Tuesday, May 31, 2016

An Acidemic Godard Reader

Over the years I've written a lot about old Godard, and a few have written for Acidemic on him as well. Read then this curated complete collection, and weep with hilarious wonder!

(Les Carabiners - Fox Lorber DVD commentary review:
(Bright Lights film Journal 2/5/07)

"...Part of this trouble I believe lies with the vanguard cinema studies professors. Bloodied from their battles with musty-tweeded literature professors over the worthiness of “pop culture” as a field of study, they seek to deaden the levity of their material, assuming that dourness and authority go hand in hand.

Cinema writers who are deep and entertaining at the same time–Robin Wood, Kim Newman, David Thomson, etc. tend to be British. The French have their own problems but, like Godard, are funny intrinsically (as long as they don’t try to be, in other words, as long as they keep it deadpan). It seems to be endemic to the U.S., that most intellectually insecure of nations, to mistake earnestness with importance. "(more)


What Godard is chronicling here, then, perhaps, maybe, probably not, is the evolution of B-movie convention from The Big Sleep to Easy Rider. The exact second you realize that the hot blond waif sitting in the background at the bar looks a bit like a really young Marianne Faithful (above), she suddenly starts singing "As Tears Go By" - not lip syncing, but singing right there, a capella, trilling her voice gently and feeling every word of the song, expressing some longing we have no idea about but the mood of wistful sadness overwhelms the film in a summer of love tsunami, before it's even begun, only to resume its dry sand babbling even before she finishes the song. Compared to this bit of subdued emotionalism from a rising starlet of British rock royalty, the ensuing G. Marxist wordplay between Leaud and the bartender suddenly seems tired, yesterday's model. There's a new sincerity in town and it's cool to have feelings, or at any rate it's cool if you're Marianne Faithful. Karina, instead, is trying on the outfit of a bitchy too-cool-for-modernism contemporary diva (the host instead of the contestant on Europe's Next Top Model) for size. She's not about to pick up a flower and take off her shoes just because the other kids are doing it. So instead she just freezes from the knees down and looks at the floral arrangements like a penniless, starving lotus eater. 

(2009, Issue #8)
Trying to watch some of the extras on the Criterion DVD of Godard's Pierrot Le Fou (1965), I found a very interesting documentary: a "celebration" of Godard's films which opens on long shots of a Parisian souvenir store's postcard rack, then close-ups of postcards on display for Godard's various early movies, the ones with iconic starlets particularly: Breathless, Le Mepris and, of course Pierrot itself. You might say, ah, oui, la femme, monsieur, so what? But Godard would know so what... indeed.

The purpose of this documentarian's montage was, sadly, not to create a post-modern mirror echoing Godard's own frequent use of postcards, book stalls, and magazine covers in his films as illustrations of--among other things--the way the press caters to humanity's base desires in an effort to suppress genuine change and revolution--but to canonize Godard and his "easy, early, sexy" films, to attach iconic markers to his terrain so the bourgeoisie don't get lost in the thicket and start running for the exits. I'm reminded of Godard's phrase about the bourgeoisie seeing a Roger Vadim movie that's supposed to be Shakespeare and being very excited that they finally 'get' the immortal bard now that he's all tarted up as it were: "This is Shakespeare? But this is marvelous!" (more)

(2/28/09 - Bright Lights)

"Godard wants the youth of Paris to be mad as hell and ready to fight for causes, but he no longer believes in the causes themselves, or in causes at all, except in that fighting for them is “good for the youth” of which he is no longer part. But he’s glad they associate him with causes, because his cold old bones are warmed by their political fire; but that’s all, as soon as they leave his side to chase the next rainbow, he’s back to smoking and reading the script. This is the adult Godard; he’s switched from angry to fond of anger; emotion of any strength can be fire in which to forge liberation of the self; one can’t free a society that is nothing but shackles by definition. Always it’s back to the one, not creating as Lacan said, “new masters,” via championing some explicitly rendered social cause. For Godard, all actions and points of order fade fast in the lapping waves, so focus on the waves or go down with the ship. A new idea is already coming into focus as the next one is cast off; hold onto the last wave too long and you wind up bedraggled on the shore of Dour Daddy Dogma. (more) 

