Straight From The Shoulder

Jean-Luc Godard was interviewed by Christian Jungen for NZZ last Sunday (11.7). The original interview is here. The edited translation is by Frederik Lang.

Jungen: Monsieur Godard, next Saturday [on 11.13], the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will award you an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. What does this mean to you?

Jean-Luc Godard: Nothing. If the Academy likes to do it, let them do it. But I think it’s strange. I asked myself: Which of my films have they seen? Do they actually know my films? The award is called The Governor’s Award. Does this mean that Schwarzenegger gives me the award?

Jungen: I beg your pardon? The most important film award means nothing to you?

Godard: No, it really doesn’t. Maybe it is a late acknowledgement that I — like Lafayette in the American War of Independence, in the uprising against the English — supported the beginning of a revolution.

Jungen: Which revolution?

Godard: In the 1950s, when I was a critic with Cahiers du Cinema, we loved independent films. We discovered that directors like Hitchcock, Welles and Hawks fought for artistic independence within the big studio machinery. After the war, we praised this — back then, a sacrilege for French film criticism. They sniffed at directors like Hitchcock and said ‘he’s just making commercial films.’ But for that alone, the Academy could have given the award to someone else.

Jungen: Now you are being modest. You and your colleagues developed the auteur theory that today structures the canon as works of directors.

Godard: The phrase ‘la politique des auteurs’ was made up by journalists. When Fran√ßois Truffaut wrote his first articles, he only said: The auteur of a film is not the screenplay writer — it is not the one who gets the story on paper who is important, but the one who stages it.

Jungen: In 1980, you revoked the auteur theory with a mea culpa. Why?

Godard: I suffered severely from the consequences, that they talked more about the author and not his works. That’s why I didn’t go to Cannes for the world premiere of my latest work, Film Socialisme. [Because] they would have only talked about me. But it was already like this during the Nouvelle Vague. We were no more than ten critics who spoke of films and not directors. By the way, this was a mistake: with Truffaut and Jacques Rivette, we only talked about cinema and not about ourselves. We didn’t know one another.

Jungen: Later on, you fell out with Truffaut. What was the reason?

Godard: Over time I realized that he made exactly the kind of films that we attacked: screenplay films! Truffaut’s works were not shaped by the camera but by the pen. The camera imitated what his pen had written.

Jungen: Back to the Oscar: Why don’t you attend the award ceremony?

Godard: I don’t have a visa for the US and I don’t want to apply for one. And I don’t want to fly for that long.

Jungen: Once again, there is a debate in Jewish newspapers about whether or not you are an anti-Semite. Does this hurt you?

Godard: That’s nonsense! What does ‘anti-Semite’ mean? All peoples of the Mediterranean were Semites. So anti-Semite means anti-Mediterranean. The expression was only applied to Jews after the Holocaust and WWII. It is inexact and means nothing.

  • Markj74

    He sounds like an unhappy old man. How cool it would have been to see him hanging out with Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach. Oh well, it’s his loss, not theirs.

  • drbob

    “I asked myself: Which of my films have they seen? Do they actually know my films?”

    They know your films. Stop being a pompous snob.

    “That’s nonsense! What does ‘anti-Semite’ mean? All peoples of the Mediterranean were Semites. So anti-Semite means anti-Mediterranean. The expression was only applied to Jews after the Holocaust and WWII. It is inexact and means nothing.”

    Orbiter dicta – Yeah, he has a problem with Jews.

  • DiscoNap

    What a twat. Maybe four or five very good movies, and even those are mostly overrated. The Oscars are retarded, but Godard is worse.

  • Kakihara

    Well, in his defense, if two of my movies got shitty remakes like Pulp Fiction and the Gere Breathless, I’d be bitter, too.

  • Kakihara

    As for his anti-Jewish comments, well, he’s French, so isn’t that par for the course?

  • Josh Massey

    I always forget he’s still alive.

  • Jeffrey Wells

    Forgive me, but while they know of and respect his legend, they’ve probably seen Breathless and maybe, at most, one other (La Chinoise or Band of Outsiders, I’m thinking). When the neg-heads on this threads have passed and gone to Heaven, Jean-Luc Godard, or at the spirit of him, will still be here, alive on the planet earth, punching and shoving and winning young hearts and minds.

  • Kakihara

    Jeff: I’ll try to catch Breathless @ the New Beverly, I guess.

    Anyway, by Academy standards, at least Godard ranks morally higher than a Nazi propagandist, a Red Scare-esque commie informer, and a pedophile.

  • Gabriel

    The guy who made Weekend, 2 or 3 Things, Masculin Feminin, Pierrot le fou, et. al. can say all this and then some. I’m sure he’s secretly ruing the missed opportunity to shoot the shit with the great mind behind Gran Torino and Space Cowboys.

