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June 24, 2008


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craig keller.

And there you hit upon the essence of the problem with Richard Brody, Miguel, and in two cogent areas:

(1) "(I begin to suspect that because JLG was not willing to co-operate with him)"

(2) "there is not the slightest evidence hinting that Godard was even remotely interested in Brasillach's words (much less that he solidarized with them)"

Regarding (1), there is an entire backstory here regarding Brody's unceremonious snubbing by JLG on what was scheduled to be the second day of their conversations in Rolle in 2000. B. Kite delves into this a little bit in his review on the Moving Image Source site -- some of the details of which Brody provided himself in his original piece in The New Yorker (the springboard for the book), in 2000 or early 2001. Yet either through his own, or his editor's, design, no mention is made of this in 'Everything Is Cinema' at all -- we only note from the footnotes that his discussion with Godard lasted one day. After Brody burns him in effigy in the monumentally deranged closing chapter on 'Notre musique' -- which, by the way, doesn't even get in the vicinity of providing the kind of production details that he was able or willing to furnish in the chapters of all the works leading up to that film -- he seizures into an abrupt, 180-degree turnaround of tone, ending his book with a ripe-for-the-psychoanalysis-of-it "Epilogue." Here he shifts into an attempt at 'literary atmosphere' ("Rolle and its surroundings are a natural paradise. The fifteenth-century castle perches on the shore of the dark blue waters of Lake Geneva. A hundred yards out into the lake, a rounded islet with arcs of dense foliage pierced by a proud, solemn obelisk resembles a Fragonard come to life. The setting is so timeless, it is as if Godard has found shelter in a most un-Swiss form of paradise, one in which the clocks seem to have stopped."), before closing with a sentiment that would seem noble, had the Fragonardian obelisk not already set the scene for the saccharine:

"The cinema will live on for as long as Godard's films are seen, or Godard himself is remembered."

Yes, after he slays his Troubling Father, the "spiritual paramour" (to use the words of a friend on Brody's projected relationship to JLG) who jilted him, we're overheard the murmur of a little piece of phone-booth confessional.

And this doesn't even scratch the surface.

As for your point in (2), Brody lays out the case that the way the 'Adieu au TNS' film came about was because Bérangère Allaux -- an object of near-amour-fou for Godard in the mid-'90s, and an obsession that dates back to his preparation for the shoot of 'For Ever Mozart' -- had joined the curriculum at the TNS (the Théâtre National de Strasbourg). When the film was finished, he held a pre-release premiere (following the true premiere in Sarajevo) in Strasbourg -- a night that ends with, as related by Brody, an upsetting close no more atypical than any stage in any extended unrequiting, but which Brody describes as "a pathetic conclusion" before giving it another lame literary gussying. (p. 573)

When Godard finally accepted that the relationship with Allaux was impossible, he made 'Adieu au TNS.' We note, however, in Brody's outlining of the antipathy felt toward Godard by Allaux, and by her classmates (who regarded her, as the object of Godard's affections while he was there ostensibly making a film about their studies, as "first among equals"), that the good author is tying a bow on a rather bizarre motif, initiated in the 'France tour détour deux enfants' chapter, in which Brody sits down with Camille Virolleaud and proceeds to tease out of her a "case study" on the trauma she experienced while being -- Brody beats around the bush, but let's just come out and say it -- "psychically raped" by Godard during the shoot of the work. The motif in question emerges on p. 401 of The Camille V. Case Study, in which Brody pens the following jaw-dropping observation (my jaw literally dropped, and I don't think it was as a result of the reasons he'd intended for conveying the effect) --

"He pulled her aside in the school's courtyard during recess and interviewed her when in fact she wanted to play with her friends. After the filming ended, she endured the taunts of classmates who wondered why she had been chosen and not they. In fact Camille did not at all feel chosen, she felt singled out, and would gladly have resumed her former unremarkable life."

Yesterday a fascinating review was passed on to me by a friend -- which review I was not aware of, which subject of the review I was not aware of. I think it's worth putting out there in the context of this conversation, and in the context of the conclusions that one may (or hey, may not!) already be drawing from not just some of the 'throughlines' highlighted above, but those that course throughout the whole of Brody's book.

Maybe all of this stuff should be highlighted in a new or "updated"-flagged post, Glenn? Once more than 20 comments accumulate around a post, the rest spill over onto a second page, the existence of which is only denoted by a small "Next" link at the bottom... a few people who've been checking the conversation out weren't even aware that the discussion was continuing after the 20th post, which was by Miguel, onto a second page...

Perhaps this will be, in essence, the ipso facto symposium..!


craig keller.

Here is the review I alluded to at the end of my last comment. It's taken from the "DVD Verdict" site, and written by one Bill Gibron (Google for a direct link -- I'd paste, but the URL might get flagged). This is the text:

iability Crisis (1995)

Copyline: The things we do for love are beyond good and evil.

