Godard and the pop art

Photo by Carmela Gross


Similarities and Distinctions Between Godard's Cinema and the Prevailing Trend in North American Visual Arts in the Late 1950s and Early 1960s


What are the relationships between cinema and pop art, ask if? Contrary to what it seems today, the bridges between the two were neither established nor easy to build, and the emergence of pop art in the USA, between the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, it was not without obstacles. To emerge –and become the dominant trend in North American visual arts –, the pop art had to invent itself as a critical counterpoint to the hegemony of abstract expressionism or action painting, as the movement was also called. A action painting commanded the scene since the mid-1940s, when it had inaugurated modernism in the USA, and, afterwards, conquered in Europe an international recognition that North American art had never had – except through isolated expressions, absorbed by European movements, such as it occurred in the cases of Man Ray (1890-1976) and Alexander Calder (1898-1976), for example, incorporated by surrealism.

Briefly, what are the terms of the clash? In addition to being born already hybrid and internationalized due to the New York condition (European immigration, waves of Nazism refugees, impact of the Mexican Revolution on the cultural life of the city), in terms of ideas, abstract expressionism incorporated two premises of modern art: the of freedom and universality of the subject and that of aesthetic autonomy, that is, the primacy of form in the face of external determinations.

Indeed, in terms of practical results, the so-called “New York school”, by producing works of great originality and with an eloquence consistent with a historical drama of an unprecedented scale – World War II – had opened a chapter of its own in art. Modern. For sure, the action painting initially acted within the pictorial legacy of surrealism, but, insofar as it had conferred reflexivity and radicalized awareness of the productive process on its lexicon, it had renewed the conception of the plane and the support, and, above all, of the immanence of the pictorial gesture in function of the autonomy of the body.

In summary, values ​​such as refounding or rescuing the integrity of the human condition and acute awareness of the universality of the historical crisis, combined with the intelligence and inventiveness of the aesthetic findings of abstract expressionism, engendered a set of works, of remarkable originality, which changed , roughly, the map of modern art, shifting its capital to New York.

Nevertheless, while abstract expressionism circulated and finally reaped its laurels in European cultural circles (reverting the traditional dependence of North American art on influxes from the Old World), the first signs – hybrids, however – of what in the United States appeared. early 1960s would come to be known as pop art. The harbingers of change had come, shortly before, through the works of Larry Rivers (1923-2002), Grace Hartigan (1922-2008), Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Jasper Johns (1930) and others.

What did they consist of? In summary, in the idea of ​​overcoming the artisanal content and the value of originality of the work of art. And yet, in the awareness of a broad historical alteration that separated man from the traditional supersensible destination – “disconnecting” him from transcendental cognitive structures, at the same time that it shattered his perception, by completing his submersion in the vortex of megacities, of production series and mass markets.

For a precise vision of this moment of transition of pictorial schools in the USA, as well as of cognitive mutation ending the exchange of qualitative values ​​for quantitative ones, it is certainly necessary to situate the critical and intermediary perspective that grew in the period from 1955 to 1962 and that was later called hand-painted pop (pop hand painted).[I] Here, in the works of Rauschenberg and Johns, forms of aggressiveness, negativity and reflexivity erupt, inherited from the Dadaist avant-garde and its development in the work of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). It is what will differentiate these authors, in the course of criticizing abstract expressionism, from the guidelines of pop art, recognized in the 1960s and then seen as independent of the negativity inherent in modern art, or as systemically integrated.

Mass economy and scale

As for the term pop art, caution should be exercised. Its literal translation would be “popular art”. For us, members of a society based on excluding inequality, such an idea brings, briefly speaking, some marked connotations: that of traditional (handcrafted) techniques of artistic work and a language (lexicon and means) that, to a certain extent, evokes values mnemonics of resistance – turned, therefore, to the past. Such manifestations, associated with sincerity and a certain simplicity, can sometimes contain traits of combativeness.

On the other hand, what is to be understood by pop art, or, literally, by “popular art!” of the USA, in the transition from the 1950s to the 1960s, is something else (it has nothing to do, in this case, with art considered indigenous, said native art, which was a reference for abstract expressionism). A pop art expresses the values ​​of a militarily victorious and world-dominant nation; presupposes an extensive production of mass goods, in the face of which consumption is implanted as the majority habit.

Therefore, such art does not have artisan traits, but industrial extraction; is born and intended for affluent consumers and not for an excluded public. And, generated from criticism or confrontation with abstract expressionism, it is endowed with a certain level of reflexivity. Finally, his lived material is not pervaded by the uncertainty of survival inherent in peripheral societies, but by routines of consumption and leisure to which standardized bipolar expectations are mixed, sometimes of boredom, sometimes of entertainment.

Soon, the pop art it can be considered – even before any judgment is held – as a poetics of the commodity. reflects a tete-a-tete unprecedented between art and merchandise, since commodification and objectification had already been converted (during the post-war economic expansion, in part globalized) into the general and a priori forms of experience, which prepared, so to speak, the emergence from the pop.

What is the translation of such dynamics on the plastic plane? Abstracting the concrete analysis from intermediate cases, a series of novelties can be established: the pictorial space loses the organicity and unity through which abstract expressionism aimed at the constitution of a universal and transcendental pictorial language, corresponding to a universalist ideal of the condition human. Instead, a disintegrated space emerges, conducive to juxtapositions, that is, the double of the prosaic sphere governed by the laws of the market, characteristic of everyday life in capitalism.

windows of the soul

Where, in the mid-1950s, was the other side of the question posed about the relationship between cinema and pop art? If, in the case of the USA, contiguity was built, and soon became concrete and increasingly visible, in the European case, the question was posed perhaps a little earlier, but with little impact. Thus, despite the beginnings of pop art[ii] in England predate the movement in the USA, the pop-art English, as a trend, did not take root – in fact, its materials (illustrated magazines, advertisements and the like) were largely North American. Finally, in the UK environment the pop art it has not acquired strength comparable to that of the more recent branch, native to the USA.

