Godard and Gorin's left politics, 1967-1972

by Julia Lesage

from Jump Cut, no. 28, April 1983, pp. 51-58
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1983, 2005

To consider an artist's politics, especially a didactic artist's, raises key issues about aesthetics. To evaluate Jean-Luc Godard's politics in his explicitly left political films of 1967-72, we should ask what principles he applied to his work, why he did so, and what the historical context of those films was. These issues are important to consider critically because the artistic strategies which Godard then developed have since widely influenced other radical filmmakers worldwide. Furthermore, the events in France in May 1968 influenced many artists and intellectuals, who, like Godard, turned with a renewed interest to the aesthetic concepts of Bertolt Brecht.

Godard's political evolution was gradual. Aesthetically, he used Brechtian techniques in an anti-illusionist way for social comment and critique years before he turned to the left. In his public persona as a lionized artist, in the mid-sixties, he first lived out the role of the alienated genius making pure cinema. Then he denounced the film industry and attacked French society from a leftist position in interviews and in his films. And when he put explicitly political issues into cinematic form, this led in turn to a drastic decline in how the public would accept his works.

Godard stated that the May 68 civil rebellion in France had a decisive effect on him, an effect clearly seen in his films. In addition, his post-68 films referred to the French far-left "Maoist" milieu. Often the films' subject matter dealt with very topical political issues. The films also raised many theoretical issues. Yet they always treated their political subject matter with formal innovation. To criticize the political perspective of Godard's films from 1967-72, the critic must enter the dialogue on Marxist and modernist grounds. Godard's films of that period demanded both a specifically political response and a politically-oriented aesthetic response as they strove to present social and political issues in a "non-bourgeois" film from.

Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, his co-worker of those years, frequently gave tongue-in-cheek interviews. These interviews reflected aesthetic positions and referred to-political events, but incompletely or unsatisfyingly. However, Godard and Gorin made their 1967-72 films, such as LE GAI SAVOIR, VENT D'EST, PRAVDA, and LETTER TO JANE, as "essays," essays about political issues and about radical film aesthetics. They provide more complete statements of Godard and Gorin's political concerns than does any interview, but they offer that information in a non-linear, witty, and distanciated way. As I discuss here the political ideas found in the 1967-72 films, I have often had to separate these ideas out from their filmic presentation. Of necessity here, I have flattened and simplified political concepts. They must finally be reconsidered within the artistic complexity of each film as a whole. (1)


Godard stated that the first time he deliberately tried to make a, "political” film was in 1966 with MASCULIN-FÉMININ. (2) Somber cinematography, contemporary Paris as seen by its youth, male adolescent idealism, conversation after conversation carried oh in interview form — these elements in the film made critics call it a sociological "document.” (3) Godard did not give the characters in MASCULIN-FÉMININ much overt political sophistication, yet critics noted how much these adolescents talked about Marx. The film also continued Godard's protest against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which he had started in PIERROT LE FOU and continued in successive films.

Then in 1966 Godard openly criticized the film industry and denounced the way capitalist financing and ideological expectations shaped films. He made MASCULIN-FÉMININ, he said, to reject a cinema of "spectacle." That kind of film had come to Europe through Hollywood but was also found in the USSR. (4) Furthermore, under French law, scriptwriters and directors did not have professional respect. Regulations that began during the Vichy regime still controlled them. They had to get legal authorizations to make films, get licensed as directors and technicians, and follow strict procedures for film financing. Aware of how the film and television industries conveyed bourgeois ideology, Godard had no illusions about commercial cinema's being influenced by any kind of workers' movement. He saw people as universally conditioned to traditional ideas about cinema. He said even those workers who knew how to go on strike for higher salaries would still reject the films that could help them the most.

For many years Godard railed against the commercial system that required directors to make "clowns" of themselves. He hated having to produce a script for inspection in order to finance feature films. In 1966, Godard called himself both a sniper against the system and a prisoner within it: these two roles seemed part of the same thing. (5) Later he said that he had escaped from a stultifying bourgeois family into the world of pure cinema. But he found after a few years as director that the commercial production-distribution process had trapped him within an equally stultifying but larger bourgeois family. With LE GAI SAVOIR he partially dropped out of this route for making films. Certainly his films after WEEKEND did not reach people in commercial theaters. Yet in 1972, after returning to big-budget feature film production with TOUT VA BIEN, Godard and Gorin denied that they had ever been able to leave the system. They noted that the Dziga-Vertov Group films and the ones made by Godard himself in the 1968-72 period had been financed primarily by national television networks and by Grove Press. (6)

