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May 19, 2010

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Evelyn Roak

And "Joe the Lodger", sorry that I took the time to engage you on your ideas and all you can muster is "Godard may be a great filmmaker but he is not a good filmmaker." Really? Have anything to say to the questions posed to your ideas of the image and the word? This is not a just image, it is just an asshole.
Ugh, I guess that shows I was a dumbass for trying to engage on a level of serious discussion.

Evelyn Roak

Sorry Joe for the double shout out. You might deserve one but not two. My apologies.

msic

I'm genuinely puzzled. Given that 99.99999% of all films in the known universe connect with any given viewer without their having to have any familiarity with the philosophies of Feliz Guattari (or Alain Badiou, or Walter Benjamin), why is it such a complete fucking affront to so many people that late Godard makes this demand?

On the one hand, there's the argument that expecting such extracurricular knowledge (either in advance or prior to a hypothetical second viewing) is an unreasonable, elitist demand. On the other hand, there's the argument that Godard is simply making shallow quotations and that his engagement with said authors isn't particularly enlightening anyhow (which I'm not sure how one would know, unless you've done the elitist homework you resent the film for demanding). And then, on our extra-dialectical third hand, there's the charge that an artwork comprised largely of quotations is not an artwork at all. (Yawn. Thanks to Evelyn Roak for citing some nice pieces in refutation, especially Kaja's "The Author as Receiver.")

But the main point: why is it such a threat, or such a big deal, for Godard to make films that simply Aren't For Everyone, when (a) there are obviously plenty of people who are willing to grapple with them, and (b) there are tens of thousands of other films that don't make the same demands?

Lest I be misunderstood, I'm not saying they shouldn't be critiqued. I'm just asking why, of all things critics or cinephiles can do, so many people keep coming back to the charges of elitism or insularity. And lately this is mostly being done via what Roland Barthes [QUOTATION ALERT!!!] called "Deaf and Dumb Criticism." "I'm an expert, and this thing makes no sense to me whatsoever, so clearly it sucks and the rest of you don't have to worry about it at all. Moving on...."

Also, the "Hell" sequence of NOTRE MUSIQUE is a pinnacle of JLG's horror-sublime, his 23RD PSALM BRANCH. Righteous eyeball acidbath.

Jim Fox-Warner

For what it's worth, I'd say 'Sauve qui peut (la vie)' (aka Every Man for Himself) (aka Slow Motion) is the best place to start for those not familiar with (or perhaps afraid of) Godard's post-60's body of work. His technique here is far less experimental than his Maoist-inspired video pieces of the 70's and less, urm, intellectually alienating (for plebes like me) than much of what was to follow. It's a film about people as much as ideas, and relies very much on the skills of its cast to communicate its intent.

Ed Howard

Why do people seem to think that you can't enjoy or appreciate Godard's films unless you understand where all the references come from? That seems like such an absurd way to approach any movie. In *Nouvelle Vague*, all the dialogue is constructed out of quotations. In multiple viewings, I've never really known where more than a few lines come from - and those mostly from Raymond Chandler and Howard Hawks, showing how solid my intellectual bonafides are. But it doesn't matter. These films aren't games of "spot the reference." The remarkable thing about *Nouvelle Vague* isn't where Godard took the quotes from, but that he wove them together into a thematically rich, coherent work of his own - and a narrative work, even, with a clever and interesting story and a mirrored structure. As Warren says above, just because you don't know where the samples come from, doesn't mean you can't appreciate what Godard does with them, how he positions them in relation to one another. I'm not denying that some additional context wouldn't be rewarding, because of course it is, but it's certainly not necessary as some people, both defenders and detractors, are alleging.

