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After finishing his film Weekend in 1967, Jean-Luc Godard shifted gears to embark on engaging more directly with the radical political movements of the era, and thus create a new kind of film, or, as he eventually put it: new ideas distributed in a new way. This new method in part involved collaborating with the precocious young critic and journalist, Jean-Pierre Gorin. Both as a two-person unit, and as part of the loose collective known as the Groupe Dziga Vertov (named after the early 20th-century Russian filmmaker and theoretician), Godard & Gorin would realize some political possibilities for the practice of cinema and craft new frameworks for investigating the relationships between image and sound, spectator and subject, cinema and society. (From Arrow’s official description)

Disc 1


Un film comme les autres

(English: A Film Like Any Other, 1968)
An analysis of the social upheaval of May 1968 made in the immediate wake of the workers and students protests. The picture consists of two parts – each with identical image tracks and differing narration. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Un film comme les autres shoves unsuspecting viewers right into the deep end of left-wing philosophy with its unique contrast of sound and image. As the synopsis indicates, it is effectively the same movie shown twice with different dialogue. The first challenge is the footage itself, separated from the sound. Godard/Gorin cut between stock, black & white images of the protests/riots and placid colour shots of students and workers sitting in high grass – their faces mostly obscured by framing/camera angles/foliage – discussing the pros and cons of the event. The dialogue (or what we assume is their dialogue) is mixed with other narrated sources, such as news reports (the overlapping creates issues for the subtitle translation, which doesn’t differentiate between the speaking sources). The repetitive imagery and impressionistic wording is such that I assume some audiences didn’t even notice they were watching the same footage twice.

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

British Sounds

(aka: See You at Mao, 1969)
An examination of the daily routine at a British auto factory assembly line, set against class-conflict and the Communist Manifesto. Co-directed/written with Jean-Henri Roger. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Similar to Un film comme les autres, British Sounds is more streamlined, running under 52 minutes, and a more easily absorbed & understood marriage of imagery and narration. As we watch the busy-work of car construction and other proletariat vocations, the Manifesto’s language (spoken in English, because the film was originally made for British television) is given a mundane, yet pointed and understandable context that both conveys the message and works in a purely artistic framework. Other sequences include feminist additions to the Manifesto set against a nude woman wandering between rooms, a child repeating statements from the Manifesto over images a labour union meeting, and stale, black & white footage of a man reading anti-Communist/pro-war/anti-minority proclamations, and a bloody hand grasping a red flag juxtaposed beneath revolutionary songs.

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

Disc 2


Le vent d'est

(English: Wind from the East, 1970)
A loosely conceived leftist-western that moves through a series of practical and analytical passages (Godard called it an organization of shots). Co-directed with Gérard Martin. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Le vent d'est begins with the impression that it will be more plot-driven than the other four films, but quickly matches the structural and stylistic ideals of the other movies. Further political theory, discussion of cinema’s role in the revolution, descriptions of historical events, and official instructions are combined with roughly defined, often abstract tableaus. An actress has make-up delicately applied to her face, while an actor smears his face with handfuls of oil paint. A film crew argues about the legacy of Joseph Stalin. A woman is strangled and berated as she’s spattered with stage blood. A man struggles to play a recorder while acknowledging the value of self-criticism. The film ends with a primer on manufacturing homemade weapons/explosives. Italian actor Gian Maria Volontè appears as an armed, antagonistic Union soldier. His participation is relevant, due to his outspoken leftist stance and, I assume, is meant to recall his roles in popular left-wing spaghetti westerns.

