Things You Need to Know About Le Mépris


Le Mepris Poster Brigitte Bardot Jean-Luc Godard[BLOG IN PROGRESS. I started this post hoping it might be of benefit to my students. As much as I love the film, I know it can be off-putting to non-film specialists, and to plenty of other people unfamiliar with Jean-Luc Godard‘s style of filmmaking. I intend it to be an ongoing post, and will add to it periodically, so if you have any thoughts about the film, or anything you think that viewers need to know about Le Mépris in order to get maximum interest from it, leave a comment below with your ideas and suggestions.]

In summary, it’s part domestic drama, in which a man tries to find out why his wife no longer loves him, and part meta-cinematic backstage dramatisation of the adaptation process, in which that man struggles with his job as a screenwriter on an American film of Homer‘s Odyssey. Filmed as the Hollywood studio system collapsed, Le Mépris is a meditation on the relationship between art and life, film and reality.
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Fragment #27: Mae West & Charlie McCarthy Redux


Last year, I posted a fragment (#4) featuring transcribed dialogue from a saucy exchange between Mae West and Charlie McCarthy. Now, thanks to my current penchant for messing about with iMovie’s editing software, I can give you the audio of their talk with some accompanying photographs, my first attempt at this kind of thing. This is a supplement to the short Bergen and McCarthy film, Nut Guilty, that I posted yesterday. Here’s the explanatory text from my earlier post:

On 12 December 1937, Mae West appeared on the Chase and Sanborn Hour with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his monocled knee-pal (dummy), Charlie McCarthy. [You can hear the whole broadcast here.] Stars of stage and screen and airwaves, Bergen and McCarthy had a huge following, and West was keen to promote her latest film, Every Day’s a Holiday. She appeared in two sketches, including “The Garden of Eden” with Don Ameche, and a flirtatious banter with McCarthy. The announcer introduces the meeting as “the romantic battle of the century”, a contest of seduction which the dummy might just prove strong enough to resist. There follows a blistering back-and-forth, during which West describes Charlie as “all wood and a yard long”. This was too much for many listeners (though the studio audience found it hilarious), especially on a Sunday, and the Federal Communications Commission deemed it indecent. NBC banned West (you couldn’t even mention her name) from all their radio stations. She didn’t appear on radio until January 1950.

Air Doll


There is no reason why an inflatable sex doll spontaneously comes to life at the beginning of Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Air Doll. It just seems to happen, and thus begins a tale of a toy’s explorations of human life and interaction. Maybe it happens because her owner, a lonely, introverted Tokyo salaryman, has invested so much energy in believing her to be a real partner that she is given agency: when we first see them together, they are having dinner, him telling her the gossip from the office while she “listens” passively. She shows the same composure throughout their subsequent one-sided sexual encounter:

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Picture of the Week #35: Sixty Sexy Movie Posters


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If ever there was a post that was self-explanatory, it’s this one. I’ve tried to select a few orthodox images amongst the less well-known films and posters, all linked by the ways they use sexual imagery to sell films even when sexuality may only be a small component of the films themselves. View as a slideshow above, or scroll down and click on the thumbnails for a larger view.

[See more of my galleries here.]

Fragment #4: Mae West and Charlie McCarthy


On 12 December 1937, Mae West appeared on the Chase and Sanborn Hour with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his monocled knee-pal (dummy), Charlie McCarthy. [You can hear the whole broadcast here.] Stars of stage and screen and airwaves, Bergen and McCarthy had a huge following, and West was keen to promote her latest film, Every Day’s a Holiday. She appeared in two sketches, including “The Garden of Eden” with Don Ameche, and a flirtatious banter with McCarthy. The announcer introduces the meeting as “the romantic battle of the century”, a contest of seduction which the dummy might just prove strong enough to resist. There follows a blistering back-and-forth, during which West describes Charlie as “all wood and a yard long”. This was too much for many listeners (though the studio audience found it hilarious), especially on a Sunday, and the Federal Communications Commission deemed it indecent. NBC banned West (you couldn’t even mention her name) from all their radio stations. She didn’t appear on radio until January 1950. Here’s a transcript of some of the offending dialogue. Watch out for those splinters:

