Before and After:
Origins and Death in the Work of Jean-Luc Godard

by André Habib

Histoire(s) du cinéma
Histoire(s) du cinéma

André Habib has just completed a Master's thesis on the question of origins and death in Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma. He has also contributed to the online journal Hors Champ, and the Québec film magazine Séquences.

The desire to work on a film text can stem from a variety of sources. In the process of this work, nonetheless, the writer is often quartered between the time of the first impression and a time of research that distances one from the first breach that catalysed the motion of the enquiry. Finding and working around this first impression is part of the fidelity we must display in order to remain close to the work we analyse.

The present remarks and reflections are rooted in and illuminated by one of these first impressions, an impression left by a striking image that appears near the beginning of episode 4a of Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1998). This image is what led me to investigate and reflect upon the motifs of origins and death in Histoire(s) and other Godard works.

Impression of Origin

The opening segment and the entirety of episode 4a is carried by Giya Kancheli's Abii ne viderem ("I turn away so as not to see"), a piece for violin and orchestra, where discordant staccati are contrasted with long suspended legati. After the title LE CONTROLE DE L'UNIVERS, Godard presents us with an odd image, emerging as from a shadowy and intimate dark room. A heavy-grained, black and white strip of celluloid, torn by streaks, slowed down to the point of abstraction, runs through the video machine. We can see, on the left side of the screen, the hip and leg of a woman, and a man's face and hand in the centre of the image. The scene is lit by a fragile strip of light, engulfed by grey grain. The man's gesture is made hesitant by the strobes of light. His hand appears and disappears in the darkness, between the immobile legs of the woman. This image has no name. Anonymous, impersonal, almost invisible, saved from a past it recalls and annuls at the same time, this image was obviously destined for a totally different usage - probably an early 20th century stag film.

No matter the precise origins of this image, what is central here is that it produces an image of origins: origin of the world, via Gustave Courbet's scandalous painting that it obliquely recalls; origins of a tentative Controle of the Universe; origins of a mystery, suspended on the verge of its own disappearance, a point of obscurity and of pure nudity. This hand, working in the very centre of the "origin of the world", seems to evoke an essential creative tension: the limit of its own possibility, its birth and conception. In this image one finds en condensé a pictorial reference, a reference to the gesture of the gynaecologist that helps give birth, but also to the artist who must "work with his hands", and the spirit that "manifests his presence" - these two phrases recurrent motifs throughout Histoire(s) du cinéma. Between the origin of the world and the control of the universe, it is the programme and the drama of all Art that is expressed.


As is often the case in Godard, this motif is not isolated. One can find a number of variations and reworkings of this image (and the issues it raises) in works such as Je Vous salue, Marie (1985), Hélas pour moi (1993) and L'origine du XXIe siècle (2000).

For instance, the opening scene of L'origine du XXIe siècle superimposes - as the title L'OR - L'ORIGINE - DE L'ORIGINE is being formed - a golden lake and the pubic hair of a woman shot in extreme close-up, taken from Hélas pour moi. As the intertitle DU XXIe SIECLE appears, the soundtrack breaks into sounds of rifle shots and bombs exploding, in sharp contrast with the violin melody that accompanied the opening images. Twelve rapid shots are then seen on screen in a 3 second time span (blazing sun, sexual penetration, black image, etc.) War and pornography stand here - as elsewhere - in opposition with Eden (the Garden of Delights) and the Light and Mystery of the Origins (1).

Such a télescopage between the End of the World and the Origins of the world is also central to an important segment of episode 2a of Histoire(s) du cinéma. Near the end of the episode, Godard mixes a still image from Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu (1959) and Courbet's Origin of the World, and opposes it with footage of concentration camp prisoners during WWII and a black and white pornographic sequence. In this cross-cutting of The World of Apu and death camps, Courbet's Origin and pornographic material, one grasps what is at stake: all that could represent, in art, the possibility of beauty (art's infancy) has been troubled, raped by the horrors of the war and the camps in particular. The state of original infancy has been irrevocably perverted (2).

