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Before Jean-Luc Godard added to the archives of cinema, films from America and France were primarily

narrative-driven. The storyline (or plot development) was the main focus. Within these classical films, each aspect of the filmmaking process served the narrative in order to help present a finished, coherent idea. Using methods such as synchronized audio with video, sequential timelines, precise beginnings, middles, and ends, along with certain moral predictability, early film audiences could predict nearly every outcome. This close-ended form of cinema produced not only predictable entertainment, but it reinforced pre-determined associations and meanings of the status-quo. Films prior to Godard did little to reflect on the times or the audiences that were in attendance. This lack critical thinking is largely attributed to the fact that these films were foremost for entertainment value. Godard, initially a film critic, noticed the dominance entertainment was taking over the art form. The predictability of pandering to purely entertainment value gave the audience an atmosphere requiring no active thought, leaving them as disengaged followers. These disengaged atmospheres lack the ability to critique pre-determined associations, as well as the filmmaking process, and larger social issues. Godard realized that new methods of filmmaking were needed in order to prompt audiences to become active, thinking critics of not just film, but also of politics. Godard’s use of unconventional filming techniques such as unanticipated text screens, asynchronous sound and image, montage, and others call attention to the filmmaking process. They also provide a more obscure finished product that plays with audience expectations, engaging them in a new way. Through examination of these unconventional styles it will be shown how Godard prompts critical-thinking about not only the filming process, but politics, society, and the world around them.

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To examine Godard’s unconventional filming style and its impact on critical thought with regard to leftist politics, this paper will engage three of Godard’s films: Pierrot Le Fou (1965), Weekend (1967), and Tout Va Bien (1972). For each film, the title screen and one additional scene will be analyzed in terms of its visual and auditory characteristics. Outside sources from academia and the larger film enthusiast communities will help integrate ideas and fuel criticisms. Similarities and differences between the films themselves will help show how Godard went from primarily an artistic auteur with a vested interest in leftist politics to a completely political filmmaker that uses artistic means to support the political intent. By doing so, critiques of society and politics, as well as the filmmaking process will help show how active thinking and film watching can go together to provide a platform for both new and old ideas. Beginning first with Pierrot Le Fou, author Daniel Morgan of the academic journal Film Studies says this in the Winter 2004 edition: “His stance as a film-maker who is also a critic, as someone who treats these activities as performing parallel functions, in a sense obligates us to study carefully the way his films are put together, to see how their meanings are constructed in the details.” (Morgan 8). Essentially, this in exact agreement with the argument presented here, however, Morgan fails to also mention that meanings can also be taken from the scene as a whole, in regards to its placement in the film. The title screen and the scene involving Pierrot (Jean-Paul Belmondo) at a dinner party, help to give the audience many clues to get the narrative and move on to gathering Godard’s own criticisms of politics within and outside bourgeois life. The film’s title sequence begins with letters being revealed in alphabetical order, but the pattern for this slow reveal is not immediately apparent or discernable. The audience soon learns it is of the two actors, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, the name of the film, and a

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director’s credit to Godard. Everything but the title of the film is in a red font, while the title is given a blue font. Color, as will be later discussed, plays a large role for Godard. It allows him to cinematically attribute further meaning to his films and prompt the audience to be aware of them, engage them on some level, and begin the active thought process. The color blue given to the title tells the audience that Pierrot is the foul, the blue foul, a sad foul or a fated foul. Quickly, the red letters fade, leaving the words “Pierrot” and “Fou.” These too disappear leaving only the two O’s, then one O, then nothing, accenting Pierrot and possible bout with fate. The title also foregrounds an initial obscurity that ultimately get’s revealed (explained) once the idea is spelled out (the films is concluded). And just as the alphabetical sequence had a beginning and end, so too will this film; but as in classical cinema, how and what end will be reached is still obscured. Playing with this obscurity creates immediate discomfort for an average audience member of this time. It requires the audience to invest patience and attention, at which time a narration occurs, describing how Velasquez quits painting definite images after the age of 50. Obscurity will mask the film, which pulls on audiences’ expectations and pushes them to make their own assumptions and use their individual thoughts to derive meaning. Within six minutes of the title sequence, Pierrot is reluctantly driven to a dinner party at the house of his wife’s parents. Within this scene Godard uses humor and exaggeration to critique bourgeois society, their obsession with material possessions, American cinema of the 1960’s, and spotlight the motivation inside of Pierrot. Pacing within this scene is quick and the dialogue, if any, is brief.

