Saturday, December 6, 2008

Week End

Godard's Week End sidesteps the conventional mode of filmmaking and narrative. It works slightly through what would be called the "road film." This road film is a little bit different from most road films in that it deconstructs the "genre" to the point of complete disjunction. The paranoiac and erratic journey takes the characters through a wide range of non sequiturs all connecting in that they follow a path, or a journey. The hodological device of the road allows us to move and sequence ourselves according to given paths and routes. We are told what lines to follow to get to a given destination. This is about speed. How do we conquer any given distance in a timely fashion? With technology. With speed. Moving is money. The film makes this apparent. It is a deconstruction of technological currency. Godard, however, shows both ends of the spectrum. When it comes to the cannibal community life is moved off-road, it is somewhere in the woods. Does this suggest that where there is no path there is danger? Perhaps. Or, it explores the idea that without paths there is a (potentially) dangerous autonomy. Without laws or morals, perhaps, there is an any-thing-goes tendency, which propels people into irrational behavior to the point of selfish and inhumane killing. For the cannibal community could easily have become an agrarian community. So why portray the outside, the off-road, as being cruel, brutal, and bloodthirsty? This is not de Sade's mechanical move through irrational sexual tendencies, but it does work to expose the same principle. We are creatures of morals, creatures of paths, a "civilized" society. Yet, perhaps, our behaviors are merely accidental; our moral grounding falls in and out, changes from space to space, changes from time to time, picks up and puts down new connections that fall in the categories "right" and "wrong". Godard makes these changes and the susceptibility/possibility for change quite clear. The diatribes from the garbage-men make these varying perspectives and moral incompossibilities of the world more apparent. These things do not "gel," and yet they tend to flow through culture, through our behaviors; to, again, quote from one of Lang's lines in Contempt "the illogical borrows from the logical." Things do not make much sense in our world and yet some how we rationalize all of these irrationalities. Perhaps I am taking this too far, but this seems to be precisely what Godard is hinting at, what he is saying without directly addressing it. He could go on a diatribe, a bit like I have (above), but that would merely confuse, it would only speak (with language/logic) of these issues; instead, he visualizes these discontinuities, he takes us out of our element in order to turn the mirror on us, as the subjects of this irrational behavior. Take Week End for a (filmic) "comic-strip" if you will; it is the comic strip which displays the hyperreality of everyday life, slices out a moment of life and displays its discontinuities and banalities in order to allow a moment for reflection, it is a morbid humor (without all the gore and violence, which Godard uses, but with good reason; to shock, to startle!).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

2 or 3 Things I know About Her

In the film 2 or 3 Things I know About Her Godard moves further into a critical and overtly political position. He reveals all the gruesome details about the commodities which have slowly dominated Western culture, more specifically in and around Paris. Take for instance the man who both watches the children and, at the same time, lends rooms to the prostitutes. He is paid in commodities: canned goods, beverages, foods, etc. Commodities have become the main circulatory source/force for Western culture. The city itself loses itself to the force of the image. Signs, as he shows, are "drowning reality" against the imagination. The garage shows how cars, these objects, have become little centers of our attention. We care for these objects as much as we would care for another individual. These commodities are our reality. Our encounter with the American goes one step further when he has the two women wear the bags, displaying corporate airline logos, over their heads. This moves us from becoming reliant upon these objects to us fetishizing these objects/signs/logos (these commodities/commodified-images themselves become the object of kind of prostitution). This also becomes clear when we peruse the clothing stores with Juliette. Godard, however, reverses this attack on the image, on the sign, when he displays the horrific images from the War in Vietnam. The power of the image can allow us to be conscious of our surroundings. By displaying these explicitly graphic images Godard imposes on us a move toward Global thinking. This is a rather young idea when it comes to the masses, or rather mass conscientiousness/consciousness. Conquest and conscious understanding of the world were little known to the masses until these “mass-technological” devices were developed. This brings the outside and distanced world to the inside, which forces us to think and feel (about that which fills the image). However, in modern society these world-conscious images are stuffed away in favor of commodity images. It is not the trauma of these countries but the travel to these countries that we see everywhere. These banal images/signs/commodities do not supply us with expressions or passions. Juliette describes this lack of passion when she describes the feeling that something is missing (perhaps she yearns for a creative/authentic experience). These commodities and images are banal because we reproduce what comes from them. We do not create, instead we accumulate. Everyday mundane life is suffocated by these images; we desire these images, and yet once they are attained there is another image to replace the last, another desire, in an endless stream of images/commodities and desires. This might be why Juliette describers herself as feeling scattered. She is so fragmented by these images and the hodological space that they carve into our lives, into our culture, that she loses herself.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Godard's film Contempt is a film that works through the making of a film. He takes us through the process of production, from producer to director and scriptwriter. But the film is not only a comment on the multifarious roles of these individuals; it is primarily a film centered around the woman character, the potential arbiter of the scriptwriter's musings and their anonymous tango with emotional animosity. Godard opens the film with her in a most primeval state, laying prostrate in the nude. This laying-bare of her whole body is juxtaposed with a dialog that fragments her body. Camille (Bardot) asks Paul if he likes parts of her body, all separate parts, and never the whole. The camera follows these parts, tearing away from the unity of her body. This "making-apparent" the assemblage of the body opens up the topic of language. It is words themselves which tear apart and bring things together. He attends to the furtive nature (/the shifting appearance) of language through the various language barriers between characters in the film. But he also brings forth this dimension of the emotional, of body language. This is clearly expressed in the relationship between Paul and Camille, both of whom struggle to cope with their emotional differences. These differences prompt erratic behavior in the two main characters. Life between these two is like a fold or a tide that swallows the action. Instead of acting, they wallow in their indecisiveness, their love loses its potency, its desirous capacity. This emotional landscape, this directionlessness, has a tendency to fold in on ones "frame" of reference. Both Camille and Paul feel the emptiness, and yet they fail to comprehend their emotions. As humans, we try to solidify love, to put it into “truth”. But it is as invisible as the language that speaks of it, it is an emotion. This brings me to Lang’s comment about God, he says, “Now it's no longer the presence of God, but the absence of God, that reassures man.” It is his absence that reassures us, but what fills up this absence other than faith, passion, or emotion? This is precisely the same case for love. Despite the fact that you can “act” love, or show love, it is an intangible unity. It is passion or emotion for something or someone that fills the “frame” with its potencies, its potentials. But in the case of Camille and Paul, this feeling within the “frame” seeps out, and they wonder where it has gone, how they can reclaim it. This seeping finds its way out from the efficacy and assemblage of the fold. New events and “indiscernibles” let loose parts of the fold. We cannot contain within ourselves a single mode of being. There are constantly internal and external stimuli which mold and shape the way we are attuned to other stimuli (including memories, feelings, objects, etc.), so that there is this constant flux. This instability of the individual also brings us back to the instability of truth. Jerry belies the “stability of truth,” he dominates, he wants reactions (he provokes), and furthermore he negates creation. He forces the ills and illusions of “power” over other individuals. Is he not the force behind the rupture between Paul and Camille? Despite the fact that we cannot point to an exact reasoning for this, or a precise moment in the film, we get the sense that Jerry is the wedge between the two main protagonists. Also, Jerry frequents a little book the size of his palm, reading from it various proverbs. This authority of the proverb brings to light how much text and logic add to our own indecisive or “in-between” states and the erratic or "being-lost" behavior that results. This brings to mind the comment of Lang’s that says “the illogical borrows from the logical”. These words (speech, dialog, etc.) “battle” the on-earth of our connections; our inability to express frustrates, and accentuates our earthly being-there/here, our position in the world without relying on language to define our status, our percepts. Godard uses distant shots in order to empty the image of emotion, of passion. This distance has the effect of alienation, we too do not quite know where to place our emotions, so we keep them at a bit of a distance. The few shots that are close-up come at moments of intense emotion. Take for instance, the scene where Paul slaps Camille across the face. Thereafter, Godard cuts to a close-up of her turning her face, which is hiding against the wall at first and slowly turns to reveal itself in all its potency. Camille expresses her desire for newness, spontaneity and potential, and yet, she can not escape; she is folded in, not just into a relationship with Paul, but a social relationship with everything that connects with Paul: the house, the clothes, these items of culture. Overall, Godard shows us that both language and feelings struggle to work together. He shows how language has a tendency to dominate in our culture, to the point where it tries to replace or label our emotions, so much so to the point where we lose touch with emotions and do not know how to respond to them.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pierrot Le Fou

