Nicolas de Staël in his studio, rue Gauguet, Paris, 1947. Photo: Edith Michaelis


All my life, I had a need to think painting, to paint in order to liberate myself from all the impressions, all the feelings, and all the anxieties of which the only solution I know is painting.

– Nicolas de Staël (2)

There’s no difference between my life and my movies. I’m existing more when I’m making movies than when I’m not. That’s why someone might say to me, “You have no personal life; I can’t have a relationship with you. When we’re making love, you’re suddenly saying, ‘What a beautiful shot I’m thinking of!’ It’s like a painter only speaking of colors.” But I think what I’m doing is the only thing I can speak of – creation.

– Jean-Luc Godard (3)

You ask me about painting. […] It is an enormous aid. […] In painting, I know of no one who went further then Nicolas de Staël.

– Jean-Luc Godard (4)

Abstract art is a beginning of liberation from the old habits of painting. But the true new painting will begin only when it is understood that color has a life of its own, that infinite combinations of color have their poetry and poetic language much more expressive than ancient methods.

– Sonia Delaunay (5)

After being ignored for decades, the relation of cinema and painting is reappearing today. Part of the problem is that abstract painting has stuck in the throat: we don’t know how to treat it in terms of the cinema. […] The rapport that can exist between the cinema and the art of a [Piet] Mondrian, of a [Jackson] Pollock or even of a [Henri] Matisse is not at all evident. How can the idea of abstraction be conveyed in the cinema?

– Hubert Damisch (6)

A well-known chapter in the history of New Wave filmmaking recounts how François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard became filmmakers by first apprenticing as writers. Writing, they said, was already a way of making films. For some time, however, it has become equally apparent that Godard – while honing his writerly skills in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma and Arts – was also busy developing another rhetorical position: that of the filmmaker as painter. Early on, before turning to the cinema, Godard in fact wanted to be a painter. (7) Shortly after the release of his first feature (À Bout de souffle) in 1960, Godard unequivocally stated his new position: “I work like a painter.” (8) His eight-part opus Histoire(s) du cinéma (1997-8) confirms his ongoing engagement with painting. In chapter 3A (“la monnaie de l’absolu”), Godard declares that the cinema began with Edouard Manet.

André Bazin, an important mentor for the Cahiers critics, also considered the filiation between painting and cinema in his first major essay, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” (1945). But Bazin’s brief history of art serves only as a prelude to the cinema; painting for him is the Old Testament to the New Testament of the cinema. The cinema, he pronounces, redeems the older art of painting. (9) Not surprisingly, Bazin rarely returned to the topic of painting. (10)

In contrast, Godard has continually emphasized a rapport between the history of cinema with the history of painting. Lately, however, this filmmaker has made repeated references to the Resurrection, suggesting, it seems, a return to a distinctly Bazinian language. (11) But while Bazin’s rhetoric was essentially teleological, Godard’s is rather comparative: thus the movie screen is like a painter’s canvas is like Mallarmé’s blank page is like Vernonica’s veil. (12) Still, if a comparative method of working suggests a democracy among the arts (ars gratia artis), Godard seems to reserve pride of place for painting in his fraternity of the arts.

Early on in his career, Godard rejected the idea of filming from a written script. In Scénario du film ‘Passion’ (1982), he explains his inversion of word and image, as he speaks of the need of seeing before writing a script: “I think that seeing the world precedes describing it.” (13) If words are important, he tells us, pictures are even more so.

But what kind of pictures? Certainly not the kind of static, artfully composed images of the cinéma de papa. (14) A review of his criticism, films and videos reveals an encyclopædia of references to painters and painting. Painters and painting are evoked in his dialogue, in reproductions seen on walls, in insert shots of reproductions, in plans tableaux (shots recalling specific paintings) as well as tableaux vivants, and even occasionally in the naming of his characters. With this pictorial arsenal, Godard, as Jacques Aumont has observed, “lays claim more and more openly to the capital of bourgeois culture of which he is the heir” (15). These pictorial citations, tantamount to an internal History of Art, reveal the predominantly Western (as well as male) bias of his work. Thus, while standard art history textbooks have been admitting female and non-white artists, Godard’s History of Art seems decisively retardataire, ending more or less with the work of the aristocratic, Russian-born, French artist, Nicolas de Staël (1914-55). (16) In JLG JLG: autoportrait de décembre (1995), the camera pans across a line-up of reproductions comprising many greats from the canon of Western art history (Manet, Rubens, Courbet, Boucher, Schiele, Rembrandt, Velasquez, van Dongen), ending significantly with de Staël’s Portrait of Anne.

There are, it is true, pictorial references to other artists slightly younger than de Staël in Godard’s œuvre. In Pierrot le fou (1965), for instance, we find reproductions of two paintings by Georges Mathieu (b. 1921) in the apartment of Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina) (17), and Godard’s segment of Paris vu par … (1965), “Montparnasse-Levallois”, highlights Philippe Hiquily (b. 1925), an action sculptor in Montparnasse. In a 1966 interview with Alain Jouffroy in L’Oeil, Godard makes a laudatory reference to the French Pop artist, Martial Raysse. (18) Une Femme mariée: suite de fragments d’un film tourné en 1964 (1964) and 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (1967) both display torn billboards, suggesting the contemporary artistic practices of Raymond Hains and Jacques de Villeglé. One could argue as well that the contemporary works of César inspire the car crashes in Pierrot le fou and especially in Week End (1967). (19) Likewise, those boxes of industrial products assembled in a landscape at the end of 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle echo Andy Warhol’s similar use of consumer culture. Nevertheless, the majority of his references remain firmly anchored in the past, terminating – it would seem – with de Staël’s dramatic death in 1955. In a 1997 interview, Pierre Assouline asked Godard to identify artists with whom he felt a similar destiny. Significantly, Godard responded: “Novalis, Nicolas de Staël … those who died young and tragically” (20). Godard’s identification with de Staël thus would seem not only a result of the painter’s example of constant renewal and commitment to art of the past, but also a result of a similarly tragic worldview.

In a 1999 interview, Godard defends himself against critics who claim his knowledge of art ends prematurely with Pablo Picasso. (21) Here the filmmaker makes no mention of de Staël. Less a repudiation of de Staël, his statement reveals more his difficulty in giving credit to any artist too proximate to him in history. (22) Arguably, Godard has simply collapsed and telescoped the history of abstract painting to Picasso tout court, thus strategically aligning himself with the most famous artist of the 20th century. Ultimately, it seems clear that Godard’s life’s work with its various periods is closer to that of Picasso than to de Staël. De Staël’s work also exhibits different periods, but his mature body of work, lasting only twelve or thirteen years and producing about one thousand paintings, has more in common with the frenzied and contained output of Vincent Van Gogh (active between 1880-90) than with the longevity of either Picasso or Godard. (23)

But if Picasso turns out to be the ultimate pictorial model for Godard, de Staël remains important. (24) This essay culls references to de Staël in the Godard œuvre, and in so doing questions just what might be at stake in the filmmaker’s identification with this particular artist. Such traces constitute an important reference for this filmmaker with painterly ambitions. Art historian Hubert Damisch has claimed that in its pictorial citations the cinema confines itself to narrative painting. Godard’s cinema proves an exception to this rule and one of the briefs of this essay is to demonstrate how Godard’s engagement with abstract painting – specifically with de Staël – has transformed his cinema.

In addition to mining specific citations to de Staël in Godard’s work, the following study will involve as well a consideration of Parisian geography and a discursive consideration of French painting culture in the 20th century, all in an attempt to better understand the relation between Godard and painting, and between Godard and the other New Wave filmmakers. For an interest in painting can also be detected in other members of the New Wave: Rivette, Rohmer and Chabrol, and (expanding the definition of the New Wave) Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda. But Godard is the only New Wave filmmaker whose œuvre reveals at all levels a profound and continued engagement with painting. (25) On a trip in 1950-1 to Incachaca, the young Godard visited a friend of his family’s. Feeling both bereft of Parisian culture and at a loss before the South American wilderness, Godard talked about Impressionist painting with his host. (26) At age twenty, his interest in painting was already firmly in place. (27)

Nicolas de Staël in his studio, rue Gauguet, 1951. Photo © Serge Vandercam.

Living in Paris in the late 1940s and intermittently in the 1950s, Godard would have had a chance to take note of de Staël, who was, despite the meteoric brevity of his career, the first abstract painter after World War 2 to achieve international recognition. (28) Writing in 1956, Douglas Cooper claimed de Staël to be “the truest, the most considerable and the most innately gifted painter who has appeared on the scene in Europe or elsewhere during the last twenty-five years” (29). Godard may have viewed de Staël’s posthumous retrospective at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in 1956. (30) In the immediate post-war period, the painter exhibited his work at the dealer Louis Carré, located at 10 Avenue de Messine in the 8th arrondissement, just across the street from the Cinémathèque Française. (31) After the war, Godard, who had spent the Occupation in Switzerland with his family, moved back to Paris. Perhaps the young Godard, on his way to a screening at the Cinémathèque, sighted the painter striding down the Avenue de Messine. (32)

During this period, Godard studied at the Lycée Buffon on the Boulevard Pasteur in the 15th arrondissement. By curious coincidence, the backside of the Lycée Buffon is located on the rue de Staël (33), the latter named not after the painter, but after the author Madame de Staël (1766-1817). The painter himself referred to his famed ancestor as “our” Madame de Staël. (34) In 2B of the Histoire(s) du cinema, Godard’s montage suggests a relation between the painter and the writer. The sequence in question begins with a shot of Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) from Allemagne 90 neuf zéro (1991). On the soundtrack, we hear Lemmy recite lines from Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, suggesting a nostalgia for homeland. The subsequent image (a close-up of Nicolas de Staël facing the spectator) rapidly alternated with a pastiche of one of his paintings reminds us that the artist was left homeless by the tumultuous events of the Russian Revolution. Arguably, de Staël’s all or nothing embrace of painting functioned as a substitute for his lost homeland. Shortly thereafter, Godard closes this parenthesis by quoting Madame de Staël, a friend of the German Romantics and of Schelling in particular. (35)

