Thursday, April 29, 2010

Godard Marathon: Final Thoughts/Crude Rankings

29 films in 7 weeks, spanning 45 years. One director. My plan to run through the essentials in the oeuvre of Jean-Luc Godard was something that had been brewing in my head for awhile. As I first talked about in my initial post Preparing For A Godard Marathon, I went through a large handful of the director's work awhile back, and though I was unquestionably intrigued by the films I was watching, I skipped around the years with little knowledge of how Godard had evolved as a filmmaker over the decades and the intimate ties between his cinema and his life, and was thus entirely befuddled and, quite frankly, put off by a few of these works that played as a kind of cinema I never knew existed, let alone had seen before. And so while I initially chalked the experience up as a kind of "Interesting filmmaker, but I'm not quite sure I 'get it' " type deal, I was never close to being satisfied. Does one really have to be an academic to appreciate this filmmaker? Can a regular guy who is just interested in interesting movies enjoy watching these films? These were the question that nagged me. And so this marathon was born.

So now that I'm done, now that I've watched a majority of Godard's essential films in order, what's the consensus? Well, in short: I've found the experience of watching these movies, and the experience of reading, discussing and thinking about them to be one of the most rewarding cinematic ventures I've ever partaken in. In my "Preparing..." post, I stated - in admittedly obscure terms - that my goal with the marathon was to "get a better handle" on Godard, and to "identify the shape of this man's body of work; something that would make sense of it all." I had a small epiphany around the midway point of the marathon where things clicked, and I realized what my real goal was; I wanted to simply learn how to watch a Godard film. An abstract notion yes, and one that I feel I'm still in the process of learning (and one that will continue as I revisit these film in the years ahead). But I certainly feel as though this marathon has given me a leg up. It is rare to come across a filmmaker such as Godard; one who so thoroughly challenges your preconceptions of what cinema is and can be on a consistent basis; one that, through even his most subversive works, is able to conjure up such beauty and stimulation as to render the final product something much closer to a piece of glorious art than merely a "film". The fact that Godard's work over the years remained so resoundingly personal was perhaps the biggest revelation for me, and it's another fascinating aspect that makes his body of work one of the most singularly unique and compelling in all of cinema.

So needless to say, I deem this marathon a grand success. At the very least, it's given me a fair amount of insight into a director who remained enigmatic and impenetrable to me for a long time, and it's also given me a large handful of rich, exciting cinematic works to revisit and scrape more from for years to come. My original intention was to do this on my own, without blogging about it at all. I finally decided that it would be neat to keep a record of my initial reactions and thoughts on these films for future reference, and so while the write-ups were often sloppy and done in a hasty manner, I like to think that they at least accurately reflect my raw impressions. Getting comments in the comments section was one of the funner aspects throughout all of this for me. In particular, Ed Howard from Only The Cinema, who helped me comprise the list of titles for the marathon, provided commentary throughout that was just awesome; insightful, intelligent and full of tidbits. Erich Kuersten from Acidemic always had kind words and gave me a plug over at his great site, which was really cool. Doniphon, another frequent commenter, is in the early stages of going through the films of Jean-Pierre Melville (another filmmaker I am sadly lacking in) at his wonderful site The Long Voyage Home, and I will enjoy keeping up with that. And I implore everyone to check in with Jake at Not Just Movies, who's been conducting his own run through of Godard's films (his project predates mine), and the intelligence and thorough analysis he brings to his breakdown of these films has never failed to amaze me.

