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June 24, 2008

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Dan

Did you just Godwin Godard? :-)

Glenn Kenny

Not QUITE what I'm going for, Dan...

Tony Dayoub

I'm floored by these revelations.

Sadly, many of film's giants have clay feet. France in particular has some very notable racists. I'm thinking of Brigitte Bardot's recent conviction for provoking discrimination and racial hatred against Muslims.

It's her fifth such conviction in 11 years.

Dan

I know, Glenn, I know. And I don't think the man's a Nazi. But I have a weakness for puns, and the worse the pun, the weaker my resolve is.

Fascinating piece, for the record.

John

"he was the coauthor... of a volume entitled Histoire du Cinema, of all things...That Godard’s epic work Histoire(s) du Cinema has very nearly the same title as the Brasillach/Bardeche book could be taken as a circumstantial coincidence—were the circumstances different. "

Huh? How many books have been titled "the history of cinema"? One hundred? Is that supposed to imply something about Godard's own Histoire(s) du cinéma?

There is a lot of reaching here.

Your paragraph on the relation between Loyrette and Godard says nothing about the _meaning_ of what they did. Do you mean to say they are endorsing Brasillach? Have you seen the Loyrette video or are you relying on a description of it provided by the book?

Éloge de l'amour is clearly, almost too clearly, about Hollywood's sensationalizing the Holocaust. The wronged party of in the film are the grandparents from the French resistance! If anything it's one of the more respectful films about the era.

Godard has gone on the record many times about why he thought Schindler's List was crap and his opinions have nothing, repeat nothing, to do with denying the holocaust or being antisemitic.

Michael Lieberman

I am a bit miffed at how Eloge de l'amour thumbed its nose at the Liberation, though I am admittedly in the masterpiece camp for this film. I tend to agree with John's assessment, which is that the film, if anything, seems completely dismayed at the interpretation of the Holocaust through fiction.

In addition, I'm not so sure that such a close literary reading of the film really captures the spirit or tone of where Godard was going. He cross-references so many writers that he, at least to this viewer, seems impossible to nail down.

I agree, however, that the illuminations of Godard's right-wing past in Brody's book made me queasy.

Glenn Kenny

As the head of the post says, these are observations; while they're obviously colored by my own perceptions, I don't believe they amount to conclusions.

I haven't seen the Loyrette video but I have watched "Eloge" plenty of times, and his recitation of Brasillach is not parodic or ironic; it aims to elevate and dignify the text. The passage in "Eloge" in which Berthe criticizes the plaque was off-putting enough before I had any inklings about Brasillach; now that I've learned more about the man, it irks me more.

We can disagree about "Schindler's List"—my own view is that it does, finally, fail, but that it is not pernicious—but I think the critique of Spielberg offered in "Eloge" has more would-be gudge-settling one-upsmanship to it than actual argument.

I wonder if I shouldn't try to solicit some kind of online symposium about these issues. Brody has quite a bit more to say about them, particularly as they relate to Godard's "Histoire(s)" and "Notre Musique." And I know there are many other critics out there thinking about them.

craig keller.

Godard's invocations of Brasillach have always struck me to be in line with precisely that leitmotif (which word alone is not enough to-the-point -- seems almost to want to be a byword; let's say "set of observations" instead) of Godard's which Richard Brody seems incapable of getting his head around through the bulk-course of his nice-in-places, putrid-in-much effort to king himself The American Godard Authority (and Moral Arbiter, while he's at it): that at the core of human existence, and human history, there exist astonishing paradoxes and dialectics which must remain unresolvable, unreconcilable, and which are indicative of the enigma of who and what we are as a species -- the (pre-)eminent one "sur la terre", at that. Godard's recitations of and musings upon Brasillach -- or Céline if one wants to choose another example -- take their formation off of the same branch of inquiry that muses (in paraphrase) -- "How is it that I can detest the ethos and politics of this man who made 'The Green Berets,' but break into tears when I watch him lift up Natalie Wood to hold her aloft against the sky?"

This particular Brody-brand can of worms is, of course, only one can among a whole shelf whose contents run fairly botulistic by my reading. (Langlois once asserted that he was there to provide the food, but that it was up to the public to do the eating, or not; an ethos to which Godard has been consistently sympathetic.) It culminates in the shit-explosion that is RB's 'Notre musique' chapter, before of course the final, embarrassing genuflection of the last paragraph, and the signet-ring-kiss stand-in of the Acknowledgements section.

