Le Livre d’image [2018)

And so I’m back.

Sort of.

Maybe.

With Godard.

Can we go from back to front?

After having gone halfway from front to back?

More importantly:  WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST WATCH?!?

I’m guessing JLG might relish such a reaction.

But really.

Le Livre d’image (The Image Book) is a thoroughly fucked-up film.

Music stops and starts.

Ok, standard Godard.

Images run and then go to black screen.

Again, standard Godard.

But something is further about this film.

Perhaps the most accessible touchstone would be the glitchy music of Radiohead circa Kid A and Hail to the Thief (to name my two favorites).

To wit:  Godard seems to be enjoying fucking with his audience.

Every possible convention of cinema is destroyed and frustrated by his anti-art approach.

It is Swiss.  It is dadaist (in a certain sense).

But it is stranger…

Which brings us to a crossroads.

Is Godard getting senile?

I mean, seriously:  is this the work of someone falling apart?

It may be.

There is an achingly-sad moment near the end when we hear that trademarked Godard narrative voice break up.

Coughing.

Too many cigars.

Almost 90 years old…

But there are other possibilities.

Indeed, The Image Book hearkens back to the Godard of his Dziga-Vertov years.

Extremely obtuse.

Painful cinema.

A cinema of cruelty (for Artaud).

We catch glimpses (literally) of Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

Yes.

There is a pessimism here.

But mostly a hard reality.

And yet, is it reality?

The Image Book is surreal…while being mostly in a stark cinematography.

A bit like Picasso’s Guernica.

But more boring.

Can I say that?

Boring.

When you’re 88 years old (like Godard), perhaps things move slower.

Perhaps you could call it “slow cinema”.

But it is FAST and boring.

Many cuts.

Many, many cuts.

Painstakingly (painstakingly?) spliced.

It seems.

Also seems random.

Aleatory.

I Ching.

John Cage.

But onto another aspect.

That of revision.

Revisiting.

The Image Book is to Godard’s oeuvre as Histoire(s) du cinéma is to film history as a whole.

Le Livre d’image could be said to be a sort of CliffsNotes to the work of Jean-Luc Godard.

But there’s just one catch.

You would need to know the oeuvre in its totality to really make much of this pithy summation.

So it is, in a sense, useless.

But it still speaks.

Galileo.

And yet it moves.

Godard is not dead.

Not yet.

And he should know that he will never die.

Not with the timeless body of work he has contributed to humanity.

And yet, that tobacco cough says otherwise.

To live in those lungs.

To feel the weight of mortality pressing down.

Le Livre d’image is a frustrating piece of work.

It has very little (almost none) of the lyrical poeticism that its predecessor Adieu au langage had.

Indeed, perhaps this is a purposeful “let down”.

Like Neil Young’s On The Beach or Lou Reed’s Berlin.

To extend the metaphor there, it is mostly like Metal Machine Music.

It is jarring.

Annoying.

It gets under your skin.

But it makes you think.

And perhaps that is the whole point.

Perhaps Godard is reaching for a new filmic language.

He may not be there yet, but he is reaching.

This is essential, cranky cinema.

The bleeding edge…

 

-PD

Hudutların Kanunu [1966)

I could have sworn the titles said Hududların Kanunu, but there’s never any mistakes on Wikipedia, right? 

So we are going with Hudutların Kanunu.

The Law of the Border.

And it is such an honor to review another Turkish film.

I must say, this one really “spoke” to me.

Not only does Yılmaz Güney play the lead role of Hidir, but this same actor also wrote the screenplay.

As I watched Yılmaz Güney’s wonderful portrayal of the smuggler Hidir, I was reminded of Antonin Artaud’s acting in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.

Güney’s penetrating eyes and stoic face are very similar to Artaud’s physical features.

But not only that.

It occurs to me that Güney bears a striking resemblance to a more contemporary figure:  Vladimir Putin.

This is all the more interesting when one considers that Güney was born Yılmaz Pütün.

Hmmm…

Güney was a Zaza Kurd who apparently got in trouble often with the Turkish government.

He died an early death at age 47 (in 1984).

