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Between Objective Engagement and Engaged Cinema: Jean-Luc Godard’s “Militant Filmmaking” (1967-1974), Part II


Continued from “Between Objective Engagement and Engaged Cinema: Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Militant Filmmaking’ (1967-1974), Part I” in issue 34.

If the films Godard made with the Dziga Vertov Group (DVG) show the historical, political, and sociological actuality, in Here and Elsewhere Godard and Miéville carve out a discursive position from which to retrospectively analyze May ’68 in France. They do this in 1974, concurrent with the Palestinian revolution. DVG filmed some of the material for Here and Elsewhere in Palestinian training and refugee camps in 1970. The material was edited after the dissolution of the DVG, under the auspices of Sonimage, the production company Godard founded with Anne-Marie Miéville in 1974. Here and Elsewhere is usually interpreted as advancing a revisionist discourse that critiques DVG’s “militant excesses,” claiming self-repentance for erroneous engagement in the face of the Black September massacres of 1970 and the wave of terrorism that followed, events that allegedly made Godard and Gorin realize the limitations of their previous engagement and compelled them to take a “turn” in their work. However, Here and Elsewhere does not differ drastically from other DVG films: it articulates an avant-garde point of view (here: the third-worldist or the militant abroad), uncovers the contradictions inherent to the situation it analyzes, and proceeds to self-critique. The difference is that instead of reflecting the political actuality, the film examines May ’68 and its practical and theoretical consequences. Godard and Miéville analyze, from the point of view of 1974, the contemporary legacy of May ’68 in Paris and Palestine. In the voiceover Godard declares:

We did what many others were doing. We made images and we turned the volume up too high. With any image: Vietnam. Always the same sound, always too loud, Prague, Montevideo, May ’68 in France, Italy, Chinese Cultural Revolution, strikes in Poland, torture in Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Chile, Palestine, the sound so loud that it ended up drowning out the voice that it wanted to get out of the image.

Here Godard and Miéville address the predicament of May ’68, framing the question “Who speaks, for whom, and how?” as a failure: the putative speaker’s position is problematized because the supposedly self-critical intellectuals had spoken out too loud, drowning out the voice inside the images. Godard’s statement can be compared to Jean-Pierre Le Goff’s assessment of the failure of Maoism. Le Goff argues that the logic animating Maoists’ denunciation of power was a practical “settling of accounts,” denouncing oppression, exploitation, and racism by creating sensational media events. On this account, the Maoists failed due to an excess of dissent. Similarly, the voiceover in Here and Elsewhere claims that in spite of their self-criticism, the Maoists failed because their vociferous ideology drowned out the voice seeking expression through the filmed images. The intellectual’s failure to engage with revolutionaries abroad is rendered analogous to the impending breakdown of activist practice at home. In the quote cited above, “sound” should be understood as militant ideology, and the image inside the sound as art. Art had been drowned out by politics. When Godard and Miéville say that “people always speak about the image and forget about the sound,” they imply that the ideology that informed the discourse of political art-making overpowered the image. Images were thus spoken and not seen, obliterating the fact that sound had taken power over and defined them.

Read the full article here.