Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 3 December 1930, became citizen of Switzerland. Education: Nyon, Switzerland; Lycée Buffon, Paris; Sorbonne, 1947–49, certificate in ethnology 1950. Family: Married 1) Anna Karina, 1960 (divorced, 1967); 2) Anne Wiamzensky, 1967 (divorced). Career: Delivery boy, cameraman, assistant editor for Zurich television, construction worker, and gossip columnist (for Les Temps de Paris), in Switzerland and Paris, 1949–56; founded short-lived Gazette du Cinéma, writing as "Hans Lucas," 1950–51; critic for Cahiers du Cinéma, from 1952; directed first film, Opération Béton, 1954; worked as film editor, 1956; worked in publicity department, 20th Century-Fox, Paris, with producer Georges de Beauregard, 1957; working for Beauregard, directed first feature, A bout de souffle, 1959; formed Anoucka films with Anna Karina, 1964; led protests over firing of Henri Langlois, director of Cinémathèque, instigated shut down of Cannes Festival, 1968; began collaboration with Jean-Pierre Gorin, editor of Cahiers marxistes-léninistes, 1969 (partnership terminated 1973); "reclaimed" work from 1969–72 as that of the Dziga Vertov group; established Sonimage film and video studio in Grenoble with Anne-Marie Miéville, 1974–75; moved to the Swiss town of Rolle, 1978; began the second stage of his directorial career, 1980; directed jeans advertisement, 1987. Awards: Best Direction Award, Berlin Festival, for A bout de souffle, 1960; Prix Pasinetti, 1962; Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival, for Prenom: Carmen, 1983; Honorary César, 1986; Lifetime Achievement Award, New York Film Critics' Circle, 1994. Address: 15 rue du Nord, 1180 Roulle, Switzerland.
Films as Director:
Opération Béton (+ pr, sc) (released 1958)
Une Femme coquette (d as 'Hans Lucas,' + sc pr, ph, bit role as man visiting prostitute)
Charlotte et Véronique ou Tous les garçons s'appellentPatrick (+ sc)
Une Histoire d'eau (co-d: actual shooting by Truffaut, + co-sc) (released 1961); Charlotte et son Jules (+ sc, dubbed voice of Jean-Paul Belmondo) (released 1961)
A bout de souffle (Breathless) (+ sc, role as passerby who points out Belmondo to police)
Une Femme est une femme (+ sc)
"La Paresse" episode of Les Sept Péchés capitaux (+ sc); Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live) (+ sc, dubbed voice of Peter Kassowitz), "Il nuovo mondo (Le Nouveau Monde)" in RoGoPaG (Laviamoci il cervello) (+ sc, bit role)
Le Petit Soldat (+ sc, bit role as man at railway station) (completed 1960); Les Carabiniers (+ sc); Le Mépris (+ sc, role)
"Le Grand Escroc" in Les Plus Belles Escroqueries dumonde (+ sc, narration, bit role as man wearing Moroccan chéchia); Bande à part (+ sc); La Femme mariée (UneFemme mariée) (+ sc); Reportage sur Orly (+ sc) (short)
"Montparnasse—Levallois" in Paris vu par . . . (+ sc); Alphaville (+ sc); Une Étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (+ sc); Pierrot le fou (+ sc)
Masculin-féminin (Masculin féminin: quinze faits précis) (+ sc); Made in U.S.A. (+ sc, voice on tape recorder)
Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle (+ sc); "Anticipation" episode of Le Plus Vieux Métier du monde (+ sc); LaChinoise ou Plutôt à la chinoise (+ sc); "Caméra-oeil" in Loin du Viêt-Nam (+ sc, appearance); Le Weekend (Week-end) (+ sc)
Le Gai Savoir (+ sc); Cinétracts (+ sc) (series of untitled, creditless newsreels); Un Film comme les autres (+ sc, voice); One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil) (+ sc, voice); One A.M. (One American Movie) (+ sc) (unfinished)
British Sounds (See You at Mao) (co-d, co-sc); Pravda (+ sc) (collective credit to Groupe Dziga-Vertov); Lotte in Italia (Luttes en Italie) (+ sc) (collective credit to Groupe Dziga-Vertov); "L'amore" episode of Amore e rabbia (+ sc) (completed 1967: festival showings as "Andante e ritorno dei figli prodighi" episode of Vangelo 70)
Vent d'est (co-d, co-sc); Jusqu'à la victoire (Till Victory) (co-d, + sc) (unfinished)
Vladimir et Rosa (+ sc, collective credit to Groupe Dziga-Vertov, role as U.S. policeman, appearance, narration)
Tout va bien (co-d, + co-sc, pr); A Letter to Jane or Investigation about a Still (Lettre à Jane) (co-d, + co-sc, co-pr, narration)
Numéro deux (+ co-sc, co-pr, appearance)
Ici et ailleurs (co-d, + co-sc) (includes footage from Jusqu'àla victoire); Comment ça va (co-d, + co-sc)
6 x 2: sur et sous la communication (co-d, + co-sc) (for TV)
Sauve qui peut (La vie; Every Man for Himself) (+ co-sc, co-ed)
Passion (+ sc)
Prenom: Carmen (First Name: Carmen) (role)
Hail Mary; Detective
Grandeur et Decadence d'un Petit Commerce du Cinema (The Rise and Fall of a Little Film Company) (for TV)
Soigne ta droite (Keep up Your Right) (ed, role); episode in Aria; King Lear (role)
Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) (+ sc)
Visages Suisse (Faces of Switzerland) (co-d)
Allemagne Neuf Zero (Germany Nine Zero) (+ sc)
Helas Pour Moi (Oh, Woe Is Me) (+ sc, ed)
JLG/JLG—Autoportrait de Decembre (JLG/JLG—Self-Portrait in December) (+ sc, appearance)
Deux fois cinquante ans de cinema Francais (Two times 50Years of French Cinema) (co-d, + co-sc, co-ed); Les enfantsjouent a la Russie (The Kids Play Russian) (+ sc, ed, appearance)
For Ever Mozart
