Genesis of a Camera: Jean-Pierre Beauviala and Jean-Luc Godard

Camera Obscura Vol. 5, No. 13/14 (Spring-Summer 1985): 163-193.

We are reprinting this discussion between Jean-Pierre Beauviala and
Jean-Luc Godard because it represents one of the most unusual exchanges on the relationship between aesthetics and technology that we have seen. It is highly unlikely that an interview witht his kind of emotional tenor would ever find its way into a journal like AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER, for example, even though it is concerned throughout with the development of a new 35mm camera and its potential uses. Jeane-Pierre Beauviala is responsible for a series of inventions that resulted in the Aaton 16mm camera, nicknamed “the cat” because of the way it is designed to balance on the shoulder (hence the references to the camera as an animal); the perfection of super-16 (made to be blown up to 35mm without image distortion); and the PALUCHE, which is referred to frequently in the discussion below. The PALUCHE is a small video camera that is held in the hand like a microphone or a flashlight. Because of its size and mobility, the PALUCHE becomes an extension of the hand rather than the eye.

In Grenoble, where Aaton is located, Beauviala worked with Godard for
several years on the development of specialized video and film
equipment, while Godard was living just across the French border in
Rolle, Switzerland. They intended to create a new 35mm camera that would
have the technical simplicity and flexibility of super-8, so that a
non-specialist, a director like Godard, could use it for spontaneous,
brief shots that could be intercut with 35mm work done by professional
cinematographers. A camera called the Aaton 35-8 was subsequently
marketed, but not exactly in the form originally envisioned by either of
them. Just how the technology would develop-according to whose
needs-took on an increasingly personal dimension as time went on,
culminating in a major dispute between filmmaker and inventor. At the
meeting chronicled below, Godard and Beauviala voice their complaints in
language that mixes metaphors about art, love and technology. It quickly
becomes evident that their friendship is being contested as much as the
merits of one camera design over another.

As personalities characterized in large part by the ways they choose
to express themselves, both Godard and Beauviala are intriguing,
especially in the light of what they represent-each in his own way
unorthodox, yet operating within commercial constraints. Godard’s
arguments are marked by a familiar combination of self-awareness,
self-deception and tricky maneuvering that works by frequent and abrupt
changes in subject. Perhaps this could be called a form of montage; it
animates his Histoire(s) du cinéma as well as his public debate with
Pauline Kael (see CAMERA OBSCURA 8-9-10 for both), and also the dialogue
he likes to give his fictional characters. Godard’s technique is well
known: the oblique, associative argument, presented in a roundabout way,
interspersed with little stories that are digressive and still
ironically (or strangely) illustrative. One is often seduced into
following his train of thought, rather than an “argument” in a logical
sense. Aside from providing character studies, the interview is
interesting in that it shows how decisions are made, and rationalized,
decisions that attempt to satisfy technical, artistic and economic needs
at the same time.

Please note that the technical specifications of the Aaton cameras
that Godard and Beauviala talk about, particularly the 35-8, have
undergone further modifications since the date of this discussion. For
accurate and current information, contact: Zellan Enterprises, 250 West
57th Street, New York, NY 10019. Aaton advertisements used as
illustrations were taken from a publicity booklet printed in 1982,
unless otherwise indicated.

Alain Bergala, who wrote the introduction and several explanatory
notes, is one of the editors of CAHIERS DU CINEMA; he frequently writes
on photography. Jean-Pierre Beauviala occasionally writes about
technical questions for the CAHIERS; he is listed on the masthead as
“Technical Advisor.” And Jean-Luc Godard has had a long history of
involvement with the CAHIERS, first as critic and later as one of their
favorite filmmakers. CAHIERS DU CINEMA no. 300 was a special anniversary
issue edited and designed by Godard. This is the “first episode” of a
discussiuon originally published in two parts. We intend to print the
second half in the near future.

–Janet Bergstrom


The following conversation between a filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard, and
a designer and maker of cameras, Jeane-Pierre Beauviala, carries with it
a whole history of dreams and disappointments, of hopes and
misunderstandings, a history that has been going on now for more than
four years: the genesis of a new 35mm camera.

It all began around 1976 when Godard decided he needed a little 35mm
camera small enough to put in the glove compartment of his car, one that
he could frame and focus himself. This way he could always be ready, on
the lookout for a flower in a field or an interesting configuration of
clouds in the sky (as in the first shot of Passion, which Godard himself
filmed with the Aaton 35)-in other words, everything filmmakers normally
can’t get on film because the opportunity never comes up when they’re
ready. When they notice the flower in the field, they’re not in a
position to shoot it, because first they need a camera, and then a lot
of operators and assistants, and then, when they’re finally ready to
shoot, they’ve lost the flower because the crew has trampled it to

This is how Godard envisioned the camera: “You’re in Holland, out in
the country, and you see a windmill that is completely motionless…You
take the camera out of the glove compartment, you shoot, and you get a
35mm image with the highest resolution possible in cinema or television.
Suddenly you think of Foreign Correspondent (the sequence when the
windmill turns the wrong way). Or something else. Because you already
have an image, once you have an image, you do something else with it.
And if Ingrid Bergman’s there, I shoot Ingrid Bergman. That’s the idea;
that’s why this camera was made.”

It’s clear that the camera Godard wanted and which he christened the
35-8 (a 35mm camera that would have the small size and the automatic
features of super-8: see the letter addressed to Aaton of February 5,
1979, published in CAHIERS DU CINEMA, no. 300) was to be a DIRECTOR’S
camera; never mind that it’s noisy and can only shoot for two minutes,
with a 60-meter magazine, as long as the quality of the image is
competitive with the Arri BL. The technical characteristics were
determined by Godard’s desire to “be somewhere OTHER than the places
normally prescribed by the traditional cinema.” This is because Godard
feels that MISE EN SCENE always ends up looking like it’s been
determined by the equipment available, as well as by certain working
habits that have to do with the nature of the standard crew (the number
of people employed, the division of labor, the professional norms). To
get out of this rut and find new places, new angles, different points of
view, in short, an entirely different way to film something, Godard
needed fresh equipment that didn’t already necessitate the same, routine
gestures; in other words, he needed not only a new camera, but also
everything that should come with it: clamps that allow the camera to be
attached to places other than those normally used, e.g., a restricted
space cluttered with a cumbersome tripod; a color PALUCHE with automatic
controls; an editing table with video playback; another kind of blimp;

So, Godard turned it over to Beauviala, even though making and
designing the 35-8 was intended to be shared by the two. At the
beginning, Godard saw himself as a partner and associate. He decided to
invest a small part of the budget of his next three films (Sauve qui peut (la vie); Passion; Prénom: Carmen) as a cash advance on the
anticipated rental of the equipment.

