I have a rocky relationship with late Godard, but was determined to watch this because of its appearance on Rosenbaum’s top-hundred list, so I watched a few others to prepare: from the pre-’68 Weekend to the Criterion-issued Tout va bien to a couple more Rosenbaum-approved films, Ici et Ailleurs (hit) and King Lear (miss). Even with all those and Histoire(s) and In Praise of Love under my belt, I don’t feel like I understand or appreciate post-’68 Godard sufficiently, but I reluctantly watched this one anyway, sure that it’d be a flop. Sure enough, it’s completely impenetrable, possibly even pretentious. But I loved it.

The picture is divine, shot by the great William Lubtchansky (the year before La Belle Noiseuse) with art direction by JLG’s Ici et ailleurs partner Anne-Marie Mieville. The camerawork feels closer to the Straub/Huillet movies I’ve seen than to anything by Godard (maybe if I remembered In Praise of Love better). Sound design draws attention to itself (music cutting on and off abruptly), as do the editing and camera. The complete soundtrack to the movie (dialogue and all) was released on CD, and I think the music of both Nouvelle Vague and For Ever Mozart was compiled from the works of the ECM label – have to check them out sometime.

There’s as much voiceover as onscreen spoken dialogue. The characters, if that’s what they are, talk past each other in quotations and philosophy. There’s very little direct story that I was able to decipher, but apparently there’s a plot going on with Alain Delon playing identical twin brothers (or possibly not), one of whom drowns (or possibly he doesn’t). Delon hangs with rich Helene (Domiziana Giordano, the guide in Nostalghia), whose maid Cecile (Laurence Cote of Gang of Four) keeps getting hit by people. That’s all the overt class warfare I found – Helene visits a factory she owns at one point, but no Tout va bien-style uprisings occur. Oh, maybe there’s more class warfare than I realized, since apparently Delon was a drifter taken in by Helene. I caught that at the beginning, but after seeing him in all the nice suits later on, then the identical twins thing, I got thrown.

Rosenbaum on theme: “In part a sustained reverie on what it means both to be rich and not to be rich, and the contrapuntal role played here by the wealthy characters and their servants is part of what makes this film so operatic in feeling.” Elsewhere he’s called it “a meditation on the end of the world.”

M. Sooriyakumaran on plot:

While driving along a stretch of highway in the Swiss countryside, a wealthy industrialist, Helene Torlato-Favrini, finds a drifter, Roger Lennox, lying by the side of the road. They instantly become lovers, but it’s not long before they start bickering with one another. One day while swimming, Helene (accidentally?) pulls Roger into the water and then watches from her boat while he drowns. Several months later, Roger’s twin brother Richard (or perhaps Roger himself, pulling a Lady Eve) turns up at Helene’s mansion, driving a convertible and wearing a fancy suit, to ask for a job in her company. He and Helene also become lovers, but this time it’s Richard who wears the pants in their relationship.

G. Santayana:

Although Nouvelle Vague has more of a story than many recent films by Godard, it is his most rigorously composed. It is his most insistently citational. With texts drawn from William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Baudelaire, Jacques Chardonne, Rimbaud, Dante, Dostoievsky, Howard Hawks, and innumerable other sources, everything in the film comes from somewhere else.

I’d heard this – an interesting idea, making a movie using only stolen dialogue. But the dialogue is all really great, and I couldn’t identify any of its sources, so the thought that it’s stolen hardly matters. Ah, the recurring dead bee query comes from To Have and Have Not, and Helene’s last name was nabbed from The Barefoot Contessa.

Santayana again:

If Passion is about light, Nouvelle Vague is about time. It is about waves ever returning – and the gift of empty hands. Indeed, the outstretched hand is the recurring visual motif in the film. … It is the natural world to which the characters aspire – to be at one with the cyclical rhythms of nature, mute in their magnificence, like the horses ever-present beside the cars. … For all their playfulness and outstanding inventiveness, [Godard’s] late films are, however, mournful in tone. They seem like products of a civilization that is coming to the end.

