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July 13, 2008


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"Now we know how one of the greatest of all filmmakers — the man who so radically changed cinema in 1959 with his debut feature, “Breathless” — became an intolerable gasbag."

Gold. I would like to have a beer with this woman.

It does raise the question, though, of artist perception. I've always thought, to put it politely, that with rare exception Godard has always been lodged in his own head, which is why I've never enjoyed his work. Appreciated it on a technical level and in a proper context, sure, but enjoyed? No.


Zacharek's review was flat-out anti-intellectual and deserves whatever blistering response it gets. In it, she seemed disinclined to take seriously any film or filmmaker which required her to think. I'm sure she's smarter than that, but that is just an awful review. Her choice of Prenom: Carmen as an alienating low-light of Godard's post-67 work really makes me question how recently she's seen it and if she was even paying attention when she watched.

craig keller.

To pine for 'Breathless' (and seemingly nothing but 'Breathless' as far as Godard's corpus runs, and as far as this Zacharek character is concerned) while using 'Out 1' as corrective-comparison beggars belief, and makes me wonder hard whether our S/Z has ever actually seen 'Out 1', or just plucked it from Example Heaven.

'Prénom Carmen' is one of the ecstatic apotheoses of image + sound + idea in the history of cinema — in other words, one of the apotheoses of 'le cinématographe.' It's not even a movie (let alone a "small movie"), it's total mystic revelation. And it's all the evidence one should ever need that Godard's capabilities are beyond the human. So no, I can't take this woman's little piece any more seriously than Brody's penetrative Chris-Hansen-act. She'd clearly be more at-home handling the provocations of, say, Jessica Seinfeld.


Miguel Marías

Craig, it is quite usual for people who don't like Godard (or anything he has ever embodied) to proclaim themselves great fans of "Breathless", seemingly because of the "great historical" impact it had (of which I am not so sure, in the long run). For me, it is fool-proof: if "Breathless" is either your favorite Godard movie (or, worse, the only one you like), you don't like or even understand Godard. So what Stephanie Zacharek writes seems to me of less seriousness than her uncritically taking the cue from Brody and telling the NYT readers that Godard is anti-semitic, which is a way of attacking someone without any kind of analysis or discussion of his work, like "he beat his wife, did not support his children, was blasphemous..." (the damning rumours change). Brody seems to provide a good launching-platform for any sort of charges against Godard or the kind of cinema and attitudes towards art he represents (or is taken as representative of).

Glenn Kenny

Craig, for what it's worth, I can vouch for Zacharek's having actually seen "Out 1," as I attended the same screening(s).

craig keller.

Fair enough / all the more perplexing...

FWIW, I was at the two public screenings (the original, and the redux), but not the critics' screening.


craig keller.

err, "initial" and the "redux" of the long version -- not to be confused to mean " 'Out 1' and 'Out 1: Spectre' " -- although I was at the initial Anthology screening of the latter (with the archaeological, and to me at least, very-beautiful-and-moving-in-its-slight-pinkness, print), the preceding April.



I've loved all the Godard I could get my hands on, and "Breathless" is still my favorite of his movies. There are always exceptions. Although I do understand it as a general rule.

Also: Two Tub Man is awesome.

Glenn Kenny

Craig—I remember that pink print at Anthology. Next I see you I will tell you of the pain I endured in order to see it!

Kent Jones


I haven't read Stephanie's review, but why should anyone care about the behavior of an artist, unless it relates directly to his or her work? And if she is so dismissive of the bulk of Godard's work, I don't know why she reviewed the book. I spoke about Godard's lack of generosity in a blog operated by my friends in Argentina, but that was in direct response to a question asked of me in public after a screening: did I think Scorsese was as ungenerous as Godard suggested he was in Alain Fleischer's film about the Pompidou show, MORCEAUX DE CONVERSATIONS AVEC GODARD? No. Godard has a well-documented record of monstrous behavior with collaborators and Scorsese does not, so the question didn't sit well with me. But Godard's treatment of Norman Mailer or Dominique Paini or several of his actors has no bearing whatsoever on the work itself.

