Jean-Luc Godard fans have good reasons to rejoice! First off, after Film socialisme and some recent short films (e.g. 3 x 3D, The Bridges of Sarajevo) Godard has returned with a full-length film Adieu au Language, which just premiered at Cannes and will probably hit the festivals and theaters in the next few seasons or so. Thanks to some ambitious home video companies there are some more of Godard’s rarer, mid-career films that have been slowly been being released on DVD: Cohen Film Collection recently put out Hail Mary and For Ever Mozart, while Olive Films put out Histoire(s) Du Cinéma, Numero Deux, Ici et Ailleurs, Comment Ca Va, and Keep Your Right Up!. The Wilfrid Laurier University Press published two new books on him, The Legacies of Jean-Luc Godard and Two Bicycles, and now Caboose Books in Montreal has finally released their Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, whose bulk is an original translation of fourteen one-hour lectures that he gave there in 1978. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the latter title, especially since its publication has been postponed a few times, as it offers a rich portrait of a mid-career Godard as he’s grappling with his early cinephilia, political activism and potential future paths.
The book includes a preface by Godard (one page, describing his teaching experience), from its original 1980 French publication, and Serge Losique, the director of the Conservatory of Cinematographic Art in Montreal, who invited Godard at the time and who would moderate the lectures along with some others. There is an archaeology of the Histoire(s) by Godard-scholar Michael Witt, who highlights the connection between this series and the future films, and Timothy Barnard, who was responsible for the great translation of André Bazin’s What is Cinema? in the same series, has an introduction about his translation and the importance of this lecture within Godard’s body of work.
Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television offers insight towards Godard when he was at a transitory period in his career. After his heavy political years with the Dziga Vertov Group, Godard, with his new wife Anne-Marie Miéville, would retreat from France to Switzerland (where he got earlier on a dual citizenship to avoid being drafted) to form a new studio Sonimage, where the focus of his films would switch from that of political interventions towards more intimate confessions.
Godard had already spent some time in Montreal after May ’68 where he was given the freedom to make experimental video journalism – the subject of the interesting NFB documentary Mai en décembre (Godard en Abitibi) –,which Jerry White would argue influenced his later video work and ironic media appearances. When Godard returns to Montreal in 1978, he is still in his dogmatic, militant, anti-industrial period and his lecture and anecdotes reflect these positions – his critiques of early Spielberg and de Palma are especially cringe-worthy – and the serious academic praise towards him overlooks the self-depreciating and ironic humor, intimacy and humanity that would soon characterize Godard’s films throughout the next decade, which are actually a lot closer to the films of Woody Allen, especially through their shared jazz influence, use of non-sequitur existential aphorisms, and problematic relationship towards women.
The lectures read like a mixture of Godard’s early Cahiers criticism, interviews about his films, and explanatory notes to his Histoire(s). It’s a fascinating read and deserves to paired alongside other recent great books (though in French) like Jean Douchet’s L'homme Cinema and Antoine de Baecque and Noël Herpe's biography on Éric Rohmer as variations on the history of cinema from the perspective of first generation Cahiers-bred cinephiles.
But since the press release for Adieu au Language the other new film book that everyone else is talking about is Annick Bouleau’s Passage du cinéma, 4992 (Jean-Marie Straub would introduce it to Godard, who would call it “the only book to tell the history of cinema”). The history of cinema is rich and vast, and these new books offer an enriching perspective on it. Since the Caboose book is now available all we can now do is wait for the Bouleau book to arrive on our shores!