“Weekend” and the Radicalization of Form

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[Part of VARIABLES, a series of essays on the art and politics of Jean-Luc Godard]

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film Weekend represents a turning point in the director’s career. After a flurry of activity in the 1960s, increasingly straying from traditional notions of narrative, Godard made Weekend, declaring it “end of cinema” and “a film found on the scrap-heap.” It’s his angriest and most aggressively Brechtian 1960s film, an anti-materialist screed and a political and artistic rallying cry to the revolutionary spirit of the May ’68 student protests then stirring across Europe. After Weekend, he would abandon solo “fiction” filmmaking—in favor of working in a Marxist collective and experimenting in the new medium of video—until 1980’s Every Man for Himself.

Weekend, then, is at once the culmination of the director’s 60s period and a refutation of the work an older Godard might have deemed “too bourgeois.” Its content is satirical and militant, but the power of Weekend is in Godard politicization of the form of cinema. The film’s editing, title cards and long takes were all designed not to orient the audience, but to distance them, flying in the face of every convention imaginable in order to create a kind of “counter-cinema.” Yet perhaps the most telling example of the counter-cinema of Weekend isn’t within the image, it’s on the soundtrack. Read more…

Godard-ism: Constructing Philosophy in “Vivre sa vie”

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[Part of VARIABLES, a series of essays on the art and politics of Jean-Luc Godard]

Jean-Luc Godard is often labeled an intellectual filmmaker, which usually seems like a disparaging term, standing in for something like “didactic” or “obtuse.” And sometimes that may be true. But if Godard is an intellectual filmmaker, it’s not posturing or pretending but a genuine interrogation of concepts in the air around him. 1960s France was a hotbed of political and philosophical discourse, and Godard and his New Wave colleagues of theorists-turned-filmmakers were an integral part of this milieu. It’s only natural that this discourse began seeping into their films.

Godard’s Vivre sa vie (1962), for example, is richly imbued with existentialism. In both form and content, this story of a woman’s descent into prostitution frequently seems motivated by the existentialism’s principals of self-formation, but the film’s judgement of this philosophy remains ambiguous. Is Anna Karina’s Nana indeed free to live the life she chooses, or is she instead defined by a conspicuous absence of free will? Is it individual autonomy, then, or the tendency to deny meaning that defines Vivre sa vie? Read more…

Godard the Film Critic

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Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol at Cahiers du cinéma

[Part of VARIABLES, a series of essays on the art and politics of Jean-Luc Godard]

Before Jean-Luc Godard began his storied career as a film director, he was a critic for the influential magazine Cahiers du cinéma. Mentored by the great film theorist André Bazin, and working alongside other “young Turks” such as François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, Godard wrote passionately and wrestled with issues of form and politics in cinema. The relationship between the content of a film and its form, and the extent to which both could be said to be political, would come to define much of his own work as a director. Indeed, filmmaking for Godard was a form of criticism, and an examination of his writing reveals much of this criticism at work. Read more…

Where to Start With… Jean-Luc Godard

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[Diving into a new cinematic topic can be daunting. This series provides some suggestions on where to begin exploring a director’s body of work, a genre, style or theme. The three suggested films serve as a brief introduction; they’re not complete or authoritative, but will in some way be representative of the topic and hopeful inspire you to watch more, outlined in recommended further viewing.]

At the age of 83, Jean-Luc Godard, a true titan of film, is releasing his newest work, Goodbye to Language, this year. Far from a victory lap, Goodbye to Language is instead a daring experiment on the aesthetic possibilities of 3D. The release of the film is a great excuse to (re)discover the full breadth of Godard’s incredibly provocative, intellectual, confrontational, dazzling and confounding work—the work not just of a great director, but of one of the essential artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting reviews, articles and even a video essay exploring the philosophy, politics and art of Godard’s extraordinary work here. But where to begin with a career spanning numerous decades and experiments in numerous cinematic media? Try starting here.

Read more…

Listen Up Philip (2014)

Listen Up Philip / Alex Ross Perry / 2014 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Flawless performances; Emotional honesty; Use of close-ups
Side Effects: Fast pace leave unexplored threads; Abrupt ending

[Listen Up Philip plays through November 12th at the MFA in Boston.]

Listen Up Philip is a small and sincere film, so small and sincere that its uniqueness and genius reveals itself only slowly. Like its main protagonist (though, as we shall see, everyone in the film’s orbit exists as his or her own protagonist), Listen Up Philip is funny, literary, brutally frank, acerbic and brilliant even if the world hasn’t taken notice yet. Read more…

Inherent Vice (2014)

Inherent Vice / Paul Thomas Anderson / 2014 / fivestar Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.44.13 AM

Active Ingredients: Mix of tones; Exceptional cast; Theme of American identity
Side Effects: Overstuffed; Some jarring narrative transitions

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[Inherent Vice made its world premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 4th. It opens in limited release on December 12th.]

Paul Thomas Anderson’s delirious new acid trip of a film is a hazy descent into a surrealized 1970s L.A. full of drugs, paranoia and combustible cultural tension. It’s absurdist, discursive, elegiac, madcap, laugh-out-loud funny, surprisingly tender—and most importantly—expertly balanced. Anderson is one of our most ambitious and talented filmmakers, and Inherent Vice shows that his skill reaches beyond bold cinematography into an impressive mastery of tone. Read more…

The Rover (2014)

The Rover / David Michôd / 2014 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Central performances; Music
Side Effects: Heavy-handed screenplay; Neutral visual style

Like Michôd’s previous film Animal Kingdom—and perhaps even closer to Killing Them SoftlyThe Rover is a blunt and moralistic fable of the causes and effects of a violent world. Still, it feels sinewy, shifty and more mysterious in tone than those other films, and benefits from this vague ambiance where its heavy plotting and world-building fails. Read more…

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