Arrow Academy has released a five-film box set of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin films from 1968 to 1971 on Blu-ray. These are on a 3 Blu-ray/3 DVD combo box set with an illustrated booklet. Should Godard + Gorin be in your movie collection? Read on to find out!
Jean-Luc Godard is a French-Swiss film maker and probably is most known for his contributions to the French New Wave movement with films like Breathless. Much has been written about this movement and I’m not going to go into depth here but these films expressed different viewpoints typically drenched in irony, sarcasm, and contained ample film references. This movement also pushed jump cuts into the common film vocabulary. The films were usually shot with a low budget, sometimes in the homes and yards of the film maker and used friends as crew and cast.
Godard might be the most recognizable director from that movement, and the techniques of the movement are still felt in film today. Being experimental in film of course means that the movies will not be relatable or enjoyable for everyone. Godard developed a bit of a reputation for having a disdain for his audience since his films were seen as direct and shocking. Directors such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Brian De Palma and Jim Jarmusch have noted his influence in their films and their study of the art.
Jean-Pierre Gorin is a critic and professor that eventually went on to direct and produce films of his own. He was considered a radical leftist and with Godard created the Dziga Vertov Group in 1968 for politically active filmmakers. After a few brief years active the group dissolved and Godard and Gorin parted ways. This box set from Arrow includes a large chunk of the material released during that time.
Included in this box set are five films on Blu-ray and DVD, all originally shot in 16mm, that serve as reminders of Godard and Gorin’s political project.
The Films – Disc One: Un Film Comme Les Autres aka A Film Like Any Other
I wasn’t alive during the 60’s and I don’t remember the 70’s as I was a toddler but apparently during that time there were radical ideals and the youth of the day fighting against ‘the Man’ that was keeping them down. Seeing the modern political climate and social justice it would seem, at least on the surface, that not very much has changed. Godard tries to tap into this developing trend in all his movies in this box set.
A Film Like Any Other shows a controversy between students and workers at a Renault factory. Apparently during political uprisings in the late 60’s a student died on site and this film is showing the re-percussive clash that extended from that news. Not being French or alive during that time period I was only made aware of this background information during the special features that explained what was going on.
The film doesn’t really seem to have a script and is more like a loose documentary. It’s focus goes back and forth among the workers and the students who are discussing Communism and Marxisms (and probably other isms but I’m not a political major). There is footage from the Paris riots of 1968 interspersed with images of people talking in a field. The film concentrates around body language and voice rather than faces during the field interview sections. I would say this isn’t a particularly easy movie to sit through, not because it’s dark and disturbing, but because it’s filled with so much disjointed, overlapping dialogue and it will test the patience and interest level of some viewers.
The Films Disc One: British Sounds, aka: See You at Mao
British Sounds (with the word “images” scratched out) focuses on texts being read over long-form shots, almost a deconstruction of montages. The first 10 minutes is a tracking shot on a Ford factory floor while the Communist Manifesto is read. The film itself is only 54 minutes in its entirety so expect more themes along the same lines. It combines popular music, political texts, and feminist theories over the top of different visuals to perhaps show some sort of battle between images and words.
I think some viewers will find this mode of concept telling to be brilliant, subversive and relevant. Others will find it self absorbed, pseudo-intellectual and out of touch. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it as a whole. It has the subtlety of a bulldozer. I don’t even really find it that radical but I do go down some dark holes on internet video. I guess when I think about philosophically rich material from the 60’s my mind is more aligned with more poetically graceful films whereas Godard almost seems punk in comparison. However that might endear his message to many people, so I can’t fault him for telling it in his own way.
The text seems pretty straight forward to me, the images are literal and spelled out. If you are paying attention you get the point of the film right away and probably could have simply been a short subject. But perhaps there is a reason people know Godard’s name and not mine. Perhaps all he wanted was people to talk about what he was saying or showing and therefore it’s a valuable film for that reason alone. Of course Godard himself stopped making films with this group so maybe he too realized there wasn’t much more to say. I guess the viewer will just have to come to their own conclusions, and that’s the beauty of art.
Disc One Special Features:
A Conversation with Jean-Luc Godard (2 hours 8 minutes) A fantastically interesting collage of stitched together interviews basically covering Godard’s entire career. A must for anyone in love with the director or those who are interested in cinema in general.
