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GODARD IN THE SIXTIES: HE ENGAGED US, ENRAGED US, AND LEFT US TOTALLY BREATHLESS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout a turbulent, explosivley political decade, no filmmaker was more innovative, challenging or influential than Jean-Luc Godard. Paying tribute to the French maverick, New York's Film Forum is presenting "GODARD'S 60s," a 5-week series ending on June 5. Below, courtesy of Film Forum, a roundup of the movies to be shown; for complete details on the series, click here and visit the Forum's official Web site. To read Guy Flatley's New York Times interview with Godard, conducted in the spring of 1970, click here.

 

BREATHLESS
(1959) Lip-stroking pug Jean-Paul Belmondo on the run, shooting cops and stealing cars — and cash from the handbag of Herald Tribune-hawking girlfriend Jean Seberg; with the couple engaging in boudoir philosophy, staring contests, sousblanket tussles and plenty of le smoking. The start of JLG’s decade of supreme hipness and seemingly compulsive, often outrageous innovation. “No film has been at once so connected to all that had come before it and yet so liberating . . . Like a high-energy fusion of jazz and philosophy.” – Richard Brody. “There’s Potemkin, Citizen Kane, and this . . . Godard’s first film.” – J. Hoberman.

LE PETIT SOLDAT
(1960) Right wing activist Michel Subor gets mixed up with
leftist Anna Karina (the soon-to-be Mme. Godard in her debut)
and the domestic backwash of the Algerian situation. One of
Godard’s starkest and most serious works, banned in France
for three years. “Godard’s first foray into politics is romance
and political extremism and torture and talk of cinema all
suspended in an existential mixture.” – Pauline Kael.

TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER
(1966) Is she Marina Vlady or Juliette Janson? asks the
narrating Godard in a conspiratorial whisper. She’s both: an
actress in a film and a housewife from the Paris suburbs who
turns tricks in the city to make ends meet. With characters
casually addressing the camera; a conversation between
complete strangers in a bistro — all underscored by relentless
thuddings of a pinball machine — and an unblinking gaze at the
cosmic whirls of foam in a coffee cup. “Explores faces, rooms,
buildings, cars, Coke bottles and Ajax cans, all with Brechtian
dispassion.” – Vincent Canby, New York Times. “Amid splashes
of bold color, discordant sound, and brilliant observation, the
personal meets the political . . .the new CinemaScope print
makes this perennial must-see a must-see-now.” – Manohla
Dargis, New York Times.

 

PIERROT LE FOU
(1965) “The last romantic couple,” as Jean-Paul Belmondo, fed up with wife and Paris, heads for the south of France with old flame Anna Karina, a classic pulp fiction moll of a gang of crooks. Echt 60s Godard, with sun-splashed color & Scope photography by Raoul Coutard, a cameo by tough guy director Sam Fuller, and an explosive finale. “The most ravishing and romantic film ever made...The dazzling mise-en-scène alternates Lichtenstein with Cézanne, pop art with impressionism, the shadow of Amerika falling across the Provençal sun.” – Amy Taubin, Village Voice.

A WOMAN IS A WOMAN
(1961) Anna Karina, an afternoon stripper in the crummy
Zodiac Club, yearns for motherhood, but live-in boyfriend
Jean-Claude Brialy “isn’t ready yet,” while hanger-on Jean-
Paul Belmondo is more than happy to oblige. Godard’s first
in color and Scope, and his nearest approximation of a
musical, with cinematic in-jokes and anarchic humor galore.
Winner of Berlin Silver Bear for its “originality, youth, audacity
and impertinence,” with Karina named Best Actress. “If
Karina, Brialy, Belmondo, the voice of Charles Aznavour and
a thrilling glimpse of toplessness in a sleazy strip joint don’t
turn you on, then tant pis! for you.” – Andrew Sarris.

LES CARABINIERS
(1963) Two lunkheaded peasants are recruited to fight for
the king, but when they return in triumph they find that peace
has broken out. Obviously a fable — and both Godard’s
biggest commercial disaster and the ultimate un-war film —
with a bizarrely mesmerizing master stroke: the warriors’
plunder consists of relentlessly catalogued postcards of
famous sights. Co-written by Roberto Rossellini. “Godard’s
strangest movie... Perhaps the most usefully extreme film
of its kind ever made.” – Tony Rayns, Time Out (London).

 

LA CHINOISE
(1967) Philosophy student Anne Wiazemsky ( Au Hasard
Balthazar, later Mme. Godard), actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, and
friends, crashing at an apartment lent to them for the summer, form a Maoist cell; and then... Godard’s tour de force of idealism, naïveté, and flat affect includes red accents in nearly every shot; self-referential, Brechtian alienation; slogans, quotes, aphorisms on walls, posters, book jackets, and screenfilling title cards; and bizarre digressions. “An integral part of the ’68 juggernaut. Guerrilla-theater agitprop disrupts the action like the Busby Berkeley numbers in an old Warner Brothers musical.” – J. Hoberman. “Amazing! Like a speed freak’s anticipatory vision of the political horrors to come!” – Pauline Kael.

