Saturday, November 13, 2010

Do film studies make people dumber?

I’m now almost three serials into Louis Feuillade's silent Fantômas films, and two things have surprised me: how good the movies are, and how hard it is to find words to talk about them.

Part of the latter is due to my previous ignorance of Feuillade's work. I lack the commonplaces that come so readily to discussions of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton or D.W. Griffith. But part is due to the films themselves.

Feuillade’s movies don’t hit the viewer over the head with technical gimcrackery, and they don’t monger the sorts of symbols that lend themselves easily to sophomore-level “analysis.” They're just well-written, and they tell good, atmospheric stories, and it’s a lot harder to talk about how writing makes a movie than it is to see Christ symbolism in every crossed set of window mullions.

Good god, and it’s not just sophomores who talk that way. A few months ago, I squirmed in my seat as a film professor breathlessly informed an audience gathered for Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt that the film’s runaway protagonist and his niece are both named Charlie!!! and that this is significant!!!

Anyone who has taken a film course can talk about Orson Welles’ deep focus or D.W. Griffith’s use of close-ups. But anyone who thinks that those devices are what make their movies great is missing the point.

OK, readers and viewers, what's responsible for the great volume of superficial blather about movies — or films? Who are the worst offenders?

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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66 Comments:

Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

You know Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers & The Thing and all those cold war sci-fi films? Well, guess what, they're not about the fear of Communism ot McCarthysm. They're about monsters killing people. And the fear of being killed. By monsters.

November 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, so is all that stuff about McCarthyism is a sham perpetrated by thinkers so they can have good, dirty fun without feeling demeaned?

Sometimes a movie is just a movie.

November 13, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Well...I know there are some serious claptrappers, but I've always found that to be the case with lit classes as well. Doesn't mean there are some pretty great lecturers in either realm. I was really lucky in my otherwise pretty ordinary high school to have a great film teacher. He loved film and he taught it passionately, even though the great majority of the class was only in it for what they thought would be an easy grade.

My latest find is a book called Transcendental Style in Film by director and screenwriter Paul Schrader. It studies and compares the work of Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer. I really know nothing of the work of Bresson and Dreyer but stumbled on Ozu by accident and so got this book by someone who has thought about his work a lot more than I have. I think it will lead me on to Bresson and Dreyer eventually as well. I was kind of shocked that the transcendental style was something that Schrader was interested enough in to write a whole book about, but it will probably cast a new light on his movies for me as well.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had a good teacher for my one film-history class, too. He was a critic, but in the popular press, which meant he wrote to be read and not to impress his readers. He also made sure that we learned our film history. And the Fantômas presentation at Noircon was refreshingly devoid of pompous theory and portentous discussion of obvious symbols and visual tricks.

Look, I love to read Hitchcock talking with Truffaut, and I have books by and about Fellini and Jean Renoir lying around. A great artist writing and talking about his work and its background can be of great interest. But because movies are an art form for the masses in a way that I'm not sure literature is anymore, and because everybody and his brother has an advanced degree in America, and because Americans are uncomfortable with the "low" art forms at which they are traditionally best, at least in movies (serious message pictures have always won Oscars over comedies, musicals and Westerns), you get this absurdly pretentious discussion of the most obvious features of movies.

I suggested that screenwriting is harder to talk about than visual quirks, so it's interesting you should cite a book by a screenwriter, Paul Schrader.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I suppose the fact that film reviews can be quickly sized up and assessed by anybody, minutes after watching the film, and consequently the reviewer/critic needs to employ a plethora of 'blather-devices' both to convince 'Joe Public' that his opinion is so much more valuable than his, and his employer that its worth his while maintaining him in employment.

Speaking of 'Shadow of a Doubt', as I recall the niece pointed out to the uncle early in the film of their 'special relationship', because of their common first name.

This was also one of the first films to scare the bejaysus of me; I couldn't sleep that night, and perhaps for weeks afterwards, because of that final scene.
I don't think even 'Psycho' scared me as much

I see that 'tureste' is the w.v. for this one; kind of a mongrel cross-breed of 'tourist' and 'Trieste', I suspect; indeed it might describe somebody holidaying in Trieste!

