Spécial Cinéma

Spécial Cinéma was a weekly programme on Télévision Suisse Romande (TSR, public broadcaster in French-speaking Switzerland). First broadcast on September 25, 1974 it came to an end in the spring of 1995, following the death from cancer of its main producer and presenter, Christian Defaye. It was originally broadcast on Tuesday evenings and was sometimes taken off to make way for screenings of football matches, since at that time TSR had only one channel. Spécial Cinéma got into its stride when it moved to Monday evenings. At 20:00 every Monday its presenter and producer, Christian Defaye, a journalist from Lyons, would present the evening’s new film and the items for that evening’s Spécial Cinéma, which usually went out immediately after the film. Through this show Defaye, the director Christian Zeender (future head of the cinema department at the Swiss Federal Office of Cultural Affairs), co-producer Christiane Cusin and ex-announcer Claudette Defaye, Christian’s wife and co-presenter, popularised the art of cinema in French-speaking Switzerland.

Over more than 20 years Spécial Cinéma hosted many of the world’s major stars and directors, including Alain Delon, Kirk Douglas, Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Henri Verneuil, Claude Sautet, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani, Sophia Loren, Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Simone Signoret and many more.

The programme also featured numerous items and entire shows on Swiss cinema. Claude Goretta, Alain Tanner, Michel Soutter, Francis Reusser, Daniel Schmidt, etc., were regulars, as was Freddy Buache, head of the Cinémathèque Suisse, a respected critic and great defender of auteur cinema. An argument on Spécial Cinéma between Buache and then superstar Alain Delon has gone down in history.1 As head of fiction (1979-1989) and later of programming at TSR (1993-2003), I made sure that Swiss television films produced and made by the broadcaster were promoted on the programme.

The success of Spécial Cinéma aroused jealousy, some of it trivial, some less so. On the trivial side, some colleagues criticised Defaye’s wardrobe, which they saw as too flashy. But there was a rationale behind Christian’s bright suits and shirts. His poor eyesight led him to choose clothes that caught the light.

Spécial Cinéma had no trouble finding guests since filmmakers and actors enjoyed the challenge of live television. They could be certain that their words would not be cut or censored, or distorted by editing. Directors and actors from Europe, America and Asia were encouraged to come to Geneva by film distributors and cinema managers. After a team had promoted their film on the programme, its box office improved overnight. It must also be said that the post-show dinner in a Geneva nightclub was an incentive for guests to come back.

Without making a fuss about it, following his 1977 move to Rolle, a lovely little town on the shores of Lake Geneva, a few kilometres from his birthplace in Nyon, Jean-Luc Godard watched Spécial Cinéma and was happy to take part. He told me why after a tennis match one day: “When I go on Defaye’s show people in Rolle recognise me in the street the next day and my butcher serves me the best cuts. It’s local in a good way without the snobbery of Paris. I like being recognised as a film-maker in my hometown in Rolle.”

It should be said at the outset that JLG’s attitude to television media was ambivalent. He claimed to loathe it as killing the art of cinema and at the same time he needed to exist on television and in fact dreamed of making programmes, particularly showing tennis matches. I suspect him of also watching so-called entertainment programmes… More seriously, he often expressed his admiration for TSR’s flagship current affairs programme Temps Présent, as shown in this letter contradicting his disdain for TV.

[My dear Raymond Vouillamoz, as you well know, what would we do without TSR, which was born good, like the Man dear to Rousseau, Thoreau, Stevenson, etc. A recent edition of Temps Présent proved this again in relation to southern Africa, perfectly showing the possibilities of free information, untouched by the viruses of glory and power. In short we are and always will be in your debt for hope. All the best, Jean-Luc Godard.]

Sauve qui peut (la vie)

Following the events of May 68 and a serious motorcycle accident in Paris, and after four years of experimentation with film and video in Grenoble, Godard’s return to the land of his childhood was a good opportunity for him to reconnect with films intended for normal distribution in cinemas.

