Godard’s Stereoscopic Illusions: Against a Total Cinema

A woman and a man engage in a discussion on a bench and then they separate. We separate with them. One camera pans to the right where Ivitch is now engaged in a heated discussion with another man. One camera stays on Davidson to the left. One of our eyes moves to watch Ivitch. One of our eyes remains with Davidson near the bench. Our binocular perception, engaged with 3D glasses, attempts to fuse the two images, creating a physical pain that can only be resolved if we close one eye, leading David Bordwell to suggest that by closing one eye, then the other, we can create our own shot/reverse-shot editing between the shots. [1] Regardless of whether we engage in Bordwell’s task or simply look away, our eyes have to do something due to the impossibility of processing these two very different parts of a supposedly united moving image. This is one of many moments in the stereoscopic version of Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language, 2014) that challenge our ocular perception, asking us to consider how we can rely on the veracity of visual images when their seemingly ontological truth is so fragile.

When Daniel Engber began his New Yorker article on the success of both Adieu au langage and Gaspar Noé’s Love 3D (2015) at the Cannes film festival he asked “could this be the onset of a novel, highbrow age in 3-D cinema?” [2] The novel quality Engber identified is not merely that Adieu au langage distanced itself from the Hollywood action blockbuster’s narrative and spectacle, or that it broke the ‘rules’ of stereoscopic filmmaking with the type of painful instance mentioned above. Rather, it radically brushed up against and destabilised the drive to a Bazinian Total Cinema that characterised popular conceptions of 3D cinema. More precisely, it operated as a type of Imperfect Cinema that stood apart from the teleological imperatives of contemporary mainstream film industries concerned with greater resolution, frame rate, dynamic colour range and the implied realism these technologies offer. However, while Adieu au langage offered a respite from these concerns, it was not unique in its experimentation with stereoscopy: a visual system that can disrupt as much as it can enhance depth perception. Instead, Adieu au langage is a participant in a long history of cinematic works that test our physiological interactions with binocular perception, as much as an addition to Godard’s ‘highbrow’ cinema that has spanned more than six decades.

The initial screening at the Official Selection at Cannes of Adieu au langage, in an event known for the exhibition of auteur, avant-garde and challenging artistic experimentation, placed it firmly within the realm of highbrow art that Engber refers to; however, the film also screened alongside the varied exhibition spaces at Cannes that range from the Marché du Film, with an emphasis on commercial sales, to Cannes Classics’ presentation of older works. In these spaces, the presentation of 3D films at Cannes is nothing new: James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss was shown out of competition in 2003; U2 3D (Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington) screened in 2007 alongside the restored 1953 3D film Hondo (John Farrow); the festival premiered Pixar’s first 3D film, Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson), in 2009; and Godard presented a short 3D film, Les trois désastres (The Three Disasters) as a contribution to the omnibus 3x3D (2013) that also included sections from Peter Greenway and Edgar Pêra. Notably, though, the majority of 3D films screened at the festival have been in the Marché du Film and have come from commercial studios. They have been presented within the context of public and press discussion of 3D cinema in the digital era that assumed, and continues to assume, that current films provide the pinnacle of stereoscopic development. Moreover, the pinnacle of this development is tied to removing flaws or discomfort from stereoscopic visuality so that 3D images can replicate the human perception of the visual world. In this context, one of the more influential 3D filmmakers, James Cameron, has commented that “’we see in 3-D’. You look at nature, at the way nature set things up, by the Darwinian process. Everybody’s got two eyes … So why shouldn’t movies reflect the way we visually process information”. [3]

