“He wondered if the world came to be a dream or if a dream came to be.”
– Jean Luc Godard
White light on a white screen. Murmurs of anticipation from an unseen audience.
Lincoln Center in Manhattan, mild spring afternoon. Beautiful people, dressed casually, cross the square in the last year of the 20th century, en route to the Walter Reade Theater for a screening of the New York Film Festival.
Interior, crowded theater, lights go out.
Edited to: “On the Origin of the 21st Century,” a 17-minute film essay composed of re-edited archival footage of Nazi wars and atrocities interspersed with clips from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” Jerry Lewis”https:// www .arkansasonline.com/news/2022/sep/18/the-man-in-the-dark-glasses/”The Nutty Professor”, Santiago Alavarez’ “69 Springtimes of Ho Chi Minh”, Maurice Chevalier in “Gigi” and Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.
Faces in the audience modeled by the light reflected from the screen.
Boredom. Surprise. A stunned critic with his head cocked like a spaniel trying to understand quantum physics.
Est-ce you genius? Est-ce une fraud?
A black and white photograph of Humphrey Bogart. A young girl with a French accent from the off: “UMP-fray oh-GARD.”
Odile (Anna Karina), Arthur (Sami Frey) and Franz (Claude Brasseur), three would-be petty criminals, push the tables aside in a smoky café and dance “The Madison” in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Band of Outsiders”. (1964). Odile wears a fedora, they all act like they’re in a movie, which they actually are, despite not being in the movie’s universe they are in.
Quentin Tarantino stole this scene for Pulp Fiction.
The films teach us to act.
The song originally playing on the jukebox when the scene was filmed is John Lee Hooker’s “Shake It Baby”. What plays on the soundtrack is a noticeably dubbed, harmless piece by Michel Legrand that’s out of sync.
Why didn’t Godard get the rights to the Hooker song for the film? It couldn’t have been that expensive. Did he try? Was he rejected? Or maybe he just didn’t care about such things.
One of the coolest scenes in movie history could have been even cooler.
Cut to: A black screen.
A man says offscreen in French: “I want to make a film.” A woman’s voice replies, also in French: “It costs money.”
Then checks for all the mundane things of filmmaking – makeup, catering, electricians, etc. – are signed and ripped for what seems like minutes.
This is the opening scene of Tout Va Bien, a 1972 film by Godard and his then-collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin about a former filmmaker (Yves Montand) who rose to prominence during the French New Wave but is now reduced to directing is a TV commercial and his journalist wife (Jane Fonda), well-meaning but naïve leftists who get caught up in a wildcat strike at a sausage factory.
The film, which isn’t very entertaining, is about the class struggle and is perhaps most notable for borrowing a production technique from (Godard’s muse) Jerry Lewis’ 1961 comedy The Ladies Man.
The film’s “factory” is a cross-sectional building with one outer wall removed to allow the camera to pan from room to room as if walking through walls. Sometimes the camera pulls back to reveal the factory as a matrix of open cubes, not unlike the set of the Hollywood Squares game show or a comic strip or something Wes Anderson would attempt.
This is a constant reminder to the audience that this is a scripted drama, an artificial and made-up play. This is literally breaking the fourth wall. Meanwhile, Montand and Fonda put on oddly opaque performances that—on purpose—suggest they’re bored with the whole process. Or with all the processes – her marriage, the upcoming people’s revolution, the everyday annoyances that go along with trying to make a film.
“Tout Va Bien” means “everything is fine”.
Think of the popular This is Fine meme you’ve probably seen whenever you go anywhere near the internet. It (usually) consists of a single image of an anthropomorphic dog trying to convince himself that everything is okay despite sitting in a flame-devoured room. It is from a comic drawn by KC Green and published in January 2013.
The meme is typically used to comment on what the user sees as an episode of willful self-denial.
Godard may never have seen this meme.
In 1972 he was 41 years old; that was 50 years ago. Was he so exhausted, so young?
One of the things we heard after Godard’s death by assisted suicide last week was that he wasn’t so much ill, just very tired.
A scene near the end of Faces Places, a 2017 documentary by Agnes Varda and French street photographer and visual artist JR, in which they attempt to visit Godard at his home in Switzerland. The entire film evolved towards this climax as Varda and JR traveled through villages, small towns and factories across France to meet people and create large mural-style portraits of them.
Throughout the film, Varda makes repeated references to “Les fiancés du pont MacDonald,” a five-minute silent comedy in which Godard plays a Buster Keaton-esque character who sees horrible things when he puts on his sunglasses. Godard was known for wearing dark glasses everywhere, a habit also influenced by JR wearing his sunglasses throughout the film. The implication is that it is his homage to Godard, an artist he greatly admires.
Eventually, Varda and JR travel to Godard’s home in the Swiss village of Rolle, where he lived in semi-retirement for the final decades of his life. Before she arrives, she gets brioches from Godard’s favorite bakery. But when they arrive at the house, Godard refuses to see them; He scribbled a message on the glass pane by the door.
“If he doesn’t let us in, he’s a dirty rat,” a tearful Varda tells JR.
To comfort her, JR takes off his glasses for the first time to show her his uncovered face.
The camera shows him blurred because Varda, who died in 2019, lost her eyesight.
A black screen with the words “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun” slowly appearing in white. They fade and the words “The cinema is truth at 24 frames per second” appear. Then they fade and the words “A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, although not necessarily in that order” appear.