Here's what I mean: you see a knight on a horse trying to scoop up a naked, running maiden--thunderous classical music on the soundtrack, hoofbeats, her frightened panting and shrieks--this generates a certain preconditioned response: will you see this chick being abducted? Will you see the hero ride to her rescue? Where is this hero? Your stomach might clamp in suspense. You fear and hate the knight and want to save the maiden, without even knowing the story (maybe she's a demon in disguise, who knows?) Suddenly the horse pulls up short so it doesn't bump into a moving camera, and the naked maiden runs off set and hides behind the cameraman then she goes climbing up into the lighting rigging so the knight can't reach her, so he dismounts and goes to have a smoke.

There's two ways you can react to all that: one is to be angry or frustrated, to think you are "missing" something. Are they filming a movie within a movie here, or is this real? Why is she still running if she's not on camera? Who's filming this second movie about making the movie? The other is to grasp the ambiguity, the modern art/Zen response Godard is creating, and thus to laugh at your own predisposition to get so absorbed into narrative that you fight its cessation. For this second response, you are freed by realizing that the meltdown between the film and the film-within-the-film is intended to provide this response. Can you let go of your expectations, your obsessive need for character arcs, story lines, and dramatic resolution? If you can, you begin to see the ways film tricks you. Can you stand to watch stock characters and cliche types get melted down into meaninglessness? Will this technique frustrate you beyond endurance, or set you free from your steel trap mind? (more)

With an artsy self-reflexive intellectual like Godard, prostitution will naturally function as a metaphor for cinema. Indeed, everything will, you point out. Prostitution, if I may return to that point, is a particularly apt metaphor for the cinema, counters JLG. This DP is Coutard's why camera leers over Karina's shoulder, sympathizing with her sadness, even as it causes the sadnesses it sympathizes with through the very nature of sympathizing. N/Ever sure what's an act and what isn't--is she just drawing us in to ask if she can borrow 2,000 francs?--in a meta way, it's even true that her character's dreams of being a film star are realized, right there in the act of being in the movie you are now witnessing, and yet even that is not enough - and it's your fault for by then you are only half-paying attention. Paying full attention would be impossible. Godard is forcing us to realize how our own hunger for cinematic beauty is itself responsible for the problems of exploitation and sexual commodification we wring our hands over at the bourgeois benefit. This is how we destroy the characters we love, our eye and its receptivity to light is the real monster here. But whereas the similarly distant Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion reacts to the encroachment of our gaze with delusional homicidal madness, Karina's prostitute just watches our watching, almost bemused, as her freedom and life are crushed up in the jaws of the Other's tepid desire. We might enjoy standing the gaze of millions, but she could give a shit. Sure she'll hide her tobacco-stained teeth if you ask, but she won't care if you see them either. If she did care, Godard's whole house of intellectual cards would collapse. (more)

(Divinorum Psychonauticus, 2011; Acidemic #8)

There's a scene in First Name: Carmen (1983), for example, a violent shoot-out between sexy young terrorist bank robbers and French police is going on in a big hotel wherein elderly residents, ensconced in their favorite lobby and top floor armchairs, read newspapers, oblivious or at any rate barely concerned about the deliberately fake-seeming violence. They react to the bloodshed the way tolerant grandparents might react to their grandchildren running through the living room with toy guns. Ah, but are they supposed to be toy guns, JL? Which realm of belief are we on-- the cops and robbers side[narrative immersion], or the elderly hotel guests for whom it's either young people making a movie, acting out May 68-style agitprop theater, or really killing each other and what--if anything--is the difference in the long run? Banks have always made the best spots for plays about bank robbing wherein even the cops don't know if their bullets and targets are real. (more)

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