In 2016 I was conducting research for an article about a forgotten experimental montage film that Jean-Luc Godard had created and screened at the Rotterdam Film Festival in February 1981, where he had combined reels from his then recent Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Every Man for Himself, 1980) with extracts from four other films.1 He titled this experiment Sauve la vie (qui peut). This research was for an expanded version of an article I had published the previous year about this montage film and the series of talks and screenings of which it formed part, which Godard had delivered in Rotterdam in 1980-81.2 In the course of this research I had contacted some of the key figures who had collaborated with Godard on the Rotterdam venture such as Monica Galer and François Albera, who had shared their recollections with me. At the beginning of 2017 the latter also generously made available to me his personal archive of correspondence with Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville from the period, together with a number of other documents, including a short article he had published in January 1981 in the alternative Swiss weekly Tout va bien-Hebdo about what appeared to be a further entirely different version of Sauve qui peut (la vie) made for Swiss television under the title Voyage à travers un film (Sauve qui peut (la vie)) (“Voyage through a film (Sauve qui peut (la vie))”).3
I was astonished to discover that there might exist a second forgotten feature-length variation by Godard on Sauve qui peut (la vie) that, like Sauve la vie (qui peut), had also slipped completely off the radar. I contacted the Swiss TV archives, who – somewhat to my surprise – were able to supply me with a good quality digital copy of Voyage à travers un film. I was equally surprised to discover that they had already made a truncated version of it (62 minutes rather than 98) available on their website, albeit with no indication that it was made by Godard.4
On viewing it I recognised straight away that it was a significant work in relation to Godard’s oeuvre, television history, and the history of the relationship between cinema and television. I wrote about it briefly in the expanded French-language version of my article on Sauve la vie (qui peut). However I realised that there was a good deal more to find out about it, so I pursued my research further in the Swiss TV paper archives and Swiss newspaper archives.5 The volume of material I unearthed, and the discovery that Voyage à travers un film had been broadcast no less than three times – twice on Télévision Suisse Romande (TSR) and once on Radio Svizzera di Lingua Italiana (RSI) – made it all the more extraordinary that it had been ignored by film and television scholars (including Godard specialists) for so long, not broadcast or shown publically since 1981, and never included in a filmography or retrospective of his work. In the context of this longstanding neglect, my aim in what follows is simply to bring this forgotten work into the light by documenting the history of its production, broadcast and reception.
Genesis and broadcast of Voyage à travers un film (Sauve qui peut (la vie))
There had been an initial plan to broadcast the cinema version of Sauve qui peut (la vie) on television at the end of November 1980 in a late slot simultaneously on the French and German language Swiss TV channels, as well as on ZDF in Germany, all of which had invested in the film.6 Until this time, to the frustration of some, Swiss TV refused to allow the film to be screened in cinemas in Switzerland, including at festivals such as Locarno, which took place in early August.7 However this planned multi-channel broadcast was shelved in November 1980 in view of the perceived difficulty of the film’s themes and sexually explicit content (it had received an 18 certificate in France in July that year), and the polarised critical reaction it had provoked since its premiere at Cannes in May.8
This was the backdrop to the making of Voyage à travers un film. The two key figures involved in its production alongside Godard were the then recently appointed Head of Fiction at TSR, Raymond Vouillamoz, and the veteran presenter of the popular Spécial Cinéma film programme at the channel, Christian Defaye.9 Defaye died in 1997, but in the course of my research I contacted Vouillamoz, who kindly agreed to document his recollections of co-producing Voyage à travers un film and later Scénario du film Passion (1982) for TSR (see his article, which accompanies this one).
Accounts from the time vary somewhat regarding the genesis of Voyage à travers un film. According to some journalists, the sexual content of Sauve qui peut (la vie) and the postponement of its TV broadcast led Swiss television to seek an alternative way forward through dialogue with Godard, and these discussions led to the creation by him of the very different TV version.10 A number of commentators indicated that it was Godard himself who proposed the idea of his making a television programme using his film as its point of departure.11 However Vouillamoz and TSR were keen to stress at the time of the broadcast that the programme was not just a fall-back compromise solution created out of necessity, but rather that it had been on the cards from the outset. In the 12-minute discussion between Vouillamoz and Defaye about the project that preceded the broadcast of Voyage à travers un film on TSR in the Spécial Cinéma slot on February 3, 1981 at 20:10, the former emphasised that the idea that Godard would make two different versions of Sauve qui peut (la vie) – one for the cinema, the other for television – had been decided with him from the start.12 He also noted in this prologue sequence that the production of Voyage à travers un film had involved numerous meetings with Godard over a period of several months.
