Jean-Luc Godard
April 22, 2004 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Aimez-vous Godard? That Is, If You've Actually Seen One Of His Films. Gilberto Perez's view of Godard is strictly personal, as all opinions of his work must be. It does highlight, however, how neglected the restless author's films have lately been. For people of my generation, he was absolutely essential. The supreme cineaste, both with an accent on the "e" (as a film-maker) and without (as a film enthusiast). Whatever became of the Nouvelle Vague? It seems to me that the contemporary cinema could well do with another blast.
posted by MiguelCardoso (28 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"Vivre sa Vie" (It's My Life to Live) is my favorite but I have not seen Breathless or Contempt so there are some essential good ones yet.

I doubt we will see anything like it again simply because it was created out of the confining boundries of the day, it was a style that existed as definition only within the framework of a larger film establishment that no longer exists.
posted by stbalbach at 3:47 PM on April 22, 2004

Contempt is good. Breathless was OK. I especially like the score to Contempt.
posted by Gyan at 3:57 PM on April 22, 2004

The Cahiers du Cinema were key for the birth of the Nouvelle Vague (Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut, Jean Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol) and there is no equivalent of that magazine today -- of its tone, of its active role as wake-up call for French cinema -- today.

There's no André Bazin.

There's no young Jean Pierre Léaud, especially

Godard is living proof that cinema is a young man's business. His last good movie -- "Detective". 1985.

For people of my generation, he was absolutely essential

exactly. (I suggest you watch Bertolucci's The Dreamers, it's a Nouvelle Vague's lover wet dream). he was essential. now he simply isn't. the Nouvelle Vague's revolution has changed cinema forever, it has been digested, it's over. Jean Eustache closed the coffin. game over.
kids nowadays get their dose of Nouvelle Vague thanks to Wong-Kar Wai, Tarantino, Tran Anh Hung, Spike Lee, Inarritu.

on the other hand, digital cameras (not Godard) will be essential in the future for independent moviemaking. and, ironically, the old cinema vérité boys will be vindicated after all.
technology will be what Hitchcock was for Truffaut & friends
posted by matteo at 4:09 PM on April 22, 2004

i agree with matteo. the new wave was pretty damn significant for its time and place, but there are lots of new waves to come.

i've only seen Breathless, Jules et Jim, and Week-end, and i found all of them terrific, yet ... i'm not rushing to see anymore (though i do want to see Alphaville).

it's hard for me to get super interested in books from the 19th century (though damn, that Victor Hugo (not to mention all those Russians) could sure write), or movies over 50 years old (which Godard's are approaching). i suppose i'm temporally biased.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:22 PM on April 22, 2004

I'm assuming I'm of a different generation, but Godard is, and will always be essential. Contempt and Band of Outsiders are absolutely essential. Or should be.
I remember reading an article within the last few years all about how utterly neglected and undistributed his recent films have been. I was shocked; I didn't realize Godard was still working. I think it also mentioned that he had made a film of King Lear, starring Woody Allen!? Has anyone seen this?
posted by ghastlyfop at 4:29 PM on April 22, 2004

Wow, dig this cast.
posted by ghastlyfop at 4:35 PM on April 22, 2004

I know its trendy, but I adore "Breathless." I went through a Godard phase two years ago - I am cured. Though I could watch Breathless over and over again. One of my favorite movies of all time.
posted by Quartermass at 4:36 PM on April 22, 2004

There are a fairly low number of Godard films available on DVD in the UK but I've managed to work my way through. Loved Bande A Part and Breathless. His most recently released, Eloge De L'Amour gave me a headache and Le Mepris? Where to start. Here is the review I wrote for my blog after I saw (I'll reproduce it here rather than link because self linking is bad...) There is a massive spoiler in the final paragraph.
I used to think there wasn't anything more disheartening than the conversation about film in which the person you're talking to says that they don't watch subtitled films because they find the words distracting and they spend most of the time looking at them. 'But what about all the great films your missing' I shout at them 'You're willing to watch any old shit just because its in English?' That's what I used to think until I saw this pseudo-intellectual wankfest, an example of a poster that's better than the movie. The reputation of this film is based on one detail. Bridget Bardot's arse. She spends much of the film naked and we get to see it a hell of a lot. And in technicolour. It's the first thing we see at the start of the thing, along with the rest of her nakedness, and it's there all along against fabulous back drops. Which would be fine and a perfectly good way to spend ninety minutes depending on your mood. It's a pity you're distracted all the time by the plotless, joyless machinations of everyone else involved.

