Screened July 5 2009 on Criterion DVD in New York, NY
I watched this film days after working on a lengthy essay on Jia Zhang-ke’s 24 City, which keyed me to notice multiple parallels between the two films. Both films are politically conscious works made at a time when their directors were/are trying to make their work appeal to a wider audience. Both deal with depicting the plight of factory labor, with an intent to spark political or social consciousness in the viewer. Both attempt to utilize elements of mainstream filmmaking, most notably the casting of stars recognizable to their target audience (Jane Fonda, meet Joan Chen). At the same time, both films utilize arthouse cinema techniques, as well as documentary techniques like on-screen interviews, to challenge the viewer’s engagement with mainstream cinema itself. And, perhaps most important of all, both films emphatically view politics and history in terms of performance: recollections and speech acts delivered for the camera, with a directorial emphasis on the act of representation. It was interesting to read contemporary reviews of both films that found them to be ultimately unsuccessful acts of compromise between commercial, political and art cinema.
I find the matter of evaluating the success of either these films inconclusive, simply because the criteria for evaluating commercial, political and art cinema respectively are largely incongruous. What would it mean for a movie that denounces capitalism to be a box office hit? Or for a film whose aesthetic beauty distracts us from being stirred to take political action? It’s a credit to Tout va bien that it’s highly sensitive to these kinds of contradictions and weaves them into its design. It takes two of the biggest stars of its day and for half the film relegates them to minor characters, while a collective labor revolt in a factory takes center stage. It’s a subjugation of audience prejudice, as opposed to more conventional subterfuge (i.e. how white characters would star in stories about black civil rights, a la Mississippi Burning or Cry Freedom). It’s also not afraid to depict this ostensibly noble uprising as a cruel, chaotic and tedious affair of disunity and brinksmanship negotiation. These scenes lack pleasure while actively commenting on its lack of entertainment value, using compositions to compare with the Keystone Cops or Jerry Lewis. If screwball comedies channel social dysfunction into entertainment, Tout va bien breaks that sublimation, linking them only through a disharmony of critical juxtaposition.
There’s a lot of great stuff like this going on throughout the film; of its many virtues there’s also one of Godard’s strongest female characters. Though Jane Fonda is relegated to the sidelines for half the film, she delivers a knockout monologue involving a photo of a penis. For all the radicalness of Godard and Gorin’s collaborations, this feels to me like one of Godard’s most accessible and lucid political works, moreso than his late period works. It culminates in the famous 9 minute supermarket checkout uprising, which in its own way marks Godard checking out from political radicalism. Less a call to arms than an allegorical enactment of May 68 and its aftermath, it visualizes the hopelessly institutionalized and commercialized times we live in, and the inevitable reprise against it, with a sober, aestheticized objectivity. In one long, majestic take, the camera depicts this cycle by tracking back and forth, a pendulum that still swings today.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?
The following citations were counted towards the placement of Tout va bien among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?
Jeon Yang-June, Sight & Sound (1992)
Shinji Aoyama, Kinema Junpo (1999)
Travis Mackenzie Hoover, The Cinematheque Top 10 Project (2005)
Sight & Sound 360 Film Classics (1998)
Take One, Best European Films of the ‘Decade’ 1966- 77 (1978)
Godard’s return to mainstream film-making after his self-imposed four-year Marxist-nihilist exile is a sort of auto-critique, craftily type-casting Fonda and Montand as media intellectuals (she an American journalist, he a former New Wave film-maker now working in commercials) who eagerly committed themselves to the revolutionary struggle in 1968, but are now led to revise that commitment (and their personal relationship) through their involvement in a factory strike in 1972. A little simplistic at times but acidly funny, with Godard’s genius for the arresting image once more well to the fore.
“Tout Va Bien” was, as Mr. Godard says in “Letter to Jane,” intended as an answer to the then-burning question, “What part do intellectuals play in the revolution?” – a question not asked much since the 1970′s. Galvanized by the events of May 1968 in France – a nationwide ideological upheaval that briefly succeeded in chasing President Charles de Gaulle out of the country – Mr. Godard and Mr. Gorin had spent the next four years making raggedly improvised agitprop films with titles like “Pravda” and “See You at Mao” (both 1970). But with “Tout Va Bien,” they hoped to take their ideas to the wider public attracted by movie stars, which explains the presence of Ms. Fonda and her co-star, the beloved French actor and music hall performer Yves Montand.
In the film’s fictional framework, Ms. Fonda is an American radio reporter working in Paris, who takes her tired boyfriend, a former New Wave filmmaker now working in the more honest medium of television commercials, to visit a sausage factory under siege by its disgruntled employees. The visitors are taken hostage along with the Nixonesque boss of the establishment (Vittorio Caprioli), and after a day and a night of indoctrination by the angry workers (who despise the labor unions as much as the bosses), they return to their ordinary lives. They have not been radicalized by the experience – Mr. Godard and Mr. Gorin are too tough-minded for that – but they have learned the importance of understanding their place in history, a theme that, born here, defines Mr. Godard’s work to the present day.
Opening in Paris on April 28, 1972, Tout va bien was, per Colin MacCabe, “a critical and commercial disaster.” Scarcely more than two months later, Fonda gave the most controversial performance of her career: July 8, she deplaned an Aeroflot jet in Hanoi, where she made ten broadcasts on behalf of the North Vietnamese government. Once the story broke, Fonda became an issue in the presidential campaign—the antiwar activist Nixon supporters most loved to hate.
Tout va bien had its U.S. premiere, a few weeks before the election, at the New York Film Festival. Misleadingly promoted as Godard’s commercial comeback, the movie was tepidly received. I vividly recall my own youthful disappointment that Tout va bien was notWeekend. (Of course, as Tout va bien makes clear, 1972 was not 1968.) Nor did many appreciate Fonda’s game and stellar turn. She’s “most appealing (and very funny) as a solemn American political correspondent who becomes radicalized after being trapped overnight in a strike in a Paris sausage factory,” New York Times critic Vincent Canby wrote in one of the movie’s few favorable notices. Her hair still in the stylish shag cut that she popularized with Klute, Fonda gives a forceful, tense performance. Speaking in French throughout much of the movie, she enjoys her finest moment in a lengthy domestic argument with Montand, during which she is brandishing a photo of male genitalia.
