illustration of the same method in his films by way of a generalised art of quotation. If he once dreamt of making a film in which everything would be borrowed from elsewhere, Collage(s) de France was perhaps the realisation of that dream.

This experimentation with the exhibition of reproduction in a museum could prove just as shocking as it has in cinema, where Godard gave such a strong impression of only imitating and criticising. His art of re-use has generally been linked to his origins as a critic, but his exhibition model reveals today what has actually been at stake in it for him.

By ‘exhibiting’, he is close to André Malraux and his imaginary museum in which, thanks to reproduction, artworks could be brought together and compared. In other words, simply seen.

Translation and notes by Michael Witt

This text appears in French as ‘D’après JLG ...’ in Nicole Brenez, David Faroult, Michael Temple, James S. Williams and Michael Witt (eds.), Jean-Luc Godard: Documents (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2006), commissioned by Dominique Païni to accompany the exhibition staged by Jean-Luc Godard at the Pompidou Centre from 11 May to 14 August 2006, ‘Voyage(s) en utopie, Jean-Luc Godard, 1946-2006: À la recherche d’un théorème perdu’.


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© Dominique Païni and Rouge 2006. © Translation Michael Witt 2006. Cannot be reprinted without permission of the author and editors.
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