Paul is a New Yorker in his mid-20s, bouncing between jobs as a temp and a documentary production assistant. He wants to get a job in advertising, if only to escape the daily grind of uncertain employment and avoid the Holocaust horror stories he has to witness as part of the filmmaking process. His girlfriend, Dunja, is a Yugoslavian student who has just returned from China where she was studying the language. A jealous and protective woman, Dunja fears Paul is straying from their relationship. Indeed, Paul is fascinated with all the other women around him—a strange, seductive singer named Wendy from downstairs; an overtly friendly co-worker at his new job.

As the distant couple fight and fall in and out of love, one element remains constant between them: Paul's religion. As a Jew, Paul is conflicted. On one hand, he understands that his parents expect him to embrace his faith and marry within it. But on the other, Paul has been bombarded with feelings of anger and dismay. He hates the victimization mentality of the Jewish community, and he holds some strange beliefs about the Nazis' complicity in the Holocaust. For Paul, life has always been about following orders and listening to your superiors. But he is sick of being held to a legacy that he had no direct part in. In a world full of people looking to exploit their persecution and history, Paul rejects such labels, and in so doing, is destroying his relationships. Just like his sister's pending lawsuit over an accident involving her ex-husband, Paul is in a Liability Crisis: he knows whom to blame, but confrontation and conclusion may be painful and unpredictable.

Lumbering between a philosophical diatribe and a drama of mismatched lovers, Liability Crisis is a movie that dares you to like it, on many roguish levels. First, there is the near-incoherent nature of its narrative—an amalgamation of speeches, propaganda pitches, half-overheard heartfelt conversations, and out-and-out callous confrontations that seem to add up to one miserable confusion of emotions. But the layers of illogic continue to mount and amass, as the message becomes the medium and vice versa. The acting is also a study in stasis. While perfectly appropriate for the tone and tenor of this film, the majority of the performances barely register (even our lead actor whispers most of the time). Feelings are kept in check to make room for gentler grandstanding.
But perhaps the most confrontational aspect of the movie is its subject matter, which can best be described as a self-hating Jew's gradual acceptance of the Nazi notion of Hebrew horribleness. From the belittling statements about the Holocaust to the tendency to constantly apologize for the actions of the Third Reich, Liability Crisis is a tainted tone poem to an affinity for reconfiguring history to make it more suitable to one's self-image. The title, a twisted take on the notion of blame and responsibility (and referencing an ongoing legal battle between Paul's sister Susie and her ex-husband), is the setup for the difficult proposition made within the movie. Who is really at fault here? The German people? An extremist subset of same? The modern Jews who want to remove themselves from such painful memories? Or is it the survivors of the concentration camps? Is their mantra-like repetition of "Never Forget" allowing progress for their people, or leaving them mired in a tired testament to man's insane evil against man?

Liability Crisis doesn't have any straight answers, and that's not usual for this film. Director Richard Brody has truncated a two-hours-plus meandering tale down to 70 some minutes of assertions and anger, leaving subtlety and story by the wayside. The best sequences in the film deal directly with Paul's family and their inability to accept Dunja, his Yugoslavian girlfriend, because she is not Jewish. In conversations about religion and bias not usually heard in modern movies, the strange ideological racism of a religion-based upbringing is thoughtfully addressed. Dunja holds her own throughout, challenging Paul's mother to defend her position while providing common sense examples of why such small-mindedness is so very wrong. This matriarch claims the Holocaust and the treatment of Jews by the Nazis was the ultimate act of intolerance, then turns and treats this foreign "gentile" with somewhat similar (if not necessarily as bilious) sentiments. For the ten or so minutes this debate plays out over coffee and cigarettes, Liability Crisis is alive with potential and passion. But no sooner are we engaged than Brody throws the tantrum switch and we are back to Paul's pedantic pontificating, mixing Kafka with Mein Kampf to obliterate the bias he feels he was born with. Indeed, most of this young man's struggle seems to be about disengaging himself from indoctrination at the hand of his parents. He merely wants to relate to the world without the burden of Jewishness and all that insinuates (for both good and bad). Had the movie stayed in the interpersonal and not moved on to the internationally political, it could have worked as a solid, stern statement about intolerance. But it's too interested in the party line to tow anything else.

Liability Crisis is not really concerned about this personal journey. It doesn't want to dwell in the relationship turmoil between Paul and Dunja. It is more interesting in quotes and argumentative support. It is fascinated with its own theoretical viewpoint and can't get enough of its own preaching. It's hard to feel sympathy for or develop an association with people who are constantly beating you over the head with their idealism and insensitivity. Dunja fears Paul since he comes across as so amorally committed to his dogma. And we as an audience feel the same way about both him and the film. We watch the vacant eyes as the redolent rants come pouring out of his mouth, and we wonder in amazement about how someone supposedly well educated can sound so hateful. Then we realize that we are not watching a documentary and that these sentiments were scripted. And then it's time to wonder about the man behind the masquerade, so to speak.