A similar fact occurred in the cinema. Except for two separate attempts at Italian cinematography, that of Visconti [1906-1976] (The fur is fantastic [Wonderful], 1951) and that of Fellini [1920-1993] (The Sceicco Bianco [abyss of a dream], 1952), European cinema remained at that time distant and uninterested in other techniques of industrial image reproduction, preferring authorial and prestigious models of pre-industrial arts. In fact, the European conjuncture lacked historical-social ground for the pop art as a separate idea or proposal to take root and be implanted as a public fact, in the collective reception.

In summary, despite the impulse of the Marshall Plan, the so-called art or auteur cinema, in the European environment of the early 1950s, was basically still grappling with the losses of the war, which had largely destroyed the industry and spread poverty, straying legions of impoverished from traditional ethical parameters - as shown Ladies on Biciclette (bicycle thieves, De Sica [1901-1974], 1948). In this context, the most lively forces in cinema were concerned with ethical refoundation and focused, in their surroundings, on the aftermath of the great destruction and the hardships of the general struggle for survival, as shown with great tragic force. Germania, Year Zero (Germany, Year Zero, Rossellini [1906-1977], 1948).

In summary, the modernization of European cinema, as the cases of Italian neorealism and the art of Bresson (1901-99) in France clearly illustrate, therefore took place under the sign of scarcity and asceticism. What does the paradigmatic Italian cinema show at the time? Almost always the situation of exclusion from the market. Unemployment is so common that work appears in the light of an aura (Umberto D, De Sica, 1952). Buying and selling is the privilege of the few. In this framework, subjectivity overlaps with merchandise as a dramatic theme. Likewise, it weakens the impact of the commodity form on subjectivity. Thus, little can be distinguished, among the themes, the traces of personal alienation – given by the crystallization of the self, in the form of objectification, under the molds of specialization and quantification.

In these terms, the survival impulse and poignant situations, in which existence hangs by a thread, win the scene. And the humanity of the characters, in the context in question, is defined from different angles, but always in opposition to consumption and the commodification of the workforce: either in the aspiration for a job (Ladies on Biciclette), or in discouragement and idleness (I Vitelloni [The Good Lives], Fellini, 1953), or in the atonement (La Strada [The Road of Life], Fellini, 1954); whether in forced exclusion after the attempt at structural and political transformation (The Earth Trembles [The Earth Trembles], Visconti, 1948), or in the solipsistic and martyrological way, for example, of: Stromboli (1950) and Europe 51 (1952), by Rossellini; or of Pickpocket (1959), by Bresson…

In short, a dichotomy is established between the human condition and the commodity form – prior to mass consumption and the extensive commodification that underlie the pop. As an exception to this dual framework, the precursory perspective of La Strada, which determines – but through a narrative in a parable tone – the process of human reification or objectification under Zampanò’s traits – with the counterpoint of fully existential figures (Gelsomina and the tightrope walker) who, significantly, die, while Zampanò survives.

It should be noted that Antonioni, with La Signora Senza Camelie (The Lady without Camellias, 1953) e the Amiche (The friends, 1955) – set in urban groups, based in northern Italy, where consumption was already a habit and work was routine –, also brings to the fore, from a subjective angle, the issue of objectification. But the most significant European cinema, between the 1940s and the end of the 1950s, did not prioritize, in the last analysis, the theme of merchandise, but the description of the states of the soul – for which it builds steps and climbs stairs, installs itself on scaffolding borrowed from other arts, of pre-industrial extraction. However, regarding the question posed, that is, the bases of pop, the constant experiences of the commodity form and consumption are absent: regular access to goods, stable and consolidated employability, the reordering of life in mass terms and based on the commodity form are missing.

requiem and pop-cinema

La Dolce Vita (The sweet life, Fellini, 1959) and About Souffle (harassed, Godard [1930], 1959) are the ones who put European cinema on the path of pop. From the angle of historical judgment, La Dolce Vita makes the requiem of the cinema of the soul, in general. In order not to make it any longer, the step came, among other signs, with the distanced report and in terms of a journalistic fact, of the suicide of Steiner (the exquisite admirer of Morandi's painting – who takes the lives of his own children, before killing himself). . As a result, the new general framework stood out decisively and unequivocally. The implicit premise was that the tree economy of the 1950s, said "The economic miracle”, had rid society of scarcity and generated a new culture. O marketing henceforth permeates all individual strategies. It subjects everything and everyone to consumption calculations. And hedonism ("Dolce vita“) overcomes the oppressive factor of tradition in social life.

In addition to a marked cosmopolitanism, innovative settings and the presentation of a series of icons similar to those of pop (a “fishtail” car, a platinum Venus, an acculturated Tarzan, etc.), La Dolce Vita also features a photograph inspired by TV and advertising – with many Close–, and a narrative sequence based on collages or juxtapositions, along the lines of pop.

With that, the film provokes nationalists, Christians, existentialists (spurred by the end of Steiner) and neorealists – in short, the former opinion makers at the time – into a debate. Strictly speaking, it produces a shock. It puts the general reification, ironically labeled Dolce, as a general and inexorable process, correlated to the constitution of the market. The cultural earthquake, triggered by redefinition, by La Dolce Vita, from the aesthetic and social horizon, forces Fellini to intervene in the debate: “Are we going to have a little more courage? Let's put aside the dissimulations (...)? Everything broke. We don't believe in anything anymore. And?".[iii]

Industry, consumption and New wave (Snapshot of Godard – 1)

In France, à Bout… innovate in a similar way. Without dictating a finished historical judgment like that of La Dolce Vita, but with an acute sense of the same problem and a bold formal reflection, the film proposes a new narrative dynamic. It stands out, from the outset, for its new narrative fluency and for its ostensive and intelligent use of models from mass culture. Let's start with the last point, that is, the collection (at a pace of assembly rauschenberguiana) of materials processed by the cultural industry – a negative and ironic act in the face of the assumptions of naturalness and reality, advocated by the critics of André Bazin (1918-1958), as will be seen below. In this way, going against the literary and theatrical conventions that weakened French cinema in the face of other already modernized languages ​​(advertising, journalism, mass literature...), à Bout… it incorporates narrative schemes from American B-films and resorts to framing and abrupt cuts reminiscent of graphic reproductive techniques. Thus, the film brings cinematographic discourse to a contemporary level in the face of industrial languages, programmed for mass consumption.

