|< Return to Adherents.com's Guide to Movies|
< Return to Religion of the 25 Most Influential Film Directors
< Return to Famous Huguenots
< Return to Famous Maoists
The Religious Affiliation of Director
Influential filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard was born into a prominent French Protestant family. In fact, his family on his mother's side (the Monods) were the preeminent Protestant family in France. Jean-Luc Godard had a devout Protestant (Swiss Calvinist/French Huguenot) upbringing a child.
BELOW: Jean-Luc Godard, a devout Maoist, worked to promote Maoism through his films as well as articles he wrote and published in French newspapers, including the Maoist journal La Cause du peuple.
Beginning in the late 1960s, Maoism was the adopted religion of Jean-Luc Godard, who at that time was considered Europe's greatest film director. (Maoism is revolutionary Chinese dictator Mao Zedong's version of Marxist Communism. Maoism, which was known in China as Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought, was the principle ideology enforced throughout China during and after the Communist uprising known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, or, more commonly, the Cultural Revolution.) Godard looked to Chairman Mao as a prophet of revolution, who had brought the world a new system whereby the world could be transformed for everyone. Godard actively read and promoted the Mao's Little Red Book, the principle Maoist scriptural text. Godard was a devout Maoist and worked to advance Maoist political and ideological ideals throughout Europe and North America. At that time, Chinese as well as European Maoist missionaries actively proselyted in Europe.
Godard's intensely Maoist period ended in 1980. After the 1970s, Godard appears to have come to an increased awareness of the true nature of Maoism in China and subsequently moderated his devotion specifically to Maoism. In 1981, the Communist Party of China, which was brought to power principally by Mao Zedong, officially repudiated the Cultural Revolution and placed responsibility for it on Mao. According to contemporary Chinese government estimates, approximately 30 million Chinese were killed by Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. But the majority of these deaths were caused by famine and starvation, with probably less than 10 million people directly executed by Maoists (principally, Mao's Red Guards). By the late 1990s and early 21st Century, Godard appeared to have become a more generalized socialist or Marxist, whose activism and politics largely lacked the religious and specifically sectarian qualities exhibited in earlier decades. In the 21st Century, the Maoist belief system that Godard worked for so long to promote is largely extinct in Europe. Godard continued to be stridently anti-American, as the United States continued to reject his political and cinematic beliefs. He even turned down an award that the New York Film Critics' Circle wanted to give him in 1995 on the grounds that New York is in America, and American cinema did not conform to his ideals.
From: Sally Shafto, notes for session titled "Scenario du film 'Passion' (Script for the film 'Passion') by Jean-Luc Godard (1982)" on "Religion and Cinema: A Conference" website (http://www.princeton.edu/~csrelig/cinema/Scenario.htm; viewed 4 July 2005):
I'm not a religious person, but I'm a faithful person. I believe in images. I have no children, only movies.
In the preface to his biography about Godard, author Colin MacCabe recalls experiences with Jean-Luc Godard and outlines the subjects he covers in the book. From: Colin MacCabe, Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy, Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York (2003), page xii-xiii:
I was raised a Protestant, but I don't practice. I am, however, very interested in Catholicism.
Godard has frequently shunned producing traditional scripts, and occasionally he has produced alternative scripts, shot in video. Scenario du film "Passion" is thus his script for Passion, a film whose very title puns on both the religious and sexual connotations of the word. From a video editing studio, Godard introduces the proceedings like an omniscient newscaster. Head-on to camera, he announces: "Good evening, friends and enemies."
The mood here is sometimes slapstick, but also elegiac and non-denominationally religious as Godard discusses his approach to creation. Once remarking in an interview that he was brought up a Protestant, but that he does not practice, the filmmaker nevertheless emphasized his interest in Catholicism.
That seemingly offhand remark goes, in fact, to the heart of one aspect of Godard's thought. His interest in Catholicism stems from his awareness that that religion is fundamentally more visual than Protestantism, a religion whose origins were associated with the word. In Scenario du film "Passion," Godard announces that he didn't want to write the script, but that he wanted first to see it, because, "I think you see the world first and then you write it." Historically, of course, his position hearkens back to the New Wave's abhorrence for the script-driven films of the Cinema de papa in the 1950s.
In the video, Godard tells us that Tintoretto's painting of "Bacchus and Ariadne" partially inspired his film Passion. Jacques Aumont has evocatively spoken of painting as ultimately the best model for creation, and here Godard is a divine creator before his canvas or screen.
In subsequent years [after 1967] Godard's engagement with both Maoism and feminism made him a constant point of reference, and then, as he began a re-examination of the canon of Western art and culture... our paths crossed directly.
MacCabe, pages 5-6:
In its range of reference -- the history of cinema, the history of art, the history of Marxism -- the work is as daunting as the life. It would be a fool who thought they had all the necessary competences to coment fully on this extraordinarly rich oeuvre which is constitutively allusive...
The first chapter is a family history. Godard's maternal family, the Monods, are one of the greatest Protestant families in France. The Godards, if less famous, are just as Protestant, and in both families there is a movement between France and Switzerland, which has been perhaps the most constant external feature of Godard's life.
Balzac would thus paint a man from the very bluest of Swiss Calvinist/French Huguenot blood, up to his neck in the history of Europe, coming to Paris at a young age and, with his world collapsing as his parents divorce, discovering the cinema and America -- and a new promise and a new world. And this world had its prophets -- fat Henri Langlois, the most charming of dealers, and thin Andre Bazin, a real saint. This chapter considers these figures from the point of view of intellectual history, to understand why it was in France that cinema reflected on its own past and produced not simply a magazine, Cahiers du cinema, but an aesthetic that was to revolutionise world cinema, as the young Cahiers critics swapped pens for cameras and became the Nouvelle Vague, the New Wave.
...The fourth chapter takes the perspective of political history to understand Godard's abandonment of conventional cinema for a commitment to Maoist revolution, heralded in the prescient La Chinoise, a film that he made with his new student wife Anne Wiazemsky. It is this political perspective which illuminates the militant films of the post-1968 period, and explains the links between politics and aesthetics which underpinned the Dziga Vertov Group that Godard founded with a young Maoist, Jean-Pierre Gorin.
It was in Geneva that Godard's maternal grandfather, Julien-Pierre Monod, met and married Cecile Naville. The Monods are one of the most illustrious families in France, counting amongst their members a Nobel prize winner, pastors and theologians, scientists, politicians, and financiers... It would be possible to describe the Monods in many ways, but any description would have to include the word Protestant, and if the family has followed many professions, that of pastor is perhaps the most significant and recurrent. Godard's brother Claude feels that Jean-Luc is indeed best understood as another in an ancient line of strict and severe Protestant pastors. William Monod, Godard's great-grandfather, was such a Protestant priest and fathered eight children brought up in a household of great piety and modest means. Julien-Pierre was one of those children.
MacCabe, page 10:
Born in 1876, Julien-Pierre may have intended to follow in his father's footsteps, first studying theology at the university. He soon switched to literature and law, subjects that were to be more significant for a man who made his living as a businessman and devoted himself to letters. From the beginning of his student career Julien-Pierre Monod had supplemented whatever modest support his father could provide by working as a tutor during the sumer holidays. In the summer of 1901, he taught law to a Protestant friend from university, Arnold Naville.
The Naville family was rich and prosperous, and originally came from Neuchatel, a French Protestant stronghold which had joined the Swiss confederation late. [Julien-Pierre later met and married Arnold Naville's sister Cecile, who was Jean-Luc Godard's maternal grandmother.]
It seems unlikely that the father was overjoyed by his youngest child's desire to marry her brother's impoverished tutor, however brilliant and Protestant. The widower was, however, given little choice by the redoubtable Cecile...
Perhaps more important than these financial opportunities, which a man as brillant and as well connected within Protestant bourgeoisie as Julien-Pierre Monod might have counted on, was Anthy [the family's summer home and estate]...
The man Odile [Jean-Luc Godard's mother] married was Paul Godard. His family was not from the grande bourgeoisie, like the Monods, but just as Protestant and just as Franco-Suisse [French-Swiss]. The Godards came from the North of France, from a small town called Le Cateau, just south of the Belgian border, a hive of Protestantism whose most famous son was the painter Matisse...
MacCabe, pages 14-15:
It was in Paris in the 1890s that he [Georges Godard, Jean-Luc Godard's grandfather] met and married Louise Baeschlin [whose father] had imigrated from the countryside around Schaffhausen... to the Parisian suburb of Le Raincy, where he married a young woman from the Normand family. When the Protestant community built a church thre, young Louise was chosen as one of the 'godmothers of the bell' and it was in this church that Georges and Louise were married.
Julien-Pierre and Cecil Monod's eldest son, Olivier [Jean-Luc Godard's uncle]... invited his colleague Paul Godard [Jean-Luc's father] to one of his parents' monthly gatherings at 16, Boulevard Raspail. These were worldly occasions when the Protestant grande bourgeoisie consolidated its social and economic networks... and it was at such an evening that Paul was to meet Olivieer's younger sister, Odile [Jean-Luc's mother]...
MacCabe, pages 16-21:
Their [Odile Monod's parents'] objection to a marriage with Paul Godard might have been on the grounds she was too young, because of the ten year difference in age, or perhaps the Godardds were not held to be sufficiently HSP (haute societe protestante -- high Protestant society). In any case, Odile was despatched to London to begin her medical studies and to keep her out of the way of Paul Godard... The Monod parents' plan was not only unsuccessful on an academic level, but also a failure as a [sic] emotional strategem... If Odile was in London, then he [Paul Godard] would follow her...