Godard's 1965 film Pierrot Le Fou is different from his earlier films in that he moves beyond deconstructing/mutating genres. Instead, for him, it is about capturing the essence of mutation itself. This leads me to believe that Godard, in this film, works in what Deleuze would call the ballade/ballad (trip/ballad). Deleuze explains that the mutation that comes from the trip/ballad is a sort of "weakness of the motor-linkages, the weak connections, that are capable of releasing huge forces of disintegration." We see this when the characters come into or arrive at situations that challenge their sensory-motor responses, and lead to dislocated movements (sometimes acts, sometimes observations/"seeing", at any rate a happening). Ferdinand does not know what to expect from the trip, instead, he comes into it head on; there is no perception of the action, it is just movement through events opening up to him. The center of attention is not Pierrot or Marianne but rather each event of the film, each new obstacle, becomes a center in itself. The situations themselves become the "characters" looking for action to fill them up, sometimes action arrives and other times it is nowhere to be found. This brings me to the passage Ferdinand reads about Velasquez. Like Velasquez Godard "drift[s] around things like air, like twilight, catching unawares in the shimmering shadows the nuances of color that he transformed into the invisible core." This also speaks of the ballad aspect of the film, which moves through music/song in order to "transform" the events and their relation to the objects (including the characters) at hand. The relationship between Marianne and Pierrot is no different. Details about Marianne spill out onto the scene without any cause, transforming the event without any connectives. For instance, it is revealed that her so-called brother is actually her lover. Also, the relationship unfolds to separate the two characters' behaviors. Pierrot, along the trip, discovers his literary ambitions anew. Marianne, on the other hand, follows her urge to be free, her desire to move away from words and responses, she is about spontaneity and action. These little divisions are little creations/potentials that birth through/in the film. What Godard is filming here, as abovementioned, are these mutations and transformation, and not the concrete (instead, a non-normative storyline, non-solidified characters, etc). He takes this as far as moving through different artistic references outside of film history. Take for instance the color, the primary colors of Piet Mondrian seem to flow through the scene, seamlessly affecting the aura/tone of both the settings and the characters. At the end when Ferdinand paints his face, making an artistic creation of himself (with his face as the canvas), the "International Klein Blue" of Yves Klein richly colors the expression and "faceity" of the scene (especially in the close-up shots of his face). We move through "high art" references without ever seeing a direct re-presentation of the artists' works. These colors become something other, they are a mutation of their original form. But these mutations create new potentials, new combinations; they flow through new spaces, new objects, completely unlike their original space (the stretched canvas).

Some notes: Deleuze - Cinema 2
pp.19: [Characters] of the trip/ballad are unconcerned (they are 'mutants') [...] it is precisely the weakness of the motor-linkages, the weak connections, that are capable of releasing huge forces of disintegration...

pp.19: Godard says that to describe is to observe mutations. Mutation of Europe after the war, mutation of Americanized Japan, mutation of France in '68 [...] cinema [...] becomes completely political, but in another way...

pp.20: A new type of actor [...] professional non-actors [...] 'actor mediums', capable of seeing and showing rather than acting...

pp.20: [Even] metaphors are sensory-motor evasions, and furnish us with something to say when we no longer know what to do...

pp.22: [Elements] of the image enter into internal relations which means that the whole image has to be 'read', no less than seen, readable as well as visible [...] The cinema is going to become an analytic of the image...

