Redoubtable [2017)

Formidable.

Inspiring fear and respect.

Impressive.

Intense.

Capable.

That Swiss-Maoist asshole is my hero.

In many ways.

But which Godard?

If I were to say “late Godard” (and that would be my natural, truthful answer), Monsieur Godard would likely point out the merits of his early films…just to annoy me.

If I spoke lovingly of Vivre sa vie, he would probably proclaim that it is shit.

Jean-Luc Godard is a very complex individual.

And I can wholeheartedly identify with that.

A walking civil war.

This film never makes reference to Cahiers du cinéma.  

It doesn’t need to.

This film covers a period of time which Wikipedia classifies as Godard’s “revolutionary period”.

When did Godard stop writing for Cahiers?

He never stopped being a critic.

We know that.

And I see his point.

This is shit.

Because we want to invent new forms.

Breathless was like his “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.

Or his Bolero.

He couldn’t escape it.

Couldn’t lose it.

Must be nice.

But maybe not.

“Play the hits!”

Did politics ruin Jean-Luc Godard?

Sure.

But it was necessary.

It was his process of growing up.

His process of attaining wisdom.

Trial and error.

Formative years.

But not the last word.

I don’t agree with Godard’s politics.

Perhaps at some point in my youth I did.

But not very much.

Because I never really understood them.

I dabbled.

But I too am a revolutionary.

In these days.

After the 2020 election.

You may call me a reactionary.

I don’t care what you call me.

I think George Washington is cool.

I think the United States of America is worth saving.

And the American Revolution has recommenced.

Same goals as the founders had.

Love it or leave it.

Godard did not show up in 2010 to receive his honorary Academy Award.

Good for him.

Fuck Hollywood!

Give me the old stuff.

Hitchcock.

Howard Hawks.

Not this new crap.

Tripe.

Perhaps you see where me and Godard overlap?

Too rashes like a Venn diagram…with a particularly-irritated common ground.

The skin is red and peeling.

Weeping.

Scratching.

Itching.

I scratch my arms.

I’m running out of real estate on my body for these nicotine patches.

Yes.

You thought it was something more interesting?

More taboo?

No.

Where does the former President of Peru come in?

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Godard’s first cousin.

I too had cousins.

Who are as far off as Peru.

But always close in my heart.

Kuczynski is 82.

Godard will be 90 in one week.

I will be 44 when the Electoral College meets.

Anna Karina died on my birthday last year.

She was 79.

But this film doesn’t deal with the wonderful Ms. Karina.

No, this film deals with another stunning beauty:  Anne Wiazemsky.

Wiazemsky died three years ago.

The same year Redoubtable came out.

In the English-speaking world, we know it (ironically) as Godard Mon Amour.

Sounds more sophisticated to have the subtitled film with a more commercial FRENCH product label.

Redoubtable is too vague.

Godard Mon Amour sells itself.

[that’s what the advertising guys must have said]

Godard and Wiazemsky were married for 12 years.

Godard and Karina married for a mere 4.

I’ve never read Mauriac.

I have nothing against Catholics.

I adore Olivier Messiaen’s music.

So it bears mentioning that one of the smartest, most unique artists in the history of the world was a French Catholic [Messiaen].

Which is to say, believing in God does not make you boring.

I believe in God.

The same God.

The Christian God.

God who gave us Jesus.

God who gave us synesthesia.

Combat didn’t like La Chinoise.

De Gaulle withdrew from NATO.

Will Trump win?

De Gaulle supported sovereignty.

The European Union is the antithesis of what de Gaulle wanted.

De Gaulle criticized America’s war in Vietnam.

But that wasn’t enough for revolutionaries like Godard.

Too lukewarm.

De Gaulle wanted Québec to be free from Canada.

If you’ve ever been to Québec, you might see why.

It is unlike the rest of Canada.

Except for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

But not really.

Île de Chêne?

1755-1764.

Conservatism.

De Gaulle.

Biography.

Mauriac.

Wiazemsky.

Mauriac’s granddaughter.

Starring in a Maoist film directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

La Chinoise.

And then they married.

Godard was correct.

Au Hasard Balthazar is the antithesis of the Central Intelligence Agency.

But Godard never said that.

I did.

So Anne Wiazemsky wrote a book called Un An Après which was published in 2015.

She died two years later.

The same year her book was adapted for film as Redoubtable.

She died of breast cancer.

Less than a month after Redoubtable was released in France.

This film proves that Michel Hazanavicius is a very talented filmmaker.

It proves that he knows his Godard.

But it is flawed.

Aren’t all masterpieces?

Maybe not.

Is Redoubtable a masterpiece?

In some ways, yes.

In some ways, no.

It is probably most similar to Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock.

Both of them are films of “exorbitant privilege”.

Which is to say, a little out of touch with their subject matter.

Was Pablo Picasso ever called an asshole?

Not if we take Jonathan Richman at his word.

Art contains deeper layers of meaning.

Usually.

Unless you’re Warhol.

