Sunday, May 24, 2009


[I have written far too many product reviews over the years, in the somewhat safe capacity of a consumer advocate. (It is, after all, the role that film reviewer's fulfill most of the time - informing the public of films that will give them the most for their money.) I got my hands on a copy of Colin MacCabe's Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy, and I was immediately struck by the book's unbelievably reverential tone. One of the reasons I have never taken "film scholars" seriously is because their standards are all over the place. Jean-Luc Godard was an influential critic and a founding member of the French Nouvelle Vague. He is also one of the most overrated filmmakers "of all time," as film scholars like to put it.]

The Viewer Over My Shoulder

For anyone who is only marginally curious about the vacillating fortunes of Jean-Luc Godard, which has dimmed to virtual darkness since the 1960s, Colin MacCabe's book Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy contains very little that is useful and a great deal that is both confusing and misleading. MacCabe is blessed with intimate knowledge both personally and professionally of Godard, and doesn't hesitate to demonstrate this. What he fails to demonstrate to this non-convert to Godard is precisely anything that might sway me from the conviction, cultivated over 30 years, that - at best - Godard was politically stupid,* technically incompetent and artistically bankrupt from beginning to end - an end which MacCabe is anxious to prove is as much the end of European culture as Dante's Divine Comedy was its beginning (he even cavils that this "is no exaggeration.").

Such admiration as this would be charming if it were to any degree justified. A little objective discrimination, presuming Mr MacCabe still believes in such things, would've been far more welcome. This book, however, is founded on the premise that Jean-Luc Godard (a co-founder of the French New Wave) is a film artist of unprecedented importance. That this premise is sheer flapdoodle tends to deflate most of the points Mr MacCabe attempts to make about Godard, or Film, or European culture for that matter.

*For example, Vernon Young reported at the time that, in organizing the protest that led to the cancellation of the Cannes Film Festival in 1968, Godard did so not in the name of Marxism, Leninism, or Maoism, as expected, but Stalinism!

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