Generally speaking, on an abstract and strictly formal level, as a modernizer of French cinematographic rhetoric, à Bout … becomes the flagship, but, in the scheme, it does not differ – except in the degree of daring and commitment to the innovative program, translated with inventiveness in many aspects of the film – from the rest of the New wave. The emergence in cinema of this current of ideas, originating from the specialized press, renewed the cinematographic discourse, giving it new aspects of intimacy and colloquiality. Due to this less theatrical tone, and without imposing – stimulated by individual consumption, generated in the new forms of the market –, the New wave differs from the Italian production of Fellini and Antonioni, who – even when outlining the social panorama of consumption – are led, due to Italian social inequality and the debate with neorealism, to do so within broader frameworks, seeking to encompass the constitutive exposed fracture of Italian society.

On the concrete level of iconic and semantic options, however, Godard's singularity is, from the outset, clearer and he appears as the most impactful and independent of the filmmakers. New wave, creating a series of scenes and logo- motion pictures. In fact, it is he, among all, who outlines, from the outset, an aesthetic reflection on the newly created French consumer society and stands out for the clearer view of the original socioeconomic framework and the consequent elaboration of an independent discourse in relation to previous models. of French culture.

In summary, Godard not only renews cinema, but culture. And he launches the landmarks of a cosmopolitan and global vision, as Antonioni had done (The adventure [The adventure], 1960) and Fellini. Thus, à Bout… brings “behavioral” characters generated by the market and, therefore, endowed with a mere fringe of interiority – in contrast, for example, to the poignant intimacy of The Four Hundred Blows (The Misunderstood, Truffaut [1932-1984], 1959), dense and dramatic characters, old, by Louis Malle (1932-95) – traced according to the Bazinian model (in the mold of Mounier's “personalism”). The linking of Godard's work with themes related to consumption directs it, as will be seen, to an intense dialogue, even if not exclusive, with the pop. It constitutes, therefore, an emblematic case for the examination of cinema-pop.

Fluency and dispersion (Godard snapshot – 2)

à Bout… brings a rarefied narrative model based on dissociations, intensified in the following works. The scenes include numerous actions that are superfluous to the plot. They are banal events that multiply the targets of attention and create dramatic voids or cause the spectator to distance himself from the story, whose plot would suggest a suspense film in the style of B films – from which, incidentally, so many elements are extracted.

In addition to these semantic drains, which fray the thread of the plot, dispersions or dissociations intrinsic to the way of narrating are also noted, characterizing a new narrative economy in cinema – endowed with an elastic and surprising dispersion, inherent to a new type of narrative organicity. Thus, so often the lens seems to float; the characters chatter; the music, running autonomously, exempt from the traditional function of commentary… Where does this errant and strange flow come from and where does it go?

It is clear that Bresson's cinema had already made image and sound independent, as specific languages ​​with their own autonomy. An event could motivate a visual presentation and, sooner or later, also an oral one. Through this new economy, French cinema finally incorporated some of the central lines of the modern critical-aesthetic program, according to Kant (1724-1804) and Lessing (1729-1781): those of specification, formalization and autonomization of languages ​​and knowledge. On another plane, and with other molds, neorealism, by opting for an art of situation, had already given way to accidents and wanderings in its discourse, more rarefied than the “unisons” (sound, image, light, etc.) of the canonical hollywoodiana, in which everything is usually capitalized for dramatic development.

However, in Godard's work, this dissociation of cinematographic components reaches explosive levels and goes beyond the threshold of gratuity, going far beyond Bresson's aesthetic and ethical horizon. To what end? In this respect, Godard's discourse is similar to that of free jazz and the disjunction between color, line, gesture and drawing, introduced into painting by Rauschenberg and Johns, and adopted by pop, as seen in many of Warhol's works. Thus, the means of representation – formerly a transcendental double of an infinite dimension, projected as universal and unified by reason (guaranteeing the teleological order of discourse) – becomes the double of the allotted and reified urban environment. That is, it is disintegrated by elements that seem to exist by themselves – shredding and consuming the means of representation, such as individuals who, in a crowd, compete with each other for obtaining opportunities.

Such a break in narrative teleology corresponds to the evident amoralism of the characters and their lack of commitment to situations, along the lines of the standard consumer. Michel Poiccard, the character of About Souffle, does not stop touching things; he wants to seize everything like a compulsive shopper in a department store. His problem is a lack of currency, dramatically accentuated by the trait of possession of a check that is difficult to cash. In this unstable condition – similar to his clandestinity before the law –, the consumer stands out in his figure, with unlimited voracity, marked by an immediate and unavoidable fascination with goods, and by volubility, which leads to the incessant replacement of demands.

Poiccard's attraction to goods is complemented by Patricia's opaque, self-serving and calculated behavior – cold and hesitant until she distinguishes, in each relationship, the benefit to be extracted. Under these two faces, the dynamism of the merchandise is exposed, celebrated and ironized by the narrative, inscribed in the modernized features of Paris – traversed by long traveling shots of the lens, which flan through streets, offices, shop windows, passers-by…

All roads lead to the city

If Godard's lens evolves aimlessly, or flan, and thus encompasses the fortuitous and the ephemeral in its plans, since the decision that constitutes it – in terms of volubility and instability – is reflected and strategic. The flexibility of the narrative mechanism contributes to distancing in various degrees: by inscribing minor and worthless details in the plot; by abandoning the characters in favor of idiosyncratic traits or the scenic practice of the actors; by submerging the narrative, finally, in a generic state of dispersion...

