Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Response XX- Vivre Sa Vie

Godard is probably the strangest yet most fascinating of all the New Wave directors. Of all his films, that I have seen I probably only like two of them; however, I believe that there is a great deal to discuss in his films although I do not entirely understand his methods. I did not particularly like "Vivre sa Vie," but I am impressed that Godard actually made a film like this. I believe that this is the most normal looking film I have seen of Godard's. By normal, I mean it has a plot, a beginning, climax, and a conclusion, and it does not play with genre.

Of course, this film is not completely different from all his other films. In "Vivre Sa Vie" we see a return of Godard's famous editing techniques which include jump-cuts. Also, he introduces his audiences to a new camera movement as well. In one scene while Anna Karina, the star of the film, is sitting a a bar, the audience can hear a machine gun firing off screen. The camera pans right to where the noise is coming from, but it does so matching the the sounds of a machine gun. So the pan is rather shaky. I really liked that pan; it was both creative and original. Another cinematic technique of Godards that I found interesting was the silent film sequence which is found near the end of the film. At the beginning of chapter 11, all the audience hears is the soundtrack and they have to read subtitles to discover what the characters are saying. To me, this was Godard's way of experimenting with sound. This sequence added more emotion to the scone for me too since the audience is forced to pay attention to the sad musical theme of this film.

I think the best way to describe this film is "bittersweet." The film's plot is very dark since it tells the story of a woman who resorts to prostitution to make money. It is especially sad when Karina's character dies in the end. This dark plot is weakened with Godard's sets and his portrayal of Paris. Most of Godard's films were shot in Paris however, he never shows Paris for the beautiful city that it is. He especially does this in "Alphaville" and "2 or 3 things I know about Her." In "Vivre sa Vie" the audience gets an almost stereotypical portrayal of Paris with the cafes, Champs Elysee, and the Arc de Triomphe which is shown at the end of the film.

Prostitution is a theme which appears frequently in Godard's films. Until seeing this film, it is not entirely clear if he portrays it negatively or positively. After seeing this film, I believe Godard is trying to show the negative aspects of prostitution especially since Karina dies in the end. Although the men in the film seem to treat Karina nicely, she is ultimately a piece of property for them. This is shown at the end when a men shoots her and leaves her in the street.

Response XIX- Bob le Flambeur

Originally, I did not want to write a blog on "Bob le Flambeur." If there was a film that was screened and I did not write a blog on it, chances are I disliked the film so much that I didn't even want to write about it; however, this was not the case with this film. I actually enjoyed "Bob le Flambeur" very much. The only reason why I did not want to write a blog on it, was because this film was very different from all the other French New Wave films that were screened. To this day, I wonder how "Bob le Flambeur" is even considered a New Wave film, if it is at all.

The main difference I noticed between this film and all the other New Wave films screened this semester, is this film was flawless with regard to plot and editing. Almost all of the other New Wave films showed this semester were intentionally sloppy with their editing and often times lacked a good plot. This is especially true of Jean-Luc Godard. In addition, Melville, the director of this film was faithful to the genre he chose. Melville was immensely interested in American gangster films, so Bob Flambeur turned out to be a heist/gangster film. The issue of genre is probably the biggest difference I noticed between the other New Wave films and this one. Directors like Godard played with genre and often times parodied it in his films instead of portraying a true representation it. "Alphaville" is a true example of one of Godard's films that butchers and parodies genre. Furthermore, the storyline in this film is unlike those in the other films screened. "Bob le Flambeur" is about a casino heist while most other New Wave films are about relationships and love triangles.

In this film, I feel as if Melville included the "Femme Fatale" which is found in many American movies. The "Femme Fatale" is supposed to be the character who is responsible for the hero's downfall. The "Femme Fatale" in this film would be probably be the young woman Bob takes care of in this film. He is a gentleman towards her and is a father figure for her. Unfortunately she slips and accidentally tells one of Bob's enemies about the casino heist. Although the enemy is gunned down before he can reveal anything to the police, the police still eventually find out because of the girl's slip. The audience at this point believes that this is the end of Bob and his plans but the opposite happens. In the casino, Bob is high on greed while and is winning a large amount of money. He forgets to do his part in the plan and everything is ruined. The police show up and arrest Bob, but the audience gets the feeling at the end that Bob will be going to jail due to the large sum of money he won that day. Ultimately although Bob did not rob the casino in the true sense of the word, he still did figuratively robbed them by winning so much.

