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The Image Book is a work that reprises many of Jean-Luc Godard’s familiar ideas, but with an unexpected urgency and visceral strangeness. It’s an essay film with the body-language of a horror movie, avowedly taking Godard’s traditional concerns with the ethical status of cinema and history and looking to the Arab world and indirectly examining our orientalism – Godard cites the Conradian phrase for a culture held “under Western eyes”.
Appropriately there are some amazingly fierce images, and the screen of Cannes’s Grand Theatre Lumiere is a colossal canvas over which to spread them.
As so often in the past, Godard churns the dark waters of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Image fragments are dislodged from the deep, and come floating up to the surface: paintings, news headlines, classic Hollywood clips, often digitally distorted or bleached out or suffused with a snow-blind white glow. These are juxtaposed with brutal news footage and Isis YouTube propaganda. Here are the alienations and macroaggressions of the contemporary world.
The Image Book is the signature Godard irony-mosaic of clips and fragments, with sloganised, gnomic texts, puns in brackets, sudden fades-to-black, unpredictable, unsynchronised sound cues which appear to have been edited quite without the usual concern for aural seamlesness, and vast, declamatory orchestral chords.
Godard’s is a cinematic language that has now possibly been largely co-opted by the cultural theorist or the conceptual artist. But Godard always insists on the larger, traditional prerogative of film and the grandeur that only cinema, only the phenomenon of people gathered in the dark before the vast screen, can convey.
In The Image Book he appears to gesture, again, at the subject of cinema’s culpable failure to witness the horrors of the modern world, failure to account for Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Cinema, that thrillingly seductive and diversionary mass-image-industry of the twentieth century, evolved in tandem with technologies that gave us wholesale slaughter, genocide and tyranny – outrages which happened behind cinema’s back. This is, I think, still at the heart of Godard’s view and at the heart of the title here. What is the status of the image? Is it text? If it is a sign then what is its real-world referent? Just another sign? Another book? Can we empathise with the sufferings of others, the sufferings of oppressed peoples, if the news of such suffering is just an ideologically constructed text of images and words?
But now perhaps, the problem is different. There are too many images. Still images. Moving images. Images on our phones and iPads. We are drowning in images – they swamp our ability to make sense of them. Godard selects, with his cinephile connoisseurship and his old leftist anger – and we are bombarded with eyeball-frazzling pictures plucked out of context. The supersaturated colours of video are a thrillingly dissonant, deafening synesthesia.
It is bewildering. I’m not sure I understood more than a fraction and of course it can be dismissed as obscurantism and mannerism. But I found The Image Book rich, disturbing and strange.
Source: The Guardian
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