Apart from the fact that the film within a film of Homer's The Odessey looks like a less likely prospect than Jim Belushi in K-9000 at the box office (do we really need to see so many statues in makeup?), was it at all necessary to make so many scenes massively long by having the dialogue translated between the French and English characters by someone who is actually there. It's a stylistic choice and it might have worked in France, but for the international market, it means we hear the dialogue in French, read what it says in the subtitles then hear it again in English. For minutes on end. I have no idea what they talked about for this very reason. It's the kind of film in which people make pronouncements and look intense and have issues about the nature of their being and humanity. But for some reason it feels as profound as deciding not to clip your toe nails on a Sunday because it might be bad luck.

Fritz Lang plays himself, its rumoured because he was hard up and need the money. His appearance doesn't feel as prestigious when you know that. And if you wanted to punch leary John Voight in Anaconda for a poor performance under no pressure, just see Jack Palance here making a pass at Bardot. He reminded me a lot of someone I went to school with who used the chat up line 'We'll dance and then I take you into the corner and kiss you.' It worked for him, and for some reason Bardot leaves with leatherface at the end even though they share no language. I've a theory about Palance. At some point in his early forties he woke up one morning looking like he did in City Slickers, up until then he was young as he is here. I've never seen him in some missing link between stage.

Film students will probably notice the similarities with Jean-Luc Godard's good film, Breathless (A Bout De Soufle) in that the middle half hour consists of a couple hanging around an apartment insulting each other and getting in the way. But whereas in that film, Godard was playing about with time and editing and lalalala, here real human emotions go out of the window as Bardot mopes about and her boyfriend sits in a bath in a hat smoking a cigar. I can't imagine how tedious this section was to watch in the cinema, although on tv its like seeing the last half hour of Big Brother Live in French without the ability to vote anyone off.

< spoiler>> The ending of the film is exactly the kind of thing which gives art house a bad name. Having gone through all this nonsense to do with the boyfriend not being able to get his head around accepting money for doing actual work on the screenplay, Bardot buggers off with Palance one of the world's worst drivers, who manages to get them both killed in a road traffic accident between two lorries. Cut to the boyfriend, fully aware of the deaths but not seeming to care either way. It's the kind of moment which happens in films like this as a way of saying something profound about the fragility of human life. But its actually elitist shite designed to make the viewer feel either thick or in the target audience's case self-satisfied because they think they understand what its all about. Idiots.< spoiler>>
Harsh? Probably. Needlessly sarcastic? Definitely. But I think what I really want to do and should do is see everything else then return to Le Mepris and see it in some context. It does have some excellent scenery and I might learn to enjoy it.
posted by feelinglistless at 4:41 PM on April 22, 2004


Belmondo wore his uncle's jacket because he didn't have one. and the budget costume was zero.


almost nobody has seen it. Tarantino pulled off a nice trick -- he told everybody, when he was starting out, the he had acted in Godard's King Lear only because he knew nobody saw the damn movie, so they couldn't call him out on that

re the "essential" thing: Pudovkin and Eisenstein are essential. but I dare you to find more than 0.01 % of the moviegoing public familiar with their work. but they created cinema.
Godard and his buddies (let's not forget my favorite, the late Louis Malle) changed cinema, too. and their movies still rock -- I have seen most of them and I own many on dvd.
but still, the revolution is over. they won. they changed the (movie) world. cinema moved on.
posted by matteo at 4:43 PM on April 22, 2004

...but cinema moved on, changed forever, for the better.
posted by ghastlyfop at 5:02 PM on April 22, 2004

I love Louis Malle too, so underrated, though my particular weakness is Rivette.

Feelinglistless: one of my next projects is to finally go to Capri and see Adalberto Libera's Casa Malaparte, where Contempt was filmed.

By the way, your review is just wrong, mate! ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:04 PM on April 22, 2004