Although I do not consider this film to be a prime example of a New Wave film, I still enjoyed this film very much. It kept my attention, it had a lovely plot, it was entertaining, and it was easy to follow. Watching this film was ultimately useful for me because it allowed me to really understand stylistic qualities of the French New Wave by comparing "Bob le Flambeur," to other New Wave films.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Response XVIII- Weekend

Frankly, I am very happy that the films I have seen of Godard, I have seen in order. A great deal of preparation is required before seeing Godard's masterpiece "Weekend." After seeing so many other Godard films, "Weekend" did not surprise me the way it did other people. In a way, I was expecting something like this from Godard. I am sure whoever reads my blogs would expect me to simply hate "Weekend" due to the fact that I like my films to tell a story, be direct and easy to follow and have as little abstraction as possible; however, I loved this film. It was very original, bold and it kept my attention. To me, this is probably Godard's most important film not only because it the last of Godard's feature films, but because this film shows Godard at the height of his politicization.

This film is a view of how Godard saw French society at the time. The film was always chaotic and it had an apocalyptic tone to it. Essentially the film is a road trip film. It is about a Parisian couple who are going to visit their parents. Along the way, they meet very interesting characters. Godard makes political statements throughout the whole film with the various people the couple meet. Godard continuously undermines the bourgeoisie and capitalism in this film. The fact that the he presents capitalist and bourgeois elements in apocalyptic settings suggests that he feels like capitalism and the middle class will bring about the collapse of society. At times, the way he pokes fun at the middle class is funny. An example of this is in the scene when a women is in a car accident yelling; instead of yelling because she is injured she is screaming in terror at the fact that her handbag is ruined.

Godard also undermines religion in this film. There is one scene where there is an auto accident that involved a bourgeois woman and a farmer. There is a huge argument between the farmer and the woman. When the couple arrive they ask them how they though the accident happened and the couple refused to answer. The farmer calls them a "Dirty Jews" and the farmer and the bourgeois woman reconcile. Here I felt like Godard was saying that religion is as a big a problem as capitalism. There is another instance where the couple is in a car with another couple and on character says that "Christianity is the refusal of all knowledge and the death of a language." Furthermore the same character tells a story about God screwing Alexandre Dumas. This scene was very peculiar, but it showed Godard's dislike for religion.

"Weekend" also included many references to the French revolution. In a cameo appearance, Jean-Pierre Leaud is dressed as Saint Just and delivers a speech. Also there are references to Thermidor, which is a month on the French Revolutionary calendar. This month is most famous for the death of Maximilien de Robespierre, the overseer of the Reign of Terror.

I do not think Godard could have portrayed chaos any better than he did in this film. The ending that included the cannibal hippies and the slaughter of a pig and a chicken was especially strange. With all the chaos, Godard proves to be prophetic and faithful to Marx. In his "Communist Manifesto," Marx says society goes through three stages: capitalism, anarchy, and communism. This film illustrates the stage that after the fall of capitalism which is anarchy.

This film was magnificent and revolutionary. Godard did a good job of shocking and offending his audiences. In the process of angering his audiences, Godard exhibited his political beliefs and introduced the world to longest tracking shot in film history in the traffic jam scene. Although many people were angered by this film, I am sure that it will be remembered as one of the greatest of Godard's films.

Response XVII- Bonnie and Clyde

I simply loved a great deal of films that were screened this semester. "Les Cousins," "400 Blows," and "My Night at Maud's" are just a few. "Bonnie and Clyde" however has to be my favourite film that we watched this semester. I believe that I like this film so much because it had a lot of the same qualities films that I am accustomed to watching have. This film was easy to follow and understand, simple, direct, and it had a wonderfully entertaining plot. When I compare "Bonnie and Clyde" to other films I have watched this semester, I really wonder why I liked this film so much better than 85% of the other films screened if "Bonnie and Clyde" is a film that was directly influenced by the French New Wave.