After breaking his partnership with Gorin, Godard turned to one of his other great loves, television. In 1974 he set up, with his new co-director Anne-Marie Miéville, an experimental TV and video studio in Grenoble. As early as 1966 he had told interviewers that his greatest dream was to direct news programs in television. He also described the two wide-screen color films he was making then, MADE IN USA and DEUX OU TROIS CHOSES, as actualités, or news reports:

"All my films derive from intimate connections with the country's situation, from news documents, perhaps treated in a particular way, but functioning in relation to contemporary reality."(7)

Godard thought of making a new program as a fabricated event, often fictional, that the social reality behind surface appearances. In this he always remained very close to Bertolt Brecht's concept of realism and to the Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov's concept of news. Godard developed this concept of "the news" long before coining the name "Dziga Vertov Group." In 1967 LA CHINOISE presented "news" of Vietnam in a little Brechtian skit. This skit followed a political discussion the characters had had about the best form for cinematic newsreels. Guillaume, a self-professed "Brechtian" actor, said he had heard a lecture by Cinémathèque director Henri Langlois proving that the film pioneer Lumière had filmed exactly the same things Picasso, Renoir and Manet were painting then: railroad stations, public places, people playing cards, people leaving factories, and tramways. Thus Lumière seemed like one of the last great Impressionists, like Proust. But Méliès, Guillaume said, filmed fantasies which revealed actual social and technological possibilities. For example, Mé1is filmed the trip to the moon:

"Well, he made newscasts. Maybe the manner in which he did it made them reconstituted newscasts, but it was really news. And I'll go even further: I'll say that Méliès was Brechtian." (8)

At this point the group launched into a short analysis of why Méliès was Brechtian. They drew their analysis from Mao's On Contradiction. Mao said Marxism depended on concrete analysis. To analyze a situation, one had to see things as complex, determined by many factors. People had to trace out and analyze the many contradictions in things and phenomena and to study problems under their different aspects, not just under one main one. The characters proclaimed that Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin had taught them conscientiously to study situations, starting from objective reality and not from personal, subjective desire. (9)

Such political-aesthetic lessons seemed to reflect Godard's own views. Also in LA CHINOISE, Godard had the characters eliminate writers' names from a blackboard until only Brecht's name was left. Yet even though Godard had defined himself as a "left-wing anarchist" then, (10) in many ways LA CHINOISE scoffed at its idealist revolutionaries. In 1967 Godard still romantically strove to capture an instant — an instant of decision, yes, but not yet showing social mechanisms capable of being specifically changed. In his work from 1967-1972, he came to examine left revolution, although since then he has not always continued in the same vein.


LOIN DE VIETNAM significantly brought together French directors to work collectively to create a political film. These same directors would mobilize their forces to react with mass demonstrations against Cinémathèque director Henri Langois' firing in early 1968. The Langlois affair provided a rallying point for French intellectuals, especially in the way that it brought to light their intense dissatisfaction with the strict control the Gaullist government maintained over cultural and intellectual affairs. In February 1968, the Administrative Council of the Cinémathèque, under pressure from the CNC (Centre nationale du cinéma) and with the agreement of Minister of Culture André Malraux, summarily decided not to renew Langlois' contract as artistic and administrative director of the Cinéthèque Française. After massive protests in the press, Malraux relented and offered Langlois the position of artistic administrator only, which meant that he could collect films but not program their showing. Since the Cinémathèque was the only place to show many radical films, almost all French filmmakers found Malraux's compromise gesture unacceptable. They rejected it as fascist.

Godard led the protests against the government. He called press conferences with other filmmakers in which he expressed his total dissatisfaction with the Gaullist system of cultural control. He demonstrated that the government controlled almost all commercial film production through the ORTF and CNC, but that now the CNC wanted to extend its control to the independent showings of films, often radical ones, in the ciné clubs and the Cinémathèque. (11)

France saw a quick and overwhelming reaction against Langois' firing. On February 14, 1968, Godard led 3,000 demonstrators against the police guarding the Cinémathèque. He was slightly wounded. Immediately forty French directors forbade the Cinémathèque to show their films. Many continued to work with Godard and to get other filmmakers and filmmakers' heirs to refuse to let their films be shown at the Cinémathèque unless Langlois was reinstated with full powers. The rapidity with which the street protests took place, the government's total misunderstanding of the French intellectual climate, and the breaking down of factions among intellectuals to arrive at a consensus about the need for united action — all of these factors made the Langlois affair prefigure May's university protests.

