May 22, 2009

percentage of survival (2)

"With every film the director should make it felt that man is a magnificent thing, and in the same moment that he is the curse of the planet."


"The human race I prefer to think of as an underworld of gods. When the gods go slumming they visit the earth. You see, my respect for the human race is not one hundred percent."




-percentage of survival (1)

May 21, 2009

R.I.P.
João Bénard Da Costa

"(...) buzina. Descobrindo o efeito sonoro do seu movimento, a criança repete-o um sem número de vezes, sempre de costas voltadas para a rua e sempre a olhar para a velha. Esta não esboça a mais pequena reacção ao jogo da miúda, mas, embora não lhe vejamos o olhar, sabemos que está com toda a atenção a ela. Atenção que, de certo modo, é devolvida, pois que a brincadeira da criança, sendo também uma brincadeira solitária, é uma brincadeira para a velha, ou uma brincadeira com a velha. (...)"

-"Sobre NO QUARTO DA VANDA", João Bénard Da Costa


If sensitivity to a single shot or a film's title are worth a damn to the English speaking world, then film critic and historian João Bénard Da Costa's work will one day be recognized and translated. He died today (1935-2009). I only became aware of João Bénard Da Costa through my work on Pedro Costa, and what Pedro and other Portuguese friends have told me of João Bénard's importance. One of the few (the only?) ways you can see João Bénard Da Costa with English translation is in a penetrating interview about OSSOS (Pedro Costa) included on this dvd of the film. He wrote an entire text, a beautiful one, about the above shot in IN VANDA'S ROOM (Pedro Costa). He wrote monographs on Hitchcock, Buñuel, Lang, Sternberg, Nicholas Ray, Hawks and Ford. He also did the kind of work you cannot completely transcribe or translate since it resides in the minds of hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries, that of being a great director of the Cinemateca Portuguesa since 1980. My impression is that there are many who could say about the films and the light shed on them by João Bénard Da Costa "I would have died if you hadn't come back." Is it a lie Johnny Guitar?

May 17, 2009

Separation


Danièle Huillet : There is something else in cinema besides directors, on which all the cinema rests: its craftsmen, its technicians, and that's also a social history. People who entered the cinema of the generation of Louis Hochet, our sound engineer, were generally people who came out of the working class and for whom the cinema was a possibility of upward mobility. But they brought their classes with them, their intelligence and experience. Now, this has also disappeared from cinema: the cinema became a Mafia, the son of a technician becomes a technician, the daughter of an actor becomes an actress... And that represents a loss of fantastic energy.



Louis Hochet - Class Relations (1984)


Jacques Aumont : It's true from this point of view, the lists of students at IDHEC or FEMIS are interesting, there is a high proportion of surnames of film people or known intellectuals.



D.H : We see it in concrete terms. The young technicians are often very nice, relatively less pretentious than directors. Nevertheless, there is a loss in terms of intelligence and experience, which is also frightening.



Jean-Marie Straub : And then, there’s too much vanity. There’s almost only vanity, there’s no ambition now.



D.H. : But ambition is also a social fact: someone that comes from below and wants to climb has ambition.



(...)



J.-M. S. : A musician condenses time with time. That’s the affinity between music and cinema. The work to be done is of not getting bogged down in the space that we show; it’s terribly annoying to see tracking shots, never ending pans. When I hear talk about sequence shots (plan-sequence) I want to vomit; that consists of being bogged down, and besides people now don’t even know what it means concretely. One must know how to, with space, condense time, and how to condense space to get time; also, if the actors speak there can be a relationship to vocal music (or not, if we don’t want it). After all, when someone says hello, it can be notated, no? [To Danièle Huillet:] Why are you staring at me like that?


D.H. : I was thinking about the time when all that wasn't separated...



J.-M.S. : It was well before cinema!



D.H. : Yes... But cinema could find something, and that's what has been lost. It's frightening when you look at old films, to see what was lost en route, all that was possible and that has been ransacked, looted, repressed. This is especially frightening because it's a model for what happens in general.



J.-M.S. : That money is profit. Barbarism is not just in society, it's also produced at the individual level.



J.A. : How then to continue to make films?



D.H. : By saying every time that this will be the last -- not like (Ingmar) Bergman, but concretely, in the knowledge that one has no future.

