Number One and Number Two and Point Zero
– Jean-Luc Godard between Film, Video and Art.

Television should be considered not as a means of expression but of transmission
– Jean-Luc Godard, 1962. [1]

On TV there is no projection. There is a rejection – you are rejected in your armchair or on your bed. In pictures you are projected, but you still have to decide what to be. In TV there is just transmission of something. It’s peculiar to cinema to project...
– Jean-Luc Godard, 1996. [2]

Why always one movie, one screen?
– Jean-Luc Godard, 1968. [3]

Considerations of Jean-Luc Godard's work in connection to visual art has usually taken their point of departure in the influence of Pop Art on Godard’s work (and vice versa). However, since at least 1968, Godard’s deconstruction of cinematic language, his questioning of the meaning(s) of images and representational systems, has gone far beyond the realm of Pop Art and its appropriations and juxtapositions of popular images. Since his first work for television, Le Gai Savoir, Godard’s work has not only dealt with the politics of images, but also with issues of production and distribution, self-reflexivity and subjectivity. Issues which led Godard from the arena of cinema to television and later video as medium and mode of production in itself. And as it is the concern of this essay, the importance of these changes and issues cannot not be underestimated in regards to developments in contemporary artvideo.

Pop and politics
Just as pop art of the 1960s explored the influence of popular images and the consumption hereof in daily life as well as the formulation of subjectivities and politics (the paintings of Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol), Godard's films of the 1960s explored the modern day conflation of media images, private subjectivities and stories (Une Femme Mariée, Masculin Féminin and Made in USA). Whereas Hollywood’s populist narrative cinema formed a blueprint for Godard’s early genre-conscious films, popular images themselves became part of the narrative in these films. Thus, the married woman mirrors her own body and thoughts about breast enlargements in current magazine adverts for women’s accessories (lingerie, lipstick etc.), and the young lovers of Masculin Féminin reflect their ideas about politics and gender in pop music and images, trying to inhabit the film "we all wanted to make or – more secretly, no doubt – that we wanted to live", whereas the heroine of Made in USA seems to have ventured even further into an imaginary demi-monde of pulp fiction; a filmic pop art landscape where everybody seems merely a silk-screened image. [4]

It is in these films Godard started incorporating words not just as titles within the film, but as signs or even images in themselves, marking his interest in semiotics and the relationship between word and image which became so important for neo-pop art of the 1980s. Godard used different pop images to contrast each other; to contrast or circumvent the narrative in a confusion and/or clashing of conflicting signs and sign systems. An usage of images which went beyond modernist post-pop arguments on the so-called high and low culture dichotomy. Rather, Godard was dealing with a crisis in cinematic representation in particular and the ideologies of images in general. Always doubtful of filmic conventions, perhaps even of Cinema itself, by the late 60s Godard began to deconstruct, avoid and finally abandon cinema and its narrative as well as representational conventions. Film language was deconstructed, and eventually Godard abandoned the medium itself in favor of television and video. The crisis – or even the "end" – of Cinema was all over Godard’s subsequent cinema releases: Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle , La Chinoise, Weekend and One Plus One. In these films sociology, semiotics and revolutionary politics are employed in a deconstruction of spectacular, narrative cinematic conventions and their inherent political ideologies. The death of Cinema is spelled out not only in the revolutionary acts of the Maoists of La Chinoise or the collapsing of orderly, bourgeois society into anarchy in Weekend, but is literally articulated in the endings of the films. Already Made in USA ended with an image of a book entitled “Gauche, Année Zéro” (year zero of the left) – the end as the beginning of something, as in revolution itself. Accordingly, La Chinoise ended with the title "END OF A BEGINNING" and Weekend with "END OF STORY – END OF CINEMA".