- J. Hoberman, Criterion Current
The assumption behind the Dziga Vertov films is clearly that the revolutionary impetus of May 1968 would be sustained, and it has not been easy for Godard to adjust to its collapse. That difficulty is the subject of one of his finest works, Tout va bien (again in collaboration with Gorin), an attempt to return to commercial filmmaking without abandoning the principles (both aesthetic and political) of the preceding years. Beginning by foregrounding Godard’s own problem (how does a radical make a film within the capitalist production system?), the film is strongest in its complex use of Yves Montand and Jane Fonda (simultaneously fictional characters/personalities/star images) and its exploration of the issues to which they are central. These issues include the relationship of intellectuals to the class struggle; the relationship between professional work, personal commitment, and political position; and the problem of sustaining a radical impulse in a non-revolutionary age. Tout va bien is Godard’s most authentically Brechtian film, achieving radical force and analytical clarity without sacrificing pleasure and a degree of emotional involvement.
Godard’s relationship to Brecht has not always been so clear-cut. While the justification for Brecht’s distanciation principles was always the communication of clarity, Godard’s films often leave the spectator in a state of confusion and frustration. He continues to seem by temperament more anarchist than Marxist. One is troubled by the continuity between the criminal drop-outs of the earlier films and the political activists of the later. The insistent intellectualism of the films is often offset by a wilful abeyance of systematic thinking, the abeyance, precisely, of that self-awareness and self-criticism the political works advocate. Even in Tout va bien, what emerges from the political analysis as the film’s own position is an irresponsible and ultimately desperate belief in spontaneity. Desperation, indeed, is never far from the Godardian surface, and seems closely related to the treatment of heterosexual relations: even through the apparent feminist awareness of the recent work runs a strain of unwitting misogyny (most evident, perhaps, in Sauve qui peut). The central task of Godard criticism, in fact, is to sort out the remarkable and salutary nature of the positive achievement from the temperamental limitations that flaw it.
- Robin Wood, Film Reference.com
Tout va bien is, for obvious reasons, the most “professional” of the Vertov films. Gorin and Godard wanted to work again on a larger and more “popular” scale. To this end, they secured two stars from the Left, Yves Montand and Jane Fonda; devised a narrative; and built a set—a sausage factory headquarters during a strike. Having accepted these concessions, Gorin and Godard play with them cunningly: for much of the film the stars function as extras, while other “nonstars” assume center stage; the stars’ “love story,” once it emerges, fixes their romance solidly in the context of their jobs (as film director and journalist respectively), and thus within the hypocrisies of commercial culture; and the set, in tribute to Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies’ Man (1961), is a cutaway functioning as another Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt. Such strategies make a film whose formal complexity matches a new variety of discourse: Gorin and Godard here allow boss, unionist, and radical striker all to speak for themselves, giving us more freedom to weigh their respective positions. This freedom is welcome, though it also indicates a loss of fervor. As Gorin has said, Tout va bien is a film of 1972, not of 1968; and the bleakness of its concluding travelling shot underlines the inadequacy of the revolutionary actions that it depicts, the passing of the revolutionary moment
- Erik Ulman, Senses of Cinema
Frame comparisons by Craig Keller of Tout va Bien and Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies Man (last image in sequence)
Tout Va Bien begins with a closeup of a man signing checks. The camera frames the amount of the check — we see that they’re drawn on the account of a film production company. The man, the director, signs the check, quickly followed by another check and another and another. After a minute or so, a female voice: “If you get stars, people will give you money.” The checks keep coming, faster. Then, superimposed on the frame: JANE FONDA. Then, YVES MONTAND. In the next scene, Fonda and Montand are a couple in love, walking along the beach, yada yada; in the next sequence they’re quarreling bitterly; next, the female voice interrupts again. This is no good, she says, that is too conventional, you have to show how society makes them as they are. You have to show the context.
And most of the rest of Tout Va Bien is context. The story of the man and the woman is interrupted, punctured, by a wildcat strike in a sausage factory. Fonda plays an American journalist who’s trying to report on French politics and culture; Montand plays a washed-up film director; but they’re caught in the strike before we know much about them. And they’re literally caught, trapped in the factory office with the manager, who’s besieged by angry young workers. The union said it was supposed to be a brief work stoppage, but it “got out of hand,” with workers trashing the offices and terrorizing the managers.
Some writers have called Tout Va Bien worker agitprop; I don’t know what movie they’ve seen. Godard steps well back from the barricades. He shows the multilevel, glass-walled factory in cross-section; one critic wrote that it looks like an ant farm. The workers talk directly to the camera about their jobs, their bad wages, their lives; they attack the union and the leftist parties and the boss. But the boss gets to speak to the camera too, his own perfectly respectable defense of his job and the market. He’s presented as a buffoon, but so are many of the leftist leaders in the film, and they’re all equally trapped in the system. When the boss needs to use the bathroom, the strikers tease him by letting him out and then camping in the lavatories, turning office rules back on him: “Sorry! Your five minutes are up! Back to work!” Ultimately he has to break his window — Godard’s glass fourth wall — so that he can pee.
Throughout the 1960s, Godard disdained cinematic form, yetTout Va Bien is elegant and shapely despite itself. The scattershot jokes and subversion of his earlier films, and the anger and chaos of films like Weekend, begin to coalesce here. Godard’s tone and meaning are usually indefinite, “between” settled attitudes; Tout Va Bien hovers between comic play (the jokes are marvelous) and despair. The critical consensus is that Tout Va Bien is one of Godard’s lesser films. I think it’s one of his best.
- Les Phillips, Cinescene
#18: One of the most famous long takes you’ll ever see is in Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Weekend, but for me the more entertaining and, magically, more pretentious long take can be seen in his 1972 opus to the ultra left wing Tout Va Bien. Godard’s inimitable blend of rambling, dense and boring Marxist politics and the slapstick of the Keystone Kops comes to a head in a nine-minute plus tableau set at a gigantic supermarket. The camera trucks left to right then back again from behind the check out row. We watch as Jane Fonda is wowed by the selection, which includes a raving Communist surrounded by sandbags. Various voiceovers begin to take over as we spy a coterie of shoplifters, counterrevolutionaries and anarchists begin to lay waste to the nice, clean store. Odd, Euro-lookin’ products (like milk in boxes – what’s up with that?) abound.
- UGO’s 21 Greatest Long Takes in Movie History
Ingenue. Sex kitten. Oscar winner – twice. Exercise video queen. Scion of Hollywood acting dynasty. Feminist. French director’s wife (and ménage à trois companion). Leftie California politico’s wife. Atlanta media billionaire’s wife. Barbarella and Hanoi Jane. Many are the ways in which we know Jane Fonda, and lately we can add a couple more: autobiographer and comeback kid, whose first movie in 15 years, Monster-in-Law, recently opened at No. 1. Lately, Fonda has been in full flower on the publicity trail, paving the way for her return to movies with tempting teasers from her book and mea culpas for her extreme fraternization with the North Vietnamese 30 years ago. Jane Fonda is a fixture in the American imagination – and as it turns out, the French imagination, too.