In 1979 I was appointed head of fiction production at TSR. In this role I was also responsible for co-productions with Swiss cinema. The Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980) project was my first experience as a co-producer in public broadcasting. I immersed myself in it with a passion, not without falling into certain traps. For example, without my knowledge Alain Sarde in France had already gained co-production interest from the Swiss Television headquarters without the theoretically autonomous regions of French, German and Italian-speaking Switzerland being told, while at the same time I had been working to persuade my colleagues in Zurich and Lugano – not without difficulty. So we had to negotiate the coproduction contracts with everyone playing hide-and-seek.

Sauve qui peut (la vie) was a Swiss co-production both financially and artistically, with big Swiss names as associate producers (Miguel Stucky, Robert Boner). We had big Swiss names on the technical side too, including the great DP Renato Berta and the young Jean-Bernard Menoud, cameraman and soon after director for Swiss television, and also Bertrand Theubet. A highly imaginative editor and later director for TV and cinema, at the time assistant director, I asked him to work on Sauve qui peut (la vie) and later on Passion (1982). Bertrand agreed of course and he didn’t regret it. He was also an intelligent extra in Passion, in a cop costume and acting like Mack Sennett.

The entire cast of Sauve qui peut (la vie) reflects the Swissness of Godard’s project. It includes Michel Cassagne, a leading light at the Théâtre de Carouge (Geneva), Marie-Luce Felber, daughter of the President of the Swiss Confederation – now tragically dead, as is Roland Amstutz – Paule Muret, film-maker and partner of Renato Berta, Cécile Tanner, daughter of Alain Tanner, Claude Champion, a filmmaker playing a film editor, Gérard Battiaz, the extraordinary Roger Jendly and his wife Michèle Gleizer, Eric Defosses and Nicole Wicht. This list of Swiss actors – some better known than others but all excellent – reflects the care that Godard and his team took with the casting.

As the story unfolds, shots of Lake Geneva and the Jura document the living beauty of the Swiss landscape. Another thing to note in passing is the excellent filming of a strange ancestral Swiss German game called Hornussen. This is a fast game of skill that involves using a flexible pole to bat a puck, which then has to be intercepted in the air by the other team using a kind of paddle.

Tanner seems off track when he claims that Switzerland is too smooth to be filmed. And Geneva seen by Godard’s camera becomes an unlikely megalopolis full of petrol stations, cinemas and backyards and all full of life, so full of life. The image of Switzerland in Sauve qui peut (la vie) is a just image, not just an image, as JLG might say. In Le petit soldat (1960) Godard began filming trains and stations between Geneva and Lausanne with evident attention and schoolboy humour. And Freddy Buache’s favourite shot in Sauve qui peut (la vie) is an ironic shot of a passing train made up of wagons transporting Swiss army canons.

The viewings of Sauve qui peut (la vie) with representatives of German-speaking television (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) were epic, because the film got so much criticism (“it’s pornographic and incomprehensible!”). Even the great cinephile Eckart Stein – who produced the remarkable programme Das kleine Fernsehspiel for ZDF, giving carte blanche to artists – had his reservations. The only TV co-producer defending Sauve qui peut (la vie) was little old me, and it still moves me every time I see it for the authenticity of the themes it confronts head-on. It is not the film’s theoretical content that touches me, but its translation into images and sounds and what it does with those (slow motion close-ups, to look at life in a different way, said Godard, women’s faces lit magnificently, dialogue that sounds real, etc.).

After a stormy première in official competition at Cannes in May 1980, and thanks to a subtle press campaign, by the time it came out in Paris in the autumn Sauve qui peut (la vie) had managed to get the critics on its side. Better still, cinema-goers were in a hurry to see this scandalous film. Nearly 250,000 viewers in France – that was a great success at the time, and it was also a financial success for the producers and the director. The American version of the film, sponsored by Francis Ford Coppola with the title Every Man for Himself, also did well on release in the main cities on the East and West Coast. And it went on to win awards at the Césars and Oscars. Not bad for a Swiss film!

