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Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy Hardcover – January 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

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 Cin‚ma 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (January 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374163782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374163785
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,323,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By j on September 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
I'm a fan of Godard's work and really enjoyed this book. It is part biography and part history and tends to go off on tangents which make the book all the more strange and interesting. Towards the end it becomes more personal because of the experiences MacCabe had with Godard later on in his life. Although the form and construction of the book are not very tight, it does a nice job of weaving through the complex mosaic that is Godard's life. It has some really cool pictures too.
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Format: Hardcover
Once upon a time, Godard was the leading filmmaker in the world, and if he lost some of his stature after a run of didactic, neo-Rossellini and Maoist tracts in the 1970s, he never really wanted to be famous, just influential. MacCabe, who has written interesting books on Warhol and Nicolas Roeg, explicates the progression of a great artist from enfant terrible to a man most think has died. The chapter about Anna Karina is wonderful, and we get the impression that Karina remains for MacCabe one of the icons of femininity, whereas he is cool and respectful towards Anne-Marie (Godard's frequent collaborator) you get the feeling he's not turned on by her the way he is by Karina. Also, we see him being tremendously gallant I think, towards Jane Fonda, with whom Godard made a film TOUT VA BIEN and then after it failed, he turned on her with the vicious "cinema portrait" LETTER TO JANE, castigatig her for her vanity and her foolish liberalism. MacCabe delivers a reproof to Godard and Gorin that says it all.

I do agree that Godard has made too many films for any one critic to account for. It is not MacCabe's fault exactly, but he might have written two books, one on Godard's international career as auteur in the 1960s, and the other of the virtually unknown films. He makes you want to see them on the one hand, but on the other hand one realizes with a sinking heart, well, life's too short!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm taking a class on Godard. This is the required reading. (We have weekly articles but this book supplements those readings.) It's a very nice read. MacCabe kind of goes on tangents that don't relate to Godard sometimes, but overall it's a good book. (Still currently reading it.)
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Format: Hardcover
The author of this book writes aptly about the cultural and political contexts that frame the life of its protagonist and particularly well about Godard's experiences on or around May 1968. MacCabe shows himself as almost totally sympathetic (yet not completely uncritical) to a relatively unpleasant subject. Perhaps, Godard is too private for compassionate emanations, perhaps the priveleged scope of this work stretched only to the opus of the film maker and not beyond, but there seems to be very little evidence of the delightful emotions that mark most lives in the life of this subject. Will the brilliance of the films outshine the unkind specter of the living artist? MacCabe writes very well on the evolution of Godard's techniques and fascinations. Godard works autonomously, vigorously and in daring fashion from the beginning. There is no doubt that Godard is an innovator and a believer in his style and visions.
It's just that the creator of the films doesn't seem to be the sort of person who endures either the scrutiny of a biographer or the acquaintance of people who are not cinematic savants well at all. That surprise though is hardly grounds for the criticism of the book or its subject by one who stands wholly uninjured by both.
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By A Customer on July 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
For anyone who is only marginally curious about the vacillating fortunes of Jean-Luc Godard, which has dimmed to virtual darkness since the 1960s, Colin MacCabe's book Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy contains very little that is useful and a great deal that is both confusing and misleading. MacCabe is blessed with intimate knowledge both personally and professionally of Godard, and doesn't hesitate to demonstrate this. What he fails to demonstrate to this non-convert to Godard is precisely anything that might sway me from the conviction, cultivated over 30 years, that - at best - Godard was politically stupid, technically puerile and artistically bankrupt from beginning to end - an end which MacCabe is anxious to prove is as much the end of European culture as Dante's Divine Comedy was its beginning (he even cavils that this "is no exaggeration.").
Such admiration as this would be charming if it were to any degree justified. A little objective discrimination, presuming Mr MacCabe still believes in such things, would've been far more welcome. This book, however, is founded on the premise that Jean-Luc Godard (a co-founder of the French New Wave) is a film artist of unprecedented importance. That this premise is sheer flapdoodle tends to deflate most of the points Mr MacCabe attempts to make about Godard, or Film, or European culture for that matter.
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