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In January 1982, a strange book was brought out by the German publisher Zweitausendeins. The title: France tour détour deux enfants / Frankreich Weg Umweg Zwei Kinder. It is an idiosyncratic adaptation of Jean-Luc Godard’s and Anne-Marie Miéville’s twelve-part TV series, produced in 1977-78 and first screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

The peculiar nature of the books can be determined using a ruler: France tour Détour Deux Enfants / Frankreich Weg Umweg Zwei Kinder is 24.5cm wide, 11cm high (aspect ratio 1:2.23) und 5cm thick. It has more than 1000 pages and weighs 1350 grams. The well-worn metaphor of the “cinder block” is, in this case, exceptionally appropriate.

The book compensates for a lack: “Until now, neither the series Six fois deux nor France tour détour deux enfants has been broadcast on a television channel in a German-speaking area,” as the first page puts it. “For this reason, we have decided on resorting to the format of the present publication. It is, in our opinion, not the correct format. A television series should be broadcast on television.” The driving force behind this book was Gretel Kemény (today Margarete von Lupin). Together with Shonagh McAuley, she translated the six-hour series, and together with Karl-Heinz Heil she clipped out the more than 1000 black-and-white photos. Even today, forty years later, the series has never been broadcast on German television. It is also one of the few works of Godard/Miéville that (even in France) has never appeared on DVD.

In the 1970s, Godard had apparently bidden good bye to the cinema. He had moved out of Paris – first to Grenoble, then Switzerland, and was working intensively with video technology. Having founded the Sonimage company together with Anne-Marie Miéville, he made the two television series Six fois deux: sur et sous la communication (1976) and France tour détour deux enfants, commissioned by the Institut national de l’audiovisuel (INA). With the film Sauve qui peut (la vie), which was released in November 1981 in Germany, he once again gained a prominent presence in the media. Alongside the Zweitausendeins publication, Hanser Verlag published the book Einführung in eine wahre Geschichte des Kinos (translated by Frieda Grafe and Enno Patalas), and Merve Verlag published Liebe Arbeit Kino: Rette sich wer kann (das Leben).

What were the conditions under which such an improbable book as Frankreich weg Umweg Zwei Kinder became possible, materializing in the early 1980s from a collaboration across West Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich, involving a film school, an alternative publisher and a magazine?

A conversation with Margarete von Lupin, responsible for the idea and realisation of this publication.

How did it come to this book?

The book was conceived as an emergency solution, which in many regards is what it ended up being. Everything began in Munich at a Godard retrospective in late 1979. In total, 33 films were shown in the Film Museum and the Werkstattkino. The Institut Français in the former Palais Seyssel d’Aix, opened its representative building for the German premiere of the video works of Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard. It was there that I saw Six fois deux and France tour détour deux enfants. This was made by possible by Enno Patalas (the director of the Film Museum) and Georges Sturm, who directed the Institut Français at the time.

33 films by Godard. Programme catalogue for the retrospective in the Filmmuseum, Werkstattkino, and the Institut Français Munich, December 1979 (extract).

What interested you about the videos?

Miéville’s and Godard’s video works fascinated me. On the one hand, the episodes had a poetry and a lightness, although they did not balk before the terrifying manifestations of human violence and destruction. On the other hand, they develop a distance towards themselves and as a consequence evince a healthy mistrust of television.

The twelve episodes of France tour, commissioned by the network Antenne 2 and INA, follow an established series structure with its typical repetitions, diverse recognition effects and recurring personnel. But in contrast to the narrative strands otherwise common in television, after a few minutes it becomes clear that we have an analytically devised series, one that prompts us to think rather than feel, and even less to confirm us in our fixed opinions.

Godard’s point of departure was the patriotically tinted educational booklet Le Tour de la France par deux enfants, which first appeared in 1877. Shortly after the Franco-Prussian War, two orphans (aged seven and 14) make their way from Phalsbourg in Lorraine to Marseille to visit their uncle, and on the way learn all kinds of things about the France of their day. But instead of the largely positive representations and lessons of this book, Godard’s series formulates penetrating questions about national history, personal stories and news items.