Charlie: Could you even like Mr. Bergen?
Mae : Ah, Mr. Bergen. He’s very sweet. In fact, he’s a right guy. Confidentially, you’ll have to show me a man I don’t like.
Charlie : That’s swell! Bergen’s your man. You know, he can be had.
Mae : On second thought, I’m liable to take him away from you.
Charlie : Well, if you take Bergen away, I’m speechless.
Mae : Why don’t you come up … uh, home with me now, honey? I’ll let you play in my woodpile.
Charlie : Well, I’m not feeling very well tonight. I’ve been feeling very nervous lately. I think I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown. Whoop! There I go.
Mae : So, good-time Charlie’s gonna play hard to get? Well, you can’t kid me. You’re afraid of women. Your Casanova stuff is just a front, a false front.
Charlie : Not so loud, Mae, not so loud! All my girlfriends are listening.
Mae : Oh, yeah! You’re all wood and a yard long.
Charlie : Yeah.
Mae : You weren’t so nervous and backward when you came up to see me at my apartment. In fact, you didn’t need any encouragement to kiss me.
Charlie : Did I do that?
Mae : Why, you certainly did. I got marks to prove it. An’ splinters, too.

Lars von Trier’s Antichrist: Build Your Own Review


It’s a horror film. It’s a battle-of-the-sexes drama. It’s a cabin-in-the-woods supernatural thriller. It’s shocking, controversial, provocative, explicit etc. Lars von Trier is just messing with you. Don’t get so worked up. He likes to poke (figurative) wild animals with (metaphorical) sticks to see what bites. Of course, the sense that he’s provoking his audiences shouldn’t be an excuse to dismiss his movies out of hand – they clearly get a lot of attention, and so he must be pushing just the right combination of buttons to incite so much reaction. Since the film so deftly elicits a set of stock reactions, I thought I’d withhold my own thoughts on the film and instead invite you to build your own review to the film based on the multiple choices below. Save yourself some time, and your knees some jerking, and select your responses in each of the categories most commonly used to talk about Antichrist:

Read on…

Picture of the Week #4: Eyes Wide Shut


Eyes Wide Shut Censored version [Click to Uncensor]

[Click on the image to uncensor it, i.e. to see it as it was originally intended, but beware the naughtiness within…]

OK, adults only for this one. Spectacular Attractions is usually a family show, but this is a different kind of Friday. Here, go and look at Pinocchio, or possibly the Muppets.

A frame grab from Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick died shortly after completing the film, having promised to deliver an R-rated movie (apparently, he watched a bunch of Hollywood’s more sexually explicit films in order to gauge what would be considered acceptable to receive such a rating). The sequence in which Tom Cruise visits a masked orgy was considered to be NC-17 territory, a rating which ostensibly marks something out as unsuitable for children, but which actually decreases its chances at the box office, rejection by self-righteous finger-waggers and unwarranted controversy from a wide variety of spoilsports. However, although MGM surely would have just snipped out the relevant glimpses of humping, they found themselves hidebound by their commitment not to re-edit or cut a frame of Kubrick’s footage. What to do? The simple answer would be to suck it down and release the film unadjusted, take the reduced box office safe in the knowledge that you hadn’t compromised the artistic vision of a man on whose name you’d been happily trading for years. Alternatively, you could take some digital people and graft them onto the film to cover up those dangerous bits of flesh. Very clever – loyal to the exact wording of their commitment to Kubrick, but actually snuffing out the spirit of it in one quick application of polygons. The result can be seen in the image above.

Barbara Creed saw this as an advance notice of the coming age of the synthespian, when human actors would routinely be replaced by digital substitutes. She suggested that as they took over, we might have to change the way we relate to people onscreen, since the virtual actor would have no Unconscious, and thus not be “subject to the same experience as the living star, experiences such as mothering, Oedipal anxiety, hunger, loss, ecstasy, desire, death.” But then, she also predicted that porn stars, already artificially augmented beyond the realms of realism, could be doubled by virtual actors. It all sounded a bit William Gibson to me, and this week’s picture instead made it look as though digital people were just going to show up in films where they weren’t wanted and spoil everyone else’s view.

The Sign of the Cross: The Devil has all the Best Tunics


Poster - Sign of the Cross, The (1932)_07A slideshow of images from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1932 epic of persecuted Christians in ancient Rome. I’ve been testing out the compatibility of the various pieces of my online “presence”, e.g. Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and all those other bits and pieces that should make online life more coherent rather more fragmented. These slideshows allow me to include more images to illustrate a film text when a single still image just doesn’t make the intended point. By uploading frame grabs to Flickr, I can then use another website, Vodpod, to automatically generate a slideshow that I can embed in a WordPress post. It sounds complicated, but once you get the hang of co-ordinating the various sites, it’s pretty quick and easy. Let me know, though, if you don’t like the new approach. You can see more of these pictures, with labels, download them or enlarge them by following this link, or click on the slideshow to watch them in sequence. You can fast forward, pause or enlarge to fullscreen:

more about “The Sign of the Cross: The Devil has …“, posted with vodpod

OK, so I’m really just testing out a little gadget, but hopefully you’ll enjoy the contents of the slideshow, too. It’s a real cavalcade of debauchery from DeMille, for whom the best way to illustrate the importance of virtue was to catalogue a veritable spaghetti of sins. The question will always linger that maybe the Biblical advocacy on its surface was really just a disguise that allowed him to draw the crowds to a sensational parade of violent erotica. There would certainly seem to be more flesh and blood and show than is absolutely necessary, and a worryingly imaginative commitment to the full range of naughtinesses, whether it’s the titillating spectacle of Claudette Colbert, almost revealing all in the asses-milk bath sequence, Elissa Landi being tormented for her virtue at a lascivious Roman orgy, or the elaborate execution methods in the Colisseum: nearly-nude women attacked by crocodiles or a gorilla, Amazons impaling/decapitating pygmies, lions eating Christians etc., etc.

Rather than try to resolve the issue of DeMille’s sincerity, I instead see the film illustrating the ambiguities and intricacies of spectatorial positions in cinema studies. Surely DeMille has given us a vision of a dangerously seductive world and shown the fate of some of its victims (the Christians), persecuted for their passive resistance to Roman reiligious prohibitions. It is then up to the viewer whether or not to disregard its righteous message and revel in the rush of disgraceful scenes: DeMille shoots all of them with the same ecstatic overflow of style that he uses for his enlightened martyrs. Whatever the sincerity of DeMille’s Christian mission, he seems to embrace the commoditisation of epic cinema, and its use value as a vessel for  religious messages; there is little division between the raptures induced by communion with either divinity or spectacle and illusion.

Tarzan the Ape Man and his Mate


Tarzan-1932-poster[This post refers to the first two Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films, Tarzan the Ape Man (W.S. Van Dyke, 1932) and Tarzan and his Mate (Cedric Gibbons, 1934)]

Having just read James Lever’s mock autobiography of Cheeta the chimpanzee (which is far funnier and more moving than the skinny concept might lead you to expect), I was sent scurrying back on my knuckles to the original Johnny Weissmuller films. As far as my memory banks are telling me, these were on BBC 2 at 6pm every single night for about five years, when I was a kid, but I might have exaggerated that in my head.  I also remember Bagpuss lasting forever, instead of its actual 13 episodes, and that gaps in the TV schedule were to be filled only with Laurel & Hardy or Harold Lloyd I also can’t remember whether, as a (very) young lad I wanted to be Tarzan, or to be a member of his makeshift jungle family. I might even have seen myself in Cheeta. This pondering was perhaps prompted by a recent rediscovery of Hammer’s She, which made me want to revisit some of the films and TV that left a strong impression on my developing headspace as a child. films.

Coming from the “pre-code” period in Hollywood, a window of frisky abandon when the censorious Production Code had been drawn up but not yet rigorously enforced, the Tarzan films are a lot naughtier than I remember. In an early scene of Tarzan the Ape Man, Jane undresses and washes in front of her father, teasing him for being shocked: she is, after all, his little girl, and he’s seen her in states of undress before. Of course, she’s grown into a woman since he last saw her, and she seems oblivious to her adult sexuality. That’s a good excuse, at least, for her to lean into the camera, blithely delivering the kind of cleavage shot that would be snipped out of later films:

more about “Tarzan the Ape Man: Jane Parker & her…“, posted with vodpod

It’s nothing, though, compared to the brazenness of a swimming scene from Tarzan and his Mate, which was cut out of the film’s original release, and only restored once it hit the home video market 60 years later. By the time of the sequel, Tarzan and Jane have settled into a kind of domestic bliss. Over the course of many sequels they will build up a recreation of a family home on the jungle escarpment, but in this second film they’ll still in a honeymoon period. When Jane falls from a tree branch, she snags the dress she’s been given by an English suitor trying to tempt her back to civilisation with fine clothes, “accidentally” leaving her completely undressed for a bit of impromptu skinny-dipping:

more about “Tarzan and his Mate: Swimming Scene“, posted with vodpod

Actually, though Johnny Weissmuller, a former Olympian is doing his own swimming, Maureen O’Sulllivan is doubled by Josephine McKim, another Olympic swimmer. The sequence succinctly points to Tarzan and Jane’s idyllic separation from the outside world, a brief look at their ease in their jungle home before some more white guys arrive to screw it all up, but whatever its artistic merits, it was deemed too strong for the censors.