In 1972, following her Oscar win for Klute, Fonda co-starred with French film icon Yves Montand in Tout Va Bien by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin. Godard, who was part of the leading edge of the French New Wave a decade before, was now in a new phase of his career as a result of the French strikes and protests of May 1968. He had begun making films collectively with Gorin as the Dziga Vertov Group, with the idea of making films politically instead of making political films. Nevertheless, the movies they produced over the next few years were stridently Maoist and didactic. But with Tout Va Bien, they snagged two of the cinema’s most outwardly leftist actors to star as the film’s husband and wife, and – as reflected in the film’s self-reflexive opening text – they were off and running on a more commercially viable film project. The film, nevertheless, fared poorly when it opened in France. Then, shortly before its American release, Fonda made her infamous trip to North Vietnam. One of the photos of Fonda in Hanoi inspired Godard and Gorin to make what turned out to be their final film together, “Letter to Jane,” a scathing 52-minute analysis of one image of their erstwhile star. It is included here with Tout Va Bien, along with some useful documentary footage of Godard and Gorin, then and now, explicating their work on these two films.
- Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle
INTERVIEW WITH JEAN-PIERRE GORIN
Q: The couple in TOUT VA BIEN doesn’t seem to be a break with the couples in Godard’s earlier films right from BREATHLESS, but to be the politically conscious development of the earlier couples.
A: Yes, exactly. Our slogan when doing TOUT VA BIEN was that we are going to do the same old thing, but differently. The original title of TOUT VA BIEN was “Love Story.” We wanted to do an ironic and joyful film playing with the codes of the normal cinema, and that is why the development of the relationship between Jane Fonda and Yves Montand is so similar to other films. But when it is so much alike there is also the possibility of producing new elements. Maybe the trouble with TOUT VA BIEN is that we didn’t succeed in doing the same old thing differently, because for the French audience the film is completely different. That’s why, maybe, that it is of no use any more to try to deal with the traditional codes at all. We really need to produce films that are breaking points—we need to produce new elements, new visuals, new sounds, and to re-think completely the notion of editing. That’s why Jean-Luc is getting into video. Video is a complete change in the conception of editing, because you edit while you are shooting. He is going to be ten years in advance, because it is a completely non-mastered technique promoted as aesthetics.
Q: Was it difficult to work with big stars?
A: Yes, because they were put in a process completely different from the films they had been making before. Jane had been doing KLUTE and was going to shoot with Joseph Losey, and in between she was working with us. But it helped a lot that Jane was very interested in the film and also that she came from a school of acting that was completely different from Yves’. There is much more attitude in the American school of acting, while French actors are basically natures, and like Brecht we prefer attitude to nature. We honestly had big problems with the actors, and sometimes the whole thing seemed to get completely out of our hands. That’s why Jean-Luc doesn’t like actors. He never did, but still the actors he used in his earlier films are the big stars of French cinema today: Belmondo, Piccoli, Anna Karma.
The interesting thing about TOUT VA BIEN is that the class struggle is also marked in the differences between the type of acting of the extras and the big stars. The workers in the film are played by people who don’t have much experience, and the funny thing is that they discovered a certain tradition of acting that goes very far back in French cinema. They were not at all in the same line. You have a guy who plays like in a Jean Vigo film, and another who plays like in the old Gabin films, and one who plays like Arletty, and they were really enjoying themselves. It was a strange process, getting back to the roots, back to Renoir and the whole tradition of the 30’s, which is a political tradition of acting, because it came out of the Popular Front. Maybe the good thing about TOUT VA BIEN is the strong feeling you have of both individuality among the workers and at the same time some common will and spirit—individuality and mass consciousness at the same time. The two stars were really frightened in the factory sequence, because the whole thing seemed to get out of their hands. It is very difficult to deal with the problems of the actors when you are trying to produce non-psychological films or films where the psychology is completely different.
- Interviewed by Christian Braad Thomsen, Jump Cut, 1974.
In Tout va bien, Susan shows Jacques a photograph of a penis being fondled by a woman’s hand. The image fills the screen for what seems an unnaturally long time, while Susan says: “Admit that this image satisfies you less than it did three years ago.” On one level, she is referring to the declining satisfactions of their marriage; on another level, she is asserting the law of diminishing returns in the exploitation of sexual images in cinema.
Tout va bien unmasks the alienated nature of cultural work in class society. Jacques defines his work as “making films, finding new forms for new content,” but in fact his new forms serve only to sell soap and razor blades. Susan tells journalistic anecdotes into the microphones of the American Broadcasting Corporation, but she ultimately finds it impossible to continue in bourgeois media. Jacques and Susan represent a bifurcation of the filmmaking function into images and sounds; taken together they figure forth the cineaste himself. Susan’s dismissal of her former work as “crap” recalls Godard’s severe judgments on his earlier films, while Jacques’ self-characterization as a new wave director radicalized by May ’68 corresponds to Godard’s own political evolution at the time.
After the at times masturbatory militancy of the Dziga Vertov period films, Tout va bien displays a kind of serenity. Godard feels confident enough to let the various political groups – even the advocates of consumer civilization – speak for themselves. The serenity comes as well from a new honesty about the filmmaker’s relation to class struggle. Godard, after all, is not a Maoist peasant or a Latin American guerrilla – he is an artist-intellectual in the capitalist West. The intellectual, Godard seems to realize in Tout va bien, can only offer what Walter Benjamin called a “mediated solidarity” to the working-class oppressed of his own country. Tout va bien critically examines the role of intellectuals – especially those intellectuals who have access to the cultural and ideological apparati – withing social relations as a whole. The cinetracts of the Dziga Vertov period, however essential in their search for a method, were at times irresponsible in their oracular Leftism. They indulged in a kind of tourism of revolutionary struggles – a few months in Italy, next to Prague, then over to the Chicago 8. Tout va bien retains the political bite of the earlier films, but is more accessible in its search for a peculiarly politicized kind of beauty.
- Robert Stam, Reflexivity in Film and Literature: From Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard. Columbia University Press, 1992, 56, 216, 222
Rethinking becomes not just the film’s subject matter, but also a necessary process in watching Tout va bien. The spectator rethinks the situations of the workers and the lovers. But beyond this, the spectator must rethink the process of watching a film; he or she may come to see how filmic conventions have been used in the past, and how they may be used in new ways which seek to avoid and expose the naturalization of conventionalized cinematic devices.
This is not to say, however, that the process of separation I have been examining guarantees this response – or any other – in the spectator. The most a filmmaker can do is to create a set of cues of perception. But the spectator may be incapable of taking up those cues, for the ideology of viewing lies to a large extent in learned skills for understanding art works. The vast majority of film-goers have learned no way of viewing other than that needed to approach the classical narrative film.
