Among the many spiralling sequences that make Bronenosets Potemkin (Battleship Potemkin, Sergei Eisenstein, 1926) a major example of what the Soviet director achieved in terms of montage, the stone lion sequence stands as a paradigmatic example for its simplicity. It shows, as we all know, three shots of lion statues, each one depicting the animal in different positions, from lying down to standing. It is a delicate montage which has the effect of a single stone lion appearing to rise up. Amongst many aspects of the history of cinema that Godard wanted to show with his 1990s series Histoire(s) du cinéma (1989-98), this sequence functions as an exemplary instance of Eisensteinian montage, but it is also absorbed as a way of thinking history itself. Throughout the eight chapters of Histoire(s) du cinema (1988-1998), Godard enacts several kinds of montage to examine the images of films as well as their historic registries. By doing so, Godard merges fiction and documentary, eliding the distinctions between the two and mixing their respective logics. This provoked some controversies in the academic world, such as the polemics that Georges Didi-Huberman has engaged in.1 What is put at risk are the limits of montage as a way of thinking. In this respect, the bracketed “s” in Godard’s series title has little to do with the quantity of material and the multiple ways to show it, but announces the challenge posed to montage in terms of judgment. Since Henri Langlois’ Cinémathèque française programming, Godard conceives the history of cinema as an act of combinatorics juxtaposition. His radicalism is to transfer this heritage, added to the experience at the editing table, to the domains of history. The appearances of Eisenstein’s stone lion in Histoire(s) du cinéma are exemplary as its alanysis may throw new light in the understanding of Godard’s use of historical images.

The stone lions in Histoire(s) du cinéma

This sequence appears twice in Godard’s video series Histoire(s) du cinéma: in chapter 1A, Tous les histoires (1989) and in chapter 3B, Une vague nouvelle (1998). Godard’s editing intervention is different in each case, revealing two important faces of the montage of Histoire(s) du cinéma: enactment of others directors’ montage methods, and combination of contents from the films, as in programming.

As it is one of the few moments in Histoire(s) du cinéma where Godard maintains the original cut of sequences, the first appearance of Eisenstein’s stone lions has an almost invisible editor’s touch. Adding a very short black screen between the first and the second lion shots, Godard intervenes metrically, employing the montage method created by Eisenstein himself. The Soviet director transformed, as known, the practice of cross-cutting attributed to DW Griffith into a form of dialectical montage, by subjecting the shots to a regime of systematic opposition to each other. More precisely, Eisenstein created a metrical criterion for juxtaposing shots, considering their durations, as he said, “in a formula-scheme corresponding to a measure of music.”2 Godard’s choice of duration and position places Eisenstein’s sequence amongst other Soviet directors’ images throughout the first part of Episode 1A. Bringing together shots taken from films by Eisenstein and also Grigori Alexandrov, Esfir Shub, Dziga Vertov, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Godard introduces here the Soviet silent cinema after having shown some of Griffith’s acts of cross-cutting.

Firstly, Godard proceeds to a dialectical montage merging a pair of shots from Padenie dinastii Romanovykh (The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty, Esfir Shub, 1927) depicting two diverse situations: a Russian couple, belonging to the upper echelons in an official event, and a windmill with two corpses hanging from the propellers. An alternation repeated in high and constant frequency creates, with the shots, the effect that Jacques Aumont called battement (beating).3 A black screen follows, maintaining the rhythmic pace of the sequence, then another alternate montage, with fusion, this time even faster, shows more shots from The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty: a couple dancing on a boat, and two corpses hanging from a bridge. A sound of cannon shots, and an intense moment of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony intensify the increasing speed of the alternations. Godard’s procedure here enacts that of Eisenstein, for whom “tension is obtained by the effect of mechanical acceleration by shortening the pieces.”4 Another black screen is inserted, and subsequently an intertitle from Battleship Potemkin appears, which simply states “Suddenly”, followed by two pairs of shots, in a metrical alternate proportion. In the first pair, the former shot ‒ Godard adjusting his glasses ‒ is faster than the subsequent one‒ soldiers advancing on the Odessa staircase. In the second pair, the former shot ‒ Godard putting on his glasses ‒ is slower than the second ‒ the first shot from lion sequence. After another black screen, the second and third stone lions are followed by a longer shot of a crowd running down the Odessa stairs, crowning Godard’s tribute to Eisenstein. Incidentally, other directors’ methods are also replicated throughout Histoire(s) du cinéma, like that of Abel Gance in chapter 1B, and that of Hitchcock in chapter 4A. By bringing together different forms of montage, Godard is adhering to the idea that coexistence is the one and only principle for both montage and history.5

