Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Psychology New Cinema

For this post I was rethinking the discussion last week about Godard, Delueze and the issue of cinema in relation to Eisenstein. This got me thinking about going back to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s chapter “The Film and the New Psychology.” Merleau-Ponty discusses the issue with modern psychology in regards to film. He calls for a new methodology for thinking about man’s place in the world. Merleau-Ponty writes, “The new psychology has…revealed man to us not as an understanding which constructs the world but as a being thrown into the world and attached to it by a natural bond” (53). Although his emphasizes on a new way of thinking about man, the world and his place in it, Merleau-Ponty is really concerned with an essence that predicates intelligence. Now, intelligence for Merleau-Ponty is linked closely with perception. His claim for something that predates or something that is more deeply rooted than perception seems to be that of presence—that which creates a biological bond between man and the world. This is quite a heavy topic in and of itself; however, what Merleau-Ponty is getting at is the notion of a new way of viewing the world that is interdisciplinary, combining psychology, philosophy and a technological advancement, cinema. He writes that psychology, philosophy and filmmaking share an essential link to the world. This link seems to lie in the realm of consciousness, but also the inseparable connection between the body and the mind. Merleau-Ponty’s last line writes,

“if philosophy is in harmony with cinema, if thought and technical effort are heading in the same direction, it is because the philosopher and the moviemaker share a certain way of being, a certain view of the world which belongs to a generation. It offers us yet another chance to confirm that modes of thought correspond to technical methods and that, to use Goethe’s phrase, ‘What is inside is also outside’” (59).    

The correspondence Merleau-Ponty writes about between philosophy and cinema becomes an interesting predicate to thinking about Godard and Delueze. He creates this connection between the possibilities of cinema to create a different way of, as he states, “…presenting consciousness thrown into the world…” (58).  The chapter begins with critiquing the methods of psychology and image, but ends up optimistic about the parallels between philosophy and cinema. However, he also recognizes the adolescence of this pairing, tying these disciplines to a unique generation of individuals who will develop with this ability to capture through the cinema what philosophers have been doing through written language. For Merleau-Ponty, the technology of cinema has enabled this new manner in thinking—a new manner to portray the unity of consciousness of body and mind. 



The Importance in a Name

I'm going to make this relatively brief, but I just wanted to raise a few perhaps disconnected points about this scene from Eloge De L'Amour:

During the discussion of America’s name, or more rightly put the United State’s name, Godard is drawing on a real grievance voiced by many Latinos and Canadians. My own mother, who is from Puerto Rico, often insisted that I use U.S. to refer to this country as opposed to America for precisely this reason. I always ran into the same dilemma that is raised here: What do we call the people who inhabit this United States of America? United Statesians? U.S. citizens? It was all hopelessly clumsy. The fact that Godard was able to extract such interesting meanings from this childhood problem made the scene fascinatingly poignant to me. Concern with naming and names is not limited to this specific argument. In the United States it had a particular resonance with the black power movement, who sought to remove names that were tied to a history of slavery and rename themselves. One can find similarities between Elle’s deconstruction of America with Malcolm X’s deconstruction of his own name here:

There is also that strain of semiotics present in religions, such as Christianity and, perhaps especially, in Judaism (to name a few) in which the word, or name has the power of its referent. There is a certain reversing of this logic, where some of the substance of the thing named enters its name, in this film where it is a lack or contradiction instead of a power which moves from the named to the name.

For me, this fluid back and forth between a discussion of semiotics and substance is one of the things that set artists such as Chris Marker and Godard apart from other political filmmakers. In their work names and named are constantly leading back into each other, each reflecting insights about the other. The lifting of this argument about a country’s and a continent’s name and placing it in the context of Eloge De L'Amour opens up its possible meanings beyond the binary opposition of politics in general. It is easy when making a film dealing with politics (as well as aesthetic theory) to fall into the trap of lecturing the audience, of being too didactic, and ending up with a movie that would be better written as a theses paragraph at the beginning of a class paper than shown on the screen. Politics in the films of Marker and Godard are not the endpoint but rather a form of movement in and out of the everyday and the unknown, a movement that serves to expand the films’ scopes rather than limit them.

Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa

Monday, November 28, 2011

Alphaville: Love and Poetry

Godard’s Alphaville is a concoction of love and technology, poetry and science.

In a city that is governed by an evil scientist, those who experience love, or grief, or even read poetry are sentenced to death. A tragic scene suffused with endless murder and beautiful synchronized swimmers, is displayed very matter-of-factly. The insouciance attitude in the characters is genuine to Alphaville on account of the inhuman sensitivity that everyone in this city is to attain. This scene specifically demonstrates the interrelation between evil and poetry that is prominent throughout the film.