Godard was clearly not only moving away from narrative cinema toward "minimal" cinema, but also away from the Cinema as spectacle toward cinema as a political-critical medium. If, in the famous words of Guy Debord, "the spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image", the critical, political film must necessarily reflect and ultimately discard with cinema as spectacle.[5] It must move from images as spectacular capital to spectacular politics of images. Weekend and One Plus One with their long takes and long-shots move at once towards spectacle as well as towards its demise. In the latter film, for instance, there seems to be an unresolved ambivalence toward to the images of the pop group: Are the shots of The Rolling Stones at work a representation of the revolution as a work-in-progress, or an exposé of the cynical, well planned production stages of a pop song? [6] Significantly, One Plus One is only process‚ or perhaps even only practice, since we see the Stones working meticulously and slowly on the completion of "Sympathy for the Devil", but we never hear the infamous tune in its finished version. We are dealing with a work-in-progress, like the revolution itself, and not a finished representational work, not a totalizing system of representation. It is, in the words of the Godard’s later Dziga Vertov group, not enough to "make political films but to make films politically". [7]

In order to achieve such a political cinema, one must thus move from the spectacle and its consumership of images towards a reflection and criticism of these images, forging a new relationship between the viewer and the images (i.e. cinematic conventions) which defaces the double-bind between spectatorship and consumership. One must ask who is talking through (popular) images, and who is addressed. Those are questions which were at the center of Godard’s seminal first television work, Le Gai Savoir (commissioned, but never shown on French television). One of the protagonist states that "in each image one must find a method, and the discourse of that method. In each image, one must know who is speaking". Godard breaks with any notion of narrative, and instead presents an essayistic film about images, ideology, spectatorship and power. [8] Two persons meet, significantly, in a television studio at night to discuss and analyze images. During the course of the film we are presented with both the speakers in real time as well as with the images and a confluence of images, sounds, voice-overs and even write-overs (words written on the images, as if written on the screen). In their dialogue, the speakers are systematically breaking down cinema, its images and sounds, in an effort to "return to zero". To have a new beginning, a revolution, one must first understand and overturn the old order of things. And in true Marxist fashion, the protagonists of Le Gai Savior lay down a three-year plan to this end: "The first year we collect images and sounds and experiment. The second year we criticize all that: decompose them, reduce them, substitute for them, and recompose them. The third year we attempt some small models of reborn film".

Interestingly, the proposed three-year plan of Le Gai Savoir is in a way also a summary of Godard’s own work with cinema in the preceding decade. That is, his early genre exercises over gangster films (A bout de souffle), spy-flicks (Le Petit Soldat), musicals (Une Femme est une femme), war pictures (Les Carabinieres) and so on, can be seen exactly as "collect[ing] images and sounds and experiment[ing]", his above mentioned mid-60s work as a critique of these collected images and sounds, decomposing, reducing, substituting and recomposing them as suggested in the second year, and finally the "Dziga Vertov Group period" heralded by Le Gai Savoir as an illustration of the third year. Significantly, the film itself ends with a voice-over by Godard himself, stating that "this is not the film which must be made, but shows how, if one is making a film, that film must follow some of the paths indicated here". This film is rather, then, the return to zero; a work looking at once backwards in an ideological deconstruction of images, and forward to the creation of new, revolutionary images of struggle and models of spectatorship. But with Le Gai Savoir, Godard not only began questioning the images themselves (and their political implications), that is, their systems of representations, but also – in parallel to this effort – the distribution and production systems of images. We could, perhaps, to paraphrase Godard on Godard, talk of a struggle on two fronts: production and distribution of images. Le Gai Savoir was, of course - even though it addresses and reflects questions of cinema - not a cinematic film, but a film made for television. In a way, television (and later) video became the solution to the political problematics of cinema (that is, with cinema as a representation of capital).

