Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Jean-Luc Godard’s Prénom: Carmen (1983)

Beethoven and the Concept of Two Sounds1

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2021), 15, (1), 3–35.


In an interview discussing Prénom: Carmen (1983), Jean-Luc Godard underlines the correlation between the processes of music and filmmaking: ‘Making a film is like performing a quartet’. The emphasis on such a relationship between these two virtually different modes of artistic expression, the act of reflecting upon art in general, and the final artwork, represents Godard’s primary concern in this film. In order to emphasise this self-reflexive stance in Prénom: Carmen, the footage of the Quatuor Prat rehearsing Ludwig van Beethoven’s string quartets is intertwined with fictional material narrating a contemporary version of the Carmen myth. With this alternation, Godard conveys that his conception of cinema emerges from observing how performers create music. Music-making is thus as much a hands-on endeavour as filmmaking itself. Since we are limited to having two hands to edit the soundtrack and mix and arrange the different sounds, we consequently can hear only two sounds at the same time. With this self-inflicted limitation, Godard shapes the soundtrack of Prénom: Carmen with only two simultaneous sounds. Such an overtly self-conscious approach to film sound shifts the focus onto Beethoven’s music, not only as an artistic key device, but also as an alien within the surprisingly complex soundscape and more generally also within the contemporary Carmen story.

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Media Cited

All films listed below are directed by Jean-Luc Godard unless indicated otherwise. Google Scholar

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