Poster - Tarzan and His MateLooking at these films again, it’s impossible to avoid the colonialist themes that are so prominently displayed within them. It would be easy to bash the films for their insensitive handling of African American actors (who are given roles no juicier than expendable dogsbody or pliant messenger) and  their native African characters (who are killed off with indiscriminate ease and patronised as window-dressing to the films’ safari aesthetic). It’s certainly true that the films condemn the destructive hubris of white traders mishandling the local culture (the first two films in the series hinge upon a hunt for the elephants’ graveyard, a sacred place for Tarzan’s friends, but an ivory-rich treasure stash for the traders), but Africa is still portrayed as an irresolvably deadly place of unchecked savagery and unpredictable violence. But you don’t even need to analyse the plots of these films. The polite but arms-length skirting around issues of race can be observed in the formal constitution of an early scene in which new arrival Jane Parker (Maureen O’Sullivan) is given a tour of her father’s African outpost:

more about “Tarzan the Ape Man – Jane’s tour“, posted with vodpod

You can see that, what looks like an innocent, slightly patronising look at the locals actually indicates a vast ethnic divide thanks to the use of rear projection, delegating the authentic location duties to a second unit team, perhaps even using stock footage. I’m not sure whether this is better (the background plates seem to have actually been shot in Africa) or worse than the blackface in something like King Kong, which was released the following year. Whatever their narrative posturings about the need to respect the African wildlife (with no illusions about its eagerness to bite your face off), the Tarzan films are still really a drawn out discussion of the suitability of the jungle for habitation by white people, and as such, it falls back on an easy binary of civilised vs savage. But at least it does it with considerable energy, and a surprisingly striking visual style. It’s not surprising this stuff stuck in my mind. The films use a beautiful soft-focus vignetting effect for some shots, which may be to make the jungle seem denser than the woods around Los Angeles where it was actually shot, but it also adds a dreamy mist to the whole place, marking it out as a zone of fantasy:

Tarzan the Ape Man Vignette

If Tarzan’s jungle was an attractive place, it was always a dangerous one. More than anything, I remember the Tarzan jungles as a place of vertiginous cliffs and dangerous waters. Every visit to the escarpment was a tense negotiation of rocks that could throw you off at any second. I’m sure I had many dreams of falling as a result of watching this stuff:

Tarzan the Ape Man

Even as a kid, I remember Tarzan’s crocodile wrestling as a predictable, comically shoddy insert in which he rolls over on top of a plastic prop for a couple of minutes before finally stabbing it in the head. But, at least in this early version from Tarzan and his Mate, it’s a superbly realised sequence, with an unnaturally huge beast, superb puppetry and atmospheric underwater photography that mirrors the earlier swimming scene, a nightmarish flipside to the jungle dream:

Two or Three Things I Reckon


It had been a while since I’d seen Jean-Luc Godard‘s Two or Three Things I Know About Her. Many years ago, before I knew that I wanted to be a fusty old patches-on-elbows-of-tweed-jacket academic (I’m still getting there…), I made a conscious effort to educate myself in the history of cinema. This involved raiding the video collections of Birkenhead Central Library on my way home from work. Their holdings were quite limited, but there was enough to start building up my interest, and I could pick up a few books if I needed a primer on what I was seeing. Lacking a proper education in film studies, I had to seek out film-makers whose reputation was pretty much sealed. It took a while before my own whims and interests could lead me into more obscure corners and develop my own tastes (I’m sure I’m not unusual in that sense). One of the first directors whose ouevre I worked through was Jean-Luc Godard, whose films can be an intimidating starting point. I didn’t catch a lot of the names he dropped, and the sheer volume of work threatened to overwhelm with their radical shifts in tone, style, pace and aesthetic syntax: just when you think you know what to expect from Godard, he decides to try something else instead. On the other hand, he’s an excellent, instructive place to start breaking down preconceptions about what cinema can and should be, since Godard himself is constantly asking himself about the nature of cinema, always monitoring and commenting upon his own process as it develops. And like a good maths student, Godard always shows his working. I offer here my thoughts on the film, sustained by excerpts from some useful writings on the subject from others.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her is one of the trickier ones from Godard’s astonishing run of great films of the 1960s. It’s tricky because it mostly eschews narrative and character exploration (A Bout de Souffle, Vivre sa Vie, Une Femme est une Femme, Bande a Part, Les Carabiniers, Le Mepris and Pierrot le Fou all have much more in the way of linear development and emotive performances, even if they are never conventional in going about it) to focus on politics, language and social stasis. Ostensibly, it follows a housewife-prostitute through her daily routine, interjecting interviews with other women who cross her path, and cutting away to shots of the construction of the Périphérique, a giant ring road that encircled and thus defined what we know think of as central Paris. Katherine Shonfeld explains its significance:

“This road deliberately isolated the sites of working-class occupation in the suburbs in a bid to sanitise the city centre, partly in response to the riots against the Algerian War of the early 1960s. As in previous attempts, the imposition of an excluding line appeared to acerbate the ferment it was intended to suppress. The newly built housing adjacent to the Périphérique, is the setting for Godard’s film.” (p.112)

Douglas Morrey has called it “a film about knowledge, about the necessary uncertainty that inhabits knowledge, about the difficulty of knowing.” (p.61) It incorporates Godard’s abiding interest in prostitution as a metaphor for the cornering of women into positions of exploitation. But if Nana (Anna Karina) in Vivre sa Vie was a tragic heroine struggling to define herself and break out of the cycle of degradation into which she finds herself falling, then Juliette Janson (Marina Vlady) is already resigned to her position, fully subsumed by the system, despite her intellectual resistance through existentialising whenever the opportunity presents itself. As Yosefa Loshitzky has noted:

“A unique aspect of Two or Three Things is its deromanticisation of prostitution (as opposed to Vivre sa Vie, for example). Prostitution is dislocated from its natural environment (the street or the brothel) to the domestic sphere, the reign of the family and domestic sex. Thus, the tension between ordinary (familial) sex and ‘other’ sex (extra-familial, forbidden) is blurred. Juliette, the domestic/suburban prostitute, the new protagonist of consumer society, is fully aware of her submissive function in this society. Yet she does not have the courage (as does Godard’s later feminist heroine, Jane Fonda in Tout va Bien) either to criticise or to rebel against a whole system that encourages prostitution and consumerism.” (p.145)

Shonfeld also notes, in her comparison of the film with Zola’s Nana, that Godard’s heroine “behaves in spite of her own individuality, and directly enacts the social and economic structures which define her.” But the metaphor of prostitution extends beyond women, as Godard explained at the time of the film’s release, in an interview extract reprinted in the handy booklet that accompanies the Nouveaux Pictures Region 2 DVD:

“An article which appeared in thhe Nouvel Observateur relates to a deep-rooted idea of mine. The idea that in order to live in Parisian society today, one is forced, on whatever level, on whatever scale, to commit an act of prostitution in one way or another, or to live according to the rules that govern prostitution.”

Colin McCabe adds that Two or Three… is a film in which “there is no division between legal and illegal money and in which prostitution is no longer opposed to legal ways of earning money … but becomes the exemplary relation to money in our society.” (p.38)

So, Godard argues, we are all forced to prostitute ourselves in order to fit into the structures of society. This idea permeates Godard’s work, whether it is in the form of a film-maker compromising his art, and the respect of his wife, for the sake of a Hollywood paycheque in Le Mepris, or the enactment of a production-line, hierarchical clusterfuck in Sauve qui Peut la Vie (please don’t make me explain that one…). In Two or Three…, this subjection is formalised in several ways. In a scene in a coffee shop, Juliette overhears a conversation about American Imperialism (“they’re American shoes, for stomping on Vietnam and South America”), and immediately orders a Coke. Earlier, she interrupts her husband’s transistor radio session, from which he keeps up with news about the Vietnam war, with a question about stockings as she reads from a fashion magazine. Even as she can step back to observe her situation, expressing her sadness at one point over the fate of the Vietnamese, she is caught up in a world of cues, prompts, routines and conventions. Advertisements and clothes seem to exert a magnetic influence over the women in the film, and Godard gives great prominence to commercial images and logos – while his central characters agonise about communication and alienation, billboards ad magazine spreads are nonchalantly declaiming their wares in big, brutish letters and iconographic statements. Their communicative process is blunt and unambiguous.