Easter 1978: Aaton goes to work. June 1979: the prototype is born,
and William Lubtchansky makes the first tests, on a street in the 16th
Arrondissement in Paris. That’s when things start getting complicated
and bogged down in misunderstandings-which the following conversation,
requested by Godard, is supposed to redress, four years and three films

What happened in the meantime? The camera evolved; it’s no longer the
original 35-8, but the Aaton 35. Even if it’s smaller and more
light-weight than regular 35mm cameras, and has a completely unique,
feline contour, it’s still a bit heavy compared to the first model,
because of technical adjustments that had to be made (a revolving mirror
instead of a beam-splitter, 120-meter magazines instead of 60-meter,
etc.). These adjustments were designed to make the camera more
competitive on the international market, on which Aaton’s success
necessarily depends. It was clear that the original 35-8, which answered
Godard’s needs, didn’t stand the slightest chance of survival on the
international market, unless it was to be considered a back-up camera or
a second-unit camera, for shots that required primarily a camera that
was just SMALL and LIGHT-WEIGHT.

Now, four years later, Godard feels less like a partner in the
creation of this camera-its development by-passed him completely-and
more like a simple customer or an informed, critical user. According to
him, this camera was originally supposed to be tailored to a director’s
needs, but ended up being made to solve the technical problems of a
camera-operator. In other words, it was not designed to fit a really
SPECIAL request.”I asked for Artemis to hunt my images,” says Godard,
“but I got Juno.” Godard is objecting to the other voices that
interfered, including those of his own camera operators.

As for Beauviala, he willingly concedes that there were a number of
technical problems that come with making a prototype, that he tried to
resolve as quickly as possible. But he feels that the current Aaton 35,
which was used for several shots of Patrice Chereau’s L’HOMME BLESSE,
has maintained, despite all the misunderstandings with Godard, the
spirit of the original 35-8, even if it consists only in its “different

Such is the state of things at the moment this conversation between
Godard and Beauviala begins. The dialogue takes place on neutral ground,
in one of the CAHIERS offices. Also present is Jean-Bernard Menoud, who
was Godard’s camera assistant on his last films, and myself,
representing CAHIERS as the host of the conversation.

Alain Bergala

1. The Original Project, or: How Misunderstandings are Born…

Jean-Luc Godard (JLG here-after): Let’s just say that since I can’t
focus (FAIRE LE POINT) with this camera, I’d be satisfied just to make a
point of the fact that I can’t make a point (FAIRE LE POINT) with this
camera. For me this particular camera is loaded with symbolism. I
expressed this to you with the question, “Does the French cinema NEED a
camera? No!” So I am taking advantage of Jean-Bernard Menoud’s presence
in Paris today to discuss this, since he’s the one who ended up using it
the most. I’m here as a film producer who’s interested in a certain kind
of equipment. I’ve always tried, in the name of MISE EN SCENE, to have a
dialogue (if possible) with those who build the objects we use. And then
there’s a more philosophical-economic perspective: what does it mean to
build an object, especially a camera, what purpose does it serve, who
wants it…

Alain Bergala (AB here-after): Still, it’s rare for a camera to be
commissioned by a filmmaker. Since Rossellini…

JLG: Cameras have always been commissioned by filmmakers, including
Lumiere, who was a painter, as you can see from Langlois’ documentary.
And the still camera was commissioned by Charles Cros, who was a
poet…and the Aaton 16 camera by Beauviala, who was an architect,
because the others didn’t suit him. And then things evolved to the point
where today, as a producer, here I am again a customer who’s abandoned
the role of official partner. On the other hand, I can see the
difficulty of fine-tuning an object…So, if I add it up, we’ve probably
invested about the same thing-I just don’t add it up the same way. But
purely in terms of money, the prototype for a camera used to launch a
trial series-correct me if I’m wrong-costs something between three and
five million francs.

Jean-Pierre Beauviala (JPB here-after): It took two years to make the
35-8 camera, which you used for SAUVE QUI PEUT. It cost 800,000 francs.
Its successor the Aaton 35, has already cost four million after only
three years, and it’s not even finished yet.

JLG: The testing ground for this camera has been the films I’ve made:
I’ve made three films in three years with budgets averaging five million
francs, more or less, which makes 1-1/2 billion old francs. I don’t
think it’s an exaggeration to say that between one-fifth and one-quarter
of this budget went to this camera. The difficulties of having a
dialogue with the camera-maker are the same as those I’ve found in
trying to have a dialogue with technicians, who themselves have no
dialogue with the camera-maker. Which means that you can adapt a whole
shooting style to a certain camera, but it doesn’t work out because you
find out that it goes against cultural habits. What I’m hoping for is
the beginning of a discussion about something. The thing that really
makes me furious, not as much now, but still, is that I can’t see a
flower, or a cloud, let alone a face (that’s harder), which is the basis
of my work today, because I don’t have this camera, and that’s why I
commissioned it. When I gave the camera to Menoud and he told me, “No,
Jean-Luc, don’t carry on, don’t despair,” I told him, “I hope you’re
going to have more energy to find a model that works, because as a
filmmaker, you’re going to need it.” I’ve heard six of my camera
operators say that they don’t need it.

JPB: Let’s go back and look at how you’ve gotten to the point of
disparaging the very thing you used to love. At the beginning, you told
me, “I want a Bell & Howeel, only I’d like you to add an electric motor
and a battery so that it shoots sync sound.” So we bought a Eyemo 35.

JLG: I never saw it, I wasn’t even told it had been bought.

JPB: Because you told me just after that, “Look, in any case the
Eyemo doesn’t have a good viewfinder, and I want a viewfinder.” Your
great leitmotif was, “I want to frame by myself.”

JLG: What I said to you was that I’d like to take advantage of all
the developments in electronics and modern mechanics, in optics,
starting out with a camera body like the old Kodak or Eyemo, but
including everything else: automatic focus, viewfinder, time-code if you
want it, such that you’re a complete man with a camera perfected in 35,
much better than in 16.

JPB: You told me very precisely: “What I want is to have a camera as
small as possible, so as to get these little stock shots (there was no
question at the time of making entire films with it); you wanted to get
these short docu-photos of people and things you encountered.

JLG: Yes, but wait a minute. What I meant was shots for film. I don’t
say to a mechanic: I want a car that can go 100 meters…

JPB: You’ll only find cars that go 50 million.

JLG: The mechanic says to me, “You hadn’t told me you wanted to go
100 meters several times over.” I say, “That’s my problem if I want to
go 100 meters several times in a car that can only go 100 meters!”

JPB: No, because when he builds the car, he won’t give you the same
gas tank if you tell him, “I want to go 100 meters” or if you tell him,
“I want to make a round trip to Paris.”

JLG: I want to get little shots like that. You say that if they’re
little shots, they’re not films. Therefore you have an idea of what
films are.

JPB: Don’t put words in my mouth. I never said little shots aren’t
films. I said that I agreed, on the contrary, to design a camera that,
like the Eyemo, would start out with a small film capacity (the Eyemo
could hold a minute and a half). We made one that could shoot a little
over two minutes. That’s how we made a camera that was extremely small,
with a 60-meter magazine, much smaller than the one on the table there.
Because it had neither a big rotary mirror, nor a 120-meter magazine.
Smaller than the Aaton 16mm. What I want to know is why you didn’t use
this camera, and why Aaton has now made another one. What happened?