November 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Celtic K--Funny that there is a movie with very popular potential coming out called The Tourist, which is based on a suspense novel that I've heard is good.

I think the only thing I'd question about what you're saying, Peter, is that I think the divide between 'serious' movies and the blockbusters pretty precisely mirrors the divide between 'serious' novels and the stuff that everyone actually reads when they're not trying to show how smart they are. And I really have nothing against either category, but I do mind that there is this kind of split. I don't really know what the answer is, though.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Seana, it wouldn't be set in Trieste, by any chance?

November 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I looked it up, and no, it is set, more predictably, in Venice. It seems to be based on a French movie called Anthony Zimmer, and not related to the novel at all.

Trieste is a nice city, though. Or was when I was a tureste there many years ago.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I see that 'tureste' is the w.v. for this one; kind of a mongrel cross-breed of 'tourist' and 'Trieste'

Or a mongrel of "Tourette's" and "triste" -- someone who can't shut up about how sad he is.

TCK, I think you're right to single out the easy and widespread availability of films. But the sort of blather I have in mind is more academic, or pseudo-academic, than critical -- and film studies is, or was, such a voguish subject that there were bound to be all sorts of people rushing to erect a critical vocabulary. And rush jobs can result in flimsy construction.

I was too old to be scared when I saw "Shadow of a Doubt," but plenty in it might have unsettled me as a child -- including the from-the-rooftop shots of Charlie evading his pursuers.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, is the movie "The Tourist" based on this book?

You're likely right about the divides in movies and in literature mirroring one another. But is there a similar divide between "high" and "low' criticism of the two arts? I'm not sure. My target in this post is criticism that makes a ludicrous spectacle of itself when it tries to be "high." I'm not talking about a divide between newspaper movie reviews on the one hand, and your Paul Schrader book, or Pauline Kael, or Andrew Sarris, or even serious academic research on the other.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've had Trieste on my mind since I read and liked "The Confessions of Zeno" -- or at least I liked the first part of it -- in college.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Speaking of settings, here is the opening of the book to which I link in a reply to Seana above:

"Four hours after his failed suicide attempt, he descended toward Aerodrom Ljubljana."

November 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Yes, I was thinking of that book, but I think it's a completely different project.

I don't know. I have found film theory and lit theory to be pretty much the same in its pretentiousness at times. And its devotees seem to be overlapping groups of people.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maybe pretentious statement of the obvious is more noticeable in discussions of movies simply because movies are a more popular art form.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Maybe. But I'd bet there have been more than a few pretentious papers written on, say, James Patterson.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

"Or a mongrel of "Tourette's" and "triste" -- someone who can't shut up about how sad he is."
From 'eyeless in Gaza' to 'triste tourette's tourist in Trieste'.
What a long, strange trip its been!

It was that final scene in 'Shadow' which got me, more than anything; I don't want to spoil it for anybody who hasn't seen it, though

November 14, 2010  
Blogger michael said...

I miss my life in Hollywood and being with people who care deeply for films. In Hollywood, movies and films are words with different meanings. A movie is created to make money, a film is created to be a work of art. Both have existed from the very beginning.

The "superficial blather" exists in I suspect every profession. I just read a story about a plumber that satirizes that idea ("The Kidnapped Plumber A Tale of the New Time" in Winsome Winnie and other New Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock).

One of the problem with today's movies is too many people making movies don't watch movies nor have any interest in the history of movies.

Oh, want to have fun with an over the top Chaplin fan? Ask him or her if "Modern Times" was a rip off of Rene Clair's "A Nous La Liberte". Ahh, the great fun we film criticism students have.

November 14, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, I agree with Seana that the critical gobbledygook you get in film studies is identical in nature to that which pertains in English Departments. But I think you're right in suggesting its ludicrousness is more obvious when applied to movies than to writing.

Some academic arts critics litter their papers with critical mumbo-jumbo the same way some economists window-dress their papers with mathematical formulas. And for the same reason. They hope that people will mistake that which is complex and difficult for that which is profound and meaningful.

But why bother with such idiots? There are academics out there who don't fall into that category.