UN FILM COMME LES AUTRES
(1968) In a meadow outside Paris after the events of May ‘68, Renault auto workers and students from Vincennes do a mass recap and try to look ahead, with scenes from “Cinétracts,”shot by Godard and others during the turbulence, intercut throughout. The first step of the Dziga Vertov Group’s “road to correct ideas.” For its NYFF premiere, Godard told the projectionist to determine the order of the reels by a coin toss. Digital projection.

WEEKEND
(1967) Bourgeois slimeballs Jean Yanne and Mireille Darc wreck cars, battle with neighbors, and rip off gas stations en route to that weekend in the country. Mixing porno, slapstick, violence, political rhetoric, and virtuosic camerawork, an epic vision of the last throes of middle-class society and its car culture, with a pièce de resistance: the screen’s greatest traffic jam, Godard’s camera tracking along a hilarious succession of set piece tableaux for nearly a full reel. With Jean-Pierre Léaud as“Saint-Just.” “Must be seen for its power, ambition, humor, and scenes of really astonishing beauty. There are absurdist characters from Lewis Carroll, from Fellini, from La Chinoise, from Buñuel . . .There is nothing like it at all.” – Renata Adler, New York Times. “It’s Godard’s vision of Hell and it ranks with the greatest.” – Pauline Kael.

A MARRIED WOMAN
(1964) Twenty-four hours in the life of Macha Méril, as she
leaves lover Philippe Leroy to meet husband Bernard Noël.
Subtitled ‘Fragments of a film shot in 1964’, with detached love
scenes underscored with Beethoven; interviews titled Memory,
the Present, Intelligence, etc.; quotations from Céline and
Racine; and Méril on the receiving end of the alreadyoverwhelming
barrage of advertising — at one point doublechecking
her bust size against the ideal. “Godard has made the
bedroom scenes genuinely sexual and humanly genuine. The
overall effect is of a lonely loveliness.” – Stanley Kauffmann.

LE GAI SAVOIR
(1969) “We must start again from zero.” “No, we must first go back to zero.”The beginning of Godard’s farewell to narrative, with Jean-Pierre Léaud and Juliet Berto meeting after hours in a TV studio to embark on seven dialogues on the relationship between politics and film, with street scenes occasionally intercut. “It was not going to be possible to make the new cinema by using the language of the old. Having returned to zero, Godard had to start over again. Le Gai Savoir is the first step.” – James Monaco. “One of Godard’s most beautiful, most visually lucid movies.” –Vincent Canby.

ALPHAVILLE
(1965) A trip into the future with erstwhile B movie hero Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) trekking through space to track down Professor “von Braun,” aided by prof’s daughter Anna Karina, squaring off in a final showdown with the Alpha 60 computer. “A dazzling amalgam of film noir and science fiction. Raoul Coutard’s camera turns contemporary Paris into an icily dehumanized city of the future.” – Tom Milne, Time Out (London).

 

 

MADE IN U.S.A.
(1966) Trench-coated Anna Karina arrives in Atlantic City
(apparently a provincial French town) to track down boyfriend
Richard Widmark (a character, not the actor), only to find...
And then the bodies start dropping, amid encounters with
gangster M. Typhus, his nephew David Goodis (a character,
not the Shoot the Piano Player author), Goodis’s singing
Japanese girlfriend, and a reel-long Hegelian bar bull
session. A (very) metaphorical treatment of the murders of
JFK and Ben Barka.. . and Godard’s Karina swan song. With
Marianne Faithfull and Jean-Pierre Léaud as Donald Siegel
(the character, not the Dirty Harry director). “Offers the
cinema after Pierrot le fou what Finnegans Wake gave to the
novel after Ulysses.” – Michel Capdenac.

BAND OF OUTSIDERS
(1964) “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a
gun.” – Godard. In the dreary suburb of Joinville, Claude
Brasseur and Sami Frey (“Belmondo’s suburban cousins” –
JLG), and mutual girlfriend Anna Karina, horse around with the
idea of burglarizing the villa where she’s staying, but then
things go memorably awry. A jeu d’esprit, with set pieces
including the trio dancing “Le Madison” and then “doing” the
Louvre in record time. “Godard re-creates the gangsters and
the moll as people in a Paris café, mixing them with Rimbaud,
Kafka, Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps his most delicately
charming film.” – Pauline Kael. “One of Godard’s most
appealing and underrated films.” – Dave Kehr.

MASCULINE FEMININE
(1966) “This film could be called ‘the children of Marx
and Coca-Cola.’” Literary lion-wannabe Jean-Pierre Léaud
chases budding yé yéstar Chantal Goya, then gets a job as an
unlikely opinion pollster. A portrait of youth and sex, with the
story repeatedly interrupted: a woman blows away her husband;
a scene in the Métro paraphrased from LeRoi Jones’
Dutchman; Brigitte Bardot rehearsing in a bistro; a Swedish
artfilm-cum-sexfilm-within-a-film, etc., topped by Léaud’s
probing off-camera questioning of “Miss Nineteen.” “Graceful,
intuitive...Godard gets at the differences in the way girls are
with each other and with boys, and with boys with each other
and with girls.” – Pauline Kael. “Not to be missed... An
inimitably impish contemplation of 1965 Paris — its youth,
sex, politics and Americanized pop culture.” – Andrew Sarris.

