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The Conceptual Art of Jean-Luc Godard's Filmmaking:
A Freedom and a Guide (part 1)


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2 ou 3 choses que je saisd'elle (1967). "It was as if I were the world and the world were me". Godard fragments the world, inner and outer, into finest of pieces, producing a sense that something is missing, that something has been lost, following through the cracks of which one is to arrive at the penultimate freedom and connectedness of all things.

"The most short-lived moment hides a glorious past. If a man... if a man... if a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke - Aye! and what then? I was this man."

Jean-Luc Godard/Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

Histoire(s) du Cinema (Chapter 4b: The Signs among Us)

Godard and I: A lesson on deliberate imperfections, rides on the wave of intuition and getting lost as a prerequisite for being found

The making of a Godard's movie was always a matter of relying on the intuition, ad hoc improvisation, creation with an eye for the moment, never ever acting the same thing twice. That is our first premise. Our second premise is that an attempt to reflect on an object without reflecting its nature on every single level of the structure of this reflection is a vain attempt, an act of hypocrisy, as it were. For example, to analytically dissect poetry using a prosaic language of not poets, but dry philosophers, presents an unfaithful way of reflecting on it. In this case, to talk about Godard without riding on the same go-with-the-flow momentum would be a dishonest act and, must I say, blasphemy with respect to the implicit message that his filmmaking intended to convey.

Henceforth, for the sake of becoming infused with the energy of life, this essay will be written without my looking back and restructuring and reshuffling; rather, I shall proceed with this surf on the waves of intuition, with the intention to yield a 100 % pure Godardesquewriting in the end. I will also contrast my writing style and stay away from excessive poetization, so as to reflect the spirit of Godard's film more veritably. I will also be more verbally chaotic and disheveled than I usually am, because of the same reason. Distantly, the writing that follows will evoke the style in which Blaise Pascal, that undercover hero of La Nouvelle Vague martyrs, wrote his Pensées: "I will write down my thoughts here as they come and in a perhaps not aimless confusion. This is the true order and it will always show my aim by its very disorder. I should be honoring my subject too much if I treated it in order, since I am trying to show that it is incapable of it"i.

The characteristic knottiness of my sentences, though, won't need a lot of adjustments to properly mirror Godard's convoluted expression style. Yet, all will be written in one breath, breathlessly, so as to preserve the spirit of the moment, as during the making of a Godard's movie. As in most of his late movie scenes, instead of nonprofessional actors, there is me, the holder of this virtual pen, an utterly amateurish film critic, something that Godard once was, before he became a filmmaker.

Some, including myself, might question whether he has ever undergone that transition, but we will come to this point later. For now, we have touched the first principle of Godard's creative approach, coinciding with the advice given by Frank Capra to Peter Bogdanovich: "Think less and, snap, make a choice – anyway you'll be wrong 50 % of the time". It is to substitute script following with ad hoc improvisation, preplanning with an eye for the moment, and setting things in stone with sketching them in the air, never knowing what will come next and, thus, potentially finding the destination in every point of the path on this plane of reality that resembles Pascal's sphere whose circumference is nowhere and center everywhere.

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Histoire(s) du cinema: A New Wave (1998) – "It's about time that the thought becomes once again what it really is: dangerous for the thinker".

To preplan and overthink everything in advance is a sin in Godard's filmmaking universe and if we wish to faithfully map a quest for the semantic essence of this universe, as I attempt to do here, we have no other choice but to obey. Now, does this mean that we should approach our creative acts the way Isaiah Berlin approached lecturing, that is, by coming up with a dozen-page draft a week before the talk, though only to shorten it gradually, ending up with one page only on the morning of the lecture, a single paragraph an hour before it, a single sentence while waiting behind the curtain to be called and then tossing even that single sentence into the garbage can as he would step out to the podium?The answer is, undoubtedly, Yes, but sometimes. For, sometimes the right structure of the whole can make up for a most lemonade content and make it timelessly beautiful. Think, for example, of Powell's and Pressburger's Canterbury Tale, whose unique structure is the key to its quality: quiet and sweetly mysterious for the majority of the movie and then exploding into a fantastic finale in its last moments, reflecting life more veritably than the classical twist-climax-resolution form. Henceforth, the conception of an overarching structure wherein beginnings and ends would reconnect and fit into each other like a hand in a glove, is desirable, so long as each moment, each brick in it is infused with the spirit of the moment and given a dose of imperfection that would make it appear always fresh and new, like an improvised jazz tune. For, an utterly perfect structure is also an utterly lifeless structure, resembling a peak from which one could only tumble down, when only structures that conceal cracks of imperfections can shine a light through them, bedazzle the viewer and act as a stairway to Heaven, leading to the top exactly because of never aspiring to be on the top.

