Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Une chose ou deux au sujet ‘Ici et Ailleurs’

Film critic Serge Daney's preface to the film for it's premier at the first Semaine des Cahiers du Cinéma in New York 1977 (translation by Laurent Kretzschmar and Bill Krohn), from Kino Slang.

The film consists of 3 parts, and it’s important to understand the movement animating these 3 parts.

1. The film was undertaken in 1970. At the request of the PLO, JLG goes to the Middle East and shoots several hours of rushes. He returns to France. After the Amman massacres (Sept 1970), he starts wanting to edit the film. But he discovers he can’t do it. The first part of the film is composed of the images that JLG went looking for in the Palestinian camps. Eventually, he retains only 5 of them, which are like the image force* of the PLO’s politics. These images are those that the PLO wants to see broadcast in France. In that sense, they are the images of any propaganda movie. This is the material the film is going to work with.

2. Between 1970 and 1975, Godard tries to come up with an order to edit his film, but he can’t find one. He is very conscious of the fact that many of those he has filmed are now dead and that, as a filmmaker and survivor, he has their image at his disposal. Instead of giving up, he modifies the film and adds other images to the pictures of Palestine, images of France. Mainly of an average French family (the father is unemployed) who watch television. In France, the Left is in a period of retreat and assessment (many dreams have crumbled). It’s also a period where more questions are being asked about the media and their effect on people, about advertising, propaganda, etc. The second part of the film, the longest and the most complex, cannot be summed up here. It’s an analysis of the "chains of images" in which we are all caught. One of its conclusions is what Godard denounces as “playing the sound too loud” (including the the Internationale), i.e. covering one sound with another, thus becoming incapable of simply seeing what’s in the images.

3. The third part of the film returns to the images of the beginning. But with a dialectical change. There’s no longer one but two voices-over who take the time to watch the images again (like on an editing table) to see both what they are really saying and what’s wrong, to listen to these images. This part is therefore a kind of critique of the first part because it criticises any propaganda, if propaganda means – for a filmmaker – using the image of others to make this image say something else than what the others are saying in it. So what’s at stake is the engagement of a filmmaker as a filmmaker. For it’s in the nature of cinema (delay between the time of shooting and the time of projection) to be the art of here and elsewhere. What Godard says, very uncomfortably and very honestly, is that the true place of the filmmaker is in the AND. A hyphen only has value if it doesn’t confuse what it unites.

*Translator's note: "image force": the electrostatic force on a charge in the neighbourhood of a conductor, which may be thought of as the attraction to the charge's electric image.

. . .

‘At once an auto-critique and an anatomy of the failures of the New Left, Ici et Ailleurs functions as a meta-political film, questioning the aims and methods of political cinema, and the effectiveness of filmed images as political tools. One sequence, in which a series of people take their turn before a camera, each holding up a still image, attest to the limitations of cinema — one frame invariably succeeding another — when it comes to conveying complexity....

It has also always been among his most controversial films. A homemade bomb was reportedly planted by a Zionist group at a Paris theater that was showing the film (it was defused), and the accusations of anti-Semitism that occasionally flare up with Godard sometimes point to an image that connects Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Ici et Ailleurs. But it is entirely possible to question some of Godard's assertions and still appreciate the lucidity of his analysis and even be moved by the sincerity of the film's self-interrogation. Godard's unmistakable conclusion is of a left wing that coped with the failure of May '68 by, in a sense, looking away: to "make a revolution where we're not," when a tougher, more necessary task would have been to "learn to see here in order to hear elsewhere.’

 . . .

‘In 1970, Godard and Gorin went to make a political film with a predetermined agenda; they filmed staged readings and attempted to graft their own ideology atop a cause and a people with their own. That would be have a problematic and, more alarmingly, a completely dogmatic work of trumped-up propaganda. Recognizing this allowed Godard, with the help of Miéville's critical eye, to distance himself from his myopic methods and instead engage with the material with seriousness and sophistication.

Along with the newly reexamined 35mm footage shot in the Middle East, Ici et Ailleurs includes a wealth of material shot on video in Grenoble four years later. A working-class French family watching television together is framed as the "here" to the Middle East's "elsewhere," and in this video, as well as more abstract sequences filmed in the Sonimage studio, it's the "and" that bridges these places which comes to be the focus. For Godard and Miéville, sites of conflict and revolution are brought into the home by way of television, and the mediating effect of the format can either bring us closer to the world or alienate us from it, depending on how it's used. Miéville suggests, in one of the film's most politically suspect (or morally repugnant?) sequences, that the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the massacre at Munich should have demanded that the media broadcast images of the Black September massacre in exchange for the lives of their Israeli hostages; no harm would have resulted, she explains, because it would "be silly to die for an image.

It's images and sounds that have real political import and power (an idea Godard had toyed with in British Sounds years earlier and would return to again in 2001's In Praise of Love), and it's the degree to which viewers interrogate and understand those images that determine their influence or control. Ici et Ailleurs is a successful argument in favor of that sort of interrogation precisely because it so willingly interrogates itself, searching and questioning and never accepting the obvious. That's also why claims of ideological backwardness on the part of Godard or Miéville never really hold water; such claims fail to take into account how open the film is about its own self-doubt and self-criticism. Arguments are made and then retorted; images are shown and then sworn off. The cinema, in at least a small way, would never be the same again.’


[unidentified], Gorin, and Godard shooting Jusqu'à la victoire [Until Victory], ‘the film undertaken...at the request of the PLO’, in a Palestinian refugee camp, Jordan, 1970. Unknown Photographer.

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