Whether Hudutların Kanunu is propaganda is beside the point.

It certainly has traits of propaganda films, but it’s such a damn good movie that it doesn’t really matter.

Yes, there is a social justice angle to Güney’s story, but much credit should go to the wonderful directing job of Ömer Lütfi Akad.

Though Güney himself was a director as well, he did not direct this film.

Güney, by the way, had a fascinating life (including an escape from prison in 1981 and a subsequent Palme d’Or at Cannes for the film Yol).

[Sounds a bit like Timothy Leary’s prison-break and rendezvous in Switzerland with Ash Ra Tempel.]

If my numbers are correct, Güney acted in 14 films released in 1966 (!) [including this one] and also directed one as well.

Only one copy of Hudutların Kanunu survived Ahmet Kenan Evren’s 1980 coup in Turkey.

I would describe this wonderful film as being like a 1960s Turkish version of Sicario.

Though The Law of the Border is not a big-budget movie (a military officer comically says “let’s surround them” when he only has three soldiers [himself included]), the film is overall convincing.  It conveys a very powerful story.

As stated earlier, the principal activity at issue is smuggling.

What could be more timely to this day and age?

In the US it is drugs (from Mexico), and in Turkey it is perhaps other things (coming in and out of Syria).

And if the main character looks like Putin?!?

Well, it certainly confuses the meaning, but it still makes it like a Salvador Dalí dream.

It’s like a perfect storm of symbolism.

Furthermore, besides being a film set on a border, a main issue is education in Turkey.

This is, once again, a very timely issue.

As you might have heard last year, there were many protests by high school students in Turkey about the trend of religious schools replacing secular (or science) schools.

Incidentally, our director Ömer Lütfi Akad went to the oldest high school in Turkey:  Galatasaray Lisesi in Istanbul.  The school was started in 1481.

But let me tell you something important…

This film is very entertaining!!!

The gunfights!

Whizz!  Bing!  Pow!

It reminds me a bit of Howard Hawks’ Scarface from 1932.

Also at issue in this film is the concept of change.

Can a person change their beliefs?

Like me…

Can I change my beliefs?

I am 39.

Yılmaz Güney was 29 at the time of this film.

Can we change our beliefs?

And should we?

For Güney’s character Hidir, changing his beliefs is a Herculean effort.

And the moral of the somewhat-propagandistic story is that he’s a hero…JUST FOR TRYING.

He tried to change.

He makes a valiant effort.

A bit like Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.

This is the challenge for the world.

To look ourselves in our mirrors and make an effort.

Not physically (necessarily), but philosophically.

I’m not here to offer you propaganda.

But I am very concerned with the situation the real Vladimir Putin has been put in in Syria.

Why do we fight? [to echo the old series of American propaganda films from WWII]

We fight for the same reason anyone else does.

Or rather, Putin fights because he has drawn a line.

No more American aggression.

Syria is his line.

It’s not a game.

It’s real blood and real tears.

Proxy wars are not like AGMs (annual general meetings).

They are more like air-to-ground missiles (AGMs).

War is not a strictly academic affair.

It’s messy.  It’s sad.  It’s unnecessary (most of the time).

And the US and Russia have painted themselves into a corner.

That corner is Syria.

Perhaps Hudutların Kanunu is the Sholay of Turkey.

Perhaps it is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Anatolia.

One thing is sure:  Yılmaz Güney, “the Ugly King” (Çirkin Kral), was a brilliant man.

 

-PD

Futureworld [1976)

My first foray into science fiction.

And is this a hell of a film!

A sort of forgotten masterpiece.

Part schlock, part genius.

Stellar entertainment.

This is really a quality picture…reminiscent of another 70s gem:  Phantom of the Paradise.

There’s just something really mysterious and compelling about Futureworld.

Sex with robots!

Jim Antonio is the Clark Griswold equivalent of Clifton James in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun.

And so this is essential viewing for fans of the recent Ex Machina.

Sadly, director Richard T. Heffron is no longer with us.

And, yes, this is a sequel to the Michael Crichton film Westworld, but Futureworld stands alone.

Peter Fonda is the Ur- Jarvis Cocker.  And really some fine acting from Peter.

Blythe Danner is outstanding.

Stuart Margolin is very strong.

We get journalism, robots, cloning…the works.

Think Hillary Clinton has a robot/clone double?

This film appeared on Hulu at a particularly suspicious time as regards that canard.

But see the film and you might not think it’s so crazy after all.

Doubles of world leaders.

That’s the master plan.

It’s not giving much away to tell you that.

That is, after all, the elevator pitch for the film itself.

And it is compelling.

Retina scanners, biometrics, psychic driving, Antonin Artaud…

This was both advanced and historical for 1976.

Ahead and behind.

Which is to say, completely plausible.

The only hilariously bad moments (ok, there’s quite a few) are the guns which seemingly came from the set of the first Star Wars film.  Said guns completely destroy suspended disbelief (more than any actual target).

The Westworld tragedy supposedly claimed the lives of about 50 guests.

Pretty close to the fake Pulse nightclub shooting (49).

That being the exact number of the Maidan snipers’ massacre in Kiev (49).

And with Pulse we are there in theme park central.

Disney.

Alligator.

Same week.

Orlando.

Robots are all around us today.

The drones that kill innocent people in Pakistan.

And the driverless cars rolled out by Uber this past week in Pittsburgh.

[I better watch what I say or Emil Michael will sic his opposition research wet dreams on me.]

So yes…we probably have Northrop Grumman to thank for 9/11 (Global Hawk).

All around us.  Automation.  Lovely.

Watch Futureworld and you will see the technocratic extension of Operation Mockingbird.

Mimic.  Opinion leaders.  Memetics.

The gene and the meme.  Dawkins was right on it.

In the same year.  1976.

Sure, this film is not very precise in some regards.

Are they all robots?

Clones?

Hybrids?

It’s not very clear.

I highly recommend this film for connoisseurs of Baudrillard.

This whole film is an orgy of simulation.

[Though, with a PG rating, not a simulation of an orgy.]

Interesting note…a significant portion of this film was shot “at NASA” in Houston.

 

-PD

Twin Peaks “Masked Ball” [1990)

Air Force.

Twenty-Fifth Air Force.

25 AF.

Hello.

Important to note two Scriabin piano sonatas.

No. 7.  White Mass.

And No. 9.  Black Mass.

Extending the board.

Very much chess.

Rockabilly vortex.

Alfa ROmeo.

Bravo, Charlie!

Foxtrot Tango Macarena.

Romeo Juliett.

Kilo Charlie (Duchovny in drag).

Mike.

Hotel Tango Quebec.

[Oh dear, Miss Morse!]

Godard had maybe only finished 1a and 1b by this point.

The cigar.  And the loving gaze.

Two lodges.  And soul obliteration.

The theater of cruelty and its double.

 

-PD

 

Poto and Cabengo [1980)

This is the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen.

16 ways to say potato.

Eclipses Ira Gershwin by 14.

George and Ira.

Grace and Virginia.

Poto and Cabengo.

Godard and Gorin.

It’s maddening.

That time has forgotten the most beautiful girls ever.

Wild and free.

The playful sounds of Poto and Cabengo.

Maybe there’s no finding them.

And that’s the message.

That they disappeared like their ephemeral language.

But I want to know.

What happened to the most beautiful girls ever?

We want to capture the past.

We can’t let it get away.

Because we are so moved by the images and the sounds.

What if I lost my language?

This language I have worked so hard to develop.

Science would call me a sophist.

Stylometry might have something to say about how developed my idiom is.

I cannot tell you, people, how much this movie moved me.

Napoleon Dynamite is like Shaft in comparison to the realness herein.

Intelligent Dasein.

I can’t possibly be the first to that pun.

But we wonder:

who will be the first blogger to win a Nobel in literature?

[surely not me]

Putting aside the auto-response for a moment…

Because it is bound to happen.

Writer started as blogger and progressed to…what.

Books?

Folio.  Quarto.  Octavo.

Potato.

1 patata 2 petata 3 pitata 4

5 potata 6 putata 7 pateta more

Abandoned in your own home.

The wild child and her double.