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Each area or group of people within the dinner party is given its own wash of color. The order in which Pierrot wanders between them begins with a small crowd awash in red light. This can be attributed to the colors of pop-art springing up within Western society in the 1960’s as well as creating a level of intensity juxtaposed against the droll reiterations of what sounds like a car commercial rather than a discussion. Godard’s critique of consumer-driven society seems apparent, but as Pierrot leaves to find a more stimulating crowd, we see Godard aligning himself with a character than longs for something more than possession-possessed people. The audience follows Pierrot into areas of white, then yellow, blue, a second white, a second blue, and finally an area awash for a third time in blue. This pattern of colors relates to the emotions Pierrot is feeling during his stay at the party. The red is his initial frustration at going paired with a longing for excitement and stimulation. As he progresses, blue occurs more frequently and his mood slumps. At the second blue room, a jump-cut thrusts Pierrot back 1 second in time and into a green-colored wash as internally narrates his envy of “Olympio’s Melancholy,” motivating the audience to consider Pierrot’s longing for past lover. In the third blue area, Pierrot confesses he feels divided up rather than unified. As a topless woman gives her own critique that Pierrot talks too much, he soon agrees; but argues that he does so because he is alone. He is not distracted by modernity or material possessions, which sets him apart from the rest of society. As he loses composer and catapults handfuls of cake into a nearby woman’s face, the shot is awash in orange, purple, and blue, exacerbating Pierrot’s layered emotional response. As the shot cuts immediately to firework explosion in a night sky, Pierrot names the source for his despair, Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina). The explosion can be read as a foreshadowing of

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Pierrot’s destructive obsession with Marianne, but it can also signify the freedom from bonds and concealment that society has pressed upon Pierrot in the narrative and Godard in real life. In regards to its placement in the film, it does an adequate job of legitimizing the narrative, but more deeply it briefly critiques hypocrisies of modern living and does well to communicate the obscurity of how to cope with a society interested more in things than people. Similar aesthetic and narrative elements exist between Pierrot Le Fou and a film Godard finished just two years later in 1967, Weekend. The film matches Pierrot’s loose narrative of an outlaw couple and incorporates playfulness, exaggerations of violence, the use of bright, primary colors and numerous referential criteria. However, Weekend’s finished product shows a divergence from conventional filmmaking. In Weekend, criticisms of society, politics, and general human interaction are more foregrounded than the narrative essentials. Text screens arrest every twist along the way to Oinville, interrupting time while occasionally stating the date. As in Pierrot, obscurity is prevalent, but the level and frequency far surpass previous expectations. The use of obscure characters that diverge completely from the narrative further confuse the couple, but more so they confuse the audience, forcing effort on the audiences’ parts to give insight. Three text screens quickly bombard the audience into forfeiting a comfortable viewing. The first text screen is rendered in red, large lettering stating that the following is forbidden for those less than 18 years of age. This clue reminds the viewer that this film will involve more risk than Pierrot or any Godard’s previous work. The warning is quickly followed by two blue text screens indicating the production company and statement firmly embedding the film adrift in the most obscure existence possible, the cosmos.

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No audio has been added until the third text screen. Abruptly, phone ringing cuts the silence and returns the viewer to what appears to be a shot existing on a balcony, in a home of some sort, in what is most likely Paris (due to the dialogue). On this balcony are two men seated across from each other. As a woman off screen calls for him to answer the phone, we see one man leave the shot and the woman enter and take his place. She then signals to the other man to follow her, but instead stays outside and walks to another seating area on the balcony. From this short interaction and the one to follow, Godard establishes the narrative’s couple. The audience immediately learns of the woman’s moral bankruptcy. A third blue text screen stating that the film is found a dump, interrupts their brief chat. As the woman peers over the side down below, sounds of cars honking and voices yelling set a serious level of conflict. Again, the moment is disrupted by a text screen, this time obscurely spelling out the film’s title in red, yellow, and blue font: Week End. The conscious separation of the two words prompts the audience to consider each term separately, and more importantly their double meanings (i.e. a “weak” ending, a “weak” “death”, and what society does with their weekend time). The primary colors used for the title screen invoke ideas of basics, fundamentals, and origins and the spacing prompts the notion of obscurity and disjointed sequencing. Together, these characteristics warn the audience of impending obscurity surrounding fundamental principles and/or basic origins, which are at the forefront of the scene with the two garbage men. Author Douglas Morrey incorporates a reference from another author, Sterritt, to sum up the scene with the two garbage men that directly engage the audience: “The extraordinarily long and didactic political speeches delivered by the two garbage men marks the point where the spectator’s patience runs out.” (Morrey 76). Author Richard Neuport references a film review by

