In August, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it would be bestowing an honorary award upon Jean-Luc Godard. On the surface this makes perfect sense: more than anyone else, Godard is responsible for the French New Wave movement, one of the 20th century’s most enduring artistic movements — in film or elsewhere. If anyone deserves a golden statuette, it is certainly Jean-Luc Godard
But the auteur’s path to Oscar glory has hit a few speed bumps. First, Godard’s legendary hermetic habits made him impossible for anyone to locate at all. Then, once the academy’s flacks confirmed his existence, Godard decided against actually going to the Nov. 13 ceremony — a cocky pooh-poohing of the Academy and its Hollywood ways. (The honorary Oscars are presented in a insiders-only banquet separate from the official ceremony, which will take place in February). His long-time partner Anne-Marie Mieville responded to the reporters who tracked the couple down in remote Rolle, Switzerland thusly: “Would you go all that way for a bit of metal?” Burnt!
And now, The New York Times has a piece today about the several Jewish publications that have explored whether the accolade is acceptable given the apparent pro-Palestinian strains — which some say border on anti-Semitism — in Godard’s films. Both Forward and Jewish Journal have raised the question, and the article found film industry insiders who share the sentiment. Producer Mike Medavoy — whose mother and father fled the Holocaust by escaping to Shanghai — told The Times that he has no problem with the academy honoring Godard’s work, but is disapproving of what he calls the director’s “‘narrow mind’ when it comes to jews and the film business.”
The article also quotes from Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, the biography written by New Yorker film critic Richard Brody. Such citations, however, were not appreciated by the cinema scribe. At The Front Row, Brody’s blog on The New Yorker Web site, the critic and author took dead aim at the Times piece, which he claims misconstrued his book’s argument by taking pieces out of the larger context.
I’ve noted with dismay a meme burbling up in the press and online in the last few weeks, culminating in Michael Cieply’s piece in today’s Times, in which an extremely selective and narrow use is made of passages from my book, “Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard,” in which remarks of Godard’s that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic are used as fodder to question whether it’s fitting to award Godard an honorary Oscar.
The Times piece also mentioned that the academy has yet to find someone to present the award to the absent Godard. So, naturally, Brody threw his hat in the ring. “I’d consider it a privilege to hand Godard or his representative an award that is a mere slender symbol of what we all, in the world of the cinema, owe him, and that is so long overdue,” he said.
No word on whether Brody’s appeal has put him on the radar of those in charge of the Nov. 13 ceremony, but having the Jewish Godard expert be the man behind the podium may be the perfect way to ease the tension. Or perhaps it will simply ratchet it up? Either way, it would make for another entertaining curveball in the Godard honorary Oscar saga.