His comments echo earlier concerns from the nineteenth century when proponents of stereoscopic photography such as David Brewster and John F. Mascher advocated making the photographic aperture and the distance between cameras replicate the biological function of the eyes. [4] Updated to the twenty-first century, these concerns are mixed with desires for entertainment systems that achieve smooth and pleasurable viewing options through technical perfection. This provides the context for statements from Cameron such as “the whole idea is how do you make a 3-D film where you’ve removed the discomfort factor?” [5] It is an issue that is supported by the lengthy work undertaken by the VQMTRD Project Stereo-Film-Quality Analysis, based at Lomonosov Moscow State University, which aims to resolve problems in mainstream 3D films by analysing Hollywood films for errors and suggesting ways to correct them. The project’s various reports detect and provide remedies for, amongst other issues, excessive horizontal disparity, vertical disparity, colour mismatch and window violation. While the reports are invaluable for practitioners wishing to smooth out their stereoscopic workflow and produce comfortable viewing positions, they are part of a wider context in which industry figures such as Cameron produce unwritten rules for best practice stereoscopy: ‘rules’ that include emphasis on placing objects in positive parallax space (the space that seems to stretch away from the viewer behind the physical screen surface); the avoidance of so-called gimmick shots in which objects seem to fly towards viewers; and limited parallax separation so that audiences’ eyes do not have to work too hard to fuse the stereoscopic images. Abiding by these rules is assumed to produce greater realism, greater immersion within the text and the feeling that one is present at the scene, all within the context of an effortless viewing experience. Although there are directors and stereographers working within commercial industries that play with and violate these rules, significant portions of guides, interviews with practitioners and otherwise informative materials suggest engaging 3D images can only be achieved by working towards a technically perfect use of the technology.

Popular accounts of stereoscopy’s history often form a straightforward narrative, tracing how stereoscopic images have moved towards these technical advancements and drawing a line from stereoscopic photography in the nineteenth century, through the development of anaglyph display in the twentieth century to a new technological era in the twenty-first century that includes polarised systems, glasses-free displays, extension into 3D TV and interaction with other advancements such as high frame rate. The various developments across this time period are seen to be in the service of producing increasingly higher quality images that come ever closer to replicating human processes of natural vision. Such a narrative, however, does not take into account the cyclical, discontinuous and disjointed paths that stereoscopic development has travelled. For example, the production of stereoscopic versions of the phenakistoscope in the late nineteenth century provided an early convergence between stereoscopic photography and the nascent field of moving-images long before what is believed to be the first public screening of a stereoscopic film when Edwin S. Porter demonstrated his anaglyph short in the US in 1915. Equally, William Friese-Greene’s unscreenable stereoscopic films and the large quantity of patents submitted for unproduced stereoscopic moving-image devices in the 1890s tell complex stories about the extent to which visual culture can be imagined long before it is implemented. The extensive use of polarised glasses in the 1950s, and the return of anaglyph glasses for home and some theatrical viewings later in the twentieth century, complicated an assumed hierarchy and progression of increasingly refined viewing devices, as did the use of glasses-free (autostereoscopic) systems in Russia in the 1940s that have seen new permutations in recent years. [6] Although not widely popular, work on producing 3D television included John Logie Baird’s initial experiments in the 1940s, public broadcasts in the US in the 1980s and commercially available advanced display technologies such as the 1980s sequential field systems that worked with shutter glasses connected to a monitor or television set. [7] While these examples mostly impacted commercial entertainment industries, it is important not to forget that there is a lengthy history of stereoscopy in educational contexts, including stereograph sets designed for classroom use in the Victorian era; stereoscopic reconnaissance photography in the nineteenth century; early twentieth-century stereoscopic slides in anatomy teaching; and 3D imaging for military training. Equally significant is the variety of non-commercial artistic works including Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp’s experimental stereoscopic motion picture in the 1920s; animator Norman McLaren’s shorts at the Telecinema event during the Festival of Britain in 1951; and the ongoing stereoscopic work by Ken Jacobs that is often screened in gallery or festival settings.

Thus, any suggestion that Adieu au langage and Love 3D might offer a new, artistic, alternative to mainstream 3D cinema would do well to take into account these earlier works, yet it is not surprising that their novelty is highlighted over their relationship with past forms. Much of the historical amnesia around the variety of stereoscopic forms and applications can be attributed to the periods of boom and bust that characterised the various high-profile encounters between audiences and stereoscopy in the twentieth century. [8] In this way, Tom Gunning’s assertion that the introduction of new media technologies follows a pattern of astonishment then familiarity is found to be remittently relevant during each stage in which stereoscopy appears to burst forth into public imagination after a stage of extended dormancy. [9] This astonishment is supported in no small part by those invested in the ongoing newness of stereoscopy as “surprise is learned, fostered and expressed by discursive practices whose implementation brings profit to someone: merchants, policy makers, civic fathers justifying municipal power plants, or any one of a number of interested parties”. [10] As much as Hollywood studios have gained from the newness and surprise factor of digital-era 3D cinema, Godard’s legacy as an innovative user of new technology has equally benefitted. [11]