JLG: It all came from your end!

JPB: Not from us, Jean-Luc; I took a crew from Aaton and I said to
the mechanical, electronic and optical experts, “We’re going to make
this little camera, very small, which shoots these little bits of film
like Godard asked for.” You paid us 100,000 francs, and it cost us
700,000…But I kept telling myself that others besides you would absorb
the cost of the test model. It’s that camera that you see in some of the
production stills of Lubtchansky shooting in SAUVE QUI PEUT.

JLG: Only SOME shots of SAUVE QUI PEUT, because we couldn’t use it
much longer-otherwise, we’d have shot all of SAUVE QUI PEUT with it. And
all of PASSION.

JPB: Let me tell you something. You had other people around you, your
crew. From that point on, it was no longer really you. You completely
let go of the reigns of the project we had agreed on. You’re the one who
was supposed to use the camera, keep it handy on the back seat of your
bike, or in your grocery bag. Instead, you gave it to Lubtchansky, then
to Tom, Dick and Harry, and finally, Coutard. And that’s where I’m
unhappy with our relationship: instead of coming to discuss…

JLG: How many letters did you get from me? How many did I get from
you? How many times did I come to Grenoble, how many times did you come
to Rolle and Geneva?

JPB: When I came to Rolle during PASSION, you were in a terrible
mood, you were pissed off at everybody around you. There I was, in the
middle of it and couldn’t say a word to you.

JLG: I’m well aware of this. But I’m trying to find out where the
trouble came from, and why it wasn’t a joint research project. The
initiative didn’t come from either side. There’s probably a lot there
that was unconscious. But I’m still stuck with a camera that I hardly
use at all.

JPB: I tend to think that the way you’ve dealt with me could be filed
under your relations with your technicians.

JLG: We did the whole thing in a fairly amateurish way. You don’t
know the people I hire. I complain about them to you fairly often,
because afterwards I detach myself from them. And I don’t know your
people either, I’ve never been introduced to them…

JPB: But you have! You know Leroux, you know Lecoeur, you know
Francois…I’ve alredy named three!

JLG: Look, we spend 20-30-50 million francs and then we’re told, OK,
we’re sending you THIS. That’s why I ask the question, does the French
cinema need a camera other than the Panavision or the Arri BL? My answer
is, right now, no!

JPB: Do you limit the field of experimentation entirely to the French

JLG: Let’s just say, does the French cinema want another camera?

JPB: But in the end, we don’t give a damn about the French cinema in
relation to world cinema! Let’s put the question the right way: does
cinema IN GENERAL need an object like this one?

JLG: That’s really too vast. I personally can’t think in global
terms. Technicians can, the Japanese better than anybody else. Alexander
the Great thought of the welfare of the people in universal terms, too.
But not me!

JPB: Jean-Luc, you don’t mind if your films leave the country, do

JLG: I don’t mind, but I don’t think about it.

JPB: But I have to think in global terms, since Aaton survives on

JLG: That’s the first time in this for year relationship that I’ve
heard it stated. It took four years to come to an understanding, and
that’s not bad; four years is nothing. A four-year old child! But there
you are: it takes four years and 800 million francs to finally
understand things. You have to search for the object, manufacture it,
watch it evolve. A screenplay evolves, a painting evolves…For example,
the first time we used this camera for SAUVE QUI PEUT, even before SAUVE
QUI PEUT, there was a view-finder with a semi-transparent beam-splitter,
not a very good one because it cost less and there wasn’t the money,
yours or mine, for something we didn’t really understand. OK, so we
experimented, and we said, “We can’t shoot,” because I remeber those
first letters (published in CAHIERS) in which I told you I would like at
the very least to have an image that experts couldn’t tell from one made
with an Arri BL.

JPB: Now it’s just the opposite; we find the image is too good
compared with the Arri BL.

JLG: Absolutely. On the other hand, for the moment we can’t take
advantage of this “too good”! That’s why we changed the beam-splitter,
because it’s the beam-splitter that made the image too diffuse.

JPB: I don’t think it was the beam-splitter that…

Jean-Bernard Menoud (JBM here-after): I remeber the first tests we
made for SAUVE QUI PEUT: we shot Dutronc in front of a window.

JLG: No, that was eight months later. The first tests were at Rolle
on the train station platform, with Lubtchansky. This was a camera that
Lecour had made mouldings for, like a cabinet-maker for Louis XVI. I
really liked them, and I don’t understand why they disappeared later.

JPB: No, no, the mouldings are still there, but now they’re more in
the Directory style.

JLG: So, little by little I’ve come to understand that the life of a
film production company isn’t at all like the life of an industrial
enterprise, even one that makes cameras. Still, the company gave a lot,
you gave a lot, and I hope it succeeds. But today, all I can say is,
I’ll only buy the camera when it’s ready.

JPB: That first camera (the 35-8) no longer exists. The one I just
made doesn’t have one identical feature-optical, mechanical or

JLG: And that’s what I regret somewhat, because it would’ve been
interesting for me to be in touch with the construction of an object.
But contacts are difficult between Paris and the provinces, and then
again between two provincials, since I’m a provincial like you! That’s
what brought us together in the first place; you’re not the one who came
to Grenoble to set up shop. You went there before me; I’m the one who
came for three or four years.

JPB: While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about Grenoble and why it
didn’t work out.

JLG: I couldn’t even-because you couldn’t care less about the sound-I
couldn’t even attach the microphone to the PALUCHE the way I wanted. So
after me, exit the PALUCHE!

JPB: You can’t say we don’t care about the sound; I’ll remind you
that Aaton’s whole history began with my wanting rich and complex sound,
not the sort of lip-sync where talking hides seeing, but simultaneous
noise and sound.

JLG: Even with three assistant cameramen and two cinematographers, I
couldn’t succeed in rigging the mike to the camera. Because the main
idea I had, good or bad, I don’t know, but that I insisted on and that
bore a strong relation to the MISE EN SCENE, was that this little
camera, like the PALUCHE earlier on, would be able to get close to the
source of the sound, and that the clamps holding the microphone (which
should have been modified accordingly) would be the same, or of the same
type, as those holding the camera. But I didn’t succeed.

JPB: Still, in order to pacify you, we gave you this gadget with
electronic cable clamps, which you did use, by the way: I’ve seen the

JLG: If you had been interested, you’d have made it yourself, but it
doesn’t interest you.

JPB: No, it doesn’t interest me, as a matter of PRINCIPLE: you know
that for me the PALUCHE is an extension of the body towards people and
things, it’s the hand’s very gesture, its quivering, its emotion; it’s a
centering of a SUBJECT that has nothing to do with the frame of the
cinema, so some clamps…

JLG: I put three years into this idea. I said to Musy, “Listen, don’t
tell me this magazine makes noise because you haven’t been able to get
your windbreaker wrapped around the camera to muffle it. We have to find
another kind of blimp…

JPB: You put three years into it, but I remind you that the Aaton 16
has its own blimp, which has been keeping it warm for six or seven years

JLG: But it’s really bad.

