Lincoln Center’s massive Godard retrospective: impressive even if you know your Godard

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is more than halfway through its massive, three-week retrospective of the films and videos of Jean-Luc Godard. I imagine there are plenty of cineastes outside New York City who find themselves scrolling through the series listings longingly, wishing they could be there; this is surely the most comprehensive retrospective Godard series ever mounted in the U.S.

If you can think of it, it’s here — even the radical, make-your-head-hurt agitprop that Godard produced during his little-loved 1968–’72 Maoist phase. I had wondered if there were even any prints of these movies left to see the light of day. The Film Society apparently tracked down everything: I hadn’t known Godard made a film in Czechoslovakia six months after the Soviet invasion (Pravda, 1969). I’d like to see it, even if I suspect there’d be plenty in it to make me cringe. And while the screenings may be over, anyone who couldn’t be there should read the descriptions for 1970’s Wind from the East and 1971’s Vladimir and Rosa just to marvel at the lost world of internecine, intellectual left-wing militancy. (Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin mocking Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin sounds like something I’d like to see, actually.)

Cine-moi: Jean-Luc Godard. Courtesy the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

The series features a lot of Godard’s video work that rarely makes the rounds in this country. Other programs to make a cinephile sigh include a free screening of trailers Godard made for his own movies, all in 35mm (sigh), a roundup of his short films from before Breathless, and a collection of his 1960s shorts, extracted from the omnibus films they were originally part of, many of which are difficult to track down in any home-video format these days.

And speaking of hard to find, at least in the U.S., Lincoln Center is screening a five-hour miniseries made for French TV in 1977 (France/Tour/Detour/Deux Enfants), and the six-part Six Fois Deux from a year earlier, an “investigation of our place in the mass-media universe” that sounds like the starting point for Godard’s eventual late masterwork Historie(s) du Cinema (1998). Part memoir, part free-associative essay on cinema history, the decade-in-the-making Historie(s) fittingly concludes the retrospective on October 30th.

The big screen is an ideal way to experience the grandiose collage and tour de force of editing that is the Historie(s) for the first time; after that you can hole up with the DVD to tease out the many layers of allusions and meanings.

(I’ll add that my own introduction to the Historie(s) at UCLA six years back was enhanced by a pack of chocolate-covered espresso beans discreetly stashed at my side, which kept me suitably wired for the two-part, 266-minute running time. )

I was in New York for the opening night of the series at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater; it was satisfying to finally see 1985’s Hail Mary, as the astonishing ruckus the movie kicked up in the U.S. back in September and October ’85 most likely marked the first time I’d ever heard of Jean-Luc Godard.

Not surprisingly, after the screening I daydreamed about a lifestyle where I could bask in this series throughout October — a singular opportunity to immerse oneself in the great man’s oeuvre. The Lincoln Center series is also running every one of Godard’s ’60s classics, of course; who needs much persuading to revisit any of those on the big screen?

I dearly wish this series could travel to the West Coast, but I assume that’s unlikely — very few organizations have the resources to put together a retrospective this far-reaching. Still, maybe some of the rarer titles here will start to circulate among rep cinemas and cinematheques after this series is over. Needless to say, kudos to the Film Society for the feat of scholarship and logistics involved in putting this together.

Complete listings for the Lincoln Center series: Jean-Luc Godard — The Spirit of the Forms.

Here’s the trailer for the series. You know somebody had fun editing this:

While we’re on the subject, check out this fantastic roundup of lesser-known Godard movie posters from the estimable Movie Poster of the Week, and chuckle at how comically unsuited some of them are for the films they promote. Some of them, on the other hand, are works of art in their own right. I’m in awe of this poster for a 1990s Japanese rerelease of La Chinoise:

LA CHINOISE (1967, rereleased in Japan in 1996).

And finally, complementing the Lincoln Center series, the Criterion Collection and Film Society programmer Kent Jones have assembled a “Godard’s Top 10 Criterion discs” list based on old Godard interviews and writings (I assume they posted this with his approval). Read the list here.

Somehow Godard is never absent from The Same Cinema Every Night for long — click here for previous posts and reviews.

Feel free to weigh in