On 16 October 1928, at the age of nineteen and a half, Odile Monod married Paul Godard, who had turned twenty-nine that June... The Godards [Jean-Luc Godard's parents] began their married life... Paul Godard divided his work between Paris and Switzerland, and the birth of two children, Rachel (born 4 January 1930) and Jean-Luc (born 3 December 1930), does not seem to have disturbed this pattern very much... Rachel and Jean-Luc were practically twins and all attest to the closeness of their relationshipo... In his self-portrait JLG/JLG: Autoportrait de decembre, made just after Rachel's death in 1993, Godard comments, in one of those moments when one begins to hear the Protestant tones of his childhood clearly, 'Dieu la prend dans ses bras' ('God takes her in his arms'). But while Godard acknowledged the closeness of the relationship, he also acknowledged (a word repeatedly used when describing his immediate family) that she was 'independent'. Although for the last twelve years of her life they were no more than a short motorway or train ride apart, they saw each other on very few occasions. But this probably reveals something about the species of the Godards in general rather than Jean-Luc the individual.
MacCabe, page 22:
[page 18] Godard's own memories of his childhood are clear: 'Now I can look on it as paradise. I was very healthy and even if my own family was not that rich, we had access to all the resources or the wealth of my mother's family, as did all the grandchildren. It was one of those huge Protestant families that behave like a tribe with their own ritual, their own ceremonies . . . you were protected. It was like a Greek legend, my grandfather and grandmother were gods, my parents were demi-gods and we children were humans.' And Godard links this to one aspect of his adult life: 'I have a feeling that I'm not asking for power or riches or anything, because I had more than plenty until I was fifteen. More than anyone. It was very different from Truffaut, for example.'
This memory suggests what the other Godard children confirm, that family life was lived as easily with the extended Monod family in Paris as in Nyon. But the centre of all these rituals and ceremonies was Cecile Naville's dowry - the house and the grounds at Anthy. It was here that the Godard children would spend the summer holidays and much other time beside. Anthy is not much more than an hour's drive from Nyon through the centre of Geneva and even less by boat almost directly across the lake. As the Monods were a Protestant tribe, Anthy also had some religious functions. It was in the house there that all the Godard children were baptised, and their grandfather or uncles would often conduct Sunday services. When Rachel Godard died her ashes were scattered at the shore of the lake at Anthy, and their mother is buried in the local graveyard.
Protestants make up only two per cent of the French population but in the last two centuries they have had a disproportionate political and intellectual impact on French life. This may find some explanation in their terrible history, a history of blood and persecution. Protestantism is written deeply into Godard's life from his childhood on. If no simple correspondence between ideological structure and personal psychology can ever be more than tentative, it is notable how Godard's abiding
belief in his own artistic choices reproduce the theological certainty of the Calvinist in his divine election, and it is also striking how the history of French Protestantism licences an individual and withdrawn practice of the faith.
[page 19] When in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg, protesting at the abuses of the Papacy and affirming the primacy for a Christian of faith over works, he set in train a division of Europe into Protestant and Catholic. No country was spared what was to be two hundred years of religious warfare, but there is reason to think that France suffered both longer and more intensely than other major European countries.
The impact of Lutheran theology was immediate in France. The advent of the printing press meant that Luther's writings appeared in French editions almost contemporaneously, and nowhere were the reformers greeted more warmly than in the major self-governing cities on France's borders: Strasbourg, Neuchatel and Geneva. Geneva was to become a model for Protestantism all over Europe when it summoned the leading French Protestant theologian Jean Calvin, then in exile in Strasbourg, to organise its civic and religious life. As Calvin constructed the rule of the elect, adding to Luther's emphasis on salvation by faith, the astonishing doctrine of predestination, France fell into half a century of civil war which centred on religious differences and saw the ruling aristocracy divided between Rome and the new faith of the reformers.
The massacre of St Bartholomew's Day in August 1572, - when more than two thousand Protestants were killed in Paris, a hotbed of militant Catholicism - set off a two-month killing spree all over the country that has come to symbolise two generations of venomously hostile conflict. This period came to an end when Henri, Prince of Navarre, the leader of the Protestant party and the heir to the French throne, converted to Catholicism with a historically atypical joke: 'Paris', he said on the day of his conversion 'is well worth a Mass.' His accession to the throne in 1589 inaugurated a religious settlement in France which had no parallel in Europe. In 1598 Henri IV issued his Edict of Nantes which, while paying lip service to a future reunion of all the faithful, recognised that there were two religious faiths in France and that both had rights. The Edict of Nantes was anything but a modern example of toleration. It was a severely practical document which attempted to grant the absolute minimum of legal rights to existing Protestant communities, while maintaining an overall dominance of the Church of Rome. Whatever its weaknesses, it did give Protestant churches a right to exist, and it was over the next hundred years under its protection that French Protestantism developed many of its specific characteristics.
[page 20] If the aristocracy was now, once again, overwhelmingly Catholic, the Huguenots - as they came to call themselves, borrowing a term of abuse from their enemies (the name comes from the German Eidgenossen, meaning confederates) - were largely based in the towns. They were found in great numbers in those sections of the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie engaged in manufacture. There is perhaps no more famous sociological thesis than Max Weber's identification of the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, and no better example of it than the French Huguenots. In the Protestant idea of vocation and the certainty of spiritual salvation, Weber finds the necessary condition for the accumulation of surplus central to capitalism. The Huguenots were, however, completely dependent on the king. From the time of the Edict of Nantes they had lost any form of representation or influence at Court. They had no defence against the periodic waves of repression to which they were subject, and when an ageing Louis XIV, attempting to ingratiate himself both with God and his own image, revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, they were absolutely defenceless.
In his desire to be king of a totally Catholic country, Louis not only ordered the Protestants to cease practising their own religion or risk death or imprisonment but further required that they actively practise Catholicism. The difficulty and pain of the next hundred years of French Protestantism are captured in the name by which this period is known:
'The Time of the Desert'. France in the eighteenth century is famous for the Enlightenment and for the feudal despotism of the ancien regime, but it was also a country in which men and women were hanged, incarcerated for decades and turned into galley slaves for the very act of gathering together to pray according to the Protestant faith. The use of Anthy as a church must have had many determinants, but it is also a reminder that the Protestants of the Time of the Desert were forced to carry out their religious duties in private. The first effect of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes was an enormous exodus from France, particularly from those areas of the country which adjoined the Protestant countries of England, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Some twenty-five per cent of the whole Protestant population is held to have fled, 250,000 people in all, and they had a considerable impact on the economies to which they brought their manufacturing skills.
Another effect of the massive emigration is that the movement from one country to another is written into the historical consciousness of those who descend from the Huguenots. When Paul Godard prepared his own obituation (in order, he ironically noted, that the devasted family should be spared this unwelcome chore) he observed that his studies in England and Switzerland had been undertaken because he 'preserved the tradition of certain French Protestants to leave their homeland'. The other tradition that the Time of the Desert bequeathed was an ethnic of co-operation and trust within the Protestant community.
Two years after the Revolution of 1789, and after more than one hundred years of persecution, Protestants were accorded civil if not religious rights. But with the Revolution, Protestants entered fully into French public life for the first time. It is no surprise that a persecuted minority should be active in a movement whose political foundation was the declaration of the Rights of Man and in both the revolutionary period and the time of the Third Republic from 1870, Protestants were particularly prominent.
The Monod family [Jean-Luc Godard's ancestors] entered visibly into the history of French Protestantism just after the Revolution. The newly enfranchised Huguenots had need of pastors and many came from the Swiss canton of Vaud. Jean Monod, who took up a post as pastor in 1808, came from Copenhagen, but he had been born in Geneva... From then on it is impossible to read in the debates which animated French Protestantism without encountering a Monod. It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the nineteenth century they were the single most eminent family of the French Protestant faith.
Protestantism famously discards the Church as the necessary intermediary between man and God in favour of relation to God mediated only by the Bible. Church government is derived not from a sacred priesthood which finds its final authority in the Pope, but is based in a priesthood of all the believers who join together to form a Church. Despite a regular attendance at both Church and Sunday school, Godard has little memory of God or the Bible, but the emphasis on the individual was marked: 'I think we must have had the best upbringing possible. Very democratic. If for me there is a meaning of demoacracy it's the way we were raised.' But over and above this spiritual democracy was family ritual: 'It was one of those huge Protestant families that act like tribes with their ritual and ceremony.' Calvin had encouraged each family to be a little church unto itself, and there is no doubt that the ordered method of Calvinist practice within the home enabled the Huguenots to survive for so many years when they could not publicly practise their religion.
Footnote elaborating on the anti-Semitism of Jean-Luc Godard's grandfather Julien Pierre Monod (mentioned on page 22) from: MacCabe, page 386:
In one respect, however, the Protestantism of Anthy was not typical of the Huguenot tradition. Historically, from 1789 onwards, there has been a huge identification of French Protestants with the left. Two of the most important French socialist prime ministers of recent times, Michel Rocard and Lionel Jospin, are both Protestant. The identification is easy to understand given the history of state persecution and Protestant interest in toleration for minorities. But this aspect of French Protestantism was not part of Godards's heritage: Julien Pierre Monod [Jean-Luc Godard's grandfather] was, relatively unusually for a French Protestant, of the right, and even more unusually, anti-Semitic.
If anti-Semitism was unusual amongst Protestants, who had historically often been lumped with Jews as undesirable outsiders, it was not at all unusual in France. Indeed France both before and after the Dreyfus affair was a country in which violent anti-Semitism was a part of the political and intellectual landscape. Of course, anti-Semitism is not a doctrine or a creed but a mess of prejudices and inadequacies which has no genuine intellectual or political core. Julien-Pierre Monod's anti-Semitism should not make him, as many French anti-Semites were, an accomplice of the Judeocide, to use the term from Arno Mayer's book Why Did the Heavens not Darken?: The 'final solution' in History (New York: Pantheon, 1988). If Godard's grandfather was enough of a figure of the right to be seized in the savage days of revenge against Le Clerk's army had liberated Paris in 1944, he was released almost as quickly. I have been told nothing to sugggest that his anti-Semitism ever passed from word to act.