JPB: Maybe so, but don’t say its design was based on a cardboard box.
With the 16mm, as well as with the 35, we used the principle of the
quilted body-stocking, very effective! Your technicians didn’t want
it-maybe it’s not easy enough to take on and off.

JLG: You’re supposed to talk to the technicians! You’ve never even
seen them. I couldn’t get them to come to Grenoble.

JPB: I went at the beginning of the PRENOM: CARMEN shoot to see the
rushes one evening…

JLG: One time! Because we are in a jam and we told you to come!

JPB: That’s just it. I came one time and I didn’t come back. Why?
First of all, because when I came that time, there was Coutard and the
whole bunch who flat-out insulted me! I’m sorry, but surround yourself
with people who understand you! I’ve had the same technicians on this
project for four or five years.

JLG: But there’s no dialogue, there’s no joint concept of what this
camera should be. Which means it’s been changing form constantly for
four years. But why does it keep on changing?

JBM: That’s precisely what’s interesting. Each time it took a film
project and two months advance notice to motivate Jeane-Pierre and his
crew to renew their interest in this camera.

JPB: Do you really think that a project like ours is just done two
months at a shot every other year?

JLG: Well, I find it absolutely incredible that it took three years
and three films, 1-1/2 million francs, for professional assistants of
good will (fascists or not), for professional inventors of good will
(leftists or not), and myself to realize that with a camera like this
one, if you focus with the viewfinder you don’t get the same result as
when you focus with the tape measure. When you realize that you can’t
focus is when you’re on a feature production and you take twenty shots
every day. So then you’ve got to stop! On CARMEN it cost us between
three and four million francs, with Sarde. Because there was a film
style that everybody was using. OK, (Isabelle) Adjani didn’t want it, so
she left-but it was a film style that was tied to a star. When the star
disappeared, a funny thing happened; the Aaton disappeared at the same
time. I accepted it for technical reasons, but then the whole style of
the film changed. When the camera is clamped to the edge of the table,
and there’s no tripod in the middle, people like Coutard don’t move
around it. The room isn’t the same, the MISE EN SCENE isn’t the same,
the films aren’t the same, society could be better-that’s the way I see
it! And we saw the die was cast! So I continued in the old mode…but I
couldn’t go back to the Arri mode. And the film wasn’t working any more.
SAUVE QUI PEUT could still be made with the Arri. PASSION could be made
with any old camera. PRENOM: CARMEN couldn’t. The film changed! But
somehow I just can’t put two talented people together, because the first
thing they do is insult each other!

2. How a Camera Changes Name When It Changes Hands

JPB: The camera you wanted at the beginning still exists as a
prototype, and I’m keeping it for Langlois’ Cinematheque. It’s very
close to the camera you wanted to “attach” to your eye, and which I
found adequate for my own reasons.

JLG: The image was out of focus because of the beam-splitter.

JPB: NOT because of the beam-splitter; the Imax high-definition
cameras also use the same principle for their reflex-mirror system, and
so do the Mitchell BNCs.

JLG: We never really talked together because you’re more of a
technician than a creator, from that point of view also. You’re like a
restaurant owner: you say, “What would you like, gentlemen?” and I say,
“What do you have, gentlemen?” The dialogue could go on like that
forever. The technicians say to me, “What do you want, Jean-Luc? We’ll
make it for you.” Now I’ve resigned myself to saying, “I don’t know,
we’ll find a solution.”

JPB: We had a talk after SAUVE QUI PEUT and that’s not what happened!

JLG: Look, I don’t know, without having used the camera, if the
beam-splitter will give us as sharp or “pointed” a resolution, you know
what I mean? For example, as long as you don’t show me a Renoir or an
Ingres painting, I don’t know what it means. So, we do it; then when I
see the result, I understand what’s wrong, and at that point we realize
it has to change, that it needs a rotating-mirror, which means 700,000
francs worth of research, which I understand completely.

JPB: Who said after the tests that it needed a rotating-mirror more
than a beam-splitter? Not me, anyway, and certainly not because of the
sharpness…Let’s get to the bottom of this, what led to the conception
of this camera where the cost sheet was…

JLG: There was never a cost sheet…

JPB: Yes, there was; I drew up a paper for you with the anticipated
figures. In fact, I prepared this paper with you. I wasn’t the
restaurant owner asking you, “What would you like?” We discussed it for
a long time and we determined that for this type of cinema, we’d need
this type of camera: light, small, low noise level…

JLG: With an image quality that could match the Arri 35 BL.

JPB: I opted for technical solutions such that you could get the
largest image possible, ultra sharp and stable, so as to be able to play
inside the frame of the image, what I now call “Bonnardising.” With
Bonnard, “reframing” isn’t just selecting new borders for the image
which are smaller than the large frame at the beginning; it’s modifying
MASSES according to their values and their COLORS, and even deforming
“Renaissance perspective.” This should let you RECENTER the meaning of
the picture without even changing the geometric center of the photo.
That’s why I agreed to start this project; it allowed me to make a
camera almost as small, in relation to the body and the hand, as the
PALUCHE, but capable of registering enormous images, a sort of vein you
could mine by means of digital video and computer technology. Bonnard
always used canvases much bigger than the painting he had in mind, and
at the end recentered the subject by playing with the area around the
actual painting. It was this, and not just a question of time or money,
which made me choose the semi-transparent reflex beam-splitter. It
allowed me to cover a larger image without the camera becoming a

(At this point in the text, a free-hand drawing of the beam-splitter
system is shown, with the following caption, written by Jean-Pierre
Beauviala: Mao would have appreciated the semi-transparent beam-splitter
system, in which “one divides into two”: 1/3 of the light coming into
the lens goes to the ground-glass of the viewfinder; the rest goes
uninterrupted to the film.)

(Another free-hand drawing depicts the rotating-mirror system, with
the following caption, written by Jeane-Pierre Beauviala: The
rotating-mirror system works on the principsl of democratic alternation.
100% of the light passes alternately to the film stock during exposure
of the image (1/50 of a second), then 100% to the ground-glass of the
viewfinder during the positioning of the following image. Similar to the
way the heart beats, the image exposed on film is never quite the same
as the one the cameraman sees.)

JPB: The camera we gave you was the prototype; instead of playing
with it first, you put it right to work on SAUVE QUI PEUT, a film that
already had a technical crew and everything else. It wasn’t even painted
black yet-we didn’t have time to do it-and the image that came out of
this camera, in tests that were really tough for a prototype, didn’t
have, not the sharpness, but the contrast that classic cameras have.
(One shouldn’t confuse contrast with definition, even if they look the
same to the naked eye.) But I didn’t think this was a reason to condemn
the whole system. The point at which each of us effectively lost control
of this “little” 35-8, was, in my opinion, when the cameramen and
technicians around us said, “There’s no rotating-mirror reflex shutter,
it can’t work. We don’t want it!” But they were speaking as
standard-sync-sound-filmmakers/cameramen; what we had in mind was, for
you, a director’s camera, and for me, a device for registering
(reframed? [word partially obscured here-BF]), “Bonnardized” images.
Besides, every time things go wrong between us, and we’ve got yet
another example in PRENOM: CARMEN, it’s because all these people come
between us. And you, you hide yourself away; I don’t know how or by what
mysterious means!

