In Godard’s One Plus One (distributed in America as Sympathy for the Devil) the operation, the process of drawing a relation, is an end in itself. Results, after all, depend on relations —that “plus” between the “one” and “one.” And in One Plus One the result is simply what is at stake in the relations: History. More than any other film, perhaps even more than any other “work of art,”One Plus One concentrates so intently on the praxis of History, and repudiates the exis so thoroughly, that History itself is almost freed from the distortions of art, emerging as what it has always really been: a free play of relations (that undefined but not undefinable “plus”), the result of which (“makes two”) can be left unsaid because it is re-created at every moment.
One Plus One is composed of ten sequences of roughly ten minutes duration apiece. Each sequence, or, technically, each plan-sequence, is a single continuous shot complete with synchronous sound, the camera sometimes remaining fixed, sometimes moving about quite freely. Each of them is interrupted momentarily from time to time either visually, by intercut shots of a young girl (Anne Wiazemsky) painting various political graffiti, or aurally, by a voice-over reading of a sordid “political novel,” the characters of which are named after world leaders or international figures.
There are two clearly distinct sets of sequences in the film: “Stones sequences,” in which the Rolling Stones are shown rehearsing in a recording studio, and “other than Stones sequences,” among which are two sequences depicting black militants in an automobile junkyard, an interview in a forest with a young girl named Eve Democracy, a sequence in a pornography bookstore, and, closing the film, a sequence on the beach which depicts the symbolic death of Eve Democracy. These two sets of sequences are equally weighted structurally: there are five “Stones sequences” and five “other than Stones sequences” alternating throughout the film in an AB AB AB AB AB pattern.
Even disregarding for a moment the intercut material (which embroiders upon the film’s basic structure without altering it), let us note Godard’s paradoxical structural achievement of a film cle montage composed of raw material that would seem to be the essence not of montage but of what is usually considered its polar opposite—mise-en-scène shooting. In fact, the planséquence was heralded by André Bazin, the prophet of mise-enscène, as the royal road to the salvation of the cinema; while montage, for Bazin, was forbidden as the domain of the damned. And in One Plus One Godard even ventures into the terrain of Hitchcock, the master of mise-en-scène shooting, whose film The Rope was composed of eight plans-sequence, each of which advanced the narrative by a complicated, continuous traveling movement of the camera. But while Godard pushes the potential of the plan-sequence to the point of creating a feature film out of ten shots of nearly ten minutes duration apiece, unlike Hitchcock (and the Bazin school), Godard refuses to utilize the plansequence for narrative purposes, and, instead, he utilizes it solely for its simplicity and insistent presence; while montage—although reduced to an elementary juxtaposition of disparate, seemingly unrelated long takes—is nonetheless reaffirmed as the basic combustion element that creates intellectual relations and sense. Or, as Eisenstein put it, “By the combination of two ‘depictables’ is achieved the representation of something that is graphically undepictable.”
In One Plus One this preeminence of montage is further accentuated by the opposition and interplay between the ten plansséquence, on one hand, and the aural and visual intercut material mentioned earlier. Through the use of synchronous sound the plans-séquence are all presented in a unity of image and sound; the intercut material, however, is presented now in image alone, now in sound alone, and often with the intercut aural material over the intercut visual material. But in no case is the intercut material presented in the synchronous unity of image and sound that we find in each of the plans-séquence.
Thematically, the opposition (set up by the montage) between the intercut material and the material of the ten plansséquence presents a dialectic between two different faces of contemporary reality—and of History itself. One Plus One is characteristic of Godard’s work in that it presents one of the faces of reality in the mask of fiction and sets up a subtle dialectic between fiction and reality. Sometimes in Godard’s films it is a character, or group of characters, who confuses fiction and reality: in A bout cle souffle Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) imitates Humphrey Bogart, and even dies à la Bogie; so does the group of would-be outlaws in Bande à part —with Arthur (Claude Brasseur) even out-dying Bogie; in Le Mépris the scriptwriter Paul Javel (Michel Piccoli) becomes the victim of a fiction, the story of Ulysses, which is superimposed above the real action of his wife’s growing contempt for him; and in Pierrot le fou the lead character is called by two names, Pierrot and Ferdinand, and admits to feeling like “un homme double” who is unable to sort out the real from the fictional self. In still other Godard films the split between fiction ànd reality is implicit in a split between two distinct “worlds”: in Alphaville the world of logic (the city of Alphaville) is cut off from the world of the emotions (“les pays extérieurs”) ; in Masculin-Féminin the world of youth is cut off from the world of adults; and in La Chinoise the world of the youthful communards is cut off from the day-to-day realities of the society they seek to change.