MacCabe, page 26:
By and large Jean-Luc Godard has made little of his Swiss heritage, and like many Swiss, if he mentions Switzerland it is often to complain about it, but it was because he was in Switzerland that he was able to pass his teenage years at peace and not at war.
MacCabe, page 27:
Switzerland's early existence is the stuff of legends... What is striking is that despite a split between Catholic and Protestant as intense as anywhere within Europe in the sixteenth century, Switzerland held together as a fedearation. This was perhaps due to the very looseness of the ties which bound together speakers of four languages (Swiss-German, French, Italian and Romansch) and two religions in a country with no natural borders.
Historians now tell us that the one way in which the Swiss averted this threat [of Nazi invasion during World War II] was to act as a reserve bank for Germany. And their record with regard to the persecution of the Jews is mixed--while they did take some Jewish refugees, many were turned back to their deaths.
MacCabe, page 30:
This Oedipal dynamic may itself have been affected by the disintegrating marriage of the Godard parents. In a devout Protestant family, any talk of divorce was all but disallowed, and so it is difficult to give any clear chronology of the breakdown of the marriage until the final divorce in November 1952.
MacCabe, page 34:
It might be tempting to explain these thefts [committed by a young Jean-Luc Godard], in the vacuous terms of psychology, as an act of rebellion or a rejection of his family, but his brother sees them rather as a reaction to Protestant 'stinginess'. Godard himself places them within a more comprehensive view of the desire to control his own world...
MacCabe, page 44:
But medieval Europe found its most important cultural models and debates in the Languedoc and the city states of Northern Italy, and as the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism forged different national cultures all over Reformation Europe, it ould be difficult to idenitfy a single dominant city.
MacCabe, page 50:
For Langlois, arriving back in Paris after the military debacle, the situation offered an unparalleled oportunity to save more films... In large part due to his connection with Frank Hensel, he was able to save thousands of reels many of which he was to return to French-Jewish producers like Braunberger and to the American studios after the Liberation.
MacCabe, pages 58-59:
If Godard is unthinkable without the material that Langlois presented at the Cinematheque and if Langlois's method of demonstration by juxtaposition was one he was to make his own, he is equally unthinkable without the philosophical and critical thinking of Andre Bazin. Sartre and Rohmer both testify to the extent to which some of the finest products of the French educational system... for Bazin teaching was not a chore to be endured but the very purpose of intellectual inquiry: his conception of the teacher as both the bearer and destroyer of his or her own community's traditions is one of the most compelling arguments for a life devoted to education. This faith was part of a larger belief in a Catholic activism which understood salvation in social terms. The thinker who most influenced Bazin was Emmanuel Mounier, the charismatic founder of the founder Esprit, the major forum for Catholic intellectuals. Mounier was himself a brilliant product of the French educational system who had decided to pursue his teaching vocation outside that system. Esprit was to serve as a crucial intellectual centre throughout Bazin's life.
MacCabe, page 211:
Despite choosing youth over age Godard was not choosing promiscuous sex or illegal drugs. Although in Isabelle Pons's phrase the period was one when 'nobody slept in their own bed', Wiazemsky insists that she and Godard shared a 'puritan' sexual ethic. And there are no accounts of Godard taking drugs: he told Gorin that they had too strong an effect on him. But rock and roll did interest Godard, and for him it was to dominate the rest of 1968.
MacCabe, page 215:
 This visit to the United States led to him [Godard] shooting a film funded by Leacock and Pennebaker's company in the autumn of that year. The project was a portrait of america, ranging from Eldridge Cleaver, one of the leaders of the Black Panthers [and later a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], to a young Wall Street banker, and it was to culminate with the Jefferson Airplane, then the rock icons of the counter culture. Both Leacock and Pennebaker acted as camerman on the shoot, and Godard was later to complain that he never knew which camera was shooting what. But this dissatisfaction did not manifest itself during the shoot. It was only when he was in the editing room that Godard found himself unable to finish the film, which had the working title One A.M. (One American Movie). Pennebaker himself went on to make a fil from the abandoned footage called One P.M. (One Parallel Movie). There is a fascinating sequence at the beginning of One P.M. where Godard explains to the crew that he wishes to do in the film: every interviewee's words will appear twice, but on the second appearance the words will be spoken by an actor. This determination to 'decompose and recompose', to take both himself and the audience back to a zero where everything is constructed and nothing is available for direct inspection, is a constant of the period. However, in both One Plus One and in the abandoned One A.M....
MacCabe, page 217:
As we track interminably down the car production line [in Godard's film British Sounds], we hear sequences from The Communist Manifesto [the principle foundational text or book of scripture for Communism], but they are almost drowned out by the wallof soiund produced by the produciton line as it grids away. The naked woman walks around the house in total silence, while one of the earliest British feminist texts by Sheila Rowbotham is read out on the soundtrack.
MacCabe, pages 246-247:
[Godard's film] Ici et ailleurs is also a programmatic piece; its project provides a framework for understanding both Godard and Mieville's work of the next three decades. If its dominant politics is feminist, the theory which informs it is psychoanalytic. Psychoanalysis came late and hesitantly to France (it was, after all, both a German as well as a Jewish science). In the post-war years, however, Jacques Lacan began to elaborate a radical form of psychoanalysis hostile to any kind of therapeutic normativity. It was inspired by the heretical surrealism of Georges Bataille... and, like Bataille, fundamentally influenced by Kojeve's reading of Hegel, in wihch self and other are functions of the same intersubjective dialectic.
MacCabe, pages 289-290:
Lacan is at his most brilliant as he maps this Hegelian dialectic on to the psychoanalytic world of partial objects... In making language central to our psychic constitution, Lacan was following Levi-Strauss's anthropology and the notion that there was a 'symbolic' field which constituted the world of social meaning as opposed to the 'imaginary', which was the realm of personal subjectivity. But whereas for Levi'Strauss access to this symbolic field is possible in any exchange, for Lacan, firm Freudian that he is, it is sexuality and, specifically, the incest taboo which constitute the symbolic field of the human. It is the Oedipal drama which moves the infant from the imaginary dyadic world of I-Thou to the symbolic world in which it is figured by a 'he' or a 'she'.
Lacan is never cited by name in Godard's work, and in Week-end Godard demonstraes a hostility to psychoanalysis which seems to have reflected his views at the time. But after the mid-seventies, his references to psychoanalysis become much more frequent and less hostile. This must in large part be due to Mieville's experience of psychoanalysis, but it is worth noting that a considerable number of Maoist militants used Lacanian analysis as their route back into a social order that they had uncompromisingly rejected. Indeed, Moi, Je, the title of the abandoned film of 1973, it is a psychoanalytic title. For a Lacanian analyst, the aim of the psychoanalytic cure is to enable the patient to speak for him or herself (to say 'Moi, Je') instead of constantly speaking from someone else's viewpoint (I, as my father wants me; I, as my mother wants me, etc.).
The interest in psychoanalysis is particularly intense in the early eighties when there was a project to film the case history of Dora. Godard's lack of direct interest in Lacan may derive from Lacan's conception of the image, which is as the false and delusive ground of the imaginary unity of the self. For Godard, the image is Bazinian, an image which is not rendered into a unity by a consciousness. It is this image that from Ici et ailleurs on Godard will use for his own analysis.
If psychoanalysis is the theory which informs Mieville and Godard's work, it does not primarily inform it as theory. The dominance of sound had also been a dominance of theory, and the return to the image was above all a return to practice.
[Godard's film] Aria can be seen as a coda to 'Je vous salue, Marie', a film which solves the impasses of masculine sexuality by recording the physical beauty of the woman's body... In an age where sexual desire has become the single most important element in the stimulation of economic demand, it seems incredible to choose the story of Joseph and Mary foa film focused on the body. But in a highly influential book of 1977, L'Evangile au risque de la psychanalyse, Francoise Dolto, a leading Lacanian psychoanalyst and child therapist, had made a new version of the traditional Christian argument for the Holy Family as the ideal couple. The lack of sexual union is not a barrier to this idealisation because it makes explicit the most essential element of the Lacanian theory, that fatherhood is a metaphorical state.
MacCabe, pages 317-318:
Freud's account of the Oedipus story had stressed that rivalry between father and son, but it is Lacan who emphasised that in so far as the son remains in this state of rivalry...
Mary was played by Myriem Roussel. Godard had met Roussel on the set of Passion...
There are two points to be made about this concern with Catholicism. First, it is European culture and the European past which now obsess Godard, and that culture and that past are Catholic as well as Protestant. Second, however, Godard's interest in religion is profoundly Protestant. He has little interest in the content of religious beliefs -- questions about that are brushed aside with some irritation. What is in question is belief itself, the faith that Luther defined and Calvin emphasised as the only essential element in one's relation to God. But while it is clear that 'Je vous salue, Marie' finds a formal solution in a story which both forbids and licenses desire, there can be little doubt that the succeeding films -- and particularly King Lear...
MacCabe, pages 326-328:
There can be little doubt that [Godard's film series] the Histoire(s) du cinema provided the form in which Godard could pursue the question of the symbolic, of his own place in society or, to put it another way, of his faith in the cinema in relation to the European faith of his fathers -- the faiths of art and science and religion. It is not surprising that from now on there is no need for him to appear in his own films or to be interested in biographical projects. Now he has a way of finding his own place in the image, of finding in the story of cinema a paternal function which will acknowledge the death of the fantasy of absolute power while offering a model of how that death does not entail the renunciation of all desire.