I was surprised to find out that Francios Truffaut was originally approached to direct this film. However, he declined the offer and Arthur Penn directed it. When I watched this film I did notice a few stylistic similarities between "Bonnie and Clyde" and other New Wave films. I think the similarities between the films lies in the relaxed editing and the storyline. A few times in this film, I noticed jump-cuts. When I saw the jump cuts, I was reminded of Godard, the director who is known for including jump cuts in his editing techniques. Also, when I was watching "Bonnie Clyde," I was reminded of Ferdinand and Marianne from Godard's "Pierrot le Fou." I consider Ferdinand and Marianne the French "Bonnie and Clyde." Both of the couples are criminals and both die at the end. Being influenced by the French New Wave is without a doubt one of the main things this film is known for. However I think it is even more famous for the sex and the violence that appeared in the film.

Since the 30's the Hay's Code strictly monitored what Hollywood was putting in their films. The Hay's Code outlines many guidelines for filmmakers, but the fact that it strictly regulated sex and violence is probably what it is best remembered for. By the 1960's the Hay's Code was fully revoked. "Bonnie and Clyde" is one of the first films to break all the rules of the Hay's Code. This film was full of sex and violence right from the beginning when audiences see a naked Bonnie in her bedroom. There are also a few scenes where the audience sees Bonnie and Clyde making love. Furthermore there are countless gunfight scenes with the police and the film has an explicitly violent ending. In the final scene, Bonnie and Clyde are brutally shot by police forces. For someone who watches the film today, I would imagine they would not consider the last scene very violent, but for someone living in 1967, it was shocking.

Aside from the fact that this film broke all the rules of Hay's Code and was influenced by the French New Wave, it is considered a "great" film simply because it was well done. Although the film is full of sex and violence, it is very funny as well. The scene when the Barrow gang steals the car of a wealthy undertaker hilarious. The steal the man's car, but the gang also welcomes the man and his girlfriend. Together they laugh and eat together for a while. This scene is funny but I found that it foreshadowed the death of Bonnie, Clyde and Buck. As soon as Bonnie discovers the man is an undertaker she becomes angry and kicks them out of the car. The ending of the film is also very interesting to me. Although Bonnie and Clyde obviously die in the end, I feel as if they will live forever due to the poem Bonnie had published in the newspaper a few scenes prior to their death. I felt as if that poem had an immortalizing effect.

This film intrigued me greatly. It was funny, well-done, and easy to follow. Throughout the course of the semester, my definition of film has been challenged so many times, especially with the viewing of Godard films such as "Weekend" and "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her." It was a relief to see a film like "Bonnie and Clyde." This film gave me reassurance that my definition of film which is essentially "a visual form of expression that has artistic value and tells a story," is somewhat accurate.

Response XVI- 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her

Many film critics would deem "2 or 3 Things I Know About Her" the very best of Godard's work. I would agree with them; however, that does not mean that I liked this film. In fact, I hated it. I simply did not get anything out of it. This film is very different from what my general definition of film. I always believed that film was a a story that was told visually with artistic value. This film definitely has some sort of artistic value, however it lacks a plot. In addition, I found it boring and way too abstract.

This film is very political in nature and is full of anti- Vietnam war, anti- capitalist, and anti-materialist symbolism. There is film is very dense and I would imagine one would have to view the film several times to understand Godard's political message and to obtain some sort of appreciation for it.

In many ways this film is anti-Gaullist and is reminiscent of the political and social instability in France during the 1960's. During the 60's in France Charles de Gaulle's government had a great deal of conflict with the rest of French society. The French were not particularly pleased with their government. Filmmakers like Godard made political films that were anti-Gaullist and students had a big strike that shut all of Paris down. It is clear that with this film, Godard was demonstrating his desire for change. Godard includes many images of large buildings being constructed in this film. I believe that this is symbolic of the construction of Godard's vision of a future city that is new and opposite what corporations and advocates of capitalism want.

Godard also comments on the ubiquity of certain products in this film. Esso and Mobil products seem to be everywhere in this film. Instead of just accepting these products and certain objects, Godard tries to make his audience contemplate them. This is especially true of the scene where a cigarette is shown is an extreme close-up. The camera stays on this object for a long period of time and the ember is shown becoming bright once in a while suggesting someone is puffing on the cigarette.