De Staël’s extant œuvre begins during the Occupation, when he first declared his allegiance to abstract painting. In 1944, he débuted in the Paris art world by exhibiting at the renowned avant-garde gallery of Jeanne Bucher in Montparnasse. It was a group show and his ambitions were revealed by association. The prestige of the two other older painters (César Domela and Wassily Kandinsky) immediately asserted de Staël’s importance as a rising young abstract painter. His status as an abstract artist was confirmed a few months later in another group show at the Galerie de l’Esquisse, featuring the same three artists with the addition of Alberto Magnelli. It is worth emphasizing that, at that time, abstract art was still not widely accepted. The reasons for this lack of acceptance would seem to be twofold. Under the Nazis, abstract art was regarded as “degenerate” and abstract artists as advocates of a “judeo-marxism”. To have chosen abstraction during the Occupation was in itself an act of Resistance against the German invaders. (36) But the problems of abstraction ran much deeper in France than simply the disapproval of the Nazis. Amazingly, the initial advances in abstraction in the first part of the 20th century had still not been widely accepted by the French bourgeoisie. During World War I, abstract art was regarded as linked to German intellectual and political ideas, and was therefore suspicious; it was called “art boche” (37). Amadeo Modigliani’s death in 1920, followed by the sale at auction of the estate of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler the following year, was succeeded by a rejection of abstract art in France in the 1920s and 1930s. (38)

Twenty-five years later, the connotations of abstract art had shifted, but the suspicions continued. Jean-Pierre Jouffroy summarizes the acute difficulties of being an abstract artist in the mid-1940s. De Staël, he notes

passed for an abstract painter at a moment when this movement in painting was still regarded as rubbish. Thirty-five years had passed since 1910 and the first appearance of abstract art. There was Kandinsky, Mondrian, [Robert] Delaunay, [Alberto] Magnelli. But the abstract painters or those whose were designated as such were taken between two fires. On the one hand, the French bourgeoisie, persistently Malthusien and behind the times, was still busy mulling over its mistakes in judgement from the previous century. It was not going back to scorning the Impressionists, and the sons speculated on the painting derided by their fathers. But such a delay in History does not catch up with a flick of the wrist. […]

The French bourgeoisie had understood nothing of Cubism. The triumph of this movement, for which the dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler claimed the victory, was in fact only a triumph with the painters and some of their friends, an avant-garde of collectors. It wasn’t a general phenomenon, not even thirty years later in the class of society with social pretensions. Far from being really assimilated, Cubism was regarded as an aberration and this disdainful interpretation still permitted for a little longer to put aside the artists and to render their pictorial thought ineffective in the larger circle where it would have been useful, where it was needed.

As for the abstract, the best that one was able to do for it was reduce it to an aspect of the vague “Art Deco”. Method (the worst) of getting rid of it. In France in 1945 we were not very advanced in these matters. (39)

Thus, the initial advances in abstraction were almost completely misplaced in the retrenchment that followed in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. (40) In the late 1930s, de Staël briefly visited the atelier of Fernand Léger. This painter whose early years were associated with Cubism was twenty years later counselling his students not to abandon nature. (41) Léger’s warning against abstraction never directly stated – but clearly understood – epitomized the general tenor of the day.

During the Occupation and in the immediate post-war period, de Staël was fully committed to abstraction. In the early 1950s, when abstraction had itself become the new doxa, he seems to have had some doubts. According to legend, his faith in abstraction was shaken by the sight of soccer players during a night match at the Parc de Princes in 1952. If the intense debate over abstraction versus figuration had deep political implications in de Staël’s day, it was not an issue that Godard would seem, on first glance, to have had a direct stake in. At about the same time, though, that de Staël was allowing the figure back into his work, Godard renounced Bazin’s idea of the long-take (representation) in favour of montage (abstraction). (42) In the development of Godard’s theoretical ideas, his 1956 article, “Montage my Fine Care”, is invariably cited as a benchmark in his break with Bazin’s ideas on the long-take. (43) But Godard’s rejection of Bazin’s categoric privileging of the long-take had come four years earlier in his 1952 article, “Defence and Illustration of Classical Construction”. (44) Richard Roud favours the later article as the more lucid of the two. (45) In fact, the 1952 essay (twice as long as its 1956 successor) clearly already expresses Godard’s position: an active interest in past art while moving forward into the future: “with new thoughts let us make new verses” (46). Godard’s dismissal of writers who “wrap themselves in philosophy” seems a direct attack on Bazin’s Personalist-inspired criticism. (47) Before going on to claim the ongoing importance of classical construction in film, Godard first points out the classicism of Renoir’s early films, notable for their use of the long-take. The style of these films, he notes, is analogous not to Impressionist painting (i.e., Modern painting) but to Jacques-Louis David and Nicolas Poussin (i.e., Neoclassical painting). For Godard, like de Staël, the past consists not of breaks but of continuities:

Nothing could be more wrong than to talk of classical construction as a language which had reached its peak of perfection before the Second World War with [Ernst] Lubitsch in America and Marcel Carné in France, and which would therefore be tantamount to an autonomous thought-process, applicable with equal success to any subject whatsoever. What I admire in [Abel] Gance, [Friedrich Wilhelm] Murnau, [Carl Theodor] Dreyer or [Sergei] Eisenstein is the gift these artists possess for seizing in reality what the cinema was best suited to glorify. Classical construction has long existed, and it would be insulting to Lubitsch to suggest that he was anxious to break with the theories of his elders. (48)

In the battle of the Ancients and the Moderns, this paragraph makes clear that Godard early on realized he was a Modern who would move forward by being armed with the Ancients. Godard’s position is one with which de Staël was in full accord. De Staël enthusiastically exhibited his work in Paris from 1950 until his death with the dealer Jacques Dubourg, a noted gallerist for Impressionist painting, because in so doing he was further distancing himself from his immediate contemporaries and more clearly situating himself in art history. Similarly, in a frequently quoted letter, de Staël wrote to the curator Bernard Dorival in 1950, thanking him for removing him from the company of his peers.

Godard makes as well another bold move in the foregoing citation. His list of admired filmmakers – Gance, Murnau, Dreyer and Eisenstein – neatly combines (and therefore collapses) Bazin’s opposing camps: filmmakers who believe in reality (Gance and Murnau) versus filmmakers who believe in the image (Dreyer and Eisenstein). Godard consolidates this adroit move in the opening sentence of the subsequent paragraph: “I would like to contend with those who seek to lay down absolute rules.” Godard’s ultimate point – as much as de Staël’s – is that the enemy is not one style or another but rather the outlawing of one style in favour of another. Godard’s customary spirit of contradiction recalls de Staël’s similar rhetorical position of about the same time: “A painting must be both abstract and figurative. Abstract as a wall, figurative as a representation of space.” (49)

Pierrot le fou

Godard’s ideas on montage, first introduced in 1952 and developed in 1956, would seem to be not simply a rebuttal of Bazinian realism but more importantly a veritable reclamation of the vision of abstract art. Like de Staël, Godard has consistently negotiated between abstraction and representation. At one point, de Staël declared to his American dealer: “My way of depicting space is completely new.” The same could be said of Godard as well. The filmmaker himself explains his predilection for jumps and discontinuities: “If I proceed by ruptures, jumps, short-circuits, it’s because we are the children of quantum mechanics. […] We are both waves and particles. We jump and we no longer know where we are.” (50) Godard’s insouciance towards standard film language allowed him to excise randomly shots from À Bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960). In Pierrot le fou, the abstracting/excising is itself made visible when Marianne Renoir, framed between two portraits of Jacqueline by Picasso, faces the spectator and snips away with her scissors. More recently in Hélas pour moi (1993), Godard’s abstractions takes on a new visual shape in shots cropped at odd angles or figures in the frame not facing each other, but rather each facing screen off. If Godard’s abstractions occasionally render difficult apprehension of the narrative, they nevertheless – like de Staël’s – remain rooted in visible reality.

Godard develops his pictorial discourse not only in his theoretical articles such as the two just considered, but also in his reviews of individual films. In the May 1958 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma, he published a review of Jacques Becker’s Les Amants de Montparnasse (Montparnasse 19) (1958). (51) Generally considered a failure, the film was useful to Godard because it told the life of the famous Montparnasse artist, Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). Entitling his review “Leap into the Void”, the young critic mysteriously closes his article thus:

Montparnasse 19 is a film of fear. In this sense, it might be subtitled “the mystery of the film-maker”. For in unwittingly investing Modigliani’s unbalanced mind with his own perturbation, Jacques Becker – clumsily, admittedly, but infinitely movingly – allows us to penetrate the secret of artistic creation more effectively than [Henri-Georges] Clouzot did by filming Picasso at work [Le Mystère Picasso, 1956]. After all, if a modern novel is fear of the blank page, a modern painting fear of the empty canvas, and modern sculpture fear of the stone, a modern film has the right to be fear of the camera, fear of the actors, fear of the dialogue, fear of the montage. I would give the whole of post-war French cinema for that one shot, badly acted, badly composed, but sublime, in which Modigliani [Gérard Philipe] asks five francs for his drawings on the terrace of the Coupole.

