Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Watch The Image Book online in the UK: MUBI
Jean-Luc Godard’s Image Book sees the 87-year-old auteur deliver a fiery sermon on 20th century images, history and tells us western society is in decline. It’s an acquired taste, for sure, but makes for generally compelling stuff.
At the tail end of the 1960s, Jean-Luc Godard stopped making films mainstream audiences wanted to see. This break from traditional filmmaking was constantly referred to and made fun of in the recent biopic, Redoubtable. For the last 45 years or so, he’s more or less set off like an astronaut in search of the outer limits of cinematic expression. Like spaceman Dave Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey, he has journeyed beyond the infinite of cinema, and with The Image Book, he has offered up what might be his final statement on the moving image, cinematic syntax, montage and the world today. The Image Book is also closer in form to video installations seen primarily in obscure art galleries and appreciated best by red-wine-drinking turtleneck-jumper-wearing nerds who ‘totally get it’, than it is a straightforward documentary or video essay.
The director once claimed films were truth times 24 frames per second, but older Godard might declare that the foolish declaration of a young whippersnapper. For here, he appears to be telling us reality is as fraudulent as the movies. Is reality, then, lies times 24 hours per day? It’s hard to really know because the rapid cutting, anarchic sound design and philosophical musings heard in the voiceover narration make The Image Book a very heavy duty arthouse affair, one some will be tempted to dismiss as a load of obscurantist waffling which has plagued postmodernist thinking for decades. One thing is for certain: the gloomy introspection and gloomier existentialist dialogue is as French as Gauloises and baguettes. But Godard’s neat trick is to keep things sometimes insightful, intriguing and always watchable.
Mixing archive footage from 20th century events and classic movies (Hitchcock’s Vertigo crops up) over the course of 85 minutes, the trawl through iconic flicks and atrocity newsreels makes cinema suddenly look inherently innocent. The failures of capitalism, murder, romance, disembodied hands and the horrors of war are spliced together to sometimes extraordinary effect, the result being a work that never rests or settles and keeps the viewer on their toes.
The Image Book is like a Rorschach test, maybe. Pull from it what you see. Yet a definite air of deep pessimism hangs over the film, a haunted quality shivering with phantom dread. Is Image Book therefore a requiem or lament for the world? Godard’s film brings to mind Rage Against the Machine’s cri-du-coeur in Tire Me: “We’re already dead!”
The Image Book is available to watch online on MUBI UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription, until 2nd January 2019.