During the civil rebellion in May-June 1968, filmmakers joined with dissatisfied radio and television workers to form a communication workers' organization: the États Généraux du Cinéma. Godard's main participation in the États Généraux was to interrupt and close down the 1968 Cannes film festival. On May 16 Godard met at Cannes with the Committee for the Defense of the Cinémathèque. Presumably they had originally planned to use the festival to push the Langlois affair a step further, but at their meeting Godard convinced his fellow filmmakers to occupy the largest festival screening room to close it down. They did this on May 18. Many of the cineastes gathered at Cannes were already questioning such a festival's very function at that point in French history. Judges withdrew from the jury; directors withdrew their films. The radicals had effectively shut the festival down.


Godard was profoundly affected, as were many French intellectuals, by the May-June civil rebellion in 1968. Europe, especially France, had seen the embourgeoisment of the parliamentary left and thus the decline of an effective left opposition to capitalism. But the May '68 events in France revived a previously muted revolutionary consciousness and demonstrated the students' potentially key role as a dynamic radical force. Later, after the civil rebellion, Marxist theoreticians turned once again to examine French society to examine capitalism's weaknesses — to see where the contradictions could be aggravated, where the revolution might occur. Political authors Henri Lefèbvre, André Gorz, Louis Althusser, and Godard's friend, André Glucksmann described conditions leading up to the May civil rebellion. They saw it in terms of such factors as the proletarization of the white collar working forces, conditions causing student dissatisfaction with higher education, ever-increasing corporate reliance on the mass media to create consensus and increase consumption, and a greater role which bourgeois ideological dominance played in controlling class conflict and in reproducing capitalist production relations. (12)

Not only students but workers played a leading role in the 1968 revolt. Rebelling in the work force were young technicians, highly skilled but with no decision-making power, and also young unskilled workers, who were underpaid and performed boring, repetitive tasks. The striking workers consistently raised qualitative demands rather than just quantitative wage demands. Correspondingly, life-style issues, the politics of daily life, and workers' control (described by Godard as the "dictatorship of the proletariat") became key issues in Godard's films from 1968 on.

In France, the largest and strongest leftwing organization is the Communist Party (the PCF), which controls the largest labor union (the CGT, Confédération génèral du travail). The PCF has a whole mechanism for diffusing its ideas, and it controls a certain stable percentage of the vote in each election. In France, it seems conservative to many radicals, since its goals of material progress reflect those of the middle class and its parliamentary role has never been revolutionary. In the 68 revolt, the PCF turned the tide against the demonstrators by cooperating with the government.

A widespread critique of the Communist Party followed in the wake of the 1968 uprisings. Rejection of the PCF characterized all of the "Maoist" groups in France, who turned to the Chinese Cultural Revolution as a model for political and social theory and practice. Godard, following this general trend, criticized in his films from 1968 on, especially in PRAVDA and VENT D'EST, Communist failures to be truly revolutionary, both in France and in other European countries.

It was in such an atmosphere that Godard committed himself to working as Marxist filmmaker. From 1968 to 1973, he stated repeatedly that he was working collectively. He was never tied to a party or a Maoist group, although the politics evidenced in his films seem loosely "Maoist." For about three years he drastically reduced the technical complexity and expense of his filming, lab work, compositions, and sound mix. Partly he wanted to demonstrate that anyone could and should make films. He did not concern himself with creating a parallel distribution circuit. He said most political films were badly made, so the contemporary political filmmakers had a twofold task. They had to find new connections, new relations between sound and image. And they should use film as a blackboard on which to write analyses of socio-economic situations. Godard rejected films, especially political ones, based on feeling. People, he said, had to be led to analyze their place in history. At this point, especially from about 1968-70, Godard defined himself as a worker in films.

Only during the Langlois affair and at the Cannes 68 festival did Godard take an activist role in organizing political protests. During May 68 and since then he defined his political tasks almost exclusively as aesthetic ones. As in LOIN DE VIETNAM, making films politically meant for Godard and Gorin finding the best combination of sounds and images for "revolutionary" films. For four years Godard took his separation from Establishment cinema and its mode of production and distribution seriously. He did not return to big budget filmmaking until TOUT VA BIEN in 1972. However, from 1968 on, for Godard "making films politically" remained mainly a formal concern. (13)

In early June 68, Godard filmed UN FILM COMME LES AUTRS. The sound track consisted of an uninterrupted political conversation among three Nanterre students and two workers from the Renault-Flins plant. In the cinematography of the discussion at Nanterre, Godard filmed hands, legs, bodies in the grass or close ups of someone listening. It was often hard to tell who was speaking or to understand the political references. By refusing to show faces talking, once again Godard contested a television interview style, which accustomed viewers to hearing people speak but not to consider the act of listening. Intercut among that footage was newsreel-type, black-and-white footage of the May events themselves, which the group was talking about in retrospect. On the one hand, Godard strove to register the historical forces of that moment. On the other, he made an interminably long film, seemingly lacking in political analysis, and very much influenced by the spontanéisme of the rebellion. (14)

