• jlg2
December 3, 2016

JLG /// What’s the Scenario?

Jean-Luc Godard is 86 today. Back when a person still rented VHS tapes, a friend of mine borrowed our local video store’s entire Godard collection and announced a marathon screening session. I sat in on several over the course of a couple days, though I can’t remember which. I can’t even remember if it was my introduction to Godard, but it may well have been. Nouvelle vague was in there somewhere—that I’m sure of—and so was Made in U.S.A., glowing through the 20-inch cathode ray tube. This same friend wrote to me, perhaps a year later (I hope he will forgive my citing our personal correspondence), that Godard, “like all great men, is already thousands and thousands of years old.” So it may be superfluous to mark any particular one of his birthdays. Still, any opportunity to remember him should probably be taken, and you could do a lot worse with the unclaimed day-hours of your life than to watch every last one of JLG’s films. Even the ones that fail or frustrate inevitably offer the attentive viewer something precious and, more importantly, something unavailable anywhere else. Watch the opening sequence of Notre musique, again or for the first time. Or this scene from Masculin féminin. Or this from Une femme est une femme. Or consider this exchange from La Chinoise. Or watch this sequence from Sauve qui peut. Or this from, yes, À bout de souffle. Or this from Bande à part. Or this from Vivre sa vie. Don’t forget Le Mépris! Don’t forget Pierrot le fou! Or Détective! Or Alphaville!

Or Passion. Remember Passion? It’s worth visiting, or re-visiting, along with the 1982 “video poem,”1 Scénario du Passion. When the film itself premiered at Cannes earlier that year, Godard gave a particularly memorable press conference (see our on-the-fly translation of a brief excerpt below), which included a discourse on the underlying principles of his filmmaking and an apparently spontaneous just-so story of how film scripts came to be. As my friend also wrote, “Every book ever written flows through the veins of his spectacles. No one knows what he knows. No praise of him can bring him down. All repudiation elevates him.”


“I think that cinema… I’ve always said there are no images in a film but always, rather, an image before and an image after, the present doesn’t exist in cinema… Monday doesn’t exist, it’s always Sunday or Tuesday, and Monday is simply between the two, connecting them, that’s what the image is. And this image doesn’t even exist, there’s even a text, which Jerzy2 speaks, a text from Pierre Reverdy (an ex-member of the surrealist movement), from after the First World War… which is something that… at any rate, a friend once sent it to me and it’s become a kind of motto of mine: An image is never powerful because it’s terrible or brutal but because the solidarity of ideas is just and far-reaching.3 And I liked the idea of this… of putting this in the mouth of a Polish actor, making him declare the solidarity of just and far-reaching ideas. The underlying principle of the film—and of my filmmaking—is something like a principle that would underlie physics or mathematics today… I’ve always considered myself to be operating more in a scientific as opposed to an artistic field, only I work in a different domain than scientists do… the domain of the unpredictable. The possible. Between the probable and the possible. The unpredictable, or, if you prefer, the domain of equilibrium and… tightrope walking. But if you say you’re a tightrope walker people take you for a clown, so I prefer to say I work in the realm of unpredictability, and that way people don’t… Well. Anyway, everything—ultimately everything—in the film is always between two things. The light is always between day and night, between brightness and obscurity. The Italian producer is between arrival and departure. Jerzy between a girl who’s frank and open and one who’s closed off. Basically everything is between two things, and when you’re between two things, and when you have two things to say, when you have these back-and-forths, then necessarily you’re running from one side to the other and you end up either tripping or stuttering, and this makes for a rather unpredictable approach—which is much closer to the way painters and musicians approach their work, and which was also the approach that cinema took when it was first invented. Mack Sennett worked that way. He didn’t have a screenplay. If you read the memoirs of Robert Florey, or books or memoirs about old Hollywood, who invented screenplays? They were invented by accountants, who needed to know what Mack Sennett had been shooting all day. Or that’s what they were asking for, so they made up a piece of paper: a pair of shoes, a car, three cops, a girl in a bathing suit. Then afterwards they started to add verbs and adjectives: a girl in a bathing suit loves a cop who has three cars… And that was called a film script. But it was money, if you will, that invented the film script. So people should be grateful for me, really, grateful for the fact that I don’t script my films…”


  1. As Duncan White calls it in his essay for Vertigo magazine.
  2. The director character and JLG stand-in in Passion, portrayed by Jerzy Radziwiłowicz.
  3. Reverdy’s original differs somewhat: “Une image n’est pas forte parce qu’elle est brutale ou fantastique—mais parce que l’association des idées est lointaine et juste.” In English: “An image isn’t powerful because it is brutal or fantastic—but because the association of ideas is just and far-reaching.”

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