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May 19, 2010


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Personally, I was more offended by the McCarthy piece than the Ebert. Pulling biographical facts from McCabe's book to make Godard look like an asshole was a low blow and really has no place in an ostensible review of this new movie. Also, I didn't like the way he lumped Jia Zhangke, Pedro Costa, Bela Tarr and Abbas Kiarostami together. Once again, there's a group of filmmakers without much in common other than the fact that their movies don't play in multiplexes.

Nicolas Leblanc

Isn't that exactly what Matt Noller did over at Slant and also on his Twitter feed? (well maybe he doesn't count as a TK by your standards)

Fuzzy Bastarrd

I dunno---I've enjoyed Godard's last few on a visual level, but the "You don't get its density" defense seems less and less tenable as the movies seem less and less interested in making a coherent structure out of their allusions. There's a valid argument to be made about whether a movie that's all allusions and little else is a movie at all, or just a collection of marginalia held together by a director as brand name. Either way, it seems churlish to accuse Ebert, who remained a Godard booster long after many mainstream critics gave up on him, of not bothering to try. If the audience isn't getting it, that might be the audience's fault or it might be the artist's, and the last few years (decades?) of Godard make me pretty inclined to blame the latter.

Joe the Lodger

4:26 says it all: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/05/cannes_5_waiting_for_godard.html#comment-931980

I don't think there is another filmmaker I've tried to admire and failed more than Godard. Most of my attempts to watch his films have been met either with sleep or simply stopping play and not finishing. Time and time again.

Tom Russell

"I didn't really like [Film X], I didn't find it engaging on the levels I'm accustomed to, but then again, I also really didn't understand a lot of the allusions in the film and I'm not particularly well-versed in the philosophical precepts that the movie seems to be extrapolating from. So while I didn't like it, I also have to admit that I didn't get it, and that at some level, I'm really underqualified to deliver an entirely reliable assessment of it."

That's pretty much my reaction to most of Godard's post-60s work in a nutshell; I haven't seen his latest yet, obviously, but In Praise of Love left me more than a little wanting. And I fully cop to the fact that that's my malfunction, my... geez, I don't want to say intellectual callowness, because that sounds really awful and I don't think of myself as a particularly dumb person. (Which might be why some of the younguns are more likely to dismiss/rage against it-- nobody wants to admit that there's something they're not particularly well-educated about, and that seems to go double for young film critics.)

Glenn Kenny

Oh dearie me, walk me to the fainting couch, Fuzzy Bastard has told me I've written something that "seems churlish."

But seriously—as I explicitly stated above, I'm not necessarily seeking a defense. But I do insist that a coherent perspective on a film...before one even decides if it's "a movie at all"...depends in some respects on understanding at least a bit of what it's on about. I admit that I don't immediately understand all the allusions in any given Godard work, but if I'm gonna do any significant critical digging on a given work, you can be pretty sure I'm gonna investigate those allusions as thoroughly as I'm able, and yes, I can prove it:




Obviously spadework of this sort isn't necessarily possible in the context of Cannes (and McCarthy's reflexive insult to those who insist that they need to see the film again is particularly condescending in this respect), but I don't think that invalidates my initial point.

Joe the Lodger

I think the response from a lot of reviews I've read is that, yes, while they didn't understand the film, the problem is that it doesn't work on its most basic level as a movie, and that therefore, they're not interested in trying to better understand it.

It's this idea that you need to understand Godard in order to appreciate Godard. And I think that's why he's a bad filmmaker. A movie's quality should be obvious even if it requires multiple viewings to fully grasp -- either it works as a movie or it doesn't. And, to me, his movies always fail that basic level.

It's not even like Marienbad, which wasn't to my taste -- yet I could appreciate it simply by virtue of the fact that it's phenomenally well-made, with gorgeous production design and photography. Godard, in my opinion, doesn't even get that far.

Tom Russell

"It's this idea that you need to understand Godard in order to appreciate Godard. And I think that's why he's a bad filmmaker. A movie's quality should be obvious even if it requires multiple viewings to fully grasp -- either it works as a movie or it doesn't. And, to me, his movies always fail that basic level."