Theater of cruaute.  Crunchy crouton vegetables 🙂

And the zoo!

The San Diego Zoo.  So that you can love your city.  San Antonio.

“People say we got it made/Don’t they know we’re so afraid?”

…think we don’t know what staccato means.  Shit…

It’s our secret language.

As if the Navajo code talkers had dwindled down to two.

Pound would write a much more erudite version of this.

So much so that it was completely unintelligible.  And brilliant.

Have I mentioned Jean-Pierre Gorin?

Because he’s a genius.

The only collaborator through whom Godard’s name was subsumed.

Their language became strictly verboten.

They weren’t sent back into the forest.

We welcomed them.  To mop floors at a McDonald’s.

And work on an assembly line.

And I love them.

Because that’s what America sends its geniuses to do.

Wipe up fast-food fry grease.  And God knows what kind of menial work.

There are no more worthy stars in the history of film than

Grace and Virginia (“Ginny”) Kennedy.

Beauty is forever.

 

-PD

Gummo [1997)

When the rain comes down…in the swimming pool…and rabbit ears has his pink life…kissed by movie stars.

Rabbit ears isn’t so lonely anymore.  Literally hovering over the highway.  Chain-link crosswalk.  Loitering.

Rabbit ears had it bad in the dump.  Got beat up by stereotypes.  Shot with cap guns.  But the words real hurtful.

I wanna add my own appendix to this here masterpiece.  And so’s I goes on the Google and finds pictures.

They say a boy can’t be beautiful.  Just handsome.  And a taxi…a cab.  Can only be hansom.

We’ll get to your favorite scene in due time.  Just tape that bacon to the tile.  We’ll be returning.

I wanna add my own art to art already made.  Found footage.  Found emotions.  On the junk heap.  Andre Breton.

All those cool French guys recording their dreams.  Dali.  With a little slanted dot over the eye.

Yeah, Dali and Bunuel.  With a little wave over the inn.

And the donkey or whatever.  Gets his eye cut reel bad.  And this was near the beginning of cinema.

And Bunuel went on to Mexico.  And Aleister Crowley went to Mexico.  And Antonin Artaud.

And then Bunuel made French movies.  Maybe they were all French.  But not the Mexican ones.

And Eisenstein made a Mexican movie.  Reel good that.

And why is I talking funny and sayings nothing?

Because I been steeped like a tea bag in pure genius.

Ain’t my genius.  I’m just the reader.  The watcher.  The observer.

And then somebody gets Schrödinger‘s cat.  And they hurt it real bad.

Nobody ever asks what Schrody’s cat was named.  And it so happens Foot Foot.

Like the song by The Shaggs?  I think so, my pal.

So lemme tell you.

If I go on many more tangents like a line glancing off a sphere I will lose something important.

No no…I keep going.

Because my glasses fogged up with tears from crying.  When I had to get up to pee.

Later.  The retarded girl.  In the Krokus shirt.  But when she’s jogging back and forth.

That’s my family.

Yeah, for a minute I saw the whole totality of my lineage.

And it really made me cry.  Prematurely.

But mostly it’s when the rain falls.

It looks like the most heavenly scene.

I’m Mr. Rabbit.  I took a lot of risks.

A pink life.  That’s being vulnerable.  Listening to Tchaikovsky.

I skated down the hill on a banana like Jesus Christ.

One little pebble and my face is fucked for weeks.

One passing car and I’m Jello.  J E LL O.

But take a deep breath because you’ve shivered shirtless.

God damn.  You’ve got pink rabbit ears and knuckle tats.

You weren’t meant for this world.

And when the perfect storm comes—-

a lifetime of pain melts away.

For a second.

You’re not the freak.

For a second somebody wants you.

And you want them too.

And, really, it’s just fun.

That life has dealt you this miracle.

It makes your Xenia, Ohio bearable.  Just.

Life is transitory.  Crackling like a wet transistor.

Here today be here not tomorrow.

-PD

The King of Comedy [1983)

Rupert Pupkin.  The name seems funny.  It’s worth a chuckle.  And yet, this is a sad, sad story.

This is the best film Martin Scorsese has made.  It is one of the best films ever made.