During the tumultuous days of Paris street action, Godard along with other filmmakers made unsigned three-minute ciné-tracts. The tracts' anonymity served to abolish the famous-director cult and to protect the maker. Many ciné-tracts showed shots of political graffiti or the action on the barricades. Predictably Godard's stood out aesthetically. Sometimes he just inscribed, a political pun such as LA RÉVOLUTION/L'ART ÉVOLUTION on a black frame. As Godard described the procedure,

"Take a photo and statement by Lenin or Che, divide the sentence into ten parts, one word per image, then add the photo that corresponds to the meaning either with or against it." (15)

In collected form, the ciné-tracts were to be shown in July 1968, but by then the government could effectively censor their public exhibition.


In the mid-60s Jean-Pierre Gorin belonged to a political group, the UJCML (Union de Jeunesses communistes — Marxistes-léninistes). This was one of the two principal Maoist or Marxist-Leninist organizations in France before May-June 1968, when the government outlawed both. This group and the PCMLF (Parti Communiste Marxiste-léniniste de France) came about as part of organizational splits from the French Communist Party, especially among its student wing, over the Stalin question and the Sino-Soviet split in 1962-63. Both groups rejected the PCF's overthrow of Stalin's "cult of the personality." They defended much in Stalin's theoretical writings and political practice. Both groups saw in the Chinese Cultural Revolution a fundamental way to fight western Communist Parties' failure to commit themselves to revolution (revisionism) and their concentration on purely economic gains for the working class (economism).

Sorbonne professor Louis Althusser had a student following within the PCF's youth group (the UEC). In April 1966, that youth group published a brochure attacking the French Communist Party Central Committee's "Resolution" on culture and ideology. The students protested that the Party wanted to turn Marxism into a humanism, for the PCF had spoken generally in the "Resolution of the "vaste mouvement créateur de l'esprit humaine." To cite from the UEC brochure:

"For Marxist-Leninists, there can only be a politics of culture; they can't defend culture abstractly … Culture can be a specific, direct form of the class struggle … It [popular culture] isn't wedded to a theme that's been decreed "popular"; as Lenin said, the workers don't want literature written for workers … Culture takes on a different meaning when the party has not yet assumed power from when it's already leading the construction of socialism … There isn't a humankind, but rather capital, a working class, a peasantry, and intellectuals. Therefore, stop talking about the past: talk about French intellectuals in the new conditions of our epoch … Remember what Lenin said: spontaneously, intellectuals take on the dominant ideology as their own. What is this ideology? Under the circumstances, monopolistic. And so that state, which-belongs to the monopolies, is large, and there's place for the intellectuals in its administration, within the administrative councils." (16)

I cite this document at length because it foreshadowed Godard's decisions — to film outside the "cultural monopolies" and to fight certain forms of artistic representation in ideological "preparation" for revolution. The first official document of the UJCML was published in the Cahiers Marxistes-léninistes in early 1967. Jean-Pierre Gorin was probably on the journal's staff then. (17) In the UJCML's statement we can see prefigured the way Godard consistently defined himself from 1968-72 as an intellectual revolutionary, admittedly bourgeois in origins and lifestyle but tied to the working class in their ideological and political struggle toward socialism. The UJCML used as its model the way the Red Guard student groups took a leadership role in the Chinese Communist Party, and the way that those groups strove to apply Marxist theory to change society.

In its statement of principles, the UJCML did not emphasize forming a far-left party. Rather it had these goals:

  1. to struggle against bourgeois ideology, particularly in the forms of pacifism, humanism, and spirituality;
  2. to create a "red" university which would serve advanced workers and all revolutionary elements;
  3. to contribute to the anti-imperialist struggles already being waged by French youth and unqualifiedly to support North Vietnam until victory; and
  4. to form revolutionary intellectuals who would ally themselves with workers and to create alternative organizations to that end.

This platform of the UJCML, I think, makes it clear why in the late 60s Godard and Gorin would often find themselves closer to the American New Left than to other groups in France committed to factory work and party building. More than did the other Maoist group, the PCMLF, the UJCML analyzed the university as "a repressive apparatus in the hands of the bourgeoisie, an apparatus that should be smashed and not improved." (18) And the UJCML asserted the importance of encouraging political youth groups such as black nationalists, women's liberation, or national liberation fronts to develop autonomously. In France, they argued, these groups should not be coerced to submit to the central direction of any new far-left party. Godard and Gorin's effort to make a film about the U.S. New Left, VLADIMIR AND ROSA, illustrated a kind of analysis drawn from the UJCML.