Going to disagree with you here rather strongly; some films require that you have more experience-- whether it's intellectual or emotional-- in order to grapple with them. The first time I saw FACES, I was seventeen or eighteen, and I thought it was the stupidest, boringest, most pointless thing I had ever seen. When I was twenty-three, though, it punched me square in the stomach and was ceaselessly compelling.

It wasn't that it took me multiple viewings to fully grasp it; it was that I had to grow as a person, had to live some more life, had to understand what it was about before I could really appreciate it. That's an emotional example, granted, but I think the same hold trues for intellectual ones.

The other thing I want to say is: the man who made CONTEMPT certainly doesn't lack for gorgeousness, sir.


I freely admit that I don't get Godard, but I also don't like him. Those are two different things. Godard doesn't -- well, not never, but very rarely at least -- make me interested in investigating what it is I've just seen. I feel like I'm on the outside before I ever even knew there was an inside.

Contrast this with Bresson, who also don't get, from a stylistic perspective, but there's something haunting and, well, nagging, about something like L'ARGENT, and even LANCELOT OF THE LAKE, that makes me want to go back, and try harder.

Joe the Lodger

Contempt is fine. But I hardly believe that if it didn't have Godard's name on it, it would be considered by many any kind of masterpiece.

While we're speaking of Ebert, he has a quote written in defense of 8 1/2 that I often refer to, as it's one of the most concisely written bits I've ever encountered from a critic: "A filmmaker who prefers ideas to images will never advance above the second rank because he is fighting the nature of his art. The printed word is ideal for ideas; film is made for images, and images are best when they are free to evoke many associations and are not linked to narrowly defined purposes."

One other point I'd like to make, which is telling, is that in Sight & Sound's 2002 poll, while Godard didn't have a single film in either the critics or directors top 10, he appeared in the critics list of 10 greatest directors -- but not the directors list.


Congratulations, McCarthy. Yet another parent who is proud of his ability to procreate. I'm sure that Godard would have been your kind of artist if only his lady had carried his spawn to term. Otherwise, his review puts an errant apostrophe into Finnegans Wake, which is a dumb mistake. Worse, though, is the cliche of citing FW as shorthand for an inscrutable artist's late work. But I will agree, in part, with John. You don't revisit a work of art unless something grabs you the first time. I keep going back to FW, however much I don't understand, because I really except to find the meaning of life hidden inside. Likewise, I'll go back to even the densest Godard for a number of reasons. Is there really nothing in the new movie that McCarthy, et al. can return to for re-evaluation?

Tom Russell

Not the first time Ebert's been wrong, Mr. the Lodger. Neither the last.

Joe the Lodger

He's 100% right in that quote.


That Ebert quote makes little sense. Good "ideas" are never "narrowly defined purposes." Words are no more inherently precise than images. Even more so than singular images, narrative itself often conveys plenty of ideas without ever announcing them. Perhaps Ebert was just saying that film is a bad medium for polemics. Or he doesn't understand what an "idea" is.

Dan Sullivan

The negative response that "Film Socialisme" has received thus far seems to indicate that it possesses most if not all of the qualities I hoped it would. To quote Jerzy Radziwilowicz's character in "Passion": "Maybe it's not important to understand, and it's enough just to take." (But seriously, what were people expecting? A semi-coherent remake of "Reds" with Alain Badiou standing in for Warren Beatty and Patti Smith for Diane Keaton?) Can't wait to drink it in.

Joe the Lodger

The Ebert quote makes perfect sense. He wasn't referring to polemics. The quote was taken from a paragraph that begins: "The critic Alan Stone, writing in the Boston Review, deplores Fellini's "stylistic tendency to emphasize images over ideas.""

I often come across critics who are dismissive of the image. If I recall correctly, Sarris criticized Kubrick for having too great a belief in the power of the image. As well, David Thomson has said that cinematography is unimportant to movies -- that millions of people take millions of photos each day, and that's not very difficult to do.

I often think the disconnect for many critics is the fact that they are by nature WRITING about a form that is inherently not literary. Images work in a manner more attuned to music -- they create an experience that affects multiple levels without necessarily being intellectual (and there's a difference between intellectual and intelligent...).

