Monday, 30 November 2009

Auteurist collaborations: Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville

I have just published online the final-draft, pre-print version of my essay ‘Home-Movies: the curious cinematic collaboration of Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard’. Click here for access.

This was destined to be offered as a chapter for the wonderful (and lavishly illustrated) book For Ever Godard, edited by Michael Temple, James S Williams and Wichael Witt (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2004). The book version is obviously the one that should be used for citation purposes, and it is by far the preferable version to read, too, given that it is so wonderfully enhanced by the images that the editors expertly chose to accompany it. At this point in time, however, I would like an Open Access, self-archived version of this pre-print to be available.

My essay begins as follows:
The Straubs work in tandem, on the same bicycle, him in front, her behind. We have two bicycles.
Jean-Luc Godard

Who am we?
Sherry Turkle[1]

While collaborating couples are far from unknown in the history of cinema, the nature and extent of Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard’s work together is highly unusual. Unlike Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, the French-born couple working in Germany to whom Godard refers above, who have had a very consistent approach to collaboration in their filmmaking over the years,[2] Godard and Miéville’s extensive body of film and video work together is characterised by at least three discernibly separate strands: ‘joint’ projects (co-directed, or co-‘signed’, co-scripted and/or co-edited); appearances as ‘personages’ or actors, together and alone, in each other’s films; and forms of ‘parallelism’ in the works they have directed alone, which are much less straightforward to characterise. In this essay I shall examine aspects of these collaborative strands, focusing in particular on the case of one of their ‘jointly’ made films Sauve qui peut (la vie), 1979, directed by Godard but co-scripted and co-edited by Miéville, as well as on their appearances as actors in two films directed by Miéville (Godard in Nous sommes tous encore ici, 1997 (We Are All Still Here), and, especially, Godard and Miéville in Après la réconciliation, 2000 (Reaching an Understanding).[3] These films have been chosen because their ‘narratives’ all seem to revolve, to a greater or lesser extent, around the central figure of a ‘creative’ couple, and have been used by other writers and researchers into Godard and Miéville’s work to posit and sometimes to explore issues concerning their personal and professional partnership. It should quickly become obvious that my focus here derives itself less from my own curiosity about Godard’s collaboration with Miéville on these projects-–and much less from a belief that ‘practical’ questions concerning, say, “who did what?”, “who contributed what?”, and “who influenced whom?” can be straightforwardly or even really usefully addressed in these and other cases—than it does from my interest in this wider curiosity their collaboration has provoked in academic and journalistic discourse.[4] This kind of auteurist curiosity verging on, if not always openly entering, what might be regarded as the terrain of ‘the name’ and not ‘the work’, has often coalesced around the figure of Godard. This is especially the case in France where, as Michael Temple and James S Williams write, “there exists a curious cultural paradox whereby ‘Godard’ the media icon (i.e. name plus face) is universally recognisable and yet totally unknown.”[5] My objective, therefore, will be to explore how “Miéville” (name plus face plus work) factors itself into this paradox, but also why certain questions about her collaboration with her partner have been raised by commentators at particular times and in particular ways, as well as by Godard and Miéville themselves; these latter in their published and quoted words as well as, seemingly, in their films.
As I read this work now, I am particularly happy with an observation I made in a footnote (no. 62):
I would strongly argue that we should explore the totality of [Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard’s] productions (films, videos, performances, published words, and other utterances) as a kind of ongoing, collaborative ‘installation work’ which constantly interacts with its ‘reception’ by audiences. Not in a teleological way, as my reference to its beginnings might suggest, but nonetheless as a reasonably definable site or space which does have certain ‘practical’, human limits of actual duration, and of physical, intellectual and emotional proximity or distance. This is my approach to questions of (film) authorship in general, but it is particularly fruitful in the case of such self-reflective artists as Miéville and Godard.

