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Jean-Luc Godard

[goh-dahrd, -dahr; Fr. gaw-dar]

Jean-Luc Godard (French ) (born on December 3, 1930) is a French and Swiss filmmaker and one of the founding members of the Nouvelle Vague, or "French New Wave".

Godard was born to Franco-Swiss parents in Paris. He attended school in Nyon, Switzerland, and at the Lycée Rohmer, and the Sorbonne in Paris. During his time at the Sorbonne, he became involved with the young group of filmmakers and film theorists that gave birth to the New Wave.

Many of Godard's films challenged the conventions of Hollywood cinema, and he was often considered the most extreme New Wave filmmaker. His films often expressed his political ideologies as well as his knowledge of film history. In addition, Godard's films often cited existential and Marxist philosophy.

Cahiers and early films

After attending school in Nyon, Godard returned to Paris in 1948. It was there, in the Latin Quarter just prior to 1950, that Paris ciné-clubs were gaining prominence. Godard began attending these clubs, where he soon met the man who was perhaps most responsible for the birth of the New Wave, André Bazin, as well as those who would become his contemporaries, including Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, Jacques Rozier, and Jacques Demy.

Despite its intricate manifesto, the guiding principle behind the movement was that "Realism is the essence of cinema." According to Bazin and other members of the New Wave, cinematic realism could be achieved through various aesthetic and contextual media. They favored long shots that embodied a more complete scene, where visual information could be transmitted consistently, and avoided "unnecessary editing"; they did not want to disrupt the illusion of reality by constant cuts. This technique can be seen in some of Godard's most celebrated action sequences, though there are equally famous sequences in his films featuring fastcutting, especially those where jump cuts proliferate.

An interesting aspect of Godard's philosophy on filmmaking was his inherent and deliberate embrace of contradiction. In short, Godard used "mass-market" aesthetics in his film to make a statement about capitalism and consequent societal decline.

His approach to film began in the field of criticism. Along with Éric Rohmer and Rivette, he founded the film journal, Gazette du cinéma, which saw publication of five issues in 1950. When André Bazin founded his critical magazine Cahiers du cinéma in 1951, Godard, with Rivette and Rohmer, were among the first writers. Most of the writers for Cahiers du cinéma started making some brief forays into film direction in the years before 1960.

Godard, while taking a job as a construction worker on a dam in 1953, shot a documentary about the building, Opération béton (1955). As he continued to work for Cahiers, he made Une femme coquette (1955), a ten-minute black and white picture; Tous les garçons s'appellent Patrick (1957) another short fiction piece; and Une histoire d'eau (1958), which was created largely out of footage shot by Truffaut that had gone unused.

In 1958 Godard, with a cast that included Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anne Colette, made his last short before gaining notoriety as a filmmaker, Charlotte et son Jules, an homage to Jean Cocteau.

Cinematic period

The first and most celebrated period roughly spanned from his first feature, Breathless (1960), through to Week End (1967) and focused on narrative and somewhat conventional works that often refer to different aspects of film history. This cinematic period stands in contrast to the revolutionary period that immediately followed it, during which Godard ideologically denounced much of cinema’s history as "bourgeois" and therefore without merit.

Films

After seeing Orson Welles' Touch of Evil at the Expo 58, Godard was influenced to make his first major feature film, Breathless (1960), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. The film distinctly expressed the French New Wave's style, and incorporated quotations from several elements of popular culture — specifically American cinema. The film employed various innovative techniques such as jump cuts, real locations rather than studio locations, character asides and mismatched eyeline matches. François Truffaut, who co-wrote Breathless with Godard, suggested its concept and introduced Godard to the producer who ultimately funded it, Georges de Beauregard.

From the beginning of his career, Godard crammed more film references into his movies than any of his New Wave comrades. In “Breathless,” his citations include a movie poster showing Humphrey Bogart (whose expression the lead actor Jean-Paul Belmondo tries reverently to imitate); visual quotations from films of Ingmar Bergman, Samuel Fuller, Fritz Lang, and others; and an onscreen dedication to Monogram Pictures, an American B-movie studio. Most of all, the choice of Jean Seberg as the lead actress was an overarching reference to Otto Preminger, who had discovered her for his Saint Joan, and then cast her in his acidulous 1958 adaptation of Bonjour Tristesse. If, in Rohmer’s words, “life was the cinema,” then a film filled with movie references was supremely autobiographical.

