December 24, 2012

Murnau and a brother officer: a Christmas during the war.

December 23, 2012

"I fell asleep on a red-check tablecloth in a negro bar in suburban Chicago..."

— S.M. Eisenstein

December 20, 2012

Adieu au TNS

Adieu au TNS
by Ted Fendt

In 1998, Jean-Luc Godard made a short video entitled Adieu au TNS (Farewell to the TNS). Never released (or intended to be), the video is nearly impossible to see and has not been included in any Godard retrospectives to date. A consequence of this deliberate unavailability has been instances of inaccurate descriptions of the video in Godard criticism [1]. More important than the manner in which the video’s form and content have been inaccurately described, however, is the manner in which its production history and Godard’s reasons for making it have been purposefully decontextualized in Richard Brody’s Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard (Metropolitan Books, 2008) in order to misleadingly implicate the video in some kind of cryptic, but sympathetic, engagement with anti-Semitism and/or Fascism that Brody feels runs throughout Godard’s work. Ultimately, these claims – at the very least in regards to this video – are just smoke and mirrors. Unfortunately, Brody’s book remains more or less the only source of information in English about this little-seen video. While the book as a whole was taken to task upon its publication by scholars Adrian Martin and Bill Krohn [2], I think it is worthwhile to focus on this particular passage in Brody’s book in order to clear up any misunderstandings and misperceptions English-language readers might have as a result of the book’s claims.

Everything is Cinema devotes three short paragraphs (eleven sentences) to Adieu au TNS (pages 579-580). As this is a minor work, this is not, in and of itself, surprising. However, rather than simply describing the video and contextualizing it in Godard’s life and work, Brody insinuates much while saying very little, exploiting the video’s unavailability and its unfamiliarity to Godard scholars and the general public. The first paragraph does not directly address Adieu au TNS, but introduces another video, one made by French writer Philippe Loyrette [3] in the mid-1990s in which he is videotaped “chanting, in psalmodic incantation, the poetic ‘testament’” of “fanatically anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi writer Robert Brasillach.” The video was sent to Godard. The connection being made and the insinuation quickly becomes clear: Brody suggests that Godard made a video that, inspired by the recitation of a poem by a fanatic anti-Semite and pro-Nazi, is evidence or an admission of his own anti-Semitism. That French writer, literary critic and collaborationist Robert Brasillach was an anti-Semite and supporter of the Nazis goes without question, but in what way was Godard inspired by Brasillach or his words in making Adieu? Is there an important and relevant connection? Brody continues, in the second paragraph, by explaining that Loyrette’s video “made a strong impression on Godard” and that Godard “used it as the basis for a videotaped recitation of his own, in 1997, after [actress Bérangère] Allaux ended their personal and working relationship.” From this, then, it seems to follow that the video was inspired by equal parts Brasillach and Allaux. However, despite the many pages of Everything is Cinema spent chronicling the history of Godard’s failed attempts to have a relationship with Allaux, who had acted in For Ever Mozart (1996), and attempting to emphasize just how badly her rejection hurt him, exactly how Adieu au TNS is related to either her or Brasillach will remain vague.

The Loyrette video has also never been easily available (aside from an audio excerpt Godard uses towards the end of Episode 1A of Histoire(s) du cinéma – Loyrette reciting the first two verses of Brasillach’s poem), but Brody draws two comparisons between it and Adieu, perhaps in lieu of any direct comparisons between Adieu and Brasillach. “Like Loyrette, Godard used accordion music as the background to his chant” and “Like Loyrette, Godard intoned the text by himself, standing alone in a bare room.” There is some kind of accordion-like music in the background of Adieu au TNS and Godard does recite the text alone in a room – though it is furnished with a desk and some shelves – but if these are the main similarities, it remains unclear from Brody’s description why it was so important to stress Brasillachs’ anti-Semitism and pro-Nazi sentiments. Brody cites only one line of Godard’s text, presumably the most likely source of any similarities between Brasillach’s words and Godard’s video: “he lamented having ‘pursed a princess into a theatre – heavens, what misfortune!’” This avoidance of Godard’s words is not surprising. If Brody cited any more, he would undoubtedly be forced to give more of the background, contextual information he has so far left out.

The third and final paragraph in Everything is Cinema addressing Adieu au TNS quickly outlines how Godard “never showed the tape publicly.” He cites an interview with Alain Bergala in which Godard says that he “made it on the basis of this other actor and his music, and having lost the cassette, he would not be able to “cite the source, it would bother me.” Though he provides no source, Brody assures readers that “Bergala considered this to be a ruse: several years later, Godard found Loyrette’s tape, but he still did not show his film.”