Godard and Gorin interpreted the principle of "going to the masses" according to the model of the Red Guard in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. That is, Godard and Gorin felt they had to offer political activists a theoretical discussion about film's ideological dimensions, especially political film's. Although Godard and Gorin asserted that revolution did not come from the ideological sphere and that the proletariat was the revolutionary force, nevertheless, they felt they could do their work outside the structure of any political organization or party.

In the years immediately following the 1968 rebellion, Godard stated that he was working collectively. He directed LE GAI SAVOIR, ONE PLUS ONE, and BRITISH SOUNDS by himself. But in 1969 he worked loosely with other people, especially in the formative stages of planning and even shooting a film. He usually edited these "collective" projects himself. In March 1969, Godard went with Jean-Henri Roger and Paul Burron to Czechoslovakia where they clandestinely filmed the images that Godard would use later in PRAVDA. According to Gérard Leblanc in an article in VH 101, where Leblanc analyzed the political positions of the Dziga Vertov Group represented in VENT D'EST, the "line" that dominated PRAVDA was "spontanéiste-dogmatique." That is to say, although the filmmakers constructed PRAVDA around a critique of Communist Party revisionism, they filmed images "spontaneously" as snatches of reality, in what Godard would call a candid-camera style and repudiate in aesthetic and political terms. Jean-Pierre Gorin did not seem to be part of the group at the time of the filming of PRAVDA.

In June 1969, Godard gathered together in Italy the major participants from last year's student-worker uprising, including the student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Godard had financed this film on the grounds that these famous students would make an Italian western about the 1968 French events. (In fact, he gave about half the money to radical student causes.) This group followed an ultra-democratic procedure, debating everything, so they filmed LUTTE EN ITALIE. According to Gorin, at that point Godard summoned him from Paris to Italy. (19) As Gorin described it, "The two Marxists really willing to do the film took power," and they finished the film. (20) Gérard Leblanc described the political struggle after Gorin's arrival for control of VENT D'EST as follows: The ex-militant of the UJCML (Gorin) and the part of the group that took a conciliatory position (Godard?) defeated the "spontanéiste-dogmatique" line that had dominated PRAVDA (Roger). And the ex-militant of UJCML had a theoretical line which would, Leblanc said, totally dominate the later making of LUTTES EN ITALIE. (21)

According to Gorin, he edited VENT D'EST and, following that, Godard edited PRAVDA. (22) Since they structured both films by voice-over commentaries added after the shooting, the two men had complete control over the images' interpretation, no matter what the original intent was when these images were shot. Upon seeing both completed films and noting their similarity, Godard and Gorin realized that Godard's role as the single creative "genius" (genius being a commodity that sells directors) had, as they wished, really been broken down.

"We realized that even if people were looking at them as Jean-Luc's films, they were not Jean-Luc's films. So we decided to raise the Dziga-Vertov flag at that time, and even to recuperate some of the things Jean-Luc had made alone during the discussions we had — like SEE YOU AT THE MAO (U.S. release title for BRITISH SOUNDS) and PRAVDA … Working as a group for us had always been the two of us working together … [It is] a good means to cope with the traditional ideology of group filmmaking, collective filmmaking-which was a real crap hanging around after May 68 among the moviemakers. Everybody was going to get collective … and nothing came out of it. And this was a good way to cope with it because Jean-Luc had the idea of making a collective film (VENT D'EST) … Even two people working together dialectically is a step forward … The bad thing is that we've never been able to extend ourselves."(23)

It seems that Godard and Gorin periodically revised their own political filmmaking history for presentation to the public. In the December 1970 issue of Cinéma 70, an interview with Godard bore the title, "Le Groupe Dziga Vertov. Jean-Luc Godard parle au nomme de ses camarades du groupe: Jean-Pierre Gorin, Gérard Martain, Nathalie Billard, et Armand Marco." That list significantly leaves out the names of Roger and Burron, of PRAVDA, nor does it include that of Anne Wiazemsky, whom Godard married in 1968 and who appeared in many of his films from 1967-72 (Godard often put in her mouth his own radical words to say). Armand Marco would act as Godard's cameraperson from 1968 through TOUT VA BIEN in 1972. Yet in TOUT VA BIEN the film's credits no longer claimed Marco as an equal in Godard and Gorin's collective enterprise.


What did it mean for Godard and Gorin to make "political films politically"? Godard had reacted to May 68, which demanded a response from French intellectuals. He also reacted against his own past role as an apolitical filmmaker hailed as a creative genius. The Dziga Vertov Group films quote Mao Tse Tung's command to artists at the Yenan Forum in 1942: to "struggle on two fronts," i.e., to present revolutionary political content and to perfect artistic form. This dictum had a profound normative influence not only on the Dziga Vertov Group but also on many French Maoist writers and cultural critics, such as those in Tel Quel, Cinéthique, and Cahiers du cinéma (briefly after 1972).(24)

Yet the relation between "cultural revolution" and the potential for socialist revolution in an advanced capitalist country such as France was not clear. Marx and Lenin did not tackle the problem, nor did Mao, from whom the model for cultural revolution originally came. Obviously film in and of itself did not make revolution, but new Marxist revolutionary theory had to take into account mass media and their role in cultural control.

For Godard, reacting against what he had labeled in MADE IN U.S.A. the "sentimentality" of the left, following Mao meant to make films with an expressly political content in a revolutionary form. In the content of these films from 1967 on, Godard tried to articulate the relations between contemporary history, ideology, aesthetics, and mass media, and the potential for revolution or its authenticity (in the case of Russia and Czechoslovakia). Although Mao's advice to artists concerned only artistic quality and not Brechtian or modernist innovations in form, for Godard and Gorin the struggle on two fronts came to mean two things: (1) to fight the bourgeoisie and "its ally, revisionism" (25) and (2) to critique political errors within a new leftist cinematic form.

The political and aesthetic ideas Godard raised in the political films from LE GAI SAVOIR on delineate his theoretical concerns. Yet those films often presented ideas as slogans or in some other distanciated way. Godard never handed the audience a completely worked out political theory or program of action. Audiences had to work with the concepts presented to create their own political syntheses. In many cases, only by disagreeing with one or more of the specific political points that Godard and Gorin raised, could the audience enact what the makers had hoped their films would achieve. The films' ideas were to be considered, erased, and amended dialectically in comparison with the audience's own political experience.


In the late 60s and early 70s while on tour in the U.S., Godard frequently indicated the degree to which his post-68 films depended on Brechtian principles.

"A movie is not reality, it is only a reflection. Bourgeois filmmakers focus on the reflection of reality. We are concerned with the reality of that reflection." (26)

Yet as Godard and Gorin collaborated on making political films, it was Gorin who strove to bring out the films' explicitly Brechtian element. In a 1972 interview, Gorin indicated that Godard had read mainly Brecht's poetry and writings on the theater, in French. In particular, they both had spent four years reading and discussing Me-Ti. This was Brecht's uncompleted book of aphorisms and personal and political anecdotes written while in exile in Denmark and Finland. When I met Godard briefly in April 1973, while on tour in the United States, both he and Gorin reaffirmed this book's importance for then. When I pressed to know why, Godard replied that it showed the need for a cultural revolution. He said that he had borrowed from Brecht in the early 60s, just as he had borrowed many things in his films, and that he had begun to read Brecht's theories during his explicitly political filmmaking period.

Both Godard and Gorin paradoxically admitted that they had primarily an aesthetic interest in Brecht, especially as they explored the political implications of cinematic form. In 1972 with TOUT VA BIEN, Godard and Gorin had drawn away from their previous notion of distanciation, which they had expressed in the 1969 Dziga Vertov Group films with unemotional, albeit dryly witty, filmmaking. When I asked Gorin what it meant for them to say they were making political films politically, he said that they meant this in a Brechtian sense — in terms of film form. Godard's television co-productions with Anne-Marie Miéville also reflected many of the same "Brechtian" considerations which Godard had explored intensively in the Dziga Vertov Group years.

Since Bertolt Brecht's prose fiction, Me-Ti, provided the basis for the sound track of both PRAVDA and VLADIMIR AND ROSA, at this point I shall detail how Godard used that text. In Me-Ti, Brecht presented short anecdotes, usually one or two pages long, related by some character with a Chinese name. Brecht drew the anecdotes' content partly from the ancient writings of Mo-zu (translated as Me-Ti in German) and also from contemporary politics, Brecht's personal life, and the Russian revolution. The entries in Me-Ti were both didactic and witty. The characters with Chinese names referred in code to Marx, Lenin, Engels, Stalin, Plekhanov, Luxemburg, Korsch, Trotsky, Hitler, Hegel, Brecht, Feuchtwanger, Anatole France, and Brecht's lover from the time he was in exile in Denmark. According to Gorin, what Godard liked about the book was the way characters with code names discussed politics and history in parables and short anecdotes.

