Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Made in USA - Jean-Luc Godard, 1966

Anna Karina plays Paula Nelson, a journalist/quasi detective trying to find out how her lover Richard P. had died. Her one ally in the film is a distracted but sweetly loyal writer named after the American noir writer David Goodis (author and screenwriter of Dark Passage, a Bogie and Bacall movie, and also the writer of the book upon which Shoot The Piano Player was based). She is thwarted by, and thwarts, some gangsters/political operatives throughout, all whilst wearing the brightest mod dresses you could possibly imagine with the blue eyeshadow and nude lips of the day as well. Oh, and a sweet 20-year-old Marianne Faithfull decides to drop into the bar and sing 'As Tears Go By' in a touching vibrato, only serving now as an amazing reminder as to how much drug addiction can change a person.

There is a tremendous amount of wordplay, characters describing conversations with other characters instead of just having the conversation, characters speaking different monologues at the same time into the camera, and all sorts of creativity with the dialogue in the film, much like A Woman is a Woman. However, much like his previous film Masculin Feminin, politics are what is threaded through almost every conversation and in particular communism, socialism, etc. There are many references to French politics but also two gangsters named Richard Nixon and Robert MacNamara, which was great. Godard's voice loudly spouts radical political rhetoric from a tape recorder in between scenes in a jarring way, ostensibly as the voice of the dead lover Richard. I felt like this film took the playful obsession with America and American film in A Woman is a Woman, and the leftist politics of Masculin Feminin and in the end was disappointed, but not disgusted, with both. America, musicals, love, and radical politics all seem to add up to nothing as far as being the individual answers to the questions Godard always had posed, and I think the ambiguous end seems to say that Godard would never presume to try and present the subjects, the obsessions, in his films as answers to anything. This just further proves in my mind that Godard is one of the best at asking questions in his films, one of the ultimate provocateurs of cinema.

The one constant, other than the political rhetoric and loud colors, are the many ways scenes and words in the film can be interpreted through the veil of Godard and Karina's impending divorce. The words he writes for her to say about her lost love Richard are very telling indeed. In the end, Paula takes the recorder and tapes her own voice, speaking about her life and the terrible things she has done, but also about her body, 'the body that Richard kissed'.

I won't spoil the end, but at the last second Godard remembers he has a plot and tries to wrap up some of the loose ends while Paula meets with one of the gangsters. Things turn suddenly maudlin whilst in a manicured park area next to a building with glass walls.

Paula: If I speak of time, it's not yet come to pass.
If I speak of place, it's vanished into space.
If I speak of time, it's gone without a trace.
If I speak of a man, he's soon to breathe his last.

For all of the politics and the splashy primary colors and the Americana worship and the endless layers of references, Godard is nothing if not a poet, every bit as much or more than his Nouvelle Vague contemporaries. Don't forget that.

Other than a brief coda at the end as Paula leaves town, the plot action winds up rather sadly. All the chaos and all the color comes to a stop as in the low afternoon sunlight two characters slowly and tragically say lines that rhyme with each other so very beautifully in French:

(male character): Oh Paula, tu m'as derobé ma jeunesse.
Paula: Oh _____(pause as tears slide down Karina's face)...tristesse.

Made in USA was the last film Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina made together.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Brief Encounter

I'd seen this movie before, but not for a long time. It was directed by the great David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) and based on a Noel Coward play. I don't want to write a review, the plot appears quite simple and romantic, but instead write about the sort of reaction I had. It isn't so simple or romantic, and feels much more plausible than something like An Affair to Remember, Casablanca, or most romance films. It made me cry quite a bit, not just at the ending, and maybe only because my female hormones are raging or I've had some cough syrup, but it certainly did affect me and that's what I'll tell you about.

The plot concerns a 'brief encounter' between a housewife played by Celia Johnson and a married doctor played by Trevor Howard. You can imagine the ensuing doomed romance, but that isn't what moved me. The thing that struck me is something I already have always believed in, something that is a hard part of my personality to still grasp as an adult but which I still feel is so important. It's the idea that very violent, impractical emotions are not only for the very young or very bipolar, but something to be embraced and cherished, though they are often tinged with confusion or downright sadness at the time or in retrospect. I'm not saying we should all become wildly indulgent egotists or throw ourselves unabated into every little feeling that comes our way no matter the cost, but I think most adults lull themselves into believing it's possible to be safe from all emotional vulnerability if you're very judicious, even miserly with your emotional expenditures on people, on everything. People desperately need to believe that if every joy and sadness and every little annoyance and amusement in between is measured and practical, you can avoid life's pitfalls. It isn't true, and it never will be, no matter how you hide. There will always be deaths, money will be lost, possessions will break, and people will stop loving you abruptly. And it will happen over and over until you die yourself. The wonderful thing is realizing it, accepting it, and embracing opportunities to feel, to be human, to give over to yourself whenever possible.

Someone once told me that he thought no one wants to be vulnerable, no one wants to expose themselves to the possibility of pain or humiliation, that it's a horrible thing, but I could never express to you here in words how i absolutely yearn for it. How else can we ever hope to open ourselves to the possibility of joy without taking chances that could make us confused or unhappy instead? When there are opportunities for an excess of emotion, we should take them whenever we can no matter if things might not turn out the way we envision. The point is not the opening of ourselves to havoc, not the giving over to another person's whims, but giving over to ourselves, giving over to something that's true and basic inside us, something essential. I do not have a practical bone in my body and perhaps that makes it easier for me to see the advantages to the impracticality of feelings things deeply, maybe it's just because I am so horribly sensitive and I have to fight with myself not to feel things too much on a regular basis. I don't know. But I will tell you I wish I knew more people whose greatest desire was to let go of their careful selves and share these distasteful excesses of emotion with like-minded people. I do wish.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You don't have to lie, we're on the same side

This entry is mainly for my one reader's benefit (logical, right?). A year or more ago I first heard of a band from England called The Mystery Jets. They looked like they were barely out of high school, had messed-up hairdos, and LOVED the 80's, clearly. I was sold immediately. The first song I heard was actually the video they did for a single from the their latest album, Twenty One, with Laura Marling (also recommended), called Young Love.

After falling in love with them, I dug up their previous album and the songs actually have a much more effortless and innocent feel. The video for Diamonds in the Dark is adorable and looks like my grandma made it, and it's also my favorite song by this band. Just to clear things up a bit I will say that the lead singer has health issues (hence crutches)and his dad used to be in the band and write the lyrics. This song's lyrics are so good, I almost miss the old dude.

But all truly great things can't remain a secret forever and thusly I must tell you that the Mystery Jets recently signed to Rough Trade and they must already be hard at work, as their song Two Doors Down was featured in a JcPenney ad during the Oscar telecast. I highly anticipate their first album with the esteemed label and I really don't expect them to let me down. Also, warning, this video and song are so unabashedly 80s-obsessed I fear that Casey herself directed it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Je voudrais passer ma vie dans tes bras

Now, I'm not going to lie...this is the best thing I've ever seen. You can really never go wrong with 80's 'punk rock' videos from France. The lead singer has a mullet, everyone looks like they were dressed by Casey (in other words, lots of animal prints and tight pants and other 80's gear), a guy drinks milk and it spews out from holes in his body, they parody Psycho, and for a millisecond at the very end someone pretending to have been shot humps the ground. The best part of all is something I cannot show you, as alas there is no online video for the scene toward the end of J'embrasse pas (I Don't Kiss) where the pimp kidnaps the male prostitute who is in love with one of his women, and makes everyone in the car sing along to "Petite Fille" by Les Wampas. It's the most absurd thing I've seen lately,(made more absurd by the horror that ensues after the scene) and pretty much all I do is watch absurd scenes in French movies, if that give you any indication. If I ever find the scene, I will post it. As for some fun facts about Les Wampas, they had a video directed by Michel Gondry in the early 90's (but I won't make you watch it) and they tried and failed to make the Eurovision contest in 2007, among other 'accomplishments'. And now, as Shiv would say, please to enjoy!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Boy With the Thorn in His Side on an episode of Blackpool

I have been meaning to post this video on my various internet incarnations for a year or so now but selfishly have kept it to myself. Blackpool was a series in the UK from a few years ago that incorporated pop songs by having characters sing along to them whilst acting out the plot. If you like pop music, David Tennant, David Tennant's Scottish accent, musicals, Elvis, or extramarital affairs, I really cannot recommend this show enough to you. I've seen a lot of television in my time, kids, and this show is one of the most entertaining I have ever seen and this scene in particular is great. David Tennant plays a copper obsessively investigating a Vegas-style casino con man played by David Morrissey, who has an in-the-closet son who gets in a bit of a jam in this scene. I really can't think of a better way to get this blog party started.