This was also the version of events put forward by TSR in the press release for Voyage à travers un film (see below), and it was repeated in many of the articles published in the run up to its broadcast. Christian Zeender, for example, wrote that some Swiss television executives “were scandalised that the Société Suisse de Radiodiffusion et Télévision (the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, SSR) could have produced such a film [Sauve qui peut (la vie)], and deemed it impossible to broadcast it in view of its crudeness. But this was to forget that from the outset a version specially conceived for television had been planned alongside the cinema version.”13 Other journalists, however, were sceptical, suspecting the fabrication by TSR of a convenient piece of fiction: “Sauve qui peut (la vie), the latest film by J.-L. Godard, cannot be shown in full on television at present. There would be too many protests about certain sequences. So the television people have invented a story about a TV version having been anticipated in the contract prior to the shoot. Strange, these explanations that nobody asked for. A neat and plausible way of concealing timidity or even censorship?”14
The truth appears to lie somewhere in the middle. Had the planned multi-channel broadcast of Sauve qui peut (la vie) gone ahead as originally hoped in November 1980, there would not have been issue (although it is very likely that it would have caused a considerable stir) and Voyage à travers un film would almost certainly not have been made. On the other hand, the idea that Godard might make a different TV version of Sauve qui peut (la vie) was not invented by TSR. As Alain Bergala reported in an article published in January 1980, Godard had already floated the idea in late 1979 during the shooting of Sauve qui peut (la vie) of potentially making two versions: “there will perhaps be two different versions of the finished film, a video-version (for the TV companies who have invested in the production) and a cinema-version that will be ready for Cannes”.15 So this possibility had been in Godard’s mind, and doubtless on the table in his discussions with his co-producers, from early on. As the film took shape, and following its completion and release in France, and in anticipation of its cinema release and TV broadcast in Switzerland, he evidently revived the idea. And it was clearly one that appealed to the Société Suisse de Radiodiffusion et Télévision generally, and to Vouillamoz and TSR (the French-language branch of the SSR) in particular, since it allowed them to show a variation on the film while maintaining that this was in no way unexpected nor a climb-down since a different TV version had been planned from the outset.
As already noted, Voyage à travers un film was first broadcast on 3 February 1981. In fact it had originally been scheduled to be broadcast initially on the German Swiss channel DRS on February 2, 1981 at 21:45, but the programme was pulled at the last moment and replaced by the film The Family Way (John and Roy Bolting, 1966). This was a very late decision, since the DRS broadcast was still being announced in the German and German-language Swiss press as late as January 30.16 According to press reports it was a result of “last-minute changes in concept on the part of TSR and the director”, which meant that the German-language subtitles could not be completed in time.17 Although it was suggested in the press that this broadcast would be postponed to a later date, I found no trace in the archives of this having happened and it seems that in the end the programme was never shown on DRS. Initial reports stated that it would be broadcast on RSI on February 5 or 6; in the end it was broadcast on the channel on February 27, 1981 at 22:15.18 It was also rebroadcast in a late slot on TSR the following year, on August 27, 1982, at around 22:50, to coincide with the belated TV transmission of the uncut cinema version of Sauve qui peut (la vie) the previous day in what was described as a cultural “mini-Eurovision” devoted to the film on TSR, DRS and ZDF.19
From a technological viewpoint, we know that at the time of the making of Voyage à travers un film Godard had just acquired the telecine machine that he had long coveted, which enabled him to transfer film to video and manipulate the resultant material videographically. Indeed his principal incentive for agreeing to deliver the series of lectures in Rotterdam in 1980-1981 had been the substantial remuneration he had received for doing so from the Rotterdamse Kunststichting (Rotterdam Arts Foundation) at the end of October 1980, which had enabled him to buy this new tool.20 He almost certainly put it to use straight away for Voyage à travers un film.
Besides dismantling and recomposing Sauve qui peut (la vie), reordering the source material substantially and sometimes using the same shots more than once in different contexts, Godard added two key new elements to the mix: extended extracts from filmed conversations between himself and Defaye, and between himself and one of the two female leads from Sauve qui peut (la vie), Isabelle Huppert. The latter is central to the programme and more than holds her own in her exchanges with Godard. Indeed Voyage à travers un film is in part an arresting audiovisual portrait of her. According to Vouillamoz in his accompanying article, for the conversation with Defaye, which was filmed in the TSR offices, Godard used a prototype of a one-inch video recorder invented by Stefan Kudelski. Other new material that does not feature in Sauve qui peut (la vie) includes Joni Mitchell’s song “Shadows and Light”, which opens and closes the programme, and a short extract from Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love”, which he uses to illustrate his contention that Stevie Wonder is a great filmmaker, who creates images through sound.
Lengthy sequences from Sauve qui peut (la vie) and from the conversations are reproduced and intercut in extenso in Voyage à travers un film. Elsewhere Godard altered the running speed – both of the telecined footage and the newly shot video material – through the use of slow, stop-start, accelerated and reverse motion. It is worth recalling in this context that at the time of postproduction work on Sauve qui peut (la vie), his hope in relation to the film’s altered motion sequences had been to transfer the 35mm footage to video in order to manipulate the running speed videographically (a technique that he and Miéville had explored extensively in their video work of the preceding years, notably in their use of Bosch BCN video equipment for France tour détour deux enfants, 1979), and then re-transfer the treated footage back to 35mm for editing. In the end, however, this did not prove possible, and the celebrated special effect sequences in Sauve qui peut (la vie) were created photochemically in the lab, replicating as closely as possible the results of rather than employing the same means as those that he and Miéville had achieved previously on their own through video.21 For Voyage à travers un film, by contrast, where the intention was to produce a videotape rather than a 35mm work as the end product, he had full control over the electronic manipulation of the image, including the telecined film material from Sauve qui peut (la vie). He made extensive use of the freedom this afforded him to intervene in the normal running speed of the tape, for example in the stunning opening sequence of the programme where we are introduced to the three main characters from Sauve qui peut (la vie) – Denise Rimbaud/Nathalie Baye, Paul Godard/Jacques Dutronc, Isabelle Rivière/Isabelle Huppert – to the accompaniment of “Shadows and Light”.