There are obvious parallels between Lacan's analysis of Joyce and Godard's Histoire(s) du cinema. In the years from Sauve qui peut to King Lear, Godard had been obsessed with the symbolic -- on the one hand referring to incest and on the other to religion. The incest taboo is one of the defining features of the human condition. The fact that there are endless attempts to explain it in functional terms, as a genetic or economic imperative, merely emphasises the extent to which it is the very constitution of the human. And if incest took up one pole of Godard's interest, religion took up the other.
MacCabe, page 332:
From Huppert's cry at the opening of [Godard's film] Passion, 'O Lord, O Lord why hast thou forsaken me?' it might be easy to imagine that Godard, in tune as ever with the Zeitgeist, was hitchiing his cart to the monotheistic fundamentalism which as Bob Dylan presciently remarked was 'A Slow Train Coming', and which in Christian, Judaic and Islamic forms has dominated global politics ever since. From a French perspective, it should be stressed that Godard remained generally indifferent to media posturing around the rediscovery of religion by what was called 'la nouvelle philosophie' -- a movement aptly summarised by Time magazine's headline, 'God is dead, Marx is dead and I'm not feeling too well myself'. Nor did he share Soller's assessment of the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978 as the greatest geo-political development since Mao's launching of the Cultural Revolution. But there is little doubt that when Godard did pick up on Christianity through Solidarity in 1980 and through Dolto's 1977 book, it was Catholicism as much as Protestantism which took his interest.
It is this transmission from grandparent to grandchild, this passing of the secret of resistance, which is now challenged by the American cinema eager to buy and sell memories. Godard's anti-Americanism has been pretty constant since the anti-Vietnam campagns of the mid-sixties. It is also one of the most serious weaknesses of his later work. When the New York Film Critics' Circle wanted to honour him in 1995, he refused the honour, giving a list of nine aspects of American cinema which he had been unable to influence. Top of the list was the failure 'to prevent Mr Spielberg from reconstructing Auschwitz'. The filming of the camps has been at the centre of Godard's concerns from the very first. The failure to prevent or record the camps is one of the major, if not the major theme of [Godard's film series] the Histoire(s). From very early on, Godard held that the only way to film the camps would be from the perspective of the home life of one of the guards. Spielberg's Schindler's List is, for Godard's aesthetic, a genuine obscenity. [Schindler's List, which was directed by Jewish filmmaker Steven Spielberg and produced by Branko Lustig and Latter-day Saint producer Gerald R. Molen, received the Academy Award for Best Picture and is widely regarded as one of the greatest films in American history.] It is impossible to film the camps now, because it is impossible to starve actors to the point of death. It is impossible to film the camps because the narratives we impose on them, which 'explain' them, are necessarily misleading and actually prevent understanding.
For Godard, the issue is clear-cut. I myself am less sure. To a child growing up in an Irish home in London in the fifties, the camps were considered the major topic that had to be addressed in any attempt to define an ethical or political life. This has always been my own position. I was astonished when, four decades later, I took my daughter to see Schindler's List, and she informed me that I had never discussed the matter with her; my certainty that I had instructed my children was false. Of course, Godard would argue that nothing can be learned from the Spielberg film, which can respect neither the light in front of the camera nor the spectator in front of the screen. It is true that Spielberg's films are generally execrable; it is true that Saving Private Ryan's reduction of the Normandy landings to the attempt to save a single life shows an unbearable contempt for history; it is true that the final scene of Schindler's List, in which Liam Neeson melodramatically bemoans his inabilty to have saved more Jews, demonstrates beyoond doubt that Spielberg has no interest in Schindler's heroism. However, it is not clear that Spielberg's film does not function as a genuine reminder. And there are films like Duel or the first half of Minority Report which also clearly show that Spielberg has prostituted genuine talent. [Not everyone would agree that Minority Report constitutes a prostitution of Spielberg's talents. The movie, which like Schindler's List was produced by Gerald R. Molen and directed by Spielberg, was one of the most highly acclaimed movies released in 2002. No less than Roger Ebert, America's most respected film critic, called Minority Report the best film of the year.]
The emphasis [in Godard's film Eloge de l'amour] on Catholicism and Peguy (a figure who links Christian mysticism to French republicanism), the centrality of a conversion from Judaism to Catholicism in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, and the absolute opposition, carried over from [Godard's film series] the Histoire(s), of the state and love are all difficult themes to weave into an alternative history of Europe -- they remain exclusively French.
The concluding paragraphs of MacCabe's biography of Godard, from: MacCabe, pages 332-333:
It might be usual to end such a book with a prediction of Godard's position in the canon of the future, a final estimate of his place in film history. But it is not simply Godard's continuing productivity [he was alive at the time this book was written] which prevents such an assessment. We are still children of the European Renaissance, that moment when figures as diverse as Erasmus and Montaigne reached back tot he tutor cultures of Greece and Rome to figure the immortality of the artist. Five hundred years later the problem is not the past and the immortality of the artist, but the future and mortality of the world. That same moment in European history was also the beginning of a process of political and technological development which is not set fair to destroy the planet. If I were to pronounce on the security of Godard's reputation into the future, I would have to be more certain of that future than I am.
MacCabe's biography about Jean-Luc Godard includes extensive additional details about the extent to which Godard and his films were influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis. References to Freud in the book include pages 124-5, 289, 315. References to psychoanalysis include pages 124, 191, 246-7, 289, 315-6. Given Godard's allegiance to Maoism, it may be going too far to say that Freudian psychoanalysis was Godard's religion, as it has been for some other filmmakers, including Sergei Eisenstein (who said Freud was his "god") and Bernardo Bertolucci.
One could argue that Godard's commitment to, and respect for, the image are critical to the planet's future because any optimistic perspective must include genuine attempts to transform our audiovisual media into real sources of information, attempts for which Godard's lessons are crucial. But such an argument must also reckon the difficulty of Godard's art and the necessarily small size of the audience. Godard himself said in a press conference for the Histoire(s) in Cannes that he and Mieville's audience can most accurately be described as 100,000 friends round the world.
Efforts in the twentieth century to link avant-garde art to a progressive politics have all been dismal failures. Godard's description of his relationship to his audience in terms of friendship alters the terms of those political discourses. From the Romantics on, which Shelley promised to legislate for humanity, art has been promising to deliver the world. If we reject the humanist claim on eternity and the political promise of aesthetic salvation, then perhaps all that is left is individual witness. I do know that in writing this book I committed myself to looking again at Godard's work. The life often became tiresome; we are all, like the dog returning to its vomit, condemned to repeat within a sadly llimited repertory. But the work never failed to intrigue, to illuminate and to inform. Much of it is extremely difficult to obtain. Much of it requires repeated viewings before it begins to yield its source. Some of it is very uneven. But the worst is never less than intelligent, and the best is the best there is.
Additional excerpts from MacCabe's biography about Godard's involvement in Maoism, a sect within Marxist Communism:
MacCabe, front inside book jacket:
Jean-Luc Godard's early films revolutionized the language of cinema. Hugely prolific in his first decade--Breathless, Contempt, Pierrot le Fou, Alphaville, and Made in USA are just a handful of the seminal works he directed--Godard introduced filmgoers to the generation of stars associated with the trumpeted sexuality of postwar movies and culture: Brigitte Bardot, Jean Seberg, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Anna Karina.
MacCabe, page 72:
As the sixties wore on... Godard's life was transformed. The Hollywood he had idolized began to disgust him, and in the midst of the socialist ferment in France, his second wife introduced him to the activist student left. From 1968 to 1972, Europe's greatest director worked in the service of Maoist politics, and continued thereafter to experiment on the far peripheries of the medium he had transformed. His extraordinary later works are little seen or appreciated, yet he remains one of Europe's most influential artists.
Godard's first long article, published in the third number of La Gazette du cinema, is called 'Towards a Political Cinema'. He sets out from the most unlikely of moments -- a newsreel which shows East German youth parading in the celebrations of the First of May [a Communist holiday]. Godard sees in this an image of life in the Eastern bloc. But what might at first read like the most alarming and slavish celebration of Stalinism is something much more complicated, for Godard then goes on to read the history of Soviet film in relation to two contrasting images of the individual's relationship to history. What Godard emphasises -- a point that Bazin makes in hist almost exactly contemporaneous article on Stalin -- is that the cinema is not just a representation of reality, but becomes part of the reality itself. The young bodies wheeling in unison Berlin are wheeling to create the cinema image, the image in which the regime finds its truth and justification.
MacCabe, page 102:
In fact Kast ended the war as the president of the Communist student union. After 1941 and the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party became arguably the most important force in the French Resistance, and much of its prestige and attraction in the post-war years was due (as was the caset in Italy) to the commitment and the heroism of its members in the struggle against Nazism. But then Godard was hardly likely to mention Kast's Communist history in the pages of Arts, which was a right-wing magazine and ferociously hostile to the Communist Party.
MacCabe, pages 189-197:
A lot of ink has been spilled on the right-wing nature of the Cahiers critics, not least by its great rival Postif, which wrote about film from an avowedly left-wing and avant-garde perspective. There is no doubt that the most simple intellectual history of France in the late fifties would make some identification between Cahiers and the 'hussards' (hussars).
The hussars, a group of writers who, like the young Turks of Cahiers, identified themselves as post-Resistance and -Liberation, also defined themselves as right-wing anarchists. This group, whose most important members were Roger Nimier and Jacques Laurent, wanted to reclaim much of the literature which had been buried in the settling of debts following 1944. Most importantly, they celebrated the works of Celine, then completely taboo because of the overt Fascist and anti-Semitic opinions they contained. The hussars openly mocked the doctrinaire Stalinism of the Communist Party and the ponderous political engagement promoted by Sartre. Their names was one applied by their enemies in December 1952 when Bernard Franck published in no less an authority than Sartre's magazine, Les Temps Modernes, an article enttiled 'Hussards et Grognards' ('Hussars and Groaners').
