(Metropolitan Books, 720 pages, $40)
By Richard Brody
The increasing availability of the works of Jean-Luc Godard on DVD makes this the perfect moment for Richard Brody's massive, ambitious new biography of the French Nouvelle Vague pioneer.
Brody's overarching contention is that Godard deserves to be considered, like Picasso, as an artist with several distinct creative periods. However, Godard is often treated solely as a New Wave artist who had a single burst of productivity (from Breathless in 1960 to Weekend in 1967) and then fell off the map forever, which, as Brody argues, is like calling Picasso a Cubist while ignoring his Blue Period or his many other incarnations. Even many of Godard's stalwart admirers admit that his work between 1968 and 1978 took a soulless turn into the stalest dead-end of French-Maoist politics and alienating formal experiment. But, Brody argues, with his quasi-autobiographical, six-hour video project, histoires du cinéma, in the '90s and even with his "third first movie," In Praise of Love (2001), some of Godard's most enduring work has come late in his life.
And what a life! Brody seamlessly integrates the oft-told story-the transformation of Godard and his fellow Cahiers du Cinéma critics into auteurs of the most glorious national cinema of the postwar period-with reams of new material he has gathered over seven years of research. He seems to have missed no one, interviewing Godard himself, all three of his wives including his frequent star Anna Karina, his Maoist collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin, and literally dozens of people who were in the room or on the set at important moments in Godard's life. He is attentive to the ideological hair-splitting and political extremism of the Gorin years-a mad, molten period largely lost to legend until now. To his credit, Brody doesn't glide over Godard's occasional anti-Semitic remarks or his problems with women (Karina maintains that being slapped in public by him simply constituted proof of his love), or the deterioration of his relationship with François Truffaut. However, geniuses all have their flaws, and Brody goes to great length to contextualize these without excusing them, the better to unmask and explain this famously inscrutable artist and his work. All in all, Brody has given us the most satisfying-and epic-movie biography of the year so far.
Review written by John Patterson.