When the beam of light has gone
- The Films of Jean-Luc Godard by Wheeler Winston Dixon
SUNY, 290 pp, £17.99, March 1997, ISBN 0 7914 3285 8
- Speaking about Godard by Kaja Silverman and Harun Farocki
New York, 256 pp, US $55.00, July 1998, ISBN 0 8147 8066 0
I was living in Paris in 1959, the year of both Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and Budd Boetticher’s The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, and I went to see both of these films the week they were released. In fact, I went back to see them a number of times. I couldn’t help noticing that Godard quoted from another Boetticher movie in the course of Breathless, in the scene where the small-time gangster Michel Poiccard, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, dives into a cinema on the Champs Elysées in order to shake off a wearisome tail. The film which is up on the screen turns out to be Budd Boetticher’s Westbound, one of the Randolph Scott cycle, although the voice that we hear on the soundtrack is mysteriously speaking some lines of poetry by Guillaume Apollinaire. In a way, this aberrant moment summed up Godard’s appeal for me – the perverse mixture of Modernism with B-movies, as if an Apollinaire poem somehow fitted quite naturally with a low-budget picture, a minor Warner Brothers production; as if you could love them both at the same time. Samuel Fuller’s extraordinary Crimson Kimono also came out in 1959 and, sure enough, Sam Fuller shows up in Godard’s films six years later, in Pierrot le Fou, where le grand Sam appears as a party guest to define film as ‘like a battleground. Yes ... Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word ... Emotion.’ Fuller, we have been told, is in Paris to make a movie of Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal.
At the time, Godard already seemed a film-maker sui generis, a founding figure of the Nouvelle Vague, it went without saying, but also a director with his own very personal and even idiosyncratic agenda. Right from the start, he seemed unlikely to develop into a respected master of the art film, a pillar of the new French cinema, as Chabrol, Resnais, Rohmer and Truffaut were all to become. If anything, he seemed more likely to become a new Cocteau, never quite integrated into the industry, always the poet rather than the practitioner, a filmmaker with a fatal soft spot for the film maudit. Yet, although Godard was in revolt against conventional ideas of cinema, against le cinéma de papa, he was also an unashamed fan of minor Hollywood pictures. Breathless, as Godard readily admitted, was inspired by Richard Quine’s Pushover and could be seen as the direct sequel to Otto Preminger’s Bonjour tristesse. The central character of the film, the petty criminal played by Belmondo, modelled his self-image on that of Humphrey Bogart in Mark Robson’s The Harder They Fall. These films were not even ‘classics’ – they were little-regarded films dating from the mid-Fifties, movies which Andrew Sarris, a leading historian of Hollywood, later characterised as ‘widely reviled’ and ‘seldom, if ever, revived’. But there was method in Godard’s madness. The dedication of Breathless to Monogram Pictures, the loving tributes to movies that never even made it to cult status, were part and parcel of a coherent and considered re-evaluation of classic American cinema.
Godard recognised Hitchcock and Lang and Griffith as great masters – alongside Rossellini, Renoir and Eisenstein – but he also recognised the strengths of marginal and eccentric Hollywood productions, the odd films out of the studio system. Talking about his second film, Le Petit Soldat, he invoked Welles’s The Lady From Shanghai, which David Thomson has seen as ‘deconstructing’ film noir. Une femme est une femme reminded him of Lubitsch’s supposed ‘failure’, Design For Living, and Richard Quine’s decidedly minor My Sister Eileen. Godard treated Hollywood as a kind of conceptual property store from which he could loot ideas for scenes and shots and moods. On the set, he improvised, halting the filming while he disappeared to figure out what should happen next, cueing new lines to actors while the camera was rolling. He never worked with a script writer and he never gave traditional acting directions, preferring to let the performers be themselves to the point that his films began to turn into documentaries about their actors. In the editing, he confessed, he just used the shots he liked best, without worrying too much about continuity or coherence. His tightest film, Vivre sa vie, used a series of sequence shots laid end to end, each one a first take, so that ‘there was no editing. All I had to do was put the shots end to end. What the crew saw at the rushes is more or less what the public sees.’ ‘What is it ultimately that makes one run a shot on or change to another?’ he asks himself. And replies with a scathing reference to the Oscar-winning director of Marty: ‘A director like Delbert Mann probably doesn’t think this way. He follows a pattern. Shot – the character speaks; reverse angle, someone answers.’