Voyage à travers un film (Sauve qui peut (la vie))

Sauve qui peut (la vie) was released in Swiss cinemas on January 30, 1981. The press night in Lausanne on January 20, 1981 was a big event because, in addition to the feature, the critics were also shown long extracts from the variation on the film made specially for television, which was scheduled to broadcast in the Spécial Cinéma slot on February 3, 1981. This press screening was followed by a discussion with Jean-Luc Godard, Christian Defaye, Guillaume Chenevière (my boss, head of Entertainment at TSR, who, being an aesthete, appreciated the real quality of the film) and me as co-producer and collaborator for the television version. The press release from the film’s Swiss distributor said: “This discussion will be a chance to describe an experiment without precedent in the history of television and cinema”.

This televisual variation on Sauve qui peut (la vie) was titled Voyage à travers un film (Sauve qui peut (la vie)) (“Voyage through a film (Sauve qui peut (la vie)”). My role in producing it was to be involved in the risks everyone was taking and to oil the wheels of communication between the film and television people. As Christian Defaye’s “hierarchical superior”, I had to reassure him in the face of an experiment in television that had no safety net. Christian was used to charming stars who asked for nothing more and was afraid of being caught out by Godard’s disconcerting way of talking. Meanwhile Godard had to accept the rules of the game, which were to make a programme accessible to the target audience. Thanks to fair play on both sides, the gamble paid off.

Twenty-first century generations – and even older people – have to make an imaginative effort to understand how little there was in the French-speaking audiovisual world of the 1980s. There was no colour on French and Swiss TV sets until after 1970. With only four channels broadcasting in French, viewers had little choice. The French-speaking Swiss could receive French channels reasonably well, since they reached beyond France, but people in France did not get Swiss programmes unless they were near the border. There was no internet, no smartphones, no Netflix, no YouTube, no news channels, no VOD, no catch-up viewing, those things had not been invented yet. From 1976 you could watch feature films on mass-market videocassettes, the ancestors of DVDs, and that was all. Remembering the audiovisual middle ages, which seems so long ago, reveals by contrast the perennial modernity of Jean-Luc Godard’s cinema in terms of both his images and the way he directed actors. From the early 1970s Godard was an avant-garde pioneer of video, which was vilified at that time by most film-makers. He even hesitated between video and 35mm to shoot Sauve qui peut (la vie). On returning to Switzerland he worked with Pierre Binggeli, a brilliant DIY video technician, who set up JLG’s video machines in the office of TSR’s head of sport so he could record the programme, with a prototype 1-inch recorder by Stefan Kudelski, another brilliant Swiss engineer, who invented the famous Nagra sound recorder that transformed sound recording in TV, film and radio.

The people in charge at TSR – notably the then head of programming Jean Dumur, a journalist who was passionate about entertainment, and Guillaume Chenevière, with his background in sociology and theatre – were always willing to take risks with the schedules as long as they were culturally valid.

In Le Journal de Genève, a quality daily of the liberal right, Christian Zeender wrote: “With Christian Defaye, Godard sheds light on the relationship between film and television. For the first time, Godard tells us, cinema and television are offering us a forbidden image – an image of incest, because film and television are brother and sister.”2

Beyond this fascinating experiment in the use of television to shed light on the film, my role was also to calm the concerns of the German language stations and the head office of Swiss television in Bern, who had no idea what to do with this cultural hand grenade that threatened to cause a media and political earthquake. So Zurich television asked a young journalist, Martin Henning, to interview the Master and translate what he said into German, an exercise full of pitfalls given how Godard expresses himself. “To save Martin Henning’s bacon”, remembers Guillaume Chenevière, “Godard agreed to present the TV version to the Swiss-German press in Zurich. You and I went with him and it was epic because there was such a huge gulf between the French and German perceptions of our co-production.”

I was very enthusiastic about the Voyage à travers un film project, because it was directed by Godard himself – obviously breaking all the rules. For example, he put Christian Defaye as the interviewer facing the camera and himself as the interviewee with his back to the camera. Was that just an artist’s posing? Yes and no. No, because those sequences enabled Godard to see the world of work, one of his obsessions as a film-maker – in this case a journalist who, despite his notes, was sometimes thrown by the Master’s pirouettes and allusive answers. We can see this urge to film work in the film itself, particularly in the so-called pornographic sequences, where prostitution is seen as a job like any other, carried out by a professional whose movements are made with precision and who obeys her boss – in this case the client, the excellent Roland Amstutz. On seeing the film a respected Swiss filmmaker reacted with irritation: “Every time I shoot a sex scene it falls flat and Godard gets it right every time!”

