Lessons of Darkness (1992, Werner Herzog)

“The oil is trying to disguise itself”

Impressionistic doc shot in aftermath of Kuwait war.

Divided into sections:
– A Capital City (pre-war helicopter shot)
– The War (bombing footage)
– After the Battle (post-war helicopter shot, big horns on soundtrack)
– Torture Chambers (implements and stories)
– Satan’s National Park (oil-drenched landscape)
– Childhood (traumatized survivors)
– And a smoke arose, like the smoke from a furnace (burning oil wells)
– A Pilgrimage (firefighting)
– A Dinosaur’s Feast (vehicles, opera music)
– Protuberances (boiling oil)
– The Drying Up of the Wells (capping wells with new hardware)
– Life Without Fire (some of the fires are re-lit, great narration here)
– I am so weary of sighing, oh lord, grant that the night cometh (finale)

Minimal narration, lots of slow motion. Great music selections from Mahler, Arvo Part, Prokofiev, Wagner, others. I know little about the Kuwait war apparently – why were the Iraqis torturing people to death? But these details are beyond the scope of the film.

Great point by Noel Murray:

Herzog was booed at the Berlin film festival after a screening of Lessons Of Darkness, and accused by the audience of being more interested in pretty pictures and philosophizing than in the human toll of the Gulf War. That’s not an entirely unfair criticism. Throughout his career, Herzog has shown less engagement with any one particular political conflict or social issue than with the bigger picture of how humans continue to fight with each other and with their environment. But then that’s why Lessons Of Darkness is still so beguiling, decades after the war that inspired it.

Herzog:

The words attributed to Blaise Pascal which preface my film Lessons of Darkness are in fact by me. Pascal himself could not have said it better… With this quotation as a prefix I elevate the spectator, before he has even seen the first frame, to a high level, from which to enter the film. And I, the author of the film, do not let him descend from this height until it is over. Only in this state of sublimity does something deeper become possible, a kind of truth that is the enemy of the merely factual. Ecstatic truth, I call it.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow)

After the Nairobi mall attack, I felt like watching some terrorists get killed. Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life, Take Shelter) gets help from her torturer friend Jason Clarke (killer of Gatsby), follows the trail left by informants to identify Bin Laden’s personal messenger, sees her friend Jennifer Ehle (Contagion) get blown up following a false lead, traces the messenger’s cellphone, follows him to a compound, spends years convincing her dumb bosses (first Katy’s TV football coach Kyle Chandler, then Mark Strong of Tinker Tailor) to invade it, then sends a Seal team (featuring Brolin-looking Gatsby star Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt of Parks & Rec). They crash one helicopter but still have two others, shoot Bin Laden in the face, and take off.

The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001, John Gianvito)

1. A deep-voiced white kid Rafael is the only peacenik in his New Mexico high school, spurred on by a hippie teacher. His parents will hear nothing of it (“There was a time for national debate. It’s over”) so he leaves home.

2. Fernanda’s kids are abducted and killed on the first day of school by local racists. The cops are unhelpful jerks, and the kids aren’t found for a month. Fernanda herself is held for two months under suspicion of murder, disappears when released, goes wandering, is found by a woman with a house full of finches.

3. Ex-Marine Carlos returns from war, finds his job gone, is full of uncontrollable lusty rage.

So, a indie film over two hours long, shot on 16mm, full of 1990’s politics but released soon after September 2001. This was destined to be ignored, but accidentally destined to be extremely relevant to the decade that followed.

Freeze frames, long refreshingly unscripted-feeling dialogue scenes, and of course some scenes of trees and the whispering wind. Plus extended concert segments by Naseer Shemma, an Iraqi musician who performs his celebrated composition dedicated to civilians killed when American planes bombed a shelter.

Michael Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

Mad Songs is a political film that encompasses multiple stories, but does so following a film historical road less travelled – beginning with DW Griffith’s A Corner in Wheat and leading most recently to Fast Food Nation. The stories never intersect; instead they examine the problems of a time and place (the suburban US during the first Gulf War) almost geologically, by taking samples from discrete layers of American life.