--1987

May 15, 2009

---------------CINEMASCOPE

only good for funerals and snakes,
and bread lines around the block,
for food vouchers, ending in riots,
which are also mainly good
for funerals and snakes.

-in Milwaukee '08-

May 14, 2009

....with Gloria in Laughton's garden -


GARDEN IN PROGRESS

High above the Pacific coast, below it
The waves' gentle thunder and the rumble of oil tankers
Lies the actor's garden.

Giant eucalyptus trees shade the white house
Dust relics of the former mission.
Nothing else recalls it, save perhaps the Indian
Granite snake's head that lies by the fountain
As if patiently waiting for
A number of civilizations to collapse.

And there was a Mexican sculpture of porous tufa
Set on a block of wood,portraying a child with malicious eyes
Which stood by the brick wall of the toolshed.

Lovely grey seat of Chinese design, facing
The toolshed. As you sit on it talking
You glance over your shoulder at the lemon hedge
With no effort.

The different parts repose or are suspended
In a secret equilibrium, yet never
Withdraw from the entranced gaze, nor does the masterly
_____hand
Of the ever-present gardener allow complete uniformity
To any of the units: thus among the fuchsias
There may be a cactus. The seasons too
Continually order the view: first in one place then in another
The clumps flower and fade. A lifetime
Was too little to think all this up in. But
As the garden grew with the plan
So does the plan with the garden.

The powerful oak trees on the lordly lawn
Are plainly creatures of the imagination. Each year
The lord of the garden takes a sharp saw and
Shapes the branches anew.

Untended beyond the hedge, however, the grass runs riot
Around the vast tangle of wild roses. Zinnias and bright
_____anemones
Hang over the slope. Ferns and scented broom
Shoot up around the chopped firewood.

In the corner under the fir trees
Against the wall you come on the fuchsias. Like immigrants
The lovely bushes stand unmindful of their origin
Amazing themselves with many a daring red
Their fuller blooms surrounding the small indigenous
Strong and delicate undergrowth of dwarf calycanthus.

There was also garden within the garden
Under a Scotch fir, hence in the shade
Ten feet wide and twelve feet long

Which was as big as a park
With some moss and cyclamens
And two camelia bushes.

Nor did the lord of the garden take in only
His own plants and trees but also
The pants and trees of his neighbors; when told this
Smiling he admitted: I steal from all sides.
(But the bad things he hid
With his own plants and trees.)

Scattered around
Stood small bushes, one-night thoughts
Wherever one went, if one looked
One found living projects hidden.

Leading up to the house is a cloister-like alley of hibiscus
Planted so close that the walker
Has to bend them back, thus releasing
The full scent of their blooms.

In the cloister-like alley by the house, close to the lamp
Is planted the Arizona cactus, height of a man, which each
_____year
Blooms for a single night, this year
To the thunder of guns from warships exercising
With white flowers as big as your fist and as delicate
As a Chinese actor.

Alas, the lovely garden, placed high above the coast
Is built on crumbling rock. Landslides
Drag parts of it into the depths without warning. Seemingly
There is not much time left in which to complete it.



b.b. c. 1945

May 12, 2009

NE CHANGE RIEN (Pedro Costa, 2009)





"Although people sometimes act like they think so, a singer is not like a saxophone. If you don't sound right, you can't go out and get some new reeds, split them just right. A singer is only a voice, and a voice is completely dependent on the body God gave you. When you walk out there and open your mouth, you never know what's going to happen."

Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues.












There is now an entry for Pedro Costa's latest film Ne change rien at pedro-costa.net . The entry includes a synopsis, photos, biographies/ filmographies, and notes on singing and cinema by Jeanne Balibar. Ne change rien is to premiere at The Director's Fortnight, Cannes, this Friday the 15th of May.





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*from C-


" — 'Pourquoi les juifs?'
Olho para uma mesa redonda e digo que ela é redonda porque assim me parece, mas depois começo a duvidar. (Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire, regarder? C'est garder deux fois.) No fundo não acredito na objectividade, ou então só acredito numa objectividade silenciosa, imponderável — as palavras são demasiado vivas, demasiado frenéticas, passam-nos a perna num instante.
De um filme de Godard, por exemplo, não se pode dizer quase nada, é literalmente feito de material inflamável. — 'Uma mulher casada' são fragmentos de um filme rodado em 1964 a preto e branco, dura 95 minutos. — Pois bem e o que é que isso significa? — Ah, Bérénice, o amor é um mistério."

