Back in the days when Paul and I were college roommates, the Dartmouth Film Society was our chief cultural outlet. One term during our senior year, the DFS screened all of Jean-Luc Godard’s films. We loved most of Godard’s early work, partly because the marvelous Anna Karina played many of the female leads.
At some point, though, Godard became a Communist. His films became less fun and ultimately were unwatchable; the last one I remember was a single, long shot of two people sitting on chairs and discussing Marxism. For just about forever. Paul and I didn’t have any particular objection to the politics at that time, but Godard’s Communist films were excruciatingly boring.
The turning point was Weekend, an over-praised dystopian view of life in France in the 1960s. It was the moment when Godard began to come out as a Communist:
Standout highlights include a jarring, sexually graphic opening monologue shot with a roaming camera and blaring musical accompaniment, and the infamous traffic jam scene, where an endless parade of cars sit bumper to bumper amidst burning cars, picnics, and honking horns. The work of a true artist and pioneer, Godard’s WEEKEND is a landmark film that hasn’t aged or lessened in impact over time.
Whatever. I didn’t enjoy the movie much, but I still remember the traffic jam scene, as thousands of Parisians fled the city for a summer weekend in the country:
What brought all of this to mind was this news story: “Chaos hits French holiday drivers”:
Millions of French drivers faced travel misery on Saturday as the great holiday getaway led to traffic jams hundreds of kilometres long across the country, transport officials said.
Around five million motorists got behind the wheel to start their holidays on one of the busiest weekends of the year on France’s roads. But more than 550 kilometres (342 miles) of tailbacks formed, with major jams occurring mainly on motorways in the south, according to the National Centre for Road Information. …
French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who also deals with traffic issues, on Thursday urged drivers to be careful over the weekend so that “the holidays do not end in tragedy”.
This photo of yesterday’s traffic jam could have come straight from Godard’s movie:
Still, France today is hardly the dystopia of Godard’s vision. For one thing, it is safe from the ultimate horror of Communism. In Godard’s film, the traffic jam led to shootings and even cannibalism. Yesterday, the worst that travelers had to fear was a delay in getting to the beach. That is, perhaps, emblematic of the modern world’s failure to disintegrate according to the script that was written, decades ago, by its enemies.
PAUL adds: John, thanks for bringing back the memories.
I liked Weekend and, to a lesser extent, La Chinoise which I think is the film John is referring to that contains the discussion of Communism. For me, it was some of the Godard films that came later, as he seemed to succumb to criticism of his residual artistry, that were unwatchable. Maybe I just had a higher tolerance than John for leftist BS.
Godard was certainly a leftist and probably a Communist when he made Weekend and La Chinoise. But he was an unconventional one. Weekend, for example, doesn’t portray the classic Marxist vision of society moving from capitalism, a high form of development for Marx, to a “higher” form. Rather, society is reverting to a more primative state, what with the cannibalism and all.
In 1967, when he made these two films, I think Godard still viewed the left with some of the same irony contained in his famous reference, in Masculin Feminin made a little bit earlier, to “the children of Marx and Coca Cola.” Of the few Godard films I’ve seen that he made after the 60s, that sense of irony seems to be present in some and absent in others. When it was present, I still enjoyed his work.