Whatever he did, Godard avoided following a pattern, whether in the story construction or the editing or the choice of genre or the development of a theme. Writing about Godard for Artforum in 1968, Manny Farber guessed that ‘at the end of this director’s career, there will probably be a hundred films, each one a bizarrely different species, with its own excruciatingly singular skeleton, tendons, plumage.’ At the time Farber wrote this, Godard had just finished his 23rd film, La Chinoise, plus two episodes for omnibus films. By the time Wheeler Winston Dixon completed his compendious and acute new book on Godard, the unstoppable director was already up to his 76th (including major works on video, which first appeared as a favoured medium in the mid-Seventies). Moreover, just as Farber predicted, each film seems to be quite unlike any of his previous work, the same only in being so unpredictably, inconsistently different. Yet Godard’s films have an underlying logic in their obsession with freedom and their immersion in the present at the same time as cannibalising the past, although the logic has mutated from time to time, as he changed his place of residence, his circle of intimates and his mode of production. Looking back over his career, we can certainly see significant changes but there is also a clear sense of continuity. In the most useful sketch of Godard’s development to date, published in 1991, Colin MacCabe divided his life into seven schematic episodes, which could be summarised and rephrased as follows.
1. Childhood. Godard was born in Switzerland in 1930. His father was a successful doctor who ran a private clinic in Nyon, his mother a member of a rich banking family, the founders of the Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas. Godard remembers his childhood as an idyllic time, especially the days spent at his mother’s family estate on the banks of Lake Geneva. According to MacCabe, ‘the impression one gets is of a rather dreamy child, charming and spoiled, the apple of his mother’s eye, but from early on in considerable conflict with his father.’
2. Cinephilia. At the end of the war, Godard was sent to Paris to study for his baccalauréat and, subsequently, a degree in anthropology at the Sorbonne. He soon became a frequenter of the Cinémathèque, the Institute of Filmology and the many small ciné-clubs which had sprung up in Paris, partly as a way of catching up with films unseen as a result of the German occupation. Godard began to write about film first (under the name, Hans Lucas) for the tiny Gazette du Cinéma and then for France’s premier film journal, Cahiers du Cinéma, where his colleagues included Truffaut, Rivette and Rohmer. During this time he travelled to America and Brazil and (like Truffaut) committed a number of petty thefts – from friends, family, employers – and was lucky to escape relatively unscathed after a more serious incident, following his return to Switzerland in 1952, led to the police becoming involved. His father, however, had him committed to a psychiatric hospital.
3. The New Wave. After his release from hospital, family connections made it possible for him to earn the money to make his first film, an industrial short. Godard subsequently returned to Paris, where he quickly made three more shorts, continued his writing as a critic, found work in the Fox publicity department and made a number of contacts in the French film industry. His breakthrough came in the annus mirabilis of 1959 when Breathless rocketed him to instant success. The foundations had already been laid by friends from the Cahiers gang – especially Truffaut, the ringleader of what he himself called ‘la politique des copains’, who had made his mark the previous year and was able to give his old partner in crime a helping hand. Godard soon outraged the critics and flew in the face of industry protocols. All the same, nobody who saw his Sixties films is going to forget them in a hurry.
4. See you at Mao. The first signs of a shift in Godard’s career came in 1967, with La Chinoise. As always, Godard had mixed up his work with his private life and everything began to implode when his stormy relationship with Anna Karina, star of seven fantastic films and also his wife, finally fell to pieces. La Chinoise was about a group of would-be revolutionary students, with the lead played by Anne Wiazemsky, whom Godard was soon to marry, and who appeared in five of his subsequent films. The turning-point came with Le Gai savoir, which was both his first film for television and also his most experimental and politically committed work to date, a direct response to the upheaval of May 1968. The next year Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin founded a Maoist film-making collective, the Dziga Vertov group, named after the Soviet agitprop film-maker of the Twenties, founder of the Kino-Eye movement. Starting with ideas about ‘Brechtian’ or ‘guerrilla’ cinema, Godard’s radicalism rapidly propelled him towards ‘Cinema Year Zero’. In 1970, he was driven away in a police van for selling the banned Maoist paper Cause du Peuple on the streets.
