Jefferson Airplane Plays on a New York Rooftop; Jean-Luc Godard Captures It (1968)

Just when you think you’ve seen every­thing Jean-Luc Godard has ever shot, some­thing like this sur­faces. If you’re only now con­sid­er­ing tuck­ing into the feast that is Godard­’s fil­mog­ra­phy, don’t let his abun­dance of uncol­lect­ed odds, ends, clips, and shorts intim­i­date you. Not only do they promise a lit­tle thrill down the road when you’ve already digest­ed his major works, but they offer quick bursts at any time of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cin­e­mat­ic zest with which the film­mak­er took on the world. With the man alive and work­ing, I should per­haps say “the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cin­e­mat­ic zest with which the film­mak­er takes on the world,” but that gets into one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing con­ver­sa­tions that swirls around him: has Godard still got it?

Some say yes, that his lat­est pic­ture Film Social­isme presents the log­i­cal con­tin­u­a­tion of all Godard has ever rep­re­sent­ed; some say no, that the Godard to watch remains the scrap­py star of the 1960s’ French New Wave. In his study Every­thing is Cin­e­ma: The Work­ing Life of Jean-Luc Godard, New York­er film blog­ger Richard Brody some­how makes both claims.

In the chap­ter “Rev­o­lu­tion (1968–1972)” he describes Godard­’s impro­vised method of shoot­ing a 1968 Jef­fer­son Air­plane con­cert:

He took over from the spe­cial­ists and oper­at­ed the cam­era from the win­dow of Lea­cock-Pen­nebak­er’s office on West Forty-fifth street, shoot­ing the band on the roof of the Schuyler Hotel across the street. (Pen­nebak­er recalled him to be an ama­teur­ish cam­era­man who could not avoid the begin­ner’s pit­fall of fre­quent zoom­ing in and out.) The per­for­mance took place with­out a per­mit, at stan­dard rock vol­ume: as singer Grace Slick lat­er wrote, “We did it, decid­ing that the cost of get­ting out of jail would be less than hir­ing a pub­li­cist…”

Ama­teur­ish or not, a piece of the footage has sur­faced on YouTube. Lis­ten to the Air­plane per­form “The House at Pooneil Cor­ners,” watch Godard­’s dra­mat­ic swings of focus and zoom as he attempts to con­vey the spec­ta­cle of the band and the spec­ta­cle of count­less sur­prised Man­hat­tan­ites at once, and think for your­self about this pecu­liar inter­sec­tion of two bold lines in the era’s alter­na­tive zeit­geist. As Jef­fer­son Air­plane co-founder Paul Kant­ner said in a 1986 inter­view, “Just for a while there, maybe for about 25 min­utes in 1967, every­thing was per­fect.” But these sev­en min­utes in Novem­ber 1968, from open­ing shouts to inevitable arrest, don’t seem so dull them­selves.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Grace Slick’s Hair-Rais­ing Vocals in the Iso­lat­ed Track for “White Rab­bit” (1967)

A Young Jean-Luc Godard Picks the 10 BestAmer­i­can Films Ever Made (1963)

How Jean-Luc Godard Lib­er­at­ed Cin­e­ma: A Video Essay on How the Great­est Rule-Break­er in Film Made His Name

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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