Saturday, June 28, 2014

Still “escaping the rules”: Godard interviewed

We are lucky to live in a time when a small handful of cinema giants are still living and making films. One of the greatest (and crankiest) of all is Jean-Luc Godard, aka “Uncle Jean,” one of the premiere cine-poets and image-makers. He doesn't speak to the press very often these days, and when he does it is often in the context of the release of a new film.

Given that he didn't attend this recent Cannes festival (but sent them a short film saying that he would not be attending), each new interview becomes a small “event” unto itself. Subtitled interviews are even more of a rarity, so I am delighted to pass on this 45-minute talk Godard had with interviewers for Canon Europe.

The chat was shot in March of this year and is tied into JLG's latest feature, Adieu au langage. A big portion of it naturally turns to the 3-D process, since this is Godard's first feature in 3-D and his second film in it (he contributed a short segment to the anthology feature 3x3D). The best (and most characteristic) thing is that he begins by making fun of 3-D, but then gradually begins to explain why he used it – because there are no rules for its use and so he was free to do what he wanted.

Godard's manner of speaking is very circuitous, and yet he does give direct answers (if you're paying attention, the answer arrives eventually). He favors a lot of wordplay, and so here he winds up dissecting the current-day fascination with phrases that contain the word “high.” (Like George Carlin, Uncle Jean has loved for most of his career to dissect popular language.) He also provides all of the synonyms in different languages for an “answer print” (which has locked the image with the sound), citing the British “married print” as the most interesting.

He reiterates the fact that he films without complete scripts – or, in this case, any script at all. His goal, he notes, is to “escape the rules” when embarking upon a new project, so quite naturally he gravitated towards experimenting with 3-D. Godard speaks conceptually, so when watching/listening to/reading one of his interviews, one must regard his responses as part of a bigger argument (see more on his contrarianism below). Part one of the interview is here.

In part two of the interview he mocks the notion that younger directors often come to filmmaking with dreams of making a big-budget blockbuster. He also notes that his personal friends are not in the arts, and that he hasn't had a circle of artist friends in quite some time.

Perhaps the most revealing set of answers he gives relates to his wanting to come up with “the oppsite of what someone says.” He has spent a career confounding critical and popular expectations, and he clearly enjoys looking at things from other angles, both in art and in life (and he notes this is something he inherited from his father, whom he “barely knew”).

Watching this interview, I was at first taken aback because M. Godard seems frailer than usual (he is now 83 years old, of course), but that he gradually becomes comfortable being interviewed. Since he has been notoriously hard on interviewers I can only mark this up to the fact that he's being interviewed by a woman. 

Godard stated that he based the character of Parvulesco (played by Jean-Pierre Melville in Breathless) on Nabokov, but it's clear that some of the character's responses (especially his delight in having a female interrogator) is partially Uncle Jean's own impulse.

Thanks to Zach C., for leading me to this interview.

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