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Godard's Alphaville is an exquisitely oblique take on two genres, science fiction and film noir. It was brought up in class that perhaps the film is prophetic, in that it was about the future of our world. But is the film actually about the future? It seems to me that he uses and skews these two genres to create a new world. He uses Lemmy Caution to create a legend. It is what Vonbaun says upon meeting with Caution, "You'll become a legend Lemmy Caution," which adds to the fiction of the world we view, we see myth in the making. The world contains many disjointed and parodic gestures. This parodic aspect can be viewed in several ways. For one, it can be quite unsettling for the viewer, and at the same time it carries a comic element that draws us into the world, but at the same time keeps us from identifying with the characters. We relate to the forces of this cinematic world, but the characters are so abstrusely designed that we are unaffected by them, or do not know precisely how to feel about them. This parodic element also has an element of reflexivity in response to the world, and to ideology. Godard essentially, as abovementioned, creates his own universe in order for the viewer to juxtapose it with our own. This ultimately entrenches us in a new world, with new gestures, new modes of experience, as it is explored through the world of hyper-logic. But this new world allows us to distance ourselves from our own reality, our truth. From this film we can take this distance and look back on our own gestures, and see that they too can appear to be artificial; or that our sense of logic and religion can appear to be quite comic if we see what ritualistic habits they maintain. We get a sense that our own world is perhaps as artificial as Alphaville. The people of Alphaville do not see this in their world, they take reality for truth, "logic" as absolute. It is not until the system collapses that the artificiality is revealed. By then the people become baseless, their hyper-logic grounding collapses, and a crisis emerges. The people are empty, they become tactile, their sensory perception is new to them, it is no longer a trained instrument of action. Lemmy the legend understood this, his otherworldliness allowed him to see, like the viewers, that this is a strange place. Henry on the other hand was carried away by the world of Alphaville. He tried hard to maintain his otherworldliness (his "Outlandness") by looking for love, etc., but ended up forgetting himself, for instance, wondering what the word "why" meant (for it was not in the Alphaville bible). At any rate, Alphaville's relative proximity to our own world allows us to draw intimate connections between it and our own world. As it was mentioned in class, the buildings, the cars, the clothing, etc. are all very similar to our own. It is particularly the idea of Alphaville that takes us out of our worldly element. We see that the characters' behaviors are starkly different from our own. The freeway becomes an interstellar pathway between galaxies. The Alpha 60 computer, this "truth machine", heads the technocracy. The people become as affectless as their "ruler", the computer. Godard uses and construes our everyday objects and spaces to build false truths into this new world, Alphaville. It is precisely this making false of everything that reveals the "idea" of Alphaville. Godard exposes the nihilism of Alphavillean ideology, and Vonbaun's will-to-dominate, as opposed to will-to-power. It is nothing of the will-to-power. Instead, it prohibits creative potential, and adheres to the strict circulation of "logical" rhetoric. And affects or forces become numbed and/or exploited for Alphaville's own negative means.

It is what Nietzsche called the stages of nihilism, the spirit of revenge in various shapes. Behind the truthful man, who judges life from the perspective of supposedly higher values, there is the sick man, 'the man sick with himself,' who judges life from the perspective of his sickness, his degeneration and his exhaustion.
pp. 141 Cinema 2

By raising the false to power, life freed itself of appearances as well as truth. . .
pp. 145 Cinema 2

Friday, October 31, 2008

Les Carabiniers

Despite its political convolution, Godard's 1963 film Les Carabiniers (The Riflemen) is a movement toward the politics of war, and more specifically that of the conquest (which relates obliquely to our present predicament of Globalization). What stands out most is the secondary relationship between the various techniques and themes of the film to that of the work of Nietzsche (specifically ideas surrounding the will to power and the eternal return). The film works through various simulations. Take, for instance, that of the social figures whom are called upon by some higher force, the government or, in this case, the king. The two men, or riflemen, Ulysses and Michelangelo become docile figures in a game of conquest. They are mesmerized into the atrocities of subjugation via social and political illusions. But where does the grandeur of these illusions come from? The two men find more Passion in these illusive possessions (monuments, vehicles, women, animals, etc) than they have for the innocents of whom they selflessly massacre. Dare I say that Godard is suggesting that we are living in a world of sycophants? God is dead. We have replaced god with two complicit illusions: objects wearing opulent masks, i.e. powerful objects of illusion, and supposed higher-values of humanity, in other words subservience to the word of the King, of the government, to law. Godard works further on the theme of simulation from the stand point of the image. In the end, these dupes, these "higher men," are in visible possession of their illusions, they possess the simulacral content of their desired objects, images, or imagined figures (it is all something, something other than the actual object, only virtually connected to the actual object... perhaps an imprint). This is reflexive of the process that leads them to their desires in the first place, they desire their illusions through the illusions of their milieu. For this is what Nietzsche is talking about when he describes nihilism. After the death of God, Nietzsche explains that the "higher man" finds himself in a position to react; this reaction is only an affirmation of the products of nihilism. Negation and reaction prevent the One from becoming the multiple, a multiplicity of heterogeneity. Instead, we follow the one, the King, that is responsible for our milieu. This reactionary position leads to a vicious cycle of circulation and thwarts any action from flowing through life as it is. There is a blockage, transmutation cannot and will not exist if we succumb to the illusion, if we follow the King's hegemonical homogeneity. Our identities are byproducts of this blockage, our being is simple, it reacts and negates. Thus the potential for creation is lost. Instead, we, like the two riflemen, bask and bath in the illusion of the image, an unthinking process then tends toward this repetitive circulation of signs and desires. Such that these atrocious desires, these illusions, lead the two men to rank human relations with an inferiority (and, thus, primacy to these given objects of desire, illusions). The film moves us into thought, indirectly addressing this need to reestablish a connection with Dionysus, with creation and compassion. The will to power, as Deleuze reads it, is about a reciprocity and affirmation between the forces of the multitude, to simultaneously command and obey. The strength of affirmation, of creative potential, is nil in the face of the many reactive forces that internally subtract from such actions in all directions. It stifles our ability to become, and thus repudiates multiplicity ("practical joy of the diverse"). It is thus the One that prevails. Like in Les Carabiniers, we visualize the many in regards to the One -- the being that is made up of one, a Higher value -- that of the King's word. His word, his illusion engulfs these civilians whole, it is a contagion, and if you are not one then you are the enemy; and, furthermore, if you are the enemy then you are dead. This is total negation. Although Godard does not necessarily directly imply action, or revolution for that matter, by essence of what he shows and how he shows it, the invisible call for action (the force toward thought) is there. And, as his work progresses we can see this tendency toward action becomes more and more forthright and explicit.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vivre se Vie

