When an artist has lost their creative edge it takes real humility to know when to call it quits. For their fans it can be even harder to deal with, many refusing to accept the person who once was able to interpret the world for them is no longer up to the job. Of course, there’s no reason for an artist to give a damn what anyone thinks about their work, especially when you have long since revolutionised your art form. Perhaps that’s a state of mind Jean-Luc Godard has existed in for some time now. It’s the only rational reason that can explain the absurdity of the 87-year-old’s The Image Book.
Apparently his latest film is about how he views the current state of the world. Yet, you’d be hard pressed to find a coherent theme anywhere in this 90-minute collage of broken images and sound. Half the time it plays like the remote control is trapped down the side of the sofa beyond retrieval, the buttons being triggered automatically and the viewer left with no option but to watch as it randomly skips from one channel to the next. In actuality that might be a more enjoyable experience than sitting through this.
The Image Book isn’t maddening or infuriating because of its ‘experimental’ form. In fact, it doesn’t inspire many feelings at all. Arcadia used a similar technique earlier this year to great effect, while the Sensory Ethnography Lab continue to break new ground with their work. Godard’s film is a broken puzzle of ideas and concepts that perhaps when pieced together in a different manner provide a link from one segment to the next. He previously said Goodbye to Language and it seems he has now abandoned it altogether.
Godard uses a combination of old footage made up of news reels, fictional films and documentary clips. The director provides the droll commentary on top, which plays like a stream of (un)consciousness, with the occasional piece of music roughly interspersed, often being crudely spliced short in a matter of seconds. All the while the colour, aspect ratio and speed of the clips are altered and manipulated, with the 90 minutes split into chapters that cover themes such as remakes, the law, trains (?), and a number of other politically charged subjects.
Some of the film footage is recognisable, such as Salo, The Lady from Shanghai and Citizen Kane. Clips taken from the news focus heavily on atrocities caused by hostile governments and terrorist organisations, which you’d assume are used to make a blunt point - even though whatever that may be remains utterly elusive. Godard has always preferred life on the fringes of society but you’d have hoped a man of his years would have more wisdom or insight to offer than this haphazard film essay suggests.
This appears to be getting a pass simply because it’s Godard and thus must be treated as a late-career masterpiece. Those who refuse to accept that rhetoric are left to feel inferior for being unable to understand the guru when he speaks. Anyone who falls victim to that way of thinking is doing themselves a huge disservice. The Image Book is, as the title indicates, a collection of images, although they are a set that seem to have been selected at complete random.
The Image Book plays for one day on Sunday 2nd December, before being available to stream on MUBI from Monday 3rd December.