Alphaville, the city where love is obsolete, technology plays the leading role. Ironically Alphaville is fluid with romanticism and despair that is easily interpreted by the over-sexualized women in this city. And it isn’t hard to predict that it is through the pursuit of love that Alphaville’s regime is eradicated.

Anna Karina, who plays the evil scientists’ daughter, maneuvers her way into the heart of an “outsider”, a journalist who has come to save its citizens from the Alpha 60 dictatorship. Here, with a touch of passion and courage, the journalist who also claims to stand for justice, hunts and kills the scientist while consequentially destroying Alphaville itself.

In a city that is entranced with apathy and dispassion, the film is flooded with love and poetry. From the opening quote by Borges: “Sometimes reality is too complex for oral communication. But legend embodies it in a form which enables it to spread all over the world”, to Anna Karina reading a love poem from Éluard’s Capital of Pain, Godard weaves love and poetry in and out in this hollow-robotic city.  For the protagonist, poetry turns darkness into light, and in the end, only those who love survive.


A Woman is a Woman

This was the first film of Godard's that I've seen. I was about twelve years old and remembered it solely as being this "cute" comedy with a pretty girl in it...

Directed in 1961, (after Le Petit Soldat, Karina's first movie with Godard - which wasn't released until 1963) Godard intended to make a musical, a "comic spectacle" but when he began his relationship with Karina, he added deeper issues and conflicts to the relationship between the two main characters Angela and Emile, making this film somewhat about his life with Karina: she is a heavy-accented Danish entertainer (in the movie she talks about having to call her parents in Copenhagen), they live together but are not yet married.
Originally, Godard wanted to make a musical and too often, it is advertised as being one, but it is rather a film with music, a film with an entertainer who wishes she was in a musical. As Angela says, "Je voudrais être dans une comédie musicale!" ("I would like to be in a musical !").

Since its creation, cinema has been codified whether it be in the script-writing or narration or the relationship of the actor to the camera: looking at the camera, jump cuts or the 180 degree rule were not to be used, so that the action on screen is coherent and understandable, the camera being at the service of the action. Nouvelle Vague filmmakers, in particular Godard, put a stop to this narrative logic. A Woman is a Woman fits into this new wave of thought and film-making: the beginning of the film -which like all of Godard's films is very stylized- is made up of titles in the colors of the French flag, saying  "ONCE UPON A TIME"; "GODARD"; "MUSICAL"; "LUBITSCH" etc. 

The credits end when we hear "LIGHTS" with a photo of Brialy, "CAMERA" with a photo of Karina and "ACTION!" with a photo of Belmondo. 

Godard makes the viewer aware that it is a film that is being watched, whether the actor is actually commenting on the film (like in Weekend Roland: "What a rotten film.") or making a film in several chapters, or tableaux, like in Vivre Sa Vie. In A Woman is a Woman, Karina winks at the camera, Belmondo comments into it about Karina when she leaves "et elle s'en va" ("and she leaves.") and Karina even tells her lover that he has to greet the spectators, so they both bow into the camera, it is almost like a spectacle we are watching.

As for the production of the film, this was Godard's first Cinemascope and color film, which not only affected the size of the crew and the shoot schedule but also the amount of artificial light to be used, which was not to Godard's taste, since him and Coutard mostly used available light in other films. Godard also mapped out the film based on an apartment he was going to rent from a couple, but not too long before the shoot was to begin, the couple withdrew, which made Godard's crew happy since filming in a studio would be a lot easier: the camera would be able to move anywhere since the walls could be shifted, there would be no ceiling, so the lights could be placed anywhere. However, they were quickly disappointed, as Godard decided to construct an exact replica of the apartment, with its walls and ceilings and disadvantages.
As for the dialogue, Godard is known for giving their lines to the actors the same day (which for some actors such as Jean Seberg was a problem, as they couldn't study the character). In A Woman is a Woman, Brialy, Karina and Belmondo would have to learn their lines immediately before shooting, as Godard could not call the lines out to them during shooting because of direct sound, which made Karina -an untrained actress still- run off the set on many occasions.

As Brialy said, "[Godard and Karina] tore each other apart, argued [...] hated each other, screamed at each other." but they loved each other, like Angela and Emile. 
It is a wonderful film, which will never get old. And yes, a woman is a woman. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Eisenstein + More thoughts on Intellectual Montage

I really enjoyed Eisenstein's call for a new look at montage and film analysis. What particularly  jumped out at me was the way in which Eisenstein reinforces his belief in the massive potential cinema has to offer as an artistic medium. 