May 6, 2009

Several notes on Brody's Godard biography...

...after reading Adrian Martin's "Contempt" :

1) When I first read Adrian Martin's review, I found his comparison of Brody's Everything is Cinema to Fuegi's biography of Brecht, The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht (at least Fuegi wears his thesis on his sleeve) very apt. There's the mutilation of the artist's works into a series of exposé-fueled interpretations pivoting on spurious biographical speculation and crude biographical judgments; hysterical ideological reductivism and wild revisionism; a completely knowing disregard and/or distortion of the artist's strivings and working methods, especially with regard to political being (in the case of the Fuegi, Brecht's collective adaptation methods are interpreted as life-long plagarism!); the well-crafted intent to do grave harm to the understanding of certain works (perhaps even to the man) -- all this is evident in both biographies.

But the comparison is not completely apt. Fuegi contributed to Brecht studies for at least 10 years (the BRECHT YEARBOOK, for example) before he (for ideological reasons) turned on the artist and the work. Brody, however, has produced little if any of what can be called solid scholarship on Godard before, during, or since his biography.

I was just using the term "artist" to describe the subjects of Brody and Fuegi's biographies. It can be a very limited term, especially in relation to the work of Brecht and Godard. I wouldn't want to be in league with the term "artist" when it's used to to say that Godard sacraficed being one by becoming militant, by speaking about the Palestinians, as if those concerns were "self-denial" of an "obstinate artistic quest" (pg. 625-6, Brody). To be in thrall to, or worse propagate, such a stodgy and couth definition of "art" as Brody's is as backward as it has ever been -- and over a body of work like Godard's, it's quite a reactionary feat. This definition of art has certainly been forced on us before. (Andrew Sarris for example, also speaking of Godard: "the death of an artist is too high a price to pay for the birth of a revolutionary, even when the revolution seems to make more sense than ever before.") To that definition I say thank goodness Brecht and Godard haven't always proceeded as "artists" alone, or else we wouldn't have TO THOSE BORN LATER, DER MESSINGKAUF, GALILEO or ICI ET AILLEURS, SAUVE QUI PEUT (LA VIE), HISTOIRE(S) DU CINéMA.

An astute reviewer of the Fuegi biography (click here to read the review) reminds that Brecht and his work fought and survived much, including every kind of force for reaction -- no reason to think Godard's work won't do the same.

2) The last group of stills in my post of Adrian's review

  • one of Godard, Suzanne Schiffman, and Truffaut on the set of FAHRENHEIT 451
  • one from Godard's HISTOIRE(S) with Truffaut and Léaud ["YOU/YOU"]
  • and two from GRANDEUR ET DéCADENCE D'UN PETIT COMMERCE DE CINéMA, Godard's film with Léaud from 1986

are dedicated to Adrian's recent comment at Girish's blog:


"(...) I don't think I have ever seen it mentioned that, for example, the film project that Godard 'menaced' Truffaut with in their bitter 1973 letter exchange (called A FILM at that stage, if I remember correctly), is substantially the film he made 13 years later as GRANDEUR ET DECADENCE ..."

Yet another deepening of that exchange. I don't think I would be alone in calling GRANDEUR ET DECADENCE... one of Godard's greatest films of the 80's, perhaps of his entire career. Brody gives it a one-and-a-half page plot synopsis (funny since this is one of Godard's most self-sufficiently plotted films and an admirable self-criticism) and nothing else.

3) and of that exchange -- the letters between Truffaut and Godard, and the anecdote about the slurring of Pierre Braunberger: for those who've only read Adrian's review and not Bill Krohn's KINBRODY AND THE CEEJAYS, the latter really must be referred to for a deepening of the issues and events at hand in those letters and that slur. At Dave Kehr's always interesting blog, Glenn Kenny finds:
"Krohn’s attempt to reduce the Godard/Braunberger 'Sale juif' incident to nothing more than Godard attempting an allusion to Renoir and Braunberger not 'getting' it is a real stretch."