JLG: I hide myself when I shoot a film, or rather, I don’t hide
myself, but the film hides me.

JPB: And people hide you from yourself completely. You forget your
original intention and your initial remarks, which were to have a camera
for a very precise application…

JLG: …to have a sharp image and to operate it myself; I realized
there were a certain number of things-like the viewfinder-to work on.
After the tests for SAUVE QUI PEUT, the only thing we decided together
was that you were going to try to find the money to work on getting rid
of the beam-splitter system, which wasn’t competitive.

JPB: So now you’ve finally said it: NOT COMPETITIVE, but it was for
another market, for the camera operators or the cameramen/filmmakers!

JLG: I personally don’t know how the image is registered:
rotating-mirror, beam-splitter-it’s Chinese to me! But I’m told it’s
because of the beam-splitter that the image is diffuse…

JPB: There’s no physical reason for the beam-splitter to make
lower-contrast images. There are fifteen elements in a lens, so it’s not
because there’s a beam-splitter added.

JLG: Look, I don’t know anything about it. You have to find a less
precarious system.

JPB: If at the time we had both been more ambitious, in other words,
if we had REALLY wanted to make this camera, because you still felt the
need, we could have made the beam-splitter work. In an optical
instrument, this isn’t a problem.

JLG: It’s a mystery to me how things turned out that way.

JPB: Because of YOUR OWN crew.

JLG: It’s not “my” crew.

JPB: It was so your crew.There were Chapius, Berta, Lubtchansky. It
was clear that you brought them to me as people you had confidence in,
and they pressured us incredibly. They said this beam-splitter was shit.
And from their point of view as filmmakers/cameramen, they’re right; the
beam-splitter isn’t perfect: it’s fragile and it eats up light that
should go to the film stock. So I took account of their demands and of
Aaton’s finances: that’s what’s called “integrating the
constraints”…There are sixty people at Aaton, and they have to live
off this competitive market. But to get back to your people, the people
you trust, to whom you entrust your images…

JLG: They’re employees!

JPB: Maybe so, but you picked them!

JLG: I took them on for a shoot, and when I saw afterwards that they
didn’t follow, I no longer considered them my people.

JPB: The real tragedy is that they left behind a cloud of smoke
between us, which means that the camera has become another kind of tool
than the one you wanted at the outset.

JLG: But I’m not the one who provoked the drama. Everybody just let

JPB: You let them trash this poor little camera. You know very well
that for me this project meant contributing to a certain type of film,
to a certain kind of image; it wasn’t just a technical thing.

JLG: Look, if you think they’re bad, then I have to hold you
responsible for having believed my employees!

JPB: I didn’t say they wre bad at what they do, but they weren’t good
for our project. They were your envoys, so I believed them.

JLG: Me, too, I believed them. Everybody bekieved them, and we were
wrong, and at that point we saw that dialogue is difficult, that
industries are very different even though they may be similar, which
means we were mistaken. What do you want me to say? Why did you believe
the cameramen?

JPB: They have another point of view: they represent another lobby.

JLG: I believed this lobby. But after three months, I got rid of
them; I realized it served no purpose. In fact, I asked the technicians
to use the camera, but when I saw they didn’t want to, I stopped.

JPB: That means you weren’t sufficiently master of the project; you
delegated “the word of the creator” to others.

JLG: I was LESS than the master. At one point, I just wanted to say,
“I give you this camera.” I gave it to Berta and Goupil. When they
didn’t want it, I took it back, and then I gave it to Menoud. We’ll see!

JPB: It’s no longer the same. They didn’t want the little camera, but
Menoud’s camera is the Aaton 35. How can you complain about lack of
communication, when you let others speak for you?

JLG: OK, at certain times there WAS a sort of intermediary body, the
actual camera operators, who screwed everything up. That’s how it is
with pretentious, over-paid people, and then the two inventors tell each
other off, when there’s really no reason to. What I’d like to have now
is a viewfinder that focuses and does everything else it’s supposed to
do, I forget what. That’s all I ask. I’d ask the same of the Arriflex.

JPB: Also with time-code, a light meter, auto-focus…

JLG: Also the fact that we can agree on something. And we haven’t
understood between us that we should really come to an agreement on all
these things. When we saw the first tests projected to normal size-and
these images were made under difficult conditions, like direct sunlight
and back-lighting, in order to get a classic flat image-they couldn’t be
intercut with images made by the Arri BL, although the Aaton’s
registration is much better. It’s only because of the claw mechanism
that I was able to catch my error in diagnosis! At that point, I didn’t
notice any dialogue between MY technicians and yours, like, “There’s no
need for a rotating-mirror, or a laser system. If you want to make such
a thing, you have to study it first.” The image was dissatisfying
because it was slightly diffuse.

JPB: I remeber the image that was made with that first prototype, in
a street in the 16th ARRONDISSEMENT in Paris. There was a big “One Way”
sign, and really, it’s hard to tell the difference from an image made
with the BL.

JLG: I’ve seen it again, I still have it. It was the very first
image, and with the first image, it’s like in the movies. You’re so
happy to be looking at it that you see a lot more than is actually

JPB: It was quite beautiful!

JLG: I’m starting to get used to these things, to this sort of
psychological feeling. As for me, I often find the dailies magnificent,
and the next day they seem so much less beautiful. I think there’s a lot
of psychology on our part…it’s not really better than any other image.

JPB: Still, emotion counts…What do they care about a slight halo on
the image?

JLG: When we told you, “This beam-splitter system is no good,” you
didn’t tell us, “Do another week of tests with more images, and convince
me it’s not as good.” On top of which, there was this purely practical
thing; every time we changed the lens, it twisted the beam-splitter and
damaged it. As far as I’m concerned, I think it must’ve aggravated
something that didn’t belong to the beam-splitter, but to its mounting.

JPB: That’s true, the mounting was badly done, but there’s something
else: it was no longer YOUR camera as soon as it was put into someone
else’s hands.Don’t you remember? You wanted this prototype to be YOURS.
You wanted to cuddle it and take it everywhere with you.

JLG: But films are made by more than one person!

JPB: Yes, I know: the producer, the sound engineer, the script girl,
the editor, etc. But it was YOU who were supposed to hold the camera. If
somebody who wasn’t too careful changed the lens, and didn’t pay
attention to the beam-splitter…

JLG: …even somebody careful, because you can’t find anyone more
careful than me with objects like that.