I've read Richard Brody's book, cover to cover. First of all, I don't understand the animus. Brody worships Godard, and thinks he's one of the greatest artists of the last century (rightly so). He repeatedly goes out of his way to explain and attempt to justify Godard's very worst behavior on the set. What he doesn't do is repeat Colin MaCabe's mistake of picturing him as flawless and unprecedentedly brilliant. And he certainly doesn't call him an anti-semite. What he does do is to see and flesh out, in certain films, evidence of an artist who occasionally betrays "pre-war prejudices," an apt term. He sees it in NOTRE MUSIQUE, JLG/JLG and COMMENT CA VA. And he paints a very interesting portrait of the atmosphere within the world of post-war French film culture. Of course Godard isn't anti-semitic. But based on the films, it seems like a mistake to assert that his thinking about Jews and Judaism is as clear as he imagines it to be. This is actually borne out in the Fleischer film, during the moment when he basically talks over Jean Narboni's reservations about the Hitler/Golda Meir juxtaposition in COMMENT CA VA.

Again, I haven't read Stephanie's review, and I really don't understand why she would even want to write it. But beyond that, regarding Brody's book, I wonder why it seems so strange to have complicated feelings about Godard. Particularly since he's such a complex figure to begin with.


Sorry to slightly change the subject, but tangentially speaking of Rivette, I was privileged to see Céline and Julie Go Boating last month (and for the first time) at the BAM, and after being sufficiently charmed and blown away I'm struggling to locate some of his other earlier works. Either version of Out: 1 seems nearly impossible to locate, and my interest in Duelle and Noroit was also piqued only to learn that they're available in France, but with no English subtitles. Love on the Ground the only one I was able to locate through "other channels", as it were.

What's a new Rivette convert to do, and why is all this stuff taking so long to hit stateside, or the UK for that matter? Not even Céline is available, which is a real shame. I mean, if people are willing to pay to sit through Inland Empire again there should be no problem finding an audience for that one.

craig Keller.

L'Amour par terre is available in a subtitled edition in the UK -- in its integral form. Merry-Go-Round, whuch is mostly in English, is available on a German disc in a good transfer. Hurlevent and La Bande des quatre and Secret défense are available on ho-hum PAL-to-NTSC discs from Image in the US. Ditto La Belle noiseuse.


Gorilla Bob

I can't stand Jacque Rivette, I belive being re-circumcised would yield greater pleasure than watching his films. As for late Godard, like late Coltrane, I can't go there. I need some form of pleasure in my art, and late Godard has all the pleasure of having my teeth ground with a jagged piece of glass. But maybe that's just me...

Glenn Kenny

Gorilla Bob—Jacques Rivette has always spoken very highly of YOU.

Kent—Indeed. I would be very happy to engage anyone who wants to substantively argue contra Godard's late work. But S.Z.'s review suffices with a pro forma dismissal of it, followed by the recountings of his personal awfulness. "His late movies suck, AND he's an asshole." Frustrating.

The thicket of a critical biography—to try to illuminate and evaluate the tales while providing some kind of meaningful and apropos chronicle of their teller—is a hugely daunting one. The signal achievement of Brody's book, whatever its flaws, is in providing the wealth of materials it does. What I've been trying to do in my posts addressing the book is not to draw conclusions but to use the material Brody's brought up (supplemented with other research) to ask more questions (some of them troubling, I know), and hopefully come out of that process with a more engaged appreciation of Godard's work. Like "Finnegans Wake," it's something one could devote a lifetime to...


I have to admit, I personally don't like Rivette's work. Somebody should really explain to him that long and slow doesn't mean deep and thoughtful, and that leaving in all the fat doesn't make your movie any better.

Kent - This review smells a lot to me like she was assigned the book, not that she chose to review it. At least she's honest about how she feels.

Glenn Kenny

Well, geez, Dan, of course she's "honest" about "how she feels." So am I, most of the time. That's not the same thing as making a convincing argument.

But yes, I imagine the review was assigned rather than pursued.


New to the comments section. The questions you've been posing here, Glenn, have been very interesting.