Tout va bien was not made within the commercial Hollywood tradition, though it cites that tradition extensively and uses stars from it. Rather, the film draws upon the institution of the art cinema. Having left that tradition for the Dziga-Vertov films, beginning in 1968, Godard attempted to create a new kind of cinema for political purposes. Sometimes shooting in 16mm, often substituting rhetorical formal strategies for narrative, he and Gorin found themselves increasingly losing the wide audience Godard’s earlier films had enjoyed. However successful one might consider films like British Sounds aesthetically and ideologically, they presented too great a challenge to the conventional viewing habits of most audiences. In Tout va bien, we can see an eminently Brechtian compromise. It returned to the institution of the art cinema; the film ran in regular theaters and allowed Godard and Gorin to make the traditional artists’ tour to promote their film. But although Tout va bien utilizes many of the art film’s conventions, and indeed is an art film in many ways, it also seeks to undermine that mode of filmmaking.
- Kristin Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor: Neoformalist Film Analysis. Princeton University Press, 1988. Pages 126, 128, 130
One way to interpret Tout va bien is that personal politics are inseparable from a larger sphere, thus the final track opens up the story’s realm, while it also becomes a visual pun on taking theory into the streets. The end, therefore, goes beyond the simple description of details or places in the environment, and instead becomes a political essay-like maneuver. Nonetheless, the final shot and its accompanying soundtrack do force the narrative disclosure to reopen after the cafe scene, breaking the final bracket that had been set up to mirror the film’s opening.
In order for an Open Discourse film to work it does not need a final section that is completely isolated from the preceding text. The Open Discourse ending does, however, need to supply the viewer with a conclusion that continues narrative systems but not story events. In Tout va bien, the spectator may relate the “France – 1972″ song, and the chants that accompany it, to the overall themes of class struggle. Jean-Pierre Gorin, the film’s co-director, interprets the final tracking shot and soundtrack as conclusive of several formal and thematic threads that unify the film: “Of course the last tracking shot sums up the whole film- the slum landscape with that incredible song. You pass along the wall, and on the soundtrack you have the three principal sounds of the film – the leftist sound, the Communist Party sound, the boss sound. They’re like sound vignettes stamped on that bare wall… That’s the summary of the film.” While it may not be as easy as Gorin suggests to perceive the three different sounds, much less relate them to specific political voices, the narrative discourse nevertheless continues the film’s ideas without any longer using the story elements as supports.
- Richard John Neupert, The End: Narration and Closure in the Cinema. Wayne State University Press, 1995. Page 127
Tout va bien, with its almost obsessive exploration of screen surfaces and inquiry into its modes of representation, stresses that artworks are constructions, objects produced by people, and as such obey ideologically determined codes. Hence Godard’s main problem in constructing Tout va bien became a formal one; i.e., “how to make political films politically.” Vertov’s and Brecht’s notions of new form for revolutionary content helped him to confront this problem, and Tout va bien (through its acknowledged contradictions” epitomizes Godard’s solution.
The complexity of Jane Fonda’s fictional character is linked to the process of her de-prostitution, both as a real person/actress and as a fictional character. Fonda’s off-screen image, which at that time depended on her reputation for political activity, is exploited in a Brechtian manner. Brecht suggested that actors in the epic theatre should have active roles in the class struggle in their real lives. Thus her personal traits as the fictional Susan presumably correspond to her real traits, or, rather to her media-defined style. At the same time, in her quarrel with Jacques, she is implicitly criticizing her former relationships with [Roger] Vadim and her exploitation by him as a woman/star. As I suggested before, her performance also alludes to another American actress, Jean Seberg in Breathless.However, in Tout va bien Fonda is the politically correct American actress. The fictional Susan also alludes to Susan Sontag, another radical intellectual woman who was for a while, like Fonda herself, an American expatriate in Paris. On another level, Susan, like Jacques, is a surrogate for Godard. As a leftist intellectual involved with the media, she shares the Godardian sensibilities and frustrations concerning the role of intellectuals in the revolution, and like him she concludes that “it all comes down to a question of style.” The fictional Susan here also echoes an dduplicates Fonda of the 1970s. Susan/Fonda in Tout va bien is a radical activist, involved with the media and trying to define herself politically and professionally, not unlike Godard himself. In Tout va bien Fonda is shown in the process of creating a new image. Her sloppy, unstylish clothes deliberately demystitfy her former sexy image and her Marxist/feminist lecture to Jacques only reasserts her new image. In Tout va bien she not only abandons her old self but also criticizes it.
- Yosefa Loshitzky, The Radical Faces of Godard and Bertolucci. Wayne State University Press, 1995. Pages 48, 164-165
If Tout va bien does propose any final truth, it is in the male and female voice-overs which conclude the film, stating of the protagonists that ‘ils ont commence a se enser hi-stor-ique-ment’ [they have begun to think of themselves hi-stor-ic-ally], and proposing that ‘chacun sera son propre historien, [...] moi … toi … lui … elle … nous … vous!’ [everyone will be their own historian, [...] me … you … him … her … us … you!]. This proposed fragmenting of history into personalized narratives perhaps predicts Godard’s retreat into non-commercial video projects in the mid-seventies. It also subverts the dominant historical discourse of the period, the Gaullist myth that France had been united (in resistance) during the Second World War and ever since. This view of history was to be readdressed in the representations of the Occupation and the Holocaust which began to proliferate in the aftermath of 1968.
- Guy Austin, Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction. Manchester University Press, 1996. Page 20.
Fascinating…flawed…fervent…and ultimately failing to live up to its intentions, Tout Va Bienmust be viewed as the slightest of successes. Godard and Gorin do catch us off guard and make us pay for being stuck in a certain motion picture mindset. They also play too many games with the plotting, and try to trick us over and over again with the constantly complicated camerawork. Formless and constricted, experimental and exasperating, it is recommended for anyone willing to take the time to try to get beneath its celluloid exterior. Like the individual who will take up pickets and protest a cause they believe in, even to their own detriment, Godard and Gorin only want open-minded, perceptive audiences to view and appreciate their work. They are just like the frightened masses that they harangue, claiming to be revolutionaries, but really only wanting to preach to the converted within their own weird world of anti-filmmaking. Perhaps Godard and Gorin are just like everyone else—committed on the inside, unable to stridently support everything they believe in on the outside. Maybe that is why they, and their film, hide behind so many convolutions and conundrums. Tout Va Bien is not a bad movie, just a wildly uneven and unnerving one. It will take a commitment on your part just to wade through all of its volatile variants.