In its context alone, television, Le Gai Savoir is dealing with a different relationship between viewer and image, and Godard’s idea at this point was to use television as a reflexive medium: A medium that could reflect and deconstruct the language and power of cinema. As early as 1962, in an interview in Cahiers du Cinéma, Godard expressed an interest in working for television, but not doing films, but rather reportage, essays, news, sports etc. – that is, all the formats which seem to present reality, as opposed to the feature film which represents reality. According to Godard, Television is – as opposed to Cinema - not a vehicle for (artistic) expression, but for transmission. In an important study of Godard's work for television, Colin MacCabe stresses that "...if Godard regards television as important, he does not, as so many do, regard it as the same medium as film. Indeed his insistence on the importance of institutions and technology prevents any acceptance of the notion of a ‘medium of communication’. If the matters of expression, sound and image, are common to film and television, the institutions and technology, the forms and the audience are very different." [9] Television is not Cinema, but it uses cinematic devices. In their shared features television and cinema can be reflected in each other – making the meanings and terms of both more visible. This is the case of Le Gai Savoir and the Dziga Vertov Group works for television that followed; British Sounds, Pravda, Luttes in Italia and Vladimir et Rosa. They all dealt with political struggle in revolutionary terms, setting forth film as analyses of images/sounds as Marxist dialectical materialism. Thus, the opening sequence of the aptly titled British Sounds shows a factory assembly line with overdubbed, metallic industrial noise and two different voice-overs! In this respect, British Sounds is not that different from Godard’s other "British" film, One Plus One, with its long takes, political sloganeering and emphasis on the processes of production. It would seem that we are merely talking about the movement of the same (class) struggle to a different arena or context, from Cinema to Television. An opening of a second front, if you will. It should also be noted that even though Godard was now thinking in terms of television as the context for his work, he was at this point still shooting on film, not yet employing videotapes.

As MacCabe explains, Godard was soon to expand on his ideas on television and its difference to cinema both contextually and phenomenological, in his 70s work with Anne-Marie Mieville in the Sonimage production company. In their "Principles of reflection" made as a proposal for the construction of post-colonial television in Mozambique, they state the difference between the two arenas as follows: "A. in a cinema people are many (together) to be alone in front of the screen. B. In an apartment linked to a TV aerial people are alone to be many (together) in front of the screen".[10] The difference in modes of spectatorship becomes very clear indeed – we are dealing with two fundamentally different public spheres, and from this difference the difference in film language, or rather, programming in the two spheres should be analyzed: Where Cinema is a place we go to be alone with others, sharing a similar experience; secretly bonding, becoming part of a specific group with specific shared values and even beliefs, we are always already socialized and specified as belonging to a particular category, the family, when being many to be alone in front of the television screen. And when television addresses different groups of society, it is through a time rather than space division. When going to the cinema we go to a specific moviehouse with a specific profile, a certain kind of programming that caters to our taste, or we go to witihin a close proximity of us. Contrarily, television addresses different groups through different timeslots; family viewing for prime time, and more "specialized segments" are addressed specifically either earlier or later. In this sense, television always marginalizes all other values than family values through its time division, whereas cinema will distinguish through space divisions. For instance, you would not have found any of Godard’s political films in large "mainstream" Cineplexes, but – if at all – in rundown arthouses. Likewise Godard’s television films ended up not being shown on television at all, and his later TV-series of the late 70s which were broadcasted, were not shown in primetime. Where Cinema is a public sphere that divides its constituencies spatially, geographically into different parts of a city, television runs the clock on behavior, so to speak.[11]

We can talk of the difference in spectatorship in Television and Cinema in spatial terms, and in terms of public spheres. In terms of the space of the spectator, and in terms of the filmic space – terms that are indeed crucial to Godard’s particular brand of "tvideopolitics", and certainly to contemporary Video Art (albeit, not always consciously). When Godard formed the Sonimage workshop with Anne-Marie Mieville, they deliberately started using video as well as film, and it can be argued that they have used these different mediums specifically in terms of different spaces and public spheres.[12] Their first joint project, Ici et ailleurs (1974), was a revisitation of old film footage shot in Palestine by Godard and Gorin in 1970. However, in their reediting of this material Godard and Mieville focused on the relation between the documentary material from "elsewhere", and how this type of material is presented to the public "here" (in France) as "other" through television. Ici et ailleurs focused on the relation between different places as presented in the private sphere at home through television. – Or, through a specific televisual framing and division of events and places.

