Censorship in Spain was, at the time, notorious for its petty formality, and since Viridiana’s original ending showed her knocking at her cousin’s door, entering, and the door closing slowly behind her, the board of censors rejected it out of hand. I had to invent a new one, which in the end was far more suggestive than the first because of its implications of a ménage à trois. In this second ending, Viridiana joins a card game being played between her cousin and his mistress. “I knew you’d end up playing tute with us," the cousin smiles.
In any case, the film created a considerable scandal in Spain, much like the one provoked by L’Age d’or; but, happily, the hue and cry absolved me in the eyes of my Republican friends in Mexico. Hostile articles appeared in L’Osservatore Romano, and although the film won the Golden Palm at Cannes, it was outlawed in Spain. The head of the cinema institute in Madrid, who’d gone to Cannes to accept the award, was forced into a premature retirement because of it. Finally, the affair created such a storm that Franco himself asked to see it, and according to what the Spanish producers told me, he found nothing very objectionable about it. After all, given what he’d seen in his lifetime, it must have seemed incredibly innocent to him, but he nonetheless refused to overturn his minister’s decision.
In Italy, the film opened first in Rome, where it was well received, and then in Milan, where the public prosecutor immediately closed the theatre, impounded the reels, and sued me in court, where I was condemned to a year in jail if I so much as set foot in the country.
The whole affair still amazes me. I remember when [Producer Gustavo] Alatriste saw the film for the first time and had nothing to say about it. He saw it again in Paris, then twice in Cannes, and again in Mexico City, after which he rushed up to me, his face wreathed in smiles.
"Luis!" he cried happily. “You’ve done it! It’s wonderful! Now I understand it all!"
I had, and still have, no idea what he was talking about. It all seemed so simple to me—what was there to understand?
On the other hand, when [Vittorio] de Sica saw it in Mexico City, he walked out horrified and depressed. Afterwards, he and my wife, Jeanne, went to have a drink, and he asked her if I was really that monstrous, and if I beat her when we made love.
"When there’s a spider that needs getting rid of," she replied, laughing, “he comes looking for me."
Chantal Akerman: You can see him excluding himself from the world in an almost autistic manner. For people like me, who started doing film because of him, it is a terrible fright. And the fact that the long evolution that Godard has been through can lead to this, almost brings me to despair. He was kind of a pioneer, an inventor who didn’t care much about anybody or anything. And that a man at this stage of his life isolates himself, should also be a lesson for us other film makers.
Woody Allen: I think he’s a brilliant innovator. I don’t always love every film he’s made. I think he’s very inventive, but sometimes his inventions are taken by other people and used better. But he’s certainly one of the innovators of cinema.
Paul Thomas Anderson: I love Godard in a very film school way. I can’t say that I’ve ever been emotionally attacked by him. Where I have been emotionally attacked by Truffaut.
Michelangelo Antonioni: Godard flings reality in our faces, and I’m struck by this. But never by Truffaut.
Ingmar Bergman: I’ve never been able to appreciate any of his films, nor even understand them. Truffaut and I used to meet on several occasions at film festivals. We had an instant understanding that extended to his films. But Godard: I find his films affected, intellectual, self-obsessed and, as cinema, without interest and frankly dull. Endless and tiresome. Godard is a desperate bore. I’ve always thought that he made films for critics. He made one here in Sweden, Masculin Féminin, so boring that my hair stood on end.
Luis Buñuel: I’ll give him two years more, he is just a fashion.
Jean-Luc Godard: I am not an auteur, well, not now anyway. We once believed we were auteurs but we weren’t. We had no idea, really. Film is over. It’s sad nobody is really exploring it. But what to do? And anyway, with mobile phones and everything, everyone is now an auteur.
Werner Herzog: Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film.
Fritz Lang: I like him a great deal: he is very honest, he loves the cinema, he is just as fanatical as I was. In fact, I think he tries to continue what we started one day, the day when we began making our first films. Only his approach is different. Not the spirit.
