Godard was also one of the crucial media artists of the sixties, who, no less than the Beatles or Andy Warhol, recognized the echo effects of fame and art, and united them in his cinematic pursuits. and socially transformative. (He confessed to comparing his own artistic and personal career to that of Bob Dylan.) Yet, like many artistic heroes of the 1960s, Godard found that his public image and his private life, his fame and his ambitions collided. He took drastic measures to escape his legend while pursuing and advancing his art in a way that baffled many of his followers and those in the press who expected nothing more than his return, especially for the styles and methods that had made him famous. At the end of the sixties, he retired from cinema under the influence of political ideology and leftist activism. In the 1970s, he left Paris for Grenoble and then settled in the small Swiss town of Rolle. When he returns to the industry, he does so by exploring his personal life and the history of cinema together, through an ever bolder deployment and redesign of new technologies. What he retained until the very end of his career (his last feature film, “The Image Book”, was released in 2018) was his sense of youth and his taste for adventure. In his old age, he remained more playful, more provocative and simply younger in spirit than younger filmmakers.
Godard was brought up in bourgeois comfort and propriety – his father was a doctor, his mother a medical assistant and the scion of a prominent banking family – and his artistic interests were encouraged, but his journey into filmmaking was a conscious revolt against its cultural heritage. He seeks a culture of his own, and, with his largely self-taught passion for cinema, he finds a resolutely modern one – and which, with his intellectual fervor, he helps to elevate to the equal of the classics. Godard’s name and work are of course inseparable from the French New Wave, a group of filmmakers who made their debut as critics in the 1950s (especially in Cinema Notebooks, which was founded in 1951). Rather than going to film school (this already existed in France), they studied by watching films, new releases in the cinema and in the press, and classics at the Cinémathèque and in film clubs. Parisians. Godard, along with his friends and colleagues François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol and Éric Rohmer (who was also the oldest statesman in the group) shared a Catholic love of cinema. They recognized the genius of filmmakers (like Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks), then often considered either as anonymous craftsmen or as vulgar showmen, largely disdained or ignored by established critics. At twenty-one, Godard published a theoretical treatise in Notebooks, “Defense and illustration of classical construction”, which is one of the great manifestos of rigorously reasoned artistic freedom; at twenty-five, he wrote an instant classic essay on film editing, or “editing,” a word that defined his career. Although all of his early New Wave cohorts were critics, Godard was the only one who openly and explicitly made his films living works of film criticism – which made his filmed fictions overlap with his theoretical inclinations and passions. visual.
Many of the commonplaces of modern cinema bear the watermark of Godard, starting with the one he himself had trouble living: the jump cut, which he used in “A bout de souffle” when he had to shorten it to ninety minutes. He preferred to simply eliminate segments of shots rather than eliminate entire scenes. Before Godard, the jump cut was a mistake, a sign of amateurism; in his hands, it was a crashing cymbal announcing that the rules of cinema were to be broken. He gave collaborative cinema its modern imprimatur by teaming up with Jean-Pierre Gorin in the late 1960s and then with his partner (now his widow), Anne-Marie Miéville, in the 1970s. From this same decade, he introduced video into his films and, with Miéville, he also produced two large-scale television series (one lasts about five hours, the other about ten) – for which he invents essays hybrids. forms that pushed the outer limits of creative nonfiction. In his return to professional feature films, “Everyone for himself”, from 1980, he produced a kind of analytical slow motion, based on video methods, which he incorporated into filmed fiction. And, as prolific as he was in his first burst of artistic fervor, he was even more so by the time of his return – if he made fewer feature films (“only” eighteen from 1980 ), he has also created video essays, including the monumental “Histoire(s) du Cinéma”, crucibles, epilogues and living notebooks of his feature films.
From the beginning, Godard’s work is politically engaged; his second feature, “Le Petit Soldat”, from 1960, about the spy battles in the middle of the Algerian war in France, was banned by France. Even after abandoning the Marxist orthodoxies of his work in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he never abandoned politics: his 1987 ‘King Lear’ is rooted in the Chernobyl disaster ; his 1996 film “For Ever Mozart” dramatizes the civil war in the former Yugoslavia; and his 2010 feature film is called “Film Socialisme”. Nevertheless, after jumping off the high-speed train of the 60s, Godard never quite returned to the center of the era. His latest films are, in my opinion, even more innovative, even more original than those that made him famous. They are also more provocative. If his early films mean anything is possible, his latest push the possibilities so far that they practically challenge young filmmakers to even try. His way of supporting his own cinematic youth was largely to overwhelm the new generation of young filmmakers with his own artistic might. There is a sublime grudge in his later work that similarly emerges in interviews (of which he was a skilled dialectic master, throughout his career). It doesn’t come as a cantankerous old man’s rejection of his successors, but as an eternal youth’s fight for a place in the world and a chance to make it a little better than it found it. Having moved to the margins, he became an outsider again and lived and worked – and struggled – as such. Until the end of his life, he was still fighting, even from the heights of cinematic history he had climbed.