A dialogue in light between the images and ideas of Nicholas Ray and Jean-Luc Godard. As the two film-makers reflect on the role of the senses and of touch, their works themselves touch and reflect on each other.
-- A video by Emmanuelle André & David Verdeure
This is the second video essay produced within the context of the Indefinite Visions project—and made in collaboration with French film scholar Emmanuelle André—about the similar visual sensibilities of directors Jean-Luc Godard and Nicholas Ray. (You can watch the first one on this page). This second version (for the most part) uses the same footage and audio excerpts as the first effort, but rearranges that material temporally… and spatially.
Ray / Godard is a two-channel video: it consists of two different but equally long video streams with a communal audio track. You can watch the two edits side by side, but this two-part piece was actually conceived to be projected on opposing sides of a semi-translucent projection screen (1). That spatial presentation creates a video palimpsest of sorts: whichever side you watch the screen, the images on the other side blend with the video you are watching, revealing compositional and thematic analogies.
This video essay takes its visual inspiration from Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again, one of the films examined here. That groundbreaking film uses the technique of “multiple image” as Nicholas Ray himself called it: at any given moment, the screen is filled with up to five different images. The same visual effect is recreated in this video by the two-sided projection of different video streams that were carefully composed to complement each other. In addition, this audiovisual essay is also designed to be played in a seamless loop. The viewer can jump in at any given moment, since it makes its case based more on a circular, poetic presentation than on a linear, argumentatious reasoning. More ‘like the spokes of a wheel than the links of a chain’ as Susan Sontag put it (2).
The spatial presentation aims to be more than a gimmick. It is a visual metaphor for the ways in which these two directors’ sensibilities overlap – literally. Even though they date from decades apart, and were conceived in wildly different technological realities, Godard’s Adieu au langage and Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again are two sides of the same coin (or screen). Emmanuelle André convincingly argues that both of their visual strategies evoke haptic modes of viewing: their eyes are modulated by their fingers. Whether it be the act of leafing through an atlas or thumbing one’s way through the app icons on a smartphone, these manual actions shaped the way Ray and Godard present their visuals.
Finally, this particular format also is a tip of the hat to one of the precursors of cinema. The thaumatrope is a toy that dates back to the 19th century. It consist of a disk that has a picture painted or drawn on each of its sides. That disk is attached to a string or a rubber band. Using the persistence of vision, a blend of the two images is created by quickly spinning the disk. (This makes the thaumatrope yet another visual that is determined by manual manipulation). Like that toy, this two-channel video essay creates a new picture by superimposing two partial ones: Nicholas Ray and Jean-Luc Godard touch each other’s images and comment on their shared strategies in a format that crosses the ages that divide their two movies (3).
(1) This particular spatial arrangement and double-sided projection calls to mind Michael Snow’s seminal work Two Sides to Every Story (1974), although that film installation used an opaque screen.
(2) As quoted by Jonathan Cott in his Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview (2013, Yale University Press).
(3) Godard did, in fact, comment directly (and favorably) on Nicholas Ray’s work. Ray was confronted with the French auteur’s praise during a television interview.
This video essay includes extracts from:
We Can’t Go Home Again [feature film] Dir. Nicholas Ray. Harper College, USA, 1973. 93 mins.
Don’t Expect Too Much [documentary film] Dir. Susan Ray. USA, 2011. 70 mins.
Der amerikanische Freund [deleted scene from feature film] Dir. Wim Wenders. Bavaria Film et al., West Germany et al, 1977. 125 mins.
Adieu au langage [feature film] Dir. Jean-Luc Godard. Wild Bunch et al., France, 2014. 70 mins.
Notre musique [feature film] Dir. Jean-Luc Godard. Avventura Films et al., France et al., 2004. 80 mins.
Les 3 désastres [short film] Dir. Jean-Luc Godard. Fundação Cidade de Guimarães, France et al., 2013. 17 mins.
Point de rencontre avec Jean-Luc Godard [television documentary] Dir. Manu Bonmariage. RTBF, Belgium, 1982. 22 mins.
Cinéastes de notre temps: Jean-Luc Godard au musée d’Art moderme de Paris [television documentary] Office national de radiodiffusion télévision française, France, 1965. 3 mins.
The music, which was also used in Godard’s Les 3 désastres, is: ‘Edge’, Night Song [music track, digital download] Perf. Ketil Bjørnstad and Svante Henryson. ECM Records, Germany, 2011. 5 mins 39 secs.