Thursday, October 04, 2007

Jean-Luc Godard: quick review of French New Wave: some interesting parallels for today



The French “New Wave” style of filmmaking, while encompassing quite a bit of territory, has left, in the directorial work of Jean-Luc Godard, a paradigm that sets some examples of layered storytelling or presentation that can inspire other experimental films.

An older film, Alphaville (1965, “une etrange aventure de Lemmy Caution”) provides a prescient view of how today’s Internet could come to be viewed as an antithesis of personal privacy. A detective visits a city on another planet that looks a bit like late 60s Paris, in the abstraction of black and white film. He finds everyone trying to escape from the prying eye of supercomputer Alpha 60, that seems to be everywhere (like chickenman). Is Alpha 60 the Internet – is it Web 2.0 with social networking and the worry about “reputation defense” from what others say about us? Or is it just an Orwellian big brother? I think a few decades ago we thought of BIGBR as the government, and maybe it can be (the Patriot Act, the FISA courts) but sometimes it is us, which the detective finds out in this film noir. The “outlands” is the real world (“bricks and mortar”) and in the end, he can just drive home from another planet. Well, the only way that could happen is something like the Reconciliation (and In Ovo) in Clive Barker’s novel Imajica, which would make a great movie now.

In 2004, Wellspring Media released “Our Music” (Notre Musique) which is more like a Godard structure. It is a film in Three Parts. (A friend of mine in Minneapolis made a short film about extreme sports and called it exactly that “A Film in Three Parts”, like Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony in Three Movements.”) The first part is a black and white short about the horrors of war. The second part is a short feature in modern day Sarajevo, starting out with an image of a tram car with the opening theme of the Sibelius Second Symphony. There is discussion about the dichotomy between intellect and action in the real world. This section is a paraphrase of Holocaust (or purgatory); the last section is a brief introduction to Heaven (and not exactly What Dreams May Come). The film is in 4:3 aspect and looks compressed, rather like Dogme.

But maybe his most famous film is “In Praise of Love” (“Eloge de l’amour”) which is a two-movement film, rather like Beethoven’s last piano sonata (or Prokofiev’s Second Symphony). The first part is truly a self-reflection. An author / producer contemplates a project of the various expressions of love with three couples of varying ages. The movement, in black and white, moves inside and outside, sometimes at a riverbank, sometimes at a train station, sometimes at dinner, setting up the interviews. The author doesn’t know if he will write a book, make a movie, write a stage play, or what. There is this book that has sold a few copies, and there is an image near the end of the section of a book with blank pages. He then learns, as he finishes the research, that one of the women has died. The “second movement” in color but also grainy video, examines his interaction with the woman a couple years earlier, when she had been asked to make a film about her activities in the resistance.

I took a screenwriting class in the spring of 2004 and the first film that the instructor wanted us to watch was this one.

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