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ReFramed No.1: Jean-Luc Godard - The Political Years (1968 - 1979)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011
by Jordon Cronk and Calum Marsh

Influence on Others

Cronk: I think so, though maybe not those two directly (though I’m sure if given time I could find parallels). Off the top of my head I think some of the ideas presented in Ici et Ailleurs crop up noticeably in, say, Notre Musique. I’m curious to hear where you think the influence of these ‘70s films currently lie in other people’s work? Predictably, I think you can see traces of a lot of this work across the spectrum of avant-garde cinema, but in particular a film like Pedro Costa’s Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? wouldn’t seem to be possible without something like Comment ça va? . Also, the tracking shots throughout the workplace in Tout va bien look eerily similar (though much more extreme) to Michael Snow’s Corpus Callosum, while British Sounds could almost pass for a James Benning film if one were to excise the voice-over. And obviously folks like Ken Jacobs owe ‘70s Godard a debt. Do you see other examples across modern cinema?


Marsh: Well, see, this is the thing—I’m sure there are loads of fringe examples, but I feel like the biggest problem with the widespread critical neglect of Godard’s late work is that we’re missing out on the degree to which those films should be influencing contemporary cinema. I mean, I think it’s fine that, like, Contempt and Vivre Sa Vie continue to be popular sources of inspiration, but I think the cinema really needs to get over its irksome fixation on the early New Wave. It’s become a source of romanticization, which is why you get stuff like The Dreamers, or anything by the Tarantino crew—movies which nod in the direction of early Godard as a sort of empty gesture, but which don’t understand that those are old tricks which Godard himself abandoned when they grew outdated. I wish there were more movies inspired by Numero Deux! That’d be terrific. But it doesn’t happen, partly because it’s obscure but also because it’s much more difficult to romanticize than Belmondo smoking a cigarette and Anna Karina’s Pandora’s Box haircut or whatever. You know, it’s like, hey, that stuff is old, and French, and oozes cool—but it’s not nearly as a progressive or, to me, as interesting as what he was doing in the 70s and beyond. And don’t get me started on the Delerue piece in Casino.


Cronk: I guess it’s just good to know that someone is watching these films and taking inspiration from them, even though, as we’ve already pointed out, they’ve thus far mostly facilitated more avant-garde work. Is it a lost cause, then? Is there no hope for these films to be widely appreciated? Or are they simply doomed to be appreciated by cult of what many people would call pretentious cinephiles? I know you mentioned in your recent essay that Film Socialsme isn’t going over well with the select mainstream audiences and film writers who have seen it, but it is once again highly acclaimed amongst (and here’s that word again) high brow critics. Is the cycle just inevitable? And should it matter? Godard said around the beginning of this post-‘68 period that “a film is nothing; it is what you make of it.”


Marsh: It’s interesting that you mention high-brow critics, though, because I think even among the critical establishment Godard is something of a divisive figure these days. Have you seen the kind of contempt and dismissiveness sent his way by everyone from Roger Ebert to A.O. Scott? It’s really depressing. These are the people who make or break foreign and arthouse releases, really—if they up and reject a movie that isn’t going to grab much of an audience to begin with, distributors are going to steer clear. And this isn’t exclusive to Film Socialisme, either; it’s been happening literally since 1968 (or a little later in the states, where his films were being released with a bit of delay). I know you’re a big fan of Nouvelle Vague, from 1990, and I’m sure we’ll cover this more later, but you know that film was totally panned here, right? Some very, very nasty and vitriolic words written about it, as though critics were angry at Godard for not being old Godard anymore. The ‘70s stuff, though, doesn’t even get mentioned anymore.





Cronk: True. And I do love Nouvelle Vague—in fact, I think that is the single best film he made after 1968. Ebert in particular, though, has a tendency to just write-off entire periods of cinema. I can’t even express how sad it is that he has basically dismissed a filmmaker as vital as Abbas Kiarostami and a movement as singular as the Iranian New Wave (a topic I’m sure we’ll get to in this series very soon). But back to the topic, I don’t think his ‘70s work is going to undergo a major critical re-evaluation any time soon. I do think (and hope), however, his ‘80s work will. But again, that’s mostly because there are a handful of comparatively accessible films from that period.


Marsh: You know, I think something that doesn’t get talked about much is the kind of… well, I don’t want to call it “responsibility”, exactly, because they’re just a business doing their thing, but let’s say the extremely powerful but also potentially problematic influence wielded by a company like the Criterion Collection. Because Criterion, as you know, haven’t released anything of Godard’s after Tout Va Bien, and from what I’ve heard they’ve got plans to release only the few ‘60s films of his, like Petit Soldat, that they haven’t already covered, I think that has a pretty large influence on the average film lover’s opinion of and maybe even conception of Godard’s career as a whole. Stuff that’s in the collection becomes de facto canon, there’s no denying it, and the implicit side effect there is that stuff that’s neglected from the collection almost gets denied canonical status, unless it’s just clearly owned by another company or is otherwise unavailable for some reason. I think that if there’s a chance for Godard’s ‘70s work to be re-embraced by the critical establishment at large, and if film fans everywhere are ever going to discover how great a bunch of this stuff is, Criterion will be the reason. Otherwise I think we’ve got to resign ourselves to seeing the stuff languish in obscurity forever, a source of enormous interest and fascination for the few who’ve bothered to track them down but just more stuff to dismiss for everyone else. Let’s hope something changes.

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