From Publishers Weekly
Not quite a biography, nor a guide for newcomers, this reckoning of Franco-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard's still-evolving film and video oeuvre-encompassing Contempt, Alphaville, Week End, Tout Va Bien, King Lear, Histoire(s) du Cinma and more-is an annotated, episodic chronology, an approach reflecting Godard's own suspicion of narrative conventions. The former British Film Institute head of research, MacCabe has collaborated with Godard and has firsthand experience of Godard's methods, politics and aesthetics, as well as of the man himself. He begins with a somewhat awestruck accounting of several generations of Godard's patrician family, centered in French-speaking Switzerland (to which Godard returned in the early '70s and where he remains) and of the young Godard's eventual rebellion and break with them. MacCabe's account of the Nouvelle Vague's theoretical formation via the journal Cahiers du Cinema, which brought eventual directors Godard, Truffaut, Rivette, Rohmer and Chabrol under the ideological sway of critic Andre Bazin, is superb and worth the price of admission alone. MacCabe is terrific in giving concise shape to the political history of the 1960s, from which Godard's work then is inseparable. But finally, there's too much work for MacCabe to be able to account for it all, though he clearly outlines Godard's 30 years of collaboration with writer/editor/actress Anne-Marie Mieville (buttressed by a complete filmography by Sally Shafto), which has produced extraordinary experiments with video and sound. MacCabe ends with apocalyptic warnings about cinema's destruction (along with the world's), but the vein of elegiac, uncompromising resistance that pervades Godard's work is present here, as is its beauty. Illus.
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Much has been written about the films of Jean-Luc Godard, arguably the most innovative and influential director of his generation, but his life has been given short shrift. MacCabe's enthusiastic portrait makes considerable amends, though it is too opinionated and idiosyncratic to be totally satisfying as a biography. Although MacCabe is revealing about Godard's family and childhood, his evocative account of postwar Paris, where Godard met Truffaut, Rohmer, and the other cinephiles who launched the Nouvelle Vague, is the emotional centerpiece of the book. MacCabe worked with Godard on several films in the 1990s, and he treats both Godard's groundbreaking early '60s films (e.g., Breathless, Contempt) and the overtly political films that followed knowledgeably. More valuable is his appreciation of the infrequently screened films of the past two decades, which he finds as rewarding as the acclaimed early work, though he falters in doing full justice to Godard's dauntingly prolific output from this period. That this most iconoclastic director receives such quirky, perhaps overly partisan, biographical treatment seems quite fitting. Gordon Flagg
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