In a dream I had last night, I was about to address a seminar on the cinema. The members of the seminar were professors, some distinguished, some I knew. It was a small group. I had nothing prepared in detail, a few notes only. Nor can I remember whether in the dream there was a topic or theme to the seminar or a title to my talk.
One of the problems of dreams is forgetting them on waking. In this case, forgetting was central to the dream. Not knowing what I was to speak of was not a later consequence of waking but a condition of the dream.
The address I was to give either was concerned with Jean-Luc Godard and his films or with a film of John Ford and one of Howard Hawks. The uncertainty regarding the one or the other alternative had to do with the fact that I was not sure whether beginning with Godard, as I did, was an introduction to Ford and Hawks or whether Ford and Hawks to which I came were references provoked by Godard, like footnotes, and would lead back to him.
In any case, in the dream, the relation of the film-makers to each other was obscure.
Initially, I spoke about Godard, and without notes. Whatever I said I immediately forgot on waking, though I do remember I sensed approval in the seminar and agreement. Some smiled, those I knew nodded sympathetically. It was as if they had been to the same place or that I had revealed to them a place they realised they had once been in without having been aware of it, as if I had aroused their memory, thereby placing them.
I began to discuss Ford and Hawks.
I looked for the notes I knew I had made in a pile of papers I had with me, and rambled on as I searched for them. The audience became uneasy, embarrassed. I began to realise in the dream that I appeared not only ridiculous but worse, pathetic. Not only could I not find my notes despite turning over each of the papers I had before me and not only was I muttering and digressing, but I was plagued by forgetfulness, a sign of aging.
It was not that I had forgotten that disturbed me, but this reason.
I knew the Ford film I wanted to consider. It was She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, a film about growing old. But what was the Hawks film? A Western probably, in black and white, but which one? I couldn’t find my notes. I couldn’t remember the film. No one would help me.
In the dream, I never found the Hawks film, nor my notes, nor did I say anything about Ford and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. The occasion was distressing and hopeless. When I awoke, I felt immense relief. I had escaped from the dream, from something awful.
Waking was my rescue. If only I could forget the forgetting.
When I did awake, relieved and mortified, I felt the need, however, like a responsibility, to make sense of the dream.
It came to me that the Hawks film I had been searching for was Red River, Hawks’s first Western.
John Wayne was the star of Red River and of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. The two films were only a year apart: 1948, 1949. Joanne Dru was also in both films.
It was Wayne that immediately linked Hawks, Ford and Godard. He was the central figure in the Westerns that both American directors had made. Wayne is also in Ford’s The Searchers. Godard commented on a sequence in that film in his critical writings and cited it in his Histoire(s) du cinéma. It occurs toward the end of The Searchers when Wayne gathers up Natalie Wood in his arms to bring her home after having pursued her, relentlessly, to murder her.
It is cited not once in the Godard film but a number of times. In part, for Godard, Wayne’s gesture, redeems the American cinema for him.
Histoire(s) du cinéma refers to Hawks and Ford and to the Western, “a girl and a gun”. Godard sees the medium shot, le plan américain, framing the gun, the hips, the sex, as made to order for the Western. And the Western for him is not only the genre but films of a western cinema, above all American, towards which he is ambiguous, a mixture of affection and antipathy.
The Western is an epic form that revives the American past. It makes the past into myth and its characters into mythic heroes. It is Classical in a literal way. The Western is America’s Iliad and Odyssey, its King Arthur and Camelot, its Knights of the Round Table. And, because the Western is a genre, it revives itself, film and thinking about film, what Godard said in praise of Renoir.
In the midst of a thematic of forgetting in the dream and the fact of forgetting that was so important in the dream, the films I dreamt of were films essentially of remembrances of things past, like a double mirror.
At the time, I had been reading Proust.
When Marcel tastes the madeleine, he remembers, by its taste, texture, smell, flavour, not the object exactly, but the sensations attached to it, not the cake, but what surrounded it, the infinity and indeterminancy in which it moved, the associations and memories it evoked. The cake was as overdetermined, as Freud would say, as the Hawks film I had forgotten.