Everyone seems to think of Godard as this dour, humorless intellectual type, and dismiss his films as being for elites only. I guess these people have never seen Godard being goofily profound as Professor Pluggy, or performing slapstick routines and physical comedy in *Keep Your Right Up* and *Vladimir and Rosa*. He's funny as hell, and his films are visually rich, and his themes and ideas are accessible to anyone who watches and listens, regardless of if you've ever heard of Guatari before Glenn brought him up (I hadn't). He demands careful attention, yes, and he demands a commitment from his audience to dig into his juxtapositions of image and sound to probe the ideas he's interested in. But he certainly doesn't demand a comprehensive education in philosophy and literature to understand his films.

msic

While it is absolutely true, and needed to be said in no uncertain terms, that Godard's works can be enjoyed without getting all the references, it should be noted that the conversation began with a consideration of critics who were flabbergasted in the face of FILM SOCIALISME, in particular with the need to write something "intelligent" on the spot (and mostly throwing up their hands and blaming the film and JLG).

So in looking at the whole situation FILM SOCIALISME entered, we have what Althusser [REFERENCE ALERT!!!] would have called an "overdetermination." Too many movies. The demand for instantaneous, reasonably cogent commentary. A (to put it politely) differentially qualified press corps, especially where Godard's work is concerned. A general shift in film writing that privileges insularity over the wide-ranging humanistic knowledge base required to "get" Godard..... Need I continue? Even the time necessary to sit with a Godard film and process its sound/image relationships (much less the critical ability to consider the way images and sounds complicate each other) isn't going to be there, more often than not.

Advantage: Inarritu.

Glenn Kenny

@ Ed Howard: I don't disagree with you. And not to sound hypersensitive, I myself wasn't arguing that Godard is best, or only, "got" by someone who understands each and every reference. I was protesting the arrogance of callow would-be critics who announce, in effect, "I don't know where Godard's coming from, and I don't care, and I still want you to understand that my verdict that his new film is shit is completely authoritative." This is the same kind of asshole, incidentally, who won't hesitate to pat himself on the back for sussing out that the "Bogie" film playing in that theater in "Breathless" is "The Harder They Fall."

Fuzzy Bastard

I will chime in to say that obviously, a work with a lot of quotations can be Real Art. Just like a movie with a lot of fight scenes can be. It's just a question of when the quotations (or the fight scenes) overwhelm the thing being quoted, or when the work becomes incoherent without whatever idiosyncratic web of allusions the author demands you get. That's the difference between a masterpieces like Eliot's "The Waste Land" and a slog like Pound's late Cantos.

I do find interesting that the loudest screamers here, like Roak, seem incredibly unwilling to make any distinctions at all among Godard films. The idea that some late Godard films might be better than others is undiscussable to them, furthering my suspicion that they're basically brand-loyal, rather than engaged with each film in itself.

Jim Fox-Warner

"This is the same kind of asshole, incidentally, who won't hesitate to pat himself on the back for sussing out that the "Bogie" film playing in that theater in "Breathless" is "The Harder They Fall."'

Ha! They'll pick the fruit so long as it's on a low hanging branch.

Ed Howard

@msic: I think what you're getting at there is that the whole culture of festival coverage isn't exactly geared towards being able to write substantially about something like the new Godard film - super-fast, instantaneous commentary (much of it focused on festival economics and other irrelevancies) isn't well-suited to dealing with a complex film.

@Glenn: I think we pretty much agree about Godard. I wasn't talking about you at all, so much as the subset of detractors who seem bizarrely angered by the fact that they don't instantly get everything there is to get about a film.

@Fuzzy Bastard: Who's denying that there are differences, in quality and content, between individual Godard films? The conversation so far has been more generally about his post-60s film as a whole, but within that broad period there are numerous differences in intent, style, ideas and, yes, the level of success with which Godard gets across what he wants to get across.

Jake

Isn't there any good Godard scholarship that punctures through all the mysticism that frustrates the hell out of the likes of Ebert and McCarthy?

Joe the Lodger

Actually, Evelyn, my post about Godard being great but not good had nothing to do with your post. I rather considered it a Godardian one-off cutesy line.

In all fairness, I didn't have much to say to your rather long post because there was nothing about it that riled me up enough to engage with it. That said, if you're going to get angry and curse...

1) You said that movies, Godard's in a particular, are as much about sound as image. Fine. However, reducing, if you remove the sound you still have a movie. If you remove the picture you do not. The fundamental base of a motion picture is the picture.

