June 22, 2024


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Jean-Luc Godard and music, a cinema for the ear: Video, Photos

Stuffed with legendary soundtracks, the filmmaker’s films give pride of place to all layers of the audible where voices, sounds, cries and whispers come together in stereo. One could say that the primordial sound of Godard’s cinema is that of his voice, busy making his writing resonate with his diction, his point, his accent.

Who can not remember his Bande à part, where he officiated as a narrator, and the soundtrack of Le Mépris, which offered the most modernist and playful voice-over in the history of cinema, on both sides of the mirror, humming what is displayed in all the other films in the world through the letters of the alphabet? With his stratagem, white voice on tormented music (composed by Georges Delerue, “good marshmallow music […] but it was successful, I don’t know why”), Godard caused a revolution – the credits which listening – and set in motion a marvelous chain reaction, which would lead to the birth, progressively, of a cinema for the ear which belonged only to him, up to his Histoire(s) du cinema, the first of his films to be edited on disc without its images, by ECM, as a matter of course.

Cinema for the ear: the formula is deliberately borrowed from a collection of works related to the genre of concrete or acousmatic music, because if Godard was indeed a film composer (“a film composed by”, who another dared to use the formula ?), he was in our ears a composer of this category, the acousmatics. A family of creators (Schaeffer, Chion, Ferrari…) attentive to all strata of the audible, unable (and delighted to be so) to differentiate between so-called music and so-called non-music. Godard composer was an editor of voices and specters, cries and whispers, with a fabulously fine and perceptive ear, who knew how to make the (sound) tape see and tell so intensely that he made it an integral part of his work, the only one one could argue that knew how to do without the visible.

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He didn’t like that American movies of the classic era were so saturated with music that was so often sui generis and intrusive, he thought an aberration. “Do re mi fatale”, he typed in Histoire (s) du cinema, yet refusing the label of music lover, displaying for example to Thierry Jousse, for the Sound Screens, his ignorance, “I don’t know”, “I don’t know well”. How to explain then that he spoke about it so often, so funny in his films (“a Brandenburger at 8 o’clock in the morning, it’s wonderful” – the Little soldier)? That he had such nice things to say about Bartok or Kancheli? Especially since so many emblematic film scores have grown on the back, or the belly (not to say the head) of his feature films? Delerue, and his imperishable Barber-style adagio for Contempt? Solal and his shaggy Ellington for Breathless? Legrand and his dramatic Bach for Vivre sa vie? Duhamel and his post-Mahler dressed all in black for Pierrot le fou? Misraki, his love theme, his sad waltz for Alphaville? Yared, his electronic Webern for Sauve qui peut (la vie)? And then all those pop songs embraced with both arms, Chantal Goya, her recorder and her delicious timbre in Masculin Féminin, Claude Channes’ Mao-Mao in La Chinoise? All these musicians caught on the spot, the Rita Mitsouko in Soigne ta droite, Marianne Faithfull a cappella in front of Anna Karina in Made in USA?

Even in “One+One”, a mockumentary about the Black Panthers, the Rolling Stones and the recording of one of their future classics, “Sympathy for the Devil”, we don’t hear the song in question once in whole, which did not fail to infuriate the team around the group.

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Let’s say to go in his direction (on his films, Godard is one of the rare filmmakers of whom we can say that he was always right), that the music of the author of For Ever Mozart and Our music does not exist elsewhere than in his montages. Voice + his + score, one might say, by the grace of what he did with his scissors, his editing table, his pencil. This is where Godard the composer was revolutionary, as he was as a technician, editor and theoretician. Example of his use of discontinuity, which rushed to the ear an aesthetic so sensual, recognizable, among a thousand, at first listen. Let us think of those fantastic brouhahas, those impossible dialogues, Bach and Mozart suddenly interrupted to make way for a line of dialogue, and which make up this other music so singularly Godardian, more disjointed than one would think of his scores to the image.

If Godard’s cinema, starting with Pierrot le fou, is a palimpsest of which we no longer see either the background or the foreground, the sound can break there, in stereo, slipping like a diamond from one furrow to another every moment. Even in One + One, a mockumentary about the Black Panthers, the Rolling Stones and the recording of one of their future classics, Sympathy for the Devil, we don’t hear the song in question once in full, which did not fail to infuriate the team around the group who had naively thought that Godard was one of them, a soul mate, a comrade in struggles in the seizure of power by the counter-culture. Big mistake, Godard was much more restive and radical. A Jousse again: “The jazz that I would prefer, if I were able to listen to it, is free jazz.” He wasn’t falsely modest when he said that: Godard didn’t need to listen to free jazz to understand its spirit. Freedom, no musician or anyone else could have taught him or breathed it into him.

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