This is the fifth post-’68 Godard movie to put me to sleep, after Letter to Jane, Histoire(s) du Cinema (in installments), In Praise of Love and Notre Musique (in a theater). In this case, I was tired and angry at the movie and fell asleep on purpose, to make the movie feel bad about itself (assuming Godard doesn’t take it as a compliment when you sleep through his movies, like Guy Maddin does).

techno-rasta godard:

Tried to watch it without paying heed to the stories surrounding its production, which turn out to be more interesting than the film itself. Godard signed the “contract” on a bar napkin, over a year later got calls from the “producer” asking where’s our film?, JLG read the first few pages of King Lear and got bored with it, hired a bunch of overqualified actors and pissed them off. Writer/actor Norman Mailer walked out after one day, and Godard put this and his voicemails from the producer into the final cut. Something like that, anyway – I can’t be arsed to look it up.

Shakespeare Jr. or whatever:

Burgess Meredith (in his follow-up to a Dudley Moore Santa Claus movie) is apparently the King, talking some nonsense with Molly Ringwald (her inexplicable follow-up to Pretty In Pink) in a hotel room. Downstairs in the restaurant, a wiry, spike-haired Peter Sellars (dir of something called The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez) is real interested in what everyone else is doing. As I drifted awake again later, Godard (with RCA cables wound through his hair and indecipherable English speech) and Woody Allen caught my attention for a few moments each. Might be a nice-looking movie – the DP had shot the last couple of Eric Rohmer movies – but you can’t tell from my VHS copy. And I doubt it, anyway.


from Canby’s original NYTimes review: “a late Godardian practical joke . . . as sad and embarrassing as the spectacle of a great, dignified man wearing a fishbowl over his head to get a laugh. . . . After making what is possibly the most lyrical film on language in the history of the cinema (Le Gai Savoir), Mr. Godard has now made the silliest.”

Rosenbaum would disagree: “It may drive you nuts, but it is probably the most inventive and original Godard film since Passion,” and he talks about the complex surround-sound mix, which again, I’m sadly missing on my VHS version.

Typically, JR has put more thought into the film than anyone else, his analysis revealing the film’s fundamental link to the spirit of the play.


Sellars “introduces himself offscreen as William Shakespeare Jr. the Fifth, and roughly describes his job as restoring what he can of his ancestor’s plays after a massive cultural memory loss was brought about by Chernobyl.”

As the film proceeds . . . we get snatches of Shakespeare’s Lear, snatches of what appears to be Mailer’s Don Learo, and snatches of what appears to be an earlier, unrealized Godard project, The Story, about Jewish gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky in Las Vegas. (Three Journeys Into King Lear, as one printed title puts it. But does “King Lear” in this case refer to the play, the character, or the Cannon Films project?)

For Godard, it’s a legitimate source of pride that he won’t film anything to illustrate a scriptwriter’s point or provide continuity; his disdain for ordinary filmmaking practice becomes a creative challenge, and, in terms of his limited capacities for story telling, a calculated risk. . . . This originality often seems to be driven by hatred and anger, emotions that are undervalued in more cowardly periods such as the present, just as they were probably overvalued 20 years ago. It is a source of energy that remains crucial to much of the avant-garde.

Onscreen text, much talk about the workers, pictures of Hitler and holocaust, calm voiceover and mentions of may 68. Yup, it’s a post-60’s Godard film, alright. Here he takes his textual analysis to new heights, obsessing over the word AND (or ET). It manages a level of interest similar to Tout va bien, significantly higher than Letter to Jane.

No onscreen credits (at least on my copy). The last Godard-Gorin collaboration, Mieville taking over for Gorin. Once again they speak within the film about its own creation and intent.

