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Two Bicycles - The Work of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville

Two Bicycles

The Work of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville

By Jerry White
Subjects Film And Media, Cultural Studies
Series Film and Media Studies Hide Details
Paperback : 9781554589357, 214 pages, August 2013
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554589371, 219 pages, August 2013


Excerpt from Two Bicycles: The Work of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville by Jerry White

From the Introduction

The work of Jean-Luc Godard is both voluminous and widely celebrated. This is as it should be; he is a great filmmaker, someone who has spent a career rigorously rethinking the fundamentals of his medium (film) and its neighbouring media (television and video). Anne-Marie Miéville's work as a filmmaker seems, at first glance, to pale in comparison. She has directed several noteworthy works, and to judge from them, it might seem that she could be filed under the category “interesting Swiss filmmaker,” hardly a classification that would offer a central place in the history of postwar cinema. That would be a mistake. The greater mistake, though, and the more common one, is to conflate “the films of Godard and Miéville” with “the films of Jean-Luc Godard. “ The frequency with which that mistake is made is no doubt a result of the considerable international fame that Godard accrued during the 1960s as part of the French nouvelle vague (hereafter, the New Wave). When such fame is attached to a single name, it can become hard to see beyond that name. This sort of myopia is explicit in Andrew Sarris’s 1970 interview with Godard and Jean- Pierre Gorin, who were at that time making films together and signing them as “Groupe Dziga Vertov”; Sarris writes there how Godard “walked in with his assistant Jean-Pierre something or other” (51). Critics often seem to consider some of Godard’s very best work to be made by him and his girlfriend, Anne- Marie something or other.

Of course, this is not the case at all, as it was not the case with Gorin; one of my first tasks in this book is to lay out some of the problems that the films of “Godard and Miéville” pose for understandings of authorship in cinema. I do that, in small part, by following scholars such as Michael Witt and Catherine Grant and proposing that the clearest, most illustrative comparison point for Godard and Miéville is the work of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. Godard and Miéville pose similar problems in terms of their status as avant-garde artists; thus, I also lay out some of the ways in which their work is both more and less radical than it may at first appear. It is the French critic 2 Chapter 1 Serge Daney who lays out this “Godard paradox” more elegantly than any critic I know of, and his notion of the Godard paradox serves as a segue into a brief discussion of Daney’s work and its usefulness as a “way in” to Godard and Miéville’s films, videos, and television programs.

From Chapter 2: Abandonments

Quebec Godard’s interest in Quebec is surprisingly substantial. The first instance that I know of regarding his concern for Quebec cinema is in the very long interview he gave to Jacques Bontemps, Jean-Louis Comolli, Michel Delahaye, and Jean Narboni of the Cahiers du cinéma in 1967 (it was published in number 194) titled “Lutter sur deux fronts. “1 He stated there that:

“The Canadian cinema is interesting as an example. The National Film Board is an impressive film factory, more so than Hollywood today. It’s a great set-up. But what’s the pay-off? Zero. There’s nothing to see for it. The films just aren’t coming out. What Daniel Johnson ought to do is nationalize all the cinemas in Quebec. But he won’t do it. The best he’s capable of is seeing that de Gaulle gets a welcome in the metro screens. So, over there as well, cinema is subject to a special brand of imperialism, just like everywhere else. ” (Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard t. 1, 318 / “Struggling on Two Fronts,” 294)

This demonstrates a remarkably detailed knowledge of Quebec politics. Not only was Godard aware of de Gaulle’s 1967 visit to Montreal (where he famously shouted “Vive le Québec libre! “ as he addressed a crowd from the balcony of Montreal city hall), but he also seems to know about Daniel Johnson Sr. ,2 at that time the Premier of Quebec as a member of the Union Nationale, a more-or-less nationalist party. Johnson famously chafed against Ottawa and suggested that Quebec should consider separation if it could not improve its position within the Canadian confederation; he was Premier during de Gaulle’s 1967 visit to Quebec. His party had a generally conservative social policy and a generally classical-liberal approach to economic policy (hence the reluctance to nationalize Quebec’s cinemas). And, of course, Godard is keenly aware of and impressed by the work of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), and, more startlingly, he was fully aware of the fact that very few Canadians actually get to see very many of its extraordinary films.

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Two Bicycles: The Work of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville by Jerry White


Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Abandonments

Chapter 3 Communication

Chapter 4 Realization

Chapter 5 Reconsideration

Chapter 6 Conclusion

Appendix 1: Cinéma Pratique's Interview with Jean-Luc Godard

Appendix 2: Interviews with Anne-Marie Miéville





Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville are among the most important postwar filmmakers; they have worked across forms, across media, and across countries. This book, the first to be devoted specifically to the work they did together, examines the way they expanded the possibilities of cinema by using cutting-edge video equipment in a constant search for a new kind of filmmaking.

Two Bicycles examines all of the films, videos, and television works that the two did together, and moves slowly across France and Switzerland, with detours in Quebec, Mozambique, and Palestine. Their amazingly varied body of work includes a twelve-hour television series, some experimental videos, an acclaimed feature film with Isabelle Huppert, a cigarette commercial, and much else. Overall the book shows the degree to which this work departs radically from the legacy of the French New Wave, and in many ways shows signs of having been formed by the distinct culture of Switzerland, to which Godard and Miéville returned in the 1970s to set up their “atelier,” Sonimage.

Two Bicycles offers a chance to explore a body of work that is as unique and demanding as it is rich and revelatory. Godard and Miéville have worked together for four decades but have never seemed more relevant.


"Most significantly, one can finally see Miéville outside of a clause with Godard, even as his partner an individual with her own artistic indentity, and an important filmmaker in her own right. Of course, much of this is accomplished implicitly, as White's book is primarily focused on breaking down the films analytically. Indeed, Two Bicycles' first and foremost act of demystification is firmly directed at clarifying the ideas in the work rather than emphasizing the people behind that work. White's readings of the films are refreshingly succinct. With impressive lucidity, he is able to define the parameters of their undertakings: the context of production; Godard and Miéville's living situation (they mostly spent time in both France and their native Switzerland, but also visited Quebec and Mozambique); and their specific interests at the time. Combining this with close inspection of the duo's running obsessions, influences, and political engagement, White comes up with well-informed but distinctly subjective interpretations of their films.... The most considered value of Two Bicycles comes from its imposition of a segmented arc that defines the ever-changing methods and projects throughout the duo's working history.... White articulates it with a sensitive eye and keen, clear prose, making Two Bicycles an important tool for navigating and understanding such a challenging and rewarding body of work."

- Adam Cook, Cineaste, Winter 2013

"This is a thoughtful, insightful, and revelatory study on a neglected subject that had new things to teach me on almost every page."

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, author, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia (2010), former film critic, Chicago Reader