Godard's third film, Vivre se Vie (My life to Live), is a dispersive movement toward pure expression. When Nana declares "I think life should be easy" she ultimately describes the inexpressible nature of patriarchal society. This works in tandem with Godard's subversive use of affection images, the many close-ups of Nana's face, which become expression-in-itself. She passes through the order of things in order to survive. This brings me back to A Woman is a Woman, when Karina's character wants to have a child. She wants to be maternal. For it is this affectual desire that takes the place of the order of things. She is more attuned to these natural relations. The same goes for Nana, the complexity of order is enough to make her want to escape it. But even the escape is an act. She plays a double role here, both actress (of the film) and aspiring actress (in the film). Godard gets at this idea of prostitution through these models of acting. We are prostitutes of our milieu. We sell ourselves until death. These moments of pure expression and moments of contemplation (such as her discussion with the philosopher) explore the limits of language and of the image. When Nana's body circulates through the hands of all these men, the "customers," the pimp, her boyfriend, and even the spectators of the film itself, it is about a circulation of money. Time is money. This is reflexive of the film, as well, where time and money mark and make the image. He reveals for us the status of time. And even the one piece by Poe (at the end of the film) which Godard reads (dubbed) is about gaining time. What is Godard trying to imply? Nana, as abovementioned, is the face of expression, and furthermore is the face of time. She is there to experienced, and there to read for what it is worth. She is both the image and expression that goes beyond language, she is a glimpse of time, in all its simplicity.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Jacques Demy's second film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, works in between the artifice and the actual. He subverts the musical genre, and creates an unhinged operatic spectacle. The film's naturalistic storyline works in tandem with the artificiality of grandiose musical elements (constant song, choreographed movements, unnatural color schemes, etc). The mundane (everyday banality) becomes spectacle. But precisely what effect does this have on the film overall? These hyperreal elements of the film provoke a tendency for thought in the viewer. These striking oppositions, artificiality and naturalism, are conflated together in order to illuminate particular things about our own world in relation to the world on the screen. It calls into question "realness" itself. In our world, the "real" has become something "more-than-real," and yet we tend to let this illusion of "realness" elude our sense everyday. But, the fact of the matter is, we are surrounded by all of this artificiality, of these copies and models. The film, as bittersweet as it is (because of its bitter reality i.e., the Algerian war and the repetitive banality of middle class life, and the sweetness which comes from the colorful and melodic spectacle), references these models and inflates them into a sort of spectacle (fantastical) world. The naturalism of the film is brought together with its artificial counterpart, but only in order to bring about elements of contrast in order to promote thought regarding the status of reality, both external and internal to the film. This forces us to ask questions about the "realness" (or "hyperrealness") of models in our society: of patriotism, marriage, family, sexuality, gender, class, institutions, etc. It plays with clichés to expose the world of clichés, questioning them in order to threaten them and the loose facade that they create, multiply, and thrive on.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Night at Maud's

Eric Rohmer's third moral tale, My night at Maud's, explores and visualizes the individual desire to practice what one preaches in the face of everyday hardships and relationships. It is a film with little action. It moves in the form of text that is experienced. The film follows the conversational dialogs in three of the four main characters. The interconnectedness of these characters brings together the characters' differing worldviews and the way in which they practice their given philosophies. It revolves around Jean-Louis' moralizing in the face of love and lust, and how these two things birth from rituals and moral perpetuated onto him from his (Catholic) milieu. The other characters, namely Vidal and Maud, challenge his worldview of the milieu with their philosophies, and their own lifestyles and upbringings (especially Maud's). This film humanizes ("practicalizes") the philosophies of these characters. It shows how they live around the ideologies that they advocate. For Jean-Louis this comes in the form of a sort of midlife crisis where he struggles between his beliefs and his desires. He works through the barriers of the milieu, and yet never really goes beyond them. This struggle, which is encompassed in a brief relationship with Maud, starting with his first night with her and then the subsequently short-lived relationship they have thereafter, shows how even his (perhaps) curious (or perhaps fervent) desires cannot vie or challenge his Catholic rhetoric. Because she does not practice, she is not worthy of his love; instead, she is a threat. It is as though he fears that if she tears down one of his moral walls, then she will begin to tear away at the fabric of his moral consciousness (and thus damn him to an afterlife without salvation). This moral threat frightens Jean-Louis to the point that he will not even sleep in bed next to Maud, and later, when he finally does move next to her, he wraps a barrier (a blanket) around himself so as not to be penetrated by her (or her worldview). But is it really about her? Or, is it Jean-Louis' fear of his own weakness, and furthermore his fear of change that has him react in this manner? She does not force herself upon him, in fact, she does her best to show him that he has the power to make the choices that he does. He takes her comforting demeanor for charming lust. Is this idea of seduction not perpetuated by the Catholic rhetoric with which he lives by? His fears are a product of the worldview with which he has been indoctrinated by. And yet, despite his denial of it, he feels as though he is the innocent. This blind-eye pushes him away from her. Instead he is lured in by Francoise. He finds his love at church, in the milieu where he feels most comfortable, because it does not threaten his worldview. But is not the way in which he pursues her rather odd? After he sees her in church he, unbeknownst to her, follows her, and on frequent subsequent occasions he continues to do the same. He is trying to take control of his fate and hers. It is no longer a Pascalian wager with chance. It becomes a game of cat and mouse with Francoise in the crosshairs. This pursuance brings him back to Earth, he is no longer wagering on an invisible infinite potential; nor is he allowing predetermination to take the helm and direct him toward his infatuation. In this sense the film plays on many contradictions between theory and practice. The lust (potentially love, but nonetheless “sinful”) Francoise has for Maud's husband is instantly forgiven because in theory (as a practicing Catholic) she fits Jean-Louis’ ideal. Yet, her seduction is in fact more scornful than that of Maud's honesty and hospitality. This constant back-and-forth of ideal and "real" is precisely the "problem" that Rohmer puts forth all throughout the film. It is this philosophizing that Rohmer encourages in the viewer, not only as we watch the film but even thereafter. He promotes an image that provokes thought, which is why this film (and the set of the five other moral tales for that matter) is so remarkable.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cleo from 5 to 7