We could talk about this book for months -- so maybe there -should- be a symposium? -- but I wonder whether it won't lead to acute depression on my or any of our part(s), much like that suffered by Stanley Kubrick when he was even only moderately deep still into writing 'Aryan Papers.' I've considered engaging in a long analysis of this "Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard" on my blog, in a possibly-forthcoming post about JLG's recent 'Prayer for Refuzniks (2),' -- but is this energy sustainable, or will I end up gagging on its fumes?

craig.

Glenn Kenny

Well said, Craig—the gagging on the fumes possibility is a very real one. Even in pondering the juxtaposition in your comment of Brasillach and Celine, not just fumes but practical matters start coming up. Celine's body of work is far more accessible, at least in a form, than Brasillach's is; for those non-fluent in French and/or unable to getto Brasillach's work, we have to, say, take Alice Kaplan's word on its value. After which conclusion we might say, well, is that even really the point? Add to that, say, W.H. Auden's theory as to why history will forgive Paul Claudel (for "writing well," nice rhyme), and you've really got a mess. That's not even taking into consideration Brody's suppositions, presumptions, and whatnot. As Tone-Loc would call it, "a big old mess." But one which fascinates and compels.

Michael Lieberman

I ashamedly hadn't heard of Brasillach until I read passages in Brody's book, but this discussion has certainly piqued my interest in revisiting Eloge de l'amour, at the very least.

I don't doubt your interpretation, Glenn, nor did I take your argument as a conclusion. I haven't made it to the chapters beyond Nouvelle Vague in Everything Is Cinema, so perhaps I am not properly addressing the issues to begin with.

One question I had for you, though, was how these developments figure in to your opinion of these films. Not to mention that Godard, as noted above by yourself and by countless others, constantly quotes texts in his work, so I wonder what else can be said in other films.

PWC

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.


Of course Auden expunged this stanza from the poem later...

Glenn Kenny

Thanks for the full citation, PWC. I didn't have a volume at hand when recalling the Auden lines.

Evan Binder

A proper film (fiction division - there are plenty of documentaries that do it justice) about the Holocaust has yet to be made. I am a Jew, went to Stephen S. Wise Temple Day school, and my grandmother lost the entire side of her mother's family to Auschwitz, and I, for one, think Schindler's List is a joke. Speilberg's decision to tell that particular story in a supremely banal Hollywood narrative-type way was a fatal mistake in my eyes, because the Holocaust is immune to narrative. One day someone will have the courage to make a film about the Holocaust using non-narrative strategies, much like Alan Clarke did with Elephant, the best movie made so far about the Troubles in Ireland. Just following around some Nazis as they do their daily duties (eat, kill, talk, kill, dinner, kill) would be more than enough. Actually, the HBO movie Conspiracy with Branagh and Tucci was a pretty good Holocaust movie; just twenty men sitting around a table discussing the best way to remove the Jews from the face of the earth. I found it to be a far superior film to Schindler's List, cutting to the heart of the matter in a much more economical and succinct way, but I'm assuming that I would have a hard time convincing anyone of that, seeing as how Speilberg can do no wrong with American filmgoers and amateur critics. But that's neither her nor there. Trying to point out how massively overrated Spielberg is about as tiresome as the constant elevation of him to the top of the Pantheon based on the fact that he has made more money for more people than any director in the history of cinema. As far as 70s American filmmakers go, I'll take Scorsese over Spielberg any day, and I don't even think they are in the same league. I've just finished reading Lesley Stern's The Scorsese Connection, and I never realized what a complex, layered director he is, something I had always suspected but could not really articluate due to the sheer giddiness his films instilled in me. I find Spielberg (with the exception of Duel) to be a very shallow filmmaker, his only concern being how many times he can make you emotionally orgasm. I would dare say that Spielberg's oeuvre is devoid of one single idea worth contemplating. The last ten minutes of After Hours has ten times the density, thematically, than anything Speilberg has ever done, or ever will do.

Evan Binder

Pardon my typos. The proper way to spell his name is Spielberg, not Speilberg. My mistake.

Michael Lieberman

Evan,
What about Lanzmann's Shoah? Resnais' Night and Fog?

Evan Binder

Yah, yah, the docs, I already said there are plenty of docs that do the subject justice. I'm talking drama, Mike.

Michael Lieberman

Point taken, Evan. Though "Shoah" is nonfiction, it exhibits the kind of expressive storytelling reserved for some of the most supreme narrative filmmakers. Perhaps that's why I've always been a bit troubled by it, but considering it to be THE definitive work on the subject.

Campaspe

This was a fascinating piece and I plan to show it to Mr. C, to get his opinion on it as well. I am not really qualified to comment on the substance until I have seen Eloge at least. But this was very well done, restrained but thought-provoking (to say the least).

Brandon

I wouldn't want to be mistaken for a Spielberg apologist, but what exactly are the criteria for a 'great Holocaust feature'? Historical accurateness? Political acuteness? Emotional/technical intensity?
I would argue that it would be difficult for any contemporary American filmmaker to muster more than one of these qualities in the same film, for some of the same reasons Spielberg is blamed for above.
That being said, the more important question, of course, is whether Spielberg's 'emotional orgasms' are more or less harmful to the memory of the Holocaust than Godard's 'collaborator fetishism'?
Or to put it another way, if we are to dialectically (and simplistically) oppose Spielberg and Godard as forces of commodification and poetics, respectively, which is more dangerous to the memory of the Holocaust - a market manipulated empathy for a past experienced from a historical distance or a reimagining of an icon's intellectual shortcomings?

Dan

They'll never make a "true" Holocaust feature because to do so you'd have to break a whole bunch of stereotypes and formulas.

Although part of me wonders what'll happen as the technology gets cheaper. Red has suddenly reduced the costs of owning a cine camera by 75% with one fell stroke. I don't know if it'll happen in America, especially considering how hidebound and generally godawful the American indie scene is. But I think changes are coming down the pike.

Mike De Luca

Bindler, "Jaws", "Close Encounters of the Third", "ET", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Munich"? There is no hope for you.

Adrian Martin

Glenn, this is a provocative and fascinating post, but I don't quite get this loopy connection you make between Godard, Brasillach, Mauriac and Wiazemsky. Rightest Brasillach used to attack Mauriac and Mauriac was later kind to Brasillach, and then Godard divorced Wiazemsky because she was "insufficiently radicalised" TO THE EXTREME LEFT in his Maorist period, and was cruel to her when she liked one of his later films that (you and Brody imply) have some FAR-RIGHT leanings ... that doesn't add up for me. And you call this loop "possibly less relevant, but nonetheless kind of resonant" ??

Glenn Kenny

And now, of course, I can't for the life of me find the name of the film Wiazemsky professed to be moved by. Nevertheless—you are probably right. I was reaching—speculating that Godard's Brasillach fetish could have had an iota or two to do with an old resentment against Wiazemsky. A stretch, absolutely. Still, the lines of continuity that exist between the four figures is, if nothing else, worth noting.

Herman Scobie
Miguel Marías

I don't know what's a typepad, so maybe I have no right to comment on these comments. To start with, I haven't read Mr. Brody's new book on Godard, and every comment or review I read about it (in spite of being mostly appreciative or complimentary) discourages me from trying to: so far, I see no new information, and instead lots of far-fetched (and rather defamatory) conclusions drawn from insufficient or misinterpreted data. I guess Godard is accused now of anti-Semitism mainly because he defends the Palestinians (or did in the '70s) and dared to criticize (rightly, in my view) suddenty aware-of-his-Jewisness Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" (which I happen to find ambiguous and cheaply sentimentalized, so that makes me anti-Semitic to some fanatics, I guess). Part of the queasiness these insinuations seem to have caused amongst fellow admirers of Godard have no other ground but a naïve faith in what Mr. Brody tells or suggests, or probably under the influence of the rather unsound ways of deduction the book seems to follow. As someone already pointed out judiciously, Godard's is the only of about a thousand "Histoire du Cinéma" written and published in Europe which is called "Histoire(s)...", so that hardly can connect him with the notorious Bardèche & Brasillach, whose well-known "H. du C." many of my age have read (the same as communist Georges Sadoul's) and found rather bad, old-fashioned, pre-Bazinian if you like. Not that I think ideology (good or bad) prevents anyone from having good taste when watching films or writing about them (that would be too easy, wouldn't it?), but I disagree with Ms. Kaplan appreciation; in any case, he was not shot because of his film criticism, but his "Histoire" doesn't deserve a reprint nor would be useful today even for a newcomer to cinephilia. Godard never was a Brasillesquian, their masters were Heri-Georges Auriol, André Bazin and Henri Langlois (rather read this one, by the way). It seems a bit late in history to remind anyone that to quote is not to support, assume, adhere to or identify with the quoted author, book or phrase, in particular when most of the texts in Godard's films are quotations (often misquoted, or misattributed), sometimes because he does not remember where it comes from, nor how was it exactly phrased. You cannot take Michel Poiccard, Pierrot le fou or the Carabiniers for Godard or his spokesmen, no more than you can equate Julien Sorel with Stendhal or Tolstoí with Pierre Bezhukov despite the many traits the novelists borrowed from themselves to create these characters. I will not to into the connections between Mauriac and Wiazemsky or Godard with either, but there is no way to give any sense to them, much less if you try to bring into it Brasillach. However mistaken Ezra Pound, Drieu La Rochelle, Céline ou Guitry (and I am not making these four equally guilty or equally innocent) may have been about Pétain, Vichy, De Gaulle, Hitler or the Jews, they were very good writers, and the latter a great filmmaker. And I don't see any mockery of the Libération (although many excesses were commited, and many collaborators became righteous "resistants" in the last days of the German occupation and after) in "Éloge de l'amour". By the way, what is the name, the date, the lenghth of this Godard movie with the Brasillach text, who has seen it?
Thanks,
Miguel Marías