The programme’s formal novelty derives above all from the ways in which Godard combines the telecined film material and the newly filmed dialogues, notably through a strikingly original use of videographic fades and superimposition as creative-critical tools for examining and illuminating Sauve qui peut (la vie) from within. As one commentator put it, the programme offers “a sort of discussion of the film through means of the image”, and as such it is an important work in the genealogy of contemporary developments in audiovisual film criticism and scholarship.22 In the numerous passages of Voyage à travers un film that employ these techniques the film extracts do not merely illustrate what is being said. Through the layering process, Godard explores and forges connections between the themes of the conversations and the clips from the film, constructing a two-way process of exchange and reciprocal illumination in which the film and dialogues are in a constantly shifting process of interaction and commentary on one another.
The result of this extensive experimentation was a thorough electronic remix of the source film and a wide-ranging autocritical reflection on it in which Godard foregrounded the themes of the relationship between cinema and television, cinema and daily life, and director and actor. He also cast in relief the motif of labour: that involved in the filmmaking process, that of actor and director, and – two key Godardian concerns in this period – the relationship between love and work and the paucity of cinema’s representation of the world of work in general.
In addition, Voyage à travers un film involved a playful détournement of the conventional Spécial Cinéma format, incorporating the critical and dialogical dimension of the programme into its fabric. In the prologue sequence, Vouillamoz and Defaye made it clear that they recognised that the programme would disconcert some viewers, and indeed the former said that he hoped that it would. Towards the beginning of Voyage à travers un film itself, Defaye reiterated this warning:
It’s an unusual episode of Spécial Cinéma that diverges from the standard format, deviates from the norm. It breaks with our customary habits. We all have habits. We, who create the programme, are used to doing it in a certain way. And you, who watch it regularly, I think you’re also used to watching it in a certain way, following a similar pattern, because that’s how it’s been done for six years or so. This evening, if you like, we’re erasing everything. We’re erasing our usual model. We’re going to try to start again in a different way, with the inherent risks that brings. But there’s also a chance that you’ll like it. It’s kind of a journey. Climb on board for the journey. It’s a journey inside a film by Jean-Luc Godard, Sauve qui peut (la vie), which represented Switzerland at the last Cannes Festival. And we’re going to explore this film together.
We should also note that at the time of the shooting of Sauve qui peut (la vie), Godard had evoked the possibility not only of creating a TV version of the film, but also of making a further video once the film was finished in which he would reflect on what he had been unable to achieve and on the aspects of the project that had shifted over the course of its development.23 His tentative idea was to broadcast the video “script” for Sauve qui peut (la vie) that he had made for the Avance sur recettes funding scheme in France – Scénario de Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1979) – together with this second planned video that he would make after completing the film under the joint title Louis Lumière.24 Voyage à travers un film might best be thought of as a synthesis of Sauve qui peut (la vie), Spécial Cinéma and the second self-reflective part of Louis Lumière. Programming Scénario de Sauve qui peut (la vie) alongside Voyage à travers un film would in fact be highly productive, since the former includes lengthy sections devoted to reflections by Godard on slow motion and superimposition that fed as much into Voyage à travers un film as they did into Sauve qui peut (la vie) before it. Indeed thanks to the possibilities opened up by the use of simple videographic postproduction techniques, Godard’s theoretical musings in Scénario de Sauve qui peut (la vie) on the slippage of one image over another in superimposition and cross dissolves, and the gateway that is opened up as a result between the two layers of imagery, were ultimately tested, applied and demonstrated much more fully in Voyage à travers un film than in Sauve qui peut (la vie).
The censorship question
There had apparently been a certain malicious pleasure expressed by a number of Swiss television executives that in agreeing to make a broadcastable version of Sauve qui peut (la vie), Godard would inevitably have to censor himself.25 He addressed this head-on in what to my knowledge is the only published interview he gave about the making of Voyage à travers un film, which he accorded to the left-wing Swiss weekly Domaine public. In response to a question regarding the issue of self-censorship, he began by mentioning the so-called pornographic sequence (“we didn’t want to make it into a problem”).26 However he went on to suggest that the effect of the fragments from this sequence that he had retained in Voyage à travers un film would arguably be even more shocking on television than in the cinema. He also said that on balance he did not feel as though he had censored himself, before concluding that “On television, the principal censorship relates to being able to do something. That’s by far the biggest form of censorship.”27 And in this context, he suggested, the key thing was that he had been able to make Voyage à travers un film at all – “something that can be listened to, that holds firm, that is relatively honourable in view of the constraints. That’s all. I think it’s already a lot.”28 And it is something that he did not think would have been possible for him with French television at that time.29 This did not however stop one commentator (the journalist and author Peter Zeindler) from characterising Voyage à travers un film as a “castrated” version of Sauve qui peut (la vie), and arguing that the removal of the “pornographic” scene had deprived viewers of a key element for a comprehension and appreciation of the work.30
As noted above, TSR distributed a short text about Voyage à travers un film to the press in the run-up to its broadcast.31 It seems likely that Vouillamoz had significant input into the formulation of this press release, since it chimes closely with his comments in the Spécial Cinéma prologue immediately prior to the transmission.32 It is worth reproducing it in full since it was recycled in part or in whole in many Swiss newspapers, often accompanied by a photograph of Isabelle Huppert in conversation with Godard taken by Anne-Marie Miéville during the making of the programme, and as such it played an important role in framing and introducing it for the television viewer.33
presents on Tuesday, February 3, 1981 at 20:10
VOYAGE À TRAVERS UN FILM “SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE)” in the company of Jean-Luc Godard and Isabelle Huppert
The film by Jean-Luc Godard “Sauve qui peut (la vie)”, which was co-produced by the three Swiss TV channels, represented Switzerland at the last Cannes Film Festival.
