True Grit [1969)

To get through life, you need grit.

Toughness.

I know of no tougher people than my parents.

And they have been an infinite inspiration to me.

So it is a pleasure to review what is one of my dad’s favorite films.

He always told me to watch this, but I guess I had some subliminal aversion to Westerns.

Well, dear friends, this here is a masterpiece.

I haven’t written much about Westerns (aside from the three Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns I reviewed long ago).

I know the genre is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Jean-Luc Godard commented once that his soulmate Anne-Marie Miéville really couldn’t stand this genre, whereas Monsieur Godard has been open about his admiration for John Ford and other directors of the American Western.

But here we have a film by Henry Hathaway.

Sure, John Wayne is in the movie (big league!), but it was Hathaway behind the camera ostensibly calling the shots.

You might know Hathaway from the film noir Call Northside 777.

Or perhaps The Desert Fox:  The Story of Rommel (starring the inimitable James Mason).

But he also directed Rawhide and The Sons of Katie Elder (another flick starring The Duke).

But let’s bring out the big gun.

John Wayne was born Marion (!) Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa.

That’s right.  Not Texas.  Not Oklahoma.

Iowa.

So how did John Wayne become such a badass?

Much of it might be attributable to his attention to detail.

And just what (or who) was he paying attention to?

Wyatt Earp.

That’s right.

Deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona.

But let’s get on to this fantastic film, shall we?

The real surprise is Kim Darby.

Sure, Glen Campbell is great here, but Darby is sensational!

And though this might be thought of as Kim Darby’s only significant film role of her career, it is timeless.

She knocked it out of the park as Mattie Ross.

All our actors are gritty, but the real toss-up is between Kim Darby (who was 22 at the time) and John Wayne (who was 62).

Toughness is the theme of the movie.

He or she who is toughest will overcome.

Sure, some obstacles are insurmountable.

But GRIT will get you through some harrowing situations.

It’s almost funny when a film (like this one) includes minor roles for the likes of Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall.  Duvall’s role is a bit more substantial, but the main focus is on the troika of Campbell, Darby, and Wayne (particularly the latter two).

Fans of the recent film Sicario will notice precursors to “rough justice” present all throughout True Grit.

But director Hathaway manages to make a G-rated film.

For that and other reasons, I am recommending this as a family film (though it may be unsuitable for particularly young ones).

The narrative device which keeps the film “all ages” is that Mattie is supposed to be 14 years old (though, as stated, Kim Darby [Mattie] was actually 22).

The action of our film centers around Fort Smith, Arkansas (at first) and later in the “Indian Territory” around McAlester, Oklahoma.

The film features prominently a Colt Model 1848 Percussion Army Revolver a.k.a. Colt Dragoon Revolver (.44 caliber).

Firearms aside, John Wayne is magnificent in the denouement when he takes on four armed horsemen.

That said, a Sharps rifle comes in particular handy for Wayne in a near-death imbroglio.

Glen Campbell’s greatest moment is just getting on the horse and setting the beast in motion.

It is this scene in which Campbell proves himself to be just as gritty as Darby and Wayne.

But the film is not over yet.

And we see John Wayne take action:  as a leader!

Doing what needs to be done!

But the scene which brought tears to my eyes was when John Wayne bet on the toughness of Kim Darby.

And that is the message.

What great encouragement it is when people have faith in us!

When they say, “I know you can do it!”

We may not believe it ourselves, but their faith lifts us up.

We think, “Maybe they know something I don’t.”

When we’re at our lowest point.

Those who stand beside us with compassion are displaying that priceless characteristic of true grit.

The very end of the film is quite touching as well.

We see an actor 40 years younger than her leading man offer a hand of friendship with an act of love.

It’s not even romantic.

It’s just classy.

Humane.

In truth, very poetic.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film for all doubters of John Wayne and the Western genre in general.

Yee-Haw!

-PD

Sauve qui peut /la vie/ [1980)

12 seconds.  5 minutes.  2 fortnights.  a jiffy.

Really, I shouldn’t have to comment on the commodification of time.  Is that not the essence of capitalism?

Into your busy lives cram another blog post.  Another sloppy film review.  A film.

A more professional critic would start by alluding to the copious literature which points to this film as Godard’s return to form.

A strange phrase.  Which form?

Because really, for me, Godard begins here.  The known Godard is Parisian Godard…la nouvelle vague.

The unknown Godard is everything else.  As an American consumer it is rather inconvenient to obtain all but the classic films from our auteur.  After Week-end (1967), the DVDs become exponentially harder to come by.

But, as a rule, I digress.  Liberally.  Often.  Without fail.

This, then, would seem to be Godard emerging from the black forest of political filmmaking and ethical soul-searching to find the inklings of his mature style.

It is not an original thought.  The English-language biographies cover this thoroughly.  The device in question is (for lack of a more exact term) slow-motion.

It is the playful wonder of a man who still has the curiosity of a boy.

