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Some words, as inadequate as words always are.
It’s raining today, harder than it has in weeks. My words will be inadequate, as words always are. Nevertheless, I’ll go on. To say nothing at all would be unbearable.
Filmmaking is arguably the most logistically complex and financially demanding artform yet devised. It’s an exhausting process full of uncertainty and frustration, where the completion of one project rarely comes with the guarantee of the chance to make another. Such was, no doubt, especially the case for as uncommercial and uncompromising an artist as Jean-Luc Godard. He enjoyed the great advantage, of course, of beginning his career in the right place at the right time, which afforded him opportunities that are unimaginable today. Even granting this, however, it remains remarkable that he was able to continue producing a near-constant stream of features, shorts, miniseries, video installations, etc, almost continuously for more than 50 years, always unmistakably his own, even as it constantly transformed itself, rarely with any concern for “profitability.” More than anything else, I think, it’s this sheer tenacity in continuing not only to create, but to push himself, to interrogate his own work, his own beliefs, his own process, long after even the sternest critic would have granted him the right to rest on his laurels, that explains why, even now, everyone else is still playing catch-up with him.
The point is this: if you cared about Godard and his vision, why are you not doing the same thing? Do you think you’re not good enough? Let me makes a statement, bold on its surface but not one I think the man himself would take issue with: Godard was not a great artist. Not in the way Mozart, or Titian, or Sophocles were. Not even in the way Griffith was, I suspect! But the thing is, artists such as those were not what the 20th century called for. They existed in it, yes, and they produced great works, yes, but history will remember Godard longer, because he did not speak in a dead language, and he did not hide his face from the world. Poetry makes the world worth fighting for, but it hasn’t changed anything for a very long time. Godard, with cruder means and cruder hands than any that came before, really did. In the time when images began to change the shape of the world, he changed the shape of images. With his death, I think, we can be sure the time of masterpieces is over, at least for the future foreseeable. The Fabelmans, now, seems even more certain to be the last of its breed. The task at hand in the 21st century is to try to find your way through the dark forest of history however you can, and to fail, and fail, and fail again, and to keep trying, and to catch the rays of moonlight that, on occasion, will pierce the tangled branches above you. So again: why are you not doing this? Anyone can, so long as they have not resigned themselves to learning how to die. Don’t just nod and tell me you’ve been thinking about it. If there is any singular lesson to be drawn from Godard’s life and his work, it’s that thought is not enough. Not while the bombs are still falling. I’m not saying make a movie; I never have, and I’ve never particularly wanted to. I’m saying make something; commit to it, see it through, take your lessons from it, find a way to continue. Look at the world, learn how it works, trick it into letting you try to change it: that is the task of the artist, the philosopher, the activist today, and it is a task with a moral dimension, because at this moment we are in the depths of a long, dark night. We don’t know when the dawn will come. Maybe it won’t at all. But this is all the more reason to keep the lanterns burning, lest we lose our sight, lose what we have gained, and forget that there is anything out there to win. Godard was one of our most stubborn lantern-keepers, but he’s gone now. Were his efforts in vain?
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