This film was not only nominated twice at the French Césars (for best feature film and best director), but also nominated as the best foreign film at the American Oscars.
From the beginning of this production, it was decided that a different version to that shown in cinemas would be proposed to TV viewers. It is Jean-Luc Godard himself who directed this television version, in collaboration with Raymond Vouillamoz, head of the fiction section, and Christian Defaye, producer of Spécial Cinéma.
This evening’s Spécial Cinéma programme therefore moves away from the traditional format with which the public is familiar. Indeed, Jean-Luc Godard proposes to us a voyage through his film in the company of Isabelle Huppert, the principal female lead, and Christian Defaye. The public is invited to participate in this voyage.
It is a completely unprecedented experiment that goes beyond a mere reflection by a director on his film and well beyond a mere commentary by an actress on her role. It is an experiment that in fact proposes a new relationship between cinema and television on the one hand, and between an artist and the public on the other.
Never before has a filmmaker accepted to collaborate on such an experiment, and to personally assume responsibility for directing it.
One should also underline the fact that the programme proposed this evening constitutes in equal measure an introduction to the film and an a posteriori reflection on it for those who have already seen it in a cinema theatre.
The first half of Voyage à travers un film was screened for the press in Lausanne and Zurich in advance of the broadcast.34 Not all newspapers that published articles about it prior to its transmission simply reproduced the contents of this press release. The most substantial positive pre-broadcast review was the one mentioned above by François Albera, which appeared on January 30, 1981 in the independent Geneva-based weekly Tout va bien-Hebdo. In an astute short article outlining the originality and achievement of the programme, Albera began by noting that it was richly nourished by Godard and Miéville’s extensive earlier experimental video work co-produced by the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA) for French television, the two series Six fois deux (Sur et Sous la Communication) (1976) and France tour détour deux enfants, which he described – in a manner contrary to the dominant view at the time – as “the most intelligent work that has been made for television, and among the best things that Godard has done”.35 He then proceeded to focus on the effects of Godard’s videographic method. All the standard Spécial Cinéma ingredients are present in Voyage à travers un film, he observed: an interview between Defaye and a filmmaker, an interview with an actor (Huppert), and extracts from the film under discussion. But what Godard does with these familiar elements, he argued, is quite new:
All these things are there but edited, not just juxtaposed as they usually are: images and sounds from the film come and question the dialogue with the journalist. An extract comes and responds to a reply from Huppert. Godard talks about his work and reflects out loud, and it is obviously fascinating, enlightening and funny. By re-editing bits of Sauve qui peut (la vie), in a way he is proposing a new reading of the film where everything seems to refer back to cinema itself as a social machine, and as a factory for the production of behaviour, sounds and images. Everything – nature, romantic relationships, prostitution – all become a metaphor for the film: Giorgiana who does not want to choose, it’s now between two shots; the prostitutes are the actors, the clients the directors, etc.36
On the whole, however, the mainstream press were far less enthusiastic. Writing in the Fribourg daily La Liberté before the broadcast, Yvan Stern expressed his reservations that Godard should have been given such free rein to present and reflect on his own film without adequate critical scrutiny or discussion by others.37 It was not uncommon on Swiss TV, he noted, to give a group or individual the opportunity to air their views, but such programmes were usually moderated by a journalist or followed by a debate. “For Godard”, he concluded, “they didn’t dare. It would have been a delicate but more enriching exercise.”38
The modest number of articles that were published after the broadcast were generally even more negative. This was perhaps unsurprising given that it was a deeply experimental work based on a challenging film, and was broadcast on a mainstream channel in a prime time slot. (Its formal experimentation with the electronic image was not far removed from some of the work being carried out in the same period in INA-produced series in France such as Rue des Archives, but these programmes were clearly signposted as experimental.) One reviewer dismissed it simply as “a programme that was of little use”.39 Another, who began by describing Sauve qui peut (la vie) as a “very beautiful but difficult film”, proceeded to attack Voyage à travers un film as an “incomprehensible mishmash of superimposed images, words and noises leading to illegibility and inaudibility”. Having been given carte blanche, he went on, Godard had clearly got carried away with his taste for experimentation and provocation, and ultimately succeeded only in putting off those who had not yet seen Sauve qui peut (la vie) from now doing so.40 The “incomprehensible” nature of the programme was a recurrent complaint. Thus another commentator started by decrying the “disorderly succession of images, this spectacle exploded in time and space”, before going on complain that the constant superimposition of image and sound, and the abrupt transitions from the conversations to scenes from the film, did nothing to aid one’s comprehension.41
The cinema-television relationship
Defaye indicated in his exchange with Vouillamoz in the prologue that preceded the first broadcast of Voyage à travers un film that the channel had received a number of telephone calls, which suggested that there was a degree of confusion regarding precisely what was about to be broadcast. He stressed that it was not the cinema version, but rather a different “televisual version conceived specially by Jean-Luc Godard”.42 At this point two newspaper advertisements for Sauve qui peut (la vie) were shown on screen, one listing the film’s screening times at the Lido cinema in Lausanne, the other at the Hollywood cinema in Geneva, while at the bottom of the advertisement the following text was given in block capitals: “SPÉCIAL CINÉMA, OR CINÉMA SPÉCIAL / PRESENTS A VOYAGE THROUGH A FILM / SAUVE QUI PEUT LA VIE / IN THE COMPANY OF J.L. GODARD AND I. HUPPERT / TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, AT 20:10 ON T.V.S.R.”
