08 May, 2008

New York Salutes Godard In The 1960s

By Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

This May marks a milestone in recent world history. It is the 40th anniversary of the “events of 1968”, a series of revolutionary protests that spanned the globe and created social and political turmoil, particularly in the United States, England and France. While the protests centered on the escalating war in Vietnam, the main engine was a discontent with politics as usual. In France, in particular, art mixed with politics, as leading filmmakers, artists and philosophers led the charge and envisioned a proletarian state where artists, students, workers and intellectuals would fight side by side for basic human rights. The protests even reached into the vaulted ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival, stopping the proceedings for the first and only time in the Festival’s sixty plus year history.

One of the key “artistic agitators” of the period was the director Jean-Luc Godard, whose prolific films of the decade were the most accurate depiction of both the promise and the doomed fatalism of the period. To mark the “events of 1968”, the Film Forum, New York’s most progressive arthouse complex, is screening a milestone five-week program devoted to Jean-Luc Godard, which began this past weekend with Godard’s breakthrough film, Breathless, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg.

Godard famously said of the films of this period that they “should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” That anarchic attitude is reflected in most of his films of the decade. Throughout the 1960s, cinephiles eagerly awaited the latest film — or two— by Jean-Luc Godard, a founding father of the nouvelle vague. The former film critic for “Cahiers du Cinema” was the most innovative and prolific of his contemporaries, with each new work seemingly rewriting the grammar of film. Jump cuts, asynchronous soundtracks, self-narration, cinema as essay, cinema as collage, self-referential cinema, cinema of anarchy — you name it, Godard’s 60s oeuvre redefined “cutting edge” — and, with location and available-light shooting, now provides a near-documentary time capsule of Paris in those years.

Godard spawned a new kind of movie star, as well, with such New Wave icons as Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, and Anna Karina, the latter doubling as the director’s muse through seven film collaborations and a rocky four-year marriage. Forty years after the tumultuous events of May ’68, one can almost see the chaos coming through the satire and social criticism in Godard’s chronicles of “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” For this pivotal decade, Godard was a seminal force in redrawing the map of film.

Among the films to be shown over the next five weeks at the Film Forum are Breathless (1959), Le Petit Soldat (1960), A Woman Is A Woman (1961), Les Carabiniers (1963), A Married Woman (1964), Band of Outsiders (1964), Alphaville (1965), Pierrot Le Fou (1965), Two Or Three Things I Know About Her (1966), Made In U.S.A. (1966), Masculine Feminine (1967), La Chinoise (1967), Weekend (1967), Vivre Sa Vie (1968), Le Gai Savoir (1969) and his documentary on the Rolling Stones, Sympathy For The Devil (1968). This is an astonishing output for any filmmaker, and indicates how Godard felt that his films were almost newsreels or “reports from the front lines”. In total, it presents us with a daring and provocative look at the Parisian scene and the revolutionary spirit unfolding in the French capital in those moody, melodramatic and mythical days.

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