Part of what makes Mad Songs so poignant, and at the same time incredibly strange, is the hope and earnestness with which it concludes. No film I’m aware of has given so much space to peace activists, sitting in meetings and testifying about the transformative power of nonviolent resistance. To a generation of critics and cinephiles reared on post-noir cynicism, Gianvito’s treatises surely sounded like transmissions from another planet.

Gianvito:

When I first began to conceive the project that became The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, around 1993 I believe, it grew purely out of seething rage over the events of the 1991 Gulf War, the mainstream suppression of those events, and concern over the continuing support of lethal sanctions and military “containment” of Iraq. By the time I saw the film to completion the entire situation had only grown graver and more infuriating.

Shorts watched July 2009

Koko’s Earth Control (1928, Dave Fleischer)
Koko the Clown walks the planet with his dog until they find the Earth Control station. The dog willfully and maliciously pulls the end-of-the-world switch and then acts all panicked when the world begins to end. What did he think would happen? Fun mix of live-action (tilt camera while people pretend to fall to the side, the dog skittering atop an animation table) and animation (earthquakes, volcanoes, the sun melts the moon).
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Dutch Bird (2004, Kirk Weddell)
Ridiculous comedy – old man is sad and alone, so his friends convince him to go out again by pranking him with a story about drugged racing pigeons. On my TV the color was way off, which was really the main interest in the movie. In the below shot, everyone had green skin against a pinkish sky. It was eerie – as the 20 minutes stretched on and on, I liked to imagine that green-faced aliens had gotten a hold of The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine and were producing Brit-com films of their own. Sadly, getting screenshots on my PC the color turned out normal.
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Tale of Tales (1979, Yuri Norshteyn)
At least two jury competitions have named this the greatest animated film of all time. It is really good, but we all wished it’d been half its 30 minute length, and its symbolism was extremely obvious. Not that I ever get less-than-obvious symbolism, so that’s not something I ought to complain about. Wild Things are playing jump rope and a little dog kidnaps a baby, and there’s war and peace and what not. Supposedly the director has been working on his film of Gogol’s The Overcoat ever since – for 30 years. He must be the Jeff Mangum of Russian animated films.
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Harpy (1978, Raoul Servais)
Kind of an absurd, funnier Tales from the Darkside episode. Guy saves a poor harpy from being beaten to death by an angry man and takes it home. But it keeps eating and eating and making his life hell. Finally it eats his legs off when he tries to escape, so he attempts to beat it to death, it gets saved by another man, etc. Same ending as Argento’s Jenifer, then. Mostly appealing for the crazy harpy visuals. The Belgian director has also made films called Siren and Pegasus, must find those sometime.
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Grasshoppers (1990, Bruno Bozzetto)
Cute, no-frills cartoon that looked like something out of Mad Magazine. Civilization rises out of the grass only to fight war after war after war, represented by a few dudes at a time, not by whole armies. The kind of thing that would’ve played on O Canada if it wasn’t Italian.
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Out of Print (2008, Danny Plotnick)
A dude yearns for the days when cult movies were actually rare and you could only get crappy unwatchable dubbed versions if you knew a guy who knew a guy. As someone who enjoys being able to see cult movies easily and in relatively good quality, I don’t see the dude’s point.
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World Cinema (2007, Joel Coen)
Llewelyn from No Country stops at an arthouse movie theater playing Rules of the Game and Climates. Gets advice from the ticket guy, watches Climates and likes it. Having seen Climates myself I’m not sure this is too realistic. Also not sure why it was cut from the DVD of To Each His Cinema.
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The Holy Mountain (1973, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Even in a year of crazy films like The Wicker Man and Touki Bouki, ain’t nothing crazy enough to sit with The Holy Mountain. This was the last of Jodorowsky’s fully-realized features until Santa Sangre (nobody, AJ included, seems to like The Rainbow Thief or Tusk).

