Cinema is art. Cinema is entertainment. Cinema is cultural education. Or, if you’re Jean-Luc Godard, “cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.”
Godard was at the forefront of the French New Wave-a movement in the ’50s and ’60s that produced convention-defying films that experimented with editing techniques such as jump cuts, utilized non-linear narration and produced a product whose style was more natural than the glossed-over films of that time. Godard made movies that were not only convention-defying, but “elaborate jokes about the fact that they’re movies,” said Todd Hitchcock, film programmer at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. The AFI Silver is celebrating the approximate 50 year anniversary of the French New Wave by hosting a Godard in the 1960s film festival, lasting until July 3.
The AFI Silver, it should be noted, is not your typical theater. It emphasizes the cultural and educational aspect of film, boasting that it “presents the richness of American and world cinema, exploring all forms of the moving image in the digital era and seeing the screen itself as a source of literacy, learning, and vision for the future.” In fact, it does not even resemble a typical movie theater in its appearance — it’s an art deco haven reminiscent of a luxurious playhouse theater. One of the three screening rooms is filled with 400 plush chairs circled around thick stage curtains. The curtains obscure not a theatrical stage, but a huge movie screen capable of playing a stunning array of film formats from 16 to 70 mm, which allows screenings of movies not filmed on traditional 35 mm film. The movies shown at AFI Silver veer from the artful to the strange to the old; its playbills are comprised mainly of classic movies, documentaries, and foreign and independent films. At the theater, there are often several film festivals occurring simultaneously; current and recent topics include a Jimmy Stewart Centennial, films from Korea and SilverDocs, a documentary festival.
Godard, in particular, was chosen to be the featured director of the festival celebrating the French New Wave for a couple reasons: He had a sustained output, producing two to three films a year in the ’60s and new prints of select films had just been released. His high volume output gave the festival’s curators a large body of work to screen at the festival — 14 titles, to be exact. “Godard’s run of filmmaking in ’60s is one of great streaks in film making history. He was working at a manic pace. Nobody works like that anymore. Not many ever did,” Hitchcock said. And new prints released, such as La Chinoise and Life to Live, draw in cinephiles eager to see the rarer Godard films. La Chinoise, Hitchcock said, has been especially hard for film buffs to see over the last 10 to 20 years, so a new “beautiful,” higher quality print will entice Godard fans to see the movie.
Of course, there is more to a movie than just viewing a series of frames. The French New Wave was a cultural movement as much as it was a cinematic transition. Hitchcock dubbed it a Young Turk movement, noting that the French New Wave films changed the direction French cinema was heading. The film festival gives moviegoers — even casual ones — an opportunity to view the works of Godard, who played a dominant role in reinventing French cinema. “Novices can come and the festival has the opportunity be almost like class. By end of that you will have a good handle on Godard’s work in ’60s. Someone less familiar or younger will get a wonderful opportunity to get a crash course of the peak years of French New Wave and Godard’s film making.” Even those more versed in Godard’s work are provided with an opportunity to learn yet more about the director. Richard Brody, author of a critical biography on Godard, Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, will talk about the director and sign books after film screenings as part of the program.
Godard’s films in themselves are educational, as he weaves into his work various references to intellectual mediums. “He’s throwing so much in there — music, literature, philosophy; there’s a real sense of media awareness. He made movies unlike anything anyone seen before. It works, it’s entertaining. It’s brimming with ideas at same time,” Hitchcock said.
For example, take his 1965 film Alphaville. It follows detective Lemmy Caution as he transverses a futuristic landscape with the goal of destroying a supercomputer, Alpha 60, which controls the minds of the city’s inhabitants. The movie bears a distinctly Orwellian flavor of dystopianism. Alphaville citizens have their own version of “newspeak” — a Bible that is actually a dictionary where words are routinely removed when they are deemed inappropriate by Alpha 60. Alphaville also reveals Godard’s surrealistic streak; the film often seems to serve as a lament for the controlling influence logic has in the city. In one of the most stunning scenes, dissenters who betray logic and show emotion are executed. They walk the plank of a diving board, are shot, then stabbed to death in the pool gracefully by young, lithe, detached women garbed in white swim suits. Godard also calls on the literary by referencing essays by Jorge Luis Borges and Paul Eluard’s book of poetry, The Capital of Pain in the movie.
Attendance at the festival, Hitchcock said, has thus far been “great!” and every film has pulled in a consistently strong audience. Perhaps that’s because Godard’s films still offer a relevant perspective, even decades after their creation. “Godard seems incredibly fresh today. That’s a remarkable feat. He was pushing against convention. There’s a topicality to contemporary events and youth culture. Circumstances may have changed, but he still seems highly relevant. You can easily transpose what he was talking about to today’s setting. That’s quite a feat 50 years later.”
–-Lauren Winchester is a reporter for Doublethink Online.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | James Velasquez
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond