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.