- Bill Gibron, DVD Verdict
By the halfway mark it requires a lot of effort to keep watching. For a film made by geniuses supposedly burning with things to say, almost all ofTout va bien rolls by like filler, empty noodling. Since all we’re getting is an incoherent lecture, the overall effect is no longer cute or in any way liberating. The freedom of the screen is being used to express anarchy and confusion, but there’s nothing interesting in this anarchy and confusion.
Godard and Gorin are obviously committed intellectuals and not dilettantes and what they say in interviews invariably adds up to fascinating insights on cinema and its relation to the world. Artists trying to make their art relevant to the world is nothing new. Their articulate idealism stands apart from both advanced cinema studies talk – which can be really dry – and advanced political thought, which frequently goes far afield of reality. Godard and Gorin in print are not to be sniffed at.
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant
This anti-bourgeois film addressed to the masses never brought them into the theaters, maybe because even if it was pretty to look at and had two major movie stars, the viewers still found it dull, unperceptive, didactic, unfunny and stridently polemical. It’s the kind of in-your-face political film about the class struggle where the indiscriminate viewer might feel guilty munching on popcorn.
- Dennis Schwartz, Ozu’s World Movie Reviews
Maoism is not the answer to any problem (and one of the activists admits that he is not sure what Maoism is). So the strike is probably futile, though Godard/Gorin get bored with the strike before it’s over and turn the camera elsewhere — which is the real problem with this film and European art films in general: their attention span is too short to actually develop any ideas. French cinema suffers especially when contrasted with the best American films of the mid-century, which were usually much more effective at sustaining an idea, good or bad. (Of course, film critics at the time pretended the opposite, and regarded even the slightest French films as superior to the best American pictures.)
- David Bezanson, Contact Music
ABOUT TOUT VA BIEN AND LETTER TO JANE
Letter to Jane resumes the issues of political cinema and the role of intellectuals raised by May 1968 and explicitly by Tout va bien. In Tout va bien, the two actors are sequestered in the office of the manager of a meat factory (Salumi) by the workers who have occupied the factory. The question that is raised by the occupation and their being sequestered is how to engage with these events and in particular how to represent them to themselves, to the workers, to the public and in turn how are the workers to represent their strike to these bourgeois intellectuals. The situation creates a crisis that forces Montand and Fonda to reflect on their role as intellectuals in the light both of the strike and the May events and is also a crisis of reflection and representation for the workers. The question of representation is of course not only an issue for the characters (or a social class), but for Montand and Fonda as persons and most especially for Godard and Gorin, that is the issue is personal and for the fictional couple in the film, political choices and artistic ones impinge on their relationship. The film then brings two dimensions into play and does so by a complicated system of mirroring between fact (reality) and fiction (the story), reality (political conflict) and its representation (a film), the film that is made and the making of the film. Making a film or giving a broadcast becomes a question of how to make a film, that is, a question of forms so that political matters become aesthetic ones. If you want to change politics, you need to change the way of representing things. Tout va bien and Letter to Jane are not political films simply because they speak of politics, but primarily because they speak of film-making.
Letter to Jane concentrates on a single image, a photograph of Jane Fonda (the political militant, the American movie star) listening to (talking with?) a representative of the Vietnam resistance struggle against the American invasion, the American massacre of Vietnamese and the bombing and destruction of their country. The photograph, in an article that contained other photographs, was published in the French popular weekly news magazine L’Express, a kind of equivalent to Newsweek or Time, but more intelligent and better informed. Godard and Gorin discuss in voice-over the photograph and other images that their discussion and the photograph evokes (images of the war in Vietnam, of Nixon, of Marx, of Lenin, of Fonda in other roles, of her father Henry Fonda in other films - Young Mr Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath, the latter a novel written as Gorin notes by the fascist John Steinbeck – of images from Tout va bien, of posters, of writing). The images are accompanied by natural sounds, by revolutionary songs (the Internationale), and by Vietnamese martial music.
What Godard and Gorin manage to do is bring images together that are distant from each other in time, in space, in their nature such that each illuminates the other simply by this fact of juxtaposition. For example, in the photograph there are already two Fondas, the militant and the Hollywood star and there is, by the fact of the latter identity (the star), an association with other stars and similar looks and gestures: Lillian Gish, Rudolf Valentino, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda in Klute) and from these associations another involving the entire Hollywood industry, America, Vietnam, and history, and Bertolt Brecht, Dziga Vertov, the cinema, political struggle, intellectuals, portraiture, framing and, above all perhaps, the mechanism of montage as a form that thinks, that challenges, that interrogates. This complex not only opens up political and ideological questions (the star/the militant), but formal ones (how to photograph, what to photograph, why photograph) and issues such as distance/closeness, clarity/obscurity, light/shadow, repetition, the frame, as if from a single still image not only can an entire history be evoked (and examined and related) but also the history of the cinema including the falsity of fact and document and the facticity of fictions and therefore the relation of the cinema (and its means) to history.
- Sam Rohdie, Screening the Past
A critique of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s treatment of Jane Fonda across Tout va Bien and Letter to Jane, by Julia Lesage, published in Jump Cut
ABOUT THE CRITERION DVD
This is a very strong release from Criterion. One would expect a package of this quality and scope to be part of Criterion’s upper tier, but thankfully it arrives at the lower of the two price points. The transfer exhibits a lot of really nice film grain while supporting solid detail throughout, save for a few soft long shots. The film appears to be free of any significant damage. Colours are very strong as are contrast levels. The image looks much better while in motion than the screen caps indicate. Unfortunately, there are moments where some fairly intrusive edge enhancement is visible (see screen cap #6, left black vertical post). This may cause some frustration for viewers with large displays. In general however it is not an issue for the majority of the film. Audio is clean and without any significant damage or background noise. As always Criterion provides very easy to read and minimally distracting subtitles. Considering the wealth of extras here I still found the 40-page book to be the most informative.
As usual, Criterion has created a beautiful package all the way around.
- Mark Balson, DVD Beaver
Nothing is more important to Godard than how his movies look, and how they are presented to an audience. One imagines that the director would be delighted with how Criterion recreates Tout Va Bien for the digital domain. The DVD presentation is pristine, with a beautiful 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen image at the center. The colors are sharp and suggestive, the details crisp and clean. Even through all of the directors’ mixed media ideas, shifting shot selections, and soundstage/location logistics, the print is flawless. The one thing Criterion can be counted on for is to give us the best-looking transfer they can create, and the magnificent look to Tout Va Bien is no exception.
Sound is another equally important aspect to Godard’s modus operandi, and once again, Criterion does not fail him. While it’s hard to get a made-in-the-’70s mono track to sound anything other than flat and lifeless, the Dolby Digital treatment here seems to actually open up the aural elements a bit. Especially in the final act, where Godard and Gorin play with the voice-overs and the recorded dialogue, the sonic situation is excellent. While the musical scoring is more or less minimal and the other ambient elements are firmly in check, the pioneers of preservation still manage a bit of mood with their digital updating of this title.
