So Jean-Luc has finally left the screen; another nonagenarian from European cinemas. In the 1950s I watched mainstream US and British films. Then I discovered that there were other types of cinema; one revelation was the nouvelle vague. I saw these films at a local film society in 16mm but also on occasions at the local Continental Cinema. This was a venue that offered both porn and art movies.
Á bout de souffle made an immediate and powerful impression on me. To this day, revisiting it on Blu-ray, I enjoy it with immense pleasure and still find that it makes me think about ‘what is cinema?’ This was equally true of the following films; especially Vivre sa vie, Le Mépris and Pierrot le fou. Over the decades Godard has continued to challenge and confound me as I watch his films and videos. Most recently Film Socialisme was dazzling and required close concentration.
There was the concept of counter cinema; epitomized most vividly in Weekend. The long tracking shot of the car jam and the accompanying violence. The cryptic final title, ‘end of cinema’, was not exactly prophetic. Godard’s engagement with Marxism has, as with many artists, gone through several ups and downs. Tout va bien engages also with the ideas of Bertolt Brecht and offers another brilliant Godard trope in the multi-room/space of the factory set.
Godard also engaged with video, and later digital, in a critical way. Éloge de l’amour combines 35mm and digital video. It is trail blazing and (as usual with Godard) beautiful to view. Later digital works, notably Film Socialisme, offer dazzling uses of the new technology whilst challenging the viewers critical engagement. The alternative sets of titles for the work illustrate that Godard could, on occasions, also be extremely frustrating.
The other major work is Histoire(s) du cinéma, a project in several versions the longest of which I have yet to encounter. This work demonstrates the complexity of Godard’s thinking and artistry and his almost monumental grasp of art, cinema and art and cinema history.
So I am waiting to see Adieu au Langage and Le Livre d’image in theatrical settings, which is what I think they deserve. After that there will be no more Godard works to look forward to. There is though the tantalising prospect of going back and revisiting works: of filling in the spaces and viewing the titles that one has missed. But there will be a void in European and world cinema where Jean-Luc operated. It really does seem like the end of an era.