Instead of Writing Criticism, I Make a Film

Jean-Luc Godard? Roger Ebert? Gene Siskel? Nancy O’Higgins? Apocryphal

Dear Quote Investigator: An influential film critic decided to become a filmmaker. Here are four versions of the explanation provided by the critic for this notable transformation:

(1) Instead of writing criticism, I make a film.

(2) The only way to criticize a movie is to make another movie.

(3) The best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie.

(4) If you mean to criticize a movie, make another movie.

These statements have all been attributed to French auteur Jean-Luc Godard. Did he deliver any of these remarks? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: During the 1950s Jean-Luc Godard penned critiques of films. In 1960 he released his first feature-length film titled “À bout de souffle” (“Breathless”). The journal “Cahiers du Cinéma” (“Cinema Notebooks”) published an issue dedicated to “Nouvelle Vague” (“New Wave“) cinema in 1962 which included an interview with Godard. Here is an excerpt in French followed by an English rendition. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1962 Décembre, Cahiers du Cinéma (Cinema Notebooks), Issue Theme: « Nouvelle Vague » (« New Wave »), Volume 23, Number 138, Jean-Luc Godard Interview, Start Page 20, Quote Page 21, Paris, France. (Verified with scans; accessed via the Internet Archive) [/ref]

En tant que critique, je me considérais déjà comme cinéaste. Aujourd’hui je me considère toujours comme critique, et, en un sens, je le suis plus encore qu’avant. Au lieu de faire une critique, je fais un film, quitte à y introduire la dimension critique. Je me considère comme un essayiste, je fais des essais en forme de romans ou des romans en forme d’essais : simplement, je les filme au lieu de les écrire. Si le cinéma devait disparaître, je me ferais une raison : je passerais à la télévision, et si la télévision devait disparaître, je reviendrais au papier et au crayon.

As a critic, I already considered myself a filmmaker. Today I still consider myself a critic, and in a way I am even more so than before. Instead of writing criticism, I make a film, even if it means introducing the critical dimension into it. I consider myself an essayist, I do essays in the form of novels or novels in the form of essays: I simply film them instead of writing them. If the cinema were to disappear, I would accept the change and switch to television, and if television were to disappear, I would return to paper and pencil.

Thus, the first statement mentioned within the inquiry above was employed by Jean-Luc Godard in French in 1962. The other three statements have each been attributed to Godard by Chicago film critic Roger Ebert starting in the 1970s. See the detailed citations presented further below.

QI conjectures that Ebert’s versions of Godard’s remark were derived directly or indirectly from the 1962 interview. Yet, it remains possible that Godard made a remark in French that closely matched one of Ebert’s instances which QI has not yet discovered. Future researchers may clarify the situation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In October 1971 Roger Ebert published a piece containing the following attribution to Godard:[ref] 1971 October 24, The Cincinnati Enquirer, ‘Directed By John Ford’ Interesting But Not Incisive by Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times), Quote Page 4G, Column 8, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

It was Godard who said the only way to criticize a movie is to make another movie.

In 1972 a collection of essays, reviews, manifestoes, and interviews by Jean-Luc Godard titled “Godard on Godard” appeared. The book reprinted the 1962 interview from “Cahiers du Cinéma”. Tom Milne performed the translation from French into English:[ref] 1986 (Republication of 1972 edition with a new forward), Godard on Godard by Jean-Luc Godard, Translated from the French Tom Milne, Edited by Jean Narboni and Tom Milne, Section: Marginal Notes While Filming: August 1959-August 1967, 93: Interview with Jean-Luc Godard, (Cahiers du Cinéma, December 1962), Quote Page 171, Da Capo Press: Subsidiary of Plenum Publishing Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]

As a critic, I thought of myself as a film-maker. Today I still think of myself as a critic, and in a sense I am, more than ever before. Instead of writing criticism, I make a film, but the critical dimension is subsumed. I think of myself as an essayist, producing essays in novel form or novels in essay form: only instead of writing, I film them. Were the cinema to disappear, I would simply accept the inevitable and turn to television; were television to disappear, I would revert to pencil and paper.

In May 1974 Roger Ebert once again credited a remark to Godard:[ref] 1974 May 11, The Atlanta Constitution, Eustache Film Comment On French ‘New Wave’ by Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times), Quote Page 24T, Column 1, Atlanta, Georgia. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

Godard, who (like all the new wave directors) began as a film critic, finally concluded that the only way to criticize a movie is to make another movie.

In August 1974 Ebert attributed a slightly different statement to Godard. The word “best” replaced the word “only”:[ref] 1974 August 5, The Evening Press, ‘Chinatown’ Much More Than a Caper by Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Quote Page 4B, Column 6, Binghamton, New York. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

Godard said that the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie.

In 1982 the “Chicago Tribune” of Illinois published a movie review by critic Gene Siskel containing the following passage:[ref] 1982 February 26, Chicago Tribune, Zanussi’s ‘Contract’ has human heart that ‘Wedding’ left out by Gene Siskel (Movie critic), Section 3, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

Krzysztof Zanussi, a celebrated Polish filmmaker, did not like Altman’s “A Wedding” either, but he did something more industrious about it. As Jean-Luc Godard has said, the best way to criticize a film is to make another film, and that’s what Zanussi did in 1980, when he made “Contract,” which is showing this weekend at the Film Center at the Art Institute.

In 1984 Ebert credited Godard with a different phrasing of the remark under examination:[ref] 1984 December 28, Poughkeepsie Journal, ‘Amadeus’ is critic’s choice as the best film of ’84 by Roger Ebert, Quote Page 32, Column 4, Poughkeepsie, New York. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

“If you mean to criticize a movie,” Jean-Luc Godard once said, “make another movie.”

In 1994 “The Province” of Vancouver, British Columbia printed a column by Nancy O’Higgins containing the following:[ref] 1994 December 2, The Province, Birthdays Etc. by Nancy O’Higgins, Quote Page A2, Column 4, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

French critic and film director Jean-Luc Godard, who said the best way to criticize a film is to make one, will be 64.

In 2004 Ebert printed another version of the quotation:[ref] 2004 June 20, The Herald-Palladium, Accuracy will be test of ‘Fahrenheit 911’ by Roger Ebert, Quote Page 10C, Column 3, Saint Joseph, Michigan. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

The wise French director Jean-Luc Godard once said, “The way to criticize a film is to make another film.”

In 2020 the “Los Angeles Times” printed a column by film critic Justin Chang containing the following:[ref] 2020 December 11, Los Angeles Times, A ’70s crime thriller for 2020 by Justin Chang (Film Critic),Quote Page E2, Column 2, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

It was Jean-Luc Godard who once said the best way to criticize a film is to make another one. He also said all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, an aphorism that will prove equally relevant here.

In conclusion, Jean-Luc Godard should receive credit for the comments he made in his 1962 interview in “Cahiers du Cinéma”. Godard said “Au lieu de faire une critique, je fais un film” (“Instead of writing criticism, I make a film”). Other related remarks have been attributed to him, but QI is unsure whether he said them.

Image Notes: Illustration of a camera shown against a colorful background from geralt at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to amindfv whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

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