G. Bruno (Augustine Fouillée), Le Tour de la France par Deux Enfants. Devoir et Patrie, Livre de lecture courante avec 212 gravures instructives pour les leçons de choses et 19 cartes géographiques. Cours Moyen. 138ème édition, entièrement revue et augmentée d’un épilogue (Paris: Librairie Classique Eugène Belin, 1907)

This can arouse an averse response when watching France tour. Adopting the guise of a fictional reporter, Godard himself interviews the two nine-year-olds Camille and Arnaud. His insistent questioning becomes more and more uncomfortable. Compounding this, title cards, dissolves and commentary voiceovers permanently disrupt the favoured consumer patterns of “switching on to switch off”. What the moderators wish to explain, with their history “on and under”, as they repeat in every episode, is simply incomprehensible. But at the same time, they are invitations to ruminate, philosophise, reflect.

France tour détour deux enfants / Frankreich Weg Umweg Zwei Kinder

France tour détour deux enfants / Frankreich Weg Umweg Zwei Kinder

France tour détour deux enfants / Frankreich Weg Umweg Zwei Kinder

Would you describe your encounter with the series as a kind of formative experience?

The series revealed to me how television, as an instrument for investigating truth, could proceed differently with its own means. France tour presents technical procedures, which can either lead to false ideas or be deployed to find truth. These means are so transparently deployed that the series had to be preceded by pioneering experimental work. I am thinking of the contrasts of the image dissolves jumping back and forth, or the slowing down and freezing of the image, while we watch the children doing everyday activities (“ralentir”, “se décomposer”), in order to treat ourselves to a moment of gaining awareness.

In the preface to the book, you write: “Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard were reproached for their suggestive questioning, with which they abused the children.”

I should have put the word “abused” (in the sense of “taking advantage of the children”) in quotation marks. Today I would put it differently. Even today, with me Godard’s questions have the appeal of the thinkable, particularly when he makes such strange combinations. Who still interrogates the structural, ideological foundations of their own culture, such as: Do you receive grades in school and a salary at work? What relation do the two have? Furthermore, it is clear that many of the questions posed by Godard have remained fundamental questions of European philosophy: What is space and time? How do dream and reality relate to each other? How can the perceiving and thinking subject be determined? Are we free to act as we want, and can we want what we want? In principle France tour could be used as a kind of introduction to philosophy.

The couples and oppositions are important: the boy and the girl, the two male and female moderators in the studio, Godard and Miéville…

France tour is dialectically constructed. Two positions or people are always juxtaposed, there is not only a single perspective. Dialogue unites the extremes – even when the protagonists don’t understand each other. Sometimes a sense of unease creeps in: serial TV formats like the news, crime shows, soaps pass by every day, through thousands of heads. Anyone who isn’t careful ends up snoozing away their time before the screen, despite the slow motion effects of “ralentir”, and everything stays the way it was, the old one-sidedness. 

After this encounter with Godard’s series, how did your fascination trigger your own activity?

I quickly decided to translate the video works in order for them to be shown on German television. In early 1980 I moved to Berlin. I set to work in a rather haphazard manner. Shonagh McAulay, then a literature student, soon joined me. This Dream Duo translated the series Six fois deux (in part) and France tour.

That sounds spontaneous and a little dewy-eyed.

Of course it was. But I was in my mid-20s and wanted to grapple with the series in a deeper manner. I wanted to learn more about the rational representation of content with the film medium and its effects.

In the technical conditions of 1980 it must have been a laborious process.

Since there were no dialogue lists, we recorded everything on cheap cassette tapes and marked them with the titles that needed translating. We transcribed what we understood and translated these texts.

In March 1980 Filmkritik dedicated part of its issue to Godard and Miéville’s series. In the journal, the “ninth movement” is published in German, but where the translation came from is not noted.

That was because the Munich-based Filmkritik team prepared their own translation. I remember a passionate discussion about the pair of words “composer” and “se decomposer”. For Filmkritik they had the meaning “come together” (zusammensetzen) and “decay” (zerfallen). In contrast, I was convinced that “se decomposer” should be understood as an active complement to “composer” and be translated as “come to grips with” (sich-aus-ein-ander-setzen).

Nice! Between the translation and the book there was still, however, a long path…

What was decisive was that the German TV networks did not want to broadcast the series. The story of its successful public dissemination can be quickly told: initially Harun Farocki from the Berlin wing of the Filmkritik team advocated for an event at the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie (DFFB). He had seen the series at its premiere in Rotterdam in January 1980 and written about it. In May 1980, Shonagh McAulay and I were invited by the DFFB director of studies Gerd Lechenauer to present the series France tour and Six fois deux to teachers, students and anyone else interested, which were shown on U-Matic cassettes from the Institut Français with our simultaneously over-dubbed translations. After that, we were invited by the adult education department of the Sender Freies Berlin (SFB) network, to hold a seminar on four afternoons in July 1980 and show the video works for a group of SFB employees.

Amazing.

Alf Bold brought us to the Arsenal cinema in Berlin in order to do a translated screening for an internal event. Things were more difficult with the TV networks when it came to the possibility of broadcasting the series. We did receive prompt and straightforward invitations for meetings when we made inquiries. But the rejections came just as promptly. The rationale was always the same: with its 26-minute episodes, France tour did not fit in the German programming structure with its 45-minute timeslots. And the shots were often too long. After about six months it was clear: there would be no broadcast on German television.

Did you speak to Wilfried Reichart at the film department of Westdeutscher Rundfunk? That network did broadcast a few episodes of Six fois deux.

Yes, our last trip, on February 20 1981, was to Cologne. Our meeting with Reichart was enthusiastic and gave us hope. But one month later he also rejected the idea of broadcasting the series due to the aforementioned reasons.

So the book was a reaction to the fact that no network would broadcast the series.

In our circle of friends, criticism of the inflexibility of the German networks grew. The photographer Digne Meller Markovicz argued (and not unjustifiably) that the rejections were politically motivated. She spoke with Franz Greno, who was at the time the publishing manager of Zweitausendeins. Greno contacted me, I showed him the videos, their structure and our translation. The rejection of the Godard tapes by the German TV networks elicited a combative reflex in him: we will print what TV refuses to show, quick, dirty, in black and white. He quickly envisioned the book as a kind of comic strip, a flip-book with a horizontal format and the dimensions of a brick.

There was no model for a publication of this kind.

No. Franz Greno came up with the format. There had never been a film book like this.

But wouldn’t the pictures for a flip book have to be positioned on the outer side of the page?

Not if you conceive of it as a new, text-based flip-book… In early February Lutz Reinecke, the founder and general manager of Zweitausendeins, and Franz Greno sent their approval by postcard. My excited letter to Jean-Luc Godard, that a book was in the works, was sent back to me with the handwritten note: “Okay, read and approved. 8000 DM for you and 2000 for us. Thanks, Jean-Luc Godard.” That was our contract. It was essential for us that we were able to loan out the U-Matic cassettes from the Munich Institut Français over and over again, although the quality of the tapes quickly deteriorated. The DFFB was also important once again. We engaged in barter: the director of studies received the transcription of the French text of the fifth episode, and I received access to one of the two U-Matic players owned by the DFFB, which I used unrestrictedly for a week in a tiny room.

Letter from Margarete Kemény to Godard, February 13, 1981. Handwritten answer: “Okay, read and approved. 8000 DM for you, 2000 for us. Thanks, Jean-Luc Godard.”

Then you set up a kind of improvised photo studio, in order to extract stills from the six-hour-long series?

Karl-Heinz Heil and I sat in front of the device for seven days. I placed my Nikon F2 with a 50mm lens atop a Sattler tripod in an optimal position in front of the screen. Every cut, every dissolve was meaningful for us, we couldn’t miss any of the “collages”. When, at the end of the week, I sank into a deep sleep, the frame-by-frame lever of the U-Matic player pursued me in my dreams.

When you leaf through the book and see its DIY-aesthetic – the low quality of the photographs paired with the unconditional will and energy – you get a certain punk vibe.

A punk book, that is a good description. Unfortunately the video tapes really suffered and the black-and-white Ilford film stock was poorly developed due to a mistake we made. It’s a shame, even a punk book could have had better photos. So all that we could do was to declare the insufficiencies to be a stylistic choice. Interestingly, Franz Greno was shrewd enough that he was not deterred by the poor quality of the photographs; he said with a wink that we wanted to arouse curiosity in the originals.

I also thought about Helmut Färber’s books on specific films, like his one on A Corner in Wheat by D.W. Griffith (1994) or The Life of Oharu by Mizoguchi (1986). They are much more scrupulously produced and attest to a great perfectionism, including in the images, but the fundamental approach is the same: to find an appropriate form in another medium for the fleeting object that is film.

In contrast to Helmut Färber’s text, we did not have a hermeneutic approach. We just “chalked up” a television series.

