Without Jean-Luc Godard, The Doors would never have existed. In Oliver Stone's film about the pop group, there is a scene where Doors founders Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek meet as film students at the University of California. They rave about their idol Godard. They only become musicians because they can't become directors like him. Morrison has just been booed by his fellow students for an experimental film.
While the great weirdo Oliver Stone isn't an accurate historian, he gets very close to the truth here: In the 1960s, Godard was like a messiah who opened the eyes of a whole generation of young artists to what was possible. And when he was shooting "One Plus One" with the Rolling Stones in 1969, it was by no means clear who the coolest pig in the studio was: Mick Jagger or he.
You have to remember all of this because the films of Jean-Luc Godard, who died on September 13 at the age of 91, have often seemed so pompous and pompous in recent decades. Stuff that could be exhibited in galleries and at the documenta, but which certainly wouldn't have alienated another Jim Morrison from pop music.
Basically, Godard had been obscure since the early 1970s: first because he had withdrawn into a left-wing agitprop ghetto. At the end of "Weekend" you see an intertitle with the words "Fin du Cinéma" (German: end of the cinema). Godard's longtime cinematographer Raoul Coutard later said, "By this time he had the epiphany of becoming a Marxist-Leninist."
Then, after his cinema comeback in the 1980s, he appeared more and more as a pompous grandpa, disappearing behind clouds of pretentious artificial smoke, from which he occasionally fired a sparkling aphorism. In 2004, musician Nicolas Godin of Air spat his contempt when, confronted with a quote from Godard over the television, he said: "It seems his job is to churn out clever-sounding quotes! I think he only makes films to put his clever sayings somewhere."
And yet Godard remains one of the most important directors of all time. He achieved this status with his films from the 1960s, when, together with Jacques Rivette, François Truffaut and other directors who, like him, had previously written reviews for the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, he formed the Nouvelle Vague - the most important and most momentous artistic movement of the 20th century next to surrealism.
At the time, every single Godard film entered exciting new territory - aesthetically, morally and politically: "The Little Soldier" had long been banned in France because of its criticism of the Algerian war, "The Story of Nana S." showed a young woman slipping into prostitution, In the playful musical "A woman is a woman", a young French woman looks for a surrogate father for the child her husband does not want to father.
It's not for nothing that Quentin Tarantino's production company is called A Band Apart - after "Bande à part", the most beautiful, most adorable and coolest of all Godard films from 1964. Uma Thurman and John Travolta's dance in "Pulp Fiction" is unthinkable without the wonderful scene in which Anna Karina, Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur dance the Madison Twist to the sound of a Parisian jukebox in an amateurish and divine way. At the time, such moments had a similar effect to punk 20 years later: they proved that it was less a matter of academic craftsmanship and priestly guarded knowledge of old men than of attitude, intelligence and creativity. The term auteur, which encouraged filmmakers to think of themselves as authors, was - like the famous punk formula of the three chords - an encouragement to artistic freedom.
Godard's wake-up call wasn't just heard by filmmakers in the 1960s. The theater director Peter Zadek describes in his autobiography "My Way": "'Out of breath' was the sensation. Godard approached the editing with a radicalism that was unbelievable for the time. In the scene where Belmondo and Jean Seberg are in a taxi - you wouldn't even notice it today - the cut jumps back and forth from a close-up on him to a close-up on her, again and again with new illogical backgrounds - today routine in the days of the clips, shocking at the time.”
Zadek and his colleagues at the then Bremen Theater were also fascinated by the interviews that Godard built into his feature films, the documentary parts, the great intelligence of his films, the sexual freedom and much more: "One beauty after the other. We saw the films, three, four times, and then the whole theater talked about nothing else for many days.”
While the works of so many other auteur filmmakers from that time seem dusty and whimsical today, Godard's films have lost none of their freshness and nonchalance. This is mainly due to the unwashed anarchist humor that many people didn't really notice behind all the art and politics at the time. When the dying Jean-Paul Belmondo said to Jean Seberg in "Out of Breath": "I really think you puke", one could still understand that as the role prose of a Hollywood-addicted petty criminal who wanted to be as cool as his idol Bogart in death.
But when Godard made what was supposedly his most left-wing film, The Chinese Woman, in 1967, the humorous distance to the topic was actually unmistakable. "Veronique, are you okay? Are you worried?” the moderate left professor asks his student, whom he meets on the train to the local university. She replies, "I have too many enemies." You? Which ones?" "Oh, there are the warmongers, the bureaucrats, the factory owners, then the landowners. And then there is the faction of reactionary intellectuals and those who depend on them. These are all my enemies.”
In retrospect, it seems puzzling how, in the light of this dialogue, one could have come up with the idea that Godard was a stubborn left-wing ideologue and that “The Chinese Woman” was a propaganda film. Because before that, Anne Wiazemsky had already been seen portraying enslaved Vietnam with a kind of lampshade on her head. As she is surrounded by models of American airplanes hanging from strings, she screams "Help, Monsieur Kosygin (the then Soviet Prime Minister), help!" - of course in vain. And at the end, Godard shows how one half of the group of red students shoots the wrong guy in an extremely amateurish action and the other half plays theater in a ruin. Almost prophetically, he anticipated how the 1968 impulse would end: with terrorism or with culture.
