Printer Friendly

Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme and the pedagogy of the image.

The philosophy of film, or film philosophy, has experienced new life since the 1980s to explore various aspects of film as an artistic medium: the nature of film, director as auteur, film narration, and the effects of film on philosophy (Wartenberg, 2008). (10 It could be argued that philosophy caught up with film as a dominant medium in the twentieth while pedagogy remains hopelessly tangled in the textualism of print culture and barely able to register the existence of new social media with which most students have considerable fluency. (2)

Gilles Deleuze (1983, 1986) was one of the first philosophers to chart a fundamental shift from classical pre-WW2 cinema to post-WW2 cinema, a transition from the "movement-image" to the "time-image." His study, he says, "is not a history of cinema. It is a taxonomy, an attempt at the classifications of images and signs" with acknowledgements to C. S. Peirce and Henri Bergson (p. xiv). According to Deleuze, we have come to live in a metacinematic universe where images imply a new kind of camera consciousness that shapes our subjectivities. We now live in a visual culture that is comprised of three types of cinematic movement-images: perception images (that focus on what is seen), affection images (that focus on expressions of feeling) and action images (that focus on the duration of action) associated, respectively, with long shots, close-ups and medium shots.

I want to argue that the pedagogy of the image is best taught through the activities of the great film-makers--the heretics and experimenters--who teach us both the grammar of film and a politics of film informed by philosophy. Jean-Luc Godard, the Swiss film director, was part of the French "new wave," a loosely networked group including Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette who were influenced by Italian neorealism and Hollywood classical cinema, to break with conventional visual style and engage in radical experiments with editing. His approach to filmmaking, to film criticism, strongly influenced by the politics of the 1960s and existentialist and Marxist philosophy, made him an excellent teacher: he influenced a generation of filmmakers (3) and led the attack on Hollywood conventions. From Breathless (1960), Le Petit Soldat (The Little Soldier) (1960) to Film Socialisme (2010), some twenty-seven films later, Godard pursues political themes strongly consonant with a Marxist reading, directly addressing the Vietnam war, and themes of consumerism, the commodification of daily life, and alienation of existence in his early work to return to more traditional narratives in the 1980s and 1990s with some films like Prenom Carmen (1984), and Grandeur et decadence (1986) marked by autobiographical fragments.

In a rare interview with Geoffrey Macnab of The Guardian in 2005 he suggests the moment for cinema is over:

There is something paradoxical about his attitude toward cinema. He now seems despairing of the medium's ability to reinvent itself or to have any kind of social impact. 'It's over,' he sighs. 'There was a time maybe when cinema could have improved society, but that time was missed.'

As Macnab "Yet he continues to study film and experiment as energetically as ever." (4) It was only in 1998 that his work Historie(s) du Cinema created as a video became available in English as a complete whole. It started in the late 1970s with lectures Godard gave in Montreal that were transcribed and published in 1980 and subsequently also broadcast on British television in 1989. Later in 1999 a remixed CD version was made complemented by a set of art books. As James S. Williams (2008: 11) explains Historie(s) "is really an essay of film criticism and thus in perfect continuity with his early career as a film critic." He continues:

The first three chapters of Histoire(s)--'All the (Hi)stories,' 'A Single (Hi)story,' 'The Cinema Alone')--present the core themes, which are actually quite standard film historical fare: the purity of origins, the infinite promise of invention, the betrayal of cinema's popular mission and scientific vocation by Hollywood's greed for narrative and spectacle, the death of the silents at the hands of the talkies, the slowly successive deaths of national cinemas, and the takeover by corporate television (p. 12).

Williams describes Godard's history as one that is "an exploration of the legend" that unpicks the ideological baggage of the dream factory and investigates the contradictions of film as a tool of fiction (a genuine art) and a weapon of capitalism, and he describes the montage and other filmic techniques that Godard uses in his historical depiction that mark him as a critic-filmmaker-philosopher:
   Apart from odd techniques provided by online video such as
   spotting, inserting, compositing, and flashing, the effects
   obtained in Histoire(s) are largely derived from early cinema:
   juxtaposition, dissolves, cross-cutting, acceleration, iris shots,
   slow motion, fading, and above all super-imposition which, in its
   slow and gentle mode whereby the original filmic image is retained
   in composite frames, instantiates an idea of Otherness, or rather
   what might be called seeing through the Other. Hence, the value of
   montage is at once critical, historical, and ethical (p. 14).

If one agrees with Rupert Read and Jerry Goodenough's (2005) Film as Philosophy: Essays on Cinema After Wittgenstein and Cavell that "film engages with philosophy, that films think in a mode that is correctly understood as philosophizing (both through reason and through exploring the limits of reason) and that philosophy itself can be advanced by understanding the nature of this engagement (p. 32)" (Trahair, 2007: 165) then clearly Godard is a philosopher, perhaps the philosopher of film who as a practitioner and critic can comment on the history of film linking it to the history of media and the world, a feature which also makes him an auteur and his films worthy of our attention but also someone who is deeply engaged with teaching us something. Lisa Trahair (2007) remarks:

Godard also considers the impact of digitization on cinema and most interestingly on the kind of 'dialectic' that derived from cinematic montage. Cinema, he argues, is Hegelian to the extent that it rests on a relation between the positive and the negative at its simplest material level (one assumes he is referring to light and dark). This relation, however, is disappearing as the cinematic image is replaced by the digital image and its utilization of 'a sort of flat linearity' instead. Godard links the disappearance of cinema to its capacity to be conscious of itself, suggesting that the capacity derives not from cinema alone but from video as a kind of paracinema that can do almost everything that film does without too much loss of quality (p. 185). (5)