These advertisements, pointing as they do simultaneously to the cinema and TV versions of Sauve qui peut (la vie), exemplify one of the key dimensions of the Voyage à travers un film venture: the establishment by Godard of a connection between the two works, and the generation as a result of thought, dialogue and debate around the film’s themes and imagery as it is shown and received in different contexts. One commentator suggested aptly that Voyage à travers un film constituted a sort of “preparatory seminar” in relation to the cinema version.43 Vouillamoz, meanwhile, was keen in his comments in the prologue, which again echoed the TSR press release, to stress that it did not matter whether viewers had already seen Sauve qui peut (la vie) in the cinema or not. The programme, he argued, functions equally well as a preface and postface, and either way it opens a fresh perspective on the original.
Sauve qui peut (la vie) itself was released in Switzerland on January 30, 1981 in Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Zurich, Basle and Berne. The distribution strategy adopted for the film in Switzerland was in fact contrary to Godard’s wishes. As he made clear in some highly critical remarks about the system governing the distribution of films there, which he compared to the mafia and the Inquisition, rather than release the film for a short period in large cinemas, where exhibitors seek to pack in as many people as possible, he would have preferred for it to have been shown – in conjunction with the TV screening of Voyage à travers un film – in selected smaller theatres, where it could play for longer to more modestly sized audiences.44 The film’s release was accompanied by a retrospective of his earlier films, which ran from January 12 to February 27 at various venues (including the Cinémathèque suisse) in Lausanne, Geneva and Zurich. In some newspaper listings from the period one can see on single page details of the retrospective, the cinemas in which Sauve qui peut (la vie) was showing, and the announcement of the broadcast of Voyage à travers un film, and indeed some journalists presented the three together as a package.45
The idea of a co-ordinated release of Sauve qui peut (la vie) on television and in cinemas, and of the establishment of a dynamic relationship between the two, and by extension between cinema and television more broadly, is explicit in Vouillamoz’s comments in the prologue, where he evokes the idea of a game of ping-pong: by broadcasting a different TV version, which incorporates Godard’s extended reflections on his own film, “We are going to return the ball to cinema, just as cinema returned it to us”. It is, he suggests, “an event”, a unique experiment in the history of cinema and television.
We know that the idea of establishing a connection and process of exchange between television and cinema was important in Godard’s thinking in this period, both in relation to Sauve qui peut (la vie)/Voyage à travers un film and the similar pairing he made subsequently between Passion and Scénario du film Passion. As Raymond Vouillamoz explains in his accompanying article, he, Defaye and Godard went on to collaborate again the following year on the making of Scénario du film Passion, which was broadcast on TSR on 15 November 1982 to accompany the Swiss cinema release of Passion, once again within the framework of a special edition of Spécial Cinéma. It was a brave move on the part of Vouillamoz and TSR given the critical reception of Voyage à travers un film. In an extended discussion of Scénario du film Passion that took place a few days after its TSR broadcast at an event organised by René Allio at the Centre Méditerranéen de Création Cinématographique in the southern French town of Vitrolles, Godard emphasised the link between the feature film and the accompanying video, both in his role as producer and artist: the broadcast of the video on television served to draw attention to the film and thus functioned as a form of what he termed “cultural advertising”, as well as to open a number of perspectives on it.46 “In Switzerland”, he went on, “since I live not far from Geneva, it was done well. The film opened on Friday in Geneva, Zurich and Lausanne, and on the Monday this film [Scénario du film Passion] was broadcast on TV. Not before, a bit afterwards. Maybe it helps, maybe not, but I think it helps a little.”47 He also indicated here that he had tried to persuade the film’s French distributor and TV co-producer, Antenne 2, to do the same, but they had refused. Moreover, a little later in the conversation he returned to this theme, arguing that a new relationship between cinema and TV was both possible and desirable, especially in the case of films that are co-produced by television: “If I were the Minister, I’d pass a law that would last until I was fired making it obligatory for all films co-produced by television to have a one-hour programme featuring members of the crew or certain others involved in its making. It would serve to promote the film, but above all it would force people to do some research at the same time as telling a story.”48
Godard had broached this topic a few days earlier in similar terms during a remarkable 86-minute live studio discussion between himself and members of the public, chaired by Defaye, about Sauve qui peut (la vie) and Passion, which formed part of the special edition of Spécial Cinéma in which Scénario du film Passion was broadcast.49 The announcement by TRS of another special edition of Spécial Cinéma devoted to Godard – coming on the heels of the broadcast on the channel of Voyage à travers un film, of a selection of his 1960s films, and of Sauve qui peut (la vie), all in a period of less than two years – prompted some caustic responses in the press: “Mr Christian Defaye must detest cinema terribly to persist in winding up cinephiles by bombarding them periodically with hours of the same abstruse, rambling and ultimately profoundly annoying gobbledygook…”.50 It was certainly another daring piece of programming, which resulted in a wide-ranging discussion with Godard, although it is striking how little reference was made during it by the audience to Scénario du film Passion, which they had just seen, or to Voyage à travers un film, which was not mentioned at all.