When the madeleine appears from out of Marcel’s past, unheralded, provoked by an association of tastes, it brings with it vast areas and the overlapping condensed strata that are the Proust novel. By way of the madeleine Marcel enters another universe, imaginary, issuing from the real.
It was as if I had tasted Marcel’s madeleine and it brought me to Hawks’s Red River.
I think there was a more telling, more secret, obscure reason, unconscious and repressed in the dream, for forgetting Red River and my embarrassed, fumbling unsuccessful search for the film, and then finding it after I had escaped from my discomfort into waking. I could always say, to discount it and thus maintain what was repressed, “It was only a dream!”.
Godard, in relation to Ford and Hawks and in his relation to the American cinema, is like a son to a father(s). He is explicit about it in the Histoire(s) talking to Serge Daney. All American directors, he said, even the youngest, are his fathers. In his films, Godard cites the American cinema, and, though honouring it, as he does in the film, he also desecrates it, takes it apart, overturns it, cuts into it, fragments it, sometimes reviles it, parodies it.
In the scene he cites of Wayne and Nathalie Wood in The Searchers, the citation involves working on the sequence. Godard dismantles it, slows it down, syncopates it, reverses it, accelerates it. The work is not analytic. It is too violent and passionate for that. It seems a kind of agony, like a death throe, a lengthy scene of dying, a twisting and turning, a fighting with the film to keep it and oneself from being lost, but the price of redemption involves a scarring.
In the Histoire(s) , Godard is on a journey to the past of the cinema, to a vast underworld of images and scenes. As he proceeds, figures from the past emerge liberated from the film emulsion that contains them. Each of the encounters seems involuntary, as unheralded as Marcel’s madeleine, and when they occur, Godard, like Marcel, refashions them, accepting them and refusing them in the gesture of making them his own and making the past of the cinema its future. (Is it not like the gesture of Wayne in The Searchers when he takes Debbie in his arms? Debbie is real and a memory. Wayne wants to obliterate the memory, the image, but reality, the person, forces him back to accept. )
None of Godard’s memories or citations are ever unmediated. They come to him as what they are and, at the moment they arrive, are different than they are, recalled from the dead, shadows and traces of themselves. And they are unmoored, taken from the film they once were part of, disconnected from their origins to be reconnected into another beginning, into other cloths, other films, other sequences.
All sons potentially threaten their fathers and some fathers feel threatened by their sons (or daughters).
Fathers and sons are seldom absent from the dreams of men and boys. Sometimes, as with my dream, their presence and struggle with each other is masked by the dream, censored by it, to seem not to be there, or to be so peripheral and transmuted that they are unrecognisable. Something in me sympathised with Godard, still a son, not settled, still jousting with shadows of fathers who shaped him, to whom he returns, out of necessity, often unwillingly, then twists and turns and parodies, coming close, taking his distance.
The early phase of Godard’s film-making and criticism, what characterised the French Nouvelle vague was an ambiguous cinéphilie, to love the cinema, but conditionally. Among the most loved films were those of America: Hawks, “the greatest American artist”. Yet, when cited, they were something different. They were citations, part of another pattern, a thread in another cloth, irregularly textured.
It was the beginning of the end of that classical cinema and the advent of another that displaced it, the cinema of Godard, of the Nouvelle vague, for which Hawks and Hitchcock were necessary, that they had helped inadvertently to generate and which, it could be argued, enabled the films of Hawks and Hitchcock to be made fresh, to return, to come back to life, but that life was altogether a new life, more conscious, and of new forms for it had an altogether new dimension, built into film was now a commentary on the cinema.
What was it about Red River, that evoked unconscious mythical characters for me, characters who could not be faced in the dream and were so evidently, embarrassingly forgotten and repressed by the dream, just as much defaced, disembowelled, unrecognisable and lacerated as in a Bacon painting: a figure brought to the surface, then mutilated, its features distorted? After all in the dream, I had tried to find the reference, the name, the identity, and all I could do was shuffle paper.
Bacon is the heir to Picasso, and Picasso one of Godard’s frequent citations.
