Influences on Jean-luc Godard

Jean-luc Godard is perhaps the most famous of the French New Wave film makers. Herein, the people and events that influenced Jean-Luc Godard’s films will be explored

Orson Welles

Orson Welles was also a specific influence on Godard and his film style, specifically Welles’ convention breaking Citizen Kane (Marie 2000, p. 163). This is interesting as Orson Welles places particular importance on the image of the film over the narrative, specifically in the acclaimed Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane features scenes which are told through flashback to a reporter attempting to find the meaning of the protagonist Kane’s dying words, ‘rose bud’. A particular iconic scene of the film involves the favoring of image over narrative as the aspect of the past story the reporter is hearing is shown as a discussion in the foreground, whereas the young Kane is in the background of the image playing with the sled which is later revealed to be ‘rose bud’.

Citizen Kane Deep Focus

The image shows the young Kane playing in the background with his sled, while the narrative and plot misses the details by focusing on the foreground. Welles is favouring the image over the narrative as he allows the viewer to be privy to more information during the flashback through image than the reporter is able to learn through narrative. The idea of the narrative of a film and the visuals of a film being separated was a strong influence on Godard.

Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht was also a major influence on the film style of Godard (Dixon 1997, p.116). Brechtian theater, sometimes called epic theater, brings attention to the spectacle as a spectacle by allowing the production process of the play into perspective. The underlying concept is that the audience is deliberately prevented from suspension of disbelief, from being absorbed by the play, in order to appraise it critically. This is often done from a Marxian perspective by casting the play itself as superstructure and representing the base structure that is being concealed by showing the production behind the play. For instance, a ballroom scene of decadence may show rather than hide the workers setting up the stage. It is this specific idea of foregrounding the production process and making the audience aware that it is a play, or a film, that has influenced Godard. Furthermore, Brecth’s manner of bringing forward the production process is often used to illustrate the difference between base structure, or the productive aspect of a society, and superstructure, the socio-cultural feedback loop that keeps the base structure in place.

Dziga Vertov

The Russian documentary film-maker Dziga Vertov was another primary influence on Godard. Dziga Vertov, rather than suggesting film passively observed reality, argued that film was the selection of a procession of images, or montage (MacCabe 1980, p. 76). It is the difficulty with selecting the procession of images that most accurately depicts reality that Vertov was specifically concerned with, or as he stated “It is far from simple to show the truth, yet the truth is simple” (Vertov 1924, p. 47). The idea of film attempting to capture the truth but not quite completely achieving it is the aspect of Dziga Vertov that most clearly influenced Godard. It is interesting to note that even while Vertov is filming documentaries in as passive a way as possible he still holds doubt as to the reality being presented as truth through the image.

Mao Zedong

The Marxist Mao Zedong was a further influence on Godard’s style and aesthetic developments (Dixon 1997, p.116). The appeal of Mao Zedong for Godard was in the way Zedong explored Marxist ideas focusing on the difference in life-style rather than on concepts such as the means of production. Furthermore, Zedong’s philosophy placed emphasis on the theoretical exploration of ideological struggle to be solved by practical experimentation and self-reflection (MacCabe 1980, pp. 56 – 58). This combination of ideas can often be seen in Godard’s films, in which he experiments with exposing the film-making process in order to see the results. While there are traditional Marxist ideas presented in Godard’s work and images, particularly Tout va bien’s cross-section of a factory, it is this idea of the personal analysis of the class struggle that seems to have stayed with Godard.

Alexandre Astruc

The final major influence on Godard was director and film critic Alexandre Astruc. Alexandre Astruc developed the idea of Auteur Theory. Auteur Theory argues that the director of a film should be the primary artist behind the project, rather than actors or the production studio. What he means here is that instead of films being controlled in terms of their economic viability they should be an art form that explores ideas and concepts. Furthermore, he argued that directors should use the camera as philosophers use the pen and that they should not be hindered in any way by any traditional elements of storytelling (Astruc 1948).

Reference:

Astruc, Alexandre 1948, ‘The Birth of a New Avante Garde: Le Camera Stylo’, in L’Ecran.

Dixon, Wheeler Winston 1997, ‘Jean-Pierre Gorin and the Dziga Vertov Group’, in The Films of Jean-Luc Godard, SUNY Press, Albany, pp. 89-127.

MacCabe, Colin 1980, Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics, The Macmillan Press Ltd, London.

Marie, Michel 2000, ‘It really makes you sick!’: Jean-Luc Godard’s A bout de souffle (1959)’, in Susan Haywood & Ginette Vincendeu (eds.), French Film: Texts and Contexts, Second Edn, Routledge, London.

Vertov, Dziga 1924, ‘On Kinopravda’, in Annette Michelson (eds) Kevin O’Brien tr. Kino-Eye : The Writings of Dziga Vertov, University of California Press, 1995.

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