Histoire(s) du cinema

Histoire(s) du cinema

Histoire(s) du cinema

Histoire(s) du cinema

The second appearance of Eisenstein’s stone lion sequence in Histoire(s) du cinema exhibits a very different use of montage, and indicates the content relations in a more complex way. Dedicated to the nouvelle vague, Episode 3B starts with shots from some of the inspirational figures for Godard’s generation: Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Ingmar Bergman, and others. In contrast to the first appearance, the lion sequence is here heavily manipulated. Broken into its three parts, merged with shots from four other films, freeze-framed, superposed and titled, the lion sequence depicts here the visual surplus that marks Histoire(s) du cinéma’s aesthetic. More importantly, in Episode 3B Godard merges Eisenstein’s lion sequence with shots taken from a film list: Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monica, Ingmar Bergman, 1953), The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (Preston Sturges, 1949), Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, 1948) and Une femme est une femme (A Woman is a Woman, Jean-Luc Godard, 1961), combining each sense of the images. Diversely to enacting others directors’ montage method, as in the first lion appearance, here Godard replicates his old master Henri Langlois’ system. Founder of the Cinémathèque française, Langlois had a decisive importance, as known, to the nouvelle vague movement and the cinephilia that generated it, and Godard was one of his most prominent protégés. Langlois created the Cinémathèque programs as a challenging combination of diverse films, with the creation of sparks of meaning, as earlier thoerised by Walter Benjamin. Langlois’ method influenced Godard’s montage in Histoire(s) du cinéma, and this heritage can be seen in the endless title lists, appearing like a movie theatre program listing, recited in voice-over throughout the series. Moreover, in the 1970s Langlois and Godard had planned a series television-oriented projects that would show film clips, but unfortunately the death of the former interrupted this project.6 Nevertheless, the essence of Langlois’ programming can be found in his combination of coexistent film senses, generating a legacy to Godard in the form of a historiographic method, and the second appearance of Eisenstein’s lion sequences in Histoire(s) du cinéma reveals it.

“What do these films have in common?” asks Dominique Païni about Langlois’ programming.7 Godard’s approximations in the second appearance of Eisenstein’s lions equally determine a complex set of answers. Superficially, one could say that Godard barely reveals his cinematographic inspirations. Eisenstein’s dialectic montage, performed in the lions, Anna Karina’s face, in a shot from A Woman is a Woman, the story of Hamlet, the king’s murder representing a rupture with tradition – characteristics usually attributed to the Nouvelle Vague, etc. However, a programmer’s regard reveals a particular sense inherent to the relationships between films. A web of connections is inherent to the sequence, turning around Godard’s fundamental thesis on montage, mentioned before: bringing two different images together serves to reveal something that was not contained in either of the two images in isolation. This thesis and its coexistance principle – relationship between images – naturally implies Eisenstein’s famous third image (the result of the relationship between the two images), but also literary technics like that of Pierre Reverdy for whom an image is the result of putting together two different things. Montage and film programming are, in this sense, two different ways of constructing a web of connections through images, with methods borrowed from cinema as well as literature. 

After a sequence alternating shots from Summer with Monica, The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend, and The Family Jewels (Jerry Lewis, 1965), a dialogue taken from A Woman is a Woman is heard between Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Angela (Anna Karina).

Alfred: Yesterday I asked you a question and you didn’t answer.
Angela: What question
Alfred: What must I do to make you believe that I love you?