2) I'm not comparing a single image to a single word, per say, since you know, the old saying is that a picture equals a thousand words. Now do you understand where I'm coming from? I'm simply preferring that image to all those words. And by describing something using words (adjectives, possible descriptive metaphors, etc.), which are symbols, you're immediately intellectualizing something that wasn't necessarily inherently intellectual.

3) I suppose the real argument is how we define intellectual. Is it simply the intelligent expression of an idea (can that idea simply be an expression of form, as it often is in art), or is it the verbal/literary explanation of that expression? (Similarly, many intellectuals seem to have a disdain for the process of filmmaking because they don't consider it intellectual -- when in fact it's a great deal MORE intellectual because it involves massive decision-making that affects all aspects of the finished project. Everything from cinematography to editing to VFX, for instance, is all about mathematics. Why do you think it takes so many people to make a movie?)

4) Yes, Godard understands filmmaking. I honestly just don't believe his films are well-made. I never have. I find him utterly sophomoric in concept and execution. And I feel that most of his movies are essentially self-loathing excuses for having not made a real movie. They are formal/stylistic/narrative messes -- and for every one great idea, another 10 fall flat or are not fully thought through. Some like that slapdash on-the-go approach. I do not. I'm not even in the pre-'67 camp. I don't like anything he's done, though I can at least sit through Breathless and Contempt without falling asleep. His movies in the '60s were revolutionary in a sense because they existed against something else. But they're not actually good. I'll take any of his international contemporaries of that era -- Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa, Antonioni, Kubrick, etc. -- over him any day. None of them were traditionalists, all formal experimenters, yet all of their work feels mature, fully realized, and made without winking at the audience the way Godard constantly needed to.

5) What do you think actual filmmakers talk about when they get together? Intellectual ideas? No. From my experience, they usually discuss process and shots. Filmmakers make movies because they are usually visual by nature and they love the process of making movies. Most filmmakers hate discussing their ideas, even though that's what critics/journalists want -- they much prefer to discuss process.

Jeff McMahon

Joe -

1) Have you seen Jarman's 'Blue'?

4) What do you mean when you say 'well-made'? Is Transformers well-made because the cinematography is colorful and sharp even though the story and characters are garbage? Or is Detour well-made because the story is compelling even though the look of the film is rushed and often murky? Your standards for quality are not shared by everyone.

5) Again, your experience does not match everyone else's. Filmmakers talk about process and shots when they can't think of anything else to talk about - like books they've read or music they admire. I'm sure Soderbergh has intellectual discussions as much as Ratner doesn't.

Osvaldo Pardo

I fully agree. I do not quite understand why editors even bothered to commit to print those poorly thought out reviews of Godard's latest movie. On the other hand I was mildly gratified at seeing how lost for words and thoughts these sarcastic hacks were.

Joe the Lodger

Jeff-

1) No, I have not.

2) Yes, by well-made, I mean a well-made. Transformers is a well-made movie, but that does not mean it is a good movie. With regard to Godard, I don't feel his movies are either well-made or good. With regard to Detour, honestly, it's a movie I could barely take seriously -- it was barely an hour long, at least 45 of those minutes seemed to be narration, and the character motivations made no sense (though I did like some of the visuals).

3) No, filmmakers, when they talk to each other about movies, usually talk about aesthetics and process. Even Soderbergh. Especially Soderbergh -- since he not only shoots/edits his films, but he's formally experimental and likes using new technologies. In my experience, if you plan to sit down to interview a director, you'll get much more out of them if you focus on process.

Jeff McMahon

Joe, I'm asking what your definition of 'well-made' is. By my standards, Transformers is most definitely not well-made, because the story and characters are garbage. I think you mean 'technically well-made' which is a whole other ballgame. Detour, as far as I'm concerned, is a masterpiece.

And obviously we'll have to agree to disagree about what filmmakers talk about with each other, unless you've been present at every conversation between filmmakers since the dawn of time. I don't care about 'interviewing' a director.

Joe the Lodger

Jeff-

I think both Detour and Transformers are disposable. By well-made, yes, I was talking about the production, or, what you call technical.