Third shot of movie: Director/Alchemist with women who will soon be shaved:
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First half-hour is free-flowing. A Thief (who I didn’t realize never speaks) wanders with a deformed dwarf, getting beaten up and attending a toad-and-chameleon circus, while around them dissidents are executed, riot police hold a dead-animal parade, and priests pick up underage prostitutes. Finally the thief breaks into a mighty tower occupied by The Alchemist (Jodorowsky himself) who cleanses him, turns his shit into gold, and then introduces our other characters and their corresponding planets:
– Fon/Venus – narcissist who runs fashion & cosmetic companies, slave to his dad
– Isla/Mars – major arms manufacturer
– Klen/Jupiter – sex-obsessed artist
– Sel/Saturn – makes war toys to prejudice kids vs. countries we plan to invade
– Berg/Uranus – murderous bureaucrat
– Axon/Neptune – ruthless mohawked police chief with testicle collection
– Lut/Pluto – futuristic architect, designing sleep-chamber apartments
(I had to look some of those up – movie is sensory overload, I forgot stuff)

Three chameleons prepare to defend Mexico from the toad invasion:
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Kind of a Jesus/disciples thing, but is the Thief Jesus or is the Alchemist? They go through intensive spiritual training, then Alchemist leads them to the Holy Mountain atop which nine ancient immortals control our planet, with the goal of deposing them and becoming immortal themselves. Each traveler has a dream of their own bizarre death, but they continue to the table at the summit, where they find dolls in the seats. Sitting down, camera pulls back to reveal Jodorowsky’s lighting and sound crew, and he proclaims the truth: “We are images, dreams, photographs,” freeing them from the film itself.

Atop The Holy Mountain:
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Haven’t checked out the commentary yet (tried to listen at work, but of course it’s in Spanish), but in a modern interview online, Jodorowsky says he never killed animals for his movies – not even the rabbits in El Topo. That’s surprising, but I’ll take the guy at his word. He also says he became a feminist during the making of Holy Mountain, and indeed it’s hard to think of movies less feminist than his previous two. He’s a fan of Lynch, Cronenberg and Starship Troopers, and I wish him luck with his long-delayed Lynch-produced next movie.

Alchemist & Thief in chamber of mirrors:
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Cinematographer Rafael Corkidi shot The Mansion of Madness the same year. A few of the actors have popped up elsewhere… Lut/Pluto had a small part in The Exterminating Angel, Axon/Neptune was an Oliver Stone collaborator throughout the 90’s, and Fon/Venus plays the lead girl’s dad on the show Rebelde.

Our director:
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After Calvaire and Frontier(s), it’s the third movie this week with a hair-shaving scene.

The Battle of Chile (1975-78, Patricio Guzmán)

“Popular unity against the criminal bourgeoisie!”
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Other street protest chants:
“Bourgeois shit, the street belongs to the left!”
“We need an iron hand!” (?!)

I alternately see this referred to as an epic 1979 movie, a long two-parter with a third-part postscript, or three separate movies. I guess they were presented theatrically in different ways in different countries. The 2/1 split seems right to me, as I’ll explain.

Part one drops me into the middle of an election in March 1973, which I didn’t understand until towards the end of the movie. I wondered why nobody was saying Salvador Allende’s name – turns out it was a senate election, and either the pro-Allende party lost, or they just did not gain enough seats in congress to prevent the opposition from holding a majority. So for the rest of Allende’s short reign as president, the country’s senate is mostly against him, undermining his authority. Movie is on the street, taking opinions from everyone, kind of slow at the start since I don’t know what’s happening, but excitement is in the air, and things straighten out soon enough. Cameraman is terrific, patient but curious, always looking for the best thing to shoot even if it means wandering off the person talking. I can’t believe the sound guy can keep up with him, but he does.

Salvador Allende:
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A politician:
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Part two picks up right where the first one ends, with an attempted military coup on June 29 1973, and part two ends Sept. 11 1973 with the successful coup that killed Allende and instated General Pinochet as ruler. In between those dates, Guzmán covers everything that happens in the whole country, it seems, with access to the marches, the debates, worker meetings, everything but the secretive military that turns against its country (with help and provocation, it turns out, from the U.S. government). This is by far my favorite of the three parts, and could easily work as a standalone movie… I see the Film Forum in NYC thought so as well. The events themselves, a democratic country swerving communist then falling military-dictatorship, is the best movie material you could hope for and Guzmán and his crew make the best of it, watching from ground zero as history is made, producing one of the best docs I’ve ever seen.

Military man who shot and killed Argentine cameraman Leonard Hendrickson at the end of part one:
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Salvador Allende, file photo:
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Bombing of the presidential palace:
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Pinochet addressing the nation on TV:
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Military rule:
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Pinochet: “After three years of support for the Marxist cancer we have been given a disaster that is economic, moral and social, that could not continue to be tolerated by the sacred interests of the mother country.” (or something like that – I think it’s all amateur-translated)

Guzmán: “From the 11th of September, all resources of the Chilean army are mobilized to repress the popular movement with the compacency of the North American government. The first armed resistance offered by some industrial cords, agricultural populations and student centers are squashed quickly in unequal fight. Thousands of people are killed and the main sport fields become concentration camps. The longest democracy in the history of Latin America ceases to exist.”

I don’t exactly wish I’d skipped part 3, but it would’ve made a nice recap six months later instead of watching it right after 1 and 2. Filmmaking in Chile wasn’t easy during Pinochet’s rule, since Pinochet was killing and imprisoning everyone who disagreed with him, including the cameraman of Battle of Chile (to whom the completed work was dedicated), so Guzmán backs up and shows further details of the workers’ movements during Allende’s presidency, not again mentioning Pinochet or the violence. The many worker meetings and the creation of multi-factory blocs and the attempted attack on Allende’s credibility by the “Christian Democrats” (his primary opposition) via a U.S.-funded transportation strike had all been covered in the previous films, but now we see them in greater depth… “depth” meaning lots of guys with sideburns talking into microphones at meetings. Since I’m not personally interested in creating a communist worker’s paradise in my own neighborhood, part three wasn’t of much use to me, but I’ll bet it’s exactly what Chris Marker was hoping for when he helped fund Guzmán’s efforts to document what was happening in the country. Marker’s own angry reaction to the coup is documented in his short Embassy, which I’ll have to watch again now that it’s on a new, clean DVD.

The transportation strike:
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The people:
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The sideburns:
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The revolution:
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The Major and the Minor (1942, Billy Wilder)

What a wonderful coincidence that I watch You’re Never Too Young, and then find out the next day that the film it remade is on Turner Classic.

Robert Osbourne introduced as a screwball comedy, but the only thing screwball here is the premise. Movie is played as a straight, semi-romantic comedy. Same story as the Lewis flick but minus the jewel thief and with a sex reversal (and predictably there’s no equivalent to the Dean Martin character). So Ginger Rogers is the scalp-massager lured to an apartment under a false premise which gets her to leave town and have to pose as a kid to afford a ticket. She hides out in Ray Milland’s room, same thunderstorm and morning discovery scene, then has to keep up the ruse so Ray won’t get in trouble and kicked out of the military. Again, a happy ending with Ray getting his wish to be sent on active duty (makes more sense in the nationalistic war-ragin’ 40’s than in the 1955 remake) and happening to meet a finally-acting-her-own-age Ginger on the train platform (where she gives him a Katy-disapproved line about how all some girls want is a letter from their husbands-abroad every couple weeks).

Cute movie, with some major Creepiness Issues (Ginger cuddling up to Ray, wanting him while pretending to be a little girl and calling him “uncle”). Not the madcap funhouse of the remake, though… no Dean songs (they’re not missed) or speedboat chases, choral performances or marching band shenanigans. Turning the all-girls school into a military academy surprisingly doesn’t change much. Some scenes are very similar, like the long-distance call at the phone switchboard (though Jerry ups the humor with his nutty dancing and a voice-dubbing stunt). I’m sure there’s some auteurist reason why I should prefer the original to the remake, but sorry, I sorta don’t.

This came out a full decade before Ginger Rogers had a lot more fun playing a little girl in Monkey Business (another movie comparison which does this film no favors), and TWO decades before Ray Milland acquired his X-RAY EYES. Back in the 40’s he was cast not for the x-ray eyes but because he is an effective leading man, and an exact cross between Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. Wilder sez: “I wrote the part of the major for Cary Grant. I always wanted him in one of my pictures, but it never worked out.”