The mutilation and defacement in Bacon, certainly in Godard, is ambiguous. It seems to be or it could be argued to be a defacement of the figure on behalf of form, paint, film, art and the consciousness of these. To see becomes a puzzle, to identify a problem. Bacon and Godard both compromise clarity of figuration and coherence of narration, yet also reaffirm these by citing and starring them at the same time as they distort them.
The process of making images, their workings, are brought to consciousness because the representations formed are out of true while the instruments that have created them are starred: film, brush, stroke, gesture, editing, light, erasures, colour, texture. And also present is the agony of the effort to seek something out by a vision that is necessarily blurred, often blind, groping, obscure and in shadows.
Thus, there is at once, the film and the cognisance of film as film, painting and the awareness of painting as painting, and, Godard would say, fiction and the documentary of fiction, the image and the document of the image, both present and divided and mirrored. This revolution, most evident perhaps with Impressionism, is alredy there in Velazquez, Goya, Rembrandt, Delacroix, all of whom Godard inevitably returns to, as he does to Hawks or to Rossellini.
What held me back from recognising Red River in the dream and caused the dream to dissemble was, I believe, the central struggle in the film between father and son, an aging heroic John Wayne (my hero), asserting his will against reality, and a young determined Montgomery Clift (my nemesis) who opposed him with a clearer sense of reality. The struggle occurs on a vast journey from Texas to Kansas with thousands of cattle pushed along rough, dangerous country, through Indian territory, a physical journey and an emotional one of a displacement, of a coming of age and the realisation of age.
Is that epic journey not like the journey of Godard through the images and histories of cinema in Histoire(s) du cinéma, indeed that he has undertaken from his earliest films until his latest?
Wayne insists on his rightness even when he is wrong and Clift opposes and supplants him, forcefully, but reluctantly. Wayne is the adopted father he loves. Clift comes to a point, nearly reached, but not quite, of denial of the father, of murderous intent, of effacement, impulses forcing him to forget, in order to become a man. The film is doubly Classical: Homeric in scale and Oedipal at its source.
It was about three o’clock in a Summer’s morning in Belfast when I awoke from the dream. The day would begin in less than an hour.
Memory, already secondary and revised, came to me on waking as if, by means of the provision of sense, I could redeem the forgetting in the dream and my shame and embarrassment in it and what was at the heart of it, the forgetting of a father, of a son, of myself, of the name of it, of the scene of it and the identity of it.
The memory I found was more than memory, it was also analysis and explanation. But as these came to light and the dream was revealed by consciousness, the explanations seemed to unravel, to call out for more sense. Problems solved reappeared differently and questions insisted themselves against answers that proved inadequate and tentative. If the dream was a provocation to find responses and to offer analyses, these in turn were provocations like the taste of a madeleine which insisted itself. Nothing it seemed would be final, or conclusive.
For what I want to relate I will rely on waking memory, not concerning myself with the accuracy of what I remember. Forgetting and distortions of memory belong to the dream. What I remember and distort, and fabricate, provide a better understanding of the dream and also of the films that textured it than if I had sought accuracy and objective truth, consulting books, rescreenings, talking to others.
In the face of an Oedipal scene evidence is unlikely to be reliable.
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon takes place on the eve of the retirement of Colonel Nathan Brittles (John Wayne) from the US 7th Cavalry to which he devoted his life. The main action is a routine patrol in Indian territory and a skirmish with the Indians. It is Brittles’s last patrol, his last hurrah. Many Ford films have this theme of passing that tinges events and persons with the colours and moods of nostalgia, melancholy and loss, the tints of sunset. These colours are in Ford’s Westerns most of all.
What you view is not only set in the past, but caressed by its shadows and ghostliness – Ford was impressed with the lighting of German films of the 1920s – heroes rising from out of the dead, from myth, like Homeric heroes, back, temporarily, from the Underworld, among us for an instant, shrouded in mourning and in mourning themselves. And that is why, I think, Godard was present in my dream. Overwhelmingly, mournfulness and lament is the atmosphere of Histoire(s) du cinéma, the remembering of a cinema that no longer is, but that insistently returns, mourned, eulogised, marred and defiled.
