Godard biographer and New Yorker writer Richard Brody on Jean-Luc, the man and the myth. (HND)
But Godard has always taken a special and fascinating point of view on how to approach the past in cinema. When Francois Truffaut made The 400 Blows he was telling stories about his own childhood, by and large. He was telling stories that took place in the 1940’s, but he set them in the day that he filmed them, late 1958 and early 1959. He updated the events, and transmuted the events, and turned them into a fiction being lived by characters other than himself; the character does not bear his name. When Godard works on history—and this is as true of his own personal history as it is of political history—when Godard works on the past in film, he does it from the point of view of the present day. So, when he makes a film that’s autobiographical, when he wants to talk about his childhood, he doesn’t film a character who looks like himself as a kid, doing the kinds of things that he did as a kid but doing it in contemporary Paris or Switzerland. And he doesn’t set it in the 1930’s or 1940’s. Instead he films his own situation in a certain way, from his present day standpoint and his present day place, and he archaeologically excavates—by means of cinema—the elements of the past. In other words, he’s always filming the ambiance of the past, the presence of the past, the latency of the past, the persistence of the past in the present.