Varda's 1962 film Cleo from 5 to 7 takes us through a defining slice of life in the main protagonist, Cleo. The film plays out in "real time" with the events lasting the duration of the film, approximately two hours (from 5 pm to 7 pm). The opening scene of the film outlines the situation of the film, she is ill and her illness (cancer) spells death. The film, however, hardly goes beyond its original situation, instead it saunters in the conditional status of emotional shifts, from denial to lamentation to anger to acceptance. I suppose one might say the situation becomes something new when in the end she presses upon herself an acceptance of her fate. Here we might remark on what, for her, this acceptance means, and what forces she is acting and against as she struggles with her fate. Cleo is a pop singer, her songs play on the radio, and people are at her service around the clock. This is not enough. In her move to stardom she has moved beyond herself, she has become a myth. The film works through this struggle, from a woman of myth to her eventual self-demythologization. She loses herself to her sound and image; she becomes a product of her replicated self, many times over, and divided many places over. This multiplicity, this mythic graduation to something(s) larger than life is contested by realization that her fate is one of death. Her myth will outlive her life. This threatens her illusions, her unrealized desire for immortality. She is no longer a "goddess", but rather she is human. She is brought back down to her origins. And when she peruses the city, she rediscovers herself, her roots (the bohemian cafe, her stories with her friend, etc). When she goes to the bohemian cafe and plays her song, the lack of response brings her closer to home, closer to humanity. This fall from myth to man is not an easy move, and that is why the emotional spirit of Cleo from 5 to 7 works so well. It does not bore us because we are affected by these internal and external struggles. And Varda's constant juxtaposition between Cleo's struggle and the on going war in Algeria is no accident. For one, war in itself generally has a mythological status, seen and heard from a distance, it is something based on and perpetuated by a plane of authority which purports itself onto a level above humanity, that is government. Of course, as word of the realities spread the myth deflates, and people protest. With Cleo, her myth too is built up from a distance, she is not the same person as her songs or images, she is myth built up by the recording/entertainment industry. In her case, the myth deflates when she realizes her mortal fate, that she is not the eternal goddess of sound and image, of iconography. This is realized, as abovementioned, in the cafe, also from the new song that she sings in her bedroom, and lastly in the relationship she acquires with the soldier that is supposed to leave for Algeria that day. She feels again, which allows her to finally accept the fact that she has cancer, that she is human.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Last Year at Marienbad

Falling back on what Professor Shaviro mentioned in class, I have a tendency to see Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad in somewhat Deleuzian terms. The film works as a sort of "apparatus-brain" where a type of thought-image is constructed. The film works in terms of a "presence" that amalgamates (and conflates) various elements (space, time, movement, objects, etc). The film's ambiguities, and disjointed false continuities resemble that of a thought-image (i.e., something akin to the so-called day-dream, an abstract internalized image, a mental image). It is not so much a reconstruction of remembrance, although it appears that way on the surface, but rather a film that works in terms of image construction. The film works to display these thought possibilities and thought constructions through the way it works with the ensemble of elements. Take, for instance, the way the many outside or supporting models (actors) freeze in the various scenes. This frozen pose is similar to that of a constructed thought-image. The apparatus-brain conceives of these events in terms of the main characters, the man and the woman (at times her "husband"), and not these other figures of the film. These figures are mere setting, there are embedded in the space, as much as the statues and paintings of the mansion. This idea of the mansion, with its various doors and corridors, is analogous to the dark recesses of the mind, the constructions and memories of the mind. Yet, there is veracity in these main characters according to the apparatus-brain; this is because, as it is in the thought-image, we have, like the apparatus-brain, a sort of invested affection and conviction for our own thoughts, whether they are fictitious constructions or not. As an apparatus-brain, in the thought of the image, there are tendencies for us to try and perfect our constructions. We may, for instance, conceive of things and then later erase them because maybe they are not the perfect thought-image we want. It is this constant reconstruction of the thought-image that cycles through the film over and over. Secondly, the images, the supposed "memories", are being worked out in this apparatus' "presence". It is in a sort of "real time" that the images are composed in tandem with the voice over. So that when the male or apparatus mentions that the woman's hand was resting on the balcony she moves her hand toward the balcony and rests it there. The thought-image is a strange phenomenon. It uses our own milieu to take us away from it, and to create it anew (perhaps hoping for an ideal or perfected situation). This resolves itself in the end when the thought image reaches its pinnacle, the man and the woman leave together. The apparatus-brain reaches its own ideal scenario. The false constructions like that of a day-dream end up in a void (the black screen), they are complete, the dream is over, the desire to recreate the ideal is done. It is from this point that we end up with an absence (the supposed internal "desire"/ideal is no longer desired). Like a day-dream we do not merely ponder the same privileged images over and over ad infinitum, and if we do then our ideal or our desire is merely unattainable (which is not to say that our ideals are attainable, but in thought we can sometimes attain those things, those "ideals", which we may not be able to in any external world). This visual perusal of the internal world of the thought-image is precisely what Resnais captures. And he finishes off the whole bit with a finally perfected ideal; the apparatus-brain achieves what these so-called "memories" strived for, the union, the embrace.

