Monday, December 15, 2008

Bonnie and Clyde

Although the original screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton were influenced by Truffaut, I found more references to Godard in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. Sure, you have the shy male/aggressive female from Shoot the Piano Player. Clyde seems like a strong virile male but he never had sex with a woman until Bonnie who keeps coming on to him. However, you have the lovers on the run and the ironic use of filters from Pierrot Le Fou. This time, Bonnie plays the fool as she thinks that an adventure filled life with Clyde will fulfill her but ultimately it does not. Yet she accepts it because it provides fuel for her writing just like Ferdinand has to write about his ideas from his relationship with Marianne. Also from Pierrot Le Fou, the scene where they visit Bonnie’s mother is in a soft focus. I do not know that if that was accomplished by a filter or a different lens but the fact that it looks visually different from the rest of the film draws attention to it like Godard’s use of filters does in his films. I chose Pierrot Le Fou over the other ones because the others were used where the female character was the main focus while in Pierrot Le Fou the filters were used in a party scene to show the superficiality of Ferdinand’s life without passion. In this film, the soft focus gives a dreamy atmosphere as Bonnie is reunited with her mother. However, her mother disapproves of the life Bonnie leads betraying the idyllic visual that the soft focus gives.

Bonnie and Clyde also features Godard’s favorite sound manipulation, starting and stopping the music at random points. However, it has a little more direction in this film. After Bonnie and Clyde’s first successful heist, the victims are interviewed. When the cop answers the questions, the music gets louder suggesting that the cop’s words mean nothing because Bonnie and Clyde are the heroes in this story. When the farmer answers the question, the music stops drawing importance on the fact that Bonnie and Clyde are more inclined to steal from the bank rather a poor person which again makes them look like heroes.

Like Les Carabiniers, Bonnie and Clyde shows what happens when someone with very little intelligence and guns mix. C.W. Moss reminds me of the two idiots mindlessly following orders in order to gain a fruitless reward, the life of an outlaw. Although with the guidance (or perhaps I should say orders) from his father, he was able to save himself from indulging in a life of self-indulgent violence. Blanche reminds me of the two girls who expected to benefit from the spoils of her husband’s life of crime without participating in it. But she comes with the added bonus of being a preacher’s daughter who incessantly whines about how her life turned out so badly.

So I can see the French New Wave influence on the film but I see more Godard than Truffaut.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Loves of a Blonde

Milos Foreman’s Loves of a Blonde continues the French New Wave tradition of showing the absurdity of gender relations. If I had to compare it to one of the films we have seen, I guess it will be A Woman is A Woman. Andula’s fliting from one man to another reminded me of Angela going between Émile and Alfred. Despite a suicide attempt, I find Andula superficial like Angela trying to find a man to fulfill her needs. Though Andula does not sing, she is the subject of the two songs featured in the film. In the beginning, a woman on a guitar sings a Beatles-like song with a repetitive lyric structure: “I told her I like her (body part)/She said “Why don’t you (action with body part becoming more sexually suggestive as the song goes on)/”And I love her so yeah yeah.” This song serves to foreshadow Milda’s seduction of Andula as he repeatedly tries to get her into his room and succeeds a little too well. The second song sounds like an old-fashioned big band song with its lyrics convey trepidation from the older soldiers (“You have a pretty daughter. I have a crush on her. I want to take her hand.” At least that is what I remember.)

While A Woman is a Woman plays with the conventions of the musical, Loves of a Blonde contains one stunning scene that pays homage to the Busby Berkeley musicals. The scene starts out with an empty dance floor and slowly fills with people dancing the same steps. However, like the music in A Woman is a Woman, the scenes in Loves of a Blonde seems to start and stop randomly. One moment we see the bumbling middle-aged soldiers discussing whether or not to wait for the girls to come back and the next moment we see Milda and Andula discussing her suicide attempt. I realize that it seems that I do not understand the concept of cross-cutting/parallel editing. But to me visually the very abrupt transition did not seem to indicate that the purpose of the editing was to show the two events occurring in the same time. Rather, it seems to show the comic/tragedy dichotomy of life, particularly of young love. A moment can seem life forever as depicted by the long durations of shot but a moment can pass just as quickly and it is time to move onto the next scene.


Like Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, Godard uses Alphaville to mess with film noir conventions. Although more faithful to high contrast look of film noir, Godard mixes it with science fiction to explore the ephemeral nature of language. The “present” can represent the “future” as shown by the “modern” buildings as the setting for this “futuristic” tale. “Love” may or may not have meaning, for it depends upon the person speaking saying the word to give meaning. After all, there are a variety of ways to love someone, as a fellow human being or as a romantic liaison. Even mathematical equations explore uncertainty of things with the reference to Heisenberg principle: “the values of certain pairs of conjugate variables (position and momentum, for instance) cannot both be known with arbitrary precision. That is, the more precisely one variable is known, the less precisely the other is known. This is not a statement about the limitations of a researcher's ability to measure particular quantities of a system, but rather about the nature of the system itself” (Wikipedia)However, Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equation pops up periodically along with another equation that I cannot identify. The Einstein equation allows for the conservation of mass and the conservation of energy, so I guess its presence in this film shows that certain factors have to take place in order to conserve language. One of those factors is accessibility of words. If a word is banned and someone says the word, it leads to miscommunication. Eventually, they might find a way to communicate that would satisfy both parties thus creating a new language. Thus the concept of language is conserved relative to the two parties.

Just as Truffaut include some exercises in cinematic techniques in Shoot the Piano Player, Godard also includes scenes shot in X-ray vision to show what lies beneath the surface suggesting that we should explore what lies beneath our words or our concept of film noir. I honestly do not know what I am supposed to make of the drawings other than Godard saying, “Look what else you can put into a film noir/science fiction context.” Perhaps art has its own language begging for deconstruction. Art has meaning to the person who gives it meaning. As I mentioned earlier, mathematical equations appear as electric signs as well as the words nord (north) and sud (south), words that give us a sense of direction. But what is the point of direction if you do not know what the direction means? In the end, Natacha is unaware that she is being directed toward freedom even as she utters “I love you”. Alphaville is directing us in Godard’s exploration of language.


Contempt is in a way Godard’s version of Day for Night. Instead of celebrating the magic of the movies like Truffaut, he makes it look like work. Or at least making commercially accessible films is mind-numbing work while making art films is an intellectual joy. The opening sequence featuring a nude Brigitte Bardot is an ode to the “sex sells” tenant to commerciality by having her listlessly asking her husband if he loves her body parts. Normally, I roll my eyes at female nudity for female nudity’s sake but I could not help smiling at Godard’s middle finger to the producers who insisted on it. Even the filters could not save it from becoming boring.

Even though this film is the most linear of his films, Godard still finds ways to play with the notion of “a beginning, a middle, and an end . . .but not in that order” in quick montages in which the images are temporally displaced. These sequences have an energy to them as if to convey Godard’s joy at messing with time even in the context of a commercial film. Also, the middle section of the film has its own beginning, middle, and end. The scene plays out in a long tracking shot as the couple begins to talk about the apartment’s décor to a discussion about Paul’s job to Camille ending their relationship. The length of the scene not only builds the tension between the couple but also builds a simmering tension over having a beginning, middle, and an end. Paul may not want his relationship to end, but like all commercial films it must. And it must end resolutely with a death. Godard suggests that resolute endings are a death to the possibility of films as opposed to the open endings that leaves the audience to question what this film means to them.

Day for Night

Truffaut’s Day for Night is his love letter to the magic of making films. The making-of-the-film sequences reminded me of Dziga Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera with the music and the camera movements. All seems to be well but we do not see what is behind the surface. Out of that sequence, we see an insecure actress, a lovesick actor, a drunk older actress, and a lackluster script. Yet, Truffaut’s character Ferrand finds a way to make it work harmoniously. He has to justify his love of filmmaking somehow. He will deal with the drama on set in order to create drama on film.

I would like to think that Truffaut casting himself as the director of a melodramatic script does not mean that he has somehow made peace with commercially written/shot films. Unfortunately, as I am writing this in hindsight, I should have seen it as a sign of the commercial melodrama of The Story of Adele H. In fact, the plot of Meet Pamela resembles a soap opera with the woman who is involved with the son yet is attracted to the father. Although the scene with Delarue’s score playing while Ferrand shifts through books of directors known for taking artistic risks shows that he seems interested in taking Meet Pamela in an artistic direction, I do not think that the film ended up being an exercise of cinematic techniques like Truffaut’s other films. Yet, I do not see this film as a cop-out. Again, I think that Truffaut is mocking commercial directors for a lack of imagination but with an understanding that they both share a love of the cinema.

Pierrot Le Fou

I know that I should look beyond Godard’s relationship with Anna Karina in discussing Pierrot Le Fou. But he makes it difficult. He has her singing, “I never told you I'd love you all my life. Oh my love, you never swore to adore me all your life. We never made promises like that, knowing me knowing you. We never thought we ever would be caught by love fickle as we were. . .” to Ferdinand, who she keeps calling Pierrot. Also, Godard has her look at the camera saying something like “I’ll never leave you.” I will admit that I do not know the particulars of their relationship but somehow I feel like this film is a thinly disguised punishment for a love gone wrong rather than “the story of the last romantic couple.” Who is getting punished? I could easily claim Karina as the victim especially in one sequence where she repeated says “I don’t know what to do. What am I to do?” This suggests that Godard feels that Karina cannot do without him directing her even though she has worked with other directors during their marriage. But I could easily claim Godard as being masochistic watching his ex-wife playing Ferdinand for a fool for love. Godard should have known better yet he just could not see it in reality. But he could see the decline of their love on film.

Aside from that, I found the little play Ferdinand and Marianne put on for the Americans funny. Not only does it mock Americans for their attitude towards Vietnam but I also think that Godard was making fun of yellowface that American films had employed in the past when depicting Asian characters with Caucasian actors. Despite having an all-Asian American cast in The Flower Drum Song, yellowface still existed in American cinema such as Mickey Rooney’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s released in the same year. However, if I was to award the worst case of yellowface, I would give it to Katherine Hepburn in Dragon Seed (1944). At least Marianne’s version was meant to be a joke. I do not know if French cinema has the same history with the depiction of Asian characters, but I still enjoyed the fact that Godard called attention to it.

But in the end this film is still about Godard and Karina.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her

I thought that Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her was in small way an apology for the frothy girls in Masculine/Feminine. Juliette seems like a deep thinker questioning the world around her. But then again, Godard’s creepy whisper does his fair share of philosophizing as well. In fact the whisper makes him sound like the devil on her shoulder daring her to reexamine the world she is living in. However, she is a deep thinking prostitute, which makes her more the heir apparent to Nana in Vivre Sa Vie. When Juliette drops off her child, we see a painting of Nana on the wall. We also see a picture of a geisha while she puts on red lipstick and explains her feelings toward her chosen profession. I found this interesting because being a geisha involves some form of artistry such as playing an instrument to seduce the patron. For Juliette, no art is needed in her life, just a willingness to put an airline bag over her head to amuse an American.

Speaking of art, the café scene with her husband and another girl explores the art of conversation. He tells her, “People don’t talk in films.” Godard calls attention to the fact that the actors are reciting lines written by the screenwriter or fed by the director that the audience registers as a conversation. The typical shot/reverse shot sequence also helps to identity the scene as one. Once again, Godard shoots the scene like his interview scenes in Masculine/Feminine which forces us to make our own observations about the female rather than recognizing the scene as a conversation. And once again, the subject of the conversation is about sex as if to say that it is the only thing that men and women can “talk” about.

Since this is a film about language, I honestly think that the “her” in title is not Juliette. After all, Godard tells us in the beginning of the film what Juliette does is not important. I know that movie and the movie theater are masculine in French (le film and le cinéma). However, film used in cameras is feminine (la pellicule). But if he had included scenes using tinting or scratching like he did in Contempt, I could have argued that the two or three things he knew about la pellicule is how to change the look of the film to convey a different meaning. France is feminine in French (La France) and what Godard knows is that she is on her way to being sucked into the vortex of consumerism as show by the building under construction and the last image of the consumer products on the lawn. Language is feminine in French (la langue) and therefore what he knows is that words and images cannot always depict each other. We cannot always find the words to accurately describe our experiences with the world whether we are focusing on our economic situation or a war fought miles away from us. But we still have to try and in trying we might find a new way to communicate.