15-year-old little Lucy would grow up to play the love interest in the remake. Ray’s meddling fiancee (and Lucy’s big sister) was Rita Johnson (The Big Clock, Here Comes Mr. Jordan). The strict colonel (Lucy’s father) was Edward Fielding, who managed to portray military men, doctors, ministers and shopkeepers in over 70 films in the 1940’s despite a fatal heart attack halfway through the decade. Ginger Rogers’ mom, in her only screen appearance, played Ginger Rogers’ mom. Guy who gets a scalp massage at the beginning was Robert Benchley, the Jaws author’s grandfather. The young high-school age kids were actually 22, 21 and 16 (x2). That’s more accurate casting than the remake managed to get. The one familiar-looking boy had played Rudy in Shop Around The Corner, the kid the shop owner takes out for Christmas dinner in the final scene.

And what do I know about Billy Wilder? Not very much! Just enough to see plot parallels between this and Some Like It Hot. Saw none of the cynicism for which he’s known, but Wilder explains: “I was very careful. I set out to make a commercial picture I wouldn’t be ashamed of, so my first picture as a director wouldn’t be my last.”

Internet says the screenwriter invented the bad pickup line “Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?”.

Red Angel (1966, Yasuzo Masumura)

An ugly, gray horrors-of-war movie. The twist here is that instead of simply running through all the reasons why war is hell, this one brings sex into the picture – not just the usual love and desire stuff, but a variety of situations dealing with sexual need during wartime.

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Our titular heroine (Nishi) is a nurse in an army hospital in 1939 during Japan’s war with China. She spends some of her time at a base hospital where men with illnesses and minor injuries rest up before they are sent home or back into combat, and the rest of her time at an understaffed camp hospital at the front dealing with a constant flow of critically wounded men, fatalities and amputations. She is raped by a soldier who is sent back into combat to his death as punishment. She sexually services a man who lost both arms and can’t take care of himself anymore (but he commits suicide soon afterwards). Then she ends up at the front in love with a morphine-addicted surgeon, in a platoon where the local “comfort women” are spreading cholera to the troops, but the troops keep visiting them anyway. Mishi manages to get Dr. Okagi off the morphine so he can make love to her, but the place is destroyed in a Chinese raid a few hours later, everyone killed but Nishi. She finds Okagi’s body on the ground. The end!

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A pretty interesting movie, definitely not the kind of war film I’ve seen before. Compassionate, but also somewhat hopeless given the surroundings and situations. I liked it, but can’t say I’m itching to watch it again.

Nishi is played by Ayako Wakao, who starred in a bunch of Masumura’s films (Seisaku’s Wife, Manji, A Wife Confesses, A False Student, Afraid To Die) as well as Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame (played the money-lending girl who opens her own shop at the end) and A Geisha, Ozu’s Floating Weeds, and Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge. Dr. Okagi appeared in Suzuki’s Underworld Beauty. And the armless guy starred in Oshima’s Naked Youth.

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J. Rosenbaum:
“Roughly contemporary with M*A*S*H (as in Altman’s film, scenes of war-front surgery provide a corollary to Vietnam), it sometimes suggests a less comic treatment of the same theme–how to preserve one’s humanity amid impossible circumstances–but its ethics are considerably more developed.”

J. Sharp for Midnight Eye:

Made for Daiei Studios, Masumura’s stark wartime drama, an adaptation of a novel by Arima Yorichika, is one of the handful of films made in the mid 60s dealing with the personal experiences of those involved in the war, including the same director’s previous Hoodlum Soldier (Heitai Yakuza, 1965) and Seijun Suzuki’s Story of a Prostitute (Shunpuden, 1966). Both Masumura and Suzuki had been active towards the end of the war, and both used their experience to examine the conflicts and interpersonal dramas that arose on the frontline in order to question such concepts as duty and loyalty to their country. To this end both directors approach their subject using strong female protagonists whose role in the war is often forgotten, with Story of a Prostitute focusing on a group of prostitutes sent out to the frontline to service the soldiers, and Red Angel almost making analogous use of the nurses (although Masumura’s film does feature a group of prostitutes and takes pains to point out that the nurses duty is not the same as theirs!) In a world gone mad it is these female characters who provide the only source of stability and comfort, even morality, whilst the shell-shocked, emasculated walking wounded dream of returning home to their families.