You linked in your last post to an article called 'How to watch Fantomas and why?' That was written by David Bordwell, who is the Professor of Film Studies at Wisconsin-Madison. He has an excellent website and blog, both of which are mercifully free of the usual Film Studies jargon. I don't often agree with his opinions but because they are presented in everyday language and are based on an extensive knowledge of movies, I respect them.

He's also a huge Jean Luc Godard fan, but hey, nobody's perfect.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

solo, while his later films turned many people off him, Jean Luc Godard made a great number of not only great, but hugely enjoyable and entertaining films; admittedly, mostly in the early to mid 60s, but far more than most directors with a claim to greatness

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Sam said...

The problem with film criticism is that the people who write about films buy into the hype that a director is the "author" of a film. You will never hear Dudley Nichols' or Frank Nugent's names mentioned in discussions about John Ford, or Ernest Lehmann mentioned in connection with Hitchcock. Even Welles, who is a legitimate genius, did not make Citizen Kane alone.

Naturally these people dismiss story in favour of talking about camera shots and the like. So you end up with books about "Ridley Scott's Blade Runner" that never mention David Webb Peoples (or Phillip K. Dick for that matter).

The cure is to either A) be involved in making a film, which most critics will never do, or B) read William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade.

Just my opinion.

November 14, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

tck, I like apples, you like oranges. That's all criticism of 'art' boils down to.

I've seen all of Godard's 60s films up to Weekend, apart from Le Petit Soldat and Le Chinoise and didn't like any of them. The final scene of Breathless, not intentionally comic, always breaks me up and reminds me of what Oscar Wilde said about the death in The Old Curiosity Shop:

One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

solo, but I can appreciate both apples and oranges.
And enjoy them, equally, albeit in different circumstances.
But I also think an enjoyment, or appreciation of a film, can depend upon the mood that one is in.

btw, your linking of Oscar Wilde and 'Breathless' reminds me of how I was reminded of The Three Stooges by, particularly, early scenes in 'Don Quixote'

As JLG might say "Plus ça change,..."

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It was that final scene in 'Shadow' which got me, more than anything; I don't want to spoil it for anybody who hasn't seen it, though

TCK, do you mean the scene on the— but then, let’s not spoil it.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, Blogger unaccountably failed to post my reply to your most recent comment, so I'll try again.

You're probably right that there likely have been pretentious papers about, say, James Patterson. But, thank goodness, people don't talk much about them. I'm not sure that's the case with pretentious discussion of movies.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

no, lets not, Peter!

Reminds me of how I'd never got around to watching the Peter Sellers film, 'Being There', and then just when I was considering watching it, some 20 years after its release, two people in quick succession went and spoiled the ending on me.

I mean, there are still probably some people out there that have never seen 'Birth Of A Nation'

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

michael said...
… A movie is created to make money, a film is created to be a work of art. Both have existed from the very beginning.


But movies can work as art, or at least they can come close enough to warrant serious discussion. Andrew Sarris wrote years ago that Hitchcock had not received the serious critical respect he deserved because his movies committed the sin of being too much fun.

The "superficial blather" exists in I suspect every profession.

Without a doubt. The question is whether superficial blather is more widespread in discussion of movies and, if so, whether this is because film is such a popular art form.

("The Kidnapped Plumber A Tale of the New Time" in Winsome Winnie and other New Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock).

It’s always good to see Leacock mentioned.

One of the problem with today's movies is too many people making movies don't watch movies nor have any interest in the history of movies.

That’s an interesting criticism. One hears the occasional complaint that filmmakers know nothing but other movies. Or is that just Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers?

Oh, want to have fun with an over the top Chaplin fan? Ask him or her if "Modern Times" was a rip off of Rene Clair's "A Nous La Liberte".

I wouldn’t mind that, as long as the needler had something intelligent to say about both movies. If I wanted to have fun with an over-the-top Chaplin fan, I’d probably just say that Chaplin sucked, and Keaton was way better.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I don't know. James Patterson, Inc. is a pretty popular phenomenon in his/their own right.