JPB: Exactly: you’re a careful man, but it just so happens that you
put this newborn baby in the hands of people who aren’t exactly

JLG: That’s just talk. It was called the 35-8; and what is 8mm
anyway? It’s a camera that Daddy gives to his little girl, the little
girl gives it to the CONCIERGE, who in turn gives it to the gardener,
who gives it back to Daddy. Cinema is made by several people, unlike
novels, or painting or sculpture. Cinema is made by many and you’re
forced to go through others. You don’t make a film by yourself. It just
doesn’t happen that way!

JPB: Your camera, I repeat, was a prototype, barely dry; suddenly it
was dropped into hands accustomed to different gestures.

JLG: Dropped too quickly: I shouldn’t have used it in my films right
away. It’s like a girl you put on the street too quickly.

JPB: People started messing in our business, which killed our little

3. In Which the Silent Partner-Director is no Longer Able to Make His Point with the Industrial Dreamer

In 1979, Aaton gets a 900,000 franc loan to start building a camera
with a rotating-mirror reflex shutter and a 120-meter magazine; this is
the camera being discussed here. (Alain Bergala)

JPB: The same thing keeps happening with the current Aaton 35. The
saga of the 153 degree reflex shutter is typical; one January evening
during PRENOM: CARMEN, your crew noticed a flicker, and started
criticizing this and that. I looked at the images, and I was so taken by
the oval of the face, I didn’t see the little bumps on the forehead.
That evening, it was a question of fatally wounding this camera, which
has a different mind, form and animality. Everything was just right for
“drowning the kitten”; you seemed so distant, and I left feeling very
sad. Anyway, it’s not a kitten, it’s more like a leopard. And then
there’s the focus matter, “We can’t focus with the viewfinder”; that
completely amazed me, because getting a clear image through a viewfinder
is the childhood of the art!

JLG: Childhood! Then in that case, we haven’t yet arrived at
childhood, because, for the time being anyway, the camera can’t do it.

JPB: IT DIDN’T DO IT at the time; what gripes me is that in January
you didn’t tell me, “Jeane-Pierre, the style of the film as I’ve
envisioned it is…” You didn’t call me. No, I really pushed myself with
the 153 degree system (which didn’t, in fact, flicker), and worked on
the sound level in a room with smooth walls (although the camera wasn’t
designed for studio sync-sound), and then it stopped suddenly, without
warning, quite capriciously (an error in the micro-processor

JLG: No, that’s not it.

JPB: That’s what I heard that evening, and anyway, eight days later,
Chevereau sent back the camera we’d just delivered without even opening
the box. The rumor about CARMEN back in Paris was that the Aaton 35 was
useless with the HMIs.*

*In order to get higher intensity lighting, the cinema uses lights
known as HMIs. Attached to a power source these lights pulse 100 times
per second. Regardless of the phase of the opening of the shutter in
relation to the pulses, each frame must receive the same quantity of
light; otherwise a slight strobe effect appears in the brighter areas of
the image (what technicians call “flicker”). To get correct exposure,
the amount of time the shutter is open must allow two complete pulses to
reach the film (i.e., 1/50th of a second). At 25 frames per second, it
takes half a turn, to 180 degrees, in order to open the shutter this
1/50th of a second. At 24 frames per second, to get this 1/50th of a
second, it must be opened a little less: 173 degrees. (Jeane-Pierre

JLG: Every time I want to use it, people tell me, “Don’t focus with
the viewfinder, use the tape-measure.”

JBM: Your viewfinder has to correspond exactly to the markers on the
lens, and then you have to be able to check if the focus-puller is right
or not!

JPB: I’m sorry, but I say no. This camera was made to be carried on
your shoulder, or at most on a little tripod, but it was not conceived
with a tape-measure in mind. When in a given shot you see a clear image
through a quality viewfinder, you don’t have to check it with a
tape-measure, whether it’s a meter or 1-1/10 of a meter!

JLG: What about when the image is out of focus fifteen times in a row
during screening?

JPB: No. At that time the technicians told me that the focus didn’t
correspond to the lens focusing ring, not that you were shooting out of

JLG: Because technicians don’t talk the way I do. They don’t say, “The
potatoes are cold.” They say, “You have such and such a camera with a
laser parameter that you set at 2.8…and that’s why your cousin is
crazy.” That’s how they talk.

JPB: You stood for that? I’m amazed, because with 35mm, it’s easy to
retain control of the image on the ground glass, much easier than with

JLG: I’M not the master of the film; I just do what I can with
fifteen technicians. I have some power, some expertise, and I see that
they have some problems. I don’t listen to their stories anymore, and I
tell Raoul, “Stop explaining to me what doesn’t work. Make a note and
say, ‘In my opinion, if such and such happens, then…,’ like in those
scientific school manuals. Write me something and I’ll translate what
you’ve written, or try to understand it well enough to explain it to
Beauviala so that he won’t take it too badly.” But they say, “It’s the
mirror, it’s the shutter, it’s because blah, blah, blah.” They want the
world and the explanation of the world at the same time. Anyway, what
I’ve noticed is that whenever I focus with the viewfinder and I do
fifteen shots, they’re out of focus. Since I’m in the middle of a shoot
and I want to use it anyway for philosophical-artistic reasons, we go
ahead and do the shot-I’m not talking about the lenses and everything
else that makes this job impossible-but finally we end up putting this
camera to work, but basically in such a way that it can’t WORK. What
interests me, if I work with Menoud or somebody else, is that with the
viewfinder, he uses his eyes, to understand the MISE EN SCENE, and that
when he sees something move, he knows from memory that at such and such
a place-from memory, he doesn’t have to check-he makes a certain gesture
with his hand which corresponds to the MISE EN SCENE. At that point,
we’re in sync, we work together.

JBM: That’s what we tried to do, but it didn’t work.

JPB: It’s a technical problem, but so many things got in the way that
at times nobody could say, “Oh, yeah, it’s because of this or that”-and
when I think that it took three years and three films to figure that

JLG: Every single time, we thought it was the flange depth of the
lens or something else, but we didn’t know! Sometimes it takes you four
years to figure out that your wife is cheating on you. You ought to know
the first day.

JPB: If it takes you that long, it’s because you don’t love her!
Three years and three films seems long to you, but when you do something
that’s a hybrid of art and industry, two kinds of time are running
simultaneously. I find it perfectly natural that nothing works on the
first round. I think it’s good to let the development of a camera be
drawn out somewhat, because then you can modify and refine it. It’s like
the houses you saw at Mens, which I started on fifteen years ago: every
three years I demolish a little, add a wing or move staircases around.

JLG: Yeah, but you’re a builder!

JPB: You mean INDUSTRIAL: that’s the other kind of time, the one that
makes me schizo. I live like that, always on two kinds of time. One’s
slow and sinuous: the clay model waiting calmly for the kiln; the
other’s rushed and efficient: make the invention profitable. As for the
houses, I’d like to have my friends there today, and sleep there this
evening with the woman I love; as for the camera, everybody would like
to use it tomorrow morning, but I need to wait a while longer.

JLG: I’m not criticizing, but why didn’t you stop?