In One Plus One the sordidness of political intrigue which in Made in USA was the reality of contemporary life has passed over into the world of fiction. Further, it has moved from the synchronous unity of image and sound to the sound track alone: it is no longer the labyrinth in which we are forced to grope, but only a disembodied voice—a récit that is no longer even a récit filmique but purely and simply a récit parole.
“Power politics,” the comings and goings (especially the comings) of presidents, prime ministers, popes, and princesses, the “news” we have been conditioned for so long to regard as momentous events shaping contemporary history—all of this is suddenly seen to be nonessential, negative, of no real significance: it is all a cheap novel that can be read just the way cheap novels are usually read—at random, by skipping back and forth from one scabrous passage to another. The novel in One Plus One is, in fact, read at random; and the voice-over interruptions seem to occur at random. There is, however, a significant pattern of these interruptions : the frequency with which the sordid “high society” world of the voice-over novel breaks in upon the Stones sequences seems to suggest an affinity and overlapping between these two elements; while there is only one brief aural interruption of each of the black sequences, suggesting that there is very little these two elements have to do with each other, and that the blacks, because they are excluded from white society, are relatively immune to the viruses of the power elite and its parasites. Moreover, far from being random in their intrusions, the words of the voiceover novel are carefully timed to coordinate with a particular word or image (or both) from the plan-sequence material or with an image from the intercut material. Thus, Godard sets up a subtle audio-visual interplay of connotations from one element to another, with these connotations serving as the transitional raccords between two different shots or two fragments of the sound track. In addition, Godard’s use of hand-printed inter-titles to introduce each plan-sequence is designed to enrich the printed words—through selective underlining, suggestive typography, and the use of different colored crayons for the lettering—so that they, too, like the other elements of the film, can generate a multiplicity of relations.
On one hand, then, the film presents the conventional reality of power politics in the form of a fragmented and disembodied fiction—and Godard’s systematic undermining of the old tyranny of narrative has now reached the point of demonstrating, as a parting blow, that the narrative is such an authoritarian structure that even fragmented narrative is actually a perfect vehicle for the sordid smut of fascism. On the other hand, the film presents staged material (all of the plans-séquence are made up of staged material—including the Stones’ rehearsal, since even a “real” rehearsal is transformed into a performance by the simple presenee of the camera) in straightforward documentary fashion, without the slightest recourse to narrative. In short, an important dialectical reversal is involved here, for the real becomes fictional and the fictional becomes real.
As Hegel pointed out, reality is two-faced: there is a negative, nonessential face of reality, as well as a positive and essential face; and History inevitably passes through a phase wherein what will ultimately prove to be positive and essential appears to contemporary observers to be negative and nonessential. But as History unfolds, the real truth of a situation surfaces; the negative, nonessential face of contemporary reality begins to recede (is sublated); and through this process of reversal, the positive and essential face of History comes to the forefront.
In One Plus One, and specifically in the central sequence entitled “The Heart of Occident,” we can see even the moment when the major currents of our reality come together, that instant when the changing tides of History bump up against each other; when the old outgoing tide seems to retain just enough of its former strength to dominate for one last moment the first swellings of the new incoming tide. For once in the film the fascism of the Word is reflected in the Image, where we see the myriad images of sadism, perversion, war, crime, and violence on the covers of row upon row of sex magazines, scandal sheets, and cheap novels—plus some film magazines as well, to remind us that we too get co-opted by the oppressors (that is, unless we too are not already one of them ourselves). “The Heart of Occident” is nothing other than a porno store where the customers give the Nazi salute to the proprietor (played, appropriately enough, by the youthful, mod producer of the film, Iain Quarrier), who reads aloud passages from Mein Kampf and, instead of demanding cash for the purchases, directs the customers to render payment in the form of slaps in the face administered to two long-haired young men who are kept sitting in the corner as ritual scapegoats for fascist frustration and aggression.