On the larger plane of the aesthetic strategy, this negativity corresponds to the positivity of the sequences, in the documentary style, which are recurrent in Godard's works. In other words, the emptying of the narrative drama is compensated by an effective object, created by wandering or strolling: the interest in the city and its modernization process.

The city, in fact, will emerge next as the matrix for all the settings in Godard's works. The recurrence of the scenographic and documentary use of Paris is enhanced by the constancy of a behavior trait of the characters: that of incessantly buying and consuming – cigarettes, drinks, coffees, cosmetics, or forms of leisure and information: jukeboxes, cinema, newspapers, magazines, books, records, postcards, pamphlets, etc... Thus, this peculiar vortex of Godard's figures – which punctuates narration as one more factor of narrative dispersion – positively implies the city as an interactive pole, adding to documentary record and establishing it in the dramatic role of supplier of goods and services.

It is possible to recognize here a complex dynamic, of simultaneous negation and affirmation: on the one hand, the emptying of the dramatic value of the narrative, that is, the production of distancing; and on the other hand, the reinforcement of the cognitive value, through the affirmation of the documentary bias. From the systematic friction of both, a synthesis, or dialectical interrelation, is generated in the form of a reflection whose axis is consumption.

Once this dynamic is established, it will be possible to obtain an important parallel: namely, between Godard's reflective poetics, which focuses on the world of consumers and, on the other hand, the Passage-Werk,[iv] that is, Walter Benjamin's (1892-1940) theoretical project of stripping modern life from the phantasmagorias of consumption.

Elementary forms: in Godard and in the work of the passages

So, in short, I highlighted the dynamism of the merchandise exposed under the faces of the couple of About Souffle – a feverish consumer and a street vendor, ambitious and willing to do anything – and I compared the visual regime of the lens to that of the stroll, with two purposes: 1) to anticipate important moments in Godard's production, including Vivre Sa Fri (Live life, 1962) e 2 or 3 Choses que Je Sais d'Elle (Two or Three Things I Know About Her,1967) – in which the idea of ​​merchandise emerges at the core of the plot; 2) bring Godard's poetics closer to Walter Benjamin's work, in order to be able to use visual concepts or image-ideas (Denkbild)[v] of the latter, including the flâneur.

Dictionaries speak of stroll like a random walk. Benjamin, however, needs this definition, determining it in a context and in a historical situation. So, like the term herbaliser (“herborizar” in Portuguese) refers to a practice corresponding to a certain stage of the natural sciences and came into use in French in the 17th century (having been used extensively in the following century by Rousseau [1712-1778]), the term stroll entered French in 1808 and corresponds, according to Benjamin, to a precise practice and context: the walk in the urban environment, along the lines of a search for goods and faces – seen in the crowd as objects displayed in shop windows.

So, for Benjamin, the stroll corresponds to a connection between looking and daydreaming, linked to wandering in the urban environment as part of the crowd. It is precisely the glance at a glance that motivates fantasies. Its original form (Urform), claims Benjamin, comes from the commodity and the specific mode of contemplation it provokes. the shape of stroll, synthesized by Benjamin, resides in a rule of behavior: “Observe, but only with your eyes” (PW 968).[vi]

A stroll, in short, consists of wandering mixed with fascination, volatility, rewarding expectations and other elements of the specific desire that precedes consumption. As such, the figure-type of the flâneur consists of a visual concept or image-idea (Denkbild) extracted from the standard behavior of “Passagens”[vii] and conceived as an instrument for Benjamin's investigation of modern society, starting from Paris.

wander and narrate

In summary, the flâneur, for Benjamin, is the passer-by converted into a “market specialist” (PW 473) or in fantasist, since the experience of the market is, par excellence, that of phantasmagoria: that is, the consideration of merchandise independently of its production process.[viii] That is to say, the flâneur he is the spectator-model, basic form of the consumer.

In this sense, as Susan Buck-Morss points out in a commentary on the Passage-Werk of Benjamin, the stroll it is the model of a perceptive attitude that “saturates modern life, in particular mass consumer society (and is the source of its illusions)”. Morss sees the stroll in a series of ambulatory behaviors of contemporary life: beyond the consumer, in the TV and radio audience, in the tourist, in the journalist, in a type of writer, in a type of spectator, etc…[ix]

In summary, the stroll it is reproducible, as a mode of passive reception, based on two basic elements: the possibility of replacing the visual object – that is, its character as a serial and disposable product; and the purely imaginary gratification thereupon aroused. In this sense, Benjamin claims that the flâneur carries with it the very concept of “being for sale”;[X] in other words, it carries the commodity form as a beforehand of your experience.

Personification and exposition of the desire for consumption, the flâneur of Benjamin has as a correspondent, in the plan of things, the merchandise on display and, as a related term, on the sidewalk, the prostitute, who, according to the Manuscripts from 1844, by Marx, is the “specific expression of the general prostitution of the worker”.[xi] So, the duality between flâneur and prostitute will only be apparent, to cover up a structural homogeneity, whose principle is the commodity-form.

pictures from the footage

A step back, we find this same polarity, between flâneur-protagonist-narrator and prostitute-central or supporting character, in Godard's figures. So the flâneur is the matrix of a series of figures – the thief (à Bout…), the mercenary (Les carabiniers [Wartime], 1962-1963), screenwriter (Contempt [The Contempt], 1963), the pair of crooks (side band [Side by side], 1964), the researcher-literate (Alphaville, 1965), the reader (Pierrot Le Fou[The Eleven O'Clock Demon], 1965), the researcher (Male Female [Male Female], 1966) etc. – which form part of the masculine mosaic of works from the 1960s.

On the female side, the consumer good model is present in most of the figurative variations, whether characters or images of the city – terms that interchange meanings. The same matrix is ​​valid in the fields of fiction and documentary.

