[jahsonic.com] - [Next >>]

Jean-Luc Godard (1930 - )

Lifespan: 1930 -

Related: art film - auteur theory - sixties cinema - cinéma vérité - French cinema - director - May '68 - modernist cinema - plotlessness - postmodern cinema - Marxist film theory - nouvelle vague - Cahiers du cinéma

Influences: Freudo-Marxism - Bertolt Brecht

«La culture, c’est la règle, et l’art, c’est l’exception»

Titles: Contempt (1963) - [...]

Repetitions of the same clumsy stupidities in his films are automatically seen as breathtaking innovations. They are beyond any attempt at explanation; his admirers consume them as confusedly and arbitrarily as Godard produced them, because they recognize in them the consistent expression of a subjectivity. This is true, but it is a subjectivity on the level of a concierge educated by the mass media. Godard’s “critiques” never go beyond the innocuous humor typical of nightclub comedians or Mad magazine. His flaunted culture is largely the same as that of his audience, which has read exactly the same pages in the same drugstore paperbacks. --Situationist International, 1966

... it is harldy surprising that Godard was dismissed as an imbecile by many of those from the avant-garde milieus connected to lettrism. The ardour of Guy Debord and his associates on the subject of Godard stems directly from the fact that Jean-Luc was providing the bourgeoisie with a middlebrow commercialization of avant-garde cinema. Indeed, the invocation of the penal code during the discussion of prostitution in Vivre sa vie recalls Debord's similar use of material on the soundtrack of his 1953 feature length anti-classic Screams in Favour of de Sade. --Summer of Love: psychedelic art, social crisis and counterculture in the 1960s

Contemporary use of the jump cut stems from its appearance in the work of Jean-Luc Godard and other filmmakers of the French New Wave of the late 1950s and 1960s. In Godard's ground-breaking Breathless (1960), for example, he cut together shots of Jean Seberg riding in a convertible in such a way that the discontinuity between shots is emphasized. [1]

British Sounds (1970) is an experimental film by Jean-Luc Godard, there is a scene with an extended close-up of a woman's pubis.

A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end... but not necessarily in that order. --Jean-Luc Godard

All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl. --Jean-Luc Godard

I pity the French Cinema because it has no money. I pity the American Cinema because it has no ideas. --Jean-Luc Godard

I write essays in the form of novels, or novels in the form of essays. I'm still as much of a critic as I ever was during the time of 'Cahiers du Cinema.' The only difference is that instead of writing criticism, I now film it.

To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can't be separated. --Jean-Luc Godard


Jean-Luc Godard (born December 3, 1930) was one of the most influential members of the nouvelle vague.

Born in Paris to Franco-Swiss parents, he was educated in Nyon, later studying 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 theorists that gave birth to the New Wave.

When André Bazin founded his critical magazine Cahiers du cinéma in 1951, Godard with Rivette and Rohmer were among the first writers.

Known for stylistic implementations that challenged, at their focus, the conventions of Hollywood cinema, he became universally recognized as the most audacious and most radical of the New Wave filmmakers. He adopted a position in filmmaking that was unambiguously political. His work reflected a fervent knowledge of film history, a comprehensive understanding of existential and Marxist philosophy, and a scholarly disposition that placed him as the lone filmmaker among the public intellectuals of the Rive Gauche. [1]

Godard and metafilm

French director Jean-Luc Godard constantly used character asides, onscreen dialogue concerning story development, and the use of loud, bold text.

Situationist critique of Godard

In cinema Godard currently represents formal pseudofreedom and the pseudocritique of manners and values — the two inseparable manifestations of all fake, coopted modern art. Everyone does everything to present him as a misunderstood and unappreciated artist, shockingly audacious and unjustly despised; and everyone praises him, from Elle magazine to Aragon-the-Senile. Despite the absence of any real critiques of Godard, we see developing a sort of analogy to the famous theory of the increase of resistances in socialist regimes: the more Godard is hailed as a brilliant leader of modern art, the more people rush to his defense against incredible plots. Repetitions of the same clumsy stupidities in his films are automatically seen as breathtaking innovations. They are beyond any attempt at explanation; his admirers consume them as confusedly and arbitrarily as Godard produced them, because they recognize in them the consistent expression of a subjectivity. This is true, but it is a subjectivity on the level of a concierge educated by the mass media. Godard’s “critiques” never go beyond the innocuous humor typical of nightclub comedians or Mad magazine. His flaunted culture is largely the same as that of his audience, which has read exactly the same pages in the same drugstore paperbacks. The two most famous lines from the most read poem of the most overrated Spanish poet (“Terrible five o’clock in the afternoon — the blood, I don’t want to see it” in Pierrot-le-Fou) — this is the key to Godard’s method. The most famous renegade of modern art, Aragon, in Les Lettres Françaises (9 September 1965), has rendered an homage to his younger colleague which, coming from such an expert, is perfectly fitting: “Art today is Jean-Luc Godard . . . of a superhuman beauty . . . of a constantly sublime beauty. . . . There is no precedent to Godard except Lautréamont. . . . This child of genius.” Even the most naïve can scarcely be taken in after such a testimonial from such a source.

Godard is a Swiss from Lausanne who envied the chic of the Swiss of Geneva, and then the chic of the Champs-Elysées, and his successful ascent up from the provinces is most exemplary at a time when the system is striving to usher so many “culturally deprived” people into a respectful consumption of culture — even “avant-garde” culture if nothing else will do. We are not referring here to the ultimately conformist exploitation of any art that professes to be innovative and critical. We are pointing out Godard’s directly conformist use of film.