1. The epigraphs are taken from an interview with Jean-Luc Godard in Libération, 27 December, 2000, and Sherry Turkle, “Who am we?”, Wired, January 1996, p. 148. All translations from French are my own (including film dialogue) unless I am quoting from written sources published entirely in English. This chapter benefited from comments made when it was read at a conference on the work of Anne-Marie Miéville organised by Vicki Callahan at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 13 September 2003. My thanks to all those who participated in the discussion, especially Jane Gallop, Kelley Conway, Tami Williams, and Cecilia Condit.

2. Ginette Vincendeau writes: “Huillet and Straub work as a co-scripting and co-directing team, their equal collaboration so close that it is scarcely meaningful to separate the roles (Huillet has, however, indicated that she tends to be in charge of sound and editing, while Straub does most of the camerawork)”: Vincendeau, Ginette, “Huillet, Danièle and Straub, Jean-Marie”, in Encyclopedia of European Cinema, Ginette Vincendeau ed., London: British Film Institute, 1995, p. 210. 

3. I have opted to concentrate on some of their work made on film for cinematic distribution and not on the vast body of video projects for which Godard and Miéville are also well known. This is because, as I shall make clear in my chapter, the film work, with its ‘industrial’ context, has provoked a particular kind of discourse about their authorial collaboration as a couple which distinguishes it from discussion of the video work, the latter tending to sideline issues concerning the degree of individual contribution and influence. In any case, some highly impressive studies of the collaborative video work already exist, most notably those by Michael Witt: “On Communication: The Work of Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard as ‘Sonimage” from 1973 to 1979’”, Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Bath, 1998; and “Going Through the Motions: Unconscious Optics and Corporal Resistance in Miéville and Godard’s France/tour/detour/deux/enfants”, in Gender and French Cinema, Alex Hughes and James S Williams eds, Oxford: Berg, 2001, pp. 171-194. 

4. The theoretical underpinning of my approach to questions of film authorship is set out more fully in the following three articles: “Secret Agents: Feminist Theories of Women’s Film Authorship”, Feminist Theory, 2:1, 2001, pp. 113-130; “”, Screen, 41:1, Spring 2000, pp. 101-108; and “Recognising Billy Budd in Beau Travail: Epistemology and Hermeneutics of an Auteurist ‘Free’ Adaptation”, Screen, 43:1, Spring 2002, pp. 57-73

5. See “Introduction to the Mysteries of Cinema, 1985-2000”, in The Cinema Alone: Essays on the Work of Jean-Luc Godard, 1985-2000, Michael Temple and James S Williams eds, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000, pp. 9-32 (p. 9).

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Archives and Auteurs: conference papers online

As part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research project on 'The Cinema Authorship of Lindsay Anderson' (see detailed project outline), a conference on Archives and Auteurs was held at the University of Stirling from 2nd - 4th September 2009. The conference brought archivists, academics, curators and researchers together to discuss the ways in which the study of the archives of filmmakers and the film industry can provide new perspectives and insights into the history of cinema.

I was delighted to see that the excellent papers from the conference are now freely accessible online at the Stirling University website.

Direct links to open pdf files are given below. In addition, check out Kathryn Mackenzie's wonderful blog -- Archives and Auteurs -- devoted to this project. A selection of Anderson's photograph albums from 1940s and 1950s have been made available on the University of Stirling Archives flickr pages. These albums provide a rich visual record of Anderson's early years as a filmmaker, documenting the early industrial films he made in Wakefield, his trips to the Cannes Film Festival and his contribution to Free Cinema. Those interested should also read this related article by Isabelle Gourdin-Sangouard, 'Creating Authorship? Lindsay Anderson and David Sherwin’s collaboration on If.... (1968)', Journal of Screenwriting, Volume 1, Number 1, 2010. And finally, Moving Image Source published a great article on Anderson (August 14, 2008) by Steve Erickson, entitled 'Anarchy in the U.K'.

[Crossposted at Film Studies For Free]

Lisandro Alonso - Making of Liverpool

Via Hot Splice  and The Auteurs Daily / Ekkehard Knörer came news of these two (only in Spanish) videos on Argentine director Lisandro Alonso's method of working. As that's just what I'm working on at this precise moment, I thought I'd embed them here. More on Alonso soon.