But the youths do not keep silent: at each slap in the face they shout out the call for a new reality, a new truth, a new history. “Vive Che!” “Victory to the NLF!” “Long live Mao!” At first, their words seem like empty slogans spewed out mechanically, as if the youths were willing accomplices in the fascist order that oppresses them. But if we watch the development of this sequence carefully, as the camera moves restlessly back and forth from long-haired radical youth to over-thirty fascist proprietor, there comes an instant when, without anything seeming to happen, all is changed. The development of this sequence is like the development of the famous “pendulum” camera movement sequences in Vivre sa vie and Le Mépris: the camera records the instant when fate hangs in the balance, when a soul is damned or saved, when a lovers’ quarrel reaches the point of no return. Only this time it is History itself which hangs in the balance, until the new tide moves to the forefront.
The camera—here embodying the objectivity of History— suddenly stops its endless lateral panning and moves, for once, in depth—singling out the two long-haired youths and moving in slowly to focus on them in full close-up as they lift their heads and turn slightly to look directly into the camera. Suddenly the tide has turned: and everything changes its sense, dialectically, to adjust to the new sense of History. As the Hitler text (read by Quarrier) closes by exalting the triumph of the individual, we understand not the triumph of the individual-as-demagogue—the Hitlerian “great magnetic force to attract the masses”—but rather the triumph of the nameless individual who is a part of the masses and whose revolutionary vigor and determination are turning History inside-out, even at the “Heart of Occident.”
The turning-point of contemporary history having been reached and passed, it is at this point that Godard presents to us, for the only time in the film, the full equation that is his metaphor for History:
1 + 1 makes 2.
Simple enough. As simple as “one plus one.” But look at it closely. It is not a static equation. It does not say 1 + 1 equals 2. Instead it emphasizes the action, the praxis, of making a result. History, after all, is made; and it is made by one individual relating to other individuals.
Even at the interpersonal level, One Plus One suggests the all-important need for the making of a relation. Failure to relate—as in the case of Eve Democracy, whose isolation and inability to communicate symbolize the involuted rigidity of the Western individualist—ultimately leads to a form of spiritual death. And the artist is by no means exempt from this need to relate; quite the contrary, but its exigencies are manifested in him more problematically than elsewhere. The Rolling Stones may play music together as a group, but the claustrophobic recording studio with its isolated booths for each musician highlights the fundamentally self-absorbed, even narcissistic quality of artistic creation. Ultimately, One Plus One suggests that for the artist, but by no means only for the artist, the first revolutionary task is to stop retreating further and further inside oneself as so much of the Western world, particularly the intelligentsia, still does. We must perform our first revolutionary act on ourselves by relating more freely and openly with men and women and things than we have since the rise of industrial capitalist society. This openingup of ourselves to the world and to each other, helping us to recognize and to begin to rectify the injustices we have inflicted on the blacks and the rest of the world, is an urgent task for us in the “Heart of Occident” if we are not to be left behind by the new tide of History.
In One Plus One, the turning-point having been passed, History having turned itself inside-out, the blacks, who in the first half of the film were introduced by the word “Outside,” are now introduced by the word “Inside.” In short, then, One Plus One’s dialectic of History unfolds like a Moebius ribbon, with the transformation of the blacks (as well as the militant youth) from a marginal, peripheral phenomenon existing “outside” the mainstream of Western civilization, into a vital force working away at the “inside” and playing a leading role in the revolutionary reshaping of History.
