Last month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences phoned Jean-Luc Godard to tell him that he would receive an Honorary Oscar at their November 13 Governors Awards event. Characteristically, the French film director (who's been known to scoff at Hollywood before) seemed not to care — so much, in fact, that he didn't return their phone call. Vanity Fair filed a "missing persons flyer" asking anyone to help locate him, and countless blogs reported that the "enfant terrible" of New Wave cinema was nowhere to be found…
In early September, the Academy received a hand-written thank you note saying Godard would make it if he could. The gesture is in true Godard fashion. The director began his career as a critic for Cahiers du cinéma, and has continually approached Hollywood, filmmaking, and it seems life in general from a critical and often harsh perspective. He's not exactly the most well liked person in the world — he's been derisively called a leftist, Marxist, misogynist, and even an anti-Semite. But his works have had an unquestionably significant influence on 20th and 21st century film.
From a design perspective, one of the most interesting things about his cinematic style is his use of color (or contrast when he's shooting in black and white), space, and form. His black and white films have a strong sense of balance and composition — even in the most mundane interior shots, like the famous scene in the 1960 film, Breathless, where Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo smoke and fool around in a tiny, messy Paris apartment. In his color films, red, blue, and yellow figure prominently, also used in high contrast.
Godard understood the beauty of daily life and "wasted" moments, and he used long, continuous interior shots to illustrate the complex and subtle nature of male-female relationships. Perhaps his most famous apartment scene occurs in Contempt (1963), between Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli. The couple seems to slowly deteriorate, as they circle from room to room, moving from couch to bed to dining table. Likewise, the camera follows them through doors and hallways, recording each mundane movement with the weight and significance that most directors attach to heated dialogue.
Any of his films — but in particular, those from the 1960s — are worth watching for their inspiring design and use of color.
SELECT GODARD FILMS TO WATCH FOR STYLE INSPIRATION
• Breathless | A bout de souffle (1960)
• A Woman Is A Woman | Une femme est une femme (1961)
• My Life to Live | Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux (1962)
• Contempt | Le mépris (1963)
• Alphaville | Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)
• Pierrot le fou (1965)
• Masculin Féminin | Masculine Feminine (1965)
• Made in U.S.A (1966)
• 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her | 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle (1967)
• La chinoise (1967)
• Week End (1967)
This is a brief account of Godard that doesn't touch much on the interesting details of his biography, which you can read more of here. To learn more about Jean-Luc Godard and his films, check out the interview shown above, his filmography, and the following resource links.
SOURCES AND MORE INFORMATION
• Jean-Luc Godard | The Criterion Collection
• Jean-Luc Godard | IMDB
• Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard | Richard Brody
• Jean-Luc Godard Bio | British Film Institute
• Help the Motion Picture Association Find Jean-Luc Godard! | Vanity Fair
• Statement regarding Jean-Luc Godard's Reply | The Academy of Motion Picture Arts
Images: Jean-Luc Godard photo via Alpharrabio (1), Jean-Luc Godard Festival Poster on eBay (2), Screenshot from "Breathless" via Ninja Vintage (3), Screenshot from "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her" via Three Imaginary Girls (4), Screenshot from "Contempt" via movieimagestripod (5), Screenshot from "Pierrot le fou" via Romance in the Picture (6), Screenshot from "Alphaville" via Film Reference (7), Screenshot from "La Chinoise" via Medfly Quarantine (8), Still from "Une femme est une femme" via IMDB (9), Screenshot from Weekend via Medfly Quarantine (10)