Christian Defaye and Jean-Luc Godard in Voyage à travers un film, with Roland Amstutz in superimposition

The programme’s other protagonist, Isabelle Huppert, was seen from the front, while this time Godard as interviewer was seen from behind. This part of Voyage à travers un film follows the filmmaker’s obsessional quest, in other words the work without which artistic creation is just smoke and mirrors. Acting must be based on a constant effort to eliminate theatricality and naturalism. In the programme Isabelle Huppert says: “You’re always making a film. It seems to me when I see you that I’m making a Godard film.” JLG replies:I’m less afraid of life if there’s a screen between life and me.”

Jean-Luc Godard (from behind) and Isabelle Huppert in Voyage à travers un film

JLG edited Voyage à travers un film in two weeks at Binggeli’s suite in accordance with normal practice at TSR. He would have liked to have had more time to do it. Is that why it seems to me that, despite its great qualities, there is something unfinished about the programme? Godard would say, “It lacked some work.” For this voyage through a film, perhaps he could have used some other sequences from the video he made before the shoot, Scénario de Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1979), where we hear him wondering about his choices in order to involve the production team more in the film’s conception.

For Godard “making” a film does not mean writing a script and then shooting. It is constant work, feeling his way, researching, sometimes finding solutions such as using slow motion or superimposition to see a scene better – a procedure much used in replays on television sports shows to look at the detail of an action or to catch emotions. Beginning a film also means entering into an endless, sometimes abstruse dialogue with the crew. The creative kitchen is indispensable to Godard’s creative process. It was work again when Godard hired Swiss DP Renato Berta and French DP William Lubtchansky to shoot the film, making them compete for each shot, which obviously created tensions. But Godard’s cruel side likes to provoke arguments, which, he explains, improve the quality of everyone’s work. When I look at the images of Sauve qui peut (la vie) I do not wonder who did this or that shot. I am just transfixed by their beauty and rightness. Seeing not knowing, Godard’s obsession.

So Voyage à travers un film, the television version of Sauve qui peut (la vie), was shown on the small screens of Télévision Suisse Romande on Tuesday, February 2, 1981 at 20:10, the time-slot with the highest ratings, prime time. The competing programmes on French-speaking channels that night at 20:30 were:

TF1: a political debate linked to the coming presidential election.

Antenne 2: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra, 1936). The film was used to launch a discussion on inheritance for Dossiers de l’écran.

F3: Die Nibelungen (Harald Reinl, 1966/67).

At that time there were no daily ratings surveys, but Spécial Cinéma was a popular programme and that evening’s offering (a scandalous film) kept the majority of viewers with TSR.

The cinema version of Sauve qui peut (la vie) was shown for the first time on TSR on August 26, 1982 in the later evening slot at 22:40 with no images cut. Despite the differing judgements of the film by its TV co-producers, we should note that this was an exceptional European televisual event: Switzerland’s TV stations in German (DRS) and French (TSR) and the German station (ZDF) broadcast Jean-Luc Godard’s film simultaneously. This group showing had two aims. One was to create an international cultural event, the other was to join forces to ward off any attacks on the public television channels for showing a film with potentially shocking content. It was a rare, perhaps unique event for an arthouse film; at that time simultaneous broadcasts had already become the preserve of live shows, sporting events, the Eurovision Song Contest and the New Year’s Day concert in Vienna – not forgetting Eurovision’s founding event, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. In French-speaking Switzerland the transmission of Sauve qui peut (la vie) attracted viewers in large numbers, probably not purely for reasons of cinephilia…3

The weekly guide to programmes on Swiss television Radio-TV-Je vois tout not only announced the showing of Sauve qui peut (la vie), but also included the following invitation: “Important: viewers who wish to can write to Spécial Cinéma to express their feelings after watching Sauve qui peut (la vie). Twenty or so of them will be invited to take part in a special edition of Spécial Cinéma on Jean-Luc Godard next November, to mark the release of his new film Passion. They will be able to talk freely with the director in a round table discussion.” As a result, Spécial Cinéma received an impressive number of letters from every region of the country and even from abroad, from which the panel of film-lovers invited to take part in the programme was selected. In the summer of 1982 Christian Defaye, JLG and I planned that for Passion’s release in Swiss cinemas, the director would devise a sequel to Voyage à travers un film. This became Scénario du film Passion.