But Kenny does not need to stretch because this is not what Bill Krohn is suggesting at all. Bill's review would not be 8000 research-based words (in a book review!) if he were asking us to actively "reduce" and think the "sale juif" remark "nothing more" than anything. In short, there's more -- to consider, to argue, to think about, to remember, etc.. Brody's book, and the reactionary attitudes it has empowered (cf. Kenny's blog post on Godard and Brasillach, recent New York Times articles, etc) give the opposite impression. By doing the research on that letter that Brody did not do (or withheld), I think Bill is suggesting that it's impossible to accept Brody's long-armed judgements which, in this case, hinge upon the spoken word with no witnesses. This does not make the slur against Gorin by Godard (reported in the Brody) any less unfortunate. Nor does it make NOTRE MUSIQUE or any of Godard's films anti-Semitic. Brody is craftily counting on these slurs as they appear in his book to pass into and strengthen his perspective against Godard's anti-Zionist films -- and only in this vile book could it pass.


Rolle, witness
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New York, witness
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West Bank, witness
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4) For a similarly complicated affair accusing Jean Renoir of anti-Semitism, including the rebuttals to that charge, see the wonderful Jdcopp's definitive post here.

May 5, 2009

Contre-Brody

Since many of Richard Brody's gross distortions of Godard in Everything is Cinema continue to proliferate and go unquestioned, there's truly no risk of lapsing into a game of ping pong here by making available another clear as day pan review. This is the review by Adrian Martin (many thanks to him) that Bill Krohn pointed out in his article Kinbrody and the Ceejays as "particularly good on that brand of malarkey," i.e. Godard, actresses and the "gossip made tedious by morality" in the Brody. Right off Adrian brings up a huge deficiency of the book not yet mentioned elsewhere: that Brody does not take account of Godard's impact on world cinema. With Godard's constant concern for the state of cinema and active reaching out to others in its name (Duras, Straub/Huillet, Wenders, Garrel, Truffaut, W. Allen, Akerman, Artavazd Peleshian, the list goes on, far out of Godard's reach -- all influenced by him; not to mention whole countries: Mozambique, Palestine), is there any other filmmaker to whom (precisely, in a biography) this deficiency could be more of an affront?



___________________________________________



Contempt:
A Review of Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard by Richard Brody, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008

by Adrian Martin





In 2003, Melbourne’s veteran independent filmmaker Nigel Buesst made a long video documentary called Carlton + Godard = Cinema. It was about a small band of filmmakers clustered around Melbourne University Film Society in the mid 1960s. Brave figures including Brian Davies and Bert Deling scraped together just enough money and resources to make a bunch of short films; their inspiration came primarily from the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) that had surged since 1960, and especially the work of Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless, Contempt, Alphaville). Buesst’s memoir shows how this buzz of local film activity intersected with trends in theatre (La Mama), how it laid the ground for some striking feature films of the 1970s (Deling’s Pure Shit), and how it clashed with certain institutions of the time – in particular, the Melbourne Film Festival which, under the illustrious stewardship of Erwin Rado, sometimes studiously ignored the flagship example of Godard’s ever-changing work.






Godard's Alphaville.








Deling's Pure Shit.



For Australians, this is a fascinating, long-buried piece of cultural history – one of those stories which shows our artists and thinkers in dialogue with trends from abroad, rather than gazing inwards at their nationalistic navels. But you will not read a word about it in Richard Brody’s 700-page biography of Godard, Everything is Cinema. Nor will you find much information about Godard’s vast influence over the development of independent filmmaking and cinema theory in Italy, Russia, Germany, Spain, UK, Taiwan …

Brody is a film critic for The New Yorker – and Everything is Cinema is definitely a New Yorker’s view of Godard. On the one hand, the book springs from a peculiarly American projection of French society and culture: the France of Jean-Paul Sartre and Bernard-Henri Lévy (heavyweight intellectual celebrities), Brigitte Bardot, May ‘68, François Truffaut, and the wartime Resistance. On the other hand, it is at pains to document Godard’s impact on the US, particularly on those revered critics Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael.