Proving once again that they have an uncanny ability to flesh out even the most obscure motion picture, Criterion provides three very different and very telling bonus features for this release. Each one complements and supplements the context of Tout Va Bien, while also providing insight into the individuals responsible for the film. The biggest bonus is the 52-minute short from Godard and Gorin entitled Letter to Jane. More or less a cinematic reflection on a now-famous photograph of Fonda speaking to some members of the Vietcong during a trip to Hanoi, Godard and Gorin offer a lengthy, wordy discourse about how viewing the photo without understanding its motives both hinders and helps the cause of revolution. Using interesting analogies to silent film, a overwhelming dose of diffused rhetoric, and enough cyclical logic to get one’s head good and spinning, the filmmakers propose that by learning how to “see” this photo, we can gain a greater appreciation of Tout Va Bien and the role of the intellectual in political change, in general. It may be a message—and a movie—that provides more confusion than clarity for the vast majority of those who watch it. And it is actually more of a lecture than a “letter.”
More enlightening, and easier to digest, are the interviews conducted with Godard (from a mid-’70s documentary) and with Gorin (from a recent Q&A). Both men have a definite way with words, but while Godard focuses on the esoteric, Gorin gives us the pragmatic. He discusses how he came to collaborate with the great French innovator, what the real purpose of Tout Va Bien was, and how successful he feels they made the message. Amiable and just a little boastful, he gives a much more personal face to the production than his partner in crime. Godard, unshaven and dressed in a bathrobe, is all pontifications and pronouncements, making his points in salient, simple ways, only to go back and reconfigure them with the next sentence. Almost as if he is working out the logistics of his lamentations as he speaks them, Godard is at once very approachable and far more distant than he ever was. His statements about Tout Va Bien clarify the film’s basic intent. But once he gets into the meat of his meaning, the conversation clouds a little. Indeed, all three extras here have an equal power to persuade and confuse—just like the movie they are supporting.
Our final added feature is a hefty 40-page booklet that offers a striking assortment of critical and informational material. Inside, there is analysis of the film from a post-millennial standpoint, a discussion of May ’68 and how it affected France, a revisionist look at Letter to Jane, and an interview with Godard and Gorin from 1973. Together, they paint a marvelously dense and detailed portrait of Tout Va Bien, the timeframe in which it was made, the men who made it, and its lasting impact.
- Bill Gibron, DVD Verdict
ABOUT JEAN-LUC GODARD
The following quotes are found on the TSPDT Director profile for Jean-Luc Godard:
“Godard is the first filmmaker to bristle with the effort of digesting all previous cinema and to make cinema itself his subject. He emerged from the darkness of the Cinémathèque rather than from any plausible biographical background…Filmmaking for Godard is neither occupation nor vocation, it is existence itself. His inescapable dialectic is in terms of cinema and his politics have arisen – disastrously, I think – from cinema theory.” – David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)
“Whether he delights or irritates you, Godard sits securely in the front rank of screen originals, and it is good that he succeeded in rejoining the mainstream of French cinema in 1980 after more than ten years’ self-exile to its fringes…Nonetheless the quality of his films has been much more variable in recent times compared to his heyday of the 1960s, including a disastrous modernised sideshoot of King Lear.” – David Quinlan (Quinlan’s Film Directors, 1999)
“If influence on the development of world cinema is the criterion, then Jean-Luc Godard is certainly the most important filmmaker of the past thirty years; he is also one of the most problematic…As ex-Cahiers du Cinema critic and New Wave filmmaker, Godard was initially linked with Truffaut and Chabrol in a kind of revolutionary triumvirate; it is easy, in retrospect, to see that Godard was from the start the truly radical figure, the “revolution” of his colleagues operating purely on the aesthetic level and easily assimilable to the mainstream.” – Robin Wood and Rob Edelman (The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia, 1998)
“Godard is one of the most important filmmakers in cinema history. He has made audiences think about how films are made in a series of dramatic essays on subjects ranging from the Hollywood gangster film to the musical, the Marxist struggle, and films, filming, and filmmakers themselves.” – William R. Meyer (The Film Buff’s Catalog, 1978)
“For me, discovering cinema was directly connected to his films. I was living in Paris at the time. When Made in USA opened, I went to the first show – it was around noon – and I sat there until midnight. I saw it six times in a row.” – Wim Wenders
“The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life. Unlike painting and literature, the cinema both gives to life and takes from it, and I try to render this concept in my films. Literature and painting both exist as art from the very start; the cinema doesn’t.” – Jean-Luc Godard
“To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can’t be separated.” – Jean-Luc Godard
In discussing the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard, one inevitably arrives at the question of where exactly to mark this artist’s own “leaps forward” on the timeline of a long and prolific career; and in addressing that question, one first must decide how to make the distinction between “before” and “after,” and then how many times to make the distinction. Could one, for instance, find numerous points of departure through Godard’s body of work, and cite as examples the liberated debut feature À Bout de souffle (Breathless, 1959), the serial video works of the 1970s, and, from the 1980s onward, the advent of the transcendental film-essays? On the contrary, could one plead the case for a single break that occurred when, in 1968, Godard dedicated himself to an expressly Marxist agenda, whereby the next several films stood as aggressively didactic, anti-bourgeois “blackboards”? The first instance grants a priori that Godard’s body of work can be read as a movement that passes through many aesthetic phases but never fails to constitute an oeuvre that, examined from any point, yields a poetic and cinematic value consistent with or building upon those films that have come before. It is the second standpoint, however, that has been so consistently adopted by a number of prominent (that is, visible) film critics and historians. This flank, whose American roster includes but is not limited to Roger Ebert, Anthony Lane, Andrew Sarris, and David Thomson, have long confused the evolution of the artist Godard with some kind of fundamental betrayal. For this group, Godard is a filmmaker who will forever be associated with pop-art palettes, love-and-guns on the run, and the intellectual exuberance of a breezy pre-Vietnam ’60s youth; but who will never be forgiven for discarding the earlier use of Hollywood reference points (which the filmmaker’s latter-day antagonists had perceived in any case not as aesthetic critique but as blank cool cultural homage), exhibiting overtly political (even left-wing) tendencies, exploring in his two television series the possibilities of a different medium of transmission, and then settling on a mode of filmmaking that incorporates narrative cadenzas, historical scrutiny, visual poetry, literary citation, and a dominant mood of elegiac contemplativeness. In short, Godard has evolved from making films of great complexity and beauty to making films of even greater complexity that frequently approach the sublime. If Godard’s crime isn’t merely that for which he’s been put to task in many of the mainstream U.S. publications that reviewed his recent Éloge de l’amour(Elegy for Love / In Praise of Love, 2001)—an expression of the belief that Steven Spielberg doesn’t make very good films—then it is that which the impatient soul and the Philistine alike deem the greatest felony of all: that Godard is an artist of tremendous agency and authority within his medium, and through the uncompromised expression of his aesthetic and, therefore, moral convictions, demonstrates as little concern for the satiety of the “audience that might have been” as Beethoven, Joyce, or Renoir before him.