Then, but only then, everything pleases in this displeasing film. Everything rings true in this totally false film. Everything is illuminated in this obscure film. For he who leaps into the void owes no explanation to those who watch. (52)

The exaggerated repetition of the word “fear” – eight times in one paragraph – seems to index Godard’s own escalating anxiety as his Cahiers colleagues began not only to exchange their pens for cameras but also to graduate from doing shorts to feature films. (53)

In the spring of 1959, Chabrol released his first two films, and Truffaut emerged triumphant at Cannes. During the shoot for À Bout de souffle in August and September of that year, fear seems to have been still on Godard’s mind. The day before filming began, he sat down to write his producer a letter:

Dear George de Beauregard,

It’s Monday, almost daybreak. The poker game is about to begin. I hope that it will bring a bit of money. […] I would like to thank you again for your confidence in me. I apologize in advance if by chance I am in a bad temper in the coming month. I hope that our film will be of a beautiful simplicity or of a simple beauty. I am very afraid. I am very nervous. Everything is fine. I am writing to you as I would to my parents, and I pass on to you as the first bet for the game that’s about to begin a motto of Guillaume Apollinaire: Tout terriblement.

J.-L. G. (54)

While the repetition of the word “fear” in his review of the Becker film suggests Godard’s state of mind, his title, ”Leap into the Void,” suggests his own desire for creating a tabula rasa, recalling an aphorism by de Staël: “Explore the void as far as its limits.” The title of Godard’s review seems a likely covert reference to the suicide of the painter who jumped to his death from his apartment building in Antibes on 16 March 1955. For de Staël, “Pictorial space is a wall, but all the birds of the world fly there freely.” (55) In JLG JLG, Godard states: “The white page is the true mirror of man.” (56) In his acceptance speech for the 1995 Adorno prize, Godard suggests his advantage over de Staël has to do with the youth of cinema:

Writing after [Arthur] Rimbaud and Mallarmé meant terror. The white page was the enemy. Why continue writing after [James] Joyce and [Rainer Maria Rilke’s] The Elegies of Duino? In contrast, when the lights went down on the white screen of the cinema, we felt the exact opposite of what drove Nicolas de Staël to suicide. (57)

In Scénario du film ‘Passion’, Godard similarly references the equation of the screen/canvas. If the artist’s suicide may have been a failed attempt at one more dramatic breakthrough, Godard suggests in Scénario du film ‘Passion’ that he can better de Staël: “The screen, it’s a wall, a wall one can jump over.” (58)

When de Staël committed suicide, Godard was probably not in France. (59) Despite the intervening three years, the memory of de Staël’s jump may have been fresh in Godard’s mind because of the activities of the artist Yves Klein, in particular his exhibition entitled “The Void”, which opened at the Iris Clert Gallery on 28 April 1958. In an interview Claude Chabrol acknowledged that Godard knew Yves Klein, although he could not remember when they first met. Possibly, Godard himself attended Klein’s opening and its after-hours private dinner at La Coupole. (60)

In the 1950s, France was beset by various New Waves as part of a general youth movement. Born in 1928, Yves Klein belonged to the Nouveaux Réalistes, a group of emerging young French artists. Like the New Wave filmmakers, Klein had a knack for self-promotion and it seems likely that Godard would have been keeping an intent eye on his various activities. In exhibiting “The Void”, Klein took up the challenge left by the suicide of de Staël. The younger artist deftly moves beyond the limits of easel painting to embrace conceptual art, a move perhaps prefigured by de Staël’s dramatic leap. In his exhibit, Klein echoes de Staël’s final gesture by putting on display “the void” itself. Klein’s scandalous exhibit displayed a completely empty gallery. The irony of the occasion was highlighted by invitations proposing an entrance fee. (61)

In his various performances, Klein himself was probably quoting de Staël. Personal connections existed between the two artists. In the 1940s, de Staël had been a close friend of Yves Klein’s parents, both artists. In fact, Fred Klein and Marie Raymond introduced de Staël to the painter Magnelli, who proved to be a decisive influence in de Staël’s move towards abstraction. (62) According to de Staël’s biographer, Yves Klein was a childhood playmate of de Staël’s stepson, Antoine Tudal. Godard, probably unaware of the personal connection between de Staël and Klein, nevertheless neatly suggests the link between the two artists in his History of Art: Klein represents the shift to more conceptually oriented art following de Staël’s impasse. The triple reference to painters in Godard’s review of the Becker film demonstrates avant la lettre his idiosyncratic way of doing history: Modigliani, de Staël and Klein represent a particular trajectory of modern painting.

In his introduction to the English-language edition of Godard on Godard, Richard Roud notes that it would be nice to observe of Godard’s early film criticism that he

was the most significant critic of his generation, and that he was bound to go on to become its most important director. Alas, no: one couldn’t see then where his theorizing was leading or even, in fact if it was leading anywhere at all. For those first pieces were by and large so confused and badly organized that the very act of translating them is a task of monstrous dimensions. (63)

More than likely, Roud took the references to the void in the same review as signalling Godard’s confusion. Roud’s conclusion (underscored by the translator’s decision not to translate the article’s title, “Leap into the Void”) seems plausible if one doesn’t have clear both Godard’s own escalating anxiety as well as the dual reference to both de Staël’s suicide in 1955 and to Yves Klein’s caper in April 1958. Godard’s title, with its covert reference to de Staël, was possibly prompted by Klein’s high-publicity performance. (64) Curiously, the leaps and jumps associated with Godard’s review of the Becker film do not stop with de Staël and Klein.

Godard himself identifies with artists who have died young and tragically. Two persons who knew Godard in the 1950s commented on his obsession with suicide. According to Charles Bitsch, he regularly carried a razor blade in his wallet. (65) Suicide by defenestration was possibly associated in Godard’s mind with artists. In Max Ophüls’ Le Plaisir (1952), a film greatly esteemed by Godard (66), the last tale concerns a painter and his model. Fearing the artist’s abandonment of her, the model attempts suicide by jumping from the window of his atelier. (67)

Montparnasse 19 was originally to have been directed by Max Ophüls with a script by Henri Jeanson. Becoming ill, Ophüls turned the project over to Jacques Becker. Dissatisfied with Jeanson’s script, Becker re-wrote the scenario. The dispute between the director and the screenwriter was documented in the pages of Arts, and was well-known by Godard. (68) This exchange reveals that one of the scenes cut by Becker was the death of Jeanne Hébuterne (Anouk Aimée), Modigliani’s companion, who committed suicide by defenestration, following the death of the painter. Becker maintained that he cut the scene because the film was principally about the Modigliani, not Jeanne Hébuterne, and that therefore the film must end with his death. Becker’s decision takes on added significance when we realize that Antoine Tudal, the stepson of Nicolas de Staël, played a small role in the Becker film. (69) Certainly Tudal’s presence in Montparnasse 19 suggests Becker’s awareness of de Staël’s suicide. Becker himself had no qualms about representing defenestration, since one of his earliest films, Falbalas (1945), ends with just such a scene. Again, the very title of Godard’s review of Montparnasse 19, “leap into the void,” suggests Godard’s own awareness of these various leaps and jumps. The coherence of Godardian logic posits and demands such an encrustation of meaning.

The oblique reference to de Staël in his review of the Becker film leads to Godard’s perhaps unconscious reference to the painter in À Bout de souffle, where a Staëlian canvas is several times displayed in the apartment where Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg) hide out. Outside the Café Select on the Boulevard de Montparnasse, the two lovers consult with Antonio Berruti (Henri-Jacques Huet) on where to go. Patricia suggests that they take cover in Montmartre where she has a friend. Michel and his Italian pal tell her that Montmartre is no good, and they decide that the hideout will be the apartment of the Swedish girlfriend of Cal Zombach (Roger Hanin) on the rue Campagne-Première, just around the block. This exchange, seemingly a Godardian throwaway, neatly and succinctly evokes the shift of importance for artists from Montmartre in the late 19th and early-20th centuries to Montparnasse, when in 1912 Picasso moved his studio to the latter location. (70) Michel’s choice of hideout is itself not accidental, confirming as it does his own artistic ambitions and his awareness of Parisian geography.

Michel Poiccard’s choice of the rue Campagne-Première links him generally with the Parisian avant-garde culture between the wars. Called the rue Campagne-Première by a general who had participated in Napoléon’s campaigns (71), this street was densely populated in the first half of the 20th century by numerous artists and poets, including Man Ray and his model Kiki, Marcel Duchamp, Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet, and Vladimir Maïakovski. Several scenes in the Becker film, for instance, were shot at one of Modigliani’s favourite haunts, the restaurant Chez Rosalie at 3 rue Campagne-Première. Although under different management, the restaurant still existed in the late 1950s. (72) Curiously, the apartment of the Swedish model at 11 rue Campagne-Première is located next door to the maid’s room at 13bis rue Campagne-Première that de Staël briefly occupied between June and October of 1945. (73)

Although Godard is unlikely to have known that de Staël briefly lived on this street, he certainly did know that this particular street was especially rich in accumulated memories of Parisian artistic life. On the street, there are several buildings devoted to artists’ ateliers. (74) He most likely knew, for instance, that the painter Yves Klein had his studio at 9 rue Campagne-Première. According to Pierre Rissient, the assistant director on À Bout de souffle, Godard specifically chose the location of the studio in the rue Campagne-Première. The archives of the film’s producer reveal invoices for several reproductions that are seen in Patricia’s hotel room, but none for the numerous paintings that are seen in the atelier where Patricia and Michel hide out. (75) In an interview, Rissient revealed Godard did not spend much time fussing with the décor, and it seems likely that he used this particular apartment precisely because it was an artist’s atelier. (76) Charles Bitsch, Godard’s most frequent assistant director in the 1960s, observed Godard’s talent for using what was at hand. (77)

À Bout de souffle

We first see the painting in a high-angle shot of the interior, when the two lovers are greeted at the door of 9 rue Campagne Première by the Swedish model. The canvas recalls de Staël’s monochromatic grill paintings from the mid-1940s. The next morning, before going willingly to meet his death in the rue Campagne-Première, Michel looks at this abstract painting on a pillar in the apartment. The painting evokes the chromatic sobriety and the abstract density of early de Staël as opposed to the chromatic jubilation and formal simplification of his later work. In this early abstract period begun during the Occupation, de Staël depicted black bars traversing the canvas, an obvious image of imprisonment. (78) Specifically relevant in this context is de Staël’s painting, The Hard Life (1946). The titles of many of de Staël’s painting during this period – Door without a Door, Barrier, Difficult Path, Resentment, Cold Image – evoke the intense difficulties and privations of the painter’s life during and immediately following the war. In this context, it is useful to know that de Staël’s first companion, the painter Jeannine Guillou, died in February 1946 from complications arising from progressive malnutrition. For Pierre Courthion, The Hard Life reveals the artist struggling with “an accumulation of difficulties” (79).