The Old Place; Histoire du cinema: Fatale beauté (+ sc, ed); Histoire du cinema: La monnaie de l'absolu (+ sc, ed); Histoire du cinema: Le conrôle de l'univers (+ sc, ed); Histoire du cinema: Les signes parmi nous (+ sc, ed); Histoire du cinema: Seul le cinema (+sc, ed); Histoire ducinema: Une vague nouvelle (+ sc,ed)
Éloge de l'amour (+ sc)
L'Origine du XXIème siècle (+ sc)
Quadrille (Rivette) (pr, role)
Présentation ou Charlotte et son steack (Rohmer) (role)
Kreutzer Sonata (Rohmer) (pr); Le Coup du berger (Rivette) (role)
Paris nous appartient (Rivette) (Godard's silhouette)
Le Signe du lion (Rohmer) (role)
Cléo de cinq à sept (Varda) (role with Anna Karina in comic sequence); Le Soleil dans l'oeil (Bourdon) (role)
Schehérézade (Gaspard-Huit) (role); The Directors (pr: Greenblatt) (appearance); Paparazzi (Rozier) (appearance); Begegnung mit Fritz Lang (Fleischmann) (appearance); Petit Jour (Pierre) (appearance)
L'Espion (The Defector) (Levy) (role)
One P.M. (One Parallel Movie) (Pennebaker) (includes foot-age from abandoned One A.M. and documentary footage of its making)
By GODARD: books—
Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard: articles, essais, entretiens, edited by Jean Narboni, Paris, 1968; published as Godard onGodard: Critical Writings, edited by Narboni and Tom Milne, New York, 1986.
Weekend, New York, 1972.
A bout de souffle, Paris, 1974.
Jean-Luc Godard: Three Films—"A Woman Is a Woman," "AMarried Woman," "Two or Three Things I Know about Her," New York, 1975.
Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma, Paris, 1980.
Godard on Godard : Critical Writings by Jean-Luc Godard, with Jean Luce Godard and Annette Michelson, edited by Jean Narboni, New York, 1988.
By GODARD: articles—
Contributing editor of La Gazette du Cinéma (Paris), 1950; regular contributor to Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), 1952 through 1968, and to Arts (Paris), 1957 through 1960.
"Charlotte et son Jules," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), June 1961.
"Une Histoire d'eau," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), September 1961.
"Vivre sa vie," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), October 1962; also in Film Culture (New York), Winter 1962.
Interview with Tom Milne, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1962.
Interview with Herbert Feinstein, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1964.
"La Femme mariée," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), March 1965.
"Les Carabiniers," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), May 1965.
"Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), May 1967.
"A bout de souffle," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), March 1968.
"Struggle on Two Fronts," an interview with Jacques Bontemps, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1968.
"La Chinoise," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), May 1971.
"Pierrot le fou," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July/September 1976.
"Jean-Luc Godard . . . For Himself," in Framework (Norwich), Autumn 1980.
"En attendant Passion. Le chemin vers la parole," an interview with Alain Bergala, Serge Daney, and Serge Toubiana, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), May 1982.
Interview with Don Ranvaud and A. Farassino, in Framework (Norwich), Summer 1983.
"The Carrots Are Cooked," an interview with Gideon Bachman, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1984.
"Genesis of a Camera," with J.P. Beauviala, in Camera Obscura (Berkeley), Spring/Summer 1985.
"Godard in His 'Fifth' Period," an interview with K. Dieckmann, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1985/86.
"Colles et ciseaux," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1987.
Godard, Jean-Luc, article in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 30, no. 2/3, 1988.
Interview with Alain Bergala and Serge Toubiana, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), January 1988.
Transcript of Cannes Film Festival press conference, in Cinéma (Paris), June 1990.
Transcript of Cannes Film Festival press conference, in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), June 1990.
Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1990.
Interview in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1993.
Interview with Andrew Sarris, in InterView, July 1994.
Interview with Scott Kraft, in Los Angeles Times, 2 April 1995.
Interview with Hal Hartley, in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 37, no. 1, 1995.
Interview with J. Tykwer, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), November 1995.
Article in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), January 1998.
"Looking Back," an interview with Geoffrey Macnab, in Sight andSound (London), April 1997.
On GODARD: books—
Collet, Jean, Jean-Luc Godard, Paris, 1963; New York, 1970.
Roud, Richard, Jean-Luc Godard, New York, 1967.
Mussman, Toby, editor, Jean-Luc Godard: A Critical Anthology, New York, 1968.
Cameron, Ian, editor, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard, London, 1969.
Mancini, Michele, Godard, Rome, 1969.
Brown, Royal, editor, Focus on Godard, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1972.
