Watch Jean-Luc Godard’s Filmmaking Masterclass on Instagram

As the last liv­ing major French New Wave direc­tor, Jean-Luc Godard has become a kind of ora­cle for younger film­mak­ers and cinéastes. Despite hav­ing turned 89 last Decem­ber, he remains in a sense what film schol­ar David Bor­d­well not long ago called “the youngest film­mak­er at work today.” When Godard start­ed work­ing in cin­e­ma just about 65 years ago, it did­n’t take him long to make his name by break­ing its rules. Ever since, he’s ward­ed off com­pla­cen­cy by con­tin­u­ing to rethink, at the most fun­da­men­tal lev­el, not just film but the nature of images, sounds and words them­selves. And he pur­sues this line of think­ing in any avail­able medi­um, includ­ing, as demon­strat­ed in the con­ver­sa­tion above on “images in the time of the coro­n­avirus,” Insta­gram Live.

This form, as a film­mak­er like Godard would sure­ly appre­ci­ate, suits the sub­stance. No venue could be more of the moment than Insta­gram Live, as per­form­ers of all kinds have tak­en to stream­ing them­selves from home in the midst of the glob­al pan­dem­ic. But where many such fig­ures use the oppor­tu­ni­ty to take view­ers’ minds off the coro­n­avirus, Godard and his inter­view­er Lionel Baier, head of the cin­e­ma depart­ment at Lau­san­ne’s ECAL Uni­ver­si­ty of Art and Design, use it as a start­ing point. What begins as a dis­cus­sion of Godard­’s news-watch­ing habits turns into a con­ver­sa­tion­al jour­ney across such sub­jects as film­mak­ing, writ­ing, paint­ing, phi­los­o­phy, sci­ence, med­i­cine, law, and lan­guage. “I don’t believe in lan­guage,” goes one of Godard­’s char­ac­ter­is­tic pro­nounce­ments. “What needs to be changed is the alpha­bet. There are too many let­ters and we should delete lots of them.”

Per­haps that does­n’t come as a sur­prise from a direc­tor whose recent pic­tures include one called Good­bye to Lan­guage. But spo­ken or filmed, Godard­’s ideas on the mat­ter also reflect his per­son­al expe­ri­ence: he tells of hav­ing for a time lost the mem­o­ry of names of cer­tain fruits and veg­eta­bles, and con­se­quent­ly devel­op­ing a visu­al method of remem­ber­ing his gro­cery lists. Such every­day sto­ries come along with ref­er­ences to a wide range of artists, sci­en­tists, philoso­phers, and “adven­tur­ers” in his­to­ry, espe­cial­ly from the his­to­ry of the Fran­coph­o­ne world. More than once aris­es the name of Nicéphore Niépce, the 19th-cen­tu­ry French inven­tor respon­si­ble for the first known pho­to­graph ever tak­en (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture) and a sub­ject of one of Godard­’s cur­rent works-in-progress.

“In the film I’m going to make,” Godard explains, “I ask what Niépce believed he was doing or what his inten­tions were when he sim­ply want­ed to copy real­i­ty.” All through­out his decades as a film­mak­er, Godard has clear­ly kept ask­ing the same ques­tion about him­self: in mak­ing films, does he want to “copy real­i­ty” or do some­thing more inter­est­ing? For­tu­nate­ly for cin­e­ma, he always seems to have opt­ed for the lat­ter, back to his days with his Nou­velle Vague com­pa­tri­ots François Truf­faut, Jacques Riv­ette, Claude Chabrol, and Éric Rohmer, all of whom fig­ure into his rem­i­nis­cences here. And will COVID-19 fig­ure in a future Godard film? “It’ll have an influ­ence but not direct­ly,” he says. “The virus should def­i­nite­ly be talked about once or twice. With every­thing that comes with it, the virus is a form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It does­n’t mean we’re going to die from it, but we might not live very well with it either.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to Jean-Luc Godard’s Inno­v­a­tive Film­mak­ing Through Five Video Essays

How the French New Wave Changed Cin­e­ma: A Video Intro­duc­tion to the Films of Godard, Truf­faut & Their Fel­low Rule-Break­ers

Jean-Luc Godard Takes Cannes’ Rejec­tion of Breath­less in Stride in 1960 Inter­view

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

Jean-Luc Godard Gives a Dra­mat­ic Read­ing of Han­nah Arendt’s “On the Nature of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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