On Before and After, Origin and Death

The origin, in this context, comes to represent a state of Before: before the fall of the world. The Origin is, for this reason, inseparable from what comes After (after Auschwitz, after Chernobyl, after the invasion of CNN and its groupies, etc.) We can say, anticipating my propos, that Godard's recent work (from the '80s onward) is situated in a time-space of loss and repossession, between the Lost World and Time regained. A sense of what has been lost must first be recognised before imagining new possibilities. But this possibility is Janus-Faced, forked between a stare drawn towards the Before, and a look at the catastrophe of the After where he stands and towards which he is pushed. The search for this Before means acting upon the loss, plunging deep in the heart of the abyss that chained history to its distress, and that orchestrated cinema's loss.

We must note that this Before and After cannot be seized strictly as historical markers. They manifest themselves through a variety of forms: philosophical, historical, geophysical, lyrical, biographical, etc. They are questions, before being dates or historical events. In Prénom: Carmen (1983) the question asked is: "What is there before the Name?" In Je vous salue, Marie Godard tries to capture: "What did they say to each other, Joseph and Marie, before the Legend?" Puissance de la Parole (1988) ends on a vertiginous evocation of the original chaos, where all four elements blend via video mixing, an acoustic and visual polyphony. Lettre à Freddy Buache (1981), JLG/JLG autopotrait en décembre (1994) and For Ever Mozart (1996) show a series of personal landscapes, places where Godard grew up, streets of Lausanne and Geneva, the house of his mother, the shores of Lac Leman. Hélas pour moi and Allemagne année 9 0 neuf zéro (1991) both have narratives revolving around investigations into what happened before. In King Lear (1987), William Shakespeare Jr. the 5th tries to rewrite the disappeared works of his famous ancestor. In Histoire(s) du cinéma and other works Auschwitz, the invention of sound film, the television empires, the Fall of the Wall, Chernobyl and Sarajevo all mark the end of something. These different events are 'second degree' in the sense that they all are valued as symptoms of this After. And there are as many variations to signify the Before. Godard, thus, is following the traces of the fleeing gods while picking up the traces of what made them disappear.

So how should we conceive all these 'befores' and 'afters'? It is not evident that Before be anterior to the After, and that what existed before cannot reappear, that the "murmur we once perceived, a long time ago, oh!, so long ago, the murmur begins again" (Histoire(s) du cinéma). Before and After are points that permit Godard to draw lines; they are treated as events that deploy a cartography of history and memory. They are without beginning or end since they are both beginning and end, origin and death, resurrection and regression. Each point of origin replays from within a death that displaces all coordinates; each End is an invitation to begin anew. Hence, the possibility of still making films, for Godard, seems caught between a strive towards origins and an imaginary of the end. Origin and Death are constantly played one against the other, incessantly displaced, deterritorialised. The task of the filmmaker then resonates like the verse from Baudelaire's "The Voyage":

Strange fortune! The goal always shifts,
And, being nowhere, could be anywhere (3)

When I heard these lines in episode 2a of Histoire(s) du cinéma, I was immediately reminded of a passage from Paul Claudel: No road is the path I must follow.
Nothing, returning, welcomes me, or, leaving, releases me

This passage, in turn, appeared in a 1965 Cahiers essay by Godard entitled "Pierrot My Friend":

In short, to know the cinema seems as arduous as Claudel's East. I quote: No road is the path I must follow. Nothing, returning, welcomes me, or, leaving, releases me. This tomorrow is not of the day that was yesterday. This last sentence in terms of cinema: two shots which follow each other do not necessarily follow each other. The same goes for two shots which do not follow each other.) (4)

When we put these two quotations from Baudelaire and Claudel next to each other, we see that they both respond, in Godard's re-appropriation, to the same task: a search for Cinema. And so we would have, on the one hand, all that can figure the origins of cinema and the origin through the cinema that Godard practices, and, on the other, all that can signify cinema's death, a death that he was already anticipating with ironic optimism in 1965. (5) Splendour and misery, grandeur and decadence: these two movements seem to have set in motion Godard's films from the very beginning. Let us look now at the manifestations of this double bind in the evolution of his cinema.

