Composing in Fragments: Music in the Essay Films of Resnais and Godard


Research on the audio-visual genres of social cinema and essay films tends to focus on narrative structures and visual tracks as opposed to sound tracks. Especially when looking at French productions, the shadow of Michel de Montaigne’s sixteenth-century Essais in tandem with Alexandre Astruc’s twentieth-century concept of the caméra-stylo push investigations of this audio-visual genre towards theories that stress visual and literary/philosophical approaches over those that privilege soundtracks. Relying heavily on either literary or philosophical models or on image theory to understand the logic of a medium in which the audio plays such a dynamic role is symptomatic of the dominance of the logocentric and visually (optiphilic/scopophilic) based interpretive methods that circulate today. These models of analysis and interpretation are clearly derived from literary criticism and art history. My aim is not to argue against the seminal role that either linguistic texts or the study of visual compositions play in the understanding of the audio-visual essay; rather I want to explore other ways of thinking non-fiction cinema. For it seems to me that the attentiveness to the textual or pictorial components of audio-visual work all too often comes at the expense of examining systems of representation and signification that are not based on purely linguistic or visual constructions.

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