But we don't have to argue. Here is a term paper that compares a James Patterson novel to the movie that was made from it. Best of both worlds, I'd say. And you can download the whole thing for a very nominal fee... I mean nominal if you happened to be starting your term paper the night before.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, Bordwell carries out an admirable and highly readable self-investigation of the experience of watching the Fantomas movies. He has a deep interest in the subject, and he sticks to it. No academic flapdoodle here.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, parts of "Breathless" were entertaining, and as much of "Alphaville" as I was able to get through was unwatchable, or rather unlistenable. What are Godard most entertaining, enjoyable movies?

Speaking of Godard, a comment from an official of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on occasion of Godard's receiving an honorary Oscar does Hollywood's reputation no good:

“Godard dared us to misbehave, both as grown-ups and as artists,” said Lynne Littman, governor of the academy’s documentary branch. “He is still misbehaving, and I like to think this is the first time we’ve given an Oscar for it.”

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sam said...
The problem with film criticism is that the people who write about films buy into the hype that a director is the "author" of a film.


Sam, that makes a hell of a lot of sense. One is tempted to blame Andrew Sarris for this state of affairs, though his judgment of individual directors was good. (I think, though I’m not sure, that “scenario writers” got more credit early in the history of movies, before people thought much about what a director did.)

The less literate we become, the more comfortable we feel talking about camera angles and symbols.

Short of making a movie or reading Goldman’s book, film viewers and critics could watch good but unobtrusively directed movies and think carefully about what makes them what they are.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, not that I'm letting the critical context influence me, but are you sure that scene from Breathless is not intentionally comic?

November 14, 2010  
Blogger michael said...

Sam, the greatest book about movies I ever read was "Adventures in the Screen Trade" by William Goldman.

My favorite story about the director being the author of the film involved Frank Capra and Robert Riskin. There are many stories about how hated Capra was by much of Hollywood reportedly much about his tending to take credit for others work. One day one of his regular writers Robert Riskin walked into Capra's office dropped 400 blank typewriter paper on his desk and said, "Put your 'Capra touch' on that." Or as John Ford was once rumored to have said, "The Crapa touch".

Peter, one of the most important yet forgotten writer/directors during the period of the end of silent and beginning of sound was Rene Clair. He always refused to agree with any criticism over Chaplin's "Modern Times" resembling his early "A Nous La Liberte". He was quoted saying that Chaplin was such a genius and the world of film owed so much to Chaplin that he would be honored if Chaplin had been "inspired" by his film.

I too prefer Keaton over Chaplin, but I sense it is because Keaton is more in tune with modern taste while Chaplin's genius was being the top comedian of his time. And any film critic should be able to argue the plus and minus of Chaplin, as should any mystery critic be able to argue if Sherlock Holmes is overrated (and probably use similar terms).

November 14, 2010  
Blogger michael said...

I missed your question about Hollywood not interested in movies. My time among the movie elite (I worked for a major movie theatre) there were some that loved movies but there were also others in the business who's knowledge was limited about the movies, especially those old b&w ones made before they were born. It was not unlike having a young star baseball player not know who Babe Ruth was.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, to this day I can't understand why people thought the movie "Being There" was anything more than a pitch line or a one-joke sketch stretched far beyond the length it deserved. (I've never read Kosinski's book.)

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, I suspect thats why I kept giving it a miss.
I still haven't seen it, though, and I suspect I never will

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter the following are my favourite Godards, grouped roughly according to my ranking of them


Pierrot le fou (1965)
Le mépris (1963)

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle (1967)
À bout de souffle (1960)


Week End (1967)
Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux (1962)

Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)
Bande à part (1964)

The last two, and 'Breathless'/À bout de souffle I'd consider as the most purely entertaining films

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, thinking about a novel's adaptation into a movie could be a useful exercise, I suppose. I think the novel discussed in that term paper may date from a time when Patterson wrote his own books -- or before he acknowledged that he did not.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

A paper about lending your identity to others so that they can write stories as you would also be an interesting paper, though presumably hard to write.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A paper about lending your identity to others so that they can write stories as you would also be an interesting paper, though presumably hard to write.

At least under one's one name.

Hmm, how about a plagiarized paper about a James Patterson novel based on James N. Frey's "memoirs"?

November 14, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Meta!

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michael, I get a great kick that a director so associated with small-town sweetness was widely hated.

I knew of Rene Clair, but I did not know he was such an apparently modest fellow -- the anti-Capra, you might say.