Brody bandies about many misfortunate ideas in this film, using Hitler and his henchmen (perhaps the single most recognizable symbol of evil ever) to underline relationships in decline, family dynamics in flux, and a whole lot of social commentary and conflict. But the advocacy never adds up to a coherent message. All we get are buzzwords and well-researched tirades. Plot elements wither and die from lack of cultivation, but then the director wants us to buy into (and maybe even laugh at) his deus ex machina ending. Sure, Brody may have been meant it to be satirical and karmic, but without any friendly foundation in the parties involved, giggling at the grim reaper comes across as crass and cruel. As does most of Liability Crisis. There is nothing wrong with channeling challenging material for a mainstream story. But when all your narrative is concerned about is lecturing the historically illiterate or zealously Zionistic, there is not much entertainment-wise to cling to.

It must have been difficult for Pathfinder to manage a means of making this movie saleable. The subject matter alone is worth a thousand marketing worries. Liability Crisis is hardly a feel-good romance or searing, serious drama. Instead, it is agenda as art, notebooks and journals of jingoism reduced to screenplay form. And it's hardly a visual feast. Shot mostly in close-up, and presented here in a dirty, dull 1.33:1 full screen flub of a transfer, the movie meanders between too dark and horribly haloed. Sonically, the aural elements move from a literal whisper to a scream (or in this case, the banging out of Beethoven's classic riffs on an overloud piano) as silences are abruptly broken for shocking sounds. This does not mean, however, that the Dolby Digital Stereo provides a speaker-shifting soundscape. Indeed, you can usually hear the camera whirring in the background.

As for bonuses, Pathfinder again has a difficult time, but for a clearly usual reason. Brody's broadsword is bandied about and is evident everywhere in the extras. First, we get a 20-plus-minute interview with the strange cinematic artist. Sitting on a park bench in New York and hardly ever addressing the camera directly, he waxes on about Godard and the lack of an American equivalent to the French New Wave movement. With Brody occasionally sounding intelligent but almost always acting above the questioning, this is intriguing, but ultimately uninvolving, material. A Filmmaker's Statement is also included on the disc, and this Unabomber-style treatise is enough to give several FBI profilers a run for their routine. Brody has a lot to say and is not afraid to spill it out over several page-through screens.

The biographies of Brody and his two leads are interesting, providing some background and insight into the performers involved. But then we get nearly an hour of missing footage, material excised from the original film to make it more "commercial" or better yet "less confrontational." It is easy to see why this footage was removed. Paul's principles and how they came into being are explored in more detail, as is his relationship with Wendy. But for a film that is already incredibly talky, the deleted material ups the verbal ante. With this bonus footage included, the movie would have been unbearable. With it gone, it's more enigmatic, but still stifling.

Many people involved in moviemaking would argue that politics and entertainment should never mix. Richard Brody would disagree. For him, social opinions are the very skeleton of a cinematic story. But art is in the eye of the beholder, and after witnessing Liability Crisis, you'll be incredibly confused. It's a film that will either make you cringe in disbelief, or nod your head in ideological agreement. Either way, it's a tough time at the movies.

ronald Bergan


Miguel Marías

This case begins to fascinate me. Maybe I'll end up buying and reading that book, although not to learn about Godard. One, I was unaware of that backstory about Godard and his self-appointed biographer, I merely suspected JLG would not have been willing and eager, since he was not even too co-operative with Colin McCabe. Two, I had no idea that Richard Brody aspired to be a filmmaker. And, according to the rather detailed and seemingly very balnced review you have posted, I am inclined to think that maybe he wanted to become the American? British? Godard, for which he certainly would have liked a lot to be somewhat "adopted" by The Old Master. Even the edge of his "charges" against Godard seems quite in tune with the subject matter of "Liability Crisis". That his family was rather pro-Vichy and (like a lot of the bourgeoisie in Europe in the '30s) did not feel sympathy for the Jews is a well-known fact. But some of the things Godard said, wrote or repeated in his supposedly Revolutionary period, let's say between 1967 and 1976, would worry me much more - if I felt he would stand by those slogans and utterly unoriginal lines... Fortunately, I don't think I need to agree with everything a filmmaker says, implies or does. Much as I admire Godard, I don't "love" every minute in every film he has made. In fact, I enjoy having a hard (interior) debate with him thru his movies.
Miguel Marías

Glenn Kenny

Thank you, Ronald, and thank you—sincerely!—Miguel. I think we can all concur that our arguments here, whatever our individual positions, grant more to Godard than Mr. Richard Schickel's recent, and frankly appalling, review of Brody's book in the L.A. Times does:

As we debate, we should not forget that there are forces at work that would deny Godard's importance altogether...