This film barely has a plot. If one were to ask me what this film was about, I basically would say that it is about a bourgeois housewife who occasionally works as a prostitute for a little extra money. This plot reminded somewhat of Gustav Flaubert's novel "Madam Bovary." In this novel, one meets Madam Bovary, a wealthy woman who is married and begins cheating on her husband for the fun of it because she is bored. I believe that Flaubert and Godard were essentially making the same statement on the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. I believe they were both saying that both those classes live in a fantasy world and do not understand the real world. They do stupid things like Madam Bovary and Juliette Janson to make their lives more exciting.

I felt like this film was all over the place. There was political symbolism, it illustrated social instability in France and it included philosophical elements from philosophers such as Heidegger and Sartre. I remember a quote from Heidegger was used in this film "language is the house we live in." I cannot say that I entirely understand what Godard was trying to do by including all of this philosophy. If this film were a painting I am sure the artist would be Salvador Dali. I do not know if I would call this movie surreal but it definitely reminded me of something that Dali would paint.

I probably should not be so quick to say that I hated this film after seeing it only one time. I am sure if I watched it a few more times I would develop some sort of appreciation for it. All I know is that I could never enjoy this film or be entertained by it. It is just simply too dense and it is not what I would consider a "good film" simply due to the fact that it is not entertaining and it does not tell an intriguing, engaging story.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Response XV- Pierrot le Fou

For me, "Pierrot le Fou" was an intriguing film that was full of profound meaning and had an interesting, unique plot. This was the last film Godard made with his ex-wife Anna Karina and it also is not ambiguous in showing Godard's preference for left-winged politics and anit-Americanism.

This film is very dense and rich in symbolism and allusions. Many viewings of this film would be required in order to fully understand and appreciate this film and to recognize all of the left- winged symbolism and the anti-Vietnam War propaganda present in "Pierrot le Fou." Marxist symbolism is found as early as the first few scenes. At the beginning of the film, Ferdinand (Belmondo) is shown at a party with many wealthy people. These people do not have normal conversation; it seems everything they say is an advertising line. They advertise many different products, especially Alfa Romeo. In this scene, Godard undermines capitalism and the middle class and portrays them as slaves to materialism.

In addition to the Marxist allusions in this film, Godard includes anti-Vietnam war propaganda. When Ferdinand and Marianne encounter American tourists, they decide to put on a play for them in order to make some money. Their play turns out to be a satirical play about the War in Vietnam with Belmondo dressed up as a man in the US navy and Karina dressed up as a Vietnamese woman. Belmondo and Karina humorously quarrel while the Americans watching praise their play saying "That's pretty damn good!" After Karina and Belmondo fight an image of the letters "SS" show up on screen, perhaps alluding to Hitler's "SS" thereby associating the US with the Nazis.

What Godard's negative portrayal of Vietnam and capitalism ultimately boil down to is the director's preference for anti-Americanism. Godard clearly did not approve of capitalism or the Vietnam War thereby leaving him disgusted with America.

The political statement this film makes is probably what it is best known for; however, there are other interesting aspects of "Pierrot le Fou," such as the connection between Ferdinand and Marianne and Godard and Karina. Throughout the whole film, Marianne is shown as always wanting to have fun, and Ferdinand is the character who wants to write books. This difference in character often leads to arguments between them. By this time, Godard and Karina were divorced. Godard's portrayal of Marianne and Ferdinand's relationship is the director's attempt at sharing his interpretation of his relationship with Karina.

The film's metaphysical ending is another aspect of the film that I found rather intriguing. Ferdinand romantically commits suicide to be reunited with his lover Marianne. The humor in this scene is when he changes his mind at the last second and tries to stop the dynamite from exploding. He is unsuccessful, but the final shot of a beautiful horizon with a setting sun gives one the feeling that the two characters are reunited and achieved eternity together.

Response XIV- Day For Night

I have great respect for the director Jean-Luc Godard, but I must admit, the screening of Francios Truffaut's film "Day For Night," was like a breath of fresh air after seeing so many Godard films. I believe that this film provided so much relief for me because it was easy to follow and I could actually enjoy the film without actually have to think about it a great deal. I am disappointed that more Truffaut films are not screened. Truffaut impresses me more and more with every film I see of his.