This dual focus is odd, and leads to many distortions. Godard is no longer a citizen of the world, no longer someone who interacted with fellow filmmakers such as Poland’s Jerzy Skolimowski, Italy’s Bernardo Bertolucci, Germany’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Georgia’s Sergei Paradjanov. He mainly seems, in Brody’s account, to be on planes between France and the US – at least until he relocated to Switzerland, where he is based today. But the Switzerland of this book is just a picture postcard of lakes and restaurants, not a living, breathing, troubling society which Godard depicts in films including the magisterial Nouvelle Vague of 1990.

This is the second biography of Godard to appear in English, after Colin MacCabe’s rather staid Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70 in 2003. It is, in certain respects, an improvement: virtually everything Godard – or JLG, as he likes to style himself – has made since the ‘50s (long or short, film or video) is documented, and the often rocky course of his personal life is more or less detailed. The most praiseworthy aspect of the book is undoubtedly its even-handed evaluation of Godard’s contribution to the Seventh Art: flying in the face of so many superficial accounts that cruelly cut off Godard’s career at 1967 (the spectacular auto-da-fé of Weekend), Brody follows it all the way. He seeks to enshrine late works such as 1987’s King Lear (a true film maudit, starring Norman Mailer and Molly Ringwald!), and the extraordinary Histoire(s) du cinéma series made between 1988 and 1998, a collage of treated clips best savoured on DVD.

The problem with the book is elsewhere. It is a commonplace wisdom to assert these days that ‘biography is fiction’ – but Brody’s effort comes off as more fictional than most biographies. The book has a frightful coherence: it is as if, very early on in the process, Brody decided on his neat interpretation of Godard, and then set about researching only those facts which would prove it. Brody has interviewed a significant number of Godard’s associates – many more than MacCabe did, but still only a fraction of the hundreds who have passed through the director’s prolific career. One sometimes suspects that a different ledger of interviewees might have produced a quite different portrait – as indeed Alain Bergala’s far superior Godard au travail (even though it only deals with the 1960s) proves.

But Brody, alas, has an axe to grind. Like John Fuegi in his seething The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht, Brody has at some point switched from adoring fan to investigative reporter, not to mention moral judge. The book tries to ‘nail’ Godard, sensationally, on two counts.




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Watch your back: Godard and Karina on location of Vivre sa vie.




The first count is anti-Semitism. The evidence for this charge is, in my view, particular only to a certain period of Godard’s life, and the book’s wholesale expansion of it into an almost magic biographical ‘key’ is highly dubious. No public statement by Godard, and nothing explicit in any of his films, incontrovertibly backs up Brody’s claim. What do exist are several reported, anecdotal accounts of verbal racial slurs by Godard: in his Correspondence 1945-1984, Truffaut (in the midst of a historic 1973 angry exchange of letters between the two filmmakers) recalls that Godard once called producer Pierre Braunberger a “dirty Jew” when a deal between them fell through; and when Jean-Pierre Gorin, Godard’s collaborator during the Maoist period of 1968-1972, asked for money due to him from their joint production company, Godard (according to Gorin) replied, “Ah, it’s always the same thing, the Jews come calling when they hear the cash register” – prompting a rift between the two friends that lasted several years.

Those are dreadful, damning details. But when Brody reaches for a handy quote from Lévy – who has had relatively little direct contact with Godard – that the filmmaker is, in his view, “an anti-Semite who is trying to be cured”, prone to the periodic “seizure of anti-Semitism”, reportage begins to shade into a rather suspect form of pop socio-psychoanalysis. Brody proceeds to weave a life-long web that ranges from the alleged Vichy sympathies of Godard’s family members during the Occupation, to references and allusions in his most recent productions such as In Praise of Love (2001).

How to defend JLG against this barrage? In the latter half of the ‘80s, Godard in his work begins to meditate deeply on issues arising from the Holocaust – and, on this matter, he is no revisionist historian who denies the existence of the event. His empathy for murdered Jews is palpable, and leads to the kind of fervent identification with Jewish traditions to which many non-Jewish artists have arrived. One aspect of this is the reverent way that Godard, over the past 15 years, has mined the writings of Jewish poets, mystics and theorists including Walter Benjamin and Hermann Broch. At the same time and by the same token, Godard poses a critique of the politics of the Israeli state, and offers sympathy for the Palestinian cause, in films ranging from Here and Elsewhere (1976, initially made in collaboration with Gorin) to the sublime Notre musique (2005) – both of which also richly feature a great poet, the recently deceased Mahmoud Darwich.