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Histoire(s) du Cinema (1988-1998, Jean-Luc Godard)

This will be one to watch again when I know more French, or just when I’ve lived longer.


Chapter 1(a), “Toutes les histoires” (“All the (Hi)stories”)

Dedicated to Mary Meerson (Langlois’s companion who helped run the Cinematheque) and Monica Tegelaar (producer of Raoul Ruiz’s On Top of the Whale).

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IMDB says parts one and two came out in the late 80’s, and the rest followed in the late 90’s. This one seemed more like a 50-minute trailer than an episode. Montage of archive footage, still and moving, edited and faded and superimposed and blended together. The footage includes scenes from films of course (rules of the game, great dictator, day of wrath, germany year zero) but lots of stills (producers, directors, Thalberg, Hughes) and paintings. Lots of focus on World War II, and ending with that Germany Year Zero segment, the whole thing came off as vaguely depressing. Maybe that’s why it took ten years to get the rest of the episodes made?

Three images overlapped: (1) Rita Hayworth dancing, (2) a drawing of Howard Hughes in his final days, (3) the witch-burning scene in Day of Wrath.


Chapter 1(b), “Une Histoire seule” (“A Single (Hi)story”)

Dedicated to John Cassavetes and Glauber Rocha (Brazilian director of Black God, White Devil).

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Surprising number of references to Godard’s own films. Tons and tons of stuff I am not getting because I don’t know much French (I pick up half the film titles and some of the short sayings printed onscreen) or art history, and haven’t seen most of the films. Should’ve known better than to think part two would be more straightforward or make more sense. Even if I don’t know what it’s saying, I still get interesting juxtapositions of images and nice shots from great films seen and unseen, which is enough to keep me watching. Sounded like I heard some Leonard Cohen and Neil Diamond.


Chapter 2(a), “Seule le cinema” (“Only Cinema”)

Dedicated to Armand J. Cauliez (a writer, published a book on Jacques Tati) and Santiago Alvarez (Cuban filmmaker).

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Fast-forward a decade. Same ol’ thing here, but two big changes:

(1) Not just montage of pre-existing footage edited with Godard in his study anymore. An actual actor, Julie Delpy, reading poetry. Also an interview with Godard by another guy (couldn’t be Serge Daney – he died in ’92), 90% untranslated.

(2) Me getting a little tired and pondering making my own historie(s) of cinema instead


Chapter 2(b), “Fatale beauté” (“Deadly Beauty”)

Dedicated to Michele Firk (film writer turned militant radical, killed herself in Guatemala to escape arrest) and Nicole Ladmiral (actress in Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest).

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Sabine Azema (above) recits some poetry, much of it untranslated. Godard types at his typewriter some more. I listened in the headphones and a background noise (JLG’s pet bird?) frightened me. Something about photography being invented in black and white as the colors of mourning to note the death of reality. And something about women, and murder, and Band of Outsiders and Rancho Notorious and Gone With The Wind. Good to see that Godard appreciates Tom Waits.


Chapter 3(a), “La Monnaie de l’absolu” (“The Coin of the Absolute”)

Dedicated to Gianni Amico (Italian filmmaker, assistant director on Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution and Godard’s Le Vent d’est & James Agee (film writer, champion of Chaplin’s Monseiur Verdoux, writer of Night of the Hunter and The African Queen)

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or part 3A, the war and futility episode. WWII talk leads into an appreciation of Italian Neorealism and the most clearly presented introduction to a certain aspect of cinema and history thus far in the series. Says that Italian cinema in the 40’s and 50’s changed film like Manet (the godfather of modern art) changed painting. Closes with a nice montage of Italian film (minus too much onscreen block text and crazed fade transitions) set to a Richard Cocciante song. This episode has a clear point and meaning and narrative arc and supporting arguments… I don’t understand. Maybe the others have too, and I’ve been missing it. Juliette Binoche appears with Alain Cuny (of Les Amants and La Dolce Vita), who died in 1994, four years before this episode aired. Julie Delpy looked mighty young in her segment too – maybe all this footage was shot in the 80’s and not finished editing until ten years later.


