Posts Tagged ‘Jean-Luc Godard’

Not Necessarily Deep Thoughts


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009


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I. Did Jean-Luc Godard ever consider becoming a novelist?

Yes, of course. But I wrote, “The weather is nice. The train enters the station,” and I sat there for hours wondering why I couldn’t have just as well written the opposite: “The train enters the station. The weather is nice” or “it is raining.” In the cinema, it’s simpler. At the same time, the weather is nice and the train enters the station. There is something ineluctable about it. You have to go along with it.

—Godard, from a 1959 interview in L’Express, included in Richard Brody‘s entertaining, controversial biography of the filmmaker, Everything is Cinema.

Brody goes on to call this concept central to Godard’s art, and “the basis for a grand theory”:

[Godard's] idea is to define montage as the simultaneous recording of disparate elements in a single image, the simultaneity in one image of two things that would happen sequentially on a page—the train entering the station, the rain falling. In his view, the cinema does automatically what literature wants to do and cannot: it connects two ideas in one time.

II. Is this “montage” really a failure of literature, prose’s unachievable ambition?

How … does the work of reading a narrative differ from watching a film? In a film the illusion of reality comes from a series of pictures each slightly different. The difference represents a fixed chronological relation which the eye and the mind together render as motion.

Words in a narrative generate tones of voice, syntactic expectations, memories of other words, and pictures. But rather than a fixed chronological relation, they sit in numerous inter- and overweaving relations. The process as we move our eyes from word to word is corrective and revisionary rather than progressive. Each new word revises the complex picture we had a moment before.

Samuel R. Delany, from his 1968 article, “About 5,750 Words”, included in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw.

III. These quotes raise that age-old, brain-numbing question: Are comic books more like movies or more like literature? I’m not going to try to resolve the matter here. (Though really, of course, the answer is neither.)

With these particular quotes in mind, though, I recently started thinking about how exactly I experience reading comics. It differs depending on the comic, obviously, but I guess that my default way of reading the average, traditional comic is to first take a quick “skim” of the visual composition and art of the entire page (or two-page spread), then to proceed to a slightly longer glance at the art of the first panel. At that point, I usually read the narration and word balloons, and after that, I look more closely and patiently at the art. And then I go back and forth between the art and the words as often as is necessary to understand everything before moving on to the next panel. (And then sometimes I’ll have to go back to the first panel, sometimes I’ll skip ahead to look at the art for the last panel, etc. It wouldn’t be very entertaining to go on.)

Obviously, none of this is a conscious procedure, and I wouldn’t even swear that it’s perfectly accurate. And even if it is, it doesn’t follow that everyone else (or anyone else) reads comics the same way that I do. (Not to mention more complicated and/or idiosyncratically laid-out comics pages, like the endpapers in Ware‘s ACME 18 or nearly any page by Ron Regé, to pick just two of many possible examples.) But the main point is that, unlike cinema, and like other arts including literature, the process of “reading” comic books isn’t a simultaneous one. It’s not image and word at once, but one after the other after the other.

When people want to connect comic books to film (which used to be the main strategy comics fans employed to convince skeptical non-fans that comics were “art” before they switched to using literary fiction or poetry), Will Eisner is the name more likely to come up than any other. And there’s no question that he was obviously influenced by cinematic ideas of composition and lighting. But it just occurred to me that the one element of his work that is most consistently held up as “unique” to comics, the famous Spirit splash pages that incorporate the titles visually into the mise en scène (to steal some jargon), may in fact paradoxically be the most “cinematic” of all his effects. In a weird kind of way, they provide one of the only examples in comics that I can think of offhand that truly approaches Godard’s concept of montage, a simultaneous connection of two ideas that would normally be experienced sequentially—image and word—in a single instant.


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I Don’t Read Comics Anymore


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Wednesday, February 25, 2009


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Sorry about that. It makes it hard to think of things to say about them, though.

Actually, I’m exaggerating. I read and mostly liked the two new Urasawa series that finally got published last week, and re-read and loved the Tezuka story that one of them adapted. I still don’t have anything to say about them, though.

So how about this instead?

1. Paul Karasik can still surprise me, which surprises me. Check out his take on the above Jimmy Olsen cover over at the Covered blog.

2. I like a lot of Alan Moore’s stuff, but have recently gotten tired of reading all the articles about how he doesn’t like movies made of his comics. Not that his stance bothers me, but I’ve heard it a million times now, and don’t understand why the entertainment press still thinks it’s so shocking and interesting. So it was funny (to me) that when I read the latest big Alan Moore interview, this part jumped out at me as being particularly enjoyable:

One of my big objections to film as a medium is that it’s much too immersive, and I think that it turns us into a population of lazy and unimaginative drones. The absurd lengths that modern cinema and its CGI capabilities will go in order to save the audience the bother of imagining anything themselves is probably having a crippling effect on the mass imagination. You don’t have to do anything. With a comic, you’re having to do quite a lot. Even though you’ve got pictures there for you, you’re having to fill in all the gaps between the panels, you’re having to imagine characters voices. You’re having to do quite a lot of work. Not quite as much work as with a straight unillustrated book, but you’re still going to do quite a lot of work.

I think the amount of work we contribute to our enjoyment of any piece of art is a huge component of that enjoyment. I think that we like the pieces that engage us, that enter into a kind of dialog with us, whereas with film you sit there in your seat and it washes over you. It tells you everything, and you really don’t need to do a great deal of thinking. There are some films that are very, very good and that can engage the viewer in their narrative, in its mysteries, in its kind of misdirections. You can sometimes get films where a lot of it is happening in your head. Those are probably good films, but they’re not made very much anymore.

I didn’t enjoy it so much because of his critique of film—which I think (or thought) was pretty banal and almost conventional wisdom at this point (Godard’s work isn’t done, I guess)—but because it just seems so refreshing after reading so many articles and interviews with comic-book people who always seem to be trying to pump up comics by saying they’re just like movies, or could make great movies, or that the reason Will Eisner is great is because he used tricks from the movies, etc. It’s nice to hear someone involved in comics who doesn’t have an inferiority complex about them, and just flat out says they’re better, and on top of that, movies are bad for your brain.

Also, usually I get all bent out of shape when someone admits to not paying close attention to comics and movies for a decade or so before turning around and bashing them on and on, but I have to admit this time I was kind of amazed at how accurate Moore was. (Though admittedly his critiques apply mostly to the superhero and blockbuster varieties.) Maybe that’s a power you get when you’re a wizard.

On the other hand, I tried again this winter, and I still can’t get through Promethea. What a chore. It seems like being a wizard has its bad sides, too.

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Someday I’ll Write the Post


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Friday, December 15, 2006


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There is increasing interaction between images and language. One might say that living in society today is almost like living in a vast comic strip.

Jean-Luc Godard, in Two or Three Things I Know About Her . . .

Having seen only a few of his early films, I don’t quite know what to make of Godard, and I can’t always tell if his statements are profound, pretentious, hollow, or all of the above. This quote, however, struck me as kind of insightful, highlighting the way advertising and other public signage has allowed language to invade the landscape, and how those juxtapostions somewhat resemble the mechanics of comics. Or something like that.

If I was feeling up to it, I’d try to explore the idea further, but last night was the office holiday party, and my brain hurts. It probably works best as just an aphorism (and in its original context) anyway.

BONUS GODARD/COMICS CONNECTION: If his Wikipedia profile can be believed, Godard once told Elliott Gould that his two favorite American writers were Jules Feiffer and Charles Schulz.

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