Tracking shots are a matter of morality

The project of this blog was born before the pandemic. 

It read as follows: To assert, rightly, that art neither defends nor serves a moral, has made us lose sight of the fact that artistic practice is ethical. That the artistic gesture is a matter of ethics is a conviction that we will defend here. First of all, because it seems to us to open up – once again – conceptual horizons that have remained unexplored for too long, and yet are necessary for the knowledge of an artwork.

Far from disqualifying this ambition, Covid- 19 has made these demands more forceful. If the ardour of the debates that animated us the day before quarantine started has totally disappeared (should we separate the work from the artist? It was the antiphon of many conflicts), once the stupor caused by the epidemic is over, art will not escape the ethical questions that were (re)emerging. Cause the questions of the status of the artist, of the artwork, and finally of the link between the author and its work (interrelated, among others, of rights and duties), do not only belong to cinema and literature, they challenge art as a whole, and contemporary art in particular. 

And the new ethical questions arising from the pandemic, from quarantine, from its conditions and from the management of the health crisis will rapidly spread to areas other than public health, as soon as the doors of quarantine are opened. The idea is spreading, for example, that worldwide business and art business will not go back to the way they were before the crisis. That both cannot afford to avoid a more responsible redefinition of their practices (their modes of production and distribution, their markets, etc.). Participating in and defending the liveliness of this idea is in addition to our primary ambitions. Because nothing says today that this afterthought will not, on the contrary, break the momentum and ambitions of a more responsible and solidarity-based economy.

We have chosen this title, a tribute to the French New Wave, because it makes us, by its mere statement, to think beyond our contemporary certainties. 

Morality today is only brandished as a fetish that should not be invoked for fear of awakening the empire and exaggerated forces, and all too often, a questioning of the exercise of power, its physical subjection as much as its moral constraints, it is denounced under the pretext of a return to normative and liberticidal morality.  As if morality, as order and as power, had not long ago undergone its transformation, abandoning the ways of the religious that justified its ascendancy (what it is good/evil), for those of reason (essentially economic and political) which now alone can give it authority (it is realistic/unrealistic; it is possible/impossible).

Choosing this title is also, first of all, to place oneself under the auspices of three important figures of cinema (in fact, four…)

Serge Daney, in his beautiful article Le travelling de Kapo1, reminds us that Jacques Rivette, in a review published in the Cahiers du Cinéma2, finds despicable a tracking shot by filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo in his film Kapo.
Made in 1960, the film tells the story of a young French Jewish girl who is arrested and then deported to a German concentration and extermination camp. The camera movement allows the Italian director to approach and reframe the body of a heroine who has just thrown herself onto electrified barbed wire so as not to end up « like a beast ». It is the aestheticisation, the classic recomposition of this terrible suicide, that Rivette denounces. 

Rivette’s criticism is in line with Jean-Luc Godard’s3 assertion : « tracking shots are a question of morality ». This article and this all-Godardian sentence placed ethics as a required value, on a par with the passion that the French New Wave enthusiasts had for cinema.

It is a question of cinema, of course, but the succession of avant-garde movements that gave rhythm to twentieth-century art can also be read as the permanent search for a practice that would combine aesthetic desire and ethical requirements in a single gesture. 

In other words, it was already defending the idea that aesthetics is a matter of ethics.

This blog does not want to be a communication tool but a space for reflection. It will be so if we know how to open it to otherness, pluralism and contradiction. We will invite artists, collectors, critics, gallery owners, passionate amateurs to intervene here.

The global crises (financial and health) reveal ethics as a need of humanity, and no longer as a chic but boring accessory of a few somewhat idle people. But as soon as the crises are over, the need becomes less pressing… And ethics quickly becomes again, at best a forgotten subject such as the Baccalauréat, at worst an exotic object whose use is no longer recognized.

It is up to all of us to redefine its use. It is up to the players of the art world to redefine an aesthetic of ethics.

Unless it is the other way around, and this is our first line of thought, working to define an ethic of aesthetics…

Because we shall not forget that before tracking shots were a question of morality,  morality was a matter of tracking shots 4.

morality is a matter of tracking shots

  1. Serge Daney : Le travelling de Kapo – Traffic n°4, autumn 1992.
  2. Jacques Rivette, De l’abjection, Cahiers du cinéma n°120, June 1961.
  3. Statement by Jean-Luc Godard during a round table discussion on the film Hiroshima mon amour by Alain Resnais. Round table transcribed in the Cahiers du Cinéma n°97, July 1959. For the entire period of the Cahiers du Cinéma, see the book by Antoine de Baeque: Les Cahiers du cinéma, Histoire d’une revue. Ed. Cahiers du Cinéma.
  4. In an article, Sur les brisées de Marlowe, published in the Cahiers du Cinéma in March 1959, Luc Moullet wrote: « La morale est affaire de travellings » (« Morality is a matter of tracking shots… »).

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