Jean-Luc Godard

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Jean-Luc Godard’s Use of Sound in Une femme est une femme: Geared Toward Deleuzian Scholarship Relating to Cinema’s Ability to Create Thought

Transcript of Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godards Use of Sound in Une femme est une femme: Geared Toward Deleuzian Scholarship Relating to Cinemas Ability to Create Thought

Jon Tichenor SNDS-755-01 Stephen Michael LeGrand November 15, 2010

1 It seems as if it would be extremely difficult to not instantly fall in love with Anna Karinas character, Angela, within the first minute of the first scene of Jean-Luc Godards 1961 sophomore film, Une femme est une femme (A Woman Is a Woman). Not only because of her unforgettable and undeniable beauty and grace but, perhaps more influential, the tune that accompanies her, Tu t'Laisses Aller. It is so rich and romantic in a way that only Charles Aznavour can swoon it. This musical choice is not arbitrary. Jean-Luc Godard is a master of his craft, both of the visual and aural elements. Through out his entire oeuvre he consistently uses every means available to push the boundaries of Cinema to help form something new the French New Wave. Early in his career, as a film critic and contributor to the French film magazine, Les cahiers du cinma1, he apposed classical forms and conceptions of cinema. Once he began producing his own films Godard approached it from a very different angle, thus, creating a new way to not only produce but to critically think on cinema. Film theorists largely concern themselves with and concentrate on the image but it seems as if in this modern age of cinema sound plays just as important a role. Michel Chion, a leading theorist on film sound, wrote in the Preface to Audio-Vision, one of his books on the subject of film sound, that: Theories of the cinema until now have tended to elude the issue of sound, either by completely ignoring it or by relegating it to minor status. Even if some scholars have made rich and provocative contributions here and there, their insights [] have not yet been influential enough to bring about a total


The Internet Movie Database, A Woman Is a Woman (1961), (accessed November 3, 2010). 2 Michel Chion, Audio-Vision (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), xxv.

2 reconsideration of the cinema in light of the position that sound has occupied in it for the last sixty years.2 Perhaps if one were to broaden the scope of which the critical ears of film theorists were examined, newfound concepts of it could bring the total reconsideration of the cinema that Chion is alluding to. Examining Godards use of sound, in his films, with a leaning toward Deleuzian Scholarship new insights about film sound occur. Which, then, call for a deepening of existing concepts and, thus, conceivably new ones are formed. Similar to Jean-Luc Godard, Gilles Deleuze was constantly looking for something new. As a postmodern French philosopher, Deleuze also formed radical new ideas and concepts towards a multitude of things. According to Jon Roffe, of the University of Melbourne, as a constructivist, he was adamant that philosophers are creators, and that each reading of philosophy, or each philosophical encounter, ought to inspire new concepts,3 and Donato Torero, Canadian Journal of Film Studies author, claims there are film theories, and then there is Deleuze. He goes on, his Cinema books suggest that cinema runs parallel with philosophy and responds to the history of philosophy.4 Une femme est une femme is part comedy, part classical Hollywood musical, and part dramatold in a way that only Godard could; an homage to all these genres while, at the same time, a sever critic on them. Although it is not seen as Godards finest film the sound design is one of his most unique and it serves as a strong case study into his use of sound and the affects it has on the image. Godards unique use of all three stems of the soundtrack (Sound Effects, Music, and Dialog) not only help to progress the narrative2 3

Michel Chion, Audio-Vision (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), xxv. Jon Roffe, Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995), July 12, 2005, (accessed November 3, 2010). 4 Donato Totaro, "Deleuzian Film Analysis: The Skin of the Film ," Off Screen, June 30, 2002, (accessed November 6, 2010).