First off, a million thanks for this post, Miguel. If I had to pick one "greatest living director," it would definitely be Godard. Even his failures are more interesting than other peoples' triumphs (leaving aside the unwatchable movies of his "Dziga Vertov" period), and this sounds like a book I have to own. The review is excellent, too (and, as you say, quite a personal view); this single paragraph could have been expanded by a lazier writer into an entire essay:
This dismantling of narrative was considered not only artistically but politically subversive. Screen theory recognised no difference between illusion in art and in life. Positing cinema as one of Althusser's 'ideological state apparatuses', it equated cinematic illusion with the dominant ideology, and offered a sweeping critique of cinematic forms it held accountable for that ideology because conducive to that illusion. Aiming to politicise art, such theory assumed that its anti-aesthetic posture was the same thing as a political position, and so, in its negative way, it wound up aestheticising politics. Its proponents invoked Brecht as a model for political Modernism, but neither his theory nor his practice accorded with their notions. Brecht never thought that Modernist distancing or deconstruction would be enough to make art political, and his 'epic' theatre was very much a storytelling theatre. Politics entails action, and the representation of action in art calls for narrative of some kind.
Now on to the comments here, which strike me as a fairly bizarre lot. Matteo, my friend, how can you say "he was essential. now he simply isn't"? If an artist is essential, he's essential, period; is Homer less essential because we no longer write epics in Ancient Greek? I'm quite confident people will be studying and relishing Godard long after current favorites (yes, I mean Tarantino, among many others) are forgotten. Art is not linear; there is no such thing as "history of art" except in a cataloguing sense. A created a style, B developed it, C went in a different direction.... All very well, but irrelevant to what A, B, and C were truly up to and how far they succeeded. Godard is sui generis; you can come after him, but you can't replace him or render him irrelevant. And if you think his last good movie was Detective, you need to watch the later ones again, starting with Nouvelle vague, a great, great movie.

(I'm listening to Mahler's "Lied von der Erde" now, another sui generis masterpiece: "Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod" ['Dark is life, [dark] is death'] it says, while caressing us with the same unearthly beauty that breathes through Godard's shots of reflections on car windows. Art is created in time, but it's timeless; meanings are put into it, but if it's any good it transcends them.)

i found all of them terrific, yet ... i'm not rushing to see anymore

Wha? "Gee, that was a great meal! I'm never eating in that restaurant again." If you liked Weekend (not one of his best, in my opinion), you have the makings of a real Godard fan; by all means see Alphaville, and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (perhaps the one I'd choose for the desert island), and Contempt, and Sauve qui peut... Well, see whatever you get the chance to see, and I hope you'll realize he ain't no old fart who can be placed in the cobwebbed bin of history.

I went through a Godard phase two years ago - I am cured. Though I could watch Breathless over and over again. One of my favorite movies of all time.

Breathless is one of your favorite movies of all time and you think you've outgrown Godard? Maybe you should give him another chance. That's a great movie, but trust me, he got even better.

And feelinglistless, I don't want to make you feel even more listless, but you haven't understood the first thing about Contempt. My take on the multilingual thing is here, but aside from that, Godard just plain isn't playing the game you think he is. Read Jonathon Delacour's meditation on Two or Three Things... for an idea of what he's up to.

one of my next projects is to finally go to Capri and see Adalberto Libera's Casa Malaparte, where Contempt was filmed

Lucky you! Please report back after you go...
posted by languagehat at 5:35 PM on April 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

did anyone see in praise of love? that was one of the biggest disappointments i think i've ever sat through...but of course, the bar was high. if anyone did, i'd be curious what they think of anthony lane's (old) review at the new yorker. thought he was right on with the following:

At least, when Chaplin inveighed against mechanization, in "Modern Times," he saw fit to trap himself in the cogs of a particular specimen; Godard's wrath, by contrast, is dangerously vague. That is why nobody should bother to be insulted. His anti-Americanism is no longer an argument but a reflex: a twitch of old prejudices, untouched by fresh evidence, like the scar of a wound from long ago.

of course, contempt and breathless are wonderful; let me just agree in support of stating the obvious. :)
posted by ifjuly at 5:43 PM on April 22, 2004

Matteo, you are forgetting D.W. GRiffith, and Dzingo Vertov and host of others.

I don't see how a movie can outlive its time. I make a point of seeing films by Dzingo Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein, Godard and many others at least once a year.

If I can be completely off topic, I'd love to recommend a Czech new wave film maker, Pavel Juracek. Our local Cinematheque is doing a revival of his films now. I recommend in particular, Who is Kilian/ A figure of Support (Postava k podpirani) and The Case for a Rookie Hangman (Pripad pro zacinajiho kata). I can't believe his films are so obscure. They're truly wonderful.

Sorry, Miguel. Back to Godard...
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:48 PM on April 22, 2004

For Godard, my faves are Weekend and Breathless. The one I liked least was Nouvelle Vague, actually. I have Contempt and First Name: Carmen coming in the post and I can't wait to see them.

