“Saint Godard” vs. the Prince of Darkness

As a postscript to my John Carpenter post from two days ago, below is an intriguing screen capture from the director’s 1987 horror film Prince of Darkness. I was struck by the fact that the creepy church that serves as the movie’s central location was named “Saint Godard’s.” Could Carpenter have a broader frame of cinematic reference than he has typically let on in interviews? Or perhaps he just had a cheeky production designer? Or should the fact that St. Godard’s contains a portal to hell mean that this homage should really be interpreted as an anti-homage? Or is it a humorous comment on the fact that, as far as many film critics are concerned, Godard is a saint while Carpenter is seen as the “prince of darkness”? I’m willing to bet that the first option I posited is closest to the truth; it’s probably just an affectionate homage from one master to another. After all, Carpenter’s mixture of 35mm film stock and video (the latter of which can be seen below) is quite Godardian and was unusual to see in a Hollywood movie at the time.


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

10 responses to ““Saint Godard” vs. the Prince of Darkness

  • Mitchell

    I’d love to pick your brain about JLG some day. I know you admire him but I am completely baffled by him. I’ve seen at least 10 of his films. The latest was probably Passion. Any guidance would be appreciated. By the way, will you catch the new print of Celine and Julie at the Siskel?

    • michaelgloversmith

      Mitchell, thanks for asking. Which of Godard’s films have you seen exactly? If you haven’t already been hooked by the great early films (Breathless, Vivre sa Vie, Contempt, Band of Outsiders, Alphaville), then you should probably hold off on the later ones for now.

      The first Godard I saw was Breathless on VHS at the age of 19 and I loved it. As I wrote in my Blu-ray review (https://whitecitycinema.com/2010/10/09/new-blu-wave/), it was a movie that made me fall deeper in love with movies and made me really want to explore the history of cinema (especially classic Hollywood and French movies). Shortly thereafter, I saw all of the other Godard films that were available on VHS at the time, all of which were from the 1960s. I loved most of these as well but when I got to Pierrot le Fou, I was baffled. I thought it seemed incoherent. The story seemed too fragmented and Godard seemed to be calling too much attention to the artifice of his filmmaking. I felt as if he was just throwing whatever he felt like into the movie. When I saw Weekend I became enraged because it was an even more extreme journey in this direction. But something about those movies stuck with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about them and a year or so later I rewatched both Pierrot le Fou and Weekend and fell in love with them. They were both so funny (and strangely moving). How did I not see that before? The movies didn’t change but I did. A lot of that had to do with watching more European art films (Bresson, Antonioni, Fassbinder, Tarkovsky, etc.) and coming to the conclusion that movies don’t need to tell stories or, if they do, the story can sometimes be of secondary importance to other aspects of the film. Godard once said of Pierrot le Fou that he wasn’t filming a story about people, he was filming life itself.

      My first piece of advice to anyone interested in Godard is to start with Breathless and then try to work your way through his filmography in chronological order. I think it’s more important to do this with Godard than any other filmmaker. His career evolves in a really interesting way; it seems like, in the 1960s especially, he is just constantly discovering new ways of doing things and then discarding the innovative things that he had done just the year before. But each film also announces the next one in a weird way as well. Watching Godard in order is kind of like listening to Bob Dylan’s albums in order. If you don’t already admire his work of the mid-to-late 1960s, then don’t try to venture beyond that yet. Some of the work I do find tedious. I’m not a fan, for instance, of his explicitly Marxist “Dziga Vertov” period of the late sixties and early seventies. I do, however, think the 1980s was something like a second golden age for Godard. Films like Passion, First Name: Carmen and Hail Mary are great films that represent a quasi-return to narrative storytelling and are just excruciatingly beautiful in their composition and lighting. This period culminates in the early 1990s with Nouvelle Vague (aka New Wave) and Allemagne 90 neuf zéro (aka Germany Year 90 Nine Zero), two of Godard’s very best films. After that, I think his work becomes uneven again. The video work he does is often incredible – Histoire(s) du Cinema is an epic and mind-blowing work of film criticism – but the “films” become less interesting and more didactic. I actually really loved his last movie, Film Socialisme, but I also think it’s one of his most challenging.

      My last piece of advice is to not let yourself be intimidated by his work. Godard has an almost impossibly broad frame of reference; he knows a lot about cinema, literature, music, painting, philosophy, politics and world history. His use of reference and quotation can be head-spinning. No one other than Godard himself is likely to “get” all of these references. But there are also many “points of entry” into a Godard work. So don’t allow yourself to be frustrated if one aspect of a film baffles you. There is probably plenty else in the work to admire. Most of his films, for instance, are very funny, even on the level of physical comedy. They are also exhilarating for their innovative employment of sound and image. Remember that Godard was a film critic so he understands the importance of the purely cinematic pleasures that movies can provide. And his films set off cinematic fireworks like no one else save maybe Orson Welles.

