About Godard

Varvara Stepanova, Meeting, 1919
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By FREDRIC JAMESON*

Was Jean-Luc Godard the greatest filmmaker of all time?

After decades in which impenetrable titles signed by Jean-Luc Godard regularly popped up at film festivals, while the image of their creator deteriorated from rebel to old man, if not technologically obsessed savant, it is impressive, when we leaf through the filmographies, to remember what many of these films meant to us as events, as we expected, in the 1960s, for each new and unexpected film, how intensely we analyzed the political engagements of the Dziga Vertov group, with what genuinely engaged curiosity we asked ourselves what the end of the political period would bring, and, subsequently , what we would do with the last works of the “humanist” period, where they came from, and whether they meant a collapse or a genuine renewal.

Through it all, we were either entertained or teased by increasingly ignoble “thoughts” or paradoxes, which either called for meditation or inspired mild contempt, tempered by the constant reminder that visuality, if it is capable of thinking, does so in a non-existent way. necessarily accessible to all of us; while his films continued to "think" through chiasmatic images: Belmondo imitating Bogart, Piccoli inviting Bardot to use his bath water ("I'm not dirty"), global conquerors displaying their postcards, Mao's Cultural Revolution taking shape. of the most infectious music, the world ending in a traffic jam, a character in a bathroom devouring yogurt with one finger, two African garbage collectors reciting Lenin, our favorite movie stars bewildered by their new roles, an interpolated series of interviews-interrogations in the which ten-year-olds are asked about the class struggle, and amiable models about the latest labor union decisions,'la musique, c'est mon Antigone!” – the narrative steadily deteriorating only to end up in 3D or dense images like butterflies in front of a face.

All of this inexorably consolidating towards final impertinence, in an unmistakable voice, today inseparable from his idea of ​​pedagogy: specifically, that history is (nothing more, nothing less) the history of cinema. Why not? If everything is narrative, always mediated by this image or that one on the poster, as in the battle scenes in the infernal sequence of our music (2004), the images themselves must compete for it, like people running after each other, screaming and jumping over cars – along with their distinct historical styles – silent or sonorous, black and white or technicolor; this may be all he knows about history, what he calls cinema.

Throughout the history of cinema, there is the story of a film, where does it come from? From the images themselves, as he extracted them from the most sublime of his late films, Passion (1982), unfolding into the even more sublime lineage of Scenery from the film “Passion” (1982), who, from the blank Mallarmean page (or beach, or strike), a young woman appears and tries to start a strike. In this case, the factory she protests against must follow, along with its owner, and then his wife, and then the hotel she manages. And finally, a mysterious guest from somewhere beyond film, trying to make a film with a narrative himself, tormented himself by images, the greatest paintings in the world, tableaux vivants of the world's greatest paintings, miniature reconstructions of its architecture – Jerusalem through which the crusades rode, spurred on by Antonín Dvořák's relentless piano concerto, just as the film's potential producer is besieged by reluctant bankers and financiers.

The so-called foreign director is as deficient as the other characters (stuttering, coughing), he cannot reciprocate the love of any woman, he cannot turn these images into narrative scenarios, he finally gives up and returns to his own story home (the Poland and Solidarność).

The film now becomes an allegory of the new Europe and its “reality peu”: grandiose actors represent France, Germany, Hungary, Poland (the great traditions), with a supposedly Swiss director; fundamental themes like love and work can never be represented; grandiose paintings are as mute as the Voices of silence that Belmondo reads in the bathtub; but Jean-Luc Godard has his script, he can now start recording his fiction film.

Screenwriting now he rewinds the tape, plays the whole thing backwards, breaking the fiction back into its parts, stretching over the images, superimposing them, returning to the origins, identifying his own origins. So now: two films about the same thing, two films sharing the same body: cinema. Cinema, the movie mirror stage.

Cinema means visuality, sounds, words (with glimpses of money). He is life itself or living as such, everything is cinema. Late films perhaps try to go downhill the other way, start with the narrative, the setting, and then tear them apart, giving us with raucous glee the pieces in a festive collision, punctuated by crude shots, silent films with sound, the history going backwards.

He lived, ate, breathed, slept movies. Was he the greatest filmmaker of all time? If he was anything, he was Cinema itself, cinema rediscovered in its moment of disappearance. If cinema really is dying, then it died with it; or, better yet, died with him.

* Fredric Jameson is director of the Center for Critical Theory at Duke University (USA). Author, among other books, of Archeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (authentic).

Translation: Daniel Pavan.

Originally posted on the blog Sidecar.

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