In which case, the meaning MAY be found closer to the surface.

Stravinsky liked this too.

Music has no meaning.

It is just tones.

Timbres.

Rhythms.

Harmonies.

Little dots on a page.

So we are told.

By Igor.

Jean-Luc Godard and Igor Stravinsky both embraced MANY different approaches to their craft over their long careers.

Because they loved their crafts.

They were addicted.

It was a compulsion.

And, for Godard, it remains so.

Godard married the girl who rejected Robert Bresson.

Do not underestimate the thrill of this.

The thrill of it all.

Bresson was a genius too.

But she was only 18 when Bresson made his advances.

Girls want to live.

Bresson was 65.

Bold.

Numbers can lie.

Godard and Wiazemsky were only together as man and wife for three years.

Though they were married for 12.

Three years was enough, apparently.

The divorce appears to have been more a formality.

Anna.

Anne.

Anne-Marie.

I spoke to Anne-Marie on the phone once.

In exceedingly-broken French.

She was saintly in her patience.

All I wished to convey, as I called Rolle (Switzerland) on my flip phone, was that Godard was my intellectual hero.  [it is true]  And that his LATE films mattered.  That they mattered THE MOST.  That he had created beauty.  That he had plumbed the depths.  I owed it to my master to deliver this message before I (or he) died (God forbid).

I was compelled.

Jean-Luc Godard is my favorite creator this side of heaven.

Even though I don’t agree with his politics.

Bob Dylan is neck-and-neck for this honor.

Dylan is, no doubt, my favorite musician to have ever lived.

Neck-and-neck with Roland Kirk (perhaps).

My favorite jazz artist.

My favorite instrumentalist.

It is never noted that Wiazemsky was in Les Gauloises bleues.

And Godard could be an asshole.

So can I.

So can Trump.

Trump is my ideological hero.

My political hero.

I DO agree with his political philosophy.

Wholeheartedly.

And yet, my favorite film director (auteur) remains Godard.

No one is even neck-and-neck with JLG for me.

Brakhage is a distant second.

Welles is formidable.

But they do not hit the mark like Jean-Luc.

Il seme dell’uomo.

Nothing suggestive there.

Global plague.

Marco Ferreri.

Marco Margine?

Shot-reverse shot.

And then I gave Jacques Demy’s grandson piano lessons.

Or Agnès Varda’s grandson.

Same difference.

More like organ lessons.

Booker T.

You should use Belmondo again.

Funny films.

We see Coutard’s hair early.

Politics entered soon.

Le Petit soldat.

Shadow war.

The perfection of Vivre sa vie.

The jaunty, carefree, playful anarchy of Breathless.

And a sadness tied to beauty.

Politics again with Les Carabiniers.

An attempt at commercialism with Contempt.

Equivalent to Nirvana’s In Utero album.

Big-budget negation.

Nihilism.

A thorough disdain for the Hollywood system.

And the “tradition of quality” in France.

But something deeper…and more bitter.

Bande à part more like Breathless.

A little like Vivre sa vie.

Dancing.

Pinball.

Billiards.

Cafe culture.

Down and out in Paris.

Life at the margin of society.

YOUTH!

Hazanavicius first really gets going with Une Femme mariée.

Stacy Martin in the nude.

Stunning.

Cinematography.

Grabbing the bedsheets.

Clutch.

Brace brace brace.

The resemblance to Charlotte Gainsbourg is striking.

A little Alphaville.

Someone who nibbles Godard’s neck.

The Samuel Fuller scene from Pierrot le fou turned into a fistfight.

Politics.

Don’t insult me!

A bit of Macha Méril in the hair.

And a bit more of Chantal Goya.

Getting shouted down by a situationist during the May ’68 occupation of the Sorbonne.  Lumped in with Coca-Cola.

Things go dark with insults.

Swiss-Maoist jerk.

On the blink.

“Ruby’s Arms”.

It hurts.

Made in U.S.A.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her.

Urbanism.

“You ruined my shot!”

Ciné-tracts.

Eating Chinese food.

A rather unfortunate outburst directed at a war hero.

And his wife.

These are the things we do.

When we’re young.

And stupid.

And fiery.

What is striking is the humor in Redoubtable.

The broken eyeglasses.

The slipping shoes.

And their replacement.

I must give credit to Louis Garrel.

He really does convey the mania and eccentricity of Godard.

While Stacy Martin is very good here, it is a shame that Hazanavicius chose to lovingly evoke every detail of Godard’s life…except Wiazemsky’s red hair.

 

-PD

Champagne [1928)

Music changes everything.  How do we start?  Mahler.  I doubted myself.  Barber.  But I was right.  It is that one dissonance which should have convinced me.  The notes rubbing against one another.

And then I slipped.  Like Betty Balfour.  Dvorak?  Berlioz?  No, it’s Sibelius.

A music scholar doesn’t need Shazam.  But I’m a shabby music scholar.  Rags to rags.

Betty Balfour gets to mingle with the ragpickers for awhile, but for her it is riches to riches.

