The original manic pixie dream girl wasn’t just on the big screen – she was directing it.
…because even today, he reminds us what’s cool about film. One of the most influential directors of the French New Wave, Godard changed the entire landscape of cinema through his experimentation with editing, sound, light and color in his films. His career has spanned six decades and multiple styles, but his most iconic work from the 1960’s combined elements of B-movie genres, self-referential humor and philosophy to create an unmistakable voice. Although in recent years he has proclaimed that film is dead, he continues to pioneer in the field by releasing work on YouTube and shooting in 3D.
More on Jean-Luc Godard
As a critic with the Cahiers du Cinema, Godard developed ideas of how to reshape the conventions of film. Channeling the philosophies of auteur theory and cinema as language, he used every element of film to produce a signature voice in his work. Beginning at the level of script – assuming there even was a script instead of whatever improvisational whim he felt guiding him that day on set – Godard played around with genre types, self-aware allusions and contradictory characters. In filming, he embraced hand-held cameras, famously long takes, natural lighting, artificial lighting, noir-inspired black-and-white and overly vibrant colors. His use of jump cuts remains among the most famous editing innovations in the history of film. He incorporated both contemporary rock and classical music into his soundtracks, featured characters spontaneously breaking into song and experimented with bizarre voice and sound effects. Not every one of Godard’s experiments worked; only the most radical and avant garde are willing to fully vouch for his work post-1970. Still, at their best, Godard’s films show us the full potential of film as a medium and the overwhelming effect of style.
Perhaps more than any other filmmaker, Godard’s real trademark is his continued desire to experiment and push the envelope. If François Truffaut was the beloved Paul McCartney of the French New Wave, then Godard was the movement’s John Lennon, never satisfied to recreate the same work and definitely unconcerned about public perception; in fact, like the two most prominent Beatles, Godard and Truffaut had a very public falling out due to Godard’s perception that his former friend’s work had grown stale (sorry folks, there’s no Yoko to blame here). While Godard believed in the auteur theory, for him, film was less about personal expression and more a unique means of expression. Or to think of it another way, what Godard felt he was trying to say was never as important as how he was trying to say it. A lot of this is steeped in complex linguistic theories like semiotics and structuralism which informed his view of cinema. His work also reflects his lifelong distrust of capitalism that often veered into radical politics. However, his commitment to exploring new technologies and innovations have led him to distribute his 2011 work "Film Socialisme" on YouTube – and releasing something for free on the internet is about as socialist as it gets – as well as filming his most recent feature, "Goodbye to Language," in 3D.
While it’s really hard to pin down Godard’s influence and numerous contributions, he is perhaps the first director to bring a real self-awareness to making films. Although the same can be said of many other members of the French New Wave, Godard is among the first true film fans to become a director. Yet this goes beyond simply acknowledging the films and filmmakers that inspired his own movies, but referencing the fact that his own work would be consumed by other fans like him. In his earlier work, characters would break the fourth wall and even let the audience know they were watching a movie. The anti-hero of "Breathless" consciously tries to imitate Humphrey Bogart, while "Contempt" features the director Fritz Lang playing himself. Godard famously said that cinema is truth at 24 frames per second, but his most notable films rarely pretended to present an objective version of reality. Even when filming a documentary like "Sympathy for the Devil," Godard rejected the fly-on-the-wall approach, staged scenes and referenced the fact that he and his crew were making a movie about the Rolling Stones. While some of these post-modern “meta” qualities might not seem as revolutionary as they once did, that’s probably because of directors like Quentin Tarantino taking them one step further. And in the grander scheme, Godard’s work questions the ability of whether cinema is a means to convey reality – something his Cahiers du Cinema mentor Andre Bazin believed – or an artificially constructed vision. And to be fair, Godard himself wavered back and forth on this, at one point in his career forming a group named for the uber-realist Dziga Vertov...though perhaps Godard was winking at the camera when he did this.
Jean-Luc Godard: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers)Buy now $25
Godard On Godard (A Da Capo paperback)Buy now $17
Jean-Luc Godard: The Rolling Stone InterviewRead more
The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—1st InstallmentRead more
6 Filmmaking Tips from Jean-Luc GodardRead more
What Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Breathless’ Can Teach You About Jump Cuts & EditingRead more
5 Case Studies of Jean-Luc Godard’s Innovative Filmmaking TechniquesRead more
10 great films that influenced Jean-Luc GodardRead more
Interview: Jean-Luc Godard (Film Comment)Read more
Jean-Luc Godard: ‘Film is over. What to do?’Read more
New Wave Film: Jean-Luc GodardRead more
Jean-Luc Godard: a beginner’s guideRead more