The same year, Godard made Le Petit Soldat, which dealt with the Algerian War of Independence. Most notably, it was the first collaboration between Godard and Danish-born actress Anna Karina, whom he later married in 1961 (and divorced in 1965). The film, due to its political nature, was banned from French theaters until 1963. Karina appeared again, along with Belmondo, in A Woman Is a Woman (1961), which was in many ways an homage to the American musical. Karina desires a child, prompting her to leave her boyfriend, played by actor Jean-Claude Brialy, and seek out his best friend (Belmondo) as its father.

Godard's next film, Vivre sa vie (1962), was one of his most popular among critics. Karina starred as Nana, a mother and aspiring actress whose poor circumstances lead her to the life of a streetwalker. It is an episodic account of her trials. The film's style, much like that of Breathless, boasted the type of experimentation that made the French New Wave so influential.

Les Carabiniers (1963) was about the horror of war and its inherent injustice. It was the influence and suggestion of Roberto Rossellini that led Godard to make the film. It follows two peasants who join the army of a king, only to find futility in the whole thing as the king reveals the deception of war-administrating leaders. His most commercially successful film was Contempt (1963), starring Michel Piccoli and one of France's biggest female stars, Brigitte Bardot. A coproduction between Italy and France, Contempt became known as a pinnacle in cinematic modernism with its profound reflexivity. The film follows Paul (Piccoli), a screenwriter who is commissioned by the arrogant American movie producer Prokosch (Jack Palance) to rewrite the script for an adaptation of Homer's Odyssey, which German director Fritz Lang has been filming. Lang's "high culture" interpretation of the story is lost on Prokosch, whose character is a firm indictment of the commercial motion picture hierarchy. Another prominent theme is the inability to reconcile love and labor, which is illustrated by Paul's crumbling marriage to Camille (Bardot) during the course of shooting.

In 1964, Godard and Karina formed a production company, Anouchka Films. He directed Bande à part (Band of Outsiders), another collaboration between the two and described by Godard as "Alice in Wonderland meets Franz Kafka." It follows two young men, looking to score on a heist, who both fall in love with Karina, and quotes from several gangster film conventions.

Une femme mariée (1964) followed Band of Outsiders. It was a slow, deliberate, toned-down black and white picture without a real story. The film was entirely produced over the period of one month and exhibited a loose quality unique to Godard. Godard made the film while he acquired funding for Pierrot le fou (1965).

In 1965, Godard directed Alphaville, a futuristic blend of science fiction, film noir, and satire. Eddie Constantine starred as Lemmy Caution, a detective who is sent into a city controlled by a giant computer named Alpha 60. His mission is to make contact with Professor von Braun (Howard Vernon), a famous scientist who has fallen mysteriously silent, and is believed to be suppressed by the computer. Pierrot le fou (1965) featured a complex storyline, distinctive personalities, and a violent ending. Gilles Jacob, an author, critic, and president of the Cannes Film Festival, called it both a "retrospective" and recapitulation in the way it played on so many of Godard’s earlier characters and themes. With an extensive cast and variety of locations, the film was expensive enough to warrant significant problems with funding. Shot in color, it departed from Godard’s usual black and white minimalist works (typified by Breathless, Vivre sa vie, and Une femme mariée). He solicited the participation of Jean-Paul Belmondo, by then a famous actor, in order to guarantee the necessary amount of capital.

Masculin, féminin (1966), based on two Guy de Maupassant stories, La Femme de Paul and Le Signe, was a study of contemporary French youth and their involvement with cultural politics. An intertitle refers to the characters as "The children of Marx and Coca-Cola."

Godard followed with Made in U.S.A (1966), whose source material was Richard Stark's The Jugger; and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), in which Marina Vlady portrays a woman leading a double life as housewife and prostitute.

La Chinoise (1967) saw Godard at his most politically forthright yet. The film focused on a group of students and engaged with the ideas coming out of the student activist groups in contemporary France. Released just before the May 1968 events, the film is thought by some to foreshadow the student rebellions that took place.