Perhaps for some this seems like a far-fetched reading. However, to me, it seems a fairly reasonable read for such an abstruse film as this one.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hiroshima, Mon Amour

[This is not the most thorough reading. . . and my understanding of Deleuze has yet to be worked out. . .]

Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour explores a new cinematic approach to the progression and integration of dispersive elements in space and time. The film itself speaks at once of the differential and unifying elements that compose our spirit. Resnais evokes the spirit in two different, but convergent ways. In one way, it seems, Resnais works with what Deleuze would call "liquid perception," and in a second sense, sometimes separately and others simultaneously, with a maximum quantity of movement. A film so radical as this does not necessarily seem to invoke the same systems or perceptions that would come from the "French school," but it nonetheless uses these two characteristic modes in its own way. The film claims these elements in order to speak of the subjects’ (i.e., the events of Hiroshima and the event of loss in the face of love) unjustifiable and unachievable reclamations. It is impossible to realistically form an image or narrative that embodies the essence of these issues/events. What one can do is attempt to recognize these events in abstract, artificial, and poetic terms. This, if anything, extracts from these events a sense that we can consider these experiences, yet at the same time, we can never accurately describe their realities. The truth is that both of these events (Hiroshima and the woman's loss) work in more reconstructive terms. For Hiroshima is a blank slate, the events are not rendered first hand, they are secondary, just as the story is secondary, it is artificial; and, the woman's account of the events is secondary, it is in relation to artifacts and news/broadcast reels. For the woman is also a part of this blank plate. Her inability to move beyond her bereavement tends to leave her at a loss, an emptiness. This is a gap that she fills with the things of the world around her. She replaces her (past and present) understandings with "remembrances," with objects and locations, with acting (becoming someone else). She claims that she knows Hiroshima through the objects she has seen (presumably at the museum, and other monuments or spaces in the city); the man however denies this. She does not know Hiroshima, she knows the artifacts of Hiroshima. Her tendency to engulf these objects, and further, to be swallowed by these objects and images is expressed in the cinematography of the film. Here the idea of liquid perception comes into play. When she says "I am afraid everywhere," Resnais cuts to shots (close-ups) of objects and spaces around her. There, we move "to a liquid state, where the molecules move about and merge into one another," and where her fears are embodied in these objects, the entire experience gains this auratic spiritual element. Deleuze says of liquid perception, that "by putting the center of reference itself into movement, the movement of the parts [is] raised to the set (ensemble); that of the relative to the absolute; that of succession to simultaneism" -- this is precisely what her character embodies, a movement toward simultaneism. She is the blank center, and yet, as abovementioned, everything she encounters she engulfs (and vice versa), she becomes; it is this characteristic that ties her blankness to the image; it is a tendency toward simultaneity, even as she becomes her “remembrance-images,” -- she is simultaneously past, present, and imagined past -- she is objects, and she is space. In addition to that, we experience this simultaneity all the more when we encounter a maximum quantity of movement in the image. Resnais maximizes the slowness, the fastness, and the “direction-ness” (max. friction) of the image. Think about the scene where they are walking through the Hiroshima memorial parade (which is a scene in the film within the film), this movement swallows the two characters into the elements that oppose their direction. Or, there are the scenes where the present (of the film) is nuanced by a slowness of objects (and models) to a maximum capacity so that we feel this slowness (emptiness). It is also a maximum slowness (emptiness) that exists in order to maximize a fullness of the image. This opposition creates a sort of rupture of the image. I am thinking here of the scene where the woman is sitting on the bed and she screams to forget. Her scream shatters the fragility of the successive images of slowness that came before it, those images which quantitatively added up in order to build this qualitative fragility, all of course in order to present this rupture; because if she would have screamed without the existence of these nuanced subtleties (the slowness) such an event would not have created a rupture, it would have been a stand alone scream, an impotent wail. This rupture in turn unifies these “maximum” elements because of their reciprocity for one another; and furthermore, because of her reflexive stillness (in the image of her), she is inscribed by the (quantitative) movements and the images around her, which unifies her presence, and the story, in this movement toward simultaneity (and reciprocity). It is much like the (fragmented) embrace that entangles the two in the beginning, fragments come together in an abstracted unification...

[Edit - More thoughts:]
Also, there seems to be an occasional move toward a gaseous perception. The best example is when Resnais cuts between images of (locations in) Hiroshima and images of Nevers. These city elements cut in and connect any-space-whatevers, which allow us to freely associate one image with the next at any-point-whatever...

Furthermore, when Deleuze speaks of any-space-whatevers he speaks of the post-war condition of "deconnected or emptied spaces," saying, independent of the cinema there was "the post-war situation with its towns demolished or being reconstructed, its waste grounds, its shanty towns, and even in places where the war had not penetrated, with its undifferentiated urban tissue. . ."

And in post-war cinema there is "a crisis of the action-image: [where] the characters were found less and less in sensory-motor 'motivating' situations, but rather in a state of strolling, of sauntering or of rambling which defined pure optical and sound situations. The action-image then tended to shatter, whilst the determinate locations were blurred, letting any-spaces-whatever rise up where the modern affects of fear, detachment, but also freshness, extreme speed and interminable waiting were developing. . ."