5. Grenoble. In 1973, following Godard and Gorin’s ill-starred attempt to make a Marxist-Leninist musical with Jane Fonda and Pierre Montand, the Dziga Vertov adventure was wound up and Godard set off down yet another path, once again with a new partner, Anne-Marie Miéville. Miéville was a stills photographer who nursed Godard back to health after a motorcycle accident in 1971, just before he began shooting Tout va bien. Once the film was out of the way, she insisted he leave Paris behind him permanently, for his own well-being. Godard’s move to Grenoble was both a stage in his personal recovery and also a way to re-stabilise his career by embarking on a series of video projects for French television in partnership with Miéville. In Ici et ailleurs and Comment ça va, Godard followed the semiotic trail first blazed in Le Gai savoir. With Miéville, he rethought his entire political position, and his self-criticism, partly carried out on screen, led him to a new concern with family and personal relationships, reflecting the emergence of the women’s movement in France. Towards the end of this period, he became involved in a time-consuming, utopian plan to create a do-it-yourself television service for the Mozambique Ministry of Information, a kind of cross between Kino-Eye and Video Nation which eventually came to nothing.
6. Back to Switzerland. In 1976, Godard and Miéville, who was herself Swiss, left France for good and he returned to his childhood haunts on the banks of Lake Geneva. There they continued working together with video, but apparently in response to Miéville’s urging, Godard embarked on a series of films made with bankable stars and serious production values. In 1982 the great cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who had shot all 15 of his films, bar one, in the Sixties, from Breathless right through to Weekend, rejoined Godard to work with him on both Passion and Prénom Carmen, two films which were widely taken as signalling a partial reconciliation between the new Swiss-based Godard and the Parisian Godard of old. Predictably enough, the chance that Godard might relaunch his commercial career came to a catastrophic end in 1987, when he signed up with Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, then the heads of Cannon Films, to make a film version of King Lear, with a script (!) by Norman Mailer, in which Mailer and his daughter would star as Lear and Cordelia. After half a day’s shooting, Mailer and his daughter walked off the set and Godard tore up the script, beginning again with Burgess Meredith and Molly Ringwald. Woody Allen did a walk-on as Mr Alien and Godard himself appeared as Professor Pluggy. Mailer’s vision of the film as a gangster movie in the tradition of The Godfather was systematically thrown to the winds.
7. Stabilisation. In the most recent phase of his career, Godard and Miéville have continued to put together financial packages that enable him to work as a director for television, very much on his own terms. Most of his income has been re-invested in technical equipment so that he can work on post-production in what is effectively his own personal facility house. He still averages a ruminative new feature every three or four years, while devoting the bulk of his energy to the massive eight-part video epic Histoire(s) du Cinéma, a protracted meditation on one hundred years of cinema as seen from the point of view of one of its own most knowledgeable and unsettling figures – a fermenting collage of favourite moments, springboards for typically Godardian disquisitions and unanticipated juxtapositions and associations. Histoire(s) du Cinéma was finally finished last year, but remains barely visible. With luck it will soon be issued in a video box-set. As for the future, who could hope to tell?
Thus far, although Godard’s career has been one of incessant change and movement, it has somehow ended up with an almost crystalline structure. He left Switzerland for Paris, Paris for Grenoble and Grenoble to return again to Switzerland. His family gave way to the Cahiers gang, the Cahiers gang to Karina and Coutard, Karina and Coutard to Wiazemsky and Gorin, Wiazemsky and Gorin to Anne-Marie Miéville, a fellow Swiss with a family, who took him back to the shores of Lake Geneva. Film clubs gave way to film journals, journalism gave way to filmmaking, feature films gave way to TV TV to video, until finally he was editing and mixing in a workshop with a pronounced film club and journalistic feel to it, where he constructed his own video version of an ideal Cinémathèque. Through all these phases ran Godard’s own personality and preoccupations, wayward but continuously rigorous and inventive. In the Seventies he developed the concept of the video script, a kind of do-it-yourself prototype for a film, which he likened to a painter’s sketchbook. His films always displayed a fascination with both current events and the great classics of the past, they showed a taste for high art as well as for pulp fiction and pornography, they carried the traces of improvisation but also contained elaborate formal compositions. He revered old Hollywood movies but expressed an ever-deeper revulsion for the new Hollywood mode of production. He scattered quotations from other people’s films throughout his own, but he was always audaciously original. He zeroed in on the crucial issues of his time (from the Algerian war to the siege of Sarajevo) while shamelessly following red herrings and squandering his attention on side-issues.