Here and Elsewhere


Can the balance of that ledger be toted up as anti-Semitism? There is a clear difference – and a laudable progression – between Godard’s racist jibes of the ‘60s and ‘70s and his actual work since the ‘80s. Brody shows himself to be a dab hand at a certain style of forced misreading when he considers a scene from the autobiographical JLG/JLG (1995): Godard draws a zany diagram on a piece of paper, two triangles superimposed to form a Star of David, thus demonstrating the filmmaker’s view that nations ‘project’ an image or idea of other nations, “Germany which projected Israel, Israel which reflected that projection”. From this oddly conveyed but certainly even-handed schema, Brody draws the message that, for Godard, the Jews “inflict suffering” and perpetrate a pernicious ideology through their control of the media!




Likewise, Brody tracks a set of references – sometimes merely vague, allusive or contestable – to the right-wing, flagrantly anti-Semitic collaborator Robert Brasillach in Godard’s life and work. His family, it is asserted, mourned the writer’s death by execution in 1946; the phrase “our pre-war” included in JLG/JLG echoes a 1939 memoir by the writer; and the ‘testament’ letter Brasillach wrote in prison shortly before his execution is, in part, recited by a non-actor in In Praise of Love – a young man named Philippe Loyrette, whose personal tape of this recitation, mailed to Godard some years previously, compelled the filmmaker (according to Brody) to recompose his own ‘version’ of it in the little-seen short video Farewell to TNS (1996). But Brody is confusing and mangling a lot here, conjuring a species of guilt-by-association: firstly, he displays little comprehension of Godard’s ‘dialectical’ collage method (consistent throughout his career) of quoting deliberately clashing, contradictory texts from right across the political spectrum (as he once made perfectly clear, “I just quote them, I don’t own them”); secondly, Farewell to TNS, which contains not a single word of Brasillach, is a tribute to the form, not the content of Loyrette’s performance. In fact, if this cryptic (and very moving) record of a recitation by Godard refers to anything specific, it is simultaneously the closure of a theatre school in Strasbourg, and the painful ending of an unrequited love.



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A man in full: Farewell to TNS (1996)


Which brings us to Brody’s second, even more bizarre charge against Godard. The director has never been shy about admitting that he has fallen hard for a number of the women that appear in his films – that is, apart from the several he married – and that these relationships have sometimes been pretty one-sided. Brody hunts down a number of these women – for instance, Bérangère Allaux, whose persistent rejection of Godard leaves him, at a histrionic highpoint of the book, “wandering desperately through the streets” in search of her. It is hardly a new situation in world cinema: the director’s passion (satisfied or otherwise) for his or her much younger, newly discovered ‘star’. But Brody is sniffing for something nastier, more perverse. And he finds it – to his satisfaction, at any rate – in the case of Camille Virolleaud, 9 years old when Godard cast her in the experimental TV series France/tour/détour/deux/enfants (1977). Virolleaud feels she was bullied and mistreated by Godard during the filming (she retrospectively describes its effect on her young self as “hyperviolent”), and disliked, when she saw the result on TV, how Godard showed her in a state of undress – although this was a fully professional, consensual production situation, endorsed and encouraged by Camille’s mother. (Australian readers will be cross-referencing at this point of the book to recent media beat-ups about the photo-art of Bill Henson and Polixeni Papapetrou.)














Camille Virolleaud in France/tour/détour/deux/enfants



What is the point of all this intimate muckracking in Everything is Cinema? Brody insinuates that, from the mid ‘70s on, when Godard hit his mid-forties, he was increasingly consumed by perverse desires towards young (even pre-pubescent) women, and that his behaviour toward them tended to the abusive. Again, there is scant evidence on the public record for this claim; and again, Brody casts every which way for clues, and engages in crazy misreadings of the films. No feminist analysis of cinema has ever been as fanatically politically-correct as Brody is here: he takes virtually every scene in Godard that depicts men’s sexual exploitation of women – and there are plenty of them, from Vivre sa vie (1961) onwards – as proof not only of Godard’s darkest private intent, but also that the women before the camera were actually being “degraded”, rather than simulating it. Yet the vast majority of women featured in Godard’s films (often on multiple occasions) have never voiced any such complaint – Isabelle Huppert, for instance, who gets to play some of the most apparently degrading situations in Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980) and Passion (1982), testifies to Brody himself that she found acting for Godard “artistically gratifying”.