À la recherche du cinéma perdu

À bout de soufflé
À bout de soufflé
Upon the release of À bout de soufflé (1959), Godard said he wanted to revive the experience of cinema's first projection, in an effort to re-establish, beyond its stagnation and complacency, the wonder of a beginning.

I.wanted to give the feeling that the techniques of filmmaking had just been discovered or experienced for the first time. The iris-in showed that one could return to the cinema's sources; the dissolve appeared, just once, as though it had just been invented. (6)

Godard has often stated that all the essential inventions of cinema were found in the first twenty or thirty years after its conception. Returning to the beginnings of cinema is a way of giving it a new breath of life, a breath that one feels very tangibly in his earlier films even those (like Le Petit soldat [1960]) where a gloomy sense of death lurks over the work. All the technical processes Godard has integrated throughout his career - slow motion, acceleration, intertitles, still images, iris, lap dissolves, Vertovian montage, silent sequences - recapture, in the present of their reinvention, something of cinema, giving the impression that it had just been invented. But could we not also say that this return to sources - which is also a constant invocation of cinema's history - is the most obvious trace of Godard's and the New Wave's cinephilia? Isn't Henri Langlois the usher who opened the doors of cinema to them?

We can say, punningly, that Godard has two birthplaces: Geneva 1930, and Paris on the Avenue de Messine in the late '40s early '50s, where Langlois introduced the not-yet-exactly-young-turks to cinema. Light was then revealed: "Let there be light" (episode 3b).

Langlois is often presented in Histoire(s) du cinema, via Fra Angelico, as the Angel of the Annunciation (as in 3b). Godard's debt to Langlois is revealing of his debt to cinema history as a whole, without which he himself would have no history. Langlois showed them the "brotherhood of metaphors". Because of this critical cinephilia, what became very clear to Godard was that, to make a film, he had to align himself in a fraternity with the past - whether its name be Vigo, Stroheim, Lang or Malraux - a past metamorphosed in the present (this is the theme of episode 3b).

Langlois's seances also showed the soon-to-be critics a novel way of thinking about the history of cinema grounded in films:

The cinema was first of all the art of the present; and then it was to bring art closer to life. But for Henri Langlois, we would not yet know any of. But for his titanic efforts, the history of the cinema would have remained what it was for Bardèche and Brasillach - souvenir postcards brought back by a pair of amiable but not very serious students from the land of darkened auditoriums. (7)

From the outset, the status of cinema history in Godard's films is intimately linked - through quotations, references, techniques and so on - to the role this history played in his own life as cinephile, critic and cineaste. With the passing years, what was initially a gift, then a horizon of artistic invention, became debt, responsibility and an urgency to save cinema from its disappearance from memories. His cinema has, in many ways, become a cinema of resistance.

Godard and History: Quoting and Reinventing

Godard has always proclaimed himself in texts and interviews the child of the museum and the cinémathèque. "We were born in the museum, it's our homeland, and we're the only ones". (8) It's for this reason that Godard's history project, according to Serge Daney, could only be done by someone of his generation. (9) The Cahiers critics found themselves both witnesses and preservers of a cinematic historical heritage, whilst following the tormented path of cinema's many deaths. This consciousness was to be expressed with a mixture of resignation, cynicism and sadness by the different auteurs of the period: Resnais, Rivette, Rohmer, Truffaut, Varda. But none has given as much attention to the process of cinema's dereliction and possible resurrection as Godard.

By what secret election does Godard feels responsible to fill this task? "Why ask me to shoot this twisted fairy-tale?" asks the protagonist from King Lear. Is it because, as Daney suggests, Godard is, of all the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, the most "fundamentally a historian? If this is so, how is this historian's sensibility manifested in the works? Godard has not been interested in the genre of historical films; nor is he interested in representing history (unlike people such as Bertrand Tavernier, Claude Berri, Milos Forman and Steven Spielberg). (10) If Godard is to be seen as an historian, it's first and foremost through his art of quotation.