The scene I remembered first from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, when I awoke, was a familiar Ford scene. It occurs at dusk. The sky is streaked with red, the ground is brown and there are deep blues in shadow, here and there touches of a warm yellow. Brittles goes out to the cemetery at the Cavalry post to speak to his dead wife at her graveside.
I heard, like faint whispering, Katherine Joyce telling her husband Alex in Viaggio in Italia about the poet who loved her and the sentiments he felt for her that Alex laughs at and scorns, and the visit to museums of classical statuary uncovered in the ruins of Pompei, and bones and skeletons in catacombs, and Katherine’s tears at the finding of the remains of two lovers caught in a last embrace at death at the moment Vesuvius covered Pompei, and thus the power, attraction and force of the dead.
Either at the close of the graveside scene or in a subsequent one, I can’t recall which, Brittles meets a young woman from the outpost about to return East who is being courted by two young lieutenants. She is played by Joanne Dru, fresh, sweet, girlish and with it all, a warm womanly sexiness, a flirtatious perverse manner, provocative in the way she wears a cavalry cap, the way she turns her head, bends her body, beckoning and withdrawing at once, and a smile that envelops you and takes you inside her, into her warmth, yet remains crisp. Few actresses can smile in that way. The smile continues long after the image of it is gone. She takes it with her and leaves it behind.
It is as if, in talking to his wife, in the background, like a shadow, Joanne Dru becomes the wife again for Wayne as his memory travels an eternity, to beyond the grave, to bring his wife back to him over spaces and time by a desire touched off by Dru’s presence and the mourning of it, for it is a shadow only.
Joanne Dru is Wayne’s past come alive in the present, his love for his wife and his memories of their youthfulness, hers and his, and perhaps too the sense of joining her soon, the weariness of living. And the youthfulness of Dru, is, in his memory of a love past, already shadowed by Dru’s future passing, tinged with sadness.
Dru is at once palpable, vigorous and, like all Ford’s characters, ghostly.
It is a delicious moment because so ephemeral, condensing the before and the after, time and feeling, loss, renewal, death. Thereby it contains a secret energy that is concentrated in images and also dispersed by them. Ford can encompass enormous spaces and times at once, with no more than a setting, a streak of sunset, the displacement of one image by another, a glance backwards, framing that becomes a tableau as if life is retreating into the image of it and it is thus already in the past.
The reality of Dru provokes a memory from the past. And the past returns as memory and, like all memory, it is revised as it seeks consciousness. The memory evoked by dreams is like that. The past is amended and it is projected forward when it too will become past.
Godard’s twilight Histoire(s) du cinéma is, I think, similarly haunted by the past, by the force of its return and the passing of the present and the future as moving towards its past. The associations in my dream are, among other things, an entry into the unconscious accords of film.
The films of Ford were not the first I saw, but the first that I remember, that have accompanied me.
There is another aspect to this scene, one central to the cinema, to Ford, to Godard and to a quality that dreams and fictions possess.
Dreams are nourished on everyday realities, on madeleines, on objects, on casual, banal incidents and by these travel to secret, wondrous and distant places. The dream gathers up traces of reality, composing with its materials, transforming them, associating by their aid, whether they be a sweet cake, a fragment of a film, a line of poetry, a chance meeting, a dash of colour, a statue, leaves rustling.
The everyday can be a key to associations, to an entry into the fantastic and infinite and to the unconscious that dreams reveal and hide. The everyday is crucial for dreams and for the composition of films. No film can avoid it and no filmic illusion completely erase it. Godard made this state of things explicit and he worked upon it, turned film toward the direction of the real and shifted the real towards fictions, retaining both.
For Ford the everyday is the means to approach fiction without leaving reality or history behind. Thus, the ambiguous, compelling settings of Ford’s films and their play and themes of history and legend, fact and invention, as in The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.