Friday, 7 August 2009

First-time film directing

Ted Hope, film producer and author of Truly Free Film, a fabulous blog about very indie film-making, has just posted nine videos to YouTube (all accessible above) which capture the conversations that he and Christine Vachon had, at the beginning of this year, with Alan Cumming, Jeff Lipsky, and Lee Daniels to talk with them about what it was like to sit in the director's chair after being established in other roles within the industry.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

María Luisa Bemberg: online resources

Miss Mary, (María Luisa Bemberg, 1986) starring Julie Christie, Nacha Guevara, Eduardo Pavlovsky, and Luisina Brando.

Following up my last blog entry on theories of women's film authorship, I have just posted a pre-publication version of a chapter on the early films of Argentine film director María Luisa Bemberg that I finally published in An Argentine Passion: The Films of María Luisa Bemberg edited by John King, Sheila Whittaker and Rosa Bosch (London: Verso, 2000).

Bemberg was an early favourite director of mine; I loved teaching about her films which were produced against the kind of political and economic backdrop that would dissuade (and did dissuade) many from attempting to make any kind of cinema, let alone the kind of feminist cinema that Bemberg launched herself into making later in life, at the still tender age of 58. I learned an awful lot about filmmaking just by studying her films, as well as the work of other filmmakers in whose films she had professed an interest (including, especially, Ingmar Bergman, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson). In turn, of course, Bemberg has been an important influence on a number of young filmmakers, most notably another favourite of mine, Lucrecia Martel (see HERE). Martel's films have been produced by Bemberg's legendary producer Lita Stantic.

My chapter looks in quite a lot of detail at her decision to become a director following frustrations with the work of other filmmakers who directed her scripts. As she declared in 1989, "I had to stand behind a camera in order to be true to my own script and to unravel the common thread to all my transgressing characters".

In honour of Bemberg and her films, below is a list of high-quality and freely-accessible online studies of her work:

In English:
In Spanish:

In Italian:

Camila (María Luisa Bemberg, 1984) starring Susú Pecoraro , Imanol Arias, and Héctor Alterio

On feminist theories of women's film authorship

I just 'self-archived' a pre-publication version of an article of mine finally published as '‘Secret Agents: Feminist Theories of Women’s Film Authorship’, Feminist Theory Vol. 2, No. 1, April 2001, pp. 113-130.

Below, I've pasted the introductory section of the article which contains a useful summary of early mainstream academic conceptualizations of film authorship. (To follow up on the bibliographical references given in the author-date format, click HERE and scroll down)

Authorial Directions
Virtually all feminist critics who argue in defence of female authorship as a useful and necessary category assume the political necessity for doing so. (Mayne, 1990: 97).

It’s already clear that the old categories and ways of thinking will not work well enough for us. (Rich, 1998: 83)