Four decades on
Given the fact that Voyage à travers un film was shown on Swiss television three times, and that a significant number of newspaper articles in Switzerland had announced and commented on its broadcast, it is all the more surprising that it should have been forgotten until now. Its invisibility can perhaps be partly explained by the lack of attention on the part of scholars to the role of Swiss television in co-producing Godard’s work. Other factors that have doubtless played a part include the fact that VCR ownership was still relatively uncommon in early 1981, and Voyage à travers un film was not sold to or rebroadcast by foreign TV channels.51 Scénario du film Passion, by contrast, was sold to a number of international channels, subtitled, and as a result seen by a comparatively large audience. It was for example broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 in the “Visions: Cinema” slot in May 1983. Moreover, a full transcription of its soundtrack was published in 1984 and it quickly generated a sizeable body of critical commentary – both journalistic and scholarly – in various languages.52 In addition, it acquired a reputation as a major work. In 1988, for instance, Jacques Aumont described it as “the key-text” of Godard’s work of the 1980s up to that point, while the following decade Chris Marker famously declared that “I prefer Scénario du film Passion to Passion, yet I love Passion”.53 It was also eventually released on DVD.54 Voyage à travers un film, by contrast, languished in the archive; it was never broadcast again after 1981, was not so much as mentioned by any of Godard’s biographers, and has generated no scholarly commentary whatsoever. To suggest that it is ripe for critical rehabilitation is an understatement.
As Gérard Courant documented in a short article for Art Press in November 1981, one person who did attempt to draw attention to Voyage à travers un film in France at the time was Dominique Païni, who included it in a programme of video projections that he curated in the basement of the Studio 43 cinema in Paris in 1981, scheduling the screening to coincide with a major retrospective of Godard’s work that was taking place in Paris at the time.55 But after that, I have found no trace of it being broadcast or shown again publically until 2020. I sought on a number of occasions between 2017 and 2019 to interest curators in showing it, including at the Pompidou Centre and International Film Festival Rotterdam, but without success. Early in 2020, I proposed the idea to Nicole Brenez, who at the time was curating a full Godard retrospective for the Cinémathèque française in Paris. She responded enthusiastically and added Voyage à travers un film to the programme as the closing event of the retrospective.56 I very much hope that it will now be re-integrated into the Godardian corpus and start to circulate, and that four decades on curators, audiences, critics and scholars will have the opportunity to see and engage with this remarkable experiment.
I am grateful to the following for their help with aspects of the research for this article: François Albera, Marc Brocqueville, Jacques Aumont, Dominique Païni, Raymond Vouillamoz, Delphine Zimmerman.
- The films in question were Staroye i novoye (Old and New, Sergei Eisenstein and Grigori Alexandrov, 1929), Cops (Edward Cline and Buster Keaton, 1922), La terra trema: Episodio del mare (The Earth Trembles, Luchino Visconti, 1948), and Czlowiek z marmuru (Man of Marble, Andrzej Wajda, 1977). ↩
- The initial version of this article is Michael Witt, “In Search of Godard’s Sauve la vie (qui peut)”, NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies, Spring 2015 (https://necsus-ejms.org/in-search-of-godards-sauve-la-vie-qui-peut/). The expanded version, which is in French and twice as long, is “À la recherche de Sauve la vie (qui peut) de Jean-Luc Godard”, 1895, Revue d’histoire du cinéma, No. 81, Spring 2017, pp. 70-101. ↩
- François Albera, “Sauve qui peut: Une émission qui restera une exception”, Tout va bien-Hebdo 94, January 30, 1981, p. 21. The TV version of Sauve qui peut (la vie) was referred to under a variety of titles in production documents and the press at the time: Spécial cinéma ou Cinéma spécial: Voyage à travers un film, “Sauve qui peut (la vie)” avec Jean-Luc Godard et Isabelle Huppert; Spécial cinéma: Voyage à travers un film “Sauve qui peut (la vie)” en compagnie de Jean-Luc Godard et Isabelle Huppert; Spécial cinéma: Voyage à travers un film avec Jean-Luc Godard et Isabelle Huppert; and Voyage à travers un film (Sauve qui peut (la vie)). The latter is the title that Raymond Vouillamoz uses in his accompanying article, and I have also adopted it here, shortening it in the interests of simplicity to Voyage à travers un film. ↩
- https://www.rts.ch/play/tv/special-cinema/video/special-godard–sauve-qui-peut-la-vie?id=9923322; also available at https://www.rts.ch/archives/tv/culture/special-cinema/9923322-special-godard-sauve-qui-peut-la-vie.html. At the time of writing the summary of the programme that accompanies this video on the Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) website states that the editing and sound are “in the Godardian style”, but not that it was actually made and edited by Godard. The same information is given in the written outline of the programme I received from RTS in 2019, which erroneously lists Raymond Vouillamoz as the director. In addition, an extract from the programme featuring Isabelle Huppert is also available on the RTS website, but again the fact that it was made by Godard is not mentioned (https://www.rts.ch/play/tv/special-cinema/video/isabelle-huppert?id=4849244), or the director is wrongly named as Vouillamoz (https://www.rts.ch/archives/tv/culture/special-cinema/4849244-isabelle-huppert.html). These problems are compounded by the fact that the Huppert material is also available via the Swiss notreHistoire.ch archive website, where the same error is repeated (i.e. Vouillamoz is named as director): https://notrehistoire.ch/entries/xy9YlRvq8j6. ↩