In terms of a  dialectic approach, it is important that Eisenstein notes that all forms of art involve an incongruence. In other words they involve some kind of collision of thoughts or images that then produce a new meaning that is created by the observer. One of my favorite examples was the way in which Eisenstein explains how this process is seen in painting.

"What comprises the dynamic effect of a painting? The eye follows the direction of an element in the painting. It retains a visual impression, which then collides with the impression derived from following the direction of a second element. The conflict of these directions forms the dynamic effect in apprehending the whole."

Even in painting Eisenstein suggests that there in additive process taking palace, that once one line is observed, and the next line that the eye meets deviates from that form, an abstract concept or expression in created. What I think Einstein is saying about film is that not only is montage constructed out if the process (A+B=C), but that in other mediums this process is somewhat of a closed system. There is only so much an artist can achieve on one canvas.Film, on the other hand, has multiple convergences happening, on both concrete, straight forward levels and abstract levels in the "higher nerve systems of the thought apparatus"

While I am still trying to have a better understanding on what Einstein is suggesting about what intellectual montage is. My view on it so far is this:

If tonal and over-tonal montage are ways in which ideas and moods are created, they are simply being brought into awareness. They are the abstract synthesis of ideas, moods, and tones etc.  I think a possible way to view intellectual montage as the synthesis of a thesis. Now that we have these concepts, how do we arrange them to make a statement? What is the take home message? Can the observer connect these themes and construct a statement based on the the sociopolitical nature of their time as well as their specific status in life? Perhaps tonal and over-tonal montage are raising certain questions while intellectual montage, taking place in the mind of the observer, is the process of answering them.

-Joe Violette

Friday, November 25, 2011

If everything's going we're going bad as well!

One of my favorite film movements has barely been discussed in class, the readings, and the blog -- Czech New Wave. Running parallel with French New Wave, Czech New Wave used a lot of the same practices seen in Godard films in the 60s. The films had political undertones and used non-professional actors, but yet they do not get the same recognition as the French New Wave/Godard's films. I've read that Godard considered "Czech cinema at the time being too 'bourgeois.'" (link!) I completely disagree with him, because often these films depict the working class such as 1966's Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains) or Hoří, má panenko (The Firemen's Ball) -- which apparently used no actors, and all the firemen were the real firemen from the town the film is set.

But if there is any Czech New Wave film to go head to head with any Godard film it would be 1966's Sedmikrásky (Daisies). Now for comparing purposes, I've picked Week end to go against Daisies; Both came out around the same time [Daisies came out a year before] and both are known for its absurdity.

While the car represents the bourgeois culture in Week end, in Daisies the scissors represent the destruction of that culture. Both Marie I and Marie II use scissors to cut up sausages, pickles and bananas (phallic symbols), themselves, and even the film screen itself.

Within the first 3 minutes of the film, the Maries both decided that "if everything's going we're going bad as well." is the complete opposite of Week end, where we see these people who are already bad, doing bad things. The Maries see the only way of destroying the society they were brought up in is to be exactly like it until it destroys itself. Mind you, their vision of being bad is pulling pranks on old men "sugar daddies" and other silly antics.

Eating is a theme shown in both films. In one corner: Week end ends with cannibalism, and in the other corner: Daisies always shows the Maries constantly eating and the film ends with the Maries finding a huge royalty-like dinner set up.

While Week end has overtly political messages such as the dialogue in the scene with the two garbage men, Daisies is already political between it uses two actresses [or are they non-professional actresses?] who are in relations with themselves and forget the world of men. The film passes the Bechel test, a "rule" from a character from the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, who would only watch a film follows these requirements:
1. It has to have at least two women characters
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something other than a man.

Godard films will always fail the Bechel test. But how can I or any other female filmmaker who want to destroy the failed, non-Bechel model? Should we go bad and make completely absurd films with only men? Or absurd rom-com?

A decent quality of Daisies is on youtube:


What is postmodernism anyway?

In his chapter Smiling with Regret, Douglas Morrey confronts the classification of Godard as a postmodern filmmaker. As we have increasingly seen after his film "Weekend", Godard style undergoes a drastic transformation. As he because more enamored of video we see techniques such as freeze frame slowly leak into his cinematic form. Morrey also identifies the significant increase and change in Godard's citational style. This movement away from a traditional narrative, combined with experimental elements of montage, and quotation support the claim that Godard is a postmodern filmmaker.