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Pauline Kael in which she, “urged the audience to go out and buy popcorn when the garbage workers begin their dialogue.”(Neuport 154). Neuport does not go on to engage this statement, and Morrey adds nothing to Sterritt’s comment. The absence of critical engagement provides the opportunity to discuss the garbage men scene in terms of its impact for the audience. This scene marks the point where the audience is now being directly engaged by Godard to undertake some serious critical thinking. What is spoken from the garbage men is more appropriate and current to the time of this film’s release than what was spoken previously by the Saint-Just character. As the film proclaims itself being found on a dump, Godard here gives us the characters in charge of managing such a dump. The connection here underscores the importance it should receive from audiences. Visually, the garbage men exude a serious, confident demeanor, by directly obliterating the so-called “4th wall.” As the first man allows the second to speak for him, Godard makes it apparent that what is being said is more important than from whom it is being spoken. As he looks both left and right, and back towards the audience, his awareness of the world around him is recorded. He and his “Black brother,” are both eating bread during this scene, suggesting an element of universality to them and their beliefs. His contrast to all previous whimsical characters is so obvious that it likely goes unmentioned. However, it is important to make the distinction that Godard is no longer filming for the audience—he is now filming at them in order to reflect on past scenes of the film, their relevance to the film and to critiquing society with the various subjects both men will preach. Godard interrupts only the visual process, reinvigorating the audience with past sequences that take on entirely new meanings within the garbage men’s speeches. This use of montage and blatant political pandering forces even the most lackadaisical viewer to now make

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connections with separate audio and visual elements they may have not otherwise made at this up until this moment. Only twice in the entire scene does the visual cut-to other scenes that occurred. A horsedrawn carriage and a crowd of people on a country road appear as Arab garbage man says a line off screen referring to the exploitation of man by man, signifying the domination of slavery. However, the camera cuts back to the present time of the film before the audience is allowed to see what the crowd is gathering around. This reintroduction of obscurity communicates to the audience that no answer could justify slavery. The second obscure cut shows a scene of youths dressed in headbands armed with a rifle at the same time the garbage man refers to tribal confederations. Connected to the ideas spoken on primitivism and tribal society, Godard shows the audience an example, adrift somewhere in the cosmos, of modern-day tribal societies, dressed in 1960’s attire. This clip associates the communist principles uttered previously by the garbage men to a modern tribe, but they exist only in some depth of obscurity that the audience does not yet know. This scene exemplifies a desire for a modern communist society, how this should come to exist in reality, Godard leaves up to the mysterious cosmos. This large diversion from the vague narrative uses its time to make connections not only to past occurrences (in real life or the film), but to give glimpses of moments that have yet to pass, or may never pass. Only through the process of montage and film-staging can the audience be aware of these moments; similar to the process of imaginative thinking required in formulating new ideas, which Godard seeks to accomplish not only in his films but in his audiences. Just as Weekend can be viewed as Godard’s “end of cinema,” or rather the end of his artistic obscurity, Tout Va Bien can be viewed as one of Godard’s jumping off points for making

