Godard and the “Video Kids”

There has been way too few mentions of Jean-Luc Godard on this blog, so in order to cement myself as a pure movie snob, let’s talk about him a bit.

Well, one specific project of his, actually. Before he was a director, Godard was a film critic. I’ve always felt that this shone through his work. He wasn’t interested in making movies for the masses or for himself. He wanted to make movies people could discuss and dissect. He was making films for his own people. Over his very long career, he made a metric shit ton of movies. Even the Wikipedia page for his filmography just states that “[t]he following attempts to be a comprehensive filmography”. The Sight & Sound Critics’ Poll includes five of his films. Interestingly, the name of none of them have been translated and are known by their original French titles.

One of these five is Histoire(s) du cinĂ©ma. While the list is supposedly made up of movies, this is actually a series. It’s only 8 episodes, but it took him 10 years to finish. You don’t really need to know French to understand the title, but one of the reasons the title has not been translated is that it would be hard to make it work, because ‘histoire’ can be both ‘history’ or just ‘story’. (Yes, there have been attempts to translate it as (Hi)story of Cinema, but that name hasn’t stuck.) The series is a very personal look at movies. It tells his personal history of them, but it also juxtaposes that with world history of the 20th century, as that was the period where cinema took over as the dominant art form.

Mostly we just see glimpses of the movies and we move fast through them, but here’s an explanation for that: When he was a child (he was born in 1930), you didn’t have TVs, home media and so forth. You could only see a movie in a theater. If you really liked it, you might go back and rewatch it, but if you weren’t able to do that, you might have to wait for years of decades to have a new opportunity to see it, if ever. There’s still plenty of movies that are lost even from that period. So, you would only have faint recollections of these movies and the series gives you an idea what it must be like (although it doesn’t really explain this as far as I can remember).

Earlier today I was watching IGN Movies’ podcast on their top 100 movies. The topic of the day was La haine (which is the reason I watched it, because it is one of my favorite movies). There’s a scene in the movie, where Vinz, one of our main characters, reenacts the scene from Taxi Driver, where Travis is rehearsing being a tough guy. You know this scene even if you have never seen Taxi Driver, as it has been copied so much. “You talkin’ to me?” but in French. It was used in ALF as well as Toxic Avenger III. That’s range.

Anyhow, how does someone from in mid-90s know about Taxi Driver at all? At this point home media was widely available. While studios tried to make VHSs a luxury item at first, in the late 80s someone figured out that they could sell Top Gun on VHSs cheaply, if they found a sponsor for it. So, they did (Pepsi) and everyone realized that maybe this new income stream is a good thing, so they started to sell them at lower prices. (Yes, this is the reason Top Gun is still so widely known.) So, it’s likely that the people behind the movie had seen Taxi Driver a bunch of times. Despite being an over 20 year old movie at the time, Taxi Driver might very well have been a part of their vocabulary. I mean, my memory of how this worked was that the video stores didn’t necessarily have much of a variety, so it’s possible that you would rent the same movie over and over again.

Anyhow, Kassovitz, the director of La haine, was born in 1967. His whole experience of movies would have been very different from Godard. Kassovitz would have have access to a TV as well, so movies weren’t just a treat anymore. They were accessible on a whole new level.

However, that’s still pretty far from what we have today. In my childhood, in the 80s, we would get a few movies in primetime as well as classic movies in the afternoons during the weekends. Also, on the weekends, we would often get to rent movies. Then came cable channels, which would provide movies, DVDs exploded in popularity in the early 2000s, and finally the Internet was on the level that movies could be easily streamed. Sure, there had been piracy before that, but despite the hysteria around it, it was never on the scale that it mattered in the big picture.

So, comparing what I had as a kid, as well as the big name directors of today, who are often more or less from my generation, the availability of movies is hundred-fold better. How will that affect our view of movies? Does this new generation go back and rewatch movies or are they constantly finding new things to watch? Do they even watch movies, when there are other options available? Can you even sit through a two hour film, if you are used to watching content 60 seconds at a time? RedLetterMedia even joked about Quibi maybe having being ahead of it’s time.

The way you consume a form of art will surely affect how you produce that form of art. I wouldn’t be worried about the people, who only watch 60 second content, because they won’t be the filmmakers of tomorrow. I’m not worried about massive franchises either. We’ve already seen that they can falter and we have also seen that imaginative and interesting movies will always be around and there will always be an audience for them.

Think Everything Everywhere All at Once, Zone of Interest, Flux Gourmet, Polite Society, and so forth. There’s so, so many movies worth watching coming out all the time and they are finding audiences as well. Just last weekend Monkey Man came out. It wasn’t an immediate hit, but considering the very small budget, it did relatively well. You can argue that it’s just John Wick, but you would be wrong. Sure, it has some of that DNA, but its also a very different take on the genre.

And there’s nothing wrong with art evolving. Art should serve the needs of the people instead the other way around, so I don’t mind this kind of development as long as those outside voices get their chance to make their own art. With technology making filmmaking more accessible to everyone (see Tangerine for an example of a movie shot on an iPhone), I don’t see that going away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.