GODARD SAYS BYE-BYE TO BARDOT AND ALL THAT
the time I arrived to interview Jean-Luc Godard for The New York
Times in the spring of 1970, revolutionary zeal had already erased
warm memories of cinema-for-the-love-of-pure-cinema from his mind.
He had in fact covertly arranged for a group of grim radical students
to tape and perhaps participate in our interview. Realizing this,
I packed up my pen and pad and headed for the door. And with that,
the New Wave icon quickly waved the lads adieu. Which is not to
say that he ever quite warmed up to me. --GUY FLATLEY
"Breathless"? Well, forget it. Jean-Luc Godard has, and
hes the guy who left us all gasping for breath, just 10 years
ago, with his nerve-pounding, convention-crushing movie about a
ruthless French thug and his casually depraved American mistress.
Today, if the controversial 39-year old director can be coaxed into
acknowledging his sensational first film at all, he speaks of it
with barely-controlled impatience and embarrassment, like an austere
monk who has been prodded into describing a by-gone, blushful day
in a brothel.
his sense of guilt extends beyond "Breathless" to all
but the most recent of his remarkable films. All those violent,
morbid, funny, bewildering, gabby, emotionally remote films that
are so dear to the hearts and cocktail chatter of dyed-in-the-wool
Godardists movie milestones from "My Life to Live"
to "Masculin-Feminin" to "Pierre le Fou" to
"Weekend" to "Alphaville" (above, with Eddie
Constantine and Anna Karina).
Why is Frances lean and energetic answer
to Orson Welles so determined to bury his cinematic past? The answer
is simple: because he has been dazzled by the discovery that politics
and movies are the dandiest match to come along since politics and
poker. Godards new First Commandment to Godard is: "Thou
shalt not make any more bourgeois movies for bourgeois producers."
From now on, there will be nothing but revolutionary movies made
in revolutionary situations with revolutionary performers for revolutionary
In his role as super-revolutionary filmmaker, Godard recently took
a whirlwind tour of troubled American campuses including
Yale, Harvard and Berkeley exchanging radical ideas with
students and showing them "See You at Mao," his 100-per-cent
political movie about exploited factory workers in England. Stopping
briefly in New York, he obliged Grove Press, with whom he has a
not terribly lucrative distribution deal, by taking time out to
discuss his new, improved approach to filmmaking.
"We are two comrades working together," he says. Seated
beside him on the sofa in his hotel suite is Jean-Pierre Gorin,
his 27-year-old partner whom he met during the 1968 student riots
in France. Not long ago, they finished shooting "Till Victory,"
a pro-Arab film financed by Al Fatah, in Jordan. Godard has been
greatly influenced by this young no-nonsense rebel and, in fact,
refuses to be photographed without him at his side.
"Jean-Pierre and I have agreed to make movies, as a secondary
task in the revolution," Godard continues with cool intensity.
"Movies are merely chapters in ideology. As Lenin said, Art
and literature are just tiny elements a screw of the revolution.
Maybe in time well find that our task will not be to make
movies, but to perform a different task in a different sector. We
are out of show business altogether now, even though we sometimes
have to deal with it. You can be a revolutionary but still have
to put gas in the car."
"You have to deal with the objective reality of a situation,"
But isnt it possible that Godard might want to do a little
esthetic slumming from time to time, to go on a cinematic binge
and make an old-fashioned non-political movie?
"There is no such film as a film without political content,"
"Even a Lubitsch comedy of the thirties is a reflection of
the American capitalistic way of life at that time," points
out Godard, whose own pre-Jean-Pierre movies, particularly "La
Chinoise" and "Sympathy for the Devil," seemed plenty
political to unenlightened bourgeois observers.
The films of Lubitsch and other Hollywood directors were not always
political poison to Godard. In his wild-oat days as a critic for
Cahiers du Cinema, he helped nearsighted Americans discover their
own buried cinematic treasures. But he now casually dismisses such
auteur idols as Hitchcock, Hawks and Walsh as "dead people,"
and boasts that he has no specific recollection of directing the
all-but canonized Fritz Lang in "Contempt."
"That was when I was an old man,"
he says. "Now I am a young man."
"We are not working as movie lovers," blurts out Jean-Pierre.
are they working as superstar lovers. Godard has every intention
of not working again with most of the pretty people who graced his
nonpolitical trifles. No more Jean Seberg. No more Brigitte Bardot.
No more Mireille Darc. And youd better believe no more Anna
Karina, the once-upon-a-time goddess of the Godard kingdom and the
once-upon-a-time Madame Godard. On the other hand, there will be
lots more of Anna Wiazemsky, the directors politically proper
current wife who has been living with friends in Paris ever since
the financially fallen Godards were forced to give up their apartment.
on the list of least-wanted men is Jean-Paul Belmondo (with Jean
Seberg in "Breathless, at right), the once-welcome playboy-actor
whose politics seem to be only slightly to the left of Ursula Andress.
"If Belmondo becomes a revolutionary, a militant, then we can
use his talent as an actor," says Godard, giving in to a rare
impulse to smile.
Godard to say nothing of Jean-Pierre
prefers the purity and spontaneity of performers who are
acting out their own political struggle, such as the members of
Al Fatah who consented to participate in "Till Victory."
"We would discuss things with them, and then they would act
their real story before the camera," says Godard. "And
when these people have their guns, they are acting too but
in a different way."
"And that acting is part of a universal struggle," adds
The struggle, one surmises, will be concluded only when the entire
capitalist world but primarily America has been transformed
into what Godard terms "a better world." A world safe
from big nations that protect one small nation by bombing another
small nation and starve their own poor people while sending men
to muck about on the moon. Not that Godard considers all Americans
to be hopelessly corrupt.