In the first, explicit or implicit prostitution, under some of its indices, is present in the composition of female figures. And in the second case, either as scenography or as a documentary object, Paris appears as the matrix scene of all the scenes, and will adapt to the different genres and narrative devices adopted in the course of the work – which come to compose a list as heterogeneous and varied as the one from assemblies by Rauschenberg.

In addition to the representation

The reiteration of the matrices – which posits a nuclear polarity, stamped on the two figurative axes inherent in Godard's production in the pre-1968 period – combines, in this case, with the progress of the reflection. so in à Bout… Patricia's figure is characterized as unscrupulous and frivolous. It is evident that the typology of representation brings the profile of the prostitute as a built-in figure, and, moreover, as an object of moral condemnation...

Already in Live as Life, the prostitute Nana, as the protagonist, is the target of a complex approach. The narration represents the character, from two opposite angles – and dramatizes this tearing of the figure: that is, it makes explicit both his subjective freedom and his condition as a commodity. On the one hand, the character is seen as subjectivity in search of emancipation. And, on the other hand, it appears in its generic objective condition, as a work force and object, in the case, sometimes of a police interrogation, sometimes of a sociological research.

To shorten the list, finally in 2 or 3 Choses que Je Sais d'Elle (1967), the duality of figurative matrices becomes the object, in a way, of a synthesis: the two perspectives, that of subjective freedom, endowed with the faculty of choosing, and that of merchandise, appear unified in Juliette, the protagonist, presented in the fulfillment of her daily routine – as a housewife and mother of a consumer family – and, at the same time, as a workforce, in the figure of the prostitute.

At this point, the figurative data (man, woman, urban scene and respective derivations) are reviewed as moments of the same structure, whose nucleus consists of the commodity form. After completing a reflective cycle, this dramatic configuration takes Godard's work into a new, essentially combative cycle; cycle that will only be clearly delineated in the following year, with the foundation of the DzigaVertov Group, triggered by the mobilizations of May 68, and that will act within the limits of anti-spectacle and militant action, aimed at social transformation.[xii]

order of reasons

But with what materials and procedures did the progress of reflection take place that allowed Godard's cinema to go beyond the scenic sphere of representation and the phenomenology of behavior? Both, it should be noted, are watertight barriers – like dikes in fact –, within which most of the works of the New wave (without the degree of reflection and critical radicalism of the size of those of Godard), even in its happiest and most inventive developments, not to mention a significant part of the later work of filmmakers who were initially part of this movement.

Let us resume the thread of analysis covering the first cycle of Godard's work, until 1968. If, from 1959 to 1967 – or from Patricia (carved as a commodity), through Nana (an object endowed with interiority, in terms of phenomenology), to Juliette (which reflects existentially and politically on the structural factors of his condition) –, the gain in complexity in the elaboration of the figures is evident, the evolution of the figurative mode in Godard's work does not, however, demonstrate the root of his aesthetic system. It is worth mentioning that the development of the figurative process is secondary in Godard's poetics in this period.

In fact, while in the critical horizon immediately preceding the New wave: modus operandi neorealism and André Bazin's aesthetic-critical principle, both supposed the image as a vestige or index of a greater manifestation, on the contrary, in Godard's cinema, the semantic origin of the image came to be emptied. In fact, for this reason, there is no relevant difference between the Godardian image and the advertising image on the ontological level, as, by the way, the well-known Godardian aphorism emphasizes: “Ce n'est pas une image juste, c'est juste une image ("It's not the right picture; it's certainly just a picture").[xiii] The indistinctness is repeatedly and provocatively underlined and reiterated, by Godard in different films, via parodies of advertising scenes…

In short, it can be seen that, while the root value of the image is negligible in Godard's works, the fundamental generator of meaning and the decisive factor of meaning – which subjugates the figurative moment and organizes the work's data – is , in the reality of his work, the course of the montage. In this sense, Godard's concern with montage comes from afar and is notable for its precocity, as witnessed by an article – written at the age of twenty-six – on the subject for the NotebooksIn 1956.[xiv]

There, the independence of the young critic's intuition operates almost like a turning point historical, when one considers the ascendancy, at the time, in the French cinematographic milieu, of André Bazin, for whose ontological conception (of cinema), montage played a secondary role, given the primacy attributed to the long shot, as a hypothetical direct immersion in the background of meaning of the phenomena.[xv]

assembly in question

No turning point as for montage – and the ontology of cinema –, announced by Godard, there is yet another sign of kinship with the new North American pictorial language that succeeded abstract expressionism. But, here, the equation of cinematographic and pictorial procedures is valid only if montage is understood only as its first operation, that is, the actions of cutting and extracting: the negative act of interrupting the context. In this sense, Rauschenberg, Johns and even the pop (Warhol, Rosenquist, Lichtenstein…) recurrently practice montage – understood as decontextualization.

However, attention: in the case of the North Americans, respecting the differences in style and humor – ranging from rebelliousness and neo-dadaist irreverence, individual sabotage of the preciousness of the fine arts, to the civilized, glacial and tannatic malaise of Warhol – one does not distinguish in such uses of montage any ambition of greater historical reflection, in short, of a synthesis that makes explicit a new intelligibility about the historical-social context of the implied signs, even if, for the good connoisseur, half a word of speech is enough. Warhol.

In contrast, for Godard, editing plays a decisive didactic role as a generator of a new vision of the whole. It reveals hidden aspects of the visual data extracted from different contexts and reframes the related images, synthesizing them according to a totalization process. Thus, for example, a perforated montage of images of superheroes from North American comics, in Chinese (1967), suggests bursts of machine guns, establishing a striking parallel between cultural and military imperialism.