"Don't show every aspect of things; allow yourself the margin of indefiniteness" was Godard's explicit precept (Histoire(s) du cinema – Chapter 1: All the Hi(stories)), reflecting his firm belief in the liberation from the shackles of ostensible perfectness and the unleashing of infinitely potent creative powers resulting from the renouncement of the strivings to reach absolute exactness in expression.

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Pierrot le fou (1965): Pierrot and Marianne impersonate Uncle Sam's nephew and Uncle Ho's niece, as they make fun of American tourists. Godard has never hidden his anti-American sentiments. His 1967 manifesto, for example, states only the following: "Fifty years after the October Revolution, the American industry rules cinema the world over. There is nothing much to add to this statement of fact. Except that on our own modest level we too should provoke two or three Vietnams in the bosom of the vast Hollywood-Cinecitta-Mosfilm-Pinewood etc. empire, and, both economically and aesthetically, struggling on two fronts as it were, create cinemas which are national, free, brotherly, comradely and bonded in friendship". The two fronts Godard mentions are points #1 and #2 of his 1970 manifestoii, reflecting the dual nature that a work of art is to ideally embody: 1) we must make political films; 2) we must make films politically.

At this point, already, Godard, that relentless breaker of conventions, flirter with the paradox and master in directing digression and a loss of focus from the central thread of the storyline, must be proud. For, we have begun this discourse about Godard, yet already in the first paragraph we wandered off the topic and got so far from the intended subject that we could wonder how in the world we would get back now to this central thread of discourse without making the reader suspicious about our ability to run its course. Again, not that Godard would object; in the only movie, albeit short, which he codirected with Francois Truffaut, Une histoire d'eau, a couple gets lost and stranded on a flooded land on its way to Paris and a woman, the protagonist - lest the screenwriter, as it were, be a hypocrite for not reflecting the sense of being lost, the major point of the movie, at each and every of its levels - revokes a story about Louis Aragon lecturingat the Sorbonne on Petrarch by starting off with a 45 minute long eulogy about Matisse, then being interrupted by a student who demanded moving to the subject and finishing the sentence cut short by the student with the claim that the originality of Petrarch "laid precisely in the art of digression".

This, however, brings us over to two other major points of Godard's philosophy that he conveyed through his filmmaking. First, as in agreement with Warren McCulloch's view of life as a construct made of "unreliable components that achieve reliable outcomes"iii, life Godard praised is the life of Outlands, life lived in complete contrast to that of machinelike Alphaville, wherein everything proceeds according to preplanned programs and nothing is ever lost. Secondly, the greatness of an act in Godard's microcosm is determined by how far it reaches away from itself. "The greatness of a piece of art equals the distance between the two concepts that it brings together", as Godard, himself, says in Histoire(s) du Cinema (Chapter 3b: A New Wave). "Bring things together that don't seem ready to be", he says on another occasion (Histoire(s) du cinema - Chapter 4b: The Signs among Us).

The farthest beginnings and ends, theses and antitheses are thus called to be merged in our expressions, yielding little or big Hegelian syntheses and bursts of light emerging from them. "Philosophy is a being, the heart of it being the question of its being insofar as this being posits a being other than itself", is what Godard says in Adieu au Langage. Acts that forget about the actor and embrace the universe would, thus, be the ultimate, divinest of them all. The gracefulness of an act is thus measured by the extent to which it reaches out away from the subject and into the world, away from I and into the heart of that Buberian Thou. It is for this reason that Godard kills the protagonists in countless of his movies, from À bout de souffle to Vivre sa vie to Pierrot le fou, that is, to demonstrate that the best lived life is life selflessly streaming toward the extinguishment of this very life and toward the unreserved merging with the world. This favorite ending motif of his is a way of saying that a perfect creation bears resemblance to that sagacious seed that knows that it must die to give rise to a tree and the tree's fruits in its place (John 12:24). Or, as BélaHamvas said in the prologue to his lifework, Scientia Sacra, "The creation of this work is not merely a creation; it is rather an endless creation and surrender, all until nothing remains, and then the surrender of this nothing, and then surrender of the surrender"iv.

Annihilation of the artist symbolized by the death of his protagonist also serves the purpose of liberating him from the limitations of the given art and releasing into the freeness of being, a state of mind in which literally everything becomes a piece of art worth astonishment and in which creation becomes guided by Godard's norm, "Things are there, why manipulate them" (Histoire(s) du cinema- Chapter 3a: The Coin of the Absolute). 

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i Pascal, Blaise – "Pensées", Pensée No. 532, Translated by A. J. Krailsheimer, Penguin, Harmondsworth, UK (1662), pp. 216.
ii Godard, Jean-Luc – "Manifesto: What is to be done?", Afterimage No.1 (April 1970).
iii Beer, Stafford – "On the Nature of Models: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Women, Too (from Warren


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