This art of participates in history in two ways: by feeding on the history of expressive forms; and by integrating quotations that, via the intelligence of his montage, propose little 'history lessons'. In both cases, the use value of these quotations is to re-present the history of artistic representation and philosophical interrogation. This reflexivity of an artistic form on itself (cinematic quotation) or on another (painting, novelistic, poetic, philosophical) is a way of reminding us that all expressive forms are grounded on prior experiences of art (seen, heard, read). We are then witnessing a re-appropriation and a re-invention of something that impressed the cineaste and, on another hand, the mise en scène of this art itself within the history of other art forms.

Quotations in Godard are not merely an artistic tic. They have become over time an essential question of his work, engaging a historical consciousness and a way of dealing with cinematic creation. As Jacques Aumont states: "The cinematic signifier is, essentially and contingently, a citational signifier". (11) Godard is only enlarging and radicalising this proposal. By exaggerating cinema's essentially citational signifier, he indicates to us everything that has traversed its histor(ies), singular and multiple.

That is why it is often inappropriate to reduce Godard's understanding and practice of quotation by imposing upon it the post-modern lexicon of pastiche, collage, patchwork, etc. Godard's quotations are (his) invention and creation, they are both critical and poetic. In Aumont's words: "The science of the critic, his intuition and his poetry, is to leave unaltered what is quoted, even if he's deforming it, meanwhile showing it as if it was new". (12) Reinventing while preserving, or, better still, preserving while reinventing the object: here resides the intelligence of Godard's quotations. And he has shown how, by preserving cinema in such a way, he could incessantly reinvent it.

Whether he's quoting a scene from Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) or a phrase by Elie Faure (in Pierrot le fou), a short story by Poe (Vivre sa vie), reflections by Wittgenstein or Merleau-Ponty, the paintings of Renoir, Goya, Picasso, camera movements or technical devices by Murnau, Meliès, Epstein or Eisenstein - Godard is, in every case, telling us something about cinema (the cinema he practices, and that has been practiced) while reinstating the very historicity of cinema. He's reminding us of its place in a History. All that is quoted in Godard is edited (monté) and through his montage bears new meaning, produces something new. The art of quotation refers to something and produces something else in the very same process, born out of montage, téléscopage, displacement, condensation, recontextualisation - in a word: reinvention.

Cinema Itself

So Godard's search for cinema reveals itself, primarily, in the use of quotations that allow the assumption of cinema's historicity while inventing, each time, a new expressive form that re-produces while preserving the quoted element. But quotation is not the final word of this quest; it represents but one dimension. Could we say that Godard's work has never had any subject but cinema itself? "I believe that my first films didn't really have a subject [.] I only tackled a subject at the time of France Tour Detour [197x] and Sauve qui peut (la vie) [1980]. Before then, the subject was cinema". (13) If his other films do have a subject, it seems that this subject matter was, each time, subjected to questions of cinema, its way of treating things, its possibilities of expression and the limits of its representation. From Une Histoire d'eau (1958) to Histoire(s) du cinéma, À bout de souffle to Sauve qui peut (la vie), One+One (1970) to Numéro deux (1975), Les Carabiniers (1963) to For Ever Mozart, Godard has constantly been looking for cinema, finding and losing it, rethinking its foundations, invoking and convoking it, trying to see it - and make us see it - as if for the first time.

Every film appears through the opacity of its mediations. Filming the present in the present means filming a present embedded in a certain historicity, or at least a temporal depth. "The past isn't dead, it's not even past", the Faulknerian formulae that circulates throughout Histoire(s), could be seen as a general principle for his entire ouvre. Not that we should turn our eyes away from the present; on the contrary, it means that we must try to find ways to make coincide the three modalities of temporality. If cinema is an art of the present, it's certainly because it can be the witness of a convergence of the three Augustinian modalities of time: a present of the past (memory), a present of the present (intuition), a present of the future (expectation). The cinema that Godard conceives is traversed by these three dimensions, and at the same time - and for this very reason - we can say that all notions of linear progression collapse. There is a becoming, but this becoming is not subsumed by the rules of chronology. To go forward, one must, at times, look back.

