- Godard and Sound: Acoustic Innovation in the Late Films of Jean-Luc Godard by Albertine Fox
The films of veteran French director Jean-Luc Godard have always placed sound and image in dynamic relation, yet it is his so-called late films that provide the 'sound objects'—in Pierre Schaeffer's terms (À la recherche d'une musique concrète (Paris: Seuil, 1952))—for Albertine Fox's detailed study of Godard's ever-shifting audio-visual universe. Perhaps reflecting the director's prodigious mix of media and forms, Fox's own methods and sources are multifarious: film studies meets sound studies and in turn musicology, with principal theoretical references including the aforementioned Schaeffer as well as Michel Chion, Rick Altman, and Brandon LaBelle. The overarching thesis is both specific to Godard, positing his work as a uniquely inventive œuvre in which 'stable sonic categories seem to disintegrate or merge with others before our very ears' (pp. 2-3), as well as theoretical, outlining a conception of 'acoustic spectatorship' that uses Godard as a case study to challenge 'the ocularcentric discourses that have dominated previous theories of spectatorship' (p. 3). Historically, Fox's focus is on Godard's work since 1979, subsequent [End Page 643] to his emergence as part of the groundbreaking nouvelle vague of the late 1950s and 1960s and in turn his revolutionary political films of the late 1960s and 1970s. If the rationale for this delineation is never rendered explicit, it nevertheless emerges in Fox's claims for the distinctiveness of this period, for example that 'snippets of music, sound and speech are incorporated into Godard's post-1979 films, videos and soundtracks with more buoyancy, acuity and fluidity than in his New Wave cinema' (p. 28). Charting this cinesonic journey, Fox's writing is selective rather than exhaustive, and defined by a number of idiosyncratic editorial decisions. It is to the author's considerable credit that she analyses not only feature films but also less familiar shorts and other works for video, television, and so on, offering what she describes as 'a selective assortment of "major" and "minor" works' (p. 9). Yet, Fox is at times generous to a fault in deferring to existing scholarship (including by Michael Witt, James S. Williams, and Daniel Morgan) and declining to focus on some of Godard's most significant films. The 1980s are dealt with in detail, but the 1990s only in passing, and there is virtually no discussion at all of the 2000s before Fox picks up the baton with her concluding analyses of Film socialisme (2010) and Adieu au langage (2014). Thus there is little or no space for major works such as Éloge de l'amour (2001), Notre musique (2004), nor the densely reflexive Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98), arguably the director's late-era magnum opus. Despite such quibbles, there is no denying Fox's contribution to the scholarship on Godard, French cinema, and the broader fields of film sound and sound studies beyond. Ultimately, Fox argues, the distinctiveness of Godard's 'acoustic innovation' resides in 'a process of sharing, searching, recording, listening, and listening again' (p. 12). The success of this book is in inviting us to participate in this process, to listen actively to the late cinema of Godard, with senses sharpened and perception attuned.