ReFramed No.1

Jean-Luc Godard - The Political Years (1968 - 1979)

by Jordon Cronk and Calum Marsh

18 May 2011


Numero Deux

Cronk: Exactly, a five minute shot of the female nether region isn’t exactly dynamic cinema, but there are ideas present in even the least developed of these films that are essential to understanding Godard and what he was attempting to accomplish during this run of films. And on the other side of the equation, there is a film like Numéro Deux, which says more about female sexuality than most people would likely expect, that are just thrilling utilizations of nascent filmic and editing techniques, regardless of subject matter. The question here then I guess would be do you (or does anyone) have “favorites” from this era, or do these works simply stand on the respect that we and select others hoist upon them?

Marsh: I think that Numero Deux is one of Godard’s best films, hands down. The rest is mostly very good, particularly Here And Elsewhere, but it’s Numero Deux that really stands apart for me.

Cronk: I second your high praise of Numéro Deux, and I’d throw France/tour/détour/deux enfants into the top tier of his work as well, so while the execution was sometimes muddled and the ideas not fully worked out or expressed, I find myself curious about this period of Godard’s career as much, if not more, than any other. And I think part of that has to do with his working methods and collaborators. It would be remiss of us, then, not to mention the influence of Jean-Pierre Gorin and Anne-Marie Miéville, and in particular his with the Dziga Vertov group.

Cronk: Absolutely. I think at the time, Gorin’s presence was maybe overstated, probably for the sake of excusing Godard’s diversion into overtly political and experimental cinema by blaming his new filmmaking collaborator, but in the forty-odd years since, weirdly, he’s been largely forgotten. As you’re no doubt aware, Gorin is credited as “co-director” of the 1972 film Tout Va Bien, which is the most widely available and narratively accessible film Godard worked on during the ‘70s—the film is now available through the Criterion Collection, which makes it (remarkably!) the most recent of Godard’s films to be ushered into Criterion’s ranks—but I don’t think most casual fans are aware just how strong Gorin’s influence on that film was. I was under the impression that it was a Godard work like all the others (pun most definitely intended), but as Richard Brody describes, in his absolutely essential Godard biography Everything And Cinema: The Working Life Of Jean-Luc Godard, Gorin actually assumed the role of director for almost the entirety of that film’s shoot while Godard himself recovered from a car accident. It’s funny, actually, that the most famous Godard film of his most difficult and obscure period should be the one he was least responsible for producing…

Cronk: How do you reconcile that fact that visually Tout Va Bien is such a quintessentially Godard-like work, then?. I mean, the climatic supermarket tracking shot is pretty much a sister shot to the celebrated traffic jam sequence in Weekend. Was this Gorin emulating his colleague, or just him putting into practice what Godard had started and no doubt helped develop?

Marsh: That’s essentially what Brody posits, yeah—that much in the same way that the most overbearingly Kubrick-like shots in A.I. were likely the result of Spielberg attempting to imitate his elder, the most conspicuously “Godard-like” elements of Tout Va Bien are likely Gorin’s attempts to fill in authentically. I mean, by 1972 Godard was already way past the tricks he’d deployed in films like Weekend, and there’s very little reason to believe he’d want to retread that ground. It just doesn’t add up.

Cronk: That certainly makes sense, particularly since the film stands out so conspicuously amidst the period. I mean, Tout Va Bien could have been the follow-up to Weekend and I don’t think anyone would have been the wiser. To follow-up on what you said about Richard Brody, though, he recently commented to us via Twitter that Comment ça va? is a work “pregnant” with future films. This is not only a great description, but one that I think could extend to all of the films Godard produce during this twelve year period. I know you generally prefer he ‘80s work, and I’d be inclined to agree, but do you think that Godard developed a lot of the ideas from this period more fully in his later work?

Marsh: Definitely. And you can see this directly in the films: so many of the ideas and themes while dominate the more experimental work he produced across the ‘70s came to be reiterated throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, although I think he learned to articulate those ideas and themes in a much more sophisticated manner as his career progressed. We’ll get into this more when we discuss his ‘80s work in detail, but I think he eventually found a way to express his experimental, essayistic ideas through films which themselves feel more like cogent, cohesive wholes. Which isn’t to say he mellowed or regressed—his later work is definitely abstract and progressive—but I think that if Godard’s ‘80s work represents a mastery of film form and film theory, then his ‘70s work is just unchecked thought and free-form political expression. There’s very little regard for sophistication or togetherness, because what was important for him at that time, I think, was just the content of his ideas, rather than that content’s form. Do you see elements of Comment ca va? and Numero Deux in the later work?

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