Unlike many other words referring to the activities of particular kinds of cultural producers (‘writer’, ‘painter’, ‘dramatist’), the term ‘author’ raises intrinsic questions about authority and about whether the individual is the source or the effect of that authority. Despite the deconstruction of traditional understandings of the ‘author-as-subject’, the ‘author-as-source-of-meaning’, and of individualist ideologies in general, especially during the latter part of the twentieth century (Barthes, 1968; Foucault, 1969), these kinds of questions concerning authorial authority, as well as the institution of authorship, have remained fairly central ones for feminists in theorizing and teaching about women’s activities in the field of cultural production, because of their connections with broader feminist debates about different kinds of subjectivity and agency under patriarchy (Miller, 1986; Watts, 1992). In this paper, I will present an overview of feminist theoretical debate, from the early 1970s to the present, on the subject of women’s film authorship. Given that my tour will be, of necessity, highly selective, I have opted to concentrate here on feminist theorizations of women’s agency in film authorship. While in early contributions to feminist film theory, this concept was frequently implied but did not always dare to speak its name openly, for reasons I shall go on to explore, more recent theoretical studies almost invariably reveal explicit explorations of agency and agent-hood. I will attempt to analyse these developments primarily by revisiting key overviews of this field, ones which not only recapitulated on the issues around film authorship but also attempted to move the debate on in new ways, an objective I share.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the benefits for feminist theory of asking authorial questions of women’s interventions into filmmaking have never seemed as self-evident as they have with literary authorship; nor have they proved quite as resistant to post-structural critique. By contrast with most literary and artistic endeavours, film production is, of course, usually understood to be collective, collaborative, even ‘industrial’, especially in its dominant commercial modes. By no means has it been taken for granted, then, that ‘authorship’ can or should be attributed to an analogous, solitary ‘artist-figure’ in the film production process (cf. Gaut, 1997). The routine ascription of ‘authoritative’ creative agency in filmmaking may actually vary between, or be shared among a number of potential ‘actors’ in the filmmaking process (for instance, the scriptwriter, the producer, the studio, or any star performers). Nonetheless, the idea or ‘function’ of the author (Foucault, 1969) has emerged and persisted as a discursive category in film culture largely in the person of the film director who, in conventional narrative cinema, normally ‘puts the script on film by co-ordinating the various aspects of the film medium’ (Bordwell and Thompson, 1993:13).

It is important to note that the birth of this idea of the director as film author, or auteur, has been traced back by most cultural historians to the late 1940s and early 1950s, and to the debates which took place in French, British and US film magazines about the relative artistic value of cinema, compared with the much longer-established arts. As John Caughie writes:

Within its distinguishable currents [...] auteurism shares certain basic assumptions: notably, that a film, though produced collectively, is most likely to be valuable when it is essentially the product of its director [...]; that in the presence of a director who is genuinely an artist (an auteur) a film is more than likely to be an expression of his individual personality; and that this personality can be traced in a thematic and/or stylistic consistency over all (or almost all) of his films. (Caughie, 1981: 9)

This kind of voluntarist and Romantic understanding of the agency of film authorship as encapsulating the possibilities for expression of an (especially male) artist’s ‘personality’ was immediately co-opted by film commerce, for the purposes of which the name of the author came in the post-war period, outside and inside Hollywood, to ‘function as a “brand name”, a means of labelling and selling a film and of orienting expectations and channelling meaning and pleasure in the absence of generic boundaries and categories’ (Neale, 1981: 36). Yet, while commercial and socio-historical aspects of the emergence of the author-function in film have usually been set aside by film theorists, the formal or textual assumptions of early auteurism have continued to provide an important critical focus. From the 1950s onwards, academic and non-academic film studies often concentrated on expertly teasing out the putative traces of authorial subjectivity in film texts. In this way, an implied or imagined ‘textual’ author/director (Caughie, 1981, following Booth, 1961), gradually began to be foregrounded, often unconsciously or inadvertently, on the basis of ‘a textual indeterminacy which [took] shape in the reading [or critical] process’ (Stoddart, 1995: 47).

Although film critics have continued to use directors’ known biographies to produce authoritative interpretations or to detect consistent ‘signatures’ across a body of work, many post-1970s film theorists have been ‘at pains to distinguish cinema’s enunciating agency from the figure of the director or scriptwriter’ (Silverman, 1988: 11), as they took up the challenges set by anti-humanist critiques of the concept of authorial intentionality (following Wimsatt and Beardsley, 1946). Structuralist film theorists ‘recast’ for their own purposes (Bordwell, 1985: 23) Benveniste’s (1971) linguistic theories of ‘enunciation’, thus evacuating cultural agency of individual human origins; it was the system which ‘spoke’, and not the author (Barthes, 1968; Metz, 1981). From the late 1970s onwards, post-structuralist film theory largely moved away from questions of directorial authorship to pay greater attention to other aspects of cinematic enunciation. In particular, it set about investigating ‘the way [the film text] says “you”’ (Casetti, 1998: 15), by focusing on the productivity of spectating, or film ‘reading’, an agency which provides the ‘one place where [textual] multiplicity is focused’ but, once again, usually to be examined ‘without history, biography, psychology’ (Barthes, 1968: 148).