The chunky colours of signs and words dropped into the image and the city gain their own graphic power and beauty as Godard makes them into strange bearers of messages and meanings, single entendres imprinted onto the landscape, and aim appears to be to make these images stand out as giant impositions and imperatives, pointing out the artifices of the “common sense” prompts that people so often forget to notice. As David Sterritt puts it:

“Godard accepts such conventions when they rescue the clear, productive reality of objects and images from the artificial signs and manufactures meanings that glut our contemporary world. Common sense becomes his enemy, however, when it lures us into uncritical acceptance of those signs and meanings. The eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of his work are a decades-long howl of protest against cinema that contents itself with reflecting instead of questioning the assumptions of the society around it.” (p.23)

Sterritt also describes Godard’s work in the late-60s and early 70s as a sort of “scorched-earth cinema”, designed to be so formally disruptive of convention that it could counteract the excesses of a consumption-plump Western society. This either results, depending on your perspective, in films that are distancing and uninvolving, or exhilaratingly unpredictable. In Two or Three…, Godard frequently attempts to puncture any immersion in the fiction: he introduces his leading character, Brecht-style, as both actress and character, and the direct-to-camera interviews are asides to the spectator that disrupt any accumulation of story to focus on everyday people. All of his interview subjects, apparently fed questions through an earpiece and improvising their responses, are attractive, stylish young women, suggesting that Godard is not particularly interested in a cross-sectioned, universal picture of a city under the thumb of consumerism, but instead sees women as singularly victimised.

His interviewees often look uncomfortable, eyes darting from side-to-side as if unsure whether or not they should make eye contact with the camera or stay “in character” as components of the diegesis. Godard doesn’t see this as a problem; he’s not hierarchising reality effects or seamless interweavings of fragments in his collage of images. These are moments where a sense of truthfulness flashes into view even as the posing makes it seem a little staged. Godard expresses anxiety about his own process of communication in his ongoing “director’s commentary”, a whispered voiceover that fusses over the most appropriate way to show something. Rather than imposing an auteur’s authoritative delivery onto the film (“it’s correct because I’m a genius”), he incorporates the process of shot selection into the film’s assemblage of scenes, techniques and styles. Again, I like Douglas Morrey’s description of this process:

“Thought emerges not as an ordered sequence, but as a chaotic jumble; it seems impossible to fix attention on one thought without another interrupting it. And this sense of chaos and interference constantly greets the spectator seeking knowledge through Godard’s film. Rather than present us with images, sounds and ideas that can be immediately recognised and assimilated to our pre-exisiting categories of understanding, Godard forces us to confront the difficulty of making sense of the world, the violence which accompanies the process of learning. Often Godard will cut into an image or a sound that is not instantly recognisable and presents us with a pure, unassimilable difference. Such is the case with the sudden, intensely loud bursts of construction noise, or the extreme close-up on the paintwork of Juliette’s red Mini as the light plays over it: this is not an image of a car, but of the pure difference of colour and light. […] Godard refuses an approach based in separation and negation, refuses to distinguish between that which is and is not suitable material for a film.” (p.68)

Colin McCabe also describes this very effectively:

“The importance of the film is that it abandons all attempts to give classical narrative determination to its protagonist, Juliette Janson (Marina Vlady), who engages in … part-time prostitution. Instead of an attempt to place her in narrative, Godard’s own voice on the sound-track poses the question of her position. But the sound-track has none of the dominance over the image that is associated with classic documentary. The opening shots of the film, which present Juliette Janson, make this clear. Whether regarded as fictional or real, Godard cannot identify the colour of her hair and he misdescribes her actions. Insofar as Juliette’s position in the film is determined, it is determined by the advertisements that constantly produce images for her. It is the relation between image and spectator, the articulation of the production and distribution of images, that are the focus of the film’s investigation and this entails the position of the spectator of the image, be it Godard or the cinemagoer, being immediately posed in the film itself.” (p.39)

Godard’s apparent anxiety about the inadequacies of language and the ambiguity of images leads to the problem of how best to shoot something, the documentarian’s quandary of how remove one’s partiality from the image and leave it untainted by idiosyncrasy. But I’m sure Godard was aware that, by holding that debate, by voicing that anxiety in full view of the spectators, he was making an idiosyncratic, personal film that editorialises and tells us a great deal about communication, and about the difficulty not just of expressing oneself but of being heard at all above the din when you live in a tenement block at the edge of a road built to cut you off from much of the city.

References:

  • Yosefa Loshitsky, The Radical Faces of Godard and Bertolucci. Wayne State UP, 1995.
  • Colin McCabe, Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics. BFI, 1980.
  • Douglas Morrey, Jean-Luc Godard. Manchester UP.
  • Katherine Shonfeld, Walls Have Feelings: Architecture, Film and the City. Routledge, 2000.
  • David Sterritt, The Films of Jean-Luc Godard. Cambridge UP, 1999.