But even armed with Hegelian dialectics, how does one get at “truth”—especially in the cinema? Can there really be such a thing as cinéma-vérité? And, if so, we might well ask (as Godard has) just which truth is it talking about? Godard has expressed his view of cinema’s search for truth in the following way: “You can start with fiction or documentary. But whichever you start with, you will inevitably find the other.”
For example, look at the Rolling Stones in One Plus One. Filmed in the “nitty-gritty” of a recording studio session, the Stones are for real and at the same time they are a fantastic put-on. (Role-playing, posturing, putting on an act, and concern for one’s “image” are not, after all, merely theatrical conventions; they are part of our behavior.) Conversely, the blacks in One Plus One are filmed in the “act” of a big theatrical put-on, yet they are in dead earnest.
Elaborate camera movements notwithstanding, Godard in One Plus One works much like Lumière and Méliès, the founding fathers of cinema and the two poles of cinema’s dialectic of fantasy and the real. Godard films the Rolling Stones the way Lumière filmed La Sortie cles Usines: he brings his camera to where the action is, he sets it up, turns it on, and captures a “slice of life.” He films the blacks the way Méliès filmed Le Couronnement du Roi Éclouard VII, with the greatest artifice and theatricality. As Guillaume (Jean-Pierre Léaud) says in La Chinoise, one might argue that the real documentary films of the turn of the century are Méliès’s tricked stagings of events like Edward’s coronation (acted out, in costumes, by a butcher’s apprentice and a laundry girl as King and Queen ), or the explosion of the battleship Maine (filmed with toy boats in the pond of the Tuileries ), or the eruption of Mont Pelé (filmed with miniatures); while, on the other hand, the films of Lumière, by heightening the minutiae of everyday life—a train entering a station, workers leaving a factory, women playing backgammon—constitute the very stuff of fiction.
Similarly, in One Plus One the “slices of life,” the recording sessions with the Rolling Stones, lead ultimately to a form of the fantastic, aptly designated by an inter-title as “Hi Fiction Scienee,” while the filming of that elaborately staged and acted bit of theater in the automobile graveyard becomes a “documentary” presentation of one of the key developments taking place in the world today. (Think of the way La Chinoise, also an “acted” and elaborately staged piece of theater, can be considered a documentary on student militancy and, specifically, on the French student uprising of May 1968—which it preceded. Might one not be justified in concluding that ultimately history decides what is a documentary?) And the theatricality of the black sequences simply makes them all the more faithful as documents of what the Black Power movement is all about, for no one is more aware of the theatricality of his position, and no one is more deeply concerned with the effect of his performance, than a black militant.
The Black Panthers, with their black-leather jackets and berets, the clenched-fist salute, the rifles and cartridge-belts, are involved in “street theater”: they are revolutionary non-actors acting for the revolution. And the Panthers’ act is not even primarily for the audience, especially not the white audience— although they do want to shake us up a little, and to keep us guessing. In the first black sequence of One Plus One, for example, shots are fired, but the framing prevents us from seeing what is shot. We know, of course, that a number of white girls have been brought in as hostages or as prisoners of war, and later we see their bodies lying on the ground covered with blood. Were they shot? Cinema-logically, yes; but then it’s only cinema. It’s only an “act.” But what about black militants in “real life”? To what extent is the black militant’s act of militancy just an act?
The answer is, of course, that his militancy is by no means just an act. When the black militants in One Plus One call for blacks to go out into the streets, to run up and down, to take what they want, to kill the white men who get in their way— it corresponds to a reality of looted cities and sniper activity, which, for better or worse, cannot be passed off as mere playacting. And when the blacks in the film shout out the magic words —”Up . . . against . . . the . . . wall . . . mother . . . fucker”—we would do well to remember that more than one motherfucker has already gone up against the wall.
The only difference perhaps (and for the white man, the only consolation) is that today’s black militants see the possibility of reaching their goals with a maximum of symbolic activity and just enough real violence to keep people shook up. But this does not mean that the black man’s “magic dance” of militancy is essentially a cathartic ritual in which he gets out of his system his aggressive impulses; on the contrary, like a primitive hunting or war dance, it is a means of preparing himself to do in reality what he does first in art.
