Godard first started playing with narrative cinema at the end of the '50s in Paris, where the overriding spirit was all about youth culture and revolution. He made some great (and very accessible) films back then, full of an infectious energy for experimentation and bold expression. Maybe this was the time he remembers when cinema could have improved society, but I don't think Godard's films were the ones to do it. Looking back on them, they are too personal, too much a reflection of the artist as a young(ish) man.
Maybe his political films from the '70s could have changed something if they found an audience. By the time the '80s rolled around and up through today, he has reveled in the self-expression that video and film allows him, even if one of his main topics still tends to be film. His movies are less popular, they're harder to see, they're almost never released in theaters or on video, and yet I've been a big fan of this later work when I can find it. It's very personal and still innovative, often essays in the vein of Chris Marker, and much more interesting than the current wave of Michael Moore-inspired subjective documentaries.
His movies rarely make it to film festivals anymore, either. Once upon a time Godard was a big star at Cannes, but he's soured on that relationship as well. He tells the Guardian, "In the beginning I believed in Cannes, but now it's just for publicity. People come to Cannes just to advertise their films, not with a particular message. But the advantage is that if you go to the festival, you get so much press coverage in three days that it advertises the film for the rest of the year." Something tells me the festival hasn't changed as much as his perception of the festival.
We've got our own big festival coming up and maybe it's the kind of festival he could still believe in, one where the movies take precedence over the hype. Cinco de Mayo is when the Seattle Times guide for SIFF hits the streets (The Stranger's guide arrives May 19), and in it you'll find more movies than ever before, more documentaries than ever before, a focus on Argentine films, and even an experimental film showcase. Somewhere in there, perhaps one of the Emerging Masters, there may very well be the heir to Jean-Luc Godard, someone who revolutionizes the cinema of the future and who dreams of revolutionizing society as well.