Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME (a.k.a. Not a Movie for the Tea Party... or anyone really?)

Ah, Jean-Luc Godard, a man so high-minded and - I'll just go for it - pretentious that he makes Terence Malick look like Steven Spielberg (which I'm sure would piss off everyone included in that sentence).  And he was a hip cat at one point... maybe still pretentious even then, but hey, he had cool French people smoking French cigarettes and walking around Paris or driving around the countryside looking hip and dancing around and doing odd crimes or walking around burning cars... ah, the 1960's.  But that's eons ago.  The Godard of today, or of the past thirty years give or take (probably since First Name: Carmen) is all about examining, like some obtuse archeologist, what "Society" is MAN, or "Humanities" or "Anything and Everything."  And with this he uses no longer a traditional storytelling approach.  That would be too 'easy'.

And hey, I'm all for an experimental filmmaker who might make an audience wake up and take notice at something different in the cinema.  Trouble with late-period post-motorcycle accident (1972) Godard is that he is an experimental filmmaker who will repeat the same shit over and over again in his psuedo-intellectual-poetic style (lots and lots of title cards, characters saying things that intentionally don't make sense in any kind of larger narrative) and to do with empire, history, and oh yeah, the JEWS.  I shouldn't harp on it too much, but to get it out of the way - I have the sinking suspicion (not helped by various comments in his late-period work) that he doesn't think much of them, or worse thinks they're "bad" in some way.

The worst of it, just as an aside, is that he'll make mention of them like in Film Socialisme when referring to the start of Hollywood.  That the Golden Age was started by Jews, and then he runs off a list of names of the first studio heads and moguls.... and?  What the FUCK is the point with that?  Nothing, I guess, except to point out that the ones who started Hollywood - and to some obscure comparison to a 'Black Box' or something - were Jews.  At least have some kind of point with that kind of shit that you're pouring out.  I could say that this is just because two characters are talking about this and that it's not *really* Godard, but of course it is.  His characters are mouth-pieces for himself, for the most part, as he feeds them lines on the spot or in a recording studio.

But where was I?  Yes, this film.  So there is actually some sense this time around in Godard's visual-aural essay style, inasmuch as locale is concerned: the first half of the film takes place on a cruise ship with an assortment of denizens (one of them Patti Smith? guess she was just there and he started filming her), and this first half is... I won't say totally 'coherent', but at least I knew where I was, the same assortment of characters kept popping up, and some of the conversations were interesting as far as what their little self-contained bits could be.  And something else to point out - no one can shoot water/waves like Godard; this is something I've noticed even in his most goddamned work like Hail Mary or Nouvelle Vague - the guy knows how to shoot water, and it's just nice to look at some waves from time to time, as the director often shows here.

 The downside to these cruise scenes is that Godard mixes up some gorgeously shot scenes of the cruise ship and some of the fine young/old folks on there with what I'd call "shitteo" digital video.  For some reason he chose to shoot with two cameras, one very high quality (not a Red but pretty darn close to what I could tell, maybe an HMC but whatever), and the other was just some bargain basement 100 dollar piece of crap.  The only time it becomes captivating is when he's shooting people on the dance floor doing clubbing, where the music and digital information overwhelms the camera (this inter-cut with shots of like the moon or sun out on the landscape).  But when it's just random people inside the ship, it's a competently done but unimpressive home-movie of a cruise ship.  Perhaps this might be enough just to break-up the monotony of Godard's semantic-poetry bits, that there's actually just pointing a camera and getting documentary truth.  But I dunno...

The second half of the film then takes place on dry land, in Odessa or Barcelona or Egypt or Whofuckistan, and then it's time to focus on a more solid set of people - a black camera-woman, a kid and his mom, a couple other women, and older man and his daughter.  There are hints, maybe just suggestions, that there are stories here, or some human interest, and I actually did find some interest in just the little minutae of what Godard had some of these characters do.  At one point the little kid embraces his mother in the kitchen, for no real big reason except to do it.  And then the same kid is watching a woman do a drawing and comments that it looks like a Renoir, and then the camera angle changes and all the color turns Mega-Vibrant-Vision, which is an illuminating touch to do.

But then for all the little moments that work, a lot of the film is just the same tired Godard pontifications about empire and language and how no one can communicate anymore and other shit that just flies over my head because obviously I'm not as brilliant and mind-blowing as him and oh no I'm bleeding from the asshole.... But yeah, Film Socialisme has plenty to say, and in terms of Godard's visual montage it is cool to watch, since he is still at the age of 80 a master at the gobsmacking-warbled montage of images, which goes into full effect in the last fifteen minutes of the film.  Oddly enough it's when he finally just lets it rip in those moments - including a visual comparison between Battleship Potemkin's Odessa Stairs sequence and the actual stairs and young visitors to the steps - that I started getting riveted... and then it just ended with a bullshit FBI warning and a "No Comment" title card.  Thanks, guy!

There's a part of me that really does respect this filmmaker today, that he can simply just say 'fuck it, and fuck you, I'll do what I want', which includes putting Navajo-English subtitles (that is, subtitles that are like a broken English like what Navajo translators would do) on to the theatrical prints of the film (as for me, since I watched it on DVD, I was like 'Hell NO' and went for the straight English subtitles since, frankly, I like hearing what people of a foreign French language are saying on screen).  He's got a daring and balls that is un-paralleled, and he still has a natural eye for wonderful cinematography.... but then he also has those ticks, like say his anti-semitism (which despite his denial in recent interviews is pretty clear, or at least a distinct discomfort with Jews as a concept if not a people), and that he is so locked into his own way of thinking, which is unlike anyone else, that only a small handful will even TRY much less break through.

In short, it'd be nice if once, just *once*, before the old fuck kicks the bucket he could mix together actual honest-to-goodness storytelling with his hard-on for title cards and philosophical-poetic tangents like in his prime period of the 1960's (and the occasional odd film like 'Every Man For Himself' or 'Carmen').  But I guess it comes down to just liking little moments, little scenes, and making that into movies instead of anything close to narrative.  It may just be my fault... but, nah, I'd lean closer to him.

And what would Godard respond with?  Well, his last title card says a lot - "NO COMMENT".  Thanks guy.

Aka... WHAT THE!?!?!?!

1 comment:

  1. "Godard" is a synonym for "pretentious", even in his good movies (which 'Film Socialisme' is not).