The politics of space
The influence of television on the private sphere, defined as many being alone to be many in front of the screen, becomes the centerpoint of Sonimage’s first actual videowork, Numero Deux, that was shot on video, later to be transferred to film and presented (i.e. projected) as a cinema release. This film centers around the influence of television on the domestic life of a working class family, both directly by showing the family watching television (as in Ici at ailleurs), but also indirectly by using video to film the family at their most private (bathing, having sex, masturbating etc.). The manner is intrusive, as known from television documentaries and docu-soaps, even though we are here dealing with staged and acted scenes. But the materiality of video gives us a feeling of watching something very private and real – a device later used in such feature films as Atom Egoyan’s Family Viewing and Stephen Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotapes – and all the shots are stationary, as if taken from spy- and/or surveillance cameras. The videotape seems to immediately indicate the private sphere, the real and even amateurish. Video is the medium of privacy, as is clear in its use in such Sonimage productions as Numero Deux, the later sketch films relating to specific cinema releases and of course Soft and Hard (a sequel of sorts to Numero Deux), but also in television programs with home videos, pornography and a certain brand of contemporary artvideo (both those documenting performances as well as autobiographical "video diary" projects).

As indicated by the title, Numero Deux (Number Two), Godard (and Mieville) is clearly moving forward from "point zero" with this film. Although Godard claimed the film to be "number two", because it was a remake of his debut, Breathless, it is evident that the use of video in this film signals a major change in Godard's work and its thinking about spaces and viewing practices. In Speaking about Godard, Harun Farocki and Kaja Silverman discuss how the use of video is crucial to the production of Numero Deux. In the film we often see two video monitors at once, refilmed on 35 mm, resulting in the images being framed by a large field of black. Farocki notes how this idea derives from the editing process of video itself which – opposed to film editing – is done on two monitors simultaneously. Silverman continues that this simultaneity is at the core of Numero Deux, where we do not just see one image after another, as is the phenomenology of film, but more images at once. The title thus also refers to the relationship between film and video, video being "number two". [13] By noting the existence of two or more images at once within one (general) frame, one might add that we are also seeing more spaces at once. A feature that is also the case in much video installation work, which often centers around multiple screens and/or projections, that is, a mass of images, employing a principle of simultaneity. The principle of simultaneity is, naturally, also at stake video installations using direct, live transmission of images.

It is obvious, that Numero Deux is in fact close to multiple screen projections, and, superficially at least, resembles a filmed video installation with multiple monitors (or, for that matter, projections) enclosed in darkness. Godard had earlier spoken positively about Andy Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls, a film which indeed employed two simultaneous projections rather than a split screen to project two images, two timelines and two spatialities. [14] Also, Godard had earlier worked on the notion of two storylines – of doubling - when he was shooting Made in USA and Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle simultaneously in 1966. He even went as far as to suggest that they be screened simultaneously, though not as a double projection, but as alternating reels (a principle also employed in The Chelsea Girls, where the reels apparently didn’t have any fixed order).[15] Even though Godard never actually used multiple projections, he realized – through the editing and presentation possibilities offered by video – that it was possible to work with several, simultaneous spatialities; that it was possible to deconstruct Cinema’s centralizing, ideal perspective through a spatialization of the scenes and multiple, possible points of view. – A spatialization which could enhance both the filmmakers self-reflexivity and auto-critique as well as the spectators consciousness of the ideologies of the images and their placement in relation to them.

Video installation offers - phenomenological speaking - the possibility of an expansion of this idea of spatiality as (self-) reflexivity and (auto-)critique. In videoinstallation we are experiencing a space for filmic production that can literally surround the viewer, and through the use of multiple projections provide several points of view simultaneously. The French theorist Jean-Christophe Royoux has talked of "the spatialization of the story" in contemporary video work (as well as in experimental cinema), and has described how the use of the videoloop has changed the notion of narrativity and linearity in film, and instead "circumscribe an empty space through the repetition of the same movement, creating a stage that at times absorbs the viewer’s presence and then again maintains a distance" in an attempt to approach the space and time of the spectator.[16] Royoux has succinctly termed this an expansion of cinema to the "stage of exhibition" – that is a spatialization of film to literally includes the space of the spectator. [17] This aspect can be found in installations of contemporary (video) artists such as Chantal Ackerman, Eija Liisa Ahtila, Matthew Buckingham, James Coleman, Stan Douglas, Christoph Girardet, Douglas Gordon, Susan Hiller, Pierre Huyghe, Joachim Koester, Steve McQuinn, Jane & Louise Wilson, Sam Taylor-Wood and many others. In their installations we are dealing with both a reflection and expansion of the cinematographic methods for storytelling and spatialization, of their mode of address. [18] Video installations not only spatialize, but also, through this spatialization and possible multiplication and looping, doubles the effects of film. There is a doubling of the scenery, a double stage, if you will: a staging of (a) space on screen and a staging of (a) space off screen in the actual exhibitionspace. Everything happens twice, and in a double sense: when there is stillness on the screen it is repeated later in time, but also mirrored in the possible, sometimes simultaneous, sometimes not, stillness of the spectator in the exhibition space. And where there is movement on the screen, it is likewise doubled by both the loop and the behavior of the spectator. In this expanded field of Cinema we have an infinite number of doubles; double stillness and double movement, on screen and off screen.