Concerning Cocteau's Orpheus (1949), Godard wrote: "[I]n order to create cinema we must rediscover Meliès, and that quite a few light years are still necessary for this". (14) It is not surprising, then, that Paul, the protagonist of Le Mépris (1963) formulates the wish of returning to the silent art of Griffith, Chaplin and Meliès. Fritz Lang is also, in the same film, an incorporated quotation of this cinema of mise en scène that Godard seeks, with which he feels cinema has lost touch. In each of theses cases, to rediscover means not to emulate, but to regain, for oneself.

[W]e have already had Bresson, we have just had Hiroshima mon amour [1959], a certain kind of cinema has just drawn to a close, maybe ended, so let's add the finishing touch, let's show that anything goes. What I wanted [in À bout de souffle] was to take a conventional story and remake, but differently, everything the cinema had done. (15)

To finish, one must begin again. Between loss and regain, the only way of making cinema is to use the object of this loss as a subject of analysis, the subject of a tale, a land to be conquered. To find this land also means to deserve a Name next to others.

"Why me? Why ask me to shoot this twisted fairy-tale?" asks the protagonist from King Lear, while leafing through a photo album containing images of directors including Cocteau, Roberto Rossellini, Orson Welles. "Where do I fit in this Pantheon?", Godard seems to ask. Can 'Jeannot' take his place along side Fritz, Boris, Nicholas? Can he be worthy of the name he has been given? The long litany of JLG/JLG autoportrait poses precisely this question.

The Rescapé

Resistance is memory and fidelity. By marking such filiations and paternities Godard, particularly in the last twenty years or so, has been pursuing the true tradition of the 'cinematograph', the first essential intuitions of silent films - those of Jean Epstein and Sergei Eisenstein - and the idea that it is cinema as it is practiced today that has derailed. As Michael Witt has argued, "it is not Godard's work but the rest of cinema that has somehow lost its way and been sidelined to the margins". (16) In the seminars he gave in Montreal in the late '70s, Godard stated similarly that he wished "to rediscover silent films in order to find his own talking pictures". He has also often said that he has never left cinema, and that it is others who have accused him of abandoning it: hence the irony and pain of those Idiot characters that appear here and there in his filmography of the '80s.

Le Mépris
Le Mépris
From Le Mépris to King Lear and Allemagne année 9 0, a motif often reappears in Godard's films: the rescapé (survivor). He described the characters of Le Mépris as "castaways of the Western world, survivors of the shipwreck of modernity". (17) The survivor is one whose life has been somehow spared, but who has been torn from the land where he once lived. He is in exile, trying to regain the land he has lost. For a cineaste whose homeland has always been cinema, his Odyssey consists of a long and strenuous return to a year zero of cinema, a native space, forgotten and remembered, through the tremors of history.

The First Film: Making the First Picture

Regaining cinema is another way of replaying the first film. It is not surprising that images of trains arriving and factory exits have circulated throughout his films. We remember Michel Ange's naïve reactions in Les Carabiniers, but we should also recall the numerous train arrivals in Sauve qui peut (la vie), Hélas pour moi and For Ever Mozart. We also know the importance the factory has had in his films from the late '60s onward, particularly in Tout va bien (1972) and Passion (1982), where it comes to represent cinema's 'ordinary'. Parallels have often been made between Etienne-Jules Marey's early experiments and the slow-motion sequences of France Tour détour. "There is a moment where you need to start from the beginning". (18)

To start from the beginning entails a return to the 'first' film. It can also mean giving himself the right to do and redo his own first film, to constantly displace the moment of this first picture. As a critic, Godard was already making his first film. If À bout de souffle is his first feature, Une femme est une femme is his 'real first film'. Bande à part (1964), after Le Mépris, felt like a return to his first films. Numéro deux (initially announced as À bout de soufflé 2) indicated a new state of facts, a program, a direction. Sauve qui peut (la vie) the famous 'second first film' is seen as his 'third life' in cinema. Nouvelle Vague, if only by its title, is a kind of 'return'. And isn't it that, redoing, albeit differently, all the cinema that has been done? Michel Poiccard's death oddly resembles the death of Paul Godard in Sauve qui peut. Aphorisms by Bresson appear in five or six films, but are inflected differently in each case. Quotations from Summer with Monika (1952), Mr. Arkadin (1955), A Time to Live and a Time to Die (1958), While the City Sleeps (1956) and Pickpocket (1959) stream through his films, but each time carry a different meaning. The locus of Godard's creative output lies somewhere between this 'redoing' and this 'differently'.

