John Bresland: Hanoi Jane, Mon Amour

Bresland reflects on a slow moving film about Jane Fonda and wonders about the power of a still image @ TriQuarterly Review.

In 1972 Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin made Letter to Jane, a film built largely around a single still image. If you’ve not had the pleasure, if pleasure’s the word, let me quote Pauline Kael’s review in its curt entirety:

A 45-minute-long lecture demonstration that is a movie only in a marginal sense. A single news photograph appears on the screen; it is of tall Jane Fonda towering above some Vietnamese, and on the [voiceover] track Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin discuss the implications of the photograph. Their talk is didactic, condescending, and offensively inhuman.

Even Godard said in 2005 that Letter to Jane “was not a very good movie.” He claimed that the film was an attempt to analyze the political work of Jane Fonda, not an attack on Fonda personally. Pas du tout! Godard and Gorin share voiceover duties in the film, firing off lines like these:

Godard/Gorin: The facial expression of the militant in this photograph is in fact that of a tragic actress, a tragic actress with a particular social and technological background, formed and deformed by the Hollywood school of show-biz and Stanislavski.

Letter to Jane is a lo-fi production with a harsh, uneven sound mix. Godard/Gorin mispronounce words and step over one another’s lines, lines that could have been written and recited by government fonctionnaires. Godard and Gorin were Maoists, and it was Brecht, not Stanislavski, who owned their aesthetic sympathies. Where Stanislavski might have Brando summon his inner demon to become the demon we marvel at, Brecht was happy to remind us that art is derived from artifice. Brecht felt that audiences were pacified by the spectacle of realism, their status reduced from co-creators to gawkers.
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