And what today’s black militant is readying himself to do, if things don’t change radically for the better, is to bring down white society, even killing the white man if he gets in the way. The ritual militancy thus serves to prepare the black man for the real hunt, while, at the same time, it is an attempt (which does involve a calculated risk) to accomplish his goal without having to resort to killing—by pressuring, by scaring, even by shaming the white man into recognizing his oppression of the blacks and then into sharing with the blacks in the dismantling of the oppressive power structure and the building of a new, more just society.
Perhaps this is Utopian (though Marcuse, among others, has argued that the hope for a new society, free of repression, can no longer be termed Utopian, since it is now, perhaps for the first time, technologically realizable), but we must not shrug off as mere playacting a movement with the appeal of the Panthers to the ghettos and the Third World, and which even reaches white youth in our own “Heart of Occident.”
Ultimately, then, One Plus One presents Black Power as a theatrical fiction which leads to the real, while the rock music phenomenon is presented as a chunk of reality which leads to a theatrical fiction. This is not to imply, however, that the rock music world, especially when seen as a part of the global “implosion” triggered by electronic mass media, is not itself one of the important contemporary phenomena. On the contrary, in a film that explores the shaping of contemporary history, Godard’s filming a recording session with the Rolling Stones at such length suggests its potential importance. But as part of that exploration, Godard is certainly questioning where all these different phenomena lead.
At the most elementary level, we wonder where the song “Sympathy for the Devil” will lead—we want to hear it all the way through. Like the film itself, it is a sort of paeon to history; and as it changes in tempo from one “take” to another, the transformation from the cool version at the beginning to the doubletime rhythmic holocaust the last time the Stones sing it seems to parallel nicely the dizzying effect of the contemporary world’s vastly accelerated rate of social change. Nonetheless, with the song, as with history, we wonder where it all leads.
But by refusing to let us hear the song in its polished, definìtive entirety, Godard insistently focuses our attention on the action (praxis) of making either a work of art or history. And where the Stones are concerned, we can’t help but be aware, I’m afraid, that there’s an awful lot of money involved. This is not to imply that Godard thinks the Rolling Stones or other rock groups are simply out to make as much money as they can. Obviously the Stones enjoy the creative process of making music. They spend a great deal of time and effort experimenting with various tempo changes and trying out various instrumental and vocal arrangements. Like Godard, in fact, they are artists who enjoy working out the technical possibilities of their art. But they are also, again like Godard, artists whose medium of expression requires an enormous outlay of money for equipment and for distribution of the finished product. Moreover, like Godard, the Stones had to break into a highly competitive industry financed by capitalist investment, an industry where your career as an artist depends, above all, on whether or not your art sells.
Granted, an artist can attempt—as both Godard and some of the rock musicians have done—to subvert the traditional bourgeois notion of art while remaining inside the tradition. But aesthetic subversion is all too easily absorbed and co-opted by contemporary society, which has developed sophisticated mechanisms for emasculating art by cultivating it; and these mechanisms are particularly well-adapted for emasculating the avant-garde in art because they cultivate an ever greater demand for novelty, provocativeness, and even scandal. In our culture the avant-garde in art ultimately serves the institutions of scandal, which is to say, the emasculation of scandal, and so brings about the transformation of artistic suhversiveness into market value.
There is no doubt, for example, that much of the appeal of rock is its subversive aura—which is, of course, carefully played up by record-jacket designers, poster designers, and publicity agents, who make sure their protégés wear the most far-out clothes, sport the longest and fuzziest hair-styles, and strike belligerent poses whenever they’re in camera range. And if their songs contain allusions to drugs, street fighting, free sex, and revolution—all the better, the songs will sell better! (In movies, of course, we have the same thing: films like The Trip, Revolution, More!, Easy Rider, Katmandu, RPM, Getting Straight, The Strawberry Statement, with others apparently in the making—all of them trying desperately to cash in on the market for revolution. )
In an interview in Rolling Stone, Godard talked about rock: “There is some invention, but it should be politicized. The Stones are more political than the Jefferson Airplane, but they should be more and more so every day. The new music could be the beginning of a revolution, but it isn’t. It seems more like a palliating to life. The Stones are still working for scientific experiment, but not for class struggle or the struggle for the means of production.”11
In the same interview, using Mao’s language, Godard described his own position as an artist : “What is social praxis? There are three kinds. There is scientific experiment; there is class struggle; and there is struggle for the means of production. And I discovered, at about the same time as the May 1968 events occurred in France, that I myself have to be related to class struggle and struggle for production, though scientific experiment is still necessary.”
