Sunday, October 18, 2009

Godard's Interview: When There Is No Silence

I am no more anguished to produce masterpieces

One of the best spots for understanding and getting acquainted with a director, beside long interviews in print, is the TV interviews, especially for those laconic filmmakers of the past. You can hear their words and examine them closely and see how the biggest Hitchcock film ever is Hitch himself or the greatest story teller among Hollywood giants is Walsh that turns every small situation to an interesting comedy/drama.

And among TV shows which usually are interested in the color of underwear of celebrities and “what-did- you-do- with-that-star sort of thing, Dick Cavett Show in the 1960s and 1970s was a decent place to discuss movies technically and also with a proper amount of charm!

I already have mentioned an episode of Cavett Show with Hitchcock and now this excellent episode, a 1980 interview with Godard, which hasn’t been released on DVD so far.

The time is right. When after a decade of politixperimental filmwriting/essaymaking, Godard had a more commercial “comeback” (Godard despises the word and says “I haven’t been anywhere”) with Sauve qui peut.

Here he is so calm and mild; carrying a cheap yellow cigarette lighter that Cavett couldn’t take his eyes of it. He barely smiles or responds to audiences now and then applauses, especially when he says “women have better ideas then men” [I’m completely agree with this part, at least in my country, Iran, women seems more advance, liberal and ready to change than the rusted male community]. He is more compassionate than his press conferences. (I remember in one of those press conferences he called a cameraman who was taking a close up of him, “a criminal” – probably in the special features of Histoire(s) du cinema DVD)

Cavett is an above-average talk-show host that his gentle ways of communicating with the guests makes him acceptable, even for the intransigent characters like Godard or Bergman. Though he can’t unveil the truth behind an interviewee, but by giving him or her enough space, he cooperates in at least having an honest discussion, and I believe even Godard appreciates his method.

Naturally most of the time Cavett is so puzzled by Godard’s views and the way he gives an account of things; not only from technical point of view, but from such general concepts like camera and space (after all Cavett himself spent a lifetime in front of cameras!) And he becomes stunned by Godard’s comment that “I think the problem with interviews is we feel obliged to speak, there is no silence.” And later he adds, “Even making a pornographic picture needs two or three weeks of preparation, but here on TV it takes 30 minutes to produce 30 minutes.”

Cavett, so puzzled

There are other very precise and remarkable comments about the media, like “the entire world is afraid of images. Ask any president why he is willing to go to TV and not willing to be in a feature, whether playing a character or whether playing himself. He replies himself, “maybe the answer is related to the fact that movies are strongly tied to our feeling for truth.”

When Cavett shows a clip of his recent film, Sauve qui peut, Godard starts criticizing his own method and declares his dissatisfaction with a famous slow-motion love making scene. He concludes “It’s like a Sylvester Stallone movie; using a gimmick like slow-motion both for sentimentality and violence.”

Godard brings out his tiny red and green scripts from his pocket. "Who said I have no scripts?"

Godard’s most interesting remark arrives in answer to a question about discovering American directors by Cahier du cinema:
“When we said Hitchcock is like Dostoyevsky or Hawks is as great as Faulkner, that was because we wanted to open doors for ourselves too. We wanted to make films and we need an 'exterior' help, we needed to be recognized, so we must convince others that director is the name above everything.”

He attacks use of black & white photography in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, but praises Scorsese’s job at The Raging Bull (he must have saw the film in editing room or a private screening, because interview time is before official release of the film)

Cavett brings up the story of Godard’s filmmaking without having any script, and Godard replies “I have scripts”, he brings out of his pocket two tiny notebooks and give them to Cavett as his two next projects!
--Ehsan Khoshbakht

P. S.

I couldn’t resist on not-mentioning some other memorable Godard’s remarks at the Cavett Show:

  • “There is no difference between image and sound. You must listen to the image and look at the sound.”
  • “Audiences have a responsibility in making the movie.”
  • “It’s a good sign when good people go in exile from their own country.”
  • “I am no more anguished to produce masterpieces. I’ve returned to my childhood, but not from the front door, maybe from backdoor or even from the window of the second floor.”


  1. interesting point of view.
    but one thing
    he didn't call cameraman "a criminal"
    he says : "This is the enemy, no him as a man but the culture"

  2. That's true. A momentary lapse of memory, I'm afraid. Thanks for correction.