Of all of the endlessly quotable maxims and aphorisms which have poured from the mouth and the flicks of Jean-Luc Godard — “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun,” “The cinema is truth at 24 frames per second,” “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, though not necessarily in that order” — one which particularly springs to thoughts right now is that this: “He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.”
It appears becoming to contemplate these phrases this week, and the void as properly. Godard, filmmaker, critic, essayist, polemicist, crank, disruptor, legend and probably the most vital artists working in any medium during the last century, is gone right now at age 91, having died by assisted suicide at his house in Rolle, Switzerland. The motion-picture medium that he studied, worshiped, mastered, mocked, deconstructed and sparred with for many years feels instantly and infinitely poorer for it. Does it really feel, even, just like the “end of cinema,” to cite the kicker of his 1967 apocalyptic freakout, “Week-end”? I hope not, nevertheless it’s arduous to suppose for even a second about what Godard means to cinema, an artwork kind he revolutionized like no different, and never really feel that one thing has completely shifted.
The loss is incalculable. The tributes can be as voluminous and scholarly as his output, and they’re going to mark not the top of a collective remembrance however a starting. The follow of honoring our inventive giants is one which thrives on evaluation, although talking as somebody who’s much less of a scholar than a lay admirer of Godard’s work, I don’t really feel significantly massive on explanations myself proper now. What feels extra becoming to supply at this still-early second of reckoning is a cluster of observations, associations and chronic recollections from a moviegoing life that this towering artist and fearless iconoclast has lengthy enriched.
From the second he burst onto the world cinema stage, Godard operated with each a cool, insouciant defiance of cinema’s entrenched guidelines and traditions and a refusal to unpack his meanings for straightforward consumption. Then once more, with a primary function as heady as “Breathless,” little rationalization was actually wanted. Audiences stumbling out of a theater in 1960 might not have grasped the total significance of what that they had simply seen, however the film’s playfulness and audacity swept them proper up together with it. Hurling Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg right into a lovers-on-the-run crime plot that couldn’t have been extra irrelevant, it was comedian and tragic, dizzying and desultory, scrappy and absolutely fashioned, America and Paris, a jolt and a masterpiece. Above all, it was the work of a filmmaker who knew and liked the beats of classical cinema so deeply that there was nothing left to do, actually, however throw them out the window and begin contemporary.
Over the primary seven years of his profession, which planted him on the forefront of the French New Wave and the peak of his worldwide cine-celebrity stardom, Godard cranked out an astonishing run of 15 options. From “Breathless” to “Week-end” (1967), they continue to be nonpareil of their stylistic invention and vitality, their mixture of scruffy dynamism and inconceivable glamour. Watching them — and so they maintain up fantastically — you’ll be able to all however really feel a medium racing to maintain tempo with a culturally and politically tumultuous second that was shifting and fragmenting extra shortly than anybody, save maybe Godard, might take inventory of.
Lots of his best-loved films arose from this ’60s heyday, and so they related and endured with audiences, partially as a result of their irreverent play with the medium was so clearly a type of love. “Breathless” and “Band of Outsiders” (1964) had been romantic gangster films in a lot the identical indirect manner that “A Woman Is a Woman” (1961) was a musical or “Alphaville” (1965) was a chunk of science fiction. They handled style as a beloved and well-worn toy, one thing to be performed with for a bit and ultimately forged apart in favor of one thing extra attention-grabbing. In doing so, they broke proper via the seamlessness and artifice, the phantasm of coherence, that audiences had come to count on from films. Godard’s films knew they had been films and noticed no level in pretending in any other case.
Unleashing a wild panoply of movie strategies — bounce cuts, reams of textual content, eye-popping major colours (but in addition jazzy black-and-white), verbal and visible nonsequiturs, startling disjunctions between sound and picture — Godard liberated the medium from its prior allegiances to older artwork types like literature and theater. On the identical time, he exuded a magpie’s enjoyment of sending cinema into collision with each different enviornment of the second. He mashed up pop and classical music and drew graphic affect from shiny adverts and film posters. He took a pickaxe to each essential and business assumption about what films might and ought to be, broke them vast open and reassembled the fragments into one thing radically unusual and new.