Until recently, most of the serious writing in English about Godard came from the Sixties – from Richard Roud, Manny Farber, Susan Sontag, Robin Wood, Raymond Durgnat and others. This reflected Godard’s much greater cultural centrality during that period and also his apparently secure place within the festival and art film system. When Godard veered off-course with the Dziga Vertov group, he not only baffled and dismayed many former admirers; he also moved into a mode of production which positioned him in a kind of cinematic no man’s land. He never fitted into the experimental film world, the territory occupied by the ‘Underground’, Structural Film and the international Film Co-Op movement, which shared his marginalisation but had its own very different history, culture and values. On the other hand, he never found refuge in the Film Festival world, the prestige sector of the industry which nurtured a stream of ambitious young directors, many of whom had been directly influenced by Godard – Akerman, Bertolucci, Wenders – but who never abandoned their audiences as irrevocably as he did. Akerman and Wenders found their niche and stuck to it, Bertolucci pulled back after 1968 and Partner. In France, Godard retained a loyal critical following, especially in Cahiers du Cinéma, but in the anglophone world the burden has fallen on a handful of loyal supporters, such as Jonathan Rosenbaum and Colin MacCabe, supplemented more recently by a new generation of admirers, such as Michael Temple and Michael Witt.
In the last few years, happily, there seems to have been a revival of interest, perhaps because Godard has now achieved the status of historic monument or Grand Old Man, perhaps because of the new alliance which has taken shape between experimental film and video in the larger art world, perhaps even because of the cult status given him by Quentin Tarantino, of all people. Wheeler Winston Dixon’s new book presents a macroscopic view of Godard’s career to date, covering every film or video he has ever made. It is divided into five chapters, which correspond more or less to the five film-making periods of MacCabe’s biographical schema, except that he divides the New Wave into two at Le Mépris, an elegy for a decayed studio system (incarnated in Fritz Lang) which he sees as marking an irreversible disenchantment with the industry, portraying Prokosch, the producer (played by Jack Palance), as ‘simultaneously ruthless, vain, childish, arrogant, stupid, greedy, self-deluding’. After Le Mépris, Le Gai savoir and the work of the Dziga Vertov group seem inevitable. Dixon sees King Lear, which he observes ‘might arguably be considered Godard’s final farewell to feature film production’, as a kind of second Le Mépris, leading him into a second period of disenchantment. Dixon also lavishes praise on Sauve qui peut (La Vie) and Passion, Godard and Miéville’s first two Swiss features. He describes Passion, which was rather more successful at the box office, as ‘an altogether breath-takingly gorgeous catalogue of the difficulties and inherent transcendence afforded by the waking dream of the cinematographic process’.
Haroun Farocki and Kaja Silverman, in contrast, adopt a microscopic approach, writing about only eight films in an exercise of what they describe as ‘close reading’, concentrating on specific sequences and shots within each film. Their book is bravely experimental in form, written in alternating paragraphs of dialogue, as if there was a conversation taking place between the two authors as they watch the films. As with a Godard film, there is a definite tension between improvisation and control. Farocki is himself an outstanding director of what we might call ‘essay films’, mostly made for German television, whose professional experience illuminates his understanding of Godard’s choices as director and editor, while Silverman is a leading theorist and feminist scholar whose long suppressed cinephilia finally comes out into the open, as she describes with detailed and loving attention the appeal of particular shots and camera movements, just for themselves rather than as evidence for something else. Of the eight films they pick out, five are from the Sixties (Vivre sa vie, Le Mépris, Alphaville, Weekend, Le Gai savoir) and one each from the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties (Numéro deux, Passion, Nouvelle Vague). Thus they cover the New Wave period in some detail, although their interest is weighted towards the films from the second half of the Sixties. They are particularly thought-provoking in their discussion of Le Gai savoir, a notoriously difficult film. While they skip over the films of the Dziga Vertov group, they cover all three phases of the Miéville years, ending with a tightly argued paean of praise to Nouvelle Vague, the story of an industrialist and her lover who are saved from death by a miracle, signalled by a quotation from the Inferno: ‘So while my soul yet fled did I contrive/to turn and gaze on that dread pass once more/whence no man yet came ever out alive.’
