Left: The Dick Cavett Show, 1977–82, still from a TV show on PBS. Jean-Luc Godard and Dick Cavett. Right: Ira Schneider, A Weekend at the Beach with Jean-Luc Godard, 1979, still from a color video, 8 minutes. Both images from the DVD JLG in USA, 2009.

“FILMS ARE THE ONLY THINGS by which to look inside people, and that’s why people are so fond of movies and why they’ll never die,” Jean-Luc Godard once said about the seductiveness of cinema. This maxim holds true of films about Godard himself, especially of the JLG in USA DVD, available in the current Film Issue of The Believer. Assembled by Jacob Perlin, a film programmer at BAMcinématek and founder of the Film Desk, a small distribution company, this fascinating anthology of Godard’s travels in America, spanning 1968 to 1980, consists of three short documentaries, a slide show, and an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show. This unearthed collection of Godardiana shows the filmmaker as a patient interviewee partial to gnomic answers, an anxious fund-raiser, and a wearer of too-snug swimming trunks.

Mark Woodcock’s Two American Audiences was filmed April 4, 1968—the day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, though neither Godard nor the NYU grad students who ask him questions about La Chinoise (1967), intercut throughout Woodcock’s film, knew that at the time. In a suit and tie, Godard responds to each earnest interlocutor with bemused calm, wryly noting that Anne Wiazemsky, who plays one of the student radicals in La Chinoise (and who married Godard in July 1967), was “not as good a Maoist as I am.” JLG continues to display his unflappable disposition on a 1980 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, promoting his latest, Every Man for Himself. “How important is spelling to you?” asks the host, noting with indignation the misspelling of despair in one of the subtitles. Godard casually shrugs it off, later poignantly noting, “It’s a huge relief not to be anguished anymore.” Some of that agitation is on display in Ralph Tranhauser’s 1970 Godard in America, which traces JLG and Jean-Pierre Gorin, his collaborator in the radical Dziga Vertov Group, touring US campuses to secure funding for a film on Palestine. In a symposium led by Andrew Sarris, Godard condemns Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970) as “nothing.”

The closest “look inside”—or rather, outside—Godard is found in Ira Schneider’s priceless eight-minute video from 1979, A Weekend at the Beach. Squeezed into a garishly patterned swimsuit that can barely accommodate his hairy, middle-aged belly, Godard, donning a sun hat, splits a plum with Gorin, as Alice Waters sunbathes and Wim Wenders strolls into the frame wearing suspenders. The master filmmaker, vacationing at San Diego’s Del Mar Beach, has rarely looked so relaxed—and, at the same time, so vulnerable.

JLG in USA is available in the 2009 Film Issue of The Believer, which is on newsstands through the end of April.

Melissa Anderson