Film Scouts Interviews

Jean-Luc Godard Press Conference
at the 1995 Montreal Film Festival

by Henri Béhar
On the role of the filmmaker in a world where bombs exploding are a daily occurrence.

JEAN-LUC GODARD: "Antagonisms are not a recent phenomenon. There always are boys who want to beat other boys. Women are more reasonable. The work of a filmmaker is to try and make his film as best he can. Contrary to what is often said, a camera is not a gun, and a gun is not a camera: if it were, they wouldn't still blindfold those that are about to be shot."

(Interrupting to comment on the satellite transmission set up:)

"This must be progress: I feel like I am back to radio days, since I don't see who I am talking to... I read in the paper somewhere a Serbian general told the refugees climbing on board the bus that was to take them God knows where - and you can't even say, 'God knows where,' because, at least in Yugoslavia, God is not there. Anyway, the general was telling them, 'Don't look your Serbian escort in the eye; if you do, they have been ordered to shoot you.' As I sit here tonight, therefore, I'm happy not be able to see any of you."

On his contacts with young filmmakers in France or in Switzerland, where he lives

JEAN-LUC GODARD: "I have none! I am something of a loner. I am partnered with my friend Anne-Marie Miéville in a small production company, and have little contact with young filmmakers. Never had any. I've always considered myself marginal. In a book, the primordial space is the margin, because it joins with that of the preceding page. And you can write in the margin, and take notes, which is as important as the 'main text'.

"I see fewer films. I no longer live in Paris, the city has grown too big, with too many greys, too much dust, too many gas fumes. I try to follow the release of films but when you don't live in Paris... Only in Paris, and thanks to the influence of the New Wave, can one see films from everywhere in the world, even if they're only shown for a week in a minuscule theatre. So I can't quite answer your question about today's young filmmakers. However, on the rare occasion when I have met some of them, with one or two exceptions, I had the feeling I was younger - or dumber - than they were. Not as a man, but as a filmmaker."

What cinema has taught him.

JEAN-LUC GODARD: "Let's say... humility, and the pride of being able to earn my living by not being too proud."

On film technique and video.

JEAN-LUC GODARD: "I've always been interested in technique, not in art for technique's sake. In the last installments of "History of Cinema", I keep saying - or often have it said - that cinema is neither an art nor a technique, but a mystery. That's what differentiates it from painting, literature or music, all arts when undertaken by artists. Cinema is close to a religion. It is somewhat an act of faith, it is immediately perceivable, through photography, or a certain relationship between man and the world - is the world the work of man or vice-versa? I don't know. The two go together. (...) One could say television has 'un-taught' us to see. Television manufactures a few memories, but cinema - as it should have been - creates memory, i.e. the possibility of memory.

"Video has its own specificity. It can be used for its uniqueness, but, in my opinion, rarely is. One of its main interests is that you can work at it at home, if you can afford it or have a production company that allows you to do so. You can therefore work a bit more, perhaps, like a painter or a musician, and realize that the image is not only space but also time.

"On video, I love doing superimpositions, real superimpositions, almost as in music, where movements mix - sometimes slowly, sometimes brutally - then something happens. You can have two images at the same time, much like you can have two ideas at the same time, and you can commute between the two, which, to me, seems very close to childhood. Cinema has reached adulthood and you can reflect more. In cinema, you write the novel. But you have to have a philosophical idea in order to write a good novel."

On the future of cinema, at least during its second Centennial

JEAN-LUC GODARD: "Cinema is what it will become, what the public or the filmgoers as a whole will want it to be. It could be something else but, you know, man, nature, the nature of man... You can't spend your life saying, 'It was better in my younger days.' But at the beginning, cinema was a tool for study. It should have been a tool for study - for it is visual, and very close to science and medicine. The camera has a lens, like a microscope, to study the infinitely small, or like a telescope, to study the infinitely distant. Having studied that, you could then convey it in a spectacular fashion.

"Very early on, however, audiences gave an extraordinarily warm welcome to cinema, the like of which they never bestowed on any other form of art. But what was immediately privileged was the "spectacular", the "commercial" aspect of it - in the worst sense of the world, for "commerce" is also a necessary component of it all.

"For me, cinema is a metaphor for the world. It is image, and as such, it was an image of something. Everything is image, in the largest sense of the word. There was a time when you distributed what you produced. Distribution was at the service of production. You produced and then distributed what you had produced. Nowadays, you produce in order to distribute.

"When France celebrates "the 100th Anniversary of cinema", what is actually being celebrated is the 100th anniversary of the first performance in front of a paying audience . I think it is wonderful to pay three, ten, twenty dollars to see something on a wide screen. Then make it clear that that's the marvel you're celebrating. Whereas there is another wonder, and that's the work itself. But maybe people have a lesser need of wonderment in their lives; maybe wars on television are enough for them."

On the Internet, the Information Highway and how they will affect the future of movies.

JEAN-LUC GODARD: "I am a total ignoramus on that front, mon ami. I don't know what it is, I already have a hard time dealing with the "Play" button on my VCR. I can no longer even iron my clothes: too many buttons to the iron. Although, hopefully, I still have a fair number of years to live, I hope the police won't force me to use a computer. Don't forget highways were invented by Adolf Hitler and a few others of the same ilk. I don't think a highway helps knowing and appreciating a landscape. Same thing, for me, applies to the "information highway".

"In today's configuration of cinema, I think my films, and those of Jean-Marie Straub, Jean Vigo, John Casavetes, may be less seen than they used to be, since it's technology - CD-ROMs, the Internet - that will determine "the classics,' the 'necessary' films, unless Cinemathèques and Film archives manage to protect them, but they're so weak, and cinema is not, like painting, a 'fine' art. No Cinemathèque can be as successful as the Louvre Museum, simply because cinema, as it was born, and born only a hundred years ago, is still a mechanical art..."

On his wariness about technology - which allows, however, his press conference to occur.

JEAN-LUC GODARD: " Well, perhaps I would have preferred to get a letter from you that would have sailed three months to reach me; I would read it with all the more attention and who knows, maybe answer it."

On the one Godard movie we should remember him by when he's gone.

JEAN-LUC GODARD: "Which film of mine? Whichever you want, mon ami !"

Back to the 1995 Montreal Film Festival Interviews

Back to Interviews

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.