Richard Brody Lectures on Godard

New Yorker movie listings editor and film critic Richard Brody spoke at Claremont McKenna College’s Mary Pickford Auditorium Wednesday on the life and works of French “New Wave” director Jean-Luc Godard. Brody, who was invited by colleague and CMC film professor Jim Morrison, discussed the influence of classic American post-war cinema on Godard’s filmmaking.

“There’s a long tradition in film criticism of [treating] the medium in a sort of condescending way,” Morrison said. He added that Brody’s appearance is particularly welcome because he is more widely recognized for writing about cinema “he loves.”

Morrison also said that Brody had written “some of the most extraordinary film journalism ever published.”

Brody’s visit comes in the wake of a controversy surrounding Godard winning a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Brody’s discussion, however, was more a celebration of Godard and the intelligence behind the French “Nouvelle Vague.”

Brody highlighted the value of Hollywood cinema’s direct influence on films by Godard, as seen in masterworks like Breathless (1960) and Band of Outsiders (1964).

Godard and his contemporaries “weren’t at all bothered by the gap in what they knew between the realities of American society and what they were seeing in American films,” Brody said. Adding that Godard had a “distinctive approach” to analyzing American films, Brody elaborated on Godard’s appreciation of film as the meeting of fantasy and imagination, and his belief that film should represent a “psychological reality” instead of a “physical” one.

According to Brody, Godard’s love of film bordered on something akin to religious fanaticism. Brody highlighted this devotion in his breakdown of Breathless, which was shot entirely on location in Paris and was scripted during what was a liberated, “free-form” process of filming. Still, intellectual, pop culture, and old film references within the film cemented moments where Godard was actively “taking the emptied-out framework of an American crime film and turning it into something very personal,” Brody said.

Rebecca Potts PO ’12, one of Morrison’s students, attended the lecture because of her interest in Godard’s films.

“It was very cool hearing where these very famous, revolutionary filmmakers came from, and that it wasn’t that different from where I am now,” she said.

Even so, she had hoped that Brody would dig more deeply into criticisms of Godard’s films.

“I wished he’d talked more about Godard in relation to contemporary cinema,” Potts said, articulating that there are so many direct “cultural reproductions” of his films that it is hard to deny his presence in pop culture and high-end cinema.

Godard’s films, while no doubt culturally influential and held in the highest regard among many film critics, have recently been subject to some scrutiny. His honorary Oscar reinvigorated allegations of anti-Semitism and, though his films have been celebrated for 50 years, the Academy has been hesitant to recognize his artistic merit due to his apparent personal prejudices. Brody’s defense of Godard invoked the idea that Godard recognized film as “the modern religion” designed by Jewish Americans who sought out Hollywood and transformed it into the industry that it is today.

Brody has published an extensive biographical account of Godard’s works entitled Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard.

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