Passion and Scénario du film Passion

Going through my archives I found a note I had drafted to a friend after seeing Passion for the first time:

I’m never bored for a second in Godard’s films, not for a second, you understand? I’m hypnotised by the precision of his framing, the beauty of the light, the authenticity of the actors. Godard doesn’t tell a story the way the novelists do. With Passion I’m in a museum of the masterpieces of the history of painting, I’m at a concert with Mozart and all the rest. For the duration of the film I’m immortal.

I watched Passion again early in 2020. I would add only a few words to my note of nearly 40 years ago: Godard’s films are so modern they are eternal. I’m even surprised that the cars filmed in Passion aren’t the 2020 models! So the reason I’m never bored watching Godard’s films is that they are cinematic – unlike, for example, the films of his contemporary François Truffaut, who filmed novels. When you read a novel you can skip a description of landscape or one or two paragraphs, but in the cinema you can not, you have to submit to the boring bits. QED as my maths teacher used to say a very long time ago.

In 1981 I watched Coppola at work on the gigantic set for his musical One from the Heart that he had built in his Zoetrope studios, and where Godard also filmed some test material for Passion.4

Clapperboard for the test material for Passion filmed by Godard at Zoetrope Studios

Sitting at the console in a production truck off set, Coppola gave his orders by phone, in exactly the same way that television directors did when they were shooting dramas with several synchronised cameras. In the truck he received the images via video. One cannot help thinking that this influenced the way that Godard subsequently filmed the scenes reconstructing paintings in Passion in a Paris studio. In these we see the video camera make magnificent movements. The camera itself was in the hands of Jean-Bernard Menoud of TSR. An actor could not have filmed these images of framing with such authenticity. A professional cameraman was needed. Another question of work! A question of seeing. In the Hollywood test material for Passion we can precisely see the beauty of the movements of the camera up on a crane in front of a white screen. These camera movements recall musical movements, music being so present in the film.5

Shot of the camera on a crane in the test material for Passion filmed at Zoetrope Studios

Allow me a brief flashback, and to quote a few paragraphs from my memoirs, Zapping Intime:

“I was in Hollywood with the producers of Iblis films (Belgium), who were backing a TV series that I was co-producing, Les cinéastes américains vus par les cinéastes européens (“American Filmmakers Seen by European Filmmakers”). The first episode, To Woody Allen from Europe with Love by André Delvaux, was already in the can. We had a meeting with the master of The Godfather films to finalise the contract for his portrait to be made by Jean-Luc Godard. Eleanor Coppola had been filming her husband for many years with a 16mm camera and we could have bought some of her images, but to see them we had to go via the till: paying $16,000 to the San Francisco cinematheque, the sum owed by Coppola for storing the reels. The portrait of FFC by JLG came to nothing, the film-makers never managed to agree on the final cut, with both of them wanting the last word. On the other hand Eleanor Coppola did make a portrait of her husband, the remarkable Hearts of Darkness, with her rushes shot during the filming of Apocalypse Now.

In the vast complex of the Zoetrope studios Jean-Luc Godard had the pleasure of several rooms with pale wood shelves, a décor recreating his home in Rolle. This wing of Coppola’s studios, a kind of Villa Medici, hosted the European filmmakers Michael Powell (who made Peeping Tom [1968]), Wim Wenders and Godard on the same floor. The graft between Coppola and European cinema failed to take, due to a misunderstanding. The Hollywood giant was expecting Godard and Wenders to remake their previous successes for American audiences. Jean-Luc Godard was absent during my stay at Zoetrope studios. Before leaving he had pinned a Godardian message to his office door, in his harmonious writing in black felt pen: “Dear Angeline friends, have you ever wondered who is watering my flowers in Rolle while I am in Los Angeles?”6

