Thursday, 30 August 2012

Can I Have a Flake, and Chocolate Sauce with That?

Academics.  They miss so much.  And forget the rest of us.  Infatuated with other people’s theories, they lose themselves inside vast abstractions; the only things they seem keen to write about.  Big kids with ice cream.

Another adaptation from a popular novel, in which Godard fragments the narrative fiction in order to raise questions which throw the romantic aspirations of the protagonists into perspective.  The debt to Hollywood is evident in the use of the gangster film convention of the couple in retreat from a hostile society, but the film uses various formal strategies to question that notion.  Its protagonists are doomed, by the conflict between their inner desires and the violence and corruption of society, to destruction.   Godard uses CinemaScope and colour to emphasise the seductive nature of their dream of an idyllic paradise.  Social reality constantly interrupts the idyll, however, and the protagonists are driven back into society, which finally kills them.  In spite of Godard’s evident ambiguity towards politics at this stage, the film looks forward to the explicitly political concerns of later work.

The film’s central theme is that of the escape of the young couple away from civilisation.  The film also illustrates Godard’s strategy of fragmenting the narrative, juxtaposing written texts with film image.  Godard has often been accused of a puritanical distrust of the seductive potential of the cinematic image: here, Scope and colour emphasise the lush beauty of the fantasy island, while written texts constantly intrude to ‘jog’ the spectator out of the fiction in the direction of politics.

The film’s basic romanticism is conservative in many respects: for example, in the representations of Marianne as instinctual and Ferdinand as ‘the thinker’, and in the anarchism of Ferdinand’s final gesture of self-destruction: the only alternative, it would seem, to utopianism. (The Cinema Book, edited by Pam Cook & Mieke Bernink)

My interpretation is markedly different.  This one seems, at least to me, not only superficial but blinkered: it misses the very nature of the work itself.  Like writing about Joyce’s Ulysses but unaware that its form is its main character – most of the meaning is in the language. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Limited Insight

It is very easy to produce generalisations.  Often it is the best way to stop understanding; abstractions like custom barriers preventing the free trade in impressions and facts…

Julia Lesage… [in a] pioneering analysis of female characters in Jacques Rivette’s C√©line and Julie Go Boating shows that the abandonment of the classic story based on male-female distinctions produces new and previously unimaginable narrative mutations….(The Cinema Book, edited by Pam Cook & Mieke Bernink)

I simply don’t see it.  As I argued in a previous post this film is an attempt to recreate both the dream and love worlds of two people infatuated with each other.  It could as easily have been done with a man and a woman; although the details would have changed.  Indeed, it has been done, using different cinematic and narrative techniques, in Godard’s Pierrot le Fou.  A film that the same book regards as conservative(!) in its views about gender.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Stumbling Into It

Malcolm Muggeridge is said to have reviewed Ulysses without noticing its mythic superstructure; a source of future scholarly ridicule.  That oversight, and his later fall into spiritualism, his abiding legacy for the few that remember him.  What a monument!  One life wrecked by a footnote. 

Watching this film, and remembering that old sceptic turned convert, I wondered if I should write about it.  Would some academic, obese with the books he has eaten, scoff at my ignorance?  As we were leaving a woman next to me exclaimed: what was that about!  And mentioned a movie of which I have never heard: called The Blue Room, it has a reputation for being innovative, but actually it plagiarises this one, she said.  Confused as I was.

So, what is it about?

Saturday, 18 August 2012

A World of Make Believe

Life is dull.  It is so mundane.  And so much gets in the way.  We are far too busy; without the time to sit down and make it all up.  Too many trivial things to think about.

Why can’t life be like in books?  Gorgeous women, dead bodies, boats, fast cars singers film stars crooks.  Why can’t it be intellectually exciting, and have the unity of a work of art; with its beauty and its meaning, and with its perfect form?  Those necessities for the thinking mind.  And life is so fast in fiction.  Never is it dull.  Always it is changing: one day you’re jealous of a staid accountant the next you’re playing badminton with an actress; and always you can be on the run….

Friday, 17 August 2012

Gunslinger 1 & 2

You know,
I had to deal with a texan once
nearly drove one of my best girls insane
insisted on her playing back jack
with his stud horse
who was pretty good
held the cards with his hooves
real articulated like and could add
fastern most humans
recall before I put a stop to it
we had special furniture
brought in from Topeka.
That horse would sit at
the table all night, terrible
on whiskey and rolled
a fair smoke
and this Texan insisted he was
payin for my girl’s time
and he could use it any way he
saw fit
as long as he was payin like
and I had to explain
a technical point to that Shareholder namely,
that he was payin for
her ass, which is not time!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Nothing Left... But The Words

How much do we know about Rome?  I often ask myself that question when I read a piece by Mary Beard; her articles a refreshing insight into the current concerns of classical scholarship.[i]  The answer, I find, is quite a bit, but not that much: there are so many gaps that most things can only be partially explained.  This provides a wonderful opportunity for speculative flights of fancy and insane theories.  Departments of ancient history the perfect place for the eccentric and the mad.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Friday, 3 August 2012

Nothing You Can Do (Will Change Him)

The ending is wrong.  It is as simple as that.  A character, someone called Eduard P., a mutual friend of the main protagonists, of whom we have never previously heard, not even one shout from a side street, informs the narrator of Arnold Zipper’s fate: he has become a clown.  Joseph Roth then writes him a letter to clarify what this novel means:

Your profession has a clumsier, but for that reason more evident, symbolism.  It is symbolic of our generation of returned soldiers, whom everyone hinders in our attempts to play a part, make a decision, play a violin…  in the spiritual content of the atmosphere, which is more powerful than its content of electricity, there will float the distant echo of your single notes…  the frustrated longing of our whole generation will remain as immortal as it was unfulfilled.

Roth is referring to the failure of the Great War generation; defeated by their fathers who started it, and which is here symbolised by Arnold’s current job.  His life punched out of him, he has been turned into a figure of fun:

He was wearing baggy trousers, a tight-fitting jacket, and a light-coloured top hat with a wide ribbon.

‘A genuine clown!’ I cried.

‘Just look!’ continued P.  ‘Take a look at this face!  This face has had twenty thousand thick ears!  It has a dog-like face melancholy.  It looks so sad because it cannot say how sad it is.  Think of his entrance.  He comes on stage, unsuspecting, had no idea that the public is sitting in the stalls.  He is a fathead, and he looks like one, like someone who only needs a meal and a drink to put him in a good humour.  He wants to play a piece on his violin.  But as soon as he is ready to play another clown comes on, a self-confident one, also a fathead, but a fathead with ambitions, who knows very well that there is a public, a director, wages.  This clever one gives our Arnold a thick ear.  Arnold has played precisely two notes.  But these two notes, which he plays before the other one notices, are so clear, so heavenly, that all the audience is sorry that Arnold doesn’t play on.

This seems pretty clear, and sums up the book very nicely: the pompous, ever confident, so talkative and dream soaked, Zipper Senior never giving his son the chance to perform properly.  We have been reading about the pathos of a youth’s failure; its atmosphere like a house abandoned before it has been fully built.  And there are moments of extraordinary pathos in the book, particularly around Frau Zipper, who is herself defeated by her contemporaries; crushed between the poverty of their daily life and the fantasies of her husband, who subdues her with the tyranny of his optimism – he is the eternal child, and all his words are broken promises.  Yes, this passage seems very clear.  Father and son are symbols of two different generations; the younger never getting a look in, except to cry mournfully, because they have been ruined by the war for which their fathers are responsible.