  • Geoffsongs

    Exactly– Godard essentially says he has no interest in Oscar, and discusses the chasm between discussion of his actual work and his perceived legend. I don’t get how it would be “his loss” and not, whose, Oscar’s? They’re the ones who invited him. He apparently sees no value in it for there to be a loss.

    The establishment acknowledged Orson Welles late in his life, too, after all those years of not supporting his genius.

  • DiscoNap

    That’s true Wells, and then those young minds will put in 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER and cringe.

  • DiscoNap

    The complete worthlessness of the last 40 years of his career would not be relevant except that he’s still been in there making movies, so then we have to consider that he’s lost his mind. Certainly turned into a bitter old cunt.

  • marinmovies

    All due respect to JLG and his handful of eminently watchable films…. BUT, I kind of have to agree with him when he says “do they actually know my films?”. Most folks, including Hollywood folks, DON’T really know his films, and even for true blue movie people, it’s tough going to get through the majority of them. Back in the 90s I was researching my grad school thesis in art history, and finally settled on a pretty obscure group of three french painters who had been friends and comtemporaries of JLG in the late 60s and sort of had a little “school” of their own. They each cited La Chinoise as one of the major influences of their work at the time, along with some Cahiers du Cinema stuff and Julia Kristeva at Tel Quel. So La Chinoise became a part of my work and I devoted quite a lot of time and writing to it. Knowing that my supervisor had a thing for him, I kept my true thoughts to myself, but deep down all I wanted to do was cry bullshit. The film is a bunch of mannered, nonsensical drivel, full of empty words and thoughts and sentiments. It drew on such a specific moment – more like a second – in French culture, and for some reason it’s been canonized as an important political work. In fact, to me, it’s the ultimate evidence that so much of politics is just posture and misunderstanding. French filmmakers in the 60s had zero grasp on Maoism and how it did or didn’t relate to their own culture and economy, same goes for French students who simply invoked it because they had nothing better to hold onto.

    Anyway, rant over. After finishing my thesis, I shared it with the three artists/subjects over some red wine and a few hunks of cheese, and they all got a huge chuckle out the La Chinoise chapter. They all, to this day, think it’s a load of horseshit.

  • Kakihara

    Disconap: Again, in his defense, Altman had a serious dry spell, too.

  • DiscoNap

    D that’s not a terrible comparison, but this is more than a dry spell, and even in Altman’s wilderness years he’s still had SECRET HONOR and TANNER.

  • Gaydos

    This might be the smartest thread I’ve ever read here. Some props for what the man has done, some critical analysis, a pinch of skepticism, some concern over some less attractive aspects of the dude, proper mirth over the chowderheaded political posturing that drove much of his oeuvre.

    For me, the bottom line is that Godard never accepted the challenge that Welles took on with “Touch of Evil,” ie instead of merely just camping out on genre films, successfully utilizing the restrictions of the form to make art with tragic grandeur.

    Francis Bacon didn’t just riff on Velasquez’s “Popes,” he made art that expressed the howling horror at the center of the religious impulse.

    Jeff Koons’ spoofy artworks iare fun to contemplate but Lucian Freud’s work stirs the soul.


    Or perhaps I just lost interest in semiotics before it got really interesting.

    Also that line about the camera and the pen is biggest crock of b.s. I’ve ever read and says everything about how narcissism can transform the wonders of the artistic process into sterile solipsism.

    One more thing: remember what Harry Lime said about Swiss culture and the cuckoo clock.

  • markj

    He sounds like an unhappy old man. How cool it would have been to see him hanging out with Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach. Oh well, it’s his loss, not theirs.

  • Marty Melville

    Gaydos, while I’m happy to see you name-check my two favorite “flat” artists (Bacon and Freud), to compare Godard to Jeff Koons is really gross.

    Forget semiotics, politics or what a mean old bastard he is… Godard’s body of work is full of extraordinary vitality, invention and beauty. He continually creates a new language for film.

    What was that quote from someone (I forget)… “He builds bridges and then burns them before anyone else can cross.”

  • John M

    Yet another race to the bottom here, I see. Who can say the dumbest, least informed, most pissy thing that will be forgotten before…oh, well before anyone will have read my comment. Jeff Wells really has a cell of chained sea monkeys for an audience, doesn’t he? It’s almost like they’re bitter, overcompensating for a simple lack of knowledge? They cling to their guns and their…you know.

    Overconfidence is bad enough. But overconfidence in the face of woeful ignorance, cultural naivete, and crap taste is just nauseating.

