Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Two by Godard

Leon casino,

If a Jean-Luc Godard film pops up theatrically it’s probably going to be one of his more accessible works like Breathless or Contempt or maybe even Band of Outsiders or Alphaville. But Godard made so many ground breaking films that it’s inevitable that some of his less known, and hard to find films should appear on disc. Koch Lorber has just released La Chinoise and Le Gai Savoir on DVD in their original 1.33:1formats.
Le Gai Savoir was Godard’s “return to zero” film. The two actors (Jean Pierre Leaud and Juliet Berto) discuss language and politics on a bare stage the entire time. If you have no taste for the French New Wave you will think this is dryer than the wine served for My Dinner With Andre.
At one point a woman reads a poem standing in front of life size artist renditions of Hulk, Spiderman and Batman. In 1967 Batman was no doubt the best known since he had a camp TV show, yet the fact that Godard groups them together shows an uncanny taste for cultural artifacts not to mention that it’s practically a template for big budget films being made today. Watching the film pushes buttons in your mind, maybe triggering thoughts you'd rather not have. Maybe that's the reason to watch.
La Chinoise, also with Leaud and Berto and Anne Wiazemsky, deals with French students wanting to embrace Mao to the point of terrorism. Once again Godard reminds us of the power of suggestion. And the characters are too busy looking attractive on camera to really blow things up. The character interaction also brings to mind Bertolucci's recent The Dreamers.
One character holds a toy rifle called the Johnny Seven One Man Army. It was so called because you could fire it seven different ways. Next, another character sports a toy that is a radio that morphs into a rifle (the barrel compresses into one side and the stock swings out from the bottom when you push a button) called the Agent Zero Radio Rifle and made by Mattel. I found one on eBay that sold for over 110 dollars.
Both films will be embraced by fans of Godard, but perhaps too strange for casual observers who might even find Masculin-Feminin or Weekend unnerving. Much of the dialogue reeks of political rhetoric. The tone is didactic to the point you want to scream back at the screen, “I get it.” Yet the imagery, the Esso tiger that was a popular ad logo (now known as Exxon), victims of war, the aforementioned toys and comic heroes, are mixed like a smoothie and confront the part of us that can’t resist temptation. Godard knows how to use music better than most directors. Just when you want to give up he blasts forth with a new act bracketed by a rock ditty that intones over and over "Mao, Mao."
Extras on Chinoise include Godard speaking at a Venice Film Festival press conference and seemingly agitating the crowd.


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