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GODARD SAYS BYE-BYE TO BARDOT AND ALL THAT

 

By 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


Remember "Breathless"? Well, forget it. Jean-Luc Godard has, and he’s 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.

And 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 France’s 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. Godard’s 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 audiences.

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 we’ll 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," explains Jean-Pierre.

But isn’t 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," Jean-Pierre expounds.

"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.

Nor 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 you’d 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 director’s 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.

High 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 Jean-Pierre.

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 Pontecorvo’s "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 Italy’s 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-Gavras’s "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. It’s not by choice that ‘Z’ won an Oscar. After all, who financed the coup d’etat? 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. Coutard’s 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 filmmaker’s 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 Franco’s 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 Godard’s 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 Godard’s 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 won’t now…because of 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 Yale’s 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 timidly says.

"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 asks.

"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.

 

TO READ GUY FLATLEY'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