The space and involvement of the spectator has in many ways been the all-encompassing obsession of post-minimalist art practices such as performance, video and installation art since the 1960s. Robert Smithson, an artist contemporary to Godard, worked with issues of time, spatialities and the relation between places (or, rather, sites). He wrote of Cinema, space and spectatorship in an article entitled "A Cinematic Atopia" (1971) – in which he even quotes Godard – a critique of how "going to the cinema results in an immobilization of the body" The suggestions he makes for changing this were: a) a blurring of the films on the screen, and b) constructing a different architecture for the cinema.[19] – An architecture that made the spectator aware of his or her bodily presence in the space rather than forgetting it. Early video art which developed from performance and minimalism did indeed primarily investigate physical space as opposed to narrative cinema. Loops, live projections, mirrorings and what can be termed video-architecture was the focus of early video installations by artists emerging from minimalism and/or performance, such as Vito Acconci, Peter Campus, Dan Graham, Joan Jonas, Les Levine, Bruce Nauman and Yvonne Rainer. In an early overview, Rosalind Krauss concluded that there seemed to be two dominant ways of using video in art, both dealing with the body (either that of the artist/performer or that the spectator). – "And no matter whose body has been selected for the occasion, there is a further condition that is always present. Unlike the other visual arts, video is capable of recording and transmitting at the same time – producing instant feedback. The body is therefore as it were centered between two machines that are opening and closing a parenthesis. The first of these is the camera; the second is the monitor, which reprojects the performer’s image with the immediacy of a mirror".

Perhaps we are dealing, then, with a third mode of spectatorship in "the stage of exhibition" indicated by video installation, a mode different from both Cinema and Television, and must therefore define (art)video installations through a set of exclusions: neither cinema nor television. It is rather a medium which allows for a reflection of those formats and modes of spectatorship. However, the development of Video Art since the late early 70s, shows a shift from performance-based works towards a) an reflexive mode, and b) a subjective mode. – Both of which can also be found in Godard’s videowork from the same period. On the one hand, he not only used video as means of showing private spaces, but also for private musings as in Soft and Hard (1986), Lettre á Freddy Buache (1982) and even the on-going Historie(s) du Cinema TV-series (1989– ). But it is important to note, that these videotapes not are ends in themselves, but relational to the fields of Cinema as well as to the private sphere. They all talk of representation and the power of images, and reflect on the practice and function of cinema: In Soft and Hard, Godard and Mieville talk about their work and internal power relations, Lettre a Freddy Buache addresses a film critic, and the Historie(s) du Cinema series is of course at once a (very personal) history of cinema as well asmusings on its demise. In this sense, Godard’s video work and it’s relation to Cinema (its histories, modes of discourse, ideologies of images, fixings of spectatorships etc.) are important in reading the current video installation work concerned with structural analysis and spatialization of cinema as mentioned above, as well as it is important in an understanding of the political implications in apparently private usages of video, be they artistic or otherwise. (Yes, the personal is still political).