Mourning and Redemption: A Cinema of Revelation

Quotations, search for cinema, survivors, first films: all these motifs and practices are based on a common statement. Cinema has been lost, and every filmmaker must come to terms with this loss. This position became ever more radical in the late '60s and throughout the '70s, between the Dziga Vertov group and the Sonimage experiments. When Godard returns to cinema in the '80s - as the legend has it - this position seems even sharper. The deaths of Rossellini, Hitchcock and Truffaut gradually confirm his impression that he is perhaps one of the last, alongside (at least in the '80s) Wenders, Akerman and the Straubs, to follow a certain path.

His films of the '80s and '90s show us a new radicalisation, that introducing to his lexicon new preoccupations: the Invisible, the Sacred, the Law, resurrection, History, mourning, etc. From Passion to Hélas pour moi, the issue of return took a specific turn. Godard has maybe turned towards, as Deleuze puts it, a cinema of revelation, i.e. a cinema that tries to recapture its own essence by capturing the genesis of shapes in the frame, the genesis of the visible on the brink of the invisible, in other words, the in-between between thought and non-thought. (19) It is as if he was trying to film a pre-syntactical consistency of things, a cinema 'before the legend', that would catch things purely.

A very modern preoccupation has thus appeared, trying to grasp things before they've been given a name, in a pre-linguistic state, rendering their ontological depth. The question then is to show this impossible, and all the degrees of invisibility of the visible: this is the ghost matter of Hélas pour moi, the Light of Passion, the Mystery of Marie, Rachel or Carmen that joins cinema's own, and threads it. Is this not in conformity with the privileged mystery of Cinema in Epstein's definition?

No matter the scenario, every metre of film retains, implicitly, esoterically, this experience of a reality renewed and yet still untamed: reality above and beyond good sense and standard time; a reality hailing from elsewhere, detached from an indifferent centre and an inertia which lacks all system; a reality before names and the law of words. (20)

In asking what comes before the law, we must also work through and confront it: the linguistic order, the law of images, the forbidden objects of representation, to reach the Word, the original Image. These are all multiple versions of Godard's origins, or his search for the Before in the '80s and '90s. At stake in this striving for the Before is a painful desire to start again, anew, through an understanding of the beginning. This beginning can represent an uncorrupted state of images and sounds - hence all the displaced inserts of landscapes, skyscapes, fields, that signal this 'first state' of images. His late '70s project to shoot a film in Mozambique was similarly based on a will to find a primordial state of images. So it is unsurprising that Godard became fascinated with the figure of Marie. In the script of Je vous salue, Marie, we read:

She is a virgin image. No traces. No imprint. That is what Mary represents. To be a virgin means being available, free.

Blessed be cinema. The Law is not said, it is seen and heard. It is accepted and discussed. A story is born and is given to us. So it is that out of an image life is resurrected. (21)

In the same line of thought, when the protagonist of King Lear finds Pluggy's reels near the end of the film, he says: "The first bells of Easter were ringing. The images were there, as new: shy, innocent, strong. Pluggy's sacrifice was not in vain. The image will appear at the time of the resurrection". The images we see, at that moment in the film, are similar to those that flood his work in the '80s: tree, sky, flower, etc. The time of the resurrection is not a messianic return, but rather a parousie, a 'second event' that redeems the real through images, the resurrection of a presence, lyrical and transformative, of cinema's aura.

To redeem and regain cinema, finally, can also mean finding oneself. Since the Lettre à Freddy Buache, Geneva and Lausanne have reappeared at the centre of his visual universe and naturally participate in this return. Even the house of Odile Monod, Godard's mother, appears in For Ever Mozart. Godard's several changes of habitation in the '70s, from Paris to Grenoble to Rolle, coincide with a similar movement in his cinema. Images of Lake Leman, of plains and streams, images of places of his childhood appear here and there in many films, up to JLG/JLG, which opens with a photograph of a young Jean-Luc. Rooms and landscapes in this film are filled with texts, memories, films and paintings that draw the portrait of the man he is, and is still becoming. If Godard is now in the December of his life, we can also recall that he was born in December and that the film is in keeping with the tension between birth and death, beginning and ending, that foregrounds many of his other films.

