Jean-Luc Godard Andrew Sarris - Essay

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The increasing fragmentation of Godardian cinema seems to indicate a depletion of emotional energy. It is not so much that Godard is repeating his effects as that he is ritualizing them into frozen cerebral patterns. The rapport of fiction with reality so dear to Godard's film-making aesthetic has degenerated from exploration to exploitation. Whereas he once explored the continent of Karina's countenance, he is now content (in Made in U.S.A.) to exploit the mannerisms she has picked up along the way. Godard's spectacle is still dazzling to behold, but the images are devoid of feeling. The superficiality of his political rhetoric becomes offensive at that precise moment when his own personal suffering fades from the screen…. As Godard has become increasingly entangled with his heroes, their morbid destiny has seemed to dim his vision of the real world, or rather his dim smoke-glassed vision has made his characterizations more morbidly passive.

Congenital anti-Godardians miss the point entirely when they accuse Godard of insincerity or frivolity. (To charge that Godard lacks talent requires an intransigent illiteracy in the language of the medium.) At his most felicitous, Godard seeks to capture childhood and student feelings in the midst of the modern world. He fully understands the emotional truth of nostalgia as tranquility recollected in hysteria. (pp. 28-9)

Godard is still one of the most interesting and stimulating film-makers in the world today, but he no longer possesses the moral or aesthetic authority to prescribe the future course of the cinema if indeed he ever did…. The cinema, as Godard once observed long ago, is everything. Eclecticism is no longer a mortal sin, and effectiveness is not necessarily a sign of surrender. Moviegoing is more fun today than it has ever been. The world and man and now are being discovered and rediscovered in a new burst of freedom and experiment. There are many false starts and harsh stops, but the vitality of the medium and the métier is undeniable. If Jean-Luc Godard wants to join in the fun, he is welcome, but if Saint Jean Godard prefers to convert his films into exercises in self-flagellation, he runs the risk of becoming a bore. (p. 30)

Andrew Sarris, "Jean-Luc versus Saint Jean," in Film Heritage (copyright 1968 by F. A. Macklin), Vol. 3, No. 3, Spring, 1968, pp. 27-30.