Counter-Cinema & Wollen
Peter Wollen’s article, “Godard and Counter-Cinema: Vent d’ Est,” outlines the “seven deadly sins and seven cardinal virtues” of cinema and deliberates the formal elements that reflect counter-cinema, that film director, Jean-Luc Godard, utilizes in nearly all his compositions. (Wollen 120). Wollen lists the values of traditional cinema and disputes them with their contemporary counterparts. He is incredibly favorable to Godard’s counter-cinema approach and holds him in high regard; however, Wollen does have apprehension concerning Godard’s series of terms: “fiction/mystification/ ideology/lies/deception/illusion/representation” (Wollen 120). Two films that employ the aspects of counter-cinema include Godard’s Tout va Bien and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. These films, as does counter-cinema itself, exhibit a paradoxical attitude toward suture and apply the conventions of Godard’s counter-cinema.
Wollen begins his article cataloguing the “sins” and “virtues” of cinema. The “sins”, referring to the classical code of film, include: narrative transitivity, identification, transparency, single diegesis, closure, pleasure, and fiction (Wollen 120). Contrastingly, Godard’s avant-garde canons, include: narrative intransitivity, estrangement, foregrounding, multiple diegesis, aperture, un-pleasure, and reality (Wollen 120). Counter-cinema resists the “stitching” of suture; suture demonstrates a closed world-an unified fiction, in other words, the viewers are not aware of a film’s editing. This defiance causes the facade of continuity to fade and promotes frustration in spectators. Kicking off our exploration into the formal elements of counter-cinema found in Tout va Bien and Rear Window is the destruction of narrative transitivity. Narrative transitivity is defined as the “sequence of events in which each unit  follows the one preceding it according to a chain of causation” (Wollen 121). In Tout va Bien, Godard replays scenes twice, or even additional times, back-to-back, which results in the slaughter of continuum. The viewers’ concentration is sundered due to the evidence of editing. Another example in Tout va Bien that shatters suture is the “Grocery Store” scene, in which the camera is liberated from the look of the camera. This causes dissatisfaction among the spectators. Wollen describes the reasoning behind Godard’s attraction to narrative intransitivity, stating, “[Godard] can disrupt the emotional spell of the narrative and thus the spectator, by interrupting the narrative flow, to reconcentrate and refocus his attention” (Wollen 121). In Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the “Ms. Lonely Heart” scene is held briefly as her pleasure dissipates; this assists the viewer in discovering the frame and editing. By exploiting the narrative transitivity through the repetition of shots and hesitation during scenes, nothing is hidden from the onlookers.
The next conflict is between identification and estrangement; this is defined as empathy and emotional involvement versus divided characters and commentary (Wollen 121). Godard’s initial devices to breakdown involvement incorporate “nonmatching of voice to character, introduction of “real people” into the fiction, [and] characters addressing the audience directly” (Wollen 122). This is apparent in the opening of Tout va Bien; unidentified characters supply voiceovers and the ripping and signing of checks reveals the production aspect of the film that is traditionally hidden from the audience. Tout va Bien’s audience is addressed point-blank through interviews, where the questions are omitted and only the character’s answers are heard. The reduction of dialogue in Tout va Bien is replaced by the interviews, or, monologues in Godard’s case. The spectator takes the position of the interviewer and the camera. Wollen explains, “the ruse of direct address breaks not only the fantasy identification but also the narrative surface” (Wollen 121). Again, the cohesion is interrupted when the spectators realize the editing.
Furthermore, the clash between single diegesis and multiple diegesis is implemented in Godard’s Tout va Bien and Hitchcock’s Rear Window. These conventions of cinema are characterized as “a unitary homogeneous world” against “heterogeneous worlds [and] a rupture between different codes and different channels” (Wollen 124). Wollen specifies that “Godard breaks down the structure of the single diegesis, [and] he also attacks the structure of the single, unitary code that expressed it” (Wollen 124). In Tout va Bien, the storyline of the strike at the French sausage factory and class struggle is paired with the frequently referenced “May ‘68” political shift in France due to universities being occupied by students, with the aid of labor unions. The married couple that becomes entangled in the strike is linked to the issues of the working class struggle. Another example of multiple diegesis is found in Rear Window; the main character, L.B. Jefferies, examines his neighbors’ lives via his apartment window. Each of the residents’ lives is readily displayed for Jefferies’ pleasure and fixation. His neighbors struggles and successes are scrutinized throughout the film and concerns, like voyeurism, scopophilia, and feminism, are confronted.
Peter Wollen’s article mulls over the formal elements of counter-cinema and connects them to Jean-Luc Godard’s filmmaking techniques. Wollen credits Godard as “the most important director working today”; however, he admits there are perplexities in Godard’s method. Wollen equates the classical elements of cinema as the “sins” and the aspects of counter-cinema as the “virtues.” Godard’s Tout va Bien and Hitchcock’s Rear Window exemplify counter-cinema formalities, such as, narrative intransitivity, estrangement, and multiple diegesis. Overall, counter-cinema dismisses the rules of vintage cinema, frequently correlated to Hollywood studio films, and promotes Godard’s elements of counter-cinema.