The Student Movement
MacCabe, pages 206-207:
When Wiazemsky returned to Paris in the autumn of 1966, she attended university by day and studied cinema by night. Every evening she and Godard would go to the cinema at six, eat at eight, and go back to another film at ten. Godard liked his 'role of professor of cinema', and she was delighted to be instructed. In return she provided lessons in philosophy. If she had not thought much about film before working with Bresson, the experience had convinced her that she had found her home in the cinema. She was much less comfortable in the university. Because she lived in the bourgeois neighbourhood of the 16th arrondissement, she was allocated not to the Sorbonne but to one of the new universities on the city's periphery. Paris was being remade as Gaullist modernisation constructed new suburbs to serve the city, and amongst these suburbs were the new universities that a modern economy demanded.
Godard has taken these new suburbs as his theme for Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle, in which building sites with their attendant sounds punctuate the film. Nanterre was one of these half-completed sites - indeed the rector was to advise his students to come to class in Wellington boots. But Nanterre also harboured a minority of students deeply dissatisfied both with the society in which they lived and the university in which they studied; they produced endless tracts outlining their analyses. Jean-Luc was a regular visitor to the campus, coming to pick up Anne in his sports car, and he too was soon reading these strange denunciations of capitalist society and the universities which served it.
In the present day, when the permanent threat of unemployment has produced docile student bodies desperate to equip themselves with the skills and diplomas which will help them face the insecurities of the job market, it is difficult to imagine a time when large numbers of students were willing to refuse the authority of their teachers and argue with them in public. But students in the late sixties were in a very unusual historical moment. When the Western powers had mobilised the huge armies that would defeat Nazi Germany, the promise of full employment when the war ended was part and parcel of that mobilisation. The bitter lessons of the First World War had been learnt by the industrialised working classes: there was no question of repeating the First World War formula of mass sacrifice followed by mass unemployment. And the deal had been honoured; the students going up to university in 1967 were the first generation in the history of capitalism to have lived in a fully employed society. Indeed, so secure was employment that students' anxieties and worries were not whether they would find a job but whether the jobs on offer - secure and boring as they were - would not be too alienating.
Alienation was a key term of this time. In its everyday sense it was a description of the psychological state of young students contemplating the pre-allocated roles envisaged for them; in its philosophical sense, it was an attempt to understand how Man found his labour used against him, how the immense resources of the modern economy were not utilised for the good of the many. The events of 1956, both Khrushchev's anti-Stalin speech and his Stalinist crushing of revolt in Hungary, had shattered the monolithic control that the Communist Party exercised over Marxism. In the late fifties and early sixties the works of Lukacs, Korsch, Luxembourg, and the whole history of the Second and Third International once again became matter for debate. But this long and erudite tradition was more or less completely outside the university - it provided an alternative authority for students keen to analyse their society and the university's role within it.
In the early sixties, the richness of the Marxist tradition had been emphasised by a focus on the newly discovered texts of the young Marx, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and The German Ideology. The Marx who had dominated much of working-class politics of the nineteenth and twentieth century was the Marx of Capital, the Marx who had argued for socialism not on moral grounds but as the ineluctable result of capitalism, where unplanned development led to inevitable overproduction. For Marx, the trade cycle would finally become so destructive that socialism would be a welcome alternative. This Marx seemed less persuasive in the climate of full employment, when Keynesianism and demand management seemed in those halcyon days to have solved the endemic problems of the trade cycle. The young Marx had been a far more messianic figure, who concentrated on the alienation involved in capitalist production and looked to Communism as the historical moment at which individual subjectivity and the social whole could be brought into a transparent and productive relationship. The young Marx came to stand for a whole eruption of socialist theory which stressed both economic and psychic liberation.
The interest in the psyche went hand in hand with a whole wave of new theories of neurosis and madness. Psychiatry was increasingly identified with the most callous of drug and electro-shock treatments. Psychoanalysis had been developed in the United States as a treatment to produce an ego which identified with prevailing social and moral norms. But from very different theoretical perspectives, writers such as Laing, Foucault and Lacan were beginning to question notions of 'normal' and 'mad' behaviour as related less to individual pathology and more to social expectation. One feature of this work was to open up the whole history of psychoanalysis, most emblematically with the figure of Wilhelm Reich. Again a whole tradition of scholarship and inquiry which had been scarcely engaged within the university suddenly became available to students.
But if both psychoanalysis and Marxism offered alternative intellectual traditions to students, it was in their everyday life that the contrast between them and their elders was most evident. In 1967 the pill first became freely available in France, but Godard had already acknowledged its centrality to the life of the young in Masculin Feminin. For the first time in human history, women could control their own reproduction with ease and without abstinence.
Almost forty years on it still seems very early to divine the long-term consequences of this extraordinary transformation; at the time, it marked an absolute divide between the generations. The sexual wisdom of the ages seemed, at least in that moment, to be discounted. The 'generation gap' has probably been with us since the dawn of time and has been a recognised phenomenon since the early part of the twentieth century. But there is perhaps no equivalent for that moment in the sixties when daughters had to make decisions about their conduct in conditions very different from those of their mothers. In an era when sex has become the most fundamental form of commodification, it may seem strange to recall its subversive power and its force as a symbol of the division between generations. It was a divide that was to be manifested in an iconic confrontation at Nanterre. Amongst the student groups operating on the campus was an anarchist grouping called, simply, the Anarchists. One of its more charismatic members was a young sociology student named Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Wiazemsky already knew him well. She'd first encountered him when he tried to pick her up, using the unorthodox political slogan 'Solidarity amongst redheads'. It was just such an unorthodox approach which was to make him a hero of the campus.
On 8 January 1968, Nanterre was visited by Francois Missoffe, the Gaullist minister of sport and youth who had just produced a three-hundred-page volume on the current state of French youth. CohnBendit, or Dany as he would soon be known across the campus, had the temerity to beard the minister and ask him why there wasn't one word about sex in the three hundred pages. Sex was a hot topic at Nanterre because of the strict rules which segregated the student residences by gender. The minister suggested that the overheated student take a cold bath. Cohn-Bendit's riposte gained him instant fame: 'That's a reply worthy of the Hitler youth.'3
Sex was the most evident divide between this new generation and their parents, and it was no longer automatically understood within the norm of the heterosexual couple, but there were two further elements: drugs, and rock and roll. Drugs came in a variety of forms: cannabis, amphetamines, LSD. As with developments around the pill, it is extraordinarily difficult to calculate the long-term effects of the introduction of a whole variety of psychotropic drugs into a society which had for centuries limited itself to alcohol and nicotine. What is certain is that it introduced another element into the lives of young people about which conventional wisdom had nothing to say. Finally, there was a new musical form born of the developments of electronic technology which simply escaped previous aesthetic categories, but which occupied a privileged position in the emotional lives of young adolescents.
These developments, with all that they promised of a life determined by relations other than financial, of futures which escaped the routine of a nine-to-five job, found a compelling focus in the war in Vietnam. The struggle of the Vietnamese against the imperialist aggressor built on and developed the heroic image of Castro's Cuba; here were Third World societies trying to build a world in which life was not determined by Mammon and the United States.
And then from the East came China. In the summer of 1966, bands of very young students, called Red Guards, began a Cultural Revolution in Communist China which was to find the most curious of echoes in Paris. Mao Tse Tung was already a name to be conjured with in Marxist circles even before, at the advanced age of sixty-six, he incited his country's youth to attack their own government. He had always been an original political thinker - the idea th a Marxist revolution could be launched from a peasant countryside yas even more unorthodox than Lenin's belief that the tiny Russian proletariat could incubate socialism. But in reflecting on the Cultural Revolution, it is worth remembering that Mao was a genuine Marxist-Leninist, a political leader whose thinking for nearly fifty years had developed within the analyses of Marx and Lenin.
The awful excesses of the Cultural Revolution are now well documented and take their place amongst the other Red terrors authorised by Lenin's Jacobinism. But what is now little mentioned is that Mao's belief that the party and state leaders were taking the 'capitalist road' has been triumphantly vindicated by China's embrace of modernisation. The excesses of the Cultural Revolution undoubtedly owe much to the idiosyncrasies of one man, but it is impossible to understand the impact they had in Paris in 1966 unless one considers them within the overall history of Marxism.
One of the odd features of Marx's writings is how little attention is devoted to the future organisation of society. In the three volumes of Capital there are fewer than ten paragraphs about how production will be arranged, and those paragraphs suggest a touching faith in the ability of a disinterested rationality to organise economic life. This faith was probably the result of a life spent as a nineteenth-century revolutionary agitator, which would have shielded Marx from having to confront almost any of the realities of institutional life. Thus his horrifyingly acute analysis of capitalism and its endemic crises was not accompanied by any equivalent political insight - British politics, for example, baffled him throughout his thirty-year sojourn in London. Marx was ferociously hostile to the form of the bourgeois state and its politics. He understood it as little more than a guarantor of exploitation. Although he insisted on the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat during the transition to communism and the withering away of the state, there was very little sense when he died of what a Marxist politics would be. There were gestures to the Paris Commune, when for a few brief weeks in 1870 Paris had known a popular democracy. But the short life of the Commune, before the communards were suppressed and slaughtered in their thousands, was hardly a detailed blueprint for the future.
In the decades after Marx's death, the German Social Democratic Party, relying very heavily on his economic analysis, took a line which stressed the necessity for socialism to wait for the moment at which the contradictions of capitalism would inevitably summon forth a new world to replace the old. Lenin broke decisively with this tradition, arguing for the need of a new kind of vanguard party which, informed by the science of Marxism and its position at the heart of the working-class movement, would be equipped to direct both a revolution and a new kind of workers' state. Such a party was necessary because the European social democratic parties, with their attachment to the legal forms of the bourgeois state, would be completely unable to stop the coming imperialist war in which the nations of Europe would take the competition for world resources to the battlefield. This war was to bring Lenin's party into power, but the backwardness of the country and the failure of revolution to spread through Europe in the immediate post-war years meant the reintroduction, after the period of War Communism, of forms of capitalism in the New Economic Policy.