3 the typical role of film sound in classic Hollywood cinemabut also allows Godard to tell it in a new way that is contrary to classical conceptions of film sound. Une femme est une femme incorporates a love triangle; a popular theme in Godards works. Angela (Anna Karina) is a striptease artist. She wants to have a baby and tries to sway her boyfriend mile (Jean-Claude Brialy) to go along. mile is not interested, so she enlists mile's friend Alfred (Jean-Paul Balmondo) to do the job. Dixon quotes Godard about the subject of the film as, a character who succeeds in resolving a certain situation, but I conceived the subject within the framework of a neo-realistic musical: an absolute contradiction, but that is precisely why I wanted to make the film.5 With its shifting opening titles between the above-the-line credits (Producers, Cinematographer, Music Composer, Production Designer, etc.) along with the words comedy, musical, theatrical, sentimental, and opera, paired with the sound of an orchestra tuning and a voice trying to organize the apparent chaos with a bicycle bell accentuating Godards title (the only sound effect in the sequence and one of his favorite and often used sounds), Une femme est une femme, immediately relates to the viewer Godards intention of the film as the idea of a musical, nostalgia for the musical, and, most provocatively, a neorealist musical.6 Its first title being Once upon a time, suggests that this is meant as a kind of fairy tale. The first actual dialog in the film is Karinas voice-over proclaiming, Lights, camera, ACTION! (the traditional cue to the film crew at the start of each take) over silence, while showing the faces, each in sequence, of mile, Angela, and Alfred with titles, over the images, of their real last


Wheeler W. Dixon, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard (Albany, New York: State University of New York, 1997), 28. 6 J. Hoberman, "A Woman is A Woman," The Criterion Collection, June 21, 2004, (accessed November 5, 2010).

4 names with each word. This reminds the viewer that they are in fact watching a film and it is about to begin. It also is in English, perhaps a direct homage to Hollywood cinema? Or is it a critic? Or both? The film begins in silence for about a second with the final title, Une femme est une femme, on top of what turns out to be the view of a busy Paris street seen from the window of a small caf. Enter Angela. This is where Charles Aznavours tune, Tu t'Laisses Aller, is introduced for the first time. The audience only gets to hear the last thirty seconds of it but they get an idea of Angela and miles relationshipalthough, this relationship is not immediately apparent nor is its symbolism. The lyrics are (with an English translation beside them and in parenthesis): Redeviens la petite fille (Become that little girl again) Qui m'a donn tant de bonheur (Who gave me so much happiness) Et parfois comm' par le pass (And sometimes like in the past) J'aim'rais que tout contre mon cur (I would love that close to my heart) Tu l'laisses aller, Tu l'laisses aller (You let yourself go, you let yourself go)7 At first listen this tune seems to be part of what the audience understands as part of the score but this changes and becomes source music after Angela approaches the jukebox in the caf near the end and begins the song again. Laurent Jullier proclaims that, Godard was concerned not to deceive the spectator about the origins of sounds.8 During the initial play Angela is heard greeting the barista and ordering a coffee, very white as a gentleman enters and also orders a coffee. This dialog is barely audible under7

Frank van der Eeden, tu t'laisses aller, August 5, 2008, (accessed November 6, 2010). 8 Laurent Jullier, "Sound in French Cinema, To Cut or Let Live: The Soundtrack According to Jean-Luc Godard," in Sound and Music in Film and Visual Media: a critical overview, ed. Graeme Harper, 352-362 (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd., 2009), 358.

5 the tune. Is this suggesting that the songs lyrics are more important at this point? Contrary to the classic Hollywood approach, Godard often keeps other sounds at the same level as the dialog trackwhether it be music or background ambient tracks. Alan Williams writes, as is typical in Godards location recordings, the spectator strains to decipher [dialog], the characters seem better adapted to urban noise than the film audience is made to feel.9 During Aznavours brief intermission Godard keeps the soundtrack incredibly sparse; only the foley of the gentlemans coffee cup is audible. Angela is glancing at the gentleman while he takes his first sip and smiles at him. This near silence in the soundtrack could be signifying Angelas pure interest in Man, his relation to her and the world around him. An idea that is backed up when hearing the opening lyrics to Tu t'Laisses Aller coming from the jukebox; C'est drle ce que t'es drle regarder (Its funny how funny you are to look at).10 Just as Angelas jukebox selection begins anew she realizes she has Gotta run. These lyrics are all we hear of the tune when she turns and walks out of the caf as she winks at the camera, acknowledging the audience for the first but certainly not the last time. Williams continues, the sheer weight of this natural sound is made [] more evident by what is [] the ultimate sound effect: silence, which when it arrivesabruptly, as do most of Godards soundsis eerily soothing.11 This abruptness is incredibly apparent in the next sequence of the film.