Godard probably did not specifically choose a Staëlian canvas echoing one of de Staël’s monochromatic grill paintings from the Occupation. But if Godard’s use of this painting was by chance, its incorporation intimates both the despair of de Staël’s life during the Occupation and Godard’s own precarious state of mind during the shoot of his first feature. Thus, the exchange of identification between painting and protagonist seals both the inexorability of Michel Poiccard’s own death drive, and coincides as well with the filmmaker’s own “leap into the void.” Several years later, the importance of this metaphor had become apparent to at least one member of Godard’s crew. In 1965, Suzanne Schiffmann, the continuity person on numerous Godard films in the 1960s, observed: “The first three minutes of a film are always the worst for Godard. Every time, it’s a leap into the void. And then, it’s done, he’s jumped.” (80)

Seven months later, Godard was shooting Le Petit soldat (1963), also in black and white, and this time shot in Geneva not Paris. Opening in the shadow of Bruno’s assassination of an art historian, the film confines its pictorial citations to Paul Klee (seen in a postcard), and Velazquez and Claude Renoir (mentioned in Bruno’s interior monologue). Here de Staël enters the narrative indirectly through his famed ancestor. Passing by the former estate of Madame de Staël, Bruno wonders aloud how to pronounce her name. Seemingly insignificant, this comment nevertheless serves as a reminder that those who enter history do so with a name. De Staël’s entry into history was already prepared by a Frenchwoman named Germaine Necker, the daughter of a celebrated Geneva banker, and who in marriage to a Baltic baron became Madame de Staël. There is as well the sense that the exoticism of his name, with its unusual trema differentiating its internal vowels and its preceding partitive indicating nobility, may have eased his own entry into history. Godard’s memory of Madame de Staël’s home in Geneva and his memory, too, of the rue de Staël on the back side of the Lycée Buffon would have registered with his first viewings of the artist’s paintings. In July 1967, the filmmaker made his own entry by marriage into nobility. Godard’s second wife, Anne Wiazemsky, is the granddaughter of the French academician, François Mauriac, and niece of the critic Claude Mauriac. She is also the daughter of a Russian prince. (81)

In Bande à part (1964), another black and white film, the reference to de Staël is topical. In the scene of the English lesson, the teacher (Danièle Girard) writes on the blackboard a significant topic: “classic = modern”. Turning to Odile (Anna Karina), the teacher prompts her with a meta-textual directive: “The director is partial to modern methods, and in the words of the great poet Eliot … Odile?” With hesitation Odile offers the following rejoinder: “All that is new is thereby automatically traditional.” Odile’s comment echoes Guy Dumur’s twin description of de Staël as “the last great modern painter. The last grand classic of modernity.” (82)

The importance of Odile’s observation in Bande à part is subsequently confirmed in the scene where Franz (Sami Frey), Arthur (Claude Brasseur) and Odile race through the Louvre. Extraneous to the principal narrative of the heist, this scene evidences Godard’s ambitions. He is a modern master who wants entry into the classical world of established museum culture. Repeatedly, Godard has identified his early beginnings in museum culture. (83) During the Occupation when his life was marked by extreme hardship, de Staël prophesied: “One day, I will be in the Louvre.” (84) When one critic sought to pigeonhole him as an abstract painter, de Staël quoted Eugène Delacroix and anticipated Godard: “Me, Monsieur? I am a pure Classic!” (85) Likewise, André Labarthe reports that if one spoke to Godard of the modern, he would counter with the classic, and vice-versa. (86)

Up to now, Godard’s citations of de Staël might well seem both oblique and ambiguous, but with his colour films of the 1960s his pictorial debt to de Staël is most visually evident. With Une Femme est une femme (1961), Godard first tackled colour. Significantly, he openly declared (“I work like a painter”) when he was in pre-production for this film, which clearly directly displays his chromatic concerns. (87) This film inaugurates Godard’s cinematographic research into the trilogy of red-white-blue, an interest manifest in all of his films of the 1960s and more recently in the Histoire(s) du cinéma. (88) With their emphasis on red, white, and blue, Une Femme est une Femme, Le Mépris (1963), Pierrot le fou, 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, and Made in U.S.A (1966) recall the principal colours in de Staël’s palette between 1952 and 1955. (By Made in U.S.A, Godard was even making jokes about his chromatic preferences. In the film, Paula Nelson (Anna Karina) asks Edgar Typhus (Ernest Menzer) if she should wear a pair of white or blue pumps with her dress. He responds blue, and in the next moment she attacks him with the shoe; the blue shoe produces a red gash on the side of his face). (89) In emphasizing red-white-blue, Godard echoes not his immediate contemporaries (as in the acid, pop colour combinations of Martial Raysse) but de Staël’s colour concerns from ten years earlier. (90)

Pierrot le fou makes most visible Godard’s debt to de Staël. Here the painter is both named in the narrative and imitated visually on the image track. On the run from the police, Ferdinand and Marianne notice that people stare at them suspiciously. In order to put them at their ease, Ferdinand suggests that he and Marianne tell them “stories. The right words might move them.” When Marianne asks him what kind of stories, Ferdinand replies: “The fall of Constantinople, or the story of Nicolas de Staël and his suicide or the one about William Wilson.” In a Cahiers interview appearing after the release of Pierrot le fou, Godard’s interlocutor observes a “sort of optimism in the cinema. One feels that if Nicolas de Staël had been a film-maker, he might not have killed himself.” Godard agrees with this observation, adding that:

The cinema is optimistic because everything is always possible, nothing is ever prohibited: all you need is to be in touch with life. And life itself must be optimistic, otherwise everyone in the world would promptly commit suicide. (91)

These comments in turn give fresh insight into Michel Poiccard’s death drive in À Bout de souffle. His passing comments on æsthetics (“I have a feeling for beauty”, he tells Patricia) suggest that he is really an artist manqué. These comments suggest, too, why Godard included de Staël’s photograph in segment 2B, entitled “Fatal Beauty”, of his Histoire(s) du cinéma. This segment is mostly reserved for beautiful women, because as Godard has observed the history of beauty in films and painting is linked to women. (92) De Staël’s inclusion in this segment pays homage to him not only as a maker of beauty but also like the actresses of cinema, as an object of beauty. De Staël’s fate was thus doubly fatal: fatal because of his beauty and fatal, too, because of his métier. (93) In JLG JLG, Godard offers a painterly equivalent of this section in 2B of the Histoire(s) du cinéma in his suite of postcards, all images of women by famous painters. Significantly, Godard ends the series with de Staël’s Portrait of Anne.

Even the geographic trajectory of Pierrot le fou moving from Paris to the south of France echoes de Staël’s own move from Paris to Provence in 1953, and then in 1954 to Antibes. Henri Matisse, another painter who spent much time in the south of France, describes the importance of the Mediterranean for painters: “The abundance and silver clarity of the light in Nice [… ] seemed to me unique and indispensable to the spirit of a plastic artist, above all if he is a painter.” (94)

If de Staël’s presence is manifest both by the mention of his name and by the locale of the film, it is in the film’s images that that presence is most clearly perceived. Here Godard leaves behind the sober intertwinings of de Staël’s paintings from the mid-1940s, choosing instead to echo de Staël from 1952-55.

Pierrot le fou

In the film, blue dominates, but it is clear that there is a Manichæan struggle between red and blue, signalled in the film’s opening (predominantly red) and closing credits (blue). This chromatic contrast dominates the film’s palette as in for instance the shot of Marianne Renoir in a pale blue bathrobe carrying a bright red pot, or in the shot of Marianne and Pierrot side by side in blue and red sports cars. Working on his illustrations for some of René Char’s poems in 1954, de Staël described his own chromatic concerns to the poet: “For your poems, I will make a large book, and it will be in blue, white, red, because for two years I have had these colours in my head.” (95) Red and blue did not co-exist harmoniously in de Staël, but rather enacted what one critic has called a “mortal duel” (96), like the contentious relation between painting and poetry in the “Ut pictura posesis” paradigm.