- Craig Keller, Senses of Cinema
There’s always something a little dangerous about saying that an artist has never recaptured the excitement of his initial work. Too often that attitude is just a way for audiences to rationalize their own refusal to let an artist grow and change past the qualities that first attracted them. The growth Godard shows in the 15 movies he made between 1959′s “Breathless” (“A bout de souffle”) and 1967′s apocalyptic and deeply frightening “Weekend” covers a distance in style and sensibility that most filmmakers don’t approach in a lifetime.
And I have to be honest here and say that, while I long to believe the praise about the return of Godard that has greeted films like “Tout va bien” (1972), “Numero deux” (1975), “Every Man For Himself” (1979), “First Name: Carmen” and “Nouvelle vague” (1990), none of the films he’s made since “Weekend” have captured me in the same way. Though fragments of them have: those headlight shots in “Carmen,” the sight of an aged Eddie Constantine (reprising his “Alphaville” role of detective Lemmy Caution) wandering through a run-down Germany in “Germany Year 90 Nine Zero” (1991), the beautifully lit rooms of a mansion at twilight seen from the outside by a camera tracking along them in “Nouvelle vague” and the scenes of the French band Les Rita Mitsouko recording an album in “Keep Up Your Right” (1987).
Exhaustion is not something you’d expect from watching Godard’s ’60s films — immolation maybe. The 15 films from “Breathless” to “Weekend” fly through possibilities of style perhaps even faster than they fly through ideas. If there is one misconception about Godard that deserves changing it’s that he is a cold, cerebral filmmaker. Yes, his films are filled with quotations (often spoken directly to the audience) from books and films, slogans, interpolated titles, philosophical concepts, musings on the very nature of movies and, especially as they go on, political agitprop. But no one who worked as fast as Godard (15 features and several shorts in eight years) could be expected to develop ideas fully. Instead what we often get are fragments, as beautifully structured as an epigram or as sloppily inserted as a note scribbled on a scrap of paper, and often abandoned as suddenly as they are introduced. This isn’t to say that Godard’s ideas aren’t worth considering. No filmmaker has ever been more profoundly obsessed with the question of how movies, even ones made at the speed Godard worked, could keep pace with a culture that was both fragmenting and accelerating.
- Charles Taylor, Salon
Critical discussions of Godard’s late films have treated them as poetic meditations, and that seems partly right to me. Yet few critics ask how they manage to create their lyrical, associative quality. I think… this has to do with his treatment of narrative (naturally) and his layout of scenes. But even before we get there, I think that we find in the very texture of his images (let alone his sounds) a daring decentering of faces and bodies—the usual nodes of our attention. If he often blocks the flow of our glance, it’s in order to rechannel it to unexpected areas and textures, crannies and gaps, within the image. And so we want all those areas and textures, along with the crannies and gaps, available to our eyes and minds.
A pivotal text on Godard, is that by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, “Three Questions about “Six Fois Deux”"2 dealing with a series of TV programs made by Godard in 1976 with Anne-Marie Mieville. Deleuze adjusted Godard’s own formula, “not a correct image, just an image”, by transposing it into his, “not a correct idea, just an idea.”3 The sense being the opening out and experimentation of ideas in a way that does not normalise ideas according to dominant orders. To create a cinematic/philosophical surface where images/ideas are freely able to be experimented on in a non-judgemental, non-hierarchical and non-exclusionary framework. Godard’s filmwork is also characteristic of the concept of the “Rhizome” developed by Deleuze and Guattari. Godard’s use of short-term ideas, offshoots, disconnected spatial and temporal coordinates, sudden shifts between layers, degrees of speed and slowness, dérive, and the heterogenous use of structural elements is intensely rhizomatic in form and structure. Deleuze’s text on Godard, points out how Godard’s filmwork is essentially inbetween; between text and image, cinema and television, sound and vision, passion and politics. If we consider it, the very concept of montage is itself the meaning inbetween, the rupture between the two images, the fissure of intensity created by the juxtaposition. Deleuze goes on to describe this disaggregation as stammering. Which for Godard becomes a visual stammering, to stammer not in one’s language, but in how one sees. Where the language of cinema is disassembled, taken down to its elements, to produce a molecular cinema, the twenty-four frames a second. As Godard himself says, it is, “admitting that you’re stammering, that you’re half blind, that you can read, but not write…” The question is always what is there to see? What is imperceptible? These are Godard’s reasons for dissolving linear narrative and normative cinema conventions. The sequences of slow motion, fast forward, repetition, distortions, out of focus and scrambling attempt to deconstruct the viewers senses, to destabilise the perceptual plane. To slow the movement down to see what remains, to speed it up again to see what is revealed, what is lost and what is captured in each frame. It becomes a machinic cinema, brought about by the continual extrapolation and complexification that Godard submits his films to, as part of the editing process. Repeatedly throughout Histoire(s) du Cinema (1989) we see Godard labouring over his film editing machine, as if he were a worker in a factory. Throughout his career, Godard has been increasingly moving more and more towards smaller film crews, verging ever so slowly towards that unobtainable solitude. By reducing the size of film crews, Godard gives himself increased freedom to manipulate, focus and control the output, without the interference of stars, budgets and producers. The use of minimal film crews, is also an attempt to resolve the hierarchy implicit to the filmmaking process, plus it affords him a greater automaticism in the filmmaking process. This increasing verging towards solitude, is something that Deleuze described as “an extraordinarily populous solitude,” meaning that this kind of solitude allows him to intensify the interconnectedness of his work, between a plethora of different filmmakers, writers, thinkers and musicians. The music in his films alone has stretched from Beethoven and Mozart to Stockhausen, to Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. What has emerged is an inbetween, between life and filmmaking, where the two begin to converge indiscernibly. What is created is an inbetween, which is a strange cluttered reality, discontinuous, fragmentary and decentred. In a short film by Armando Ceste, Two or Three Things, there is the inclusion of footage of Godard and his voice narrating over the images. Godard says, “Even today, its easier for me to make a film as it should be made… than live the life I would like to live… If I could live the life that I believe I have the right to live, I don’t think I would make films or art,” and elsewhere, “The cinema is life, and I would really love to live life as I do cinema.” It is the sense that making a film, is simultaneously making reality and simultaneously making himself. The separation between the onscreen and the offscreen becomes blurred. As such, it is with irony that Godard, in Prenom Carmen, (1983) stars, somewhat mockingly as himself, as a washed up filmmaker in an institution. Throughout the film we see him in his own idiosyncratic style, wearing dark glasses, his hair tangled and scrunchy, his face stubbled, buried in cigar smoke, speaking in a muffled-wet voice and hugging a portable cassette player. Godard was in fact institutionalised in a psychiatric hospital by his father, in the 1950′s after a spate of habitual petty theft. In Godard’s self portrait film, JLG/JLG (1994) we glimpse more of his dulcet sombreness and melancholy, which strikes us by its richness and clarity, with it’s uncommon intimacy and sensitivity.