In JLG/JLG, we hear Godard saying: "Usually death arrives, and we mourn. I don't know why, but I did the contrary. I mourned first, and death did not come, nor in Paris, nor on the shores of the Geneva Lake". Godard, like cinema, wore first the colours of mourning: black and white, and is still awaiting death, the 'last judgement'. And so he now films this death, or, more precisely, each image he films is ripped away from cinema's death and perhaps even his own death. Cinema has never been more fully (as Cocteau described it), specifically because what is at stake is its resurrection and the possibilities of seeing images resurrect life.

Cinema's birth or rebirth is intimately linked to its death and the process of its mourning. The grieving of cinema draws on profound reflections about its origins, and, more generally, on the question of origins as a philosophical problem. To say it more simply, to position cinema's death is to think differently its resurrection. To wear the clothes of mourning is another way of celebrating its vitality, in memory and in history.

© André Habib September 2001
Translated by the author and revised by Adrian Martin.

See also

The Man With The Magnétoscope - Jean-Luc Godard's monumental Histoire(s) du cinéma as SoundImageTextBook by Alexander Horwath

A Beautiful Exception: Godard's For Ever Mozart by Fergus Daly

Thanatos ex Machina: Godard Caresses the Dead by David Sterritt

Only the Cinema by John Conomos

Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma, Parts 1A & 1B: Tales from the Crypt by Adrian Martin

Vivre sa vie by Adrian Danks


  1. For a detailed account of this scene, cf. Laetitia Fieschi-Vivet, "Investigation of a Mystery: Cinema and the Sacred in Hélas pour moi", in Michael Temple and James S. Williams (eds.), Cinema Alone: Essays on the Works of Jean-Luc Godard 1985-2000 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000), pp. 200-202.

  2. The question of the infancy of art is recurrent in Histoire(s) du cinema. Cf. Jacques Aumont, Amnésies (Paris: P.O.L., 1999), pp. 64-66; Alain Bergala, Nul mieux que Godard (Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 1999), pp. 221-249.

  3. From Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du mal (trans. A. Martin).

  4. Tom Milne (ed.), Godard on Godard (London: Secker & Warburg, 1972), p. 215

  5. "I await the end of Cinema with optimism". Ibid, p. 210.

  6. Ibid, p. 173.

  7. Ibid, p. 236. (There is an error in Milne's translation of this passage, corrected here, which renders 'cinema' as 'camera'.)

  8. Godard interviewed by Youssef Ishagpour, Traffic 30 (1999), p. 38.

  9. Godard and Daney, in Mary Lea Bandy & Raymomd Bellour (eds.), Jean-Luc Godard: Image + Son (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1992), p. 159.

  10. Since the late '80s Godard has manifested an intense preoccupation with History (with a capital H) and is opposed to directors who try to capture History through stories. At stake is a fundamental, philosophical interrogation into History, not an accurate description of historical facts which are often cloaked in a travesty of narrative trickery.

  11. Aumont, Amnésies, p. 60.

  12. Ibid., pp. 133-4.

  13. Alain Bergala (ed.), Godard par Godard (Paris: Cahiers du cinema, 1998), tome 1, p. 11.

  14. Godard on Godard, p. 205.

  15. Ibid, p. 173.

  16. Michael Witt, "Montage, My Beautiful Care or Histories of the Cinematograph" in Cinema Alone, p, .42.

  17. Godard on Godard, p. 201.

  18. Godard par Godard, tome 1, p. 467.

  19. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), pp. 198-9.

  20. Jean Epstein, "Le monde fluide de l'écran" in Écrits sur le cinéma (Paris: Seghers, 1975), tome 2, pp. 156-157 (trans: A. Martin).

  21. Godard par Godard, tome 1, pp. 591-592.

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