Jean-Francois Lyotard defined postmodernism as the crisis of narrative, particularly in reference to the narratives inherited from the pervious generation of storytellers. Godard works hard to confront the traditions of narrative, even from his early works. Remember the appearance of title cards in Vivre sa Vie. He is interested early on in the organization of stories and the conventions of organization found in cinema at the time. As Godard career progresses we can see his evolution of narrative exploration. I agree with Lyotard that this period does confer a crisis in narrative, but the crisis is not destruction. His approach to his later films still employs narrative through experimental political, cultural, and social critique.

Morrey acknowledges that some commentators paint postmodernists as surrenders of political questions by citing the realization of a perfect political system in liberal democracy. It is true that Godard's more overtly political films like La Choinoise stand is stark contrast to more experimental films like King Lear, but to suggest as Robert Stam does that Godard's later work is only radical "in an aesthetic nature" completely misses the deep philosophical questions Godard raises about the nature of post industrial capitalism. Though Godard is not the only filmmaker to address concerns about the rapidly rising consumer culture, few filmmakers address this problem with such zeal.

Stam's critique accuses Godard of technical and aesthetic tricks, while challenging the narrative as something banal. I couldn't disagree more. It is through his expanded use of montage, citation and juxtaposition in his later work that becomes this political component. I think that we have seen that Godard is a filmmaker who consistently challenges assumptions of political organization and the culture industry throughout his entire career. But there is a danger of, as Terry Eagleton says of allowing postmodernism to become a "catch all term for board cultural phenomena". Here we can see that Lyotard's definition is too broad. Without specific criteria, we find that the term "postmodernism" loses all meaning. Lyotars definition is too broad and does not adequately address our concerns here. Morrey then suggests Frederic Jameson as an alternative to Lyotard with his definition of postmodern culture as a critique of multinational capitalism and one that is overtly political.

In this sense, we can see that Godard clearly fits this definition. His use of citation and montage are explicitly directed to counter what he sees as the capitalist invasion of the daily life of people. One of my favorite examples of this is in the film where Godard juxtaposes clippings from magazines onto of dialogue of girls talking about sexual intercourse. What can be read as a innocent scene between two friends sharing their fears and questions about the intimate details of their sex lives, takes on a darker meaning when rapidly cut with images of products aimed at women to feel more beautiful.

Morrey suggests that the borrowing of forms without regard to their content is a characteristic of postmodernism. We can see this in Godard's use of quotation. Sometimes the quotations are used out of context, or as Morrey suggests " isolating a single thought, image, or observation that pleases him or that fits into the associative schema of the film". Some quotations can be seen as more significant than others. But, like his use of montage, this use of quotation is not postmodern in and of itself. Many filmmakers refer to other works, but do not fit within the confines of postmodern. But it is Gordard's use of quotation that is significant. It is his skill in juxtaposition both of references and montage that gives Godard this postmodernist label.

I argue that it is his use of quotation in combination with his use of montage creates a unique narrative progression where Godard attempts to incorporate ideas, motifs and symbols that exist outside of the narrative structure of his films. But this incorporation attempts to enhance rather than to distract or deconstruct the narrative. Those looking to reconcile Godard's narrative approach with that of a traditional 3 or 5 act structure will be disappointed. His approach delivers a story that the viewer must actively engages with to construct. It is this shifting of responsibility from the filmmaker to the viewer that gives these later films their style, and counts them among postmodern cinema.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

C'est combien?

A cinematic glance at the fictionalized female sex-body and the male war-body, as seen in these side-by-side scenes from Godard’s Vivre sa vie and Denis’ Beau travail.  Please see my post, “Féminin masculin,”     from last year for clarification on the ideas that I am exploring in response to Godard's consistent emphasis on capitalism and labor as applied to the female body in prostitution (as opposed to the male body on duty/in combat).  Essentially, I am continuing to explore the similarities and disparities between trades and societal mores when applied to these gendered bodies-in-action (and in-payment). 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Knock on the Lens

“One of the first Brechtian commandments is that the audience should never forget it is at the theatre" – Bernard Dort, "Towards a Brechtian Criticism of Cinema” (p. 237)

Pierrot le Fou is littered with reminders that the audience is watching a film.  Employing such Brechtian technique abruptly ends any attempt on the part of the audience to live inside of the fantasy in the film: to project themselves on to the protagonist as he/she kills the bad guy or woos the maiden. Below are a few examples from Pierrot le Fou.

Exhibit A: As we view footage of Ferdinand and Marianne racing through the south of France, Godard abruptly inserts a shot of the word cinema flashing in neon lights. A subtle nudge one is viewing a film. 

Exhibit B: Ferdinand and Marianne are driving through the countryside when Ferdinand “breaks the fourth wall” and speaks directly to camera. When Marianne asks, “who are you talking to?” Ferdinand replies, “the audience.” 

Godard is clear: this film is not the place for you to live out your fantasies.

Brecht used this technique to push the audience away; to give them a critical distance from the play which would allow them to rationally assess the content.  Godard doesn’t seem to employ this method for the same purpose, instead he uses it to ask us to reconsider film as a type of music or language. As we witness one absurd aside after another, expectations of a cohesive story disintegrate. The beginning of the film has little to nothing to do with the end. The movie moves along a road and each scene is a town that will be driven through but not returned to. Godard asks us to reconsider film as a kind of music – no plot just ideas. Strung together one after the other. No story just language. No movie just cinema. 

Mike O'Malley

A thought on style

After having watched Tout va bien (1972), I believe we all could not help but notice the “dollhouse” effect at the beginning of the film. This dolly shot right across the stage of the factory reminded me, as was briefly mentioned in class, of a Wes Anderson film. In The Life Aquatic, Anderson uses a similar, but tightly framed dollhouse effect as a stylistic technique. This prompted me to rhetorically ask the following question: what is the difference between a political film resulting in a particular style, verses personal style for style sake? One could argue that style for style sake is some higher concept of post-modernism at work, but that does not sit right with the relationship to Godard’s work.  Quotation and citation in a Godard work seem more than just empty references. In Tout va bien there is this consciousness about what is a film. At the beginning there is this uneven ground between the narrative lead-in to a film and contemplation of what a film consists of and what a film needs to be in order to become a film. Self-reflexivity only briefly describes the workings of the film, because Godard is accessing all the medium’s formal components, not with the intention of creating an aesthetically pleasing style, but the intention of creating a specific image, a specific political gesture. There is this multiplicity in a Godard film. Underneath the structure of the film, there is also an underlying struggle in distinguishing life from film, film from art, and art from life. Part of this is Godard’s pursuit and commentary on his own work, but another part is the philosophical struggle of a work of art itself. Then there is another contemplation of the politics, labor and modern French society.

The result of this dollhouse effect in Tout va bien is less about style, but what this effect does for the film. Film is normally perceived as limited to linear motion like a time line moving in forward motion from the beginning to the end of the narrative. Here, Godard uses the dollhouse effect as a temporal vision of spatial depth. The audience has the privilege of witnessing events simultaneously in real time, like one would in everyday activities. Events do not occur one right after the other, events happen simultaneously all at once. The dollhouse effect is an expression of time as what Eisenstein would consider, a form of spatial depth or temporal depth.[1] This notion of spatial depth is an extension of Eisenstein’s argument of superimposition to two conflicting images.[2] Instead of conflicting images, Godard creates a shot of congruent images distinguished by the frame of each individual room. Each room is uniquely different than the other, and each event taking place is uniquely different; however, the participants are only aware of the room they inhabit, and unaware of the happenings in other spaces. The factory becomes a vision of time as it exists, but only through an abstract representation like the dollhouse effect could this take place. For the purpose of this film, pursuit seems to trump style and rather style is a result of pursuit. 

In the Anderson film, it is more about homage to Godard’s work or simply the focus on aesthetics. The Brechtian influence is part of Godard’s film, and not so much as Anderson’s. I guess there is a struggle between what is homage, quotation, citation, style and aesthetic. What makes these methods powerful and what makes this just style for style sake? There is seems to be a contributive factor distinguishing these terms and that is usage. It is not enough to use homage without an engaging in the usage in a critical manner. The effect is similar to having a dangling quotation without a reference and without any knowledge from where it came without critically engaging with the material. In Tout va bien the audience never gives into the narrative, for that matter the style does not work to engage, but works to disengage the viewer from the film. However, this description only describes a fleeting moment; the self-reflexivity of the film only lasts for a moment, while Godard actively switches to something new, something we haven’t seen before. It is an experiment in progress that the audience bears witness, rather that a style we are expected to admire or take pride in recognizing.  

1 Eisenstein, Sergei. “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” Film Form: Essays in Film Theory
Ed.Trans. Jay Leyda. San Diego HBJ Book. 1949. PDF File. Pg 4

2 Eisenstein, 6


Friday, November 18, 2011


Can a discourse be critiqued or modified from without that discourse?
A brief analysis of the economics of life and thought.

Discourse, like language, functions as a system of exchange. Every time we speak, we enter by virtue of our words into a chain of signifiers - just as currency enters into circulation.

The Savings Account
Guy Debord.  His Situationist musings were conceived as strategies to fight commercialization, reification, and re-appropriation of art works after observing that even subversive art becomes normalized when successful, landing in an art museum. The Situationist solution is taking art out of circulation: to construct art that is ephemeral, i.e. situations, which can never be assimilated into exchange. If an act or work does not enter into exchange, it leaves no trace on that system of exchange, can it then affect that system of exchange?

Priming the Pump
Brice Parain. Nana’s first words to him are “Do you mind if I look?” Parain responds to the question of what he is doing “Reading,” – Nana and Parain are opposed as the “looker” and the “reader.” As the conversation continues, we learn that speaking and thought are one thing. Through a parable (Nana saw the movie, but didn’t read the book), thought is identified with death and yet speaking is a rebirth, a redemption while at the same time the death of silence. Errors and lies are more or less the same thing – not finding the right word. Love is a contingent truth and is something we mature into by making mistakes. Eventually we must find “the word that says what it must say and does what it must do” words become identified with action again – but only after critical distance is created “you cannot speak well until you see life with detachment.” Parain cites German philosophy as teaching us that we must come to truth (the right word, the right love, the right action) dialectically – i.e. through error.

The Bottom Line
Nana’s inability to find the right words is her fear of making a mistake in life and love, her unwillingness or hesitancy to enter into circulation, into discourse. The dialectic presented here is that we act, we observer our behavior with detachment (the only way to observe), and then we find new words/acts that represent modified behaviors. As our new words become new acts they can be seen once again with detachment before we once again modify them. But we must be willing to kill off our silent selves, we must be willing to make a mistake, and we must be willing to reenter the fray, reenter circulation before we must be willing to look once again upon our new behaviors with detachment for future modifications. In the same way we love, we love again, we love better. “We pass from silence to thought, that’s the movement of life.”

It seems to me then that the Situationist solution does not accept this dialectic movement and this explains Debord’s fear of the artwork’s commodification. It is a desire like Nana’s to remain above the fray by not investing herself. “Why must we speak… Wouldn’t it be nice if we could remain silent?” Debord is afraid that his artwork will be coopted, in other words, that he’ll choose the wrong word. Of course, he’s right. It will. He will. But I think the point is, and he would agree: they’re all wrong words. But perhaps he’s forgetting the bit of truth in the error/lie. The question is, what do you do faced with this reality – speak anyway, knowing you’ll have to speak again, or remain silent? We must stand outside of discourse to establish critical distance, but then we must re-enter circulation to affect it. Eventually, Nana does choose to act, to love, to be her own agent and to enter the fray, and she suffers the death of her silent self.

In many ways I feel that many of Godard’s films forget this, his own lesson, and that by using Brechtian distanciation and didactic non-identification among other techniques, he attempts to avoid assimilation, avoid affirming the dominant ideology, i.e. avoid making a mistake, avoid picking a story. But that’s a thought to be elaborated in another venue.

Loose Change
·      Nana says in her conversation with Parain that words lose meaning if we over use them indicating a fear of a kind of linguistic inflation.
·      When Parain says that “to speak well one must renounce life for a while” he then says “that’s the price” suggesting that we pay with our lives.
·      Is this rhetorical analysis of the economics of discourse and exchange speaking through the ideology of capitalism and therefore subject to criticism from without on these grounds?


              "Whenever I hear the word 'culture' I break out my checkbook." 

* From the boy dressed as an Indian in Weekend who exclaims this when his mother’s car is dented.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Self-Reflexive Politics and Tout va Bien

 In response to the recent post by Lindsey on the anti-capitalist tradition of Godard, especially that represented within Tout Va Bien (1972), I would argue that the French New Wave, along with Roland Barthes paved new pedagogical paths for a new left, or a new left media that would denounce the propagandistic representation of ‘anticapitalism.’  As Morrey writes, “the theme may surface in a number of different guises, but central to it is a questioning of how alienated labour under capitalism has transformed our interpersonal relations and marked our social and sexual bodies” (Morrey 2005; 53). A  goal within the new wave seems to be to render visible the conditions of the psychology of late capitalism and to make these images ripe with questions for a new future; the process is more about raising questions than it is to make prominent the denunciations. 

In developing a self-reflexive form of film, Tout Va Bien places not only the political and social climate at the forefront of his work (this film partly as a response to uprisings in 1968), but also raises questions based on Godard and Gorin’s own capacity to direct or to represent these images in such a hasty political climate. As Morrey writes, “Tout Va Bien might be seen as the outcome of a long process of reflection on the events of May and their legacy” (Morrey 2005; 97), and Godard makes the reflective element obvious within this film. Most evident is during the final scene’s where the camera tracks back and forth in front of the check-out counters in the market place. Here, we begin to imagine all of the events of the film as merely a reflection or staged discourse on major political ideologies, protest, and the military industrial complex within the state. All of this is abstracted, just as is the body of an individual in an oppressive political state.

