Retrospective        


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


What's freedom without love?

Now, as an art critic, I would never dare give 10/10 or 0/10 ratings to anything. Rather, I praise the keenness that comes from recognizing the taints of imperfection even in the most fantastic of expressions and humbleness that comes from accepting that even in complete artsy garbage there will be a diamond or two to be found. The dangers of dogmatism and idolatry that 10/10 or 0/10 ratings lead to need not be mentioned either. This, as you may guess, is a prelude to the claim that, like everything else, Godard's art abounds with taints of imperfections. So what would I change in Godard's films if I could? For one, I would ask him why he was more interested in carpet-bombing the cinema world of his day than rejuvenating it with new aesthetics that is pleasing for the soul, an approach that would have earned him the status of a true renaissance master of the new age had he succeeded in it. Then, what if everything that was political in his movies was made poetic? For, the resonance of political messages fades away with time, whereas the poetic expression endows art with timelessness and is what reserves it a space in the pantheon of eternal relevance. Has Godard been but a mighty freedom fighter, a rebel blinded by revulsion, who has forgotten about the freedom's greatest complement in life – love? Those familiar with his insistence on creating cinema that is "national, free, brotherly, comradely and bonded in friendship" and those who still remember the ending of Alphaville would have disagreed, but those looking at the grander scale of things and those who know that love cannot be put into words, but must be implicit in the totality of one's expressions as well as in the minutest gestures, might be pleased to muse longer over this point. Yet, where to search for this gestural signs of love and sympathy considering Godard's habit of reducing faces to expressionless busts, frequently hiding them behind read books and routinely presenting them to the audience from such angles and distances so that the emotional connection between the characters and the viewer is not encouraged, but rather averted?It can be assumed that Godard wished to demonstrate that the crushing of the shell of behavioral conventionality and conformism to social norms produces a sense of distantness that, in fact, brings one closer to other people on far deeper cognitive levels and closer to that Hegelian merging of oneself and the world into an indissoluble oneness as "the ultimate aim of Godard's dialectics" , but what if all of this would be merely a wishful spin on what deep down were the symptoms of that misanthropic pathology recognized by Fromm, where one could feel an intimate relatedness to people, love, as it were, only insofar as one stays secluded from them .

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Vivre sa vie (1962): Nina watching Dreyer's Joan of Arc in the dark of the Panthéon cinema in Paris. The watcher becomes the watched that is the watcher that is the watched. Every book is, thus, written by a scribe; he writes the book, but the book, in turn, writes him, too.

Yet another thing I would change in Godard's movies is the choreographic aesthetics– what if he had made Pierrot le fou or Lemmy Caution move with the same grace Monica Vittior Setsuko Hara glided through space in Antonioni's L'avventuraandOzu's Noriko Trilogy, respectively, the way Satyajit Ray's Charulata walked leisurely across her little Calcutta palace with binoculars in her hands, or the way the young maid from de Sica's Umberto D ran errands and opened the window shutters in that old house where dreams of past ages are smeared over the musty walls, if not in the overly flagrant way David Lynch had SherilynFenn move in Twin Peaks, as if through a dream of a kind?

How come Godard admired the Little Tramp more than any character that has ever walked across the movie screen, labeling him as "the greatest of all" , yet he refused the idea that the poetry of movement paired with music is the most essential element of the art of cinema? Could it be that he, who asked us to "make sure we use everythingwe communicate using silence and stillness" (Histoire(s) du cinema- Chapter 2b: Deadly Beauty), skipped to implement this point because his anarchistic convictions prevented him from directing with an iron fist, failing to motivate with the authority and the charisma of an Orson Welles, producing as a result somewhat lukewarm emotions on the set? Or, in contrast, could it be that the frequent affectedness of his actors on the screen was the consequence of him directing them too explicitly, oftentimes requesting specific gestures without evoking the right emotion in the actor, thus opposing the directing style of first his comrade, then his nemesis, Francois Truffaut, who would typically tellJean-Pierre Léaudto feel as if in a specific social context and then let the proper action be spontaneously elicited before the camera. Now, the question is whether Godard's symbolic messages would have gained a greater strength had they been coupled to a greater degree of emotionality. Or maybe his message of revolt against everything tied to the modern age and the idea that society and language must be the chains that shackle the human spirit and diminish its innately divine potentials would not be transmittable had Godard done so. On the other hand, the large-scale release of one's art implies one's compliance with certain social standards, even if they govern the circles of social rejects, which makes one wonder whether the absolute anarchistic rejection of submission to social norms as a key message of his films was hypocritical to some extent, in spite of his frequent reference to the subject of prostitution in an attempt to convey the message that "advertising is a pimp and we are its whores" . In any case, as pointed out by David Sterritt, "Godard's audience must decide whether he and his troops are winning this battle (for freedom) on our behalf, or whether 'freedom is killing freedom' in a political-aesthetic skirmish that may prove Pyrrhic at the final fade-out" .

Asked if he had ever "registered a script for a film", Godard says, "My scripts are registered in everybody's daily routine, including yours, so all you have to do is take a look at your own life and you will surely find thousands of them" , hinting at the failure of narrative in an absolute cinematic experience.Similarly, when he was asked at a press conferencewhy his films never have a story, he asked back "what's a story" and then, ironically, told a story about his parents telling him "not to tell stories" when he was a child and "made up a lot of things", the advice he continued to listen to all throughout his career. Consequently, as a sign of revolt against cinema driven by the narrative and cinema as but the right hand of the theater, the concept of the storyline has gradually faded in Godard's movies as his career progressed. So they evolved from (a) story-drivenÀ bout de souffleto (b) mid and late La Nouvelle Vague period, during which he did not reject the concept of the story probably because he knew that it could be deconstructed only insofar as the storyis told in one form or the other, to (c) his political documentary era and, finally, to (d) stream-of-consciousness video works in which no storylines or plots whatsoever were left to be deployed. Still, from his earliest to his latest works, Godard's movies, even when having a story, have no plot whatsoever, if we were to employ the distinction between the two terms proposed by E. M. Forster . One could argue that Richard Linklater's switch from one central character to the next in the Austin, TX classic, Slacker would have been a natural progression in Godard's rejection of storytelling in the 60s, as implied by his aversion to character development and erasure of any traces of central threads in his plots. This, however, raises some questions: for one, aren't all pieces of art analogous to trees or rivers or cities, to whose central lines and avenues one could always return after roaming around little passageways? 

 


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