It was at this moment that Lenin, literally on his deathbed, put forward the notion of 'cultural revolution'. If the party was unable to immediately usher in changed economic relations, then it was necessary to inaugurate a cultural revolution which would prepare the ground for socialism. Lenin's ideas, which would challenge both traditional Marxist arguments about the ideological superstructure as a product of the economic base, and his own ideas about the primacy of the party, did not survive his death. But more than forty years later, when Mao Tse Tung saw his own revolution succumbing to a party bureaucracy, it was Lenin's term which he used to justify 'the bombardment of headquarters'.
Like Lenin, Mao never followed through the theoretical consequences of the term; in the end he never challenged the primacy of the party. To have done so would have been to unravel his own revolution which, like Lenin's, relied on a belief that the party was the tool which allowed the revolutionary to ignore the economic backwardness of Russia and China.
The Cultural Revolution soon collapsed into the fiasco of the Lin Biao coup, and Deng Xiao Ping returned from disgrace to lead China on a capitalist road, which even in his worst nightmares the Great Helmsman Mao could scarcely have imagined. But in 1966, those still wedded to the Leninist tradition could see the Cultural Revolution as a longed-for moment of renewal.
The Cultural Revolution had an impact in France as nowhere else in the West. But this impact was very localised and, in many respects, it was due to one individual, the philosopher Louis Althusser, and one institution, the Ecole Normale Superieure on the rue d'Ulm.
The Ecole is an elite institution which prepares teachers for the university and secondary school system. Students enter the Ecole by taking a ferociously competitive exam which requires at least two years of special preparation. Once within its walls, students receive a very generous salary and, apart from the year when they prepare the agregation (the next stage of competition which qualifies them for a teaching post), they have the freedom to follow their own intellectual interests to an extent that is unparalleled in any other national educational system. This is partly a function of its origins in the French Revolution, when it was founded in conscious opposition to a univeristy system seen as irretrievably reactionary and medieval. The roll-call of its alumni, from Sartre to Foucault, from Aron to Bourdieu, is staggering given its small size.
There are no teachers as such in the Ecole but each subject has an organiser, a 'caiman' in the jargon of the Ecole, who acts in a pastoral role for his pupils and arranges the classes for the agregation. These caimans are very young, picked from the Ecole's own ranks, and usually remain in their position for only a relatively short time before moving on to a post in the university system. Louis Althusser, who became caiman for philosophy after the war, was unusual in that he moved into an administrative position within the Ecole and thus by the mid-sixties had been there for nearly twenty years.
Althusser was above all a philosopher of science, in the tradition of Canguilhelm and Bachelard, and a member of the Communist Party, which he joined in 1948. He was fiercely opposed to the new humanist and historicist versions of Marxism which rested on readings of the texts of the young Marx. Between those texts and the Communist Manifesto of 1848, Althusser Wanted to argue that there was a epistemological break, a break which involved dropping the ideological concepts of the individual and society in favour of the scientific concepts of class struggle and surplus value.
Politically, Althusser was unusual in being violently anti-Stalinist but insisting on a rigid distinction between Lenin and Stalin; he thus challenged the French Communist Party as it was, but in the name of Lenin. Above all, Althusser's philosophical emphasis was on Marxism as a science and on a strict divorce between science and ideology. It the French Communist Party could rid itself of the errors of Stalimsm and return to the science of Marxism, it would once again become a revolutionary party.
Althusser's philosophy of science was rigorously anti-empiricist. If you simply believed the evidence of your senses, then the sun obviously did go round the earth; it was only as a consequence of theoretical abstraction that it became possible to grasp reality. If an abstract science was the only realm of truth and reality, ideology was always a matter of representation rather than truth; there was no possibility, as the humanists and the historicists claimed, of passing from false to true consciousness. Instead, ideology was to be judged by its politics, whether they be progressive or reactionary, proletarian or bourgeois. But - and here Althusser reversed Stalinism most decisively - neither economics nor politics would tell you in advance how to distinguish 'progressive' and 'reactionary' in ideology. Ideology was not a state of consciousness but a discrete series of practices, all of which had their 'relative autonomy' and in which the class struggle was fought out according to the specific forms of those practices.
For Althusser, philosophy was always to be understood as the working out of the class struggle in theory, where the class struggle was defined by the Communist Party. Of all the great theoretical names of the sixties - Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze - it is Althusser's name that has faded the fastest. But for a brief moment in the sixties, it was his thinking that galvanised the most intellectually talented students, and it was largely due to his influence that the Ecole (and its feeder lycees of Louis Ie Grand and Henri IV) were the focus of French Maoism. Althusser made it possible for a new generation to engage with the Communist tradition and retain its separate intellectual and artistic interests. The relative autonomy of the ideological does not stand up to much intellectual examination - either a practice is autonomous or it is dependent - but its force as a slogan should not be underestimated. It is certainly difficult, if not impossible, to imagine Godard's engagement with Maoism without Althusser, and it is clear that Althusser is one of the dominant intellectual influences of La Chinoise. The preface to his first book. Pour Marx, is quoted extensively and his essay on Brecht is referred to by Jean-Pierre Leaud, as is the Cahiers Marxises-Leninistes, a journal produced out of the Ecole Normale Superieure by Althusser's students.
But La Chinoise is not an orthodox Marxist-Leninist film. Its narrative focus is on violence and on an attempt to assassinate the Soviet Minister of Culture when he makes an official visit to France.
Derrida himself never proposed a Manichaean model which opposed a bad subject bathing in transparent meaning to a good subject fully open to the process of signification; nor did he propose a bourgeois subject stuck in an eternal unchanging world of nature and a revolutionary subject constantly open to change and activity participating in history.
MacCabe, page 209:
But it was possible to offer such an interpretation and even to link it to a version of Maoism. One of the features of Maoism was that the opposition revolutionary/bourgeois or revolutionary/revisionist became almost entirely ethical. Mao did not tamper with the fundamentals of Marxism or Leninism; the distinction between a capitalist roader and a revolutionary was not a question of property relations or bureaucratic structures. Such an analysis would have undermined the very basis of the People's Republic of China. Indeed,the decision to choose the revolutionary line became a pure act of will. If that suddenly risked reintroducing the autonomous subject choosing his fate, one could attempt to finesse that by emphasising that the choice was not an individual one but that of a whole class. The most serious attempt to snthesise the new thinking of Derrida with Maoism and avant-garde artistic practice was made by Phillippe Sollers and his magazine Tel Quel. Indeed at the time of La Chinoise, Godard said to Wiazemsky after a dinner with Sollers, 'Why do I think that Sollers is so clever?' and then answered his own question, 'I suppose it's because he thinks the same as I do.' Godard was so impressed with Sollers that he wanted to use him in the final long discussion of La Chinoise.
Certainly the strategies and composition of [Godard's film] Le Gai savoir are best understood in terms of the revolutionary modernism proposed by Sollers. The cover of Derrida's 1967 classic, De la grammatologie, appears in the film, and while it would always be a mistake to assume that Godard had read a particular book, it is clear that La Gai savoir is an attempt to deconstruct the conventional relations between sound and image.
In intellectual tems, what is striking about Godard in 1968 is that within a decade he had travelled from a position of pure classicism (using established genres and an accepted language to address an established audience) to one of pure modernism (deconstructing established genres and grammars to address an ideal audience).
During May , Godard demonstrated and filmed at the same time, contributing to the anonymous Film-tracts, short three-minute films made up of stills and intended to contribute directly to the [Marxist] struggle. He also shot a film entitled Un Film comme les autres (A Film Like Any Other) which recorded students and workers discussing the political situation... In retrospect, one should not underestimate how many people were convinced that a revolution was in the making, as students and police clashed on the streets of Paris and as the entire work force came out in a general strike which paralysed the country.
MacCabe, page 214:
Nedjar had already arranged one trip to Canada for Godard, and Godard was keen to return. Nedjar now persuaded Godard and Wiazemsky to join him in a trip tot he frozen north where they broadcast selections from Mao's Little Red Book and invited the local population to come and make their revolutionary demands known. But after only three days, when no members of the town had come forward to seize the microphone and Wiazemsky was unable to cope with the temperature of 25 below zero, their attempt at Canadian revolution was abandoned. On the drive south, Nedjar and Godard planned a book on the links between Maoism and climate.
MacCabe, page 221:
Godard visited the United States on many occasions in the sixties, and of the many projects mooted, the most important had been Bonnie and Clyde.
At one level, the problems of the film [Godard's Maoist propaganda film Pravda] are the problems of the contorted Maoist line on Czechoslovakia, which was against the Russian invasion but even more against the Czech liberalisation that had preceded it, both being examples of the deadly sin of 'revisionism'. But it is those problems which allow a hilarious deconstruction of the conventions of television documentary, a savage attack on the tenet 'seeing is believing'.
MacCabe, page 224-225:
While Godard was editing these films, he spent a considerable amount of time discussing them with another young Maoist, Jean-Pierre Gorin. Gorin did not go on the shoots or to the editing rooms because he was laid up in the hospital after a serious motorbike accident. But he had been talking to Godard abot the cinema for more than twenty years. They had first met at a dinner party given by Yvonne Baby, the film critic of Le Monde, while Godard was making La Chinoise. Gorin had just started work on the book pages of Le Monde. He was twenty-three, and by every account both brilliant and charming. Although he had failed to get into the Ecole Normale Superieure, his time attending the preparatory classes at Louis le Grand meant that he was deeply engaged in the new thinking, be it Althusserian Marxism or literary Structuralism.
