29 June 1999. New letter from Jean-Luc Godard to Gilles Sandoz, Claude Lanzmann, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Julien Hirsch.
It seemed to me rather useless that Le Monde should be informed of our common project, and I share Nora's opinion at the end of Dashiell Hammett's L'Introuvable [The Thin Man]:
"Not unless you're in a hurry. Let's stick around awhile. This excitement has put us behind our drinking."
"It's all right by me. What do you think will happen to Mimi and Dorothy and Gilbert now?"
"Nothing new. They'll go on being Mimi and Dorothy and Gilbert just as you and I will go on being us, the Quinns will go on being the Quinns. Murder doesn't round out anybody's life except the murdered's and sometimes the murderer's."
"That may be, " Nora said, 'but it's all pretty unsatisfactory."
Amicably, no doubt,
This third letter, manifestly exasperated ("Amicably, no doubt") was in reaction to a brief article by Jean-Michel Frodon that appeared in Le Monde on June 27th, 1999, entitled, "The Famous Debate". This article in fact revealed the essence of our project. And the announcement was, indeed, to say the least premature. What was the source? Where did the leak come from? Today it's still a mystery. I note, nonetheless, that apparently it did not call anything into question.
12 July 1999. Letter from Jean-Luc Godard to Gilles Sandoz, with copies to Claude Lanzmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy.
And yet, time was passing.
The project was not in question, but it was making no headway.
The date of «during June» Godard mentioned in his first letter of March 18th as apparently ideal is long since past.
And the dinner the evening before, on Sunday, July 11th, at the Crillon, was just as tense, perhaps even moreso, than the one that preceded it.
This time, Gilles Sandoz preferred not to be there at all since he thought his presence at the table nearby, like that evening at the Raphael, could only add to the pressure, hence the tension that a project we had begun to sense was more fragile and uncertain than it had appeared, frankly, could do without.
But the fact is that his decision, far from improving things, no doubt aggravated them by further annoying Godard who decided, as he wrote in this letter, to see in this absence a mark of lack of interest for the project; or a lack of professionalism; or the sign of a departure from Paris before what he called the "usual vacation", whose dates seemed, in his mind, surprisingly precise. Or who knows, perhaps it was even a sudden reluctance to supply these "contracts" that, in Godard's universe, were always of extreme importance (and which, besides, would follow very shortly). The fact is that, once more and, in a way more than ever, we spent the entire dinner without saying a word to each other of what might make us agree, disagree, or, at least, occupy us.
I smile when, in this letter written the day after, I come upon the stock phrases "we know very well what we want to talk about" or "three declarations resuming for each one the heart of the debate" which continued the same game of hide and seek with a theme, a subject, a film that was still just as nameless.
Nothing is more amusing, either, than his manner of writing here about the nightmarish «two meals» (at the Raphael and the Crillon) where, I repeat, nothing was said or produced since we spent the entire two hours staring at each other like china dogs. Now he writes that, had they been "filmed", would have "been suitable today"!
I also find the trace of a lively discussion resulting from a question raised by Lanzmann concerning both the responsibility of each one for editing and the final property of images, including rushes, from the filming of the dinner. Knowing Godard's theses about property (virtually collective or, in any case, inattributable) of the flow of images produced and flooding the world every day, we had, indeed, some reasons to be worried and to try to "dot all the i's and cross all the t's".
At this date, however, July 12th, the film was late but still a work in progress.
And I even think Godard never seemed in such a rush and, even more, so precise as to the form of this filmed object that had been his idea and the dream of which he, manifestly, continued to pursue.
Once again we had dinner last night at the Hotel Crillon. I was surprised at your absence, but the others seemed to find it normal.
I'll be in Paris again before the usual vaction period, on the evening of Monday, July the 19th, Tuesday the 20th and Wednesday, July the 21st until 4 p.m. and available. I would really like to receive a contract during this time. I think the same is true for the others, J.H. included.
Enclosed is one last dot of the i's of the situation as I understand and feel it.
c.c. to the other three
Exposés of the three authors, order of exposés chosen by a simple majority (the producer among them) or by drawing lots, maximum running time. 10', minimum. 08'
Theoretically, a single take, but the author's exposé being made in a situation of his own choice, he can request another take defining the situation from which the author is speaking,
A short made by the author as part of the budget drafted by the producer, max. running time 07'-09' in which case the opening conversation will last less than 09',
The author's image is absent, only his voice can be presented off-screen,
For JL.G, if we really know what we want to talk about, the conversation can merely consist of three declarations summing up the basics of the debate for each.
For C.L., I think he would like a long recording from which will be drawn the approximately 3x33 minutes for each. The advantage of this length would be, according to C.L., to allow us to define the stakes and more developed terms during the exposés and the shorts.
For JLG, this running time has already been used four times (had the two meals been filmed, they would have been suitable today), but he has nothing against taking up the conversation once again.
(We always forget that Arte's jurisdiction has fixed at one hour the time devoted to stating the case. The advantage for those charged is that they are paid a salary.)
The recording of the exposés, as well as the use of the authors and their final cut, belong to them within the limits of the budget drafted by the producer. (It is clear that the set-up of the shoot in respect to the exposés is that of a simple television interrogation. If, for example, an author wishes to bare his soul on Tianmen [sic] Square, the travel expenses will be deducted from the budget of his short.)
Each author can see or show the others what he has done or indicate what he plans on doing. He can also do nothing with this, preferring to wait until the final broadcasting print is made.
During last night's dinner, I tried to explain the importance of the three blocks of images and sound presented to the vision and hearing (understanding, as poor W. Benjamin put it) of eventual audiences. It seems to me especially crucial that the exposé in no way be a first short film. To sum it up roughly, it appears to me that 1) present the society, 2) represent the person, and 3) represent the art (and/or its resistance) and as old Brunschvicq used to say, one is in two, two is in one and these are the three persons.
Amicably yours again,
(titles: ordinary white letters against a black backdrop)
Arte Agat Films present
The nth film of the series, Left/Right
In the company of
The revolution is not
(Music: `"aux armes etc." by S. Gainsbourg)
Hotel, dining room, conversation, debate (approx. 9')
Not a Gala Dinner
(titles: white letters against a black backdrop)
Exposé 1, 2 and 3, approx. 10' each.
(titles: white letters against a black backdrop)
Film 1, 2 and 3, 7' each approx.
End credits (Aux armes, etc. by S. Gainsbourg