Roman Polanski: In fact the worst thing possible is to be absolutely certain about things. Hitler, for example, must have been convinced in the certainty of his ideas and that he was right. I don’t think he did anything without believing in it, otherwise he wouldn’t have done it to start with. And I think Jean-Luc Godard believes he makes good films, but maybe they aren’t that good.
Satyajit Ray: Godard especially opened up new ways of… making points, let us say. And he shook the foundations of film grammar in a very healthy sort of way, which is excellent.
Quentin Tarantino: To me, Godard did to movies what Bob Dylan did to music: they both revolutionized their forms.
François Truffaut: You’re nothing but a piece of shit on a pedestal. […] You fostered the myth, you accentuated that side of you that was mysterious, inaccessible and temperamental, all for the slavish admiration of those around you. You need to play a role and the role needs to be a prestigious one; I’ve always had the impression that real militants are like cleaning women, doing a thankless, daily but necessary job. But you, you’re the Ursula Andress of militancy, you make a brief appearance, just enough time for the cameras to flash, you make two or three duly startling remarks and then you disappear again, trailing clouds of self-serving mystery.
Orson Welles: He’s the definitive influence if not really the first film artist of this last decade, and his gifts as a director are enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker—and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin. But what’s so admirable about him is his marvelous contempt for the machinery of movies and even movies themselves—a kind of anarchistic, nihilistic contempt for the medium—which, when he’s at his best and most vigorous, is very exciting.
Wim Wenders: For me, discovering cinema was directly connected to his films. I was living in Paris at the time. When Made in USA opened, I went to the first show—it was around noon—and I sat there until midnight. I saw it six times in a row.
Buster Keaton’s College
by Luis Buñuel (from Cahiers d’Art, 1927)
Here’s Buster Keaton in his wonderful new movie, College. Asepsia. Disinfection. Freed from tradition, our eyes have been rejuvenated in the youthful and restrained world of Buster, a great specialist against sentimental infection of all kinds. The film was as beautiful as a bathroom; with a Hispano’s vitality. Buster will never seek to make us cry, because he knows facile tears are old hat. He’s not, though, the kind of clown who’ll make us howl with laughter. We never stop smiling for an instant, not at him, but at ourselves, with the smile of well-being and Olympian strength.
We will always prefer, in cinema, the monotonous mien of a Keaton to the infinitesimal one of a Jannings. Filmmakers abuse the latter, multiplying the slightest contraction of his facial muscles to the nth degree. Grief in Jannings is a prism with a hundred faces. This is why he’s capable of acting on a surface fifty meters wide and, if asked for “a bit more,” will contrive to show us that you could base a whole film on nothing other than his face, a film called Jannings’ Expression; or, The Permutations of M Wrinkles Raised to the Power of n².
In Buster Keaton’s case his expression is as unpretentious as a bottle’s, for instance; albeit that his aseptic soul pirouettes around the circular and unambiguous track of his pupils. But the bottle and Buster’s face have infinite points of view.
They are wheels that must accomplish their mission in the rhythmic and architectonic gearing of the film. Montage—film’s golden key—is what combines, comments on, and unifies all these elements. Is greater cinegraphic virtue attainable? The inferiority of the “antivirtuoso” Buster, when compared to Chaplin, has been argued for, turning this to the disadvantage of the former, something akin to a stigma, while the rest of us deem it a virtue that Keaton creates comedy through a direct harmony with the implements, situations, and other resources of filmmaking. Keaton is full of humanity, but streets ahead of a recent and increate humanity, of humanity à la mode, if you like.
Much is made of the technique of films like Metropolis and Napoléon. That of films like College is never referred to, and that’s because the latter is so indissolubly mixed with the other elements that it isn’t even noticed, just as when living in a house we remain unaware of the calculus of resistance of the materials that go to form it. Superfilms must serve to give lessons to technicians: those of Keaton to give lessons to reality itself, with or without the technique of reality.
The Jannings School: European school: sentimentalism, a bias toward art and literature, tradition, etc.: John Barrymore, Veidt, Mosjoukine, etc.…
The Keaton School: American School: vitality, photogenia, a lack of noxious culture and tradition: Monte Blue, Laura la Plante, Bebe Daniels, Tom Moore, Menjou, Harry Langdon, etc.…