Friday, December 16, 2011


Written in 1960 and published in the Cahiers du Cinéma, Bernard Dort's text "Towards a Brechtian criticism of Cinema" exposes the Brechtian methods, aims and structures in theater and how those can be looked at in cinema, though Dort says that Brechtianism "rejects and strongly refuses all relation with the cinema in its open claim to be specifically and exclusively theatrical." Though it is specifically theatrical, since Brecht focused on theater, Brechtianism does not exclude cinema per se, and Godard proves it. Brecht's aesthetic is based on the involvement of the viewer in the story to make him an active member of the spectacle. Indeed, rather than implicating the spectator in a piece, Brecht's epic theater turns the spectator into an observer, an active thinker, by creating a distanciation or alienation effect ("Verfremdungseffekt").
Moreover, "the audience should never forget it is at the theater" and will therefore study what it is seeing and instead of being involved in something, it is made to face something of a social and political nature. Brechtian methods remind the spectator that this is a spectacle, would make sources of light visible by the audience, have billboards to indicate the time and place or to summarize action.
Brechtian theories which seem to deny cinema, actually reject its continuity and the viewer's identification with a character, which lead the viewer to become a passive watcher of the action.
Therefore, because of that, one can say that it excludes cinema. But how can a film still be considered Brechtian since in its nature cinema can seem contradictory to the Brechtian philosophy? Can a film not exist as an autonomous language?
Any film author can choose what he wants to deal with in a movie, and it can deal with its own process, a part of alienation coming from Brecht - cinema can chose to reflect cinema and remind the viewer that this is a film we are watching.
In accordance with this perspective, elements of Brechtianism can be found in many of Godard's films, whether it be in "Le Mépris" which deals with the making of a film (film inside a film, "metafilm"). In fact, the credit sequence is given in a voice-over in the opening scene and in the first scene we see a camera filming.

Le Mépris — Opening Scene
Le Mépris — Shooting scene
Another example would be "Week End" where the actors actually comment on the film, such as Roland: "What a rotten film. All we meet are crazy people." The intertitles offer a running commentary on the action: “A film adrift in the cosmos’’ — “A film found on a dump’’—“The Lewis Carroll Way’’—“From French Revolution to Gaullist weekends: freedom is violence.’

In his essay, Dort suggests when giving the example of Dudow's 1932 "Kuhle Wampe" that a modern viewer wouldn't grasp the message conveyed in the film since it doesn't know the German political and historical references that appear throughout the film.
However, Godard does give us the information necessary to understand the location and time the film is taking place in, though the questions it asks remain timeless in certain cases like in "Vivre Sa Vie".
The most obvious Brechtian element would be the fact that it is divided into twelve parts -"tableaux" - each chapter having a title and a small resume of what is to come, but also like as a commentary of what is to come.
Vivre Sa Vie — First three tableaux
Also, the music used throughout the film is more of a commentary to the film itself and what is happening in the film rather than music "simply" appearing at the peak moments of sadness, to make sure that the audience understands "this is a sad moment", like in most films.
The fact that the music keeps repeating itself also comments on the lack of free will of Nana's character. The movie is divided into tableaux, which breaks with the continuity of film, as we are reminded that it is a film we are watching. Godard also said "“Why twelve, I donʼt know; but in tableaux to emphasize the theatrical, Brechtian side", clearly an strong influence in his films.

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