Truly, it is a work of art.

The hubris…the guts it took to make this film…tremendous.

No one could have played Pupkin but De Niro.

Taxi Driver got close…real close!  But Rupert Pupkin is a more powerful character than even Travis Bickle.

Without giving too much away, lets just say that Jerry Lewis (yes, that Jerry Lewis) gets himself into a real pickle here.

De Niro and Lewis are both top-notch.  What takes it over the top?  Sandra Bernhard.  (Yes, that Sandra Bernhard.)

I would venture to guess that many film critics continue to fawn over Robert De Niro (as well they should), but Jerry Lewis and Sandra Bernhard are often discussed (respectively) in a different light.

Take Nick Tosches’ excellent book on Dean Martin (Dino:  Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams).  Though it’s been awhile since I read it, one certainly senses that the Lewis half of Martin and Lewis was not particularly enjoyable for the author to cover.

Dino was cool.  Lewis was the stooge.  Makes me think of Iggy Pop.  Anything for a laugh.  And Antonin Artaud.  Anything to connect with the audience.  And Brecht.  Ad nauseam.

And so, since so much has been written about De Niro, let’s take a moment to appreciate Jerry Lewis.  What is important is isolating this film from the rest of his oeuvre.  Jerry Lewis–in this film–is magnificent!

It is often joked that the French see something in Jerry Lewis which Americans do not.  Such a cultural survey runs the gamut from the influence of Lewis on Godard (see the set design in Tout va bien) to the commentary of “Weird Al” Yankovic (witness the song “Genius in France”).

I have nothing to add to the Lewis debate other than SEE THIS MOVIE!

And Sandra Bernhard…poor Sandra Bernhard.  When I was growing up she was also a sort of stooge.  Her act, so over the top…  And yet, in this film she not only displays the subtlety of acting genius but she’s also strangely attractive.

At this juncture it must be pointed out that Bernhard and De Niro are a team in this film (eventually).  They are like that great New York City punk duo Suicide.  Keep your dreams.  Dream baby dream.  It was Alan Vega and Martin Rev who were the true punks of the CBGB’s/Max’s Kansas City scene.

But back to De Niro and Bernhard…their “plan” in this movie is not unlike the art terrorism of Suicide.  Yes, the plot they concoct to fulfill their respective dreams often teeters like the famed Mercer Arts Center (which precipitously collapsed one day in SoHo).

This film is all about dreams.  It’s about those fantasies we have.  It’s the famous Marlon Brando quote come to life (“I coulda been somebody”).

Rupert Pupkin is 34.  He doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot of time.  And Masha (Bernhard)…she is in love from afar with a man (Lewis) at least twice her age.

The world is not kind to Pupkins.  And Mashas…  Jerry Langford (Lewis) brushes them both off.  And so begins an unholy alliance.

From the opening credits this is pure art.  Scorsese hits emotional chords previously unknown in the history of film.  Even Robbie Robertson gets it right with the Ray Charles song right off the bat.

It is Bernhard’s hands…pressed to the limousine window…in the flash of fame…frozen for a moment.  The roles have been reversed.

And what makes it all work?  Jerry Lewis plays it straight…scared shitless.  What a masterpiece.

To take an Alan Vega lyric for a détournement, “We’re all Pupkins.”

Thank you Marty.

-PD

Une Femme mariee [1964)

I want to write about the weirdest scene in Godard’s filmography up till this point, but I don’t.  It’s not a pleasant scene.  It is uncomfortable.  Unnerving.  I want to write about the pointy bras which figure visually into so much of this film, but I feel silly.  Pointy bras.

I want to talk about Macha Méril‘s hair and how once again Godard evokes Louise Brooks, but I…what?

The title.  It had to get more vague.  No.

There’s really no way of talking about this movie other than in its own language.  I often do that.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  But many times it is the only way.  Here.

It slips through the fingers so quickly.  If you do not write immediately, it is gone.  I take a break.  I charge my computer.  It has escaped.

Truth be told, I never had that good a grasp on it.

I have to get worked up to talk about a film like this.  I can’t check the news headlines for ten minutes on waynemadsenreport.com and then come back to it.