In the final scenes of Pierrot le fou, the visual link to de Staël becomes explicit. The make-up artist Jackie Reynal recalls:

Pierrot le fou

For Pierrot le fou Godard decided to shoot in Porquerolles [in the south of France] because of its light, of its whiteness. There, the whites, the blues, the reds are more intense. That’s where the idea of Belmondo painting his face in blue came from – obviously not an idea of a make-up artist! (97)

Lavandou Landscape, 1952, oil on canvas. Courtesy Galerie Daniel Malingue.
Reclining Nude, 1955, oil on canvas. Private Collection, Paris

Pascal Bonitzer has written of plans tableaux (filmic shots recalling specific paintings), and Jacques Aumont has written evocatively of the “migration and transfer of images” (98). By the film’s end, Ferdinand, his middle-class life destroyed by his terrorist girlfriend, has metamorphosed into a kind of living de Staël, a tableau vivant as well as an abstraction of de Staël’s life and death. Dressed in a red shirt, Ferdinand prepares himself for his own dramatic suicide by painting his face a cerulean blue, clearly evoking such Staëlian landscapes as Paysage du Lavandou (1952), painted in the south of France. This colour scheme recalls as well one of de Staël’s final paintings, Nu couché (1955), where a blue nude is situated between a red and white background. In his article “Ecrire et peindre: le god-art et le pop-art”, René Prédal reads Ferdinand/Pierrot’s suicide as a double reference to both Yves Klein and de Staël. (99) According to Prédal, Klein died just before the film, thus explaining, he suggests, the reference to Klein. In fact, Klein died in 1962, three years before the shoot of Pierrot le fou. Klein is certainly an important inter-textual reference for Godard, as the author’s reading of Godard’s review of Montparnasse 19 indicates. But Klein’s presence in both instances seems triggered by a certain topicality rather than by an ongoing concern of Godard’s. Despite Klein’s early death at the age of thirty-four, Godard does not identify him as a tragic artist. (100)

Interestingly, as with his use of the painting in the studio of the rue Campagne-Première in À Bout de souffle, Godard’s direction of this scene was at least partly the result of chance. According to Pierre Guffroy, originally engaged as the art director on Pierrot le fou, Godard initially wanted to blow up the house at the end of the film. When Guffroy informed him that there wasn’t sufficient money to do that, Godard settled for blowing up Ferdinand, with two strips of dynamite. (101) Godard’s approach in this regard seems intuitively parallel to that of de Staël, who believed in “chance”. De Staël’s painting testifies to his openness to events in the world around him: his first experiments with “taches” or blocks of colour seem to have been encouraged by his viewing of an exhibition of Byzantine mosaics in Paris in 1951. Likewise, his return to a more openly figurative style of painting was prompted by his viewing of a soccer match at the Parc des Princes in 1952. (102)

Even the coda of Pierrot le fou seems to echo de Staël. In a voice-off, Marianne and Ferdinand offer a Rimbauldian definition of eternity: “Eternity is the sea gone with the sun.” On the image track, we see a shot of the sun shining down on the Mediterranean. In fact, this shot unites the isolated insert shots of sea and sky, punctuating the narrative of Pierrot le fou. (103) They recall as well de Staël’s final paintings (1954-55), “progressively invaded by the blue of the sea and the sky of Antibes, strangely metamorphosed” (104).

In 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, red, white, and blue again dominate the colour scheme. These principal colours are introduced in the opening credits, and repeated throughout the film. The blues and reds in this film are of an extraordinary brilliance, as in the close-up of Juliette (Marina Vlady) in bed. Wearing a deep blue sweater, she is nestled between a crimson blanket and white sheet. Her auburn hair forms a contrast with the red, white, and blue, like de Staël’s occasional use of black in his compositions. If this composition works on a narrative level (Juliette in bed about to begin her day), it is also clear that this composition operates as an abstraction (how many people go to bed wearing a sweater?), another strong cinematic equivalent of, say, de Staël’s Nu bleu (1955). In a 1990 interview, Godard was asked if he minded the falling off of his audience. He responded that he didn’t, that he was holding out for the day when his film frames would be sold as individual images on the auction block. (105) Viewing such shots as this one, it is easy to agree with his suggestion for a new mode of cinematic consumption.

There is one shot in 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle that escapes the red-white-blue scheme. It is an insert shot of an orange sky, naturalistic and yet also out of the ordinary, and recalling de Staël’s penchant for painting orange skies between 1952-54. It is over this shot that the filmmaker whispers his desire:

To create a new world where man and objects exist in harmony, that is my aim. As much political as poetic, it explains this passion for expression. Whose passion? Mine: writer and painter.

During the second-half of this pronouncement we see on the image track a bright orange sky. Godard’s insert shot recalls de Staël’s paintings of the sky during intense sunsets, in particular Red Landscape (1955). (106)

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle

In a cogent analysis of Godard’s use of colour in 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, Edward Branigan contributes greatly to an understanding of Godard’s repetitive use of the tricolour in this film. (107) Branigan notes that Godard’s use of high key lighting combined with his repetition of brilliant saturated hues tends to both flatten the object and disassociate it from its environment. What is missing from Branigan’s observations, however, is a comparison between Godard’s colour usage to that of specific painters. Briefly mentioning Mondrian’s similar use of these colours, Branigan does not pursue pictorial comparisons. To appreciate fully Godard’s radical use of colour, one needs to know the painting of de Staël.

More recently, red-white-blue plays a role in Passion, too. The spectator can’t miss the famous, pre-20th century pictorial antecedents of the film-within-the-film being made by Jerzy (Jerzy Radziwilowicz). But, in a strange irony, Jerzy’s Italian producer acknowledges them only as abstractions, unable to convey a narrative content for his film, even though many of the paintings reproduced are examples of history painting. In his colour films, Godard clearly and specifically addresses and echoes abstract painting. In his insistent and stylised repetition of red-white-blue, Godard abstracts the shape, so that it becomes possible to think of his compositions like de Staël’s series of soccer players executed in 1952. De Staël’s soccer players exist as conglomerates of thick strokes, legible both as vague sketches of the human form and as abstract strokes of colour.

Between the two artists exists a certain affinity of artistic temperament, borne out in their mutual interest in constant renewal, in an intense engagement with the legacy of Greco-Roman civilization, a belief in chance as encouraging creation, and finally in their romantic belief in artistic engagement as a kind of solitary battle. “It’s definitely a battle” de Staël once wrote, anticipating Godard’s legendary definition of the cinema voiced by Samuel Fuller in Pierrot le fou: “The cinema is a battle.” From de Staël, Godard would have seen how a slightly older contemporary continually sought to learn from the history of art in order to transform his own œuvre. Both artists early on wrestled with the debate between figuration and abstraction. Both affirm abstraction while remaining committed to nature.

For many, de Staël’s death in 1955 marked the end of the Ecole de Paris, and the subsequent shift of the artistic centre from Paris to New York. In the aftermath of his suicide, de Staël’s influence was seen on a generation of painters. In general, however, de Staël’s influence had a weakening effect on his followers (108), as can be seen in the work of the little-known French painter, Gabriel Godard (b. 1933). But de Staël’s most important heir is to be found not in painting, but in the cinema. Arguably, Godard’s cinema ably countered the hegemony of the New York art world in the 1960s, a move that surely would have pleased de Staël who, although enjoying great success in New York in the 1950s, abhorred the U.S.. De Staël would also have appreciated Godard’s aphorism: “America has t-shirts; Europe has memories.” (109)

Godard’s attraction to de Staël seems due in part to the painter’s life, indelibly stamped with the effects of the grand events of the first half of the 20th century. But if Godard is attracted to the gravitas of de Staël’s biography, he is also attracted to another – perhaps the reverse – aspect of the artist: his capacity for experiencing the sublime. Travelling in Spain in 1935, de Staël wrote:

I am always in a sort of beatitude, above all when the Gregorian chant mingles with the organ. All that ascends, ascends. God knows where. Notre Dame de Guadalupe sparkles with all its pearls under a veil of blue incense. Divine moments. (110)

Almost twenty years later, de Staël revealed in a celebrated letter to René Char that he had not lost his capacity for enthusiasm. A nocturnal soccer match at the Parc du Princes in 1952 inspired him to write: “Between heaven and earth on the red and blue grass a ton of muscles go flying […] What joy ! René, what joy!” (111) Godard matched de Staël’s intense enthusiasm in his film criticism. Here is Godard paying homage to Bernard Evein’s décor in Jacques Demy’s Le Bel indifférent (1957):

A setting of fantastic beauty, carpeted by the blood of the poet or tiled with azure that enfevered Rimbaud, a setting created by Bernard Evein, has enabled Demy to back three winners with absolute rigour, the beauty of inevitability, palpable tragedy. It is the most sensational treble in the whole of the French cinema. His Bel Indifférent is Piero della Francesca plus Picasso […] What a collection! people will say. What a confection! say I. (112)

Even in their writings, Godard and de Staël reveal their obsessions with red and blue.

Godard’s first possible reference to de Staël – encrusted with a reference as well to Yves Klein – was noted in his review of Jacques Becker’s Montparnasse 19. This triple reference was in itself seen as delineating a certain history of modern painting, as well as anticipating Godard’s way of doing history. It makes absolute sense that the filmmaker, who early on broke with Bazin’s doxa on the continuity shot and stressed instead the breaking up of shots, would have drawn inspiration from the world of painting. Godard shares as well with de Staël an active interest in the past while nevertheless being able to forge ahead in the present. On 16 March 1955 at 10:00 in the evening, de Staël threw himself from the top of his building to meet his early death. The ramparts at Antibes overlook the sea, and perhaps he gravitated towards this place because it reminded him of the fortress in Saint Petersburg where his father had been governor and general, and where de Staël had spent the earliest years of his life. (113) Although less dramatic, the ramparts at Antibes visually recall the jetty where Godard shows himself in JLG JLG. In his youth, Godard was apparently obsessed with suicide. Fortunately for us, Godard – while affirming his commitment to de Staël’s vision of art (constant renewal, a firm commitment to art of the past, and an ability to negotiate between abstraction and representation) – has remained firmly rooted on our side of the screen. His leaps and jumps – beginning with those initial revolutionary jump-cuts in À Bout de souffle – remain firmly and breathtakingly on the level of æsthetic breakthroughs.

In leaping to his death, de Staël lost his battle with the angel, while Godard did not. But perhaps, as Godard says in another context, there is in fact no difference, n’est-ce pas? (114)

With special thanks to Madame Françoise de Staël.