The reason why I have felt it important to sketch out the development of mainstream academic conceptualizations of film authorship up to the 1980s is that these have been highly formative of key aspects of the feminist theoretical work which I shall now move on to examine in detail (for example, their routine conflation of, and sometimes confusion between ‘real’ and ‘implied’ directorial and spectatorial agencies in the processes of meaning production, as well as the preference for explorations of various kinds of authorial and spectatorial avatars in the film text). Until quite recently, as I shall attempt to show, feminists’ reluctance to move beyond the film text in their explorations of women’s authorial agency left many of them ill-equipped to answer convincingly at least one simple question: what exactly were the feminist objectives of studying women’s cinema within the conceptual frameworks they inherited?

[Article continues HERE.]

© Catherine Grant 2001

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Links to Auteurism and Film Authorship Resources

Director Jane Campion (right) and cinematographer Laurie Mcinnes on the set of After Hours (1984). Photograph (1981) by Gayle Pigalle

For your general delectation and educational delight, here's a whole shiny host of links devoted to film authorship and auteur theory. These resources are all Open Access (freely accessible to all on the internet). The list has consequently been cross-posted at my Open Access-campaigning blog Film Studies For Free. The list will be kept updated at FSFF, so do feel encouraged to bookmark the post there.

Monday, 1 June 2009

On Claire Denis's Vendredi soir

Hello again. I'm finally getting around to posting some more things on this blog. Apologies for the long wait...

As I reported elsewhere a while back, on May 2, 2009 I gave a presentation on Claire Denis's film Vendredi soir at the 'Drifting: The films of Claire Denis' symposium at the University of Sussex. Thanks to the organisers (Rosalind Galt and Michael Lawrence), the other speakers (Sarah Cooper and Laura McMahon), and others present (in particular John David Rhodes and Adrian Goycoolea) for their own contributions to the event as well as for their questions and comments about my paper. It was a really stimulating day. Great food, too...

I am writing up the paper for publication but I wanted, in the meantime, to post the Powerpoint slides from my talk here. Any comments are very welcome.

For further extensive Claire Denis resources, check out the links-list at Film Studies For Free

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Copy protection? Margulies on forging auteurism

Chantal Akerman oversees a vocal recording for a musical in Les Années 80 (The Eighties, Akerman, 1983).

An interesting observation about auteurism by Ivone Margulies, author of the great book Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman’s Hyperrealist Everyday, in an interview by Ricky D Ambrose posted on the Tisch Film Review website (my emphasis):

My weakest work is when I try to discuss an idea without paying attention to the form. I don’t see the two as separate. Formalism for me is someone like Bordwell, who really is describing a shot; he’s so good at what he does, and it’s helpful. I’m not putting it down at all, but formalism ends there. You can’t be halfway. If you’re fully a formalist, you’re not just a formalist. There’s a way in which you need to return to the filmmaker, to what she is doing, and to be particular. I’m an auteurist in that sense; I think that people have their signature and that it cannot be forged. And that comes back to the idea of the long take, and questioning why are there people that are weaker at using it than others. And Akerman, too, is not always good. There are points where she seems almost Mannerist.

While I concur with Margulies' background point, here, about the particularity of individual human experience, and thus of biography (cf. J. P. Sartre's '"Valéry is a petit bourgeois intellectual, no doubt about it. But not every petit bourgeois intellectual is Valéry '), I am not sure I agree with her about the resistance to forgery of auteurist signatures.

If 'signature' is what is repeatedly recognisable as such by a critic, then it is difficult to argue, in broad terms, that it could not be copied or appropriated by others. But is there a part of 'signature' - some deep mark of authenticity, some very particular aspect of the film artist's handling - that cannot be 'captured' or reproduced?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Yet another definition

Auteur…it’s a word halfway between amateur and autocrat.”

from Overheard at The Auteurs