JLG's Criterion

by Kent Jones

Created 09/08/13

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"The observer and the universe are part of the same universe. It's what science discovered at the beginning of this century, when they say you can't tell where an atomic particle is. You know where they are, but not their speed; or you know their speed but not their place, because it depends on you. The one who describes is part of the description."

- Jean Luc Godard in conversation with Gavin Smith, Film Comment, March-April 1996

  • "For me, the film called UNDERWORLD by Ben Hecht and Josef von Sternberg is the greatest gangster movie. But no one ever heard of it. They all talk about SCARFACE, but UNDERWORLD is better…In my opinion, Ben Hecht was a genius. He invented 80 percent of what is used in Hollywood movies today."

    (Panel discussion moderated by Gene Youngblood at the University of Southern California, 1968; published in Los Angeles Free Press, March 8, 15, 22 and 29, 1968)

  • "Contraband poetry, therefore, yes, and consequently the most precious, for it is true, the German Novalis tells us, that if the world becomes a dream, the dream in its turn becomes a world. It is Cocteau’s humility and also his glory that he neither could nor wanted to distinguish the legend of Orphée from his own – to distinguish, in other words, between cinéma-vérité and cinema-lie. If this makes fools laugh today…it is not everyone who can follow in the path of a poet such as this."

    (ORPHEE, Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1964)

  • "…your father started to find his grand style [with LE PLAISIR]. I know his films much less well than you do and there are some I haven’t seen, but I think he found something there that he took to its peak in MADAME DE… and then in LOLA MONTES, which is to say: something profound made from stories that are nothing, something very oriental, arabesques and camera movements, people running and skipping up and down stairs over and over again. There’s a side to it that makes me think of German expressionism before it got too heavy, of Kandinsky at the start. And I, who am such a pessimist, will always remember that exclamation at the end of 'The Model' - 'Happiness is not cheerful…'”

    (DIALOGUES SUR LE CINEMA, Jean-Luc Godard and Marcel Ophuls, Editions Le Bord de l’eau, 2011; original conversation, 2002)

  • "Take a drawing by Matisse, a simple curve of a leg or a shoulder. Is there a basis, at the beginning when he starts drawing his curve? There isn’t. This is what I’m trying to say. And that’s what comprises the originality of Max Ophuls, which he acquired a little bit at a time, because in LIEBELEI, in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, in his American films, it’s not there. It’s a freedom that is earned and that is found, that isn’t applied. On a basic level, it’s neither better nor worse as a way of making a film. But there’s something extremely original that we found so satisfying back in the day and that continues to satisfy me now, something purely romantic. The story of MADAME DE… is pretty weak – it’s a little novel by Louise de Vilmorin, it’s not exactly Dostoyevsky. But what Max Ophuls did transforms it, like Fragonard’s 'The Lock,' in which two lovers close a door so they can kiss – it’s not a weighty subject, as with Goya, and it becomes pure painting, if you will. There’s a kind of pure cinema of that era – you might even call it experimental – which has disappeared. There’s no literature…not that there’s no text or dialogue, but there’s no pre-literature."

    (DIALOGUES SUR LE CINEMA, Jean-Luc Godard and Marcel Ophuls, Editions Le Bord de l’eau, 2011; original conversation, 2002)

  • "What were we dreaming of when SUMMER WITH MONIKA was first shown in Paris? Ingmar Bergman was already doing what we are still accusing French directors of not doing. SUMMER WITH MONIKA was already AND GOD CREATED WOMAN, but done to perfection. And that last shot of NIGHTS OF CABIRIA when Giulietta Masina stares fixedly into the camera: have we forgotten that this, too, appeared in the last reel but one of SUMMER WITH MONIKA? Have we forgotten that we had already experienced – but with a thousand times more force and poetry – that sudden conspiracy between actor and spectator which so aroused André Bazin’s enthusiasm, when Harriet Andersson, laughing eyes clouded by confusion and riveted on the camera, calls on us to witness her disgust in choosing hell instead of heaven?"

    (“Bergmanorama,” Cahiers du Cinéma, July 1958)

  • "Genjuro is bathing with the fatal enchantress who has caught him in her net; the camera leaves the rock pool where they are disporting themselves, pans along the overflow which becomes a stream disappearing into the fields; at this point there is a swift dissolve to the furrows, other furrows seem to take their place, the camera continues tranquilly on its way, rises, and discovers a vast plain, then a garden in which we discover the two lovers again, a few months later, enjoying a picnic. Only masters of the cinema can make use of a dissolve to create a feeling which is here the very Proustian one of pleasure and regrets."

    (Arts, February 5, 1958)

  • "[The investigator] was added [to HELAS POUR MOI] after half of the editing because the film didn’t hold together. It is a good film but it could have been… It is not the intention of the movie. In MR. ARKADIN it was the intention. That’s why I say it was a better picture, because Orson Welles, even if it was only 80 percent his way of doing things that time, in the end it was part of the picture."

