(21/07/08) – At the end of Everything is Cinema – The Working Life of Jean Luc Godard (Faber & Faber, 720 pages), Richard Brody’s mammoth account of the career of the nearly octogenarian French director and living personification of the definition of film auteur, Godard is quoted as follows: "If nobody makes good films, if nobody can make good films, then it will disappear. But as long as I’m alive, it will last. I still have ten or twenty years more to make it last a little longer".
The quote is very symbolic of Godard’s relationship with cinema, which he seems to love and hate with the same intensity. This is perhaps what makes him such a respected, imaginative and prolific artist. It may sound self-aggrandising, but Godard, at this stage in his career, where he is entitled to statements like that. He was, after all, one of the people who created the concept of the film auteur at a time (the turn of the 1950s to the 1960s) when cinema was not even considered an art form at all. And his cinematic legacy is unique.
The book was borne out of a feature article that Brody wrote for the New Yorker. The prose is definitely journalistic, which is a good thing. Much of what is available on Godard tends to be stodgy or too academic and it comes as a breathe of fresh air simply to follow his life chronologically and thus being enabled as a reader to piece together his patchy and long career. Brody also avoids delving too much into Godard’s personal life – except where it’s too enmeshed with his work (his marriage to Anna Karina, for example) and instead focuses more deeply on the political and cultural inclinations that informed Godard’s ever changing career, from his early admiration of Hollywood through to his morphing into a film and video artist. A highly recommended read.
Dekalog 01: On the Five Obstructions (Wallflower, 160 pages) is not exactly a biographical take on Danish maverick Lars Von Trier but as a close analysis of one of his most interesting and intriguing projects. Still, it is inevitable that Von trier’s modus operandi goes under the microscope as well. Released in 2003, The Five Obstructions was a playful challenge posed by Von Trier to his former teacher and mentor Jorgen Leth, the director of the acclaimed 1967 short film, The Perfect Human. VonTrier, inclined as he is to manifestoes and restrictions as a guidance for the filmmaking process, set out a list of ‘obstructions’ that Leth had to adhere to. The result is a very entertaining and poetic film that makes a meditation on authorship and aesthetic values.
This compilation of articles, edited by Mette Hjort and the first of a series that the publishers are planning to release, brings together academic pieces that dissect the project from every possible angle. It also includes an interview with Leth that sheds further light on the process. The compilation itself is quite intriguing as an exercise in close reading and it will appeal to those with an interest in the ontology of filmmaking and philosophical issues attached to it.
Finally, Irish director Neil Jordan receives a much deserved book treatment in The cinema of Neil Jordan: Dark Carnival (Wallflower, 224 pages), a compilation of articles analysing themes and formal aspects of Jordan’s very personal brand of filmmaking. The book includes a foreword by long-standing collaborator, actor Stephen Rea, and is edited by Carole Zucker.
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