Book Review: Jean-Luc Godard Interviews
Book Review: Jean-Luc Godard Interviews
Book Review: Jean-Luc Godard Interviews
Jean-Luc Godard Interviews, David Sterritt, ed. (Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press, 1998) 203 pp. pb
from MIM Notes 176, Dec. 15, 1998
MIM begins this review by making self-criticism for passivity with regard to work in film. While MIM has known of Godard's work since before MIM's existence, it never got around to engaging Godard even on a theoretical or public opinion plane. This has set back the proletarian art movement even more than necessary.
Jean-Luc Godard was a French Maoist in the 1960s and 1970s and he was also the most influential imperialist country director-producer outside of Hollywood.
Godard's political line
Middle-aged Godard did much for the Maoist movement. Reading these interviews is like reading the autobiography of David Hilliard, because the trajectory is the same. Godard was wildly successful as a Maoist and then later in life could not quite hang on to his Maoism, much the way the Black Panthers did not. While Godard made his greatest contributions in his thirties and not his twenties, the old adage about selling out with older age seems to ring true and by the 1990s, reviewers were calling his work post-modern.
Godard as a persyn in the 1960s and 1970s backed Mao while criticizing Stalin, including "Stalinist" art, which we gather Godard believed was just state- sponsored art and hence evil. This caused Godard to say good things about Yugoslavia where there were some independent film producers. Obviously in China's Cultural Revolution, there was also an emphasis on amateur art, of the workers and peasants producing their own art. Nonetheless, while we note the distinctions Godard makes we continue to defend professional state-sponsored art under the dictatorship of the proletariat and we anticipate its necessity until at least the lower stages of communism.
Our only other possible complaint about Godard would be his gender line. Since sex is so important in the imperialist country movies, Godard did develop a razor-sharp gender line. Some of it is feminist and some of it evokes the split between Marxist males and apolitical or reactionary females that Clare Duchen talks about in her book about why French pseudo- feminism arose in reaction to Maoism. On the other hand, parts of Godard's gender line may be considered to be walking that fine line between revolution and macho misogyny. We must point out though that MIM has no right to criticize Godard, because we have not led any filmmaking efforts, so we haven't proved that we would have handled the gender question any better. We salute his efforts to make movies that do not rely on romance to sell.
In truth, it would be a disservice to review all Godard's films here, so we will not even try. Perhaps other reviewers could step forward after seeing all his films made between 1962 and 1976.
As a persyn, Godard punched his producer at a film showing once and called on the audience to pay to see his version of the film with the money to go to a fund for Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver.(p. 52) Moreover, Godard spoke for "Third World cinema" as the correct phrase for what he was doing instead of "underground." (p. 11)
Godard also hooked up the Rolling Stones to his Maoist film. The active support by the Rolling Stones of Maoism in France is an example of the kind of times the late 1960s and early 1970s were.
Although Godard championed industrial workers in France on occasion, as far as his art went, he had the correct line on the labor aristocracy. In the first place, he criticized the labor bureaucrats for interfering with his low-budget work, requiring him to use four people instead of three behind the camera as an example.(p. 18) He said the unions were more reactionary than other people and were economically strangling his independent filmmaking.
Much more importantly, Godard had the intuitively correct line on the approach of artists to the labor aristocracy, one that is even more correct for our times than for the 1960s. His advice to the revolutionary artist in the imperialist countries was to hold the line: "'Worrying about distribution patterns affects the kind of pictures people make. Only by concentrating on production without any thought of distribution can we create the kind of film that will change distribution.'"(p. 57)
Godard on art: lessons for PIRAO
Perhaps what Godard is known best for is being a "high-brow" "artsy" film director. He did not like the "art" label as a contrast with other films, but he also spoke of the idea as a reference point to make himself understood on the relationship of artists to finance capital.
Godard's most enduring insight is to defeat the "masses-are-asses" line in art while combining that view with a strong orientation toward building independent institutions of the oppressed. In 1962 he hadn't made any Maoist films yet, but he was already a Brechtian. That means he sought to change the world by engaging the audience in his art. In fact, in 1968, he correctly said "we have to fight the audience." (p. vii, 15) That to MIM is an accurate statement about the imperialist country audiences, which are bound to be a majority petty- bourgeoisie and encrusted with reactionary ideas.