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films politically. The film is entirely political. Artistic qualities are not sacrificed, but they are made to serve the political ends (i.e. the narrative bound to workers’ struggles). This change in Godard’s motivation and opinion of his own previous work can be seen through the film techniques that no longer afford obscurity to the audience, disallowing le-way in how they may derive meaning. His use of longer, single-shot takes, fewer text screens, and more audienceoriented monologues shows an increase in the degree of focus, communication, and constant active mode of critical thinking necessary to encapsulate his claims of the political atmosphere of France in May, 1968. As the title sequence shows, again the narrative will involve a man and woman, but the similarities to previously discussed films can hardly be stretched. Godard uses text screens again to prep his audience. The use of, “May 1968,” and, “May 1972,” flashing around, “France,” rendered in red, white, and blue, clearly invokes a certain time period and event to the audience. Followed quickly by a blank screen, narration becomes the total focus for alliterating the filmmaking process and the workers involved. As a check-writing sequence develops, Godard shows his absence of favoritism or hierarchy to the workers involved on his project, aligning the attitude of the film with the ideals of students and workers who demonstrated in May 1968. From this introduction, Godard not only gives the film’s title, but its process, the actors, and the setting, wherein the film will ground its relation, politically. Godard also brings about his full attitude toward the May 1968 demonstrations through the grocery store scene an hour into the film. Author Yosefa Loshitzky describes the context of the film as: “one in which the legitimacy of Communist organizations after 1968 was being questioned,” (Loshitzky 33)

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however, she neglects to point out the criticism Godard makes apparent on the 1968 demonstrations themselves, which can be found in the grocery store scene. On the whole, the grocery store scene has at least three representations: the height of economic prosperity for Western society, a critique of this consumer-driven society, and a critique of the May 1968 demonstrations. The scene is composed of a single take that pans rightto-left twice behind about 20 or so check-out isles. From this perspective, we see that inside the store, each costumer interacts with other the merchandise, and not with each other. The audience can only hear the sounds of register receipts printing, machines beeping, and carts rattling. All of these sounds are akin to industrial sounds that could just as easily be found in factory environment, foreground both consumer-driven society and workers’ conditions simultaneously. The absence of dialogue among the shoppers shows a lack of criticism apparent to Godard in modern society. “Her,” Susanne (Jane Fonda), enters the shot six isles into the beginning of the shot, speaking only in thoughts to herself and her notepad. She is the only person making observations of the conditions around her, fulfilling her role for the audience as intellectual of this metaphorical scene. While the shot continues to pan-right, a communist book vendor disrupts the hum and absence of speaking, by announcing vague rhetoric and price decline for the books. Godard here aligns himself with the attitudes of the May 1968 demonstrators by showing a blatant contradiction on the part of this figure that represents the established union and communist organizations that refused to participate. In one respect, Godard is saying these figures sold out their beliefs for positions of power and money within the workforce. The shot continues down behind the isles, revealing that this store also sells clothing in ways identical to how they display food. This detail reveals to the audience that mass-

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consumption within modern society permeates multiple life necessities and puts into mind the incredibly difficult degree of revolution needed to actually bring about change. This point at which the camera stops is on a crowd a running youths and Salumi workers. The youths split direction, and a few are confused about which direction to run. Their confusion is reinforced during when a youth asks the returning book vendor to explain a passage he does not understand. The change in direction of the camera suggests a time in which the country stopped moving to the right, politically, and began moving towards the left. However, as the scene plays out, the confused youths lead the rest of the store to believe that everything is free and people begin hording items for themselves. Riots and policemen spring up, and the camera ends back towards the right of where it started. The composite scene conveys to the audience the complexity of what the inexperienced youth movement of the May 1968 demonstrations failed to overcome. Godard does not disagree with the students, in fact he himself was a demonstrator, but his critique of this time period attempts to give his opinion of why the movement was unsuccessful, and why future demonstrations will need to be better organized and prepared. Moving from artistic auteur to political polemist, Godard in every case expects his audience to invest some active participation in more than just his films, or cinema, but in regards to the way society conducts itself. Using the cinema to help facilitate the thought process, Godard has given a familiar artistic medium and new way to reflect society on itself and prompt otherwise docile masses to engage their lives and the rest of the world.

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Works Cited Kavanagh, Thomas M. “Godard’s Revolution: The Politics of Meta-Cinema.” Diacritics 3.2. (Summer, 1973): 49-56. Loshitzky, Yosefa. The Radical Faces of Godard and Bertolucci. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. MacCabe, Colin, Mick Eaton, and Laura Mulvey. Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1980. Morgan, Daniel. "No Trickery With Montage: On Reading a Sequence in Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou." Film Studies Issue 5. Winter 2004. (1991): 8-29. Morrey, Douglas. Jean-Luc Godard. New York, NY: Manchester University Press, 2005. Neupert, Richard.The End: Narration and Closure in the Cinema. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. Sterritt, D. The Films of Jean-Luc Godard: Seeing the Invisible, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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