Farassino, Alberto, Godard, Florence, 1974.
Monaco, James, The New Wave, New York, 1976.
Kawin, Bruce, Mindscreen: Bergman, Godard, and First-PersonFilm, Pinceton, New Jersey, 1978.
Lesage, Julia, Jean-Luc Godard, a Guide to References and Resources, Boston, 1979.
Kreidl, John Francis, Jean-Luc Godard, Boston, 1980.
Achard, Maurice, Vous avez dit Godard: ou J'm'appelle pas Godard, Paris, 1980.
MacCabe, Colin, Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics, London, 1980.
Walsh, Martin, The Brechtian Aspect of Radical Cinema, London, 1981.
Lefevre, Raymond, Jean-Luc Godard, Paris, 1983.
Bordwell, David, Narration in the Fiction Film, London, 1985.
Weis, Elisabeth, and John Belton, Film Sound: Theory and Practice, New York, 1985.
Andrew, Dudley, ed., Breathless/Jean-Luc Godard, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1987.
Cerisuelo, Marc, Jean-Luc Godard, Paris, 1989.
Desbarats, Carole, and Jean-Paul Gorce, L'Effet Godard, Toulouse, 1989.
Douin, Jean-Luc, Jean-Luc Godard, Paris, 1989.
Paech, Joachim, Passion, oder, Die Einbildungen des Jean-LucGodard, Frankfort, 1989.
Locke, Maryel, and Charles Warren, eds. Jean-Luc Godard's HailMary: Women and the Sacred in Film, Carbondale, Illinois, 1993.
Bellour, Raymond, and Mary Lea Bandy, Jean-Luc Godard Son+ Image, New York, 1993.
Dixon, Wheeler Winston, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard (SUNYSeries, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video), Albany, 1997.
Sterritt, David, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible, New York, 1999.
On GODARD: articles—
Moullet, Luc, "Jean-Luc Godard," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1960.
Fieschi, Jean-André, "Godard: Cut Sequence: Vivre sa vie," in Movie (London), January 1963.
Bellour, Raymond, "Godard or Not Godard," in Les Lettres Françaises (Paris), 14 May 1964.
Sarris, Andrew, and Andrew Blasi, "Waiting for Godard," in FilmCulture (New York), Summer 1964.
Kael, Pauline, "Godard est Godard," in The New Yorker, 9 October 1965.
Metz, Christian, "Le Cinéma moderne et la narrative," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), December 1966.
Bertolucci, Bernardo, "Versus Godard," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1967.
"Godard Issue" of Image et Son/Revue du Cinéma (Paris), December 1967.
"Godard Issue" of Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Spring 1968.
Schickel, Richard, "The Trying Genius of M. Godard," in Life (New York), 12 April 1968.
Clouzot, Claire, "Godard and the U.S.," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1968.
Farber, Manny, "The Films of Jean-Luc Godard," in Artforum (New York), October 1968.
MacBean, James, "Politics, Poetry, and the Language of Signs in Godard's Made in U.S.A.," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1969.
Sainsbury, Peter, "Jean-Luc Godard," in Afterimage (New York), April 1970.
Goodwin, Michael, and others, "The Dziga Vertov Group in America," in Take One (Montreal), March/April 1971.
MacBean, James, "Godard and the Dziga Vertov Group: Film and Dialectic," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1972. Kolkeon, R.P., "Angle and Reality: Godard and Gorin in America," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1973.
"Director of the Year," International Film Guide (London, New York), 1974.
Rayns, Tony, "The Godard Film Forum," in Film (London), January 1974.
MacCabe, Colin, "Realism and the Cinema: Notes on Some Brechtian Theses," in Screen (London), Summer 1974.
Lesage, Julia, "Visual Distancing in Godard," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), no. 3, 1976.
Gilliatt, Penelope, "Profile," in The New Yorker, 25 October 1976.
Lefèvre, Raymond, "La Lettre et la cinématographe: L'Ecrit dans les films de Godard," in Image et Son (Paris), May 1977.
Forbes, Jill, "Jean-Luc Godard: Two into Three," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1980/81.
"Godard Issue" of Camera Obscura (Berkeley), Fall 1982.
Burgoyne, Robert, "The Political Topology of Montage: The Conflict of Genres in the Films of Godard," in Enclitic (Minneapolis), Spring 1983.
Lovell, Alan, "Epic Theater and Counter Cinema," and Julia Lesage, "Godard and Gorin's Left Politics," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), April 1983.
Dossier on Godard, in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1983.
"Godard Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), March 1984.
MacCabe, Colin, "Every Man for Himself," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1984.
Gervais, M., "Jean-Luc Godard 1985—These Are Not the Days," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1985.
Durgnat, Raymond, "Jean-Luc Godard: His Crucifixion and Resurrection," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), September 1985.
"Godard Issue" of Revue Belge du Cinéma (Brussels), Summer 1986.
Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 9, no. 1, 1987.
"Godard Issue" of Cinéma (Paris), 30 December 1987.
Ciment, Michel, "Je vous salue Godard," in Positif (Paris), February 1988.
Francois Quenin, article in Cinéma (Paris), June 1988.
Article in L'avant Scene Cinéma (Paris), April 1989.
Colette Mazabrard, article in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1989.
Michael O'Pray, article in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), November 1989.
Stam, Robert, "The Lake, the Trees," in Film Comment, January/February 1991.
Riding, Alan, "What's in a Name if the Name Is Godard?," in NewYork Times, 25 October 1992.
Klawans, Stuart, "Jean-Luc Godard: Son + Image," in The Nation (New York), 23 November 1992.
Sterritt, David, "Recognizing a Film Renegade," in Christian Science Monitor (New York), 27 November 1992.
Hoberman, J., "Picasso, Marx, and Coca-Cola," in ARTnews (New York), February 1993.
Eco, Umberto, "Do-It-yourself Godard," in Harper's Magazine (New York), May 1993.
Stoneman, Rod, "Bon Voyage," in Sight and Sound (London), July 1993.
Dieckmann, Katherine, "Godard's Counter Memory," in Art inAmerica (New York), October 1993.
James, Caryn, "From France, Depardieu as God and Other Joys," in New York Times, 18 February 1994.
Sterritt, David, "Vive la cinema! French Film Series Erupts with Energy," in Christian Science Monitor (New York), 25 February 1994.
Darke, Chris, "It All Happened in Paris," in Sight and Sound (London), July 1994.
Sterritt, David, "Ideas, Not Plots, Inspire Jean-Luc Godard," in Christian Science Monitor (New York), 3 August 1994.
Morice, Jacques, "4 x Godard," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1994.
Loiselle, Marie-Claude, "Poétique du montage," in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 77, Summer 1995.
White, Armond, and Gavin Smith, "Double Helix. Jean-Luc Godard," in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1996.
Cohen, Alain J., "Godard et le passion du féminin: cas extrêmes de Marie du Armide," in Vertigo (Paris), January 1996.
Poquet, Marc, "Never Again For Ever Mozart," in Cahiers duCinéma (Paris), February 1997.
Jousse, Thierry, "Le savoir de l'aveugle," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1997.
Loiselle, Marie-Claude and others, "Jean Luc-Godard," in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 88–89, Autumn 1997.
Price, Brian, "Plagiarizing the Plagiarist: Godard Meets the Situationists," in Film Comment (New York), November-December 1997.
Dixon, Wheeler Winston, "For Ever Godard: Notes on Godard's ForEver Mozart," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), April 1998.
Dossier, in Positif (Paris), February 1999.
On GODARD: films—
Bazin, Janine, and others, Jean-Luc Godard, ou le cinéma de défi, for TV, 1964.
Doniol-Valcroze, Jacques, Pour le plaisir, for TV, 1965.
Thanhauser, Ralph, Godard in America, U.S.A., 1970.
Berckmans, Jean-Pierre, La Longue Marche de Jean-Luc Godard, Belgium, 1972.
Costard, Hellmuth, Der kleine Godard, West Germany, 1978.
* * *
If influence on the development of world cinema is the criterion, then Jean-Luc Godard is certainly the most important filmmaker of the past thirty years; he is also one of the most problematic.
Godard's career so far falls roughly into three periods: the early works from About de souffle to Weekend (1959–1968), a period whose end is marked decisively by the latter film's final caption, "Fin de Cinéma"; the period of intense politicization, during which Godard collaborated (mainly though not exclusively) with Jean-Pierre Gorin and the Dziga Vertov group (1968–1972); and the subsequent work, divided between attempts to renew communication with a wider, more "mainstream" cinema audience and explorations of the potentialities of video (in collaboration with Anne-Marie Miéville). One might also separate the films from Masculin-Féminin to Weekend as representing a transitional phase from the first to the Dziga Vertov period, although in a sense all Godard's work is transitional. What marks the middle period off from its neighbours is above all the difference in intended audience: the Dziga Vertov films were never meant to reach the general public. They were instead aimed at already committed Marxist or leftist groups, campus student groups, and so on, to stimulate discussion of revolutionary politics and aesthetics, and, crucially, the relationship between the two.
Godard's importance lies in his development of an authentic modernist cinema in opposition to (though, during the early period, at the same time within) mainstream cinema; it is with his work that film becomes central to our century's major aesthetic debate, the controversy developed through such figures as Lukács, Brecht, Benjamin, and Adorno as to whether realism or modernism is the more progressive form. As ex-Cahiers du Cinéma critic and New Wave filmmaker, Godard was initially linked with Truffaut and Chabrol in a kind of revolutionary triumvirate; it is easy, in retrospect, to see that Godard was from the start the truly radical figure, the "revolution" of his colleagues operating purely on the aesthetic level and easily assimilable into the mainstream.
A simple way of demonstrating the essential thrust of Godard's work is to juxtapose his first feature, Breathless, with the excellent American remake. Jim McBride's film follows the original fairly closely, with the fundamental difference that in it all other elements are subordinated to the narrative and the characters. In Godard's film, on the contrary, this traditional relationship between signifier and signified shows a continuous tendency to come adrift, so that the process of narration (which mainstream cinema strives everywhere to conceal) becomes foregrounded; A bout de souffle is "about" a story and characters, certainly, but it is also about the cinema, about film techniques, about Jean Seberg, etc.
