If you’ve never checked out the University of Mississippi’s Conversations with Filmmakers series, do it now. Vernon and Marguerite Gras’ Peter Greenaway: Interviews delivers, for me, the most articulate indictments of cinema’s failure to achieve its artistic potential. Livia Bloom talked with me on MOI about editing Errol Morris: Interviews. I just read, and felt invigorated by, Ludvig Hertzberg’s Jim Jarmusch: Interviews. The books all deliver exactly what they promise: interviews, interviews, interviews, over several eras, with several interviewers, and displaying just enough restatement and idea overlap to highlight each subject’s tics and preoccupations.
Had I interviewed Godard myself — a job for which, as you know, I lack nearly all qualifications — Jean-Luc Godard: Interviews would constitute a full MOI hat trick: Past guest David Sterritt edited the volume, and past guest Peter Brunette then edited the series. But since past guest Jonathan Rosenbaum conducted one of the conversations within, I’ll settle for a pseudo-triple. Everyone involved gets good stuff out of Godard, a task which seems alternately effortless and impossible. Sometimes I think of the man as a classically aloof stonewaller, and sometimes I imagine him scattering seeds of cinematic provocation like a camera-wielding Swiss Johnny Appleseed.
Given my total disinterest in Marxism and my failure to see the death of cinema on the horizon, I’ve never set much store by Godard’s most notorious proclamations, but his ideas about how to work resonate more and more with me these days. He brings up his opinions about rapport with the gear a few times in this book: no man could call himself a great lover if he only touched a woman every few years, so can a man call himself a filmmaker if he only touches a camera every few years? In one extended dialogue, Godard goes back and forth with an engineer at Aaton about their attempt to invent a 35-millimeter camera small enough for the director to carry at all times and grab shots whenever and wherever they present themselves. The project fell apart, but I love that Godard lives close enough to the filmmaking metal that he would even want to push the technology forward like that.
I get the impression that Godard — “loves” to work doesn’t feel quite right, but — must work. He doesn’t do filmmaking; he is filmmaking. That sounds too grand, but I don’t want you to have to endure eight paragraphs of clarification. Even when Godard has fallen into moralistic periods (I don’t look too heartily forward to watching his seventies work) or had critics declare his irrelevance, he’s still worked, still found ways to make cinema thrill him. I don’t think he’s given himself a choice, and that I greatly admire. This excitement comes through in a Breathless or a Sauve qui peut (la vie) — and even in the less leaden passages of a picture like Contempt — but I look forward to feeling a lot more of it in the rest of his oeuvre.
(And let’s face it — anybody who collaborates so closely with ECM, I’m gonna get into.)