FILMMAKER FLASHBACK: FALL, 1994
Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, Darnell Martin’s first feature, I Like it Like That, experimental filmmaker Eric Saks, and a report on non-linear editing, which was new at the time — those were all in our Fall, 1994 edition. But our big story was our cover — Hal Hartley’s interview of Jean-Luc Godard. Godard was in town for an exhibition of his work, including his new “self-portrait,” JLG BY JLG. Hartley met with Godard at 9:00AM in his suite at the Essex Hotel, and d.p. and photographer Gabor Szitanyi snapped the smoky shot of Godard we ran. Nothing from this issue is online, but we rekeyed it so I could quote from it here.
Peter Bowen’s intro:
In the world of independent film, the element of dependence – whether it be financial or aesthetic – is perhaps as important, if not more so, than the drive for independence. For Hal Hartley, whose fourth feature, Amateur, will be released this Spring by Sony Classics, and by whose cool style and comic irony can now be detected in a new generation of filmmakers, it is the earlier figure of Jean-Luc Godard who stands as a kind of mentor. Indeed it is Godard’s slapstick, critical, and, more often than not, adoring relation to images that so clearly showed the way for Hartley and so many others. In New York for the opening of his new works, JLG BY JLG and Histoire(s) du Cinema, as part of the traveling Gaumont Exhibition of French Film, Godard meets his protégé for the first time. But in the world of dependence these independent filmmakers have certainly met before, if only in the images they take from others and in the ones they leave behind.
The interview started somewhat hilariously with Godard’s reaffirmation of the Gallic love of Jerry Lewis.
HARTLEY: I saw your self-portrait film (JLG by JLG) yesterday afternoon, and I wanted to bring someone with me. As it turned out, I brought my friend Martin Donovan, who’s an actor I’ve worked with quite often. He knows I have a high regard for your work, but he hasn’t seen that much of it. His initial response was, well, he laughed almost continually.
HARTLEY: And he came out feeling you were the funniest person he’d seen since Groucho Marx.
GODARD: I think it’s a compliment.
HARTLEY: Well, I thought it was. Regardless of whatever else your films might be doing, to me it seems you have a sense of humor that people don’t talk about often enough. I was curious about the things that make you laugh.
GODARD: Why you can laugh just at, I mean, just the fact that you are a human being. Living, it can be sad, too. I like both slapstick and contradiction. Like philosophers. It makes me laugh when you bring two things together which have nothing to do with each other. In movies, comedy and tragedy are all the same. I’m a great admirer of Jerry Lewis for this very reason. Especially the very last one, Smorgasbord. And the other one he made just before – it was a flop here – called Hardly Working. I think laughter comes because things are hardly working.
On cinema, television and the landscape:
HARTLEY: To me, the nature in your films seems to be the visible aspect of something quite spiritual. It has that kind of impact for me.
GODARD: If I may say so, it is just an image. It’s like the body. And words and action in movies are the spirit or the mind. And these days, the body is almost completely forgotten. In the beginning the body – nature – was more part of the action. It has no meaning today if you put Clint Eastwood in the mountains in Nevada. It has nothing to do with the story. It has just been decided by agents and lawyers. And before the war, and just after the war, it still had a meaning. Now it has disappeared. On TV, you can’t show landscapes. You just can’t. Even a postcard is better. [Landscapes] are too close to painting. And TV has nothing to do with painting. It’s just transmission. And you can’t transmit a landscape, happily enough.
On new models of distribution:
HARTLEY: Back at the cutting room, we’ve come to think the most interesting thing about all this is the possibility of changing notions of distribution. The distribution of electronic information.
GODARD: I read an article where they say you can choose a movie from [your] hotel room. You can choose a [D.W.] Griffith [film], and then after that you can have a pizza. But, you know, probably, there won’t be any Griffith. You can see any movie you want to see! But no! There is no Griffith.
HARTLEY: But think about filmmakers distributing their film themselves, directly from the computer.
GODARD: I won’t like it. I don’t believe it will be a huge screen. It’s not done for that. And anyway, in Europe, the houses and the apartments are getting smaller. So there is no need to increase the screen because the apartment is becoming smaller.
HARTLEY: But I’m intrigued. Perhaps I’m just optimistic.
GODARD: Projection will disappear. And the possibility that was given by motion pictures will be missed. The possibility of [there] being a real audience – a group of people who have nothing in common, but, at a certain time of the day or the week, are able to look with other unknown neighbors at something bigger than they are. To look at their own problems in big. Not in small. Because if it’s too small, you can’t . . . It was big, so it was evident. And in the beginning, there was not even talking. There was no need for that. Because it was more evident if there was no talking. Only in sports does there remain this fervor, which can even become violent. There’s this desire to see something big.
HARTLEY: But collectively.
GODARD: Yes, collectively.
HARTLEY: The excitement is in the crowd.
GODARD: Yes, but in the movies it is different. You can be with other people, which is ideal, or you can be alone. But to be alone with other people, and not to forget yourself within yourself. And when there’s 100 people around you can’t really forget yourself. Now, this will disappear, obviously.
HARTLEY: That’s sad.
GODARD: Yes, it’s sad for us. But now at my age I understand how sad it must have been for some directors or actors at the time the talkies began. Because, really, a whole continent disappeared.
On cinema, history, and the new:
HARTLEY: You tell him how you think the history of cinema is the greatest history that can be told because it can project.
GODARD: It’s the only one. It’s the only way to do history.
HARTLEY: A bit further on in the same episode, there’s a female voice reciting something to the effect that, the strange thing about the living dead of this world is that their reflections and their sensations come from before.
GODARD: Because there is a new world coming and this new world is very rude. This new world which is being born is cynical and amnesiac. And it has eliminated perspective. And its escape point . . .
HARTLEY: The vanishing point?
GODARD: Yes, but no. That’s right – its escape point, its vision of a future. So we are in the twentieth of the twenty-first century, but all of the thinking – if you speak to one of those people keen on technology – you see that all of their thinking is two centuries old. In cinema, you can show this. Eisenstein was a contemporary of Stravinsky. But he was also a contemporary of Griffith and Feuillade. If we think today the way TV is ordering us to think, we think of Eisenstein as someone modern. Stravinsky is modern music, but it came at the time of Birth of a Nation, which is an old movie. All of our thinking constitutes the new world, but all our thoughts are older and older.
HARTLEY: Sometimes I think our aims are still old. All the discoveries seem to be discoveries of means. I think perhaps I’m conservative in that way. I wonder if there is anything to discover. I mean, things that are not superficial. We discover and invent new ways of finding out the same old things.
GODARD: There is no more discovery. Not since the beginning of this century. There are new gadgets. New important gadgets.