Nonetheless, Adieu au langage’s marked distinction from the mainstream and the way it painfully rubs against the commercial use of stereoscopy can be examined in light of the way it does not just veer from but challenges teleological narratives of 3D cinema which presume the end goal is a Bazinian concept of Total Cinema. Following André Bazin’s initial articulation of this term in the 1940s there has been an ongoing investment in the potential for cinema and other visual culture to reach a complete mimetic replication of real world audio and visual fields. While Bazin did not always provide consistent accounts of how cinema could, or whether it should, attempt to replicate reality, comments such as film “wants to give the viewer as perfect an illusion as possible of reality, one compatible with the logical demands of film narrative and with present-day technological limitations” have crystallised in drives to update technology to meet the impulse to perfection. [12] Situating this desire in relation to 3D cinema, Akira Mizuta Lippit notes that the “supercinema” envisioned in advanced productions of three dimensional space can be understood as an ‘anti-cinema’ in which full representation suggests “the eventual elimination of cinema as such”. [13] Since the publication of his article in 1999, and following the boom in digital 3D cinema, various scholars have continued to note the perceived correspondence between enhancing stereoscopic technologies and obtaining a type of Total Cinema in 3D cinema industries with the aim of producing greater realism. [14]

The tension between Bazin’s realist aims and Godard’s work has already been articulated but also set within tones of mutual appreciation and so it is no surprise that the latter’s counter-cinema tendencies have been seen to pay homage to but also strain against the confines of realism. [15] In this context, early feature films such as À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960) and Week End (1967) have long been used as textbook examples of an antidote to the dominant tendencies of classical Hollywood Cinema but also as an alternative to the realist strategies presented in European art cinemas in the second half of the twentieth century. [16] While it would be reductive to discuss Godard’s work as simply oppositional to commercial mainstream cinema and/or other European art cinema, there are some interesting points to be made about the way he is able to use technology to upset perceived notions of how cinematic technology and modes should be implemented. In this way, the misaligned right and left eye views and other artefacts in his 3D work, which I will discuss more fully shortly, are no more mistakes than the jump cuts in his earlier works were a lack of understanding of the 180 degree editing rule. Indeed, Godard’s use of stereoscopy foregoes technical faultlessness and instead works towards what can be termed ‘Imperfect 3D’. In discussing this Imperfect 3D I am taking forward Andrew Utterson’s recognition of imperfection and technical flaws in Godard’s 3D work in order to link it to the concept of Imperfect Cinema developed for radical filmmaking in Latin America in the twentieth century. [17] In particular, Julio García Espinosa’s essay on Imperfect Cinema where he made the points that:

we maintain that imperfect cinema must above all show the process which generates the problems. It is thus the opposite of a cinema principally dedicated to celebrating results, the opposite of a self-sufficient and contemplative cinema, the opposite of a cinema which “beautifully illustrates” ideas or concepts which we already possess … Imperfect cinema is no longer interested in quality or technique. It can be created equally well with a Mitchell or with an 8mm camera, in a studio or in a guerrilla camp in the middle of the jungle. Imperfect cinema is no longer interested in predetermined taste, and much less in “good taste”. [18]

While the explicitly anti-imperial and decolonisation aims in the Latin American uses of Imperfect Cinema set them apart from even the most political of Godard’s work, the cineastes in Latin America often cited Godard and other filmmakers in the Nouvelle Vague as inspiration. The links between their imperfection gain fresh resonance in Godard’s turn towards 3D technology when Godard and his filmmaking team continue to prove that cheap technologies can subvert good taste and avoid an easily contemplated cinema. Cinematographer Fabrice Aragno highlighted this in statements he made about his production of a bespoke 3D camera rig for Adieu au langage:

I built a special 3D grip out of wood, and mounted two [Canon] 5D Mark II bodies together, one upside down so I could register the sensors in the same angle-of-view for perfect or “imperfect” 3D, avoiding parallax and so to get the best effect from both cameras. There were no computers involved in this calibration. Just a hammer and a chisel. It is artisan filmmaking. [19]

