Lately I have been collecting Godard films, mostly because the prices have come down, especially in the used DVD market, from the unreasonable levels where the Criterion Collection kept them. Last night I finished watching Alphaville, which I had started in 1975. The clods I was with then insisted on walking out of the theatre early in the movie, and as they had the car it was either go with them or be stranded in Evanston, Illinois.
Godard strikes me as a poseur, and as someone who literally did not know what he was doing. The Criterion discs have many extras, and sometimes one can get Godard’s own take on the characters. Then I watch the film and they are not at all what Godard thought they were. Godard was completely caught up in the delusions of the sixties, and while he changes these with the cultural seasons of the era, he could not break free until the cultural flow had broken them down for everyone else as well.
The illusions of the sixties centered around the notion that through various recycled ideologies and quasi-ideologies a new generation was finally able to break free of “the system” and live authentically. Side by side with 19th century Marxism (already shown to be obsolete by Nazi post-modernism) were various “youth culture” romanticisms of back to nature or mystical escapism (as through drug experiences). Godard films repeatedly depicts those who achieve some such gnosis and drop of the system.
So while Godard makes his sociological critiques and “exposes” the reality of his era, he actually exemplifies it, and that is what makes his films worth watching. Also he does not drag in old baggage from the fifties (“proven formulas” and clichés) to insure commercial success as the studios did with their films, so his view into the sixties is that much cleaner. Godard was onto these things before films like Blow-Up or Performance where we already feel we are seeing a redigestion of things that have been around for a while and have played out. That is, the later films depict something that has found a popular following separate from the people who created it and were driven or had a reason to do so.
Studio Canal is bringing out in Blu-Ray films previously licensed by Criterion. Those who have seen it say that Studio Canal’s Ran is a step backward from the Criterion DVD, with a low quality transfer. Soon out will be Contempt, and wonder if it will be just as poor.