To be sure, films, like songs, have intrinsic powers of conditioning the spectator: beauties, if you will, that are at the disposition of those who presently have the possibility of expressing themselves in that medium. Up to a point such people may make a relatively clever use of those powers. But it is a sign of the general conditions of our time that their cleverness is so limited, and that the extent of their ties with the dominant ways of life quickly reveals the disappointing limits of their enterprises. Godard is to film what Lefebvre or Morin is to social critique: each possesses the appearance of a certain freedom in style or subject matter (in Godard’s case, a slightly free manner in comparison with the stale formulas of cinematic narration). But they have taken this very freedom from elsewhere: from what they have been able to grasp of the advanced experiences of the era. They are the Club Med of modern thought (see in this issue “The Packaging of ‘Free Time’ ”). They make use of a caricature of freedom, as marketable junk, in place of the authentic. This is done on all terrains, including that of formal artistic freedom of expression, which is merely one sector of the general problem of pseudocommunication. Godard’s “critical” art and his admiring art critics all work to conceal the present problems of a critique of art — the real experience, in the SI’s phrase, of a “communication containing its own critique.” In the final analysis the present function of Godardism is to forestall a situationist use of the cinema.

Aragon has for some time been developing his theory of the collage in all modern art up to Godard. This is nothing other than an attempt to interpret détournement in such a way as to bring about its cooption by the dominant culture. Laying the foundations for a Togliattist variant of French Stalinism, Garaudy and Aragon are setting up a “completely open” artistic modernism, just as they are moving “from anathema to dialogue” with the priests. Godard could become their artistic Teilhardism. In fact the collage, made famous by cubism during the dissolution of plastic art, is only a particular case (a destructive moment) of détournement: it is displacement, the infidelity of the element. Détournement, originally formulated by Lautréamont, is a return to a superior fidelity of the element. In all cases, détournement is dominated by the dialectical devaluing-revaluing of the element within the development of a unifying meaning. But the collage of the merely devalued element has been widely used, well before being constituted as a Pop Art doctrine, in the modernist snobbism of the displaced object (making a spice bottle out of a chemistry flask, etc.).

This acceptance of devaluation is now being extended to a method of combining neutral and indefinitely interchangeable elements. Godard is a particularly boring example of such a use without negation, without affirmation, and without quality. --“Le rôle de Godard”, (Paris, March 1966). This translation by Ken Knabb. via http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/10.godard.htm

Biography, themes and tropes

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

Despite New Wave's 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 mediums. They favored long, deep-focus 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 constantly taking cuts. This technique can be seen in some of Godard's most celebrated action sequences.

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.

The Godard canon
The Godard canon has never been able to escape the critical desire to distinguish between, and in turn label, its most visible periods. 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.

Godard's first major feature film, Breathless (1960), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, was a seminal work of the French New Wave. It was a key determiner of the French New Wave's style, and incorporated quotations from several elements of popular culture — specifically American cinema. The distinct style of the film manifested in its numerous jump cuts, use of real locations rather than sets, and freedom from movie convention with character asides and broken 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.

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 1964). 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 The 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, that both fall in love with Karina, and quotes from several gangster film conventions.

Une femme mariée (1964) followed Band of Outsiders. Godard made the film while he acquired funding for Pierrot le fou (1965). 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.

In 1965, Godard directed Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, 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. Later on in the movie, Lemmy Caution discovers that the scientist designed and implemented Alpha 60.

Pierrot le fou (1965) was one of his most cinematic pictures in terms of its complex storyline, distinctive personalities, and apocalyptic 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 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 filmmaking career.

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 Caribiniers 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.

Bertolt Brecht
Godard's engagement with German 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 employs this device as well as several others, including asynchronous sound and alarming title frames, with perhaps his favorite being the character aside. In so many of his most political pieces, specifically Week End, Pierrot le fou, and La Chinoise, characters address the audience with thoughts, feelings, and instructions.

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 issues of Marx’s condemning 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.

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 and contemporary of both the great Soviet montage theorists, as well as the Russian constructivist and avant-garde artists such as Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin. Part of Godard’s evidently political shift after May 1968 was toward a proactive participation in the class struggle. Vertov’s films, particularly his most famous work, Man with the Movie Camera (1929), were very much centered on class struggles. [1]


A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end... but not necessarily in that order.

All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.

Beauty is composed of an eternal, invariable element whose quantity is extremely difficult to determine, and a relative element which might be, either by turns or all at once, period, fashion, moral, passion.

Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.

I don't think you should feel about a film. You should feel about a woman, not a movie. You can't kiss a movie.

I like a film to have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.

I pity the French Cinema because it has no money. I pity the American Cinema because it has no ideas.

One of the most striking signs of the decay of art is when we see its separate forms jumbled together.

Photography is truth.

The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life. Unlike painting and literature, the cinema both gives to life and takes from it, and I try to render this concept in my films. Literature and painting both exist as art from the very start; the cinema doesn't.

The truth is that there is no terror untempered by some great moral idea.

To be or not to be. That's not really a question.

To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can't be separated.

Meanwhile, at Amazon

your Amazon recommendations - Jahsonic - early adopter products

Managed Hosting by NG Communications