The mention of Alain Bergala in the third paragraph is crucial. Bergala’s interview with Godard, La vie vécuee depuis…[4] , is the primary – possibly only – source of information on Adieu au TNS and this period of Godard’s life. All that Brody and Antoine de Baecque relate about this film in their respective biographies comes more or less entirely from this interview – de Baecque quotes Godard more and presents a slightly clearer course of events, though not without factual errors of his own. While it is true that Brody does offer the background, biographical details to the making of Adieu au TNS, he does not offer an explanation of the acronym ‘TNS’ and even if he did, readers might be confused because when he refers to the TNS earlier, he uses a different name, never directly linking the background information with the video. The TNS is the National Theater of Strasbourg (Théâtre nationale de Strasbourg). The theater has an acting school that Brody inaccurately refers to as the “École nationale de l’art dramatique” (it is actually the École supérieure d'art dramatique). Rather than explaining what TNS stands for and how Godard’s involvement with the school may have prompted or inspired the video, Brody prefers to obscure this fact in order to stress his own point. That Godard feels guilty of something should be clear,  Brody implies, from his refusal to show the video.

Adieu au TNS, in fact, has absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism, collaborationism, Robert Brasillach or Nazis. It is a bitter and mournful farewell to the National Theater of Strasbourg, as would have become clearer had Brody cited any more of the recited text. And Godard’s reluctance to show it publicly makes sense once it is understood that it was made as a piece of correspondence, to be viewed by its recipients.

The video’s seven minutes consists of three shots: a wide shot of Godard standing in a room that might be his office, looking ragged, lighting a cigar and proceeding to recite a poetic farewell to the school of his own composition, and a medium shot and a close up from the same angle and camera position, separated by black during which we can hear Godard walk to the camera and zoom in. In typical Godardian font, the words “ADIEU” “AU” and “TNS” appear onscreen at various points. There is some mournful accordion-type music playing quietly in the background.

In the late 1990s, Godard attempted, as did his partner Anne-Marie Miéville, to secure an academic position in France. He looked for employment at La Fémis, a French filmmaking school, the Collège de France, and, most relevantly, the National Theater of Strasbourg. La Fémis was not interested in hiring Godard and his candidature for the Collège de France – aided by Pierre Bourdieu and Philippe Sollers – was denied. Having worked with several actors from the TNS while making For Ever Mozart (1996), including Bérengère Allaux (with whom he was evidently quite taken), Godard decided to contact Jean-Louis Martinelli, the director of the theater – which also, as mentioned above, had an acting school – to see if he could work with the school in some way. He proposed working with ten students in order so that he might learn about theater, and making a documentary film about the school. What exactly his work with the students involved is not entirely clear. It does not seem like he taught a class or a seminar, and, according to Godard’s own account, it would seem he never met the students in person (although Brody and de Baecque claim the students traveled to Rolle to visit Godard at his home). 

He sent them copies of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprentice Years, copies of films including Frederick Wiseman’s Welfare (which he admired because he felt the unemployed characters were tremendously talented performers from whom the students could learn), and video cameras with which they could videotape their rehearsals to send to him. The students, however, were not interested, telling Martinelli that Godard was not someone their generation cared about and that he frightened them. Hurt, Godard told them to donate their video cameras to Compagnons d’Emmaüs, a charitable organization. They videotaped this trip, where they met a guard who told them the organization was closed that day, and sent the video to Godard. He told Bergala, “It felt (maybe I have too much imagination) like a trial, like a condemnation with a sentence. It felt like the sentencing of Federico Garcia Lorca by the Nationalist militia. Even more in my opinion because one or two of them had just seen Ken Loach’s film about Spain.”[5] In addition to this failure to engage or learn from the students, along with this insult, Godard’s project for a film about the school was also rejected. To be called The Formation of the Actor in France, the film proposed to “analyze a State apparatus that wants to do theater,” asking questions such as:
“Why today, in 1998, do the representatives of the French Republic continue to use the word ‘State,’ since they vomited when it was used by Pétain? Let’s not mix things up. One can mean ‘State’ without supporting Pétain. All the same, at the TNS it involved filming things. What does one learn? Why does one want to learn? And, finally, how does one act? Why act? What role does acting play in society, in life? That was the very ambitious basis of the film.” [6]
Martinelli feared it would be too much like Godard’s earlier Le Rapport Darty (1989), a documentary about and commissioned by the Darty Company, an electronics retailer, which ended up being highly critical of the company. He told Godard he couldn’t make the film.

In the wake of these professional failures and – one might conjecture, as Brody does – the end of whatever his relationship to Allaux amounted to, Godard composed a text and, alone, seemingly late at night, filmed himself reciting it and then mailed it to the TNS as a private, personal farewell.

Godard’s text is as follows (I have translated it in blank verse and as literally as possible, losing the rhyme but, hopefully, retaining the meaning):

Good evening Madame and you Monsieur,

The following is only a tender farewell

From a homeless refugee

Who on the stage thought to find,

In words, a gentle refuge.

O! You young masters and mistresses,
          Accept without any anger
The complaint of a traveler

Who followed a princess

Into a theater – heavens, what misfortune.

The idiot thought in his fright

That if any freedom remained

In our unloved Europe,

It was in spoken promises

That flow from the actor's body.

How many letters? How many images?

How many books, all well-written,

Were sent in spite of the storm,

But received in recompense

Only absence, silence, indifference?

You who, every night under your pillows,

Claudel, Artaud, Molière find,

Antigone and Lorenzaccio,

Sometimes think of the other idiot

Laboring to align three words.

I do not know why gentle comrades

I must beseech so much,

And, young and beautiful friends,

Why I must beg you

To not leave the ship stranded.