That same year, Godard made a more colorful and political film, Week End. It follows a Parisian couple as they leave on a weekend trip across the French countryside to collect an inheritance. What ensues is a confrontation with the tragic flaws of the over-consuming bourgeoisie. The film contains some of the most written-about scenes in cinema's history. One of them, a ten-minute tracking shot of the couple stuck in an unremitting traffic jam as they leave the city, is often cited as a new technique Godard used to deconstruct bourgeois trends. Week End's enigmatic and audacious end title sequence, which reads "End of Cinema," appropriately marked an end to the narrative and cinematic period in Godard's filmmaking career.

Politics

Politics are never far from the surface in Godard's films. One of his earliest features, Le Petit Soldat, dealt with the Algerian War of Independence, and was notable for its attempt to present the complexity of the dispute rather than pursue any specific ideological agenda. Along these lines, Les Carabiniers presents a fictional war that is initially romanticized in the way its characters approach their service, but becomes a stiff anti-war metonym. In addition to the international conflicts Godard sought an artistic response to, he was also very concerned with the social problems in France. The earliest and best example of this is Karina's potent portrayal of a prostitute in Vivre sa vie.

In 1960s Paris, the political milieu was not overwhelmed by one specific movement. There was, however, a distinct post-war climate shaped by various international conflicts such as the colonialism in North Africa and Southeast Asia. The side that opposed such colonization included the majority of French workers, who belonged to the French communist party, and the Parisian artists and writers who positioned themselves on the side of social reform and class equality. A large portion of this group had a particular affinity for the teachings of Karl Marx. Godard's Marxist disposition did not become abundantly explicit until La Chinoise and Week End, but is evident in several films — namely Pierrot and Une femme mariée.

Vietnam
Godard produced several pieces that directly address the Vietnam conflict. Furthermore, there are two scenes in Pierrot le fou that tackle the issue. The first is a scene that takes place in the initial car ride between Ferdinand (Belmondo) and Marianne (Karina). Over the car radio, the two hear the message "garrison massacred by the Viet Cong who lost 115 men". Marianne responds with an extended musing on the way the radio dehumanizes the Northern Vietnamese combatants.

In the same film, the lovers accost a group of American sailors along the course of their liberating crime spree. The two’s immediate reaction, expressed by Marianne, is "Damn Americans!" an obvious outlet of the frustration so many French communists felt towards American hegemony. Ferdinand then reconsiders, "That’s OK, we’ll change our politics. We can put on a play. Maybe they’ll give us some dollars." Marianne is puzzled but Ferdinand suggests that something the Americans would like would be the Vietnam War. The ensuing sequence is a makeshift play where Marianne dresses up as a stereotype Vietnamese woman and Ferdinand as an American sailor. The scene ends on a brief shot revealing a chalk message left on the floor by the pair, "Long live Mao!" (Vive Mao!).

Notably, he also participated in Loin du Vietnam (1967). An anti-war project, it consists of seven sketches directed by Godard (who used stock footage from La Chinoise), Claude Lelouch, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais and Agnès Varda.

Bertolt Brecht

Godard's engagement with German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht stems primarily from his attempt to transpose Brecht's theory of epic theatre and its prospect of alienating the viewer (Verfremdungseffekt) through a radical separation of the elements of the medium (in Brecht's case theater, but in Godard's, film). Brecht's influence is keenly felt through much of Godard's work, particularly before 1980, when Godard used filmic expression for specific political ends.

For example, Breathless' elliptical editing, which denies the viewer a fluid narrative typical of mainstream cinema, forces the viewers to take on more critical roles, connecting the pieces themselves and coming away with more investment in the work's content. Godard also employs other devices, including asynchronous sound and alarming title frames, with perhaps his favorite being the character aside. In many of his most political pieces, specifically Week End, Pierrot le fou, and La Chinoise, characters address the audience with thoughts, feelings, and instructions.

