Saturday, January 31, 2015


Jean-Luc Godard is a lot like The Melvins. I first encountered both artists in my teens. Godard was a huge influence behind, and inaugurated La Nouvelle Vague, or The French New Wave in the early 1960s in the same way The Melvins were a huge influence behind, and inaugurated Grunge in the early 1990s. Both Godard and The Melvins proved early on that instead of riding the crest on their wave of success it was more appealing to deliver avant-garde works that would ultimately polarize their fans and test the patience of many for years to come. À bout de souffle (1960, Jean-Luc Godard) is Godard's Houdini (1993, Atlantic Records) in its accessibility, the way it catapulted them into the public spotlight, and its lasting impact.

Stoner Witch (1994, Atlantic Records) was an event in my hometown of Corpus Christi. Everytime I recall hopping into someone's car, with my skateboard stowed in the trunk among those of the other passengers', that tape was constantly looped on auto-reverse, constantly blasted. And while it rocked harder than Houdini, it showed increasing experimentation and side B is almost all drone and sparse. Pierrot le fou (1965) is Godard's Stoner Witch because it's comparable with À bout de souffle as his strongest work (the one to recommend) but boasts significantly more experimentation of the type that typically distances many fans.

1994 was my introduction to the culture of personal filmmaking. I don't feel like going on about Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino) but, yeah it came out that year, and yes, it taught me that movies were made by one person and that getting taken out of the moment is the best way to put you in the moment. So aside from cinema, I was skateboarding, hanging out with kids 10 years older than me, going to all ages punk rock shows, and listening to Melvins. Somehow one day an older dude, I mean like thick black beard/I heard he smokes crystal-older was telling a group of friends I was tagging along with that there was a Melvins release after Houdini and before Stoner Witch . . . whaaaaaa?!!! Street legend had it that Prick (1994, Amphetamine Reptile Records) was complete garbage, absolutely positively unlistenable, and the reason it had a cover illustrated with the text SNIVLEM was because they hated their parent major label and this was a way to find a loophole in their contract and release this when and as they wanted. So the bearded older kid stoked the fires that would be in my imagination the coolest sounding tape ever.

Ici et Ailleurs (1976, Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville) is Prick. Both are spontaneous, unpredictable, beautiful, funny, dark, ridden with non sequiter bridges and tons of sampling. And both are mesmerizing, accessible works that are refreshing because they are unlike 99% of the work done by their contemporaries, yet done by artists who have already been  to, say, the top of the charts.

Watching Goodbye to Language in 3D (2014, Jean-Luc Godard) harnesses what it means to be spontaneous and to explore. Its structure is very much in keeping with late Godard, especially Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98, Godard) with techniques that imbue his narrative with music, art,  literature, and philosophical references at a constant rate. Late Godard is appealing to me because it feels like what I want to capture as a filmmaker, without outside pressures like audiences, budgets, and marketability. It feels like a chore to set up a story so clearly everytime, always planning a film considering the audience. If feels like a joy to walk outside and film what you see, then improvise a story, then put in the music you never dreamed would be married to these images, and finally start cutting and make if fun. Of all that is going to be written about this movie, I'd like to leave my basic appraisal at that.

I still can't believe Godard shot a movie in 3D, and I've heard about this for almost a year. The film is choppy in the spontaneous way I've come to love. The 3D is fun but turns impressive when Godard tracks a character leaving a 2-shot by panning right, but stays on the first character--so each of your eyes processes this simultaneously. There is an exhilaration about seeing something in a theater for the first time. Sometimes it feels like they screwed up the 3D, but I think the flaws only endear this experience. I was constantly straining to see, feel, and know more, but I was never disappointed.

At one point there is some dialogue like: the image is the murder of the present. And yet somehow all of the images of Godard's dog, nude women, flower arrangements, and water all present Godard as explorer. We feel that at the present this is what inspires him and that that is enough.

I'll admit that I don't get why Mary Shelley is writing Frankenstein while joined by Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley in the same way I kind of understood why Emily Brönte gets murdered in Weekend (1967, Godard). And I will admit that there is a lot in Goodbye to Language that I don't yet fully comprehend, but that's alright with me. Again, I'm sick of the every other movie tendency to be so safe and organized.

And I am not sure what this film would be like in 2D, but as of now the experience I had seeing this in a theater in 3D was wholly engrossing. And while in the past I have had doubts as to whether old age negatively influences filmmakers, my top film of 2013 was by a 78 year old and now my top film of 2014 was by an 83 year old. Goodbye to Language feels like it was shot by someone very young, and that's one of the highest complements I can bestow.

This film runs 69 minutes and I've always been a proponent of shorter features. 72 is my sweet spot, but 69 guarantees I'm walking into the theater with the requisite excitement of knowing I won't get bored.


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