“In 1970 this film was called Victory. In 1974 it is called Here and Elsewhere.” Looks like Victory was a Palestinian propaganda movie. “Here” they stage scenes of a family watching television, and filmmakers displaying stills one by one before a camera. Lots of talk about the nature and meaning of images. It’s not as bad as it sounds.


Jean-Luc Godard’s short feature about the PLO was initially shot with Jean-Pierre Gorin in the Middle East in 1970, but when he edited the footage with Anne-Marie Mieville several years later, many of the soldiers that had been filmed were dead. Reflecting on this fact, as well as on the problems of recording history and of making political statements on film, Godard and Mieville produced a thoughtful and provocative essay on the subject. Coming after the mainly arid reaches of Godard’s “Dziga Vertov Group” period (roughly 1968-1973), when his efforts were largely directed toward severing his relation with commercial filmmaking and toward forging new ways to “make films politically,” this film assimilates many of the lessons he learned without the posturing and masochism that marred much of his earlier work. The results are a rare form of lucidity and purity.

“The horror of the bourgeoisie can only be overcome by more horror.”

Godard’s last fiction film (released just a few months after La Chinoise) before May ’68 and the Dziga Vertov Group. It’s an anarchist romp, following an unlikeable couple (who secretly hate each other) on a weekend drive to the girl’s parents’ house to ensure that she gets her inheritance, really an excuse for a series of extended scenes (sometimes using minutes-long shots) of politics and absurdity, all with a bright red/white/blue color scheme that aims to make the film look like an advertisement.

Corinne freaks out:

Before the trip: time out for Corinne (Mireille Darc of some spy movies and commercials) to tell a long, erotic story in a darkened room. I don’t know whether that’s her travel partner Roland in the scene with her – there’s some business I barely got at the beginning where each of them secretly has another partner. Anyway, her story involves a threesome with a married couple featuring a saucer of milk.
“Is this true, or a nightmare?”
“I don’t know.”

Next: the celebrated traffic jam shot, as boorish couple Corinne and Roland (Jean Yanne, star of some Chabrol films) slowly move from left to right, past honking cars stuck in traffic, traveling in the oncoming lane to get ahead. There are cars parked backwards and upside down, a sailboat, animals, a tanker truck, all sorts of absurdity, at the end of which the relieved couple speeds past the huge multiple-fatalities accident that caused it all.

Class Warfare: rich girl (Juliet Berto, a Godard regular before she was a Rivette regular) and peasant tractor driver are in an accident, and she’s just furious that her boyfriend was killed. Corinne and Roland try not to get involved, finally speed away, rich and poor uniting in cursing them (“dirty jews!”).


Almost to her parents’ house, when they pick up a hitchhiker whose boyfriend (Daniel Pommereulle, lead guy’s vacationing buddy in La Collectionneuse) hijacks their car (acting like a lion tamer) and makes them turn around. I already can’t remember what they talk about, but after a bloody car crash, a cool edit causes a hundred sheep to suddenly appear.

Jean-Pierre Leaud is wandering through a field as Saint Just, preaching politics from a book, speaking into the camera more than he’s speaking to the characters. In the next scene he’s a completely different character, a camera-unaware fellow in a phone booth. Roland steals Leaud’s car, and the quest continues.

In a forest now, trying to get directions from Tom Thumb (Yves Alfonso of Made in USA) and Emily Bronte (Blandine Jeanson of La Chinoise), who stick to their fantasy script despite the increasingly violent demands from Roland. Finally he sets Emily on fire.

SHE “It’s rotten of us, isn’t it? We’ve no right to burn even a philosopher”
HE “Can’t you see they’re only imaginary characters?”
SHE “Why is she crying, then?”
HE “No idea. Let’s go.”
SHE: “We’re little more than that ourselves.”

The movie has been self-aware before, and will be again (a passing car asks if they’re in a film or reality). In the forest they walk past “the Italian actors in the co-production.”