Technology changing.  New idiosyncrasies to each bit of gear on the market.

It is the same now.  Stash your camera on the top shelf and soon you will not know how to make films.

Your equipment will be obsolete and your knowledge outdated.

But that is all tertiary (tertiary?) in importance.

To our film.

We have characters; plot.  A walk in the wilderness and Godard (with the indispensable Anne-Marie Miéville) returned to a somewhat recognizable form.  As always, however, the form is highly subverted.  One might even say perverted in this particular instance.  It is a strange beauty.  Incomparable.  A triumph.  A mere glimpse of things to come.

Always playing on archetypes, Godard casts singer Jacques Dutronc as Paul Godard.  There can be little doubt that this character is meant to represent the filmmaker himself.  Every marker is there:  the ubiquitous cigar, the glasses, the mannerisms, the disheveled college professor sartorial ensembles…

The stunning Nathalie Baye plays Denise Rimbaud.  Here is where the ark types.  Arc-en-ciel.  A panorama of wispy clouds.  Yes, Arthur is never far…nor Baudelaire…nor Sartre and Duras.  And Marguerite?  Faust.  Your soul for a job.

Yes, prostitution returns.  The grand Godardian theme.  Isabelle Huppert plays the role of the sex worker Isabelle Rivière.

The setting?  Switzerland.  We see the signs at the station.  Nyon.  Not Lyon, Nyon.  It brings us back to that area we visited in Godard’s second film (though it was banned and thus delayed in release) Le Petit Soldat.

The famous scenes are of Baye on a bicycle–of Dutronc in a classroom before a chalkboard reading “Cain et Abel” and “Film et video.”

Yes, the sexual aspects of this film are heavy.  This perhaps proves that Godard’s return to mainstream filmmaking was not the end of his rebellious period.

Though there is a plot and there are discernible characters, it is not always clear what is going on.  What cannot be disputed is the sadness which Godard brings to light with yet another exposé of whoring.  Likewise, it might be gathered that the filmmaker is commenting on the perception of rural Switzerland as pristine and bucolic.  The perverse element of our film echoes previous erotic episodes of Pasolini and Buñuel.

Finally, one can’t help wondering whether the film in question had a formative effect on the Iranian director Kiarostami.  As in the later Taste of Cherry, Godard has one last trick up his sleeve to end out Sauve qui peut (la vie).

Indeed, Jean-Luc Godard was starting to find his magic touch again with this film…and its traces attested to a talent which was richer and better than ever before.

-PD

Numero deux [1975)

Back.  Return return.  Long absence.

Unrestful battle to the death with corporate finance.

And Jeannot mentions Georges.  Beauregard?

Yes, almost certainly.

And so politics becomes sex.  But sex remains politics.  The two phenomena simultaneously.

Like dependent events and statistical fluctuations.

Ah, statistics…

Not the fun stuff of batting averages.  No, we mean correlations and covariance and stultifying minutiae.

And that’s where the money comes from.

Godard after 45 years had finally finished with Paris.  Done.  Fin.

Il y a equals = Grenoble?

A new era with Anne-Marie Miéville.  Sonimage.  Mon ton son image son.

Wordplay cures illnesses.

The glissando of sliding meaning.

Slippage.

I want to write film criticism as if I am writing a viola sonata.  Everything is possible.

Amazingly…amazingly…Wikipedia gives a synopsis.

Thank you kind soul…kind, fastidious soul.

Is it the same in France?  Numero deux est la merde?

Yes, Godard finds a way to shock…again.  Like Salò, but in a mundane grocery store of quotidian pain.

Wordplay and illnesses.

Is it Sandrine Battistella?

Is it Pierre Oudrey?

Are the child actors the best players in this film (in the tradition of Bresson)?

And Alexandre Rignault.  The old man?  I am too lazy.  It is already a service.  Mon beau souci.

The anarchy of breasts.

Both enjoy in different ways.

Pain is not simple.

It was this point at which Godard became a true revolutionary.  With his army surplus jacket.  Inconsequential.

Having survived the revolution.  The upheaval.  To live on into the era of Bruce Lee kicking Chuck Norris’ ass.

We see briefly.

But mainly we see fatigue.  The fatigue of Beethoven.  Facile technician.  Adjusting color timing instinctively.  Habit.

Sometime you must take a break from James Bond to question the fundamental things.

White people problems, they say.

No, I see the same in true cultures…in China…in Africa.

Unique modes of expression.  Unlearning.

The greatest service is to convey the feelings of the film.  If these feelings harmonize with the dissonance of your pathetique lives, then you are like me.  Searching for small miracles.

Actors cannot touch non-actors.  Praise be to actors who appear to have no technique–who appear to be non-actors.

Either way.  Doesn’t matter.  Matters.

-PD

Ici et ailleurs [1976)

God, the horror of struggle

in Palestine Godard filmed

the sadness of conditions

with such beauty of technique

ingenuity of filmic form

And then came the editing.  Back to France.