  1. An abbreviated version of this article, entitled “Saute dans le vide: Godard et la peintre”, appeared in the French review, Cinémathèque, No. 16, Autumn 1999, pp. 92-107.
  2. Quoted in Henri Maldiney, “Nicolas de Staël’s Venturesome Work”, in Jean-Louis Prat, Nicolas de Staël (Martigny: Gianadda Foundation, 1995), p. 19.
  3. Quoted in Jonathan Cott, “Godard: Born-Again Filmmaker”, in David Sterritt (Ed.), Jean-Luc Godard Interviews (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 1998), p. 97.
  4. Jean-Luc Godard, Art Press, No. 4, December 1984-January & February 1985, p. 12. Special Godard issue.
  5. Quoted in Arno Mansar, Nicolas de Staël: L’Aventure en peinture (Tournais: La Renaissance du Livre, 1999), p. 14.
  6. Hubert Damisch, “L’épeé devant les yeux: entretien avec Hubert Damisch par Jean-Pierre Touati et Santiago Amigorane”, Cahiers du Cinéma, No. 386, July-August 1986, p. 32. In November 1998, the author attended a François Albera lecture that touched on some of the concerns of the following study (viz., the contemporaneity of the various Nouvelle Vagues in France in the 1950s). The lecture, “Rue Campagne-Première: Chute et envol”, was given in the Rencontres littéraires at the Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, on 20 November 1998. The author subsequently benefited from several stimulating conversations with Albera. Thanks to a grant from the French government, the author was able to do a series of the interviews, which proved invaluable for the following essay.
  7. Jean-Luc Godard et Pierre Assouline, “Les livres et moi”, Lire, No. 255, May 1997; reprinted in Alain Bergala (Ed.), Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, Tome 2 (1984-1998) (Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, 1998), p. 436.
  8. Jean-Luc Godard, “‘Ich arbeite wie ein Maler’: Siegfried Kühn interviewte das eigenwillgste französische Regietalent in Paris”, Westdeutsches Tageblatt (Dortmund), 8 September 1960.
  9. André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image”, in What is Cinema?, Vol. 1, translated by Hugh Gray (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), pp. 9-16.
  10. Besides his teleological position vis à vis painting as articulated in “The Ontology of the Photographic Image”, Bazin also expressed interest in documentaries on art. Writing in 1949, Bazin declared films on art one of the most important developments in documentary filmmaking in the past six or seven years. In this same article, Bazin distinguishes between the frame of a painting (centripetal, focusing the spectator’s inward) and the frame of a movie screen (centrifugal, moving the spectator’s eye outwards to join the world beyond the screen). See “Le cinéma et la peinture”, a review of Alain Resnais’ Van Gogh (1948), in La Revue du Cinéma, No. 19-20, Autumn 1949, pp. 114-20.
  11. In Nouvelle Vague (1990) and the Histoire(s) du cinema, Godard makes explicit the theme of Resurrection. In the latter, the phrase “The image will come in the time of the Resurrection” repeatedly flashes on the screen. In a 1999 interview, Godard acknowledges that he is only now discovering Bazin. See Michel Ciment and Stéphane Goudet, “Entretien: Jean-Luc Godard, Des Traces du Cinéma”, Positif, No. 456, February 1999, p. 53.
  12. Jean-Luc Godard, “À propos de cinéma et d’histoire”, Trafic, No. 18, Spring 1996, p. 28. In this article (originally given as Godard’s acceptance speech for the 1995 Adorno Prize), Godard briefly mentions de Staël.
  13. Godard’s vision echoes that of Nicolas de Staël who declared, “I do not paint before seeing.”
  14. In an interview, Michel Latouche, the cinematographer on three shorts by Godard in the 1950s and a graduate of the E.N.P.C. (The Ecole Nationale de Photographie et de Cinématographie, and now the Ecole Lumière) as well as of L’I.D.H.E.C, described how he composed the set-up for a fixed shot. Following the counsel of his teachers, Latouche aimed for compositional balance. Godard, Latouche noted, invariably rejected his first set-ups. Latouche was the cameraman on Tous les garçons s’appellent Patrick (1957), Une Histoire d’eau (1958), and Charlotte et son Jules (1958). Michel Latouche, interview with the author, Paris, 3 January 1999.
  15. Jacques Aumont, “Autoportrait de l’artiste en théorichien”, Revue Belge du cinéma, No. 22-3, Spring-Summer 1988, pp. 171-6.
  16. A descendant of Baltic barons, de Staël belonged to the military aristocracy in Russia. With the Russian revolution, his family went into exile, and his parents died shortly thereafter. He received his early artistic training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
  17. Normally Godard cites paintings as postcard or poster reproductions. The two Mathieus (La Capétians partout, 1954; La Bataille de Bouvines, 1954), however, both appear to be mini versions on canvas of the very large originals.
  18. Alain Jouffroy and Jean-Luc Godard, “Miner le terrain”, L’Oeil, No. 137, May 1966, pp. 34-42. In the mid 1960s, Alain Jouffroy was an important interlocutor for Godard on the topic of painting.
  19. Editors: The whole world may call this film Week End (or Weekend or Week-end), but the film’s title is End Week End Week End Week End Week End Week End Week End Week End Week End Week End Week. Given Godard has a thing for a repetition, perhaps we could all one day agree to call it End Week.
  20. Jean-Luc Godard and Pierre Assouline, “”Les Livres et moi”, reprinted in Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, Tome 2, p. 438.
  21. Michel Ciment and Stéphane Goudet, “Entretien: Jean-Luc Godard”, pp. 53-4.
  22. According to Arno Mansar, de Staël produced seventy percent of his paintings (eight hundred) in the last three years of his life (1952-5).
  23. Kracauer, p. 328.
  24. Picasso himself is on record claiming de Staël to be the only “young” artist of merit. Picasso’s comment is cited by Sheldon Williams, “Nicolas de Staël”, Contemporary Artists (London: Macmillan, 1983, 2nd edition), p. 251.
  25. In the Cahiers du Cinéma round-table on Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour (1959), Rohmer compares the film to Cubism. Rivette, agreeing with this analogy, declares the film’s Cubism to be that of Georges Braque, not Picasso. Rivette closes his remark by adding, “Well, we’ve cited a fair number of names, attesting to our great culture.” Rivettte’s ironic comment suggests that for him the name-dropping of various painters is little more than that. See “Table ronde sur Hiroshima mon amour d’Alain Resnais”, preceded by an interview with André S. Labarthe, in Antoine de Baecque and Charles Tesson (Eds), La Nouvelle Vague, Textes et entretiens parus dans les Cahiers du cinéma (Paris: Petite bibliothèque des Cahiers du Cinéma, 1999), p. 55. Jean Douchet confirms that Godard was the only one of the New Wave filmmakers to have a very developed visual culture. See Jean Douchet, “Nous, autrefois, à l’époque de la Nouvelle Vague”, Art Press, No. 4, December 1984-January & February 1985, p. 69.
  26. Gunter Holzman, letter to the author, 30 January 1999. See Gunter Holzman, On dit que j’ai survécu quelque part au-delà des mers (Paris: La Découverte, 1997), p. 144.
  27. In a 1997 interview, Godard recalls that, before turning to the cinema, he first wanted to be a writer and then a painter. See Jean-Luc Godard and Pierre Assouline, “Les Livres et moi”, reprinted in Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, Tome 2, p. 438.
  28. Michel Ragon, cited in Henri Maldiney, “Nicolas de Staël’s Venturesome Work”, Jean-Louis Prat, Nicolas de Staël, p. 20. In fact, de Staël’s meteoric rise in the New York art world preceded his widespread recognition in France and coincides with the shift of the art world from Paris to New York. Although not specifically discussing the case of Nicolas de Staël, Serge Guilbaut’s study documents the shift from Paris to New York. See Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1983).
  29. Douglas Cooper, “Nicolas de Staël: In Memoriam”, Burlington Magazine, No. 98, May 1956, pp. 140-3.
  30. 22 February-8 April 1956. See Jean Cassou, Nicolas de Staël 1914-1955 (Paris: Musée National d’Art Moderne, 1956), the exhibition catalogue. De Staël’s work was also on view in several gallery exhibitions in Paris in 1957 and 1958.
  31. In the autumn of 1942, the Centre du Cinéma moved to 7 Avenue de Messine. In the beginning of 1943, Louis Emile Galey, the general director of cinema, offered two rooms at this same address to Henri Langlois for the offices of the Cinémathèque Française. In addition, Galey allowed Langlois use of the tiny projection room on the ground floor for private screenings. See Georges Patrick Langlois and Glenn Myrent, with a preface by Akira Kurosawa, Henri Langlois: Premier citoyen du cinéma (Paris: Denoël, 1986), pp. 120-1.
  32. Critic Patrick Walberg described de Staël as “very tall, with a noble head […] gray and astonishingly attentive eyes (the eyes of a man who sees before – or instead of – thinking), a man with a juvenile air, spontaneous, sly, obtuse”. Cited in Michael Gibson, “Nicolas de Staël Retrospective”, The New York Herald Tribune, 20 June 1981.
  33. Jacques Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique des Rues de Paris, Tome 2 (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1997), p. 529.
  34. Arno Mansar, Nicolas de Staël: L’Aventure en peinture. One wonders if the painter had read Madame de Staël’s short essay, “Reflexions sur le suicide”. See Madame de Staël, préface de Chantal Thomas, Reflexions sur le suicide et De l’influence des passions (Paris: Rivages Poches-Petite bibliothèque, 2000), pp. 274-85.
  35. Jean-Luc Godard, Histoire(s) du cinéma 2B: Fatale Beauté (Paris: Gallimard-Gaumont, 1998), 163. See Jacques Aumont’s reading of this sequence, “Beauté, fatal souci: Note sur un épisode des Histoire(s) du cinéma”, Revue de la Cinémathèque, No. 12, Autumn 1997, p. 22.