Similarly, in 2 or 3 Choses…, the image in Close from the circuits (enveloped by cigarette smoke) of a radio, which transmits the speech of an American official, he captures a sequence typical of a home movie (in this case, the scene of domestic entertainment, in which two friends amuse themselves by listening banal, after-dinner, short-wave transmissions), to transfigure it – into a dramatic scene from a war movie. The operation, facilitated by editing, which combines sound and image in the aforementioned terms, suddenly abolishes all the barriers erected around private life, as a sphere protected from external historical conflicts...

Finally, the examples in this sense are countless and recur indiscriminately in the visual, sound or subtitle scopes – here, especially, through the proliferation of jokes, puns or word games. In this way, the reflective and totalizing project that serves the montage resource, for Godard, stands out through different traits and at several levels, namely: through the narrative aspiration, which manifests itself insistently and via varied signs; from an overall and politicized perspective of the issue at hand; and also by reading, in a genetic key, the subject/object relationship, constitutive of objectivity, according to references posed by French phenomenology (texts by Sartre [1905-1980] and Merleau-Ponty [1908-1961] – sometimes appropriated by the narration, sometimes taken as segments of the landscape or goods of urban furniture, from Paris, in the form of ambient sound or digressions given by extras –, come to be included in the “collages” or assemblies godardian soundtracks, in more than one film).

In this way, Godard states, about 2 or 3 Choses…, that “this 'set' and its parts (of which Juliette is the one we chose [...]), it is necessary to describe them, at the same time as objects and as subjects. I mean that I cannot avoid the fact that all things exist together from the inside and the outside.”[xvi]

Next, the filmmaker still refers to a notion of Merleau-Ponty, to explain and qualify his project: “(...) having been able to situate certain phenomena as a whole, and at the same time continue to describe particular events and feelings, this will lead at last closer to life (…). Perhaps, if the film gets it right (...), perhaps then it will reveal what Merleau-Ponty called L'existence singulière (the singular existence) of a person, in Juliette more particularly. It is then important to combine these movements well with each other”.[xvii]

Beyond montage (with Brecht and Benjamin)

In short, to fix: montage has, for Godard, didactic value and belongs to a cognitive project. It undoes the fetish of the form – that is, it criticizes the crystallized meaning and sends the form to a reinterpretation – in order to prepare a new synthesis. Thus, contrary to Bazin's doctrine, which prioritized the sequence-shot as the bearer of an ontological truth, montage prevails, here, over its topos figurative (or flâneur, the prostitute, the city-set…). And it still operates as a reflective synthesis, opposed to the descriptive moment generated by the lens, whose functioning automatism, especially in the documentary record, is comparable to the regime of stroll, in its surrender to a given horizon of images – that of the shop window, par excellence.

In this sense, the synthetic principle of montage, for Godard, is affiliated with Brecht's (1898-1956) notion of “intervening thought” (eingreifendes Denken), which designates, through the distancing effect (Paint inhibition effect), beyond the simple fragmentation or interruption of the initial context, a reinterpretation or intellectual appropriation – understood as denaturalization of the object and its insertion in an open history, in which different perspectives clash…[xviii]

In Brecht's theory, the “intervening thought” is opposed to the passivity corresponding to the fascination radiated by the commodity, to identification through empathy (Einfühlung) that structures traditional passive contemplation in a modern way, in an originally Aristotelian mold – just as the principle of montage for Godard is critically opposed to the incorporation of reified objects, to the images obtained by filming (as stroll) – and proposes a broader or totalizing view of the themes and objects involved.

The philosophical dimension of this point of view, embodied in the primacy of montage, is exposed by Walter Benjamin, who incorporated the term “principle of montage”, coming from the cinematographic lexicon, to the philosophical vocabulary, attributing to it, in the Passage-Werk, the function of the formal principle of his thought.

Benjamin starts from the observation of the “principle of montage” as characteristic of the new industrial techniques of image reproduction; proposes, in philosophical investigation, something similar to the artistic use of montage, made in cinema, photography and theater by artists such as Eisenstein (1898-1948), Vertov (1896-1954), John Heartfield (1891-1968) and Brecht . In their work, he resorted to using diametrically opposed images to trigger a conflict in the viewer's perspective, with the aim of originating a third image, synthetic and stronger than the sum of the preceding parts..[xx]

In this sense, Benjamin conceived, in turn, through notions such as the “dialectical image” or “idea-image” (Denkbild) – resulting from the application of the montage principle –, the construction of an image “whose ideational elements remain irreconcilable, instead of merging into a harmonious perspective”.[xx] And he expressly stated, with regard to the Passage-Werk:”this work must develop to the maximum the art of citing without using quotes. His theory is closely linked to montage.[xxx]

As is well known, “there is another use of montage which creates an illusion by merging its elements so skilfully that it eliminates all evidence of incompatibility and contradiction, in short, all evidence of artifice”. Such was, as Buck-Morss points out, the principle behind the construction of “panoramas” – a form of entertainment that was very popular in the 19th century and which is at the root of cinema. It consisted of presenting, to individual viewers, artificial replicas of battle scenes, famous landscapes, etc.[xxiii]

A substitute for this mass visual language, realism, in its various meanings in the 20th century (the spectacular, practiced by the Hollywood industry; that of Luckács, which Benjamin and Brecht refute; neorealism, whose ontology Bazin expresses), seeks univocity, the maximization, optimization and crystallization of meanings. The method for both, whether to obtain mass entertainment; alignment with the dogmatics of the satellite communist parties (from Moscow), or even compassion and moral commotion, is: the emotional conditioning of conscience, by eliminating doubts and contradictory effects in general.

Dialecticize the image

On the contrary, Benjamin – in parallel with Brecht and according to the anti-dogmatic orientation of Paint inhibition effect and the reflective and critical conception of both about Marxism – proposes the construction of the “dialectical image” and, for this, the use of montage, essentially, as a questioning or problematizing practice, generating an active reception or visual praxis in the antipodes of fascination for the merchandise.