Miguel Marías

A lot of surface dedicated not to Mr.Brody's book, once sold in the first paragraph, but to trying to belittle Godard. So we know Mr. Schickel does dislike JLG. How interesting! And that probably Mr. Brody feeded his previous antagonism with Godard. The problem is I don't much mind whatever they may think (or say) about Godard, Hitchcock, Bergman, Straub, Rivette, Griffith, Cassavetes, Claire Denis, Chantal Akerman, Desplechin, Weerasethakul (I can imagine!) or Hou Hsiao-hsien. There are others which can make me think about them, take a second look at their films, discover something (bad, good or indifferent) I had overlooked.

Andrés Olmedo Orejuela

I'd like to point out my own experience of the Loyrette recitation in Godard's film. Simply enough, it was beautiful.

I had no idea who Brasillach was, but the words conjured up strong emotion and the music provided me with a very powerful feeling.

Afterward I learned Brasillach's story, I learned of his guilt and execution, read the entire text of his Testament (of which, not one has written, a remarkable exception, Godard purposefullly cuts short in the film), and came to consider Godard's own place in the film industry, the prominent historical position of In Praise of Love (Godard's first twentieth century feature film) and understood clearly enough that it might well have been Godard's last picture (the film industry is messy and Notre Musique is what we all might call a 'gift', as will be Socialisme if it ever shapes up).

To see In Praise of Love in terms of a final bow of sorts clarifies the use of Brasillach and gives us the entire picture. Although you consider something as obvious as book titles Glenn (and terms or 'titles' like 'anti-Semite' pervade your post), you unfortunately fail to see that both Brasillach and Godard were are and will forever remain French artists. Their outputs are bound into the national history, the myths of France, but that includes the errors they both made which In Praise of Love attempts in part to reconcile through a clear invocation of strong national memory ("Let's NOT forget this very powerful text in spite of it's terrible associations and because of it's terrible associations that we will always remember and aim to reconcile") and an acknowledgment of mistakes, an effort to heal.

Here, and please excuse my failure to address Brody's book which, after having read MacCabe's I figured could do no better and certainly no less, I still haven't even touched, I'd like to ask a question that perhaps you could've (should have?..."of course not") articulated in your post: How does one make a profoundly national art--American, French, Sudanese or German--and make clear that it isn't the entire national history that one aims to endorse? The picture, especially if you're Godard, has to be sharp. Instead of the fuzzy question that addresses holocaust representation more generally, the thing to do when considering Godard is to ask how one takes on the Holocaust in a work of art when one has been a witness to its atrocities in a direct and indirect sort of way.

Glenn Kenny

Mr. Orejuela—Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your interpretation of the use of the Brasillach text in "Eloge" is fascinating, and brings up a number of issues worth addressing, particularly those on the notion of a "profoundly national art." You categorize Brasillach as a "French artist" and say both he and Godard made "errors." But a jury found Brasillach guilty of treason against the nation of France. He was accused, I would say, of more than an error. That said, Godard's embrace of both the (putative) heroes and villains France produced in WWII does better set up the takedown of the supposedly history-stealing Americans in the film's second-half flashback.


Great post, great comments. It's interesting to remember that the Cahiers du cinema, the birth of the auteur theory and the New Wave came out of a right-of-center milieu (though it was NOT pro-Nazi). When Truffaut first denounced a "certain tendency in French cinema" his essay was as much an attack on left-wing, anti-Catholic blasphemy as on the aesthetically conservative "tradition of quality."

And as far as Godard goes, whether or not he was a crypto-Nazi in adolesence, he was certainly an outright Maoist in middle age! So being an apologist for tyrants would hardly be out of character.

Also, wasn't Cocteau himself a bit cozy with Vichy?


Great post, great comments. It's interesting to remember that the Cahiers du cinema, the birth of the auteur theory and the New Wave came out of a right-of-center milieu (though it was NOT pro-Nazi). When Truffaut first denounced a "certain tendency in French cinema" his essay was as much an attack on left-wing, anti-Catholic blasphemy as on the aesthetically conservative "tradition of quality."

And as far as Godard goes, whether or not he was a crypto-Nazi in adolesence, he was certainly an outright Maoist in middle age! So being an apologist for tyrants would hardly be out of character.

Also, wasn't Cocteau himself a bit cozy with Vichy?

Ed Howard

I've written a response to Stephanie Zacharek's review of the Brody book:


My annoyance with her uncritical repetition of consensus ideas about Godard, not to mention her acceptance of Brody's questionable assertions about the man's political beliefs, finally reached a boiling point.

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