    (Interview with Gavin Smith, Film Comment, March-April 1996)

    "…there’s a sequence of shots [in MR. ARKADIN] where there’s a sort of rhythm that isn’t just shot/reverse shot, or from cutting either, but there’s a certain rhythm in the dialogue that’s just there, that’s both a very brilliant effect and something like a trail leading towards what all filmmakers are after, which is really montage to tell stories in a different way."

    (CINEMA: THE ARCHEOLOGY OF FILM AND THE MEMORY OF A CENTURY, Jean-Luc Godard and Youssef Ishaghpour, Talking Images Series, published by Berg, 2005)

  • "ELENA is Renoir’s most Mozartean film. Not so much in its exterior appearance, like THE RULES OF THE GAME, but in its philosophy. The man who finishes FRENCH CANCAN and prepares for ELENA is, morally, a little like the man who completes the Concerto for Clarinet and launches into THE MAGIC FLUTE. In substance, the same irony and the same distaste. In form, the same brilliant audacity of simplicity. To the question, What is cinema? ELENA replies: More than cinema."
    (Cahiers du Cinéma, special Renoir issue, December 1957)

  • "I shall always remember one spring evening in Cannes when, watching with the other idlers, I saw Cocteau shepherding into the Palais du Cinéma a young boy who was only at the beginning of his 400 blows. He guided him through the lights, whispering instructions: 'Don’t walk too quickly, don’t look down, look at the photographers, stand up straight, smile at France Roche.' Before my admiring eyes, here was the old angel Heurtebise, always in the thick of the fight, protecting the young ghost of Vigo under his great, black Academician’s wing."
    (ORPHEE, Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1964)

    "THE 400 BLOWS will be a film signed Frankness. Rapidity. Art. Novelty. Cinematograph. Originality. Impertinence. Seriousness. Tragedy. Renovation. Ubu-Roi. Fantasy. Ferocity. Affection. Universality. Tenderness."
    (LES QUATRE CENTS COUPS, Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1959)

  • "When I first made CONTEMPT I had a certain movie in mind and I tried to make it. But CONTEMPT came out completely different than I’d intended, and I forgot the kind of film I had wanted to make in the first place. Then when I saw RED DESERT at the Venice Film Festival, I said to myself: this is the kind of movie I wanted to make of CONTEMPT."
    (Panel discussion moderated by Gene Youngblood at the University of Southern California, 1968; published in Los Angeles Free Press, March 8, 15, 22 and 29, 1968)


  • By Mark N.
    October 17, 2013
    02:13 PM

    No Marienbad? JLG loves that.
  • By MrCannon
    October 17, 2013
    02:16 PM

    Ugetsu was another Godard favorite, he was all over Mizoguchi.
    • By Joe Turrell
      October 17, 2013
      02:23 PM

      Do you know what he thought of Sansho the Bailiff and The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums? I'd be intrigued to know.
    • By MrCannon
      October 17, 2013
      02:26 PM

      Oh man, I completely missed it on your list. Spot on work, kent.
  • By Yojimbe
    October 18, 2013
    01:31 AM

    Funny, but I could put three or four of JLG's films on my top ten including; Breathless, My Life to Live, Contempt and Alphaville. Not to mention honorable mentions like; Band of Outsiders, Pierrot Le Fou, Two or Three Things I know About Her, Made in USA, Une Femme Mariee, Masculin Feminin and Weekend. And when will Le Petit Soldat, Les Caribiniers, A Woman is a Woman and La Chinoise ever make it to blu ray? Godard is one of the true geniuses (like Orson Welles) to have ever worked in cinema and evolved the language of film.
  • By Johan Sigg
    October 18, 2013
    09:49 PM

    I really like how intelligent and polite all these comments are. It reminds me that this is a good website with intelligent users. If only there were more. JLG's picks kind of surprise me a bit. I wish to know more of his thoughts on other great films. Really terrific list!
  • By Kent Jones
    October 21, 2013
    09:48 AM

    Hi. As Dennis Watts suggests, this isn't meant to suggest Jean-Luc Godard's top ten films of all time. It's just a list of ten films in the Criterion collection about which he wrote or spoke, eloquently and provocatively (but not gnomically - I can't agree with that characterization), between 1957 and 2005. K
  • By Austin DeRaedt
    October 29, 2013
    05:34 PM

    I heard JLG is a big fan of Eddie Murphy's films.
    • By Jamalski96
      July 03, 2016
      03:29 PM

      For some reason that wouldn't suprise me, but that's awesome if it's true. I can only imagine Jean-Luc puffing away on a fat cigar and watching Coming to America.
  • By Kilianf286
    May 02, 2015
    03:56 PM

    I'm surprised that LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES is not on this list. A clip from it appeared in GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE so we can assume it is a big favorite of Godard's.