The money was provided by a radical Italian millionaire and seems to have been of dubious provenance - certainly Sorin remembers ferrying huge quantities of cash from France to Italy. There were many rumours about where the Vent d'est money was finally distributed in this radical fashion - perhaps the most charming is that it was used to set up a transsexual bar in Milan. But more disastrously, the film was to be run 'democratically', in other words, by mass meeting (assemblee generate). If there was one unifying theme of the student movement of the late sixties, it was the distrust of any representative bodies. Lenin's slogan, 'All power to the Soviets' had been little more than a strategy to destroy the institutions of representative democracy, but in the student movements after 1968, a belief in direct democracy determined that all decisions had to be made in vast unwieldy mass meetings. In the initial moment of 'free speech' in Berkeley or in the days of the barricades in Paris, the mass meeting may have been an exciting and liberating innovation, but it very quickly turned into a repetitive and unmanageable forum open to all kinds of opportunism and to a perpetual 'more leftist than thou' form of moral blackmail.
MacCabe, page 229:
Anne Wiazemsky, who remained constantly sceptical of the wilder revolutionary rhetoric, had little faith that the film could be made in this fashion. Meeting after meeting opposed the anarchists, led by Cohn-Bendit, the media 'face' of '68, to the Maoists. Whatever their disbelief in institutions of representative democracy, the anarchists did not have a problem with representation as such; they wanted a left-wing Western which would be able to represent the class struggle in the most popular of genres. The Maoists, schooled in Althusser and Brecht, wanted none of this. In words from British Sounds, 'If you make a million prints of a Marxist-Leninist film then you get Gone with the Wind.' There could be no question of using the standard form of narrative, of allowing sound and image to become comprehensible for an unknown audience. They could only make a militant film which would act as a blackboard for a militant audience - a starting point for thought.
The impasse was resolved when Godard summoned Gorin. He telephoned the Paris hospital and told Gorin, 'Either you come and do the film with me or I stop the film. There's a prepaid ticket waiting for you at Alitalia.' Gorin's doctors tried to stop him from leaving, but he made it to
Rome. In Rome, he stayed in the same hotel as Godard and was thus in a privileged position during the last chaotic weeks of shooting. It was at this point that the relationship between Godard and Gorin entered its most productive and intense phase, which would last until 1973 and would see them produce five movies together: Vent d'est, Lotte in Italia (Struggles in Italy), Vladimir et Rosa, Tout va bien and Letter to Jane.
On Vent d'est they were to prevail together in what Wiazemsky calls a 'putsch', after which Wiazemsky's initial scepticism became even more pronounced. All that is left of Cohn-Bendit's Western, which was to have had a mining strike as its narrative focus, are some fragments of narrative on the soundtrack in the opening section. Instead of representing a particular strike in particular images, the film asks what it would be to represent any strike. Perhaps the key sequence in the film is a mass meeting, not of striking miners but of the film crew lying around discussing whether an image of Stalin should be used in the film. The second voice of the soundtrack (and Vent d'est makes the sound even more dominant than British Sounds or Pravda) states that just as mass meetings must be analysed in terms of their specific circumstances - who are they for and who are they against- images must be analysed in similar fashion. The image of Stalin is used by capitalists to represent repression, but from a revolutionary point of view it is a repressive image in so far as it prevents a proper analysis of Stalin as a political phenomenon. Vent d'est is the most experimental of the series ofMaoist films; it is also the most coherent in its application of Althusserian politics.
The six or seven months which followed, first in Rome and then in Pans, were an intense period of discussion and experimentation. For Gorin, Godard was someone who had acted as a seismograph; he had predicted the earthquake of 1968, but now the earthquake had happened and he had to reinvent himself. As a consequence he was open to ideas and to a young man who was full of ideas. In talking of his collaboration with Gorin, and Gorin's superior grasp of contemporary theory, Godard talks in terms of sound ('I was not aware of what had been recorded'), for it is sound which is at the centre of these experi- mental films. For Gorin, the focus on sound had many determinants - economic, political and technological.
However moved Althusser was, he hardly constituted a large audience. The only place that such an audience could be found was on American campuses. When Godard had toured with La Chinoise in 1968, his trip had included a stop at the Pacific Film Archive, where the curator Tom Luddy had organised a full retrospective. Luddy had been a student at Berkeley, itself the epicentre of the anti-war movement, and was associated with the Maoist Progressive Labour Party. He accompanied Godard to Los Angeles, where King Vidor, Jean Renoir and Fritz Lang were present at a screening of La Chinoise, and they also went to a Free Huey Newton rally at Oakland jail.
MacCabe, page 233:
The structure of the film [Godard's Maoist propaganda film Tout va bien] is in some ways similar to Vent d'est and Lotte in Italia, but the content is fiction, however distanced... Thirty years on the film wears well. The Brechtian devices actually succeed -- providing both distance and engagement -- and the film provides a very accurate picture of the dissatisfactions of work, both in factory producion and in the audiovisual media. The problem, however, remains the politics. Where Maoist class struggle and Althusserian ideology have failed, the film offers a final sequence in which gauchistes ransack a supermarket (another favourite contemporary tactic). In many ways, the film functions as an elegy for a historical movement, but it lacks the courage of its own insights which would involve a much more radical critique of gauchiste politics.
MacCabe, page 236-238:
In between the ediing of the film and its release, a young Maoist militant, Pierre Overney, was shot dead outside a Renault factory. His funeral became the last great demonstration of May. Godard told Gorin that this was the audience for their movie, if only they could find a way to reach them.
It's difficult to find a Maoist in the twenty-first century. Once the Great Helmsman was dead, the dreadful realities of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution slowly began to emerge. When China and Vietnam went to war at the end of the seventies, Marxist-Leninism became a historical term. To complete the picture, Mao's doctor published a memoir that made clear the truth of Lord Acton's dictum, 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. But if one thinks of Mao's great slogan that one must count on one's own forces, if one thinks of the Maoist emphasis on refusing the divorce between intellectual and manual work, or on the need to find a different balance between the country and the city, one might argue that Godard's life since 1968 shows that however few of Mao's texts he read, he read them with great attention. And there was perhaps an even more enduring legacy. French Maoism had defined itself as a 'New Resistance', arguing that the country was still occupied by capital. This is an identification which Godard has never relinquished. The idea that cinema has been occupied, an occupation which he must resist, is one of the enduring themes of Godard's interviews for the last three decades.
MacCabe, pages 243-244:
As for the Dziga Vertov films, they were made for an audience that didn't exist at the time, and it is hard to imagine them finding a real one now. Their politics seem grotesque, if not offensive, but it is difficult to think of a more comprehensive critique of the audiovisual world of information, a world whose dominance is far greater now than when they were made. Godard has developed rather than abandoned their theses. The break that Godard made in 1968 has never been renounced; it has been enlarged and intensified. Their films do not generate much pleasure, but anyone wishing to make a documentary is either consciously or unconsciously going to use techniques, strategies and procedures which are analysed with wit and brilliance in the Dziga Vertov work. The collaboration with Gorin is acknowledged by both as a real collaboration. For Godard, Gorin kept him going when he was stuck, 'it was a way of still being in the business'. Gorin says of Godard, 'I gave him hope when he didn't have any.'
As for May '68 itself, who knows what future generations may find in this extraordinary moment - into what millenarian lineages it may yet be woven, into what banal litany of tragic idiocy it may yet disappear? Godard has said that in reality the New Wave was the Last Wave, and '68 certainly seems to bear more relation to an insurrectionary past (there had been barricades in Paris almost every decade from 1789 on) than to the media future. For Raphael Sorin, now head of the publishers Fayard, his generation has failed to deliver - in literature, in politics, or in philosophy. Certainly, if one thinks back to the moment at the Ecole Normale Superieure in the mid-sixties, when Robert Linhart was producing the Cahiers Marxistes-Leninistes and Jacques-Alain Miller was producing Cahiers pour I'analyse (both of whom were classmates of Gorin and Sorin at Louis le Grand), it would have been difficult to believe that Linhart's place in the history books would be a footnote to May, and Miller's a footnote in the history of psychoanalysis. Possibly even more surprising, and more difficult to explain, would be the way in which the thinkers of that moment (particularly Foucault and Derrida) became a paralysing academic orthodoxy in the United States.
Perhaps the real legacy of May '68 is a set of questions. At its most important level the student movement was anti-authoritarian -- a refusal to be policed sexually or aesthetically. In many ways it was very successful, but that was because it was going with the grain of capitalism and not against it. And May dismally failed to produce alternative structures. The disastrous failure of thousands of collectives all over the Western world bears eloquent witness to the inability to find new forms of authority. If all authority had been removed, how did one regulat disagreements when revolutionary correctness made disagreement impossible?
The original Bazinian premiss had been that cinema was the art of the real, that the technology of the camera provided a new set of aesthetic possibilities, and that the filmic image offered a new aesthetic dispensation for the West. Godard had always stressed the crucial role of subjectivity in this new objective art - the positioning of the camera was crucial. But as the image became more and more stereotyped, as it became the crucial cement of an ever more rapacious and unjust world, Godard abandoned hope in it, opting for an imaginary politics which would link him to suffering humanity, and for an elaborated soundtrack which would provide the correct way of reading the image. There undoubtedly was a moment, however brief, when this hope was linked to a widespread generational revolt in France, but this revolt, tied to failed models of revolution, evaporated.