Fredric Jameson once observed that Godard began in the Sixties as a ‘postmodernist avant la lettre’ but ended up, two decades later, as ‘the ultimate survivor of the modern as such’, always swimming against the current. The futurist visionary turned eventually into the disenchanted historian. This view of Godard as a premature Post-Modernist is based on the combination of two of his qualities: his penchant for quotation and recycling and his view that film-making should be a form of journalism or, perhaps, instant ethnography, seeking to grasp what is happening in contemporary society at the time of production and presenting it in a kind of visual mosaic. In fact, the contemporary French film-maker whom Godard cited most often during his years as a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma was Jean Rouch, an ethnographer whose extraordinary films, Moi, un noir and Jaguar, set in Africa, and Chronicle of a Summer, made in Paris itself and co-directed with the sociologist Edgar Morin, clearly had an enormous impact on Godard. Moi, un noir, Godard wrote in 1958, ‘is a paving-stone in the marsh of French cinema, as Rome, Open City was in world cinema’. Rouch and Morin’s film, released in 1961, contained extempore interviews on the street with passers-by, a discussion of the Algerian war with students sitting round a dinner table (including the young Régis Debray), a wrenching, first-person soul-baring direct to camera by an employee at Cahiers du Cinéma and, in one of the great sequences of cinema, a survivor’s account of her experience in a concentration camp, spoken into the Nagra that she carries as she walks through Les Halles, filmed by a hand-held Eclair camera in classic cinéma vérité style.
Jameson talks about Godard’s ‘aesthetic of quotation’ but I think it is important to stress there was nothing ironic or emptily eclectic about Godard’s mode of sampling and recycling high art. It was much deeper than pastiche. It stemmed from a recognition that contemporary French society both exhibited signs of a self-destructive future and preserved within itself the traces of very different values which still threatened to break through the crust of alienation and fetishism in a volcanic burst of romantic freedom. Godard’s characters cling desperately to the hopes represented by these fragments. His New Wave films are far from celebratory. They almost all have tragic endings: Michel Poiccard is shot by the cops, Nana Kleinfrankenheim (yes!) is shot by the pimps, Paul Javal leaves the set of Fritz Lang’s Odyssey with his life in ruins, Ferdinand blows himself to pieces with sticks of brightly coloured gelignite. Only Lemmy Caution and Natacha Von Braun are able to reach their goal, to escape to freedom from the dystopian city of Alphaville, although we never see them reach the border. As Silverman points out, it is a psychological rather than a geographical barrier. They succeed because Natacha proves able to say: ‘I love you.’ As Farocki puts it,
Natacha does not find these crucial words at once. She claims that she does not know what to say, and, twice, like Orpheus with Eurydice, she even begins to turn around to see what she and Lemmy are leaving behind. But finally the woman with the name from the past makes that simple declaration which, no matter how many times it is repeated, brings light to those who hear it, and humanity to those who utter it. Although Lemmy and Natacha still have many miles to drive, they have already reached their destination.
Silverman concludes that a surrealist commitment to amour fou lies at the heart of the film. Alphaville is a homage to Eluard’s Capitale de la douleur – or Breton’s Nadja with a happy ending.
In Godard’s films everybody seems lost in a tangle of confusions and deceptions and pointless escapades, and yet the key which unlocks the door to freedom is usually very simple. In the end, amazingly, all you ever need is to keep faith with the essential humanist values – values like beauty, love and truth. It is to these that Godard’s quotations point. On the one hand, they reflect a society full of posters and postcards of great paintings, records of great music, shelves of paperback classics, clips from great movies and people who can instantly quote lines of great poetry to each other. Art has left its sanctum to become a prominent feature of ‘everyday life’, alongside pinball machines and advertising posters. On the other hand, they are like the quotations assembled in a private commonplace book, Godard’s own enchiridion of favourite images and sounds and citations. Godard once observed that ‘people who speak should find beautiful things to say – recite Shakespeare, for instance – or else it’s not worth the trouble to speak. You’re better off keeping quiet.’ It is this insistence on the value of beauty that directs him towards the enduring art of the past. The quotations which survive, however commodified, are still emblematic figures of beauty, love and truth, carrying the durable values which alone, he believes, can bring us hope. In Nouvelle Vague, as Kaja Silverman notes, ‘virtually every line is a quotation, from sources as diverse as Dante, Proust, Chandler, Schiller, de Rougemont, Marx, Hemingway, Lacan, and Rimbaud’. But Wheeler Dixon, like many critics, remarks that the beauty of the landscape in Nouvelle Vague seems more important than the actions of the characters, for whom, as he puts it, ‘beauty is only worthwhile if it can be possessed, or transferred to another for a price.’