It was his film and her film.  Anne-Marie Miéville.

Someone with whom he could discuss film.

No more actresses.  A life partner.

And an agitator.  Critique yourself.

Of course Marx offered useful tools.  But there is more than Marx.

And the universe expanded.  You must turn to the images.

Why is the actress not acting?  And why is that beautiful?

Above and beyond (aside from) the fact that she is beautiful.

Just one.  Anne-Marie points it out.  The way things are done.

Early computer console script glowing green and blinking.  Always blinking.

Someone has captured the wrong image.  In the diffusion the stronger image has been diffused.

It was Hitler.  Israel.  Golda Meir in some sort of act of allegiance.

And Godard’s obsession with finding the double s in nature.  kiSSinger, for instance.

The anger of the filmmaker.  Who bombed the editing studio?  Certainly not Arabs.

Certainly not.  Find the true history.  Only one filmmaker was truly brave and crazy.  Godard.

Must be both to be this brave.

The wrong frame again.  “It’s silly to die for an image.”  But not silly to accept death for the survival of your community.

Of course.  Of course.  Bravery.  Simple.

A sad, pathetic Palestinian village.  And how did they come to be pinned in thusly?

Like livestock.

But the true beauty is cautious.  Scared.  Yes.  Tentatively walking the perimeter.

An image which will live a thousand years in the hearts of every serious soul who sees it.

Nameless.

Nothing shocks as much as the bloody face in Amman.  More than the Holocaust.  That the root cause could continue.

A transference of power abuse.  The short step to fascism.  Leaving out a few crucial details.  Voila.

The man in Amman.  Dead.  Text flashing backwards.  Mirrored.  On top of front-facing font.  Palimpsest.

Expired.

Perhaps there was a bad translation somewhere.  Muselmann in the camps.  Not guardspeak.

We don’t know.  I don’t.

Perhaps.

You say for money, to take an unpopular stand.  A pittance.  Film stock.  Plane tickets.

But they did finally recognize that they were borrowing a revolution.  Because making one was too costly.

At home.  France.  Texas.  Ici.  And the endless possibilities of ailleurs.  Elsewhere.  And here.  Here.

They only meant to send a statement.  Probably.  And the film sat for five years.  1970-1975.

But some images are too beautiful.  Too powerful.  Too important.  Indelible.

Godard never forgot.  Anything.  The camps.  Palestine.  Ghettos.  Prisons.  1789.

Only art speaks.

Study and respect.  Change your world.

I have ordered the images from room service.  And Google has only given me a popularity contest.

Click and vote.  Perhaps.

For film to destroy your soul so beautifully and so hard.

Ah, now I can’t even talk like everyone else.

A hard-earned style which jettisoned pretense long ago.

Almost fashionably dead.  To the doubters.

Mais, sanguine!

-PD

Letter to Jane [1972)

Fucking goddamned brilliant.

It is not surprise.  An exclamation without an exclamation point.

It is a reaffirmation.

That Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, in 1972, could dismantle the entire system imposing ill upon the world.

If their critique was not inclusive enough to include the shortcomings of communism, we must forgive them somewhat.

It really doesn’t matter that this film operates in a Chris Marker manner.

It was the right form to address a picture.  In fact, the spirit is much more akin to Antonioni’s Blow-Up.

The ontology of the image.

André Bazin.

This is the world from which Godard and Gorin emerge.

But the key touchstone may indeed be, as the filmmakers say, Uncle Bertolt.

Brecht.

Truth simple.  Telling the truth difficult.

Dziga Vertov.

Lenin.

It is a revelation to hear Godard speaking English.

Yes, there are no subtitles here (unless, perhaps, you are French and don’t understand English).

That makes this an especially important film for the English-speaking world.  Like British Sounds.

But most importantly this film encourages intellectual scrutiny of mass media.

Scrutiny of photographs.  Scrutiny of captions.  Scrutiny of context.

I think, therefore I am.

This is the acting default which we are told emerged (with sound) in the 1930s of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Beware of pity (advises Stefan Zweig).

A town without pity.  Gene Pitney.  Pithy.

No filmmaker has been more bold, in every way, than Jean-Luc Godard.

But his collaborators deserve their due for standing by him.

Gorin.  Anne-Marie Miéville.

So many ways to be bold…

To show the futility of 3-D.  Actually, to show how mundane superheroes are.

Just one aspect in the latest installment of brilliance (Adieu au langage).

His latest, Letter to Jane, Histoire(s) du cinema

They all smash to bits flailing failures like San Andreas.

It’s as if the master is saying, “Just think for a minute.”

But the master, JLG, dove into thought and grabbed handfuls of paradoxes.

That is the true artist.

That is the eternal man.

It makes me a bit emotional.

What dedication!

From Roxy the dog all the way back to Michel Poiccard.

It is hard to focus on just one episode in this immense body of work.

That said, the true message of Godard is elusive because his fame (and infamy) overshadow the meaning conveyed.

But his work says…carry on.

-PD