“What a rotten film. All we meet are crazy people.”

I lost track of what happened to Leaud’s car, but now they’re hitching rides with trucks. One stops for another extended scene where pianist Paul Gégauff (a screenwriter for Chabrol, Rohmer and Clement) talks about music and plays some Mozart while the couple sits bored in the courtyard.

The music turns very dramatic as they ride with a couple of garbage men (Laszlo Szabo of Passion and Made in USA, and Omar Diop of La Chinoise). Corinne and Roland haul trash as the men eat sandwiches and speak at length, alternately about revolution in Africa and guerrilla race warfare in the west.

Finally home, they kill Corinne’s mom, put her in a car (of course) and set it on fire. It’s a brief scene, showing that the movie has little interest in its makeshift plot-motivator.

But wait, it’s not over. They’re abducted by a machine gun-toting cannibal liberation front (feat. Juliet Berto again) led by Jean-Pierre Kalfon, star of L’Amour Fou. Corinne fits in better than Roland, ends up eating him. End of cinema.

D. Sterritt’s commentary makes me weary with his wall-to-wall sportscaster style, but says some good stuff, that the movie is satirizing consumerism and the manufactured product, the visuals pop-art influenced, the scenes all clearly planned out (not random/improv as some critics suggested). DP Raoul Coutard says: “The driving force behind this film, irrespective of wanting to be innovative in cinema, was to annoy the hell out of the producer.”

M. Asch

The camera is so distant as to almost parody its satiric coolness — from the couple’s balcony, it looks down to the parking lot to see the antlike drivers of a red and a blue-and-white car beat each other savagely after a minor collision. Godard is undisguised in his disgust for what you could call the automotive insulation of contemporary life — a subtle running joke, if you can call it that, is the way that every screaming breakdown ends with Darc and Yanne back in the front seats like nothing happened.

J Hoberman:

Dramatizing homicidal conflict in the context of inexplicable, matter-of-fact social disaster, Godard’s unrelenting, consistently inventive farrago of grim humor, revolutionary rhetoric, coolly staged hysteria, and universal aggression is pure ’68, an art-house analog to its contemporary, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and one of four new releases forbidden to Catholics by the National Legion of Decency. The Legion condemned a movie; Godard condemned the civilized world.

Even before Weekend opened in New York, Godard condemned his previous work and even repudiated the medium that nourished him. He briefly abandoned filmmaking — by the time he returned, the revolution was over. Godard has made some first-rate movies since Weekend … But after Weekend, he would never again command an audience, let alone a generation.

Jean Eustache was in the movie – who was he?

Lots of onscreen text and people talking for ages – signs of Godardian things to come.

Oh whoops – I planned to watch Weekend first, to go from the end of Godard’s beloved 60’s period, skip over his purely political post-May-’68 work with Gorin as the Dziga Vertov Group, and resume with Tout Va Bien and Letter to Jane. But I forgot, and watched this before Weekend. No matter, probably. But as I’d heard, the Godard of the 60’s never returned after ’68. This is so similar to his 60’s movies, despite the bright pop color, the custom-built sets, meta-movie voiceover, married-couple storyline and (especially) major stars. No, it’s as talky as The Owl’s Legacy.

Long-Distance Singer Yves Montand and newly-oscar-winning Jane Fonda were both known to be politically-engaged, and both were hugely popular at the time, so it was perfect casting for Godard and Gorin – plus an opportunity for them to gripe about Montand’s previous “problematic” political films. But G & G really want to polemicize at length, so they note in the voiceover that the stars were cast and given a jaded love story out of commercial necessity.

Unwitting pawns in Godard and Gorin’s political agenda:

Boss Caprioli:

Opens with JLG’s most cinematic-illusion-shattering move yet, close-ups on all the checks he’s cutting for the film’s stars, technicians, sets and so on. The juicy center of the film (shot in nice loooong shots, many of them motionless) consists mainly of dudes giving long speeches about union labor, class divisions, the political system.

“Under a calm surface, everything’s changing. Everything’s changing within every class. And She and He, swept up in it, also change.” Yves is a formerly-idealistic filmmaker (“a screenwriter during the New Wave”), now doing commercial work. Jane is a radio news reporter, and the two are at a factory office when the workers hold a major strike and lock the boss in his office for five days. So we get interviews with the boss (Vittorio Caprioli of Il Generale della Rovere): “the glaring injustices of Marx’ and Engels’ day are over,” and the shop steward: “our salaries haven’t kept up with increasing production, and even less with corporate profits.” It’s weird for a leftist, pro-workers movie that I can easily find who played the company manager, but not which actor played Stacquet the shop steward.

Some business in a supermarket that I didn’t understand because I wasn’t paying close attention anymore, but the long back-and-forth dolly shot reminded me of the factory scene in Manufactured Landscapes. Yves and Jane at their day jobs. Scenes of the factory in operation, of struggle in the streets. A token love-story-resolution ending in a cafe, which seems extraneous even as a joke, since the couple never got any development.

Great cross-section of the factory offices:

Yves, disillusioned:

From an interview with a wide-eyed bathrobe-clad Godard: “It’s quite striking. When workers are interviewed [on TV], these people are given 15 brief seconds when they haven’t opened their mouths all year. We give them 15 seconds, or even three minutes, to speak. ‘What do you think of the strike? What do you think of your lot in life?’ Who can answer when he’s had his mouth sewn shut?”

Letter To Jane (1972)

An hour-long photo-essay posed as a letter to Jane Fonda, analyzing a newspaper photo of her in Vietnam talking (or, as Godard & Gorin rightly point out, listening) to some unidentified men. She’d visited the country after the filming of Tout Va Bien but before its release, starting the ridiculous “Hanoi Jane” controversy, during which the press took the actions of a movie star more seriously than the war itself.

Godard and Gorin take turns narrating (in English), and each takes pains to avoid any interest in their voice, so the movie becomes a didactic lullaby. I got bored almost immediately.

See also: Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice and Farocki’s Workers Leaving The Factory

Subtitled “a film in twelve tableaux,” it’s broken up by numbered chapter title cards.

Chapter One:

A Warholian credits open, long-held shots of a self-conscious-looking Anna, each take with music at first then dying off. Sets a mournful tone for the movie, which plays like a hard-luck tragedy, even if Anna herself rarely seems disappointed. It also sets up the viewer for the playfully offbeat formal choices that will be made for the next 80 minutes, as if the “film by Godard” credit didn’t already prepare for that. JLG must’ve taken a page from Fellini – just because you’re making a depressing movie about the downward spiral of a prostitute doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way.

Chapter Two:

Karina, in her second film with husband Godard (not counting the silent short in Cleo from 5 to 7), is our star. Hardly anyone else appears in the movie for more than a few minutes, but she’s stylish and vivacious enough to carry the picture. Her co-star would be the camera, always doing something interesting, but in a showy, look-at-me way, Godard in the phase when he was pointedly giving the finger to convention while still trying to make a viable movie with a story and character.

Chapter Three:

This cop is questioning Anna about a minor crime, if picking up money that someone else dropped is a crime at all. Highlights include this reaction shot of the cop, and Anna’s concluding line, “I… is someone else.”

Chapter Four:

Film references: in an early scene she repeats a line a few times, saying “I just wanted to deliver that line a specific way.” She watches The Passion of Joan of Arc, her reactions shot in Dreyerian close-ups, then goes to a diner that has posters for Un Femme est un femme and L’Amérique insolite (and something in Japanese). A prostitute (below) stands under a giant torn poster for Spartacus, and later Anna stands before The Hustler (ha) and Danny Kaye in On The Double. More than once, Anna tells people she was in a movie with Eddie Constantine some months ago (technically true – Eddie appeared in the silent Varda short). And on the final car ride, they pass a nice big poster for Jules and Jim.

Chapter Five:

The fourth feature Godard made, the third to be released to theaters, the eleventh that I’ve watched. The fifth Godard feature that I’ve written about here, and probably my favorite of these five. Scored an 8/10 from IMDB user ratings, which is good – like Avatar good.

Chapter Six:

M. Atkinson:

You can’t miss his self-awareness here—the movie’s signature move is a “close-up” of the back of Karina’s head as she chats with offscreen men … Godard’s shots were always about how he felt about what he saw, and this composition is the equivalent of looking but not seeing, of turning your star’s expressive power into offscreen space, of admitting to the world that, though you love this woman, you do not know her.

Chapter Seven:

One episode is like a educational film on prostitutes. I don’t remember which one. Maybe this one.

Chapter Eight:

Nice music by Michel Legrand, a short theme repeated endlessly, but not to annoyance, and of course the sharp cinematography by Raoul Coutard.

Chapter Nine:

Won a couple prizes in Venice, nominated alongside Lolita and Knife in the Water and Mamma Roma and Therese, while Tarkovsky and Zurlini shared the top prize.

Chapter Ten:

In the second-to-last chapter she sits down for a chat, “a philosophical café discussion about the difficulty of truth telling with Brice Parain, a famous French philosopher who paved the way for the poststructuralists by maintaining that language begat humanity, not the other way around.” I’ll bet Parain would get a kick out of Pontypool.

Chapter Eleven:

Of course she dies suddenly at the end. This was before screenwriters had figured out how to end a movie without killing a main character. I can’t figure exactly who was responsible for her death, or what went on in the final scene. It’s not important.

Chapter Twelve:

It’s the 50th anniversary of Breathless! It’s also the 50th anniversary of Peeping Tom and Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, but you don’t see anyone making a fuss over those. It’s also the 50th anniversary of writer Truffaut’s other movie about doomed small-time criminals, Shoot the Piano Player. I don’t know which of the two I prefer. StPP has more indelible images, but Breathless is all about motion, with its jazzy editing. Feels like a story that got away from them, a two hour script filmed as a four-hour feature, then mercilessly reduced to 90 minutes.

I didn’t remember the story very well – not that there’s much story to worry about. Belmondo is an incorrigible cad, stealing from everyone he comes across, and Seberg is the conflicted girl who becomes his downfall, reporting him for having killed a cop at the start of the film. He stops to meet with friends (always trying to get money) and she stops to interview a writer (I think) played by Jean-Pierre Melville, part of her ambition to climb from street newspaper-seller to reporter, while a police inspector is always close behind them both.

Good to see on the big screen, a highly enjoyable classic-film experience. Nice to hear from the DVD interviews that just a couple years after Breathless came out, Godard was already talking about the end of cinema – it’s not a recent thing with him.

“The resistance had its youth and it had its old age, but it never went through adulthood.”

Godard already in his mournful history/memory/holocaust phase (of course, I keep forgetting this was made after Histoire(s) du Cinema). Very nice black-and-white photography and lovely, sad string music, then after an hour it turns to super-saturated color, very unique and wonderful looking. Story/character/intent-wise, though, I didn’t get the movie at all.

Part of it is self-referentially about making a film, trying to cast it. There are mentions of Henri Langlois, Robert Bresson, Hannah Arendt, Juliette Binoche, May ’68 and Max Ophuls. Didn’t feel any more like a proper narrative film than Notre Musique did. I’d say that maybe the small-screen experience wasn’t cutting it and I needed to see in a theater, but I saw Notre Musique in a theater and fell asleep. Maybe I’m not smart enough, or wasn’t prepared enough to tackle this one… it’s the kind of thing I’d be better off reading a bunch of articles before watching. I never figured out the love story, or the flashback structure, and even the filmmaking story seemed elusive. But probably it’s just because I’m an American, and it’s not for me.

“Americans have no real past. They have no memory of their own. Their machines do, but they have none personally. So they buy the pasts of others, especially those who resisted.”

There’s some anti-U.S. business, a character hating on the fact that U.S. residents call themselves “Americans,” textually taking ownership over both continents, and a slap at Spielberg (“Mrs. Schindler was never paid. She’s in poverty in Argentina”). Godard reportedly took time at Cannes to attack Spielberg further… guess he’s not thrilled that the current Cahiers crowd voted War of the Worlds as their #8 pick of the decade. C. Packman at IMDB says: “The film is a critique on Hollywood and how capitalism is destroying cinema and love. … The film succeeds in offering a philosophical problem, but demonstrates philosophy’s inability to enter into any realm other than the abstract. Godard here follows Marx’ dictum: ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it’.”

“When did the gaze collapse?”
“Before TV took precedence over life.”

No actors I’ve heard of before, and the one I liked best (Audrey Klebaner, above, as Eglantine) has never been in another film. Shot on 16mm b/w film and color video by Julien Hirsch (Notre Musique, Lady Chatterley) and Christophe Pollock (Up/Down/Fragile, Class Relations), but I can’t figure out who shot which. Punctuated by repeated title cards and blackouts.

Salon is ruthless:

Godard’s artistic deterioration has been particularly heartbreaking because, as his sensibility has atrophied, his visual gifts have matured. … The burnish of the images in First Name: Carmen, combined with the flow Godard shows in the editing rhythms and in the use of Beethoven string quartets to underscore the images, can lull you into thinking that something is actually going on in the film. … What it adds up to, though, in In Praise of Love as in the films that have preceded it, is a retreat, a shutting out of the world.

Slant calls it “an inscrutable rumination on memory and history that only Godard is meant to fully grasp.” I’m looking for raves, not pans – I watched this because it was on multiple best-of-decade lists. Reverse Shot goes gaga over the use of images, touches lightly on the story, and complains that the original title Éloge de l’amour (WordNet defines “elegy” as “a mournful poem; a lament for the dead”) has been translated to In Praise of Love.

Precautions Against Fanatics (1969, Werner Herzog)
“Have you ever seen a dishonest man with a chest like this?”
Said to Werner’s cameraman by a one-armed man in a suit: “What are you doing here? Go away!” It’s not clear who is supposed to be here where they’re filming, in the training area of a horse racetrack. Some guy is repeating himself and karate-chopping flat stones. This cannot actually be happening! It is all pretty wonderful, a parody of a behind-the-scenes documentary. Made in between Signs of Life and Even Dwarfs Started Small, both of which I need to catch some day.

Organism (1975, Hilary Harris)
Time-lapse footage and readings from biological textbooks portray a large city (New York, of course) as a living organism. The dated 70’s sound design is unfortunate but otherwise it’s completely wonderful. Makes me wish I had a classroom of kids to show it to. He worked on this for years, inventing a time-lapse camera in the 60’s for the purpose. Bits from Scott MacDonald “As late as 1975, Harris apparently felt that time-lapsing imagery was unusual and high-tech enough to justify his frequent use of science-fictionish electronic sounds as an accompaniment. … Hilary Harris shot some of the New York City traffic shots used in Koyaanisqatsi, though apparently Reggio didn’t see Organism until after his film was well under way.”

L’Opéra-mouffe (1958, Agnes Varda)
Somehow I missed this during Varda Month – one of her earliest shorts hidden amongst the copious features on a Criterion DVD. Varda films either herself or another pregnant nude women, then goes on a rampage through the marketplace, mostly capturing the faces of people shopping there, with interludes featuring actors (incl. Varda regular Dorothée Blank, as nude here as she is in Cleo) clowning around. Sections highlight public drunkenness, anxiety and affection. I want to say this is my favorite of her shorts so far, but then I remember they’re all so good. Delightfully scored by a not-yet-famous Georges Delerue.

“I was pregnant. I felt the contradiction of expecting a child, being full of hope, and circulating in this world of poor, drunken people without hope, who seemed so unhappy. I felt tenderness toward them, especially the elderly. I imagined them as babies, when their mothers kissed their tummies.”

Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1966, Gene Kearney)
A boy named Paul starts to obsess over snow, allowing the snow in his mind to filter him from reality. Creepy and well shot. Later remade as a Night Gallery episode with Orson Welles narrating. Makes me think of the Handsome Family song “Don’t Be Scared,” with its line “when Paul thinks of snow, soft winds blow ’round his head,” except it’s one of their very few comforting, happy songs and the movie is anything but.

Une histoire d’eau (1961, Truffaut & Godard)
A girl wakes up and the whole town is flooded from melting snow. She meets a guy (a young Jean-Claude Brialy) who offers to drive her to Paris before nightfall. Music is weird – gentle flute or horns punctuated with bursts of percussion. Ooh, a Duchess of Langeais reference… in fact there are a ton of references in her quick monologue narration, which ends with spoken credits.

The Forgotten Faces (1960, Peter Watkins)
Revolution in Budapest. Nice reconstruction, convincingly documentary-like – where’d Watkins get all those guns? No sync sound, a TV-sounding narrator. One part, the reading of a communist speech turns briefly into a dramatic propaganda montage – don’t see that happen much in Watkins’ films.


The Perfect Human (1967, Jorgen Leth)
“Today I experienced something I hope to understand in a few days.”

I like the British narrator. “What does he want? Why does he move like that? How does he move like that? Look at him. Look at him now. And now. Look at him all the time.” There’s no diegetic sound, but if this was dubbed in a studio, why does there have to be so much tape hiss? A fake documentary and a stark white delight, with slow zooms in and out, gentle string music, and a general sense of serious absurdity. Only saw, what, a third of this in The Five Obstructions.

Les Maître fous (1955, Jean Rouch)
Document of a group in Ghana called the Hauka doing something involving wooden toy guns, red ribbons, chicken sacrifice, dog-blood-drinkin’ and having lurchy foaming-at-the-mouth fits. I’m not ever quite sure, because the French narration has been auto-subtitled by google – whatever they’re doing, the subs call it “having.” After they’ve had, the film crew catches up with them at their day jobs, not freaked-out cultists anymore, just working hard, smiling at the camera. This is one African film that Katy didn’t want to watch, because Rouch is an exoticizing anthropologist. So what’s going on that this film makes the best-ever lists? A Rouch tribute page says he popularized direct cinema/cinema verite, that he was known for rethinking ethnography, and a documentary surrealism (sounds like Jean Painleve). Ian Mundell says the film “drew plaudits from the Nouvelle Vague, in particular from Jean-Luc Godard. They liked the fact that Rouch’s fiction emerged from an encounter between the actor (professional or non-professional) and the camera, and his willingness to break the rules of cinema.” Paul Stoller says Rouch crisscrossed “the boundaries between documentary and fiction, observer and participant,” but I take it that’s more about his later films, which I’m thinking I would like better. So it’s seeming like this film gets awarded because it’s one of the most-seen of his films and because of its influence, not because it’s Rouch’s best work.

Nicky’s Film (1971, Abel Ferrara)
A mysteriously silent possibly gangster-related 6-minute film. I can’t imagine even a Ferrara scholar gets much out of this.

The Hold Up (1972, Abel Ferrara)
Super-8 production made when Abel was 21, seven years before Driller Killer. A few minutes in, I realized it’d be much better with the director commentary turned on. “And away we go. Wait, it’s the other way. Which way is she looking?” Um, some guys get fired from factory jobs, hold up a gas station, get caught. The song “Working on a Building” is heard.