March 18, 2009

Godard on 9/11


Jean-Luc Godard: [History] is what one sees, before saying, when juxtaposing two images: a young woman smiling in a Soviet film is not quite the same as one who smiles in a Nazi film. And the Charlot of MODERN TIMES is, in the beginning, precisely the same as a Ford worker when filmed by Taylor*. To do history is to spend hours looking at these images and then, suddenly, to bring them close, producing a spark. This constructs constellations, stars that come close or move away, like W. Benjamin wanted. Cinema, lived as such, then functions as a metaphor of the world. There remains an archetype joining aesthetics, techniques, morals.

Antoine de Baecque: One gets the impression that what interests you are these juxtapositions, this montage, these collages, but then commentary disgusts you.

JLG: Commentary is the world's greatest super power: one crumbles under statements of intent, diplomatic analyses, and interpretive biographies. Commentary has become a sort of star personality. But it's also a tremendous force of intimidation and standardization: Comment (faire) taire - How (to make) silent - that which escapes preset ideas. The recent images of September 11th are a typical example of the proliferation of commentary, and its carcinogenic power.

A de B: Which is to say...

JLG: Past the effect of amazement in facing the destruction of the house of the father, one always saw the same thing. Or rather, nothing was seen. Just images in loop, always the same, stuttered out by an army of commentators. Seeing is not so much a problem concerning the place we're filming, but more of knowing what we want to film. All that could shock, disturb or produce outrage was systematically cleansed. Not even a body, not even some traces of violence, just the grandeur of the ruins. All that was below or above fiction couldn't find its place. People took the event as just another story, even if unimaginable – but so-called American films are made to be unbelievable. All that could go against that, the quite real dead, the deeper and more painful things than the "axis of evil" was systematically put aside.

That the citizens of the USA can't bear to look at their death in the face is one thing, but for them to reshape the image by cloning it with text becomes very disturbing. They stand on purified propaganda. One ends up being forced not to show anything. And so reigns the uncontested master, the event's commentary transformed into universal visual stereotype.

A de B: Is the struggle between America and Islamicism also a war of images?

JLG: To me, in this digital age, those words seem to come from traditional clichés. An image, even an icon, doesn't make war, since it's primarily a connection to the other, and not destruction. War is a fact of text only, that which interdicts those encounters and, accordingly, the birth of a true text: law, prayer or poetry. The press and television, both ugly hearts, didn't accept Cinderella putting on "the seamless garment of reality" mentioned by A. Bazin. In short, the image in general didn't go unharmed after September 11th. And commentary took care, without qualms, that it should be covered with rags, as if a delinquent to be reeducated.

Libération, April 6, 2002
*Henry Ford Automakers; Taylor as in Frederick Taylor(ism) - see here .

translated by A. Dias and A. Rector. Thanks to C.

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