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French Cinema's Reluctant Genius

Jean-Luc Godard makes incomprehensible films appreciated by tiny audiences, and he has no intention of changing.
Scott Kraft
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 4)

The problem for all moviemakers today, Godard says, is the information explosion. "Pictures no longer bring anything new to the audiences, because they have it 100 times a day on TV," he says. "It's like flowing water. The only thing left is to show more truth about people's lives, but they don't want the truth about that."

Godard doesn't see as many movies as he'd like, holed up in Rolle for most of the year. But he still loves the medium. His favorite directors include Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and, like every true Frenchman, Jerry Lewis, "a great director and a great character actor. Brilliant. A huge clown. I loved Hardly Working." But of Steven Spielberg, Godard says: "It's all fakery. It's false. I know the difference between Beethoven and Spielberg. I know why the dinosaurs disappeared. And Beethoven was a dinosaur." In other words, the true artists are facing extinction.

The gulf between Hollywood and Godard is really the difference between escapism and truth. Godard has said that film is "the truth 24 times a second," and he believes that Hollywood has buried cinema's search for truth beneath the search for marketable "concepts." Most American directors "are like orphans," he says. "They have no parents, no history. There's no story, so they have to invent one. I was always accused of doing pictures with no plot. But a picture is first a story, second a story and third a story. The Americans just spread their stories all over the world, hoping that a majority of the audience will buy them the history they don't have."

Tired of answering questions, Godard places the rest of his cigar in an ashtray. Putting on a trench coat, he heads into the dark Swiss night to a nearby restaurant, where the genius of French cinema dines alone with his dark thoughts.

Scott Kraft, deputy foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, was formerly its Paris bureau chief.

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