115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Jean-Luc Godard's Political Auteur Music in Weekend and Pierrot le fou

Mark Inchoco, University of California, Riverside

This paper examines the notion of auteur music with regards to Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend and Pierrot le fou, as indexical to major French conflicts including the Algerian War and May ’68. I argue that film music, in addition to setting mood, can be activated as a political tool.


This paper focuses on Claudia Gorbman’s notion of auteur music as it pertains to Jean-Luc Godard’s anarchic road trip films, Pierrot le fou and Weekend. Both films were scored by the French composer, Antoine Duhamel, whose music possesses an arresting quality within these films. What is interesting about Duhamel and Godard’s collaboration is that Duhamel’s score was arranged by Godard, but not in the manner consistent with standard musical arranging practices; rather Godard recomposes Duhamel’s music consistent with musical practices of musique concrete tape music that focused on editing magnetic tape, regardless of internal musical structure. By interrogating the notion of the auteur with regards to film music, we can find underlying political motivations gesturing to the French cultural and political scene of the 1960s.

Godard’s function as film music editor speaks to his process of filmmaking, which is improvisatory in nature, but with the intention to highlight a point of political contention ranging from sexual politics to the Algerian War. In Weekend, Godard jarringly adds a loud, dissonant repeating figure while Corinne (Mireille Darc) confesses a graphic group sex encounter, based on a scene from Georges Bataille’s The Eye, with her psychoanalyst and lover. Godard edits Duhamel’s music in such a way that its affect creates a claustrophobic, unsettling sonic space for the spectator. But for what purpose? I show how Godard critiques French bourgeois attitudes of sex with his editing of Duhamel’s score. Similarly, during what is perhaps the longest tracking shot of a traffic jam in film history, Godard cuts through the incessant car honking with Duhamel’s music when a Shell gasoline truck appears in the mise en scene. The inclusion of Duhamel’s music is indexical to France’s modernization, especially with regards to the rising number of car ownership. I argue that Godard’s reading of fraternité as one long traffic jam (with deadly consequences)in light of French modernization is one of the keys to understanding Godard’s critique of modern French society, which is consistent to the zeitgeist of the May ’68 student revolutions; this is made even more apparent in the following scene involving a bloody car crash between a tractor and an expensive sports car. This clash between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie has the ironic comment of this fraternité with a dissonant rendition of “L’Internationale.” In all of these instances, Duhamel’s music plays a large role in fashioning Godard’s critical vision.

The theoretical underpinnings for this paper is based on Michel Chion’s notions of synchresis and “added value,” specifically with regards to the historical context of both Godard’s films and Duhamel’s musical scores. Both of Chion’s ideas speak to larger issues in both film- and film music studies, which are, how does an auteur use music and sound to create meaning with images? What are the larger implications of a non-traditional film music aesthetic within a politically charged work? What can be gained from this study is a reconfiguring of film music’s function as a way to locate and highlight pertinent political issues subversively.