Course Description

There has never been another filmmaker like Jean-Luc Godard. Most film lovers know that his first feature-length film, Breathless, introduced the jump cut to film editing, along with a willingness to let his story’s seams show. With its playful allusions to genre films and love in particular for American movies, Breathless, was key to kickstarting an appreciation of the power and art of our own films. But how many people know that after introducing the effects of the jump cut Godard almost never used it again? Instead, in films that he produced at a dizzying rate (he released three one year) from 1960 to 1968, he introduced new ideas and new techniques in each, and each looked both like a film made by him and somehow also astonishingly different.  For all those years “Godardian” was a byword for the leading edge of filmmaking, and each new film revealed raw, often gorgeous, sometimes startlingly (sometimes exasperatingly) original ways to make images and tell (and untell) stories. Now, after more than a half century of filmmaking – and he is still active, most recently making films in 3D -- he has made enough masterpieces that the worldwide poll conducted in 2012 by Sight and Sound magazine ended with five of his films among the top 50, two made after 1968 when Godard declared cinema to have come to an end and his own filmmaking to have concluded. (He started again in 1975 and has since written and directed more than 25 films.) A few of the mind-blowing works we will study in this class are Breathless: My Life to Live, Contempt, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville, A Married Woman, Pierre the Fool, Weekend, Passion, In Praise of Love


Colin McCabe, Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy.  (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.) Referred to in the syllabus as McCabe.

Class Schedule

Watch films in advance of the class when we will discuss them. Films are available on DVD or Blu-Ray or from streaming sources such as Netflix or Hulu+. It would be a terrible shame to watch any of these films on low-resolution vehicles such as youtube:  similar to watching Lawrence of Arabia (or Birdman, for that matter) on a flip phone.

Week 1

All The Boys Like Patrick (in class), Two in the Wave (in class). Breathless (1960). Texts from Cahiers du cinema. Read McCabe: Chapters 1-2.

Week 2

Breathless (1960) Hulu+ |  Amazon rental| iTunes). Selected scenes from The Rules of the Game and Angel Face. McCabe: Chapter 3, through pages on Breathless. A Woman is a Woman(Netflix DVD / iTunes / Amazon rental).  First presentation: sound + image. McCabe: Chapter 3, through pages on A Woman is a Woman.

Week 3

Vivre Sa Vie  (Hulu streaming). Presentation: Why is the philosopher Brice Parain in the film?  McCabe: Chapter 3, pp. 123-146. Vivre Sa Vie (1962). Presentation: why there is and isn’t a story in Vivre Sa Vie. Poe.

Week 4

Contempt (Netflix DVD /  iTunes /  Amazon rental). Presentation: story of The Odyssey? McCabe: 146-162. Presentation: quality and ‘thrown-away’

Week 5

Band of Outsiders (Netflix DVD). Presentation: What’s behind the ‘Madison’? McCabe: 162-178. A Married Woman (Netflix DVD) Presentation: how does the film marry politics and beauty?

Week 6

Alphaville (Netflix DVD/ iTunes / Amazon rental). Presentation: Paul Eluard’s poetry. Alphaville.  Presentation: Nineteent Eighty-Four.

Week 7

Pierrot le fou (Netflix DVD / Amazon rental). Presentations: Paintings, the Alphabet, Performance, Narrative?

Week 8

2 or 3 Things I Know of Her (1967) (Hulu streaming / Netflix DVD). Presentation: The Philosophy and Politics of Whispering. Is a film coherent without a plot?

Week 9

Sympathy for the Devil (1968) (Netflix DVD / iTunes / Amazon rental. Presentation: Behind the scenes. . . but how, why? 

Passion (1982). Presentation: European Painting, Images.

Week 10

Histoire du Cinema I (1988-98) (Netflix DVD / iTunes). Presentation: Repetition,  collage. 

In Praise of Love (2003) (Netflix DVD). zpresentation: what is a masterpiece? McCabe, 320-333.

Exam Week