She is married.  Unhappy.  Every day she pretends.  She is an actor dating an actor.  Not the same.  The theater and its double.

Artaud is on the tip of his tongue.  Godard.  What is he driving at?

This is elusive film.  A cubist film.  Fragments.  If I stop to pause, it leaves me again.

I cannot give this treatise any ground.  Yes, a treatise like Debord.  In little mini-paragraphs.  Theses.  Something.  I don’t know.  Je’n s’pas.

It’s quick.  Before she’s said it [bam!] it’s gone.  He cuts.  Montage.  Gone.

Roger Leenhardt.  I did not know.  We don’t know.  Barnes & Ignoble.  Ig Nobel.  Banana peels.  Friction.  Slippery slip slopery.  Splits.

Does she say Thalidomide?  It moves so fast.  You are not French.  You have audible French, visual wordplay, puns everywhere…unfunny puns on soul, angel, sea.  Words in the middle of words.  Treatise.  trEATise.  Focus on a part.  How does the part tell a different story than the whole?  Passage.  Pas sage.  Unwise.  Not wise.  No sagacity.

You have to be on your toes with Godard…even to this day.  His mind is the quickest, slickest, oiled mechanism.  The actor…just a mechanism.  Is that a good translation?  It matters.  Are you reading the subtitles?

Some nights maybe you don’t feel like subtitles.  You want to watch National Lampoon’s Vacation…

My queue.  It is the same.  Juxtaposition.  Beethoven.  No accident.  Accidentals.  We reach like bad Joyces.  James…

The Holocaust comes into the oeuvre.  Why the barbers?  Indeed, she says…

Memory.  For him, integral.  For her, rien.  Give me ten more pointy bras.  Let me measure my breasts…nipple to nipple.  The world turns on the tips of tits.  No truer words ever spoken.  Into the arms of Venus de Milo.

Her laughing is like a rodent…a squirrel perhaps.  And then a woodpecker.  It is almost indistinguishable from sobbing.  Laugh tears.  Oh James…

Ingmar got nothing out of it, he says.  Godard took the long shot (extended take) and perverted it.  Torture.  Orgasmic laughs meant to liven up a marriage.  The couple sit and fidget.  Will they put on the Cal Tjader?

And then the husband threatens to rape his own wife.  Is that translation correct?  A significant line.  Vital.  Play acting?  I don’t think so.

Truth in jokes.  Expressed nowhere else.  Why the barbers?

If you sought an insular review, you have found it.  Only a cryptologist would claim spoilers.  And thus we can justify that this is indeed film criticism.  Mere reviews…

If you could double the size of your breasts with a Peruvian serum, would your husband blue you and make you Jell-O-sated?

All the brunettes are neutron blondes in the negative print.  Hitchcock has sensors under your seats to know when your butt has arisen.  Orly.

And the doctor cannot explain love.  Where does sex end and love begin, or vice versa?  Science still compares.  Love is neurochemically like OCD.  Quitting Facebook brings on symptoms akin to drug withdrawal.  Which drug?  How addictive?

It’s over.

-PD

Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux [1962)

This.  This was the film which started it all for me.  My fatal love for cinema.  You must excuse me if I write in the tone which Godard employed.  It is one of the most complex branches of his filmlanguagetree.  And you must excuse me if I dabble Joycean here and there.

Really, it all started with a book by James Monaco called The New Wave.  Once upon a time my paperback copy had a cover.  I believe I paid 50 cents for the book…maybe 25.  But that cover is long gone and now my copy begins with page five.  Ah, but it is all so clear in my memory.  It was bathtub reading.  My first successful experiment with this was a few years previous when I’d read Henry Miller’s The Rosy Crucifixion during a particularly impoverished time.  Unemployed and discouraged, I had given up hope of finding gainful employment and, rather, resorted to afternoon baths with the erotic anarchy of Miller to keep me company.

And so it was…about four years ago, that I made Monaco’s book my mental edification during absolutions.  Yes, the book would inevitably get wet, fall in the water…even on the edge of the tub…but as it died, I lived.

