RIP Jean-Luc Godard: Watch the French New Wave Icon Explain His Contrarian Worldview Back in the 1960s

For almost forty years, we’ve been los­ing the French New Wave. François Truf­faut and Jacques Demy died young, back in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry; Hen­ri Colpi, Éric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol fol­lowed in the ear­ly years of the twen­ty-first. The last decade alone saw the pass­ings of Chris Mark­er, Alain Resnais, Jacques Riv­ette, and Agnès Var­da. But not until yes­ter­day did la Nou­velle Vague’s hardi­est sur­vivor, and indeed its defin­ing fig­ure, step off this mor­tal coil at the age of 91. Jean-Luc Godard did­n’t launch the move­ment — that dis­tinc­tion belongs to Truf­faut’s The 400 Blows, from 1959 — but in 1960 his first fea­ture Breath­less made film­go­ers the world over under­stand at once that the old rules no longer applied.

Yet for all his will­ing­ness to vio­late its con­ven­tions, Godard pos­sessed a thor­ough­go­ing respect for cin­e­ma. This per­haps came from his pre-auteur­hood years he spent as a film crit­ic in Paris, writ­ing for the estimable Cahiers du ciné­ma (an insti­tu­tion to which Truf­faut, Rohmer, Chabrol, and Riv­ette also con­tributed). “It made me love every­thing,” he says of his expe­ri­ence with crit­i­cism in the 1963 inter­view just above.

“It taught me not to be nar­row-mind­ed, not to ignore Renoir in favor of Bil­ly Wilder.” A con­trar­i­an from the begin­ning, the young Godard dis­dained what he saw as the for­mal­ized and intel­lec­tu­al­ized prod­ucts of the French film indus­try in favor of vis­cer­al­ly crowd-pleas­ing pic­tures made in the U.S.A.

“We Euro­peans have movies in our head, and Amer­i­cans have movies in their blood,” says Godard in the 1965 British tele­vi­sion inter­view above. “We have cen­turies and cen­turies of cul­ture behind us. We have to think about things. We can’t just do things.” To “just do things” is per­haps the prime artis­tic desire dri­ving his oeu­vre, which spans sev­en decades and includes more than 40 fea­ture films as well as many projects of less eas­i­ly cat­e­go­riz­able form. But this went with a life­long immer­sion in clas­si­cal Euro­pean cul­ture, evi­denced by a fil­mog­ra­phy dense with ref­er­ences to its works. The weight of his for­ma­tion and ambi­tions took a cer­tain toll ear­ly on: “I’m already tired,” he says in a 1960 inter­view at Cannes, where Breath­less was screen­ing. Did the per­ma­nent rev­o­lu­tion­ary of cin­e­ma sus­pect, even then, how far he still had to go?

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

Watch Jean-Luc Godard’s Film­mak­ing Mas­ter­class on Insta­gram

RIP Jean-Paul Bel­mon­do: The Actor Who Went from the French New Wave to Action Super­star­dom

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.