Jean-Luc Godard was born on December 3, 1930 as the son of Franco-Swiss Protestants in the canton of Vaud. His father Paul Godard was a wealthy ophthalmologist whose dissertation in 1925 dealt with the conditions of vision. The son later shared this fascination. The maternal branch of the family, the Monods, was, as Godard's biographer Colin MacCabe writes, "one of the most celebrated families in France, including among its members a Nobel laureate, pastors, theologians, scientists, politicians and financiers." His grandfather, Julien-Pierre Monod, was a friend and patron Paul Valérys, and in 1926 the French poet met his German poet friend Rilke at Anthy, the Monods' summer palace (which also appears in Godard's film Forever Mozart). The rich treasures of education, which Godard spread all the more decoratively in his films as he got older, were truly ingested with his mother's milk.
But there was always something else that contradicted the image of the pretentious art chatterer that his later works had consolidated: something asocial in the best sense of the word (because the word “anarchist” seems too big and too worn for that). Apparently he was a notorious liar, because Daniel Cohn-Bendit repeated in his tribute to his 80th birthday that Godard's family belonged to the "racist and fascist Swiss big bourgeoisie" - nonsense that the director probably got into in the 1960s world when, from the boys' point of view, all fathers were fascists. So it almost seemed like a just punishment of fate that at the end of his life the old Godard himself was suspected of being an anti-Semite, among other things because he had said at some point that the Palestinians were the Jews of today and because in 1976 he Here and Elsewhere” Golda Meir and Hitler had edited side by side.
The young Godard was not only a mythomaniac, but also a kleptomaniac. He lost his first job, which his father got him in a waterworks, because he stole typewriters there and sold them. He was notorious among his friends from the "Cahiers" days in Paris for always missing something after Godard's visit.
The kiss-me attitude towards material values that were dear to others also shaped him later as a director. The most iconic example is the endless tracking shot along a row of wrecked cars in Weekend, shot in one go. Godard needed 250 meters of dolly rail for this, which was all France had to offer at the time. But after producing the shot at exorbitant expense, he cut it in two to annoy the producer.
Car accidents fascinated Godard as moments when status and consumerism lead into a deadly trap. Mass motorization only began in the 1960s. And one could get the idea that the automobile was the raging tin coffin with which bourgeois society catapulted itself into its own downfall. In Out of Breath, Belmondo drives a stolen car from the south of France to Paris to meet Jean Seberg. In "Pierrot le Fou" he and Anna Karina zoom in the opposite direction. Both journeys end fatally for the man, although not in a crash. This death was reserved for Brigitte Bardot in "The Contempt" - the most expensive star Godard has ever worked with is crushed at the end of the film. Producer Carlo Ponti may not have liked that either.
The unpredictable trait in Godard's character has not diminished with age. He did not want to accept the honorary Oscar 2010 personally. After all, he informed the Oscar Academy about it in advance. When he was supposed to receive the European Film Prize for his life's work in Berlin at the end of 2007, he canceled at such short notice and without reason that it was tantamount to a snub. The only explanation he sent was a Mörike poem: "Let, o world, o let me be! / Don't lure you with gifts of love, / Let this heart have it alone / Its joy, its pain!" It sounded like the kitschy farewell greeting of a 77- year olds, but it was probably just another puzzling Godard joke.
It is true that his last works, the titles of which all sounded like literary-political manifestos (“Film Socialisme”, “Adieu au langage”, “Le livre d'image”), were adored by the Cannes press, which was once despised (1968). with extremely mixed feelings. But the master still gave great performances that shimmered between religious staging and comedy with unique charisma. Most recently in 2018, when he was only connected to the press conference for "Le livre d'image" in Cannes via live video from his hermitage on Lake Geneva. His producer held up the smartphone, which showed Godard's little talking face, like a monstrance or a crucifix in a church service. And the representatives of the Godardist International who were present sank down in adoration and taking photographs.
Even more grotesquely, there's even a Google Street View shot of Godard's Residence role, which clearly shows him with his wife and sometime co-director Anne-Marie Miéville. Someone staged the images on YouTube with the solemn music of Georges Delerue from "The Contempt" like a Godard film. After that, one would not be surprised if Godard appeared on the Internet as a virus after his death or reported as a ringtone on our mobile phones.
However, the biggest old-age joke comes from an authority that cultivates an even more cynical and enigmatic sense of humor than Godard: God, Destiny, Karma. When the Italian ship Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized in 2012, it was revealed that Godard had filmed the cruise scenes for 2010's Film Socialisme right there - as a metaphor for capitalism adrift in aimless paralysis of luxury. The director, who staged so many clashes in his tin coffin career, was cruelly outbid in the late autumn of his career.