At first I thought it would be fun, once I was all finished, to rank the films from the marathon. Then I figured that these rankings are always kind of goofy and arbitrary, and it'd be a little silly for me to rank all these films on mostly just first impressions after driving home the fact that they are, for the most part, incredibly dense and no doubt command repeat viewings. Then I said, ah what the hell, someone might find it interesting. So here it is, my rankings of all 29 films I watched during this marathon, warts and all, and obviously open to constant revision as I continue to revisit them in the future:

1. Contempt (1963)
Pierrot le fou (1965)
Passion (1982)
Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1966)
Nouvelle vague (1990)
. Week End (1967)
Notre Musique (2004)
. A Married Woman (1964)
. La Chinoise (1967)
10. Masculin, feminin
. Hail Mary (1985)
. Made in U.S.A. (1966)
13. First Name: Carmen (1983)
. Vladimir and Rosa (1970)
. Vivre sa vie (1962)
. JLG/JLG, autoportrait de decembre(1995)
Helas pour moi (1993)
. Numero deux (1975)
. Breathless (1960)
. King Lear (1987)
. Alphaville (1965)
. Anticipation (1967)
. A Woman Is A Woman (1961)
24. Band of Outsiders (1964)
. In Praise of Love (2001)
. Le Gai Savoir (1968)
. Tout va bien (1972)
. A Letter to Jane (1972)
. Detective (1985)


Jeffrey Goodman said...

Drew, this is very interesting and definitely has me wanting to fill in some of my own gaps! Incredible achievement. I look forward to going back and reading your posts as I catch up on some missing Godard.

Drew said...

Thanks so much Jeffrey! I know we share a mutual love for some of Godard's 60's films, so it'd be really cool to hear your take on some of the stuff you haven't seen if you get around to catching those. I myself am going to go back and catch some of the things that didn't make the final cut for the marathon - namely the epic Histoire(s) du cinema series, which I'm greatly looking forward to now.

Jeffrey Goodman said...

Drew, I'll definitely pop in with thoughts as I fill in some of these gaps. I still need to see your #3-5, for instance, and I'm particularly looking forward to those. I'll keep you posted. Thanks so much for sharing this great marathon.

Ed Howard said...

Great job on this project, Drew. I've really enjoyed reading along, and I'm absolutely thrilled that you've gotten so much from Godard and found so much to love in these films, as I have. Godard is really an utterly unique filmmaker, in his own category — relentlessly intellectual and at times opaque, but never without a sense of humor and, as you say, a deeply personal and emotional commitment to his films that goes far beyond the intellectual or academic, despite the dismissals he often gets as a coldly academic director.

Godard is one of those directors whose whole oeuvre means a great deal to me, whose films I can continually rewatch and discover new things, new depths. In fact, I've often thought that if I could only have two directors to watch over and over again, I could be relatively happy with just Godard and Hawks.

Drew said...

Jeffrey - Sounds great, those three films are absolutely wonderful and I'd love to hear what you thought of them, especially considering that we're on the same page with my top two. Feel free to drop by anytime in the future and keep me posted!

Ed - Thanks a lot for the kind words. As I said in the post, it was an absolute treat having you follow along, and I always looked forward to your comments here - and also to reading the reviews of these films on your site, which were always wonderful and fully informative. Your passion for and insight into Godard's work is truly staggering, and you've really said it best with this:

"whose films I can continually rewatch and discover new things, new depths"

You fortunately confirm my suspicion that there is so much more to gain from future viewings, and indeed I was shocked at how much I got from second viewings of the films I'd already seen. First Name: Carmen and Made in U.S.A. are two examples where I had a massive change in opinion and appreciation. In fact, I'm tempted to go back through 10 or so of these film immediately, but I think I'll let this experience marinate awhile before I do more exploring. I'm afraid my head might explode, lol.

Of course we've chatted about Hawks before, and it is unfortunate that I can count on one hand the number of his films that I've seen. But considering how I've found all of them to be masterpieces, he is clearly a director I've been meaning to invest more time in. Obviously you're high praise for him only reaffirms that.

Stephen said...

Drew, it's been fascinating reading your thoughts on (probably) my favourite of all film-makers.

I offer my own crude Top 5:

Notre Musique
Hail Mary
Numero Deux
Vivre Sa Vie

Drew said...

Thanks a lot Stephen. This marathon was definitely a fascinating and enlightening experience for me. And that's a very nice top 5 you have there, all of those films are quite wonderful.