Simply put, if you remove the "picture" from motion picture, you negate the existence of the form.

Tom Russell

The cinema of ideas is a perfectly valid tradition, and to dismiss it as "second rank" is frankly as idiotic as those who dismiss the blockbuster or the animated film en toto. To dismiss an entire slew of films is narrow-minded, methinks.

And of course, your argument itself doesn't hold any water re: Godard, because Godard is certainly a filmmaker of images-- which is why I had cited CONTEMPT when you claimed that his films lacked for beauty in comparision to MARIENBAD: not because I was arguing it was a masterpiece (I'm agnostic on that count, though I'm glad it let you make your pointless and bitchy little non-sequitor about how it's only considered one because of Godard's name, oh, good one, two points for you!) but because it's an objectively beautiful, eye-ravishing film.

This is the part where, if I was at home instead of work and writing a blogpost instead of a comment, I would throw a couple dozen screen captures your way to illustrate the different sorts of arresting and carefully-framed images Godard has to offer.

And if you think you got my dander up, just imagine what I'd be saying if I was someone who actually liked Godard!

Tom Russell

I really got to learn to refresh the page before I post my long comments.

Okay, Joe the Lodger-- I get what you mean, and I will say that even in my own films, I strive to be non-intellectual, to create elusive meanings instead of allusive ones, to create visual music, experiences, instead of treatises (how well I succeed, well, that depends on who you ask). But I still think there's room for films of all types, and while I might not dig the intellectually-dense approach, I do see it as a perfectly valid, and not lesser, tradition.


I see your point, as long as an "idea" remains something with only one meaning, while an "image" is always multivalent and open to the interpretation of the viewer. Also, you align yourself against what seems to be a very stupid Thomson quote, so one point in your favor. However, I still think that Ebert has a narrower idea of what an idea is than you seem to have. When Godard throws some musing about Maoism on the screen, it's hardly ever to tell the viewer that very thing about Maoism--usually it means two or three different things, much of it dependent on the accompanying image. How clean-cut an idea do you get from, say, Belmondo strapping dynamite to his head? The idea/image thing is too simplistic.

Fuzzy Bastard

Part of the problem with late Godard is precisely that he's a filmmaker of images who desperately wants to be a filmmaker of ideas. His images are beautiful, in every medium (who knew crappy 70s video could be so lovely?). But his supposed ideas are mostly just aphorisms, which is to say they're pretty/vacant.

I actually enjoy late Godard films. Some of his 80s work is terrific ("King Lear", especially, is as good as anything he's ever done), and all of it is great to look at. But like a pampered Hollywood actress, it's embarrassing how great the gap is between Godard's self-image and his actual wisdom. Like his disciple Tarantino, he substitutes reference for erudition, and quotation for thought, and whenever he actually ventures an opinion, as in the painful In Praise of Love, it tends to be dopey and predictable.

The dense annotation GK did on Pierrot is great, but too many of Godard's movies have relied on their allusions to provide content, without adding much to the conversation themselves.

Jim Fox-Warner

Tom, even a tertiary reference to your own 'films' in the context of a conversation about Godard earns you a month's detention doing crafts and services for Kevin Smith.


Ebert uses language to rationalize his gut reaction to liking or not liking something. That doesn't **sound** like a criminal offense, especially since most people practice reviewing exactly the same way. But reading him over the long term one gets the idea that he hates XYZ in a film, unless he doesn't. It's hard to protect his authority figure-ness when he seems so darn slippery.

What people find combative about Godard isn't that his movies take work. Let's first of all restrict the "tough stuff" to '68 and beyond. There's a lot to like across that period, from LE GAI SAVOIR to the present. Gorgeous imagery (some of the most stunning camerawork anywhere), imaginative use of genre, beautiful people and places, images of splendor and vivid ugliness - and, yes, compelling arguments relating to just about everything under the sun that concerns JLG.

What people find combative, however, is that the structure of his allusions and aphorisms come across as presumptive to all but the most erudite viewers. In one scenario, the viewer resents the presumption; in another, it feels like that nightmare where you show up for your final exam that you forgot to study for or didn't know about, but that the other students are blasting through dilligently while the tip of your pencil keeps breaking.