This is a silent film.  Which is to say, it is not silent.

That is the history of cinema.  A misconception.

And music changes everything.  If it’s Giorgio Moroder providing the soundtrack for Fritz Lang…that makes a big difference.

I really lost my way at some point.  I thought I was hearing Mozart…

We thought he wrote a requiem for his pet starling.  Perhaps not.

Yes, at some point we became very lost.  Flying over the Atlantic.  Like the Mary Celeste.  Bermuda Triangle.

It wasn’t the Flying Dutchman.  I think we would have recognized Don Giovanni.  Maybe not.

Betty doesn’t know when to stop.  Lots of seasickness in these early Hitchcock films.

There’s no missing Bolero.  Ravel’s worst piece.  Worlds ahead of most music ever written.

But nothing beats the Piano Concerto in G.

When Betty is weightless…remembering the good times…champagne.  And now she is merely a wage slave.  Trading places.

No talking.  Some intertitles.  And prominently (most prominently) that music!  A choice…by someone.  It makes a difference.

Put a murder to the tendresse of Beethoven.  A birth to Schoenberg.

The orchestra makes a difference.  That flat, unwieldy oboe line…

Yes, I know it’s polytonal, but the intonation is rubbish.  Like the Salvation Army rendition of “Abide with Me” at the beginning of Fist of Fury.  Makes Monk and Coltrane sound absolutely polished.

No, I can’t stand it.  Gordon Harker is great…just as he was in The Farmer’s Wife.  Without italics that sounds positively lascivious.  Thank god for capitalization.

Did Hitchcock predict the stock market crash of ’29?  A case could be made.  Yet here it is charade.

Betty falls prey to Bresson’s predecessor…pickpocket filmed from the waist down.  Rage Over a Lost Penny.  Op. 129.  I’m just venting.

Gordon Harker parenting.  Like Gregg Popovich.  Pride in the name of love.

Nothing’s going very well for Betty.  Taken literally, this is a nihilist coup.  But just ask Bert Williams:  nothing don’t put food on the table.  Nobody.

More like “nothing to see here”…  Hitchcock would lament to Truffaut.  Nevertheless, the particular transfer I have (and the Romantic soundtrack) made this an interesting journey.  Most of all we learn that the auteur theorists were right:  geniuses never make bad films.

-PD

Vertigo [1958)

Lovesick.  To know love is to know vertigo.  The great French composer Olivier Messiaen described love as a dizzy feeling (I paraphrase).   To quote the great Bob Dylan from his best album (1997’s Time Out of Mind), “I’m sick of love.”

When I first saw Vertigo I didn’t particularly like it.  I was a neophyte cineaste and I suppose it went over my head.  Indeed, the film did not really click for me until I saw a 70mm restored print as part of the Paramount Theater’s summer film series in Austin, Texas some years back.  I finally began to appreciate the cinematography of Robert Burks…the way the city of San Francisco comes to life in front of the lens he shared with Hitchcock.  As a rather naïve film lover I had once seen Life Is Beautiful several times in the theater upon its release and there was something in the mise-en-scène which gave me a wonderful, cozy, rich feeling…an ambiance which I drank in with each successive viewing.  It is this aspect of film (mood) which really makes Vertigo go.

Bernard Herrmann’s music was never more important to a Hitchcock film than to the one at hand.  The whole production almost becomes a music video during Scottie’s initial trailing of Madeleine.  There is not a word of dialogue from the flower shop to the cemetery to the art museum.  I will not regale you with scholarly milliseconds, but I’m willing to guess that approximately five whole minutes go by completely buoyed by the photography of Burks and the music of Herrmann (all, of course, framed by the voyeuristic passage in our story…and all, likewise, under the watchful eye-of-eyes:  Hitch).

Suffice it to say that I now recognize this to be one of Hitchcock’s best films (if not the best) and therefore one of the best films ever made by any director.  Alfred Hitchcock seems to me as the Beethoven of cinema, but he might just as well be the Bach.  Of other analogies he might be considered our Rembrandt…and almost certainly our Shakespeare.

And so it is that the main protagonist in Vertigo is mood.  What mood?  Which?  Not just any, is it?  It is the mood of Tristan und Isolde…Wagner…that painful longing for love.  Bernard Herrmann borrowed nicely from old Richard in the rich, autumnal, self-consuming harmonies.  Other times, by the sea for instance, we are brought into the sphere of La mer by Debussy.  Whether at Fort Point or floating down endless San Francisco automobile inclines, the weightlessness is also reminiscent of the same composer’s Pelléas et Mélisande.  Herrmann even seems to reference Ravel in the pensive motif which seems like Carlotta’s Iberian clock (ticking to bolero snaps of the second hand).

Yes, Vertigo is a film which will send critics into an orgiastic dither from now till the end of time (I suppose).  My contribution is simple.  Watch it.  Then watch it again.  And then watch it yet again.  There are secrets in this tapestry.  It is pure mystery.

-PD