Returning to the screen with something old and something new, the ever brash and irreverent Jean-Luc Godard debuts his latest work at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater beginning July 4th. For Ever Mozart is a characteristically lyrical and moody reverie unfolding around the wars in Bosnia. Prior to that and beginning June 27th, Lincoln Center will revive the New Wave pioneer’s dark satire about Hollywood, Contempt. The Martin Scorsese-presented classic stars Brigitte Bardot and Fritz Lang. The creator of Breathless, bracing the role of a reluctant icon, took time off from his cigar-shrouded meditations to reflect cryptically on his past and future creative quests with yours truly.
PRAIRIE MILLER: Why did you embrace cinema as your choice of artistic expression?
JEAN-LUC GODARD: Cinema is the only way for me to talk about history. It encompasses the history, at least of this century. Please do not put the mike too close, I’m allergic to it. History has
usually started with words, but words are not as close to reality as images and sound together. Cinema, since it can be seen and screened, can make history visible, it reveals the history of this entury. If you have an image, then you can ask a question.
PM: Why do your images tend to be symbolic and sensual rather than concrete?
JLG: Well, maybe cinema is the lover and history is the beloved. Yes! And
only the lover can speak of the beloved.
PM: What direction do you feel your working is progressing toward?
JLG: Through my senses I feel that I am becoming closer to reality, and
discovering that reality is not just reality but something more, a meta-reality. In this way, I want to eliminate everything autobiographical, to recount only places and thoughts.
PM: You seem very focused on human mortality in your latest work. Is it
because you feel mortality makes life more interesting?
JLG: Yes, of course. I think all these wars are evidence of that. Of course,
it’s distorted in such a case, and they shouldn’t be interested in death through wars because you are going off to death. You have no chance to avoid it, so the relation to death shouldn’t be such a horrible thing, even when there is no war. That’s the evidence to me.
PM: Why have you been dedicated to what you term resistance in cinema?
JLG: I don’t know, it’s very strange, but it comes from my adolescence. I was
a teenager in France
during the Occupation by Germany, even if I was not very well aware of what
was going on.
Afterward, I became more and more interested in that, this feeling of
occupation. To me, most of
French filmmakers have been collaborators, not with Germany, but with
American moviemaking. One
can say that Americans have the existence of cinema without the essence. They
have no essence of
cinema, only the existence. When Americans began to make movies, they had no past. When
Europeans invented motion pictures, it came at the end of an enormous past in
their history and culture.
Cinema in the United States is very practical, it means Hollywood business.
I’m not against American
movies, I really love some of these films, but I have a strong feeling of
occupation, even in my head,
like concerning blue jeans. Everyone is wearing them without having invented
them. And I don’t
understand why there is only American music in European elevators, I don’t
hear anything else when
I’m in an elevator in Europe. And people will prefer a bad American movie to
a bad Turkish movie, I
don’t understand why, because I don’t. I wouldn’t like either, whether it’s
Turkish or American, and if
it’s good, I would like both. So I don’t know, I have a very strong feeling
of occupation inside myself,
even with words. The English language has become very poor, there is no more
good English like there
was in Conrad novels and Shakespeare. It’s harmful.
PM: Do you feel anything can be done through film to deal with this?
JLG: No, it’s over, it’s over.
PM: How do you think hi-tech advances in the media will influence filmmaking?
JLG: As tools, they’re okay, but there’s no influence that I see from TV,
computers or CD Roms or anything. There’s always something new. Once, 20 years ago, I believed that at least in Europe that since TV was developing, maybe at two or three in the morning they would show a Cassavetes picture.
It couldn’t cost much at that hour but no, they never show a Cassavetes
picture, even at three o’clock in the morning.
PM: How do you reconcile the distance that exists between real life and life
as you try to depict it on screen?
JLG: The positive is in the projector, and the negative is in the camera. The
positive is given. For the
audience, the camera doesn’t exist, only movies that are projected on the
screen, that’s a positive. It’s
like life, it’s given. And after, you have to live and make the negative,
make your destiny. And when
you are dead, your death metamorphosizes your life into destiny. All your
life you have to make the
negative. Yourself, you have to make yourself, this your parents have not
given to you, you have to
make it. And life has no meaning if you don’t edit it with duty.
PM: Looking back over the decades, how do you feel about your body of work?
JLG: It’s important that they were done. I’m very glad and even proud to have
done them and that I was capable of making a living from them, especially since they were not successful. But the fact of doing them, it’s like a creation, a perpetual creation. It’s my cinema.
PM: How would you want to be remembered in film history?
JLG: I don’t think of that at all, I don’t know.