In PRAVDA Godard and Gorin introduced the characters Vladimir and Rosa (Lenin and Luxemburg) who talked to each other in voice off, giving didactic lessons in long speeches. VLADIMIR AND ROSA applied the same concept in a more rambling way. In PRAVDA Godard borrowed content from Me-Ti directly. Furthermore, he used the book's conceptual principle to structure his film. To discuss potential relations between Czech workers and farmers, Godard cited an anecdote directly from Brecht's work about how Lenin handled a problem between blacksmiths making expensive steel plows (who symbolize the industrial proletariat) and independent small-scale farmers.

Godard also drew on Brecht's critique of Stalin in Me-Ti. The references to Stalin in Me-Ti, taken together, were complex and ambiguous. Toward the beginning of the book, Brecht referred favorably to Stalin's role in Russian history, but he critiqued Stalin scathingly in later pages. Brecht made no effort to reconcile the opposing attitudes toward Stalin represented by his different anecdotes. At one point in the novel, Brecht had his fictional philosopher Me-Ti attack Stalin in exactly the same way PRAVDA attacked contemporary Czech socialism. In this incident, Me-Ti said:

"The farmers were fighting with the workers. At first they were living under a democracy but as the quarrel grew more intense, the state apparatus disassociated itself entirely from the workforce and took on a regressive form. Ni-en [Stalin] became, for the farmers, a kind of emperor, whereas in the eyes of the workers he remained an administrator. But when a class struggle developed among the workers, they too saw in Ni-en an emperor."

Kin-je [Brecht] asked: "Could we call that Ni-en's fault?"

Me-Ti said: "That he made national labor planning an economic rather than a political issue — that was an error."(27)

While Godard and Gorin utilized Brecht's critique of Stalinism they, along with other French Maoists, would not deny Stalin's role in building Russian communism. Neither did Brecht in Me-Ti. In splitting from the French Communist Party, French Maoists emphasized the significance of Stalin's writings and his political practice in building Russia's dictatorship of the proletariat. A section of PRAVDA was entitled "La Dictature du Prolétariat.” This section stressed the need for democracy among the proletariat, the model being the role of Red Guard youth agitating in the universities and among the people in China. As the sound track in PRAVDA stated,

"Without a large popular democracy, the dictatorship of the proletariat won't be able to consolidate itself. In all domains, the proletariat ought to exercise control over the bourgeoisie … Tightly maintain the dictatorship of the proletariat and create the conditions for the passage to communism."(28)

Godard and Gorin manipulated the same concerns dialectically in PRAVDA as Brecht did in Me-Ti. Brecht and Godard and Gorin recognized the need to build and teach political theory. However, they insisted that intellectuals had to go to the people to discover what needed to be taught and that intellectuals needed new forms for effectively expressing their ideas. Among the people in Eastern Europe, workers had lost the right of democratic participation in and control over their own socialist governments. Regaining that control could only happen politically (thus the appeal of the Chinese Cultural Revolution to Godard and Bonn in PRAVDA). Me-Ti was subtitled Buch der Wendungen (Book of Changes). And in the book, Brecht offered not only extensive discussions of dialectics itself (Me-Ti called dialectical materialism Die Grosse Methode; in effect, dialectics are the Wendungen.). One short section which illustrates the title of Brecht's book could apply equally well to Godard's PRAVDA:

"'About Changes.' Mien-leh [Lenin] taught this: The institution of democracy can lead to the institution of a dictatorship. The institution of a dictatorship can lead to democracy."

In addition to influencing the structure and themes of PRAVDA and VLADIMIR AND ROSA, Me-Ti also provided TOUT VA BIEN's basic theme — that the individual must consider her/himself in historical terms. Fonda and Montand portrayed characters who had to learn that their "personal" situation also encompassed their work and their particular historical position. At one time, as news reporter Fonda tried to imagine fully the striking workers' experience of oppression, the image track showed her and Montand doing the meat packers' demeaning jobs. The protagonists saw themselves — in the third person, so to speak — imagining themselves in someone else's place. Similarly, Me-Ti had a section entitled, "On Looking at Oneself Historically." In this section, the philosopher Me-Ti asked that individuals observe themselves historically, just like social classes and large human groupings, and so to comport themselves historically. Life lived like matter for a biography takes on a certain weight and can make history.

In interviews Godard and Gorin stated specifically that they considered their goals and techniques in making TOUT VA BIEN Brechtian. In a long interview in Le Monde, Gorin stated clearly the film's debt to Brechtian theory:

"Q: Now, this film, with producers, with stars, what are its politics?"