At the same time, a shot of The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend is alternated repeatedly, in high frequency, with a photo of Eisenstein at the editing table, examining a strip of film. The expression made by Freddie Jones (Betty Grable) in the shot from the Sturges film indicates commiseration. In the original sequence, Freddie’s expression responds to Judge Alfalfa (Porter Hall) who is bent over, victim of a bullet in the buttocks which she had accidentally fired at him. Godard replaces the shot of Judge Alfalfa with Eisenstein’s photograph, to whom now Freddie’s expression of commiseration is directed. Due to Godard’s montage, Alfred’s question to Angela in A Woman is a Woman is answered by Freddie from The Beautiful Blonde as she cries “oh, no! no!”, and whose expression of commiseration, in turn, addresses Eisenstein in the photograph with which the shot alternates. Freddie’s commiseration is similar to that of the brokenhearted Angela, for the former’s bullet was originally addressed to her unfaithful boyfriend. Subsequently Angela replaces Freddie in the alternation with the shot of Eisenstein. Now the Soviet director appears to be hanging Angela with the strip of film. It is like a boomerang effect. Freddie responds to Alfred, who responds to Angela. Freddie feels sorry for Angela, hanged by Eisenstein. Godard’s montage links shots taken from different films and the photography of Eisenstein, redirects the meaning of each image, and creates new networks of associations. Thus, Freddie, Alfred, Angela, and Eisenstein, become characters in a short story, whose narrative is produced by Godard’s montage.

I noted that the shot from A Woman is a Woman shows Angela (Anna Karina) in a crestfallen state after seeing a photograph shown by Alfred (Jean-Paul Belmondo), of her suitor Émile (Jean-Claude Brialy) with another woman. Angela’s brokenhearted face is superimposed on the first of Eisenstein’s stone lions, the one lying asleep. This first passive moment of Godard’s sequence will then be opposed to an active one, when the aforementioned moment with Eisenstein holding a strip of film is substituted for the sleeping stone lion and, due to the superimposition effect, seems to hang Anna Karina. On the other hand, the shot from Olivier’s film – Hamlet jumping with a sword to kill his uncle Claudius ‒ when placed in the end of the sequence, near the third and standing stone lion, has an unexpected proximity to the scene from A Woman is a Woman. In order to prove that his uncle killed his father, Hamlet sets a trap which obeys the same principle that affected Anna Karina’s character: seeing as revelation.

The ghost of Hamlet’s father reveals that Claudius was the one who killed him, dispensing poison into his ear. Hamlet sets up a play reconstituting the murder, and jumps to kill Claudius after confirming his guilt in the reaction of his face. Seeing as revelation is therefore shared by the gesture of Hamlet and the rising of the stone lion, which in Battleship Potemkin stood up against hostile forces. Anna Karina’s passivity remains as an opposition. The unquestionable Eisensteinian punch of Godard’s sequence is identified with the effects of montage itself. At the end of the sequence, Godard adds an image of a castle and the title “when we say Elseneur, we say nothing.” Elseneur (or Elsinore) was the name of Hamlet’s castle in Shakespeare’s play, obviously less important than the name of Hamlet himself, so the photograph remains without any attractive force. Godard adds “but when we say Hamlet, then everything is said.” The castle image acquires interest, and its pathos accompanies Eisenstein’s standing lion image, with a jumping Hamlet wielding a sword. What Godard’s montage creates here is a revelatory function directly linked to storytelling, and what is interesting is that it also links history and montage. It is as if Godard were trying to teach or investigate, through images, the delicate process of the construction of meaning, which participates, from Histoire(s) du cinéma prismatic montage’s point of view, in cinema, but also in other arts, as well as in history. From this artistic perspective, even words are affectable by the coexistence principle that opens up each elements’ meaning to be transformed or regrouped in a new web with new meanings implied and so on. One thing to be considered here are the consequences in terms of historiography, since from this point of view it is hard to maintain any form of identity attached to the constitutional elements of a set, whether it be images, words or other elements.    

