Last night the WHC screened Jean-Luc Godard's influential 1967 pièce de la résistance Week End. I should say that Godard has always been a whipping-boy of mine, the perfect example of over-rated god of a certain kind of cinéaste, of the whole trendy subcultural high that drives art in its postmodern period, an excuse for cutting-edge French rhetoric whereby signs and signifiers cascade in a torrent freed from the tedious signifié in all its bourgeois predictability and outmoded humanist specificity. My dislike of Godard has always been hard to maintain if only because I tend to be drawn to comparable postmodern performances, some of which draw directly on his work -- whether in parody or homage hardly matters. Indeed, those who clearly follow Godard are often more to my liking because, unlike the master, they have more respect for the general viewer. I think it's Godard's contempt for the viewer that has earned my contempt. A feeling that Godardians seem to avoid by simply siding with the director and claiming that they never really thought the point of film was to be dramatic or comic or pleasing or meaningful, but rather that it's "no longer" relevant or "possible" to use cinematic conventions for the sake of storytelling -- because of all the crimes of capitalism, or because of Algeria or Vietnam, Soweto, Watts, Kent State . . . or because "it's all been said," or because of something Brecht argued about the theater, or Artaud, or...
Anyway, I just want to say that I got more delight from this viewing of a Godard film than I ever have before. I've seen a few of his films on screen, but not this one. But even when I watched it on VHS some years ago, bored as I was ultimately, I felt that it was onto something, though that "something" had already become familiar through the work of people like Robert Altman, Monty Python, and Lindsay Anderson. And I preferred those latter iconoclasts because I was, after all, only a child in the '60s and much of the film's success depends on its being "new." And all those lengthy voice-overs of text being read aren't exactly nimble and are hardly confrontational now though maybe at some point they were. No, it gets pretty sledge-hammer unsubtle as it goes, as we feel Godard's imagination strain to come up with something that will really put the audience in its place (or drive them from the theater). But since the place we're in is somehow a space he helped create, the film simply spirals into the ennui that bourgeois subjects like ourselves are so familiar with.
I admit I did find "the way of Lewis Carroll" more amusing this time around. In fact, the first hour or so was actually entertaining -- the confrontation in the parking lot, the infamous traffic jam, and Jean-Pierre Léaud so incredibly amusing as, first, Rousseau declaiming in the wilderness and then as the Porsche-owner singing an insipid lovesong in the phone booth. Even the pornographic recital by the main female character as ominous music swells and ebbs in inept counterpoint to her dialogue amused me more this time, as did set-pieces like the car-jacking and the girl in boots and miniskirt berating the farm worker whose tractor occasioned the death of her James Dean-looking, sportscar-driving boy friend. Once we get to the guerrillas the problem is that they are nothing more than clichés and, as is usually the case, the beastly bourgeoisie proves to be much more fun to watch.
How make a revolutionary film that will make us stop watching film? How make a film that ends cinema when you have a career as a film-maker? And if to some those problems are simply arch and ironic and not to be taken seriously, to others it seems bad faith to continue with the charade. In a way that putting pen to paper never is, though God knows publishing is another matter entirely. Then again, Rimbaud's refusal has always been for me a gesture of defiance, not despair.
I must be mellowing: I can now admit that continuing to make the kinds of films that Godard made can be defiance too. And this time I was surprised to find, in the midst of the nonsense, the cant, the in-your-face absurdity, the longueurs, the comic hi-jinx, the guts to greet beauty.
Cela s'est passé. Je sais aujourd'hui saluer la beauté.--Rimbaud