Kent, as someone who's grateful for the wealth of information Brody provides, but still found his book disappointing, what most bothered me were the parts in which he gives much more care to detailing Godard's personal life than to engaging with the films. The focus on Godard's failings is so relentless that at times the biography seems like more of a moral account (with mostly debits) than a critical evaluation. Brody does often attempt to justify the behavior, but the justifications are rather light in comparison to the detailed recounting of the actions, and the effect it had on me was that of being asked to judge Godard rather than understand him and his art. Along those lines, it is true that Brody does not directly level the charge of being an anti-semite, but Stephanie Zacharak and other reviewers have taken it from the book. And Brody does allow Bernard-Henri Levy to label Godard one without comment, quoting him in the "Eloge de l'Amour" chapter.

In the end, I felt that Brody had taken for granted the greatness of Godard's work and had allowed it to become obscured by all the sensational details he collected about the man's life. His book raises the question of why Godard continued to work so compulsively, and at such a high level, when it seemed to require him causing and enduring so much pain, but it doesn't really address that question in a satisfying way. I agree with Glenn that you could devote a lifetime to grappling with Godard's work. For me it's actually MacCabe's book that's a stronger encouragement toward that, but I also hope that Brody's book contributes to the discourse. It's sad that it's been used as a pretext to argue Godard's irrelevance, when that was the exact opposite of the author's intent.


Heh, what I mean, Glenn, is better the critic is up front about his or her seething hatred/shameless love of the topic if you're reviewing a book about it. Me? Clear? Nah.


Dan, Zacharek's review reminds me of Richard Schickel reviewing Scott Eyman's Ford bio "Print the Legend" in the NY Times some years back. Schickel's review was much worse, as he barely engaged the book at all, instead spending most of the space questioning why anyone would want to write about Ford in the first place, since (according to Schickel) Ford was a s.o.b. on a personal level and made deeply flawed movies to boot. In an aside he named other directors who, he said, are neglected at Ford's expense.

Now, assigning that book to someone who loved Ford would have given me a far, far better picture of whether the biography was worth reading. The same is true of Zacharek's review. Critics take the reviewing assignments they can get and write honestly, so I am not slamming either Zacharek or Schickel. But disdain for an artist, or a large part of an artist's work, does not make for a good review of the artist's biography. The Times ill-served its readers in both cases.


You see, if it's obvious to me up front the reviewer isn't going to give me a good review because of personal opinions, I can just quit reading. Part of me wants to start a site about critical bias, not to bash the critics, just to note their personal tastes and how that can color their work. I can always rely on Owen Gleiberman to pan the Coens, I can always rely on Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe to cut any film by a black director far more slack than it deserves (this IS the guy who gave "Little Man" an okay review), I can always rely on Janet Maslin to not understand genre movies at all, etc.


Ha! I'd link to that site. I really would. I try to be honest about my own biases (or tastes, if we want to use a less loaded word).

It's true that one can quit reading. But the NY Times Book Review is THE most prestigious in the country. Nothing else comes close. So it's tiresome that out of all the critics they could assign, they chose two (and that's just the two we're talking about here, I have certainly seen it before) whose total lack of affinity for the subject should have disqualified them BEFORE they made print--even if I have the option to toss the paper aside, or throw it with great force.


As obscure as they can be (simply discerning a narrative in one of Godard's late films is sometimes impossibly difficult), few films provide as much immediate aesthetic pleasure as, for instance, PASSION, HAIL MARY, FIRST NAME: CARMEN, or NOUVELLE VAGUE. It's a question of details (as in everything): the moment to moment flux of image and sound, the rhythm of cutaways and shifts in focus, the juxtapositions of music, dialogue, and sound that makes me think that Godard, as much as any filmmaker alive or dead, thinks like a composer. His images of bodies, faces, and landscapes pulse with a strange beauty. Think of the long shot late in HAIL MARY when the child Jesus runs away through a glade with his father and mother by the car. I don't know if I can adequately explain why, but there are few moments in films more electrifying, more -right- than that.

And that's the problem: few if any critics have been able to effectively evoke or even suggest the contours of the form of pleasure Godard's late work offers us, and so many of the late films receive rote assessments of their thematics/supposed dialectics, or just uncritical celebrations/apologetics. So in a way I understand people who are skeptical, sometimes even hostile, toward late Godard, because there's really little writing that can help you prepare for the experience. I hope this doesn't sound condescending. Anyone who loves these films must deal, somehow, with the fact that most people, even many or most cinephiles, dislike them.


