Jean-Luc Godard by Jean-Luc Godard

For Jean-Luc Godard …

Nous n’avons jamais prétendu que l’art puisse changer la nature et la qualité des choses, faire du crime une vertu, rendre moralement bon ce qui est moralement mauvais. Nous disons que l’art, en tant qu’art, est affranchi de toute considération morale comme de toute étude philosophique.

L’art a pour objet de nous conduire à la connaissance de nous-mêmes, par la révélation de toutes nos pensées, même les plus secrètes, de toutes nos tendances, de nos vertus, de nos vices, de nos ridicules, et par là de contribuer au développement de notre dignité, au perfectionnement de notre être. Il ne nous a pas été donné pour nous repaître de chimères, nous enivrer d’illusions, nous tromper et nous induire à mal avec des mirages, comme l’entendent les classiques, les romantiques et tous les sectateurs d’un vain idéal ; mais pour nous délivrer de ces illusions pernicieuses, en les dénonçant.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Du principe de l’art et de sa destination sociale (1865)

Spirit borrows from matter the perceptions on which it feeds, and restores them to matter in the form of movement which it has imprinted with its own freedom.

Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory (1939)

Le cinema, ce n’est pas une reproduction de la réalité, c’est un oubli de la réalité. Mais si on enregistre cet oubli, on peut alors se souvenir et peut-être parvenir au réel. C’est Blanchot qui a dit: “Ce beau souvenir qu’est l’oubli.

Jean-Luc Godard, Le Monde

There are few artists who have so profoundly shaped an artistic medium as Jean-Luc Godard shaped cinema. And yet because his cinema, at one level, sought to be complete, total, no film filmmaker of his stature is so neglected and ignored today, by so many; celebrated officially, yes, but ignored.

Godard has been called the last of the utopian filmmakers (Libération 14/09/2022). If the expression means anything at all, beyond the banal claim to idealism, it is that Godard – and in his company, one can think of Pasolini, Bertolucci, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Ozu, Tarr, to cite but the most obvious examples that were his contemporaries – made films self-consciously, in the sense that Godard’s films were paralleled, within the very films themselves, by a constant and profound reflection on what cinema is and should be.

Godard did of course write and speak about films, film techniques and recording technologies, directors, actors, and so on, but Godard as artist, as filmmaker, is to be seen and understood through his films, for it is in their moving images and sounds that Godard created, and created again and again, each time seemingly differently, a cinema that he imagined could shape our very way of seeing and being in the world.

In this process, however, over the course of his artistic life, each “film-form” created – the 1960s “nouvelle vague” films, the openly political engaged and “collective” films of the 1970s, the 1980s “religious” fictions, and the cinematographic-essays that were to follow, in a body of work that includes more than a hundred films – could only reveal itself as incomplete, for each self-conscious form could in the end only be superseded or bypassed by other forms, forms always surpassed by life itself. If the artist and the art are inseparable in Godard, then the utopian is condemned to failure. But it is only the failure of totality, the obvious failure that masks its very grandeur: the revelation of what cinematographic creation, and creation, can be, namely, always self-consciously limited and unfinished.

Jean-Luc Godard died this last 13th of September, at his request, through medically assisted suicide. The beauty of so many of the images that he created will remain in the consciousness of many, perhaps carrying others forward to create other worlds of images.

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… true cinema: [it] consists only of putting a few things in front of the camera. In cinema, we do not think, we are thought. A poet calls this taking the side of things; and not taking the side of people for things, but of things only.

(Gazette du cinéma nº 4, October 1950, in Jean-Luc Godard, Godard par Godard: Les années Cahiers (1950-1959), Flammarion, 1989.)

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… cinema plays with itself. As an art of representation, of interior life it only knows the natural and precise movements of well trained actors. Jealousy, contempt, all of the grand expressions of the heart, are observed through abrupt and nonchalant, passionate and slow, gestures. Cinema specifies reality. It would be vain to make of the instant more than what the instant contains.

(Les bizarreries de la pudeur: Rudolph Maté. La Flamme qui s’éteint (No Sad Songs for Me), in Cahiers du cinéma nº 8, janvier 1952, in Jean-Luc Godard, Godard par Godard: Les années Cahiers (1950-1959), Flammarion, 1989.)

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To write was already to make cinema, because between writing and filming, there is a quantitative and not a qualitative difference.

As a [film] critic, I already considered myself a cineaste. Today, I continue to consider myself as a critic, and, in one sense, I am even more so than before. Instead of writing a critique, I make a film, even while introducing a critical dimension to it. I consider myself an essayist, I write essays in the form of novels or novels in the form of essays; put simply, I film them instead of writing them. If cinema should disappear, I would have to accept it: I would move onto to television, and if television were to disappear, I would return to the pencil and the paper. For me, there is a very strong continuity between all the forms of expressing oneself. They form a block. The question is to know how to take this block by the side which is most convenient for you.

A bout de soufflé/Breathless was the kind of film where everything was permitted; it was in its nature.  … What I wanted was to start from a conventional story and to redo, but differently, all of the cinema that had been done. I also wanted to create the impression that we had just discovered or experienced the processes of cinema for the first time.

I started with the imaginary and I discovered the real: but behind the real, I again discovered the imaginary.

Film was an intellectual adventure; I wanted to try to film a thought in movement, but how could this be done? We still don’t know.

To film should be part of life and it should be something natural and normal.

(“Entretien avec Jean-Luc Godard” (1962), in La Nouvelle vague: III. Petite anthologie des Cahiers du cinéma, Cahiers du cinéma, 1999.)

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Do you think you invented anything in cinema?