This film was very unique in that it was a film that was about the making of a film. Truffaut portrays film production beautifully in "Day For Night." It really showed how stressful film production could be, and how in the film industry you must regard film as being more important than your life. This was portrayed best when one of the main characters from "Meet Pamela" goes out in search of Jean-Pierre Leaud's character who ran away. This character named Alexandre, lost his life in search of Leaud. I felt like he sacrificed his life for the sake of producing "Meet Pamela."

That character was not the only one who put the film before his life. I feel as if all of the actors of "Meet Pamela" did so as well. Of course they did not do so in the same manner as Alexandre. I could tell all the other actors put the film first because they were not stable people and had identity issues. I believe that these actors, as well as actors in general, spend so much time portraying different types of characters, and putting their life into their work that they neglect their lives and fail to establish an identity and a stable state of mind. Truffaut does an excellent job of showing this in his film. Severine is a whiny, high-maintenance diva who solves her problems with alcohol, Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is childish and an attention-seeker, and Julie Baker is involved in controversy, is unstable and has nervous breakdowns which lead her to requesting ridiculous things like large quantities of butter. The only time the actors seemed normal to me was when they were acting.

The fact that the actors seemed normal only when they were portraying different people shows that Truffaut was trying to present film as place that is better and happier than reality. I believe that Truffaut's dream sequences that show a little boy stealing "Citizen Kane" posters suggested this as well. Truffaut's character was under a lot of pressure from a lot of people in this film. When he is asleep, he hears the voices of the people who are causing him stress, and then the audience sees the dream sequence. This dream obviously means that Truffaut's character escapes the cruelties and the hardships of reality with film.

I was very impressed with Truffaut's portrayal of the film industry at the time. During the long scene when Severine is acting out a scene, at one point she becomes frustrated and says, "I am just going to do what I do when I work with Fellini," and she begins stating a sequence of numbers. This is referring to the fact that directors used international casts in their films during that time. They would often acting while saying random things and then the voices would be dubbed in.

I do not want to say that this film is Truffaut's best work because I have said that about every Truffaut film I have seen thus far. What I can say is that this film was well done, very original, and immensely entertaining.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Response XIII- Alphaville

"Alphaville" probably has to be on of the strangest and most boring films I have ever seen. Despite the fact that I did not like this film very much, I feel as if there is a lot one could discuss with a film like this one. This is probably one of the most important films Godard has ever made because in this, I feel as if audiences really begin to see the start of his politicization.

The reason why I think "Alphaville" is the dawn of Godard's creation of political films, is because this film is full of allusions to the Cold War; these references include the inclusion of a French/Soviet newspaper, a woman in the film being named Natasha, and the name of one of the streets in the film is "Enrico Fermi" street. At the end of this film, it becomes evident that Godard is making a statement about left winged politics with the inclusion of such references in "Alphaville."

Godard's makes a statement on his view of the future as well, I can tell that he was not very optimistic about it. The buildings that were shown in this film give away that detail. This film was shot in Paris but Godard chose to show the new, modernist buildings in this film. I believe he did this to give one the sense that the future would be oppressive.

Although the Cold War references in the film were plentiful, I do not think that film enthusiasts admire "Alphaville" for this reason. Despite the fact that I think the allusions were the most fascinating aspects of the film, I believe Godard's parody of sci-fi and film noir were noticed more by audiences. After seeing this film, I asked myself "What genre of film does Alphaville fall under?" I thought to myself that it was "sci-fi-film noir," but that sounded strange and silly to me. Ultimately, I think there is no better way to describe the genre of "Alphaville" than with "sci-fi-film noir." Although this film included aspects of both the sci-fi and film noir genre, it is easy to see that Godard did not take them seriously. It is evident that this film is a parody of those genres. Godard parodies sci-fi with the lack of special effects. This film had absolutely no special effects and it looked like Godard shot the film inside his house at times. I definitely think that "Alphaville" portrays the worst example of mise-en-scene; but then again, Godard probably purposefully gave this cheap look to his film in order to emphasize the fact that he was poking fun at the genre.

After watching this film it is clear that Godard is playing with the film noir genre as well. The lighting in the film, the storyline, and the main character's costume are all elements of film noir Godard uses. For me, the humor in Godard's use of film noir came at the end when Anna Karina's character says she loves someone for the first time; I don't think I have seen a cheesier ending in all the films I have ever seen.