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Godard, Woody Allen And Me

To mark the 50th anniversary of Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt, and on the occasion of a major retrospective of the director's work at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Film Department at the Cultural Services is delighted to present Godard & Me, a blog dedicated to the iconic French filmmaker. Throughout the fall, we will post thoughts and reflections on Godard and his work from film critics, scholars, students and fans.

The most literal elaboration of "Godard and me" took place in 1986, when Jean-Luc Godard asked me to act as the translator for his short film, now known as "Meeting Woody Allen."  We already knew each other, as I had translated for Godard at the Telluride Film Festival and interviewed him for THE NEW YORK TIMES.  He was aware that I taught his work at Yale as well as Columbia Universities, and was always kind with me.

The request came through our mutual friend Tom Luddy, who invited me to collaborate on this assignment that he proposed to the Cannes Film Festival, which had selected "Hannah and Her Sisters." Because the then-reclusive Woody Allen never traveled to talk about his work at the Cannes press conferences, they decided that a short interview film could be a good substitute, and that Godard was the man for the job.

"Meetin' WA"--a 26-minute documentary--was the result, aka "Meeting Woody Allen."

I arrived at the Park Avenue office, and--upon realizing that the two famous filmmakers were quite shy--tried to break the ice.  After a few minutes, Godard started asking intriguing questions in French, which I posed in English.  Although he probably understood Allen's replies, I often whispered a French translation to Godard.

The most memorable conversation was about which stage of the filmmaking process they liked best--writing, casting, shooting, or editing.  Woody Allen lamented that the further the filming went on, the more it diverged from his original vision.  "I never see a film of mine after I'm finished with it," he confessed to Godard.  "I feel so disappointed in them.  The wonderful part is getting the idea.  When you start a film, you have such grandiose aspirations. By the time you're in the editing room, you hope you find some way to just make it breathe."

The exact opposite approach was then articulated by Godard, who admitted that a complete screenplay was not as important to him as to his New York colleague.  He said he simply begins shooting, "and I wait as long as possible, hoping the idea of the film will arrive by the time it's finished."

In May of 1986, I was at the Cannes Film Festival, watching a monitor playing "Meetin' WA."  Among the journalists nearby, I heard one ask, "doesn't that woman's voice sound familiar?"  I smiled and said, "n'est-ce pas?".  About a minute later, he exclaimed, "Wait, isn't that your voice?"

I still smile when I recall being the intermediary between such cinematic masters as Woody Allen and Jean-Luc Godard.

About the author :

Annette Insdorf is Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University, and a Professor in the Graduate Film Division of the School of the Arts (for which she was Chair from 1990-95). Dr. Insdorf is the author of "Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski" (which has just been reissued by Northwestern University Press); "Francois Truffaut," a study of the French director's work; and the landmark study, "Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust." Her most recent book is "Philip Kaufman," which Leonard Maltin called "a thoughtful, scholarly study of one of America’s most underrated filmmakers." Her commentaries can be heard on many DVDs and she has interviewed over one hundred film celebrities in her popular "Reel Pieces" series at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y.

What's your Godard experience : Are you a big fan or an ardent detractor? Have you seen all of his movies? Do you feel like a young Brigitte Bardot in Contempt sometimes? Do you feel like all one needs to make a movie is “a girl and a gun”? Let the comment box gathers your Godard’s outpourings and share with us what makes him such a buzz.