Andrew Jay Bowe

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tout Non Va Bien

It's surprising that over a week after the movie anyone has yet to post a commentary on the syncratic relationship between the state of the world economy and our viewing of Tout Va Bien. (I am sorry, I am a political-economy nerd, it can't be helped!). Since the fourth wall was just broken in this blog post I will be less pedantic and condescending and just be out with it.

The meat factory worker strike, declining wages, increasing profits, more dangerous working conditions, declining standard of living in urban areas, insane school debts and high rents, lower quality food products. We all know it. Capitalism sucks. Thanks Godard, for reminding us about the cyclical nature of industrialization and the concentration of wealth. We really needed that refresher course.

We all love you Godard, we do. The screen shot came from Manufactured Landscapes, you can watch it full length on youtube!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

I've traveled 9,000 Kilometers to Give Tenderness to You

"Allow me to say, at the risk of appearing ridiculous, that a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." -Che Guevara

Morrey mentions Godard's usage of this quote in Le Gai Savoir, but what better film to exemplify that quote than Alphaville: A Strange Case of Lemmy Caution. We first watch Lemmy Caution (AKA Ivan Johnson) passby a sign when entering Alphaville in his Ford Galaxy:
Silence. Logic.
Security. Prudence.
Alphaville is a place where words such as redbreast, weeping, autumn light and tenderness do not exist. Controlled by the computer Alpha 60, Alphaville's creator Professor von Braun (who with his glasses resembles Godard) bans anything that is not logical.  It is also a place where people who behave "illogically" are executed. What's illogical?: the word why; poetry; love; light. 

"Got a light?" asked Natasha "Yes, I've traveled 9,000 kilometeres to give it to you" replied Lemmy. That's how our main characters meet. That's how Natasha is guided towards the light, towards poetry and towards love which therefore leads to her freedom.

Natasha reads a book of poems, Capital of Sorrow by Paul Éluard which was given to Lemmy by a fellow secret agent (whose last words were: "...Alpha 60...make self destruct...Tenderness...Save those who weep.")   Reminiscing to the exact last words said by an illogical at his execution, Nastasha reads from this book "We must advance to live. Aim straight ahead toward those you love. I went toward you, endlessly towards the light."

Throughout the film we watch Nastasha slowly misbehaving: she weeps when Lemmy gets roughed up by Professor van Braun's security, she smiles when she looks at Lemmy, and she learns (herself) how to say "Je vous amie" to the man she loves, Lemmy Caution.



Monday, November 7, 2011


In Godard’s Masculin Féminin, the center of the world for Paul is ‘love’ while the center of the world for Madeleine is ‘self’. In the end, self conquers love. With the demise of Paul, and Madeleine experimenting with her sexuality as her singing career thrives, the film does not illustrate any male or female preference but simply an illustration of 60’s Parisian youth. 

As in Vivre sa Vie, the film experiments with existentialism. Madeleine is in control of her life and seems to increasingly have a grip of the people and situations around her. As her life progresses in confidence, Paul’s life reaches a point of desperation because of his dependency to be driven solely by Madeleine’s love. 

 Merleau- Ponty explains in Sens et Non-Sens, “The new psychology has revealed man to us not as an understanding which constructs the world but as a being thrown into the world and attached to it by a natural bond.” Madeleine’s continuous use of the mirror, as it is displayed in the opening scene as well as in the ten-minute bathroom scene, may symbolize superficiality and narcissism. However, it can de argued that Godard was determining existential ideas and effectively reversing the gaze from the spectator to the protagonist herself.

We discover Madeleine by an examination of her exterior, her experiences, her pop star mode and peppiness against the somber, crazed, and troublesome world of Paul. Eventually the life-making decisions that Madeleine is subjected to in the end of the film give her an equal amount of severity as we may have already conspicuously seen in Paul.