JPB: Why didn’t we stop? Well, it’s precisely the INDUSTRY. From the
moment you put your fingers in that pie, when the 35mm put the
livelihood of fifteen Aatonians on the line, the die was cast, and it
was no longer possible to go back. The slow tempo misses everything, and
the rushed thinks about something else. There’s a point at which the
object eludes us a bit, like you when you began your film. In relation
to your initial project, with CARMEN, the camera escaped you, because
there’s a producer, and Coutard, and actors, and you couldn’t say, “This
shoot isn’t what I wanted, you’re driving me nuts.” You go on. Well, me
too, I go on.

JLG: What’s really difficult-and what must have happened a little
between us-is that every project is something that escapes you. Because
a project is something you throw around in order to chase it-it’s like
life. Each person has to synchronize himself somewhat to be informed, to
know if the project is getting away from him, and if it’s mutual. It’s
seeing HOW it’s escaping us, knowing if we like it because sometimes we
like it and we’re happy with it, or on the other hand, is there
something in this change that we don’t like, and can we do anything
about it? We can at least study the problem, and eventually make an
article out of it.

I’ve always been instinctively interested in technical things,
because you can have a dialogue with a solid object.I’ve never talked
about technical things with Raoul; we only talk lighting. At a certain
point, when you know someone well, you talk about women or money, but
that’s all. Everybody was shooting with a huge camera when we started
putting it on the shoulder, and not just for the fun of it: Raoul ended
up aging more quickly than the others because he carried the camera on
his shoulder. Now we’re putting the camera on a tripod. I can’t look at
a hand-held shot anymore; I find it too shaky.

JPB: Shaky? But the first shot of PASSION, which you yourself made
with the Aaton, tracing the trail of an airplane across the evening sky,
that’s the shot everybody loves! Evan at 120 meters, it’s still a
shoulder camera, not really much bigger than the 35-8. Moreover, I used
this magnetic coupling device so that it would work with a 180 degree
shutter, which means that both the tripod and the hand-held people
should have no problem accepting it. Right now I think it’s been

JLG: I’m happy to know that it has some possible industrial future.
In that case, they’ll buy it and afterwards you’ll refine it.

JPB: In any case, nobody wants 60-meter magazines; I only made them
because you asked for them. That’s a pretty good measure of the distance
between the original project and what the buyers actually want.

JLG: We didn’t realize it. I for one believed you, and at certain
times, I took you for either much less or much more of a tightrope
walker than you really were.

JPB: It takes two to walk a tightrope: we talked images, not objects.
We were talking images and now you find yourself with an object which
corresponds less to the image you had of it. Given that, let’s not get
carried away; there’s no major difference between the stillborn
prototype of SAUVE QUI PEUT and the CARMEN camera.

JLG: That one’s still a bit huge. If there had been an exact balance
sheet, I’d have told you that the size of the camera should be defined
by the size of, say, a Toyota glove compartment. That’s a good size. If
I’d known what to say at the time, that’s what I’d have said.

JPB: At the time you were driving a Peugeot…

Alain Bergala: As it is now, this camera has become more like the
standardized cameras you find on the market. Are you saying you regret

JPB: No, it’s still quite different. It’s kept the small animal
aspect of the 35-8 prototype. One might hope that filmmakers will act
differently when they have this camera in hand, close to their eyes, in
a more symbiotic relationship. They shouldn’t follow the crowd anymore,
shooting in the obligatory places.

But it’s true, I would’ve liked for the original 35-8 to have been
completed, in order to inspire the kind of filmmaking that could be done
with that kind of a camera. With the 120-meter (magazine) model, it’s
less certain.

JLG: Each time one of us tried, the other would shoot him down. So at
certain times, we each ran away…Which reminds me, did you notice how
(Isabelle) Adjani insulted us? She says in some article, “You
understand, of course, that I had to leave when I saw that there were
three people and a little camera he’d invented and put on a tripod.” As
if suddenly, “put on a tripod”-while all the Panavisions she normally
shoots with are on tripods, I mean they’re not mounted on the wings of a
dove-but with us, it was “a little camera on a tripod.” It’s not only
that it’s a little camera, but even worse, it’s “on a tripod.”

Beaviala: Adjani must have realized that this camera wasn’t designed
for a tripod; her remark isn’t really that dumb. It makes you feel
uncomfortable to see this feline creature on trusty Mr. Tripod.

JLG: All I know is that today, you might say this camera has become
“radical-socialist.” That’s already saying something in relation to the
others, but I’ll only buy it when I’ve checked ten shots for focus with
the viewfinder.

4. The Fatal Moment; or: How a Film Changes its Actress, its Camera and its Style

When he undertook the shooting of PRENOM: CARMEN, Godard intended to
break with the traditional “image crew” formula. There was no Director
of Photography: Raoul Coutard was the Lighting Consultant, and Godard
intended to shoot the image track with his assistant, Jean-Bernard
Menoud. “This allowed us to create the images at our own pace; Menoud
would stop to load the magazines himself, which gave me more time; and
there was less bustling around the camera, and importantly, a little
more silence.” The first ten days of the shoot, when Isabelle Adjani
wasn’t there yet, this pared-down crew worked with the Aaton as the only
camera for the film. But right away focus became a problem, or, as
Godard says, “I couldn’t adapt my MISE EN SCENE to this problem of
FOCUSING.” They hire a regular focus-puller, Adjani arrives with her
makeup artists, suddenly it’s the fatal moment when the atmosphere and
the character of the shoot change: “We returned to a normal MISE EN
SCENE where each person goes back to his regular functions and the
others start getting bored.” When Isabelle Adjani left the film a few
days later, the crew gave up on the Aaton and shooting began again with
both a new actress and the Arriflex. (Alain Bergala)

JLG: Everybody started getting defensive during the first three days
of shooting of PRENOM: CARMEN. There was a point at which things became
very interesting from this point of view. Even though I was paid by the
Minister of Culture to film what might happen during the shoot, I wasn’t
able to film it; nobody thought about doing it. Then one day Menoud-who
was in my Administrative Cabinet-felt it, that is, he felt the film was
changing, and he said, “Well, what do you know, we’re in the middle of a
big production.”

That’s the day Raoul asked me to hire an extra assistant. It was
somebody who’d had an accident and who needed work to boost his morale.
His story is really nice, I’ll tell it. He was in Berlin on a shoot. One
evening, he goes home, splashes some water on his face and collapses. He
crawls to bed and goes out like a light, into some sort of coma. His
buddy phones him and says, “You want to have dinner tonight? I’m not
doing anything…” The other guy answers with “aga aga aga,” so his
friend thinks he’s plastered. This was Friday; Saturday the friend
phones again and says, “OK, look, are we going out tonight?” The other
guy replies, ” aga aga aga” and he says, “That’s OK, I’ll see you

His wife, or rather, his girlfriend, calls Sunday from Paris. She
says, “So, how’s it going, Jeannot?” The other guy keeps saying, ” aga
aga aga.” She hangs up and takes a plane, comes to Berlin and puts him
in the hospital. It’s a great story.

