Friday, August 27, 2010

More popular than the Pope, and just a little less so than The Beatles

The Academy just announced that it will give honorary Oscars to Francis Ford Coppola and Jean Luc Godard. That's weird and funny. Either they know something about their health we don't or they couldn't find anyone older/alive who deserved Oscars for great movies and never won.  (Just to be clear, this is the same Academy that didn’t give awards to Kubrick or Hitchcock.) Coppola has three Oscars and Godard would never show up.  Turns out they can't even find him. That’s what you get Academy, for giving Crash, the biggest turd ever, the award.  I’m sorry, but I will never get over the worst movie ever winning an Academy Award.

In Godard’s honor (and because I worship him), on occasion I'm going to post short ruminations on his films until next year’s telecast. Yes, I'm going to keep them very short because when it comes to discussing Godard I can get so super-pedantic and cerebral that I even annoy myself. 
I will call this series “Cher Academy, Va te faire foutre. Jean Luc”. (Dear Academy, go fuck yourself. Jean Luc.)

In the article above, they called him a "sometimes Communist." That's hilarious, but also true in a complex sort of funny way.  And so are most of his films.  The man makes me think and he makes me laugh.  It was sad to see his sense of humor virtually disappear from his films over the past two decades or so.  And judging by his current thoughts on cinema, his morale will not improve.  I think he really thinks cinema is dead.

Cher Academy, Va te faire foutre. Jean Luc: La Chinoise (1967)

Although La Chinoise could be categorized (in the most generic sense of the term) as a political film, the film is really at its core a character study; a brisk social satire on the relationship between a group of young, bourgeois-minded revolutionaries playing terrorists from the comfort a suburban apartment building owned by one of the group's parents. Godard’s brashly colored and boldly patterned revolutionary dig at 60's radical chic isn't exactly subtle with its politics and it’s somewhat difficult to dissect what Godard may be personally endorsing from what he’s condemning in his savage portrayal of the students. Godard would love to be able to wholeheartedly embrace a youth movement that supported real social change, but he’s clearly disenchanted with the all-talk and no-action navel gazing that such activists can engage in. 

Throughout the film, Godard uses this basic narrative framework to explore the relevant ideas of the time. He creates a film that could be seen as a sort of infernal parody of Dostoevsky's The Possessed (1872), in the sense that it creates a certain hermetic environment where the five central characters can ruminate on everything from nihilism, to conservatism, to utopias and utilitarianism, always maintaining that the discussions are only interesting because they reveal something more substantial about the characters, their motivations or the relationships within the group, etc., which continually cross backwards and forwards, traversing the political line and into the personal.

As far as Godard’s political cinema is concerned, La Chinoise is not necessarily his best. It's not nearly as incendiary as Weekend or as successful on its own terms as Tout Va Bien. Even so, he effectively encapsulates what is often wrong with liberal political movements and their ability to harness youthful enthusiasm without knowing how to apply it. He appreciates the young activists of 1967 even as he exposes their flaws. The most pungent critique is saved for the character of Veronique, the one most fervently advocating acts of terrorism. Veronique obviously has no idea how to fill the hole she wishes to create, and right there is Godard's major issue with bourgeois politics: they have no game plan for how to sustain the change they advocate. Thus, they spend more time talking about change than enacting it, and when they do jump into the fray, as Veronique eventually does, they screw it up. Which is fine for them, because they can walk away, return to school for the new semester, completely unaffected. It's easy to have radical ideas when you, yourself, aren't under any real threat. The middle class can speak for the working class without threatening their own bottom line.  This has always been the case and continues to be the case. Do you hear that latte-drinking, arugula-munching limo-riding liberals?

Okay, that didn't turn out as short as I wanted it to be. Apologies. Once I get going, it's hard to stop.

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