Is it possible elsewhere that

A pretty battalion would form

To cross mountains,

To look for the words of the other,

Without obliging him to say his name.

Romeo who threw chairs,

And Juliet who rubbed her ass.

Poor William you are beaten,

Our world so ill at ease.

AIDS still unvanquished.

Speech flows from the mouth,

Can one kiss it, my dear,

Before you fly off the handle

And madly declaim

That private life has the force of law?

You who sacrifice your body

And steal the character’s soul,

Lift yourself up one more time

Without considering the adjustments,

Walking in step with the exception.

Was is a bit too unreasonable

To believe that in this magic place,

One day the human soul might

Pierce the scientific secret,

Because your hands are in mine?

Farewell TNS and Strasbourg,

The exiled thus takes his step.

But if the public is in error,

When one salutes does one not say

A very fond ‘hello’ to you, my dear?

Farewell my friends.

From this text it should be clear that there is nothing remotely related to Robert Brasillach or anti-Semitism, hence why Brody avoids addressing it. Adieu au TNS is, instead, the work of a depressed, bitter man lamenting a string of personal and professional failures, possibly a minor work in Godard’s canon. It is unfortunate that Brody exploits the video’s unavailability to bolster his claims of Godard’s anti-Semitism and that others, following Brody’s lead, have attempted to extend Brasillach's anti-Semitism to Godard’s other films.[7] I hope the availability of this text in English can put an end to such speculations and misinterpretations and cast doubt on the other interpretative leaps and forced readings Brody makes throughout Everything is Cinema.

Many thanks to to Miguel Marías and Ilan Cohen

[1] Aside from Richard Brody’s Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, which I will discuss here, see Antoine de Baecque’s GODARD biographie (Grasset & Fasquelle, 2010).

[3] Cited by Brody and others as a writer, but elsewhere as an actor. I’ve been unable to locate anything Loyrette has written or any films he has acted in aside from Godard’s Eloge de l’amour (2001).

[4] In Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, Tome 2: 1984-1998.

[5] Godard, Jean-Luc. Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard: Tome 2 (1984-1998). p. 19.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Note by editor of Kino Slang, Andy Rector: See Glenn Kenny’s post on his blog Some Came Running wherein he tries to extend Brasillach's anti-Semitism to Eloge de l’amour (2001). Indeed Brasillach's 'Testament d’un Homme Condamné' is quoted in Eloge de l’amour, and while one could argue against ever quoting a collaborator or an anti-Semite at all, the use of Brasillach’s words in Eloge is a far more complicated affair; much of its context has been helpfully provided by Craig Keller and Miguel Marias in the comments to Kenny's post. Jacques Rancière, writing about Histoire(s), has noted that Brasillach's Testament itself was already an "imitation of Villon" (as Godard's Adieu is an imitation of Loyrette's video, in cadence), and the singing out of it in Histoire(s) "calls to mind Léo Ferré singing Aragon." In a footnote to Rancière's remark Stoffel Debuysere adds: 

According to Godard “the days of [Vichy propaganda minister and Milice member Phillipe] Henriot’s assassination (in 1944) and of the execution of Robert Brasillach, the right-wing critic and novelist and anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi propagandist (in 1945) were days of mourning in the Godard house.” Brasillach was also the author, with Maurice Bardèche, of the first Histoire du cinéma (1935), “the only one I ever read”, says Godard. It is no surprise then that he emerges in Histoire(s) du cinéma. Towards the end of part 1A ‘All the histories’ (1998 re-edit), Godard uses footage of a condemned prisoner being tied to a post, superimposing words taken from Aragon’s ‘The Lilacs and the Roses’. The sequence continues with images of a different execution, and words from a resistance poem by Paul Eluard; on the soundtrack is also a voice (Philippe Loyrette's) singing some lines from Brasillach’s ‘Testament d’un Homme Condamné’, which is inspired by the ‘Testament’ of another French poet, François Villon. 


December 16, 2012

He ate the smell of the soup, 
paid with the sound of money.

December 9, 2012

December 8, 2012

The corners of the mouth...

"Coincidentally, sharing its Paris release with Pauline à la plage was yet another film on the ineradicable prestige of childhood. En rachâchant is a fictional short directed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, scripted by Maguerite Duras and shot in bleak black and white by that Méliès de la lumière, Henri Alekan. (This title, alas, cannot even be translated into French; but, according to Yann Lardeau in Cahiers du Cinéma, it onomatopoeically hints at harping on, harking back, buying back, muttering, mumbling, chewing, knowing, fretting, fuming and murdering ! ) Though not as funny as, say Some Like It Hot, it is indubitably a comedy, with little Olivier Straub, as handsome and owlish as his parents' films [sic, O. Straub is J.-M. Straub's nephew], blowing a gleeful raspberry at the authority of his betters, much as Charles Laughton did in  If I Had a Million (Lubitsch). Its running time is just 7 minutes and 30 seconds. I could have wished for it to last, oh, twice as long."
- Gilbert Adair, "Films by Resnais, Rohmer, and the Straubs", 
Sight and Sound, Summer '83