He went on to say, “I choose to work with the Leica lenses because the Canon lenses are too perfect. They have no defect. In digital it is too clean in my opinion. As we are not made with 1 and 0; we need imperfect.” [20]

Aragno’s statements, presented on Canon’s website as part of wider promotional material recognising their support for Godard’s 3D work, produce an interesting conundrum for the camera company. As a commercial manufacturer Canon is able to capitalise on the publicity gained from having an esteemed director such as Godard using its equipment. However, Aragno’s stated desire for imperfection goes against the teleological aims of the company to continuously update and improve upon its capture technology. In many ways Aragno promotes Canon by explaining that its lenses were too perfect, and in doing so inadvertently belittles its German competitor Leica, yet there is the overall sense of a playful subversion of the correct uses of these high-end technologies.

The use to which this Imperfect approach is put reveals as much as about the possibilities of 3D cinema as it does about its impossibilities. While the publicity shots of Aragno and Godard with the DIY 3D rig highlight the ability for filmmakers to produce complex stereoscopic imagery outside the Hollywood studios’ monopoly of the form, the resultant feature film’s emphatic frontal haptic modes redetermine the limits of 3D cinema within a Total Cinema framework. The first reminder of 3D cinema’s limitation comes during the film’s opening when, if played in theatrical surround sound, the soundtrack cuts out and abruptly shifts from one side of the auditorium to the other. As it does so, text is placed with us in the auditorium. Firstly, we see white text at the zero parallax (screen plane) point – tout ceux qui manquent d’imagination se réfugient dans la réalité (those lacking imagination take refuge in reality) – but seconds later bold red characters spell out 3D and then ADIEU in overt negative parallax space (the space in front of the screen plane). Yet we are not amongst these letters, transported into a realist approximation of three dimensional space. Rather, we are confronting the cinematic membrane that produces their layered placement head on, an aspect made all the more obvious by the way the soundscape is able to stretch around us but the visualscape cannot. By describing the visualscape of the film as a membrane, I am drawing upon film phenomenologists such as Laura Marks, Vivian Sobchack and Tarja Laine who consider the ways in which 2D films can be understood to have a permeable and tactile surface. [21] Their suggestion that film images invite us to engage with an optical illusion that is manifestly present, and not simply perceived of as a play of light on a hard-bodied screen, allows us to understand why we feel touched by and able to touch images in a way that cannot be explained by narrative engagement alone. The membrane is a projected surface; not one with the hard bodied technology that produces it but a materially substantial visual field that “may be thought of as impressionable and conductive, like skin”. [22]

When producing the film membrane in 3D cinema, the stereoscopic depth layers in the auditorium amplify and yield new tactile permutations in the visualscape. Because the stereoscopic image is able to produce the sense that different parts of the image operate on a variety of planes, we are led to feel that that textured surfaces are within touching distance or receding away from us. We are also given a greater context for the spatial configurations of objects, which in turn produces greater knowledge of their textured surfaces and how they operate as part of the fabric of what I have previously termed the hyper-haptic 3D cinema membrane. [23] We can see this take place in Adieu au langage through the reoccurring motif of water: either as rain, damp surfaces, rivers or other bodies of liquid. This is a common preoccupation in the new digital era of 3D cinema and many Hollywood films find tenuous excuses to dunk their characters underwater or place them in other liquid occupied spaces. The appeal of visualising liquid seems to, on the one hand, lie in the way that liquid has a denser quality than the space we normally occupy and stereoscopy can help us feel the parameters of its volume. On the other hand, wet surfaces reflect light in different ways and the slightly different view that each eye receives in 3D cinema means that the reflection of light from wet three-dimensional surfaces is more acute. In Adieu au langage, the use of water does not so much allow us to feel that we are immersed in the liquid, as is often the aim in commercial 3D cinema, but rather creates textured visual fields that remind us of abstract paintings and installations. At one point we see rain affecting the surface of car windows and then a subsequent shot of the water of a river. While the rain on the windows creates abstract textures, the glossy feel of the river’s water in 3D has a different, more intense, impression than when we see it in 2D.

