Monday, May 22, 2006

In praise of books in films

Remember that rush for copies of The Third Policeman after it featured in Lost? It might have been better for the book industry had Jean-Luc Godard's plangent masterpiece Eloge de l'Amour captured the public imagination instead. Books feature throughout. Above is a screengrab of the lead actor reading one, although it happens to be blank. Tonight, in yet another viewing, I happened to note down the books as they appeared because the first two caught my attention.

A woman places Vladimir Jankélévitch's L'imprescriptible on top of Ruth Kluger's Refus de témoigner (Refusal to testify). Only the latter has been translated, into the less-than-inspiring title Landcapes of Memory.

Next came Etienne de La Boetie's The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (out soon from Black Rose Books).

After that I noted:
Eduoard Piesson - Le Voyage d'Edgar
Christa Wolf - Cassandra
Peter Cheyney - Récits de l'ombre
Simone Weil - Oeuvres
Robert Bresson - Notes on the Cinematographer
Chateaubriand - Memoires D'Outre-Tombe.


  1. I've always loved Godard's use of books in his films - not as mere reference points, or in-jokes (Woody Allen's use of Crime and Punishment in Match Point, for example) but as the furniture of everyday life. They are on coffee tables, bedstands, carrybags. They are taken out, picked up, quoted from, dropped, returned, exchanged - but always constantly in circulation, always treated by characters as regular currency, rather than the "special" or "fancy" things that characters in mainstream (a loaded, vague word, I know) cinema seem to consider them.

    And it isn't always literature they're quoting in Godard. The partygoers of Peirrot Le Fou exchange advertising taglines, and the young rebels of La Chinoise quote Mao with a poet's zeal.

    I did think that Godard's swipes at Spielberg in Eloge de l'amour were a little cheap and easy, however.

    Great post, great blog....

  2. Thanks. Yes, his use of them is good in precisely that way. And the digs at Spielberg do rather sour the atmosphere. The film itself is enough to put Hollywood to shame.

    I haven't seen 'Match Point' but it's not the first time Allen's referenced Dostoevsky - 'Love & Death' has a scene using titles of his novels throughout.

  3. Is Eloge de l'Amour the one where the kid is getting up a petition to have The Matrix dubbed into Breton?

  4. It is. One of the very few laughs.

  5. Yes, it's never solely about literal quotes (though there are enough of them) but the broad field of literature rolling into cinema as well. Am thinking of the Shakespeare class in Bande à part, the playful booktitle jaunt in Une femme est une femme, as well as the voice-over quotes everywhere else. JLG may well be the only director who views literature as the same creative field as cinema, as all creative art. It's an open-source poetry that takes a peculiar genius to weld together as art...

    I was also in mind of the indirect scene-analogies like the one in 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle, with the comical Bouvard et Pécuchet-like characters reading indiscriminately, wildly, randomly from a mountain of books. And one of them looking up in the cigarette haze, with the stunned stupor of a saturated mind as the reading continues. It's both comical and commentary.



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