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ReFramed No. 2: Jean-Luc Godard - The Second New Wave (1980-1989)

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Thursday, Jun 2, 2011
by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

Female Sexuality in Godard

Marsh: Hmm. I think that’s difficult to say, really, without an intimate understanding of the French film industry and what the restrictions were on things like that during that period. I’d wager though that while a more lax attitude toward frank depictions of nudity and sexuality was likely a factor in his work showcasing nudity and sexuality more forwardly in the 80s that it did during the ‘60s, a more significant factor in that shift was simply that Godard had developed more complex and substantial ideas about exactly that kind of sexuality. I think that A Married Woman is a great film, but I don’t think it has nearly as much to say about female sexuality as do any number of Godard’s later works, all of which, not coincidentally, brought the sex right to the forefront, often shockingly. What’s your take on that shift?


Cronk: I agree that Godard had developed as a free thinker and in essence was allowed to go a little further in his depictions of sexuality than before, but the through-line in his work is remarkably consistent. His themes have rarely changed over the years—they’ve just been refined and expanded upon in unique ways. And I personally can draw inspiration from either period, and I think there are arguments to be made over when and how he succeeded in these touchy showcases of sexuality. So besides sex, and distribution,and a number of movie stars, and general coherency, the ‘80s also marked Godard’s reengagement—at least on screen—with the history of cinema. Like we said in our last discussion, the ‘70s saw Godard attempting to break cinema down to its basest elements, where almost no influence could be traced to the finished product. From a film fans perspective, then, the ‘80s really do represent Godard’s “second wave,” where it feels like he is having fun again referencing and pillaging his heroes, many of which he verbally turned on in the ‘70s, along with a whole host of other things we spoke of previously. Which is one of the reasons I think we could see the ’80s rise in general estimation once Every Man and hopefully a few others get released on DVD in the future.


Marsh: That’s the hope, yeah. I can’t stress how crucial proper and widely available DVD releases would be for the bolstering of his 80s work’s reputation. As you said, if the average film fan—and again I’m operating under the assumption that the average film fan is pretty familiar with stuff like Breathless and Band Of Outsiders but much less so, if at all, with anything post-‘60s—were to just be exposed to this stuff, a whole lot of it would click. The closest we’ve come to that so far is a pretty bare-bones MGM compilation which brings together Passion, Detective, First Name: Carmen and one from the 90s, Oh Woe Is Me. It’s an essential set for Godard buffs, but it’s not exactly the glitzy, high-profile collector’s set Godard deserves. As I said last time, where the hell is Criterion on this front? Any speculation as to why the big names have kept away from these films? I can’t imagine it would be tough to secure the rights to any of these.


Cronk: I’m not sure myself. It’s curious indeed, particularly when the name Godard on a Criterion package would seem to all but guarantee an interest. I think it comes down to what we said before: the reputations of these films have been dragged through the proverbial mud for so long—not helped along by most mainstream critics, a couple of whom we named last time—that it may take a concerted effort by a Criterion to reestablish some of these films’ good names. Can an Eclipse set of some of these films really be that fiscally irresponsible? I feel like casual fans of ‘60s Godard would get kick out of something like Detective, which shows it’s hand in the closing credits by naming it’s influences: Clint Eastwood, John Cassavetes, Edgar G Ulmer—not exactly fringe personalities.


Marsh: And Detective, as much as I love it, is easily the worst of these films! But yeah, I’d even settle for an Eclipse set at this point, even though I yearn for so many of these pictures in the glorious high-definition transfers they obviously deserve. There’s a chance, though, that if respectable mainstream critics think Godard’s career after ‘68 is a total wash, so too do the Criterion executives and tastemakers; maybe they’ve just decided that they’re not going to lend his later career any of the Criterion credibility. Which would be a shame, of course, but not exactly surprising at this point.


Cronk: Which is why I have a region free player and continue to gain respect for foreign distribution companies who go out of their way to put most of these films on disc—next time, when we reach the ‘90s and ‘00s, my favorite post-’68 Godard era, the need for just such a device will hopefully prove a necessity to those curious about seeing a lot of these films for themselves.

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