The case of flâneur, taken as an idea-image (Denkbild) – pertinent, in this case, to the general behavior in modern consumer society –, exemplifies what Benjamin understands by “image dialectization”. Thus, the production of the idea-image of the flâneur requires the fragmentation of a context (the world of stroll, in the “passages” of the 19th century) and the appropriation of a part (the image of the flâneur) to be re-elaborated in terms of a research process – in this case, the investigation of modern society from the phantasmagoria of consumption. Modern society that – in the light of acceptance and mass-scale reproduction of a sensitive pattern linked to the genesis of diversified and massive retail and the perspective of consumption extended to the entire journey, the perceptive mode of the flâneur– exposes its intrinsically archaic structure, founded on fetishism.

In short, in the philosophical perspective operating in the Passage-Werk, montage plays a decisive role as a synthesizing factor within a critical-cognitive project of a totalizing nature, in the course of which the aesthetic investigation of the image is coupled with that of the commodity-form and, furthermore, with a prospection of the subjectivity proper to the modernity – from which Freud's (1856-1939) discovery of the associative and contradictory processes that opaquely constitute acts of fetishism is not unconnected.


That said, the constitutive homology that allows, in the described block, to speak of an aesthetic-critical-reflexive program of the “Godard-Brecht-Benjamin consortium”, some common points of support, as well as revisited tangencies and oppositions, in the face of the pop art, are clarified. But how to complete the investigation, without solving the specific question that arises: – “to what extent the work of pre-68 Godard belongs or not to pop?”. To recap, briefly:

-has traits pop insofar as it derives from the acute awareness that pop it stems from the extensive commodification of relationships and the corresponding fragmentation of social space and values. And, as in Rauschenberg's anti-auratic and anti-subjective precursor work, he resorts to appropriations, dissonances, heterogeneity, seriality – ultimately restricting art's representational value;

– similarly, it finds parallel with the pop to the extent that its language, by denying the visual depth illustrating the infinity of the spirit, insistently resorts to images flattened or one-dimensional and discontinuous surfaces, according to the standards of graphic language – here, Godard demonstrates his disbelief in absolute freedom, capable of prevailing over any cultural or social conditioning. Or, in other words, approaching the pop,to the extent that, by dispensing with the traditional relationship of figure-ground continuity – proper to the conception of a unified space of representations, in the image and likeness of the one and suprasensible character of reason – it decisively inserts its language in the circumscription of immanence and between the other forms of social production;

– Godard’s cinema also brings traces pop, to the extent that its language, by insistently referring to pre-existing contents, implies a semantic action without naturalness and authenticity, which identifies, in the order of phenomena, only occurrences that have already been reified or with a given social value – such as numbers, flags , beer cans and other objects by Jasper Johns and, similarly, other icons of pop (electric chairs, cans of Campbell's soup, effigies of Marilyns, Jackies, Maos, etc.)

However, Godard escapes the pop to the extent that their work – despite borrowing procedures from Rauschenberg and Johns and the lexicon and methodology pop on various topics – go further, overcoming mimesis pop (albeit ironic) of urban chaos or marketing. In contrast, Godard's cinema constitutes visuality as a dialogical sphere and a didactic work surface...

Thus, Godard's works also reach the questioning of the very premise of the perspective pop (premise, unless I am mistaken, not effectively discussed by any of the pop Americans or by their so-called neodada precursors).

In conclusion, Godard's cinema escapes the pop to the extent that it escapes the empiricist roots of North American culture and the correlated petrification of the historical process according to the capitalist premise, to introduce in the perspective pop a synthetic inflection – which will critically determine, in terms of Marxism, the idea of ​​the commodity form as the current, but provisional, foundation of the organization of work and cultural production.

the conclusion of 2 or 3 Choses… explains this progression of ideas, which progressively resumes the thread of the debate linked to the advance of political movements of workers in the XNUMXth century. And he asserts the need to overcome the commodity form, as a principle of order, by showing, in the last shot, several packages on the lawn, arranged in such a way as to suggest the vision of the buildings of a modern city, and concluding: – “since I lead to zero, that's where you have to start over”.[xxiii]

This overall view, which implies the end of duality in the representation of human freedom and the reified world, is what takes Godard's work – in an act of humor, but also of historical perspicacity–, in Chinese (The Chinese,1967), comparing slogans of Maoist youth and “rock”, in this case, as an aesthetic and behavioral pattern of Western youth.

The “dialectical idea” resulting from the convergence of these two models of massification (that of Chinese politics and that of the Western cultural industry) undoes apparent contradictions – distinguishing similar rhythms and paths of modernization and anticipating proximity that diplomacy, with Kissinger (1923) and Nixon (1923-1994), he would only recognize five years later. Thus, years before the diplomatic recognition and the hundreds of multiple-portraits by Warhol, about Mao (1972-3), which would follow the diplomatic fact, Godard's cinema foresaw, beyond the illusions of historical-civilization rupture, and inscribed – in a series of dialectical images – Chinese dynamics and rhythms within the symbolic universe of pop.

The convergence and comparison of the two economic-symbolic matrices equally indicates, according to the vigorous rhythm of that time (1967), the superior and exemplary performance and, consequently, the symbolic prevalence, in the medium term, of the western standard of objectification. Indeed, today it is not news that the Chinese scene, systemically integrated into global trade, is the new must of advanced capitalism.

* Luiz Renato Martins he is professor-advisor of PPG in Economic History (FFLCH-USP) and Visual Arts (ECA-USP); and author, among other books, of The Long Roots of Formalism in Brazil (Chicago, Haymarket/ HMBS, 2019).

Review and research assistance: Gustavo Motta.

Edited from the text originally published under the title “O Cinema e a pop art: flâneur, the prostitute and the montage”, in: Ismail Xavier (ed.), Cinema in the Century, Rio de Janeiro, Imago, 1996, pp. 319-333.