Godard's (2010) Film Socialisme is his first made entirely on video and first screened at the Cannes Film Festival. The film has no plot but is rather described by the official website as a symphony comprised of three movements:
   The first movement, Des choses comme ca ('Such things'), is set on
   a cruise ship, featuring multi-lingual conversations among a medley
   collection of passengers. Characters include an aging war criminal,
   a former United Nations official and a Russian detective. The
   second movement, Notre Europe ('Our Europe'), involves a pair of
   children, a girl and her younger brother, summoning their parents
   to appear before the 'tribunal of their childhood,' demanding
   serious answers on the themes of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
   The final movement, Nos humanites ('Our humanities'), visits six
   legendary sites: Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas, Naples, and
   Barcelona. (6)

Fiachra Gibbons (2010) of The Guardian describes it as "Assault on the eyes, brain and the buttocks" and introduces his piece with the following: "Jean-Luc Godard says the auteur is dead and the future of film is in cut-and-paste movie mashups like Film Socialisme, the latest salvo in his 40-year war against Hollywood." (7) He adds:

Film Socialisme is vintage late-Godard in all its baffling glory: a numbing assault on the eyes, brain and the buttocks that takes liberties with your patience and mental endurance, but has an undeniable originality. There is no story of course, heavens no. Instead, we are at sea on a cacophonous Mediterranean cruise ship, a floating Las Vegas drowning in over-consumption, where a Greek chorus of actors and philosophers wander among the middle-aged passengers quoting Bismarck, Beckett, Derrida, Conrad and Goethe in French, German, Russian and Arabic.

Gibbons is not sure of Godard's project and he prefers to focus on Godard's alleged anti-Semitism. (Godard made two pro-Palestinian films). Peter Bradshaw another Guardian critic is even more scathing, describing Film Socialisme as:

a fragmented meditation on the themes of the nation state, justice, and history, and a further interrogation of the meaning of the image in our culture, and, probably, an extension of Godard's modernist self-questioning and deconstructing of cinema, pushing it further into a baffling counter-cinema or anti-cinema. (8)

The analogy with a symphony is not explored by many critics yet the reference to the symphonic form is a key to interpreting Film Socialisme with its sonata movements based on tonal structures that function as an implied negation of narrative and the attempt to paint with images (both moving and still) using montage and other experimental techniques with gnomic expressions, voice overs and added English subtitles. Should this be understood as the end of modernism in film, as the end of narrative, the end of language and perhaps the end of film (and Godard's purported last film)? In the age of YouTube when 9232 hours of broadcasting are added every day, that is the equivalent of 200,000 three-minute videos, without producers and where most of the material is new, the auteur is almost certainly dead as is the classic kind cinema associated with the grand masters.


Deleuze, Gilles (1986), Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: The Athlone Press.

Deleuze, Gilles (1989), Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: The Athlone Press.

Pisters, Patricia (2003), The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Read, Rupert, and Jerry Goodenough (2005), Film as Philosophy: Essays in Cinema After Wittgenstein and Cavell. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rodowick, D. N. (2010), Afterimages of Gilles Deleuze's Film Philosophy. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Wartenberg, Thomas E. (2008), "The Philosophy of Film," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

Williams, James S. (2008), "Histoire(s) Du Cinema," Film Quarterly 61(3): 10-16.


mpeters @waikato

University of Waikato

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Source: The Guardian

"The cinema is truth 24 times a second."


(1.) See the excellent journal Film-Philosophy at /index.php/f-p with archives dating from 1997 and in particular the roundtable, "What is Film-Philosophy:" "In a context that is witnessing the rise of digital cinema, the global dominance of multi-national media conglomerates, and the worldwide spread of 'world cinemas,' what role does theory or philosophy play in helping us understand cinema, and indeed, what role can cinema play in transforming philosophy?" at http: //www. archive. org/details/WhatIsFilm-philo sophyRoundtable

(2.) There are many exceptions: see Henry Giroux's (2001) "Breaking into the Movies: Pedagogy and the Politics of Film," at volumes/Text_articles/V 21_13_Giroux. htm

(3.) Including such figures as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Brain De Palma, Wim Wenders, Oliver Stone, Ken Loach and many others.

(4.) See The Guardian's filmblog for Xan Brooks's selection of Godard's best films with clips at See also a catelogue of his films and works about them at http://worldcat. org/identities/lccn-n79-55544.

(5.) In this context she remarks on Ishaghpour's chapter (6) "conjectures that video and was necessary for Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema because the processing of the overprints, captions, etc., are interventions at the level of video and Godard admits that he doesn't see cinema and video as intrinsically different media (yet he distinguishes video from broadcast television which he argues is bereft of creativity). Video, he claims, comes from cinema, but makes altering the image easier (pp. 712)" (p. 185).

(6.) See See also the film trailer at http://www.

(7.) See

(8.) See
COPYRIGHT 2012 Addleton Academic Publishers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Peters, Michael A.
Publication:Review of Contemporary Philosophy
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Previous Article:Paradigms revisited: towards a practice-based approach.
Next Article:Comprehensive Darwinism.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters