Goodbye to Language (2014)

Goodbye to Language / Jean-Luc Godard / 2014 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: 3D; Thrilling blend of visual and thematic modes
Side Effects: Strange comedy; Lack of conclusive ending

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

Somewhat surprisingly, both terms in the title of Jean-Luc Godard’s newest film are equally important. Goodbye to Language 3D is as much about “goodbyes” as it is about “language.” Though, of course, it’s a third element of the title which describes the dominant experience of seeing the film: 3D.

Like other examples of late-period Godard (For Ever Mozart, Film socialisme), his newest film is a demanding, confounding and occasionally assaultive rumination. Determining the topic of this rumination, however, can be difficult. But there’s good news for daunted viewers: surrender to the unique logic of the film—infinitely more tactile than intellectual—and Godard dazzles with a flood of remarkable imagery, an articulation of a purely visual language that cannot and should not be reduced to a single meaning. Read more…

Video Essay: The Art & Politics of Jean-Luc Godard

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

To conclude my series of essays on Jean-Luc Godard, I’m posting a short video essay entitled VARIABLES, on the intersection between Godard’s style and his politics. Far more than allusions to literature or overt philosophizing, Godard’s art revolves around these two poles, the extent to which his experimentation with the language of film generates new ways of seeing the world. The video, using many of Godard’s own techniques of montage, explores how the connections, or variables, between his images constitutes the political dimension of this unique artist.

After watching the video, continue below to read more on these variables, rendered even more apparent in the wake of the revolutionary use of 3D in Godard’s new film, Goodbye to Language.

Read more…

Exploding Form: Late Godard and James Joyce

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

The films of Jean-Luc Godard abound with literary quotations. From a government document on prostitution to Les Fleurs du mal, nothing is off limits to Godard, from high culture or low. While his many literary reference points help expand and trouble his thematic palate, the work and career of one author makes a compelling analogue to the drastic formal innovations of late-period Godard: James Joyce. Read more…

National Gallery (2014)

National Gallery / Frederick Wiseman / 2014 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Opening montage; Nuanced insight about art
Side Effects: Abrupt transitions; Prevalence of long setpieces

[National Gallery plays at Boston’s MFA on December 14th and 28th.]

Frederick Wiseman’s career-long project as a verite documentarian—and one of the truly indispensable filmmakers—has been chronicling the inner-workings of various institutions. I wrote about the fantastic insights this search for the humanity within a complex organization yielded in Wiseman’s great 2013 film, At Berkeley. In that film, Wiseman’s combines scenes of classroom lectures with boardroom strategy planning, and gracefully highlights themes that echo across all facets of life at Berkeley University.

On its surface, Wiseman’s newest film does the same thing with London’s prestigious National Gallery art museum. With the filmmaker’s characteristically infallible precision, patience and eye for details, National Gallery makes time for drowsy museum visitors, nude models in art classes, janitors, framers and more. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, National Gallery seems just as fascinated by the subject of its titular institution—art—as it is by the interconnected agents that make it function. Read more…

The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook / Jennifer Kent / 2014 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Horror as emotional fear; Essie Davis; No cheats
Side Effects: Relative lack of visual innovation

The Babadook is the rare modern horror film that doesn’t cheat. There are no jump scares, no blasts of loud music, no ‘boo!’ moments of any kind. That’s not to say that The Babadook isn’t scary, just that its spooky suspense comes not from smoke and mirrors, but psychological fear made external and tangible. More impressive still, the type of fear The Babadook explores and exposes isn’t rooted in any well-wore horror cliche. It’s vision of terror doesn’t come from a creepy doll or possessed rocking chair, but from the real-life fears of motherhood. Read more…

Photoset: Hybrid Images in Godard’s “Liberty and Homeland”

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

So far, I’ve been spilling lots of digital ink in my series of essays about Jean-Luc Godard. It’s useful to consider theories about Godard’s artistic form and its relation to philosophy and politics, sure, but Godard communicates primarily through images, not words. This, after all, is the principal theme of Goodbye to Language. The following photoset—from a 2002 short called Liberty and Homeland that Godard made with Anne-Marie Miéville—shows some of the colorful, hybridized images Godard likes to create through superimposition. Click to view a higher-resolution slideshow, and take a look at the new results Godard discovers at the meeting point between two images. Read more…

Godard’s Aesthetic Worldview via a Rare Short

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Film-tract nº 1968

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

The previous two pieces in my series of essays on Jean-Luc Godard have covered his relationship to philosophy and politics. But to consider these concerns divorced from the form of Godard’s art would be incorrect. More than anything, Godard’s career-long project is to explore these connections, the intersections between art, philosophy and politics. Through his films, Godard articulates a total aesthetic worldview, a constructed visual space where the boundaries separating art from philosophy and politics are erased. The rare, three-minute short Film-tract nº 1968 provides an unlikely but convincing example of this artistic project, a nearly-forgotten work made at a pivotal moment both for Godard’s career and European culture at large.

Read more…

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