The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences may be regretting its decision to award Jean-Luc Godard, 79, an honorary Oscar on November 13. First, it seemed that the French-Swiss filmmaker indicated might not show up. Then he allowed that he might. Then he admitted that he couldn’t.
Now the always-controversial New Wave critic-turned-filmmaker–who has never hesitated to stir the pot in Europe–is provoking protest again, reports the NYT. I got a query from The Toronto Star asking about reaction to Godard’s anti-Semitism (here’s their story). I said that I hadn’t picked up on any negative response in Hollywood along those lines.
The Academy has a sizable Liberal, Jewish membership. And clearly Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rantings have not endeared him with Hollywood; he lost a job on The Hangover Part II because cast members didn’t want to work with him.
Industry folks respect and admire Godard as a hugely influential filmmaker/provocateur, as well they should. They mostly remember the brilliant films he made between his debut feature Breathless in 1960 and Le Gai Savoir in 1969 more than the many anti-bourgeois docs and films he made in the decades to follow, although many critics still take Godard seriously to this day. This past May, his film Film Socialism ignited mixed response in Cannes (here’s the respectful NYT and a pan from indieWIRE).
The LAT’s Patrick Goldstein called the Academy president Tom Sherak for a response:
“I support the Board of Governors,” he said. “They decided to give an honorary Oscar to Godard for his contributions to film during the early years of the French New Wave era. The academy has traditionally separated the art form from the honoree’s personal life.” I asked Sherak if he could be more specific. “We’ve given awards in the past to people like Roman Polanski and Elia Kazan whose personal lives were often far from perfect. They did objectionable things and we’ve been criticized for giving them awards. But that’s not what’s at issue here. We’ve always felt the art form outweighs the personal transgressions.”
The New Yorker critic Richard Brody knows Godard better than anyone–he wrote about his anti-Semitism in his book Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, and yet he still came to his defense this week in his blog, The Front Row:
These writers seem not to have read the book in its entirety. Had they done so, they would, I think, be unlikely to challenge the award. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Godard is also the filmmaker who, more than any other beside Claude Lanzmann, has approached the Holocaust with the greatest moral seriousness; in his films, he has treated it as the central political and even aesthetic crisis of the time and has argued, in films and in interviews, that the failure of the cinema to document the Holocaust in the hope of preventing it can even be described as the medium’s—and its artists’— definitive and irreparable failure. In such films as “Hélas pour moi” and “Eloge de l’amour,” Godard creates a cinema that is deeply infused with the spirit of Jewish thought, identity, tradition, and history. They are not unalloyed celebrations of Jews; they are profound artistic meditations on the intellectual and emotional connections between the complex heritage and the people who bear it.
UPDATE: THR’s Tim Appelo grabbed some more reaction.
Film Socialism trailer: