The archive in discussion for this blog is a widely discussed sequence in Jean Luc Godard’s video essay Histoire(s) Du Cinéma (1988-1998) in which Godard superimposes George Stevens’s images of Holocaust victims with a scene featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift from Stevens’ production A Place in the Sun (1951).
Godard connects the past and creates historical associations by employing film technique of montage and superimposition of images. He highlights media archaeology by emphasizing on the ‘forgotten’, the ‘non-obvious’ apparatuses and inventions of World War II by using the footage of Holocaust victims shot by Stevens with the first 16mm color film at Auschwitz and Ravensbrück. 16mm cameras were one of the technical innovations of photography and cinema financed and used for military purpose during World War. Through the above mentioned sequence Godard also underlines cinema as a fallen medium having failed to fulfill its responsibility of being ‘present’ at the Nazi camp to capture the reality of the most horrific event of the human history. By incorporating moving and still images and using photographs, paintings and film, Godard, as stated by Lund “creates a complex assemblage of perspectives from different temporal strata” (2015, p150). Using clips of old films and newsreels, new footage, advertisements, music, sound and voice recordings, textual citation, narration and commentary and by releasing the film on VHS, it may be argued that the film focuses on the archaeological aspect of cinema rather than the genealogical, for it “does not imply the search for a beginning, [ . . . it] questions the already-said at the level of existence” (Foucault, 1972, p131).
Unlike conventional documentaries on cinema which recount history of film through linear and chronological manner Godard abandons the traditional narrative order of ‘telling’ and explores the possibility of showcasing cinema, through cohesion of shots of images and sounds ensuing in rethinking time, memory and history. It could be suggested that his film “responds not so much to the Bazinian inquiry “what is cinema,” but has to start from the question: “when is cinema”? (Elsaesser, 2006, p20).
By Sagar Chhatwani
Elsaesser, T. (2016). Early Film History and MultiMedia: An Archaeology of Possible Futures?. In: Wendy Chun and Thomas Keenan eds., New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader. New York: Routledge, 23-36.
Foucault, M. (1976). Archaeology of Knowledge. London and New York: Routledge.
Lund, J. (2015). The Coming Together of Times: Jean-Luc Godard’s Aesthetics of Contemporaneity and the Remembering of the Holocaust. The Nordic Journal of Aesthetics, 24(49-50), 138-155. Available from http://ojs.statsbiblioteket.dk/index.php/nja/article/view/23319 [Accessed 19 February 2017]
Parikka, J. (2012). Introduction: Cartographies of the Old and the New, in What is Media Archaeology?. Cambridge: Polity, 1-18.
Wright, A. (2000). Elizabeth Taylor at Auschwitz: JLG and the real object of montage. In: Temple, M. and Williams, J.S. (eds.) The cinema alone: essays on the work of Jean-Luc Godard, 1985-2000. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 51-60
Kenny, G. (2011). Toutes les histoires [image]. Available from http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2011/03/elizabeth-taylor-1932-2011.html [Accessed 19 February 2017].