The real task, then, for the “revolutionary artist,” is to avoid remaining exclusively or even primarily on the easily co-opted level of aesthetic subversion (which merely qualifies as “scientific experiment”) and to apply his intelligence and his aesthetic skills to the urgent task of politicizing the constantly growing mass of people who have dropped out culturally from bourgeois capitalist society, but who have not yet begun to take an active part in the political struggles necessary to break down and destroy that society.
For Godard the days of the auteur polemics, the cult of selfexpression, and the mystique of Art and Culture are all left behind; and when he was asked not long ago whether the cinema of Antonioni and some of his other peers interested him as much as it used to, Godard responded negatively, expressed his horror at Antonioni’s making Zabriskie Point for MGM, and then pointed out that, for himself, unlike Antonioni or the others, it was no longer a question of self-expression or of turning out another “work of art.” His own position, he explained, is now more like a militant worker; and what concerns him now are problems that can only be solved by relating to others and working together in a more collective way.
In One Plus One it is possible to see in the film’s intercut shots a sort of demonstration of the differences between Godard’s new revolutionary aesthetic and the old aesthetic of Antonioni and Godard’s other former colleagues. Quite often the young girl (played by Anne Wiazemsky, Godard’s wife) is seen painting her political slogans over just the kind of strikingly colored walls that Antonioni ordered painted to serve as backdrops for his filming of Blow-Up in London. But whereas Antonioni painted buildings, even whole city blocks (and trees) in order to obtain a certain beauty and psychological mood, Godard comes along and defaces that mystique of beauty which hides its own praxis from the public, presenting only the clear, bright fagade of the finished product; and Godard creates a revolutionary form of art which calls attention to its praxis—a
(as one of the painted slogans puts it) that is both art and an appeal to go beyond art; or (as another puts it) a
wherein our task is not simply to understand either art or society but to change them both radically. In short, Godard’s new revolutionary art takes the old art apart, demystifies it, even defaces it, but then uses the best of the old art (like Antonioni’s sense of the color and texture of a wall) as a base, as a point of departure from which to get people thinking about the society in which they live, and hopefully to bolster their readiness to transform that society.
And for Godard, as an artist, this means giving up both the old aestheticism and the fascination with metaphysics (the search for the Absolute) that characterized some of his earlier films, Le Mépris and Pierrot le fou in particular. It is no coincidence that the final scene of One Plus One, with its panorama of sea and sky and its association with death, is reminiscent of the final scenes of both Le Mépris and Pierrot le fou. But in One Plus One the death that is associated with the film’s closing image is a symbolic rather than a physical death. It is both a death and a rebirth, a rite de passage to a new and “higher” form of existence.
The death that is ritually enacted is the death of Eve Democracy and, through her, the death of the old Western idealist notions of society and of the function of art in society. And for Godard as film-maker, it is the death of the old bourgeois cinema and the birth of the new cinema of revolution. The last shot of Le Mépris showed Ulysses getting a first glimpse of his homeland after years of metaphysical wandering—a fulfillment denied in that film (and in Pierrot le fou) to alienated modern man. The last shot of One Plus One, however, gives us a first glimpse of the new revolutionary order we must build on the ruined shores of the old. The film closes on the image of a huge Hollywood camera crane, with its lifeless cargo of a limp body and an inoperative camera swinging effortlessly in free abandon, first right, then left, with the red flag and the black flag waving briskly in the wind that blows in from the sea. The rite de passage is achieved. The cinema is dead. Vive le cinema révolutionnaire!