Godard’s films press on the interval between realities that stimulate him, close to a document, and are the very material of film and the fictions he creates with them, fictions inevitably incomplete and unstable that do not cohere in which continuity and motive are lacking. Sometimes reality is the everyday, or actors on the set or in the street before shooting, whose presence as a before, as a beyond and an outside of the fiction, yet tempering it, is evident in the shot. The shot is not a completion but an interruption. There is too the reality of other films of cited and remembered images that enter his films at another level of the real, the real of images, not the illusory real of a representation. It is the fact and real presence of enunciation that Godard makes you feel.
It is unlikely that in the everyday that sustained the dream, the dream had not called up, or was not affected by, or the dream not modified by, Godard’s position that if you begin with a fiction you will find documentary, and if you begin with documentary you will arrive at fiction. Godard was what I remembered first on waking, whose presence was the most strong, even if I forgot what I had to say of Godard in the dream. Godard had helped shape the dream. Was not his negotiations in his films between the before and the after, the shot and what precedes it, and his transformation of reality into fiction without losing that reality, the quality of dream itself and the material of its work? Godard’s films are films and thinking about film as dream is dream and thinking about dream.
There are other graveside scenes in Ford evoked by the one in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Three in particular come to mind: the burial of Martha in The Searchers; young Abe Lincoln speaking to his dead love, Annie Rutledge by her graveside and the Annie Rutledge musical theme, like a soft moan, that appears and reappears in the film to emerge more than a decade later in another loss, another mourning scene in Ford’s The Man who Shot Liberty Valance; the third scene is beside the coffin of Tom Doniphon (Wayne), the setting for Rance Stoddard’s (Jimmy Stewart) narration of who in fact killed Liberty Valance. Rance is the younger man who displaces Wayne and then tells the story of the displacement and the loss, the loss of an old and legendary West. The story is ambiguous. It is presented as the true story shattering the false and legendary one that it was Rance who killed Liberty Valance. But the newspaper editor to whom the story is told chooses to tear it up, to print the false story not the true. “This is the West, Sir. When legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Ford gives you both: the truth and the legend, and it is the story of the truth that is most compelling, and Doniphon the most legendary. Here too, as in Red River, there is a son and a father, and unconscious, murderous impulses.
In these graveside instances women overlap and imaginatively become substitutes for each other: Dru for Brittle’s wife, Debbie for the dead Martha, the future Mrs Lincoln for Annie Rutledge, a woman gained and a woman lost. In Liberty Valance, Rance takes the love of Tom Doniphan and it destroys Tom as surely as the death of Martha destroyed Ethan in The Searchers. The two films call to each other.
The scene at the graveside in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon took me to another scene related to the title song of the film. Here Young Mr Lincoln returned with the Annie Rutledge theme song. The scene is the couple formed by Joanne Dru and the young Lieutenant. This couple, in the present, reverberates to a couple in the past, that of Nathan Brittles and his dead wife, and the fact that the young couple would, in a future time, become the couple of the past, and Brittles understands it, feels it, therefore he protects them, loves them, sometimes harshly. Time is condensed by memories, identities, therefore by desire, and mythically, in an eternity of ghosts. The real love scene, the erotic scene in the film, is not between the young Lieutenant and Joanne Dru, neither yet grown, neither with memories, but between Joanne Dru and John Wayne at the graveside where Wayne’s memory gives depth and colour and passion.
There is another hint here of a forgotten struggle in the dream.
If Joanne Dru is the substitute shadow of Brittle’s lost wife and if Dru then is the sweetheart of the young Lieutenant and if then Brittle in memory and desire makes love to her, then there is a struggle of young and old that mirrors the one I had forgotten in the dream in Red River, between the Wayne of sunset and the Montgomery of a new dawn, like the Wayne and Stewart in Liberty Valance.
The new dawn will come, like the morning to which I awoke, but it will be less than the dream just as the new world of Stewart and Montgomery issues forth and the old world, its images and legends and heroes, and above all, its dreams, threaten to die and disappear.
Back to Godard now and to The Searchers and to the beginning of my dream.
Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns from God-knows-where, out of the wilderness to his brother’s ranch at the edge of the wilderness. And there he sees again his brother’s wife, Martha. Every indication is that they once loved each other. Ethan goes out on a mission with the Texas Rangers in pursuit of Indians. When he returns the farm of his brother has been burned in an Indian raid, home is no more, and Martha has been murdered, possibly raped, and Debbie (Nathalie Wood), his young niece, taken by the Indians to be brought up as an Indian, made into a squaw.
Debbie is a version of Martha not unlike Joanne Dru is a memory of Brittles’s wife. The Searchers is a story of Ethan’s search for Debbie over years as if in search of his own past, of the lost Martha. For Ethan it is not a mission to save Debbie, but to kill her for what she has become and therefore what she cannot any longer be (a Martha who never was for Wayne) and how this violence has shattered Ethan’s past, embittered his memory and his person, defiled the purity of a desire.
There is also a young couple in The Searchers: an adopted part Indian boy who Ethan had rescued from a massacre years earlier and who now calls Ethan, “Uncle”. (“Don’t call me uncle, I’m not your uncle; the name’s Ethan. “) This boy is in love with a settler’s daughter not unlike what Martha once was and what Debbie would have been had she not been taken by the Indians.
Marriage plagues and punctuates the film because for Wayne it is a separation.
When Ethan finds Debbie he moves to kill her and in so doing to kill his past, to bury his loss, that to which he cannot be reconciled. But the gesture, caught in its midst, is completed by a gesture of love as Wayne sweeps up Natalie Wood in his arms to bring her home as once he might have wanted to carry Martha home and where he can never be except in a wounded imagination. That is the moment that Godard repeats in Histoire(s) du cinéma and breaks down, slows down, flickers, reverses, a moment between a feeling and two opposed gestures, an infinity and a chasm apart, a moment before it is resolved, before there is a before to it and before there is an after to it. . . just this instant of reality and of dream. And Godard manages to expose the gap and thereby to bring them not exactly together (impossible), not reconciled, but by exposing what is not there and yet what shapes everything.
Before you dream there is the reality and when you awake there is the reality, the before and the after. It is that before and that after that Ford manages to capture in the scene of Wayne enveloping Debbie in his embrace and that Godard works on to reveal not simply this gap in time into which an emotion that plays between the real and desire finds its energy, but the source of the energy of the cinema, what is latent within it, what it condenses, a possibility that only very few in the cinema have ever touched or realised and that makes the cinema great.
Godard reveals the cinema to us.
I wondered about this moment of attraction and desire of men who are homeless in time and in their heroism, alive in a mythic eternity, and the young women who look at them across that impossibility, the interval that only desire can encompass and make close and possible for an illimitable moment.
And then I remembered another scene, one of the most exquisite in the cinema that I have always loved, when Burt Lancaster, the aging patriarch Prince of Salinas in Visconti’s Il Gattopardo, and his beautiful nephew, the young Prince Tancredi (Alain Delon), both look at the heavenly Angelica (Claudia Cardinale) as she enters a room in the Prince’s palace to be a bride for Tancredi, and Visconti records the simultaneity of their look, the intensity of it, the one full of knowledge and memory and regret at a sense of a possibility lost, the other of ambition and hope centred on the same figure in different directions, and what will happen to these, how they will transfer once again, and cross each other, and how bitterness and loss and time will enter, and I found inside that impossible but passionate love of Lancaster and Cardinale the passion of Colonel Nathan Brittles for the delicious Joanne Dru and the recognition on Wayne’s face in the crowded kitchen of his fiancée in The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, where Rance Stoddard is recovering from a beating by Liberty Valance that he has already lost her, and equally important that the Old West has been lost, that Wayne has lost his girl and his place.
The moment comes back and is extended in Il Gattopardo in a ballroom sequence, nearly a third of the film, when Lancaster waltzes with Cardinale and Delon looks on, no longer a shared look, and then the Prince retires and regards a portrait of a death scene at the bedside of the dying former Prince of Salinas, a Prince in a line of Princes who had preceded him and who he became and who he will become in death, his future in the past.
That scene too is in Histoire(s) du cinéma.
Created on: Friday, 30 April 2004 | Last Updated:Thursday, 6 May 2004