"I respect the people in America who are dedicating their lives
to changing things," he says. "I feel a comradeship for
all the people who are jailed and shot by the FBI, whether white
or black. What the United States is doing to the Black Panthers
is what the Nazis were doing to the Jews and what the Israeli government
is doing to the Palestinian people.
"Jean-Pierre and I feel that the really dangerous people in
this country are the liberals. They are actually the allies of the
fascists. Eugene McCarthy is only the gentle face of Richard Nixon.
The liberals say they want peace in Vietnam but they do not say
they want victory for the Vietnamese people. They say they want
peace now, but they did not say it when they were winning the war."
The American presence in Vietnam, it seems, is only slightly more
odious than the American presence in outer space. "The space
program is just a way for the American authorities to get away from
their real problems," Godard says. "When the astronauts
were out there in space, I wished that they would not return. I
would have been glad if they had died, because they have such silly
faces. The toilets of their lunar module were not capable of being
emptied, so if they had spent three more weeks on it, they would
have died from their own
" Godard and his protégé,
both of whom speak excellent English, make a private joke in French.
While revolution has become a way of life for Godard, indiscriminate
violence has not. When asked to comment on the young people who
recently lost their lives while apparently attempting to assemble
bombs in Greenwich Village, he says: "Even if they were right
in wanting to use bombs, they were wrong from a technical point.
Politically, they had not analyzed the situation. If they had, their
enemies would be dead."
"In order to use the right violence at the right time in the
right place, you must first use nonviolence," he goes on. "Through
an ideological struggle, we can proceed to an armed struggle. And
the mass media are very important in this struggle."
One naturally assumes then that Pontecorvos "The Battle
of Algiers" gets an "A" for ideological struggle.
But one assumes wrong.
" The Battle of Algiers was produced, as a matter
of fact, by Italys biggest producer, with the help of the
Algerian movie office, which is still using non-revolutionary ideology,"
Godard says. "It does not show the way the present Algerian
regime is dealing with its complex problems, so it is really harmful
to the Algerian revolution and a victory for Hollywood."
Another "revolutionary" movie that fails to pass muster
is Costa-Gavrass "Z." "Gavras is objectively
an ally of the Greek government. In his film, he does not speak
at all of what the real situation is in Greece today. Its
not by choice that Z won an Oscar. After all, who financed
the coup detat? The CIA. And who gave the prize to a Greek
film? Hollywood. Z got an Oscar from the same people
who silenced the Greek people."
Godard is not about to give any prizes to Raoul Coutard, his former
cameraman, for his directorial debut. Coutards forthcoming
movie, "Hoa-Bi," shows the tragic impact of war on a Vietnamese
child. "Coutard made a film in Vietnam, paid for by the CIA,"
he says matter-of-factly. "Its title, in English, is Peace
not Victory. "
As for Truffaut, Chabrol and other less militant but infinitely
more commercial directors who once sailed the crest of the New Wave
with him, Godard says, "I have no interest in them, and no
interest in their films. For me, the filmmakers protest at
Cannes in 1968 was more real than it was for them. They continue
to work as before."
Of Bunuel, it need only be said that "He is shooting movies
in Spain, with Francos permission."
Even the great Eisenstein was a flop as a revolutionary director.
"He was influenced by that fascist moviemaker D.W. Griffith,"
says Godard, "and he was given extra money to make movies when
nobody had enough to eat. We consider Eisenstein a sincere man,
but the first revisionist in Russia."
A good revolutionary film nowadays is hard to find unless
you happen to be vacationing in China. In Godards opinion,
"The only people making movies that correspond to real life
are the Chinese."
And real life can be translated as the philosophy of Mao put into
action. It is also safe to say that if the Chinese revolutionary
films resemble Godards revolutionary films, they contain considerably
more philosophy than action.
Oddly enough, there is one American moviemaker who has impressed
Godard with his revolutionary potential. "Jerry Lewis is the
only American director who has made progressive films," he
says. "He was much better than Chaplin and Keaton. He could
have made marvelous movies, but he wont now
the time in which he is living. If he had lived during the October
Revolution, he might have made a magnificent movie."
On the following day, a gloomy pre-troops-and-tear-gas Sunday at
New Haven, Godard sits on purple-carpeted steps leading to the altar
in Yales Battell Chapel. He is wearing a grey pullover, dark
slacks and tinted glasses. Looming over him is a giant crucifix,
and, at his side, smoking a French cigarette, is Jean-Pierre. From
the pews, students, who have paid a dollar for the privilege, quiz,
challenge and congratulate the director on his revolutionary stance.
On the whole they are respectful, but not what you would call Godardophiles.
"Breathless" is not mentioned once, not even in a whisper.
The students are far more concerned about the possibility
or impossibility of getting a fair trial for the Black Panthers
who have been imprisoned in New Haven. One young man goes so far
as to suggest that Godard should give something more than just his
sympathy to the Panthers, to which Godard replies: "What are
you doing about the problems in France?"
When another student makes the mistake of asking a movie-question,
Godard answers, "A film is just images and sounds a
shadow and you are more interested in shadows than in reality.
I am really very astonished that you have nothing to say to me.
You have not asked me anything about the Palestinian revolution."
"I am not involved politically at all," a pretty blonde
"But you are," Godard assures her. "By being here,
by being part of American democracy, which at the moment is killing
people in Vietnam, using napalm. In Chicago, American democracy
means the murder of some people. You have to be aware of that. Because
you too may be killed one of these days."
"What is the function of the cinema?" some brave soul
"Oh, sit sown!" roars an impatient man in the balcony.
But Jean-Pierre, quick on the didactic draw, has the answer all
ready. "Cinema is part of the ideological struggle," he
says. "And a revolutionary film is on the side of the revolution."
Jean-Luc Godard nods in agreement.
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