    (I admit, it would be fun to have a sit down with DiscoNap and talk about the films of Godard’s last forty years that he’s actually seen. If they number more than two, I’d be shocked…if he could even name more than two, I’d be shocked…and he’ll see that as a sign of Godard’s irrelevance, and I’ll tell him about all the good movies that never get shown here in our gleaming multiplexes, let alone in his smelly, dank livin’ room.)

  • John M

    “…merely just camping out on genre films, successfully utilizing the restrictions of the form to make art with tragic grandeur.”

    This is such a specious pile of horseshit, who knows where to begin? Yes, that Godard, he really just never figured out that what he should’ve been making all this time were genre films with “tragic grandeur.” Like Touch of Evil. What the hell could that possibly mean, in relation to, oh, almost every film Godard ever made? That might be the most insanely prescriptive definition of filmmaking I’ve ever read. (But hey, you’ve seen two Welles films, at least! Good for you, Gaydos!)

    I mean, yeah, totally, I would’ve liked Pierrot le Fou and Weekend so much more if they had properly utilized tragic grandeur. What? Are you a faulty motherboard?

    By trying harder, Gaydos–at least harder than DiscoNap’s reactionary mouth-breathing–it appears you’ve taken the crown for dumbest comment of the thread.

  • DiscoNap

    John M, I’ve seen NOTRE MUSIQUE, in a theater, which is the only movie of his that got distribution here in D.C. much less a DVD release as far as I can tell. But I guess that doesn’t make my point at all, since it’s just the ‘man’ keeping him down. It is possible to be a layman here and still be right.

    Enjoy your life of always having to swallow to get a second date.

  • bill weber

    If only he’d made something as deathlessly brilliant as THE KING’S SPEECH in his last 40 years, eh? O, philistines.

  • Rashad

    I’ve never gotten anything out of his movie. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual, and completely dead. Cineamtographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a fucking bore. He’s made his films for the critic. One of the movies, Masculin feminin: 15 faits precis (1966), was shot here in Sweden. It was mind-numbingly boring.

    – Ingmar Bergman

  • Bubyubb

    “All peoples of the Mediterranean were Semites. So anti-Semite means anti-Mediterranean”

    That’s pretty much the marker of an anti-semite, standard evasive argument #1.

    I’ve checked in with Godard every decade or so and I’m sorry, if there’s a bigger body of wank in cinema, I can’t name it. At most you get some adolescent giggles in goofs like Hail Mary or Detective, but mostly it’s crap, Bunuel’s sense of humor without his discipline, like that bloody awful King Lear which trashes Shakespeare, trashes Woody Allen and Burgess Meredith, and farts around one of the masterpieces of the ages for two pointless hours.

    I will give him his early period through 65 or 66– his filmmaking was alive to youth culture and gnomically funny in its self-absorbed playfulness with the movies, sort of like John Lennon in his own every-shit-I-take-is-genius phase, when sometimes, it pretty much was.

    But honestly, Jacques Rivette is still alive. Give him one, and accept that Godard was, in the end, what Bunuel said: “a fashion, not a filmmaker.”

  • Oliver Ussing

    Godard has been saying no to Hollywood his entire career. His stance is even voiced in his movies. How can this “snub” be a surprise to anyone?

  • Edward

    I’ve only seen Breathless, Contempt and Alphaville. Not too shabby a trio, if you ask me. The wide screen cinematography of Contempt is beautiful.

  • Bob Violence

    John M, I’ve seen NOTRE MUSIQUE, in a theater, which is the only movie of his that got distribution here in D.C. much less a DVD release as far as I can tell.

    so apparently DC doesn’t get the same DVDs as the rest of the country

  • Gaydos

    Sorry, but I haven’t been able to take Godard seriously since I saw him and Gorin presenting their new film “Tout va Bien” and I found the film to be pretentious claptrap and they to be a pair of greasy-haired hucksters peddling Mao buttons to the college kids.

    But then I had only seen two claptraps at that time so I probably didn’t possess enough knowledge to properly appreciate their genius.

    For the record, I never “prescribed” one approach to cinema for Godard to take, I merely stated my admiration of Welle’s heroism at trying to transform a Universal Pictures crime drama into a poetic work of tragic beauty.

    “What matters is not the idea that a man holds, but the depth at which he holds it.”

    Personally, I think that once Godard figured out that he didn’t have much solid material in his spiritual songbook, he took to heavy riffing and hoped no one would notice, with most of the riffs lifted from Fritz Fanon and Roland Barthes.

    I love that Burroughs discovered Brion Gysin and the “cut-up” system of writing, but read his shit is pretty heavy sledding.

    If someone making art sings to you, that’s great because that’s what really matters.

    God love Godard cos he’s spent his life making films, not drilling for oil in the Gulf or selling machine guns to dictators.

    Different strokes still permitted, last time I checked the U.S. consitution.