We believe Godard is correct that there is no essential difference between film and theater, so Bertolt Brecht's theories of engaging audience participation and not encouraging passivity are correct for film as well as the theater Brecht worked in. In 1962, Godard said of making films, "One must be sincere, believe that one is working for the public, and aim at them. In my early days I never asked myself whether the audience would understand what I was doing, but now I do. If Hitchcock, for example, thinks that people will not understand something, he will not do it. At the same time I feel that one must sometimes just go ahead-light may always dawn in a few years time. But of course one must be sure of what one is about, because if one just goes ahead and does something, saying 'They won't understand but it won't matter,' one may be disastrously wrong and that it does matter."(p. 5) To MIM's knowledge, while he gave up Maoism, Godard continues to hold this view. In fact, he argued that filmmaking should be film criticism at the same time, so there continues to be a self-critical view in Godard's work and he continued to believe such criticism is a matter of science, at least as late as 1981.(p. 120)
Because Godard was willing to put together art that the masses would not always understand, he received the label "abstract," but he also opposed that label. He considered himself explicitly Marxist-Leninist. Much of the masses' rejection of Godard stems from his unwillingness to utilize sex and violence the way mainstream imperialist producers do. MIM believes it is unreasonable in an ultraleft or right opportunist way to expect proletarian filmmakers to have success any greater than that of proletarian newspaper distributors relatively speaking.
Godard had a firm grip on the influence of finance capital on filmmaking. For this reason, he likened himself to a whore. It was not the whore he opposed but the pimp--the finance capitalist in the guise of the producer as usually distinguished from the artist who is the director.
Unwilling to work for Hollywood no matter how much they offered him, (p. 21) Godard correctly avoided pie-in-the-sky idealism. He realized he would be making "low-budget" films. On a related note, filmmaking was also brief with only short periods of time requiring professional actors.
For the MIM-led army called PIRAO that has responsibility for financial and infrastructure work this all makes sense on how to build an infrastructure for independent filmmaking. Right opportunists in film art capitulate to the demands of Hollywood finance capitalists and sell out. Ultraleft opportunists cling to a non-existent independence of art as if talking about it and waiting for manna from heaven were as good as making art and distributing it. Even in 1980 and 1996 Godard correctly warned artists that "Art and economy are always related."(p. 101) Along these lines, Godard warned that television is absolutely the worst medium, because it is state and monopoly controlled, whereas filmmaking even in Hollywood had slightly more autonomy. We believe this insight continues to this day, where the main television channels in the imperialist countries are the worst purveyors of reactionary drivel. Even attempting to work from within television backfires miserably as the example of the Archie Bunker character in "All in the Family" proves so well. Since television offers no audience interaction with the directors, there is the definite risk that the audience will identify with and glorify the reactionary characters of television scripts, no matter how bluntly depicted. There is no quick and dirty way to subversion of our video culture, so we must not expect or attempt overnight success.
In conclusion, Godard has a very realistic notion of what is possible with imperialist country art. We must steer between capitulating to Hollywood (which is pervasive to Godard the way pornography is to Catharine MacKinnon) on the one hand and blaming all evil on Hollywood on the other hand in order to justify our own economic and artistic passivity. Leadership at this time means challenging thoughts and not gaining popularity.
A call to action
A minority of Hollywood films and independent documentaries is progressive. To reach the next level of building public opinion and independent institutions of the oppressed, we need more than to cull the best of Hollywood. We need our own proletarian filmmakers, theaters, bands and other artists.
"And so for a young movie maker, if he really wants to make a film, it is very easy to do. The problem is getting it shown after you've made it."(p. 19)
MIM calls on all young, old, aspiring and existing film artists to be the early Jean-Luc Godard and work with us. Already we have the independent party press. We can assist in publicizing the works of Godards, so all you Godards out there, please step forward!
We recommend the following:
1. Keep the day-time job.
2. Do not wait for manna from heaven-i.e. Hollywood or state grants; defeat parasite-think and build economic and political independence.
3. Do not expect colossal success in the imperialist countries at this time or you will water down your work and become useless to the revolution.
Since MIM has not worked closely with filmmakers, our first efforts will likely be severely flawed. As materialists we believe any effort is better than nothing and after some years we may hope to surpass Godard. At this time, we believe we must recognize that we would do very well right now just to copy what Godard said in the first 84 pages of this book.
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