Pacze Moj

Fascinating post. I'm not sure I can contribute anything, but just wanted to add a "read it, liked it" note.

Although I do have to echo Miguel Marías in saying that everything I read about Everything is Cinema makes me want to read it less and less...

One thing I do disagree with:

"Brody does not exaggerate by calling Brasillach a figure who led the way to Auschwitz."

If there was a road to Auschwitz and Brasillach was leading it, it must have been a wide road, and everyone must have been walking hand-in-hand.

I do think this completes the circle of Godard's political affiliations, though: from Maoist to Nazi. Maybe even a full circle and beyond, if he's ever been an Anarchist.

And while I've never gotten into Godard much, anyone who thumbs his nose at the French resistance gets my respect. Of course, doing it in 2001 is a bit... passé?

Glenn Kenny

Miguel: "It seems a bit late in history to remind anyone that to quote is not to support, assume, adhere to or identify with the quoted author, book or phrase, in particular when most of the texts in Godard's films are quotations (often misquoted, or misattributed), sometimes because he does not remember where it comes from, nor how was it exactly phrased." True and fair enough. Excepting the fact that, per Brody, Godard's introduction to Loyrette was in the form of a videotape in which Loyrette is shown giving the incantory reading of Brasillach's "Testament," and that Godard subsequently hired Loyrette to reproduce that valorizing reading in "Eloge d' Amour." (It occurs about a half-hour into the picture and I believe my description of the scene in the above post is accurate.) So the idea that Godard didn't know who he was quoting or what he was doing in this instance does not wash.

Yes, I know Celine and Ezra Pound are great writers, just as Godard is a great filmmaker. in laying out these observations—some of which I believe to be kind of overstated or overly speculative—I was not calling for a condemnation or renunciation of Godard. I'm saying that I'm unsettled by some of my findings, and I'm wondering if anyone else is similarly unsettled.

Miguel Marías

Excuse me a post-script, although you must read french: either at ftp.fortunaty.net/com/textz/textz/godard_jean-luc_je reviens en arriere or at the blog L'innommable dated 29 October 2002, where you can find the Godard interview by Richard Dumas about "Éloge de l'amour" in "Télérama" magazine. A more rational account of the René Revel episode in that film can be found (this time in English) at jessicamartino.com (search "René Revel" on your Google).
Miguel Marías

craig keller.

Miguel --

Sharp observations as always. The Brasillach-chant-evocative Godard work in question is 'Adieu au TNS,' from '97.

craig.

Miguel Marías

Thanks a lot, Craig. But if the "Brasillach fetishizing" film Godard made is "Adieu au TNS" (1996), then I certainly won't buy anything Brody's book is trying to imply (I begin to suspect that because JLG was not willing to co-operate with him), because I happen to have watched several times that very short (7 minutes) film, and once again just now, after I read your answer. And not only is there no mention, quotation of or allusion to Brasillach, the Resistance or the Libération, but the only conclusion I can reach is that Godard was posssibly impressed by Loyrette's performance on that tape and perhaps was inspired by his way of declamating Brasillach's text to give his own best performance before the camera in this, one of his most impressive short films, which simply shows Godard standing, with hat and smoking all the time, and swaying slightly on his feet from side to side, as he almost chants (a bit in the style of some melancholy French "chansonniers") his own moving, beautiful text, which deals mainly with the theatre, from Shakespeare to Artaud, as fits the reason that prompted him to do this short film, the closing of the Théâtre National de Strasbourg. So perhaps Loyrette's way of reading Brasillach's text (which I don't know, and could well be a sort of moving farewell of someone about to die) impressed Godard, but there is not the slightest evidence hinting that Godard was even remotely interested in Brasillach's words(much less that he solidarized with them).
Best,
Miguel Marías

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