The Films – Disc Two: Vent d’est aka Wind from the East
A somewhat surrealist deconstruction of the realities of a workers strike. Rather than being made as an entertaining story with relatable characters, Godard produces an almost clockwork-like analysis of the moving parts in a strike. You have the workers themselves and their reasons for the work stoppage, you have students that support and encourage the strikers. On the other side, you have the union who is looking to claim the situation and compromise without giving up too much, the heads of the company who need the work to get going again with the least amount of loss and the police state that will suppress the needs of the individual for the greater monetary benefit.
In some aspects I feel that these films (especially since I am watching them so close together) are more interesting to study as concepts rather than their actual execution. They are fairly disjointed, sometimes seemingly too deep for a viewer without direct knowledge of what is going on and then in other ways it spends way too much time setting up something that is painfully obvious and basic. At times, it feels like a student trying to come to grips with how they see the world. It’s a necessary step for them personally but not always very interesting to an outsider.
The Films – Disc Two: Lotte in Italia / Luttes en Italie aka Struggles in Italy
A young woman named Paola (Cristiana Tulio-Altan) has fallen prey to the bourgeois ideology. I swear that’s a real sentence used to describe the plot of this movie. Once again we have little vignettes that eventually lead us to where the story is heading. If you guessed that its a story about a working class person who eventually sees the benefit of revolutionary ideas, then you my friend are way smarter than the script writers thought you would be.
For some reason, Godard thinks it’s fun to have dialog overlap each other which is a nightmare for subtitle readers. I mean I probably wouldn’t be happy with it even if I could speak French just because I like to concentrate on individuals rather than a cascading sound of voices drowning each other out, but perhaps I’m weird to want to hear what’s in a film. There are static shots of black or red blocks of color that at first make you think there was a problem with the disc but oh no it’s just the wily ole Godard subverting the expectations of cinema!
Disc Two Special Features:
Schick Aftershave Advertisement (1 minute) So in a box set preaching against capitalism we have a mass-marketed commercial for shaving? I wish there was a documentary explaining how this doesn’t destroy every point brought up during his years of radical film making. I guess political art film doesn’t pay the bills.
The Films Disc Three: Vladimir et Rosa aka Vladimir and Rosa
Following the 1968 Democratic National Convention, there were protests and eventual arrests and trial in Chicago. This is an interpretation from Godard and Gorin of those events mixed with the French Revolution. Its a mix of politics and a court room to be as provocative as possible.
Once again I can’t imagine the film has aged incredibly well with the information here mostly of interest to historians of a very limited time period. But fans of Godard probably want to see where his styling and conceptual thought process grew from and they might be enthralled by the film. The film is too cartoonish to be studied for a realistic take on the subject however. It’s almost sliding into the “so bad it’s entertaining” type of film for me. This is probably the most enjoyable film in the whole set but that’s honestly not saying much as it seems like the intent is to get a message across. Perhaps both Godard and Gorin realize that they are running out of steam. This would soon be the case since they’d part ways not long after this.
Disc Three Special Features:
Michael Witt on Godard, Gorin and the Dziga Vertov Group – One and a half hour overview of the group and what the aims of this film movement were. The films talked in this set are on different chapters so it’s easy to watch as you go if you prefer to get more information about what you just watched. Again, this is pretty essential viewing for those wanting more information and a welcome special feature.
Godard + Gorin Five Films 1968 – 1971 Final Thoughts:
Godard’s message is sort of all over the place in this box set. Especially considering the films contained within seem to be more for educational or political means than for entertainment. From watching the whole set I feel that Godard thought a bit too much of his own intelligence and viewpoint and didn’t have the ability or means to quite pull off what he seemingly wanted. Of course that’s only my opinion and my own viewpoint may be the one that is completely off. Godard may just be one of those directors you either think is brilliant or full of himself.
If you are a fan of Godard I think specifically the two longer special features are very insightful as to the movement as a whole and Godard’s way of filming. Having close to 4 hours of additional background information is really nice in a box set like this. Considering these films were previously only available in poor transfers it’s nice to have an Arrow set that treats them well. Low budget 16mm features can only dream of being presented this nicely. I only wish I loved the films as much as I love Arrow’s hard work on them.
Godard completionists will want to run right out and get this box set as soon as possible. If you have high interest in the film maker I don’t know that I’d start with these specific films but they could make for a nice addition to a collection or a talking piece among friends. With the price point and subject matter I would only encourage a blind buy if you find a really good deal and are really interested in this style of film. If you decide you want to purchase the set it is available now from Amazon or other fine retailers.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.