- I learnt from my correspondence with Raymond Vouillamoz that the TSR-RTS administrative archives are unfortunately incomplete since some of them were housed in a basement and were destroyed a few years ago by flooding from the river Arve. ↩
- Peter Kaufmann, “TV-Ausstrahlung verschoben: Schwieriger Godard?”, Thuner Tagblatt, February 2, 1981, p. 14; Peter Kaufmann, “Jean-Luc Godards Ärgnisse”, Thuner Tagblatt, August 26, 1982, p. 14. ↩
- Daniel Musy, “Le rideau s’est levé sur… Polenta”, L’Express (Switzerland), August 2, 1980, p. 15. ↩
- Kaufmann, “TV-Ausstrahlung verschoben: Schwieriger Godard?” Godard reproduced the official letter from the French Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication ruling that Sauve qui peut (la vie) was banned to those under 18 in the pressbook that he created for the film in September 1980. The reason given in the letter is that “the film includes, in the most provocative possible way, a certain number of scenes of an aggressive and brutal sexuality, deliberately degrading as much through the image as through the dialogue”. The pressbook is reproduced in Nicole Brenez, David Faroult, Michael Temple, James Williams and Michael Witt (eds.), Jean-Luc Godard: Documents (Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2006), pp. 308-315. For an overview of the film’s catastrophic Cannes premiere and subsequent critical and commercial fortunes, see Antoine de Baecque, Godard: Biographie (Paris: Grasset, 2010), pp. 585-590. ↩
- Born in 1941, Raymond Vouillamoz is a retired journalist, director and producer. He was appointed Head of Fiction at TSR in 1979, then Head of Entertainment in 1980. He subsequently became Head of Fiction at La Cinq in France, Director of Programming at France 3, and from 1993 until his retirement in 2005 Director of Programming and News at TSR. Christian Defaye (1934-1997) was a prolific French journalist, producer and television presenter, best known for his work presenting Spécial Cinéma on TSR for over 20 years. ↩
- Kaufmann, “TV-Ausstrahlung verschoben: Schwieriger Godard?” ↩
- See for example Yvan Stern, “Sauve qui peut (la vie): Godard présente Godard”, La Liberté, February 3, 1981, p. 36. ↩
- The digitised version of Voyage à travers un film (Sauve qui peut (la vie)) available from Swiss television does not include the prologue. I am very grateful to Jacques Aumont for making a copy of the original off-air broadcast available to me, which does include it. ↩
- Christian Zeender, “Sauve qui peut (la vie) de Godard: deux films en un”, Journal de Genève, Samedi Littéraire supplement, January 31-February 1, 1981, p. iv. It should be noted that Zeender was close to the production of Voyage à travers un film. According to a TSR production document from February 1981, he directed the prologue sequence featuring Vouillamoz and Defaye. ↩
- Freddy Landry, “Spécial Cinéma: Godard”, La Lutte syndicale, February 11, 1981, p. 6. ↩
- Alain Bergala, “Sauve qui peut (la vie) 2: Le juste milieu”, Cahiers du cinéma 307 (January 1980), pp. 39-42, here p. 40. ↩
- Niklaus Schlienger, “Godard, die Prostitution und das Fernsehen”, Basler Zeitung, January 21, 1981; Peter Zeindler, “Godards Sauve qui peut in Kino und Fernsehen: Ein schwerer Brocken”, Wir Bruckenbauer, January 30, 1981, p. 12. ↩
- Freiburger Nachrichten, February 2, 1981, p. 2. See also Kaufmann, “TV-Ausstrahlung verschoben: Schwieriger Godard?” ↩
- Jean-François Duval, “Godard et Godard”, Construire, January 28, 1981, p. 13; Gazette de Lausanne, February 27, 1981, p. 15. ↩
- Peter Kaufmann suggests that the programme would start “at about” 22:50 (“Nochmals Godard”, Thuner Tagblatt, August 27, 1982, p. 14). Other newspapers (e.g. La Liberté, August 27, 1982, p. 36) give a slightly earlier start time (22:25). This lack of precision was probably due to the fact that it was preceded by a live sports programme featuring athletics and golf, whose duration was presumably elastic. For details of the unusual joint broadcast of Sauve qui peut (la vie), see the accompanying article by Raymond Vouillamoz. See too Anon., “Mini-eurovision pour un film de Jean-Luc Godard: Sauve qui peut (la vie)”, L’Express (Switzerland), August 21, 1982, p. 16; Kaufmann, “Jean-Luc Godards Ärgnisse”; and Anon., “Nuits d’été: Sauve qui peut (la vie)”, Le Nouvelliste, August 21, 1982, p. 33. According to the latter, TSR issued a strongly worded warning to viewers in advance of the broadcast regarding the provocative themes of the “explosive film”. ↩
- Interview with Monica Galer, September 1, 2011. ↩
- See the 2014 interview with Marin Karmitz on the Criterion DVD of Every Man for Himself. In Karmitz’s view the special effect sequences in Sauve qui peut (la vie), as a result of their having been done in the lab, were “distinctly less strong, less subtle, and less innovative” than what Godard and Miéville had achieved earlier in video. ↩