      • mitchell brown

        Hi Michael,

        Sorry it took me so long to respond to your very generous, thoughtful and quite moving apologia for JLG. When I think about it, I have already seen a ton of his films. I’ve seen:
        2-Bande a parte
        3- Les Caribiniers
        4- Le Petit Soldat
        5- Pierrot Le Fou
        6- Passion
        7- Most of ‘Mepris’
        8- Weekend
        9- Alphaville

        I think what the first viewing of Pierrot Le Fou did to you, Alphaville did to me. I also feel that between the time I first saw all those films and now, I am probably more in tune to get what he is after, having seen a ton of the films that he loves and that he hates, and having read a lot of film criticism, even lots of the Cahiers du Cinema.

        I am glad to hear that you find him funny, too, because what can kill polemical films more quickly than a lack of humor. This time through Breathless with the film group I have been leading, I remember laughing out loud when Belmonda calls Americans stupid because they like Lafayette and Maurice Chevalier and they are the stupidest of all Frenchman. I found that hilarious.

        I may just take you up on your suggestion of a chronological viewing. I did that with Kurosawa, (admittedly a much more accessible director!) but the exercise was really satisfying and I was kind of overwhelmed by the resonances in the late, great films like Red Beard and High and Low in a way I might not have if I hadn’t quietly suffered through things like The Most Beautiful.

        I do acknowledge that the problem lies with me vis-a-vis JLG and I know that a little more directed viewing will probably bear fruit. Turner Classic Movies will be showing Vivre Sa Vie. Perhaps that will be my epiphany film!

        It’s funny, but the rigors of middle, super-obscure Bergman like Hour of The Wolf, Passion of Anna, etc just thrilled me the first time I saw them as a younger adult. Now I see them a little more indulgently, and realize that it is OK to adore Wild Strawberries, Seventh Seal and Fanny and Alexander instead!

        I have just recently begun to watch Bresson and his rigor is absolutely thrilling to me. Ozu as well. Perhaps it is because I respond profoundly to formalism

        The next nut I need to crack is Antonioni. I have partaken of the non-adventure of L’aventura several times and it always left me cold (which might be the intent). I am willing to try because too many critics and filmlovers talk in transcendent terms regarding his stuff and I don’t want to be left out!

        Thanks for your time and always informative posts!

      • Mitchell Brown

        Hi Michael,

        Wanted to let you know that I just finished watching Vivre Sa Vie and now I get it. I loved it and this is the first Godard that I feel I need (and want) to go back and watch again and unravel. I was absolutely riveted by everything he was doing, from the first conversations shot from behind to the quasi gangster-film homage at the end. Perhaps Anna Karina’s character was so compelling, and that’s what drew me in.

        I feel like I want to watch again. You describe Vivre Sa Vie as rigorous or austere and perhaps it was just that quality that pulled me in. This wasn’t just a lark. Something very serious is happening here. I need to scare up copies of Woman is Woman and Masculin-Feminine. Perhaps I will even attempt the nightmare of Alphaville again.

        Thanks for your encouragement and enthusiasm. They really gave me the impetus to watch JLG again!

        – Mitchell Brown

      • michaelgloversmith

        So glad to hear it! Vivre sa Vie is such a fascinating and complex film. The Passion of Joan of Arc sequence is one of my favorite uses of cinematic quotation ever. Also, I love the almost disturbingly metaphorical-autobiographical relationships between prostitute and john/Karina as actress and Godard as director/Karina as wife and Godard as husband. That’s Godard’s voice reading Poe’s The Oval Portrait at the end!

        My advice is to watch Contempt next. I think that’s Godard’s most emotional and deeply felt work.

  • Victor De Leon

    I don’t if you knew already, JC wrote the film under the name Martin Quatermass after Prof. Bernard Quatermass from the British Quatermass movies and there is a reference to Nigel Kneale as well. A prolific writer of TV shows and films. Jameson Parker wears a sweater that says Kneale University on it.

  • Victor De Leon

    Thanks for the link to the review. Good analysis of the story. It was very well done.

  • Rupak Ghosh

    Six years late, but the way I see it (just finished watching the movie for the first time) ‘anti God’ is hidden within ‘Saint Godard’s’.

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