My essay begins as follows:
The Straubs work in tandem, on the same bicycle, him in front, her behind. We have two bicycles.
Who am we?
While collaborating couples are far from unknown in the history of cinema, the nature and extent of Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard’s work together is highly unusual. Unlike Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, the French-born couple working in Germany to whom Godard refers above, who have had a very consistent approach to collaboration in their filmmaking over the years, Godard and Miéville’s extensive body of film and video work together is characterised by at least three discernibly separate strands: ‘joint’ projects (co-directed, or co-‘signed’, co-scripted and/or co-edited); appearances as ‘personages’ or actors, together and alone, in each other’s films; and forms of ‘parallelism’ in the works they have directed alone, which are much less straightforward to characterise. In this essay I shall examine aspects of these collaborative strands, focusing in particular on the case of one of their ‘jointly’ made films Sauve qui peut (la vie), 1979, directed by Godard but co-scripted and co-edited by Miéville, as well as on their appearances as actors in two films directed by Miéville (Godard in Nous sommes tous encore ici, 1997 (We Are All Still Here), and, especially, Godard and Miéville in Après la réconciliation, 2000 (Reaching an Understanding). These films have been chosen because their ‘narratives’ all seem to revolve, to a greater or lesser extent, around the central figure of a ‘creative’ couple, and have been used by other writers and researchers into Godard and Miéville’s work to posit and sometimes to explore issues concerning their personal and professional partnership. It should quickly become obvious that my focus here derives itself less from my own curiosity about Godard’s collaboration with Miéville on these projects-–and much less from a belief that ‘practical’ questions concerning, say, “who did what?”, “who contributed what?”, and “who influenced whom?” can be straightforwardly or even really usefully addressed in these and other cases—than it does from my interest in this wider curiosity their collaboration has provoked in academic and journalistic discourse. This kind of auteurist curiosity verging on, if not always openly entering, what might be regarded as the terrain of ‘the name’ and not ‘the work’, has often coalesced around the figure of Godard. This is especially the case in France where, as Michael Temple and James S Williams write, “there exists a curious cultural paradox whereby ‘Godard’ the media icon (i.e. name plus face) is universally recognisable and yet totally unknown.” My objective, therefore, will be to explore how “Miéville” (name plus face plus work) factors itself into this paradox, but also why certain questions about her collaboration with her partner have been raised by commentators at particular times and in particular ways, as well as by Godard and Miéville themselves; these latter in their published and quoted words as well as, seemingly, in their films.
I would strongly argue that we should explore the totality of [Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard’s] productions (films, videos, performances, published words, and other utterances) as a kind of ongoing, collaborative ‘installation work’ which constantly interacts with its ‘reception’ by audiences. Not in a teleological way, as my reference to its beginnings might suggest, but nonetheless as a reasonably definable site or space which does have certain ‘practical’, human limits of actual duration, and of physical, intellectual and emotional proximity or distance. This is my approach to questions of (film) authorship in general, but it is particularly fruitful in the case of such self-reflective artists as Miéville and Godard.
1. The epigraphs are taken from an interview with Jean-Luc Godard in Libération, 27 December, 2000, and Sherry Turkle, “Who am we?”, Wired, January 1996, p. 148. All translations from French are my own (including film dialogue) unless I am quoting from written sources published entirely in English. This chapter benefited from comments made when it was read at a conference on the work of Anne-Marie Miéville organised by Vicki Callahan at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 13 September 2003. My thanks to all those who participated in the discussion, especially Jane Gallop, Kelley Conway, Tami Williams, and Cecilia Condit.
2. Ginette Vincendeau writes: “Huillet and Straub work as a co-scripting and co-directing team, their equal collaboration so close that it is scarcely meaningful to separate the roles (Huillet has, however, indicated that she tends to be in charge of sound and editing, while Straub does most of the camerawork)”: Vincendeau, Ginette, “Huillet, Danièle and Straub, Jean-Marie”, in Encyclopedia of European Cinema, Ginette Vincendeau ed., London: British Film Institute, 1995, p. 210.
3. I have opted to concentrate on some of their work made on film for cinematic distribution and not on the vast body of video projects for which Godard and Miéville are also well known. This is because, as I shall make clear in my chapter, the film work, with its ‘industrial’ context, has provoked a particular kind of discourse about their authorial collaboration as a couple which distinguishes it from discussion of the video work, the latter tending to sideline issues concerning the degree of individual contribution and influence. In any case, some highly impressive studies of the collaborative video work already exist, most notably those by Michael Witt: “On Communication: The Work of Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard as ‘Sonimage” from 1973 to 1979’”, Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Bath, 1998; and “Going Through the Motions: Unconscious Optics and Corporal Resistance in Miéville and Godard’s France/tour/detour/deux/enfants”, in Gender and French Cinema, Alex Hughes and James S Williams eds, Oxford: Berg, 2001, pp. 171-194.
4. The theoretical underpinning of my approach to questions of film authorship is set out more fully in the following three articles: “Secret Agents: Feminist Theories of Women’s Film Authorship”, Feminist Theory, 2:1, 2001, pp. 113-130; “www.auteur.com?”, Screen, 41:1, Spring 2000, pp. 101-108; and “Recognising Billy Budd in Beau Travail: Epistemology and Hermeneutics of an Auteurist ‘Free’ Adaptation”, Screen, 43:1, Spring 2002, pp. 57-73.
5. See “Introduction to the Mysteries of Cinema, 1985-2000”, in The Cinema Alone: Essays on the Work of Jean-Luc Godard, 1985-2000, Michael Temple and James S Williams eds, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000, pp. 9-32 (p. 9).