"A: It's a realist film, but it's neither critical realism nor socialist realism (a bourgeois value and a bourgeoisified value). We've gone into a new type of realism, closer to Brechtian theory."

"First of all, it doesn't mask the real conditions of its production. That's the thesis of the first part of the film. It describes from the onset its economic and ideological reality, the weight given to the fiction, its function, and its actors. Because it's a question of constructing a fiction that'll always permit its own analysis and that will lead the spectator back into reality, the reality from which the film itself has come." (29)


Earlier in 1968 with films such as LE GAI SAVOIR, ONE PLUS ONE, and UN FILM COMME LES AUTRES, Godard considered opening up and deconstructing narrative film form as his primary political task. Under Godard's influence and in keeping with the general literary and philosophical trend then in France represented by Jacques Derrida, the nouveau roman, the Theater of the Absurd, and the Brecht revolution, leftist film magazines heralded "deconstructed" films, particularly the Dziga Vertov Group films, for their discontinuity, which was now seen to have a revolutionary political and ideological significance.

However, in discussing the cinematic structure and politics of Godard's post-67 work, it is all too easy to bandy about terms such as "Brechtian," "deconstructed," or "modernist" in an overgeneralized — and thus critically useless — way. Because Godard and Gorin implanted specific references in their films to political and aesthetic theory, it is important to know what concepts of ideology they were working with at that time. The way they framed their discussion of ideology relates specifically to their concerns with education, their attitude toward the 68 civil rebellion, and to more general attitudes in France about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The theoretical and aesthetic concepts worked out in these films referred specifically to Godard and Gorin's political milieu and must be understood in those terms.


Certain political positions taken in LE GAI SAVOIR, made in 1967-68, significantly disappear in the films made in 1969. In that film Godard approved of New Left politics, offered a Marcusian type analysis of cultural repression, and referred to Situationist Guy Debord's tract La Société du spectacle. (30) The Maoist group that Gorin had belonged to politically disapproved of spontaneous uprisings against repression. (Such uprisings were sparked and led by other political groups agitating in the universities in 1968.)

The 1969 Dziga Vertov Group films offered a persistent critique of spontaneous demonstrations and short-term political planning. Why there was such an emphasis placed on these problems in late 60s France has to be understood in terms of leftwing French politics as a whole. In 1945 after WW2, during the Algerian crisis, and in the 1968 student-worker general strike, the radical left felt it had almost enough power to bring off a socialist revolution. In each case, the subsequent left-critique was that both theory and strategy had been insufficient, leaving the left fragmented and easily co-opted. With a long history of socialism in France and a postwar history of near-successes, the French left could conceivably think it possible to construct a powerful radical organization which would aim at seizing power. Since May 68 the far left has not been able to agree whether or not spontaneous demonstrations and strikes effectively can test the trade union bureaucracy and the economic status quo, or whether or not they help build a revolutionary movement in France.

In the 1968 films, Godard and Gorin considered spontanéisme as both a political and aesthetic tactic, and they rejected it on both grounds. Aesthetically Godard and Gorin expressed contempt for a naturalistic or cinema verité style in which the politics seemingly resided on the surface of events. Directors following such a style, even though politically motivated, just filmed what happened." In contrast, just as one had to build a revolutionary theory, so Godard and Gorin wanted to build adequate images, usually very simple ones, to "make political films politically."

It is important to raise this issue of spontanéisme in reference to Godard's political development, because his films from 1968 on offered drastically different approaches to the subject. Sometimes his 68-72 films celebrated acting out of feeling and emotion and attending to the present moment. Other times those films rejected feeling and emotion while embracing political analysis. LE GAI SAVOIR, ONE PLUS ONE, UN FILM COMME LES AUTRES, and particularly BRITISH SOUNDS and VLADIMIR AND ROSA had sections that celebrated both feeling and spontaneous political action. Yet spontaneous action was directly critiqued in PRAVDA, VENT D'EST, and LUTTES EN ITALIE, and implicitly critiqued in TOUT VA BIEN and LETTER TO JANE. TOUT VA BIEN treated objectively, and even sympathetically, the spontaneous militancy among the workers of the Gauche Prolétarienne (a Maoist group) and the voluntaristic "guerrilla" actions carried out by a group of students raiding a supermarket. The film presented these as two of the major sources of struggle in France since 1968. At this point Godard and Bonn did not criticize spontanéisme as heavily as they did in 1969, but they were basically asking French intellectuals this question: "1968-1972: Where are you now?"

(Continued on page 2)