This foregrounding of the process—and the means—of narration is developed much further in subsequent films, in which Godard systematically breaks down the traditional barrier between fiction/documentary, actor/character, narrative film/experimental film to create freer, "open" forms. Persons appear as themselves in works of fiction, actors address the camera/audience in monologues or as if being interviewed, materiality of film is made explicit (the switches from positive to negative in Une Femme mariée, the turning on and off of the soundtrack in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle, the showing of the clapper-board in La Chinoise). The initial motivation for this seems to have been the assertion of personal freedom: the filmmaker shatters the bonds of traditional realism in order to be able to say and do whatever he wants, creating films spontaneously. (Pierrot le fou—significantly, one of Godard's most popular films—is the most extreme expression of this impulse.) Gradually, however, a political motivation (connected especially with the influence of Brecht) takes over. There is a marked sociological interest in the early films (especially Vivre sa vie and Une Femme mariée), but the turning-point is Masculin-féminin with its two male protagonists, one seeking fulfillment through personal relations, the other a political activist. The former's suicide at the end of the film can be read as marking a decisive choice: from here on, Godard increasingly listens to the voice of revolutionary politics and eventually (in the Dziga Vertov films) adopts it as his own voice.
The films of the Dziga Vertov group (named after the great Russian documentarist who anticipated their work in making films that foreground the means of production and are continuously self-reflexive) were the direct consequence of the events of May 1968. More than ever before the films are directly concerned with their own process, so that the ostensible subjects—the political scene in Czechoslovakia (Pravda) or Italy (Lotte in Italia), the trial of the Chicago Eight (Vladimir and Rosa)—become secondary to the urgent, actual subject: how does one make a revolutionary film? It was at this time that Godard distinguished between making political films (i.e., films on political subjects: Costa-Gavras's Z is a typical example) and making films politically, the basic assumption being that one cannot put radical content into traditional form without seriously compromising, perhaps negating, it. Hence the attack on realism initiated at the outset of Godard's career manifests its full political significance: realism is a bourgeois art form, the means whereby the bourgeoisie endlessly reassures itself, validating its own ideology as "true," "natural," "real"; its power must be destroyed. Of the films from this period, Vent d'est (the occasion for Peter Wollen's seminal essay on "Counter-Cinema" in After Image) most fully realized this aesthetic: the original pretext (the pastiche of a Western) recedes into the background, and the film becomes a discussion about itself—about the relationship between sound and image, the materiality of film, the destruction of bourgeois forms, the necessity for continuous self-criticism and self-awareness.
The assumption behind the Dziga Vertov films is clearly that the revolutionary impetus of May 1968 would be sustained, and it has not been easy for Godard to adjust to its collapse. That difficulty is the subject of one of his finest works, Tout va bien (again in collaboration with Gorin), an attempt to return to commercial filmmaking without abandoning the principles (both aesthetic and political) of the preceding years. Beginning by foregrounding Godard's own problem (how does a radical make a film within the capitalist production system?), the film is strongest in its complex use of Yves Montand and Jane Fonda (simultaneously fictional characters/personalities/star images) and its exploration of the issues to which they are central. These issues include the relationship of intellectuals to the class struggle; the relationship between professional work, personal commitment, and political position; and the problem of sustaining a radical impulse in a non-revolutionary age. Tout va bien is Godard's most authentically Brechtian film, achieving radical force and analytical clarity without sacrificing pleasure and a degree of emotional involvement.
Godard's relationship to Brecht has not always been so clear-cut. While the justification for Brecht's distanciation principles was always the communication of clarity, Godard's films often leave the spectator in a state of confusion and frustration. He continues to seem by temperament more anarchist than Marxist. One is troubled by the continuity between the criminal drop-outs of the earlier films and the political activists of the later. The insistent intellectualism of the films is often offset by a wilful abeyance of systematic thinking, the abeyance, precisely, of that self-awareness and self-criticism the political works advocate. Even in Tout va bien, what emerges from the political analysis as the film's own position is an irresponsible and ultimately desperate belief in spontaneity. Desperation, indeed, is never far from the Godardian surface, and seems closely related to the treatment of heterosexual relations: even through the apparent feminist awareness of the recent work runs a strain of unwitting misogyny (most evident, perhaps, in Sauve qui peut). The central task of Godard criticism, in fact, is to sort out the remarkable and salutary nature of the positive achievement from the temperamental limitations that flaw it.
From 1980 on, Godard commenced the second phase of his directorial career. Unfortunately, far too many of his films have become increasingly inaccessible to the audiences who had championed him in his heyday during the 1960s. Sauve qui peut (La Vie) (Every Man for Himself), Godard's comeback film, portended his future work. It is an awkward account of three characters whose lives become entwined: a man who has left his wife for a woman; the woman, who is in the process of leaving the man for a rural life; and a country girl who has become a prostitute. In fact, several of Godard's works might best be described as anti-movies. Passion, for example, features characters named Isabelle, Michel, Hanna, Laszlo and Jerzy (played respectively by Isabelle Huppert, Michel Piccoli, Hanna Schygulla, Laszlo Szabo, and Jerzy Radziwilowicz), who are involved in the shooting of a movie titled Passion. The latter appears to be not so much a structured narrative as a series of scenes which are visions of a Renaissance painting. The film serves as a cynical condemnation of the business of moviemaking-for-profit, as the extras are poorly treated and the art of cinema is stained by commercial considerations.
Prenom: Carmen (First Name: Carmen) is Godard's best latter-career effort, a delightfully subversive though no less pessimistic mirror of the filmmaker's disenchantment with the cinema. His Carmen is a character straight out of his earlier work: a combination seductress/terrorist/wannabe movie maker. Her uncle, played by Godard, is a once-celebrated but now weary and faded film director named, not surprisingly, Jean-Luc Godard.