P.S. Note that I wouldn't want to completely reduce these films to an idea of "pleasure," because clearly many things in them--especially in SAUVE QUI PEUT and PASSION, less so with the stuff after--are meant as gestures of anti-pleasure. Think of Huppert's coughing in PASSION.

Glenn Kenny

Agreed, Jonah. For my money, pretty much every single moment of "Nouvelle Vague," the picture that inspired Vincent Canby's infamous line "The party's over," is breathtaking, poetry-packed, electrifying. The physical beauty of each and every shot, in tandem with the depth and density of the allusion; the near impenetrable simplicity of its storyline; all these combine in some ultimately unquantifiable way to knock me out every time.

craig keller.

I just wanted to respond to Kent's post from a few days ago -- things have been busy here, so I hope I'm not arriving back at the party too late...

Kent wrote:

"I've read Richard Brody's book, cover to cover. First of all, I don't understand the animus. Brody worships Godard, and thinks he's one of the greatest artists of the last century (rightly so). He repeatedly goes out of his way to explain and attempt to justify Godard's very worst behavior on the set. What he doesn't do is repeat Colin MaCabe's mistake of picturing him as flawless and unprecedentedly brilliant. And he certainly doesn't call him an anti-semite."

I've read Brody's book cover to cover too, including all those endnotes (the positioning of which, coupled with their total volume, were a complete pain to negotiate, but that's the editor's/publisher's fault, not Brody's), and there are three things in particular that irritate me, and occasion (at least) my (own) animus:

(1) First and foremost, the book's total lack of poetry. He clearly loves much of Godard's work, and unlooses a barrage of commendably sharp insights on a number of the films; that he's fair to later works that have gotten short shrift from a lot of critics is also a wonderful thing. But between the insights and the prose, there exists, in my opinion, a bizarre emotional block.

(2a) The 'Notre musique' chapter, which seems a complete dropping-off from the method and research of the previous chapters, and seems no "clearer" in its articulation of a comprehension of Godard's anti-Zionism than it does of the film's strengths -- a film about which Philippe Garrel, speaking at the press conference for the premiere of 'Les Amants réguliers,' said: "What has there been in the last five years? Van Sant's 'Last Days' -- a beautiful film -- but, foremost, 'Notre musique.' Other than that? I don't know. Only 'Notre musique.' " Whether one agrees with this or not, it's anecdotal evidence that there's an overt and supreme aesthetic at play here which has driven certain quarters of cinephilia to rapturous enthusiasm. It's a complete masterpiece, I'm sorry. I know three women alone who have wept before it.

(2b) His ridiculous "reading" of the "origin of stereo" section of 'JLG/JLG' (i.e., he's invoking the entertainment industry, specifically the recording industry, and its large percentage of Jewish executives), including his damning and shameful quotation marks around the quotation of the phrase "mystical hexagram."

(3) The cry-me-a-river 'France tour détour deux enfants' anecdote about the playground, and his dipping his toes into the water of accusations of psychic child-rape around the filming of Camille V., in language that's a sad pastiche of a case-study; the dialogue about the daughter's "tits" in 'Sauve qui peut (la vie)'; and the sequence of the nude footage of Miéville's daughter in her film, with his open-ended and implicitly accusatory wondering-out-loud about how this came about, all while then praising the beauty of the nesting works, and the Miéville sequence (along with its echoes in 'Le Livre de Marie'). Perhaps my own non-problem with any of these sequences is the fact that none smack of the exploitational (whether their subjects ended up feeling betrayed or exploited or not — we can talk about the methods of a director, and the means v. the ends at length — cf. Pialat), but move toward some of the only SERIOUS cinematographic contemplation of what the role in life is (and more broadly, what 'is' the phenomenon) of the sexuality of adolescents — a millennia-old subject for writers, painters, and so on. If Godard were writing about "Eros and Pedagogy" in Harper's (I paraphrase, but it was an essay six or so years back) or elsewhere, this would be unproblematic. Rendered with intelligence and inherent ambivalence (which renders Brody's own brand of ambivalence redundant), we have the cinematographic contemplation of ideas -- questions posed, no definitive answers. Do the subjects before the camera wind up martyrs? Possibly. But decades on, creator and subject "will all be equal," to invoke the last title of 'Barry Lyndon.' Real cinema is not an easy task, for anyone involved — no-one has done more to show this in the history of cinema than Godard, in my opinion.

