May 31, 2009


I ended my JLG month with Breathless. I think it represents my relationship with his films better than any other.

It was my very first JLG and I was tremendously disappointed. I attacked it, perhaps too viciously if only because I had not been as impressed with it as others would want me to. Yet it stuck with me. The typical love/hate relationship was born.

Years later, having become obsessed with film from the 1920s and 30s, I visited Breathless again (admittedly, my third or fourth time by now). The film's energy was a revelation. Its place in history made sense. I enjoyed it.

And now, after a month of falling in love with JLG's late work, after a month in which his 60s accomplishments became severely overshadowed and diminished, I visit Breathless again, and I find it as strong as ever. Not because of it's ideas and techniques, which are as weak as JLG has ever done, but because the film is so recklessly romantic and anti-sentimental. For all of his elderly wisdom and fierce intellect, JLG is forever defined by his naively passionate youth.

Perhaps life's regret is that we outlive our passion. As Old Man Godard settles into his retirement, what of his life will remain? Memories of yesterday; the melancholic recollections of dreams long past; a taste of the final pangs of passion; Breathless.

May 29, 2009

letter to jlg

Dear Jean-Luc,

Thank you for making movies. They have taught me a lot and will teach me a lot more.

When I first watched your films, I did not understand them. I was petty enough to insult them, and occasionally insult you. I would like to apologize for that. Since then I have grown, and no longer try to reduce films to my narrow ideas of artistic worth. Instead I take films as a potential experience for personal growth; and by experiencing your films, I have grown in valuable ways, even when I find myself frustrated by your methods. I am sorry for ever insulting your films. I hope you can forgive me.

Your early career is very popular; those films are fun and at the time presented a lot of new and energetic ideas. I am particularly fond of your portrayals of Paris and modernity in those pictures.

I also like their characters and their physical spontaneity and earnest digressions into social issues.

But it is your more recent films that have been most rewarding, and I find in them the seeds of dense ideas which root and sprout in many ways in my mind. You have a way of leaving ideas open and allowing others to interpret those ideas in their own way. I like that. I also like the way you compose your shots; the way you frame them, stage them, light them -- very distinctive. I think they are beautiful.

Although I have to admit, there are times when I still do not quite understand what you are doing.

Altogether, your career has been remarkable. You have challenged me in ways no other modern filmmaker has. I appreciate this, and want to thank you. Thank you for making pictures that have challenged me and countless others around the world. Thank you for choosing cinema, believing in the image, and standing by it after all. Thank you for being the marvelous exception to the ever-powerful and stifling rule. Thank you for working your soul into an increasingly spiritless art. Thank you.

I hear that this upcoming film will be your last. If true, this is depressing news. To retire from work is to retire from life; eternity is all that remains -- the possible of the impossible. I will be sad to see you go. You have spent your career fighting for the exception of art against the oppressive rule; now that you have reached the end, I beg you to fight against that most final of rules for the most impossible of exceptions. Must you go quietly? Rage, rage...


May 22, 2009

my winnipeg

Finally saw it, finally disappointed. Citizen Girl, however, is someone I will fantasize about for all time.

May 18, 2009

shklovsky's formalism

I have been using this quote for several school papers and wanted to comment on it in my own way. It's from Shklovsky's essay "Art as Technique" (1917):
"art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar," to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged."
This passage needs two considerations: one, as a definition of art which gives an aesthetic basis for judging and deciding just what "art" is (that which makes the stone stony); two, as an active ideal which art must live up to and try to accomplish (that is, art must work to defamiliarize the world).

Well and good. But maybe not. Point: although it is accurate that we are all habituated to our senses and art renews our perception in some fundamental way, we are all singular and individual who have become habituated in singular and individual ways. What will stir my stagnant sensual spirit will not stir yours, or, if it does, we will not be stirred in the same way. How applicable is this definition of art, then? Point: as culture changes and humans change, so do the habituation of the senses. What stirred a Russian peasant in the early Soviet days will have an entirely different effect today. Imagine the soul-stirring our rapid, vapid Hollywood violence would do to that noble Soviet peasant -- and can yet rock us to sleep. Point: without personal context, few of us our challenged by art. A poem in a foreign language, however lyrical it may sound, is still a foreign language. How can one defamiliarize the world, as through language, while remaining understandable to those approaching the challenge?

In my papers, I referred the quote to Vertov, who was all about defamiliarizing the world as a way to strike up social consciousness. I think all three points challenge his dream. Although people still find him stimulating, his techniques are co-opted by the average television commercial -- our media has become hyper and insane, and it is no longer dazzling effect that stony-s the stone, but the long and meditative camera (as is common in our modern art-house). Vertov also remains incomprehensible; when presenting my project on The Man with a Movie Camera in class and arguing that it is a highly political film, the most coherent response I received was "I'll have to think about that one." Heartbreaking.

I still find myself, however, drawn to this definition of art, whatever its problems. Or maybe because of them. With points considered: art must be diverse, giving us enough room to roam our individual consciousness, especially as that changes.

English is full of words which have lost meaning -- thrown around with half-a-thought, stretched to cliche, buried by sentiment. How does one reclaim that meaning? The same is true with the image, with color, with sound... How is consciousness to be restored? How is meaning to be retaken? I side with Shklovsky; I stand by art.

Some final questions: is there some basic, universal human mode of perceptual habituation that art can disrupt? Does the proliferation and diversity of art lead only to further habituation and meaninglessness? Can meaning only be retaken by the few thanks to the many who accept the meaningless? etc.

May 10, 2009

2 or 3 things

Last night I rewatched 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. I hadn't remembered much about it except some of the city images. For whatever reason, I had expected to connect with it much more strongly this time around -- being immersed in later-Godard and reading about his career, the film seemed representative of his shift into critical political filmmaking, along the lines of La Chinoise. Having read about the film before going into it -- talk of coffee cups and capitalist alienation -- I was prepared for some serious and awesome JLG.

How strange Godard's early films appear to me now! JLG's relentless inquiries into the nature of language, of society -- in particular capitalism, the media, and Vietnam -- and of cinema are gateways into reconciling the human spirit. JLG is not searching for answers to the questions he raises, he is searching for the emotions necessary to deal with those answers. He already knows the answers; he has yet to learn to accept them.

It is in his later work that he discovers the necessary emotions. Coming back to 2 or 3 Things after exploring his 80s work, even films as supposedly minor as Detective and Keep Your Right Up, I find that JLG's concerns in 2 or 3 Things are... trivial? consumed? His later work consumes his early work. Everything he muses about in 2 or 3 Things is no longer important. He has answered his questions. He has moved on. He has moved me on.

This I did not expect; I am falling in love with his later work, and his early work is slowly disappearing in its shadow. 2 or 3 Things left as little impact on me this viewing as it did the first. The first time I did not understand it; this time I understand it all too well.

A few more early rewatches to come. I am looking forward to them. Whatever I say, 2 or 3 Things is still a great viewing, and has given me some perspective, both on JLG and myself. I will try to limit my personal ramblings when I get to those other rewatches.

And I am now inspired to make a film about the sky.

[JLG Carnival]

May 02, 2009

je vous salue, sarajevo

Godard of the day. I think this is his strongest narration.
In a sense, fear is the daughter of God, redeemed on Good Friday night. She's not beautiful, mocked, cursed and disowned by all. But don't get it wrong, she watches over all mortal agony, she intercedes for mankind.

For there's a rule and an exception. Culture is the rule and art is the exception.

Everybody speaks the rule: cigarette, computer, T-shirt, TV, tourism, war.

Nobody speaks the exception. It isn't spoken. It's written: Flaubert, Dostoevsky. It's composed: Gershwin, Mozart. It's painted: Cezanne, Vermeer. It's filmed: Antonioni, Vigo. Or it's lived, and then it's the art of living: Srebrenica, Mostar, Sarajevo.

The rule is to want the death of the exception. So the rule for Cultural Europe is to organize the death of the art of living, which still flourishes.

When it's time to close the book, I'll have no regrets. I have seen so many people live so badly, and so many die so well.

JLG continues his theme of art as revolution. The rule will always be there to destroy the exception.

May 01, 2009

godard and the final image

Godard is this month's MoM. I have lots planned. I come back to him time and again, and however large a portion I have seen of his filmography, the man's work is still a mystery to me, nearly impenetrable. As it should be. If I keep coming back to him, it is because I find that some new aesthetic/political/philosophical idea to me is one thoroughly explored by Godard. These are ideas that can only be approximated by poetry. An intellectual cinema. An inadequate viewer.

I'll be posting stuff here on my viewings and musings. I promise, they won't be worthwhile, but they are my contribution to the Godard mania that is about to take place.

I begin with thoughts on my viewing today -- Godard's part of Ten Minutes Older, "Dans le noir de temps." It's here on YouTube.

I don't have much to say in interpretation, which is evidence of how little I understand of what he is actually doing. One of Godard's primary concerns is in deconstructing cultural norms (myths) -- his video essays of the past 20 years, of which this is one, have been consistent in their method of taking images of culture and radically repositioning their contexts. The method is violent, as well as many of its images (how can one deconstruct society without referring to death?). Godard is the voice so many thinkers wish to be. Society is a myth, and Godard is out to expose it.

If there is anything I can add, it is a quotation that has struck me recently. From the ancient Greeks -- it is put (constructed) in the mouth of Prometheus, and goes: "I hate the gods, who do not recognize human consciousness as the highest divinity." What is art -- what is beauty -- but the awe of human consciousness, human spirit? Nothing is more profound than our existence. In his film, Godard takes aspects of human spirit -- courage, fear, etc. -- and posits their end through his material (a lot of it taken from his own past work). The end of human consciousness; the end of divinity. It is painfully poetic. The final image is the end of the human spirit.