Madeleine, just like all the characters in the film, is victimized and is subject to the modern world, a world of war, sexual freedom, and pop-culture.  Although Godard portrayed a clear distinction in the male and female partiality of thoughts and attitudes, I argue that both masculine and feminine characters share an equal amount of profundity and experience that is sincere to their time.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

An imperfect spontaneity

I have been thinking a lot about Godard emphasis on the spontaneous and the unscripted elements in his film.  While it is obvious in films like Weekend there must be some scripted elements and planned shots, Godard also declines to fully commit to the typical pre production style that has become standard for so many filmmakers. In the article "Struggle on Two Fronts: A Conversation with Jean-Luc Godard" Godard states, “It is only in shooting that you find out what you have to shoot” (Bontemps 25). Godard’s approach seems to be more about finding the story through arrangement than editing towards a preconceived vision

For Godard, the creator has to be “open” to the spontaneity of life; it is the lack of perfection that creates dynamic films. Yet in a struggle on two fronts he drafts a wish list of sorts. Things that he claims would aide the filmmaker in his production. One of his main complains centers on the editing table and how it doesn’t seem to be suited for editing at all. “they are manufactured by men who’ve never done any editing,” (Bontemps 28) and therefore aren’t imbued with the right kind of usefulness to the film editor.

Godard laments that these editing tables are symptomatic of reactionary ideology, and that “If you're trying to make revolutionary movies on a reactionary editing-table, you're going to run into trouble,” (Bontemps 28) .I disagree.  Rather run into trouble I believe that where the reactionary and the revolutionary meet is where the spontaneity that Godard advocates.  I believe that this tension is exactly what Godard needs, the challenges presented by the corporate capitalist structure provide opportunities not only to subvert the system in interesting and creative was but to be challenged to be industrious, to be a problem solver. This is the spontaneity that Godard talks about. The lack of perfection in created by capitalist society offers the artist the problems that become the catalysts for revolutionary art. It is only by having boundaries that limit the artist that allow him to break free through artistic innovation.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Weekend of the Absurd

Weekend started out like many other Godard films. One got the sense that it might be a little out of the ordinary but I don’t think anybody could have anticipated the extent to which it would take things to the extreme. Little by little the film spiraled away from reality until it ended in a grand finally of weirdness. There was no way to guess what would happen next.  All rules were suspended and Godard was free to use the medium of film to do whatever he wanted. There was no narrative that had to be followed or character that had to be developed. With these constrains gone Godard was at liberty to explore something else. Godard was already leading up to this in some of his other films. However, for his final farewell to cinema, he decided to abandon these elements altogether. The result was a sort of Theatre of the Absurd done to the extreme. 

The Theatre of the Absurd rose in popularity in the 50s and 60s and was aligned with existential thought, which Godard has already referenced in many of his other films. There is even school of thought in existentialism,  known as Absurdisim, in which the absurd refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek value and  meaning in life and the human inability to find any. According to this philosophy humanity’s efforts to find meaning are absurd and will ultimatly fail because the sheer amount of information and the vast unknown makes certainty impossible. One solution to this predicament is to accept the absurd and to create one’s own meaning in the process.

There are many similarities between the main characteristics of the Theatre of the Absurd and those found in Weekend. For one, the aim of Absurd plays was to startle viewers and shake them out of their comfortable conventional life. The plays were surreal, illogical, conflict-less, and plotless. One of the most important aspects of absurd drama was its distrust of language as a means of communication. In their view language had become a vehicle of conventionalized, stereotyped, and meaningless exchanges. The loss of logic was also a common characteristic.
“In being illogical, the absurd theatre is anti-rationalist: it negates rationalism because it feels that rationalist thought, like language, only deals with the superficial aspects of things. Nonsense, on the other hand, opens up a glimpse of the infinite. It offers intoxicating freedom, brings one into contact with the essence of life and is a source of marvellous comedy.” (you can read more about this type of theater here)

I’m uncertain of the extent to which Godard was consciously using elements from the Theatre of the Absurd in Weekend. The film is obviously filled with lots of absurd events and nonsense. Godard experimented with many forms of cinema and Weekend is certainly like nothing else he’s ever done before or after. In many ways, he used the film in order to destroy cinema as he knew it and the absurd allowed him to do that. He not only used an “end of the world scenario” as his semi-plot but also played with what that meant in terms of cinema. What happens when you throw all the rules out? What are you left with? No plots, no character development, not much in terms of coherent dialogue, everything gets tossed away and there is something raw about that in both form and content in Weeekend. Once the conventions are gone what is left is nonsense but there is something liberating in nonsense. In that realm one is free to imagine, create, and experiment in a way that isn’t possible under the bonds of logic. Sometimes what comes out is profound, other times its comical but mostly its just odd and challenges us to look at things in a different way. Godard’s choice to use these elements to destroy cinema as he knew it was fitting. Absurd humor can be both annihilating and creative. In this film Godard uses these elements as an attack on the norms of bourgeoisie culture, cinema, and the world as we know it.