MacCabe, pages 248-249:
The Maoism that Godard espoused had always stressed the global nature of revolution, and that went hand in hand with a number of analyses which saw the Third World, increasingly the site of the most unacceptable exploitation by capital, as the logical base of the revolution that would transform the world. For Godard the cinephile, this was a moment in which it looked as though Third World film-makers - Rocha in Brazil (Terra em Transe) and Solanas in Argentina (The Hour of the Furnaces) would be the most obvious names - were destined to create the new cinemas that the press book for La Chinoise had attempted to summon into being. Jusqu'a la victoire was not to be just another Dziga Vertov film - it would be the film which would justify the other experiments by providing an image of the Palestinian and Arab world never seen before. The importance of its collapse should not be underestimated. When Chris Marker dropped into the Dziga Vertov editing room in September 1970, Godard told him, 'The film is in pieces, )ust like Amman.' It was Mieville who was to put the pieces together Bgam, and this process took her a very long time. At the end, Godard discovered a new and hesitant faith in the image, though this faith would involve a very much more profound recognition of death than had been available to the creator of Michel Poiccard.
Ice et ailleurs, the film Mieville and Godard made from the abandoned fragments of Jusqu'a la victoire, takes the form of a conversation - a man and woman discuss the images that unwind before us. It is this conversation which provides the new balance between sound and image. If the Dziga Vertov group had used conversations, they were didactic; one voice was given a necessary prominence and the sound was harsh and strident. In Ice et ailleurs, the voices are soft. Rather than dictating to us what the images mean, they attempt to discover what meaning they might have. The mistake of the earlier film was that the sound was too loud - every image was reduced to a set of political slogans. The filmmakers may have gone to the Middle East, but the soundtrack that they brought with them meant that they were unable to see their own images. The structure of the Dziga Vertov film, with its Maoist emphasis on the people and the armed struggle, had failed to engage the reality of what had been shot. Many of those they photographed would die in the bloody battles of Black September. This simple fact of death - a death now evident in the images but rendered invisible by the original soundtrack - is what redeems the images even as it renders the original film null and void. As the voice-over of the final film emphasises, 'The actors in this film were filmed in danger of death.'
This dominance of sound, which ruined the initial project, is not an individual foible - it is the very foundation of Western politics. In one of the crucial sequences of the film, a young Palestinian girl declaims a poem and, as Mieville points out, the gestures and intonations she is using take us right back to the French Revolution and the politicians of the Convention. If we can declare the young girl innocent, the form of political theatre that she is imitating is less so. For it is a form which insists on one voice dominating another, and it is that dominance of sound - running from domestic rows to Hitler's speeches - which becomes the key to understanding why everywhere things 'are going badly'.
At this time, Mieville and Godard were still looking for a more collective project, and they decided to set up an atelier in Grenoble together with an ex-Maoist militant, Gerard Martin, and an expert in video technology, Gerard Teissedre. The move to Grenoble was, in the first instance, a move away from Paris, a centre which was felt too dominating, too metropolitan, too central. It was necessary to move to the margins to try and find a new way of producing images, which would differ from the conventional industry which Godard had definitively abandoned and the militant cinema which had proved so blind.
MacCabe, pages 256-257:
Grenoble had several advantages; it had the workshops of Beauviala, the most innovative producer of cameras in the world (with whom Godard would collaborate on the Aaton, a 3 5 mm camera that would be as portable and light as an 8 mm); it also had a mayor who was interested in bringing cultural industries to the town; but perhaps above it all, it had the Alps. Certainly a return to the Alps was a very strong motive for Gerard Martin. He had grown up in the more remote reaches of the French Alps and had come to Paris in 1961 with the idea that he was going to be a painter. If Gorin represented the high intellectual end of Maoism, Martin was the practical militant. Martin's ambition to be a painter did not last long. He soon became involved, almost despite himself, in both the student and the film world. He cordially disliked the student environment, but his involvement in it was a necessity if he was to avoid military service. The French academic world is full of 'competitions'1, and Martin became a competition expert, claiming to have sat fifty-four different competitions and been successful in fourteen, in subjects as diverse as fine arts, law and philosophy. Rather than follow
established courses, he prepared for these exams in a self-help group of fellow marginals. One of his successes was passing the entrance exam to the state film school, IDHEC (Institut des hautes etudes cinematographiques), in 1966, but constitutionally opposed both to authority and to theory, he did not stay there long. His real entry into film had come earlier by way of bit parts. With long hair and a Fu Manchu moustache, he was spotted by a producer playing pinball in Montparnasse and then found himself cast in a variety of minor criminal roles. But what interested him in the film-making process was the technical aspect, and he soon began to train himself in all aspects of film-making.
His interest in the practice of film-making went hand in hand with an ever growing political militancy. For a time, Martin hung out with the Situationists. The Situationists remain perhaps the most fertile source of ideas from the Parisian sixties. Their leader and principal theorist was Guy Debord. Debord's life shadows Godard's - when the young Godard was finding a classical cure for modernism in the cinema, the young Debord, through a group called the Lettrists, was pushing an ultra-modernist line which would refuse all art as bourgeois in favour of events that would scandalise and disrupt the bourgeois order. In the sixties Debord developed one of the most powerful restatements of Marxism, in which the image replaced the commodity as the central relationship of capitalism. But Situationism and Debord were above all devoted to sectarian disputes.
Martin, in the great tradition of Debord's movement, was soon excluded for his dislike of their hyper-intellectualism. His commitment to practice and his belief that it was the working class who would transform the social order soon had him working with the Maoists. He was also one of the first people to work in video. A friend came back from Japan with one of the first black-and-white video cameras, and they used it to make militant anti-Vietnam-war videos. Although he had met Godard on a visit to the set of Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle, their friendship began at the end of May 1968. The film industry responded to the May events by calling an Estates General of Cinema, in which a new basis for a socially responsible industry would be hammered out.
If Liberation is to become one of the privileged interlocutors from the seventies to the present antoher is Cahiers du cinema. Cahiers's initial post-1968 politicisation took place in relation to the Communist Party and accentuated a development which had become clear under Rivette's editorship. This led to a break with the Maoist Godard, who took his name off the mathead and gave the transcript of British Sounds to a breakaway Maoist rival, Cinethique. But Cahiers was to follow Godard, not least because of the Dziga Vertov films, which had become a talisman for a possible future for a political cinema. By late 1971, and in the wake of Phillippe Sollers's Tel Quel, Cahiers had declared its Maoist allegiances. By this time Maoism, never a major political movement was all but finished. For two years, Cahiers wallowed in a political trough -- fewer and fewer issues appeared, and all analysis of film was subordinated to the political struggle. This moment culminated at Avignon in the sumer of 1973, when a mere fifty people turned up for the political mass meetings which had become the major purpose of the review. An alliance was formed between the militant Serge Toubiana and the critic Sere Daney to take the magazine back to a readershipo defined by the cinema rather than politics. Godard's films remained a crucial reference for Cahiers -- and arguably Godard's films had been a crucial factor in the magazine's history in the early seventies... but there had been no contact between Godard and Cahiers since he had dissaciated himself from the magazine in the summer of 1968, as part of his generalised break with the world of Parisian mandarins.
MacCabe, page 313:
What is Art in the twentieth century? And the question is posed in the shadow of death, of biological death and of the death of the century. If we understand Godard's Maoism as a desperate attempt to sustain the possibility (albeit virtual) of a contact between art and audience, The Old Place brings to a new level of achievement the choice of Ici et ailleurs, that is, to break the impasse of artist and audience, of the one and the many, through conversation -- the necesity of dialogue.
Godard was a devout Maoist. Maoism is a subset of Marxist Communism. Communism was a comprehensive, all-embracing religion and not simply a political party, political system or philosophy. This fact is illustrated by the numerous ways in which Communism embraced and attemped to promulgate peculiar quasi-religious (and often clearly anti-scientific) beliefs which had nothing all to do with politics or government. Although Communism typically touted itself as anti-religious and pro-science, it was, in fact, deeply anti-scientific and clearly a religion. One of Communism's hallmarks in the Soviet Union and China was its aggressive and violent suppression of other religions. Communism was "anti-religious" only in the sense that it forcibly suppressed all religions other than itself. From MacCabe, page 398:
It is this dual allegiance to the philosophy of science and the Communist Party which explains Althusser's lack of publications in the fifties. In the late forties a Soviet, Lyssenko, challenged Darwinism by arguing for the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Stalin backed the fraudulent scientist and argued for a distinction between proletarian and bourgeois science so that science itself became a function of the class struggle. Communist philosophers and scientists were pressured to back both Lyssenko and the philosophical distinction in a campaign which effectively severed any serious links between scientists and the Communist movement.
David Downing, Jack Nicholson: A Biography, Stein and Day Publishers: New York (1984), pages 75-76:
Politics, for [Jack Nicholson] as for most of the American 'movement' during this period, were 'just a part of living'. He was also 'into influencing people subtly', he said in 1971. 'I won't go on any political bandwagons . . . I'm into affecting the society in which I live but not overtly, not by carrying placards tellling everybody what to do. In the long run, I just feel that would limit my own sense of what is useful.'
The same attitude was brought to bear in his choice of films to admire and to make. He eschewed the direct political approach of [Jean-Luc] Godard [a devout Maoist at that time] and other like-minded directors. Godard, Nicholson said, 'thought that 'to make an entertaining movie while Vietnamese are dying for what he considers to be piggish social reasons is to be a totally decadent artist. And he certainly is not going to be entertaining in the face of that. He's making movies now exclusively as essays.' Nicholson doubted that these 'essays' would achieve the desired effect. 'Who is it that he would have to change? . . As I say, I'm totally respectful of it, but I don't think it's accomplishing a lot . . . it's not propagandizing an audience . . . he's working in a very refined style . . . you don't make this kind of movie for a mass audience. Everybody makes movies and hopes everyone sees them and everyone likes them. And that they're helpful to everyone, entertaining to everyone, or something to everyone. But in essence -- you know -- movies have different styles. And he certainly is working for a more intellectual audience than average, and he doesn't givem newness. You know, they already either agree or disagree with him.'
Webpage created 4 July 2005. Last modified 2 October 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: firstname.lastname@example.org.