In general, the book is, on all matters of sexuality beyond marital, hetero-normative monogamy, almost comically prudish: Brody rages from on high against the libertarian sexual politics of French intellectuals (such as Michel Foucault) in the ‘70s and the supposed destruction of decent, humanist values such carry-on entailed, to the point of wondering melodramatically whether the “shock effect” of Godard’s project on young Camille is “emblematic of what was left of 1968”! This is one strand in which Brody’s forced Sartre-Godard parallel might have helped him, especially when he reaches the latter period of Godard’s life, and his fluid, long-term union with filmmaker Anne-Marie Miéville: Sartre’s personal life likewise demands a less moralistic biographer.

Brody’s excesses on these points are reflected in the entire argumentative structure of the book. Brody bites off more than he can chew in attempting a ‘critical biography’, that is, an analysis and evaluation of the films in lock-step with the life story. The alarm bells went off for me by page 30, when an early piece of film criticism by Godard is interpreted as staking the future director’s commitment to “a traditional nineteenth-century-novelistic and naturalistic approach to character” – which makes it tough to grasp how he became, quite quickly, cinema’s arch-Modernist. More damagingly and pervasively, Brody takes the interpenetration of art and life in Godard’s career as the sole way to understand and grade the work: if the film is a cryptic love (or hate) letter to his leading lady, it’s great; if it’s only about something as unromantic as global politics (as in the films co-directed with Gorin), it’s dead, inert, uninteresting. No wonder the Godard that emerges from these pages seems hermetic and solipsistic – when his actual films are anything but.




A richness Brody refuses to deal with: Struggle in Italy (1971, Dziga Vertov Group)



Here, as with the anti-Semitic and ‘dirty/abusive old man’ broadsides, Brody’s cinematic interpretations usually rest on a numbingly literal parsing of the films’ bare plot situations: just as select bits of what Godard quotes and collages in his work are mistaken as transparent declarations of authorial intent, the incredibly dynamic fragmentation of images from sounds, bodies from words and stories from events in every Godard work is damagingly re-set back into novelistic/naturalistic conventions.

The ‘artist biography’ has become a well-worn genre in recent years. It has frequently descended to gutter level, but the obligations of the form have also come into sharp relief. We have come to expect not only the ‘life and times’ and a comprehensive account of the artist’s works, but also an exploration of that artist’s reputation or legacy. This is where Everything is Cinema falls down on the job. Brody likes to lament, especially in the latter stretches of his tome, that JLG is today a rather forgotten, misunderstood, under-appreciated artist. JLG forgotten? It is true that none of his films have received arthouse cinema distribution in Australia since the mid ‘80s – but that is part of a wider, disturbing trend that has also seen most progressive cinema from Europe and Asia similarly shut out by the local brokers of film culture.

Nonetheless, Godard is today an ubiquitous culture hero, thanks to DVD, the Internet, and an unending stream of books, articles and reviews in every language. Is there any student, in any arts academy or filmmaking course in the world, who has not been initiated, to some degree, into the JLG cult? Brody overlooks the educational circuit, ignores all in-depth critical writing on his subject beyond the initial (and frequently vapid) first-release newspaper opinions, and seems not to realise how frequently Godard’s audio-visual work is screened, discussed, analysed and worshipped in places beyond the offices of The New Yorker. Fortunately, despite the efforts of this latest biographical straitjacket, Godard still belongs to us all.


© Adrian Martin August 2008



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May 1, 2009

MAY DAY







MAY DAY

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~ Commemorating Danièle Huillet's birthday today, a still from THIS LAND IS MINE (Renoir, '43), Charles Laughton as Lory, burning then saving a pamphlet of the Resistance. ~

~ mural detail, History of the Needlecraft Industry (1938), by Ernest Fiene, depicting the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, on the auditorium walls of The High School of Fashion Industries, New York (the 1600-seat auditorium in Manhattan's old garment district was for years the venue of the Vogels' CINEMA 16). A mural commissioned by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGW). 400,000 mourners. ~






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