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Chaos and Cinema: Editing ‘The Image Book,’ Godard’s Visceral Video Essay

"Filming is a sort of postproduction," director Jean-Luc Godard says.

With his cinematic essay The Image Book, director Jean-Luc Godard pieces together fragments and clips them from some of the greatest films of the past, then digitally alters, bleaches, and washes them, reflecting on what he sees in front of him… and what he makes of the dissonance that surrounds him. 

“I wanted to see whether certain images and sounds in all the film that I’ve watched really became meaningful, brought together in a film of mine because there had to be some kind of a story,” he explains. “There had to be some kind of a storyline, and bit by bit I gathered together these different images.”

“Working with his regular collaborator, the cinematographer Fabrice Aragno,” writes Tanner Tafelski, “Godard is in an essayistic, montage mode of filmmaking, mixing relatively few live-action shots with the majority of footage taken from cinema’s history, The images are then further manipulated, Godard stretching, re-framing, de-grading, saturating, speeding, and slowing them down.” To read the full article, click here.

“Footage—diced and spliced into almighty blips and phrases—veritably bleeds to death on screen, their colors spilling out, raw and radiant, on their way to/from some afterlife or other,” says Blake Williams. “Before our eyes, vistas distort, datamosh, twitch—between aspect ratios, between contrast levels—called forth from an ostensibly infinite database of media history. Faceless voices—crooned by singers, uttered by cinema’s lost icons, whispered by Godard’s cigar-singed throat—are often mixed to sound as though they’re positioned behind us, our backs to the speaker. 

“Essentially, we are thrust into what is designed to feel like chaos, and the act of watching The Image Book feels like a process of categorization, of putting words and images into cognitive compartments so that the sensual can translate into sense.” To read the full article, click here.

“That’s what filmmaking is all about,” Godard says. “We have archival footage and also talk about the future. The cinema has done a lot when it comes to depicting what is happened in the past—the things one might hope will happen in the future. So, for me, I quickly understood what was most important is not what we call the actual shooting but the editing, and the editing comes first. 

“Filming is a sort of postproduction, in fact,” he continues. “One can thus be much freer. One can think much more because editing, even digital editing, is done by hand.”

Fabrice Aragno tells Amy Taubin, “Jean-Luc does the edit on videotape and then I redo everything on computers. I used Final Cut for [their previous film] Goodbye to Language, including the 3D; then I redid the 3D on [Blackmagic Design] Da Vinci [Resolve]. And for this film, I stayed with Da Vinci [Resolve].”

“You know how in postproduction you are supposed to color-correct the picture so everything is smooth and even?” Aragno continues. “Jean-Luc wants the opposite. He wants the rupture. Color and then black and white, or different intensities of color. Or how in this film, sometimes you see the ratio of the frame change after the image begins. That happens when he records from his TV onto his old DVCAM analog machine, which is so old we can’t even find parts when it needs to be repaired. The TV takes time to recognize and adjust to the format on the DVD or the Blu-ray. Whether it’s 1:33 or 1:85. And one of the TVs he uses is slower than the other. He wants to keep all that.”

Aragno adds: “I could correct it, but he doesn’t want me to,”  See, here’s an image from War and Peace. [Shows sequence on his laptop] He did the overlays of color—red, white, and blue—using an old analog video effects machine. That’s why you have the blur. When I tried to redo it in digital, I couldn’t. The edges were too sharp. And why the image jitters—I don’t know how he did that. Playing with the cable maybe. Handmade. He wants to see that. It’s a gift from his old machine.” To read the full interview, click here.

“Among untreated film clips, including many from his own work, Godard again offers violently hued, distorted images, some so texturally distressed that they resemble Robert Rauschenberg screen prints,” writes Jonathan Romney. “Meanwhile, Godard himself can be heard intoning–and towards the end, coughing—balefully among the voices, which bounce and distort in a complex sound mix, testing our comprehension. 

“Many will hear his tones as embodying an inscrutable, gnomic, ineffable wisdom; for many others, watching and listening to The Image Book will chime with a phrase heard here: ‘Chatting with a madman is an inestimable privilege,'” Romney continues. “The Image Book if nothing else, is inestimable, in that it defies normal estimation or assessment; to encounter a film this intransigently confrontational by an artist who shows no sign of softening will be a nightmare for many, but yes, for many a privilege and a pleasure.” To read the full article, click here.

“He is taking hold of the greatest works of art and cinema and bending them to his will,” says David Edelstein, “sometimes defacing them, and toying with sound so that it bounces around the various speakers and constantly dislocates us. Godard has always been a Brechtian, an artist who never lets an audience settle into a hypnotic trance, to the point where he’s perversely delighted to deface his own canvases.

“Now, in his final years, his canvas consists of the defaced canvases of other artists. He is Brecht plus Herman Melville—Ahab stabbing at the universe. He is not going out with a whimper,” Edelstein continues. “Once a brilliant critic, he has become one again, albeit with an artist’s right-brain genius to make that criticism concrete.” To read the full article, click here.