It seemed that Godard had simply set out to shock in Hail, Mary, a redo of the birth of Christ set in contemporary France. His Mary is a young student and gas station attendant; even though she has never had sex with Joseph, her taxi-driving boyfriend, she discovers she is pregnant. Along with Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, this became a cause celebre among Catholics and even was censured by the Pope. However, the film is eminently forgettable; far superior is The Book of Mary, a perceptive short about a girl and her constantly quarrelling parents. It accompanied showings of Hail, Mary, and is directed by long-time Godard colleague Anne-Marie Miéville.
Detective, dedicated to auteur heroes John Cassavetes, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Clint Eastwood, is a verbose, muddled film noir. Despite its title, Nouvelle Vague (New Wave), an observance of the lives of a wealthy and influential couple, only makes one yearn for the days of the real "Nouvelle Vague." The narrative, which focuses on the sexual and political issues that are constants in Godard's films, is barely discernable; the dialogue—including such lines as "Love doesn't die, it leaves you," "One man isn't enough for a woman—or too much," "A critic is a soldier who fires at his own regiment," "Have you ever been stung by a dead bee?"—is superficially profound. King Lear, an excessive, grotesque updating of Shakespeare, is of note for its oddball, once-in-a-lifetime cast: Godard; Woody Allen; Norman and Kate Mailer; stage director Peter Sellars; Burgess Meredith; and Molly Ringwald. The political thriller Allemagne Neuf Zero (Germany Nine Zero), although as confusing as any latter-day Godard film, works as nostalgia because of the presence of Eddie Constantine. He is recast as private eye Lemmy Caution, who last appeared in Alphaville. Here, he encounters various characters in a reunified Germany.
Helas Pour Moi (Oh, Woe Is Me), based on the Greek legend of Alcmene and Amphitryon and a text penned by the Italian poet Leopardi, is a long-winded bore about a God who wants to perceive human feeling; those intrigued by the subject matter would be advised to see Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire and Faraway, So Close. JLG/JLG—Autoportrait de Decembre (JLG/JLG—Self-Portrait in December), filmed in and near Godard's Swiss home, is a semi-abstract biography of the filmmaker. Its structure is appropriate, given the development of Godard's cinematic style. Ultimately, it is of interest mostly to those still concerned with Godard's life and career.
—Robin Wood, updated by Rob Edelman
Jean-Luc Godard (born 1930) may be one of cinema's greatest names, but his films remain consistently abstruse and unseen by mainstream audiences. This is a situation the French-Swiss screenwriter, director, and occasional performer most likely prefers. Critics have cited the years prior to 1967 as Godard's most masterful period, when he and other young French directors broke new ground in what came to be known as cinema's New Wave movement, hallmarked by fresh conceptualization and technical tricks that challenged viewers' perceptions.
Though a true Hollywood outsider vociferously critical of directors like Steven Spielberg, Godard has always paid homage to American film's golden era by including fleeting references to its bygone works-a poster on the wall, or a bit of dialogue-in his own films. In turn, Godard has influenced a new generation of film-makers. Elements of his style-the arch dialogue, the quirky camera work-can be seen in the films of Quentin Tarantino, Gregg Araki, and John Woo, among others.
Godard was born in Paris on March 12, 1930, but grew up in Switzerland. He attended school in Nyon and, as a young man, returned to Paris for his university education. He studied ethnology at the Sorbonne, but also experienced the heady intellectual and freewheeling spirit of the Latin Quarter, the Parisian neighborhood that is home to the Sorbonne and its students. His primary interests were in theater and the written word, but "little by little the cinema began to interest me more than the rest," Godard told Jean Collet for his biography, Jean-Luc Godard. He began frequenting the Cine-Club du Quartier Latin, where he became friends with Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette. Like Godard, the other three would also achieve fame as the most influential of France's postwar filmmakers. The group skipped their classes for visits to the Cinematheque Francaise, France's museum of film, with its steady program of classic works. "We systematically saw everything there was to see," Godard told Collet.
With Rohmer and Rivette, Godard co-founded La Gazette du Cinema in 1950, which published their criticism of mainstream French films and their directors. It survived only five issues. Godard had yet to make his own film."I had ideas, but they were absolutely ridiculous," he commented to Collet. Instead he acted in the short works his friends were making in order to observe and learn. In 1954, Godard made his first foray into directing with Operation Beton, a short film centered around the construction of a dam ("beton" means concrete); Godard had worked as a laborer on the very project in order to save the money to make the film.
With his next short, 1955's Une Femme Coquette, comes evidence of Godard's interest in experimentation-the hand-held camera, jump-cutting from one scene to another, and other quirks which would later become hallmarks of his style. By 1956, Godard was writing regularly for France's respected journal of film criticism, Le Cahiers du Cinema, and becoming well-known for his polemics on mainstream filmmakers. He directed a project from after a script by Rohmer, Tous les Garcons s'appellent Patrick (title means "All Boys Are Called Patrick"), in 1957; the following year's short Charlotte et son Jules was both written and directed by Godard. He also appeared briefly, but its real star was a young French actor with a swagger, Jean-Paul Belmondo.