Histoire(s) du cinema

Histoire(s) du cinema

Histoire(s) du cinema

Histoire(s) du cinema

When it Comes to History

Things become thornier, once Godard’s montage in Histoire(s) du cinéma does not stand for storytelling, but for telling the history of cinema. When it comes to taboo images, such as the corpses from the Nazi death camps, freedom of association meets with misgivings from some critical quarters. For these critics, certain moments in Histoire(s) du cinema show narrative confusion and dishonesty with respect to the use of historical images and references. In Episode 4B, a sequence which starts with the same photograph of Eisenstein used in the second lion appearance, juxtaposes Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) and Allemagne année 90 neuf zéro (Germany Year 90 Nine Zero, Jean-Luc Godard, 1991) with a shot filmed at the moment of the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp. The sequence is titled with the words “German”, “Jewish” and “Muslim”, after a pun on the name of Lang’s character Mabuse, an omnipresent supernatural criminal. Didi-Huberman indicts this sequence: in his view, the word Muslim amalgamates different significations, and Godard failed to justify the meaning he was referring to.8

The second appearance of Eisenstein’s lion is free from this kind of questioning, although it indistinctly merges the revolutionary upheaval of the Soviet Union in the twentieth century with the crimes of a Danish royal family in the Middle Ages. Godard’s work can indeed be considered as both fiction and history, but when the critical lens passes from the former to the latter, the critical attitude becomes appreciably changed. Didi-Huberman’s analysis in his book Passés cités par JLG revises the reliability of signs used by Godard, calling these signs “quoted pasts”. Didi-Huberman’s questions provoke Godard’s spectator to judge the use of signs, but isn’t the former negating too abruptly the multiplicity of thought manifested in the “(s)” in the title of the series?

Incidentally, the parenthesis in the title not only stands for the quantity of material and the multiple ways of using it. It is necessary to look back and examine Godard’s earlier uses of parenthesis, as in Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980), and the unfinished project Naissance (de l’image) d’une nation (1977-78). In both cases the parenthesis has the function of a caveat on the coexisting differences of meaning in the putative proposition. In this regard, the conversation with Youssef Ishagpour reveals the correlative of this logic ‒ that of a differential coexistence, as we might call it ‒ in the domain of images, that is, montage or, for Godard, history: 

Youssef Ishagpour: When Eisenstein or Vertov put one image after the other, […] there was a third image engendered in the mind of the spectator..
Jean-Luc Godard: That’s exactly what I do…
YI: But you use two overlapping images..
JLG: Not always, but to remember, to show that the image is there […] the two shots could have been shown separately…9

Didi-Huberman’s assertiveness has, of course, a great validity in regards to the possibilities of use that image allows when it comes to history, but it must be said that in the case of the polemic over the use of the word “Muslim”, he seems to ignore Godard’s logic. The identification made by the later between montage and history is based, as I mentioned, on the coexistence of differentials. In Godard’s words:

If you say that Copernicus (Nicolaus Copernicus), in the year 1540, brought the idea that the Sun had ceased to revolve around the Earth, and if you say that some years later, Vesalius (Andreas Vesalius) published De humani corporis fabrica, where we see the inside of the human body […], well, there is Copernicus in one book, and in another, there is Vesalius, and then, four hundred years later, there is Francois Jacob who says: “in the same year Copernicus and Vesalius…”. So there, Jacob is no longer doing biology: he is doing cinema. And history is nothing but that.10

If we shift to a Hegelian framework, we can see that, by contrast, historical necessity can never result from fiction, and a concentric abstract process should submit its elements, to reach necessity and truth.11 Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma is obviously far away from this treatment, for it expresses a very strong Benjaminian tone. Darkness has much more to do with Godard’s work than enlightenment, in the sense that history is always a matter of defeat, as in Walter Benjamin’s writings. On the other hand, Godard’s work is not as far from Hegel as some hasty Deleuzian interpretations might have it. Daniel Fairfax has shown the connection between Godard and Hegel.12 In short, Godard’s montage in Histoire(s) du cinéma is rhizomatically open to multiple associations, but it also has an internal directiveness, guided by oppositions, which never left Godard since the Dziga Vertov Group period (1968-73). In other words, when Godard manipulates historical images, he brings out an experimental assertive-affine survey, exploring the dark forces of incompleteness, not failing to affirm, nevertheless, very precise and usually polemical historical perceptions. By highlighting the survival of dialectics in Godard’s work, Fairfax’s analysis helps us to understand that in the sequence where the latter mixes the words “German”, “Jewish”, and “Muslim”, he is exploring historical ironies of the 20th century, in an act that both implies parallels and differences.