- Robert Lort, “Jean-Luc Godard, inbetween Deleuze”
ABOUT JEAN-PIERRE GORIN
Jean-Pierre Gorin first achieved international attention through his collaborations with Jean-Luc Godard as the Dziga Vertov Group. This association has brought him both celebrity and neglect: those who admire the films of the “Vertov period” often attribute their virtues to Godard with scant or no reference to Gorin; and many that dislike them often view Gorin as a punk who led the master astray while riding his coattails. This controversy tends to overshadow and ignore the small but impressive body of work that Gorin has produced since parting with Godard in 1973. To be sure, circumstances have made these films all too easy to overlook: there are only three features and a pair of related video works, along with a number of aborted or never-begun projects, made at intervals of years, distributed spottily, and of deliberate modesty.
These solo films, however, may well prove as important as the collaborations with Godard. What they lose in provocation and extremity they gain back in charm and in complexity of form and nuance: they stand among the most ingenious and potentially fertile contributions to the genre of “film essay.” They are characterized by a resolute fidelity to the local, revealed with tenderness and humor, and are personal and engaging in ways unimaginable in the Vertov-period works. These three films: Poto and Cabengo (1978), Routine Pleasures (1986) and My Crasy Life (1991) deserve to be much more widely seen and discussed; and the videos Letter to Peter and a record of Olivier Messiaen’s opera St. François d’Assise (both 1992) open up new areas which one hopes Gorin will have the opportunity to explore further.
If Godard has fashioned himself into “the ultimate image of the end of Europe” (as Charles Olson once wrote of Ezra Pound), Gorin has done something more modest. Each of his films chews on recurrent themes—of childhood or nostalgia for childhood, of language and exile—with intensely local concentration. If Marker’s Sans Soleil (1982) or The Last Bolshevik (1993) expand grandly from their immediate subjects to the illumination of History, Gorin’s burrow instead into their locality. Since the generalizing rhetoric of the Vertov period, Gorin has allergically avoided “large statements”: instead, his work is allied with, and tender and inquisitive toward, the small, the individualizing detail. It is, in Manny Farber’s words, “termite art,” “eating its own boundaries,” leaving “nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.” In this very modesty, Gorin’s work is perhaps of special importance in a time dominated by the soulless and grandiose spectacles of Hollywood, and by the cynicism and affectlessness of so much “independent” film. Instead, the eccentricity of Gorin’s movies reminds me of those from certain other great contemporaries, like Abbas Kiarostami or João Cesar Monteiro, whose quirky particularity allows them extraordinary range and engenders deep and abundant pleasures.
- Erik Ulman, Senses of Cinema Great Directors Biography
If you don’t start from reality, if you don’t start from the fact that a film is a film, then you are not going to produce any positive effects by the diffusion of your film in the social structure. You need to know that you are specific, and you need to deal with the aesthetic problems, because they are specific for the filmmaker. What the social effect of your film will be depends on your situation in the social structure, on your position in production, and on the way you try to fight a system that strangles you. If you do not have profound personal reasons to rebel against the system, you will achieve nothing.
The process of making a film is a process where you say:
“Well, I am surrounded by thousands of images and sounds. In the streets of Paris there is a normal code of sounds, and I know what that normality means and what effect it has on me. It is an effect of madness.”
So try to work on that as a filmmaker. Try to disconnect the elements of that reality and to reconnect them in another way.
You need to reach the point where you are not speaking as an ego, but where something is speaking through you. This is a process of complete dissolution of the ego. Something is speaking through me which is history, not only my own history, but centuries of history. It is some kind of really schizophrenic experience, and that’s what I am going to work at in my next film. Sometimes the heavy Marxist talk, the stiff political thinking, is only a way to preserve one’s individuality and attempt to master reality. Let’s instead try to break the individuality and have reality speaking through you. That’s exactly the point where you break the whole mystique of the auteur.
- Jean-Pierre Gorin, interviewed by Christian Braad Thomsen, Jump Cut, 1974.
ABOUT JANE FONDA
Jane Fonda’s career has reflected her personal values and the political turmoil of her times. On the issue of Vietnam she acted in defiance of government constraints, risking surveillance and blacklisting, and at the expense of alienating her public. Years later, in 1984, conservative protesters picketed Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago when she appeared there to promote a new line of exercise clothing. In September 1984, on the other hand, she was honored by earning an Emmy for her role in The Dollmaker, an ABC television presentation which she had attempted for 12 years to get on the air. Because of her celebrity and her outspokenness, her life became a public affair, fully documented in the popular press.
Fonda was born to a life of wealth and privilege. Her father, Henry Fonda, was a successful movie star, her mother an heiress of substantial means. After studying art, she had pursued a successful modeling career (twice featured on the cover of Vogue), before taking up studies with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Her first movie contract was with her father’s friend, the director Josh Logan, for Tall Story in 1960, followed by Walk on the Wild Side and The Chapman Report. On the basis of these early films, the critic Stanley Kauffmann was among the first to acknowledge her talent in “performances that are not only fundamentally different from one another but are conceived without acting cliché and executed with skill.” Ahead, however, were the consequences of her developing a political consciousness that would cause her to be variously described by others as a “lateblooming flower child” and an “all-American antiheroine.” (Notably, her father once commented with disdain on her tendency to champion every social issue imaginable, calling her “Jane of Arc.”)
In the next phase of her acting career the French director Roger Vadim transformed Fonda, after marrying her, into the sex goddess of his cartoonish Barbarella. About the same time, during the late 1960s, she became a social and political activist, dedicated to antiestablishment causes. A new seriousness was also reflected in her films, particularly They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Klute. Her political instincts drew her to the radical French director Jean-Luc Godard, who featured her in Tout va bien in 1973. Protesting the Vietnam War she founded in 1971 an antiwar troupe (Entertainment Industry for Truth and Justice) which toured Southeast Asia and went on to produce a film entitled F.T.A. (Foxtrot Tango Alpha, Free the Army, Fuck the Army).
—James M. Welsh, Film Reference.com