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
(1968) The camera endlessly prowls through the Rolling Stones’
recording session of the title song, shot in long, long takes,
intercut with a mock TV interview with Anne Wiazemsky; someone
reading from revolutionary tracts in a porno book store; and blacks
capturing and apparently executing whites in an automobile
junkyard: a combination simultaneously deadening and
hypnotic. “Beautifully and carefully composed, a kind of
testament to Godard’s very original, creative impulse.” –
Vincent Canby, New York Times. “Wryly sophisticated... The
parody is far out, accurate, puerile, and funny.” – Penelope
Gilliatt, The New Yorker.

CONTEMPT
(1963) That’s what Brigitte Bardot has for husband
playwright/screenwriter Michel Piccoli — but why? Does she think he used her to get that lucrative assignment (adapting TheOdyssey) from overbearing American producer Jack Palance? Or does she just “not love him anymore?” Given international stars, an Alberto Moravia best-seller, and the biggest budget of his career, Godard still managed to overturn movie conventions while producing a meditation onpost Hollywood filmmaking; CinemaScope; modern interpretations on classical themes; and Bardot’s derrière. “A seductive bouquet of enchantments... a masterwork of modern cinema.” – Phillip Lopate, New York Times. “Like a Cézanne still life or a Sullivan skyscraper, it yields a low rumble — the sound of rules changing.”– Dave Kehr, Film Comment.

VIVRE SA VIE
(1962) As that vital 2000 francs proves elusive, and an ill-placed foot gets her in trouble with les flics, record store clerk and would-be actress Anna Karina slides almost inevitably onto the game. An old and simple story, too often descending into the maudlin — but not here, as Godard’s detached, objective treatment, while also a “passionate celluloid love-letter” to his thenwife/ muse, brings a Brechtian quality to an almost case study of prostitution, while attaining its own kind of pathos. From the initial breakup, shot solely from behind the participants in a bar; to the tearstained viewing of Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc; to the equally tearstained interview with a cop; to the awkward, painful encounter with that first customer; to the voiceover of FAQs while a montage of day-today routine unreels; Godard’s elliptical style finds beauty in the banal via the pearly grays of the great Raoul Coutard’s camerawork. With some typically eccentric asides: the by-hand height measurement (metrically-converted, Karina is 5'61/2"); a test on how to tell a lady from a tramp; a drive past an endless queue to see Jules and Jim; Karina’s café discussion with an elderly man (distinguished real-life philosopher Brice Parain) that ranges from Dumas to Plato to le mot juste to German philosophy; and the legendary exuberant
dance around the trying-to-concentrate billiards player. “The camera by its discipline discourages us from interpreting Nana’s life in a melodramatic way. . . Curious, then, how moving Anna Karina makes Nana. She waits, she drinks, she smokes, she walks the streets, she makes some money, she turns herself over to the first pimp she meets, she gives up control of her life... The effect is astonishing. It is clear, astringent, unsentimental, abrupt. Then it is over. It was her life to live.” – Roger Ebert. “Starts out as a documentary on prostitution, ending as a Monogram B movie . . . [Its] true subject [is] the enigmatic beauty and troubling presence of Karina, and the mystery of Godard’s own passionate involvement with her.” – Tom Milne, Time Out (London). “Even its colder, more existentialist moments are possessed of considerable emotion. There’s a passion there that’s hard to define except in terms of superb, totally fluid and, for the time, completely original and audacious filmmaking... Only Godard could have made this.” – Derek Malcolm, The Guardian (London). “Godard’s most classically tragic film [and] one that has had the greatest practical influence on the subsequent history of cinema .” – Richard Brody. “The best films open doors, they support our impression that cinema begins and begins again with them. Vivre Sa Vie is one of those films.” – François Truffaut.

 

TO READ GUY FLATLEY'S 1970 INTERVIEW WITH JEAN-LUC GODARD, CLICK HERE; FOR GUY'S INTERVIEWS WITH OTHER DIRECTORS, BROWSE AND CLICK BELOW

WOODY ALLEN

LINDSAY ANDERSON

MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI

DOROTHY ARZNER

BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI

CLARENCE BROWN

FRANK CAPRA


COSTA-GAVRAS

BRIAN DE PALMA

VITTORIO DE SICA


ALLAN DWAN

CLINT EASTWOOD

ALFRED HITCHCOCK

JOSEPH LOSEY

SIDNEY LUMET

LOUIS MALLE

MIKE NICHOLS

PIER PAOLO PASOLINI

FRANK PERRY

IRVING RAPPER

KEN RUSSELL

MARTIN SCORSESE

OUSMANE SEMBENE

FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT

KING VIDOR

LUCHINO VISCONTI

LARS VON TRIER

RAOUL WALSH

HASKELL WEXLER

BILLY WILDER

FRED ZINNEMANN