Godard had a project to film the life of the mafioso Bugsy Siegel, promoter of the Flamingo, the first casino built in Las Vegas to launder money from racketeering, drugs and prostitution. The project came to nothing but, after the success of the American release of Sauve qui peut (la vie), Godard and Coppola planned to continue their collaboration and tests were shot at Zoetrope studios for the film Passion with the involvement of two collaborators close to Coppola, set designer Dean Tavoularis and DP Vittorio Storaro. This was for the reconstruction of Georges de La Tour’s painting The Newborn Child, lit by one candle. I got the end of the story from Godard’s assistant Bertrand Theubet. Dean Tavoularis and Vittorio Storaro, both real stars, came to Rolle to work on preparing the film. They did not get on with Jean-Luc Godard. One bad day, the hermit of Rolle dumped his Oscar-winning collaborators in a café carpark at closing time, with no taxi, no hotel and no return plane tickets. Passion was made without them on the shores of Lake Geneva. It is a masterpiece that questions painting and cinema through light, the source and origin of cinema.

The reconstruction of Georges de La Tour’s The Newborn Child (c.1648) in the test material for Passion. This is a different take of a shot later used by Godard in Une bonne à tout faire (2006)

Back to Passion. For the shoot Godard hired a new Swiss collaborator, Ruth Waldburger, who began her career in Swiss German television. On Passion she was studio floor manager. She went on to become the Swiss producer or co-producer of many of JLG’s subsequent features.

The studio sequences of Passion were shot in Paris and the exteriors in the Lake Geneva region. In an interview in Cahiers du Cinéma, JLG explained this choice:

It (the Rolle region) is one of the places with the best light because it’s very varied. […] That has a lot to do with the ups and downs, the rhythms of proportion between the undulating fields and forests. And the fact that it’s windy must have something to do with it. In Rolle alone there are something like 32 different winds, each of which has a name. The light is always changing.7

When the film had its cinema release Spécial Cinéma kept its word and, as promised, scheduled another prime time evening entirely devoted to Godard on November 15, 1982. For the occasion the filmmaker made the 53-minute video Scénario du film Passion, in which he explains the genesis of the film, illustrated with clips. Twenty or so viewers watched the video live on the programme. When it was over Christian Defaye asked them what they thought of Sauve qui peut (la vie) and Scénario du film Passion. They put very pertinent questions to JLG and he answered them carefully and with good grace. The discussion was calm, with no showing off. One viewer said he regretted buying a ticket to see a film he had not understood at all, at which Godard took out his wallet and reimbursed the cost of ticket, saying when you watch a sunset you do not try to understand it, you just feel something. To another questioner JLG conceded that in his film he sometimes went for too much originality and commercial films went for too little. The ideal, he concluded, would be the happy medium. Another crafty viewer advised him to make funny films. Godard replied that he would like to, but the films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were precision mechanisms in which they themselves performed and he wasn’t capable of doing that.8

Christian Defaye introducing, and Jean-Luc Godard answering questions during, the live discussion following the broadcast of Scénario du film Passion on Spécial Cinéma on November 15, 1982. Raymond Vouillamoz is seated in the row behind Defaye.

The idea of making Scénario du film Passion came naturally to us at TSR and to Godard as an extension of the experience of the TV version of Sauve qui peut (la vie). Personally I think Scénario du film Passion is a more successful attempt (a converted try as they say in rugby) than Voyage à travers un film. One reason for its success was that Godard had a lot of material available for this post-shoot piece, including many videos recorded while the film was in preparation. There were for example test recordings with Jean-Luc Bideau, from which Geneva’s most famous actor stormed out, calling Godard a fake. I would also mention the filmed discussions with the screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who tried to bundle together all the ideas bursting from the filmmaker. Godard had recorded several hours of video before, during and after the shooting of the film. The themes of these video rushes were documents linked to painting, screen tests with the actors, tests of camera movements, in other words a pre-vision of what the film would be. He would have liked to finish this filmed script before shooting the film, but he said “I couldn’t finish it because the actors and crew didn’t really understand what I was doing.”9

Jean-Luc Godard (left) and Jean-Claude Carrière in Passion, le travail et l’amour: Introduction à un scénario (1981)

The first image of Scénario du film Passion is a naked woman, then soon Godard with his back to the audience, facing the white screen like the writer facing a blank page, as he explains the journey of creation, from developing the script to the film.