It's really only a recent trend in art that technique has become considered unimportant by some. Why do you think ballerinas or composers or architects study and practice as much as they do? Because technique matters. Because abstract ideas (not formal ideas) can often be expressed across a wide variety of mediums (you could just as easily write an op-ed). The best art combines both technique and ideas -- so, for the most part (and there are exceptions), with regard to movies, I feel that a movie cannot be good unless it is also well-made. A movie cannot be a good movie unless it is actually a good movie.

I'm speaking as a filmmaker who's spoken to scores of filmmakers up and down the totem pole, including Soderbergh -- and I can tell you that when we talk about movies, it's usually about form, aesthetics and process.

Brandon Nowalk

I'm not sure how something can be made well and not be good. The point being that to be made well, a film's making (i.e. its technical processes of cinematography, makeup, sound editing, etc.) should be as appropriate to a film's purpose as possible. Which means the purpose, by which one would evaluate the success of the film itself, must be in place before the making, by which one would judge how well-made the film is.

Personal standards, as I see it, shouldn't play into whether a film is well-made at all; the film doesn't live up to your standards but its own. Of course your standards surely affect how well you respond to it, how bored or enraptured you are, or how much you eventually like it. None of which has much to do with how strong the film is in itself. But that's a kind of absolutist/purist perspective where emotional engagement, which is kind of ineffable, no?, is out of the picture. When it comes to "real life" movie-watching, we naturally tend to want to watch films that we enjoy both intellectually and emotionally. Which is my way of saying I don't begrudge anyone their need for a film to connect with them/seduce them/linger on Ingrid Bergman's face, but I'm not sure it has anything to do with "objective" criticism. Which I'm not seeing a lot of re: Film Socialisme.

Jeff McMahon

Joe, we'll have to agree to disagree about a bunch of things, then. Yes, it's only since the early 20th century that technique has diminished as an important feature in art, but I'd still call Duchamp, Warhol, John Cage, and Godard all major artists with several technique-free masterpieces under their belt. It all has to do with how you define 'art' and I personally don't feel bound to say that art must be technically virtuosic. I'm more concerned with the production and resonance of emotion and inspiration by whatever means the artist finds most effective.

And again, as far as conversations with filmmakers go, conversations purely about form sound incredibly boring to me. I'm sure Fincher likes to talk about greenscreens and Kubrick liked to talk about lenses, but I also know that Bunuel liked to talk about art and literature and Cronenberg talks about philosophy and Lynch talks about meditation.

Joe the Lodger

All good.

I actually think a really enlightening example of how filmmakers can be when they talk is found on the commentary track for Bubble, where Romanek is constantly grilling Soderbergh on every aspect of the production from the casting to the photography to the locations. It's all how and why.

jim emerson

Images on film are always metaphors. They can't help themselves. A tree (assuming it has not fallen in the forest with no one to see or hear it) is never just "a tree" because it's part of a composition that exists in space and in time, so it relates not only to whatever else is in (or out of) the frame, but to the images that precede and come after it, which may alter the way we perceive it. In other words, as Godard said in this recent interview, "it's all associations":

"There aren't any rules. The same applies to poetry, or to painting, or to mathematics. Especially to ancient geometry. The urge to compose figures, to put a circle around a square, to plot a tangent. It's elementary geometry. If it's elementary, there are elements. So I show the sea... Voilà, it can't really be described — it's associations. And if we're saying "association," we might be saying "socialism." If we're saying "socialism," we might be speaking about politics."

http://j.mp/a28dxk

brad

I'd like to thank Evelyn for making my point so spectacularly. The only "childish temper tantrum" i see is hers. Lots of name calling (though you get bonus points for fuckwad...nice one!) and a supreme example of why discussing Godard is impossible. His acolytes can simply not stand for anything that suggests he's anything less than a revolutionary genius, and in the case of myself and Joe, dare to argue that he doesn't actually make anything worthwhile. That's an opinion - that's what he and I have taken from his work...how is that anymore invalid than Evelyn's puritanical fervor?

I get that what I see as hackneyed art school rambling is for many a brave attempt to challenge the boundaries of the form...I GET IT. But that doesn't mean I have to like it, or even appreciate it. If that makes me a fuckwad, then so be it - but dear Evelyn, your tirade only serves to make people who may be adverse to his work all the more so. Who wants to be in a club represented by you? That's a nasty nasty attitude you have over a conversation with strangers about a guy who makes movies on the internet. My original point stands: It is impossible to bring up JLG without this kind of nastiness occurring....though I do find it interesting that the nastiness is concentrated on one side of the argument, and it ain't mine.

Your Mom

Brad's got a point, you kids. Remember: it's nice to be an acclaimed master of high modernism in cinema, but it's more important to be nice!

Evelyn Roak

“I do find interesting that the loudest screamers here, like Roak, seem incredibly unwilling to make any distinctions at all among Godard films. The idea that some late Godard films might be better than others is undiscussable to them, furthering my suspicion that they're basically brand-loyal, rather than engaged with each film in itself.”

I don’t believe I ever stated that there are no distinctions between Godard’s films and that I have slavishly praised them all. That is hogwash. Of course some movies are better than others. Some work well, some do not. I have no idea where you got the idea that I believe Godard to be some Midas.


“You said that movies, Godard's in a particular, are as much about sound as image. Fine. However, reducing, if you remove the sound you still have a movie. If you remove the picture you do not. The fundamental base of a motion picture is the picture.”

Please tell that to Guy Debord, Joao Cesar Monteiro, Marguerite Duras or Hollis Frampton to name just a few.

This distinction between images and words you make is one that seems as off-base as your privileging image/sound relationship. Sonimage. The purity of the image, that it is incapable of conveying an idea, that it is un-intellectualized ? Well, I think we have a fundamental difference of opinion there. You seem to be of the mind that all these things are one or the other when they are never so. They relate to each other, work with, against, etc etc in intricate ways. Love and Marriage.
Thank you Jim, you have stated this well.

As per what directors talk about. Not being a director I guess I can’t say but sure seems like you got a straw man going there. This q&a with Arnaud Desplechin by Kent Jones may be troublesome…

Joe, I have a hunch you don’t like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT…

Brad, you shouldn’t take drunken ramblings so personally. My apologies for debasing the tenor of the conversation so horribly. Your nuanced, detailed positions, high on substantial analysis and without empty pronouncements deserved better.

“His acolytes can simply not stand for anything that suggests he's anything less than a revolutionary genius, and in the case of myself and Joe, dare to argue that he doesn't actually make anything worthwhile.”

As for this idea that people who have an interest in Godard’s movies are mindless spawn, prone to attack any who questions their dear leaders ability? Not so. If anything it was your empty typing, which actually said nothing of substance except that you believe Godard is just taking the piss. Please don’t couple yourself with Joe. I may not agree with Joe but am happy to engage him. At least he contributes substance to the conversation. I am more than happy to discuss Godard, or any other director we may disagree upon. You will notice many posts earlier in which I did so with evidence and analysis and thought. My reaction was not to your dislike of Godard, big whoop, it was with your blanket dismissals that had nothing to say. “he is simply terrible at making movies” Thanks, you swayed my mind with that. You aren’t a martyr.

Thank you Mother. I will be at the house later to pick up my laundry.

Evelyn Roak

Umm, THIS q&a with Arnaud Desplechin. Excuse me.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcDyPD8Zid4

Joe the Lodger

I don't like Desplechin. Got about 2 minutes into the video. Besides, that Q&A was moderated by Kent, who's primarily a journalist/programmer. I'm talking about what filmmakers talk about.

Jeff brought up Fincher, who, obviously, had personal reasons for making Benjamin Button (he had mentioned his father's death), yet at Q&A after Q&A he annoyed people by refusing to talk about the themes. As well, I recall a Q&A a few years ago where Joel Coen was asked what he looks for in somebody else's film; it took him a while, but then he replied that he was usually intrigued by something visual.

Of course a photograph can express a thematic idea. I just keep repeating that an abstracted idea outside of basic formal concerns is not inherent to an image or the quality of the image. You can certainly intellectually analyze an image. You can certainly intellectually construct an image. But an image does not inherently require meaning. You can simply respond to the color or mood on a primal level without having to think about it.

Yes, I love The Last House on the Left. The '72 version. Piss yer pants. Not sure what this has to do with anything, unless you're suggesting it's not 'well-made.' But I'd argue that for $90k in 16mm at that time it's pretty well-made.

Phil

It would seem to me that the vitriol from any members of the pro-JLG crowd is coming mainly in reaction to these ridiculous leaps from "not to my taste" to "incompetent/poorly-made film". The idea that the last 40 years of Godard's career consists of a bunch of slapdash, shoddy filmmaking where ideas are wholly privileged over the creation of lasting images makes me think that the people on the con side have never actually watched any of these movies, and are arguing solely on reputation or something. Are the tracking shots that Godard and Lubchantsky use in Nouvelle Vague to connect these disparate spaces of quotation not "well-made"? What of the way light is used in Hail Mary to carve a tale of Biblical import out of the most mundane events of modern life? The staggeringly dense (but equally precise) soundtrack of King Lear, where 400 years of conflicting voices engage each other at once? Are these shoddy, tossed-off works? The matching of form and content (whether you think his content is bullshit is totally up to you, and respect that people don't find him to be a profound thinker) in late-Godard is as meticulous as any in the history of cinema.

I will never begrudge anyone for disliking anything (would any of us love Manny Farber if that were the case?), but when someone says that the films of a person whose work means more to me than any other artist are incompetent and shoddy I would like to see that claim come with at least a modicum of critical thought.

Joe the Lodger

To be fair, I was talking about his entire career, not the just past 40 years, when I referred to his work as slapdash. Furthermore, I did acknowledge that he can come up with a great idea -- only that great idea is usually followed by another 10 that don't work.

Evelyn Roak

I am sorry that the Desplechin interview was not to your liking. While you may not enjoy Desplechin's films, had you watched more than 2 minutes you would seen an interview/conversation in which Desplechin is both interested in and quite adept at discussing ideas (and not just mentions of themes but quite nuanced ideas about his own and others' films, literature, philosophy, etc). But, because it was a discussion with Kent Jones, who does a wonderful job (their lengthy conversation on the KINGS & Queen DVD is excellent), it doesn't count? But the following examples of Fincher and Joel Cohen, also as you note in Q&A's, I imagine with journalists or programmers, not conducted by other filmmakers, are perfectly good examples that prove your point? Are you being disingenuous or simply obtuse? This seems to be as solid an argument as the broad pronouncement that began this tangent.

And now, a poetry break!:

Gadji beri bimba

gadji beri bimba glandridi laula lonni cadori
gadjama gramma berida bimbala glandri galassassa laulitalomini
gadji beri bin blassa glassala laula lonni cadorsu sassala bim
gadjama tuffm i zimzalla binban gligla wowolimai bin beri ban
o katalominai rhinozerossola hopsamen laulitalomini hoooo
gadjama rhinozerossola hopsamen
bluku terullala blaulala loooo

zimzim urullala zimzim urullala zimzim zanzibar zimzalla zam
elifantolim brussala bulomen brussala bulomen tromtata
velo da bang band affalo purzamai affalo purzamai lengado tor
gadjama bimbalo glandridi glassala zingtata pimpalo ögrögöööö
viola laxato viola zimbrabim viola uli paluji malooo

tuffm im zimbrabim negramai bumbalo negramai bumbalo tuffm i zim
gadjama bimbala oo beri gadjama gaga di gadjama affalo pinx
gaga di bumbalo bumbalo gadjamen
gaga di bling blong
gaga blung

-Hugo Ball


While I would never suggest that LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is poorly made, it is one of my absolute favorite films, by the technical standards of a TRANSFORMERS I can see how one might find it a bit ramshackle. My assumptions got the better of me. At least we can agree that LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT is a wonderful movie.

Jeff McMahon

Joe, maybe Fincher didn't want to talk about the themes of Benjamin Button because (in my opinion!) it's not a very good film and it appears to have been compromised by too many cooks in the kitchen.

And if Last House on the Left was well-made for $90k in 1972, then surely Detour was well-made for being shot in six days on an even smaller budget, if that's the benchmark.

Anyway, the very quality that you find unlikeable in the entirety of Godard's career (slapdashness) is one of the very qualities that so many of the rest of us like about his films.

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