Moving from here, somewhat relatedly, into something that irks me generally about the book: I dislike that Brody has gone and opened up the lid on much of Godard's personal life while he's alive, and 'explicated' the quotidian, sometimes (and necessarily) brutal, process behind making the films, and what has fed them. My only real interest in reading the book was for the gossip and the anecdote — but it was a dirty, diabolical, pig-like want, and it shouldn't have been available to me. I would have rather heard about the Bérangère Allaux business from a friend of a friend of a friend, and then I would have kept silent about it. It's disgusting to me that he calls Godard out on this, pathologizing the entire thing and painting this Lear-like image which he then brands, quote, a "pathetic conclusion." God bless he who can presume to have such an even and 'fair' ('objective') emotional keel. Anyway, this passage alone is SO horrible, and no "duties of the critic" can justify this, especially for a living person, — "impartial critical duty" strikes me, in instances like this, as nothing but a police-badge for access to the scene, and the committing of voyeurism on the critic's own end, in the name of scholarship. Whatever happened to mystery? It vanished. All there are are these critical 'duties' — to "serve and protect" emotional neutrality.

Anyway, this kill-the-father/love-the-father dialectic permeates much of Brody's book. But that's just my opinion. And (last thing I'd add), much of it seems bellows'd (to me at least) by a semi-subconscious resentment against the figure who can live and create Great Art, a resentment within the critic who does not have the same powers of expression or (evidently-presumably) breadth of emotional experience — nor artistic gift.

Kent wrote: "This is actually borne out in the Fleischer film, during the moment when he basically talks over Jean Narboni's reservations about the Hitler/Golda Meir juxtaposition in COMMENT CA VA."

I'm very interested in seeing the 'Morceaux..' film. I've heard it's not very good, as cinema, and may in fact fall into some of the same vulture-attractive tar-pits of the book, but again, this is just second-hand. Are any copies of it circulating, or is it due to screen in New York any time soon?

Life isn't easy -- none of us can help feeling at least at some point that some of us are bastards to some of us on occasion, and it gets difficult to keep track of who bears a grudge against who, and new ones seem to flare up every week. ("Is Jean-Marie S. still pissed off about the not-too-much-of-tête-à-tête with Luc M. at the Cinémathèque screening?") I guess the thing is to keep une peau dure.



There is something supicious and irritating about critics who harp on Breathless at the expense of Godard's other work. Firstly, Breathless is but a hint of Godard's capabilities, and his potential is better-realized in later works: the bohemian-youths-as-gangsters (or vice versa) theme in Band of Outsiders, the machine-gun style (replacing jump cuts with staccato elipsis) in the form of Masculin Feminin, the uneasy relationship of movie-play and real violence in Le Petit Soldat... Godard's later films (and I'm not even getting into his post-'68 work here) also have a richer emotional palette than the essentially jazz-cool and circa-'59 hip of Breathless. There's melancholy, romanticism, humor, tragedy, anger, and a feverish yearning for some elusive transcendence, all of which is absent or only hinted at in Godard's first film. I like Breathless (though it took me a while to warm up to it) but if you think it's the ne plus ultra of Godard, you're missing a whole hell of a lot.

As for Rivette...

Supposedly there was more to the scene with Leaud and the cards later in Out 1 but Rivette cut it because he felt it echoed too closely Leaud's recent nervous breakdown. I wonder if Godard would have done the same? (Not if you believe Truffaut, who charged Godard with emotionally exploiting Leaud in Masculin Feminin). Of course, whether or not Rivette cut the scene, he did "go there." Actually, this whole discussion reminds me of the current gossip about Joker "killing" Heath Ledger. Though in that case I don't put much stock in the rumors.

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