Jean-Luc Godard in Scénario du film Passion demonstrating the process of seeing the script for Passion

Along the way Godard can not resist criticising the presenters of magazine programmes on TV “who have their backs to the images where only the people who manipulate them can see them”. The criticism is off-topic, but that is not the main thing. For example, for JLG an image can be a sound, like Léo Ferré singing La ballade des pendus by François Villon: Frères humains, qui après nous vivez / N’ayez les cœurs contre nous endurcis… (“Brother humans who live after us / Don’t harden your hearts against us…”).

And then Godard lets his imagination wander: “A vague idea… a wave… a strike… a strike movement” A strike movement? In the film Isabelle Huppert plays a worker, so let’s go and see how people work in a factory. And the construction of the script continues through an association of ideas: the movements of a worker have something in common with the hand gestures of Ariane, Vénus et Bacchus, painted by Tintoretto in 1576; life has something in common with the love of work and the image of artistic creation. “One must create not a world, but the possibility of a world. The camera will make this possible probable, or rather this probable possible. What one has to do is to create a probability in the script, and the camera then makes this work possible. So creating this ‘probable’, seeing, seeing the invisible, and seeing what one might see if the invisible were made visible. Seeing a script.”

And listening to a script too, with the divine Mozart and the music of Antonín Dvořák, which seems to have been written to accompany the harmonious movements of the camera. The world must be seen before it is described. Beneath its obvious poetry Scénario du film Passion is an instructive piece showing how JLG prepares a film, like a baker preparing, working and kneading the dough before it is baked. I see this TSR commission as a humble masterpiece (“An exile or a foreigner like me […] in global cinema”) and an artistic manifesto (“Here is cinema, there’s the work”). This work that consists of seeing and showing us a script is the most beautiful lesson in cinema.

And by the end, Godard has explained the making of the film with the words and images of a poet. My role as producer was the same here as for Voyage à travers un film, in other words to bounce back ideas and be a facilitator.

Trust the creators and viewers could have been my motto in this audiovisual world which, at the time, was the quintessential symbol of modernity. Once again it was in Pierre Binggeli’s laboratory behind the central station in Geneva that Godard conceived this video essay. It was filmed by Jean-Bernard Menoud and broadcast as scheduled on November 15, 1982 in prime time on TSR. That was the television I fought for. Scénario du film Passion is still available forty years later on the Internet.

The evening showing of Scénario du film Passion (both the video and the discussion with the audience) was announced as follows in the specialist press:

20:10 Scénario du film Passion. A film by Jean-Luc Godard.

21:10 Jean-Luc Godard live with the audience (86 min.). On Sauve qui peut (la vie) and Passion.

Presented by Christian and Claudette Defaye.

Produced by Raymond Vouillamoz and Christian Defaye.

Closing credits of the special edition of Spécial Cinéma in which Scénario du film Passion was broadcast

That evening at the same time there was stiff competition from the three French channels:

TF1: The film La Tête du client (Jacques Poitrenaud, 1965).

Antenne 2: The popular entertainment programme Le grand échiquier.

France région 3: The film Jo (Jean Girault, 1971), with Louis de Funès.

The world TV premiere of Passion itself on a mass audience public channel took place on TSR within the framework of Nocturne, a weekly slot for arthouse cinema, on December 20, 1984 at 22:45.