  36. Laurent Greilsamer, Le Prince foudroyé: la vie de Nicolas de Staël (Paris: Fayard, 1998), p. 120.
  37. See Marilyn McCully’s review of Rosalind Krauss’s The Picasso Papers, “The Fallen Angel?”, The New York Review of Books 46, No. 6, 8 April 1999, p. 20.
  38. After World War I, Kahnweiler’s collection was taken over by the French state, because of his German nationality.
  39. Jean-Pierre Jouffroy, La Mesure de Nicolas de Staël (Neuchâtel: Editions Ides et Calendes, 1981), p. 40.
  40. The difficulties of abstract art during this period are made apparent in the recently opened Musée des Années 30 in Boulogne-Billancourt. See Philippe Dagen, “Le bon goût français des années 30 à Boulogne-Billancourt”, Le Monde, 23 December 1998, p. 26. See also Romy Golan, Modernity and Nostalgia: Art and Politics in France between the Wars (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995).
  41. See Léger’s comments, quoted in Greilsamer, Le Prince foudroyé: la vie de Nicolas de Staël, p. 87.
  42. Jean-Luc Godard, “Montage my Fine Care”, in Jean Narboni and Tom Milne (Eds), with an introduction by Richard Roud and a new foreword by Annette Michelson, Godard on Godard, Critical Writings by Jean-Luc Godard (New York: Da Capo, 1986), pp. 39-41; translated from “Montage, mon beau souci”, in Alain Bergala (Ed.), Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, Tome 1 (Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma-Editions de L’Etoile, 1985), pp. 92-4.
  43. In 2A and 2B of the Histoire(s) du Cinéma, a title card repeatedly flashes on the screen (“Montage, mon beau souci”), suggesting Godard’s continued allegiance to the ideas of this early article. Translated from “Défense et illustration du découpage classique”, Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, Vol. 1, pp. 80-4.
  44. Jean-Luc Godard, “Defence and Illustration of Classical Construction”, Godard on Godard, pp. 26-30.
  45. See Roud’s comments on “Montage my Fine Care”, Godard on Godard, p. 250.
  46. Godard on Godard, p. 28.
  47. Godard on Godard, p. 26.
  48. Godard on Godard, p. 28.
  49. De Staël: “Une peinture devrait être à la fois abstraite et figurative. Abstraite en tant que mur, figurative en tant que représentation d’un espace.” Quoted in Jean-Louis Prat, Nicolas de Staël, entries Harry Bellet, translated by Granville Fields (Martigny: Gianadda Foundation, 1995), p. 54.
  50. Michel Ciment and Stéphane Goudet, “Entretien Jean-Luc Godard”, Positif, No. 52. Godard: “Si je procède par ruptures, sauts, courts-circuits, c’est parce que nous sommes les enfants de la mécanique quantique. […] On saute et on ne sait jamais où l’on est.”
  51. The film was based on a book by the critic Michel Georges-Michel, Les Montparnos. Although the book was published 29 years earlier (Paris: Fasquelle, 1929), Chabrol told me that the Cahiers critics were familiar with this novel.
  52. The title of Godard’s review of the film, “Leap into the Void”, is omitted in the English translation. Godard, “Montparnasse 19”, in Godard on Godard, p. 75; translated from Jean-Luc Godard, “Saut dans le Vide: Jacques Becker’s Montparnasse 19”, Cahiers du Cinéma, No. 83, May 1958. Reprinted in Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, pp. 126-7.
  53. By the spring of 1959, Godard had finished several short films, while Chabrol had already released his first two features. Chabrol recalls that: “Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins […] were released in Paris just a month apart. The publicist, Richard Balducci, did an incredible job. No one remembers now, but between February and June 1959 I was a living god.” François Guérif and Claude Chabrol, Conversations avec … Claude Chabrol: Un Jardin bien à moi (Pairs: Denoël, 1999), p. 37. Richard Balducci plays the role of Michel Poiccard’s buddy, Tolmatchoff, in À Bout de souffle, suggesting Godard’s acknowledgement of Balducci’s skills as publicist.
  54. Quoted in Xavier Villetard and Claude Ventura, “Chambre 12”, Les Inrockuptibles, Summer 1993, p. 36. See also Villetard and Ventura’s documentary, Chambre 12: Hôtel de Suède (1993). “Cher Georges de Beauregard, C’est lundi. Il fait presque jour. La partie de poker va commencer. J’espère qu’elle rapportera pas mal d’oseille […]. Je voulais vous remercier de me faire confiance. Je m’excuse d’avance si par hasard je suis de mauvaise humeur le mois qui vient. J’espère que notre film sera d’une belle simplicité, ou d’une simple beauté. J’ai très peur. Je suis très ému. Tout va bien. Je vous écris presque comme à mes parents et vous lègue, comme première mise pour la partie qui commence, cette devise de Guillaume Apollinaire: Tout terriblement. J-LG.”
  55. De Staël wrote this phrase as a post-script to a letter to Pierre Lescure, dated 3 December 1949. “L’espace pictural est un mur, mais tous les oiseaux du monde y volent librement.” See “Letters”, in Françoise de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint (Neuchâtel: Ides et Calendes, 1997), p. 871.
  56. Jean-Luc Godard, JLG/JLG: Phrases (Paris: P.O.L., 1996), p. 54. “Le papier blanc est le vrai miroir de l’homme.”
  57. Jean-Luc Godard, “À propos de cinéma et d’histoire”, Trafic, No. 19, Spring 1996, p. 26. “L’écriture, depuis Rimbaud et Mallarmé, c’était la terreur. La page blanche était ennemie. Pourquoi encore écrire après Joyce et les Elegies de Duino. Alors qu’en face de la toile blanche, quand la lumière se mettait à baisser, se passe pour l’exact contraire de ce qui conduisit Nicolas de Staël au suicide.”
  58. Jean-Luc Godard, Scénario du film ‘Passion’, L’Avant-Scène Cinéma, special Godard issue, No. 323-4, March 1984, p. 86. “L’écran c’est un mur, un mur, on peut, c’est fait pour sauter par-dessus.”
  59. According to Tom Milne, Godard travelled outside of France in the period between October 1952 and August 1956. See Godard on Godard, p. 34.
  60. Claude Chabrol, interview with the author, Paris, 18 March 1999. Pierre Restany, “Yves Klein Le Vide. L’Enseignement d’Yves Klein. Paris, le 28 Avril 1958”, L’Art de l’exposition: Une documentatin sur trente expositions exemplaires du XXe siècle, traduit de l’allemand par Denis Trierweiler (Paris: Editions du Regard, 1998), pp. 255-63.
  61. See Bernard Blistène, “Le Vide”, in Premises: Invested Spaces in Visual Arts, Architecture, & Design from France: 1958-1998, exhibition catalogue (New York: Guggenheim Museum), pp. 134-7. See also Sylvère Lotringer, “Consumed by Myths”, ibid., pp. 27-37.
  62. Laurent Greilsamer suggests that the other important influence in de Staël’s move towards abstraction was the painter Henri Goetz. Greilsamer, p. 101. Interestingly, one of Godard’s earliest film reviews discusses a film about this painter. See his review, “Works of Calder and L’Histoire d’Agnès”, Gazette du Cinéma, No. 4, October 1950, reprinted in Godard on Godard, pp. 19-20.
  63. Richard Roud, “Introduction”, Godard on Godard, p. 7.
  64. In October 1960, Klein performed his own “leap into the void”: a manipulated photograph shows him in mid-flight. See Sidra Stich, “Theater of the Void”, Yves Klein (Stuttgart: Cantz, 1994), pp. 208-21. See also Dominique de Menil, “People Begin to Fly”, Yves Klein (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou-Musée National d’Art Moderne, 1983), p. 9. It is the belief of the author that Klein, although on the vanguard of conceptual art, was not of interest to Godard.
  65. Charles Bitsch, interview with the author, 16 April 1999. Michel Latouche, interview with the author, 18 April 1999.
  66. In 1965, Godard included the Ophüls’ film in his list of the six best French films since the Liberation. Cahiers du Cinéma, No. 161-162. January 1965.
  67. There are at least two other examples of defenestration in Godard. In Le Petit soldat, Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor) escapes his FLN captors by vaulting himself through a window. In Masculin Féminin: 15 faits précis (1966), Paul dies after he falls or jumps from his Neuilly apartment.
  68. In fact, Godard’s review confirms his awareness of the difficulties which beset the production following Ophüls’ death. See “Jeanson et Becker plaident le procès des Montparnos”, Arts, 14-27 August 1957, p. 1. Just before Godard’s review of the film appeared in the May 1958 issue of Cahiers, Arts published excerpts from Jeanson’s original script in its 23-29 April 1958 issue.
  69. Antoine Tudal is the pseudonym of Antek Teslar, the son of Olek Teslar and Jeannine Guillou, both painters. In Morocco in 1936, the young de Staël met the Teslar family. Jeannine Guillou soon separated from her husband and remained with de Staël until her death in 1946.
  70. In 1912, Picasso moved to a studio on the Boulevard Raspail, around the corner from the rue Campagne-Première. See Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (New York: Penguin, 1966), pp. 122-3.
  71. See Jacques Hillairet, Connaissance de vieux Paris (Paris: Editions Princess, 1951), p. 160.
  72. This fact was reported to the author by a long-time resident of the rue Campagne-Première, the artist René (“Toto”) Artozoul.
  73. Françoise de Staël, Nicolas de Staël, Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint, p. 101.
  74. René Artozoul, a resident of 9 rue Campagne-Première since 1954, reported that there are about one hundred artists’ studios at 9 rue Campagne-Première. The ateliers at no. 9 were constructed with material left over from the demolition of the Universal Exposition of 1889. See Jacques Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique des Rues de Paris, p. 26. Artists’ studios are also to be found at 8bis and 17 rue Campagne-Première. According to Artozoul, the artist César also lived on the rue Campagne-Première, and Yves Klein died on the rue Campagne-Première in 1962. René Artozoul, interview with the author, Paris, 2 December 1998. In 1960, the New Wave actress Bernadette Lafont, with second husband Diourka Medveczky, a Hungarian sculptor, bought a studio at 11 rue Campagne-Première. Bernadette Lafont, interview with the author, Paris, 10 January 2000.