The same applies with the frequently commented sequence in Ici et ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere, 1975), where Godard juxtaposes images of Hitler and the then minister of Israel, Golda Meir. This film, as known, is about the conflicts between Israel and Palestine and the role played by Godard himself in it as a film director. Its montage is particularly constructed through series of historic elements. After referring to the emblematic years of 1917 (Russian revolution), 1936 (Spanish Civil War), and 1968 (May ‘68), Godard adds images of Lenin and Maurice Thorez, then the word “popular” (referring to “popular revolution”). It happens that the series of revolutions ends up in dictatorships, (Stalin, Hitler) where Godard includes Golda Meir, obviously in opposition to the Palestine revolution. But the series of images goes on, accompanied by a melancholic voice-over, so that the oppositions seem to vanish in these constellations of historic milestones without a converging point. The voice-over didactic explanation says “each time, the image after pursues the image before and takes its place.”13 There is no dialectical conclusion, but an ad infinitum exploration. Nevertheless, the relations established between each pair of the sequence unavoidably tends towards opposition, similarity, complementation, as it rhymes formally, symbolically, kinetically, etc. For that matter, there is no converging point but forcedly several converging points throughout the series. What is to be highlighted is that each point is not constituted but contains at least two images, the last and the next, thus converging in the coexistence between the dual relationship and the whole series. The assertion that Golda Meir is a new Hitler thus coexists with Gilles Deleuze’s model “differentiation,”14 in which he describes the whole of the film as a work of divergent or “interstitial” montage, and where the opposite assertion, that the image of Golda Meir is opposed to that of Hitler, is perceived.

As conclusion, it remains that considerations on Ici et ailleurs, as well as on Histoire(s) du cinéma should, by and large, abandon classical schemas of producing meaning in favour of alternative models of signification. A description made by Jerry White of the use of technology by Godard and his partner Anne-Marie Miéville neatly demonstrates this point.15 In order to edit Here and Elsewhere, the couple brought together a set of images on the editing table so that they could use a switch to actively transition between two or three of them at a time, in like manner to the editing of a live Television program. Deleuze’s “interstice” takes place in the series of instants when the set of images is sequenced. The spectator of Here and Elsewhere should thus take the effort to recreating the set of images, rather than becoming stuck in each particular confrontation. Godard’s film is, in a certain way, an inscription of the order in which he and Miéville select particular confrontations between two or three images. It should be seen and analysed in much the same way as a film program selected by Langlois. Incidentally, the founder of the Cinémathèque française was already making such polemical confrontations in the 1930s, by indiscriminately programming Soviet, Nazi German, and French with each other. In the case of Ici et ailleurs, to stop at the Golda Meir/Hitler opposition is insufficient. One must include Lenin, Maurice Thorez, the entire constellation which has, more importantly, the gesture of the raised hand as point in common, referring to Denis de Rougemont’s critics on “common measure.”16