In Numero Deux, Godard and Mieville not only shows the private life of a (fictive) working class family, but also the apparatus of production used to represent them. The film reflects its own production and representation both by refilming the actual videotapes playing on monitors, framed by the darkness of the big moviescreen, and – crucially – by beginning and ending with footage of Godard in the production studio; the editing room. This is not only an effect of auto-critique and self-reflection of the process and production of the film, but also a much more expansive reflection. Godard situates himself as worker and the studio as factory-like mirroring the lives of the working class family, and doing so he also establishes a new sense of place for the production of the film and the social standing of the filmmaker (or -worker, if you will). The studio we see is actually one bought for the advance of the film itself, which was of course much cheaper to make than budgeted, since it was shot on video and not on film footage. We are thus seeing the new arena for Sonimage’s activities; away from the center, Paris, literally, but also away from the high institution of Cinema to a new site of production, distribution and presentation. Thus, Sonimage indeed tries to "get back to zero" in terms of production and distribution, and from there create new images and new relations between producers and viewers of images, a model often used in later "alternative" video production units (for instance, Dogfilm, Berlin). – A re-orientation that leads to a shift from the institution and central public arena of Cinema towards the marginal, unmarketable world of (home) video. A place, where we also find most artvideo. Whereas most artvideo has limited distribution and limited budgets available, this lack of actual and symbolic capital paradoxically also makes space for a different mode of production that is less restricted by the demands and constraints of capital. A principle of smallness ushering by Sonimage and their movement from film to video, from Paris to Grenoble, from center to margin. These lack of constraints can also hold the potentials for a different mode of production and discourse where the syntax and power of Cinema and television can indeed be reflected and in terms of video installations, even "spatialized". A space for filmic production that around you, not in front of you, that requires movement not immobilization and that through multiple projections can provide several points of view simultaneously.

However, it should be noted that Godard does not consider video as “projectable”, but made for small monitors rather than big screens. This is not only related to the notion of privacy and intimacy (and of course intrusion) but also to the actual materialof videotape itself. When talking about Historie(s) du Cinema in a 1996 interview, Godard clearly states that he prefers it on TV rather than as a video projection, since TV rejects rather than projects. So by placing his history of Cinema on the small screen rather than the big screen, Godard also literally debases the history of cinema. It loses its grandeur, and rather than being seduced by its images we are distanced from them in order to analyze and understand their meanings – as was indeed the idea with Le Gai Savoir as a television film. Contrary to film, video does not supply aura to the images, but debases and demystifies them. Where film was always magic – the "laterna magica" of Bergman, Orson Welles ironically posing as a magician in F for Fake – video is common, everyday. It is a "low" medium, and as such perfect for everyday recordings and musings, diaries, home-movies, pornography and so on. And it is perfect for debasing Cinema, for achieving the "end of cinema".


1. Quoted from Toby Mussman (Ed.), Jean-Luc Godard, Dutton: New York, 1968, p. 118.
2. Jean-Luc Godard, Interviews, University Press of Mississippi: Jackson, 1998, p. 192.
3. Jean-Luc Godard, Interviews, University Press of Mississippi: Jackson, 1998, P. 23.
4. [note om pop-citater i JLG-litt].
5. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle
6. [Note, MacBean p. 95]
7. Quoated from Colin MacCabe, Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics, Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 1980, p. 19.
8. [Note Silverman p. 113 &127]
9. MacCabe, p. 138.
10. MacCabe, p. 139.
11. [note on tv/suburbia]
12. [note on Meetin’ WA]. Meetin’ WA not only questions authorship, but also the influence of television on film (the shots of Buildings in Hannah + naturally the text-signs from the same film as intertextual in JLG’s videotaped interview w/WA). A film about filmdirecting, authorship, television and spectatorship. Note also Sauve que Peut (Cain + Abel). In JLG’s proposition pour films tapes, video literally reflects cinema (that is feature films such as Passion, Je vous salue, Marie and Sauve que Peut).
13. [Speaking, p. 142]
[note om Godard/Warhol]
15. Monaco, p. 173
16. Royoux p. 59
17. P. 61
18. It is beyond the scope of this essay, but a critical enquiry should be made on the mirroring of Cinema in contemporary video, whether this mirroring creates mere copying and/or a distancing reflection, and how and when.
19. Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, University of California Press: Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1996, p. 138
20. Gregory Battcock, p. 45

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