In its expansion of the 2D film body to incorporate the whole of the auditorium space in front of the viewer, the stereoscopic film nonetheless remains tethered to its frontal position, with its membraned surface undulating in depth as it displays objects that protrude towards and recede away from its audience. Many Hollywood films cheat the frontal limits of the stereoscopic film by dispersing slow moving (dust motes, snowflakes, embers) and fast moving (bullets, shrapnel, liquid drops) small objects around the auditorium in such a way that it can feel as if we are being encircled by the film body. [24] They fill negative parallax space to create a thick, palpable and seemingly touchable visualscape that is very close to our bodies and may seem to extend beyond us which, by seemingly leaving the hard body of the cinema screen behind, comes closer to Total Cinema’s fantasy of an enveloping three dimensional space. Adieu au langage, however, does not disperse objects in such a way. Beyond the use of titles that seem to hover in front of the film body, the rest of the film’s movements toward and away from the audience in parallax space are fastened by a clear connection to the zero parallax point and its fixed distance in front of the viewer. Thus, towards the beginning of the film, we see a digit thumbing a phone screen with a woman’s head out of focus in overt negative parallax space. The head’s protrusion towards us fills up the frontal depth budget to a greater extent than most contemporary 3D films but the follow through to her sleeve at zero parallax and her leg and boot in the further folds of the visualscape’s positive parallax space means that the head is more closely connected to the film body than to us. The folds of the stereoscopic membrane in this shot help us feel close to, more intimately connected to, almost amongst but not quite within the scene. We then see various figures also handling smart phones, their heads cut off by the framing. Discussing the frequent “decapitations” in Adieu au langage, David Bordwell suggests they are disconcerting “since orthodox cinema highlights faces above all other body areas”. [25] In this particular instance, the emphasis has to shift from the human subject to their extended personhood, represented in their mobile communication devices. However, these sleek objects of ultramodernity are difficult to bring into view due to their placement in overt negative parallax space (too close for the eyes to comfortably converge on) and/or out of focus elements and left/right eye shot misalignment. The teleological development of the devices’ screen images (increasing screen resolution, better dynamic range, faster processing time) is fragmented by a stereoscopic screen system that refuses to see them clearly and participate in their smooth vision. Opposing their perfections, we have a tactile membrane that displays its imperfections on the surface, frequently drawing attention to its materiality and enacting Aragno’s desire to “’encrust’ different images”. [26]

The potential for comfortable envelopment in Adieu au langage’s stereoscopic depths is further disrupted by the physical labour demanded of the audience. When the titles appear at the beginning of the film, and elsewhere later on, their fleeting nature and placement on different depth planes force our eye-muscles to work very quickly to try and converge on and make sense of them. This is aggravated by the demand that we read their content as well as focus on them. In this way, they are a precursor for the aforementioned camera separation scene when the complete separation of images asks the eyes to try and fuse them in a way that is not only impossible but also painful during the attempt. The latter technique is not just a one-off occurrence but a procedure that is repeated later in the film when Ivitch and her partner, Marcus, are naked at home. As David Ehrlich describes it, “close your right eye, and you see a close-up of Ivitch’s pubic hair. Close your left eye, and you see a close-up of Marcus’ flaccid penis. Open both eyes and the genitals overlap, the two images superimposed into something vaguely resembling sex”. [27] If the presentation of sex in cinema is normally for the purpose of engaging viewer pleasure, then the viewer’s inability to see it clearly – and the request for them to undertake the labour to make it apparent – shifts the parameters in which that pleasure can operate. The request for viewers to “work” their eyes in this way is however, as Ben Coonley points out, not new but rather has roots in the 1922 Power of Love (Nat G. Deverich and Harry K. Fairall) 3D film that allowed audiences to view a different ending depending on which eye of their anaglyph glasses they looked through. [28]