[I]See Russell Ferguson (ed.), Hand-Painted Pop American Art in Transition 1955-62, Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1993. For thought-provoking discussions of Rauschenberg's work, ongoing since 1949, see Branden W. Joseph (ed. by), Robert Rauschenberg/ October Files 4, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2002; see also Walter Hopps and Susan Davidson et al., Robert Rauschenberg/ A Retrospective, New York, Guggenheim, 1997.

[ii]Parallel of Art and Life, the first exhibition by The Independent Group, formed in 1952 by Nigel Henderson (1917-85), Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) and others, took place the following year at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in London. clearly foreshadow the program of the pop, however, already date from 1947-48, coinciding in practice with the implementation of the Marshall Plan (1948-52).

[iii]See Tullio Kezich, Fellini, Milan, Rizzoli, 1988, p. 183.

[iv]Publishers consulted: Walter Benjamin, Parigi, Capital of the XIX Secolo: I “passages” di Parigi, a cura di Rolf Tiedemann, ed. Italian a cura di Giorgio Agamben, trans. several, Turin, Einaudi, 1986; idem, Paris, Capital of the XIX Siècle/Le Livre desPassages, translation Jean Lacoste d'après l'édition originale établie par Rolf Tiedemann, 2ème édition, Paris, Cerf, 1993, pp. 133-63.

[v]The literal translation of the term is: “thought-image”. For Benjamin's conception of this term, see Philippe Ivernel,”Passages de frontières: Circulations de l'image épique et dialectique chez Brecht e Benjamin”, in Hors Cadre/ 6 –Contrebande – 6, Printemps 1988, Saint-Denis, Presses Universitaires de Vincennes - University Paris VIII, 1988.

[vi] The idea ofUrform derives, as stated by Benjamin himself (Passage-Werk 577), of the Goethean concept of Urphanomen. For the correlation of this idea with that of the “dialectical image” and the opposition of both to the “essences” of phenomenology, see Susan Buck-Morss, “Le Flâneur, L'Homme-sandwich et La Prostituée: Politique de La Flânerie”, in Heinz Wismann (editor), Walter Benjamin et Paris/ Colloque International 27-29 June 1983, Paris, Cerf, 1986, pp. 366-7.

[vii]Paris shopping arcades, a kind of ancestral forms of the current ones malls.

[viii] See Susan Buck-Morss, on. cit., P. 369.

[ix] Idem, pp. 366-7.

[X] Idem, P. 369.

[xi] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Works, Berlin, Dietz Verlag, 1960, V, X2, 1, apoud Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing/ Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, Cambridge (MA), The MIT Press, 1991, note 147, p. 430. See further Morss, Idem, pp. 184-185.

[xii] The group made 4 films: Pravda (1969) Vent d'Est (east wind, 1969), Lottery in Italy (Fights in Italy, 1970) and Vladimir et Rosa (Vladimir and Rose,1971). Two of its members, Jean-Henri Roger and Jean-Pierre Gorin, also participated in other works with Godard, not signed by the group, namely Roger, from british sounds (1969); and, Gorin, from Tout Va Bien (All is well, 1972) and of Letterto Jane (letter to jane, 1972).

[xiii] Cf. card presented in Vent d'Est, around 36'40''.

[xiv] “Montage, mon beau souci”, Cahiers du Cinema, 65, December 1956. See Alain Bergala (ed.), Jean-Luc Godard to Jean-Luc Godard, Paris, Cahiers du Cinéma – Éditions de l'Etoile, 1985, pp. 92-94.

[xv]Founder of Cahiers du cinema, André Bazin, much more than an author of episodic readings of films, which he pontificated, was a cinema thinker whose ontological conception of cinema – very influential at the time – was close to the so-called “personalist” philosophy of Emmanuel Mounier (1905 -1950), generated from the mixture of phenomenology, existentialism and Christianity.

[xvi] “Cet 'ensemble' et ses parties (dont Juliette est celle à qui nous avons choisi […]), il faut les décrire, en parler à la fois comme des objets et des sujets. Je veux dire que je ne peux éviter le fait que toutes les choses existent à la fois de l'intérieur et de l'extérieur”. Cf. Jean-Luc Godard, “Jean-Luc Godard: ma démarche en quatre mouvements”, apoudAlain Bergala, “Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle, or Philosophie de la sensation”/ articles et documents rassemblés par Alain Bergala”, livret, p. 11, in J.-L Godard, 2 or 3 Choses que Je Sais D'Elle, DVD Argos Films – Art France Développement EDV 236/ INA, 2004.

[xvii]“(…) d'avoir pu dégager certains phénomènes d'ensemble, tout en continuant à décrire des évènements et des sentiments particuliers, ceci nous aménera finalement plus près de la vie (…) ), peut-être alors que se révélera ce que Merleau-Ponty appelait L'existence singulière d'une personne, en Juliette plus particularièrement. Il s' agit ensuite de bien mélanger ces mouvements les uns avec les autres”. See Jean-Luc Godard, 2 or 3 Choses que Je Sais d'Elle/Full découpage, Paris, Seuil/Avant-Scène, 1971, pp. 15-16, republished in A. Bergala, on. cit., pp. 12-3.

[xviii]See Ivernel, op. cit., pp. 137-8.

[xx]See Morss, The Dialectics …, notes 8, 9 and 10, p. 394. On the use of montage in the USSR, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA, see: Matthew Teitelbaum (ed.), Montage and Modern Life/1919-1942 (catalogue, Maud Lavin … [et al.], exhibition curators, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, April 7-June 7, 1992), Cambridge (MA), The MIT Press, 1992.

[xx]Cf. morss, The Dialectics…, P. 67.

[xxx]My griffins. Apud id., ib.. See also Walter Benjamin, Flights, org. WilliBolle, trans. Irene Aron and Cleonice Mourão, Belo Horizonte / São Paulo, Ed. UFMG / Official Press of the State of São Paulo, 2007, p. 500 (N 1, 10).

[xxiii]morss, The Dialectics…, P. 67.

[xxiii] See 2 or 3 Choses que Je Sais d'Elle, 1967, around 86'25''.

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