My most recent acquaintce with William Goldman, if I recall correctly, was his commentary on the DVD version of "Harper." It was not quite as incisive as, say, Eddie Muller's commentaries, but he tell entertaining stories.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, my memory goes back far enough that if you say "meta," I say "mucil."

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

others in the business who's knowledge was limited about the movies, especially those old b&w ones made before they were born. It was not unlike having a young star baseball player not know who Babe Ruth was.

So, do you get eejit producers coming up with whiz-bang ideas that someone else had made into movies 85 years before?

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, I have not seen Being There since its initial release, and I might well assess it differently if I saw it again, but my memory tells me it was one of the most overrated movies of my time. It was like those bad Saturday Night Live sletches — which is to say most Saturday Night Live sketches — that begin with an ingenious premise and fail to develop it in the least but nonetheless stretch out to interminable, repetitious length.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, the goddamned monotonous robot voices were too much for me in Alphaville, though I did like the look of the movie. It did make me curious about the Lemmy Caution novels, though, to see where Godard got the ideas out of which he made that strange film.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter I thought Godard was just brimful of ideas with 'Alphaville', cross-pollinating genres, and all manner of cinematic conventions; I suppose inevitably some of them would be wide of the mark for different reasons for different people.
I just love the movie, period.

'Le petit soldat' is in similar, playful, genre mood, which I found a lotta fun, also, even if its not quite up to 'Alphaville' standards.

I've also intended to explore Lemmy Caution further to see how near, or most likely, wide, of the mark Godard was.

'sumangst' is my latest w.v.
'The trials and tribulations of the sumo wrestler', perhaps
Or 'misery loves company'?

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can't say that "Alphaville" is a bad movie, just that the voice made it unwatchable. I'm not averse to blending of, say, science fiction and detective stories, but cripes, I have to be able to sit and watch the thing.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Someone was talking about a particular Rolling Stones album in my presence last week, so when I saw "sumangst," I immediately tought Some Girls.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I just can't picture Keith Richards as a sumo wrestler, sumhow(sic)!
Hic!

'unjunce'?
I suppose one would need to know how to junce, before one can even begin to reverse the process!

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I also fail to see in the skinny, craggy, emaciated, drug-ravaged Keith Richards the slightest hint of a sumo wrestler.

November 14, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Still, they do say 'the exception proves the rule'

btw, speaking of 'skinny, craggy, and emaciated, whatever about drug-ravaged', I nearly sent Chuck Berry 'flying' when I bumped into him when boarding a plane out of St Louis, back in '94
he was turning to get back down the aisle as I was proceeding in the opposite direction
And I'm sure I saw 'Keef' with him later that day in Las Vegas
(where Chuck was performing)

November 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I did see Chuck Berry perform. He must have been in one of his addled or angry states, because he stalked off stage a few minutes into the show, leaving his backup band, the Quebec rock band Offenbach, to play on without him.

And I did see Mickey Rooney at the Toronto airport a few years ago. He looked rather a miserable cuss.

November 15, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Chuck is notoriously tight-fisted; I recall him seriously pissing off an Irish festival crowd by refusing to play one second more than his contractual 23'47", or whatever the promoter had been able to afford to pay him for the gig.

He had been sitting just opposite me in the departure lounge, with who I presume was his manager, a real business-like, efficient, 'take-charge' blonde type.

I never even recognised him until we were disembarking at Vegas and I noticed a couple of old dears shuffle up to him looking for autographs
(for themselves, I presume, rather than for the more usual 'son', or 'daughter')
He was dressed in yer classic 'pimp' style: think 'Huggy Bear' or 'Snoop Doggy Dogg'
(lizard-skin jacket, I think)

I never saw him perform live, - at least not in a music concert.
I always like to get value for my money

November 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd say he played far less than what the promoter had agreed to pay him for that day. I never learned why he acted the way he did. I probably chalked it up to typical eccentric, maladjusted rock-star behaviour.

November 15, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

As far as I know he's a qualified, or at least trained accountant, of some sort. And I think his contracts generally limit his time and his backup band play an increasingly longer portion of 'his' set.
So it might have all emanated from arguing over nickels and dimes with the promoter.

