Letter to Jane

The August 2013 issue of Sight & Sound magazine centers its “Deep Focus” feature on an extensive examination of the essay film. One of the works featured in the text is Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s (as the Dziga Vertov Group) 1972 short Letter To Jane: An Investigation About A Still, a “postscript” to Godard’s Tout Va Bien (1972)—which stars Jane Fonda—that deconstructs a news photograph of Fonda in Vietnam. Over the course of fifty-two minutes, the filmmakers’ narration interrogates the visual content of the photo and its more widespread implications as a cultural image.

From the Sight & Sound feature, here’s writer Chris Darke:

“It’s…an inspired semiological reading of a media image and a reckoning with the contradictions of celebrity activism. Godard and Gorin examine the image’s framing and camera angle and ask why Fonda is the ‘star’ of the photograph while the Vietnamese themselves remain faceless or out of focus? And what of her expression of compassionate concern? This ‘expression of an expression’ they trace back, via an elaboration of the Kuleshov effect, through other famous faces – Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Lillian Gish and Falconetti – concluding that it allows for ‘no reverse shot’ and serves only to bolster Western ‘good conscience’.

Letter to Jane is ultimately concerned with the same question that troubled philosophers such as Levinas and Derrida: what’s at stake ethically when one claims to speak ‘in place of the other’?”

Update: Letter to Jane can be seen on the Criterion Collection’s DVD for Tout va bien and as such we’ve taken down the video.