One to One: Jean-Luc Godard Speaks

By Mike Dibb

jean-luc-godard.jpgJean-Luc Godard

The following transcription, never previously published, is an amplified version of an interview made for the BBC TV programme Release (tx. 30.11.68) but recorded in July of that year in Cowdray Park when JLG was just about to shoot the sequence on democracy for his first English language feature One Plus One. It was premiered in the last week of November 1968 at the London Film Festival in a version (aka Sympathy for the Devil) doctored by the film’s producers, Cupid Productions. JLG violently disapproved of their unauthorised alteration to the ending of his film. This transcription is edited and arranged into a more or less continuous statement, with questions retained only where it is necessary to clarify leaps of meaning. It was originally submitted to The Listener magazine but was never printed.

“A movie is a camera and a screen, but the movie is the movement from the camera to the screen and back from the screen to the camera or the audience. The movie is not on the screen, neither in the camera. It’s between them. There is plenty of space for plenty of movies. The trouble with Hollywood movies is that they are in the camera or on the screen but nowhere else.

“I don’t want to make a piece of art... just a happening... an event.

One Plus One is about democracy, fascism, Black Power, music, ideas like that. The Rolling Stones offer the music, black people for Black Power and an actor for fascism… there will be one sequence about black people speaking of black power, another one about the Rolling Stones speaking or playing their music, another one – a girl speaking of democracy, another one a man speaking lines written by Adolf Hitler. It’s about fascism and I think all those sequences going one after another will bring something out (a contradictory effect?) I don’t know, maybe. Like a circus, you know. I think the ideas will move from one sequence to another; I don’t know exactly where. It’s like taking a piece of reality and then putting it near another piece of reality and seeing what happens.

“Contradiction is a good thing. When two things are in contradiction a new one is created… Very often, you know, when you are talking, you say, ‘you said that and now you say this, it’s contradictory.’ I say, ‘yeah, that’s wonderful. That’s when I can continue speaking. If it wasn’t I would just stop talking."

(One sequence in the film involves a young girl calling herself Eve Democracy being interviewed on film for television).

“Because she said her name is Eve Democracy, it doesn’t mean she represents democracy. I don’t know, maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t… She’s a person because she’s a girl and she’s an idea, because her name is democracy… There’s quite a lot of different ways of telling stories. There are biological stories, chemical stories, mathematical stories, Romanesque stories, psychological stories. This is a philosophical story in terms of movies."

sympathy-for-the-devil-jean-luc-godard.jpgSympathy for the Devil, 1968

Mike Dibb: Looking back on your films…

"I don’t want to look back."

MD: Do you ever watch them again?

"Yes I do, but I think it’s a bad habit. When you walk, you don’t walk looking back. If you do, you may have trouble… I think I was making films outside France and I realised I had to do it inside… Breathless was a poetic movie made on an American pattern. There was nothing French in it."

MD: And your attitude now to the American cinema?

"I think they can’t make serious films in America now, except maybe a few underground or independent movies – but it’s impossible in the way movies are made from an industrial point of view, the way they shoot at things and the way they edit pictures, the way they think an actor has to act, a screenwriter has to write scripts; it’s the same all over the world.

"It was not the same 30 or 40 years ago when von Stroheim was shooting in Hollywood and Eisenstein in Russia. They were making completely different movies. Now Anna Karenina is made by Spiegel in Russia. There is no difference… My theory is that in China they were making Russian movies and they discovered that Russian movies were really American movies. So they stopped making movies in China.

"Directing a movie today… maybe it’s not Fascism like Hitler was a Fascist, because it’s not killing people. But we are acting exactly the same. Do this, do that, say this, go there, frame around that, light like that and, because we are the ‘artists’, everybody says, ‘alright, we won’t discuss it.’ It’s the way artists have been considered for 2000 years, which has to be reconsidered now... since Jesus Christ we have been trained like that, so it’s very hard to forget about it, especially since we are very well paid to be like that...

sympathy-for-the-devil-jean-luc-godard-2.jpgSympathy for the Devil, 1968

"The trouble is that it all has to come from me and it should come from at least 20 or 50 people in the group. Create together. Popular assembly… and especially in the movies we shouldn’t be such specialists. A man always working at his camera and another one always at the sound, another one in the lab, another one writing."

MD: How much have you been able to fulfil those sorts of ideas while making One Plus One?

"I’m doing nothing. I don’t even try. I just try to avoid the tyranny of the British Trade Unions… in England I play the game. I accept it in England, but in France no more. And I’m trying to make it as simple as possible. We have 12 slates in the picture. But because we have 12 slates and the crew is used to having 900, they think it’s very easy and suddenly they discover it’s a very difficult slate and they just don’t know how to do it. I mean, they are not ready for it. In France, it’s always the same thing too.

"Culture doesn’t mean anything. It’s like religion. Today governments are maybe afraid to speak of religion, not wanting to be ridiculous, so they speak of culture. But it’s morally the same. They want to bring culture to the people instead of letting culture come from the people. We are supposed to be gifted for culture and it’s completely untrue… Since we were raised in culture, we can at least destroy it… Maybe movies are not a bad school. TV too. TV the best. If I’m making movies, it’s only because it’s impossible to make TV, because it’s ruled by governments everywhere.

sympathy-for-the-devil-jean-luc-godard-default.jpgSympathy for the Devil, 1968

"There is a form in which I believe very much, the door-to-door theatre or music or literature, and it can be done in the movies too. Making a small 8mm movie, going to the door and telling the people, ‘I’ve a movie to show you, it concerns you…’ Instead of making a picture in the studio and telling people they have to go into a theatre to see the picture. And having them pay an awful lot of money.

"We must find new ways of making films and especially new ways of showing them… If we know something of movies because we have worked in them for several years, maybe we can tell people about it so that they can invent the television or the movie they want or need. Up until now they didn’t know that they needed one. Very often they are glad for the television. They don’t even think that they could or that people should speak on TV to each other.

"Art should be the voice of reality and the people. Today movies are like parliaments, you know; they are not really representative. You can’t say that, in England – Wilson – even if he’s of the Labour party is really representing a worker at Ford’s in Dagenham, for example. Wilson is acting like a Tory, really; I mean, his life, the way he eats breakfast, the way he has a black tie.

"Something very strange happened in France. Everybody was against the black flag, but everyone who was against the black flag, de Gaulle or Communist orthodoxy, they were always wearing black things. And driving in the street in black cars, because they thought black was a distinguished colour. It’s chic, you know. But they don’t think the black flag is chic. I don’t understand why. This is only a cultural thing and we artists have to destroy it."

Sympathy for the Devil (the problematic ‘producer’s cut of One Plus One, the latter being extremely expensive to hire) is playing at London’s Curzon Soho cinema on 1st June, along with Godard’s TV interview for ‘Release’, introduced by Mike Dibb, and followed by a discussion on 1968 and cinema with writers Chris Darke and Sylvia Harvey.

Mike Dibb is a multi-award winning documentary maker. His many works include Ways of Seeing, with John Berger. Many thanks to him for making both this piece and the filmed interview available.