Having said that, for me Chuck is one of the finest lyricists of the popular music era; even his obscurer, or less well-known songs boast meticulously-crafted lyrics
(although he may have nicked many of T Bone Walkers best guitar riffs)

November 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My Berry incident happened back in the 1970s, so he should have been up to playing more than just a few minutes. And he stalked off-stage, to the obvious puzzlement of his band.

Some of his better-known songs have pretty good lyrics, too -- "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," for one.

November 15, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

are you sure that scene from Breathless is not intentionally comic?

It is a truth not quite universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a film camera must be in want of a sense of humour.

People have accused Godard of many things, but having a sense of humour is not one of them.

November 15, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

solo, Godard actually sent himself up somewhat when starring in one of his later films, 'Detective', I think.
So he's not as totally pompous and arrogant and precious as one might be led to believe
At least not always, anyhow

And, no, I'm not his agent! :)

November 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, Jean Seberg is gorgeous, but that weird thing she does with her fingers in that scene is just too mannered not to notice.

As to the truth that a man in possession of a film camera must be in want of a sense of humor, I have two words: Jacques Tati.

November 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, it's hard to be a Frenchman and not be regarded as precious.

I was first exposed to Godard at a vulnerable time: in college, in the company of two especially artsy types.

November 15, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, it's a while since I saw Breathless but I think the Belmondo character used to draw his finger across his lips in a kind of hommage to Bogie. I think that's why Seberg does it in the final scene.

It's one of Godard's major weaknesses. He spent almost all of his 20s in a darkened pit learning about life from the big screen in front of him. An entertaining education, certainly, but a very limited one.

You know those jump cuts in Breathless happened by accident? The producer Georges Beauregard demanded 40min be cut out of the film. When cutting out whole scenes wasn't enough, Godard and his editor cut within scenes to make it a 90min picture. Of course critics thought the jump cuts were an artistic choice, rather than one forced by commercial considerations. Overreading, the curse of critics everywhere.

Reminds me of the story James Ellroy's agent Nat Sobel tells about how Ellroy got his style. The quote below, narrated by Sobel, is taken from Agents & Editors:

The editor in chief of Warner had heard that L.A. Confidential was finished. I called her and told her I had the manuscript. She asked me how long it was. I said it was about 850 pages. She said, "No, we can't publish that." I said, "What do you mean you can't publish it?" She said, "We publish all of Ellroy's books in mass market, and a manuscript of that size"—maybe it was even longer—"you'll have to cut 25 percent of the book."

L.A. Confidential follows three cops, and you couldn't take out one of the cops. James came to my house to talk about what we could do about it. I had the manuscript on the desk in front of me, and as a joke I said to James, "Well, maybe we could cut out a few small words." I meant it entirely as a joke. But I started going through a manuscript page and cut out about a dozen words on the page. James said, "Give me that." I gave him the page. And he just kept cutting. He was cutting and cutting and cutting. When he was done with the page, it looked like a redacted piece from the CIA. I said, "James, how would they be able to read this?" He said, "Let me read you the page." It was terrific. He said, "I know what I have to do." He took the whole manuscript back and cut hundreds of pages from the book and developed the style. That editor never knew what we had to do, but she forced him into creating this special Ellroy style, which his reputation as a stylist is really based on. It came from her, sight unseen, saying "Cut 25 percent of the book." He wound up cutting enough without cutting a single scene from that book.

November 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cool Godard story. Cooler Ellroy story. Thanks.

November 15, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

That's a great Ellroy story. What it means to me, though, is that Ellroy recognized his style when he saw it and held on to it for dear life. A fortunate man--at least artistically.

November 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd agree. The Ellroy story reflects better on Ellroy than the Godard story reflects on Godard, I'd say.

November 16, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Solo

I'd heard the same story from a different source. I think its quite credible.

However, LA Confidential is a pretty standard noir if you ask me. Its The Cold 6000 where Ellroy pushes his style as far as it will go. I think its best book.

November 16, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I like the story's suggestion that Ellroy was able to respond to the demands at hand, and that he had to be nudged into finding his voice. It suggests that the man has a receptive intellect as well as a fertile one.

November 16, 2010  

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