In the 1960s, from the very beginning of the decade when À bout de souffle (Breathless) was released, to the very end of the decade, when Godard’s last unqualified masterpiece Week End was released in the United States, the French réalisateur was the most influential director in the world. As Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in 2003, “Modern movies begin” with Breathless.
“No debut film since Citizen Kane in 1941 has been as influential.”
Aside from the birth of cinema in the 1890s and its development in the 1900s, the creation of the multi-reel feature film in the 1910s, and the introduction of sound in the late 1920s, no decade was more important in the development of the movies as was the 1960s. And Godard was the colossus of world cinema in that decade.
The dean of American film critics, Rogert Ebert believes that Breathless ranks with Citizen Kane and D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) as a “turning point” in the development of cinema. According to Ebert, “The movie was a crucial influence during Hollywood’s 1967-1974 golden age.”
Breathless introduced a radical heightening in the use of the technique of “jump cuts” (cutting within a scene and even within a cut), which was a major breakthrough in narrative cinema. Jump cuts became a part of the visual tropes that characterize 1960s cinema, such as Richard Lester’s 1968 masterpiece Petulia. However, Ebert believes it is the attitude of the picture that was “most revolutionary.”
“…[The] headlong pacing, its cool detachment, its dismissal of authority, and the way its narcissistic young heroes are obsessed with themselves and oblivious to the larger society” vastly influenced the kinds of antiheroes that would dominate the screen in the 1960s and ’70s. Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Stanley Kubrick may have been more honored and popular, but none was an influential as the screenwriter-director-cum-cineaste who was born in Paris on December 3, 1930.
In his April 11, 1969 review of Week End, Roger Ebert declared it to be Jean-Luc Godard’s best film. (It would also be his last major film in terms of critical success and influence.) “It is almost pure movie,” Ebert declared.
A foreshadowing of the decade-long derailment of Godard’s mainstream cinema career is foreshadowed by some of the rhetoric in Week End.
“There are some other strange things. Two long political speeches are delivered, and we cannot understand why (a) they are so stupid if meant to be taken seriously, or (b) why they are so serious if meant as a joke. This is the case, I would say, with about 95 per cent of the rhetoric inspired by currently fashionable radicalism.”
Week End capped off a remarkable decade in which he gave the world such classics as Le Mépris (Contempt), Alphaville, Pierrot le fou, and Masculin Féminin. Deeply influenced by Marxism, Godard would turn to “currently fashionable radicalism” in the next phase of his career. From 1967 through 1980, he was a Maoist filmmaker who utterly eschewed the commercial narrative film as part of the collective called the Dziga Vertov Group.
The collective was named after the legendary early Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov. Vertov wrote and directed the 1929 silent documentary Man With a Movie Camera, a monumental and influential movie due to its use of innovative cinematic techniques, including double exposure, jump cuts and split screens.
Ebert in his 2003 Breathless review, commenting on “the film’s bold originality in style, characters and tone” that “made a certain kind of genteel Hollywood movie quickly obsolete,” said that “Godard went on to become the most famous innovator of the 1960s.”
Thus, Godard stands as the greatest innovator in the last great decade of innovation in world cinema since the creation of cinema and its adoption of sound. He is to cinema what The Method was to American acting. In movies, there is pre-Godard and post-Godard cinema.
In recognition of his significant contribution to the cinema, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will present the legendary film director with an honorary Academy Award at the Academy’s 2nd Annual Governors Awards dinner. The dinner will be held on November 13, at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center.
Unfortunately, Jean-Luc Godard has informed the Academy that he will not be attending the ceremony. There has been speculation for two months, since the announcement of the award, whether the elderly director will come to Los Angeles to attend the ceremony. (Godard will turn 80 on December 3rd.) He is known to despise Hollywood and commercial movie-making.
He also has a reputation as an anti-Semite due to his support of the Palestinians and his harsh critique of the “Central European Jews” who founded Hollywood and laid the foundation of bourgeois commercial filmmaking, the type of “well-made” movie eschewed by Godard and his fellow progenitors of the Nouvelle Vague cinema of the 1950s/1960s (which included Claude Chabrol, Éric Rohmer and François Truffaut).
His reputation as an anti-Semite as well as being anti-Hollywood may be one reason why the Academy waited so long to honor such a deserving director, a filmmaker as culturally significant as the also politically questionable D.W. Griffith. In fact, many movie observers thought that Godard might snub the Academy, but apparently, he is happy to accept his Oscar: He just doesn’t want to travel to L.A. to do so.
The Oscar statuette will be presented to him at his home in Switzerland. Hollywood gloss has never been Jean-Luc Godard’s style.
Honorary Oscars including the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian and the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award once were handed out during the Oscar telecast, but it was felt that they made they telecast too long. In the interests of a more profitable TV program, the first Governors Awards dinner was held last year. The result has been an increase in the number of recipients: in 2009, actress Lauren Bacall, producer-director Roger Corman, and cinematographer Gordon Willis received honorary Oscars while producer John Calley received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.
The dinner, which was semi-private, lasted three hours and 18 minutes. Press attendance was sparse, compared to the Oscar ceremony, and the dinner was not televised.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, “Brownlow, Coppola, Godard and Wallach to Receive Academy’s Governors Awards”
Roger Ebert. “Breathless: Great Movies”; “Week End“
Los Angeles Times,”Jean-Luc Godard won’t attend Governors Awards”