- Stern, “Sauve qui peut (la vie): Godard présente Godard”. ↩
- Bergala, “Sauve qui peut (la vie) 2: Le juste milieu”, p. 42. ↩
- Ibid. As Bergala put it, Louis Lumière would thus be a film made “before and after Sauve qui peut (la vie)” that would give a sense of “the blind intervention of the gods, of money and of technology in the business of making a film”. ↩
- Zeender, “Sauve qui peut (la vie) de Godard: deux films en un”. ↩
- Jean-Luc Godard, “Le loup dans la bergerie” (interview with Claudine Després), Domaine public (February 1981), p. 11. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Godard’s work for French television had come to an unhappy end when his and Miéville’s TV series France tour détour deux enfants, which they completed in early 1979, was shelved by Antenne 2 for fourteen months before finally being broadcast in April 1980 in four blocks of three episodes in the framework of Claude-Jean Philippe’s Ciné-club series. ↩
- Zeindler, “Godards Sauve qui peut in Kino und Fernsehen: Ein schwerer Brocken”. ↩
- TSR memo dated January 26, 1981 (Radio Télévision Suisse archives). ↩
- Vouillamoz does not recall the precise genesis of this press release. It is possible that he wrote or co-wrote it. On the whole the TSR press office would interview him or rework some draft text that he supplied. However Cinéma Spécial had its own press officer, so it is possible in this instance that the press release was written or co-written by them. Email from Raymond Vouillamoz, June 19, 2020. ↩
- See for example Le Nouvelliste, January 30, 1981, pp. 10, 23; Gazette de Lausanne, February 3, 1981, p. 15. ↩
- Kaufmann, “TV-Ausstrahlung verschoben: Schwieriger Godard?” For more on these press screenings, see Vouillamoz’s accompanying article. ↩
- Albera, “Sauve qui peut: Une émission qui restera une exception”. ↩
- Ibid. The reference to Giorgiana is to the actor Giorgiana Eaton. ↩
- Stern, “Sauve qui peut (la vie): Godard présente Godard”. ↩
- Ibid. Stern was no fan of the original film either. In a separate article titled “Aviler pour dénoncer” published on the same page as the one cited here, he opens with the statement “Frankly, I didn’t like Sauve qui peut (la vie)”. He had also previously written a highly critical article about the film following its Cannes premiere the previous year: “Un navet signé Godard”, La Liberté, May 22, 1980, p. 32. ↩
- Claude Chuard, “Jean-Luc Godard et le cinéma de la différence”, La Liberté, March 14-15, 1981, pp. 33-34, here p. 34. ↩
- Landry, “Spécial Cinéma: Godard”. ↩
- J.D., “Un cinéma très special”, La Liberté, February 5, 1981, p. 36. ↩
- One newspaper issued an apology two days after the broadcast for having suggested in an article published on the day itself (Stern, “Sauve qui peut (la vie): Godard présente Godard”) that “the film Sauve qui peut (la vie)” rather than “THE FILM ABOUT the film Sauve qui peut (la vie)” (original capitals) was going to be shown. The editors, La Liberté, February 5, 1981, p. 36. ↩
- Schlienger, “Godard, die Prostitution und das Fernsehen”. ↩
- See Pierre Hugli, “Le Troupeau”, Gazette de Lausanne, January 24-25, 1981, p. 2. ↩
- Journal de Genève, February 3, 1981, p. 15; Zeender, “Sauve qui peut (la vie) de Godard: deux films en un”. ↩
- Discussion with Godard of Scénario du film Passion, Séminaire Image du Centre Méditerranéen de Création Cinématographique (CMCC), November 20, 1982, p. 29. Available at http://derives.tv/discussion-avec-jean-luc-godard/. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid., p. 44. ↩
- Prior to the discussion, the participating members of the public had been able to watch Sauve qui peut (la vie) on television and/or in the cinema, and had also attended a private screening of Passion. Anon., “Spécial Cinéma: Godard ou la passion d’un cinéaste”, La Liberté, November 15, 1982, p. 32. Scénario du film Passion was re-broadcast on TSR, without the discussion section, later the same week on Friday, November 19, 1982 at 16:10. I am very grateful to Raymond Vouillamoz for making a copy of this programme available to me. ↩
- Le Hérisson (sic), “Encore Lui! (Sauve qui peut…)”, Gazette de Lausanne, November 11, 1982, p. 3. ↩
- We should note, however, that in the prologue sequence Vouillamoz encouraged cinephiles to prepare their video recorders for the unique broadcast that was about to commence, even going so far as to give the length of the programme and say that a two-hour tape would suffice. ↩
- For a transcription of the soundtrack, see L’Avant Scène Cinéma 323/324 (March 1984). ↩
- Jacques Aumont, “Autoportrait de l’artiste en théorichien”, Revue Belge du Cinéma 22-23 (special issue edited by Philippe Dubois: Jean-Luc Godard: Le cinéma, 1988), pp. 171-176; Chris Marker, “Marker Mémoire”, Cinémathèque française programme, January-February 1998: https://chrismarker.org/chris-marker/marker-memoire/. ↩
- It is available on the Japanese DVD of Passion (Tohokushinsha Film Corporation, 2006) and in a Spanish DVD box set of Godardian audiovisual essays (Intermedio, 2010). ↩
- Gérard Courant, “Sauve qui peut (la vie): Version télévisée”, Art Press 53 (November 1981), p. 44. ↩
- I introduced Voyage à travers un film at the Cinémathèque française on March 1, 2020. I am extremely grateful to Nicole Brenez for enabling this screening to happen, and to Bernard Benoliel, Frédéric Bonnaud, Jean-François Rauger and Gabriela Trujillo for their help in facilitating it. ↩