The photographs are one part of the book, the text-image work is the other.

With a Mercedes Prima, a typewriter from the 1930s, I aligned the German text with each individual photo page by page. Franz Greno suggested the politically significant absence of capital letters. Otl Aicher also used lower case letters. I checked the proofs by hand. I even, for pragmatic reasons, filled in missing or imperceptible elements in the photographs with a marker, which was clearly a departure from documentary conventions…

This emphasises the distance from the original videos. This is particularly clear in the fifth episode, where the images are so murky that the contours of individual actors and objects had to be inscribed into the photos…

Another shortcoming weighs more heavily on me: the rhythm of the cuts and transitions, the rhythm and the speed of the montage sequences, the slowing down and freezing of images, the duration of the shots and dissolves – in the book, temporality is almost completely lost. This is particularly regrettable in view of the labelling of the episodes as “movements” (both in the sense of motion, but also in the sense of a movement in a classical symphony). It is only the length of the texts that gives an idea of the duration of the shot appearing on the same page as a photo.

Do you remember any specific events in the production process of the book between January and December 1981?

Yes, since it is precisely such a dissolve from the eleventh episode that almost did me in. We see a gun from a weapon catalogue and a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Godard here develops the idea that dying is embedded in our reproductive genes, while sexuality and violent death represent the invention of human monstrosity.

France tour détour deux enfants / Frankreich Weg Umweg Zwei Kinder

While typing everything up, I lived in the Arabella House in Munich, a 23-floor skyscraper from 1969. Above the 23rd floor there was an unused attic floor, an empty no man’s land.  After talking to the nightwatchman I set up my typewriter there and, while taking in a breathtaking view of the city, I spread the pages out over the vast floor. When I arrived one morning to finish off the 11th movement, the typewriter and the manuscript had disappeared. In the lobby I was ushered into a sideroom and then picked up by the police and taken to the station in Bogenhausen. In the wake of the “German autumn” and the second generation of the RAF, the tense political situation and intensive dragnet investigations in Germany, these two pictures and my unusual workplace had made me highly suspicious. After a day of interrogation I was given back the manuscript and the typewriter and let go. Pictures can be politically charged and suggest the wrong thing. That was my best lesson in the sphere of image reception.

Do you know what Godard thought of the book?

He liked the end product. I had taken over the direction of the German wing of Aaton for Dedo Weigert Film in Munich and often travelled to Grenoble to visit Jean-Pierre Beauviala, the engineer and inventor of the pioneering Aaton 7 16mm film camera. At that time Beauviala was developing a 35mm Aaton for Godard. During one of my visits I bumped into Godard and we had a brief chat. But in fact the book is contradicted by Godard’s idea, repeatedly articulated in Archaeology of the Cinema, Memory of the Century, that a film could not be reproduced as text and images. Our France tour book shows this very clearly.

Were there other reactions alongside Godard’s praise?

Not much. Even though we sold out our print run of 5000 copies, it aroused no media interest apart from a short notice in Film & TV Kameramann. Only the Zweitausendeins catalogues (no. 55 and 56) made any detailed mention of the book. 

Zweitausendeins, catalogue no. 55 or 56.

Today it has disappeared from the market, just like the video tapes. But who really wants to come back home from work, sit in the living room, put their feet up like the Americans do and then let themselves be harangued by a provocative voiceover commentary? People: monsters! For twelve episodes?

Glossary

Filmkritik: In the 1970s, the magazine Filmkritik (334 issues from 1957-1984) had turned away from daily film reviewing and shifted towards in-depth thematic special issues. In its last decade, the editorial team consisted of a West Berlin-based wing (Harun Farocki, Hartmut Bitomsky, Johannes Beringer, Peter Nau and others) and a Munich-based wing (Wolf-Eckart Bühler, Rainer Gansera, Eberhard Ludwig, Gerhard Theuring). Godard, like Straub/Huillet, Peter Nestler and the American left, was a persistent preoccupation for the magazine. Issue no. 279 (March 1980) is in large part dedicated to France tour détour deux enfants, while issues no. 292 and 297 (April and September 1981) contain dossiers on Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Slow Motion, 1979).

