Excerpt from Two Bicycles: The Work of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville by Jerry White
From the Introduction
The work of Jean-Luc Godard is both voluminous and widely celebrated. This is as it should be; he is a great filmmaker, someone who has spent a career rigorously rethinking the fundamentals of his medium (film) and its neighbouring media (television and video). Anne-Marie Miéville’s work as a filmmaker seems, at first glance, to pale in comparison. She has directed several noteworthy works, and to judge from them, it might seem that she could be filed under the category “interesting Swiss filmmaker,” hardly a classification that would offer a central place in the history of postwar cinema. That would be a mistake. The greater mistake, though, and the more common one, is to conflate “the films of Godard and Miéville” with “the films of Jean-Luc Godard.” The frequency with which that mistake is made is no doubt a result of the considerable international fame that Godard accrued during the 1960s as part of the French nouvelle vague (hereafter, the New Wave). When such fame is attached to a single name, it can become hard to see beyond that name. This sort of myopia is explicit in Andrew Sarris’s 1970 interview with Godard and Jean- Pierre Gorin, who were at that time making films together and signing them as “Groupe Dziga Vertov”; Sarris writes there how Godard “walked in with his assistant Jean-Pierre something or other” (51). Critics often seem to consider some of Godard’s very best work to be made by him and his girlfriend, Anne- Marie something or other.
Of course, this is not the case at all, as it was not the case with Gorin; one of my first tasks in this book is to lay out some of the problems that the films of “Godard and Miéville” pose for understandings of authorship in cinema. I do that, in small part, by following scholars such as Michael Witt and Catherine Grant and proposing that the clearest, most illustrative comparison point for Godard and Miéville is the work of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. Godard and Miéville pose similar problems in terms of their status as avant-garde artists; thus, I also lay out some of the ways in which their work is both more and less radical than it may at first appear. It is the French critic 2 Chapter 1 Serge Daney who lays out this “Godard paradox” more elegantly than any critic I know of, and his notion of the Godard paradox serves as a segue into a brief discussion of Daney’s work and its usefulness as a “way in” to Godard and Miéville’s films, videos, and television programs.
From Chapter 2: Abandonments
Quebec Godard’s interest in Quebec is surprisingly substantial. The first instance that I know of regarding his concern for Quebec cinema is in the very long interview he gave to Jacques Bontemps, Jean-Louis Comolli, Michel Delahaye, and Jean Narboni of the Cahiers du cinéma in 1967 (it was published in number 194) titled “Lutter sur deux fronts.”1 He stated there that:
“The Canadian cinema is interesting as an example. The National Film Board is an impressive film factory, more so than Hollywood today. It’s a great set-up. But what’s the pay-off? Zero. There’s nothing to see for it. The films just aren’t coming out. What Daniel Johnson ought to do is nationalize all the cinemas in Quebec. But he won’t do it. The best he’s capable of is seeing that de Gaulle gets a welcome in the metro screens. So, over there as well, cinema is subject to a special brand of imperialism, just like everywhere else.” (Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard t.1, 318 / “Struggling on Two Fronts,” 294)
This demonstrates a remarkably detailed knowledge of Quebec politics. Not only was Godard aware of de Gaulle’s 1967 visit to Montreal (where he famously shouted “Vive le Québec libre!” as he addressed a crowd from the balcony of Montreal city hall), but he also seems to know about Daniel Johnson Sr.,2 at that time the Premier of Quebec as a member of the Union Nationale, a more-or-less nationalist party. Johnson famously chafed against Ottawa and suggested that Quebec should consider separation if it could not improve its position within the Canadian confederation; he was Premier during de Gaulle’s 1967 visit to Quebec. His party had a generally conservative social policy and a generally classical-liberal approach to economic policy (hence the reluctance to nationalize Quebec’s cinemas). And, of course, Godard is keenly aware of and impressed by the work of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), and, more startlingly, he was fully aware of the fact that very few Canadians actually get to see very many of its extraordinary films.