Demands on the labour of the eyes also have a longer history in experimental 3D cinema, and are particularly noticeable in Ken Jacobs’ stereoscopic work, in which he plays with the different possibilities of stereoscopic technologies. For example, in The Guests (2013), he and Flo Jacobs took an early Lumière film, cut apart the different frames in the film and pasted them onto glass slides, alternating the frames so that every odd frame could be used for one eye and every even frame could be used for the other eye. When screened, the odd frames arrive at one eye and the even frames arrive at the other eye through 3D glasses. Because the subjects in the film are moving roughly in one direction, the alternating frames are mainly the same but with a slight change in the horizontal position of the characters. This allows the eyes to be tricked: that each are each seeing the same image but shot from slightly different positions and, in this way, there is the illusion of stereoscopic depth. However, the changing temporal relations and the unruly movement of characters in the original film means the creation of depth in The Guests is another imperfect process, with a resulting set of eerie images where the depth relations of some characters and objects pop out and shift in unexpected ways. We are actively engaged in making visual sense of these images and, equally, are asked to reconsider the visual illusion of stereoscopy. As noted by Ben Coonley, James Cameron calls the difficult and/or painful process of viewing mismatched or unsynchronized left and right images “brain shear,” leading in extreme circumstances to headaches and nausea. But, as Coonley goes on to note, the experience of embracing brain shear can open ourselves up to new intellectual discoveries and perceptual pleasures, particularly an appreciation of normal stereoscopic vision. [29]

While brain shear can be articulated in terms of physical discomfort, there are other moments in Adieu au langage that are less painful but equally work upon our physiological engagement with space and place. At one point we are presented with static shots of a book stall and then Davidson reading on a chair while Isabelle checks her phone behind him, all framed from a Dutch angle. These types of angled shots are often briefly found in Hollywood action blockbusters, particularly in the films of Michael Bay, but their extended length in Adieu au langage draws attention to the way they destabilize our vestibular placement. We are used to our inner equilibrium balancing our field of view so that horizontal alignment always seems to be in place. In 2D cinema we have come to accept that the camera can upset this alignment but in 3D cinema this is a much less sighted technique and one that unbalances our stereoscopic vision’s normal alignment with the world. Later, when a man jumps out of his car with a gun, the cameras are upside down and our field of vision is, confrontingly, turned on its head. Any immersion in the visualscape is halted as the stereoscopic membrane makes it clear that it can twist and convolute before us. In these individual shots there is, to a great extent, a unified visual field that, even with its imperfections, stretches from positive parallax space through the zero parallax point and into negative parallax space. In another startling moment, however, that reminds us of the diverging camera scenes previously discussed, the stereoscopic visual field is fragmented. We see a woman drink from a cup of water and we seem to be seeing the stereoscopic image laid bare. Rather than one three-dimensional image, we are presented with two overlapping images: as if we were seeing the parallax separation sans glasses even though the glasses are still firmly fixed on our faces. In the same way that Coonley suggests brain shear can remind us of our normal stereoscopic vision, this shot reminds us of the technologies that create the overlapping stereoscopic images and the connection they have to the glasses we use to perceive them.

Thus far many of the scenes I have discussed are relatively self-contained and provide a unified approach to their construction of a stereoscopic membrane, albeit one that lays its visual idiosyncrasies bare. It is only when they are understood as part of the greater fabric of the stereoscopic film that their function as both palimpsest and patchwork quilt becomes clearer. The palimpsest is first apparent at the very beginning of the film, when the red text spelling 3D in negative parallax space does not so much obscure the traditional white 2D text placed at the zero parallax point as indicate the layering of the two visual orders where neither one erases the other. Subsequent footage, material that is appropriated from elsewhere, has distinct colour schemes, dynamic ranges and resolution levels that rub up against each other in a patchwork form: for example, the highly saturated and pixelated images of what seems to be a war zone followed by the black and white Hollywood star whose image bleeds slightly from degraded footage. The stereoscopy does not give the objects in these shots additional depth but rather situates their flatness in positive parallax space, at a further distance than normal. This has the effect of drawing our eyes into the depth of the screen space to view this material, only to be pushed back by the subsequent shot of a dog poking its nose towards us in negative parallax space. His depth rich encounter with us does not erase the significance of the older 2D footage but instead asks us to feel our way around the scenes’ different visualscapes. The low resolution, slowed down to a judder, images of the dog here, and throughout the film, can be thought of as thin images, working against the attempts by traditional 3D cinema to give images whole thickness. Their thinness is described by Deleuze as the optical image, taken up by Laura Marks to suggest that the image “defamiliarizes the cliché by severing it from its context. The resulting image looks rarefied and abstract compared to the thickness of clichéd images”. [30] Its thinness in Adieu au langage varies the texture of the entire film, working against the visual plenitude necessary for a Total Cinema. In its denial of full visual plenitude, Adieu au langage also makes clear that there are aspects of the world that cannot be visualised, particularly the past, and posits that reducing the stereoscopic membrane to its barest threads is an effective way to address this. In this way, the discussion of Hitler begins as voice over on a black screen space. We are then provided with a mix of contemporary and historic footage, with images losing their clear substance to abstract form, but we are not presented with a stereoscopic Führer.

