Jean-Luc Godard

February 21st, 2007

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Our next installment of Viva la France week is a tribute to Jean-Luc Godard. Considered one of the best filmmakers of the 20th Century, Godard was the most radical of his ‘60s French cinema peers. Godard was born into wealth, but college radicalism lead to his parents cutting-off his generous allowance in the ‘50s. Poor, young, and brilliant, he began writing film criticism for the publication Cahiers du Cinema. Wanting to get his hands wet in real filmmaking, he quickly jumped at the opportunity to take on a documentary project detailing the construction of a French dam in 1955.

French filmmakers of the ‘60s are best known for their embracement of realism and disregard for the trappings of conventional cinema and Godard’s first feature film, A bout de souffle (Breathless) in 1959, was certainly both. Godard took a conventional b-movie crime plot and turned it on its head, transforming the story into a jigsaw puzzle and filming it all with hand held cameras and natural lighting. His cinematic style was so revolutionary; its influences can still be seen in the works of Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Wong Kar-Wai.

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My favorite Godard film is also his most accessible, the gorgeous Contempt (1963). The film featured a beautiful (and naked!) Brigitte Bardot, a sleazy Jack Palance, and a tired Fritz Lang. One of the great things about this movie is how it illustrates Godard’s penchant for contradictions. Yes, some shots are hand held with natural lighting, but most scenes are filmed in a conventional Hollywood style. Like Lars von Trier and his silly Dogma 95, Godard gleefully broke his own self imposed “rules” on many films. I first saw this masterpiece at the Musicbox theater in Chicago with Brian C. It counts as one of my favorite cinema experiences of all time – right up there with seeing a new 70mm print of 2001 at Chicago’s Navy Pier.

Also worth mentioning is France’s long tradition of manufacturing quality moviemaking equipment, including Éclair, Aaton, Pathe, and Beaulieu cameras (I own a lovely Beaulieu 2008). France also made some great motion picture optics, including Angenieux, Kinoptik, and Som Berthiot lens.

Entry Filed under: ’60 France

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brain  |  February 22nd, 2007 at 9:49 am

    Dude!

    Remember seeing Contempt in Chicago in that old theater? Man that blew me away, especially since I was going through my divorce (never want to do that again; the divorce, that is. I’d watch the movie again for sure).

    Fritz Lang: “Man is to suffer.” Sweet!

  • 2. Brian  |  February 27th, 2007 at 9:15 am

    As much as I love French cinema, particularly of the 1960s ‘New Wave’ period that Godard belongs to, I’ve never been much of a Godard fan. I always like the idea of what he’s doing: the cheekiness, the irreverence, the jump cuts. But ultimately I yearn for some kind of sincerety. I’d much prefer Godard’s contemporaries such as Eric Rohmer and Francois Truffaut.

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