Rotterdam/Farocki: “From Godard there were 13 episodes [sic!] of his latest video production, on two monitors and an Eidophor wall in a small room. Hardly anyone went to it, but as a presentation, it worked fine. Everything happens again and again: speaking with children, the inter-titles, the moderators, the slowing down and freezing of images, keen insights into everyday matters. It is fitting for this work that it is always on offer and you can go in for a while, and yet with all this coming and going through the doorway, you need a lightning quick change from concentration to distraction. I will plead for putting this work in the antechambers of city libraries, perhaps for a year-long run.” (Harun Farocki, “Scheiß auf die Kunst, rufen die Kunsterzieher. Film International Rotterdam“, in medium 3 (1979), p. 39.

DFFB/Godard: A memory of Bärbel Freund: “It is also interesting, that there were two groupings in the DFFB in 1979-1980: the ones who copied Godard, that is, his early 1960s films, and then the ones like Gretel, Karl and me, who were only interested in the then contemporary Godard, the collaboration between Anne-Marie Miéville and Godard. Anne-Marie Miéville had a kid, Godard didn’t, that also played a role.” (Email from July 17, 2020).

WDR/Godard: Wilfried Reichart: “It was always difficult to find a broadcast slot for these Godard productions. If I recall correctly, it was 12 x 25 minutes. I spoke with the family programming department about whether we could find a slot. That didn’t work. I didn’t want to make a selection and only show part of the series, as we did with Six fois deux, where we concentrated on the episodes that had to do with film and photography.” (Email from July 24, 2020).

Franz Greno: Typesetter and book designer, he initially worked in the production department at S. Fischer Verlag. From 1975 to 1985 he directed production at Zweitausendeins. He was particularly well-known for the “Andere Bibliothek” in the 1980s, which was established with Hans-Magnus Enzensberger and put out by the Eichborn Verlag.

Zweitausendeins: The Zweitausendeins mail order firm, founded in 1969 in Frankfurt am Main by Lutz Reinecke and Walter Treumann, developed from a company selling remaindered stock in the 1970s (leftist bric-à-brac, pop and rock LPs, comics, books), to a publisher with its own program and branch outlets in numerous cities. Its counter-cultural ethos was counterposed to the educated bourgeois culture of the publisher Suhrkamp. An important component in its business model were cheap reprints, such as the run of the first seven years of Filmkritik, published in two compact volumes in 1975. The successful recipe of diverting the libidinal streams of alternative culture in the direction of consumerism was not without controversy. In an unpublished note from 1981, Harun Farocki included Zweitausendeins in a list of exponents of a “new culture industry”: “I want to say something here about the struggle against the new culture industry, the programme magazine (in Berlin they’re called Zitty and Tip), the arthouse cinema, pop crap, the publisher Zweitausendeins, or pub claptrap of the type does this film correspond to the general line of our party, type II this artist wishes to be progressive and we will embrace him so firmly in an alliance it will suffocate him, type III what about ecology.” Uwe Nettelbeck’s magazine Die Republik was put out by Zweitausendeins for its first 54 issues, but due to various differences it switched to Stroemfeld/Roter Stern. See Uwe Nettelbeck, “Notizen”, Die Republik 55-60, June 3, 1982, pp. 1-53. 

Karl-Heinz Heil: studied at the Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film (HFF) in Munich from 1972 to 1979 and then moved to Berlin in 1980. In the 1970s, occasionally collaborating with Harald Vogl, he shot Super-8 films, then 16mm, and today digital. Three films were made with Bärbel Freund. Ute Aurand made the film Bärbel und Charly about the two in 1994. As an actor, Karl Heil can be seen in Thomas Schultz’s Zwischen Gebäuden (1988), Thomas Arslan’s Im Sommer (1990) and Renate Sami’s Die Schöne Giesserin (1993).

Jean-Pierre Beauviala: (1937-2019) was a camera engineer, inventor and founder of the firm Aaton. Aaton was the first film camera with a quartz-controlled camera motor, the first film camera equipped with a time code for synching sound. With the aid of an externally mobile film transport grip, the Aaton was considerably quieter than competitors such as the Arri. It could fit ergonomically on the camera operator’s shoulder and left one eye free when being used. After his move to Grenoble, Godard worked closely with Beauviala on the development of a light, portable 35mm camera. Film projects were also conceived together, but never came to fruition.

This interview first appeared in German in issue no. 47 of Cargo. Translated by Daniel Fairfax

About The Author

Volker Pantenburg is professor for Film Studies at the University of Zürich (Switzerland). www.volkerpantenburg.de

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