Footage from: Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)

Footage from: Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)

Taking these various points concerning Adieu au langage’s imperfections, frontal positioning, painful labours, and patchwork membrane together, one of the main features that places the film closer to experimental works that have played with stereoscopic visuality than to contemporary mainstream 3D film is that it would be entirely different if seen in a ‘flat’ version. Most commercial 3D filmmakers are aware that their film will also be screened in a variety of 2D formats (in the movie theatre; on DVD or Blu-ray in the home; on the airplane screen) and so produce a stereoscopic film that does not disrupt or prevent the 2D version from making sense. This does not mean that their 3D versions are equal to or can be reduced to the same visual experience as the 2D film, but that stereoscopy is often an enhancement and heightening of the visual processes that are already at work. In Adieu au langage, on the other hand, the palimpsest layering that occurs throughout the film would be unavailable in 2D and many of the images would have a completely different type of resonance. Its obscene, insistent placement of objects within our auditorium space reduces the possibility of a comfortable contemplative distance to a greater degree than other 3D films, constantly making it clear that we have to confront both the optical illusion and the work that is done by our eyes in order to produce it. As much as this film rubs up against good stereoscopic practice in the teleological tradition, it shows us that we need to take our processes of sight seriously and it asks us to consider how we can ever believe in images that are presented to us when their illusion is so fragile. It is this questioning of sight that opens up the political potential of Adieu au langage so that its Imperfect 3D can disrupt any unquestioned attempts towards the development of Total Cinema.