New Wave Cinema
The year 1959 marks the formal birth of France's Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) cinema, when Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer and the others obtained the means to make the quirky, unconventional films they desired. Perhaps Godard's most famous film, and considered his first full-length feature, was made that same year and realized New Wave's concepts memorably. A Bout de Souffle (also known as "Breathless") premiered in March 1960 and was an immediate sensation. It pioneered the use of hand-held cameras, filming at actual, recognizable locations. Most radically, it was shot with the barest of script. "Breathless" made stars of Belmondo and his co-star, American actress Jean Seberg. They each appear as entirely vacuous characters, seemingly roused only by images from pop culture.
In the famous opening shot of "Breathless," Seberg's character, an American student living in Paris, is walking down the Champs-Elysees selling the New York Herald Tribune. She encounters her intermittent boyfriend, Belmondo's handsome thug who has just arrived in Paris to hide out from the authorities after a shoot-out in the countryside with police. Though there is talk of the two fleeing to Italy, and a hint that she may be pregnant, she realizes that Belmondo is wanted for killing a cop. In the end she turns him in. When Godard began the film, it was almost a freeform experiment, as he said in a 1962 interview in Le Cahiers du Cinema. "I had written the first scene, and for the rest I had a pile of notes for each scene. I said to myself, this is terrible. I stopped everything. Then I thought: in a single day, if one knows how to go about it, one should be able to complete a dozen takes. Only instead of planning ahead, I shall invent at the last minute."
Banned by Government
Godard's next film, 1960's Le Petit Soldat ("The Little Soldier") was banned by the French government. At the time, France had been fighting a nationalist uprising in its North African colony of Algeria for several years, and Le Petit Soldat is set amidst this political backdrop. It chronicles the dilemma plaguing a right-wing terrorist assigned to kill a journalist sympathetic to the Arab cause; instead he falls in love with an operative for the other side, the Algerian liberation movement. "The burning political issue in France at that moment, the Algerian war, Le Petit Soldat addressed with an implicative urgency summed up in the image of a hesitant assassin walking behind his victim with a large pointed pistol along a crowded street without attracting anybody's notice-a startling image of the daily unbelievability of political violence," wrote Gilberto Perez in The Nation of the film and its message.
In 1961, Godard married the female lead of Le Petit Soldat, Anna Karina. She went on to play several leading roles in his subsequent works: she was the exotic dancer who wants a child from her unwilling boyfriend in 1961's Une Femme est une Femme ("A Woman Is a Woman"). In 1962's Vivre sa Vie ("My Life to Live") she was a record-shop clerk who drifts into prostitution for extra money with predictably disastrous consequences. In these and subsequent films of the decade, Godard perfected the signature elements of his work. The theme of alienation is prevalent in his films: Godard's protagonist is nearly always an outsider of some sort or at odds with "normal" (i.e., bourgeois) society. The techniques Godard and his camera operators developed were similarly revolutionary: in some cases, the camera would follow a character walking down a street for minutes on end-virtually unheard-of experimentalism at the time. Godard also had no qualms about confounding viewers with nearly inaudible dialogue.
Absence of Plot
Une Femme Mariee ("A Married Woman"), released in 1964, typified the absence-of-plot style that Godard came to favor. It chronicles a twenty-four hour period in the life of a bored French fashion editor, and serves as a commentary on the seductive power of advertising imagery. The alienation of bourgeois society was a theme continued in Pierrot le Fou, a 1965 release that starred Belmondo as a man who escapes his tedious life with his criminal minded mistress, played by Karina. Alphaville, released the same year, was Godard's foray into science fiction. The film's hero is Lemmy Caution, played by American actor Eddie Constantine. Caution is posing as a journalist for a paper comically titled "Figaro-Pravda"-in the 1960s, the leading papers of France and the Soviet Union, respectively. He arrives in bleak Alphaville in a Ford Galaxy to track down the scientist in charge of Alpha-60, the computer that controls Alphaville and robs its citizens of individuality. Called at times Godard's only optimistic film, in the end Caution falls in love with the scientist's daughter and the pair flee.
Increasing evidence of Godard's left-leaning politics came with the 1967 film, La Chinoise. His real politicization occurred with the 1968 student riots in France, a week of street and labor unrest that galvanized the entire country and brought it to a virtual standstill. The following year, Godard released Un Film Comme les Autres, parts of which-interviews with workers at a car factory, for instance-were shot during the days of protest. At this point Godard began to make short films in 16mm he called cinetracts, which crystallized his radical political views and offered up a heavy dose of propaganda; they are almost like commercials for a revolution. He also became involved with the militant Dziga Vertov group, who would finance many of his works of this era.
Another famous Godard work from these days was 1970's One Plus One, described by some critics as one of his dullest cinematic experiments. To make it, he traveled to England immediately after the May 1968 demonstrations. In the middle of nearly three months of filming a movie that basically showed the behind-the-scenes genesis of the Rolling Stones song "Sympathy for the Devil," band member Brian Jones was arrested, and production was held up by both fire and rain. "The result was Godard's most disjointed film to date," noted The Oxford Companion to Film. Godard also journeyed to the Czech capital of Prague to shoot Pravda ("truth" in Russian), which depicted the nation in the year since invading Russian tanks had arrived to quell a democratic uprising.