The course I recommend - as always, with any filmmaker - is to examine what's going on in the frame, the filmmaker's relationship to the subject matter, to use aesthetic criteria to evaluate the image and sound, and so on. In this way, Godard is so clearly a master, a fascinating essayist, a nuanced portraitist, a tremendous conductor of image and sound, that the least I can do is repay him with good faith.

If it takes a trip to the library to deepen these experiences even further, I say: okay!

I agree with Dan S. The negative notes have done as much to stoke my anticipation as the positive ones.

Ed Howard

Don't get me started. Expecting a measured or reasonable response to new Godard is a lost cause. There are all too many people for whom he might as well have stopped making movies sometime before 1967 maybe right after Breathless, even. McCarthy's "review" in which he mentions, oh yeah, absolutely nothing about the film itself is especially heinous, and might be summed up as "Most people don't go to see Godard or Tarr movies..." He leaves out the obvious kicker "...so they must not be any good," but it's certainly implied. The people who appreciate late Godard are "elites" because they're in the minority, and of course everybody knows that the majority is always right. I'd love to see some detractors engaging with the later Godard films in a more intelligent way, but I have yet to come across too much of that. (Of course, like anything in this world, it's not for everybody, and honest acknowledgment of that is appreciated as well, just not McCarthy's smug superiority and the underlying sense of glee that Godard's films don't have a big audience anymore. McCarthy seems positively delighted that audiences aren't flocking to art films in big numbers.)

For me, needless to say, I'm looking forward to Film Socialism when it plays for a week at some NYC theater and, pretty much, nowhere else. It may not be a popular stance, but late Godard is, for me, stimulating, provoking, intelligent, and visually stunning, all the things that McCarthy flatly insists this new film is not.

Tom Russell

Mr. Fox-Warner: Duly noted, and ouch.


I wish the people who were so busy erecting defenses against the "assault of the barbarian-intellectual Godard" could take a look at these supposedly fear-inspiring films and see how gorgeous, funny, sad, entertaining, they often are.

While lots of his post-'68 films are complex and layered, keep in mind that:

KING LEAR is also a marvelously playful science fiction film.

HAIL MARY is also a warm, reflective treatment of unplanned pregnancy.

KEEP UP YOUR RIGHT is also a funny celebration of slapstick comedy (with a perfectly executed "dive into the car" by JLG).

NOUVELLE VAGUE and PASSION overflow with stunning imagery.

HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA is a mammoth work of film criticism - and film appreciation.

DETECTIVE is a gripping noir with an eccentric Jean-Pierre Leaud performance.

And that's just a few.

Fuzzy Bastard

I also think it's a mistake to lump together all post-'67 Godard in defense as well as attack. Some kind of joy seems to have drained out of him after he completed HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA---before that, he's making strange, unpredictable, lively movies, but the films after that have seemed not unlike late Woody Allen---half-baked, unfinished, made without passion and only out of habit. Of course, Godard on his worst day can make a prettier picture than most directors at their best, but the drop in quality between GERMANY YEAR 90 NINE ZERO and IN PRAISE OF LOVE is pretty vast.

Random Audience Member

@ Jim Fox-Warner: Yeah, ouch. Tough crowd!


Wrong about the drop in passion. You don't make something like NOTRE MUSIQUE in the same frame of mind as SMALL TIME CROOKS. I mean, wtf. And IN PRAISE OF LOVE is one of the top films of the decade.


At a certain point, "personal opinion" stops being cute and starts to decimate your credibility.

Brandon Nowalk

"There's a valid argument to be made about whether a movie that's all allusions and little else is a movie at all, or just a collection of marginalia held together by a director as brand name."

Is there? Allusions are as valid as dictionary definitions when it comes to the meaning behind your words/images. Let's say Film Socialisme is nothing other than a sequence of allusions to other works by other creators for other purposes. Doesn't the combination in this context create a new argument? Isn't it the same thing as picking previously defined words from a dictionary and putting them in the order that best conveys your purpose?

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