Film-Philosophy

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Vol. 6 No. 31, September 2002

 

 

David Sterritt

 

Godardiana: A Reply to Marcia Landy

 

 

Marcia Landy

'Godard: Thinking Media'

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 6 no. 30, September 2002

http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol6-2002/n30landy

 

I obviously agree with Marcia Landy's contention -- in her review of my 1999 book _The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible_ -- that Godard is no relic, and recent developments emphatically bear out this point. These include: the increasing amount of attention being paid to the astonishing _Histoire(s) du cinema_ series; a growing body of work on Godard's films and videos of the past dozen years; and the release of his 2001 masterpiece _Eloge de l'amour_ in American theaters following its world premiere at the Cannes International Film Festival, where a near-riot ensued as a result of the festival management's ridiculously short-sighted decision to schedule just one press screening in one of the smaller auditoriums before its presentation in the event's official competition. Under its English-language title, _In Praise of Love_, this work was also selected for the prestigious closing-night slot at Lincoln Center's highly selective New York Film Festival, of which I am a former programmer -- a courageous move on the festival's part, considering the large number of all-too-predictable walkouts elicited by the screening of such a dense and intricate film at the end of what was for the most part a rich and challenging (and therefore, for many audience members, arduous and tiring) program. Respectful treatment of the film by thoughtful movie critics in subsequent months has been encouraging, and one looks forward to forthcoming exegeses by Godard authorities on a work that foregrounds precisely the issues identified as Godard's primary 'philosophical subjects' by Michael Temple and James S. Williams in the list cited by Landy in her opening paragraph, with particularly penetrating (and poignant) insights with regard to what Landy rightly calls a motif that has 'haunted all of Godard's work . . . the question of memory'.

 

Since there is little in Landy's review that I take issue with -- quite the opposite, the points she raises are both apposite and articulately stated -- my emphasis in this response will relate to matters of wording and form. In retrospect, I acknowledge being over-broad in my statement that Godard's filmmaking of the post-1960s decades has found him 'replacing [his] passion for political issues with a focus on aesthetic and spiritual matters'. [1] The word 'replacing' is too strong. For more than a decade I have found it inexplicable that some critics find _Nouvelle Vague_ (1990) a postpolitical work; its engagement with issues of class, globality, commodity culture, and other forthrightly political problems is more than obvious, and this is just one example of the tenacity with which Godard's sensibility has retained its unfailing concern with philosophical issues that are profoundly political in every meaningful sense of the term. This stated, I will also stress that Godard's manner of engaging with such (vastly diverse and expansive) issues has undergone considerable changes over the course of his writing and film/videomaking career. Landy recognizes this when she observes that Godard's 'intellectual and stylistic strategies have been attuned to changes in the political and cultural landscape', but I sense a hint of 'old auteurism' in her decision to accentuate the elements of his practice that have remained more or less consistent with the passage of time and the accumulation of works, rather than those elements that have undergone shifts, evolutions, permutations, and transmogrifications -- some minor, others major, and all integral to his projection of a creative personality that is nothing if not protean, polymorphous, and ultimately ungraspable and inconsumable in keeping with his most deeply postmodernist instincts. In sum, I still maintain that he has gone from 'one stage to another' (20), and that his work has become 'less *overtly* ideological' (10, emphasis added) since the close of the Dziga-Vertov Group period and the early Anne-Marie Mieville collaborations. I nonetheless hope that my book does not really suggest a Godard who is 'cleansed of politics', however much those politics may have changed their overall outlines and expressive modalities. (I plead *nolo contendere* to the implied criticism that my book does not question earlier periodizations of Godard's career as skeptically as it might have.)

 

I would like to make a couple of additional points as well. My chapter on _My Life to Live_ does state that in cinema 'externals . . . outward signs . . . may seem sadly inadequate if one is looking for the *inner selves* of psychologically defined characters', and that such externals 'can be highly suggestive if one accepts the notion that inner selves are inseparable from the external actions that they trace on the world around them' (65-66). But this is on the way to a more important point that Landy skims over in proceeding to her (highly pertinent) discussion of Gilles Deleuze's contribution in this area. I state slightly later that Godard's most abiding concern is not with 'outer' selves (so dominant in movement-image cinema) or with 'inner' selves (so important in time-image cinema) but rather with 'something more profound and mysterious -- a 'something else' that can only be approached through oxymoronic genres . . . and eccentric creative processes . . .' (66). I wish to underscore again the importance of an aggressively ungraspable edge to the Mobius strip of Godardian cinema, which pursues philosophical goals far beyond those sought by the overwhelming majority of narratively and psychologically oriented films. I also wish to emphasize the inestimable importance of Godard's respect for the productive paradoxicality and ineluctable ambiguity of all worthwhile experience and expression, lest this not be entirely clear from Landy's quotation from pages 217-218 of my book. (Nonparadoxical footnote: Contrary to Landy, the aphorism 'Not blood, red' was spoken by Godard in an October 1965 interview with _Cahiers du cinema_ with reference to _Pierrot le fou_, not the equally sanguinary _Weekend_.)

 

Finally, a couple of notes on the overall form of the book. The format of the Cambridge Film Classics series, for which I also wrote _The Films of Alfred Hitchcock_ in 1993, calls for extensive analyses of around half-a-dozen selected works. I am pleased that Landy finds this approach conducive to a study of Godard insofar as it allowed me to expand on 'the intricacies of [his] style, his encyclopedic range of allusion and quotation, and the philosophic source and nature of his concerns'. But note that such a format rules out the opportunity to 'engage with the complexities' of a substantial number films gleaned from his amazingly prolific and heterogeneous career -- an endeavor I hope to undertake in a third Godard book (following this and _Jean-Luc Godard: Interviews_, my 1998 edited collection) when time and opportunity permit. Landy is absolutely correct when she says this volume 'seeks to establish the ongoing vitality and importance of Godard's media work', and when I was writing it my foremost goal was to carve out an entry point into Godard's hugely complex *oeuvre* for the many students and young critics who find this work intimidatingly dense and idiosyncratic but are intelligent, creative, and motivated enough to grapple with it. I hope it succeeds on this all-important level -- while Godard is no relic, a realization of his ongoing vitality and importance has come perilously close to being lost in recent years -- and in more authoritative circles I am gratified that Landy finds it deserving of the perceptive criticism that she has seen fit to bestow on it.

 

Long Island University

Brookville, New York, USA

 

 

Footnote

 

1. David Sterritt, _The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 10; all further page references in parentheses.

 

 

Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 2002

 

David Sterritt, 'Godardiana: A Reply to Marcia Landy', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 6 no. 31, September 2002 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol6-2002/n31sterritt>.

 

 

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