As for the state of contemporary cinema, I blame the audiences, not the filmmakers. I think there are a number of films made in the last 2 decades that would have fit nicely within the new wave but, since B films have become the A titles, hardly anyone cares. Still, they are there for those who do care to see them. I'm thinking specifically of Rob Tregenza's Inside/Out and Talking to Strangers, Denis Vellineuve's Maelstrom, Andre Turpin's Zigrail, Erick Zonca's Dreamlife of Angels, Nick Gomez' Laws of Gravity, films by the already mentioned Wong Kar-Wai and Tran Anh Hung, Patrice Chereau's Intimacy, Soderbergh's The Limey, Neil Jordan's The Good Thief (which I prefer to Melville's original), Patrice Leconte's The Girl on the Bridge, Michael Haneke's films (though much more formal), etc. Y tu Mama Tambien was a fantastic answer to Jules et Jim. Plus, DVD makes it much easier to see some of these works as well as the films of the french (and other) masters.

Lost in the mix of all the spectacle films, I also think people are ignoring the fact that right now, we probably have more quality english-language filmmakers than we have had since the early 70s: Aronofsky, Nicole Holofcener, Errol Morris, PT Anderson, David Fincher, Soderbergh, James Toback's doing some of the best work he's done in 20 years, Mike Leigh, Micheal Winterbottom, Ken Loach, the Coens, Alexander Payne, Neil Labute, David Lynch, Todd Haynes, Tarantino, Lars von Trier, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Terence Davies, Tom Tykwer (not always english, but hey...), Lynne Ramsay, etc. Yes, some of these filmmakers may not always hit the mark (who, besides Malick, has?), but they definitely are each making their mark.

The crop of (relatively new) international filmmakers is also rather eye opening: Takeshi Kitano, Takeshi Miike (24 films in 4 years!), Alejandro Innarritu, Fernando Meirelles, Alfonso Cauron, Lukas Moodysson, Tsai Ming-Liang, Tykwer, Almodovar and Kaurismaki (yeah, they've been around for ages but they're at their peak), Alejandro Amenabar, Gasper Noe, the Makhmalbafs, Aleksandr Sokurov, Kiarostami, Wong Kar-Wai, Bela Tarr, Michael Haneke (my favorite working director), etc.

There's plenty of quality cinema to see. It's just unfortunate that we don't start threads about these films because we're too busy talking about how shit the Cat in the Hat is. In short, thanks for the post, Miguel.
posted by dobbs at 6:29 PM on April 22, 2004 [4 favorites]

Wow, dobbs - you've given me hope: translate as a fair amount of film-makers to seek out. Thanks! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:53 PM on April 22, 2004

Sure, Miguel, and don't forget this Ask thread from way back. Lots of great suggestions in there.
posted by dobbs at 7:24 PM on April 22, 2004

Gotta love Alphaville. For those who haven't seen it, you might first see some more conventional Lemmy Caution movies. Caution was a sort of James Bond esque character that was in a series of fairly popular movies. The thing I like about what Goddard did is that he elevated a pulp fiction character to something more. Reminds me a bit of Andy Warhol.
posted by unreason at 7:42 PM on April 22, 2004

How embarrasing that is Languagehat. . .

I didn't mean to say that I "outgrew" him, I was just stating that I watched an assload (ha!) of Godard, fell in love with "Breathless," and have since stopped watching an assload of Godard. Though this thread has me rethinking that. . .

Dobbs: Out of everyone on MeFi, you are the one person who I wished I was - opening a video store, and encyclopedic knoweldge of foriegn film, great music taste . . . One day!!
posted by Quartermass at 9:20 PM on April 22, 2004

dobbs: have you seen santango? is it worth the effort to track down a copy?
posted by juv3nal at 10:26 PM on April 22, 2004

Heh. Thanks Quartermass but trust me, at this moment you do not want to be me. I'm painfully behind on a project that's due in 8 days.

juv3nal, I haven't seen it. I've only ever found dismal vhs copies of it on eBay which I couldn't bear to watch for so many hours. If you have a region free dvd player you can get Werckmeister Harmonies and Damnation from here for a reasonable price.
posted by dobbs at 10:49 PM on April 22, 2004

It's funny that the more formal and superficial aspects of Godard's films have been the most influential: the beauty and style of his actors, the sets, the grace of his camera, the beautiful cinematography and sound design. His films always look and sound so great, even when the content is utter tedium! This is why Godard posters and stills are now plastered in cafes round the world and Truffaut's are not. Godard's stuff was sexy.

This is why i think his musical, Une Femme est Une Femme, is one of his best.