Chapter 3(b), “Une Vague Nouvelle” (“A New Wave”)

Dedicated to Frederic C. Froeschel (head of a cine-club in Paris, 1950) and Naum Kleiman (Russian film critic, director of the Moscow Film Museum).

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“Becker, Rossellini, Melville, Franju, Jacques Demy, Truffaut. You knew them.”
“Yes, they were my friends.”

A personal episode, sometimes celebratory but more usually melancholy. Godard himself is the guest speaker this time, but he’s actually into it, not just distractedly reciting behind his typewriter. These things never quite seem to begin, the opening titles still playing when the episode is half over. Some 400 Blows, some Henri Langlois, more goings-on about the death of cinema. What, is video the new art form?


Chapter 4(a), “Le Côntrole de l’univers” (“The Control of the Universe”)

Dedicated to Michel Delahaye (actor in Out 1, Alphaville, plenty more) and Jean Domarchi (1950’s, 60’s Cahiers critic, had a bit part in Breathless).

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Another really good one. Probably not coincidentally, all the voiceover on this one is translated, so I was able to understand it. Lots of voiceover – it’s getting to be more of an essay lately and less of a purely visual slideshow. Still plenty of that dull video text, white-on-black block lettering. The thing always drags a little when JLG decides to move those words around the screen for thirty seconds before returning to the film clips. When there were clips, it seems half of them were by Hitchcock, “our century’s greatest creator of forms.”


Chapter 4(b), “Les Signes parmi nous” (“The Signs Among Us”)

Dedicated to Anne-Marie Miéville (one of Godard’s collaborators since 1976) and to Godard himself.

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I hope nobody stumbles across this entry hoping to learn about the film, because I really doubt I understood most of it. More more more war images in this section (have I mentioned that the film is obsessed with WWII?) and more ponderings on love, death, art, history, man, the state, and Charlie Chaplin. And it seems to me that Godard is terribly depressed. Anyway, here’s a good bit of the voiceover from the last eight minutes:

I need a day to tell the history of a second…
I need an eternity to tell the history of a day.

We can do everything except the history of what we are doing. It is my privilege to film and live in France as an artist. Nothing like a country that every day walks further down the path of its own inexorable decline.

I am the fugitive enemy of our times. The totalitarianism of the present as applied mechanically every day more oppressive on a planetary scale. This faceless tyranny that effaces all faces for the systematic organization of the unified time of the moment. This global, abstract tyranny which I try to oppose from my fleeting point of view. Because I try, because I try in my compositions to show an ear that listens to time. And try to make it heard and to surge into the future.

The only thing that survives from one epoch is the art from it created. No activity can become an art until its proper epoch has ended. Then, this art will disappear. Thus, the art of the 19th century – cinema – made the 20th century exist, which barely existed.

Cinema feared nothing of others or of itself. It wasn’t sheltered from time. It was the shelter of time. Yes, image is happiness. But beside it dwells nothingness. The power of the image is expressed only by invoking nothingness. It is perhaps worth adding: The image, able to negate nothingness, is also the gaze of nothingness on us. The image is light. Nothingness, immensely heavy. The image gleams. Nothingness is that thickness where all is veiled. The most fleeting moments possess an illustrious past. If a man passed through paradise in his dreams and received a flower as proof of passage, and on waking, found this flower in his hand… What is there to say? I was that man.

Thought I’d watch the Cannes 1988 press conference, but after the first three minutes (“video artist” Godard passionately attacking television) it all turns French.

From a belatedly-discovered interview between JLG and J. Rosenbaum:

JR: Yes, but it also isn’t legally acknowledged that films and videos can be criticism.
JLG: It’s the only thing video can be — and should be.

With that strong distinction between film and video, it occurs to me that JLG considers Histoire(s) as being about cinema but not being a work of cinema itself. I watch Breathless on my TV and say I’ve seen one Godard movie, then I watch Histoire(s) on my TV and say I’ve seen two Godard movies. JLG should like to smack me for such a thought.