Jean-Luc Godard


You’ve got to be a boomer (or older!) to know who this guy is.

Maybe youngsters have heard the name, maybe those ensconced in college level film studies are aware of his work, but Godard is definitely in the rearview mirror. Dying of assisted suicide, he was a man out of time.

How to set the stage for the sixties… As time has gone on, the decade has been decried, as degenerate and excessive, but if you lived through the times you know otherwise.

Anything was possible.

That was the environment we grew up in. The fifties were in black and white, the sixties were in color. And it was all happening, everything was up for grabs.

Today we sympathize with youngsters and their college debt and lack of career opportunities. They can’t make it here. As for those in film studies, they’re the minority, most are pursuing careers. Don’t confuse film studies with going to USC to learn how to MAKE films, I’m talking about analyzing the art form itself, that’s the goal. No one wants to analyze anything anymore, they just want to plow ahead blindly, pledging allegiance to a list of beliefs that they never question.

So the turn of the decade began with the Kennedy/Nixon election. I remember going to school the next morning and arguing with my second grade classmates as to who won. Sure, this situation was trumped in 2000, with Bush and Gore, but instead of the end result leading us back to the past, Kennedy emerged triumphant and started ushering us into the future, from day one. He didn’t wear a hat at his inauguration, his wife was a babe who spoke a plethora of languages, and what is overlooked is that when he took office he was 43. A mere pup. Whereas today out of touch septuagenarians fight for power and no one wants to give it up, doing their best to exclude the younger generations and hold back progress.

But you might speak of the Biden legislative victory just recently. Kudos to him, but Jackie Kennedy took network TV viewers on a tour through the White House, focusing on art.

Because art was everything. There were no billionaires. There was plenty of racism, but the wheels were turning there too.

Our rabbi went down south to protest. It was the opposite of mine for me. The goal was to lift everybody up. No child left behind. Ultimately it was not only about civil rights, but the right to pre-school, the right to meals in schools, the right of opportunity. All those initial tech seers, from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates? They were boomers, they were raised in a can-do world.

And there was the race to the moon and…

There was cinema. People even stopped calling it “the movies.” The discussion became about FILM! And you’ve got to credit Jean-Luc Godard as a progenitor of the movement. The French New Wave. They questioned what cinema was and what it could be.

Meanwhile, Hollywood was turning out dreck, depressed about the power of television, the studios went broad and movies had less impact on the culture until…

All those young filmmakers were exposed to Godard, et al.

Once again, it was about possibilities. Rules were made to be broken. Even narrative arc. You didn’t watch a movie and instantly forget about it, you left the theatre thinking and…

You definitely went to the theatre, it was a religious experience. It’s where the action took place.

And in 1964 there was a concomitant great leap forward in America with the Beatles. Music and movies drove the culture, it was undeniable. 


So the first Godard movie I saw was “One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil).” Yes, it starred the devil himself, Mick Jagger, along with his merry band of night crawlers known as the Rolling Stones. But it wasn’t a Stones flick, they were just in it, AND GODARD REFUSED TO INCLUDE A COMPLETE PERFORMANCE OF THE SONG!

Eventually the movie came out with a complete rendition of the opening track on “Beggars Banquet at the end” but this was against Godard’s wishes.

And it took a while for the film to be released, such that when it came out, it was the era of “Let It Bleed.” However, one thing is for sure, it was not the typical movie, it didn’t even hang together, it was an experience, a statement, that you were trying to figure out as you watched it, not wanting to write your interpretation in indelible ink for you weren’t exactly sure, you had to mull it over, not only discuss, but argue about it, with your friends.

Yes, we argued about movies.

I saw “One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil)” at the County Cinema, where I’d previously seen a double feature of “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love.” This was right after “Goldfinger,” when the entire nation, the entire world, was Bond crazy. Turned out we were too young to get in, so my sister called my father FROM A PAY PHONE, he came down and bought a ticket, ushered us in and then went back on the street to resell the ducat. There were no child restrictions in our household. Nothing was too prurient or intense for us to experience. It was a great big world and if anything our parents wanted to expose us to it.

The County Cinema was a single theatre. And it was a dump. Almost all of the theatres were. When the lights went out what difference did it make? It was all about what was on screen.


So when I was in college I took a course in French film. We used to laugh about this, there couldn’t be a course in American film at Middlebury, that was too lowbrow. And I remember first seeing Georges Méliès’s “A Trip to the Moon,” and soon thereafter Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player” (before Elton released an album with a similar title), and seemingly every picture featured Jean Gabin, previously unknown to me or my classmates, he was our new hero. And there was the slight yet intense Jean-Louis Trintignant, and there was Marina Vlady.


She was the star of Godard’s “Two or Three Things I Know About Her,” however we referred to it under its French name, “Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle,” after all, it was Middlebury.

And the thing about Marina Vlady was…she was not an American movie star, slick and made up to be flawless. She skewed normal, albeit attractive. And the film had no conventional narrative arc. The fourth wall was broken. And, AND, as the professors who taught this course couldn’t stop emphasizing, THERE WAS A 360 DEGREE PAN!