For my part, I only made one discovery in cinema, it is how to move flexibly from one shot to another, starting from two different movements, or even, what is more difficult, from a moving shot to a fixed shot. It is something that almost no one does, because no one ever thinks of it …

The [cinematographic] image in itself, is what? A reflection. … Commonly, in cinema, one remains outside this reflection, exterior to it. What I wanted was to see the other side of the image, to see it from behind, as if we were behind the screen and not in front of it. Instead of being behind a real screen, we would be behind the image in front of the screen. Or rather: in the interior of the image, in the same way that certain paintings give the impression that we are inside them.  Or they give the impression that as long as we remain on the outside, that we do not understand them.

(“Lutter sur deux fronts”, in Jean-Luc Godard, Godard par Godard: Des années Mao aux années 80, Flammarion, 1991.)

Le Mepris (opening scene)

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there is a great fidelity to yourself, to what you will become as a filmmaker, to a certain idea of cinema. For example, the idea that one discovers what has to be done in doing it. Or the idea that you take up later in Pierrot le Fou/Pierrot the Fool, in a quotation from Elie Faure about Velasquez, that one should not film things but what is “between things”. Or again the idea that you like films where there is both art and art theory, beauty and the secret of beauty.

I am now reaching the end of that “programme”. It is completed and I would say, if we were in the domain of information technology, that the programme has to be remade, taking into consideration that it is more difficult than before because cinema is no longer what we thought it was.  The cinema we knew, projected in large halls, is disappearing. Today, with television it has become something else, something that must be discovered. For the moment, this “something else” is blocked by what television is, which means that no one has invented for television another way of making films. Thus the feeling of a certain pessimism and deception; but at the same time, I tell myself that one has to change one’s life a little – which is by no means easy – and discover again a source of curiosity that must persist and which is not to be found in computers because they only invent the predictable.

Who completed your programme, you or modern cinema?

I have rather the feeling that it is everyone. There are bits of film where one feels enthusiasm, energy, but this remains very isolated. This must depend on the life that one leads, which I believed less before. Today’s disillusionment however is that experienced by modern painters and musicians who stopped very quickly. We have entered upon another epoch that belongs more to the military, to science. One must find once again, in one’s individual life, other ways of making, like a real birth, but where, in general, images are without purpose. We believed more than others that images had some kind of purpose, but today one speaks more and more, books are published. It is as if power has been taken over by its younger sister. This power is not made to communicate, but only to install a style of communication which functions as a rule, but which is not made so as to be able to see things.

(“L’art à partir de la vie”: Nouvel entretien avec Jean-Luc Godard (1985), by Alain Bergala, in Jean-Luc Godard, Godard par Godard: Les années Cahiers (1950-1959), Flammarion, 1989.)

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Why is it a mystery that daily newspapers like Libération and Le Monde continue to talk about cinema?

They do it to exist. They have a need to catalogue this and that … They have cinema, as others have sport. I prefer to read certain articles in L’Equipe [a French sports newspaper] dedicated to tennis matches that I saw or watched on television to certain film critics, because at least these articles recount the match … Film critics tell what we should think about the film.

Cinema today is a cinema of the film script. Since Gutenberg, the text has triumphed. There was a long struggle, marriage or liaison between painting and text. Then the text won. Cinema is the last art of the pictorial tradition. Images are spoken of a great deal, but nothing remains except text.

(“Avenir(s) du cinema: Entretien avec Jean-Luc Godard” (2000), by Emmanuel Burdeau and Charles Tesson, in Théories du cinema: VII. Petite anthologie des Cahiers du cinema, Cahiers du cinéma, 2001.)

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The French filmmakers’ intervention at Cannes, 1968, a selection of interviews with Jean-Luc Godard, a conversation between Godard and Marcel Ophuls and to close, Godard’s JLG/JLG – Self-Portrait in December.

Jean Luc Godard discusses his approach to motion picture directing and answers questions from the audience. 1972 saw the release of the most well-known of the films, Tout va Bien (Everything’s Going Fine), which starred Jane Fonda and Yves Montand. In the recording, Godard is interviewed with co-director Jean-Pierre Gorin.

In 2009, in a small theater in Geneva, Switzerland, the film directors Marcel Ophuls and Jean-Luc Godard met for an unusual, surprisingly intimate and sometimes contentious dialogue with each other in front of a live audience. Luckily for us, it was filmed.

Ophuls’ film THE SORROW AND THE PITY triggers Godard to discuss his personal and fragmented childhood memories about his escape to Switzerland during World War, while Ophuls recalls the controversy surrounding the release of his film in France. The issue of the written word being taken more seriously than the moving image is brought up by Godard. Throughout their meeting, the two directors debate about national and ethnic identities, what it means to be Jewish, the role of the director, and auteur theory, which ultimately reveals why they never collaborated on a tentative film that was once discussed.

MARCEL OPHULS AND JEAN-LUC GODARD: THE MEETING IN ST-GERVAIS gives us the unique opportunity to spend time with an encounter between two of the most influential and idiosyncratic post-war film directors. Godard and Ophuls are in the twilight of their years, but they remain provocative, sharp, and as uncompromising as ever.

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Obituaries in Le Monde, The Guardian and The New Yorker. For further reading, among so much that has been written over so many years, two texts: “Ardent Hope” – Interview with Jean-Luc Godard – Cahiers du cinéma” (Blackout, 05/01/2022); “Godard and Gorin’s left politics, 1967-1972”, by Julia Lesage (Jump Cut, April 1983). And lastly, it is worth mentioning Irmgard Emmelhainz’s monograph, Jean-Luc Godard’s Political Filmmaking.

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