By John Bredin
In 1967, one year before the historic Left uprisings of May 1968, Godard produced a pair of prophetic masterpieces (La Chinoise and Weekend) as if to provide cognitive, and aesthetic, sustenance for the coming revolution. So perfect was their historical tie in that, at their American premier—during the 1968 New York Film Festival—they were advertised with the slogan “Imagination is seizing power,” as a nod to the previous May’s insurrection.
Once again, cinema and history are in sync: this time at the dawn of the Occupy Wall Street (or 99%) Movement, with Film Forum’s timely screening of Weekend in New York; about a mile north of the protest’s epicenter in Zucotti Park. Godard’s searing and absurdist critique of bourgeois values—symbolized by the film’s most famous scene: a surreal and carnivalesque 8 minute traffic jam (complete with singing children, a sailboat, and a llama) that’s caused by the sportive, celebratory viewing of a bloody car wreck—remains as startlingly subversive as ever. Weekend offers proof of art’s continued essential role in naming brutalities and injustices in our social order; shattering silences that pave the way for repair.
My recent encounter with Weekend was deeply enhanced—brought into vivid relief—by my awareness of the boldly resurging Left (that Occupy Wall Street represents) now exploding in glorious, colorful pockets of drum banging protest in NYC; and beginning to spread throughout the world. It also felt like a great validation for Godard: whose radical Left leanings, which once got him ostracized, might now be viewed as prescient. As well, it’s a timely reminder that a cultural Left ought to accompany, and strengthen, a political Left. Though this idea is nothing new, of course, an argument can be made for the vital need to re-educate a generation raised on fluffy corporate media, and de-politicized in dumbed down school systems denuded of art, history, and philosophy; where high stakes testing reduces students to robotic drones who are taught to hate learning, or, if the real truth be told, are never introduced to the notion of authentic learning in the first place. That would be too dangerous!
Godard, who might have easily followed his great commercial success with Breathless in 1960 by churning out less politically jarring (i.e. popular) work, chose the more difficult moral high ground by allowing his politics to shape his emerging aesthetics. This alienated him from his one time close friend François Truffaut, who Godard accused of being a sellout, and it also put him front and center during France’s tumultuous May ‘68. Richard Brody, who wrote the definitive biography of Godard, devotes a whole chapter to a brilliant, near novelistic rendering of this almost-revolution—which Godard took full gleeful participation in. Hopefully, more American artists (including filmmakers) will follow the example of Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon and Russell Simmons and get involved in what theOccupied Wall Street Journal, in its premier headline, called “The Most Important Thing in the World.”
The author is a writer whose previous essays have appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, NY Press, and Evergreen Review. He also has a weekly TV show, the Public Voice Salon (a progressive dialogue on culture, politics, and the critical issues of our time) that airs on Manhattan Neighborhood Network.
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