You see that nowadays, but not before Godard, and not that often thereafter. Godard didn’t care about the rules, he wanted to create art unfettered, do it his way, DO YOU KNOW WHAT AN INSPIRATION THIS WAS TO US?

Not far different from the late sixties and seventies in music. The acts gained control of their music. They recorded in studios far from the corporate tentacles, and oftentimes they could cut whatever they wanted and the label had to release it. And let’s not forget they gained control of the covers and inner sleeves!

The artists were king. And as long as the money was pouring in…

Yes, labels had house hippies to explain the music to the execs.

As for Godard and the French New Wave… It took a while to reach Hollywood. Film students were all over it, but they had no access to 35mm film, they couldn’t afford it. Movies have always been expensive to make, Godard, et al, made them cheaper but it took a while for the major studios to loosen the purse strings.

And we first got “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Graduate.”

And then the youngsters came to the fore, Coppola, Bogdanovich, the list is endless. If you wanted to know about society you had to go to the movies.

And we did. Many of us multiple times a week. Films were platformed, they opened in New York and L.A. and then spread to the rest of the country over months. And conversation about them lingered too.

And you went to see the foreign films. The art houses flourished.

You not only had to see Godard and Truffaut, but Chabrol, Rohmer and Resnais. And Ingmar Bergman too. We saw “The Seventh Seal” at Middlebury, talk about leaving the theatre with more questions than answers… (Worst was “Last Year at Marienbad,” which we also saw in that class.)

And “The Seventh Seal” introduced us to Max von Sydow, long before he gained notoriety in Hollywood productions.

And it wasn’t only Bergman, it was Jan Troell. His “Emigrants/New Land” films illustrated how Scandinavians moved to Minnesota, to find a place with weather just as bad as the place they’d left (I stole that joke from comedian Diane Ford).


Now foreign film didn’t die in America until the turn of the century. Along with all film. First it was Hollywood productions. The internet ushered in an era of cacophony, but at least we had the movies in common, you went just to have something to talk about with others.

But the movies were so bad, people stopped going.

Some still go to the art house for foreign flicks on the weekend, but there’s a plethora of product oftentimes at high expense and…

No one argued over the cost in the days of yore. If you have an opportunity to see godhead are you gonna say no?

Not that it was always godhead, but we were building our mental library. We were becoming experts without even trying.

And today?

Well, you’ve got to see Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s 2011 flick “A Separation.” Forget what comes after, even if it’s been nominated for an award, “A Separation” sits far above the rest of us work.

Yet, the dream died.

But the dream used to be alive.

We used to know who ran the studios. Who gave the green light. Do we get “The Godfather” without Robert Evans? Well, he’d tell you no.

Now we don’t know and we don’t care.

Godard stood in solidarity with the protesters in France in 1968. Today, anybody with dough wants to stand on the sidelines, they don’t want to jeopardize their career.

Jean-Luc Godard talked the talk and walked the walk.

But he did come from a rich family.

Wealthy families… They produce a huge number of entitled nincompoops, but they also produce many of our artists. Without having to worry about food and shelter, they test the limits.

At least they used to. Now it’s all about capital preservation and lifestyle. The scions of the rich are risk-averse.

Now it’s about the gross as opposed to the art.


So you can see a facsimile of the Grateful Dead on the road, but most of what was huge in the sixties isn’t even a sideshow. Boomers grew up with the films of the thirties and forties, today’s youngsters believe anything made before this century isn’t worth watching.

Some gods have been completely forgotten. The Marx Brothers? Kids don’t even know who you’re talking about.

But they can tell you all about Elon Musk and the other financial titans. And sure, it’s great that the means of production is in their pockets, but they’re not making art with their iPhones, but commercials for themselves, their greatest desire is to become an influencer.

The whole world has flipped. All those liberal arts majors who sustained the artistic community? They’re laughed at. College is to get a job, not to broaden your mind.

We’re old.

But we remember.

And sure, it’s nostalgia, but…

The history of tech in the last two decades far surpasses that of film and music. Hands-down. Things change, and in the entertainment world the corporations regained control of the “art” form and they have no intention of relinquishing it.

As far as rebelling… God, you can’t even get noticed these days, that’s the hardest part, never mind start a movement.

Not that it can’t happen, but…

It did happen sixty years ago. And one of the leaders was Jean-Luc Godard. Not always an admirable man in his personal choices and behavior, he lived for what was on screen.

And we did too.

And when I saw Jean-Luc Godard passed away something died inside of me. Maybe it was that hope and possibility I was referencing above. That belief that there is honor in being the freak, the outsider with the unpopular opinion spewed from the heart. Someone’s got to take chances, someone’s got to go against the grain, otherwise we have stasis.

Which is what we’ve got today.

But those old films still exist.

You’ve got nothing to learn from the superheroes in the blockbusters. But you’ve got plenty to learn from the work of the true superheroes of yore, people like Jean-Luc Godard who pushed the envelope. Thank god their work is still available for people to see and be influenced and inspired by.

I certainly was.

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