The life of Jean-Luc Godard in the cinema: an experimental career


“They say that Jean-Luc Godard reinvented cinema, but he didn’t just transform it into something else once, he continued to do so with each film, with each shot and each edit, or as he would have said, 24 times per second,” says Chiara Marañón, Content Director at MUBI.

The iconic Franco-Swiss filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard passed away September 13, aged 91 by assisted suicide.

Godard’s incredible work in redefining cinema can sometimes escape the most casual cinephile. Last week, Euronews Culture looked at what defined Godard’s Style and the trappings of the French New Wave.

In this second episode, we’ll examine just how willing Godard was to break the rules and become his own kind of director.

As Marañón explains: “There were no real boundaries for him, as a great saboteur he single-handedly broke all the rules to then come up with new ones to burn them down again, that’s why he was extremely influential but at the same time. time cannot have true imitators, so radical is its singularity. It can never be successfully copied.

A vision for cinema

One of the clearest ways of influencing the cinema by Godard was to establish a cinematographic language capable of openly commenting on itself, Doctor Neil Archerlecturer in film at Keele University explains.

“Godard was constantly thinking about what you can do with different shots and with different sequences of shots,” says Archer. His unconventional approach to linear editing and meta-storytelling can be found today in unexpected places like ‘_Shaun of the Dead_’ and ‘_Hot Fuzz_’ director Edgar Wright.

“Edgar Wright understands that part of the fun of Godard is how he places genres in a different context. Part of the fun of watching a film like Shaun of the Deadit’s because he’s aware of his location and the context of his genre,” says Archer.

There is a word that has infiltrated common usage around cinema, the one launched by Godard and the French New Wave: “Author”. The idea of ​​a singular artistic vision which, despite the many hands required to make a film, places the art solely in the lap of the director.

The author’s theory has been thoroughly embraced by many big names in the wider film industry, with directors like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino often held up as contemporary examples of big-budget cinema. The editing of Scorcese’s “_Mean Streets_” has clear Godard characteristics, while Tarantino named his production company “A Band Apart” after Godard’s film “Bande Apart.”

The personal, the political and the experimental

Where many modern authors differ from Godard is often in their political and analytical approach to filmmaking, Archer argues.

“Godard has always been very political. Everything he did in his films was politics and how to reconcile genre films with what’s going on in the world,” says Archer. From Godard’s early films referencing the wars in Algeria and Vietnam to his later Marxism, he was never afraid to make his political thoughts known through his work.

For film critic David Sterritt, Godard’s willingness to be honest with his political and personal interests, as well as his experimentation with form, separates him almost entirely from the landscape of multiplex cinema.

“Godard has always had an influence on what we might call art film,” says Strerritt.

Mainstream cinema, on the other hand, is always “people telling stories that have to do with love or romance or action or violence; told in an enjoyable, continuous way so that audiences can sit back and let the film wash over them without having to think.

This, according to Sterritt, is all Godard fought against.

“His films have always been intensely personal. That’s one of the reasons he had next to no box office success in his entire career for decades and decades, because his movies were also tough,” says Sterritt.

Personally, Godard was not only autobiographical, they also dealt with his personal idea of ​​what cinema could achieve at that time. This led to many experiments that would alienate a mass audience.

“A lot of his movies have titles that indicate they’re not meant to be finished works,” laughs Merritt. “These are experiences. These are works in progress. One of his films, the subtitle is “A film in progress”. This is the subtitle of the real movie you are going to see at the cinema! »

When Godard was making an adaptation of King Lear in 1987, its lead actor, writer Norman Mailer left the production hours after an argument. Godard finished the film anyway, simply changing the narrative so that the main character didn’t need to be there.

Although Godard is an established name, financial success was never really the goal, rather it was the process of making a film and developing the medium that drove him.

Sterritt interviewed Godard in 1994 and asked him how he could continue to make these risque, unconventional films that reach such small audiences.

“He said, ‘Oh, I have a name. And the producers know who I am. And usually, to be associated with me in some way, they give me some money”. recalls Sterritt.

Stay tuned for our third installment on Jean-Luc Godard’s influence on cinema. Read itfirst part here.


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