Over time, Godard came to distrust spectacle more and more, yet he did so without ever abandoning his fundamental cinephilia, his abiding love of film. His disenchantment sprang from the cinema’s inability to respond to its times, to act as an early-warning system, registering the first telltale tremors of social and cultural upheaval. As Michael Witt has recently observed, Godard finally became convinced that cinema had lost the will to live, when it became clear to him that it had abandoned its former grandeur and was pandering to viewers whose subjectivity was constructed by their experience of television. For Godard, with his usual quirky insight, cinema involved projection, a beam of light projected in the dark as in the myth of Plato’s cave. ‘Cinema will disappear,’ he has predicted, ‘when it is no longer projected’ – when the beam of light has gone. Entering the cinema, entering the darkness to find the light, allows us to exit from ourselves, to live for a while in another space and another time, one which casts a prophetic light on the real society and history existing outside. Television, on the other hand, lives in the ephemeral. Its space is within the home, it is a ‘family affair’, domesticated and insulated. Godard was always at the forefront of technical change and experiment, from bounce lighting and the Aaton camera to video editing and digital enhancement, but his recent work for television should be seen as a way of infiltrating enemy-held territory in order to maintain the memory of cinema, to keep a desire for true cinema flickeringly alive.
Godard’s return to aestheticism, and thus a form of ultra-modernism, was the result of his refusal to submit to the norms of our post-oil-shock society, with its global system of telecommunications, its debasement of public life and its ceaseless drive towards the consumption of commodities, driven, of course, by television. Moreover, he held fast to an exalted idea of the role to be played by art – an idea which came from such early intellectual mentors as Elie Faure and André Malraux. From the beginning, Godard had shown a profound and yet paradoxical attachment to the traditions of European art, both as a heritage of great works and as an anarchic project which inevitably threatens every kind of tradition and norm. (All artists, even Céline, were on the left, natural rebels, he once said.) This applies both to the older arts and to the once young, now dying, art of cinema. Godard’s films combine a contradictory reverence for the art of the past and a delinquent refusal to obey any of its rules. His films have always been filled with references to the cinematic archive – Le Mépris is an extended homage to a classical cinema which was already superseded. Yet, if Godard’s own films broke with all the conventions of the classical cinema he admired, they also formed a conscious coda to it.
Godard has spent most of the last ten years working on his massive televisual Histoire(s) du Cinéma. But, as Michael Temple has reminded us, in a paper on ‘The Nutty Professor: Jean-Luc Godard, Historian of the Cinema?’, he found himself faced yet again by the problem of narrative. In narrating the history of the cinema itself, he found himself telling a story whose end was already inscribed within it. The persona that he chose to adopt was that of the pedagogue, a role for which he had already shown a leaning. Indeed, in the late Seventies, Serge Daney took him to task in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma itself for his drill-master style of pedagogy, for setting citation against citation while avoiding responsibility for either, for his de-contextualisation of sources and his terroristic use of theory. Godard responded by adopting the persona of the crackpot seer who is both an utter idiot and a poète maudit, casting himself as the Nutty Professor, a quick-change artist whose tragic truths are presented as if they were buffooneries.
The story he now had to tell was a cruel and melancholy one – how the cinema, despite its moments of glory, ultimately failed us and was doomed to die. Silent film was ruined by the coming of sound. Film capitulated to television, accepting its insidious degradation of the visual. Most damning of all, Hollywood had shirked its responsibility to record the seismic shocks of history when it failed to register the threat, and then the reality, of the Holocaust. (Lubitsch’s madcap anti-Nazi comedy, To Be or Not to Be, released in 1942, was perhaps the one oblique exception to Godard’s indictment. Spielberg’s belated Schindler’s List was scorned for ‘rebuilding Auschwitz’.) Cinema had looked the other way and its death was overdue. Godard could tell this particular story with conviction because he knew it was true and because, although he may have been seen often enough as a charlatan and a provocateur and a Pied Piper, he knew that he had never been, like many of his accusers, a collaborator.