Godard and Straub-Huillet

Jean-Luc Godard

Three complementary series in New York will serve as tributes to Jean-Luc Godard, who left us in September, and Jean-Marie Straub, who passed away last week. Starting today, the Museum of Modern Art will present Histoire(s) du cinéma, the eight-part video project Godard conceived in the 1970s and worked on from 1988 to 1998. “The title is one of Godard’s famous puns,” wrote Jaime N. Christley in Slant in 2001, “as it could mean either ‘Stories of Cinema’ or ‘History of Cinema,’ depending on whether you add the ‘s’ or not. This simple act of indefiniteness, a conscious decision to choose both choices, right from the title of the series itself, is key to understanding what Godard is after,” which is “to invent a way of telling stories/histories (which are one and the same, but different) in accordance with some other wisdom besides the received one. Godard has been described as ‘difficult’ more times than almost every other filmmaker put together, but once you understand that one, elemental aspect of his grand design, scaling the wall of something like Histoire(s) du cinéma doesn’t seem quite as daunting a task.”

When the Munich-based label ECM released Histoire(s) in a CD-and-book edition in December 1998, three German-language newspapers—the TAZ (Berlin), the Basler Zeitung (Basel), and Die Presse (Vienna)—ran an essay by curator and film historian Alexander Horwath. “The Histoire(s),” wrote Horwath, “are always everything at once: moving image, photography, catalogue of paintings, pixel mutation, music, noise, fragment of film sound, speaking voice, writing in the image, literature quarry, essay text. They are sensation and knowledge, information and emotion, theory and practice of the cinema, writing the history and telling the stories. The Histoire(s) are less and, at the same time, more than a Gesamtkunstwerk, because they were never intended to be ‘a totality’ and never ‘only’ an artwork.”

Through December 23, MoMA will present the entirety of Histoire(s) twice as well as a weeklong run, starting on December 14, of Mitra Farahani’s See You Friday, Robinson, which won a Special Jury Prize when it premiered in the Berlinale’s Encounters competition in February. Over a period of seven years, Farahani, a coproducer of Godard’s The Image Book (2018)—as well as “his forthcoming film Scénario,” notes MoMA—oversaw a correspondence between Godard and the London-based Iranian filmmaker and literary giant Ebrahim Golestan. “Among the most gifted documentarians from Iran,” writes Ehsan Khoshbakht, “Farahani mediates between two seemingly irreconcilable worlds to create a unique epistolary work. Its elegant, hybrid style takes us from encounters with shadows—the first time we see each of these artists—to the inner lives of flesh and blood individuals; vulnerable, pained, caring, endlessly searching.”

From Saturday through December 13, Anthology Film Archives will present Jean-Luc Godard (1930–2022), a program that pairs Histoire(s) with films by the Dziga Vertov Group, the loose collective Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin launched after May ’68. Formally, films such as Wind from the East (1970) and Vladimir and Rosa (1971) don’t vary all that radically from such pre-Vertov films as La chinoise (1967) and Le gai savoir (1969), noted Michael Sicinski in the Notebook in 2018.

“The decisive ‘break’ of the Dziga Vertov Group was not so much stylistic as production-based,” wrote Sicinski. “Leaving traditional studio and distribution channels behind, Godard, Gorin, and crew were taking a kind of high road that reflected back onto the films, making the objects themselves seem like elitist UFOs despite their auteurist continuity.” But the political ideology in these films “was a moving target, an amalgam of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist labor politics and post-structuralist image and linguistic analysis. Despite the films’ reputation for dogmatism, they are frequently in the process of figuring out their own position on things, as one might expect from artifacts of an evolving collective.”

Aesthetics of Resistance: Straub-Huillet and Contemporary Moving-Image Art is a four-part series of screenings and discussions inspired by the work of Straub and his life and filmmaking partner, Danièle Huillet, who died in 2006. Presented by e-flux, the series opens today with a double feature—Straub-Huillet’s Eyes Do Not Want to Close at All Times, or, Perhaps One Day Rome Will Allow Herself to Choose in Her Turn​ (1969), an adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s Othon (1664), and Matías Piñeiro’s Isabella, which centers on a production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure—followed by a conversation with Piñeiro.

Online through December 14, e-flux is currently streaming Haroun Farocki’s documentary Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at Work on Franz Kafka's “Amerika” (1983). “Farocki’s film is particularly revealing,” writes Andrew Key for Verso Books. “It shows the enormous labor that went into each film; the painstaking and meticulous repetition of dialogue until the non-professional actors diction was sufficiently alienated and unnatural. It’s not just the delivery of the words—their pacing, tone, timbre, pitch, rhythm, and so on—that is carefully directed in these films, but the respiration of the performer too: the performer’s body is recognized as the source of breath and voice, the place where the text of the film, which originated in the realm of ideas, merges with the sensible and immediate fact of the material body that is speaking.”

As a coda to his fifteen-part Straub-Huillet Companion,Christopher Small has written an essay for Outskirts in which he notes that Godard once called Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?, Pedro Costa’s documentary on the editing of Straub and Huillet’s Sicilia! (1999), “the greatest ever made about editing. And it is also now widely considered, by those who love and admire it, a rom-com for the ages: a boisterous portrait of a lifelong romantic and artistic partnership (it has long been difficult to determine whether Straub and Huillet were actually married) full of verbal sparring and unexpected, off-kilter humor.”

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