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Jean-Luc Godard on what his honorary Oscar means to him: 'Nothing'

Honorary_Oscar The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Awards on Saturday night offered up lots of nostalgia and heartfelt sentiment, which is probably why Jean-Luc Godard didn't bother to show up to accept his honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. It's hard to imagine a filmmaker who has loathed nostalgia and sentiment more than the refreshingly blunt and famously cranky French filmmaker, who needless to say has been roundly ignored by the academy until now. As you've probably heard, Godard has been the focus of controversy in the weeks leading up to the Governors Awards for his alleged anti-Semitism.

Having read a lot of what Godard has had to say on the issues, I'd be comfortable calling him pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel, but it's hard to find any decisive evidence of clear-cut anti-Semitism. Godard is against so many things that it's often difficult to know when he's being a bigot and when he's just being a contrarian. But this much is clear: Even though the academy and Godard kept sending cordial greetings to each other, Godard had utterly no interest in his honorary Oscar.

He finally gave a serious interview last week, which has now been translated into English, that offered his reaction to the whole academy imbroglio, along with some wonderfully tart Godardian quips. Let's start with the lifetime achievement award. Asked what the award means to him, Godard replies: "Nothing. I think it's strange. I asked myself: Which of my films have they seen? Do they actually know my films? The award is called the Governors Award. Does that mean that Schwarzenegger gives me the award?"

As Godard sees it, he earned the award for his early work as a critic, not as a filmmaker. As he put it: "Maybe it is a late acknowledgement that I -- like Lafayette in the American War of Independence, in the uprising against the English -- supported the beginning of the revolution. In the 1950s, when I was a critic for Cahiers du Cinema, we loved independent films. We discovered that directors like Hitchcock, Welles and Hawks fought for artistic independence within the big studio machinery. After the war, we praised this -- back then, a sacrilege for French film criticism. They sniffed at directors like Hitchcock and said: He's just making commercial films."

As for the issue of anti-Semitism, Godard is as provocative as ever. He volunteers a traditional explanation for why Jews have always been overly represented in Hollywood, alluding to the quota system in early 20th century America, arguing that Jews "were neither authorized to be bankers or doctors, nor lawyers nor professors. That's why they concentrated on something new: cinema." 

Just when you're nodding your head in agreement, thinking Godard is making a fair historical point, he goes on to add: "The Jews also came to an arrangement with the Mafia quite quickly. But if you say this, immediately you are accused of being an anti-Semite, even though this is not true. People don't see the images -- one should have a closer look at the people who founded Las Vegas."

It's classic Godard. After all, as anyone who's ever seen "Bugsy" could tell you, Las Vegas was largely the brainchild of an alliance between Jewish and Italian mobsters, looking for an unregulated oasis where they could sell the romance of gambling and make tons of money. It just sounds a lot less romantic the way Godard says it. Maybe that's why he remains the cinema's leading enfant terrible -- in movie after movie, we've mythologized the whole idea of Las Vegas, while Godard insists on reminding us of the unsettling truth behind its origins.  

Photo: Eli Wallach, right, with director Francis Ford Coppola and film historian Kevin Brownlow, left, at the conclusion of the Governors Awards ceremony. Credit: Fred Prouser / Reuters


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It's quite a stretch to say that there was an alliance of Jews with the Mafia simply because Bugsy, a single Jew, was part of the founding of Las Vegas. It's certainly not logical, and itself borders on anti-semitism. Bugsy was murdered before Las Vegas became the success it was to become. I guess, according to your logic, this means that the "arrangement" between Jews and the Mafia fell apart . . .

OK, but will he show?? And what might he say if he finds a Jew in the room?

Very true, he earned the award for being a critic.

What does this guy have to say or do to convince you he is an anti-semite? He compares the Jews (not a small group of Jews) but all the Jews to the Mafia (a small criminal cadre of Italians). If any of this stuff was said regarding a group of African-Americans I am sure you would not be as liberal with your acceptance. Give Godard a couple of cognacs and I am sure he would be spitting enough virulent mutterings about the Jews to make Mel Gibson's head spin. It's enough already. Stop supporting this anti-semite. I am sorry that your film hero is an anti-semite. So many of his intellectual fans are tying themselves in knots trying to fit this square bigot into their round liberal hole so they can sleep at night. If Woody Allen had said anything even remotely detrimental about African-Americans they would burn his building to the ground. And rightfully so. But the Jews? Ha. Fair game, apparently.
In his film "Here and There" Godard alternates images of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir with images of Adolph Hitler. Provocative? He has called his own producer, "a dirty jew." Bad boy? He has famously said, "Jews call you when they hear a cash register opening." French being French?
An anti-semite?
Why would any reasonable person think that?


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