As for the cult of the auteur, the Maoism, the interminable speeches, the lack of narrative, it would be fine if Godard wasn't such a rigid windbag. Agnes Varda and Chris Marker managed to make essay films that still fascinating--Godard's problem is that his brain is cold and film is a hot medium. He took the jealousy out out Contempt--one of Alberto Moravia's most fiery novels--and replaced it with speeches about Swedish socialism! Pfft!
posted by dydecker at 10:52 PM on April 22, 2004

Agreed that the New Wave will never get old -- especially since, despite their victories, there are still so many crummy movies without half the New Wave's vibrance or solemnity. I've been watching lots of New Wave movies in a class on the art and thought of the Cold War, and my big new discovery was Agnes Varda's "Cléo From 5 to 7" -- what an *amazing* movie! Plus it has awesome cameos from Godard and Anna Karina. Somehow I'd never seen it.

I hated "The Dreamers," personally -- I think Jonathan Rosenbaum's review hits the nail on the head -- mostly because it was so snarky and condescending. I feel like *it* was a soulless movie -- "Breathless" has a lot of soul, and "Contempt" too, but it's something darker and more akin to, say, Beckett.

Other great movies: Blow-up! La Notte! Brakhage!
posted by josh at 5:12 AM on April 23, 2004

He took the jealousy out out Contempt--one of Alberto Moravia's most fiery novels--and replaced it with speeches about Swedish socialism!

Huh? Did we watch different movies? The Contempt I saw was drenched in jealousy, and I don't remember any speeches about Swedish socialism. (Also, I read the novel and was rather disappointed with it -- but of course that's always a problem with books and movies -- the one you experience first becomes the template.) As for the windbag stuff, he pretty much got that out of his system in the late '60s–early '70s; the movies he made after getting together with Anne-Marie Miéville (thank you Anne-Marie!) are much more "humanistic" (and, not coincidentally, much more respectful of women).

dobbs: I don't want to be you, but I do wish I had your knowledge of film -- or at least could hang out and watch movies with you. Please don't ever leave MeFi. But I do hope you come to appreciate Nouvelle Vague more...

Oh, and feelinglistless, I forgot to say:

I'll reproduce it here rather than link because self linking is bad

No, no, no! Self-linking is bad in posts; not only is it OK in comments, it's much preferable to pasting in paragraphs and paragraphs from your blog. That's what linking is for.

Once again, thanks, Miguel! Keep this up and I may have to cut back on the senseless beatings.
posted by languagehat at 7:27 AM on April 23, 2004

languagehat: I probably should see Nouvelle Vague again. I saw it back in my younger days when I used to watch 50 movies in 10 days at the Toronto Film Fest. A lot of things don't register as well as they should and many things blur together when you do that.

And for me, the hero of all things film on mefi is ed.

at least could hang out and watch movies with you.

Well, if you're ever in Toronto, lemme know. I hold screenings in my pathetically small living room every Thurs night.

posted by dobbs at 10:03 AM on April 23, 2004

(btw doesn't that sound terrifically gangsta? I hope you don't mind the little soprannome): I hadn't made myself clear enough, unfortunately.
I don't mean that GODard (that's how they spell it on the shelf at Kim's Video, if I'm not mistaken) movies are less good now -- they simply aren't as revolutionary. he was part of a revolution. but cinema progressed. imagine a screening of, say, Natural Born Killers in 1930's New York.
people would go apeshit.
how many silent, B/W movies were produced in the US last year (derail: how fucking cool was Brakhage to do what he did when he did it?)

as I said, Godard was part of a revolution. but many other revolutionaries have followed, and cinema has progressed. without him cinema would be very different -- and much more boring.
of course everybody from Tarantino to Inarritu to Bruno Dumont owes him a great debt. but still.

I'm listening to Mahler's "Lied von der Erde" now, another sui generis masterpiece: "Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod

Bedenkt das Dunkel und die große Kälte
in diesem Tale, das vor Jammer schallt


and gesamtkunstwerk, thanks for the Juracek suggestion
posted by matteo at 9:45 AM on April 24, 2004

I have very little to contribute to this thread except to say that I've seen his Lear, but I was too young to understand or enjoy it at the time (15?). Peter Sellars (this guy) is the real star though, not Woody Allen (at least in terms of screen time).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:09 AM on April 24, 2004

I hope you don't mind the little soprannome

No davvero!

Bedenkt das Dunkel und die große Kälte
in diesem Tale, das vor Jammer schallt

Die Welt ist arm, der Mensch ist schlecht
Da hab ich eben leider recht!

And yeah, Brakhage was unbelievable: constantly changing, constantly ahead of the game. I still can't believe he's gone.
posted by languagehat at 2:22 PM on April 24, 2004

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