When Raoul told me about it, I said, “OK, fine, I’ll take him.” But
he didn’t know how to load a camera. Then everything changed. He wasn’t
in sync with us. I have to say that on this film Raoul was Lighting
Consultant, which is actually difficult for a cameraman. On PASSION,
he’s the only one who agreed to the idea of having a lighting
consultant, even though there weren’t any spots. Raoul’s one of the few
who went for the idea. He really should have had some spots, but he
agreed to be a lighting consultant anyway. For me, being a lighting
consultant means checking the weather at 5:00, then at 2:00, since it
can really have an impact on what you’re doing, or where you’re going to
put the reflector, but it’s not actually a conscious process. Raoul has
this very peasant side. He began outside the normal system. He’s only
done good work for me; for others, he does shitty work, and even worse
for himself. Still, there’s something very human in his photography. And
so he asked me to hire this friend who had worked on some of my films
before. This guy’s name was Jeanott. As soon as Jeannot came, everything
got screwed up, because our idea was for Menoud to be the assistant,
i.e., to do the focus, for better or worse. But then things changed.
>From the moment Jeannot got there, as soon as there were two people
doing the work of one person, that changed everything. That’s what I’d
call the “fatal moment”; we’d already fallen into a routine. Menoud, you
sort of vaguely told me that. Then I told you, “You’re exaggerating.”
You take on a grip, and after the grip you get a costume person, and the
film automatically becomes different. I wasn’t really part of the
routine. I’d talked to you about the camera, Jeane-Pierre. I’d told you,
“I don’t care if the camera is noisy; we’ll re-synchronize the sound
little by little later on.

JPB: And afterwards, when you gave up this beautiful idea of filming
over a pre-arranged musical score from a well-known story…

JLG: I gave it up, yes.

JPB: THAT’S what I resented at the time, because it was a great idea;
but as soon as you strayed from the initial project and began filming in
sync-sound, you chose to use the more quiet of the two cameras, even
though the image quality wasn’t as good…I often think of INDIA SONG.
I’d like to see a film where the background noise and the gestures are
in sync, but the dialogue is an after-thought. Why didn’t you stick to
such a great project?

JLG: The camera wasn’t strong enough, nor was I for that
matter…nothing was strong enough.

JPB: What thrilled me about the CARMEN project was that the sound
pre-existed the film and so did the story, a story that doesn’t even
need to be told; it’s like the Bible. Everybody knows the story of
Joseph and his brothers. I like that, and that’s the reason I told you
that you’d have two cameras.

JLG: We got them, and it wasn’t bad!

JPB: But in terms of the original project, to repeat, it became clear
that little by little the Aaton was being asked to behave like a
Panavision. Now that the film is finished, you tell me, “At one point,
we had a problem with the focus!” I could have found the solution if you
had screamed a little louder before-it’s such a stupid problem!

JLG: Yeah, but those are the hardest to deal with! We realized this
when the MISE EN SCENE made focusing difficult, if not practically
impossible. Then we realized there was a technical problem, large or
small, in any case absolutely fundamental, which became larger in
practical terms. This led to abandoning the camera and adopting another
shooting style and MISE EN SCENE, because with CARMEN the MISE EN SCENE
was in the end built FOR the focus-puller. I built MISE EN SCENE so that
the focus-puller could focus, while keeping a minimum of the basic
themes I’d have wanted to have: working with low light levels and
wide-open lenses. If I want to do a close-up at 50 meters, the cameraman
tells me, “Jean-Luc, listen, she can’t move her head. I’m focusing on
this strand of hair, OK? If she moves her head, I don’t know if it’s
going to stay in focus. So it’s better that she doesn’t move.”

Since I want her to move her head anyway, we shoot in 35, and in 35
it isn’t the same shot anymore! Camera operators can’t focus these days.
Conditions for focusing are different. It used to be that a cameraman
like Douarinou, working on an Ophuls film, knew how to focus in his own
way. He’d start off in long-shot and finish in extreme close-up. He did
it with a particular kind of film stock, a particular lighting style, a
particular kind of optics. Today we don’t take advantage of sensitive
film stocks like we should. They’ve always interested me, but a guy like
Lubtchansky uses sensitive stock shooting at f.4, which is of no
interest. I’d rather take a less sensitive stock and work on its most
sensitive parts…which the lab doesn’t really know how to handle.

JPB: Did you use ASA 100 film?

JLG: The normal ASA 100 (which is in fact equal to ASA 200). We
realized that we would’ve liked to focus with the viewfinder so as to
follow the MISE EN SCENE through the viewfinder, because it’s not the
same as following it roughly with a tape measure. For example, say we do
a take of Nathalie Baya. She comes in over there, she takes her pack of
cigarettes there, she sits down there: 1.50 meters, 1.85 meters, 1.30
meters-that’s OK, it works, but for me, the film happens in between. In
this case, the cameramen don’t know how to focus, and, moreover, the
correct focus can change because there’s some improvisation. Result: I
get static shots in order to focus under certain lighting conditions
that interest me more, at the time, than other things, but the cameramen
don’t know how to do this kind of work anymore. They know how to focus
from twenty to thirteen meters, but they don’t know how to focus from
twenty to thirteen centimeters, because they don’t teach themselves to
do it-because films aren’t made like that any more. That’s all there is
to it.

JPB: But you couldn’t have done it with the 35BL either. It’s not
because of the DISTANCE of the object, but because of the MOVEMENT of
the object.

JLG: With the 35BL, you work with three or four people, and when you
have that many people around the camera, you make certain kinds of
films, and not others. That’s just where we stopped, because we couldn’t
focus with the viewfinder, and it was too difficult to do it with the
tape measure.

JPB: With this camera, we were counting on a stable relation between
the viewfinder and the shot filmed. What you’re claiming is that the
image you see in the viewfinder wasn’t reproduced on film with enough

Conclusion: what I’m going to do is add to the Aaton 35 the kind of
device you find in still cameras, a split-image rangefinder which lets
you focus with the rangefinder, instead of the viewfinder. That’s my

Translated by Lynne Kirby with the help of Patrice Rollet, Fabrice Ziolkowski, Harry Mathias


  1. is this the full interview or was there a second half that was going to be published?

    • As far as I know, this is the full interview.

  2. هيئة المهندسين التجمعيين – corps des ingenieurs du parti du RNI

    This is my expert

  3. […] Genesis of a Camera: Jean-Pierre Beauviala and Jean-Luc Godard en Camera Obscura Vol. 5, No. 13/14 (Spring-Summer 1985): 163-193. […]

  4. […] simile a un microfono, straordinario strumento di investigazione audiovisiva che, per il suo creatore, altro non è che «un’estensione del corpo verso le persone e le cose, è il gesto della mano: […]

  5. […] digital cameras. His ‘pro’ video filming was with broadcast Sony Betacam. There’s a wonderful interview here between Godard and Beauviala that gives you a lot of background and understanding to that love-hate […]

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