Friday, September 19, 2008


Bresson's Pickpocket takes us in and out of space and time, in a constantly fluctuating experience of fluency and distaciation. The most defamiliarizing shot in the film is the close-up. It renders the particular hand gestures and actions of Michel as something of importance to the narrative and mise-en-scene. However it also takes the scene out of its element, out of its coordinates in space and time in order to shock us. For instance, in the end we only see Michel’s hand being cuffed by the officer. Prior to this every other close-up of his hands exhibits his ability to freely pick-pocket--moving into some unknown space and connect back to world of things--where he would slyly enter contact with someone empty handed and exit with some new object (whether it be a wallet, money, etc). However, this final occasion does the exact opposite. The officer enters contact with him and grabs his hand as the newly acquired object. Our desire to see him succeed and grab the man’s (officer’s) cash is immediately destroyed (de-automatized). Here Bresson takes the pattern, or the automatization, of the close-up shot (i.e., the meaning involved in them, the model’s movements, and the shot composition, etc, which form their own conjunctions) and subverts it with its dialectical opposite, which is him getting caught. This forces the spectator to think about these “codes” implanted in the close-ups of the film, noting in particular the hierarchy that these shots receive in the overall shot analysis. The spectator also has to render with his own thoughts the events of the film, consciously thinking about such things as authority, property, power, etc in relation to particular objects in themselves.
The story of the film is subverted, or deformed, by the filmic elements that he employs in tandem with the film's plot. He creates a poetic language out of certain shots, e.g., as abovementioned, the use of close-ups and the actions within them. He gives life to these “codes” which he provides in the close-up shot. He then uses the deformation of these “codes” to create a de-automatizing effect. Also, when he is sent to prison there is no ability to follow him around anymore, instead we are as trapped as he is. This order of mise-en-scene subverts the pace and space of the film; the time is slower and less intense, and the space is smaller and more claustrophobic, creating a sense of impotence. The entire film works on our perceptions, the way in which we feel these figural elements (speed, movement, spatial arrangement, etc) and how they influence our thought and preconceived notions of movement, space, and time.

Bob le flambeur

Jean-Pierre Melville trumps the typical conceptualization of the classic noir and gangster film. He takes these genre out of their element and colors them with a visually lyrical piece of work. His visual play of elements such as lines, stripes, and sharp contrasts give the film a particular auratic quality--a hovering feel of emptiness and fullness, a push and a pull. We constantly juxtapose differences in light and color. From Bob's white hair pinned against his black suit, or at times his gray trench coat to the checkers on the wall of the bar, the film speaks more in tones than in text. The de-dramatized characteristic that run through most of the film work through these contrasts. The film works in vagueness despite the lyrical contrasts of the set. Melville clouds the scene. He wants us to feel the ambiguities, to bathe in sustained moments of puzzlement. The narrative is relatively simple, composed basic plots that move along. However, the film's overall vagueness and simplicity emphasizes the peculiarity of the main character, Bob, and the relationships at hand. Bob's code of ethic is worked out in his actions, e.g., the way he takes in the young girl from the streets, or when he leaves Paolo and the girl to rest at his place. In these moments, it is his sincerity that leads him. When he finally runs out of money he is left to fend, as any man would. In Hell, fending is about lying, cheating, and stealing, which all tend rest on one thing: chance. This brings Bob back to a history he must rekindle. It is this reaching back to his old ways that leads the way for him. The old way, the idea of a heist, launched him into a new element. The game now is much grander, the stakes much larger. As the film peaks, when these various ties to Bob (the cop, the girl, Paolo, the man and his wife) pull Bob into a multitude of directions, he escapes. He gets away by trying his luck, trying his hand. His solace in the game, in gambling, reminds him that it is all luck: the game, the heist. Give or take, Bob is in for it. The fortuitousness of the end, that is, Bob's final win with chance, materializes these cinematic contrasting elements. It is either win or lose, black or white. Bob takes the win in the end, after chance settles the score. He counts his losses (Paolo, possible jail time) and contrasts it with his winnings. There is no game chancier than life. Bob lives the gamble, and for that reason alone he is Bob the gambler. Not for his gaming habits, but for his living habits.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Jean Luc Godard's entrance into the cinematic landscape marks a peculiar point in the history of cinema. Not only is the mirror turned on the gamut of practices and conventions, but the entire fashion is swallowed into a fissure of artificiality. What strikes me as the most remarkable aspect of Breathless, and even Godard's cinematic oeuvre for that matter, is his contentiousness with certain cinematic codes, i.e., operating within a given framework and rarely ever escaping it. His remarks toward the cinema are not scathing, he quotes his professors (with all of his allusions to B-movie and classic Hollywood directors/films), and weaves in and out of genre, but as is abovementioned, he turns the mirror, and furthermore skews it a little. In fact the film is more synesthetic than anything; it's visual jazz, pure and simple. Breathless marks Godard as one of the most enigmatic (cinematically) lyrical improvisers ever. His genius, like that of Coltrane or Davis, is in the way he careens and caresses the nodes of each cinematic turn, all the while making you feel the verve and spontaneity of the experience. In his case, the film is not the script, the film is an explicit liberation of text; it says, "I can cover everything text does and more, I can move you like no text can move you; watch how I play with these elements." It is precisely in this play of elements where Godard achieves his glorious pet, and charms us with his horn. His disjunctive methods-- the jump cuts, the interlaced and jarring dubbing, the narrative jump from action to affect and back again-- these all render a new and inventive cinematic practice (and potential). Even his lighting, with its maximization of natural light, calls attention to the artificiality of classical cinema, which tries to sell itself as seeming natural. All of this runs against the grain of things prior, as far as cinematic conventions are concerned. He is making the classic seem so much more artificial, and his work so much more self-referential that it creates a sort of schism. Professionalism of classical cinema is precisely that, a type of "professional" code with which to render the entire cinematic experience. Godard debunks that, he denaturalizes the whole breadth of it, and laughs at it, much in the way Michel addresses the camera, when he is driving into the city from the provincial freeway, "If you don't like the sea/ and don't care for the mountains/ and don't like the big city either/ go fuck yourself!" and that is that.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

400 Blows

Francois Truffaut's 1959 feature film 400 Blows is one of those films that resonates with you long after it is over. The film takes an unconventional approach for its time, both narratively and stylistically. Truffaut uses the camera to write a story near and dear to him. The various autobiographical elements confer with the spectator ideas about what it takes to make a film something prodigious. The film is a testament to many of the concepts that are contained in the cinema itself; and Truffaut explores this reciprocity and reflexivity, not just in narrative content, but also in terms of cinematic content.

Truffaut reincarnates his adolescence through the experiences of Antoine, played by young actor Jean-Pierre Leaud. First of all, this alone is quite a unique reference to the cinema's close relation to memory, history, and identity. It is the cinema which remarks on and re-enacts recollection, remembrance. The cinema is in its very nature like that of a memory. It is composed of various elements (various times, spaces, rhythms, etc) which are condensed/conflated and assembled to create an experience. The film much like the memory is not one long continuous (uninterrupted) stream of experience, it is composed of multifarious elements, which both enter into and exit out of remembrance (and conscious experience). Yet, all the while, as spectators we are able to encounter the cinema as we would a memory. The memory, so close and yet so distant, is something of a challenge to consult with. Nevertheless, Truffaut sets up a film where we can both enter the characters and at the same time see them from a distance, much in the same way that we experience memories.

What is remarkable about the character Antoine is his reluctance to speak. His internal experience rarely reveals itself directly to the viewer. This inability to latch on to a verbalized expression forces the external to compose the character. All things external--the composition of the scene, the gestures of Antoine, the music, the rhythm of the camera--spell out the experience and memory of adolescence. The one time when Antoine verbalizes himself is when he talks to the woman at the reformatory. This moment is peculiar because of the way in which the sequence is revealed and Antoine's awareness is divulged. We never see the woman speaking, she is an acousmatic voice, filling the screen with her invisible presence. She is a rupture, she is a surrogate, and she is omnipotent as far as we are concerned. He reveals himself to that which we cannot see. She is both a presence and an absence. But why, why would Truffaut compose the sequence in this manner? As Michel Chion notes in Voice in the Cinema, it is the acousmetre that "brings disequilibrium and tension," as it is something of a mystery. The only other woman that Antoine interacts with is his mother, who in both her words and actions betrays her responsibility and love for him. This other woman, however, has no attachment to him, she is a mere assessor. As an assessor, she takes no authority over him, instead she allows Antoine to freely express himself. In order to learn more about Antoine's awareness we must work with the acoustmetre, as Chion says of the acousmetre, it is she that "invites the spectator to go see, and (s)he can be an invitation to the loss of the self, to desire and fascination," which in our case it is to discover not herself, but Antoine. That is the difference. For Anointe's mother is always commanding and manipulating him for her own needs, she leaves no room for expression. Adolescents do not necessarily grasp all of what is around them, but there are many things which a young person senses and grasps without it seeming so. Such is the case between Antoine and his mother. Truffaut explores this, for instance, when the mother comes in late one night and we see her legs enter into the screen as she quietly walks through Antoine's room, across his bed. And then following that there is the offscreen (acousmatic) bickering between the parents, which he witnesses aurally, when Antoine should be asleep. He uses a scene like this to communicate to us indirectly the experience of adolescence.

Another important aspect of the film is the way in which he conveys the experience of adolescene through cinematic techniques. The entire film is composed around a relationship between adult characters (models) and confining spaces (sets). These two figures are linked together to convey a feeling of oppression. His parents, the teachers, the police, are all confining him to tight quarters. They are also restricting him to mechanical and conforming movements, explored both through cinematic techniques and acting. His somber mood in and around their presence also adds to this oppressiveness. Against all of this however, Antoine is secretly desiring autonomy. We see this in his actions, i.e., in his constant desire to escape these people and environments. In particular, there are two scenes that rupture the entire pace and space of the film. One occasion is on the day Antoine and Rene skip school, and venture out into the streets of Paris. The first time we actually see Antoine happy is when he is spinning around on the "rotor" amusement park ride. Cinematically there is a rupture, when the elements on screen free up from the rigid confines of a set, of a room. The ensemble of props, the models, and Antoine all become a swirling blur. The rhythm of elements is no longer the same as it was throughout the film up to that point. Although walls are still surrounding him, Antoine manages to escape his situation through both movement and affect. He no longer has to express himself, or do anything for that matter, instead he gives himself to the movements and feelings experienced by the "rotor" ride. You can really see and feel the freeness of this moment, especially when Antoine manages to move himself upside-down, thus rendering his world in a completely new and autonomous light. The other moment where a sort of rupture occurs is at the very end. He escapes the reformatory, he runs and runs, until he finally meets the water. There all the walls (those ever confining walls) drop down. There he is truly free. Unlike the "rotor," where through cinematic elements he becomes rhythmically free, there at the beach he is spatially free. No longer do walls, or bars, or persons get in the way of his freedom. And I think this is his most genuine expression. He never really verbalizes himself, because his true expression, his true desire is this autonomy which cannot be rendered in words or scathing complaints, it is rendered in action, an action which meets a point of complete openness. An openness that one might say resembles those things which words, and consciousness cannot even begin to explain. In sum, it really seems to me to be about truly living: living as expressiveness, living as creative potential, and thus, potentially freeing, liberating.

Michel Chion, Voice in the Cinema (pp.24)