First came Truffaut.  Enjoyable enough.  I rented all of his films I could find and imbibed the criticism of Monaco.  Then came Godard.  I had probably seen a bit of Sympathy for the Devil as a kid.  “What is this pretentious shit?!?,” I must have thought at the time.  Indeed, delving into Godard can be a shock in many, many ways.  Much later (as a young adult) I saw my first JLG film proper.  Week-end.  I was blown away by its brilliance, but still I didn’t equate the cerebral invention as specifically Godardian.  No, I chalked it up to the brilliance of the French in general…along with Renoir and Truffaut.

It would take many years before I returned to French cinema.  Girls came and went.  I changed dwellings often.  And as I started to read Monaco’s chapter on Godard I noticed an ad in the Austin Chronicle for a showing of the film in question:  at the University of Texas student union ballroom.  And it was free!

And so I strode off into the night and paid to park my car…it must have been December…a cold night if I remember.  I sat amongst what, at the time, I didn’t realize to be film students.  The whole concept was foreign to me.  It didn’t even register that UT had a film department.  I was a professional musician.  I knew music.  That was it.

And then it started.  “Somebody better check the projector,” I thought (as the sound seemed to sputter in stops and starts).  Something’s not right here.  Is she moving?  Yes!  You can see her lips move.  Wait, I just saw her blink!

And so Godard ushered the world (including Susan Sontag, back in the day) into his third feature film.  Hot off the unexpected success of Breathless and the 180 turn that was A Woman is a Woman, Godard again turned the tables on audiences.  The stark noir is reminiscent of Godard’s first film, but the mood is…moody.

This is, without a doubt, my favorite of Godard’s classic-era films.  I think it is the best movie he ever made.  His great work is Histoire(s) du cinema, but that is really other as Roland Kirk might have said.

We see Godard challenging himself here…filming actors from behind (multiple times throughout this picture).  After two features, he seemed ready to push, push…farther.  But along with these dodecaphonic experiments, there is still the magic of chance (?) like the woman emerging from the alley across the street, running as if late (while Anna Karina and mate play a leisurely game of pinball [another motif, that]).

This entire website owes its visual stamp to the third tableau:  La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc.  Karina sits in a movie theater, perhaps trying to forget her woes, and (to paraphrase Neil Young) she falls in love with an actress…playing a part she could understand.  The mysterious Renée Jeanne Falconetti…who only appears in this film and two others according to IMDB (one being a short, the other a blank page on Wikipedia)…  Suffice it to say that “Falconetti” (as someone in the theater (Godard?) can be heard to say during the silent scene-within-a-scene) is known today almost exclusively for her role in this Carl Th. Dreyer masterpiece from 1928.  As Anna Karina watches Falconetti and Antonin Artaud (also an actor in this film), she is brought to tears in what is the most cinematically delicate and gossamer-perfect moment of Godard’s entire (ongoing) career.

Karina is fantastic in this film.  The cinematic language employed obscures the pathos of her performance somewhat.  We don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Indeed, in the ending segment of the whole film (think Magazine’s “Shot From Both Sides”) I let out a nervous laugh upon first seeing this in the theater as if I was Joan of Arc in the hands of Jacques Rivette (her funeral, my trial).  It’s amazing though how this movie hits me differently now with some years under my belt.  For all its panache, this really is a sad, sad story.  But in homage to B-movies, it doesn’t take itself too seriously…fumbling over itself like Chaplin bleeding to death.

I can’t/won’t discuss every aspect of this timeless Fabergé egg, but one scene bears mentioning above all the rest:  Nana’s dance.  It is Anna Karina at her best…trying to pretend she’s in a musical and not in a drab neorealist sob fest.  It is Michel Legrand at his best…providing the swagger of a Gainsbourg instead of the syrup which he poured on Demy’s fairy tales.  And it is Jean-Luc Godard at his best…making sure the billiard balls click during the pregnant pauses of a go-go, ye-ye number which otherwise would have seemed overdubbed. Even if it was, they still click.  That is the magic of cinema in the hands of Godard.  It is the jazz of foot traffic…the gambler’s audacious framing of everyday life.

-PD