Marxism

A Marxist reading is possible with most if not all of Godard’s early work. Godard’s direct interaction with Marxism does not become explicitly apparent, however, until Week End, where the name Karl Marx is cited in conjunction with figures such as Jesus Christ. A constant refrain throughout Godard's cinematic period is that of the bourgeoisie’s consumerism, the commodification of daily life and activity, and man’s alienation — all central features of Marx’s condemnatory analysis of capitalism.

In an essay on Godard, philosopher and aesthetics scholar Jacques Ranciere states, "When in Pierrot le fou, 1965, a film without a clear political message, Belmondo played on the word 'scandal' and the 'freedom' that the Scandal girdle supposedly offered women, the context of a Marxist critique of commodification, of pop art derision at consumerism, and of a feminist denunciation of women’s false 'liberation', was enough to foster a dialectical reading of the joke and the whole story." The way Godard treated politics in his cinematic period was in the context of a joke, a piece of art, or a relationship, presented to be used as tools of reference, romanticizing the Marxist rhetoric, rather than solely being tools of education.

Une femme mariée is also structured around Marx's concept of commodity fetishism. Godard once said that it is "a film in which individuals are considered as things, in which chases in a taxi alternate with ethological interviews, in which the spectacle of life is intermingled with its analysis". He was very conscious of the way he wished to portray the human being. His efforts is overtly characteristic of Marx, who in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 gives one of his most nuanced elaborations, analyzing how the worker is alienated from his product, the object of his productive activity. Georges Sadoul, in his short rumination on the film, describes it as a "sociological study of the alienation of the modern woman".

Revolutionary period

The period that spans from May 1968 indistinctly into the 1970s has been subject to an even larger volume of inaccurate labeling. They include everything from his militant period, to his radical period, along with terms as precise as Maoist and vague as political. The term revolutionary, however, gives a more accurate impression than any other. The period saw Godard align himself with a specific revolution and employ a consistent revolutionary rhetoric.

Films

Amid the upheavals of the late 1960s Godard became interested in Maoist ideology. He formed the socialist-idealist Dziga-Vertov cinema group with Jean-Pierre Gorin and produced a number of shorts outlining his politics. In that period he travelled extensively and shot a number of films, most of which remained unfinished or were refused showings. His films became intensely politicized and experimental, a phase that lasted until 1980.

According to Elliott Gould, he and Godard met to discuss the possibility of Godard directing Jules Feiffer's 1971 surrealist play Little Murders. During this meeting Godard said his two favorite American writers were Feiffer and Charles M. Schulz. Godard soon declined the opportunity to direct; the job later went to Alan Arkin.

Jean-Pierre Gorin

After the events of May 1968, when the city of Paris saw total upheaval in response to the "authoritarian de Gaulle republic", and Godard's professional objective was reconsidered, he began to collaborate with like-minded individuals in the filmmaking arena. The most notable of these collaborations was with a young Maoist student, Jean-Pierre Gorin, who displayed a passion for cinema that grabbed Godard’s attention.

Between 1968 and 1973, Godard and Gorin collaborated to make a total of five films with strong Maoist messages. The most prominent film from the collaboration was Tout va bien, which starred Jane Fonda and Yves Montand, at the time very big stars. Jean-Pierre Gorin now teaches the study of film at the University of California, San Diego.

The Dziga Vertov group

The small group of Maoists that Godard had brought together, which included Gorin, adopted the name Dziga Vertov Group. Godard had a specific interest in Vertov, a filmmaker most famous for Man with the Movie Camera (1929) and a contemporary of both the great Soviet montage theorists, most notably Sergei Eisenstein, and Russian constructivist and avant-garde artists such as Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin. Part of Godard’s political shift after May 1968 was toward a proactive participation in the class struggle.

1980 - 1999

His return to somewhat more traditional fiction was marked with Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980), the first of a series of more mainstream films marked by autobiographical currents: for example Passion (1982), Lettre à Freddy Buache (1982), Prénom Carmen (1984), and Grandeur et décadence (1986). There was, though, another flurry of controversy with Je vous salue, Marie (1985), which was condemned by the Catholic Church for alleged heresy, and also with King Lear (1987), an extraordinary but much-excoriated essay on William Shakespeare and language. Also completed in 1987 was a segment in the film ARIA which was based loosely from the plot of Armide; it is set in a gym and uses several arias by Jean-Philippe Rameau.