The Rise of a Real Stone Lion

Accurate analysis of Eisenstein’s stone lion appearances in Histoire(s) du cinéma helps, as we have seen, to understand Godard’s historiographic thinking behind his montage. Beyond the visual surplus that is usually considered as an exclusively interstitial procedure, or an amalgamation that tends to historical misconceptions, Godard’s montage in Histoire(s) du cinéma implies two important strategies. On the one hand, Godard enacts the montage method of other directors, so classical montage is also present in the series. And on the other hand, the narrative content of images is taken into account in a manner close to Langlois’ programming at the Cinémathèque française. The appreciation of each image as a historical element is complexified, as fictional functions integrates, in Godard’s montage, the domains of history. Thus, Godard’s historiography can be considered in a higher level of abstraction, helping the spectator to abandon the perspective through which Histoire(s) du cinéma is just a mixture of canonical inspiration and historical confusion. In fact, Godard’s essay is less equivocal, being a more direct investigation on images, their content, duration and, more generally, variabilities. As Eisenstein’s montage creates the rising of a stone lion, Godard shows us the moments of a singular historiography. Both directors tell their own history through montage – of his own country, in the case of Eisenstein, and more directly the history of cinema, as regards Godard. Due to the specificity of the latter’s case, history stands, in Histoire(s) du cinéma, between the identification of general historical elements – which are dismembered and infiltrated by fiction – and private gossip – if elements concerning Godard’s personal life, such as the images of Anna Karina, were to be confronted with biographical information. That is, history as a movement of thought stands for its own specificity, as the rise of a real stone lion.


  1. Georges Didi-Huberman, L’oeil de l’histoire 5 : passés cités par JLG (Paris : Les Éditions de Minuit, 2015).
  2. Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form (New York; London: Harvest; HBJ Book, 1977), p. 72.
  3. Jacques Aumont, Amnésies : fictions du cinéma d’après Jean-Luc Godard (Paris: Pol, 1999).
  4. Eisenstein, p. 72.
  5. Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, vol. 2 edited by Alain Bergala (Paris, Cahiers du cinéma, 1998), p. 402.
  6. Michael Witt, Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2013), p. 13.
  7. Dominique Païni, Le rencontre des films entre le hasard et la contrainte (ou portrait du programmateur en chiffonnier) in: Jacques Aumont, Pour un cinéma comparé: influences et répétitions (Paris: Cinémathèque française, 1996).
  8. The word Muslim can refer to the religion, but it was also the name Nazis gave to the severely harmed Jews in the concentration camps. Didi-Huberman claims that it is an error to use the word without stablishing the difference between the two meanings. Didi-Huberman, 108.
  9. Jean-Luc Godard; Youssef Ishagpour, Archéologie du cinéma et mémoire du siècle (Paris: Farrago, 2000): 27-28. “YI: Lorque Eisenstein ou Vertov mettaient une image et une autre, c’était en principe deux images qui se suivaient et gardaient chacune leur rérérence, et il y avait, chez Eisenstein surtout, une troisième image qui s’engendrait dans l’esprit du spectateur (…). JLG: Moi, je n’ai fait que ça… YI: Mais lorsque vous utilisez deux images en surimpression… JLG: Pas tout le temps, mais en laissant penser, en montrant qu’elle est là… (…) ces deux plans, on aurait pu les montrer séparément… Là je dirais que c’est du cinéma, mais no pas utilisé dans le sens d’un discours théorique...”.
  10. Godard, p. 163.
  11. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Jenaer Schriften 1801-1807, Werke 2 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp (Taschenbuch Wissenschaft), 1970), pp. 444-445. “Über die wissenschaftlichen Behandlungsarten des Naturrechts, seine Stelle in der praktischen Philosophie, und sein Verhältnis zu den positiven Rechtswissenschaften“.
  12. Daniel Fairfax, The Dialectics of Montage in the Work of Jean-Luc Godard from 1965-1998 (Master of Philosophy Thesis) (Sydney: University of Sydney, 2010), p. 172.
  13. Here and Elsewhere (Godard, 1973), 22’17”. “(…) chaque fois l’image d’après, chasse d’avant, et prend ça place (…) “.
  14. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1989), p. 180.
  15. Jerry White, Two Bicycles: The Work of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013), p. 66. Jacques Aumont also underlined the role of mixing in the form of thinking presented by Godard. Jacques Aumont, Amnésies: fictions du cinéma d’après Jean-Luc Godard (Paris: POL, 1999), p. 15.
  16. Denis de Rougemont, Penser avec les mains (Paris: Gallimard, 1936).

About The Author

Pablo Gonzalez Ramalho is PhD student at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, where he coordinates local film societies. He also was associate in Configuration of Film at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He has published articles on diferent aspects of Godard’s work of montage

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