And to end, a tennis invitation from JLG received five days before the broadcast of Scénario du film Passion…

[Wednesday 10 November. Dear Raymond Vouillamoz, On the off-chance I’ve booked a court on Saturday at 11:15 at Tennis Vic. If you are free, it would be a pleasure. If not, another time, I’ll cancel the court. Fax me your decision. Thank you. Jean-Luc Godard]

Translated by Trista Selous

Notes by Michael Witt

Endnotes:

  1. Spécial Cinéma, October 30, 1979, https://www.rts.ch/archives/tv/culture/special-cinema/10149498-face-a-la-critique.html.
  2. Christian Zeender, “Sauve qui peut (la vie) de Godard: deux films en un”, Journal de Genève, Samedi Littéraire supplement, January 31-February 2, 1981, p. iv.
  3. An internal TSR document dated September 27, 1982 describes this experiment as “an astonishing success”, stating that the combined audience for the film on the French and German Swiss channels alone was 250,000.
  4. According to Godard, he hired Coppola’s studio and crew at a cost of $30,000 for one day’s shooting on a Sunday (October 4, 1981). Again according to Godard, the costs of filming this test material – which was shot by Vittorio Storaro – for the project that would become Passion were paid by TSR, which had agreed, highly unusually, to co-produce the research for the film in the form of an audiovisual “script”: “This script had a particularity, which is that Télévision Suisse Romande had agreed to co-produce it as a script; not at all as a film, as a script. And then that didn’t happen. We still had to make the film with the money we had left, as otherwise we would have been a bit stuck. Through searching we were close to sin, the sin of creation. We were able to make it, well or otherwise, but the ambition was originality, the original idea, not in a self-laudatory sense, but in the sense of original. Then the film was made. And then Télévision Suisse Romande said: ‘Our co-produced script, are you going to give it to us or not?’ And it became a sort of postface in which I recapitulate the process I went through.” Godard, discussion of Scénario du film Passion, Séminaire Image du Centre Méditerranéen de Création Cinématographique (CMCC), November 20, 1982, pp. 26-27, http://derives.tv/discussion-avec-jean-luc-godard/
  5. Several takes of this shot were filmed. Godard used some of the test footage in the 39-minute video he made under the title Passion, le travail et l’amour: Introduction à un scénario (aka Troisième état du scénario du film Passion, 1981) for submission to the Avance sur recettes funding scheme in France, and subsequently in Scénario du film Passion, as well as in the music video he made for France Gall, Plus Oh! (1996), and in three separate chapters of Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98). He also used a still from this material depicting the camera on a crane in front of the white screen on the cover of the paper-based image-text script he made for Passion titled Passion (le travail et l’amour): Introduction à un scénario (IIa), and again later on the cover of the Gaumont VHS boxset of Histoire(s) du cinéma. He returned to this footage in 2006 as the basis for his short film Une bonne à tout faire, which he included that year in his exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, Voyage(s) en utopie: JLG, 1946-2006, À la recherche d’un théorème perdu.
  6. Raymond Vouillamoz, Zapping Intime (Lausanne: Favre, 2014).
  7. Jean-Luc Godard, interviewed by Alain Bergala, Serge Daney, and Serge Toubiana, “Le chemin vers la parole”, Cahiers du cinéma 336 (May 1982), pp. 9-14, 57-66, here p. 62.
  8. In the ensuing years, Godard would go on to perform extensively in his own films, including in comic roles.
  9. Godard incorporated some of this preparatory video material into Passion, le travail et l’amour: Introduction à un scenario. In an interview recorded in March 1982, he stated that “French Swiss television, which coproduced this video script, felt that it couldn’t be broadcast as it was and asked for it to be developed differently. As a result, we continued documenting in video meetings and the filming process with a view to trying to make something called Scénario du film Passion, which will relate these difficulties a little, and will say that we were trying to see a film to enable us to make it.” Godard, “Le chemin vers la parole”, p. 66. See too his comments on the genesis of Scénario du film Passion in the discussion segment of the special edition of Spécial Cinéma in which the video was first broadcast.

About The Author

Rick Warner is Associate Professor and Director of Film Studies in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of Godard and the Essay Film: A Form That Thinks (2018). His essay, “Kubrickian Dread: Echoes of 2001 and The Shining in Works by Jonathan Glazer, Paul Thomas Anderson and David Lynch,” appears in After Kubrick: A Filmmaker’s Legacy, edited by Jeremi Szaniawski (2020).

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