The Films of Jean-Luc Godard

By St Pierre, Paul Matthew | Journal of Film and Video, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

The Films of Jean-Luc Godard


St Pierre, Paul Matthew, Journal of Film and Video


Dixon, Wheeler Winston. The Films of JeanLuc Godard. Albany: State U of New York, 1997, 290 pp., 46 halftones. $56.50 ($18.95 paper).

If cinemagoers spent the first half of the century waiting for Godard and his first film, Operation Baton (1954), film studies scholars have devoted much of the second half to awaiting the definitive study of Godard. With the publication of Wheeler Winston Dixon's The Films of Jean-Luc Godard, the wait is over.

Godard himself acknowledged that in his film 2 X 50 ans de cinema Francais (1995), this century was bipartite cinematically. In his study of the nouvelle vague filmmaker's oeuvre, however, Dixon formally endorses the Godardian knot of cinema's deuxieme partie.

With the exception of Yosefa Loshitzky's The Radical Faces of Godard and Bertolucci (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1995), Dixon's study is the only important academic work to be written on Godard since John Francis Kreidl's Jean-Luc Godard (New York: Twayne, 1980). Dixon's book will help to absolve this sin of omission concerning the preeminent new wave filmmaker, who, as Dixon points out, continued to thrive during more than a decade of scholarly neglect. Together with Loshitzky, Dixon may succeed in renewing interest in Godard scholarship and perhaps even a revival of interest in Godard screenings. To facilitate this reassessment, Dixon ends his book on a pragmatic note by recommending four sources for renting Godard's films: New Yorker, Noon Pictures, and Electronic Arts Intermix (New York); and Cinema Parallel (Sykesville, MD). Dixon not only acknowledges his scholarly indebtedness to Godard but seems to challenge his readers to become Godard spectators again by reviewing Godard on video, attending Godard film festivals, and proposing university or film school courses on Godard.

Like a score at a symphony performance or a libretto at an opera production, Wheeler's study makes a reliable companion at any Godard screening, providing motifs and (sub)texts to facilitate understanding in accord with viewers' subjectivities. An English professor who chairs the film studies program at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln), the author and editor of many cinema studies, and a prolific filmmaker himself, Dixon has written the definitive filmology/filmography of one of the most innovative nouvelle vague film directors of the century (along with Franqois Truffaut, for example), at once logging on to the 76 films Godard made between 1954 and 1995 and graphing Godard's personal and professional lives.

The scholarship is meticulous, almost to the point of fastidiousness, which true Godard fans will appreciate. The true Godardian is like a trued bicycle wheel that spins in balance or, more obviously, a reel of film whirling perfectly through a projector. In his scholarly role as true Godardian projectionist, Dixon trues each of Godard's films, balancing circumstances of production and politics of distribution, film outtakes and film interpretations, character roles and actors' lives, movie sets and social contexts, and even God and Godard.

Dixon complements his discussions with stills from many of the films, and a few from the sound stage, of Godard and various actors, and he supplements the book with a comprehensive filmography noting all the principals in all the films. …

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