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

Lotte in Italia

(English: Struggles in Italy, 1971)
Not necessarily a film about the struggles in Italy largely shot, in fact, in Godard and Anne Wiazemsky’s home at the time this is a discursive reflection on a young Italian woman’s shift from political theory to political practice and, at the same time, a self-questioning of its own practice and theories. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Perhaps the most distilled of the series, Lotte in Italia is confined to documentarian shots of actress Cristiana Tullio-Altan (along with Godard’s wife, actress Anne Wiazemsky) reading leftist literature and writing/discussing her thoughts with friends. It has the same type of overlapping dialogue/images heard/seen from the other films (as it carries on, footage of machinists at work is blended into the domestic scenes); though, this time, the narration is sometimes French translations of the Italian dialogue. Also note that there are no subtitles for the Italian-only sections, signifying that Godard was perhaps not interested in translating everything for his French-speaking audience.

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

Disc 3


Vladimir et Rosa

(English: Vladimir and Rosa, 1971)
A searing and satirical comic-reportage on the trial of the Chicago Eight, featuring Juliet Berto, Godard, and Gorin themselves. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

The final movie in the set is at once the most impressionistic and firmly focused of the series. It also has a subversive energy I found lacking in the other films – from the mania and absurdity of some of the reenactments, to the furiously quick editing style and use of rock music. It is probably too absurd and surreal to act as a real primer on the events of the 1968 trial, which followed a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention (and is often known as the trial of the Chicago Seven), but it is successful as a verbose political indictment, largely due to its exploitation of (then) relevant events. Ultimately, Vladimir et Rosa is a strong and entertaining counterpart to the wearisome discussions of Un film comme les autres.

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

 Jean-Luc Godard + Jean-Pierre Gorin: Five Films, 1968-1971

Video


Arrow’s advertising tells us that these films have long been out of circulation, aside from bootleg videos. Cursory research leads me to believe that there have been no official DVD versions available in any country and no English-friendly VHS/Beta version has ever been made. This alone makes this collection something special for Godard fans or really anyone with an interest in political filmmaking. Gaumont Film Company was responsible for remastering the footage from the original 16mm elements and each film is presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. None of the transfers are triple-A, demo-worthy stuff, but that is only because the footage was never meant to look spectacular. Most scenes were shot on the fly with source lighting or taken from older stock footage, which leads to soft edges and some washed-out hues (outside of the most vivid reds). In addition, the gritty 16mm film stock only allows so much detail. That said, Gaumont’s sources are shockingly clean for ‘lost’ movies of this age. The print damage is minimal (beside the considerable, deliberate damage done to Le vent d'est), compression artefacts are practically nonexistent, and the grain structure appears accurate based on the 16mm stock size.

Audio


Each film is presented with its original language tracks (French, Italian, English, or sometimes a mix of the three) and uncompressed LPCM audio. There’s little in terms of aural breadth throughout each movie, but their experimental nature does lead to layering effects that could easily have led to distortion on compressed tracks. Un film comme les autres and Le vent d'est, for instance mixes and matches dialogue of varying clarity, yet the material is clean enough to differentiate everything. British Sounds is occasionally overwhelmed by, well, the sounds of British autowork, but, again, there’s a relative cleanliness to the otherwise flat track.

Extras


Disc One:
  • A conversation with JLG (2:08:21, SD) – An extensive interview with Jean-Luc Godard from 2010, conducted by Dominique Maillet and Pierre-Henri Gibert. The director discusses his career, his philosophy, his inspirations, his contemporaries, and more.

Disc Two:
  • Advertisement for Schick After-Shave, directed by Godard in the style of the movies in the series. (00:59, HD)Disc Three:[list]
  • Michael Witt on Godard, Gorin, and the Dziga Vertov Group (1:30:19, HD) – A nine-part interview with the author of Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian (2014). Witt frames the politicization of Godard, the real-world events and art that inspired his ‘political counter-cinema,’ his meeting with Gorin, and the development of Dziga Vertov, while also delving into each film in the collection, one by one, including incomplete projects Godard worked on and abandoned between the core productions. This is an invaluable discussion that helps to expand a first-time viewer’s (like myself) understanding of these particularly challenging movies. Witt’s commentary simplifies the concepts without speaking down to his audience.


* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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