  75. Thanks to Bruna de Beauregard, the author was able to consult the production file on À Bout de souffle.
  76. Pierre Rissient, interview with the author, Paris, 14 April 1999. In another interview, Michel Latouche remarked that he vaguely remembered visiting the studio at 9 rue Campagne-Première well before the shoot of À Bout de souffle. He suggested that Godard knew who lived there.
  77. Charles Bitsch, interview with the author, Paris, February 1999.
  78. De Staël was not the only painter at the time to employ the grill motif. See also the work of Alfred Manessier and Jean Bazaine.
  79. Pierre Courthion, quoted in 400 Œuvres Nouvelles 1977-1981 (Paris: M.N.A.M., 1981), p. 124.
  80. Suzanne Schiffman, “Le Saut dans le vide: un interview de l’alpha-scripte, Suzanne Schiffman”, propos recueillis par Michel Cournot, Le Nouvel Observateur, No. 25, 6 Mai 1965, p. 29. “Les trois premières minutes d’un film, Godard ne peut pas les faire. Chaque fois, c’est un saut dans le vide. Et puis, c’est fait, il a sauté.”
  81. Jacques Vulaines, “Le plus surprenant mariage de l’année. Pourquoi François Mauriac a dit oui à Jean-Luc et Anne”, Sud-Ouest (Bordeaux), 30 July 1967. Article in the Godard file in the Truffaut archives at the BIFI.
  82. Guy Dumur, Staël (Paris: Flammarion, 1975), p. 116.
  83. In an interview with Alain Bergala, Godard observes: “We were both children of the Liberation (which was true for many) and the children of the museum (which was true for very few people). It’s true more for me than for the others, Truffaut or Rivette.” “Une boucle bouclée: Nouvel entretien avec Jean-Luc Godard par Alain Bergala”, Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, Tome 2 (1984-1998), p. 9.
  84. Quoted in Greilsamer, Le Prince foudroyé: la vie de Nicolas de Staël, p. 136.
  85. Quoted in Guy Dumur, Staël (Paris: Flammarion, 1975), p. 116. Dumur compares de Staël’s rebuttal to that of Delacroix refusing the epithet of romanticism.
  86. Labarthe, “Comment peut-on être moderne? Entretien avec André S. Labarthe”, La Nouvelle Vague (1999), p. 15.
  87. According to Michel Latouche, before shooting À Bout de souffle, Godard (with Latouche’s help) did some preliminary colour tests.
  88. Godard’s obsession with the French tricolour continues most recently in his Histoire(s) du cinema, where he shows himself in white lab coat seated at a desk, with a lamp with a bright red shade nearby and a deep blue wall behind him.
  89. As Godard’s work progressed in the 1960s, his use of the tricolour became increasingly politicised. In 1968, Godard sought out the painter Gérard Fromanger (b. 1939) because of the painter’s serigraph entitled Le Rouge; the image represents the French flag with the red panel bleeding into the white and blue bands. Gérard Fromanger, interview with the author, Paris, 20 April 1999. See Alain Jouffroy, “Le Rouge de Fromanger”, Opus International, April 1970.
  90. It is worth noting that in the early 1950s de Staël was not the only artist with red and blue on his mind. Léger, for instance, frequently employed these two colours. See also the paintings of Serge Poliakoff and a painting by Vieria da Silva, Battle of the Reds and Blues (1953). See Paul J. Sharits, “Red, blue, Godard”, Film Quarterly 19, No. 4, 1966, 24-9.
  91. “Let’s Talk about Pierrot”, Godard on Godard, p. 233. Reprinted from Cahiers du Cinéma, No. 171, October 1965. Godard: “Je le crois aussi. Le cinéma est optimiste, parce que tout est toujours possible; rien n’est jamais défendu: il suffit d’être en contact avec la vie. Et la vie elle-même doit bien être optimiste, sans quoi tout le monde sur al terre se suiciderait d’un seul coup.”
  92. Godard and Bergala, “Une boucle bouclée”, p. 17.
  93. Jacques Aumont, “Beauté, fatal souci: Note sur un épisode des Histoire(s) du cinéma”.
  94. Matisse from a radio interview made on 13 March 1942 and quoted in Arno Mansar, Nicolas de Staël: L’Aventure en peinture (Tournais: La Renaissance du Livre, 1999), p. 75. “La richesse et la clarté argentée de la lumière de Nice […] me paraît unique et indispensable à l’esprit d’un artiste plastique surtout s’il est peintre.”
  95. De Staël in a letter to Char dated 6 March 1954. De Staël, “Les Lettres”, Catalogue raisonné, p. 1162. “Pour les poèmes que j’ai, je ferai un grand bouquin et il sera bleu blanc rouge parce qu’il y a deux ans que j’ai ces couleurs dans la tête.”
  96. Arno Mansar, Nicolas de Staël, p. 150.
  97. Thierry Jousse, “Entretien avec Jackie Reynal”, Cahiers du Cinéma, special Godard issue, No. 437, November 1990, p. 25. “Pour Pierrot le Fou, il avait choisi d’aller à Porquerolles, à cause de la lumière, de sa blancheur. Là-bas, les blancs, les bleus, les rouges sont plus intenses. D’où l’idée que Belmondo se peigne le visage en bleu. Ce qui n’est éviddemment pas une idée de maquilleuse!”
  98. Pascal Bonitzer, Peinture et Cinéma; Décadrages (Paris: Cahiers du cinema-Editions de l’Etoile, 1987). Jacques Aumont, “Migrations”, Cinémathéque, No. 7, Spring 1995, pp. 35-47.
  99. René Prédal, “Le Cinéma selon Godard” and “Ecrire et peindre: le god-art et le pop-art”, CinémAction, No. 52, p. 99.
  100. The circumstances of Klein’s death, it could be argued, are bathetic rather than tragic. In May 1962, Klein attended the Cannes Film Festival. He was there to see Paolo Cavara and Gualtiero Jacopetti’s Mondo Cane, which included footage of the artist directing one of his anthropometries. The preface of the film announces the director’s intention to “present things objectively without any sweetening”. Mondo Cane presents Klein as a kind of freak. Upset by the film, the artist suffered a first heart attack. He died one month later in Paris.
  101. Pierre Guffroy, interview with the author, Paris, 23 March 1999. Guffroy is a noted art director in France, having worked extensively for, among others, Roman Polanski. In fact, although Guffroy’s name is occasionally included in published credits for Pierrot le fou, he reported that he did not do the art direction for the film. Godard’s solution of Ferdinand committing suicide was an alternative way of achieving a “saut dans le vide”. Ferdinand “se fait sauter” to make the leap into the void.
  102. Henri Maldiney, “Nicolas de Staël’s Venturesome Work”, Nicolas de Staël, p. 14.
  103. The final shot of sun and sky united repeats the final shot of Le Mépris, and anticipates the final sky shot of One plus One (Sympathy for the Devil, 1968) and the opening shots of Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980) and Passion.
  104. Christine Dupony, cited in Arno Mansar, Nicolas de Staël, pp. 149-5.
  105. Wim Wenders, “Wenders interviewt Godard”, Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich), 16 November 1990, pp. 59-62. This interview also appears in an English translation. See “For a Few Dollars Less”, Sight and Sound, 1, No. 7, November 1991, pp. 20-2.
  106. No. 1013 in the de Staël Catalogue Raisonné.
  107. Edward Branigan, “The Articulation of Colour in a Filmic System: Deux ou Trois Choses que je sais d’elle”, Wide Angle 1, No. 3, 1976), pp. 20-31.
  108. Critic Robert Hughes notes that de Staël’s “influence was wide. Those cakes of thick pigment, those creamy, generous brushstrokes inlaid like rough marquetry over their contrasting grounds, struck many artists in the 1950s as a viable alternative to the linear, quasi-geometric abstraction that had grown out of the cubist grid. But though de Staël had a healthy effect on two or three major artists, especially the English painter Frank Auerbach, most of his imitators were insipid, and their weakness reflected on de Staël’s own reputation.” Robert Hughes, “A Lyrical Colourist Rediscovered”, Time, 23 July 1990.
  109. Godard, JLG/JLG: Phrases, pp. 48-9. “L’Europe a des souvenirs […] l’Amérique a des t-shirts.” The phrase in French is particularly droll because the word “souvenirs” in French means both souvenirs and memories.
  110. Nicolas de Staël, quoted in André Chastel, “Nicolas de Staël: l’impatience et la jubilation”, Staël: l’artiste et l’œuvre (Paris: Maeght, 1972), p. 38. “Je suis toujours dans une sorte de béatitude, surtout quand les chants grégoriens se mêlent aux orgues et tout cela monted, monte. Dieu sait où. Et que Notre-Dame de Guadalupe scintille de toutes ses perles, sous un voile d’encens bleu. Divins moments. Remous de sentiments.”
  111. Ibid., p. 42. “Entre ciel et terre, sur l’herbe rouge ou bleue une tonne de muscles voltige en plein oubli de soi avec toute la présence que cela requiert en toute invraisemblance. Quelle joie! René, quelle joie!”
  112. Jean-Luc Godard, “Ignored by the Jury”, Arts, No. 700, 10 December 1958, reprinted and translated in Godard on Godard, pp. 102-3. “Un décor d’une beauté folle, tapissé par le sang du poète ou carrelé de cet azur qui donnait la fièvre à Rimbaud, un décor signé Bernard Evein, dis-je, a permis à Jacques Demy de jouer placés, rigueur absolue, beauté fatale, tragique évident. C’est le plus sensationnel tiercé de toute l’histoire du cinéma français. Son Bel Indifférent, c’est Piero della Francesca plus Picasso […] plus Bérénice. Quel assemblage, dira-t-on. Je dis: quelle assemblée!”
  113. Germain Viatte, “Staël: At the Risk of Painting”, in Nicolas de Staël, p. 11.
  114. Jean-Luc Godard, “Avant-Propos”, in Gilles Jacob (Ed.), François Truffaut Correspondance (Paris, Hatier, 1988), p. 8.

About The Author

A Research Associate at Williams College, Sally Shafto is a scholar of French and Francophone film. Her most recent publications include editing and translating the Writings of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (New York: Sequence Press, 2016).

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