[1] David Bordwell, “ADIEU AU LANGAGE: 2 + 2 X 3D”, Observations on Film Art, 7 September 2014, http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2014/09/07/adieu-au-langage-2-2-x-3d/.
[2] Daniel Engber, “The Misunderstanding of 3-D”, The New Yorker, 2 June 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-misunderstanding-of-3-d.
[3] Ray Zone, 3-D Filmmakers Conversations With Creators Of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures (Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, 2005), pp. 143-144.
[4] Robert J. Silverman, “The Stereoscope and Photographic Depiction in the 19th Century”, Technology and Culture, Vol. 34 No. 4 (October 1993), pp. 729-756; Sheenagh Pietrobruno, “The Stereoscope and the Miniature”, Early Popular Visual Culture, Vol 9 No.3 (September 2011), pp. 171–90.
[5] Zone, 3-D Filmmakers Conversations With Creators Of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures, 148.
[6] Ray Zone, Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007).
[7] Keith M. Johnston, “‘Pop-out Footballers’, Pop Concerts and Popular Films The Past, Present and Future of Three-Dimensional Television”, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Vol. 19 No. 4, (November 2013), pp. 438-45; R.M. Hayes, 3-D Movies: A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema (London: St James Press, 1989); Ray Zone, 3-D Revolution: The History of Modern Stereoscopic Cinema (The University Press of Kentucky, 2012).
[8] Leon Gurevitch and Miriam Ross, “Stereoscopic Media: Scholarship Beyond Booms and Bust”, Public Vol. 24 No.47 (Spring 2013), pp. 72–82.
[9] Tom Gunning, “Re-Newing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature, and the Uncanny in Technology from the Previous Turn-of-the-Century”, in Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, ed. David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003), p. 44.
[10] Gunning, “Re-Newing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature, and the Uncanny in Technology from the Previous Turn-of-the-Century”, 44.
[11] For a full overview of the many critics who hailed Godard’s innovative use of stereoscopy see David Hudson, “NYFF 2014 Jean-Luc Godard’s GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE”, Fandor, 27 September 2014, https://www.fandor.com/keyframe/daily-nyff-2014-jean-luc-godards-goodbye-to-language.
[12] André Bazin, What Is Cinema?, trans. Tim Barnard (Montreal: Caboose, 2009).
[13] Akira Mizuta Lippit, “Three Phantasies of Cinema-Reproduction, Mimesis, Annihilation,” Paragraph Vol. 22 No. 3 (November 1999), p. 213.
[14] Bruce Bennett, “The Normativity of 3D: Cinematic Journeys, ‘imperial Visuality’ and Unchained Cameras,” Jump Cut, No. 55 (Fall 2013), pp. 1–23; Carter Moulten, “The Future Is a Fairground: Attraction and Absorption in 3D Cinema”, CineAction, Vol. 89 (January 2012), pp. 4–13; Ariel Rogers, Cinematic Appeals: The Experience of New Movie Technologies (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); Jesko Jockenhövel, “A Three-Dimensional Checkerboard: The Long Take in 3D Films”, in The Aesthetic and Narrative Dimensions of 3D Film: New Perspectives on Stereoscopy, ed. Markus Spöhrer (Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, 2016), pp. 55-69.
[15] Alessia Ricciardi, “The Italian Redemption of Cinema: Neorealism from Bazin to Godard”, Romanic Review, Vol. 97 No.3-4 (May-November 2006), pp. 483–500; David Sterritt, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible (Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Gabor Gergely, “Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Essays of the 1960s: The Virtues and Limitations of Realism Theories”, Studies in French Cinema, Vol. 8 No. 2 (2008), pp. 111–21.
[16] Peter Wollen, “Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent d’Est”, in Readings and Writings: Semiotic Counter-Strategies (London: Verso), pp. 79-91.
[17] Andrew Utterson, “Practice Makes Imperfect: Technology and the Creative Imperfections of Jean-Luc Godard’s Three-Dimensional (3D) Cinema”, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, (August 2016), pp. 1–14.
[18] Julio Garcia Espinosa, “For an Imperfect Cinema”, in New Latin American Cinema, ed. M. T. Martin (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1997), pp. 71-82.
[19] “Jean-Luc Godard Feature – Canon Professional Network, Canon-Europe.com, accessed 2 September 2016, http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/Jean-Luc_Godard.do
[20]“Jean-Luc Godard Feature – Canon Professional Network,” http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/Jean-Luc_Godard.do
[21] Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000); Vivian Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); Tarja Laine,“Cinema as Second Skin: Under the Membrane of Horror Film”, in New Review of Film and Television Studies, Vol. 4 No. 2 (August 2006), pp. 93–106.
[22] Marks, The Skin of the Film, xi-xii.
[23] Miriam Ross, 3D Cinema: Optical Illusions and Tactile Experiences (Houndmills; Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
[24] Miriam Ross, “Stereoscopic Visuality Where Is the Screen, Where Is the Film?”, in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Vol. 19 No. 4 (November 2013), pp. 406–14; Cited in Paul Dallas, “1 + 1 = 3”, Film Comment, Vol. 50 No.6 (November-December 2014), p. 39.
[25] David Bordwell, “ADIEU AU LANGAGE: 2 + 2 X 3D”, http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2014/09/07/adieu-au-langage-2-2-x-3d/
[26] Paul Dallas, “1+1=3: The extended cut: Goodbye to Language cinematographer Fabrice Aragno on his collaboration with JLG”, Film Comment, (November-December 2014), http://www.filmcomment.com/article/fabrice-aragno-interview/.
[27] David Ehrlich, “Goodbye To Language”, The Dissolve, 28 October 2014, https://thedissolve.com/reviews/1177-goodbye-to-language/.
[28]Ben Coonley, “3D in the 21st Century. 3D Is the Moon”, MUBI, 15 May 2015, https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/3d-in-the-21st-century-3d-is-the-moon.
[29] Ben Coonley, “3D in the 21st Century. 3D Is the Moon”, https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/3d-in-the-21st-century-3d-is-the-moon.
[30] Marks, The Skin of the Film, 46.

About the Author

Miriam Ross

About the Author

Miriam Ross

Dr. Miriam Ross is Senior Lecturer in the Film Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. She is the author of 3D Cinema: Optical Illusions and Tactile Experiences (2015) as well as publications on film industries, new cinema technologies, stereoscopic media and film festivals. She is also co-founder and administrator of www.stereoscopicmedia.org.View all posts by Miriam Ross →