In my ongoing quest to penetrate the mind of Godard, I figured few films would be more poignant than this self styled portrait. This is not merely about what he has or is willing to say on the subject because we can glean that from any number of the films he made during that period, JLG/JLG is no more a self portrait in that aspect than Nouvelle Vague or the Histoire(s) films, but how does he frame himself, literally?
In the finale of Children Play in Russia from the previous year he left us with an image of himself stubbornly cranking at a camera to make it work. What images here? Two stand out for me, patterns that recur: Godard the old crone, a sunken face in the dim light of his library, ruminating quotes from old dusty books. Then Godard the kid, excitedly a prankster, now preparing to edit a film or playing tennis with a wry smile. He feels comfortable in both roles, or we wouldn't be shown. Both pertain here.
He begins this with a childhood photo of himself. In the voice-over he's anxiously rehearsing for the occasion, will he be judged a success or a failure? JLG/JLG gives us a fascinating rare glimpse of how he shapes his thought, this should be a treasured artifact for the avid Godard fan. Usually we arrive at the process too late, when the thought has been reduced to a provocative slogan. For example, "the rule of Old Europe is to destroy the art of living". Here we can see the method by which we arrive at that admission, born schematically on a piece of paper.
The less said about the childishness with the star of David though, the better. An embarrassing failure of humour, if it was intended as such. But having stuck with him for so long, I view these fallacious missteps with a hint of sympathy.
But the vantage point I get is this: why does Godard feel he matters, at least enough to pose for his own self portrait?
It's folly to expect a very lucid picture, or a particularly honest one, but it's important for me to see how the question is formulated, what conditions is it posed under. For this I must go back to the premise I had touched on in one of my first Godard writings, his ouevre seen as the koan of the Zen Buddhists, the enigmatic phrase that means nothing in the face of it yet demands an answer by the initiate, the answer again meaning nothing, serving only as proof that the mind is unlocked.
To my surprise I discovered as I was watching this that I could read the typically inscrutable musings like they were a simple text. What used to demand real effort of concentration, now flows naturally. The question then is formed by two admissions, both magnificent.
One is the realization of the illusion of ego: a man who feels cold says "I am cold", but in the silence before and after the utterance only the cold body exists. The other is the promise of love: promising to love, a man becomes the embodiment of love, the only reward being this; after the hardships of a lifetime, he can look back and see that he has loved.
What I get from all this, is the state of awareness that emerges. The mind is not transcended yet, and the Buddhist koan remains inscrutable, but it does not dictate desire and ego anymore. Like the citations that burrow his works, his early New Wave period then exists as an original text (itself the product of citations) to be dismantled, a gradual constant process of the shedding and destruction of self. For the majority of viewers this early period is a stumbling block, a hindrance, whereas as a lot of Godard fans conclude the coming of age happens in the 90's. This is his truly great period (and onwards perhaps).
Having pursued the political chimera that failed him, he knows this is not our saving grace so he turns inwards. Having pursued, upon that realization, the mind, he discovers that only illusions inhabit it.
Godard matters then because he came this far. I'm curious as ever to see where he goes from here.
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