To understand his work aesthetically requires a willingness to see — or to study to see — the wonder in all this rupture and fragmentation, in states of confusion and generally maddening incoherence. To confront them intellectually is to wrestle with topics that vary from the pitfalls of consumerism and mass tradition, topics he critiques with magnificence and feeling in “Masculin Féminin” (1965), to the temptations and contradictions that ensnare the characters in “La Chinoise” (1967), his alternately satirical and tender portrait of younger Maoist radicals. It means contending together with his dismissals of Steven Spielberg and Hollywood in “In Praise of Love” (2001), the attractive and bilious work that heralded, for a lot of, a significant inventive comeback, and in addition to understand his despair over anti-Arab violence and battle in each “Notre Musique” (2004) and “The Image Book” (2018), his final launched function.
However to overemphasize the problem of Godard — fairly other than ignoring the truth that issue could be, in itself, one thing fairly pleasurable — is to danger understating the sheer magnificence and, at instances, the tenderness of his work. Film lovers have lengthy enshrined the photographs of Anna Karina, Godard’s former spouse and longtime muse, racing via the Louvre together with her male buddies in “Band of Outsiders,” and contemplated the multitude of meanings implicit in a cup of espresso’s swirling floor in “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” (1967). They’ve swooned over the mad Technicolor collision of women and men, colours and kinds within the magnificent “Pierrot le Fou” (1965) and the moody erotic languor of Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli in “Contempt” (1963), for a lot of Godard’s supreme masterpiece and most emotional work, wherein he grapples with the top of his marriage and in addition that of the Hollywood cinema he grew up loving.
The visible fantastic thing about his work persevered and even perhaps deepened properly after his storied ’60s interval, these many years throughout which Godard remodeled from a bespectacled, cigar-wielding New Wave icon into one thing altogether tougher for a lot of to embrace. For his most dedicated partisans, he found ever extra freewheeling and thrilling tributaries of cinematic that means with films like “First Name: Carmen” (1983), “Détective” (1985) and “Nouvelle Vague” (1990), alongside the best way branching out into collaborative filmmaking tasks and embracing the probabilities of digital video. For others, these many years weren’t a interval of development however retreat, into ever extra bewildering and even punishing realms of inscrutability.
I’d hardly be the primary individual to admit to discovering my share of late-Godard films perplexing, which isn’t to say I’ve given up on them, particularly since I’ve additionally discovered my share of them deeply pleasurable, beneficiant and generally beautiful past phrases. One among his most rapturously acquired works of the final decade is “Goodbye to Language” (2014), a 69-minute astonishment of sight and sound that resembled a few of his earlier work in its jagged allusions, its bursts of textual content and its lovely girls — but in addition, because of its dazzling experiments with 3-D, resembled nothing he’d ever made earlier than.
“Godard forever,” an viewers member yelled out because the lights dimmed on “Goodbye to Language’s” first screening in Cannes (some 46 years after the 1968 version of the competition, which he and a number of other different self-styled cine-revolutionaries dropped at a screeching halt). A number of months later, “Goodbye to Language” was named greatest image of 2014 by the Nationwide Society of Movie Critics — a choice that delighted varied small pockets of the cinema-loving world and drew all-too-predictable accusations of pretension and elitism from some who’d barely heard of it, not to mention seen it.
Heaven is aware of Godard didn’t make movies to win prizes, not to mention break field workplace data. But it surely was immensely satisfying to know that this unaccountably nice and creative artist, then 84 and within the twilight of a profession that modified cinema and the world, was nonetheless able to ticking off all the precise individuals. Lengthy might he proceed. Godard perpetually.