His later films have been marked by great formal beauty and frequently a sense of requiem — Nouvelle Vague (New Wave, 1990), the autobiographical JLG/JLG, autoportrait de décembre (JLG/JLG: Self-Portrait in December, 1995), and For Ever Mozart (1996). Allemagne année 90 neuf zéro (Germany Year 90 Nine Zero, 1991) was a quasi-sequel to Alphaville but done with an elegiac tone and focus on the inevitable decay of age. During the 1990s he also produced perhaps the most important work of his career in the multi-part series Histoire(s) du cinéma, which combined all the innovations of his video work with a passionate engagement in the issues of twentieth-century history and the history of film itself.

In 1997, Godard produced Rob Tregenza's third feature, Inside / Out. This is the only feature Godard has produced but not directed; previously, he produced the Eric Rohmer short La Sonate à Kreutzer in 1956. Godard's work on that film was uncredited.

2000 - Present

Godard has continued to work actively into his seventies. In 2001, Eloge de l'Amour (In Praise of Love) was released. This film is notable for its use of both film and video, the first half captured in 35mm black and white, the latter half shot in color on DV, and subsequently transferred to film for editing. The blending of film and video recalls the statement from Sauve Qui Peut, in which the tension between film and video evokes the struggle between Cain and Abel. Eloge de l'Amour is rich with themes of aging, love, separation, and rediscovery as we follow the young artist Edgar contemplating a new work on the four stages of love (should it be an opera? a film?). He meets up with a lost love who is terminally ill, and at her passing we are thrust into the second half of the film where Edgar meets with her at her grandparent's house two years before. Producers for Steven Spielberg are negotiating the purchase of her grandparent's World War II story; the young woman attempts to stall the deal. This is one of Godard's most tender films, yet it is characteristically enigmatic and demands the viewer's full attention.

In Notre Musique (2004), Godard turns his focus to war, specifically, the war in Sarajevo, but with attention to all war, including the American Civil War, the war between the US and the Native Americans, the struggles between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The film is structured into three Dantean kingdoms: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Godard's fascination with paradox is a constant in the film. It opens with a long, ponderous montage of war images that occasionally lapses into the comic; Paradise is shown as a lush wooded beach patrolled by US Marines.

Quotes

  • Photography is truth. Cinema is truth twenty-four times per second.
  • Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.
  • A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end . . . but not necessarily in that order.
  • To me, style is just the outside of content, and the content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can't be separated.
  • All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.
  • A tracking shot is a moral act.
  • Films are the only things by which to look inside people, and that's why people are so fond of movies and why they'll never die.
  • I mix images and sounds like a scientist, I hope. The mystery of the scientific is the same as the mystery of the artist. So is the misery.
  • To be or not to be. That's not really a question.

Filmography

For a list of all films directed by Jean-Luc Godard, see Jean-Luc Godard filmography.

References

  • Steritt, David. 1998. "Jean-Luc Godard Interviews". Mississippi: University Press.

Further reading

  • Temple, Michael. Williams, James S. Witt, Michael. (eds) 2007. For Ever Godard. London: Black Dog Publishing
  • Morrey, Douglas. 2005. Jean-Luc Godard. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-6759-6
  • MacCabe, Colin. 2003. Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Dixon, Wheeler Winston. The Films of Jean-Luc Godard. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.
  • Godard, Jean-Luc: The Future(s) of Film. Three Interviews 2000/01. Bern - Berlin: Verlag Gachnang & Springer, 2002. ISBN 978-3-906127-62-0
  • Loshitzky, Yosefa. The Radical Faces of Godard and Bertolucci.
  • MacCabe, Colin. 1980. Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics. London: Macmillan.
  • Silverman, Kaja and Farocki, Harun. 1998. Speaking About Godard. New York: New York University Press.
  • Sterrit, David. 1999. The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Temple, Michael and Williams, James S. (eds). 2000. The Cinema alone: Essays on the Work of Jean-Luc Godard 1985-2000. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Almeida, Jane. Dziga Vertov Group São Paulo: witz, 2005. ISBN 85-98100-05-6.
  • Godard Bibliography (via UC Berkeley)

External links

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