Godard was involved in a serious car accident in 1971, and for a time ceased to make standard-format films. He was still a political rebel, however. In the 1972 short Letter to Jane, he lets loose a 45-minute invective against American actor and activist Jane Fonda, then known for her similarly leftist politics. In the film, Godard discusses a photograph of her published in a French newspaper. "The narration calls attention to her facial expression which, Godard claims, differs from that of a North Vietnamese soldier in the background because she is the product of a jaded, capitalist society," according to The Oxford Companion to Film.Rather than full-length feature films, much of what Godard produced over the next few years were video collaborations with his partner, Anne-Marie Mieville. These include Numero Deux, filmed in a television studio and ostensibly intent on examining relationships within a traditional family. What instead occurs is that Godard "makes explicit the relationship between home video and pornography-the fetishization of the primal scene," wrote Amy Taubin in the Village Voice.
Returned to Longer Films
By 1980, Godard returned to longer films with Sauve qui Peut (la Vie) (titled "Every Man for Himself" for its American debut). Over the next few years he made several acclaimed works, including Prenom Carmen (also known as "First Name: Carmen") and Je Vous Salue, Marie ("Hail Mary"). This latter work was a retelling of the story of the Virgin Mary and the immaculate conception that received a great deal of publicity from Roman Catholic groups objecting to its nudity and sexual content. In 1987, Godard released his modern-day urban version of the Shakespearean family drama, King Lear. In the film, Burgess Meredith plays the doomed monarch, and Molly Ringwald his daughter Cordelia; Woody Allen also shows up. Time magazine's Richard Corliss called it "Godard's most infuriating, entertaining pastiche in two decades."
Godard contributed a segment to Aria, a 1988 film conceived as a series of vignettes based on well-known opera works. The following year he released parts one and two of an ongoing video-essay project, Histoire (s) du Cinema. Typically Godard, the quintessential anti-film, Histoire (s) blends bits and pieces from hundreds of films into a critique on the art form itself and a look at its relation to society. Katherine Dieckmann, writing in Art in America, called it "an expansive, densely layered, elegiac treatise on the fate of cinema." The title, which can mean either "history" or "story" in French, also serves to point out how filmgoers are beguiled by the false (the story) rather than the real (actual history), "and Godard struggles to expose how cinema's capacity to seduce and lull implicates it in certain atrocities of this century," Dieckmann wrote. In Histoire (s), she noted,"gritty newsreel footage of war mingles with an image of the 20th Century Fox logo and its sweeping klieg lights, with the none-too-covert message that these forms of spectacle aren't completely separate."
Two Godard films were released in 1990: Nouvelle Vague ("New Wave"), a pastoral work filmed in the Swiss countryside, and Allemagne Annee 90 Neuf Zero (also known as "Germany Year 90 Nine Zero"). Here Godard offers a sequel of sorts to Alphaville, set in a newly reunited Germany. Critics had once compared the bleak urban future-world of the 1965 film to the real East Berlin; in the latter work, Lemmy Caution tours the actual Berlin. In 1992, New York's Museum of Modern Art feted Godard with a retrospective of his work; not surprisingly, he did not attend his scheduled appearance, ostensibly because he was in the midst of finishing his next work, Helas pour Moi. The 1993 film starred Gerard Depardieu in the tale of the Greek deity Zeus and his transformation into human shape. JLG/JLG, released in 1995, shows Godard alone in a series of interviews. Some of it takes place in Switzerland, where the filmmaker has a home in Roulle with a large video studio and editing facilities.
Godard's 1963 film, Le Mepris ("Contempt"), was re-released in 1997. In this work, French actor Brigitte Bardot plays a woman married to a screenwriter, a man hired to adapt the Greek literary saga The Odyssey. Famed German moviemaker Fritz Lang plays the actual director of the fake film. Bardot hates her husband, a weak-willed man caught between Lang, who wants to remain faithful to the original story, and a crass American producer played by Jack Palance who wants nudity and mermaids. Godard's actual film had been partly bankrolled by a well-known Hollywood executive whom he hated, and Palance's character is an evident mockery of the real-life producer. The film was done in only 149 shots.
The year 1997 also marked the release of another work to American filmgoers, For Ever Mozart. Shot in 1995 in Sarajevo, Godard makes another film-within-a-film about a movie crew attempting to get their job done while battling the moral bankruptcy they feel all around, an after-effect of the former Yugoslavia's years-long civil war. "After 40 years, Godard can still astonish and amuse in the cinematic shorthand he virtually created," wrote Time magazine's Corliss in reviewing For Ever Mozart. The critic lauded Godard's "encyclopedic wit, the glamour of his imagery, the doggedness of a man who won't give up on modernism. His crabby films are, in truth, breathlessly romantic-because he keeps searching for first principles in the pettiest human affairs. Godard gazes at the intimate and finds the infinite."
Collet, Jean. Jean-Luc Godard, Crown, 1970.
The Films of Jean-Luc Godard, Studio Vista, 1967.
Kreidl, John. Jean-Luc Godard, Twayne, 1980.
The Oxford Companion to Film, edited by Liz-Anne Bawden, Oxford University Press, 1976.
Art in America, October 1993, pp. 65-67.
ARTnews, February 1993, pp. 57-58.
Le Cahiers du Cinema, 1962.
Film Comment, March 1996, pp. 26-30, pp. 31-41.
Nation, February 18, 1991, pp. 209-212.
Time, February 1, 1988; August 4, 1997.
Village Voice, November 24, 1992, p. 45; July 1, 1997, p. 89. □