And what makes the film so emotionally and cinematically rich is the juxtaposition between Shepard and Wenders—the German with a fantastical pastiche obsession with Americana and the rough-tongued “rock and roll Jesus with a cowboy mouth” himself, whose words are engrained in the sprawling western landscape. The two have collaborated many times since, but this holds as by far their best work—creating something that speaks to the human condition so effortlessly in a way that few films have been able to. No one does melancholic American isolation like a misanthropic German.
There are films made to exist as box office results first, or as reviews first, or as expression of the author first. My films are meant to come to life in people’s heads. They are incomplete before, actually they are meant to be incomplete. I see them like open systems that need to be pulled together by somebody. That somebody is each and every spectator. In a way I think of films the same way I looked at stories in books, when I was little. I realized very early on that the story was not in the written words, but in the space between the lines. That’s where the real reading took place: In my imagination, and that happened in all the white between the letters and the lines. And when I started to see films, I approached them the same way. In fact those films allowed me to perceive them like that, they were asking me to dream myself into them. The classic American cinema has that same specific quality, and this is also the great tradition of European Cinema. I did not invent that “method.” It is an endangered process, though, these days. More and more films come as “wall to wall” entertainment. What you see (and hear!) is what you get. No more space between the frames, so to speak. No chance to sneak in with your imagination, to dream on and to project your innermost hopes or fears or desires into what you see and thereby pushing it further. You come out of the theatre and feel strangely empty. For two hours you were prevented from participating. You were obliged to “witness” instead. And that is the opposite to what you called my “method” which is in the true sense of the word “interactive.”
“If in our century, something sacred still existed, if there were something like a sacred treasure of the cinema, then for me that would have to be the work of the Japanese director Yasujirô Ozu… For me never before and never again since has the cinema been so close to its essence and its purpose: to present an image of man in our century, a usable, true and valid image in which he not only recognises himself, but from which, above all, he may learn about himself.”
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.
“When you look at the development of Rainer’s work between the late sixties and his death in the eighties, and the enormous leap it made in just 14 years, you realize what it might have led to in the 80s and 90s. I can’t imagine what sort of films he’d be making now, but the loss of all the films he didn’t get to make is unimaginable.”
“I met Rainer Werner again at the Oscars here in Los Angeles in 1980. An unexpected sight, with his bow tie and tuxedo and everything. I’d never seen him like that. It didn’t really suit him. He had heard that I had trouble with Coppola about my film. We were looking down at all this Hollywood hustle and bustle. He put his arm around my shoulder and said: “I know you’re having serious trouble. If you want me to beat Coppola up, just show me where he is.” And he would have. I did my best to keep him away from Coppola. I think he would have punched him right in the nose.” — Wim Wenders