In This Article Jean-Luc Godard

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Cinema and Media Studies Jean-Luc Godard
by
Douglas Morrey
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0245

Introduction

Few filmmakers have attracted as much academic and critical writing as Jean-Luc Godard. Perhaps only Alfred Hitchcock is comparable in terms of the sheer number of scholars who have approached his work over three or four generations. Unlike Hitchcock, Godard has spawned few imitators among other film directors. Godard’s style is so idiosyncratic that, still today, hardly any films could truthfully be described as “like Godard.” Godard scholarship is comparable to Hitchcock criticism, however, in that it has been the privileged site, over the past half century, for the development of key ideas, arguments, and theories within film studies. Godard’s own writing as a critic in the 1950s contributed to the development of key concepts in film theory, such as the auteur, montage, and mise-en-scène. The French New Wave, one of the most significant movements in global film history, would certainly not have had the same revolutionary impact on French and world cinemas without Godard’s first features. Godard’s work has been frequently cited by scholars seeking to catalogue the stylistic tendencies of a broadly defined “art cinema”: Godard’s films changed the way we think about narration, editing, mise-en-scène, sound and music, and work with actors. Godard’s departure from “mainstream” cinema in 1968 to experiment with collective filmmaking with an explicitly revolutionary Marxist agenda was a central inspiration to theorists in the 1970s and beyond in debating the forms and functions of political cinema. The director’s early experiments with video in the 1970s have enabled scholars to think through the relations among cinema, video, and television. The celebrated works of Godard’s return to 35mm filmmaking in the early 1980s helped generate certain key questions of representation that have resonated in film studies ever since: What is the relationship of film to painting? Under what conditions can cinema represent the sacred? Is it possible to conceive of a new way of filming bodies and sexuality (especially women’s bodies) without being complicit in exploitative conventions? The monumental Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1998) contributed to debates around the centenary of cinema, the medium’s much-heralded “death,” and its replacement by digital progeny. Godard’s most recent features—Film socialisme (2010) and Adieu au langage (2014)—have attracted immediate critical acclaim for their unparalleled formal innovation while tackling the contemporary political context of the global financial crisis. With such a rich legacy of work, the field of Godard studies will, without doubt, continue to grow rapidly in the decades to come.

Reference Works

Reference works on Godard may be divided into three categories: Primary Sources written or otherwise prepared by Godard himself; significant collections of Interviews with the director; and Biographies. Godard’s career in cinema began with his work as a film critic for Cahiers du cinéma and other French journals in the 1950s. Almost all of this writing, which is essential for gaining a sense of how Godard understood cinema before he began making films, is anthologized in Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard (Bergala 1998, cited under Primary Sources). After he became a director, Godard would often continue to write short texts preparing, presenting, or accompanying his films, and many of these are anthologized in the same volume. Later works such as Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television (Godard 2014, cited under Primary Sources) or the special issue of Cahiers du cinéma edited by Godard (Godard 1979, cited under Primary Sources) are important for understanding the genesis of Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1998). As well as a writer and a film director, Godard has always been a loquacious but elusive talker and his own commentaries on his films often provide some of the most intelligent analyses of the work. A number of important collections of interviews, both in print and audio-visual media, are available. Finally, since 2005, three major biographies of the director have been published that offer fresh insights into his methods of working, his relationships with collaborators, and the personal impetus behind his films.

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